Sometimes, I walk around very aware of this gaping emptiness in me.  The size of the hole changes at times, though I haven't yet figured out the variable that makes it more lonely versus more tolerable.  I'm not sure what, if anything, could really fill it.  Perhaps it has a leak, and as all the things of the world pour into it, they just as quickly run back out into puddles at my feet.

A vessel finds its worth in its emptiness.  Its purpose as an empty space is to be filled, to hold on something precious.  Regardless of the beauty of the bowl, the cup, the vial, regardless of its composition, it is first and foremost an empty space, something without composition at all, defined only by its boundaries.

This leaves me with a conundrum.  If I ever find that which could fill my void, do I become complete?  Or do I simply lose my usefulness in this world?


A Good Day.

I've been feeling pretty apathetic the past few days.  Nothing was a cause for joy or sorrow, just the robotic predictability of life moving forward.  Today, however, was spent in a near-constant state of happiness.  It was full of smiles and laughter, a patience that didn't waiver and simple pleasures.

I put a nature documentary on Netflix for the kids as I cleaned the living room this morning.  My daughter was enthralled with "Microcosmos," a film showcasing the beauty and diversity of the arthropod world.  She sat in front of it yelling to me to look at the lady bug, or the bee, or the caterpillar, asking what a butterfly was doing or why the spider was wrapping the grasshopper in silk.  Our shared interest made me smile, and I sat with her to talk about ants and aphids.

We spent time together in the rocking chair.  My son drifted into a nap as my daughter and I sang "Row, Row, Row Your Boat", replacing the lyrics with various animal sounds and words we made up.  Then we went imaginary fishing.  We would bait our hooks, toss them into the sea and wait.  Evelyn would look at me with anticipation before shouting, "I got a bite!" and we'd reel in our fishes.  We'd talk about what our fishes looked like, and then I'd ask her what we do with them now.  "We eat it," she said with a smile as she gobbled up her purple, blue, white and green fish.  Her Papa would be proud.

Then we went to play outside.  There was a storm last night, and it managed to leak through the lid of the sand box.  The water was roughly three or four inches above the sand, and the sudden appearance of a beach in our backyard was deeply engrossing.  My son stomped his feet and burst into hysterical laughter at the water splashed up in his face before he'd plop down on his little butt and grab handfuls of wet sand.  Every time he made a major movement, he would look to me with this scrunched up smile, and then stomp some more.

As they were playing in their watery oasis, I sat in a lounge chair.  I watched the clouds move, I pet my dog as she laid in the grass next to me, I read a book.  I smiled as my children got filthy in a glorified puddle without caring one bit about the sand stuck to their clothes.  A dark cloud started moving fast across the sky, and we hustled inside minutes before a brief but intense rain began to fall.

They sat in the bathtub with a silence just long enough to listen to the rain hit the window as I rinsed sand from their faces.  I spiked August's hair into a temporary mohawk, and Evelyn told me a story about an imaginary time when she wore her hair like that and went camping.  

After dinner, we went outside.  Evelyn worked on her pedaling skills as she sat atop her tricycle.  Gus was content to be pushed in his Cozy Coupe and repeat "Beep beep!" as I ran up and down the sidewalk, our dog joyfully running along with us.

"Mom, wait!  I saw something!"  Evelyn said as she hopped off her tricycle.  On the sidewalk was a worm twisting its body around, lost.  We moved it into the tree lawn, and, content with the worms safety, she hopped back on top of her tricycle and tried again.

Bedtime wasn't easy, but it never is.  It wouldn't be a night in our house without my son sitting on my lap and singing his ABCs with me instead of sleeping.  In the dark of his bedroom, we laughed heartily together as he poked my nose and said his letters in his own special way.  A, B, She, D, E, Ep, G, Aysh.

I'm now laying in bed with a fan blowing on my face, listening to the crickets filling the night with their beautiful song.  It's been a good day.



The curtains slowly bellowed with the sigh of an oncoming storm, filling the air with the clean scent of anticipated rain.  Each time the heavy fabric moved, a blue panel of light would fall onto the floor and everything in the room would take on a silver hue.  The breeze would subside, the curtain would fall back into place as sure as if it never moved, and the light would give way to darkness once more.  Besides the gentle humming of the fan and the distant rumblings of thunder, everything was silent.

Each night, I lay in my daughter's bed.  It is our ritual; I serve as some kind of comforting ferryman as she crosses the river from excitement to slumber.  As she fades into sleep, I stare at the ceiling.  I smell the breeze, watch the light move with the curtains.  Though I will remain awake for hours, I am already dreaming.

I don't have many people in my life that truly care about me.  It is a sad truth that most of my relationships are nothing but hallucinations, some vivid imagination that I superimpose over the most innocent words and actions of others.  I imagine I'm much more important to people than I truly am, and sometimes the border between this colorful fantasy and my otherwise monochromatic reality gets blurred.

I recently had a transcendent moment in that gradient middle ground where two very different worlds collide.  I was reminded that I am very small and insignificant, that my hallucinations were a side-effect of copious amounts of optimism and delusion.  I wish I had someone to blame, some poor scapegoat to sacrifice to appease my silent tears, but there is only myself.  I have created this outrageous expectation that I be treated with a modicum of respect, this unreachable standard that people only say what they mean and speak it with conviction.  It is because I expect things that I am disappointed.  There's a lesson to be learned there, but I will not learn it.  I never do.

But in my new-found frailty, in my trifling gossamer reality that blows asunder with every gust of wind, there is that pale blue square of light that reveals the silver lining in every storm:  Though I am no one to nearly everyone, I am everything to some.

As the rain starts to fall, I slowly rise and close the windows.  My daughter is asleep at this point, and I'll sneak away for a moment of solitude before she realizes my absence in a few short hours.  She'll wake up and call for me, and I'll be there.  Just like I always am for anyone who needs me.



"And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you're such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it, Robin Williams, at 63, did that today."

This cold, soulless interpretation of suicide comes to us from unfortunately popular Fox News infotainment reporter Shepherd Smith.  His words are not his own, but just the loudest echo of the softest American thoughts, the blunt picture painted by a million tiny strokes that just barely touch the canvas of how we as a country approach mental illness through a narrow door of misunderstanding and secret loathing:  Suicide is an act of cowardice; it is the culmination of the most horrible parts of ourselves. 

Our society has been in desperate need of a frank discussion of mental illness, and now that a beloved household name has succumbed to depression's most tragic trick, it's time to talk.

There is a stigma attached to depression the likes of which no other disease suffers, and that is the stigma of choice, that one chooses to be depressed and can turn it off as simply as they turned it on if only they approached life from a different perspective.  Depression is seen as the result of ingratitude or selfishness.  Open up to anyone about your depression, and you'll likely get this:  "What do you have to be sad about?"

That single question and its bastard relatives that call into question one's ability to recognize one's own suffering as it relates to what a person has in his or her life are the reason that so many people do not seek help.  Sufferers of this tragic disease are made to believe they aren't sick, and a person who has no illness will seek no treatment.  Our society does a great disservice to everyone when we regard mental illness as imaginary simply because it has no evident outward displays of suffering, no emaciated appearance and deep sunken eyes, no unexplained bruising or bleeding, no hair loss or infectious odors.  But depression is a disease no less serious than any other that affects our physical faculties, and like other diseases, there is no choice.

Living with depression is like living in a hole that grows deeper faster than a person can climb. There is no sense of purpose, no motivation, no pleasure - just a desperate clawing toward that tiny pinpoint of light that's fading fast.  At some point, the hole grows so deep that the light is burned out.  A person that deep in the ground might already feel dead, and then what is the point of continuing through the motions?

Suicide is not cowardice.  It is not something horrible inside of us that has grown out of control.  It is a natural end to a disease gone unchecked, like a failing body is to cancer.  It is the last battle in a long war against illness. It is a tragedy which deserves our respect and our compassion, both for the victim and for those struggling to find the answers.

When we start to look at depression as a serious illness, we are naturally brought to a place of compassion for those who suffer.  If someone opens up to you, listen.  If someone comes to you for help, help.  If you need to turn to someone, you shouldn't be afraid to.  I'm here for you.  As I went to refill my own medication today, I was given only three days' worth because their supplies were otherwise depleted.  Depression is all around us, sight unseen.  It's time we start taking a look through a more loving lens.


You Shouldn't Be Okay With That.

I read an article today written by a mother who claims to be "okay" with her daughter's cruelty to animals.  You can read the post here, but I can sum it up for you.  It starts off with her describing a gift given to a 4-yr-old girl from her grandfather, a salamander he found under a rock and put in a terrarium for her.  The little girl proceeds to pull the salamander's tail off.  After harassing the animal as much as the mother could handle, they released it.  Instead of releasing it in a proper environment, the mother allowed her daughter to chuck it into a lake with a simple, "Can salamanders swim?  I hope so."  It continues by describing a child who gleefully stomps on ants, who hits her dog.

The writing is very typical of mom blogs these days, a proud showcasing of parental apathy, of refusal to not only model the appropriate behavior but also a failure to provide correction when improper actions are exhibited.  The mother laments the bad behavior but admits to allowing it, hoping that one day her daughter will figure out on her own what is right and what is wrong.

We have our own salamander story, though ours started out a little different.  One morning, our calico, Martha, dragged a salamander up from the basement.  It was uninjured, though stunned and sluggish.  The snow was heavy outside, so we couldn't release it back to the wild in good conscience.  We found ourselves with an amphibious, temporary roommate.

Evelyn took an immediate interest to the salamander, as she does with all life forms she finds, from worms and spiders to birds and squirrels.  She wanted to know his name, if he missed his parents.  She loved to watch me take care of it, always my little buddy sitting at the counter as I dropped flightless fruit flies into the little home we made him.  She would sit like some kids sit in front of the television, her chin propped in her hands and she watched in wide-eyed wonder at the pink tongue darting out and scooping up a meal.

When it was time to release Roger, as I named him the instant she asked for his moniker, we gently put him in a small jar and brought him to a local park with a small lake.  We walked to the water's edge, a blurry line of mud and decaying leaves.  As I tipped the jar and Roger stepped onto the earth, she smiled.  "He's going to go see his mom and dad now," she said.  "Perhaps," I said.  "He'll be happy here, no matter what."  We watched the salamander slowly walk away, until he disappeared under a leaf.  "Bye, Roger!" she waved as we headed to the playground.

This behavior isn't unusual for children, the desire to understand the world around them and the animals within it, to treat with kindness whatever creature comes our way.  The innocence and naivete of childhood are fertile grounds for compassion and empathy, but the right seeds need to be planted and when weeds start to grow, they need to be pulled up by the root.

Empathy isn't taught by asking a child who has just crushed an ant how she would feel if she was crushed.  It is taught constantly by the actions we do every day without thought.  A child who sees her mother scream at a spider before crushing it with a napkin is learning a different lesson about the dignity of life than a child who watches her mother trap it in a cup and release it outside.  A child who watches her father toss a glass of water on a noisy tomcat in the yard is learning a different lesson than the child who watches her father close the window and shrug that cats will be cats.

A child who is allowed to crush ants joyfully, to injure a wild animal, to abuse the family dog without repercussion is learning a lesson - that violence isn't wrong, that animals are disposable, that pain and suffering are entertaining.  I suppose a mother who is okay with her daughter's cruelty to animals needs to stop and ask herself, "Am I okay with these lessons?"  She probably isn't, but her actions - or lack of action - shows her child otherwise.

Us?  We'll just keep naming ants and pointing out which is carrying food, and which is returning home to see its mom and dad.

Immediately after saving him from the cat and cleaning him up.

Setting Roger free.

Roger, who we talk about still.


Happiness is a Choice.

It is not autumn yet, and the leaves on the trees are still quite green and healthy.  However, I had to rake the backyard today because the maple has had a very fertile season and the grass was full of little helicopter seed pods.  Even as I raked them into a sizable pile, they were actively falling from the tree.  Some hit the back of my neck with force and bounced to the ground, others were more of a tickle and fell down the back of my shirt.  It was peaceful.

Thunder started to rumble, and my daughter became frightened.  She was standing on the side porch, splashing in the water table with her brother.  I always try to explain to her that thunder is nothing to be afraid of, that it's just the sky's way of saying hello and letting us know it's about to give us a gift of rain.  This time, she bought it and as the rain began to fall, we ran around the yard.  We spun in dizzy circles, danced, ran through the wet droplets and looked up at the gray clouds, squinting.

I didn't waste time today with the internet, not with social media nor depressing images and stories of an ironic war in a holy land.  I didn't stare at my phone, eagerly awaiting interactions that weren't going to come. Something about today was simple, and it fostered the contentment that had been hard to find lately.  I was happy today, that simple true happiness that grows inside us when we make the choice to nurture it.

True happiness is not contingent upon external circumstances.  It is not dependent upon how much money we have, how large our circle of friends, how loved we are, how much property or material goods we have.  It is instead a product of gratitude, a conscious choice to hold a mirror up to our lives and see all the beauty contained therein instead of staring out a window onto someone else's life.  If you have to look outside for happiness, you'll never find it.

Lately, I've lost sight of the important things in my life.  I've focused on one dead branch in an otherwise overgrown and robust garden and made that misery the focal point of my existence - this one tiny thing that my life lacks.  Pathetically, I've clutched those dead leaves to my chest and lamented, "Why me?"  I've fantasized about that wilting plant and how much nicer my garden would be if only it could be healed, if only someone would rush to my rescue and pull the rotting roots from my soil.

No one is coming.  The universe doesn't owe me that.  The universe doesn't owe any of us anything.  The only thing we can do is pull the offending rot from our own lives, and look out onto our garden and its ripe fruits and vegetables with happiness knowing that the universe didn't owe us that, either.  But here it is, to be enjoyed for what it is.

The truth is, my life is full of simple beauty.  I have a hard-working husband who excels in his job and provides for his family's every need.  Because of his efforts, I am able to be a stay-at-home mom and raise our children myself, giving them the loving guidance and attention they wouldn't get with anyone else.  I grocery shop without a budget, I cook amazing meals in a beautiful kitchen in a home we own, I put my children to bed in their own rooms, then spend the rest of my evening pursuing intellectual hobbies without any real worry hanging over my head.  I have a tarantula my husband didn't want, two cats my husband didn't want, and might be getting a dog (which will actually be a compromise).

I brought my kids in from the rain and straight up to the bath tub.  Grains of sand settled on the bottom, blades of dead grass floated to the top, remnants of a day spent in joy.  We continued to splash and play as I scrubbed them down with castille soap that smelled of spicy lavender, then dried them off with fluffy towels and watched my little nudists run right to my daughter's room to jump on the bed before I wrestled them into clothes.

Happiness is a choice, and I choose to be happy.

*I feel I need to note that my unhappiness is in no way related to my son's autism.  Anyone who might not know what else is going on in my life or my head (and that's everyone, because no one knows what goes on up there) might jump to that conclusion, unfortunately.  My children are beautiful gifts and their own personalities, whether diagnostically labeled or not, are the spices of my otherwise dull life.


Love in the Land of Autism

After a long, hot day of playing outside, I sit my son on the couch.  He gets upset, not quite ready to settle down and certainly not ready to be confined to a chair.  But I kneel before him and carefully take his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sneakers off, the only ones at the store with enough room for his wide, tall feet.  He smiles.  I peel his socks off, and gently blow on his sweaty feet.  He giggles, a sound of genuine happiness escaping his throat.  I gently pick the sock lint from between his toes, and give his arches little kisses.  At this point, we're both laughing and our eyes meet briefly and in that moment, the whole world shines.

Love is a feeling, an action, a reaction.  The word itself doesn't even begin to describe the deep emotion involved in love, the effect it has on every part of our being.  That is why I do not share the sentiment I see so often repeated in support groups for mothers of children with autism, the desire to not only tell our children that we love them and have them understand it, but to have them say it back to us.

My son says "I love you" every day.  He tells me he loves me first thing in the morning when he runs into my room and throws himself on top of me, like the time we spent away from each other over the night was far too long.  He burrows into my chest, but raises his head to look at my face often to make sure it's true, that we're finally together again after long hours asleep.  Then, he slowly reaches to the night stand and grabs my glasses gently and hands them to me.  When I smile and accept them, he has this look of pride and accomplishment, like he prepared me for the whole day ahead and helped me become the me I'm supposed to be.  In a way, he's right.

I tell him I love him every day, too.  I tell him I love him when I rush to him in his time of tantrum and swiftly pick him up, kissing away his tears and petting his warm, thick hair.  I tell him I love him when I hold him close and rock him gently in his chair and sing his favorite songs.  I tell him I love him when I make him banana pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast, when I'm gently spoon feeding him lunch, when I tickle his arm pits at bath time.  I tell him I love him when we run around the backyard and sit in the sandbox together, or when I put his favorite movie on during a rainy day.  When I blow on his hot, sweaty feet and kiss them even when they're stinky.

The weakest expression of love is to tell it; the most powerful and profound expressions of love are found in the attitudes we have for each other during the mundane and the awesome, the quality of the time we spend together, how we talk to one another, touch one another, and connect with one another.  We don't need to hear it, we just need to experience it.

Whether or not our children have a word for what they feel, they feel it when we show it.  That's what is important.  I feel deeply loved, and I make sure that he reaps all the benefits of the endless supply of love I have for him.  That's enough for me.