Hi everyone. It’s me, Wolfie.
You might not recognize me because I got kind of a silly haircut a few weeks ago. My mom says I look like someone named Bea Arthur from a show called The Golden Girls.
I’ve come a long way since my last blog post. I’m pretty much house-broken, unless I’m feeling neglected. Then I pee in the corner of the family room.
I don’t do many tricks. I will sit on command, but only if someone says please. I do not sit until I hear the magic word. I just look up and tilt my head until the person says it. For me, it’s all about manners.
(That is, unless my people have a barbecue outside on the patio and someone leaves a hamburger or a hotdog within reach. Then I don’t remember my manners.)
Anyway, I thought it was time I gave an update about the group of people I live with so you can hear how everyone’s doing from an unbiased point of view.
I’ll start with the mom. Lately, she feels as though her five kids are a team of spies who permeate the very fabric of her life.
Their things are everywhere; towels in the bathroom and Legos in the kitchen drawer and permission slips strewn all over her desk. One day she reached into the cabinet for a coffee mug and found a sock.
They use her toothpaste, her hairbrush, her spoon. They eat her granola bars. All day long they call for her, “Mom? Mom! Mo—ooom!”
“I need Mom.”
There are times when she thinks she cannot mother one more person for one minute longer. She didn’t realize how much of this job is in the details—how it’s less about teaching great big important values like safe sex and underage drinking and how to connect with God, and more about making sure there is toilet paper in the bathroom.
At the same time she would give anything to have their baby selves back for one day, or even one hour. She would do anything to bury her nose in the sweet, downy crowns of their heads, and feel their small swaddled bodies burrow against hers.
The oldest boy, the one whose real name seems to be Joey, but they call Buca, is working very hard in school these days. When he gets off the bus the first thing he does after he says hello to everyone is to open his bag and start working.
After a little while he asks everyone in the house to please be quiet, so he can call his teacher. Then he closes the door and picks up the phone and talks very differently. One time I heard two people standing in our driveway talking like this after they had dropped off a bag of really yummy food. The mom gave me some of the rice, and let me tell you, it was delicious. Whenever I hear Joey on the phone I get excited because I think we are getting more rice. I stand and stare at him and tilt my head to one side.
“Don’t worry, Wolf. I’m just doing my Mandarin homework.”
The three youngest kids in the house—Charlie and Rose and Henry—set up mailboxes in the hallways outside of their bedroom. Henry’s had a picture of Batman on it, and Rose’s was pink and purple and green. When you opened Charlie’s, a bunch of football cards would fall out.
Every time the mom walked past them she felt a tiny bit annoyed because she doesn’t like a lot of clutter all over the place, but she didn’t make them pick them up, and after a while she forgot about them.
Then one day the 6-year old Henry asked her why she never put any notes in it for him.
“I check it every day to see if you wrote me a note, but it’s always empty.”
And then the mom’s heart ached. It ached for all the things she does not hear and does not know and cannot help.
It ached for the person in her house who doesn’t always have the words to ask for what he needs; an 11-year old boy named Jack.
Lately, this boy Jack picks at his face all the time; his teeth, his ears, and recently, his eyelashes. When he’s not poking at himself, he uses his long, slender fingers to rub along the sides of his nose.
The mom hates this habit. It makes her nervous. So she bought him something called a stress ball to squeeze between his fingers, this way his hands will have something else to do than worry all over his face like a spider trying to find it’s way along a web.
The ball looks like a little red balloon filled with sand, and he likes it. He squeezes it all the time when he’s home and it seems to help with the picking, but he refuses to bring it to school.
“No one else. For no one else carries a STRESS BALL.”
Jack is scared to be different. He doesn’t understand that different does not mean less.
This boy is giving the mom something called a run for her money. That’s what I hear her say whenever someone asks how’s Jack? She says, oh, he’s giving me a run for my money.
I know this doesn’t mean what it sounds like, because I’ve seen money sitting on the counter in the kitchen and it doesn’t look like it could walk, much less run. I think this means she’s worried, and frustrated, and upset.
It’s been a long autumn for her and Jack. Some days it seemed as if autism itself had a voice, and every day it screamed terrible things.
I HATE FOR EVERYTHING.
NOT THIS HOMEWORK I AM SO DUMB FOR HOMEWORK.
FOR ME I AM A FAILURE.
The screaming was bad enough, but worse were the whispers. The whispers made the mom feel frantic and panicky—as if there was a snowstorm swirling and whirling inside her body.
I am for so lonely.
Now the leaves have fallen from the trees, and the seasons are changing. Things are calmer between them. For the first time in a long while, autism’s voice has quieted and she can hear her boy once more.
I think if you could look deep inside the mom’s heart, you would see a tiny seed. It’s kind of like the one Henry buried in the yard and I dug up by mistake—he was so mad because he thought it would grow into a punkin.
But this seed won’t grow into something round and bright and orange that you can hold in your hands or circle with your arms. She’s not even sure what it could become yet, she just knows she has to remember to give it light and air and love on even the darkest days. She has to give it a chance to blossom.
I think the seed is called hope.
The big people in this house, well, for the most part they kiss hello and laugh at the dinner table and sit on the couch together when the kids go to sleep. But every once in a while, a storm erupts between the two of them.
Just the other morning, they seemed very angry with each other. I didn’t understand what they were yelling about, but I heard words like you don’t get it and can’t you try to understand. The air around them felt charged and staticky.
Once he left for a place he calls work—after closing door harder than usual—she sat on the couch next to me.
Her life felt like it was in a thousand little dumb pieces on the floor. I could tell she was frustrated and angry and sad. She never imagined she could hate someone she loves so deeply.
The day stretched out ahead of her like an endless desert, littered with small obligations and petty worries; Jack was behind in math and Charlie needed new cleats for football and Rose had asked her to help her with a rough draft for her writer’s workshop but she forgot. They were out of bananas.
She put on those funny green shoes—the ones with the laces that I like to chew—and walked out the same door as the man. And when she walked back in an hour later, her steps were lighter. One by one, she picked up the imaginary pieces on the floor and glued them back together again like a lumpy, misshapen vase a small child had knocked to the floor.
I am just a puppy, and although I know very little about marriage or relationships or autism, I have learned a few things from watching my people.
There is no perfect.
He is the end of her sentence and the beginning to her world. He is the tickle to her laughter.
There will always be a quiet yearning to return to what was, combined with a restless need to move forward again.
There is purpose in the details.
These people, they are tenderness and pain and resolve all wrapped up together. They are shiny red cleats in a box, and yellowy-green bananas in a bowl. They are a rough draft written in careful, even pencil.
“My name is Rose Cariello. I have four brothers and a mother and a father and a small dog. We are loud. Sometimes we get mad but usually we are happy. We are a family.”
(P.S. I had a really hard time titling this post, so if you’d like to leave some ideas in the comments, that would be helpful. The mom was useless and I needed to take a nap on the couch. She said you can come up with your own prize if she picks your title as the winner, but it has to cost less than $20 and be easily mailed.)