Orchards and Rules of Happiness

September 20, 2017

I didn’t know why Robert screamed as we approached rows of Ginger Gold trees.  The orchard seemed to breathe calm contentment with just a slight touch of nostalgia. There were people, but not too many. They were separated from us by row upon row of branches overburdened by cornucopia of ripe apples.   It was a beautiful day.  But Robert screamed.  Not constantly but frequently and without a reason we could understand.  Moreover, he kept slapping? patting? stroking? his cheeks in quick, small movements of his palms in clear sign of distress.  It was a beautiful day, but my heart sunk.

I didn’t expect that. Orchards were places where Robert seemed to be in harmony with the rest of his family and his surroundings. The old pictures in family albums attest to that. So why was he screaming? Was he not feeling well?  Did he miss his sister which just four days before went back to France?  Did he want to do something else? Robert doesn’t explain himself but without explanation his behavior is immediately placed in the rigid context of his diagnosis and read as “regression”.

I am not sure what I felt.  I was scared, confused, and hurt.  But we continue picking apples.  Jan and I were able to engage Robert in gathering fruit even though his screams continued. After our bags were full, it would be a good time to leave, but then we needed blueberries too.  So we went for blueberries.  They were not easy to gather, as the ripe ones were interspersed with green ones, not ready for picking.  But Robert’s screams ceased.  Just like that.  I don’t know why.  He continued taking ripe blueberries from little twigs, leaving the green blueberries untouched.

I wasn’t ready to celebrate yet,  but a ray of cautious hope was not lost on me and we dared to walk to another part of the orchard and relieve some of the branches of the  ripe peaches and almost ripe nectarines. We rode on a straw filled wagon back to the blueberry field and managed to pick a pint of raspberries too.  We ended our orchard excursion by buying apple cider donuts and, Robert’s favorite, honey sticks. As we returned to our car, we all seemed to feel the calm happiness that emanated from the orchard.

Two weeks later, we went to the same orchard again. We went, because Robert wanted to.  We gave him a choice, “Movie or apple picking?”   He chose apples.



Anger, Gratitude, and Confusion

September 13, 2017

I can write when I feel anger.  I can write when I feel gratitude. I cannot write when I feel confused.

Anger and gratitude are strong motivators. Anger forces me to confront something or somebody. Gratitude pulls me forward to follow someone else steps. But confusion mixes  my feelings and my words. I am left confused on a sticky web without directions and without energy.  I don’t even feel helpless.  I don’t know what I feel.

Over the years I was angry at some of the people for their neglect of my son and I was grateful to other for their thoughtful efforts to help Robert.  But on Labor Day Monday, as three of us were riding home from New York City, I was bewildered and lost.  That day we were planning a lunch with my husband’s relatives, but Robert kept screaming since 7 AM.  I didn’t know if he was in pain or “just” furious about something. As, I said over and over, Robert cannot explain himself. He screams leaving to us the interpretation of the noises he produces.  It might be a physical discomfort.  But what exactly?  He might be angry that we didn’t accommodate his wishes.  But what wishes?  And it might be that he is confused. What Robert hates more than anything else is to be confused.  He hates when he gets contradictory messages.  He hates when he doesn’t grasp why he is in a particular place, what is expected of him, how long he has to stay, or what would be the next step.

Robert almost continuous screaming put a dent in my brain.  I couldn’t stop the screaming.  No extinction and  no redirection which so well worked in the past.  I didn’t have any techniques to apply in this place, that day, and in the circumstances we were in.  I only wanted to leave.  I knew the car would calm Robert.  That is the only thing I knew.  So I woke up Robert’s father,canceled our lunch with relatives,  packed and a half hour later we were on our way to Massachusetts.  Robert calmed down considerably.Now, he just wanted to stop at the McDonald in one of the service area.  He was clear about what he wanted and he made it clear to us.

But I remained confused.  It was the first time when I surrendered to Robert’s behaviors. There were many difficult behaviors I  confronted before.  I don’t think I have ever given up.  I always tried to  manipulate the words and the situation in such a way that I wouldn’t feel that I lost the battle.

I remember that when I couldn’t stop 4 years old Robert from shutting repetitively door when I had sever headache, I made his access to the door contingent upon his efforts to say the word, “open”. (or rather its approximation)   When Robert had a terrible tantrum in a supermarket because I didn’t let him buy ALL the jars of bubble soap, I carried him outside to the car, buckled him, took a few minutes to pull myself together, drove home and immediately devised a plan to make sure that this won’t happened again. The plan included two trips to the stores made the SAME day.   Robert was allowed to buy three bottles but when he took the fourth, he  returned home with nothing.  And it worked.  We haven’t had tantrums in store in the next 20 years.

I  could always rescue something from almost any situation.  But not this time.  I was confused and resigned. After so many successful trips to New York, the last three have been very difficult. I didn’t know why and I certainly didn’t know what to do.  What did I miss?  What did I do wrong? What  could I salvage?  And how?