Sunday, March 06, 2005

Mere's Song

The thing about autism that most baffles me is how it's like a complicated dance for which I don't know the steps. One step forward, two steps sideways, a half-twist, and a shimmy. Followed by a crash with arms and legs akimbo, then dragging yourself up off the floor.

Mere has a new habit. A bad habit, you might say.

She's begun throwing things away.

Things that she doesn't value tend to disappear. I bought my father a birthday card and left it on top of the cd cabinet, where we put outgoing mail. I walked by yesterday morning and the card was gone. The red envelope was still there, but the card was missing.

I asked the older kids if they'd seen it, grilled the Little Guy (because it was a cute card, maybe he'd taken it somewhere), then went off to do some cleaning, still baffled by the disappearance. I walked back through the living room an hour later, and the envelope was gone, too.

That called for an intensive search mission. We dug through corners, looked behind dressers and bookshelves, searched the trash cans, and found an astonishing variety of contraband. Dozens of small toys were shoved behind the entertainment center, $25 worth of rebate coupons from the grocery store had been tossed in the master bedroom trash can, papers had been slung behind bookshelves, and the red envelope had been crumpled and thrown into the master bathroom laundry hamper.

We never did find the birthday card itself. She must have more hiding places around here somewhere. We'll either find it when we move, or never find it because it's now at the bottom of a landfill somewhere.

Mere had the munchies on Saturday night, so I gave her a small dish of sunflower seeds to snack on. She seemed to like them. She dashed from the kitchen into her room, then back to the kitchen for another handful. Shortly after I'd given them to her, though, she began crying, so I broke out my hoarded stash of Hershey's Kisses left over from Valentine's Day. I put five of them into her dish of sunflower seeds (still wrapped) and went into the living room to watch an anime with the older kids.

I heard a mysterious sound of something going into the trash bin. Hmm. Maybe she was throwing her wrappers away, I thought, somewhat hopefully.

Then I heard a weird rattling noise in the sink. The teenager jumped up to see what was going on, then shouted, "What are you doing?"

The weird rattling noise was actually the sound of 2 lbs of sunflower seeds being poured into the garbage disposal side of the kitchen sink. We peered into the trash bin and found her uneaten sunflower seeds along with the still-wrapped Hershey's Kisses. Apparently, the sunflower seeds were so despicable that they had to ALL be disposed of. All two pounds of them, which I had bought for use in trail mixes and lunchboxes.

Who knows what she's thinking when she does this stuff. Elsa found all of her My Little Ponies stuffed behind her double bookshelf. It was hard getting those out-- all the books had to come off of the shelves, first, in order to get behind there. Now I'm wondering how many of the missing bills and pieces of mail have been tossed into the trash by Mere's little hands. The coupons for free movie rentals, for instance, which mysteriously disappeared last month. The water bill, which I could have sworn I left on my desk. The electric bill, ditto.

It's becoming hard to keep up with her sticky little fingers. She's destroying things faster than we can keep up. Tonight she decided to feed Lucian the rabbit some carrots.

Well, one by one, she attempted to feed him the entire 1lb bag of baby-cut carrots. We had to hide them after he'd received so many presents that he'll have a stomachache all night.

It's a curse . . . but . . . .

Tonight, we went all together as a family to the 5pm Mass. I spent the entire time in the cry room, of course, since Mere is no more able to be quiet for an hour than she's able to sit still for an hour. There was another mom with an autistic girl there, hers a little higher functioning and a little younger but still very affected. We talked a little before Mass, then I gave Mere the flyer the Teen Mass uses to list the settings and songs for the service.

She began singing, with an improvised tune, the opening song. Then throughout the Mass, she followed along with all of the songs and sung responses. She thought that the Kyrie was funny, because "kyrie" certainly isn't spelled like it sounds, nor are "eleison" or "christe" for that matter. She sang everything, trying very hard to stay in time with the choir and the music.

She sang the songs at Mass.

My little girl, who did not speak at all from the time she was 27 months old until she was over 7 years old. My little girl, who breaks into random echolalia during the Mass, usually totally oblivious to what's going on. My little girl who hated the organ music at our first parish so bad that she would scream and cry every time they began to play the organ.

She sang every song at Mass.

I have to tell you, I didn't give a damn at that moment if David Haas wrote the song or Marty Haugen wrote the song or if the song had been given to us scribed on gold from the Archangel Gabriel's own hand. Here is my child, the child I thought would never speak, singing songs of praise to the Lord. Who knows how much she understands, who knows what she's getting from the service, who knows what's going on inside that beautiful little head of hers.

Who better to sing on the day when we hear the story of a man blind from birth than a girl who has been stricken from birth with a crippling mental handicap?

This was a blessing.

Sometimes, you get to take the good with the bad. If I get a child who can sing at Mass, no matter how odd the intonation, I will take the lost cards and bills and misplaced items with glee. I will take them joyfully because so often there aren't any blessings you can see in the midst of the curses and despair. Because too often, there is no silver lining in the stormclouds of autism. You just don't become some kind of enlightened saint because you never get to sleep and you have to listen to the child screaming for hours for no discernable reason. Mostly you go insane. Mostly you rage and scream yourself, committing sins for which you will beg for mercy later, sins of anger and despair and grief. Mostly you question your Maker . . . how could he give you this burden, expect you to handle it, saddle you with this unending responsibility, drop this load on your shoulders and then blame you for hating everything and raging against the world?

And then, sometimes, there are these small graces, these moments of joy in which we see His hand and His purpose. These tiny bright spots of grace which redeem the hours of misery and the mind-numbing toil. They are more precious for their rarity, more valued because you never know if they'll come again.

Tonight, Mere sang every song at Mass.

I don't know if she ever will again. I don't know much of anything.

But tonight, she sang.

And God is good.