Sunday, October 28, 2012

There but for fortune

My Jake
"I love you, Mommy."

He says it quietly these days. Sometimes loudly. Spontaneously. At the dinner table last night, as I sat down. Often enough to almost take it for granted. Almost. But also never. Because my boy is autistic.

Because once I did not know if Jacob would ever say "Mommy" let alone "I love you."

Once I did not know if ever there would be conversation, a back and forth, a flow. And now, of course, I find myself begging for a break from Jake's constant need for engagement.

The conversations are odd, of course, bringing smiles or bewilderment to the faces of the folks waiting at the bus stop with us (for the dreadful will-it-ever-come M104) as we repeat topics over and over, revisiting them cyclically as the waiting goes on and on, and Jake walks in circles, tighter or wider, to relieve the anxiety of the when-will-the-bus-come unknown.

There had been good news from the ophthalmologist: Jake no longer needs glasses. Another thing we had thought might never come to pass. But of course my son being a creature of habit greets this news with none of the joy his twin brother Ethan had three years ago, upon the same pronouncement.

"I. Want. My. GLASSES!" he bellows as I explain patiently (for I knew this would involve much patience, greeted this "good" news with trepidation, fearing just such a reaction) that "the eye doctor says you don't need them any more, the glasses did their job, they're finished."

Jacob's school's half-day Friday had seemed the perfect opportunity for his annual eye exam. And it turned out fortuitous in so many other ways, as I had a real need of my son that day. A need to see him, to hold him tight.

My community was hit by tragedy Thursday: a family lost two children to unfathomable, senseless violence. And when I say my community, I mean more than just we live in the same neighborhood, I mean we have a connection to this family (although I do not know them personally). 

There was a bit of the same feeling around the Upper West Side right afterwards as there was on 9/11: a sense of shell shockedness, a sense of there-but-for-fortune-ness. Not as universal, more of an echo; but still, more than a bit spooky.

"Why? why? why?" drummed over and over in my head as I walked about the streets. Taking Ethan to school Friday, morning the parents were out in full force. Those of us who often send our kids in with "the neighbors" could not seem to do it, needing to kiss their heads personally at the last possible moment and watch their backs recede into red brick buildings.

So many of us appeared with eyes dark circled, earned from 3 am checks of our slumbering children. How long had it been since I had stood in a doorway, watched two small rib cages rise and fall in the near darkness?

My mind kept curling back, all day long, to the mother, the family. The mother (like so many of us) employing others to watch her children, in spite of being an at-home hands-on mom, because when you have more than one child, having help is... very helpful.

I return again and again to the screaming everyone says was bloodcurdling, primal, knowing that such sounds would be erupting from me were I ever to come upon my children, likewise undone.

I cancelled my Friday evening plans (an old friend's play). We sat together for a family dinner, dusting off the Shabbat candlesticks and lighting them, finding comfort in familiar, in ritual, in ancient things that continue.

Finding more than comfort in my son's words as I sat at the table; "I love you mommy" taken for granted never, appreciated now more than ever. And now I attempt to embrace sleep, to resist the siren call of watching my children slumber, reassuring myself of their continued existence on this planet.

If will alone could protect them, keep them safe all their lives, then all our children would live forever.

And so I hug my sons a little tighter now.

Please hug your children every day.

Finally, I can never say or think the words "there but for fortune" without hearing Phil Ochs sing them. So here he is, now doing just that:


  1. Your words say exactly what all of us - even us mums half way across the world - were thinking last Friday. But the shock of having it happen in your own community is just too close to home. Very well said, thank you.

  2. What kills me are the hateful comments.

    At a time like this????


    Poor, devastated parents; beyond what I can imagine.

    I just couldn't ... it would be more than I could bear.

  3. I found the story heartbreaking when I heard about it, and I can't imagine having it happen so close to home.

    Prayers for all concerned.


  4. Beautiful post -- unspeakable tragedies -- it felt close -- not so much because of being a parent, but because it happened in my old neighborhood, just like you said. There's a visceral connection to that -- to community, to feeling and wanting to feel control.

  5. brutal, on all levels. haven't been to squashed land recently, madam varda, and when i read all your posts in a swell foop like this, i am, as always, blown away by your ability to put the ephemeral into words. The sundering of a family; your mother's fragility (and resilience); your asskicking of that beeeyatch Ann operate in many registers my friend, and they're all most excellent. I wish you luck with the badly named "Sandy" (was ever there such a mis-named storm?)

  6. Oh, how I wish you did not have this tragedy in your world. May you find comfort with your boys, with your family. May you have a sense of peace wash over you, even as this storm and these pains swirl around you. May you be well.

  7. I read, but I have no words. Be safe.


I am so sorry to have to turn word verification back on, but the spam-bots have found me - yikes!