Rough patch

January 20,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

One day last week I was waiting in line at Starbucks when a tall woman approached me. "Excuse me," she said. "Didn't I come to a party at your house maybe two years ago?" I knew right away that she had. Although I wouldn't have picked her out from all the other people in the coffee line, when she made the connection, I saw it, too. Two years ago we'd hosted a playdate/party for our local Asperger's Parenting group and she'd been there with her young son. We chatted while we waited for our drinks. "How is L. doing?" she asked. I hesitated, thinking about how to best sum up our lives at that point. "We're going through a rough patch right now," I told her. And I saw in her eyes that she knew exactly what I meant. "Rough patch" is code for the-bottom-has-dropped-out-of-our-world-right-now-and-things-are-unbearably-difficult. Only parents of other kids with AS can truly understand the meaning of the words "rough patch." If you tell other parents those same words they just nod, and think they understand--supplying their own sense of meaning to the words, but they often never come close to understanding what a rough patch really looks like. ********** Last Monday was an almost unspeakably awful day. Tuesday was, too. Yet the awfulness of those days was nothing compared to how unspeakably and unimaginably awful life had become in Haiti, in a place far away. I drove L. to a therapy appointment on Tuesday. I cried a little in front of the therapist, all the tension and stress from the beginning of the week mingled with the weight of the tragedy in Haiti, and the awfulness of life at that moment. But I felt selfish and self-centered for being consumed by the bad days in my world, when there were so many others suffering in such unimaginable ways in their world--in our world. And I felt angry with L. for making me feel selfish, which didn't make me feel any better, I can tell you. There is little that's more painful to me as a parent than the feeling that my own child is unreachable--at the end of some winding tunnel, far away and I can't connect, or reconnect, even. It's like living that bad dream, the one where you can't find your child, or you see them separated from you, and you reach out, but they are gone. Still, there are parents in Haiti suffering real loss, physical loss, devastating loss. Parents who reached out to their own children, only to see them slip away. Parents who pulled their children from the rubble, alive, only to have them die in their arms days later because no help could be found. Unimaginable. ********* On Thursday last week I found myself at the craft store, shopping for materials for the snow globe craft for T.'s party. I needed a piece of paper to write down something, but couldn't find one in my bag. Instead, I pulled out my new Christmas toy, my iPod, so I could use the notepad. I tapped the Notes icon and the little yellow lined pad came up--surprisingly, there was already one note there: I love you Mama, L. I looked at the date: Tuesday, January 12th. He must have typed the note when I'd given him my iPod to play with while we waited for his appointment. My eyes filled with tears and there, in the craft store, I tapped a note back: I love you L., Mama