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A Special Wedding Guest

  • Posted on October 19, 2012 at 7:55 PM

Last Saturday, Mark, Willy, and I attended a wedding. The bride was one of Willy’s first therapists and the only therapist from that time that is still in his life. (Because I don’t share names without express permission she will be known as “the bride” for the sake of this post.)

The bride has been a big part of Willy’s life for over half his life, so I wasn’t too surprised when we received an invitation to her wedding. Along with the invitation, we received a handwritten note that said that though the invitation requested a “kids-free” wedding and reception, Willy was a special exception. Willy was the only child invited to the wedding and the reception. That was something of a surprise.

When I sent the RSVP card back, I’d selected from the dinner choices available for the three of us. Then, the bride sent a message via Facebook, offering to request the caterers prepare a special meal for Willy, which I readily accepted. (I don’t think I mentioned it at the time, but Willy had been near tears when we told him he wouldn’t be able to order a hamburger and he grinned when he found out that, as it turned out, a plain hamburger on a bun without seeds would be provided for him. He also got a bowl full of sliced apples and sliced green peppers, instead of a salad, which he gobbled up as fast as he could stuff the pieces in his mouth.) So, once again, Willy was a special exception, and all things considered it was a very good idea. I was very touched that the bride was so thoughtful and accommodating, even though I’m sure she had her hands full with all the different pieces that go into pulling off a wedding.

Willy was excited and he was determined to make a good appearance. So, I took Willy to the store to pick out an appropriate outfit. I wanted to make sure he was dressed appropriately for a wedding, especially considering the bride has a knack for style. Willy, on the other hand, had a mind to be “cool” for the wedding. We compromised. I guided him to the appropriate dress clothes and he picked out a colorful dress shirt (bright blue), a sports coat (dark blue), and dress slacks (also dark blue, because I insisted). He also picked out a hat. I’m not much up on hats, but I think it’s called a “bowler” hat. Anyway, it has a brim that goes all the way around and is rather like the ones you see in old detective/mobster movies, except this one had a band that had bright blue zigzags on it (because I made him put back the one that had a band with skulls and skateboards on it). I also used this as an “excuse” to convince Willy to get a new pair of shoes (he went up a size and a half!), which he’d been resisting for months. (I also bought myself a new dress and calf-high boots, but that’s because I’m a “girl” and into clothes a little bit more than I should be, even if I’m not nearly as good at it as some of my peers. Besides, I checked and I didn’t have anything to wear to a wedding.)

All decked out in his new duds, Willy made a striking addition to the celebrants. I was a bit surprised when the bride’s mother welcomed us so profusely when we arrived, but then I’m not quite as social as the mother-of-the-bride role calls for. Let’s just say, when it came to my own wedding I “fought” to keep the party as small as possible, while my mother and my mother-in-law-to-be kept adding to the guest list and still didn’t invite as many as they’d have liked.

During the ceremony, the father-of-the-bride gave a speech, kind of like a sermon about the couple who were being joined in holy matrimony. Once again, I was surprised. In this speech about the formative years of the bride and the groom, about their coming together, and about their future together, Willy was mentioned as a key milestone in the bride’s life. I was floored and Willy was astounded (and slightly disruptive. “He just said my name!”). Then again, when the minister asked, “Who gives this bride?” Willy raised his hand and tried to stand up. (This was Willy’s first wedding, after all.)

I knew that Willy and the bride had had a profound impact on each other’s lives. This lovely young woman has seen our family at some of our most difficult moments and she’s still here. She’s coaxed Willy through some of life’s major milestones. With her help, Willy regained the use of his words and became the remarkable, capable, and functional young man that he now is. She came into Willy’s life because it was her job, but became a friend that Willy will carry with him for the rest of his life because she is the remarkable, wonderful, compassionate, and loving young woman that she is.

I knew this. I really did! But, I guess, until her wedding I didn’t realize quite how mutual this impact has been.

The groom was someone we had not met before—by “we” I mean Mark and me. So, during the pre-reception drinks and appetizers, I was once again surprised when the mother-of-the-groom realized who Willy was, and thus who we were. (I’m used to being recognized by people I don’t remember, but that’s just because I’m bad at remembering faces and names; it’s usually people we’ve met before.) I was even more surprised by her reaction. She asked us to wait where we were while she tracked down the photographer, saying she knew the couple would want a picture of us.

This was their special day, but in a way it was Willy’s special day, too. The bride made time to spend with Willy on her very special day. She made sure Willy had a meal that he would find appetizing—and he enjoyed it very much. We stayed a little longer than we intended, because the bride wanted a dance with Willy—and we weren’t going to miss that. (She even pulled me onto the dance floor, which is how I realized that I am way out of practice when it comes to maneuvering in heels!)

Willy was mentioned in toasts, his picture was in the slide show, and it just became abundantly clear that Willy was a minor star in their major event. And I can say he needed the boost to his esteem. He’s had a rough time lately. At one point, even before the toasts and the slide show, Willy was so touched by all this attention, he said, in a rather surprised voice, “I guess [the bride] really does care about me!” Her response? “Duh!” Classic!

Mothers’ Weekend

  • Posted on May 10, 2011 at 2:33 PM

On Saturday, my cousin got married and, for the first time in a very long time, I went to a family function on my mom’s side of my extended family.  For the second time since the boys were born, I left the boys with Mark overnight.  I was gone for over twenty-four hours, and instead of taking Mark with me and leaving my mom with the boys (which we’ve done a whopping 6-8 times, mostly for advocacy training purposes and once for a couple’s getaway), I took my mom and left Mark.  The first time was last year, when my brother graduated from college, seeing some of my father’s side of my extended family in the process.

Now, some people might ask why I did not just bring Mark and the boys along.  Silly people.  Simply put, there was no place for all of us to stay and we couldn’t afford a family suite at a hotel.  Honestly, though, my kids can barely make it through church—and I’m not referring to “on good behavior,” but at all—let alone through a wedding and a reception.  It would have been bad for the boys and bad for the wedding and not worth the hassle.  So, I left the boys with Mark, and that was fine, but still…it’s a big deal for everyone involved.

I didn’t realize it when I decided to go, but it had been 15 years since I had last seen my cousins.  We were children, then—teenagers.  It’s been a long time, and we’ve all grown up and changed.  There’s so much of each other that we’ve missed.  But this was the right time to reconnect.  And it got me thinking…

People frequently say, in reference to my three children with autism, that it must be hard or some such thing.  And usually I shrug it off or try to explain.  But this—the distance that’s grown between myself and people who have been very important at other times in my life, the disconnectedness—that’s a sacrifice I regret.  It takes so much energy for me to be connected with people.  It takes so much energy to get through my day-to-day life.  It’s not that I don’t care.  It’s just that I can’t do both, not the way both deserve, and that I regret, because my children have to come first.  It’s sad to have missed so much, but it’s also the reality of my life.

So, back to the trip, which was great:  We got off to a bit of a late start, but we made up as much of the time as we could and hurried through our getting ready process.  We, along with the mother and father of the bride, arrived in good time.

The moment when I first saw my cousin—the sister of the bride—was absolutely wonderful.  I felt all lit up seeing her face, and seeing her light up as well.  She had many things to worry about, being the maid of honor, but she made time to spend with me, and that alone would have made the trip worthwhile.

My cousin made a fabulous bride.  Gorgeous, of course.  Oh, she was so beautiful!  And she was standing in the center of all that attention like she belonged there (being the bride, of course she did, but that’s not the point).  She seemed to feel comfortable there, surrounded by family and friends and God-only-knows-who.  I can’t help but think of the last time I saw her, and how uncomfortable she was being in the center of attention, of how uncomfortable I was and still am in such a spotlight.  She blossomed over the years.  In some ways, so have I, but not like that.  It was a truly wonderful, amazing, and joyous thing to see!

Throughout the reception, I had the opportunity to spend quality time with both of my cousins, which is what I wanted most, and it was wonderful to reconnect.  I got to meet the groom and I also got to meet my other cousin’s fiancé and it was just a wonderful experience.  They’re both great guys and I’m happy for my cousins’ happiness with their lives.

That night, we went home and I also got to spend some time with my uncle and aunt.  I got to see a side of my uncle that I never really saw, which was also wonderful.  He’s kind of a gruff man and—considering my take-them-as-they-act sense of perception—I never really saw the subtle undertones to his personality.  Seeing him dancing with his daughter (not well, but joyfully and proudly) was a window into something else entirely.  By that point in the evening I’d already suspected that there were those undertones that I had missed, but seeing them dance and seeing him smile was like watching a window opening.  After that, I was able to pick up a lot more of those undertones, and it was kind of like getting to know my uncle all over again.

The next morning, I saw even more of that.  We got to talking about the boys, and while my mother struggled to get him to understand a particular detail, I was able to step in and express it in another way, a way that allowed him to understand.  It felt good to watch the shift from ignorance to understanding.  Not that I blame him for the ignorance—He has never met the boys nor has he had any professional experience with people with autism, so how could he know?—but seeing that opening…priceless.

On our way back, we took a leisurely route that my mother called an “adventure.”  It was different, outside the comfort zone, but hey—I associate “adventure” with an adrenaline rush, and I get more adrenaline from playing with my boys—but to her it was an adventure, and I respect that.  She was outside her comfort zone.  It kind of made me realize that I’ve lived so long outside my comfort zone lately that I’m not even sure where it is any more.  I’m not sure if that means my comfort zone has expanded that much, or if I’ll have to re-find it one of these days.  This, of course, was Mother’s Day, so I was able to spend some leisurely time driving with and talking with my mother.  Precious.

Then, we came home.  The boys were so glad to see me!  All the sweeter for the missing-them part of the trip.  The hugs, the kisses, and all the ways they show their love were just perfect.  Willy made me a card and Alex and Ben had PECS cards for me in their backpacks.  So, they made it through, not just me being gone but also through the adaptations that were necessary.

The boys are getting older.  They are more able to adjust.  And seeing how they’re growing and maturing is the best Mother’s Day present of all.