Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Farewell to Andrew, episode 3: How a little dog training worked on me.

You know those parenting books that suggest you deal with bad behavior by waiting for, and rewarding, the good? If you're anything like me, you're thinking, "If I could but find ONE MOMENT of praiseworthy behavior, I wouldn't even be asking the question . . . "

Andrew has always been a rather noisy chap, and far from abating as he aged, the range of squeaks,  grunts, hums and honks has greatly increased—most especially when we're at Mass, trying to maintain at least a modicum of reverence. Andrew: "Honk—click—HMMMMM—grunt—splort"
Me, in hushed tones: "Andrew, you need to be quieter; people will think you're weird."
Andrew, looking stricken: OK, sorry-sorry-sorry." (Pause) "HMMMMMMM—snort—honk—splurt!" etc.

Now, I know enough about human nature to realize that when there's a problem in a relationship, trying to change the other person is invariably a lost cause. But try as I might, I simply could not ignore the cacophony emitted by my second son. What could be done? It was a stalemate.

Then I happened to read in No Bad Dogs, a dog training book by Barbara Woodhouse, about the extraordinary effectiveness of physical touch: a touch which "calms the wild dog, . . . produces ecstasy in dogs when you caress them."  She continues, "I lay my face alongside the dog's (which is) cupped in my hands, and I sense that my deep love and admiration for it passes right through to its mind . . ." In other words, touch brings about a telepathic communication. If it worked for Barbara Woodhouse and her dogs, could it work for my second son and me?

I had no doubts about Andrew's receptiveness; I was more concerned about me.

Could I overcome my natural restraint and reserve, and abandon myself to praising Andrew? Could I touch his shoulder as he hunched over his morning bowl of cornflakes, rice milk and banana, and transmit my deep love and admiration for him? Could I really put all that into a touch? How about my tone of voice; could I make it convey great joy to Andrew—tell him that I think him the most wonderful young man on earth?

 I had reckoned without one thing: the astonishing power of words. In the beginning, God used words to call all created things into being: now, He was using the power of the spoken word to heal a mother and her son. As I spoke  words of love and admiration to Andrew, blow me down if my feelings didn't follow suit! It was easy for me to make my touch tell him of my deep admiration, because thanks to the verbal affirmations, I really believed it! I thought of books that advised  couples who want to feel more love in their marriage to act as though they are in love, and I recognized that this was exactly what I was doing. And it was working!

Of course, it hasn't all been wine and roses: my husband, who had been getting quite sentimental about the forthcoming farewell, was brought back to reality with a vengeance this evening when he found that Drew had just unloaded all the dirty dishes from the dishwasher, and painstakingly put them away in cupboards and drawers. What do you do with a 31 year old who has no clue about clean and dirty?

Hold his face in your hands, lay your cheek against his, and tell him that you love him absolutely, unconditionally, and forever.

Use words if you have to.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Farewell to Andrew, episode 2

L’Arche communities in the United States provide homes and workplaces where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers. At the heart of L’Arche are the adults who have intellectual disabilities—known as “core members”—and Andrew is to be one of them, starting next Thursday. We are so excited for him, and I looked for something amid the writings of the founder, the French Canadian Jean Vanier, that will give the unique flavor of L'Arche so you can rejoice with us. I found this story of eight year old Armando, told by Monsieur Vanier:

"Armando cannot walk or talk and is very small for his age. He came to us (L'Arche) from an orphanage where he had been abandoned. He no longer wanted to eat because he no longer wanted to live cast off from his mother. He was desperately thin and was dying from lack of food. After a while in our community where he found people who held him, loved him, and wanted him to live, he gradually began to eat again and to develop in a remarkable way. He still cannot walk or talk or eat by himself, his body is twisted and broken, and he has a severe mental disability, but when you pick him up, his eyes and his whole body quiver with joy and excitement and say: "I love you." He has a deep therapeutic influence on people.

(At a gathering of bishops in Rome in 1987)
"I asked a bishop if he wanted to hold Armando in his arms. He did. I watched as Armando settled into his arms and started to quiver and smile, his little eyes shining. A half hour later I came back to see if the bishop wanted me to take back Armando. "No, no," he replied. I could see that Armando in all his littleness, but with the power of love in his heart, was touching and changing the heart of that bishop. Bishops are busy men, they have power and they frequently suffer acts of aggression, so they have to create solid defense mechanisms. But someone like Armando can penetrate the barriers they—and all of us—create around our hearts; Armando can awaken us to love and call forth the well of living waters and of tenderness hidden inside of us."

I (Alison speaking) hope this touched your heart as much as it did mine. Andrew is going to a place where he will be deeply loved and appreciated, not just by his family but by a community of his peers, for the rest of his life.

I couldn't wish for a happier ending.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Farewell to Andrew, episode 1

Hear that rumbling sound? It's the wheels of the tumbril, carrying the prisoner to his execution at the guillotine. Dostoevsky describes this last journey in a memorable passage from the Brothers Karamazov, which I last read about a decade ago (this is a disclaimer - I may well be misremembering, but you'll get the general picture.) This scene haunts me when I'm preparing for a Major Life Event - a move, for instance.
We join the prisoner a couple of streets from his gory destination. The sun is shining, the road lined with trees - surely he has all the time in the world to enjoy this peaceful scene! But underlying it all is the rumble of the tumbril's wheels; they turn a corner -- one street closer to his doom . . .
And yet, the sky is a marvelous blue, clouds tinged still with dawn's rosy tint . . . surely nothing very terrible can mar a day like this! Besides, this street is so long, why worry about what lies beyond its end . . .
Another corner - the last corner. Now Madame Guillotine comes into view. But still, one may turn one's back on her in a last, desperate attempt to avert the inevitable . . . the crowd, many wearing red ribbon neck ties in a grisly parody of what is to follow, sing raucous songs, hoping for a botched, extended execution . . . The executioner appears: it's time to mount the fifteen steps to the scaffold! How far are fifteen steps, each one a memory of a past era, each one almost a lifetime . . .
The last step: time to rest the head on the block, eyes closed against the wild death stares of the grisly inhabitants of the bloody basket beneath . . .

I hasten to say that it is not Andrew's move to L'Arche that prompts such ghoulish musings: for him, it is a marvelous opportunity, the best possible development. It is, rather, my selfishness speaking. After thirty-one years of being Andrew's mum, spending significant chunks of every day with him, what next? How do I cope with my Andrew-less existence?
One week from tomorrow, he goes. I invite you to walk these last seven days, seven steps, with me; looking back over his early years, forward to what he can expect from his newfound friends at L'Arche, above all savoring the moments of these seven last days together.
Walk with me.