My son was not well at school yesterday.  When his teacher called to tell me he was feverish and sleeping in the quiet room, my heart sank.  It sank for him because yesterday was a day of the long awaited fulfillment of plans.  He was waiting for almost a year to go to a concert in Kingston with his support worker and friend, Lindsey, and the rest of the family was heading to Toronto to see a dress rehearsal at the National Ballet for my birthday. But that’s family life. Things are planned and plans change and we chalk it up to bad timing or bad luck or what have you. The James family day of artistic appreciation was taking a big hit.

My husband, eager not to disappoint (Tom is big on birthdays and hates to disappoint us) asked me to call around and see if (a) we could get Adam to a doctor to maybe have him quickly checked out (Adam is autistic so on the rare occasion when he is ill and it seems significant enough we like to get him checked out as he sometimes does not explain his symptoms properly) and (b) see if someone could stay with him while he rests in bed or (c) see if someone would go in his place and he would stay with Adam.  Willing to pull the plug on all of it (I am not big on making a fuss over my birthday and I am okay with disapointment), I compromised and called around to see what I could do.  The doctor said it sounded just like a cold was coming on or a flu and if he was the same the following morning to bring him in. Everyone else I called was going to this concert so I decided to fold and called his teacher to tell her Tom would pick up Adam from school and bring him home.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, Mr. Adam, now 18, insisted on coming home on his bus.  He absolutely did NOT want his father to pick him up from school. He was willing to take an Advil and come home on the bus AND he was going to the concert. I could hear him vehemently stating his case, so to avoid a lengthy argument, we let him come home on the bus. By the time he got home, he had a big speech all planned that involved telling us in every which way he was going to the concert.  He was not burning up, he had a bath and as per the doctor’s suggestion, I gave him a Tylenol to go along with the Advil he’d had a bit earlier. He was perked up. He dressed as per Logan’s style suggestions in a light t-shirt, with a bluish hoodie, a black boxy jacket and his grey joggers that Logan gave him for Christmas. He ate a sandwich as a snack and showed me he’d eaten all his lunch at school and he was listening to the band he was going to see through his headphones.  He was going and THAT WAS THAT.  When a child who has never really been able to decide much for himself looks you in the eye (a thing rarely done by autistic persons) and puts his foot down regarding his own life, you have to respect it.  I had to respect his judgement.  He is 18 and is finally able to do what we have been waiting on for so long which is for him to express himself in a clear and well thought out fashion.  Against all of my maternal instincts, I agreed with his father, brother and teacher and with Adam and he went to the concert and we went to our show. After all, I remember taking the Comtrex back in the day when being at the party was of utmost importance to me. It was not easy to get to go out when I was younger and living at home with John and Angela. It is the same for Adam. It isn’t easy for him to go do a lot of stuff on his own and I can only imagine how frustrating it is for him to be stuck with Tom and Daniella when he knows people his age have so much more freedom. Mind you,Adam has a lot more freedom than most people with autism his age but there is always room for more because he has had a big taste of it , so who am I to stand in his way when I opened this door to his possible freedom for him? I have to respect his needs and decisions even if they are hard for me to do so. Should he have stayed home last night?  Most likely, yes, but I am not him and he REALLY wanted to do this and he got to do it even though it was miserable. He had full control of his life for a night which is after all, the point of growing up, isn’t it?

When Lindsey checked in with me, everything was good. She sent a photo of them smiling. They had eaten and had arrived at the venue. There was nothing to worry about as he was fever free and was smiling and happy. Around 7:30 we were involved in something going on before the performance when Logan noticed the Snapchat on his phone going off. He chose to ignore it at first but the Snaps kept coming. It was his friend from hockey and school whose mother also happens to work with us. Checking out the messages, he smiled and said that his friend just said he saw Adam heading into the concert.  A bit later on, the same friend Snapped again to tell Logan that he wanted him to know that Adam was throwing up in the tunnel of the arena and that he wanted to let him know in case his helper did not tell Tom or me. Of course, Lindsey had her hands full at the time and did text me a short time after and said that all was okay and though she offered, Adam was insisting he stay as long as he could and that she would pull the plug after a few songs.

Here is where the human kindness comes in. We (mostly I) worry what will happen to adult Adam when we are not around to look out for him. Not yet capable of being 100% independent, Adam is probably at around an 80% capability of independence right now and will to my best guess top out at about an 85%.  He may surge to 95% and prove me wrong, which will be fantastic but from what I know now, he will be able to live semi-independently, in that he may need support when it comes to getting to places on time, being mindful of his schedule and with his purchasing ability to a degree. I do not have this worry over Logan. But what this story proves to me, is that I have less to worry about than I thought because some of the people in this little town which I moved to kicking and screaming (I am more comfortable in cities), may not be perfect for me but is is for Adam. I have had neighbours and friends call me to tell me that they had just seen Adam walking over at place X and they wondered if that was okay and if I knew he was out of the house. At the time, Adam was on his way to work or practice and they had not known that he was at that point of independence and it was very reassuring that people (adults) do know him and want to make sure he is safe. What was the icing on the cake for me last night was that it was a soon to be 17 year old youngster who saw Logan’s brother and not only was happy to tell him that he had seen Adam, but was concerned enough to contact Logan again when he saw that Adam was not well. In an age of Millennials who barely speak words, (which is ironic because one of the biggest goals with Adam was to get him to communicate with words)  Tristin, at 17, showed the human kindness and concern I hoped Adam’s peers would show towards him and us. So many people turn a blind eye. So many people keep to themselves. So many people do not make time to connect with good friends, old friends or make new friends, it is nice to see that a teenager – someone who is a part of the most criticized group on the planet – was able to show such basic human kindness and therefore maturity which has been lost on many Millenials. Tristin used the same device teens are criticized for using excessively, to Snap his friend and let him know about his brother because he knew it was the right thing to do. The human kind thing to do.

Lindsey was as usual her wonderful human kind self.  Some of the support persons we had when Adam was younger would have bailed and brought him home and insisted we come home or would not have agreed to take him and give it a try. I already was loaded with guilt and “if only’s” and she did her best to put me at ease. She is also very keen on treating Adam age appropriately and respecting him as a young adult who can make wise decisions and choices. Adam tried to stay for a few songs but he ended up sleeping with his head rested on her shoulder before she woke him and skipped out of the venue and brought him to her home where she put him to bed. She told me how sorry he was that he got sick in the tunnel and that everyone was looking at them (which is an extremely rare thing for an autistic person. Since when does Adam care what people do or think?) Lindsey told him he did nothing wrong and it just happened and he was not to worry about it or worry about the people who were watching because it was none of their business, to which Adam replied “Yeah, $%^% them!” in between hurls. (Well he is 18, he has ears, has internet access, loves you tube and goes to high school – hence the answer, lol)

How fortunate and blessed we are to have put together such an amazing team for Adam in what are the most important years of his life as he launches into adulthood. We had been exposed at times to fantastic people who personally supported Adam as a child and many who were fabulous in the rough teen years, and now on this springboard upon which we stand as we prepare to let the world have our boys and let them fly into this unknown (to them) phase of life called adulthood, I couldn’t ask for a better team.  We have a great young male role model in Sebastian. In Courtney, we have a perfect just -a-year-older peer who teaches Adam how to be and in Lindsey we have a friend who is practically family. She has been with Adam and Logan from the time they were 9 and 7 when she was their teacher, then their tutor and now just a great support worker for Adam and I trust her so much that she is included in much of the decision making when it comes to Adam’s future.

There is so much to still worry over. The world will never be ideal no matter how easy it is for us to make it ideal for everyone by just acting out of love and human kindness. It is reality and we must accept it because we aren’t doing enough to change it. My worry however, is far less than it used to be because in this little town in which I have not found my groove, there is a groove for our Adam. As much as I love the city and Adam enjoys being in the city, a groove would have been much harder to carve out for him there. In fact, it would have been close to impossible and it would have been frightening to think of all that he would be vulnerable to in such a large, busy environment. I know my younger child will fly far from the nest. He has a lot of me in him and he will not settle in one place for a very long time and I understand why. But I am satisfied that my older child will thrive in an environment that is home to kind humans of all ages who are decent and good. The stories about Autism are not always uplifting. Autism is difficult. Autism is puzzling. Autism is isolating to the person and their family. Autism can feel like a life sentence that no one signed up for. Today, my story is one of hope for not just people with autism, but for all people. In spite of my weariness. In spite of my worries. In spite of my frustration. In spite of all the road blocks in this journey with Adam. In spite of my life, I have hope in humankind and this 51st birthday will be one to remember as the birthday when I felt in my heart the kids are going to be just fine.




Eight Months to Fifty: The Significance of the Cirque Bag.


The thought provoking bag.

The thought provoking bag.

This is my bag.

I like this bag and I hate this bag.  I got it at the Cirque du Soleil store in Downtown Disney a few years ago. My Cirque bag looks like it has many compartments because the artist used zippers to create this design illusion.  It isn’t the kind of bag one would use if you need to carry a lot of things with you. With two very small and rather shallow pockets in the front, the only useful parts of the bag are the two compartments on either side of it.


back of bag

Even then, because the bag is a triangle there really is only enough room to hold a small wallet, my phone, a tube of lip gloss, a small tube of hand cream and a pen.  Looking at the bag on the outside, I guess I love it’s soft smooth texture.  I still find it quite interesting to look at and that I see something new pop out at me every time I take in the artist’s zany, whimsical use of colours and patterns.  And while it truly captures the beauty and mystique of Cirque, it can also frustrate me if I happen to have it when I go grocery shopping and have to get in and out of it to retrieve my wallet.  Those are the times the look of the bag is deceiving and I curse myself for not having the good sense to have chosen a more practical bag to take with me when I run errands.

The bag was intended as a gift for someone who was a close friend at the time.   She was house and pet sitting for us while we were on our trip because she wanted to use the time away from her “normal” to sort out some stuff in her life. Of all the cool stuff in the store, the bag stood out and I considered it a good gift for her as, like me, she enjoyed unique, artsy and funky things.  There was a blue one as well and I was going to buy it so I could have one too but (a) I didn’t want to do the “bestie” twin thing,  (b) the blue one was not as bold and (c) the bag wasn’t cheap.  You might be thinking I did a not-so-nice thing when I decided to keep the bag but as you read on you will see this bag is more than the story of me not giving a gift intended for a friend. To me, the bag is a beautiful piece of art that captures the essence of Cirque du Soleil which has a special place in my heart from the days when we lived in Montreal and they still performed there.  It is a reminder of a great family vacation, a wonderful tropical night and is a symbol of a disappointing friendship that was doomed to fail, now that I think about it. It is a reminder of hurt, forgiveness and inner peace and is a grounding reminder to always listen to that inner voice of mine.

rose kennedy Rose Kennedy once said, “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’  I do not agree. The wounds remain.  In time, the mind, protecting it’s sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens.  But it is never gone.”

If anyone knew pain, it was Miss Rose and as an admirer of hers, I too have subscribed to her observation because let’s face it, the old adage forgive and forget  is so far from the truth because while quite difficult when someone has wronged you and hurt you deeply to forgive them, I believe that forgiveness is possible but forgetting is not only impossible but pretending to is foolish. I rather lean toward the saying “live and learn“.

So why was this woman my friend?  Fair question. When I moved from Calgary, my focus was on getting Adam’s in-home therapy underway, managing our nutrition and getting Logan into school for the first time and basically raising my family and running a household while Tom worked.  He met her at work and thought she and I would hit it off as friends.  With the headway I was making with Adam, I didn’t really want to allow anyone new in my life, let alone get close to them but my mother thought it would be nice to have a break from my daily stay-at-home-mom-and-therapist-and-teacher routine.  Taking my well-meaning family’s good intentions and against my instincts, I made a new friend and as it turned out, we did have many things in common and did enjoy spending time together.  She introduced me to running, I got her practicing yoga.  We shared a birthday and a love of the arts  but there was always something that I couldn’t really put my finger on  at first that made me question if we really were suitable as friends. As time went on, I realized it was her false sense of confidence and her inability to be comfortable in her own skin that never sat well with me. She found the silliest things “cool”  and was a self-professed “whatever” girl who was “carefree”, “kooky”, “wild” and “dark”, glorifying herself as a crazy, haphazard mess, much like one might be at age 15.  I always thought after age 24, the “cool” thing was working to get your act together as a grounded, well-rounded adult. It was frustrating watching her avoid grown-up life – basic things like being accountable for her work or standing her ground as a parent or not showing up at an event she’d committed to, not caring she was becoming notorious for backing out of things at the last second.  She would rather appear helpless than face reality and with all that my family and I dealt with on a daily basis, I was disappointed in her childishness and lost a measure of respect for her because I knew if she made an effort to be a strong independent woman, she could own her world and not have to lean on anyone. I saw her weakness and I was amazed as I was annoyed by it, because she clearly found a way around seeing things through in her life. I blame myself for not cutting the friendship to an acquaintanceship at that moment.  It was the right move to make but when I mentioned it to my mother in passing, she suggested perhaps I was being judgmental and that sometimes, though we have our own troubles and struggles, we do have room to be there for someone else.  She ended her thought the way she always does with a simple sentence that makes me think – looking at me with those ashy grey eyes she said, “It’s okay to be nice Danie.  It’s nice to have a close friend.”  So, I kept on.

Unfortunately, I discovered like my Cirque bag, my friend was lovely on the outside and often shallow on the inside.  Her sweet and at times convenient naiveté drew people to her and made them want to help her.  To be fair, she wasn’t an ogre. I mean, she could be compassionate, kind and generous and she certainly preferred to laugh than sulk even though she had a lot weighing on her soul. But instead of doing something about her life, she chose to sweep every issue, conflict, responsibility and problem under a rug and as things built up and up and up, it spilled onto her children as well.  She never cleaned up her messes because she never learned how nor did she want to learn.  That took strength and guts and hard work.  What she did learn was how to draw attention by portraying herself as a damsel in distress.  She would proverbially throw her arms in the air and I would watch in awe as people would flock to her and wrap their proverbial arms around her, giving her advice, lending her their ear (whether sincerely or not) and assisting her in any way they could in the moment because her helplessness made them want to rescue her while giving them a feeling of being superior to her at the same time. Some people tend to like the misery of others deep down inside especially when “the other” has a tinier waist, a flatter tummy and an upright, firm, albeit artificial bust line.  When “pretty people” flounder or fail, in some bizarre way it arouses a sense of comfort in some people who are less so.  When a proclaimed “goddess” is knocked off a pedestal, suddenly it’s okay for the lowly mortals to not have the prettiest face or sexiest body, allowing the little devil sitting on their left shoulder to smirk once in a while.  I was different with her. I wasn’t competing with her; wasn’t looking to have her at my side to be popular nor did I want to rescue her.  I like strong, confident and hard working and lighthearted people around me.  I wanted her to grow up and take charge.  I was taking my mom’s suggestion and trying to be a friend but I made a major mistake.  I did not accept her for who she was and when I recognized that she couldn’t take the advice she sought from me because it entailed hard work on her part; when she could not get herself to where she needed to be on her own, I needed to take a step back from the relationship we had much sooner than I did.  But much like how I would make my bag work for me; stuffing all the important things I needed in there, ditching all the unnecessary receipts, pens and junk that was taking up way too much space,  I made her ditch her habit of putting stuff off or not dealing with issues. I made her  step up and be accountable for herself and her family and for a while it worked.  But in the end, she was like my bag, nice to look at and only able to hold the bare necessities and not much more.  I was wrong in thinking she could be more.  I was wrong to think that she was going to turn into a strong independent woman, mother, worker and reliable friend.  People can try to change. They can try to turn things around, be resilient and do the very best with what they have and strive for better.  We can all dig deeper and rise higher if we want to.  Not everyone wants to. Not everyone can. In the end, I learned my friend couldn’t be something she was not and I should not have encouraged her because she failed and did not know how to try again.

In the last year as the flame slowly went out on our friendship, I watched quietly as she frantically tried to preserve her youth dabbling in this, experimenting in that.  I watched quietly as her work and things at home unravelled.  I said nothing when I heard the rumours then saw the evidence of promiscuity and her unprofessional behaviour among colleagues which included her attempts to poach work.  Who she was, that unsure, wild teenager who never grew up, rose to the surface and she was considered by many to be nothing more than a vapid, waste of time and a disappointment to the workplace. The “whatever girl”  had nothing left to grasp and in the end all she could do was attach herself to a man (whom she admitted was not her type and one whom she and I agreed was not someone to get involved with until she had her life figured out) and “get the hell out of Dodge”.

When important contents are removed from my Cirque bag, it is mostly an empty vessel.  There might be a receipt or two left in it, maybe a pen and a tube of lip gloss but nothing I would be concerned about if it were lost.  My former friend and I did share some good times and I miss having someone nearby to do stuff in town with. Many of my friends live in cities an hour or more away from me and it was nice to have company at yoga occasionally or someone to have an impromptu breakfast out with on a weekend but now, in her absence, I’m back to doing what I do when I have the opportunity.  I’m back to jumping in my car (mostly in the summer when the roads are better) and going to spend time with women who don’t need propping or fixing.  They have their shit together and are worth the drive and my time.  In a million years, I never would have thought a friend would give up her family and her friendships for a man.  It was kind of like the girl or guy in high school who separated themselves from their friends because they were going steady with someone who was the be all and end all of their lives.  There was no goodbye when she left and I have since heard that she’s been back to visit her children? or family? once? …I am not sure.  I have had people mention to me and try to show me some of her social media posts (which I politely declined to view) that to them, seem dark and sexual and more in tune with the vibe of an angst-filled 18 year old. I don’t know anything about what she is doing now and I can’t comment on what she is posting and I have no intention of reaching out to re-kindle anything with her.  The last communication we had was via text and I let her know then how I felt, that I was verbally ending our friendship and I wished her well wherever her journey would take her.  She responded that she did not know what to do or say about my text.  She admitted that she was avoiding me because, and I quote, “it’s what I do. I avoid things that are hard to deal with.  I’m just an avoider” and she didn’t know what to say to me.  Hmm… upon writing that just now, I realize the only thing I really regret is the amount of time I wasted with her. So much had taken place in the 7 or 8 years we had been close – mostly things with her because after a while, it’s apparent that all the relationships she’s had with friends were rosiest when things, ever so subtly, were about her. It makes me wonder if all the times she stayed here, ate here, cried here in my house…the amount of times I fed her children, made them get their homework done, drove them from school only to have her reciprocate a few times in comparison then distance herself and disappear…I wonder if she was my friend at all or if I was just another really convenient pit-stop for her like so many of her past friends were?  Where was she when her family and friends needed her?  This is why I did not want to open up my life to someone new. This is why I wanted to go with my gut instinct and not get close to anyone else.  I can’t blame Tom or my mom for wanting me to not be lonely in this small and boring place but the only good that came of my experience with this friendship was the affirmation that I am best following my instincts every time.   I have my friends I am happy to drive to Toronto to see and one I have recently promised to fly to a different province to see. I have my friends abroad – my SJC “sisters” I keep in touch with on line after a 30 year reunion that reminded me that everything I know to be true, everything I was, I am and am yet to be was created during my life in Trinidad and the years we spent together – years that transformed us into the incredibly admirable, strong and courageous women we all are today. I have my dear sister, my mother and my girlfriend in Trinidad with whom I am able to Skype when life here gets on my nerves.  I have my  wonderful cousins and friends from Calgary and Montreal and a few people I have come to know and enjoy in the area where I live as well.  We are not “besties” but people –  women who enjoy each other’s company.  No drama, no issues no bull shit.  That’s how it was before and how I’d like to keep it.  No more wasted time on wasteful people.

But as my mother has said to me about all this – we all have experiences in life that help us grow and remind us of who we are.  Nothing, she says is a waste of time (I ain’t so sure about that, but okay).  She told me not all of my friendship was bad and what is most important for me to remember, is even though what happened hurt and at times made me angry and frustrated, she was my friend, and I did help her and she very much knows  that.

I told my friend when I returned from my trip that I got her a box of amazing chocolates in lieu of the bag (why lie?).  Though she really liked it, we both agreed that it was the better move as it may have ended up in the trunk of her car with the zippers broken and the material stained.  I never told her this but worse yet, because of her “whatever” and “kooky” nature,  I might have found the bag strewn on the shelf at yoga just like the way  the shirt (one she really wanted) that I gave her for her birthday along with her worn underpants were left there for God know’s how many days (I shake my head thinking of the poor custodian who had to remove her nasty bits).  Hmm…birthday present you really wanted carelessly left with your underwear on a shelf…kind of like the friendship I suppose that she tossed aside and let fade.  I am aware you can always point a finger at someone but you will always have 3 pointing right back at you.  No one is perfect.  We are all hopelessly flawed and I have some blame in the failure of this friendship. As I head towards age 50, I have learned many valuable lessons from this relationship. I have gone through the anger and the bitterness where I really wanted to hear that she fell flat on her face.  But then there was the lingering of a tiny shred of hurt that has been finally been replaced by forgiveness.  When you forgive someone you can’t wish bad things upon them. I don’t want her to fail.  I didn’t want her to fail when we were friends and I don’t want her to fail now.  I truly hope her “re-do” is a success because she is entering the second half of her life and at some point, she has to make it a better one. That tiny shred of hurt has been the affirmation that the best advice for me will always come from my intuition. I have all I need and there is nothing I am seeking; no thing I want.  This experience with this former friend in the end, I suppose, simply confirms I’m good.


For my friend and “word sister” Helen ~ Reading your words about your disappointments and triumphs with regards to your own relationships with others made me realize that admitting I too have experienced the hurt of a failed friendship, doesn’t make me weak.  No matter where you are there are people who are great friends and others who are not.  Your brave candor made me realize that I’m not above having unsuccessful relationships and that I am not too tough or strong to feel that kind of pain they bring because in life it is better to open oneself to all things ( even the not so good ones) in order to truly live.~