Turndown Service

I sleep with Hilda. Not sorry.

I sleep with Hilda.

Hilda is a lavender stuffed hippopotamus.  Go ahead,  laugh. I’m your neighborblog sixty year-old widow.  Hilda makes me feel better, so get over it, OK?

Every night when the leftovers are put away and the dishwasher is loaded and running, I haul myself and my creaking knees up the stairs, and find Hilda, looking adorable, tucked in under the covers, waiting for me, the bedside table lamp aglow.

Angelic Daughter’s turndown service.

I take it as a sign of Angelic Daughter’s deep emotional intelligence, and her ability to pick up on cues I didn’t know I was sending about needs I wasn’t conscious of having.

Ok, that’s a flat out lie. I know I have NEEDS, primarily for the calming, anxiety-curing, panic-attack abating hugs Mike gave, and for the comfort that his very presence provided.  While people on the autism spectrum might have difficulty making eye contact, demonstrating “focus,” decoding facial expressions, or understanding tones of voice, it would be a mistake to assume they lack emotional intelligence. It may not be obvious, but it’s there.

“I miss Dad.”

“I miss him too, sweetheart.”

Angelic Daughter knows Hilda is a comfort to me, both because stuffed animals are comforting in general, and because Hilda has been a comfort to her, too.  I created a voice for Hilda (a sort of “bless your heart” kind of Southern accent – not sure why) and Hilda comforts Angelic Daughter by conversing with her that way, from time to time.

I found Hilda at a local toy store, a really good independent toy store that Angelic Daughter and I liked to poke around in. Its narrow aisles had shelves of stuffed animals, baskets filled with quirky fidget toys, bouncing balls and toy soldiers, racks of costumes,  arts and craft stuff, board and card games, books and a large section of model trains.

So naturally it went out of business. But not before I found Hilda.

I seized on her immediately.

Hilda righted a childhood wrong.

When I was about three years old, I had a stuffed hippo. I loved that thing, but I don’t remember naming it, or who gave it to me. It was grey. One day I decided to add some color.

I took a set of markers and drew a rainbow of parallel, curving lines all around that Hippo. Encircled its eyes and traced its tummy, big face, back and legs with a multi-colored, multi-lane highway of marker love. I was proud of my artistry.

When I showed Cruella DeVille my mother my gorgeous design, expecting praise and delight,  she snatched that hippo away and screamed at me for “ruining” it.

I had no idea why she was so angry, and I never saw that hippo again.

So Hilda was a second chance at hippo happiness.

Never mind that actual, living hippos are one of the most dangerous animals on the planet – they can bite a crocodile in two, run at speeds 35 mph or more and have huge teeth and powerful jaws. They’re very aggressive on both land and water. They kill around 3,000 people a year.

But my stuffed Hilda hippo is a skwooshy, lavender beanbag of love.

She doesn’t complain when I squeeze her tight, or squish her giant jaw-face, or take up too much room in the bed. She’s just there for me, if I need her.

And something deep in Angelic Daughter gets that I do. Need Hilda.

Everyone has a comfort item.  I hope.

I still have my baby blanket. My uncle borrowed it for my infant cousin, and never returned it. On the brink of heading off to college, I suddenly decided I needed it back.

Unc was living in my late grandfather’s grand house, an English manor-style home with a huge living room and a huge dining room opposite, across the front hall, where Grampa’s cook (yes, his cook) would call for us that it was time to “go through,” meaning, cross the front hall and find your place at a dining table that could seat 12.

Around the time of the disappeared decorated hippo, our family dog was a  black and white malamute (like a husky, but bigger) named “Buddy.” Because he was my brother’s buddy.

My cousin, Unc’s son,  named their red and white husky “Scary.”

When I asked for my blanket back,  it was discovered at the bottom of Scary’s huge chain-link cage.

Unc gamely retreived it, filthy and full of holes. I gladly washed it and took it to college with me.  I’ve had it ever since.

So you won’t hear me laughing if your self-care includes your bwanky, or dolly, or your teddy bear. Or your stuffed hippo.

Grateful for my amazing Angelic Daughter, I remain,

Your about-to-find comfort in a cuppa and a nap (with Hilda),

Ridiculouswoman

A Chipmunk, A Jeep and a Free Lunch

Sometimes there is such a thing as a free lunch.

A chipmunk bought my daughter lunch today.

Allow me to explain.

Waiting in a long line of cars at our usual Thursday lunch drive-through fast food place (autism, routine, usual place) I noticed a really cute chipmunk zipping out from under the fence that enclosed the trash bins.  It kept zipping out, assessing the situation and zipping away again.

Suddenly it decided the moment had come, to zip across the drive-through lane to the shrubbery on the other side.

A lady got out of the jeep ahead of me, and looked under her car. I knew she was looking to make sure the chipmunk hadn’t stopped under her vehicle.

I rolled down my window, to ask her if she saw him under my car, but she immediately said she had accidentally squished a turtle once and didn’t want to squish that chipmunk.

She looked under my car for me, and gave the all clear. Then she got back into her Jeep.

It wouldn’t move.

The parking lights kept blinking. She clearly was shifting into drive, and the thing just wouldn’t go. It revved and blinked. But it wouldn’t move.

I put my car in park, reassured my daughter that I’d be right back, and tapped on the Jeep’s window to see if I could help.

The lady explained it was some kind of safety feature, “auto-park,” that came on when she got out of the car. It had happened before, but she couldn’t remember how to fix it.

She was going to call her son to find out. She felt really bad about holding everyone up and asked me to tell the people behind us what was happening, and I did.

Then I went back to my car to wait.

Nothing happened. Just another round of lights and revving.

Assuming she hadn’t been able to reach her son, I tapped on her window again, and tried to help her look for some switch to flip or button to push.

Nothing.

Then I heard that chiming.

“What if you put on your seat belt?”

She had undone it when she got out of the car, but she hadn’t buckled up again.

She fastened the seat belt, and voila! The car shifted out of park.

I confess to using my “outside voice” to holler one of those big “you’re welcomes!” to the several cars still waiting in line (how humble and gracious, of you, Annie, when the poor lady already felt so bad, and now she was probably embarrassed too, that something so simple solved the problem).

Angelic daughter was nervous, but I told her I had been given the opportunity to do a little thing to help someone. I solved the problem, and that felt good.

We made it to the ordering speaker thingee, placed the order and pulled up behind the lady in the Jeep, who was just finishing up paying for her order.

Or so I thought.

She pulled ahead and and drove off.

I pulled up and stuck my hand out the window, holding the debit card to pay for Angelic Daughter’s lunch.

The kid at the window was clearly pleased about something.

He opened his window, smiled at me, and said, “the lady in the Jeep says thank you.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” I said. I honestly thought he was just conveying a verbal message. I kept holding the debit card out the window toward the kid. He didn’t take it.

“She covered it. Paid for it. All you have to do is pull forward.”

“Oh, how sweet!’ I was really surprised.

And, then of course, (Anxiety! OCD!) worried: is this one of those things where everyone is supposed to pay for the person behind them? Because, for stupid reasons I won’t go into, I couldn’t pay for anyone else’s lunch today. I felt bad about that.

But, I reasoned, I had done everyone in line a service by helping the lady in the Jeep, getting her going so the line could start moving again. It was a long line, but only two or three cars pulled out to park and walk inside the restaurant.

So I decided it was OK to just enjoy her gesture of gratitude, and in turn to extend mine to that cute little chipmunk (usually my nemeses, chipmunks  – they tunnel around in my vegetable garden and dig holes in my yard).  But today a chipmunk was the genesis of an opportunity to help.

So thanks, little dude.

Now get off my lawn.

Thankful also that the sun is emerging, and summer (technically – still cool and rainy) starts tomorrow, I remain,

Your appreciating-the-little-things-today,

Ridiculouswoman

(PS – OK, I know that Bitmoji image up there is supposed to be a gopher, but you get the idea. Feel free to share funny Caddyshack references, though).

“Oversensitive” Is A Compliment, Mom

It’s not a problem, it’s a gift.

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

How Not To Paint A Room

Admire with premature satisfaction….Return to hardware store….three times.

Allow enthusiastic daughter to begin painting walls before drop cloth fully spread. No harm, no foul, the carpet is going anyway.

Attempt to paint intersection of wall and ceiling.

Observe blue streaks on white ceiling. Remember you should have taped the intersection of wall and ceiling.

Tape ceiling at top of wall with half-inch tape purchased at hardware store. Find and apply two-year-old, one-and-a-half-inch blue tape over half-inch tape.

Observe more blue streaks on white ceiling.

Return to hardware store. Purchase wider, green tape. Apply wider tape over two layers of narrower tape.

Complete walls. Step back and gaze with premature self-satisfaction.

Look up. Notice blue streaks and spatters on white ceiling just beyond tape.

Locate two-year-old white interior paint in basement closet.

Stab meaty part of hand while prying open with screwdriver.

Wash and dress wound. Finish prying open old can of white paint. Watch rusty bits fall into paint. Stir anyway.

Use three-inch wide roller to cover blue streaks and splatters on white ceiling with old paint containing rusty bits. Attempt to create neat, squared-off border of not-quite-matching-white-paint-with-rusty-bits.

Fail.

Realize another coat is necessary to cover blue streaks. Exhausted, pledge to do in the morning, before carpet guys come.

Awaken to call at 8:40 am. Carpet guys will be here in 20 minutes. Oops.

Thrill to installation of new carpet. Looks great.

Look up.

Notice visibly uneven white paint streaks, not matching rest of ceiling, veering off from the edges of the ceiling into horse-tail wisps moving toward light fixture at center of ceiling.

Take old white paint with rusty bits downstairs, use up all kitty litter absorbing it, and toss it in garbage in frustration.

Return to hardware store. Purchase ceiling paint, new rollers and thicker drop cloth to protect new carpet.

Realize you threw away paint tray and disposable liner along with kitty-litter filled rusty-bits old white paint.

Return to hardware store. Purchase new tray and new liner. Add new brush and small roller too, just in case. Ha.

Also purchase long roller extender pole.

Spread new drop cloth. Use long pole extender to complete ceiling. Look up with premature self-satisfaction.

Look down at walls. Notice white streaks and white drip splatters on blue walls.

Frantically attempt to wipe of white streaks and spatters with damp paper towels, with mixed success.

Retrieve small amount of leftover blue paint from basement. Remove new paint liner with not-quite-dry ceiling paint residue from paint tray.  Pour blue paint directly into metal tray.

Paint over white streaks and spatters on blue wall. Step back to admire with premature self-satisfaction. Done.

Carefully fold slightly too-small drop cloth.

What are those two semi-circle marks new carpet? Flaws in carpet, right? Not? Drop cloth not as absorbent as claimed? Decide new chair and ottoman will cover vague semi-circle-shaped, possible-paint-stains on new carpet.

Sigh. Peel three layers of tape from top of wall. Miraculously, all come off easily and together. Walls look good.

Sweating, frizzy and lipstickless, in violation of every middle-aged woman rule imaginable, help FedEx guy who is delivering new chair, ottoman and desk.

Solve physics problem of getting large new chair and ottoman up narrow stairs and through narrow door.

Praise daughter lavishly for very effective help in getting masses of cardboard, plastic and Styrofoam outside for recycling.

Retrieve bits of Styrofoam blowing over neighbors’ yard. Cram into garbage bin. Collection tomorrow morning, no harm, no foul.

Next, solve weight-lifting problem of heavy box-o-desk.

Realize box must be lifted up the stairs one step at a time, as it will not slide up.

Miraculously, get heavy box upstairs, not pulling anything or otherwise injuring self.  Apparently. (See how it feels tomorrow.)

Open box containing desk.

Hold back tears upon observing level of assembly required: number of desk pieces, screws, pegs, and little cam-lock thingees that come with every Chinese-made piece of furniture, along with yet another Allen wrench.

Look on bright side. Still only 3 p.m.  This sucker WILL be built before dinner.

Plod mechanically through desk assembly using inadequate diagram.

Miraculously, assemble correctly first try.

Except, what was the glue for? Was I supposed to glue the wood pegs in? Feh. Humidity will take care of that.

Place desk. Admire with premature satisfaction.

Realize the one electrical outlet in room is on the wall opposite the only logical place to place the desk.

Discover the only extension cord you own is 1) brown, and sticks out against lovely grey and white new carpet and 2) two-pronged, not three-pronged, which won’t work for daughter’s new laptop.

Return to hardware store. Hardware store is closed. Give up, shower, go to dinner with happy, excited daughter. Promise to set up her laptop when we get home.

Inadvertently cause meltdown at dinner by reminding daughter not to use table as plate. Curse waitress for failing to bring plate. Demand plate.

Drive home insisting we listen to my classical station all the way, rather than channel-surfing pop stations.

Utterly innocent daughter apologizes.

Duh. Autism.

Bad mother.

Tell her it’s ok. We’ll both do better next time.

VERY BAD MOTHER.

Hold back tears.

Set up daughter’s new laptop with cord plugged in to outlet in bedroom, while she waits patiently, recovered from meltdown, enjoying new chair and ottoman in newly painted computer room.

And says she LOVES it.

“We did a pretty good job, didn’t we?”

“We did an AWESOME job. I LOVE my new computer lounge. I love watching this (new computer).”

“I’m so glad, sweetie. You were an awesome helper.”

Smile, with satisfaction.

And love.

Hold back tears.

 

Recovering,  while planning the next project,

I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, flawed but hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman

Fatherless Days

Exhaustion, like grief and panic, comes in waves.

Days like today, sunny, not too hot, I’ll pop out of bed, get breakfasts and lunches ready, do necessary chauffeuring, and then head into the yard to get dirty.

Generally I’m of the opinion that there is no bout of sadness a good round of yard work and gardening can’t cure, or lessen, at least, and today is the day of the week the yard waste bin must be filled, to make it worth having at all. So dig, prune, divide, transplant, mulch, weed and…..collapse.

Father’s Day hit us both hard – it’s nearly six weeks ago now, but somehow this second one without him seems to have magnified the impact of his absence.

Our daughter (I’m dropping the pretense of referring to her in a genderless way, because I think it must be blindingly obvious to any reader that the only reason I’d try to protect “our child” by doing that is because “our child” is female, therefore blowing that cover anyway) began to act out in rare ways around Father’s Day, and developed a severe case of “Mommyitis,” as my sister-in-law used to call it. Calling me far too often when I was at work (and you can’t really safely talk on the phone while driving a forklift – in fact there’s really nothing safe about driving a forklift at all); needing me to sit by her for hours at night, when she used to be able to amuse herself just fine with music, TV and drawing.

It is not for the neurotypical among us to know or understand how an autistic mind conceives, or tries to conceive, of something as abstract as death, nor how long the autistic mind will need to process the permanence of the absence of the missing person. Where’s heaven? Why can’t Dad come back? I know his love never ends, but how do I feel it with me? You’re here, right? You and I, we are here on this earth, right? You’re fine? We’re living our lives, days without Dad. Sigh. BIG sigh.

Dad used to (insert “cook this,” “take me there,” “play this CD,” etc.)

Which I hear as, “do I really have to be here with just you, Mom? Just us two? Because you’re not him. And you’re not enough.”

Yes, hon. I’m what you’ve got. Yes, you’ve got uncles and aunts and cousins, but they are occasional visitors (or visitees). I’m the one who is with you most of the time.  I know I’m not enough. And I miss him too. But I think he would want us to find a way to be happy, here on this earth, without him.

I’m honest with her, though, because she’s an adult and I think I owe her that, the stark truth: there is nothing that will ever fill his absence, for either of us. You only get one Daddy. And even if I find another man, I will always be Mike’s widow. We will have to carry the presence of his absence around with us for the rest of our days. I try to help her imagine putting the weight of it in a beautiful decorated box, keeping it somewhere special in her heart, visiting the sadness when she needs to, and then putting it back in the box, and turning to a happy box of memories that make her smile.

We still try to find some joy in the Steve Perry songs she seems uncannily able to tune in to every time she plays the radio in the car; I tell her that I think of monarch butterflies as little “hellos” from him from the next world, because the first poem I remember him reciting to me was a Robert Duncan poem that begins, “Sail, Monarchs….”

I planted that garden up there, with the two chairs from our first tiny townhouse patio, now on the new bluestone patio he never got to see, as a sort of memory garden, with flowers and shrubs that are supposed to attract butterflies. And look who showed up:

IMG_20180725_101019189.jpg

He liked hummingbirds, too, which is why I buy the fuschia every year, and though I couldn’t catch a photo of it, the hummingbirds he loved visit it occasionally:

IMG_20180627_104731735.jpg

But it still seems so lonely for us both to be in this house, on the deck, or looking at that fuschia, without him.

I quit my job. Because even though I’m not enough and never will be, the Mommyitis says to me that I still haven’t given our daughter enough of my time and attention. We haven’t gotten to the bottom of it yet, all the way down through the fear and the grief and the anger and the bargaining to the acceptance – and she needs me with her to help her get down there, and to climb back up.

I need to get there, too.

I have a plan for that. But that’s enough for today. I’ll tell you about my next move in my next post.

Snark Tank

Nice is nice. But Nice ain’t funny.

“If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothing’s at all.”

-Thumper

Did you catch the double negative, there?

Thumper, go over there and sit on Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s needlepoint pillow (“If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anyone, come sit next to me.”)

Nice is nice.

But nice ain’t funny. Not usually, anyway.

If you’ve been a trouper and you’ve read this blog from the bottom up, first to latest, you’ll see that I’m a widow, and I’m trying to live the lessons I learned from loss, primarily that love is what matters, and a little laughter, too, and every person has their stuff, and anyone you run into or sit next to on the bus could be in the midst of their own tragedy, and everyone deserves respect and compassion.

And that behaving that way all the time is exhausting and really difficult for me (see, “The Briefcase Maneuver“).  I have confessed to being someone too full of judgment, impatience and an ugly sense of superiority (see, “And What Do We Learn from This?)

But sometimes I just can’t help myself, especially if something strikes me as stupid.

And nothing is more irritating than avoidable stupidity. And it is often funny, too.

And in such situations, I tend to lead with my big mouth, not my big heart.

I’ll say something that makes people laugh.

And then I’ll go home and feel really bad about it.

I own a T-shirt that says, “I’ll try to be nicer if you’ll try to be smarter.” Snark. Which was basically my theory of management for a long time. Yeah, so, that didn’t work out so well.

I have another T-shirt that says, “Pretending I’m a pleasant person all day is exhausting.”

I will reveal both of these during my talk on “Confessions of a Toxic Boss,” if I ever get that one written.

Not nice. But honest.  Nice is not often funny,  but honesty often is, which is why improvisers are taught to go for the emotional truth on stage, because most of the time, nothing is funnier than the truth.

So far, I’ve written honestly about loss and grief and a little about some coping strategies (Middle Aged Woman Rules).  But when do we get to the funny part?

Well, I have a plan. When I feel the snark surfacing, and I can’t resist the temptation to think or even say something that is kind of mean but also kind of funny, I’m going to dump it right over there in the Snark Tank.

Yes, I’m going to make a whole separate page on this blog where I can dump all my little pet peeves, my moments of self-righteous superiority, my little rants, and just get them out of my system so I can get back to the love part.

No politics, though – we all get plenty of that on Facebook or Twitter.

And as the parent of a developmentally different young adult, I’m definitely not a fan of making fun of others just for being who they are (although my love of accents has gotten me in trouble that way – I hear an accent and impulsively imitate it, often right in front of the person with the accent. Oh, nice. I’ve embarrassed my family and literally made children cry, when all I thought I was doing was joining the fun and expressing delight in the music of a different way of speaking. Oddly enough, the people whose accents I “joined in on” didn’t find it amusing.)

But people who have all their intellectual faculties and physical abilities, neurotypical and physically able people, who are ungifted with and unchallenged by differently wired brains or physically different bodies, often do or say stupid or funny or illogical things, and they misuse words a lot, which either drives me nuts or makes me laugh hysterically, so I may take the opportunity to point a few of those things out. And if it happens in the middle of a blog post about something entirely different, well, I’ll just link over to the Snark Tank and dump it in there.

My additions to the Snark Tank will likely be short and unrelated to each other, unless I really get on a roll and unleash. And I’ll just keep on editing that page by adding new stuff on top.

And if you are so moved, you can jump right in through the comments, and we’ll all just get it out of our systems, and the world will be a better place, because we will have done a service in pointing out errors and inanities that are avoidable, preventable and therefore needn’t be repeated. Won’t everyone be so grateful! So let’s dive in!

A Journey with Journey: Fall Excursion, Part 3

Steve Perry had an unmatched set of pipes. We will not hear his like again. Except, for us, in our memory of Mike.

Unexpectedly, the forecast is for some sun, one last time before Halloween.

Carpe this freakin’ diem, for sure.

We didn’t have a trail ride scheduled, so we got going early, and I had actually planned a route that could intersect with several “rustic roads,” and a few more days had passed for more leaves to turn, so this, I was sure, would finally be the day for the perfect fall excursion.

And the rustic roads did not disappoint. Out by Lake Geneva, then west and north, back east and north, hills, ponds, bowers of boughs over strips of smooth asphalt, like ribbons through the moraine. Hawks circling, big red barns, horses, cows and the occasional llama.

We stumbled upon a pristine local park right when we needed a bathroom, and although as usual the “bathroom” was an outhouse, it was the cleanest, freshest outhouse I’d ever had to use.

And the road signs were there, this way and that, to lead us down those rustic lanes and give me what I needed from October’s bright blue weather – a stress-free, no-anger, no-pain, no-yelling fall excursion.

And I want to believe he was with us, enjoying it along with us, this time, free from pain.

Our child has taken to repeating wistfully, “a day without Dad.” He’s been gone 14 months, but on the spectrum, processing time is individual, and often long.

And I say, “every day for the rest of our lives on this earth will be a day without Dad, sweetie, but never without his love. You remember what he said to you?”

“Dad’s love never ends.”

“That’s right. And I believe he’s here with us and he sends us little messages from the next world – the monarch butterflies, the Journey songs.”

Yes, Journey songs. Mike could sing just like Steve Perry – Really, high notes and all.  And it was mostly a running joke for us three, whenever it came on the radio – “just a small town boy, livin’ in South Detroit….” But it was damn fun to sing along with, and they’re actually really good songs. And despite the haircut (c’mon, it was the ’70s), Steve Perry had an unmatched set of pipes. We will not hear his like again.

Except, for us, in our memory of Mike.

And our child has an uncanny knack of changing the radio station to land directly on a Journey song, repeatedly, during the day.

I know, I know, Journey has been resurfacing constantly since “Don’t Stop Believin'” but who cares why? To us, the impulse to change the radio station right now is a little signal from him, from the next world – change it now, you’ll get a little hello from me.

Faithfully. Separate Ways. Open Arms. “O-pen Ah-AHHH-Ahms!”

“It’s Dad!”

Yes, sweetie – a little message from Dad from the next world.

Up toward Waukesha, found the road with the farms. Pumpkins, corn stalks, gourds.

And this time, we ate at Taco Bell.

And it was good. Back on the road in plenty of time to enjoy the last of October’s bright blue weather, singing along to Journey, and with Mike.