The Child That Won’t

I originally wrote and shared this note on Facebook 7 years ago today.  A lot has changed, almost all for the better.  It is good to have this perspective on my son, especially in light of his most recent challenges. He was not quite 6 years old when I wrote this. He is now nearly 13 and standing at the threshold of manhood. My autistic child is quickly becoming an autistic man.
Can’t is not the word to accurately describe him

He can

He chooses not to and

Screams at the first sign of the derailment

Of his plans

The tantrums are huge

He is heavy

Dead weight

Flailing arms and legs

I try to see the situation from inside his mind

The questions:

Why can’t I?

Why do I have to do it your way?

My way is so much better than yours

Than the way of the world

My world makes sense to me

I can,

But only my way

Stop trying to make me see through your eyes

See through mine

From my point of view

All I see is the tantrum

The eyes of judgment surrounding me

Cutting me to the quick

Judging my baby to be

A brat

But I know he’s still my baby

I know him in his quiet moments

Not loud and awful as he is now

I know him tenderly


I know his secret heart

And I love him

Secretly I think it’s all my fault

I number my “if only’s”

Like astronomers number the stars

If I didn’t eat that

If I tried harder

Worked with him

Stayed home, went out more

I drive myself insane

And nothing ever changes

Except my boy

He is the child that won’t

Disguised as the boy who can’t

He is the demon seed

He is the angel

He is the lover, the fighter

He is the best of me

The worst of me

He is my baby

I know his secret heart

And I love him


V-Day: the End of the Beginning

I have never been a fan of the way folks over romanticize Valentine’s Day.  The decorations go up in stores the day after Christmas, when some folks are actually still celebrating Christmas.  The cards are pink, sappy, and covered in hearts.  Everything is commercialized, even the “Galentine’s” Day culture for single women without sweethearts (I have often wondered why there isn’t a corresponding “Palentine’s” Day for single men, but whatever).  There doesn’t seem to be any understanding at all that the original name of what we celebrate on February 14 is Saint Valentine’s Day.  There’s a whole history that most folks neither know or understand, as there is with so many other holidays which have become Hallmark holidays.

For me, February 14, 1986 was the end of the beginning of a relationship.  That was the day I broke up with my boyfriend.

We had first met on October 28, 1981, on our first day of a strike delayed school year.  We were in eighth grade, and only 13 years old.  We were in the same class again in ninth grade.  I dated his best friend.  We hung out in the same group of friends.  I had played in the school orchestra with his brother since I was 11.

His name was John.  I thought he was weird, mostly because he stared at me all the time.

John left our school to go somewhere else for tenth grade.  His brother remained to finish his senior year, so I would see him from time to time.  He’d grown taller and his hair had gotten long.  Still, he seemed somehow attractive to me for no particularly good reason.  I had long ago been dumped by his friend (because he was gay), so there was no conflict of interest there.  I invited him to my 16th birthday party and he showed up.  Then he started to call me almost everyday.  The conversations were odd, but they all ended the same way: he would murmur quietly “I love you.”  The first few times he said it, I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly.

I’d heard him correctly.  One day, I called him on it.  I asked him to repeat what he’d said, and he did.  Then there was a long pause.  He was clearly waiting for me to say something, but I had no clue what to say.  I wasn’t at all sure how I felt about him.  Did I love him too?

I just didn’t have an answer to that question, especially since I knew that his family was moving away the day after his brother graduated.  There were only a few days for me to sort all this out.

Graduation came and I knew I would see him.  When the ceremony finished, John appeared seemingly out of nowhere and I broke down in tears.  I sobbed into his shirt as I grabbed his collar to pull him close.  I guess this was my answer to him.

I loved him too.

Over the next 20 months, we spoke on the phone practically every Friday night.  John would call me around 7:30 and we would talk for an hour or two.  He would always talk about himself and rarely ask about me.  He also wrote a lot of letters and occasionally came to visit me.  My parents didn’t care for John much, but they really hated the idea that I had a boyfriend.  He was never welcome to stay at our house and I was not allowed out with him often.  My parents didn’t trust anything with a penis anywhere near me.

About a year after my relationship with John began, I met someone who reminded me of him.  I walked into a room where I was going to be spending a week at a poetry conference, and there he was.  For a split second, I thought he was John.  I was wrong.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, actually.

By Halloween, I was dating them both.  My mom actually said it was a good idea because I was too young to be tied to one boy.  Oddly, my lack of monogamy only really bothered one person: John.  He wasn’t in Philadelphia anymore and I only saw him every three months.  I was lonely.  I wanted to go to my prom senior year and John didn’t want to go.  My other guy wanted to go, and he had a car to boot.  I was torn.  I was only 17.

Then John threw down the gauntlet.  I had to choose.  Now.

I don’t like ultimatums.  I made the choice, but I didn’t choose him.  I was sad about it, but I was determined to break up with him.  All I had to do was wait for him to call that Friday, February 7th.

He called and I could hear him crying.  He had just come from putting down the family dog.

Are you fucking kidding me?  I couldn’t break up with a man who had just lost his pet.  I may have been a self-centered teenaged girl, but I had a heart.  I would wait until the following week to tell him.

February 14th.  Valentine’s Day.

Yeah.  I suck.  He called and I broke up with him.  He argued.  He bargained.  He pleaded.  He cried.

I was surprised that I cried too.  Even though I had what some would later call “a spare” lined up, I was breaking up with someone I loved.  I felt a loss, even if no one else believed me.  It was hard to do, but I did it.

That was 30 years ago today.  John and I had a good laugh about it this morning.

Yes, that weird boy is now my husband of nearly 24 years.

How do I explain it?  He changed.  I changed.  We talked.  I dated more than my share of guys after finally breaking up with the idiot I dumped John for.  That relationship was sick, twisted, and violent, and I’m lucky to have survived it.  I’m even luckier that I gave John another chance.  Despite the level of cliché this phrase has achieved, I really don’t know where I’d be without John.  He may actually have saved me from my lesser self and brought me to a better understanding of what I was meant to be.

Isn’t that what a good relationship is supposed to do?  He supports me and I support him.  We love each other because of, NOT in spite of, who the other person is.  We are better together than we could have been individually.

For years after we got back together, I would be the one to buy the roses and dinner and chocolates.  It was my way of saying both thank you and I’m sorry.  In February of 1998, I gave him our first child as a Valentine’s Day present.  That day I asked him if I could stop apologizing for breaking up with him so many years before.  He most magnanimously let me off the hook.  We were even.

So, for me, Valentine’s Day is a day I remember the end of the beginning of my relationship with John.  Actually, it is a cause for celebration.  We weren’t ready for each other yet, and I needed to end it so we could go on with our lives and grow up a little.  The second time around was the charm.  Timing, as I’ve learned, is indeed everything.

Baby Girl

Yesterday was my daughter’s 18th birthday.

I need a moment for that to sink in.

I’ve often joked that she was the most planned for and wanted child in the world. For months before her conception, I stopped consuming caffeine, alcohol, red meat, and non-organic fruits and veggies. I read all sorts of articles about how to improve the odds for conception. I even bought my hubby some boxers to help keep the boys cool.

Believe it or not, I got pregnant on the first try. I was thrilled! Hubby was hoping it would take more, um, practice, so he was a little disappointed it happened so quickly.

I didn’t realize I was pregnant at first, though I should’ve figured it out; the eggs were a dead giveaway. Up until then, I hated eggs! Suddenly, I was eating nearly a dozen every few days.

One day, I decided to go buy a pregnancy test. I had a strong feeling and I was right. I was pregnant, but only just. Everyone I told was excited and happy, except my husband.

Was it shock? Uncommonly strong reticence? New England stoicism? What the hell?

Two things finally broke through his steely exterior. First, there was a tiny pair of baby socks that I’d purchased (“the baby’s feet will be tiny enough for these little socks…”). Then it was hearing the baby’s heartbeat for the very first time (through tears, he asked if he could hear it again). Our baby was finally real for him, as it had been for me through all seven weeks of non-stop wall-to-wall morning sickness. I threw up so much for so long, I lost 10 pounds in my first trimester. Oy vey.

Eventually, I got my feet back under me and my appetite back. My belly began to grow and I prepared to welcome the baby who would make us three. We didn’t know if our child would be a girl or a boy. We were just looking forward to being parents.

I was determined to work until the last possible moment, mostly because we needed the money. My body had other plans. The contractions started about two weeks before my due date. They lasted a few hours and then stopped. They felt like the descriptions I’d read of labor contractions and not the “false” Braxton Hicks ones. But before they could settle into any kind of pattern, they were gone…

… for three days.

They came back again the day before a prenatal visit with our midwives. Apparently, they were real contractions, and they were doing their job. My cervix was beginning to open and soften in preparation for the delivery of our little one. But when? It could be at any time, so I was told (not asked, told) to go home and stay home. I could do light housekeeping, but mostly I was to go lie down and sleep as much as I could. I was also told to “date” my husband because these would be our last carefree childless days for the next twenty years or so.

Then there were the “let’s get this labor started” suggestions: evening primrose oil, spicy food, sex (since I felt rather like livestock at that point, it wasn’t as good as it sounds), long walks… and castor oil. I took the castor oil at the suggestion of the midwives and it worked — but only for its originally intended purpose. At the end of the day, I was still pregnant, but with a clean digestive tract.

One night, I cooked up a big dinner, packed it up, and smuggled it into a movie theater where I met my hubby after work. We saw Titanic. I was hoping that all that water rushing around might help get things started. No such luck.

My due date arrived two days later. I had a prenatal visit scheduled.  It was a cold, damp day, the kind of cold that creeps into your bones.  I awoke feeling enormous and swollen.  I wanted to be relieved of my incubation duties.  I was sick to death of carrying what had begun to feel less like a baby and more like a bowling ball.  I waddled into the office with hubby, announcing that someone needed to get this baby out of me — or give me a knife so I could do it myself.  Pregnancy had clearly lost its appeal for me.

The exam showed that I was very close to being ready to deliver.  I was given two options: do nothing and have a baby by the end of the weekend (it was Thursday) or take castor oil — again — and have a baby sometime tomorrow evening.  Our midwife left the room so we could make a decision.

It was a no-brainer.

Hubby and I left and went our separate ways, he to work and I to the drugstore.  I had done this before, so I knew what to buy.  I made my purchase and then made my way home on the subway.  I dragged my belly up the long hill to our apartment building one last time.  I watched tv with our two cats.  My favorite shows were The Rosie O’Donnell Show and old reruns of Columbo.  I cleaned a few things around the house and made a few phone calls.  We had only just moved to this apartment 6 weeks before, so I had things to keep my mind and hands busy.  I folded the newly washed baby clothes and packed the last of our things to be ready for a quick trip out the door.  I ordered Mexican food for dinner.  Gone With The Wind was on tv and I watched it as I ate my spicy dinner and waited for hubby to come home from working late.

I was to take the peppermint emulsified castor oil, mixed with a shot of vodka, the first time I woke up after midnight.  It was about 1:30 in the morning.  I took it and went back to sleep.  All I could do now was wait and see.

I didn’t have to wait long.

I awoke at 5am in labor.  The midwife on call advised us to wait until the castor oil… worked.  The problem was I threw up soon after I woke up.  Not to worry, she said, the cocktail had been in my system long enough.  It would work.  In the meantime, I was to get into a lukewarm bath and have hubby spoon feed me peppermint tea with honey.

Obediently, we followed the directions.  Unfortunately, every time I was hit with a contraction, I hauled my enormous body out of the tub to sit on the toilet.  After doing that two or three times, I abandoned the bath.

I clearly remember the hardest contractions, and the relief I felt when they were over.  I went to lie down on our bed to rest when I was suddenly hit with the biggest and strongest urge to push I could’ve ever imagined.

I was still at home.  This wasn’t good.

We called again.  The midwife on call had changed and this one heard my voice while I was mid-push and told us to get to the birthing center.  NOW!

I don’t know how he did it, but hubby got me fully dressed in seconds.  He strapped on the suitcase and other accessories for our trip and ripped down the $20 bill taped to the back of the front door (I married the most prepared man in the world).  I waddled down the hall to the elevator and scared the living shit out of the guy who was already on it when the doors opened.

My water broke before we reached the ground floor.

Through a comedy of errors not to be believed, we finally caught a car.  The driver spoke practically no English, but he knew the key word: hospital.  We got in the car and off we went.

It was Friday morning.  During the morning rush.  We got caught in traffic.

We made our way off the highway and onto Riverside Drive.  Hubby was relying on the Lamaze training we’d received.  It was a simple mantra: you can’t push and blow at the same time.  Epic fail.  The urge to push was beyond my control.  This baby was coming on its own schedule, and that was NOW.  Right. Fucking. NOW.

The baby had crowned.  The top of its head was out already.  I made hubby tell the driver to stop.  The hospital was not an option now.  We pulled over at the intersection of Riverside Drive and 104th Street.

It was a cold, clear day with temps in the low 20s.  The sunshine was brilliant.  Halfway around the world, the opening ceremonies of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics were taking place.  Meanwhile, on the west side of Manhattan in the back of a 1997 Lincoln Town Car, a beautiful baby girl was born.  She was born quietly, delivered into the waiting hands of her Daddy.  He put her on my stomach and she looked right at me, straight into my soul.  I was immediately in love.

We were three.

Of course the story doesn’t end there.  There were firefighters and paramedics and an ambulance.  There was a petrified cab driver who got interviewed by Spanish Language news.  Apparently, our daughter’s birth was the talk of Santo Domingo that day…

There was poking and prodding by ER nurses before our midwife came to take us to our room upstairs at the birthing center.  There were all sorts of tests and nurses and all kinds of stuff.  The years have blurred the details of most of it, but they haven’t blurred the joy I felt when I looked into the face of the most beautiful child I’d ever seen.  She was perfect.

Today, 18 years later, I think she still is.  She’s not a 21 inch, 8 pound 7 ounce baby anymore.  Now she’s 5’11” of badass, ready to take on the world.  She is closer to having her own babies someday than she is to being one herself.  She is smart and talented beyond her years.  It’s hard to believe that I could possibly love her more today than I did the very first time I saw her.

But I do.


Losing the Race

For Black History Month, I’m reposting my most popular blog.


I have struggled to write anything coherent in the last few days. I’ve started and choked on a few posts that never made it off the ground. I’ve become self-conscious as a writer and made the mistake so many writers, artists, entertainers, and performers make — I worried more about pleasing my audience than telling my truth.

Not today.

A few nights ago, out of nowhere, I found myself in an argument on Facebook with someone whose friendship I had recently been questioning. This person sent me a private message regarding a post I’d put up earlier in the day about the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland. Without thinking that someone might take my comment in any way other than what I actually said, I posted that his death hit me close to home because he was 12 and my son was almost 12. Apparently, that comment was a problem.

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