When Emma was diagnosed I threw myself into researching autism. I was determined to find out everything I could. I quit my job and devoted every spare second to reading books, trolling the internet for information, talking with specialists, etc. It was Richard who, one night said to me, “Ariane this isn’t healthy.”
“What are you talking about?” I said indignantly.
“You can’t even see it… this searching, every second spent reading about autism.”
I remember I was furious with him. Here I was devoting every second of my free time trying to help our daughter and he was telling me it wasn’t healthy?!
Richard took a deep breath and continued, “You have to go back to work, do something with your creativity. Do something that has nothing to do with autism.”
He was right. My life had lost all semblance of balance. And so I did. I found the career and creative outlet I had been looking for my entire adult life.
The summer after the diagnosis Richard was under tremendous pressure at work. I told him I would take the kids with me to stay with my mother in Colorado for a few weeks so he could have a break and not worry about showing up for the children and me. The point is we watch out for each other and we encourage each other to have some balance in our lives.
Early on we realized the importance of down time. Because with an autistic child, all the therapies, no matter which one works for your child, emphasize constant involvement with your child during their waking hours. I cannot remember ever, in the last six years, sitting down to read the paper without feeling a tiny tremor of guilt. I should be engaging Emma in some sort of “play” no matter how tired I am. In addition, not only are you suppose to interact with your child every waking moment, but you are suppose to interact with a child who often does not want to be interacted with. Despite this, you must pursue them or as Stanley Greenspan used to coach, seduce them. Add to the mix the lack of sleep, a full work week with all the stresses which come with owning several businesses and… okay you get the picture. It’s tough.
So Richard and I decided we each needed an evening out. We picked a night, mine is Tuesday, Richard’s Friday. On my night off I go out with a friend, see a movie or often, just stay at my studio and work late into the night. We also have a standing date night. It is sacrosanct. We have a caregiver booked for the same evening every week. Both of these nights have been crucial to the well being of our marriage and family.
Over a decade ago during a particularly difficult time in my life I took a walk along 23rd Street where I lived. It was a clear beautiful spring day and a single crocus had pushed its way up and out of a crack in the sidewalk, a single flowering plant amidst concrete. I remember thinking how strange it was I hadn’t noticed it before. After all it was right outside the front door of the building I lived in.
Last week, as I was taking Nic down in the elevator to catch his school bus, he was grumbling about Emma waking him up in the middle of the night. I reached over and affectionately tousled his hair.
“Mom! Stop fluffing me!” he said.
I smiled, “I am not fluffing you.”
“You’re trying to make me look like a daffodil,” he laughed, shoving his hoodie over his head.
And I thought of that crocus so long ago pushing up through the great expanse of concrete against all odds.
At a dinner party years ago someone asked each of us to use one word to describe our partner/spouse. When it was my turn I said, “Kind.” Richard is of course many things, but that is the word I still think of which sums him up better than any other.
I am a better person as a direct result of being with Richard. I am pretty sure he feels the same. We push each other to do the right thing. We encourage each other to stretch beyond what is comfortable. We challenge each other. I can say the same thing about both Nic and Emma. Each of them pushes me to show up in ways I could not have imagined. Each of them challenges me to dig deeper, to practice more patience, to stretch, to work a bit harder. Emma has taught me to appreciate seemingly insignificant things, a hug, a kiss, the unexpected laugh and my life and marriage are the better for it.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine, who is going through a stressful time in her marriage said, “Life is hard, suffering is optional.”
Being able to see the crocuses makes it a bit less so.