Saturday, August 27, 2016


photo by Barbara Toboni
My expectations had been high for our first-born son. That’s why I felt overwhelmed when I left the office of our pediatrician with four-year-old Chase. Mild autism? What little I knew about autism, I had seen at the movies or read about in books. While my imagination flipped through frightening images of children rocking, screaming, and flapping their arms, David seemed to consider this a mere blip in his boy’s life. I should have understood. He had always been an optimist.
David came up with his own diagnosis: “That doctor is mildly autistic.”
We both had a lot to learn.
A few years later, after more testing, a psychologist told us that our eight-year-old would never learn to read phonetically.  
I tended to believe her, but David was skeptical. At breakfast the next morning as Chase ate his bowl of Cheerios, David asked our son to read the milk carton. Chase read the simple words first. This milk is from cows. He stopped. Homogenized was the next word.  
“Sound it out,” David said.
Not bad! Maybe David had a point. The doctors didn’t know everything. Why was I so quick to believe them? It was true our boy had problems, but he strived to be like everyone else. He seemed to want to please his father.
When the boys were small, David worked long days as a cement mason. Although his company was based in Napa he often did repairs on existing buildings out of town. Commuting added extra hours he was away from the boys and me. That left mom on duty just about all the time.
Adding to that, I felt isolated. My relatives lived out of state and David’s family lived out of town. Sure, I could pick up the phone and call David’s mom or sister, but I didn’t want to call just to complain. Friends couldn’t relate to my troubles. I shied away from them preferring to be alone rather than having to explain Chase’s odd behaviors.
When David wanted time to pursue his interests—fishing, diving, or wine-making—I reacted by flying into a rage. How dare he want time away from us?  I would never put him in that position. The boys, both under the age of five, needed me. I knew their schedules and I didn’t want to give David my control—no matter how out of control we were. Back then I didn’t understand who I was if I wasn’t their mother. I needed them to make me feel whole.
I wished David could understand my outbursts, my grief. How could he be so casual about Chase’s autism? How could we be so different? It caused friction in our marriage. David didn’t fight me when I suggested marriage counseling.
Our counselor praised us for staying together. She told us many marriages fall apart when there is a disabled child, because each parent adjusts in a different way. You can say that again! I learned most of our trouble stemmed from the fact that we didn’t know each other well enough. It was true; we had dated only six months before David proposed, and Chase was born a year after we were married.
During one visit David and the counselor were talking about his interest in wine. The more he described his new hobby, the more animated he became. I grew anxious watching them. Why couldn’t I get that excited about something new in my life?  I needed to find an interest of my own, something to remind me of who I had once been. I used to do things I enjoyed.
Back then, I had spent too much time feeling sad about Chase. We hid from others rather than go somewhere, like the park, because I didn’t want to associate with “perfect” mothers and their “perfect” children.  I didn’t want to be stared at, or judged, or even worse, be shunned, but I needed to get out of the house. I needed to feel air and see light. I tried to remember the things that brought me joy.
In school I had been a shy girl with few friends. I liked English classes, especially when there had been writing involved, and I had kept a journal for poetry. Writing, I could do alone. Writing engaged my mind, and held my interest for hours while I searched for the right words to express my thoughts.
Every semester the local college sent out a catalogue which offered adult education courses. I usually thumbed through the catalogue and put it aside, but one day I lingered over a writing course. What if I started writing again? I could escape for a little while, get out of the house, get out of my head, and allow myself a sliver of joy.
It occurred to me then that David and I could each bargain for time alone.

8 comments: said...

Love the intimacy of this post. Thank you for sharing this time in your life. MORE!

Laura McHale Holland said...

This post really pulled me in. You talk about things specific to your family, but the underlying issues are universal. Thank you for sharing this.

barb bits said...

More on the way soon. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Patsy.

barb bits said...

Thanks for your comment, Laura. I'm glad others will be able to relate. It makes the sharing easier.

Karen said...

Thank you for sharing your life from your heart. Please continue-

barb bits said...

Thanks for the encouraging words, Karen. I will continue.

barb bits said...

Sent in an email from Leonore Wilson:

YOU are amazing!! This is a wonderful book, you must know. It is heartfelt and honest. WOW. Keep going Barbara. You sing! xo Leonore

barb bits said...

Thanks, Leonore: As my former teacher and a dear friend, your encouragement means a lot to me. I'm so glad you're following the story.