Tag Archives: Marriage

Que Sera, Sera

I’m the silent partner. On Emma’s Hope Book anyway. It’s been a long time since I posted an entry. Ariane has always been the driving (and writing) force of Emma’s Hope Book, but I’ve been completely MIA lately. I went on interferon/ribovirin treatment two months ago. I knew the side effects were going to be extreme, but it turned out to be much worse than I could have imagined – one of those cases where if the disease doesn’t kill you, the cure will. I was basically an invalid, physically and mentally. I had to quit the treatment just so I could function and it took a month before I felt well again.

Ariane did an amazing job holding down the fort while I was laid up. She does an amazing job all the time. I’m very lucky and very grateful. Frankly, it’s been a rough patch for all of us lately. “We’ll get through this,” Ariane said a few minutes ago, kissing the top of my head as she scurried back and forth, preparing for a jewelry trunk show.

“Yep,” I nodded, “we always do.”

Of course, exactly what “this” means is open to debate. I guess it means “today”, because our lives never seem to get less complicated, difficult or worrisome for any significant length of time. This is true of any family I imagine, but Emma’s autism contributes greatly to our never-ending “whack-a-mole” game.

Her progress with language, reading and writing continues at a steady pace – a daily miracle from my perspective. Yet at the same time, she has had a recurrence of her difficulties with being able to go to the bathroom, which we thought was long behind us. Two steps forward, one step back.

I finished my novel a while ago and it is being shopped around by my agent. Ariane submitted a proposal for a book about Emma and our family. Both of us are stressed, bracing ourselves and hoping for good news. The day before I went on the interferon treatment, a conflict with my business partner developed that seems irresolvable, adding to the career pressure. Obviously, I would prefer to have enough success as a writer to provide well for the family, just as Ariane would like her jewelry business and her own writing efforts to be wildly prosperous. I’m sure they will be. It’s a lot easier for me to have faith in Ariane’s talents and potential for good fortune. I come from Irish stock.

Every night for the last week Emma has gone to bed listening to a CD of lullabies recorded by the talented and lovely Alycea Ench. The first song is “Que Sera, Sera.”

The second is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I sit in bed with Emma and listen to these incredibly poignant melodies and lyrics, so full of hope and unattainable longing. Do they speak to Emma with the same desperate yearning I hear? Does she question whether she will ever have a chance to experience the normal phases of life the rest of us take for granted? Or does she just like listening to the Alycea’s lovely voice as she sings:

Que Sera, Sera

When I was just a little girl

I asked my mother, “What will I be?”

“Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?”

Here’s what she said to me:

Que Sera, Sera

Whatever will be will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que Sera Sera

What will be will be.

When I was young I fell in love

I asked my sweetheart, “What lies ahead?”

“Will we have rainbows day after day?”

Here’s what my sweetheart said:

Que Sera Sera

Whatever will be will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que Sera Sera

What will be will be.

Now I have children of my own

They ask their mother, “What will I be?”

“Will I be handsome? Will I be rich?”

I tell them tenderly:

Que Sera Sera

Whatever will be will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que Sera Sera

What will be will be.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Somewhere over the rainbow

Way up high,

There’s a land that I heard of

Once in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Skies are blue,

And the dreams that you dare to dream

Really do come true.

Someday I’ll wish upon a star

And wake up where the clouds are far

behind me.

Where troubles melt like lemon drops

away above the chimney tops.

That’s where you’ll find me.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Bluebirds fly.

Birds fly over the rainbow.

Why then, oh why can’t I?

If happy little bluebirds fly

Beyond the rainbow

Why, oh why can’t I?

As Ariane said yesterday in her post, unless Emma is stressed out about one of her OCD issues or unable to attain her most basic needs, she is so incredibly happy in the moment. Blissful. So I doubt very much that she questions what the future holds in store for her — any more than she wonders what lies over the rainbow. She is here. Now. It is Ariane and I that so achingly desire for her to feel and experience all the things kids her age normally go through: having friends, playing games, chattering back and forth.  And as she grows older: dating, falling in love, raising her own family.

Just trying to imagine that kind of normal life for Emma and the rest of us is almost impossible for me. As I write this, I cannot clearly picture it. Even as a fantasy, this truly lies over the rainbow. But even if I can’t visualize it, I have never lost hope that it is possible. In fact, I believe with all my heart that it will happen — someday, somehow – and our little bluebird will fly.

In the meantime, we will get through this — today. As for tomorrow? Que, Sera, Sera.

Aspen, Work & Richard

I am in Aspen working, having left Richard and the children back in New York.  Emma’s ears continue to hurt her.   Richard had to take her to an ear specialist yesterday afternoon.  The last few times I’ve called I could hear Emma in the background crying plaintively, “I need help!  Ears popping!”.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a father leaving his wife and children behind for work, but I can tell you as a Mom, it feels pretty awful.  I feel terrible that Richard is left coping with the myriad details required, the organizing of both children, dealing with one who doesn’t feel great, getting referrals to doctors, arranging appointments, ensuring Nic is taken care of, juggling IEP meetings, seeing Emma’s neurologist, rearranging his own work schedule to accommodate all of the above.

And meanwhile here I am in Aspen.  Even when you tell someone you’re there to WORK, you can see the little smile on their face, “Uh-huh,” they usually respond.  “It’s gotta be tough.”

So no, one cannot expect much sympathy, and if I go on about how tired I am, I can expect little other than a slight nod of the head followed by the slightly sarcastic, “Yeah, I bet.”  Sometimes they’ll even add a barely audible, “Ski much?”

Despite the fact I have no intention of skiing, am working everyday most people find any utterance even remotely sounding like a complaint, tiresome.  Which makes Richard’s response all the more remarkable.

“Of course you must go,” was his reply when I told him about some of my commitments here.  There was no need for discussion.  It was a given, I would go, Richard and the children will join me in another five days.  I am grateful to him for that.

When I call then and hear Emma’s little voice whimpering and Richard’s exhausted voice telling me, “Everything’s fine,” I know he’s putting on a brave front.  I know how exhausting it is to hold down the fort in the other’s absence.   I know he’s worried about Emma, as am I.  The difference is he’s the one who is making and keeping the appointments with all the various doctors, not me.  And no matter how hard I am working, no matter how many hours I put in, it doesn’t compare to what Richard is doing back in New York.  As I write this I can look out my window and gaze upon the Rocky Mountains jutting up, the blue sky contrasted against their snowy peaks.  My concerns for Emma are muted by physical miles, I cannot hear her distress except when I call.  I am not in the trenches with Richard.

I am lucky, very, very lucky.

The World of Autism

This morning we are going to an open house of yet another special ed. school.   The first time I toured a school for autistic children, Emma had been diagnosed a few months before, in the fall of 2004.  We were still in shock and reeling from the new world we suddenly found ourselves in.  The school had locked doors and a security guard at the front desk.  It was clean with walls painted in cheerful colors.   The unmistakable high-pitched keening cry, a sound one only hears coming from an autistic child in distress, emanated from a number of the classrooms.  I remember fighting back the urge to flee.  All the parents were herded into a little room with cafeteria-style tables and chairs.  No one sat down, as though to do so was more of a commitment than any of us were willing to make.

It was my first foray into the world of special education schools where the parents do not speak to one another with the cheerful optimistic small talk one finds in a regular school setting.  The question and answer period is often marked with parents breaking down in tears mid sentence.  There is an overlay of sadness, often despair, parents (and I am describing myself as much as I am of others) who are still in a state of profound disbelief.  There are always a couple of parents who seem to have made it through the mourning process a bit quicker than the rest of us, the ones who seem to have found a level of acceptance, which the other parents have yet to realize.

Visiting various schools now, is different in that Richard and I know what to expect.  We have gone to so many in the intervening years since Emma’s diagnosis, we are better prepared.  And yet, I am still caught off guard, on those rare occasions when I find myself unable to contain my emotions in the middle of an interview.  The tell tale break in my voice, the constriction in my throat, the flood of tears, which inevitably follow and the attempt to pull myself together.   The admissions directors are so used to this they all have Kleenex boxes prominently placed on their desks.  They take it in stride and are almost always sympathetic, brushing aside ones apologies.  Nothing like a child with special needs to make our facades crumble.  Talking about the weather just doesn’t hold much appeal when your child’s life is on the line.

“But I didn’t realize it was so serious,” someone I know said to me once when I said I couldn’t donate to his charity, citing Emma’s autism as the reason our finances were stretched so thin.

Perhaps when compared to other childhood afflictions, autism seems like lightweight stuff, but talk to a parent with an autistic child and you’ll come away with a different sense.  We are all desperate.  I have yet to meet a parent who isn’t.  Some of us have more acceptance, have managed to find ways to deal with our endless stresses better or are better at putting on a cheery front, dig a bit and the darkness, the pain is always there.

I have a great friend who said to me once, “Don’t take this wrong, but whenever I’m really down about something going on in my life, I call you and feel much better. “

I know what she means.  I have a good friend who’s going through a truly horrific divorce at the moment, everyone’s behaving badly, their child caught in the middle and I feel such relief, because in addition to what we are going through with Em’s autism, we could be in the midst of that as well.  Thankfully we are holding onto each other, leaning into one another with the full weight of our emotions.

“You’re like an ox,” Richard said to me once referring to my healthy constitution.  Then he broke into a rousing rendition of – “She’s a brick… (beat) house, mighty, mighty…” making us both collapse with laughter.

Richard and I are strong and as a team we’re even stronger.  It’s going to take more than autism to bring us down.

Our Tenth Anniversary

Today is Richard and my tenth wedding anniversary.  For those of you who know how old our son, Nic is, it will not take long to calculate the years do not add up.  This is because, Nic, at 8 months old was at our wedding, wearing a little black velvet tuxedo, with his chubby cheeks and bald head, he was adorable.  Richard and I have never been ones to go the conventional route.

Richard planned a whole day of indulgences for us, today.  So last night we both went to sleep early as we knew we had to get Emma up and ready to meet her ski buddy, get Nic organized before going into town to begin our day together.  At around midnight both of us were woken by screams, emanating from Emma’s bedroom.  In the darkness Emma’s figure could be seen standing by the window looking north east onto the upper ditches of Red Mountain.

“Emmy, what’s going on?”

“I need help!”  she cried.

“Okay.  Come on.  Let’s sit on your bed.  It’s going to be okay,” I said, as Emma pulled at her ears.

“I need help!  Ears popping!” Emma screamed.

“Emma, it’s okay,” Richard said.

“Come on, baby, sit down next to me,” I instructed.  “Go like this,” I told her, demonstrating a yawn.

Emma watched me, as she always does when her ears hurt from the changing weather outside.  “It’s okay,” she said.  Then she held her nose and blew, causing her face to turn red.

“That’s not going to help, Emma.  That will only make it worse,” Richard said.

“Here.  Do this,” I said, demonstrating again.

After ten minutes or so of continuous cries for help, I told Richard to go back to bed and I stayed with Emma, trying to stay calm amidst her pleas for help.

I massaged her ears, pulling gently on them, hoping it would ease the pressure a little, all the while aware of the pressure in my own ears.  Emma is so incredibly sensitive to the sensations within her own body, and often they cause her great pain.  I looked out the window and saw the clouds, which have enveloped the valley these past few days were lifting.

“Mommy!  I need help!  You have to stop screaming,” Emma said tearfully.  “Belly go bang, bang.”

“Em do you have to throw up?”

“Yes, belly go bang bang,” she said running into the bathroom.  We sat together in the bathroom for awhile.  “Daisy!  You cannot hit.  I need a bandaid!  You have to wash it,” Emma scripted, taking a number of older conversations and putting them together in some sort of creative medley.

“Where does it hurt, Emmy?” I asked.

“Here,” she said rubbing her chest.  “I want a bandaid!  I want to get into the pool. It’s broken.”

I stroked her head and brought a bowl from the kitchen to place next to her bed.  I was able to get her back into her bed where she lay, occasionally whimpering.   After a few hours she was able to fall asleep with me by her side.

When she woke up this morning, I said, “Let’s go see if Daddy’s awake.”

“Okay,” she said.

Upon seeing me, Richard said, “Happy Anniversary Honey.”

We laughed as Emma leapt into bed beside us.  “No banging!” Emma said.

“Do you still feel sick?” I asked.  “Do you feel okay, Em?”

“Yes,” Emma said pulling the sheets over her head.

Together we can do what neither one of us would want to do alone.

The Next 32 Hours

To say I am counting the hours until my family’s arrival would not be an exaggeration,  32 hours, weather permitting.  And during those 32 hours I will have opened my store, launched my e-commerce web site: www.arianezurcher.com, worked an eight hour shift and gone to see my friend and inspiration to all of us, Amanda Boxtel demonstrate Berkeley Bionics eLegs at the Aspen Club this evening.

Richard will be equally busy, going to Emma’s school for her parent/teacher conference, working, packing, going to Nic’s school Winter Concert where he will play “Lean on Me” on his clarinet (!) making sure Merlin is cared for while we are away, before getting to the airport and onto the airplane.  Flying with Nic and Emma is always stressful and anxiety producing even though Emma is one of the world’s best travelers.  It is more the mental gymnastics one inevitably goes through before the fact which causes the most worry – What if she has to pee and the plane is stuck on the runway in some endless and unforeseen delay?  What if she freaks out for some unspecified reason?  What if her favorite DVD doesn’t play properly?  What if, once in Denver, the plane to Aspen is delayed or worse, cancelled?  What if…

I have flown with both children a number of times on my own and it’s always nerve wracking.  The good news is, even with some substantial delays and mishaps, both Nic and Emma are terrific travelers.  Emma loves when the plane begins zooming along the runway and in the past would race her legs up and down as though she were running, propelling the plane forward as she laughed and made buzzing noises.  I haven’t seen her do that in over a year now, but it was hilarious when she use to.  Now, more likely, she will simply gaze out the window with a little content smile and occasionally hum.  She knows she will have her Cokie or as her head teacher at school writes – Coqui – which I rather like, giving the tattered blanket a certain, je ne ce quoi.  Emma has been talking about the fact she will have full access to Cokie on the airplane for over a month now.  “Take Cokie on the airplane,” she has said more than a few times.

“Yes, Em.  You’ll have Cokie with you.”

“Have Cokie on the airplane,” Emma will repeat as if confirming an important appointment.

“Yes,” we respond.

“Good!  Take Cokie on the airplane.”  Then she will nod her head and grin.

Both Emma and Nic have been looking forward to coming out to Aspen for a while now.  Nic cannot wait to see his beloved Granma and her dogs and Emma can’t wait to see her Granma, go skiing with her Uncle Victor and Aunt Susan and go swimming at the ARC (Aspen Recreation Center) after skiing.  I cannot wait to see both children and my husband tomorrow afternoon and have not thought much beyond catching sight of them and just hugging all of them.


I have been away on business these past few days, which means I am away from my family and I miss them terribly.

This morning I received an email from Emma’s school saying she spit on the bus again, despite the fact she knows she will not have any cupcakes when she comes home and now will have limited access to her blanket, if this continues. I am not in New York to help deal with the situation, and even if I were, I doubt my presence would have much impact on her behavior. Knowing Richard is doing all he can to cope with this as well as working, packing for his and the children’s fast approaching departure to join me out here, going to Emma’s parent/teacher conference, Nic’s school concert where he is playing the clarinet, and all the other things he needs to do and get done before leaving this Thursday, I am feeling terrible that I’m out here worrying about the positioning of our store mirrors and whether our sign will be hung by tomorrow, when we hope to open our doors to the public.

Priorities. We all have to prioritize. We juggle as best we can. But it is our families, our friends, the people in our lives who are most important. All of this is trite, I know, but when I am told of Emma’s behavior, I remind myself of these things, because it can feel so terrible. Richard and I will figure out a way to ensure she stop spitting, it may take some time, but we will be able to rid her of this behavior eventually, just as we have worked with her on countless other inappropriate behaviors. Perspective and priorities..

A Little Gratitude

Emma stealthily crept into Nic’s bed last night, without waking him and was found by Richard when he went to wake Nic at just minutes before 7:00AM this morning.

“Good job waiting!” Emma said as she bounded into our bedroom and snuggled under the sheets.

Richard, having spent well over an hour with her in the middle of the night getting her back to sleep, was in the other room.  I was getting dressed and said nothing.  I was at a loss for words.  She sounded so proud of herself.  Did she not understand that in fact, she had not slept in her own bed, had gotten up at just past midnight to come into our bedroom where she woke both of us up?  Did she no longer remember Richard went back to her bedroom with her and stayed there until after 1:00AM, making sure she was asleep before returning to our bed?  At some point after Richard left her she must have woken up once more and snuck into Nic’s bed, being sure not to wake him.  After all we told her she mustn’t wake Nic.  Technically she did not wake him, but she didn’t stay in her own bed either.

The night before she was up screaming, “Mommy!  Mommy!  Come!  Mommy come!”  Heart-rending cries, unbearable, the guilt in not responding overwhelmed me.

“I’ll get her,” Richard said, grimly.

For the past couple of nights now, Richard has gone to her before her screams woke Nic, sitting with her for more than an hour in the middle of the night.  Trying to calm her, trying to get her to understand we need to sleep, she needs to sleep, she cannot wake us.  Yet, she does anyway.  It is easy to feel discouraged, despair even, but the truth is, she is making progress.  The 2:30AM wake-up calls are now occurring just after midnight.  She is not wetting her bed.  She is (until last night) staying in her own bed, after Richard returns her to it.

“Mommy!”  Emma cried.  Five years ago, I would have given anything to have her cry out for me.  I would have given anything for her to acknowledge me at all.  Now she does and I groan.  It is Richard who bears the brunt of these middle of the night pleas.  It is Richard who suffers the next day, trying to defog his brain enough to make sense of the work before him.  It is Richard who stumbles through the day, trying to maintain a placid demeanor, not giving in to the impatience, despair and fear that lurk on the edge of his thoughts.

I must get my work done and leave the studio early today so as to be home in time to greet Nic’s bus at 3:45PM this afternoon, allowing Richard to go out with friends who are in town.  It is the least I can do.  I sit here in my studio gazing out at the Chrysler Building, feeling immense gratitude, gratitude for having a husband who places his family first, who demonstrates his love for us on a daily basis.  I am incredibly fortunate.

I have the luxury of enough sleep and a mind clear enough this morning (thanks to my husband) that I am able to remind myself, Emma is progressing.  It’s two steps forward, one step back, but she is making progress.

I don’t know how people do this without an active participating partner.

I cannot imagine.

Autism and the Family

“Mom! “ Nic’s cries could be heard throughout our home.

“What is it, Nicky?” I asked.  It was 1:00AM.  I could hear Emma whimpering.

Nic began to cry.  He stood in the middle of the living room, pointing toward his bedroom.  “She’s in there, she woke me again,” he said before bursting into tears.

“Oh, Nicky.  Come on.  I’ll get her out of your room,” I took his hand and led him back to his bed where Emma lay.

“Emma!  This is not okay.  You may not wake up Nic!”

“Nic’s room, bye-bye!”  Emma said cheerfully.  Then she began to whimper.

“That’s right.  You may not wake up Nic.  Go to your room,” I said.

“No.  Not going to wake up Nic,” Emma said.

The night before Emma woke everyone by screaming in the middle of the night.  It was similar to being woken by an air raid siren, jarring, disconcerting.  The shrieks were deafening.  We punished Emma by not allowing her to have her beloved pancakes the following morning.  Even so, she seemed not to fully understand the connection.

Emma’s nocturnal awakenings affect all of us, but so do her public melt downs, her inability to communicate, her inability to understand and empathize with others, her limited food choices, her inflexibility.

Perhaps of all of us, it is hardest on Nic.  He is the one who gets the brunt of our impatience.  It is Nic who feels the weight of being expected to be the “normal” one, who understands and feels our stress, who feels fury with Emma for her very public displays, which he finds increasingly intolerable and embarrassing.  He longs for a “regular” sister, one he can play “hide and seek” with, one who will play card games with him.  One he can talk to.  As exhausted as Richard and I are by our sleep- deprived nights, we do our best to plod along.  We talk with one another, lean on each other.  We rely on gallows humor when everything seems bleak.  And while we encourage Nic to talk honestly about his emotions, I wonder whether he really feels he can.  I wonder whether he doesn’t feel he is placing yet another burden on us, and censors his thoughts and feelings.

For several years after Emma’s diagnosis Nic went to see a child psychologist.  A year ago he requested that he not go any longer.  We spoke with him at length and promised him we would not force him to continue seeing her if he didn’t want to go back.  Since then, I have asked him several times whether he’s sure he wouldn’t like to return or find a new therapist, he has continued to say no.

I have learned over the years, that as bad as things are or seem:  a) they can always get worse, b) they can seem worse than they are and c) one can always shift ones perspective ever so slightly enabling one to see things differently.  I have found when I am able to achieve a more balanced perspective I am better able to cope.

Emma has changed all of our lives dramatically.  She has pushed each of us.  Sometimes it feels to our breaking point, but we have all survived thus far.  Emma forces me (I will not presume to speak for any of the other members of my family) to pay more attention.  I appreciate small gestures, small acts of kindness more than I did before Emma’s diagnosis and it inspires me to do the same for others.   For instance, I am constantly aware of how hard my husband, Richard works to help her, to help Nic, to help me.  He is a rare breed, fiercely ambitious, a visionary and yet places his family firmly first, not just in thought, but in his actions.  He believes in equality and behaves in accordance to those beliefs.  He is as strong a man as I have ever met, giving both emotionally and physically of himself.

Emma has taught me to see the world differently.

And it is beautiful.


Transitions can be difficult for all of us, but particularly troubling for autistic children.  One of the defining characteristics of autism is an insistence on sameness and routine.  When a routine is disrupted the autistic child suffers.  Anything I write regarding this will be an understatement.  How can I describe the abject terror in Emma’s eyes when she cannot adequately communicate her fears and anxiety?  I cannot.

Emma has had meltdowns, several in a day since we returned home.   They tend to increase in intensity in the late afternoon, early evening when she is tired.  When I examine the behavior it continues to baffle.  Last night was a perfect example.  I was preparing to go out when Emma who was listening to a music video suddenly screamed,  “I need help!”  And then bit herself on her forearm.  The bite didn’t draw blood, but it was hard enough that we could see the teeth marks and it immediately began to swell.  She tends to switch arms and so both of her forearms have bruises on them from previous biting.

“It’s not okay to bite, Emma, I said, kneeling down.  “What’s going on?” I asked,

“No biting!” Emma yelled and then said, “I need help!”

“What do you need help with?” Richard asked joining us.

“You have to ask Mommy.  You have to pull on Mommy’s shirt,” Emma said, mimicking Joe.

“Do you want to listen to a different video?” I asked, confused.

“NO!”  Emma wailed.

“Okay. Emma, you have to take your thumb out of your mouth, so that I can understand you,” I said.

“Mommy, I need help to look for it,” Emma said.

“What are we looking for?” I asked.

Emma got down on her hands and knees and began crawling around on the floor.

“Em, tell me what we’re looking for?” I asked, joining her.

“I think she lost the foam to her earbuds,” Richard said.

“Em, are we looking for the foam?” I asked.

“Yes!” Emma wailed.

It turned out Emma had thrown the foam covering one of the ear buds onto the ground, for some unknown reason.  Once the foam was found, I joked to Richard as I left, “I’m leaving, I may not come back.”

“I don’t blame you,” he said.

“My phone will be turned off, text me if you need me,” I said. When I returned home Richard looked exhausted.

“How bad was it?” I asked.

“Bad.” Richard answered.

After I left Emma went from one upset to the next, she cried about the video not downloading quickly enough, once that was fixed there was a missing photograph.  See “Photographs” for more on this.  And on it went through out the night until she finally fell asleep around 8:00PM.

Looking at my husband, I knew how he was feeling.  There’s the thought of – I just need to get through this next hour.  And once Emma’s fallen asleep the sense that the tenuous shred of hope we both desperately cling to is fraying.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked.

“I really don’t,” Richard said.

I nodded.

For more on Marriage go to:  “Marriage (Part 1)” & “Marriage (Part 2)”.

Marriage (Part II)

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.

Marriage (Part I)

(*I have come to regret beginning this post with these statistics as I think it takes away from the main point.  ALL marriages will inevitably encounter stresses that will place a strain on the best of marriages.  It is not about blaming autism.  It is life.)

The divorce rate of parents with an autistic child is said to be 80%.  However I have found no studies to support this statement or even any articles showing where this seemingly arbitrary number came from.  Challenges of any kind can strain relationships.  As the parent of an autistic child in addition to the stress and financial strain, there are the legal hoops one must jump through to get ones child basic services with the Board of Education, the Board of Public Transportation, insurance companies, the lawyers, the hearings, the paper work and the sheer bureaucracy of advocating for your child.  It is the workload equivalent to running a small business if not more.  When you add the fact that many autistic children have disruptive sleep patterns causing further complications to a family already struggling to cope, you have a situation that will test the strength of any marriage, no matter how solid.

Richard and I have certainly had to weather our disagreements, though fortunately around the big issues:  methodologies, treatments, our vision and hopes for Emma – we agree.  I know of a couple of instances in which one of the couple just couldn’t cope any more and the diagnosis pushed them over the edge and out of the marriage.   I remember early on after we had received Emma’s diagnosis I looked at Richard and said, “How are we going to get through this?”

Richard replied, “Together.”

And for us in many ways it’s that simple.  (Though I need to be reminded of this from time to time.)  We don’t do it alone.  When I am having a moment usually in the middle of the night perseverating on some worry about something I have little control over or which simply hasn’t happened yet – will Emma ever live independently or who will take care of her when we die or will she ever be able to read and write or will she need tens of thousands of dollars worth of dental work because she still sucks her thumb (yes) or will she ever be out of diapers (these are a few examples from my current playlist) or any number of concerns ricocheting around in my head like a pinball, Richard will reassure me, “It’s going to be okay, we’ll get through this.”  There are times when I feel as though I am trying to claw my way out from a dark abyss of fear that ambushes me, pulling me down.  Richard and I have a kind of short hand for this.

“You’re spinning out,” he’ll say after listening to me for a while.

“I know,” I will reply and I do know.  The knowledge doesn’t help me stop myself.

And then he talks me down or if that fails, because I can be stubborn, he will listen a while longer before finally interrupting me with, “Okay, my turn.  You’re totally out of control.”  His is the blunt, direct approach.  It can be quite productive.  He will then go on to point out why my thinking is deranged.  90% of the time I can listen to him and calm down.  Richard has his own version of spinning out, but it’s usually work-related.  Which isn’t to say he doesn’t worry about Emma or Nic, he does, it’s just he is better at having some perspective on them and doesn’t get as easily thrown into the “doomsday pit” of despair.

When Emma is having a melt down, which can go on for quite some time, we pitch hit.  One of us will try to soothe her and when the other sees it isn’t going well – our patience is fraying – the other will jump in.  Most of the time one of us is able to maintain a calm the other is lacking.  Of course this leaves poor Nic fending for himself.  Though Nic, too, has gotten quite adept at calming things down.  “Here’s what you guys need to do,” he’ll say, looking up from his latest drawing of some fanged, blood dripping, all powerful monster.  “You can’t let her get away with this.  She won’t stop and she needs to learn she has to stop.”

Richard and I look at each other with raised eyebrows.

“You need to choose the thing that’s most important and work with her on that first.  Because otherwise it’s just too much,” he’ll add.

Smart kid.  (A post devoted to siblings of autistic children next week.)