Tag Archives: friends

Butterfly

5 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 5 – Ekphrasis Post: Go to flickr.com/explore and write a post inspired by the image. Can you link it to your health focus?

When my son was first diagnosed with autism, we enrolled him in a local daycare centre on the advice of his speech therapist. He needed the social aspect of it, she said. He needed the group lunchtimes, the circle times, and all of the other elements of being part of a group of children. We were nervous about letting our sensitive, vulnerable son out of our immediate orbit, particularly since the daycare had never had a child with autism before.

To their eternal credit and our eternal gratitude, the daycare welcomed George with open arms. The director of the centre arranged for all of her staff to be trained in how to work with special needs kids, and George was very happy there.

During the summer months, the kids would be taken to play outside at the end of the day while they were waiting for their parents to pick them up. I would get off the bus from work, pick up my boy, and walk home with him. One day, I picked up his backpack from the darkened daycare classroom as usual, and went out to the playground. I always tried to arrive undetected so I could watch George at play for a few minutes. In typical autistic fashion, he always did his own thing. He played among the other kids, but not with them.

On this particular day, I got to the playground just in time to see a few of the other kids preparing to have a race from one tree to another. George stood apart from the kids, watching them shyly. When the daycare teacher said, “GO!” the kids scampered away from the start line while George stood by on his own.

My heart constricted with unbearable sadness. The whole thing seemed to underscore the isolation of autism, and I felt a sense of unjustness that my child was standing there on his own. With his lanky frame and long legs, he is a natural runner. He might have won that impromptu little race.

Damn autism, I thought. I knew these other kids well enough to know that prior to lining up for the race, they would have tried to encourage George to participate. But being locked in his own world, he would not have known how to. Outwardly, he seemed perfectly happy, but I couldn’t help wondering about that. What was going through his mind as he watched those other kids at play together? Did he feel any sense of isolation? Did he wish he knew how to join in?

I started thinking about sports teams and group activities. Was George ever going to be able to be part of a soccer team or a high school band? Would he travel in a pack of teenage friends or would he sit by himself in the high school cafeteria? Would he be excluded from birthday parties? Or would some group of well-meaning kids include him in their group and look out for him?

How was my child, with his autism and his social communication deficits, going to survive in a social world?

This is a concern that is with me more or less all the time, despite assurances from his teacher that he is starting to tentatively reach out socially at school, that he is getting better and better at participating in social activities, and that he is, in fact, an extremely well-liked member of the student body.

A few days ago I saw something that made my heart soar. Me and my husband were out for a walk with the kids, and we saw the teenage boys down the road shooting hoops in their driveway. Before we could stop him, George ran up to the boys and held out his hands for the ball. The boys good-naturedly obliged, and like a true natural basketball player, George bounced the ball on his knee and then threw it towards the hoop as if he did this every day.

The hoop was too high for George to have any success, and the boys offered to lower it for him. We told them not to worry and we went on our way, but not before the boys had invited George to play basketball with them any time he wanted.

When things like this happen, my vision of the future shifts, as if I’m looking at my son’s life through a kaleidoscope. I start to see possibilities that were previously hidden to me, possibilities that simply may not have been there before George grew and developed into them. Instead of seeing the kid who stood on his own while everyone else had a race, I now see the boy who, just for a few moments, joined other boys in a basketball game.

If I had, just a year ago, seen the picture that inspired this post, I would have thought, “George is probably never going to do that. He’s probably never going to romp around with friends or be invited to take part in impromptu soccer games.”

Now I look at that picture and realize that I am seeing the emergence of George as a social being. Maybe he’ll always be shy, and it is very likely that he will always need to be surrounded by people who will look out for him.

But his personality, his character, the very essence of who he is – that is emerging bright and beautiful, like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon.

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Spotlight On Friendship: Jenny

8 Jul

Today I want to tell you about my oldest friend. Not “oldest” in the sense of being geriatric, but “oldest” in the sense of being the person who has put up with my nonsense for longer than anyone else.

I met Jenny at the start of fifth grade, when we were both new kids at our school. I remember us standing together at the front of the classroom on our first day, being introduced to our new classmates. Both of us felt as if we were different to the other kids in our class, but we felt an immediate kinship with each other. By recess that day, we had become best friends.

Over the next several years, as we saw friendships form and dissolve all around us, Jenny and I were inseparable. Her personality balanced perfectly with mine. She was the one who was good at art, I was the one who was good at math. She was bubbly and outgoing, I was more reserved. Our core values were the same, and we had enough common interests to be able to bond. But we also had enough diversity to retain our own individuality.

I was shy and socially awkward as a teenager. The only person I could really open up to and be completely myself with was Jenny.

When we were in high school we made a promise to each other, that we would be friends forever, and that when we were old ladies, we would sit together on a porch doing our knitting. When we discovered just how crap at knitting I am, we amended the promise. She would do the knitting, and I would keep the coffee flowing. We’re planning to be manic old ladies, permanently buzzing from caffeine.

In my late teens and early twenties, my life went a little weird. I went away to university, and when I came back, I had learned some very difficult lessons from the School of Hard Knocks. I’m not sure if Jenny realizes how much of a salvation she was for me at that time. I was feeling out of sorts, and she was my friend. I was feeling directionless, and she got me a job in the same office where she was working. I felt adrift, and she was my safe harbour. She helped keep me grounded.

And then, to my eternal shame and regret, I let her down. I did something that hurt her, and that cost me the only true friendship I had ever had.

Life went on, but I never stopped thinking of Jenny and kicking myself for my own stupidity.

A few years after my split with Jenny, I had installed myself in a solid career and bought my own apartment. One evening after I got home from work, my phone rang. I did not immediately recognize the voice on the other end, but then the realization dawned on me: “Holy crap, it’s JENNY!”

We went out for pizza and caught up. I told her I was sorry. She said she forgave me. I cried – tears of regret at having hurt her, and tears of joy that I had my best friend back.

And I really did have her back. Over the next several years, we stood by each other for all of life’s major events. I caught the bouquet at her wedding. When she had a baby she asked me to be the godmother. When I became a mom myself, she was the first person I called when I came home from the hospital. She comforted me at my dad’s funeral, and although she couldn’t be there for my wedding, I know she was thinking of me.

The strongest of friendships can survive any storm. Jenny and I had our storm, and it was a big one. But in the end, our friendship survived, and endures to this day, even though we live on opposite sides of the world.

At some point a few decades from now, a porch somewhere will be waiting for two old ladies, one doing her knitting, the other making coffee.

A Friend Who Saved The Day (And My Sanity)

12 May

I met my friend Fran about fifteen years ago. We met more or less by default: my boyfriend and her boyfriend were old high school buddies. We always got along well enough, but we didn’t really become firm friends until just over two years ago, when Fran emailed me to tell me she was moving to Canada. By then both of us had long split from the boyfriends who had been responsible for us meeting in the first place.

Despite living on the other side of the country, since Fran came to Canada she has visited me in Toronto several times. During her first visit we ran a race together. I did the 10km race and Fran – running in her first race ever – did the 5km. During that same visit, she assembled an outdoor grill that I had been given and that had me stumped. This is why you have friends who can put helicopters together. Seriously. That is what Fran does for a living.

During Fran’s visits, we always seem to go through an inordinate amount of wine. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Most recently, Fran came to my wedding. I can safely say that if she hadn’t been there, I would have been lost. She arrived three days before the wedding, when I was roughly halfway through a week-long nervous breakdown. By this point, she had already helped immensely, having offered to play flute music at the wedding ceremony (Fran can fix helicopters and play the flute like an angel).

On the day she arrived, Fran and I went driving all over the place, picking up the guest favours, sorting out a camera for the as-yet unconfirmed photographer, buying crafty stuff to make the guest favours look pretty.

The following day, while I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off and doing frantic last-minute shopping, Fran calmly took charge of the guest favours. She spent the day wrapping them, putting ribbon around them and even adding a bit of hand-written calligraphy to finish them off. They looked gorgeous.

I have to pause at this point to give credit to my Mom. She helped with the guest favours too. Enormously. For a day and a half the two of them – Fran and my Mom – were at it, working hard to make everything look perfect. If it hadn’t been for them, I honestly don’t know what I would have done.

Fran also helped keep me from unraveling completely at the seams. During the day, she was offering practical help with all kinds of things. During the evenings, she kept me supplied with wine, good humour and great conversation.

On the day, she drove back and forth to the reception hall with her friend Corrigan, dropping off things that needed to be dropped off and helping keep everything in line.

And of course, there was the music at the ceremony. It was beautiful, it was personal, it made the ceremony complete in a way that some random organist could never have managed. The musical interlude continued at the reception, where Fran and Gerard’s cousin Liam played a wonderful set of Celtic music. They played together effortlessly, despite having met and practised together for the first time the previous day.

Then there was the photography. We had a number of people present with cameras, many of whom are very capable photographers, and Fran was one of them. She took hundreds – literally hundreds – of fantastic pictures that are a wonderful record of a perfect day.

Fran, if you’re reading this, thank you does not begin to be enough. You came through for me in so many ways at a time when I really needed it.

Next time you’re coming to town, let me know and I’ll stock up on wine.

Overwhelmed

10 May

My thoughts are very scattered today, and I’m not sure why.

Is it because my Mom left this morning, and I won’t see her again for maybe two years, maybe more?

Is it because our out-of-town guests are gone, I’m back at work, and now we have to adjust to some kind of normal life?

Could it be sadness over the sudden and unexpected loss of a friend whose memorial I will be unable to attend?

Or perhaps thoughts of my friend Amy, who will mark her son’s first birthday tomorrow beside a headstone with his name on it, are weighing on my mind.
Maybe it’s because I’m having to accept that the half-marathon planned for the end of this month is not likely to happen, because life has been getting in the way of training and I don’t want to put myself at risk of illness or injury.

Maybe it’s just a combination of all of these things. Maybe my mind is overloaded. Whatever it is, I feel like I need a good cry.

Tonight, after the kids are in bed, I might do just that, aided by a hefty glass of wine.

I Made It Down The Aisle!!!

9 May

Just married!

I tried, really I did.

I had the best of intentions to keep posting every day during the time leading up to my wedding. I thought it would be easy. Reposts. Pictures. A few sentences thrown together for the sake of getting something published.

Little did I know just what the final week of wedding planning would be like.

There was stress. There was much driving around getting things finalized. There were late nights spent at the computer finishing seating charts, printing place cards and drawing up itineraries as friends and family members helped wrap guest favours and keep me supplied with wine.

There was chaos, there were arguments, there were final negotiations with vendors.

What there wasn’t, was time. Not a scrap of it. Every second counted in that last week. The night before my wedding, I was still printing place cards at midnight.

So much for going for de-stressing runs.

So much for relaxing and going for a manicure on the final day.

Do you know what, though? On the day, everything came together perfectly. I had a beautiful, beautiful day. The flowers were lovely. The kids were absolute stars. I felt like a princess, sitting in the limo sipping champagne. The people surrounding me all day snapping pictures made me feel like I had my own paparazzi.

Even the weather cooperated. We got one perfect day of sunshine, that my Mom says was ordered by my Dad.

Best of all, most amazing of all, is that at the end of the day, I had the most amazing husband a girl could wish for. Every now and then, my heart flips as I look at my man and think, “I’m married to him!”

I feel like the princess who got her prince.

If This Is A Dream, Don’t Wake Me

21 Apr

Today, I have had several moments of realizing just how damned lucky I am. And I found myself wondering, do I deserve all this?

This wonderful man who accepts me for who I am, who knows all kinds of stuff about me, and who loves me anyway, warts and all.

These two beautiful children who run – yes, RUN! – to hug me when I get home from work, and who crawl into my bed at night and wrap their little arms around me, just because they want to be near me.

My friends and family – both far and near – who genuinely want me to be happy, who are doing everything they can to make me feel like a princess as I lead up to my wedding.

People who are getting onto planes and traveling halfway around the world, just so they can be with me and Gerard on our wedding day. How amazing is that?

The generosity and support of my co-workers, who today presented me with a beautiful card and a wedding gift – more than I could have ever expected.

This wedding day that is coming up – a day will be filled with love and joy as Gerard and I embark on the next phase in our journey together.

There is so much bad stuff that happens in the world. Three months ago, a dear friend’s baby passed from this world to the next. Now, a close family member of someone important to us is about to do the same. I have witnessed the tragedy of parents burying their children, I have seen bad things happening to very, very good people.

Sometimes I wonder if I deserve everything I have, when there is so much sadness and suffering in the world.

My mind casts me back to a very dark time in my life, when I did not think I deserved anything.

And I am afraid that at any second, I will wake up and find that all of this has just been a dream.

If it is a dream, please let me sleep, because I don’t want it to end.

The Meaning Of Friendship

15 Apr

When George was a newborn, I joined an online group for parents of living children who had also experienced pregnancy or infant loss. Having gone through two pregnancy losses, I was paranoid about everything connected with my new baby. Did those sniffles indicate a cold or something more serious? Why wasn’t he nursing? Was that little bump to the head going to cause permanent damage? Was I actually going to be able to keep this tiny scrap of a human being alive?

In the online group, I found a home – a group of women whose experiences, while all very unique, gave us a common ground. We consoled and comforted one another, offered advice and reassurances, laughed and cried with one another. We became friends. And as you find in any group of friends, there was drama. We had disagreements and conflict. Some people left never to be heard from again, others left and came back.

Seven years on, the core group of us are still friends. The online group itself is not as active as it once was, because most of us are friends on Facebook, and we communicate that way. But we are still as much of a support for one another as we always were. Through seven years (and in some cases, more), we have seen each other through births and deaths, marriages and divorces, relocations, bankruptcies, illnesses, post-partum depression, and even a prison sentence. We have been there for each other through everything.

In 2007, George was diagnosed with autism. As I dealt with the implications of this, including my own emotional fallout, my girls were there for me. Their love and support helped keep me buoyant at a time when it would have been so easy to drown. These amazing women, who had already helped me stay sane through relationship and financial problems, the loss of my father, and my pregnancy with James, once again banded together to help me cope.

And then, a little over a year ago, I found another online group of friends – these ones parents of children with autism. They wormed their way into my heart in the same way my first group had. Although the general conversations centre around different issues, the sense of love and support is present in both groups. My autism friends have been part of my life for substantially less time, but they have helped me over so many hurdles. They tell me I’m a good Mom when I’ve struggle to deal with George’s behaviours. They celebrate with me when he achieves a milestone, and they commiserate with me when a stranger in a grocery store says something ignorant about my child.

Both groups of people are brutally honest in their opinions. They have the strength and the integrity to tell me what they really think, instead of telling me what they believe I want to hear.

From the two groups combined, I have met exactly three people in person.

Occasionally, someone makes a distinction between online friends and IRL (“in real life”) friends. To me, there is no such distinction. Just because you communicate with someone primarily through email or Facebook, that doesn’t mean they are any less real. The only word in the equation that means anything to me is “friends”. And that is truly what these people are. I cannot imagine my life without them. I do not know how I would have weathered the storms of the last few years if they hadn’t been there to keep me afloat and give me reality checks when I needed them.

This post is dedicated to my friends at PALC_group and Parenting_Autism. Thank you for being the wonderful people you are. I love you all.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilamont/4329364198)