When my daughter was five or six, I packed the car and drove to the lake. I had to lug bottles of water, a bag of fishy-smelling beach toys, a lunch cooler, and a lawn chair across the parking lot and down the stairs to the beach. I stopped to take a breath and take in the scenery.
Broken flip flops, water-engorged diapers, plastic bags, and pieces of glass littered the shore from the weekend. My daughter took off barefoot to scare a gaggle of seagulls. I screeched for her to be careful (I imagined her cutting her foot and getting an infection) but only managed to scatter the seagulls before she got to them.
I set up my lawn chair, trying to avoid a decomposing fish with flies buzzing around its dead jelly eyes. Almost immediately, we were surrounded by a horde of children wanting to borrow our beach toys. I could not keep track of them and my daughter, who had wandered ankle-deep into the water only to run back when a frothy wave unfurled and threw itself at her. I didn’t even bother to sit down. What was I thinking! This place was a death trap.
My daughter came running back, “Look Mommy,” she shouted excitedly. In her hand she clenched a plastic tampon applicator, a shiny foil condom wrapper, and tabs from beer cans. “Treasures!” she exclaimed.
This past week my 23-year-old daughter came home from a semester abroad in London and traveling solo through Spain. Just like that day on the beach, I envisioned every last thing that could go wrong—and did, a little bit. She had her phone stolen on the train; she got caught in the rain; she missed her flight home; but despite all the bad stuff that happened, she made it back with treasures: a button found outside a West End theater, a picture a friend had scribbled on the back of a napkin, a postcard from Madrid, a seashell found on the beach at Malaga, the fragment of a map folded and refolded in the rain outside a castle.
I might not be done freaking out—there is ALWAYS something to worry about—yet I’d like to learn to distill treasures from trash and keep in mind memories, smooth as sea glass, churned up by rough waters.
Jane Hertenstein’s current obsession is flash. She is the author of over 40 published stories, a combination of fiction, creative non-fiction, and blurred genre both micro and macro. In addition she has published a YA novel, Beyond Paradise, and a non-fiction project, Orphan Girl: The Memoir of a Chicago Bag Lady, which garnered national reviews. She is a 2x recipient of a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Hunger Mountain, Rosebud, Word Riot, Flashquake, Fiction Fix, Frostwriting, and several themed anthologies. She can be found at http://memoirouswrite.blogspot.com/. Her latest book is Freeze Frame: How To Write Flash Memoir.
You touch my glass, say brr. This is cold I say, like snow.
The way ice feels against the tongue, water in the bath
that’s left too long. We turn the lights out: dark. This is
what stars look bright against, what you need to fall asleep,
black velvet. Up you say, hands raised in the high chair,
wanting release. It is where the sky resides, where you find
the ceiling fan, how you hang clothes.
For now, these definitions will suffice. One day up will mean
the way you feel when he takes your hand; dark, the short
black dress you wear on New Year’s Eve; cold, champagne
on your wedding day. My daughter, words are my work; they
describe birches, wind, birds’ wings. So many adjectives, so
many ways to say. My word for you, love, both noun and verb.
Catherine Harnett is a poet and fiction writer from Virginia who has published two books and whose work has appeared in a number of places. She writes many coming-of-age stories which illustrate life through the eyes of children as they experience the world. “Her Gorgeous Grief” appears in a volume of Coming-of-Age stories from the Hudson Review.
Slaying me with trust, his brown eyes meet mine as he asks the question I’ve dreaded. “Night-Night?”
Velvety soft companion since birth,
and most prized possession,
his brown blanket Night-Night lays,
clean but wet in the bottom
of the washer.
Tired and missing his mother, I hear
the rhythm of some celestial clock
ticking off the seconds to his detonation.
When I toss it in the dryer, he senses
my panic, and the sniffling begins.
Planted in front of the dryer,
his grief swells to a storm of tears
cascading down his shirt
as he pushes away my hugs.
Praying for inspiration, I grab
his stuffed dinosaur and kangaroo.
When he turns, we are sitting
just behind him, ‘Saur, ‘Roo and me,
staring in solidarity at the dryer,
like mourners sitting shiva,
as he melts into my arms.
Sharyl Collin started writing poetry about four years ago. Her poems have appeared in various publications, including Mason’s Road Literary Journal, Wild Goose Poetry Review, *82 Review, The Intentional and Lummox.
“Bless your heart, you‘re burdened,” is usually the comment from strangers to me after my twelve-year-old son, Joseph, has a meltdown. In the past, I almost fell over myself in my haste to offer an embarrassed apology and scoot away from what seemed like a throng of people as quickly as possible.
Now an older and wiser me, with teeth gritted, smiles and offers an explanation for Joseph’s actions–he has autism, and something in his surroundings has over-stimulated him, thus the meltdown. Like an infomercial host, I explain ASD–what it is, symptoms, and how things in our environment might affect someone with autism. Sometimes, that’s followed by a sad look from the other person, and they mutter, “My, my…you didn’t ask for that, did you?”
In those circumstances, I bite my lip to keep sarcastic, almost hysterical laughter at bay. The stranger meant well. She was offering compassion, something often lacking in our society. But no, I didn’t ask for my child, my heart, to have a neurological disorder.
Having a child on the autism spectrum is comparable to a roller-coaster ride. There are the up moments. Like when your child says for the first time “Mama, I love you,” and you’ve waited seven years to hear it because he’s been almost completely non-verbal. Or countless hours of teaching and tears (because there doesn‘t seem to be comprehension), trying to get him to kick versus dribble the soccer ball into the net. But at the state Special Olympic games he kicks it in on the very first try.
Then there are the times when you’re at a restaurant, and your child is having a screaming, kicking fit because the waiter cut the burger in half, and Junior never eats his burger cut in half (kids on the spectrum like routine). Every eye (it seems) is focused on your family, and you wish you could crawl into that darn sandwich and hide from the world.
But, this has been a journey of learning for me. I have discovered how to look past physical appearances and abilities and see people’s determination and beauty within. Though I’m a perpetual work in progress, I have been a scholar of lowering the walls, practicing empathy, moving past emotional scars, and loving with my whole heart.
And Joseph has become my biggest teacher. He has taught me to appreciate the smaller things in life: the majesty of the sun setting on the hills; the magic in a bird’s song; delicious aromas of the earth as it awakens in the mornings. Nothing is to be taken for granted, especially the sweet, sing-song chant of a child’s conversation.
One Saturday, Joseph walked into the living room and watched as I danced to “Uptown Funk.” Wordlessly, he stepped in front of me and began stomping in time to the music–an accomplishment for someone on the Autism spectrum. Tears clouded my vision. I was grateful when the song ended because I have all the grace of an ostrich on ice and I wasn’t prepared to spend Saturday morning in the emergency room.
Joseph chewed his finger as he studied me. “La vita e bella, Mama?” he questioned, reading the front of my shirt.
“Yes Joseph, La vita e bella. It means ‘Life is beautiful.’”
And it is, even when it’s a roller coaster ride of emotions.
Debbie Roppolo is an award-winning humor writer, the author of the award-winning children’s activity/cookbook Amelia Frump…is Cooking Up a Peanut Butter Storm, the creator of Amelia Frump and her Peanut Butter Loving, Overactive Imagination, and He’s My Brother. Her parenting humor book, The Toilet is Overflowing and the Dog is Wearing My Underwear (working title) will be released by DWB Publishing later this year. Roppolo lives in the Texas Hill Country with her husband and is the parent to two active boys, a couple of equally hyper dogs, and a senile older cat.