Monday, December 31, 2007

Any time is the best time for magic...

When I was a beggarly boy,
And lived in a cellar damp,
I had not a friend nor a toy,
But I had Alladdin's lamp.
James Russell Lowell

Can't help wondering... what you're wondering about on this New Year's Eve day?
I'm wondering about friends and old and new, of course, and among those a special treasured few. Galoshes is unique among my friends because she never, ever said "do we have to talk about child abuse, again?" Her name, Galoshes, is probably unique, too. At least I don't know many people tagged with it, who actually own it with delight.
The name comes from our time together at a residency for Vermont College in 1999. One icy morning in January I managed to fall down the stairs and tore my ankle up so badly that it took two years to fully heal. I was far from home (AZ), and mostly confined to bed, in a second floor room across the campus from any food source. The next morning, as I struggled to figure out what to do about that, or how long I could stretch my room's stash of junk food, I heard a weird sound in the otherwise silent hallway. Slop, flop, slosh, jingle, jangle, squish, slop, flop, slosh, jingle jangle, squish...on it came, then silence, followed by a timid knock on my door.
An angel appeared with food tray piled high, steaming hot coffee, and the sweetest smile I've ever seen. I'm not sure why she hadn't taken time to fasten the galoshes... wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't time to do that, bring me food and get to her class on time... but the angel in galoshes came bearing every meal after that and even slipped in between visits to be sure I was okay. Maybe Galoshes wasn't the only one who thought about me and my needs, but she was the only one who acted on her loving, caring impulse. Oh, sure some others stopped by to say the perfunctory, "let me know if you need anything," without much thought as to how I'd do that stuck in a room without a phone. And I should note that three days later, several instructors came by... but, you get the picture.
Well, this morning Galoshes sent an e-mail, which she has agreed to let me share with you. I have to say it seems that special quality Galoshes has (barely hinted at here!) of seeing a need and filling it, runs in her family. Wouldn't we all have a Happier New Year with a few more of us taking the time to do that little thing, now?

December 30, 2008
When I was a young mother, Erma Bombeck said something to the effect that, if she failed at the job of raising her kids, nothing else she did would count for anything. Her words have haunted me for over thirty years, but now I’m ready to let them go, because they seem to be based on the assumption that life is supposed to add up and make sense: Do this and you’ll get that.
Those of us on the autistic continuum are especially prone to trying to cram things into their proper places and make them stay there so we won’t have all these gray uncertainties swirling around in our heads. For us, change is public enemy number one. We want formulas with predictability we can count on. And yet... doesn’t each of us get up every morning with the hope that something magical will happen? Something that will defy the equations that hold us hostage, and allow us to do something like, oh, I don’t know, fly?
Almost invariably, when I was introduced to one of Stephen’s patients, I would hear, “You must be a very special person to be married to Dr. Adelman.” I managed to smile without saying, “How do you know that your doctor Adelman isn’t so special because he’s married to me?” But either way, an explanation was being offered for a human life. It’s so hard not to do it. We blame our parents, sometimes with good reason, for our neurotic tendencies, are shocked when kids with terrific parents become thugs, and marvel at kids with wretched beginnings who somehow rise above them. But in each case we’re reducing a human life to something like a recipe for biscuits. And yet, we don’t really, really and truly, want life to work out and be fair as much as we want it to mean something, something more than we can see or touch. Maybe that’s what Katherine Paterson meant when she was asked if you have to have a miserable childhood to be a writer: “No, but it helps.”
My sister, Becky, told me about something she did this Christmas that brought her great joy, and it’s one of the reasons I’m ready, finally, to let go of Erma Bombeck’s words.
A seven-year-old girl lives across the street from Becky. When Dillon was ten months old, Her mother, Neeley, was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and told she had three weeks to live. Seven years later, Dillon’s teachers have never seen her mother with a full head of hair and Neeley’s doctors have given her the label “chronic cancer patient.” Neeley spends one week out of every three puking up her socks from chemotherapy, but no moss grows under her feet during the other two weeks. She volunteers at Dillon’s school and is involved in numerous community activities. (One Sunday morning when I was tying plastic Easter eggs and baskets on the tree in Becky’s front yard, Neeley came over with chocoate eggs for the baskets. Only later did I learn she had been on her way to the airport for cancer surgery in another state.)
From birth, each day with Dillon was considered a gift by her parents and her grandparents, and Dillon cleaned up. By the time she was in kindergarten, she’d had so many gifts and specials and treats, a wrapped package held little excitement for her, and on more than one occasion, my sister told me it was no fun getting a gift for a spoiled brat.
Which, is why this story did such a number on me. A year ago, not long before Christmas, Becky saw Dillon scraping snow off the windows of her dad’s car. “Where are your gloves,” Becky asked.
“They got too small.”
A couple of days later, Becky happened to see a pair of pink-and-white-striped magic shrinking gloves on sale for $1.20. (Dillon’s favorite color is pink.) She bought them, wrapped them in red tissue paper, and left them in Dillon’s mailbox with a note: “Thought your hands couldn’t survive until Christmas. Love, S.C.”
Several days later, Dillon’s dad told Becky that Dillon had figured out the “S.C.” and had worn the gloves to bed that night.
Becky began looking for other things to leave from S.C., including a ceramic cookie jar in the shape of a Christmas tree. (“This better be full of cookies on Christmas eve.” ) A few days after Christmas, she found a marked-down ornament, a tiny pink tutu on a hanger. (“Found this in the bottom of my sleigh when I was cleaning it out. Thought you should have it. Love, S.C.”)
This year, not knowing where Dillon stood with Santa Claus, Becky thought he’d better show up again, so she left a $1.75 battery-operated candle. (“Put this in your window so I don’t miss you on Christmas eve. Love, S.C.”)
Becky sews things up in the time it takes most of us to brush our teeth, so when she found pink flannel with zoo animals all over it, she made a pillow case. (“All the animals in the zoo are jumping up and down for you. Love, S.C.”) Next came a glass snowman ornament from the Dollar Store (“Let it snow! Love, S.C.”) Then Piglet arrived, perched on top of a pen, a pink ostrich feather wrapped around his middle like a tutu. His tummy glowed when you pressed down with the pen. (“Thought you might want to write me a note.”) And what Dillon wrote to Santa was a thank you note.
A couple of times when Dillon was opening the red-tissue-wrapped surprises, her friend, Sadie, who had moved into the neighborhood that year, was there, watching. When Sadie saw the note with the battery-operated candle, Neeley saw her face droop, but she said, bravely, “It’s okay, Santa will find me.” That night Neeley delivered a battery-operated candle just like Dillon’s to Sadie’s mailbox with instructions from S.C. to put it out so he could find her.
When Becky was buying red-and-white candy-striped flannel to make her teenage son pajamas, the clerk cut only two instead of two-and-a-half yards, perfect for two pillowcases. But another girl had moved into the neighborhood not long after Sadie, so the red-tissue-paper wrapped pillowcases ended up in Sadie’s and Frankie’s mailboxes. (“May visions of candy canes dance in your heads. Love, S.C.”)
On Christmas eve, Becky went out to check, and in both Dillon’s and Sadie’s front windows, $1.75 battery-operated candles burned brightly.
This story happened because my sister saw beyond a spoiled brat to a little girl who could still be touched by magic. Whatever Dillon, or Sadie, or Frankie, or Becky’s kids, or mine, are like now, or twenty years from now, it can’t be summed up as a sign of success or failure on the part of their parents. Life is far richer than that, and far more mysterious. Which is why the surprises we leave in other mailboxes do matter. And why I feel lucky to have a little sister who sometimes goes by her initials, S.C. "

So my wish for the New Year is that we all remember this story when we encounter that situation with the brat who may be an abused kid acting out, or the abusive caretaker maybe also acting out, and everything in us just wants to get away and ignore it all. A little thing means a lot... a little thing left undone means nothing. Smile!
A Child is Waiting,
Take aware,
Nancy Lee

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