Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lucky me

The Hug ..., originally uploaded by l'enfer.

A friend I hadn't seen in a long time was telling me, today, about her family troubles. Her three sons are all in various stages of drug addiction or recovery from it. One of her sons is in jail. All three of them are bipolar. I felt so, so sorry for her and was trying my best just to listen and be supportive of her. And then she said, "But it's not as hard as what you've had to go through." It took me a minute to realize she was talking about my middle daughter, who is autistic. People have said things like this to me before. What they mean is, 'Whatever trouble I'm having with my kid, even if it's addiction, jail, mental illness, there's still the possibility of hope for my kid. But your daughter is really, really autistic and there's no hope for her.' And I even get it.

Now, of course, that's not how I think about my life. I think of myself as the mother of four kids: my twins, adopted from Vietnam when they were babies, who are straight-A students and incredibly talented artists; my nine-year old who came downstairs the other day and said, "Mommy, I've been reading Shakespeare!" And she had; and my middle girl who is autistic, yes, but who is also funny and loving and silly. And I think of myself as a person who somehow chose both wisely and well in love; I'm married to a man who has been, for twenty-four years, my best friend and intellectual partner.

Which is why there's always a moment of disconnect for me when people tell me that they know their problems don't amount to much compared to mine. But when I do figure out what they mean, I don't mind it. In fact, I'm happy to be a yardstick by which they measure their life and find it, surprisingly, better than they thought. There's a scene in one of my favorite movies of all time "Truly, Madly, Deeply," in which Alan Rickman talks about a little girl who has died. He says:
"There's a little girl .... She was knocked over and she died. Her parents, and family, and friends from kindergarten... She used to go to this playground. See, they made an area in the park. Gave 'em money for swings, and little wooden animals, and there are these plaques on the sides of the swing, bottom of the horse: 'From Alice's mom and dad. In Memory of Alice, who used to play here'... And when you see the parents take their child from the swing, and see the sign... They hold on to their son and daughter, so tightly, clinging on for dear life."

Everyone I know has some deep heartache, some hard rows to hoe. We all need those signs, to remind us to cling tightly to what is good in our lives. So if my friend was thinking, today, 'Maybe my kids are addicted, bipolar, in jail. But at least I can hope that they'll go to rehab and someday live clean, normal, independent lives,' then I've been able to give her some real comfort by reminding her what she does have. And she's done the same for me.


yellowdog granny said...

I think you have a gifted family and a wonderful life.

Rebecca said...

You are sooo right. Your appreciation of life's gifts will be passed on to your children as well, so they're also lucky, they'll learn to see life this way.

You're a special person. Your blog is inspirational. You help us see how special we ALL are.

jason said...'s all about perspective, isn't it?
(oh, and love too)

sageweb said...

Wow I can't even imagine a remark like that...camparing "issues, heartache, disabilities, and whatever" is so relative. I think you make anything of anything. If you wish it to be the best or talk yourself into your life being the is completely up to you...shit happens..but what you make of it is what really happens.

Your kids are lucky they have great parents.

ayem8y said...

My neighbor’s little boy has autism and she wondered aloud the other day if he would ever become a socially productive member of society. I was taken off guard by the remark but thought about it and told her I felt sure that he would find his place and be able to make his contributions in his own fashion. It made me think of all the opportunity that I have had in my life to do the same and missed the chance. Does that make me less of a member of society? I suppose it does and worse still is the feeling that so many others contribute more with disabilities. It made me feel ashamed of myself. I started to ponder the whole concept of autism. It has so many different levels of causes and effects. I wonder if it is really evolution at work. Maybe these are people that exhibit signs of what is to be. They tend to be free of all the social restrictions and constraints. They seem to be free to be themselves and as wacky as they want to be without peer pressure. I kind of wish I had some of that bliss. It is definitely a reminder to us all.

Elizabeth said...

All, thanks for the kind words. As you say, Jason, it's all about perspective and love. In the face of the real difficulties we all face, love, and the many forms it comes in, is what makes the struggle worth it.

Sage, people say this to me pretty often. They're trying to be considerate, telling me that they understand that I face real challenges with my special-needs daughter that they can't comprehend. And I do.

And they face challenges I can't comprehend. We all walk into our lives one step at a time. By the time we're in deep it's hard to for others to see how we manage. Anyway, I really don't mind because I know they mean it kindly.

Elizabeth said...

ayem8y - Please tell your neighbor that anything is possible with these kids. I have met numbers of kids who emerged totally from autism. My own daughter didn't, but I still believe in limitless and unknown possibilities for her future.

Willym said...

Elizabeth - your strength constantly amazes me and as always I am at a loss for a comment that would not sound trite or contrived. Hugs to you and yours.

a thousand shades of twilight said...

Eliz, Willym has expressed my sentiments exactly. So I will just say that you are an inspiration in many different way, you do have perspective and I love everything that I know of your amazing, loving, funny and talented family.