May 2, 2012

All the World is His Stage

Posted in AMT's Faves, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 9:18 am by autismmommytherapist

The wind whips over our clasped hands as we navigate the obstacle course of cars in the parking lot, washing over our windbreaker-sheathed arms like so many ripples on the sea. We’re braving the gusts because my youngest son Zachary, who has mild autism, has begged me to come to the park today. Against my better judgment (because it’s cold as hell out) I’ve conceded, mostly because he asked so nicely, and with such enthusiasm. I glance down at him as we run and ask him what he wants to do first, i.e. the equipment, or just jog around the park and exhaust his mom. He smiles up at me and says “Mommy, the stage first, and you will tell me a play.”

A story’s not good enough for this kid. He wants action. I’d better deliver.

We approach the tiny amphitheatre quickly, and I watch as my small son takes the stairs two at a time, with his mother following at a more age-appropriate pace. I’ve been conjuring up plots in the few minutes I’ve been afforded to “get creative”, and for some reason Ali Baba is stuck in my mind, and I know I’ll build the story line around him. Zach instructs me where to stand and shows me the place from where he’ll be watching, a random spot too close to the lip of the stage for my comfort. I gain his attention, and ask him to adjust. I begin to spin a story of a brother with six sisters who try fruitlessly to render their sibling more like them, and how our protagonist rebels in protest. An evil crone is thrown into the mix, spells are cast, a renewed sense of appreciation for those who are different is discovered.

I know, it’s a running theme with us. Nothing like a good cross-over tale.

At first Zach is striding pell-mell across unforgiving concrete, straying close enough to the edge to be cause for concern, until I instruct him that the rest of the play mush be conducted while he’s stationary. At one point the plot I’ve constructed no longer requires movement, and we end up reclining within feet of one another, Zach rapt with attention, his mother cold but animated in the telling. Minutes pass, and I realize as I reach our fairy tale’s denouement that my son has inched his small frame ever closer to my larger one. Eventually his arms are draped around my shoulders, his face nestled in the crook of my neck as he leans into me. He is secure in that sacred spot where both of my children always seem to fit, no matter what their age.

I conclude my little spiel, one with heroes forged from frailty, and wickedness banished to the farthest realms of a kingdom. Zach remains still and silent for a few minutes longer, cuddled in my embrace. Although I watch the wind whip up dust in the eyes of moms, toddlers and dogs attempting to traverse the park, we are protected he and I, left undisturbed by this structure meant for performance. It hits me that these afternoon interludes are numbered, as he’ll most likely enter a full-day kindergarten program in the fall.

I pull him a little closer.

It also occurs to me how far he’s come in the almost four years since that terrible autumn, a period in which my husband and I witnessed him losing most of his words, watched his gut become a battleground, saw the spark leave his eyes. I would give anything to be able to go back in time and tell those devastated parents of the leaps and bounds he would make, the milestones that would be conquered. I’d inform them that eventually those coveted words would resume, with “why” predominant among his ever-increasing vocabulary. I’d say that his inner spark for life would return in full force, an undeniable fire that cannot be quenched. I’d share that his creativity continues to astonish us, that there will be hard work for him ahead, but no limits on what he can do. Most importantly, I’d reassure those parents that he’d once again be happy, would revel in his childhood, which is all I’ve ever wanted for my sons.

Then, I’d give both of us a really big hug.

Fairly soon the moment concludes, with my child offering his hands once again to be warmed, his extremities in complete opposition to the content of his heart. Soon we will rise and descend those stairs to unyielding tarmac, but for a few moments more, we are content. My son whispers in my ear “thank you Mommy”, and I squeeze him more tightly, conveying my message with sinew and strength, not words.

Zachary, my love, all the world is your stage.

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April 23, 2012

The Show Must Go On- “Raising Autism”

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 10:06 am by autismmommytherapist

I’m fidgeting, and as I stand in the wings with my actresses, preparing to take the stage for my autism play, I admonish myself to stop (using my own “teacher voice” no less). Gary Weitzen, Executive Director of POAC Autism Services, is wrapping up his introduction, and I’m anxious to be up there and get this show literally on the road. I take a few deep breaths, solicit the last remnants of saliva from their hiding places in my mouth, and attempt to clear my head.

I recall my “performance mantra”, which is SEL (“Slow down Jersey Girl/Emote, woman!/Look at people on occasion”), and feel my uncooperative stomach settle. I remember the trick I’m using to get through the play without bawling continuously, which is to conjure up clips with female comedians to my stressed-out brain. Melissa McCarthy during the bathroom scene in Bridesmaids easily comes to mind. Kristen Wiig holding a raw chicken on Saturday Night Live, and losing it, follows. An Amy Poehler and Tina Fey chaser in, well, anything, concludes my comedic quad.

Gary wraps up his speech, takes his seat, and I hear the strains of my brother’s music emanating from the sound board backstage. We reach the song’s first crescendo, I gently tap my friend in front of me, and we head for the stairs.

Ready or not, it’s showtime.

This past Saturday night, through the graciousness of POAC Autism Services,I had the great fortune to both act in and produce a play I wrote almost a year ago. It’s entitled “Raising Autism”, and its stories are shared through the medium of three mothers reading from faux diaries, laying their experiences with their children bare for the audience, and themselves. I came up with the idea last summer, and thinking that attempting fiction for the first time while entering middle-age might not be a realistic goal, I didn’t take it too seriously. I had a desire to create a fundraiser for POAC that could be easily replicated down the road, and an urge to divert a bit from my path of writing about my daily life with two boys on the autism spectrum, but truthfully, I didn’t really think I could do it. I’d wrench myself away from my pool every morning the boys were in summer school (the horror!) and write an entry or two, then leave it alone for a few days to write for my blog.

About six weeks into the summer I realized I had half a play, and my husband said it was pretty decent. Who knew.

Ten months, a lot of rewrites, (and a profound amount of begging for donated services later), we’re here, and I’m thrilled to say minus a few sound issues (there’s always something, it’s THEATER), the night went beautifully. My friend and mom of two on the spectrum Babette Zschiegner truly threw herself into her part, and got laughs in all the right places. My other friend and actress Bobbie Gallagher, also the mom to two with autism (I know, there’s a theme here) brought a raw emotion to a role I frankly am too chicken to play, and simply dominated the stage. Given the sniffles (and chuckles) I heard in the audience I think my slightly sarcastic college professor was well-received, even down to her anti-religious leanings and the difficulties of raising autistic twins with her partner back in the early nineties. Although I could only see a few legs from the front row (thank God for the black void of extinguished house lights), I’m told the audience was truly invested in the performance, and for that I am eternally grateful.

After all, I gave up a ton of tanning hours for this little production. It’s nice to reap some reward.

There’s one performance left this coming Saturday April 28th, at the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove, 8:00 PM. If you’re interested, you can purchase tickets off the POAC website www.poac.net, or pay in cash at the door (the theater seats 600, I promise you’ll get in). All proceeds go directly to POAC Autism Services. I promise, if you either have or teach a child on the autism spectrum you’ll find something in the play to relate to. If you don’t, I can guarantee you’ll learn something that evening.

And if you make it next weekend, on behalf of POAC and all the families it serves, and this mom/writer as well, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

June 1, 2011

“You’ve Got Hate Mail”, by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore

Posted in AMT's Faves, If You Need a Good Laugh, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:43 am by autismmommytherapist

Recently I had the pleasure of venturing to NY with a dear friend to see an hilarious play, You’ve Got Hate Mail, co-written by playwrights Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore. It was pretty much a miracle that we both made it there and back given our combined geographical illiteracies (yes, my friend actually brought her GPS), but we did manage to see the performance and return home in one piece. Of course, the hours leading up to our departure were fraught with intrigue, as generally nothing is simple in autismland. I planned this particular evening long before I knew my son’s field day was also scheduled, and subsequently spent a good part of that day making wholly unreasonable deals with God to hold off the rain and any delays, pleas which if answered would enable us to make that coveted 3:30 train. Cindy and I nearly stroked out when confronted with purchasing our train tickets from a MACHINE, not a MAN, but we managed to successfully book passage to New York, not Newark. There were a few testy moments when we thought we’d be walking the forty blocks uptown to the theatre, but eventually a cabbie stopped for us, and delivered us there safely. We were fairly pitiful travelers, but we did it.

As my friend so aptly put it, it was the blond leading the blind.

I will share with you that despite living fairly close by, my trips to the Big Apple are few and far between. Most days making it to the end of the driveway and back to get the mail is enough of an adventure for me, as often I am surprised by what I find when I return to the house, and not in a good way. If I’m going to schlep to the city it had better be for a really exciting reason- either I’ll be consuming a fabulous meal, or I’ll be fabulously entertained. In this instance, I managed to do both. The only thing that would have made the night better was to have a driver deliver us door to door with someone reading “Go the F*** to Sleep” to me, and have the Triad Theater allow us to consume our two-drink minimum on the way home so we wouldn’t get tired by 8:00 PM.

I’m allowed to dream.

The play itself is conducted with the entire cast seated in front of their computer screens, the themes are marriage and adultery, and it is told in its entirety through texting and emails. Richard (Billy Van Zandt) performs as the cheating husband caught in a web of internet intrigue, when an email meant for his mistress Wanda (Fran Solgan) is mistakenly diverted to his wife Stephanie (Jane Milmore). As Richard digs himself deeper and deeper into a morass of immorality, the married couple’s friends get involved, also played brilliantly by Bonnie Deroski as Peg, and Glenn Jones as George.

Anything that captures my attention past 7:00 PM is a winner by me, and this play certainly fit the bill. The dialogue is funny and fast-paced, and each character in the ensemble is equally strong. One of the best parts of the performance is watching the cast’s hilarious facial expressions as each moment of the well-contrived plot unfolds, so I recommend getting there early to sit as close to the stage as possible. Perhaps you don’t need to get there at 5:00 as we did and run into the cast prior to the show (who knew intimate theaters don’t have box offices?), but getting there a little in advance will be worth it, I promise.

Van Zandt and Milmore have written countless plays and television scripts over the span of their several-decade career, and I’ve been fortunate to see a few of their productions. All of them, no matter what was transpiring in my life at the time, have made me laugh (and for those of you who also dwell in the world of autism, you know that’s no mean feat). The two of them are hugely successful, and clearly do not need Autism Mommy-Therapist to give them a good review.

But it’s my damn blog, and this play made me happy, so here we are.

I am aware of how difficult it is for some of my readers to get out of their houses for pleasure, but since most of you seem to be located in New Jersey and New York (except for my one international reader in Irleland, “Erin Go Bragh!”), I urge you to consider giving it a go. I laughed my ass off, didn’t think about autism for over an hour, and I’m not too proud to admit I snorted within the first ten minutes. As my readers know, I don’t put my name behind anything I can’t recommend unequivocally, and “You’ve Got Hate Mail” falls into this category. As an added bonus the Triad Theater is an extremely cool venue, and if you live in the area, you can be in bed by 11:00.

If your son is your 5:00 AM wake-up call too, that’s key. I have my priorities.

Those of you who read me also know I like promoting good people, and although I’ve only met two of the cast members, I can vouch for the playwrights themselves. Jane Milmore is the sister of the famous romance novelist Kaitlin O’Riley, a talented girl with whom I go back to our days at Rumson-Fair Haven High School. Jane and Billy themselves have always been lovely to me throughout the years. And since I’m increasingly convinced my four self-defense classes my mother made me take in 1978 would not protect me from a number of celebrities these days, the fact that they remain such good people after such a long span in Hollywood counts for a lot.

Truly, they’re just like us, except extremely talented.

Anyway, if you’ve got some free time (hah!) and are looking for a really funny play, I highly recommend you spend those limited moments at the Triad. Other than pageant moms, I can’t think of a group of people who deserve a fun night out more than parents of autistic children.

So Jane and Billy, continue to “break a leg” (a term I’ve never understood, which is only one of a thousand reasons I would make a sucky actress), and here’s wishing “You’ve Got Hate Mail” a long and illustrious run.

And once again, thanks for giving this tired girl the good seats, and some great laughs.