Change is hard. Change is tough. Change is necessary. I am not the person I was nine years ago, about to give birth to my first child. I am not the person who six years ago managed to have a second. I am not the person who put almost everything she wanted as an individual second, third or fourth as she mothered two small children and tried to be nice to a PhD writing husband. I am not the person who descended into her own dark and personal hell when faced with moving. I am not the person who fought and fought and could not find the way out from a pit deeper than any I’d ever known.

Of course, all of that is here, in me. My road stretches back and is paved with those memories, those feelings, those behaviors, those choices. But the wonderful thing about roads is that as long as you do put one foot in front of the other, you get places. The scenery changes. You wake up and it’s warmer or colder or  greener or grayer. This too shall pass.

And so it is, that children grow and PhDs are finished, jobs are found, moves are moved and the road wends on. Today I am forty and some weeks old, physically somewhat fitter and lighter, remarkably lighter of heart and mind. After about a million years of good intentions and a lot of avoidance, I finished writing a book. I’ve even started the next (although I am firmly in the phase of loathing it and thinking I am a terrible writer). I am looking forward and believing that good things are not only coming, but here. And that I have within me a fresh and renewed sense that I can make it so, that I am not simply the prop on which other lives rest but the prop of my own life. That there is room in these daily hours for me and for them, that I can choose to go forward, whatever the road behind me is, and plant flowers along the way (a la Miss Rumphius, who made the world a better place).

I’m still making it up as I go along, but it doesn’t seem quite so foggy. See, somehow in the last few months, I suddenly stood up to myself and said, if you want to do something, start now. Your time here is not infinite and you are wasting it. And so almost three years after I wrote this post, I am doing it. I call myself a writer. I write. This is what I do. My book is being read by a decent editor. I am done avoiding what I want because I’m scared to want it, fail at it, whatever. I am way, way more scared of spending my whole life being scared.

I am building my own website right now (despite my stunning ignorance of all things html-ish). It will — I hope — be a sort of professional home, but I will blog there and post bits of writing and stuff of that sort. I think I’m not only shutting down these other blogs, but (after copying the contents) deleting them. Although don’t hold your breath because it’ll take me a while to do all the cutting and pasting necessary. It’s time for me to move on, not in baby steps, but in huge great flying leaps.

Come visit me at my new home here: francescaamendolia.com. Give me a shout out and let me know you’re still out there. And thanks for being with me all these years, on and off, along this road.

We’re not a sporty clan. Ed has probably never thrown a baseball to either child. For that matter, neither have I. Recently, we were at a friend’s house and the very nice dad tried to throw a football to Daniel who reacted to the missile as if it were, well, a missile. I should probably have my American license revoked, honestly. It’s not likely to change, though, so I can’t get too worked up about it. Ed has been known to kick a soccer ball around so we will have to play footie and embrace our European side.

But swimming? Well, that’s a parenting must-do. Only sporting skill that can save your life. (Unless someone, you know, threatens to kneecap with extreme prejudice you unless you hit a homer, but that’s pretty unlikely. They are just as likely to threaten to kneecap you if you don’t decline this Latin verb.) So this summer the children did these lovely group swim lessons at the local pool. Helena did quite well (so long as you don’t ask her to jump in) and is not exactly swimming, but will happily bob along in water she can stand in. Daniel put his various teachers through the wringer as he clung to them, strangled them, screamed at them and sobbed at them, but emerged from each lesson cheerful and triumphant and ready for the next one, so the lessons carried on. He could probably swim three or so feet now, without too much angst so long — and this is important — as he can also stand in the water he’s swimming in, which he has defined as 4’3″ of water and shallower. At 4’4″ he starts panicking. And sinking. And screaming.

So that’s his limit. It’s all right. It’s not that bad. And I saw what some of you have very wisely pointed out. That if I could simply tell his instructors that he has Aspergers’ Syndrome (where does that apostrophe go?) then they’d be more ready for him and wouldn’t maybe ask him to do things that he simply will NOT do. Like jump into the pool in 5 feet of water. He just won’t. And the shortcut to explaining that to them would have been incredibly useful.

It’s all about limits. Skills. Knowing who you are and what you are likely — or unlikely — to be able to do.

So how about that Michael Savage, huh. I have to admit, I’d never heard of him, although I went from complete ignorance of his existence to utterly dismissing his existence in the time it took me to read this article. Basically, he said that kids diagnosed with autism are just badly parented. (It was a bit more, you know, shock-jocky than that, but that was the gist.)

This hit home particularly hard because it’s on the heels of a strong suggestion (from an occupational therapist who’s been working with Daniel this summer) that Daniel has Aspergers Syndrome. We still have to decide whether we will go get a proper diagnosis, but I’ve run the thought past another handful of professional type people who know Daniel and the consensus is that he very likely does. And if he does, well, it’s not like the idea that he’s autistic comes out of the blue. It’s always been there, sort of lurking in the shadows. Does he? Doesn’t he? What then, is going on? Why, then, does he behave like this, react like this? Why is he like this?

And throughout it all, I have off and on wondered whether I was to blame. Whether I could be making things better if I were a better mother. Whether I was simply doing my job badly. Whether I had somehow created the patterns of behavior that look oh so much like spoiled-brat syndrome. But when an idiot takes my  hidden fear and uses it to dismiss a whole slew of suffering children and their parents, well, it sort of shows up that it’s a ridiculous idea.

It is shocking to hear echoes of what an idiot preaches in my own head to find that soft, white mushroom of doubt growing in me. And I wish I could uproot it entirely and cast it away. A diagnosis would almost be a relief. There IS something. The something we started seeing when he was only days old. The something we’ve been trying to help, trying to understand for his whole life. The something that sits in the room with us like an invisible dragon waiting to flame. And a diagnosis would contain within it the relief that I am not a bad mother. Some things cannot be parented away. No amount of love can change a person’s brain chemistry, their physiology.

I do know that autism is real, that Daniel struggles, that we have poured ourselves into helping him. I don’t know why the suggestion that there might be something really there, something with an actual name to it, bothers me when I also know it would be a relief.

But then, I don’t know why compete arseholes have their own radio programs and think that they’re geniuses.

Fritz, as usual, is right. Wine helps, or as in last night’s case, a large what the English call martini-and-lemonade, or what we here call, well, I’m not sure. Martini brand extra-dry vermouth mixed with Sprite (or 7-up, I suppose) over ice and maybe with lemon if you can find it. Lovely and not very alcoholic except when you drink it by the huge tumblerful (guilty) while painting a room reddy orangey pinky (call it poppy-colored) at 11:00 at night.

I love painting rooms. I should hire myself out. It is the most astoundingly serene activity (except when you step backwards off a ladder, kick over your martini and lemonade and flood the floor on which your computer is sitting because it’s playing an old Buffy episode via Hulu (which you should check out, really, all of Firefly is on it among other things.) Even so (after the mopping up and the grumbling and the waving of the hands over the computer to ensure its survival) it’s pretty serene. And it has the important fringe benefit of placing a mark on this house that I still feel isn’t quite mine.

After two large tins of poppy paint, it’s going to feel a lot more like mine, I can tell you. And that’s before one wall gets turned into a giant blackboard. And I’m not quite sure yet about the fake fireplace but that’s going to be as Phoenix and the Carpet as I can whip up.

***

And by the way? I’m SO GLAD you’re all still out there. And amazed. And touched. And (did I mention) SO GLAD. I’ll be stopping by soon because I’ve missed you and I’m done waiting until I feel more inclined, or less morose or whatever.

Because here’s the thing. In high school (a million years ago) I hit a rough patch. And I had a few months where I dragged myself to school, moped around and then dragged myself home. Then finally after yet another sad and down sort of day, my friend Rosalia telephoned and said (something to the effect of) ‘I am sick and tired of seeing your face looking all hang-dog down in the dumps like that. Tomorrow you are coming to school all pretty and smiling or I will put a smile there and you won’t like it. I don’t care that you feel horrible. You are going to fake it until you make it.’

Eh, well, tough love, but I didn’t want to let her down. So I smiled, even though I didn’t feel like it. And after a while, it sorta worked. And then I really was smiling.

I dreamed that I never sold my (I mean our) house in Philadelphia and I was so terribly relieved that I nearly cried. Thank god, I thought. It was all a dream and now everything will be all right again. Then I woke up.

A whole year and a bit on and still, I dream this dream. Different angles, different seasons. Sometimes a friend stops me from selling the house. Sometimes I have to race through a sort of distopia to prevent someone from stealing it. Sometimes I just sit on the steps. Sometimes I dreamed that it’s been sold but that I can buy it back.

It’s not like life was perfect there. It really wasn’t. Life never is. And it’s possible that I have a tendency to get a little rose-colored around the edges of my vision when I peer at the past. But only a little. And it’s not like things are all that bad now. Just that they’re not what they were.

I haven’t been writing here because I haven’t anything new to say really. Not to myself. Not to you (all one of you, or perhaps none by this point). But maybe that shouldn’t stop me writing. Maybe the very act of writing will be something new. And maybe I’ll find something new to say. I do keep wondering when this sense that I am stuck in a quagmire will change. Maybe the only way to change it, is to change it.

Writing is a tough job. Creative writing even more so — or for me it is, because the demons howl so loudly.

This play I’m writing — I’m nearing the end and I’d be feeling good only all night long I tossed and turned, the demons weaving their long fingers into my hair and jerking me awake.

It’s not good enough. Where’s your conflict? What’s going on?

What does it matter, you’ll never see it performed.

The whole idea stinks. It’s wrong. It doesn’t work. Give up now.

Plays are supposed to be about real people, not ideas. Who are these people? Why do we care?

Maybe you should be content just being the support crew. You’ll never write as well as you want to. You’ll never live up to your early promise. You never get it down on paper the way it should be written. Give up. Give up.

To have to wake up in the morning and come back to the computer feels Herculean. In fact, I haven’t opened the document yet, scared to find out that all my demons are chanting the truth.

Still, I suppose I’m going to. What else is there to do? Give up?

It’s always an option. Sitting right there. Just an option.

I have something to rant about but I don’t want to because honestly, I’d like to try being Not Angstful for ten minutes at a time. So I’m going through some good stuff. If I can’t seethe and gripe, then I’m going to shout hooray!

I won a set of ten movie tickets to our local little cinema by dropping my name into the pot at First Friday last week. I like to go anyway and they show good stuff there — this week it’s The Bank Job, then it’s The Band’s Visit, The Counterfeiters and My Brother is an Only Child. Good, eh? I’m pleased. Hooray! I went to pick them up in the little box office, which was quite nice. Of course, then I started talking to – no, wait. If I start ranting about what I want to rant about, I’ll be here all night, so, um, let me see… la la la.

I finished Ed’s sweater. (Will post on knitting blog, oh god, yet I really will, dammit.) I like it very much and more than that, I’m done! Hooray!

I have work again. Hooray for income!

Have been drinking Cuban Side Cars the last few evenings and they’re very good. Eh la! A recipe for you!

1 oz (or 1 part) Jamaican or Cuban rum (the golden stuff, not the spiced, not the dark and not Bacardi — and if you use Jamaican rum, call it a Jamaican Side Car, why not.)

1 oz (or 1 part) triple sec (I use Fishtown gutrot — lovely).

1 oz (or 1 part) lemon juice, though I’ve made it with lime too which is also v. good.

Shake like a maniac with ice. Pour and drink.

It almost makes it possible to put up with… no no no. I’m not ranting

Really. I’m a happy little lark. La la la. Hooray! Pour me another, bartender. Oh that’s me. I’m pouring already.

(I should just define this as Conversation A and get it over with, but have you ever noticed that if you don’t call a friend (say) for a week, then suddenly you need a good reason that you haven’t called, and it had better be a good phone call and you don’t feel up to a Good Phone Call so you don’t call and then it needs to be An Even Better Phone Call — which you don’t feel up to so you don’t call — and then it’s been SO long you almost feel as if you need to send flowers or a singing telegram rather than just calling and saying Hey and the whole idea daunts you so fully that you still don’t call and all that time, you should have just called and said Hey. Well, yes. That’s how I’m feeling now. Ergo, Conversation A. So next time when I say “Conversation A,” you’ll know what I mean, kay?)

I have lost ten pounds — doctor scale certified (although I was in the doctor’s for something else altogether). This is the ten pounds I put on since I found out we were moving. This is the unhappiness ten pounds. The moving ten pounds. The “I feel like misery warmed over and cookies help, they do, even if only while they’re in my mouth” ten pounds.

Thing is, now that I’ve lost it (hooray!) I feel like it should be a sort of Hallmark Movie moment when I realize that I’m not that unhappy after all and that I’ve shed the depression of the transition and I’m ready to go forward into my new life, cookie-induced flab-free. I’m not getting that though. I’m still in the struggle. I’m just back to where I fit into my summer clothes again. So while it’s good, it’s not a Sign.

Life isn’t tidy like that. I sometimes wish it were, but it’s not so I just have to go forward which means still trying not to eat every slice of cake in the house (metaphorical cake — there is no cake in the house right now) and dealing with my moodiness in somewhat healthier ways. Like by drinking. (That’s a joke. Mostly.)

Now I just have to lose the ten pounds of second child baby-weight that I’ve been hoarding all these long years. And when THAT’s gone, I will need me a Hallmark moment, though for what I’m not quite sure.

And until then, there is laundry.

Daniel’s been doing well at school for the past couple of months, which I attribute to his developing character, his hard work, a lot of patience (from him and from those around him) and a generally tolerant attitude from those running the school. He’s losing his temper much much less. Not hitting or kicking. Not screaming with rage. Not running out of the classroom when he can’t cope any longer. He is, in fact, settling down after an enormous upheaval. We are proud of how well he is doing, without expecting that it will carry on indefinitely because that’s not what life (and development) is like. There are ups and downs and right now, we’re happy to have an up period.

His teacher, however, has chosen to describe this welcome development like this:

“He’s been so good, he’s like a different child.”

She has not said this to me ONCE (although I barely contained my rage the first time). She has said this to me a dozen times. More. She wants to know what we’re doing differently. If we’ve finally taken her oh-so-frakking-wise advice and medicated him. If we have him in some super-de-dooper therapy. Of course, we’re doing nothing differently. We’re just trusting in Daniel to grow into himself, that he will figure things out, that he will learn self-control, patience and grace. And we pour into him our trust and patience (or try to. On good days, we do). But we are not trying to fix him, because he is not broken.

And still she says to me, “He’s like a different child.”

And every single time she has said it, especially today when she said it to me while my arm was around my tired and somewhat frazzled child, I have said this:

“No, not a different child. The same child. The same exact child. All that wonderfulness you’re noticing now, that’s right there in Daniel. All that struggling he did, that’s Daniel too. The same child.”

Aren’t we all like this? Good days and bad, moments of grace and moments of struggle? Can we not let our children be thus too?

Not a different child at all. Just my child.

Thomas A. Edison – “Discontent is the first necessity of progress.”

It’s no secret I am discontented. That the flow I find in my life is currently pretty regularly interrupted by my own brain chemistry or circumstances, and I am inclined to blame the latter since my brain and I have been hanging around together for years now and have negotiated a somewhat uneasy truce.

And I’m not exactly blaming circumstances outside myself, but rather my now conditioned response to them. Here’s the thing. Having children was deeply, terrifyingly hard for me, the surrender of self it demanded, the necessity of putting others first. And it coincided with a series of moves that we made based on Ed’s life. So although I’d never really managed to answer the question — what do I want — before all this happened, the circumstances made that question almost impossible to answer. And now I’m so out of the habit of asking it that I really don’t know how to answer it.

Recently, Helena’s teacher suggested that I might like to try getting a job at the children’s school. On the surface, this would be excellent. Convenient, flexible, cozy. I’d be there for the children; no one would complain if I stayed home when they were sick. Summers off, weekends off. Perfect. Right? Right?

Only I don’t want to do it. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about it. In no way, shape or form is it an answer to the question — What do I want to do? It suits everybody else. It maintains my status as helpful, flexible, cooperative and useful. It practically institutionalizes that status. And I feel my throat closing whenever I think it will happen and I will have to do it — for years — and that by doing so, I will essentially answer the question de jour — What do I want? — by surrendering to the apparently inevitable truth that I don’t get to ask that question. That the question is unanswerable. That I am what allow those around me to ask that question, rather than an asker in her own right.

So yeah. I’m discontented. And terrified. Because without even thinking, I’d taken the teacher’s suggestion, walked into the principal’s office and essentially applied. And now they have me on the substitute ass’t teacher roster, which also makes me sick and scared. And once again, I leaped to do what would be good for others, what would be nice, convenient and useful, without considering whether I wanted to do it.

I’ll get out of it somehow. But the question remains — what do I want? And how in hell can that fit into the puzzle of lives I live in?

March 2017
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