Yesterday it was my birthday
I hung one more year on the line
I should be depressed
My life’s a mess
But I’m having a good time.

Have a Good Time – Words and music by Paul Simon

That song, coincidentally, is ten years younger than I am, so if I turned 49 yesterday, it is now 39 years old.  I remember that year, by the way, quite well.  Twenty years later, I was having the last of my kids, and the Scylla and Charybdis part of my journey was starting.  (Note, please, that I don’t consider J one of the two evils one has to choose from when faced with Scylla and Charybdis…it’s merely an echo of the “rock and hard place” image.  Of course, one can go with Patrick O’Brian’s pun on “the lesser of two weevils,” but I’ve bored you enough with my nerdiness for one morning.)

Because I turned 49 yesterday (and one CAN get more middle-aged than that, but we’re not going there right now,) it follows that there are thirteen days left until J’s 19th birthday.  Once more I tread on familiar territory: how much have things changed since last year!!!!!!!

It has been a WHOLE WEEK since J last ate Ramen noodle.  A year ago on a day like today I would have said BAH! if you’d told me that this was even possible.  At the time, J would have been asking for Ramen noodle more than once a day.  Now…nothing.  He doesn’t even go looking for them.  J’s breakfast can now be French toast (with pumpkin,) or whole grain muffins with eggs, or a simple sandwich on whole grain bread.  Last night we made home-made pizza with a whole wheat crust, and the sauce we used was chopped tomatoes with pumpkin, oregano, garlic, basil and thyme.  J ate with enthusiasm, and he ate -surprise, surprise- a modest portion.  For dessert we had “ice cream” made with yogurt and buttermilk, adapted from a recipe in Jessica Seinfeld’s book.  We skipped the lemon ingredients, and made it chocolate chip instead.  It was a big hit, and absolutely delicious.

In one year we’ve made the transition from snacking uncontrollably, craving all the wrong foods, and getting angry and contentious if we didn’t get them to “it’s time for my yogurt.  Where are my pear chips?  Yum!  Hummus!  Is that whole-grain toast???  AWESOME!!!!!!!”  I can hardly believe it, and yet it feels right.  I am surprised, and it’s the most pleasant surprise I could have hoped for…well, there’s the big prize in the lottery, but THAT -unlike this- is IMPOSSIBLE!

The freezer is full of pureed vegetables that quickly and seamlessly find their way into every meal.  We have pumpkin with breakfast, we find spinach in lunch, apples in chocolate cake, and avocados in chocolate pudding.  That we made a whole-wheat crust for pizza is notable; that J liked it is impressive.  That we shrugged it off as “well, it IS delicious, and he LOVES delicious” is par for the course now.  Our son has discovered his palate, and the evidence of this is the multitude of tumbleweeds that populate the baskets where he used to keep his Ramen noodles, microwavable popcorn, Pringles and cheap lemon-creme filled cookies.  I can now give him a spoonful of something to taste, and he doesn’t react like a vampire would to a lei made of garlic.  

Mind you, this doesn’t mean that J doesn’t get to eat what he would have chosen before.  It means that he’s not choosing it, but not that it’s forbidden.  I try not to show surprise (because I do feel it…I can’t lie) so that J won’t be swayed by “thumbing his nose” at my approval.  I encourage him.  I offer him different things.  I made new PECS for him to choose from, and he uses them on the fridge to show what his snack and meal choices are for each day.  I am doing my best to make this new part of “normal” as natural as I can for everyone.

And so this year before my fiftieth birthday starts on a happy, encouraging note.  The song says “I should be depressed, my life’s a mess,” but it really isn’t.  It’s complicated and interesting; the challenges I face every day morph so subtly that sometimes I don’t even notice how they’ve changed, but I’m finally -at the ripe old age of 49- getting a handle on all this.  

Never too late to start.  Never too old to learn.  And, of course, never too old to realize that the bread your mom has been offering for years and you’ve treated with disdain as you spit a piece you’ve barely chewed on isn’t anywhere near as bad as all that.  J is happy.  J is well-fed, and healthy.  J has learned that pearl couscous is pasta cut in a different shape, and he doesn’t need a to-scale model of Mt. Kilimanjaro made out of it to be happy or satisfied.

If you add to all this that J has had no SIB at school for the past two days, and that this is the result of a band-aid (yes, a band-aid…) because he doesn’t want to mess with the way it sits on his forehead (where he’d scratched himself,) there’s more reason for happiness around these parts.  J’s doing well.  J’s found a groove.  J’s adjusted, adapted, settled in…another reduction in his med in a few months is not an outlandish thought right now.  Just like asking him to exercise with the Wii, or do sit-ups is not something we dread.  We don’t expect NO for an answer either.  We just expect exactly what we get: J bounces up and comes running eager to participate.  It’s quite a lovely sight.

Does this mean his Autism is gone?  No.  J is as autistic today as he was the day I started writing this, but I (we) can handle it better.  We are not as daunted by the stubbornness of his nature, his love of routine (unbending, un-breakable, it seemed) as much as we used to be.  There is light at the end of the tunnel, and some lanterns have been installed along the way.  And we can see better, but it’s because we are now actually using the flashlight we’ve had in our hands, equipped with full-powered batteries, all along.  We have extra batteries in our pockets, too.  

This is me shrugging my shoulder and saying “yeah, that’s right.  It’s cool.  That’s the way it is.”  It’s quite a happy feeling.





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