The Realtor described my basement as an “in-law arrangement.” It baffled me when I saw it because it was two finished rooms, a wet bar, and a bathroom complete with whirlpool bathtub.

It wasn’t until I saw the room with the washing machine and dryer (no carpeting or prettying up here, folks) that I got what she meant: a Dungeon. I could totally chain up rogue parents who wanted to move in against the walls, throw leftover chicken bones down the laundry chute and hell, there was even a (laundry) sink for water!

I crossed off “in-law arrangement” and wrote in “Awesome Dungeon” on the glossy brochure.

We made an offer the next day.

For quite awhile, The Dungeon was empty. We’d moved from a three-bedroom condo with no storage to a three-floor house with all kinds of storage, and at the time, there were only three of us. The amount of space felt gratuitous.

Eventually, I bought shelving and Rubbermaid bins, carefully sorted our stuff (I am, after all, my father’s daughter), labeled them with a Sharpie (I heart Sharpies) and stowed them on the shelves.

Then, well, life exploded.

The Dungeon turned into The Room Where We Shove Crap We Don’t Know What Else To Do With (Bonus! Sorted Shelved Stuffs).

My coveted fiber-optic Christmas tree? Plop it there. Alex’s Halloweenier Costume? Eh, put it in The Dungeon. That Ugly Mirror I Bought But Never Hung Because It’s So Fug? Put ‘er down there. Deal later. The picture of the majestic jaguar that appeared out of nowhere and is too bizarre for even me to hang? Leave there; give to Dave’s Mom.

Cleaning The Dungeon is something I’ve wanted to take care of for a long time, and this weekend, after a long, anguished fight with The Daver, I saw no better time to begin. Some people eat their emotions, some drink them, others escape through television and movies. Me? I strap on my Super Becky Overachiever cape. I purge, I organize, and I clean. It helps organize my brain and process these weird things that you people call ‘feelings.’

(feelings are bullshit)

I started in the middle of the room; tossing what we didn’t need, storing what we did, and donating anything salvageable. Within a couple of hours, I’d cleared a path to the shelves. Even with my careful labels, I no longer knew what they really contained.

I hauled out a large unlabeled blue bin and popped it open.

Freeze-frame.

The box was full of craft supplies.

We all know that I’m as crafty as a blind woodchuck, but those supplies hadn’t been for me. Shit, I’d sooner gnaw off my fingers than craft something.

Standing in that basement, it was as though time had been frozen inside that box.

I’d birthed a baby boy, Benjamin, in August of 2001. In November, I’d gone back to work slinging pizza and beer. I enrolled in nursing school full-time in December. I worked weekends, cramming organic chemistry compounds into my brain between tables. Weekdays were spent in school, weeknights I studied. 7 days a week, no summers off, no rest for the wickedly weary.

My three-year old son watched me march across that stage as I graduated at the top of my nursing school class. I’d so wanted to do right by him. Benjamin, son of my right side, named that, hoping he’d pick up the very best bits of me. My right sides.

Ben and I moved into the condo in Oak Park post-graduation. I’d taken time off before the national nursing board exams, anxiously excited about being a Mom – a real one – for the first time.

I’d neglected to remember one thing. One very important thing.

All of those years I frantically ran around, trying to do right by him, I’d ignored it; reassured myself it would be okay, “when we were a real family.”

My son, Benjamin is autistic. Autistic kids are like Siamese Cats. They choose Their Person (or people) and That’s It. The rest of the world can rot in fucking hell so long as Their Person is near.

I was not his person.

Never have been. Not at birth, not after birth, not ever. We mostly got along but I was most assuredly Not His Person.

His Person was my mother, who now lived 45 minutes away. Dave was Another Person, but Dave also worked long hours, frequently not home until bedtime. Even when home, there was always more work.

Just me and my son. All those years I’d spent longing to be a real family, to feel like a mother, to be with my son…he hated it.

Rejection seeped in.

I went to bed alone each night. Dave working in the office; Ben fast asleep under the mural of The Planets we’d painstakingly painted, emptiness creeping inside me. “Tomorrow, it will get better,” I’d try and reassure myself, denying the sadness sitting on my chest, making it hard to breathe. “This is what you wanted. How can you be sad?”

Each night, the emptiness looming, I reassured myself with something else; another bright side.

When my friends complained about my son’s eating habits, my inability to “go out and party,” and how obnoxious my kid could be, I wrote it off. They were single and had no kids. I never allowed myself to feel hurt by that…or anything else.

When it was clear that Dave’s job was his wife, well, “he was doing what he had to to support his family. Look at the economy! This is what you wanted!”

My son watched a documentary about the Planets and my husband worked constantly. I’d gone from feeling purposeful to puttering about the condo; a shell of my former self, in a few short weeks.

I tried to fill my days. I swept the floors twice daily, washed them at least once. I washed and rewashed dishes. I scrubbed the bathroom tile with a toothbrush. Anything to stave off the loneliness.

Halloween-time, I thought maybe Ben and I could find some common ground: crafts! Off to the craft store, we went, where I bought a fuckton of crafty shit: paper, glue, crayons, scissors, glitter, stuff I’d have gone apeshit for as a kid. Ben was too busy organizing the shelf to notice. Oh well.

Panting and sweaty, I lugged our booty up to the third floor and spread it out on the dining room table. We were going to make MOTHERFUCKING PUMPKINS.

Except Ben had turned his Planets movie and was entirely uninterested in making MOTHERFUCKING PUMPKINS with me. I paused the movie. He wept for Grandma. That rejection finally opened a deep chasm of emptiness inside me.

Halfheartedly, I led him to our Craft Project.

Big, fake, cheerful smile on my face, I painted my MOTHERFUCKING PUMPKIN orange. Ben sat there, weeping for my mother. Smiling so hard that it hurt, I painted his pumpkin, too. He sobbed. I sent him back to the movie.

Then, I sat back down in front of the stupid pile of art supplies, buried my head in my hands, and I started to cry, too. Not the delicate kind of Soap Opera Cry, but the desperate, hurt, miserable cry that emanates from your bones.

I shoved the craft crap into that blue bin where it sat untouched for many years.

A perfectly captured freeze-frame of the way things were.

I held the tube of orange paint and overhead, I heard my three children thundering about, their footfalls booming as they happily chased each other. Their laughter echoing around the house; overcome with joy. I smiled as I repacked the paint, saving it for a cooped-up “I’m BOOOORED” day.

As I closed the lid, I marveled at the way we once were.

And the way we now are.

college-graduation-aunt-becky

The way we were.

ben-makes-a-pumpkin

The way we are.

Comments = full of the awesome. Like gravy. I can haz an RSS RSS feed .

66 Responses to The Way We Were

  • Beth
    Twitter: star_momma
    says:

    :: hugs ::

    Also, anyone who says cleaning isn’t the best way ever to deal with shit you don’t want to deal with is a damn dirty liar. They have OBVIOUSLY never alphabetized their bookshelves while sobbing.

  • StacieT says:

    The hard part for me was the realization that all those dreams I had for my life had to change. There is grief there. But when the paradigm shift happens? Bliss. :-)

    This one brought tears to my eyes. Beautifully written, Becky. Hugs.

  • ElonGrad97 says:

    And today, I learned the word “fuckton.” And I love it.

    And, you’re awesome. Keep on keepin’ on!

  • triplezmom
    Twitter: triplezmom
    says:

    Your strength just awes me, you know. That was a beautiful post.

  • AmberLaShell says:

    Wow, that was very touching… This was a really good post. thanks for sharin it.

  • TwoBusy says:

    Lovely. Sad, and lovely.

  • This made me cry so hard. Feelings are bullshit. But I know your pain in a different way. Luckily I am one of my daughters people sort of. But she still rejects me. I remember those nights when she was a baby when I would try to cuddle her and she would push away from me. And as soon as she could walk she wanted very little to do with touching or being held, or hell me for that matter. Still now I can’t hug her unless it’s on HER terms. And it breaks my heart. But I wouldn’t trade it all for the world. I too watch my kids and see how far we’ve come she too was born in 2001 and is so different then before. And Aspergers is different I suppose. But this touches nerves. But in a good way.

  • Lauren says:

    Now you’ve gone and made me cry. And run my mascara! Do you know how much willpower it takes to get me to put on mascara these days?!? Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Jana A says:

    Stop making me cry. That’s so beautiful.

  • Maria says:

    I’m having a Bad Week With Autism ™ and I needed to read this. Thank you.

  • This is beautiful. Really beautiful. It touches so many nerves in me I can’t begin to say.
    Thank you for it.

  • I remember the night my son was diagnosed with Aspergers. My husband and I went in his room and looked at this perfect little boy and we cried…and we mourned. For that’s what it is, a mourning process for all your hopes and dreams and desires.

    In our case, we were lucky. With much intervention and therapy, my 17 year old is a fairly normal teenager. Gawky? Yeah! Shy still? Yeah…but he’s traveled abroad alone twice…and climbed Mt. Kilmanjaro. Sometimes, the path leads to unexpected places.

    For me, organization isn’t one of them but I’m glad you have a release. Much love!

  • Halala Mama says:

    Your children are beautiful. So are you.

  • Chibi Jeebs says:

    The way you were then is the way you are now: fucking amazing – amazing woman, amazing mother, amazing friend. Don’t EVER forget it.

    xoxo

  • Love you to Chicago and back. I’m not in Chicago, you are. So it’s pretty far. Hope things are ok with Dave. And your strength in dealing with not being one of Ben’s people is amazing. I can’t imagine the heartbreak and I can’t image one would ever get used to it.

  • Francine Denny says:

    Very nice story and so true, thanks for sharing. All my best to you and Benjamin.

  • Jennifer says:

    There my friend is some real talk…

  • Love.

  • Adryon says:

    Beautiful post. Funny how things can literally be stopped just by a sight or sound or smell.

    Perspective, man.

  • Kana says:

    I am so glad both your and the MF pumpkins made it into his world. That amount of perseverance makes me weak to even contemplate. The strength you were forced to find in that pain…I don’t even know whether to envy it or not.

  • Squatlo says:

    I don’t know where one goes or who one has to talk to in order to nominate a blog post for the “Fan-fucking-tastic blog post of all Time” Award, but as soon as I figure it out you’re getting nominated!

    Got a tear in my eye, and I’m one of the “feelings are bullshit” guys you’ll never see with a tear in his eye (unless the Vols win another NCAA football championship in my lifetime…)

    Great post, ma’am. Truly one of the best I’ve read in any forum.

  • Jolie says:

    so well written.
    And my eyes hurt from the tears yesterday, but my kitchen cupboard doors are SPARKLING with shine. Thus, I’m with ya on the cleaning of the soul/house simultaneously. It is good.

  • badbadwebbis says:

    See, I call things like that box ‘memory bombs,’ and some of them still have the ability to incapacitate. Usually my bombs have to do with my late father.

    Anything I find that has anything to do with my first marriage (except for the children) I call ‘stink bombs.’

  • Chris in PHX says:

    No, I’m not crying, its motherfucking allergies.
    Yeah, thats it…Allergies.

  • Kelly says:

    Ben is a lucky boy to have you for his Mama.

  • Beautifully written post. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

  • This was a real touching post. A little close to the bone, but beautiful… My son’s Person tends to be whoever he was just with. So if I was busy putting his little sister to bed and walk in on his already started bedtime story he’ll turn to me, wave and say “no Mama, bye bye Mama”. Dismissed! I really admire your strength… **hugs**

  • Ella says:

    This really hit home for me. My son, 6, is on the spectrum and I started realizing around his second birthday that I was not his Person. It was grief-and-self-pity sandwiches for me for a long time. I am just getting to the point now where I can see his awesomeness as well as his difficulties – I am still not his favorite person ever (that would be his sister) but “I love you, Mom!” is a part of our bedtime routine, finally. Thanks for writing this.

  • Pam says:

    What a great post! Laughter, tears, everything! Just beautiful.

  • CycleNinja says:

    I wanna drive to Chicago and give you a hug. Peace, Becky.

  • Tiffany says:

    becky! this is so beautiful! why’d u have to make me cry? u r such a good mom.

  • sue j. says:

    Need to borrow your craft glue a sec. Tear in heart.

  • NTE says:

    What a moving post. I really appreciate you organizing your stuff, rifling through boxes full of then and now, and sharing it all with so many of us.

  • BitOWit says:

    I want to buy you a case of Sharpies. Also I want to open up the brand new ones and sniff them.

  • krlr says:

    Sorry. Beautiful post. Hugs.

  • mumma boo says:

    *nods* Ah, the “clean-until-the-emotional-turmoil-subsides-just-enough-so-I-can-function” coping technique. I know it well. I hope things are better with you and the Daver today. Be proud of who you are as a mom, as a woman, as a friend. Your strength is amazing and the love for your children knows no bounds. We are all very lucky to have you in our lives, Becky.

  • Rancher Mom says:

    Thank you for such an incredible story! It made me appreciate a few things in my own life that I sometimes take for granted.

  • Jen says:

    Aunt Becky, thank you for another drop-dead gorgeous post. I don’t even know what else to say. I read your blog everyday, and never fail to be inspired/touched/freaked out by your honest and captivating words. I am an SLP with a special interest in Autism – I’ve worked with many children with this diagnosis and many ‘professionals’ in the field, but as someone (currently) without children, I often feel like a fraud when I am talking to parents. I have experienced second-hand some of what you go through, and am grateful for what I learn from you. Hearing about your experiences helps me to be a better advocate and support for the parents and children I work with. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    On an unrelated note, I also sometimes struggle with anxiety and depression (do all of us tend to go into helping fields?) and your blog often gives me the sense of being part of something on the days where I feel alone. You make me laugh and make me feel like I am not the only one out there feeling a bit at odds with the world. This is totally, hokey, I’m sorry, but just wanted you to know that you are making an impact. I am rooting for you and the Daver and all the crotch parasites!!!

  • Melanie says:

    Life with an autistic child is difficult–I spend my work day with them every day as a teacher of high-functioning students on the spectrum–but it is never dull. My autistic students are wonderful. People who think it’s a burden are crazy. Yeah, you go through some heartache when you realize they won’t be like everyone else’s kid, but how friggin boring would life be if everyone was an NT?

  • Such beautiful words.

  • This one made me cry. I can’t even fathom how lonely and sad those days were for you, you wrote it beautifully. I espcially like the words “fuckton of craft supplies.” I am going to work hard to work that into conversation tomorrow with someone.

    Loved it, as usual. So happy to have you hearing joy above you!

  • jillsmo says:

    Wow. Just…. wow.

  • Kadye says:

    Hearts. Love. For you.

  • KarenN says:

    Aunt Becky,

    That was beautiful from the heart, your son is beautiful and so are you, you are an awesome MOM and writer, and I’m sure an awesome nurse. I have a son named Benjamin born in 11-22-2000.

    Hugs
    KarenN

  • Your tweets always make me laugh and this post made me cry. It is amazing when I look back at “how it was” when my three kiddos came home–at once. Thank God for a sense of humor, for your amazing words and making me laugh every day!

  • pamela says:

    You’re amazing and have a fuckton of strength, my friend.

  • andygirl says:

    I loved this so hard. you’re such a warrior woman.

  • katrina says:

    The beautiful emotion in this piece is too much for words!…..yet somehow, Aunt Becky, becuase you are a gifted writed, you did put it into words. Words that play on my heartstrings, and make me feel so vividly i cry for, and with you. You have had more than your share of pain and heartbreak, yet your strength and your love are what shine through….It is inspiring….heartwarming…beautiful.

  • Al_Pal says:

    Beautiful. So touching. Thank you for sharing.

  • Katya says:

    My ex called it my “Martha Stewart Anger Management”.

    HUGS, Aunt Becky!

  • Just lovely, even if it’s full of those awful “feeling” things. I know you don’t write about autism often, but when you do it’s really spot on and so moving.

    I AM my son’s “person” and that made it really hard in the early years when he would howl at being separated from me for even an hour. They had to have pictures of me at his pre-school and show them to him and promise he would see me in two hours to get him to cheer up & funtion. That’s a lot of pressure, dude, especially when I also had Jake’s needy/clingy/attention loving twin to parent, too.

    But now? Jake’s “person” appears to be our cat, whom he talks to and about constantly. There is not a 5 minute period that goes by that Jake does not ask “Where’s the kitty?” Takes a little pressure off me, but seriously, the cat is getting old & I worry she’s not going to last forever.

    Love you, Becky.

  • Ericka says:

    I am so not crafty either and all of my friends are. They think I’m horrible because I don’t like to do the crafty stuff with my daughter, but she likes it, so we set it up at the table and she gets busy. I could feel your raw emotions in this and although I don’t quite know what you’re going through, I have an idea. :)

  • Shelly says:

    I didnt know your son has Autism! (Ive just started reading your blog a few weeks ago) My 9 year old was diagnosed about 3 years ago. Im his person, and his step dad, who was his real dad until his sperm donar dad showed back up about 2 years ago, suing me for joint custody. Thankfully my son isnt too tramatized over the courts giving this strange man weekend visits which they did. Now his real father is kinda sorta one of his people.

    And it makes me feel petty that I hate giving this man this time that I never had to give him before, he left before I actually gave birth to my son, and the courts just shrugged and said, “welp hes ready to be a father now so we are going to let him.”

    Im sorry I digress lol, what I orginally wanted to say is, how old is your son? Ive learned from my son and his OT Therapy group there IS usually a common thing that autisic kids absolutly love to play with, and its one of my sons favoritestestestest things to share. (after we assured him we had “lego” brains.

    Legos. My husband introduced him to them at age 6. It’s been a never ending love story ever since. He carrys them everywhere, we bribe him with them. Those kits they sell in toy stores, that you buy for kids and they cant ever put together because they are impossible.
    We time him for fun, he goes at them like a religious ziolot looking for a burning bush lol.

    Teaching him that you dont have to go by the book and seeing what all he can come up with, has been some of the hands down best bonding time I have spent with him, and it turned me and his step dad into being THAT person, instead of his older sister, who hit teenage hood and was really wanting a life that didnt include her brother attached to her leg.

  • ChiMomWriter
    Twitter: chimomwriter
    says:

    Beautiful and real post. All we can do is put one foot in front of the other every day.

  • Amy says:

    Oh Aunt Becky making me cry at work!!! I got chills when I saw the last picture!! You are such an awesome mama! And a wonderful Aunt Becky too!

  • annie says:

    Wow – I think i’m speechless. What a beautiful, painfully vivid post! thank you!

  • Sarah P says:

    Damn it, Becky. Fucking poignancy.

  • Flannery says:

    Autism sucks. I’ve cried over craft supplies, toys, books, all sorts of things that held promise, but not my son’s interest.

    And the mantra in my head begins, “it will get better, it will get better, it will get better…”

  • onecookieshort says:

    Oh, that made me cry, and I hate crying at work. I can totally relate, although my son has ADHD, rather than being autistic. However, I am definitely not his person. That would be my MIL. And it broke my heart. I’m glad things are so much better for you.

  • Penbleth says:

    It does get better. It’s better for me today than it was all the years other people told me 12 had Autism but I wouldn’t accept it. It’s better than when she was having seizures all the time and we were in and out of hospital. It’s better than when I walked the floors with her at night and prayed in the dark that she would at least be given speech. Or when I came to terms with that never really happening. Or … all the other times.

    It’s better today. I’ll worry about tomorrow when I get to it.

    Love to you, you are a fab writer and a great Mum, never doubt it.

  • Lisa says:

    Tears all over the damn place! I can’t imagine what that kind of rejection must feel like, but YAY you for being the tough bitch you are!! You’ve got to hang in there when there yours, I know.
    I totally get the Martha Stewart Anger Management – love that Katya, stealing it – I have been overhauling our house recently for the very same reason. :D
    Luv Ya B!!

  • Kate says:

    Damn I love you, woman.

  • Jason says:

    Hey there.

    When I’m overly stressed, I love to clean out my closet. It is a good stress reliever. Hours do fly by as you sip on some upper grade cognac and upon all fours as you fumble through boxes of crap and clothing articles of yester-year. Seeing your college photo reminded me of my college days and I decided to take a ghetto scan of some of my graduation photos. Nothing beats holding your small 3×5 prints to a strong light and taking a quick snapshot with your 5 year old ghetto digital cam. They are a bit grainy but it will do since I own no scanner. To be honest, who actually owns a scanner these days? I posted them up on my facebook for all to awe at grainy snapshots.

    Crack open some VSOP and say cheers to the future of stress!

    Sincerely,

    Jason

    Jason Y.@facebook
    Cyrus_Jay@twitter

  • Wombat Central
    Twitter: wombatcentral
    says:

    Beautifully written as usual. Hope things are better today.

    Also, I’d like to hire you to organize my life. I’ll totally pay you in Uncrustables.

  • My son has Asperger’s and his person is my mom too…which makes no sense since she lives no where near us, and is evil. I keep telling him she’s not so fun when you live with her, but he is steadfast in his determination to live with her when he goes to college. (He’s 12.) There’s only so much we can do to keep them from the dark side.

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