Season’s greetings, friends and family!
I am happy to report that, despite the challenges 2020 handed us, the Cariello family had a wonderful year. My husband Joe and I are doing well, and all five kids are happy, and healthy.
Quarantine was a great opportunity to spend some real quality time together. We played lots of games, and made new recipes, and finished a ton of puzzles.
Well, it hasn’t been all great, if I’m being honest. We were not always our best selves.
We picked, we niggled, we disagreed. Joe and I had a big argument over how much water it takes to boil spaghetti for dinner, and we didn’t speak for the rest of the night.
Then the kids kept guzzling huge glasses of milk and I snapped that the grocery stores were not exactly fully stocked and they looked at me with wide, nervous eyes.
I have not always been my best self.
Our oldest son Joseph is a senior in high school.
When he was a baby, he had skinniest legs I’d ever seen. He looked like a little bird.
Now, he’s applying to college.
In a year, he probably won’t live here anymore. I cannot begin to describe how I feel about this.
My bird, my boy, my first-born baby. Life will never be the same once he’s gone.
Our daughter Rose is thirteen. She spends most of the time in her room. I never know what she’s thinking.
I miss my little girl. I miss her smile. I miss our easy conversation, and the way she used to dance in the kitchen while I cooked dinner.
Charlie is our third boy. He just turned fifteen. He is like a kite, bobbing in the breeze. Constantly, he watches for a chance to fly.
Then there’s 11-year old Henry. Oh, Henry. I call his name a thousand times a day. The youngest, the boldest, with a will made of steel. He devours life in great big gulps.
As you may remember, our second son Jack has autism. He is sixteen now. Legally, he is old enough to drive, but autism has other plans.
I often ask myself how something so precious and reducible and diagnostic can be so complicated.
He has autism.
He is rigid.
He is literal.
He is very, very anxious, and he jumps around the room to regulate himself.
This doesn’t seem so hard, right? Just let him keep his schedule and wear headphones when we see fireworks on the Fourth of July and give him room to move his body.
But it is. It is hard.
It’s hard because at the same time I give him room to move, I have to consider how to change him—how to help him learn to control the jumping and tolerate unexpected noise and stay calm when dinner is ten minutes later than usual.
The truth is, I ask so much him, and he asks for so little in return.
All he wants is the chance to sit behind the wheel of a car, drive two miles to the store, and pick up his favorite ice cream. Yet I am unable to give this to him.
I cannot begin to describe how I feel about this.
I know how most of you feel about long-term medication. I have sat around enough holiday tables and listened to the argument about how medicine is taking the easy way out and parents should just spend more time with their kids and all that jazz.
But, dear family, if you just lived with this child for twenty-four hours—one single day—you would see the way anxiety catches his breath like a fragile bird inside of a cage. I know you would change your mind. Like me, you would do anything to help free him from the ties that bind his spirit to the gilded bars of fear.
I am a Forever Mother. I’ve just recently begun to come to terms with this. In one way or another, I will take care of this boy for the rest of my life. I’m trying not to dwell on it.
I guess the question is, do I help him fit into my world, or join him in his?
My boy, my caged bird, my sun and my moon and my heart.
Where does he belong?
Lately my kitchen is never clean. The sink is never empty. I know I’m not supposed to care about these things, but I do.
The other day I screamed at my kids because someone left a knife smeared with peanut butter on the counter top, and the whole time I was screaming, I hated myself.
Why do we mortal humans even have children? It is senseless to love anything this much.
I am not always my best self.
It’s never really about the peanut butter. That’s the thing.
In this tangle of motherhood and teenagers and autism, it is about broken dreams, and the end of childhood, and hope, and forgiveness. It is a cloudy backdrop of loss, punctuated with brilliant rays of sunshine.
This is life.
Life is hard.
Life is complicated.
Life is good.
I think the answer is both. About the world thing. I have to do both. I have to fit him into mine and join him in his.
I have never liked jazz.
Wishing you a magical holiday season full of clean sinks, rays of sunshine, and tall glasses of ice-cold milk.
The Cariello Family