Ganesh and I had a Rough Day Today

Ganesh and I had a rough day, today.

Ganesh has certainly had his share of rough days: his head was cut off once by his own father. And when his mom, Parvati, found out, she threatened to destroy all Creation if her husband didn’t fix the boy. That was almost a rough day for everyone. Shiva said he'd fix it (his way—you can’t tell a deity what to do), though as a concession, he said he’d do it ASAP. It must have been a difficult household to grow up in.  

To patch up the boy, Shiva ordered his soldiers to bring a new head from the first sleeping creature they found, and even in a country of a billion people, the first sleeping being they came across was… a pachyderm. In short, Ganesh ended up with an elephant head. If there were an Internet back then, the episode might have been immortalized in Ganesh's headshot with the caption: There, I fixed it. 

Today, Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles, faced another obstacle—the removal of his feet and one of his hands. My shiny, silver-colored statue of the elephant deity lay in three pieces on the counter. Despite that, he looked out on the world with patient, almond eyes, calm in his faith he would persevere. He somehow always does. He still had his hand with the ax, for cutting away the chaff and ignorance between him and his goal. And he still had the hand with a rope, to rescue whoever strays from their path. Another unscathed hand still clung tightly to a ball of sweets, a reward for his hard work. It was his blessing hand that broke offthe one that doesn’t look like it's doing anything

For the record, I didn't break Ganesh. I lent him to the elementary school as a model for a class art project, and he came back as pieces carefully wrapped in a cloth and apologized over. 

Except, maybe I did break Ganesh. With enough obstacles in life piled up between me and where I want to be, he literally didn’t stand a chance, hanging out with me. The smithereend statue, alone, was not a huge problem for me. But it joined an unrelenting series of problems compounding into one singular day that bored right through me, until I pictured my intestines spilling onto the ground in a soggy rope. It was one of those days.

I called a friend: get me out of my head. Her hopeful interpretation was that breaking the statue was a clearing away of obstacles, for good. Like a dam breaking. Ganesh is open to interpretation that way; so many stories have been invented to explain his unusual head, his myriad hands, his mouse. 

Ganesh is unperturbed as I pick off excess Gorilla Glue around his ankles and paint a new silver coating over his scarred feet. It's not the worst thing that's happened to him. I got my feet knocked out from under me today. But it's not the worst that's ever happened to me, either. We patch ourselves together with a little glue and a little vino, paint on (or cover up) some silver, and go at it again the next day. And the next. And the next. In between the roadblocks and the cluelessness about how to get through the next one, there are really only two choices. Give up or give it another go.  

As I reattach the blessing hand, it directs my thoughts to how I focused on obstacles instead of gratitude throughout the day. I have friendships, a family, and good health. The biggest obstacle appeared to be a lack of faith: faith in the greater good for those around me. Faith in someone else doing the right thing. Maybe simply faith in myself. Ganesh is open to interpretations.


April is Autism Awareness Month. It's also National Poetry Month.

This could be random coincidence. But the coincidence is nicely poetic, because as literal as people with autism tend to bewrestling to understand symbols or inferencetheir heightened sense of awareness of the world around them reveals the stuff of poets and artists. Stuff other people might filter out as unimportant.

Take patterns, for example. I may not notice patterns, but my son does. Everywhere. Their predictability reassures him. He would like Life to follow patterns so he isn't surprised by what's coming; he'll know how to react. When he doesn't find this repetition, he creates it. He wants to wear the same kind of pants. Eat the same food. Watch the same movies.

It's like a refrain he can keep coming back to and join in on, because he knows the words. Even if we eat at a new place, he orders the same thing, because he knows how to order it.

Beyond patterns, he hears and sees singular details that I miss: in the whiney pitch of car's transmission, in a streetlamp that burns a slightly different shade of yellow. By pointing them out, he makes me stop my oblivious march through the day to see each day. And at the end of the day, he comes back with a refrain: "Remember when we saw that streetlamp that was a different color?" Of course I remember; we just saw it 10 minutes ago. "Remember that joke we made about the cash register not working? The 'crash register?'" No, I'd forgotten that one. That was a good one.

The repetition reassures him; for me, it serves to sear those details I would have forgotten into my mind. And now we have a shared narrative, like a poem created to commemorate the day. And when he gets overwhelmed by all those details or loses his place, I can recite it with him, or for him. Remember that streetlamp? 

First Set of Wheels

Recently a "friend" dredged up a memory I had long suppressed: driving my old beater down the road with the horn stuck blaring, at a volume only an old American car can produce. Because it wasn't bad enough I was not especially cool in high school, I also had to drive my elderly aunt's old-vomited-spinach-colored car. A car she could not have been saddened to part with. A car that was only 4 years younger than I. By the way, when you're in high school, a car that's 4 years younger than you is not vintage enough to be awesome, by any standard. And though I don't remember much from the era when this car was new, I'm still fairly sure Old Vomited Spinach was not a cool color then, either. Probably not even in Europe. 

As my friend chuckled during the retelling, that terrible moment unfolded in my mind’s eye: my not-yet-classic announcing to all that, indeed, The Uncool One had arrived. Mile after mile. Stoplight after stoplight. How could my house have gotten so very far away?

When your horn is stuck, everyone around you first reacts with annoyance, usually followed by aggression. If you're lucky, the other drivers look directly into your mortified face and realize you have no choice in this matter, so they don't run you off the road. Then the ridicule pours down like a cold, November rain.

"Come on, how bad can it be?" you ask.

Steve Martin fans might remember a scene from The Jerk in which another uncool protagonist drives away from a sniper attack on a gas station. He climbs behind the wheel of an old beater with no tires, making his slow-motion escape grinding down the road on the wheel rims. Whatever speed I may have actually reached, driving while my horn was stuck, it felt exactly like that painfully slow getaway. The Jerk's car, adding insult to injury, was also my first: a Dodge Dart Swinger. A car that will live in infamy. 

Go West! (Part II)


Westward, ho-----------ld on

One of the truly beautiful things about Youth is that whole underdeveloped frontal lobe bit. All things are possible when you don’t stop to consider why not all things are possible. Sure, I can drive across the US in a full rental truck. With no prior truck-driving experience. With some old, paper maps. I have a credit card and a cell phonewhat’s the worst that could happen? 

Dad, with full frontal-lobe capabilities, was more circumspect. 
We were driving away from his house in Baton Rouge, having added possessions from his mother, who had died the year before mine. The rental truck was officially full, and we were headed for my new home in California. 

I’d like to say that on that trip I made new friends and broadened my acceptance of life in This Great Land of Ours. In truth, I learned to hate a few people. The first one was my rental truck customer “service” representative, who didn’t so much represent service as corporate indifference. In that sense, she was a full-service rep. 

Somewhere around Shreveport, about 3 hours into the Grande Louisiana-to-California Tour, a loud bang shook us out of our complacency, and I pulled to the side of the road. My First Blowout. Not as magical as it sounds. It was around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The grass was dry as tinder, the highway a preheated griddle, and the inside right rear tire was flat and shredded. That was still OK, though, because we had a cell phone, and I had youthful optimism.

Well, we had a cell phone with periodic reception. And we had that unenthusiastic service rep who would only hear every third word I shouted, and wasn’t sure where we were or what our problem was, so she kept putting me on hold to go drink icy drinks, I assume, and complain about customers to her colleagues. We took another tack and called home for my stepmother to call customer service for us. I  y-e-l-l-e-d v-e-r-y   s-l-o-w-l-y   s-o   n-o   w-o-r-d-s   w-o-u-l-d  d-r-o-p   o-u-t.  I felt like a moron.

I was a moron stuck to my vinyl seat, with a pounding head. My scalp started tingling, and I recognized the signs of heat stroke coming on, with a light dusting of panic. A sheriff, who had been perched for some time on the other side of the highway in his air conditioned patrol car finally moseyed over to ask, with suspicion, “What’s going on?” When we explained our difficulty, he didn’t offer actual assistance, but did reassure us that he’d take time out of his busy schedule to come check on us in a hour or so, and sweep the vultures off our sun-dried faces. He may have phrased it a little differently. He probably intended to come back in an hour and see if a parking violation would motivate us to move on, since we did not have Louisiana plates on our vehicle. Then, he drove off to serve and protect… somewhere else. 

As the heat waves radiated off my forehead I began to hallucinate he was waiting in a cool coffee shop for us to die, at which time he would come steal my stuff. As the heat waves radiated off my eyeballs I was really hoping I would get to be the next relative to die. To cheer myself up, I thought about all the people moving westward who had starved or eaten saddles or died along the trail, their hopes of starting a new life perishing with them. I just had a flat tire; get it in perspective. 

But holy smokes, it was hot that day.

Courtesy: British Library

Eventually, an authorized “repair technician” we’ll call Cletus showed up to change the tire. Watching him get down to business, I was afraid he’d changed only as many inside rear truck tires as I had. Which would be none. I came to this conclusion after 1) he threw his cigarette into the dead, oil-spattered grass by the side of the road, and 2) lay down next to it to 3) crawl under the partially jacked-up truck with no parking break. After a lengthy examination, he began 4) whaling on the axle and rims of the stuck wheels with a crow bar, causing the entire vehicle to quiver on its jack. 

I stopped watching. Inside, I felt what must surely be a small piece of frontal lobe expand and develop, like a mushroom, and with this swelling in my head I began to anticipate other obstacles that might pop up during the trip. Obstacles I had not previously considered. Possibilities that were not of the hop-in-and-drive-while-listening-to-classic-tunes-and-take-in-America variety. Everything I owned was in a van that didn’t drive, and we were not even across the state line, yet. We’re going to California?!?!  

Somehow, when I turned back around, Cletus had removed the dead tire, stuck on a new tire and wheel, and wriggled out from under the truck with all his limbs intact. The roadside did not explode in a tinder fire. The AC worked when the truck started. And we were back on the road without further assistance from the venerable Sheriff of Caddo Parish. I was born again. 
I didn’t hate Cletus that day. I thought he was somewhat pleasant, very inefficient, and might get himself killed in an entirely foreseeable accident, rather soon. But he got us moving again, so the full flower of hatred took some time to blossom.

Meanwhile, we had some miles to lay down under the tires. We had to get across Texas, for God’s sake, and as the featureless scrubland unfurled around us, we wore out all our jokes about Cletus, then worked our way through the Bad Service I Have Had classics, which material trickled off and was replaced by silence, the occasional request for directions, and eventually a few of those questions you only ask each other while you’re both staring down the open road through the windshield. The conversation turned inward, and an examination of the current state of affairs in Life began.   

To be continued...

The Girl

I have this remarkable daughter.  Let me tell you about The Girl.

She's adorable, of course. I would know; I'm her mom. She's funny and clever. Aren't all little girls? But this one thrills and unnerves me, too. I mean, who gave her those genes, that she can engage complete strangers with the ease of a motivational speaker, and convince them to follow her lead/project/game, in the blink of a big, brown eye? 

She is a force. I remember her crawling into the center of a gaggle of preteens at the library--at age 1--expressly to command their attention. She wanted an audience. She wants what she wants, whether or not it synchs with her parents' ideas. By the time she was 2, my husband and I were flipping frantically through parenting books for clues on how to deal with this iron-willed miniature. What kind of little person defies giant grownups as they escalate from "do this or we take back your library books" to "we will remove all of your books from your room," rather than follow a simple request? At two! Damn those parenting books threatening us to "follow through with consequences" or we'd regret it. I know I regretted having to clear out every one of her bookshelves that night. It was the hollowest of victories to see this tiny, foot-stamping creature glare at us through her tears while we lugged boxes out to the garage. Our first child, she decimated our confidence in our parenting “skills.” Surely we were doing everything wrong, all of the time? Why did our friends make parenting seem easier than this?

From somewhere across the country, I could hear my dad laughing. 

At 6, one of her precocious comments stopped me short, so I told her she was getting big for her britches. I was informed that, "Now that I'm 6, that's just the way it's going to be." Nope, Child, it isn't. But that level of self-confidence and stubbornness never abated.

I might be stubborn at times, myself. My favorite childhood pasttime was Make The Person Agree with Me--No Matter What. But in one of those wicked Karmic twists, my wily child with the gift of gab sets us all back on our heels with her drive to convert everyone to her way of thinking. Her poor brother reels from a daily sales pitch to play dolls, play babysitter, play dress-up, play anything but his nice, quiet Legos. Every sentence is finished by her. Every argument anticipated and countered before the words stumble out of his mouth. What chance does he have against this Verbal Water Cannon?

But I worry that out in the wider world, what chance does she have? Because she's a girl, she'll have to work even harder. She'll be labelled "bossy." Because she's a girl, she's already getting signals that girls like nail varnish, not space travel—though she could name the planets and many of their moons at 18 months. Because she's a girl, she's being taught to question herself for not being a "team player." Because she's original, she gets marginalized for not conforming to the expectations of some teachers, some peers, and some parents. In the preteen world when it's natural to want to fit in--not laugh at yourself--this gets even harder. But what does she do? She throws herself further into the breach, inventing ridiculous superheroine costumes for a laugh, and challenging those expectations.

I'm so proud of her I could split in two. I know the tallest nail gets the hammer, but I hope she judges her individuality worth its price. That she never gives up being her self. But I hope she learns faster than I did that compromise occasionally is not defeat. It can win you much needed allies. 

Go get ’em, Girl, with all the wiles and wit and boundless (Christ, is there something less limited than “boundless” to describe this one?) energy at your disposal. I feel the world is unprepared for you but I'll always be in your camp, ready to offer myself to the slings and arrows when you need a rest from the fight. Don't settle. Don't fear. Enjoy your talents, and the world will enjoy them along with you. If they're smart enough.