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Burnt Popcorn & Broken Hearts

7 Comments 15 November 2010

“I burn house down.”  Those were the words that came flowing out of MH’s mouth this morning.  She was referring to her ‘cooking’ of some popcorn while I was out of town this weekend.  I knew there had been a slip-up when my husband called me and asked, “What makes the smoke smell go away?”  I had taken my oldest, my now 16 year old, to the beach with friends.  We do it every year and it is one of her favorite things.  It is nice for me too, to not think about burnt popcorn and broken hearts.

It is funny to talk about it after the fact.  MH putting popcorn in the microwave, like she sees us do it, and setting the time for somewhere north of ten minutes.  KABOOM!  smoke, fire, and a very stinky house.  Popcorn doesn’t do well after about 3 minutes.  But in reality, something as silly as this little episode can send me reeling in a quiet, reflective moment.

MH has to be watched…all the time.  It isn’t even that she is trying to make trouble, she is just doing what she sees other people do.  She doesn’t have the cognitive ability to know how to do it, or to understand danger.  These things, these incidents make me cry if I let them.  No, she didn’t burn the house down.  No, no one was injured.  No, no real harm was done, but I know it could have been done.

I know that she is 10 and her future will be full of potential harm.  Potential harm that makes me wonder and worry and feel both anxiety and guilt all at the same time.  It will take money and help to keep her safe and I have neither.  It sends me into a mind game of panic about what would happen to her if I weren’t here, if my husband wasn’t here.

It isn’t like that all the time.  For the most part, I can laugh and smile at “I burn house down.”  I have to laugh now.  She is the cutest and most clever little girl in the world to me.  But not knowing, not being able to see how it will all work out in the future…if I let it, it pulls me into an emotional tailspin.

I am going to speak today to a room full of Special Education students at a local college.  This is the second time I have done this.  What do I tell them?  I tell them that while they see a project, a goal, an objective…I see a life, a person a broken little baby that needs their help.  I also tell them that the best thing they can do for my child, for me…is to imagine what it is to live with a ten year old who says, “I burn house down.”

Living with a child with special needs changes EVERYTHING.  I asked other parents what they would want me to tell these future educators.  My friend Shannon, over at The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, referred me to this letter, written by another mother of a special needs child, and what we want others to know.

” Hello?

New teacher, or therapist, or doctor? Is that you?

Oh hello…

I just wanted to chat with you a second. To caution you. Or warn you.  Please, tread carefully.

You see, what you might not realize as you look at me, talk to me, tell me your opinions, our options, our lack of options, and your predictions of our outcomes is that; well … you see that heart?

The slightly broken, definitely bruised one?

Yeah, that’s my heart.  My slightly-broken, definitely-bruised heart.

Now, I realize that as you look at me you might see … a confident parent … or an angry parent … or a happy-go-lucky parent… (a parent that laughs at “I burn house down!”)

You might think that I understand everything … or nothing … or that I have all the experience in the world because I have done this before … or that I know the rules … or that I don’t know the rules and that is for the best…

You might believe … that I am high maintenance … or overreacting … or maybe neurotic … or disengaged and uninterested … or that I don’t really care … or maybe I care too much…

But regardless of what you see, what you think, or what you believe, this is what you should know:  I am broken-hearted. And it doesn’t matter if it is the first day or a century later. It doesn’t matter where in the “grief cycle” I might be. It doesn’t matter if the wounds are healed, or healing, or fresh and new. This heart is bruised. Slightly broken. Different than it once was and will ever be again. And when you speak, or don’t speak, in judgment or not, my heart is out there.

Some of “us” parents … the ‘special’ ones … can be a pain in the ass. I know that. We know that. But we are fighting a fight we never planned to fight, and it doesn’t end. We don’t get to clock out at the end of the day. We don’t get a vacation from it. We live it, everyday. We are fighting without knowing how to fight it, and we depend so much on you to help us. We have been disappointed, by you or others like you. And we are disappointed in ourselves. We are your harshest critics. We are our own harshest critics too. We are genuinely fearful, and driven, and absolutely devoted. And we also know, we need you. So please, be careful with us. Because as hard and tough as we may look outwardly, our hearts are fragile things.”

So, that is what I will tell them, and what I will tell you.  We may look like we have the world by the tail, we may laugh about stories about burnt popcorn…but, please, please know…we have broken hearts that never go away.  We have the weight of the world on our shoulders.  Walk with us.  Love us in spite of it.  Love our children.  Encourage your children to love them too.

After all, we all have broken hearts…

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Your Comments

7 Comments so far

  1. Judy Helfand says:

    I feel your broken heart. It is, indeed, palpable. I do know that ache of forever.

    Thank you for allowing us into your world.


    • Jorja says:

      hey my friend, sometimes it just feels better to write it out. thanks for your love, tenderness and compassion…all the way from over there in the desert! i feel it!

  2. Pia says:

    Hello! I would love to hear what the students have to say!!! Please consider writing a follow up…


  3. Ginny says:

    Thank you, Jorja. I am crying so hard that that is all I can think to say. And now I am laughing because it brings to mind an entire box of Trix poured on the table and floor and I said, “What a mess! We need to clean this up” Only to return to a kitchen of colorful solid gunk thanks to water sprayed from the sink to cover the floor and counters with 1/4 of an inch of water. How wonderful it is to have someone who understands. Again, thank you for sharing.

    • Jorja says:

      ginny, sometimes all we can do is laugh. it is hard to explain to those who do not have similar situations the chaos that rules in our homes. glad to make you laugh my friend…very glad! love you

      • Ginny says:

        Hey–just had to tell you. The day I read this (we always unplug appliances because D doesn’t have fine motor skills to plug them in) I was doing laundry and smelled smoke. The boy had plugged in the toaster oven and burnt a piece of biscuit to a charred ball! Apparently, I had not reheated enough to suit him. 🙂

  4. susan Smith says:

    Oh my goodness, but that child is gorgeous.

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things to make you wonder~

“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them...” Annie Dillard

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