Sunday, December 16, 2012

In the small scheme of things

The news trickled in slowly, but soon it was known. A gunman shoots his way into an elementary school and kills 20 kids and six adults. 20 kids, ages 6-7. If there ever was a time for the nation to ask itself “WTF?”, it was at this time. (Frak if you’re a Galactica fan, the other word if you aren’t.) There was no other way to express it. This just shouldn’t happen.

It didn’t take long for people to come up with means of expressing it. The media’s way was to show pictures of terrified kids and crying adults. While this accurately conveys somewhat of the emotion of being there, I would rather have not seen these pictures. These people didn’t need the press descending on the crime scene. Twitter, of course, was abuzz with “the latest”, usually ended up being proven false. “Retweet this to show respect!”, as if my retweeting a picture of a letter that was obviously a fake meant anything. Within minutes of the story hitting the national scene there was a Wikipedia entry on the situation. Soon after the Facebook tribute pages popped up. “Post this picture of a candle to show respect.” “Post this picture of Jesus welcoming children into the kingdom of Heaven to show how much you care.” (Nobody is asking the question why Jesus didn’t just jam the dude’s gun so these kids could stay alive, but that’s another discussion for another time.) Here’s a good one: #prayfornewtown. What does that mean and what does that do? People who hold to no belief system at all hashtagged Twitter posts #prayfornewtown.  Again, if I’m going to pray for Jesus to bring his peace to these families suffering unspeakable loss, I might as well ask why Jesus didn’t just spare the kids so the family could have peace anyway. I can’t pray at this point. If you can, well, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

It might have taken an hour, maybe less, but gun control suddenly became the issue du jour. People on both sides of the rift insisted that  “I don’t want to politicize this situation, but this needs to be said!” followed by something that, quite frankly, didn’t need to be said. If you didn’t want to politicize the situation, then why didn’t you just shut the hell up for 24 hours and let these people grieve in peace? The answer is that most of the time it isn’t the quote that “needed to be said”, it’s the person who needed to do the saying. There are few things that “need to be said” right away. “Excuse me” when I belch, “I love you” to my wife, and “don’t go in there” when I hit the Head. Most other things can wait. But people have to be seen caring. They don’t know how to react in the face of such suffering, but they want to be seen reacting so they aren’t thought of as some unfeeling butthead. They know that people in Newtown aren’t likely to see the picture of the candle they reposted, but the people on their friends list will see it and say “aww, that really shows that Johnny Facebookgeek cares about something greater than himself.”

So what is the proper reaction to unspeakable tragedy for someone who doesn’t reside within 50 miles of Newtown, Connecticut?




Does that cover it?

There is no proper reaction. To cry would be an appropriate reaction; to want to send a card or financial gift to help with funeral costs, that would be an appropriate reaction; to hug your kids and not let go, that would be an appropriate reaction. All of these are appropriate, but none of them are “proper”, in that you can’t just say “if you really care, you will sign this petition to repeal the 2nd Amendment” or “if you really care, you will stop playing fantasy football or ordering out for pizza or having sex with your wife for the whole weekend.” Out of respect. After all, how can you think that your Saturday Monopoly game with Grandma and cousin Jed is at all meaningful in light of this horrendous tragedy?

The conundrum that we face as human beings is that we want to care for “the grand scheme of things”, but we don’t live in the grand scheme of things, we live in the small scheme of things. In the grand scheme of things, my son playing with his poop is not important in the light of such a tragedy. I need to thank God that I still have my son. True enough. But in the small scheme of things, I still have to clean the poop off the wall. In the grand scheme of things, the death of a cat cannot ever be compared to the death of a child. It is not even close to being close to being close. In the small scheme of things, when you have a cat for a long time and you have it put to sleep, it hurts a hell of a lot.

A very good friend of mine was over joyed at receiving a bracelet from her husband. She posted a picture of her wrist with the bracelet on it a day after the tragedy. She was overjoyed and even cried. Now, in the grand scheme of things, how could she cry over receiving a bracelet? How could she be happy in the face of such suffering? But we don’t live in the grand scheme of things, we live in the small scheme of things, and in the small scheme of things, if there is one woman in the world who deserves to explode with joy whenever her husband smiles at her or buys her something nice it is this woman, who waited so long to get married but didn’t stop living life waiting for it to happen.

I’m sorrowful, but I laugh. I want to be still, but I have been out most of the day.  I’m reflectful, but I’m writing this blog. This blog means nothing. This blog means something to someone.

We live in a constant tension. Better to just embrace the tension rather than be made to feel guilty because you enjoyed a chicken sandwich with special dressing and dared to say so. We want to have answers. We don’t have answers. Embrace the ambiguity. We want to cry. We laugh at a joke. Neither are wrong. If you live in Newtown, maybe cackling at a dumb blonde joke might not be the best thing to do. But even in Newtown, someone is going to pop in the Tootsie DVD tonight because they need a laugh.

In the small scheme of things, that Tootsie DVD might be the very thing they need.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Day 3,158

My morning begins like most mornings have been beginning for me lately- with a 12-year-old boy pulling on my hand, then my leg, then watching to make sure I get up. If I don’t move he repeats the process until I do. It is 3:00 in the morning. Day 3,158 of life with autism has just begun.

I can’t be mad at him, of course. I did tell him for weeks on end that if he needed anything during the night he should get me up. He finally got the picture. Now he gets me up every morning regardless of whether he needs to use the toilet or needs diaper help or picked his nose until it bled, as happened a couple of weeks ago. There’s nothing like waking up in the middle of the night and being greeted with a small, bloody face. Sometimes it’s as late as 4:00AM, sometimes as early as 1:30AM. But he will wake me up. I usually get about 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Not always in a row. And I have to get up. If not I stand the chance of being greeted in the morning by a mountain of diapers, tried on and discarded. Or maybe a pool of Kool-Aid on the floor where he attempted to pour his own drink.

Matthew will often fall right back asleep, but not always. I, however, generally fall back asleep in the ever-declining recliner. An hour later I awake to the sounds of Elmo In Grouchland. Matthew has taken his Ipad from the place where it charges overnight, and has decided that now is the time to play. No it isn’t, Matthew. Plug it in and go back to sleep.

An hour after that I am woken again to the sound of macaroni being rattled around in a bowl. Matthew has taken a box of macaroni and cheese, poured the cheese powder into the drain, and is now playing with the macaroni. I order him to go to sleep, and I fall asleep again. If it was possible to stay awake 24 hours a day I would need to. Nothing in the house is safe.

5:45AM hits and I figure it is finally time to wake up officially. Plus it is starting to smell bad in the living room. I open my eyes and shine the light from my phone around the room. One, two, three, four, five dirty diapers strewn about. He changed his diaper without waking me. Good. He let the contents leak onto the floor. Not so good. 6:00AM and I am scrubbing poop off the carpet.

Rebecca generally has one of two responses to the beginning of the day. She will either wake up at 5:00AM and decide that it’s time to play, or she will stay asleep until it is time to get her dressed for school, in which case her response is to scream and bellow and carry on as if her liver was being taken without benefit of anesthesia. This morning she comes out of her bedroom at 6:00AM smiling and laughing. Oh yeah, she isn’t wearing any clothes. And she’s entered puberty already, which means… well, just guess what it means. No, no visits from the red-haired grandmother. Not quite yet. But her nudity requires me to wake my wife up an hour ahead of time so she can clean her girl parts and get her dressed. But at least Rebecca is smiling. I silently thank God for sparing us the carnage of Hurricane Rebecca.

Matthew can dress himself.Rebecca, not so much. Bra goes on, bra comes off. Bra goes on, bra comes off. Eventually the bra stays on long enough to get the shirt on, and then we are good. Rebecca is dressed, the kids get on the bus, and I head back to bed.

I wake up at 10:00AM. I have six hours before the children come home to help Laura with the housework. I clean the living room, she cleans the kitchen. We can postpone the bedrooms for a couple of days, after all, no one sees them, but not too long. We nervously joke that if we got robbed again Children’s Services would be on their way and we would be busted. The thought of Children’s Services bending us over and having their way with us causes an extra spring in our step. Laura throws Rebecca’s bedding (that she wet on for the umpteenth day in a row) into the wash, I vacuum the floor, we sit down to watch the most recent Hawaii Five-O. T-minus 45 minutes. The kids are on their way.

Rebecca is smiling, Matthew has his usual grim look, but they both have the same intentions- the kitchen. Throw the shoes, coats and bags on the floor, and on to the food. Matthew asks for Ramen, his favorite treat. We make it, he eats it, he asks for it again. We make it, he eats it, he asks for it again. We make it, he either shoves it under the couch when we aren’t looking or dumps it in the sink.

Rebecca wants soup. She dips her spoon into it and then picks the meat off to eat it. She repeats the process until there is nothing left but broth. She pours sugar into the broth and stirs it around. Oh, hey, there are coffee grounds in the trash! Into the ever-thickening mixture it goes. On and on it goes until the resulting mixture looks less like soup and more like the fake blood they used to perform psychic surgery on 20/20 about 25-30 years ago.

While we deal with Rebecca Matthew has unwrapped several dishwasher powerballs. One goes into the ramen pan. The others are broken up and strewn about the floor. When we turn our backs Rebecca takes the ladle, dips it into the crockpot, and helps herself to some stew. She puts it into a bowl on the table, leaving a trail of stew behind her.

Matthew wants Arthur on the DVR. He wants it again. And again. And again.

Rebecca gets the Chex out and helps herself. Soon the Chex are grounded into the carpet. I lift the couch to clean under it. Ramen, hot dogs, sandwich meat- all have been deposited here. Oh Lord. I grumble under my breath to no one in particular. Rebecca cries, and then shoves her hand into her pants. They don’t come out the same color they went in. Off to the bathroom she goes.

Matthew, meanwhile, has liberated the juice boxes from the top of the refrigerator and has helped himself to four of them. He promptly throws up. I clean that, Laura cleans Miss Poopy Hands.

Night comes. Matthew heads into the bathroom because it is time to brush his teeth. By the time I get there he has the toothpaste on the brush. Then he eats it off the brush. Rebecca’s turn comes and she struggles. She bites down on the brush. Mission aborted for the evening.

As the kids settle in for the evening and head off to lands unknown, I plug my ear buds in, enjoy the soothing sounds of a band called New Jerusalem, and wonder what the future holds. Will I be helping Matthew aim his manhood when he turns 18? Will Rebecca leave the bedroom naked when she’s 21, her Aunt Flo her guest for the next five nights? Will they talk? Will they have any kind of future other than what they are experiencing now? Consult the magic 8-ball. Outlook not so good. I get on Facebook for the umpteenth time that day and read about a friend’s son who is excelling at West Point. Another friend’s daughter has just graduated high school. My niece’s son says something utterly hilarious out of nowhere. My sister’s daughter is in the Marines. Good parents who brag on their children’s accomplishments. As well they should. But it causes my depression to deepen. This isn’t going to be my life. Not now, not ever. No winning basketball shot, no walk down the aisle, no service to the nation. No funny anecdotes to post and have reposted.

I need to listen to something more aggressive. A Kiss album fits the bill. I drift off to sleep. 3:00AM is headed my way soon.

272,851,200 seconds. 4,547,520 minutes. 75,792 hours. 3,158 days.

Day number 3,159 will begin soon.