Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Travel Mercies

Time off from work and school, for us, means travel. It means family, catching up, reminiscing, and generally being together.  It means hours in the van, water, ice cream, cold drinks, laughs, snapset pools, rickety lawn chairs, bubbles, living out of suitcases, and being a bit nomadic for the purpose of retaining our kids' and our relationships with family, especially mine.  Since I'm from eastern Oklahoma and we live in central Texas, we can't just spend the weekend at my Mom's.  Once we get here, we're here for a little while, usually. 

Did I mention my mother is a very patient person?

My Mom's house... Granny's house, to the kids... is someplace we all love to be.  It's not quiet, especially not when we're here.  It's not huge.  It's not fancy, although we've worked to restore it.  There are four small dogs who live here, and they take their positions as the alarm system seriously.  Not a leaf blows in the yard that we don't hear about!  And since Mom lives on the corner across a small street from the schools in town, you can imagine how exciting it can be.  Not that she intended to have four dogs... one is inherited from Nanny, and one is my sister's dog.  They're good dogs, but you add our 40 pound Australian shepherd to the mix, and it's exciting.  The house isn't large, but it isn't tiny.  It is old, and there are always challenges with an old house, especially when you suddently add five people to the mix. 

Take that and add the issue of figuring out where Grandad is going to live and how to deal with and even find out what his issues are, traveling for my sister's wedding (which was wonderful), and just he ins and outs of every day life with three adults, three small kids and five dogs, and it's very exciting.

There is something to be said for love.  The love and desire that conquers these challenges, issues, and excitements.  There is something to be said for the inner pull that brings us together.  All I wanted as a child was to be with my mother's family. Not because they're perfect.  Not because everything is easy, or because of anything other than the fact that I love them.  You know my mother is important to me, to say the least.  My great-aunts are right up there with them.  Technically Nanny's half-sisters, they're the first people I remember (other than Mother and Nanny) who I remember going out of their way to make me feel special.  They're funny, sweet, caring, and loving.  They love to look at old pictures and share their memories with me.  They are treasures, Gladys Mae and Dixie.  And now that Nanny's gone, they're ever so much more important. 

To this point, I'm not certain, but I think our family has never dealt with a person in our midst with special needs.  Especially not a hidden special need.  We've had friends with issues, friends of friends with issues, but never one of our own afflicted, unless you count Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.  So take this family who thrives around a kitchen table with drinks, yummy food, old stories and laughter, and add someone with a social disorder. 

Makes you feel every laugh, hear every word, and savor every moment with a gratitude I cannot explain.

I like to think our family is a true American family.  Bring us your tired, your weary, your worn... we'll feed you and make you laugh.  The funny thing is, I had no idea I was going to be more on the receiving end of that mercy and grace than I ever realized. 

This weekend was my sister's wedding in Eufaula.  I'm so proud of her.  She was the most beautiful bride I could have imagined.  She married a sweet, wonderful young man who has a great name (his name is Eric... or "too") and she had a beautiful wedding.  Our Richie was the ring bearer.  He was so stinkin' cute in his little tuxedo that matched Bree's Eric!  But he would not stand still.  No amount of "pomatoes" made him stand still.  He wandered up to Bree and Eric at one point, wandered around the stage and into the choir loft.  My daughter, during the procession, wandered up and started helping the pianist, who was most thankfully my dear mother in law!  Ryan, ironically enough, did swimmingly.  I was so proud of him.  But this time, I was more proud of my sister.  Through all my kids' antics, she smiled and laughed.  She was happy and pleased as punch just to have them there.  Not a bridezilla bone in her body.  That's our girl!

What happened before the wedding, while I was at the church trying to help with last-minute details, I didn't find out until later.  Eric, Mother, my great-aunts, Mae and Ryan were back at the hotel, trying to get dressed and ready for the wedding.  Apparently, Ryan gave them a run for their money.  Ryan loves doors.  If you don't stay on top of him, those doors will be banged as he flaps and hums excitedly, stimming with all he's worth.  Someone literally turned their back for a second and Ryan flung open a tall, mirrored closet door.  Ryan survived, the door did not. 

There was no anger, no backlash from my Mom or great-aunts.  They simply called the front desk, had someone clean up the mess, and while they did tell me what happened, it wasn't in a "you really ought to teach that kid some manners" kind of way.  I must add, the Best Western Eufaula Inn was ADORABLE about the whole ordeal.  Later, when the kids began eating their promised Happy Meals from that place with the crazy clown, Ryan didn't have ranch.  I asked, they didn't give it to us.  We were in Mom, G'mae and Dixie's room for this meltdown.  Eric scrambled for ranch or catsup, I dealt with the meltdown.  They didn't ask us to leave, or ask why we "didn't just do" so and so to help him.  They didn't understand.  They didn't know what to do or say.  But they did let us stay, treat us like they always have, and encourage us to keep going and know that they think we do a great job. 

Yesterday, when Mom and I took Mae and Ryan to get groceries, I wanted to stop at a specialty type of store (the Chicken Store... it's pretty cool) that only has frozen meat, mostly chicken, to fill out some of the holes in our menu.  Picture a room with a tile floor, smaller than a convenience store, with nothing but open-top refrigerated coolers lining the room.  Ryan wanted to run around the whole time.  Run, stimmy-yell, beat his chest... oh my word, the whole nine yards.  Then, miracle of miracles, he ASKED TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!  I was so excited.  But I still had to get what I needed, and he was still melting down.  So with the help of Mother, I managed to get a couple of things and shuttle him, screaming, to the van.  We tried another place next door, but both stores had posted a "no public restroom" policy, and being myself, I didn't want to buck that. We made it to a convenience store where Ryan finally got to potty.  One neat thing about that experience?  Ryan was quiet enough as I was checking out that I was able to explain a little of his behavior and why to the lady behind the counter, who was a young mother herself.  She was visibly uncomfortable, but smiled at Ryan and told him she liked his glasses.  She was sweet and calm, even thanking us for coming in.  And Mother?  Encouraging to me, never suggesting that I try this and that, or that it would have gone much differently if I had just done it this way or that. 

These are not earth-shattering experiences... or are they?  These seemingly simple acts of grace and mercy are, whether we know it or not, Christlike in themselves.  It's in these times, when faced with and emotional situation, when we are forced to choose in a split second between a reaction or a thoughful response.  Not everyone can always avoid reacting to the panic/anger/fear based feeling that assaults our hearts in these times.  But we can choose to make it our self-tradition to respond in love and thoughtful Christlikeness rather than reacting out of annoyance or unfairness.  The chain-reactions that occur in these situations determine our legacy.   They determine for what we will mostly be remembered.  The lady behind the counter may or may not have known that I was doing my best to respond to Ryan, not react.  My Mother, when I was a child, may or may not have realized I was watching as she extended grace and mercy to others, but I was.  She was, when her mother did, and her mother was, when her mother did.  And I'm still paying attention when she extends grace and mercy to my autism-meltdown roasted, weary self.  I am so grateful to belong to a family with a heritage such as this... a legacy of acceptance and love. Of caring and overlooking.  Of sticking together, of toughing it out and figuring out a way to laugh through the pain.  And that Christlike love of each other is a legacy I hope I will keep. Autism, Alzheimer's cancer, death, times of less and times of frustration and unfairness and through our differences... we're still family, we're still friends.  More than any thing my family could give, this is what I treasure, and all the more as I age, not just as a mother, wife, mother of a special needs child, but as a sinner saved by grace.  I am imperfect, our children are messy and noisy, but Eric's family and mine still love having us around.  And I am so grateful.

Legacy- Nicole Nordeman
I want to leave a legacy
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love?
Did I point to You enough
To make a mark on things?
I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace who
blessed your name unapologetically
And leave that kind of legacy

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