Friday, November 26, 2010


Ethan woke up from his nap early yesterday afternoon. That morning we had said our goodbyes to Jessica and Birth to 3. Somehow the house felt empty. I looked outside and saw the sun and the wind whipping the trees and told the kids to get their coats, we were going outside to play while there was still daylight.

The maple in our backyard, always the last holdout each fall, was finally almost bare. I looked past the swingset, up the hill and into the wind that was wrestling the last of the leaves to the ground and a picture flashed in my mind. I saw Jessica and I standing in this same spot almost exactly a year before, feet crunching in the leaves, watching Ethan push his wagon up the hill. We had been talking about something, I guess about Ethan and the way he played outside, and suddenly I started crying. My heart felt broken as I described how tired I was of chasing Ethan out there, that he thought it was a big game to run around the house -- and how I kept remembering the days Anna and I would play back there when she was small, how she had had my undivided attention and now with everything happening I felt I had let her down. I had failed her, and I wondered: would it ever get better?

That was a year ago, I thought. Was that possible?

"Okay guys!" I shouted. "It's freezing out here. Let's play chase to warm up. One, two, three, come catch me!"

I took off across the yard, and there was Anna shrieking behind me and Ethan behind her. They followed me up the hill and under the tree now free of leaves, Anna's magical fairyland tree in the summer, under which the lily of the valleys grow in the spring. My kids caught me and gave me hugs, Ethan unceremoniously wiping his dripping nose on me in the process.

"Now catch ME!" Anna screamed, and was off, and so was I, and Ethan, yes Ethan was following us and not just pushing his lawnmower around or trying to disappear around the house.

We sat on the swings, trying to catch our breath, rubbing our hands together in the cold, knowing we'd need to go in soon. "Push higher mom!" Ethan commanded. Anna wanted to make up another game about her bratty imaginary enemies. "Can we play Prune Girls?" she pleaded.

It's been a year, I kept thinking. Fall, winter, spring, summer, and fall again. In my mind's eye I saw water fights with the hose and taking the sleds down the hill in perfect glittering snow and breezy summer afternoons under the shade of the maple, swinging and looking up at the big blue sky. I saw the faces of every person that had been a part of our lives and a part of our family in the past year, helping us begin this journey with Ethan and autism. That was all? I almosted wanted to ask. They're really gone now?

Anna grabbed a piece of sidewalk chalk and began drawing all over the patio. "Do you want to draw too?" I asked Ethan, and joy of joys, he took a piece of chalk and started coloring...and coloring...and coloring. More than five minutes of coloring, for a boy who typically views it as a necessary evil. Anna was drawing a baby with the word "goo" coming out of her mouth. Then she got mad when Ethan scribbled over the baby's face, and I probably should have been more stern with Ethan but was so glad to just see him enjoying the chalk for the first time ever. But I did give Anna more time to draw another baby even though we needed to get inside, if that counts for anything.

Somehow in that moment I truly felt as if my heart would burst, just splatter right there on the patio. A year had gone by. My son still had autism but the little boy with the big grin chasing his sister and his mom around the backyard was not the same person. Neither was I. A year had gone by in a blink and there was no denying my children were marching past the sweet years of childhood at a startling pace. I wanted to stop time and somehow simultaneously push them to fly. I wanted to hold on to this way of life I'd grown comfortable with yet let it all go and see what would happen next. If it's possible to feel profoundly grateful, sad, and joyful in a single moment, well, I was.

You can do this, a voice whispered as I ushered the kids inside. I was reminded of my time at Baystate, creating videos about babies born way too early, whose parents watched over them for months in the NICU and grew to know and love the staff there like a second family. When it was time for their little one to finally go home, parents would always tell me, a part of them didn't want to go. A part of them was afraid to leave everything they'd known behind and take their child out of that protective bubble. But in the end their joy always overran the trepidation.

Darkness was coming. Thanksgiving was coming. I wanted to wrap my kids in my arms and squeeze them in the kind of hug that makes it difficult to breathe. I wanted to thank everyone I'd already thanked. I wanted to dance, but it was Anna who needed to get to ballet class, literally. While we drove we looked for Christmas lights; those bright spots in the darkness, hinting of beautiful things to come.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven." -- Ecclesisastes 3:1

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