“Oversensitive” Is A Compliment, Mom

Never underestimate what an autistic person understands, or especially, remembers.

It is bound to be a helluva lot more than you think.

Even with an autistic person who is verbal, communication can be oblique, indirect, hinted. Somehow, the direct route got derailed in the brain, or entangled in what science has found are far more neural connections than “neurotypical” people have. There’s a LOT more going on in the brain of an autistic person than in a “typical” brain.

As our daughter matures, I am reminded of this daily, and often, I’m amazed.

How did she….? Where did that idea come from? I didn’t know she even know that word!

When I was writing the other day about missing Mike’s centering influence in our lives, I mentioned how he loved to discover new music, and how he and our daughter would learn a lot of great songs by artists I had never heard of before.

One of those was a Canadian singer-songwriter named Jann Arden. They started listening to her when our daughter was a toddler.

Thursday, I noticed she was listening to Jann Arden on her phone.

We hadn’t played Jann Arden in this house for more than ten years.

Suddenly, as I am writing about Mike finding new music, she starts listening to Jann Arden again?

The truth is, Jann Arden’s music was the soundtrack to the most painful period of our marriage, a time that had ongoing traumatic effects for the rest of our lives together.  But Mike had gotten our daughter so hooked on that music during that fraught time that I actually took it away, with the promise of return if she mastered an essential skill.

Denying an autistic child something they are attached to is agony.

But it worked.

It was also the beginning of the end of our listening to Arden’s music.

Until Thursday.

I’ve been writing about how we’ve been going through another wave of grief, unexpectedly, and how I tell her to hang on to the happy memories.

Was playing Jann Arden, within earshot, her way of telling me the sad memories are there, too? She remembers listening to Jann Arden with him, and she remembers me taking the music away and giving it back again after a week of painful deprivation.

She also remembers the wrenching, raging discord too often present in our marriage.

My Mother used to accuse me of being “oversensitive” when things other kids did or said upset me, or when I objected to her nit-picking about my hair, my clothes, my reading habit (“go outside!” – I realized she nagged me about this because she wanted to go outside) or my choice of activities, jobs or diets. When I explained I felt attacked, she called me “paranoid.”

Mom often started her criticism with, “what will people think of your Mother if you (wear that hairstyle, leave that job, eat that food…?)”

Not what would they think of her daughter, but what would they think of her.

It infuriated Mom when I called her on this – that her complaints and criticisms had more to do with her than me.

The idea that I might have some insight into the motivation behind her criticism offended her.

The idea of insight itself exasperated her, I think. Who needs insight when something needs doing. So stow your precious little feelings and don’t forget to unload the dishwasher. We’ll talk about your feelings later. As in never.

Mom saw sensitivity as a threat. Acknowledging undercurrents means uncovering pain. Lost father, lost brother, kid-thwarted career, lost mother. Regret.

She did not want to open that box.

Whatever she had packed away so tightly burst out of her occasionally, as tears or anger. But she wouldn’t say why.

Other than I had forgotten to unload the dishwasher, again.

Or that she felt unappreciated.

I wish my “oversensitivity” had been comforting to her, not annoying. Not a threat.

Sensitivity is receptivity to expressed emotion in people, or observable beauty in nature, music, dance, literature or art.

“Oversensitivity” is the ability to discern things unexpressed, unspoken, unseen, but present, meaningful, and worthy of discussion, or at least acknowledgement.

That’s a gift, Mom, not a problem.

A gift your granddaughter displays in the unique, sometimes heartbreaking ways she communicates what she has discerned, through whatever alchemy of receptivity her overconnected brain employs (sensing tiny blips of my neuroelectricity? or a disturbance in the local magnetic field? glancing over my shoulder?) as I sit here, writing about Mike and music and our lives together.

So thanks for the compliment, Mom, but it is your granddaughter who really deserves it.

Listening again, after a very long hiatus, to Jann Arden, and allowing myself to remember the pain that is the flipside of love, I remain,

Your “oversensitive”

Ridiculouswoman

Meta…for?

Split down the middle, but surviving.

New branches growing independently on either side.

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold….”

I thought of myself as the center of our little family; I was the breadwinner, the Toilet-Unplugger, The Parent-Teacher Conferencer, the Finder of Doctors and Dentists, the Internet Impresariess and the Did-You-Brush-Your-Teeth Reminderer.

When not at work, my attention was split down the middle between Mike and our daughter, halfway between them in the house, trying to respond to each of them simultaneously.

I’d get home from work and play picture-card games with her until we’d eat the meal that Mike had prepared, ready hours earlier, when they’d get home from school, because he knew she’d be hungry.

After, he would wearily retreat to his room upstairs, to read, play over his chess games and wind down after what was typically more than a 12 hour day caring for, entertaining, feeding, cleaning up after, chauffeuring and comforting an autistic child.

He never complained (although he would rage if I tried to make her something different for dinner, something that included a green vegetable, since she had already eaten whatever he made right after school. His style was to make vats full of spaghetti and meatballs or chicken soup, and then expect us to eat them for three days running, until they were gone. Inexpensive, but not exactly variety-packed.)

He said he liked his job, taking care of her. He was really good at it, exhausting as it could frequently be.

He was Fun Dad. Director of Entertainment. Leader of “excursions,” usually with no cost other than gas for the car. He was a genius at finding fun things them to do, for free. He pedaled her along on the tandem bike. They visited parks and playgrounds. They often took drives just to listen to music in the car. He introduced her to bands and singer songwriters I had never heard of, and they listened to the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s station: she knows all the songs from our high school years through the early years of our marriage.

We hear them now and remember.

If you are a young adult who has lost a parent, what are you going to remember? Doctors’ offices and tooth brushing? Or rockin’ out in the car?

I thought I was the center?

Like that tree – at first I just thought, cool, split down the middle and still growing.

That must mean something. Take a pic.

Now, looking at the photo, I see the magnitude of the emptiness in the middle.  Not like an “I lost myself for years in marriage and mothering- I don’t who I am anymore! Woe is me!” crap metaphor.  I’ve always known who I am and I’ve always had a habit of being who I am quite a bit more forcefully than most people can tolerate.

Mike tolerated it. At first, he loved it.  For years he just put up with it. Then for a long time, he ignored it.  At the end, he came to love it again, when the finality of his illness dissolved the hard shell around me and revealed the innocent heart he first fell in love with, battered and patched, but still there. The heart now permanently exposed, worn on my sleeve. I couldn’t generate that shell again if I tried. I’m an open wound.

The metaphor is, of course, about the branches with no connecting trunk at the center.

The two of us trying to forge new lives without him, parallel lives, still growing, but disconnected from a center.

We look at each other across that gap and wonder, how could this have happened?

She keeps going over the day he died, as if repeating what happened could explain it, or make it hurt less.

It doesn’t.

I tell her we will miss him for the rest of our lives, but that he wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time – when we miss him, think about the happy times and it will feel like he is with us.

She doesn’t believe me.

Neither do I.

Things fall apart.

I tell her that we will still cry sometimes, that it is normal, that it is OK. It will pass.

Until it happens again.

Car crying, suddenly, on the way home after a good chorus rehearsal. Two pieces about the mysteries of death, but only one of them includes hope of resurrection – “de morte transire ad vitam.”

Sometimes I feel held together with twist-ties and tape, or made of wire, like an old-fashioned dress form – the vacant outline of a woman.

Wind goes right through me.

I’m always cold.

Kyrie eleison.

I’m so, so damn tired of being cold.

The sun is out, but our backyard rabbit won’t leave the shade.

nos ad lucem

-Ridiculouswoman

Gaga Wha?

Just wanted to be sure you knew that when I referenced “La Vie en Rose” in my post yesterday, I was thinking of Edith Piaf. I hadn’t seen the Cooper-Gaga version of “A Star is Born,” where the song, and it’s title, in neon lights, are featured.

Watched it last night.

Let’s just say I’m very relieved that the Oscar Lady Gaga won was for best original song, and that it was the only Oscar the film was awarded. If it had been otherwise, I’m afraid we’d be spending a lot of time together over in the Snark Tank.

Whew. That was a close one.

Trying to observe the Thumper rule (but still snickering about its double negative) I remain,

Your biting-my-tongue-but-damn-I’d-really-love-to-dish-on-this-one,

Ridiculouswoman