September 21, 2010

Sea of Love

Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , , , , at 7:45 pm by autismmommytherapist

A few years ago Jeff and I were in the middle of our favorite annual trip to the Jersey shore’s famous seaside towns when we happened to walk by a particularly beguiling fortune-teller, one who not only promised to predict the future, but also leave her customers satisfied. At the time my husband and I were high both on Kohr’s custard and that scent of the ocean that simply cannot be replicated by any candle, and together we decided satisfaction sounded great. I approached the booth and plunked down my money (Jeff graciously let me have the reading, because I’d received second prize with my seventh grade ESP science fair project just a few years back, and after all, I’d earned it). I informed my gypsy du jour I wanted a tarot card reading, and after pushing through the tattered velvet curtains and disentangling myself from multiple strands of crystal beads, my truthsayer and I got down to business.

There was, of course, the usual recital of love lost and found (I’m thinking my wedding ring might have helped her a little there), and struggles both vanquished and yet to come (she was a bit vague on specifics, but terrific on delivery). Then suddenly she became very quiet, absolutely mute for what felt like an hour, but since their trade depends on volume, the silence must not have lasted for more than thirty seconds. She actually put the cards down and grabbed my hands (at this point I’m searching frantically for the Death icon, wondering if she tells me about my imminent demise will I still be able to salvage the rest of this vacation), and looked me straight in the eyes.

In a compelling tone she said “In the next year, your reason for being here, your destiny, will be revealed to you”, then dropped my hands, returned to the reading to regale me with promises of one long marriage, kids, and travel, yada, yada, yada, all delivered with the same boisterous manner she’d employed prior to the hand grab that felt like the beginning of a séance. I felt like I’d better pay attention now, but the rest of the reading was inconclusive, no particular achievements pinpointed, yet no catastrophes revealed either.

I remember thinking maybe I had a hidden talent yet to be revealed to me, like knitting or the ability to send photos electronically, but that what I really wished for was something else, something far more tangible than a scarf or mastering a skill many kindergarteners could manage while simultaneously chatting online. I wanted a baby, we’d been trying for two years, and as my battle-scarred ass was protesting more and more indignantly at its grave misuse I knew we were nearing the end of our IVF rope, and time was running out.

The next month I was pregnant with the embryo that eventually became Justin, and boy, my destiny certainly was revealed to me that year. I feel like I should return to Wildwood and give her a finder’s fee.

And in fact, that’s just what me and my husband did this past weekend, embarked upon a seventy-two hour furlough on the southernmost boardwalk in a state which carries memories for us not just of childhood, but of adult sojourns too. As we strolled the uneven planks of one of Jersey’s greatest treasures we recalled trips from the past with our birth families, but more importantly, vacations from our glorious pre-baby days. We recalled the time I won $250 on those high-priced dollar slots (what was I thinking!), which at the time paid half my rent for the coming month. He reminded me of one late afternoon trip to Ocean City where we met our friend “Rick the Priest”, who while hailing from the cloth also remains one of our most fun-loving companions, one with enough gusto to indulge my lifelong desire to sport a unicorn tattoo on my ankle by submitting to a matching one of his own.

Yes, they washed off.

Of course, our most poignant memory entails the vacation a year into the fertility wars, where I had a broken toe from walking into my own sneakers, a debilitating case of bronchitis, and the denouement of contracting a particularly virulent strain of pink eye that literally rendered me blind for the last day of my trip (but not impaired enough to forego one last round of mini-golf). I recalled that I had been ovulating that week, and since we were taking a break from IVF had offered to put a bag over my head for the good of our future family, urging my husband to be a “trooper”.

He politely declined.

I find that reliving the memories is essential, not only because we are given the gift of remembering who we were, but are forced to assess where we are, where we’ve deviated from the path we set out for ourselves almost a decade ago, and where we’ve remained true to the plan. We have our two kids, our glorious, wonderful kids. Jeff, much to our delight, is still employed. I not only wrote that damn book that was scuttling around in my brain for years, but eventually mastered the use of my GPS as well. We are still married, and most days, even like each other. Perhaps that, and our sons’ happiness, is the greatest achievement yet.

As we continue to maneuver our way around the staccato boards of a path that marks both our past and our future, dodging the exuberant firefighters who are here for their annual trip down memory lane (I’ve never felt safer), I take Jeff’s hand, drink in that salty air, and try to decide if my next carb will be custard or fudge. And in case you’re curious, I decided on the seasonal pumpkin/cinnamon swirl with sprinkles (not jimmies!), AND rocky road, respectively.

Thank God my high school reunion is still a month away.

August 11, 2010

Mommy Dearest

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , at 6:28 am by autismmommytherapist

We’ve reached a major milestone in the McCafferty household. Apparently, my youngest son is all grown up now, and I am no longer his mommy.

I’m just his mom.

It may seem like splitting hairs here, but the child is only three after all. I can clearly remember back when I was conducting the fertility wars how much I longed to hear the word “mommy” directed at me from someone actually related to me, rather than from a friend’s offspring or the out of the mortified mouth of one of my fifth graders (always a boy). After Justin was diagnosed with autism and it became clear he might never speak, I wondered if we’d have the energy to adopt a child, if I’d ever have the good fortune to be blessed with that monacre appropriately. When my husband and I fulfilled that longtime cliché of IVF couples who follow the test-tube child with an unplanned natural conception I knew I had a second chance, and I waited eagerly for my “mama”. Eventually it came, morphed into “mommy”, and I had the opportunity to hear it every day, all day, over, and over, and over again.

Be careful what you wish for.

The truth is, while it was wonderful to have one of my children actually prove capable of calling for me  (coincidentally “mama” was one of the few words Zach retained when he regressed, smart boy), hearing those repetitive syllables didn’t end up being the pinnacle of my parenthood career. It was a lovely occurrence, and still is, but in his own way Justin says “mama” to me every day, either attempting to formulate the truncated sounds with his lips, or simply beckoning to me with his eyes. As it turns out being summoned vocally carried with it a feeling of deja vue, for I felt I’d already been graced with this staple of mommyhood for years with my firstborn. It was nice to hear, but not necessary for me to feel complete in my caregiver role.

And now, just two short years after my first exposure to the sounds I so coveted in my pre-child days, I’ve been “downgraded” to the far more mature “mom”, and as my youngest and last child approaches his three-and-a-half year mark it is clear to me my baby days are over, toddler years permanently behind me. For some reason, this incredibly grown-up appellation saddens me, which is ironic because I found I really began to enjoy my children the most when they hit pre-school age. It wasn’t so long ago that I was having semi-serious conversations with good friends about engaging in “child share”, in which they would raise my infants, and I’d take their offspring for the pre-teen years, my preferred milieu.

Trust me, during a few of those conversations, we both considered the swap.

It has finally occurred to me that I now understand why some of my friends get misty-eyed at their children’s birthday parties, particularly after the “store has closed”, and they know they are forever finished with pregnancy, late night feedings, and that miraculous smell at the base of a baby’s neck that could never be bottled. Each of Justin’s birthdays has been just pure celebration for me, because for the most part every year has brought him new skills, a lessening of the more severe symptoms of autism that have plagued him since birth, and an increase in his inherent happy nature. The older he gets the more at peace he is, and I cannot pretend to long for the sleepless nights and interminable crying sessions of his infancy. He was a cute kid to cuddle, but at the end of the day I prefer our own separation of church and state, his ability to regulate his own emotions without being held throughout the entirety of the day, and often the night.

But that’s just me.

Zachary however is a different story, and I fear on his fourth birthday, which I feel is the mile marker which signifies the advent of a fully human child, I will be a muddled mess. I’ve already begun to miss a little of the boy who could only stifle his occasional sadness through a hug rather than his current technique of talking himself through a problem logically. I admit I long a little for the child who couldn’t bear to be separated from his parents (except when with his favorite babysitter, for whom he’d abandon us both in a heartbeat), and bear a wistful remembrance for the son who always chose to be nearby rather than amusing himself apart from us. On his next birthday, I will probably need a third glass of the good pinot grigiot.

And as I write these words, it occurs to me that I am truly experiencing these transitions for the very first time, and all is as it should be. I am lucky. Zach is lucky.

With this particular child, it appears I’m going to have to learn how to say goodbye.