The brewer’s wife

Recently I met someone new under unusual circumstances. We met through our realtor, at a party she was hosting with a stranger at the stranger’s house. Generally this was out of my comfort zone as an introvert. Paul, the extrovert, said that he didn’t care either way if we went. It was rare to have a weekend evening free at the end of summer. Even rarer was that the introvert was all excited to go. I wanted to meet some new people in the neighborhood.

The party had an eclectic variety of home brews that were remarkably good. Paul said that he wanted to thank the brewer for offering up his marvelous beer. We had a long conversation with the brewer and he stated that he loved sharing his beer with friends. I jokingly asked him how we could become friends.

Skip a month ahead…I was planning Paul’s 50th birthday party. I was wondering what to do about drinks. I was already planning on having the food catered in. Then I thought of the brewer. I asked him if he would be willing to share his beer with us for the party. I offered to pay him which apparently was illegal. Whoops! I didn’t know. He said he wouldn’t accept money, but would do it for a friend. So we set up his kegerator at our house with 3 of his home brews.

After the party, we invited the brewer and his wife over for supper and to pick up the kegerator. Now the brewer’s wife is a doctor of psychology. Most of her clients are autistic. She also works with their families.

I had my first one on one conversation with the doctor. I ended up telling her a lot of things that I don’t even tell my closest friends after knowing them for years. I told her about the day on the lake that my brother almost drowned. That day, at age 6, I was left alone to watch my 3 younger brothers swim.  Alissa would certainly yell if there was a problem, but Alissa didn’t. I told her that since I was in grade school I felt like an adult.

I told her that I was homeschooled from 8th grade through 10th grade because my autistic brother was too violent to go to school. I told her that I lived my late middle school and early high school years in great isolation from my peers. I told her how I was a caretaker for my brother. Instead of going out with friends on a Saturday night, I helped shower my autistic brother. I told her that for many years I was a massive bruise from when my brother hit/hurt me. I told her the hardest part was that he never was told that hurting me was wrong.

I told her of my restrictions because those things could set Matt off. I wasn’t allowed to use hair spray, wear nail polish, or perfume. We had to dip our tooth brushes in peroxide and baking soda for awhile. I told her that my dad was abusive. I told her how I sometimes have flashbacks.

She said that lots of times special needs siblings have issues with addiction or depression. She said that the depression rate of special needs siblings is 50% compared to 6% of the regular population. But she said that the state lacks funding to have programs for siblings because they are ‘normal’. I find that very sad.

I told the doctor that I would be willing to speak to parents or siblings about my experiences. I told her if my story could help a couple others who are struggling, it wouldn’t all be in vain.

That evening, they left the kegerator at our house promising to get together soon to pick it up.

The next day I apologized for being so candid. I told her that I don’t usually share personal things with complete strangers about my life (outside of this blog). She told me that she was honored that I shared my story and that for everything I’ve been through it’s surprising that I am a solid person. (She also said she would be sending a bill which I hope she did not mean!!!).

She said that she was planning on finding a way for me to share my story of hope with others who are struggling. I’m not sure if anything will come of it or not.

I’ve always felt like my purpose is to help others…to write about it…to speak about it…

God works in mysterious ways…sometimes he works through beer.


The nursery

A few days ago, I posted about trees. Sounds boring, I know. Sometimes I have an idea that scratches around my mind that I want to write about that leads to more ideas, and yet more until it takes root.

Today I am going to write about trees again and family roots.

I just want to be upfront with you right away…I do not have a green thumb. I’ve killed every house plant that I’ve ever had. Once I got a chia pet for Christmas. I ended up regifting it because it was too much pressure.

My grandpa had a nursery located on the edge of my parents property when I was growing up. Most of the trees in the photos that I posted the other day were of trees that came from my grandpa’s nursery. My grandma came to my house and helped me plant those trees. My grandpa passed away the year we bought our house. Even my grandma has been gone for almost a decade now.

We are thinking about moving in the next year. It seems silly to say that one of the things I will miss the most is my trees. It is one of the last connections I have left to my grandparents now. I remember painstakingly deciding where to plant the trees with my grandma.

Thinking about the trees again made me think about growing up. Oftentimes my grandpa would remove the trees that weren’t thriving. He would put them on a pile to discard. When I was a young girl, I decided I would rescue one of the dead trees. It was a little pine tree with brown needles. I planted it in my parents backyard. I watered the tree everyday, but it still looked dead.

Then one morning I went outside to check on my tree and it was alive with leaves of brilliant green. I did it! I saved my tree. Things went downhill after that with my green thumb. I don’t know who replaced the tree. It probably was my grandma, but I will never know for sure..

Then my memories started taking me down a darker path.

Strangers stopping by to buy trees. Grandpa coming over in his truck. The smell of fresh dirt. Fertilizer. The musty smelling plastic bags the trees were sent home in.

Strangers in our yard. We must be alert. We worry. Are there children? Are there little girls? I give my mother a report. Keep an eye on Matt while I walk over. We could prevent Matt from going places where he could hurt someone, but we could never warn the strangers that came into our yard unaware.

I never felt safe. It would probably shock you if you knew how many times we had to worry about the safety of outsiders. My brother Matt is violently autistic/schizophrenic. We couldn’t control Matt but we did our best to push other people away to protect them.

Today I sit in public places with my back to the wall…always watching. I notice when patterns are off. I do everything I can to be a protector although I am never needed anymore.

It is strange how thinking about something neutral like trees could take me back.

Sibling bond(age)

My husband grew up as an only child. (How nice!!!). He made a comment that he would give anything to have had siblings. In which I retorted that I would give anything not to have siblings. As the oldest, there was a year and a half that I was an only child. Problem is, I don’t have any recollection of that time. 

I wouldn’t wish my siblings away, but I always wondered what it would be like.

Paul and I both have ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ mentality regarding siblings. Paul recounted being lonely and not having anyone to play with. My idea of being an only child is one of ice cream, candy, and all of the Christmas gifts. Never having to share. Getting all of the attention. Paul’s idea of having a sibling is like being with a good friend all the time that you can play with and talk to. There are a few sibling relationships out there like that. I totally envy them.

What I hear more of is all of the problems. It starts early… Fighting over toys. Feeling like your parents have favorites. Fighting over their time and resources. Who got more birthday or Christmas gifts. Even fighting over possessions after your parents are gone. Or petty fights and jealousies. Who has more money. Who is better looking. Who is smarter. Who is better. The list goes on for most families I know.

Deny it all you want, but we can never stop being compared to our siblings by ourselves or others.

Let’s just say that having siblings makes life more complicated and perhaps more interesting.

Our discussion last night about siblings was a hot button issue with me. I am not even sure why. I think it is probably because my siblings lives have had such a strong impact on mine. 

There have been some really good times. However, most of my strong emotions are tied to the disappointments and hurts. 

Paul has no idea what sibling relationships are like. A lot of times he asks me if our kids sibling relationship is normal.

When we had children, I hoped that my kids would be best friends. Even knowing what I already knew, I still longed for that. It didn’t happen. 

It is amazing how many different personalities can co-exist under one roof. Even though my kids were raised the same way, they are totally different. They even have temperaments or personality traits similar to that of our parents and my siblings which creates very interesting dynamics. Especially if your relationship with the person they remind you of is less than perfect.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I would have been an only child. 

I am willing to bet that most of you are like either Paul or I, wondering what life would be like on the other side. 

Or maybe, just maybe, you are lucky enough to have the perfect sibling (that you actually like). Or had the best of both worlds by being an only child long enough to enjoy having a way younger sibling.


Monday’s dirty laundry

I started the week off by having to buy a new washing machine. The last couple of weeks it sounded like a gun range in my house every time I threw in a load of laundry. Bang, bang, pop, pop, pop. Then this morning it almost started on fire. Good thing I didn’t throw in a load and leave for work. Stinky smoke billowed out of our utility room. I sure hope this is not an indicator of how the rest of the week will go. Lol. 

Yesterday my mom came over for supper. We spoke about my mother’s childhood years. She said that as the second oldest girl, without older brothers, it was her job to assist her dad in his work. His job was very labor intensive. She spent the summers picking cucumbers to sell to help support her family. She had to help her mother wash clothes, including cloth diapers every day, in a basin with bleach. They did not have a washer or dryer. It sure makes me appreciate my broken washer, or should I say being able to afford to buy a nice new front loader. 

I wish that my mom would write down her stories so I could understand her life more. Just like I hope someday my kids will read my writing and understand me more.
Then we talked about Matt and parenting an autistic child in the late 70’s. She said that she was thinking about writing down everything that happened to help herself heal. At times like this, I am so tempted to tell her about my blog but didn’t. She said that she is helping herself heal by helping others that are struggling. She has more compassion than anyone. She said that she wouldn’t have been able to make it through without her faith in God.

We spoke about the abuse that Matt suffered at the hands of the school. She said that she only saw Matt cry twice in his life. He cried when he spoke of what happened at school. It was absolutely barbaric. The teacher had him sit underneath her desk while she sat at her desk. If Matt touched her, she would kick him. One teacher held him face down on the floor while the other sat on his back. He couldn’t breathe. That is the story he cried about. There was a disabled child that died that year from a teacher that used the same discipline method.

We spoke about my mom’s church friends. I was not aware of this, she said one time when Matt swore in church her friend hit him. Another friend told my mom that they needed to beat it out of him. Oh, my dad did try to beat it out of him. It didn’t work. My mom spoke of when my dad kept hitting Matt over and over trying to beat it out of him. I told her that I remember that day clearly because it was my first childhood memory. I remember the screaming of my dad and Matt. I remember the plunking noise of Matt being knocked back and forth against the cupboards in the kitchen.

My mom said that Matt crawled around on the floor like an animal. He spent a lot of time screaming after he quit talking. 

Later on he became fixated on hurting little girls and I just happened to be the only little girl around. My mom said that she felt terrible that I had to suffer. She spoke of the birth of her first grandchild, my daughter Angel. She said that she was excited and filled with joy the day Angel was born. But her second feeling was horror because she knew what that might mean.

Matt did hurt Angel. What I didn’t tell you was that the two years leading up to the attack, Matt became obsessed with the thought of hurting Angel. He ruminated about it. He asked questions about what it would be like if he pulled her hair, twisted her arm, hit her, or held her head underwater when we were together. My mom and I were worried. I had to take a step back from Matt.

When Matt hurt Angel on her 4th birthday, my mom went in the other room and cried. She was so upset that she didn’t talk and was inconsolable. Luke took Matt home and the whole time it was like he was possessed. He laughed. The voices in his head were whispering over and over out loud. I almost forgot about his maniacal laughter after hurting someone. I could only describe it as evil or demonic.

My mom was at her breaking point. We had to part ways. She quit going to church for the next 3 years. She was angry at God for allowing this to happen. 

We have forgiven Matt for all of the things that happened. But it has been a long road and painful process.

Tomorrow I am going to start another autism series. I have a copy of Matt’s clinical diagnosis report from the early 80’s. I have been holding on to it for the last 20 years. I am going to share it with you along with my feelings about what was written.

A sibling’s viewpoint on autism awareness  

April is autism awareness month as quite a few of you are aware of. I have been seeing a lot of arguments lately about autism awareness vs. trying to find a cure. I’ll be honest, it is pissing me off. The comments seem to be all about accepting people the way they are (which is great) vs. changing the way people are. As if by trying to find a cure, we are somehow not accepting people the way they are. That is ridiculous!

I have an analogy for you. Let’s play a little pretend. For a second, let’s pretend that autism is depression. Perhaps you have a sibling with a mild case of depression. His depression made him a great artist. Some days he can paint and create wonderful masterpieces. The next day, he can’t get out of bed. When you take him out to restaurants he cries and that embarrasses you. You don’t want to take the depression away because then he might not be a great artist. But you want everyone to know he is depressed because sometimes he acts in ways that are not socially acceptable.

Now I am going to paint another scenario. Perhaps you have a sibling that is depressed. But your sibling has one suicide attempt after another after another. It tears your whole family apart. 

If you lived out the first scenario, good for you. I’m glad that you were able to go to restaurants and do things that other normal families get to do. I can understand why you might be holding the awareness and acceptance card. But we lived out scenario number two. 

When my mother got her first black eye and bloody lip, it was autism.

When my brother banged his head against the wall over and over, it was autism.

When my brother rocked himself to sleep until he got blood on his sheets, it was autism.

For the scars people could see, it was autism.

For the scars people couldn’t see, it was autism.

When I lost my best friend, it was autism.

When my brother was lead out of school in handcuffs, it was autism.

When family and friends turned away, it was autism.

When my brother was ridiculed and mocked, it was autism.

When he chased me with a knife, it was autism.

When my parents had to find a caregiver to attend my wedding, it was autism.

When my daughter was attacked, it was autism.

Of course, I want a fricken cure!

May God have mercy on all those that suffer from this. I am hoping that someday autism will be a preventable.

You have no idea how terrified I was to have children. Or how nervous I was when my brother Luke had children. Or how much I worry about the possible future family of my brother Mark and his new bride. I don’t know if any of us have the strength to live through that again.

My mom always said that my brother Matt did not do these terrible things, it was autism. 

Autism you suck! Why did you do this to my brother?