Tuesday, April 19, 2011


One of Mark Twain's curmudgeonly snippets of wisdom says "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." From this sort of outlook, I have developed an avoidance for most things that are extremely popular. Books that everyone is reading, the movie that the cute people discuss in the break room, the TV show that people rearrange their schedules to see - are usually ignored.

Certainly there are instances when I regret it. Recently, I picked up my copy of Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen) and began to read it. I came all too quickly to the end, asking myself "Why did I wait so long to read this book?" While I asked, I knew that it was because it was one of those books, the bestseller books, which can be life changing or merely attractive.

Several people have asked me over the past few years if I have read Jodi Picoult's book, House Rules. That is all it takes for me to mentally wave a book aside. At the same time, I had read Picoult's Plain Truth and regard her work with a wary respect. Something about that novel suggested mainstream, lightweight fiction but packed an unexpected punch in its starkly honest characterization.

At work one day, I had asked about the many charitable endeavors embraced by the organization, and asked if a Walk Now event for Autism Speaks might be considered for support. I mentioned that my boys and I usually do the Walk and the director with whom I was speaking offered to lend me House Rules, which is about a woman and her son with Aspergers Syndrome and her son without it.

So far I have read two chapters with more pain than enjoyment. The second chapter, written from the perspective of the younger, neurotypical brother is the one where I left off, that I picked up last night when I went to the Y. My boys had been home for the day on spring break and immediately after I got home began to squabble over an online video game. The younger son, who has Aspergers, slapped at his brother. The elder, more than twice the size of his younger brother, pushed him so that he fell off his seat. The younger then picked up the remainder of his milk and threw it on his older brother, who for reasons unknown had both of the comforters from their beds wrapped around him.

Writing it now, it sounds like a small thing. Taken in the context of a long day at work, in which I had forgotten to take my own antidepressant before work and had just taken it when I got home; the younger son (with Aspergers) had avoided taking his meds; the house is in a greater state of deshabille than usual, as I am ripping out the living and dining rooms, and the ongoing financial pressures of being a single mom... I was ready to ship the kids off somewhere. Their dad's is not an option.

So, I get to the Y with one of the boys, and climb on the Arc Trainer, more than usually ready to berate myself for having gained weight again this year. And I read:

But I'm not allowed to say my life would be easier without [my brother who
has Aspergers] around. I'm not even allowed to think it. It's
another one of those unwritten house rules.

And I think of my two boys and I wonder what are the unwritten house rules that they have learned. While I am wondering, I look up and see that the older son who is very overweight is on a treadmill and he is rolling over the sides of his Converse high tops. He needs better sneakers for working out. I remember working in the pediatric doctor's office a few years ago, and there being a boy who hung himself in his bedroom when he was sent away from the dinner table for some misbehavior (I have often wondered, I don't know why, if the boy had undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome). I think about the need to have them in some kind of structured environment after school, and the fact that I can't afford it. I can't afford sneakers for the son on the treadmill but will have to find a way. I don't know what the future will hold for my son who has Asperger's. I don't want to think about my own future, with a broken marriage to a drug addict with pre-existing mental illness of one form or another.

With some effort, I was able to subdue the anxiety attack and the incipient weeping, grateful that the gasping for breath was perfectly normal for the arc trainer workout. The new rules that I have for myself don't include a prohibition on crying, but limits on it. Crying never changed anything, and looking for sympathy is addictive, and pathetic.

The boys are watching TV right now. New rules, or new practices in this house are going to include more household chores that they can do to contribute to keeping the household going and to use some of their energy. I will keep reading House Rules for now, hoping that before long I will come to the redemptive qualities that sustained me through the violence of Water for Elephants. If they don't surface, I will put it aside.