Thursday, August 16, 2012

on the street where I live

So this morning started with one of the autistic kids from the group home around the corner frantically ringing the doorbell at 6:45. Kirk opened the door, expecting some sort of emergency, and in dashed this six-year old, making a bee-line for the bathroom where he proceeded to flush the toilet repeatedly.

I threw on some clothes and went off into the bizarre Phoenix-like heat of early morning and soon found the frantic caregiver wandering the street. The boy, he told me, had jumped out the window. "He's obsessed with toilets," he said.

This is the third time the kid has found his way into our house, the little escape artist. WTF? Why us? What's the intrigue? Is our toilet giving off secret signals?

Autism is such an interesting and baffling condition. What goes on in there, in those brains? Neural pathways mapping a discordant world where obsessions and compulsions and savant behaviors become hardwired to the exclusion of social construct. The boy in our house this morning had crapped his pants, probably a connection to the flushing toilet. The brain and the body making its causal circuit.

The day, from that point forward, took on a sort of depressing pallor. I kept revisiting the image of the boy being hoisted over the shoulder of his caregiver as they descended our steps, his body gone limp as a sack of rice. What will become of these kids in that group home? Where will they go once they're too large to be hauled back to base? What sort of therapy are these kids given? Are they the babies of crack moms? Are they simply too much for their parents to handle?

My own boys, my girl, somehow they grew to normal size and development, in my womb and then in the world. Their chromosomes all correctly numbered. Their neural pathways wired toward function. My youngest boy, sometimes he ticks me off because he leaves his cereal bowl in the family room. His dirty socks on the floor. I have excellent, thriving, productive kids and step-kids and a loving husband. Blessings beyond measure. I should volunteer. I should give my time and heart to those less fortunate. I should learn about autism and lend a hand over at that group home full of kids who crap their pants and flush toilets and jump out windows.

And yet I know I won't.

When confronted with uncomfortable, unfortunate circumstance, do you ever feel guilty because you're not doing more?


  1. Yes, all the time. It's the children of other countries who haunt me most, the ones whose faces resemble of death's head of bones and huge eyes, who are too hungry and exhausted to move. I HATE that there are so many of them and they're all beyond reach. Giving money to the cause is fine, but it's far too little and often too late when there are so many babies without milk.

    Breaks my fucking heart.

    1. I am always baffled at the capacity for the "going forth" that children are born with. The little flower that springs from concrete. A worm in a thimble of moisture. Those babies and their skin so tight over their skeletons. They wake up every morning, do the next thing, and the next, and the next.

      And here I am, bitching that my under-counter lights in my remodeled kitchen show, and I don't like the color of my cabinet hinges. Christ.

  2. Suzy, as a former group home kid myself, of the chromosomes intact variety, I can assure you that even by asking these questions of yourself and of your readers, you set yourself apart from the majority of society. Group homes are the ultimate compost heaps for kids. They/we are relegated to those piles of cast offs and whether they/we rot or bloom is a total crap shoot.

    I choose not to sponsor UNICEF kids or children in Africa. I do what I can for children in my community instead.

    Something as simple as walking down to the group home with a plate of cookies that you bake - IN YOUR NEW KITCHEN (!!!) and talking to the workers to see if the wee ones would enjoy being read to occasionally might bolster both of you. That's the thing. There is no magic solution and nobody knows what will reach one kid and totally miss another. Cookies and stories don't make the problems go away, but a lot of small kindnesses might make things better.

    I'm glad your door was opened for this little sweetheart yesterday.


    1. Oh Drea, you're making me weep! Thanks for the comment, and the terrific idea. That will be the first thing I do once the oven is hooked up. It'll be the sage stick, the way of blessing this new space.

    2. I love that idea. I've been thinking about your story all day. <3

  3. This is such a haunting story, Suzy. So haunting I hardly know what to say here. How do you go about your "regular" day after this child?

    To your question .... I always feel like I'm not doing enough. Of anything. There are so many children (and adults, and pets, and and and) out there in need of the simplest things: shelter, food, care, love. Where do you start, and how can you end??

    1. I am similarly overwhelmed by the enormity of despair. The pervasiveness in spite of action.

      My 24-yr-old daughter is a trauma counselor and advocate for Oregon's most egregious child abuse cases. She often has to go to court to plead the cases in behalf of young children who desperately want to be back in the homes of their abusers. I don't know how she does it. She's amazing, truly. Tireless. I wish I had one ounce of the courage and tenacity and love she has for those kids.

      Maybe she's the one who I should be baking cookies for? Gluten-free ones, because her particular brand of investment is not without consequences--her immune system has taken a huge hit.

  4. my guilt factor is most always outdone by my realist factor. i'm not equipped. i can barely handle my husband when he has the flu.

    there is a young girl with down syndrome who works at the coffee shop where i go. she works behind the counter stocking inventory and running errands. everyone knows her name. when she's not working she listens to her ipod and does seek and find word puzzles. she has a boyfriend who walks up when she's on a break and they hang out together at a table giggling and flirting. awhile back the paper did a story on them as they live together under limited supervision. they are adult age and yet, they appear like two teenagers so in love with each other they can barely stand it.

    it was a morning not too long ago when I was sitting at a table checking email and completely disgruntled with work. i hated my boss and had a sick feeling about going into the office. i had family stuff lingering and money stuff and marriage stuff all swimming around in my head making me feel ugh.

    i caught the young couple in a private moment. they were simply sitting side by side and he had his arm around her and she was scrolling through her song list. and i thought: all this time i've been...judging them. thinking somehow they didn't have it as good as me because their chromosomes were different. but they were content, and happy. and i got it. i was putting my stuff on them. and i stopped. at that moment, they were a lot happier than i was.

    i know this couple is an exclusion to the rule and that there are many children who must grow up in a group home with a whole lot more to conquer and suffer through than what my children will face.

    but, i don't know. your story reminded me of the young couple.

    i come from a family where nervous ticks, turrets, and obsessive behavior patterns are not that uncommon. my uncle who is a professional poker player has a small spiral tablet that he keeps uses, noting dates, distances, odd going-ons. it's weird to a lot of people, but not to him or those of us that know him.

    1. Thanks for this story, Josie. A moment captured by your attention and open heart. Humanity. Love. It does grow all over, doesn't it? And recognizing it makes it that much more real.

      When I first started doing bits of journalism here and there, I wanted to do those pieces that would illuminate the good stuff. I found a few outlets for it. Wrote,what one of my editors called, fluff. And then, he put me on other beats. Where there was rancor and controversy. Yeah, yeah, we all need to be informed. But not by me. I lost my taste for muckraking early on. As a writer, I'm not afraid of dark or ugly or sinister, but my angle (I hope) is always the humanity that lingers even in the bleakest situations. That's what interests me as a human being. That wee bit of light. That Down's Syndrome couple hunkering over their play list. What a fantastic image to bear witness to. Sometimes that's more than enough to get that pendulum to swing back to center.

  5. To answer your question - yes. All the time. And the excuses I make for myself are shameful. But will I change? Probably not. I feel like doing what I do to keep my own world from imploding is the extent of what I can do.

    It's so much easier to sell myself short than to take a risk.

    1. Your comment really got to the heart of it for me, Lisa. I feel like as I get older there's this dead heat between wisdom and decay. Which one will win? Sure, I'm smarter, in that way that you can't help being a more distilled version of yourself as you age, but I'm also slower, more forgetful, more exhausted.

      Now, if you excuse me, I need to microwave my third cup of coffee so I can get to work...


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