Ladies Who Lunch

In Loving Memory of JeriLynn

To the casual observer that afternoon, we were just another table of ladies of a certain age catching up.  Possibly old friends from PTA or Little League or Band Moms or any of a number of activities our kids could have participated in together in their school days.  Caryn* and I were the first to arrive, both of us being close to the chic-chic place Jeri had chosen for lunch.  Judy ran in, thinking she was late, with Jeri right behind, and Frannie was late because Frannie was always late.

We hadn’t seen each other for a few years and had much to talk about.  If you had been eavesdropping at this point; you would have had your first opinions confirmed.  Our jobs and our husbands—or ex-husbands—and our kids were topics of conversation as well as what to order for lunch. Salads with dressing on the side, coffee or iced tea and possibly blowing the Weight Watchers points with a real entrée were the topics we began with that afternoon. We are typical of ladies of our age in many ways and our conversation showed it.  We were loud; we were silly, we were happy to be together after years being apart.

The five of us are interesting gals—we always were.  One was a postmaster, another head librarian for a town, one taught foreign languages and another taught children with learning disabilities.  I was the music/arts educator of the group. All of us worked at least part time while our kids were growing up and had some help—or no help—from our kids’ fathers.  Our hubbies were scientists and physicians and English teachers and construction workers.  The ex-husband wasn’t worth mentioning but the grandparents who helped out were! Caryn had one child but the rest of us had two or three—all boys.  And we each had one son who had autism, all very close in age.

Jeri and Frannie started our autism support group in 1986 when there was none–and I mean NONE—in the area.  Breaking new ground, they started something from nothing at a time when autism was a rarely mentioned and certainly did not seem to be as prevalent as it is now.  They met each other at the early intervention/pre-school program their sons, Joshie* and Pete, attended together. They had a need to compare school districts and treatments as well as have some sort of support system. And it was great to talk to someone who really understood the rather bizarre world of autism!  It was a good idea and the little support group soon became part of our state’s society.  Judy and Caryn had been early board members.  I joined the group a few years later, became a board member a few years after that and president a few years after that.

Unlike days past, we didn’t have an agenda for this lunch.  I remember a lunch we had on a Saturday afternoon which took an Act of Congress to pull off and schedule.  During those times, there were coffee meetings and phone meetings and meetings before and after our meetings.  We planned conference topics and fund raisers and talked about our state society’s politics. We plotted who could go to the national meeting or the state meeting or if it made sense to take our families that year and get rooms near the pool.  Some years we did and some years we didn’t but we talked about it! We could never just enjoy each other and relax.

It was Jeri’s idea to get together this time.  She was determined we see each other. We tried before, during the school year, and decided with several of us teaching or working with kids, it was a lost cause.  That was why we were together on a beautiful summer afternoon, having lunch and catching up. It was nice, very nice, to catch up because, just as happened when our sons were younger, we had many things to talk about no one else could understand.

Those of us with other sons spoke of them.  Several boys were still resentful of their brothers needs despite the Sib Shops we so careful researched and took them to.  Most had their own lives, occasionally coming home from college, being swept up in the autism world when they did. These are good kids we’re proud of and not perfect by any means, but they’re good people.  We took joy in all of them and their achievements that day, knowing we all had some part with our Sib Shops and family Christmas parties and pool parties.  We tried to give all of them as “normal” a childhood as possible with friends who could understand and it was wonderful to hear what they were up to.

Then the conversation took a funny turn.  Despite not seeing each other for years, all of us picked up right where we left off in conversations, interests and sharing aspirations for our sons with autism.  It was so supportive, so welcoming, and so comfortable to be able to just be me and not worry about explaining every blessed thing and being with people who could understand.  A peace came over me, like no time had passed. It was as if it were the old days, when the kids were in school and anything was possible. There was such a sense of friendship, of comradely, acceptance and understanding at lunch that day. I wish I could have saved the feeling somehow to bring out when I needed it.

We started to reminisce once our food came about all the treatments we tried with our kids, the crazy ones as well as the more conventional ones.  Vitamins and behavior techniques seemed to help some as did vestibular stimulation and reading programs.  Diets worked to a small extent but not as well as you would think.  We laughed about one “theory” which was very popular during our sons’ elementary school years and the amount of money it would have taken to do it…..and was disproved soon after.  One or two of us confessed to trying something but not telling the rest because we were embarrassed—rose colored glasses—and we laughed and laughed.  No one else could understand why someone would try something like that, but we did.

Soon it was time to leave and we vowed to do Lunch again.  It is to my everlasting regret we did not because Jeri is no longer with us.  She is with us in spirit, I think.  Her sense of fun and silliness and stubbornness and love for her son Pete I will hold in my heart for the rest of my life.  I knew the rest of us will as well.

Every month is Autism Awareness Month at our house!

*All names slightly altered except for Jeri’s

 

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Childhood

I can see that day–that perfect day–as if it happened last week or last month.  That perfect day in my boys’ childhood.  That normal, perfectly ordinary day.

It was a Monday in late October.  One of those days that is bright and warm during the day and cold and crisp as it begins to get dark.  It was like so many Mondays at that time in our lives; busy.

I was in graduate school and arranged to have early days on Mondays most semesters.  Our Kiddo had swimming class and The Middle Boy and The Youngest had piano lessons on Monday afternoons.  Rather than have their sitter take them to their activities, I wanted to take them as much as I could.

This particular Monday, my friend, who also had an autistic son in the swimming class, arranged to take Kiddo with her son.  I would pick them up and take them home.  I dropped The Middle Boy and The Youngest at their piano teacher’s home and went back to our house to get things ready for dinner.

I had baked chocolate chip cookies the night before and made ice cream sandwiches with the cookies and put them in the freezer.  I set the table and folded napkins.  There was homemade ice tea in the frig and all that was left to do was put the chicken and potatoes in the oven so that we would have only thirty minutes to wait when we got home.  I punctured the potatoes and sprinkled some salt, pepper and paprika on the chicken.  The salad could wait until we got home.  A very simple meal but one I knew my family–and all three boys–would eat.

Looking at my watch, it was time to pick up The Middle Boy and The Youngest and grabbed my purse and got in the car.  I never listened to the radio when driving with my kids–I wanted to hear what they were saying and pay attention to them!  I pulled in front of their teacher’s house and the boys tumbled out, and she waved to me.  They were happy–good lessons for both–and had had a chance to play with her daughter’s Game Boy.  They enjoyed the Game Boy part of waiting for their lessons; since I was such a mean mother I wouldn’t allow them to have one.  Each was arguing about some point of one of the games and the bickering and teasing continued down the street as we headed to the Special Rec Swimming Center, where Kiddo had his swimming class.

It was near dusk, and rush hour.  Traffic seemed to crawl.  Nevertheless, we were five minutes early picking up the boys.  I always parked very close to the entrance of the swimming pool and in that cool, crisp air we could feel and smell the warmth and chlorine–the air was heavy with it.  I looked out of the car window and could see the lights begin to come on outside of the building.  I could see the children–the children with autism–begin to leave the pool area and go to the dressing rooms.  It would be a few minutes before The Kiddo and Joshie would be ready–I could see their aide lead them to the changing area.

I ran in and led Kiddo and Joshie by the hands to my car with all of their swimming stuff as well.  I put the boys in the car and opened the trunk to put their bags in.  It was then it hit me–what I was doing, picking up kids and carpooling–was something very normal, something people with Neuro-Typical children take for granted.  I wouldn’t get to do a lot of this in my life with Our Kiddo and I should savor it while I could.

I can still smell the cool, crisp air, the chlorine, see the petrified French fries on the floor of the backseat of my car and hear The Middle Boy and The Youngest bickering about their video game.  I can see Frannie’s face when I dropped off Joshie with his soggy gym bag.  I can remember Hubby complimenting me on the ice cream sandwiches and asking me if there was anything new.  I remember my answer as well–not anything new, honey, not a blessed thing.

Every month is Autism Awareness Month at our house!