Tornados, hurricanes, Nor'easters: More than a few times people have told me, "I can deal with those but----earthquakes? You Californians can have them!"
This line of reasoning strikes me as similar to a conversation I once heard on a playground between two women: "My child has X and goes through so much but at least it's not----autism." Or to the very weird silence that can occur when I'm speaking to another parent of a special needs child and I say "not in a grade, in a private autism school" or "Risperdal, for the head-banging."
Feeling the ground--terra firma ipsa--shake and bounce is terrifying. You trust the ground, the floor of your house, to stand still and not to give you a mini roller-coaster ride. After I experienced a minor earthquake one afternoon at my desk in Mr. Lockhart's fifth-grade class in Oakland, I could barely sit in a chair without thinking I felt it vibrating. It didn't help when kids started to talk about aftershocks and spread rumors about a fault line under the school. I could barely trust the ground beneath my feet.
Autismland 101 training: Just when you think you've got your house in order and you can put your feet up, read the book that's been gathering dust and make some coffee, the ground shakes, the sweet security you've just found for your child crumbles and cracks--maybe your best therapist is moving on, the money somewhere is running out, that great SLP is getting married and going to Virginia--and you run up to get the glue and get on the phone.
Charlie, wave-rider that he is, can manage pretty well when the grounds starts rolling. He was all grins waiting for the bus and saying "BYE!" to my parents, who flew back home to California today. He was happy to be back at school after a three-day weekend and--after one minute of not wanting to do speech therapy--his day was a peaceful ride. Mega-snack after coming home---rice, chicken, two apples (he doesn't eat breakfast so I figure this is lunch #2). Long ABA session in which he whizzed through his programs and grinned to do his Edmark reading program on his computer.
"B'ack car." Charlie had pulled on his coat and we went to the grocery store where he got the cart from the front of the store and pushed it entirely by himself through the aisles and among people (he did come within an inch of bonking someone with the cart but was always just able to swerve past). As usual, Charlie ran to stare at the cannoli and pastries in the display case then was going to run off, leaving the cart in the middle of nowhere, until I reminded him. "Let's get some vegetables first!" Shop Rite was out of sushi and Charlie stared, forlorn, at the display case. "Okay, we can try King's IF you help with the cart and the shopping."
Charlie unloaded all the groceries onto the conveyor belt and then put in the bags, and pushed the cart back out, and carried a bag to the car. King's did have sushi and he ate with great seriousness, after carrying in the groceries. He poked out a few melodies on the keyboard by the front window. And then listening to iPod tunes in our bed with his favorite green rabbit and bucket of photos. And waiting by the front window to watch for Jim to come home after visiting his parents. And giggling "Daddy hi Daddy" before running up to fall asleep in our bed.
What a good life for a happy school boy whose eyes light up at the mention of his school!
And how can I keep the ground from opening up and swallowing this happiness?
Strategy. Preparedness. Asking questions. Reading and research. Knowing what Charlie needs for his education. Charlie's fan club.
In the myth of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, goddess of agriculture, feels a sudden rumbling in the meadow where she is dancing and picking flowers with her maiden friends. A great gap opens in the earth and Hades, Lord of the Underworld, appears in his horse-drawn chariot, snatches Persephone, and takes her down to his dark kingdom. Demeter then sends barren blight upon the crops and growing things of the world until she learns where her daughter is, down below, and goes to find her--only to learn that Persephone must remain half the year with Hades as his queen, as her daughter has eaten a few seeds of a pomegranate. So Demeter makes it spring and summer upon the earth when her daughter is with her and shuts herself away and mourns when Persephone departs back under.
Poseidon, god of the oceans and seas, was Hades' (and Zeus' brother)--and he was also god of earthquakes and of horses.
Because the rippling, chaotic, uncertain motion of all three is the same?
Ocean, earthquake, horses: Perhaps I ought to install these on the Great Seal of Autismland. I think I would also add a flower--a narcissus?--like those in the meadow that Persephone delighted in, as Charlie delights in his happy school days. And perhaps a green apple or two. Those who do not like the puzzle ribbon as a symbol can try out this Seal, as we stock up provisions against the next Big One.
Of course, knowing that Charlie had autism was something like an earthquake in our lives, seven years ago. The aftershocks were even worse and there were innumerable fires to put out. But somehow we got ourselves out of the dust, dirt and ashes and our smiling schoolboy is proof-positive, that we can survive (albeit a bit battered) the worst disaster, human-made or natural.