Roberta F. King

Author site for the memoir, He Plays a Harp and other writing by Roberta F. King

Archive for December, 2012

30 December
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Poking the Wound

One of my classmates in my online writing class mentioned a book she thought I’d like to read, Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon and I’m pleased that she did.

Noah had a volunteer job at Meijer handing out fliers. He thought it was fun and people would often tell us they’d see him at work.

The book is about parents, children and how their identities are wrapped around one another. His focus is on parents with children who are not “vertical”or similar to their parents. He writes about kids who are deaf, dwarfs, have autism, are prodigies, become killers, are disabled or otherwise very different their parents–kids who are horizontal. Kids who are far from the parental tree. The book is comprehensive, with more than 600 pages (900 including the notes, bibliography and index) and is such interesting reading. He delves deep into the relationship between kids who are different than their parents. He interviews people who are brutally and graphically honest about these differences and how difficult it can be to love a child that is different or to be the child that is different. Solomon and the people he talks with don’t hold back or sugarcoat what life is like when there is difference. The pictures they paint of their kids and the relationships aren’t always what people want to believe happens in life. Even to someone who parented two kids with disabilities, I had to pause and think about the parents (and kids) in his book who faced challenges many times greater than my own. Also, they were saying things about their feelings and their kids that I’ve known to be true about Noah, but avoided altogether as I’ve written my memoir. I’ve come to realize that I’ve been protecting Noah, but not for any good reason. I just didn’t want readers to not love him because he was cognitively impaired. Because Mike and I were around him so much, we understood him, we realized he had a special intelligence that couldn’t be quantified by an IQ test. We knew it, we could see and feel it. But, the reality was, he had a significant intellectual impairment. At present, my memoir circles around this important fact. To tell his story honestly, it can’t just about the wheelchair, it’s about the brain, too.

Ouch.

Poking the wound, pressing where it hurts is what makes writing memorable and real. For my memoir be successful, I need to write about all of Noah. My manuscript will undergo one last revision and in it, I’ll to dig a little deeper and press it where it hurts to draw the readers in and to be true to Noah’s real character.

23 December
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Nervous

This is one of several Christmas stories in my memoir.

Near Kalkaska we found this Nativity Scene and laid Noah down as a baby Jesus stand-in. He wasn’t happy, but couldn’t get up and get away. This photo has  nothing to do with this story, but I like it.

Noah loved Christmas and we fueled his passion with our own holiday hype. We’re super hall-deckers. There’s not a surface in our house that doesn’t have some piece of Christmas crud on it. Elves on shelves. A manger scene with a menagerie. In the bathroom a rooftop Kleenex box topper with a pulled tissue looks like chimney smoke. A bobble head Santa. Angels in high and low places. A super-groovy Christmas red wax lava lamp. We set up miniature figurines of the entire cast of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer accompanied by a large, animated Bumble with stiff white fur. Central to our celebration is a big, lit like Tokyo at night, fully-ornamented, set-up-the-day-after-Thanksgiving-until-Epiphany-or-St. Knut’s Day-fake tree.  At our house, Christmas is never a day, but a season.

***

Shortly after his late September birthday, Noah began his Christmas quizzing.

“How many more days to Christmas?” “How do reindeer fly?” “How many elves are there?” And the random, “Does Santa really love me?”

For years we played along. Mike and I liked the innocence and the imagination that surrounded Noah during the holidays. Even when he was in the third grade and someone told him (again) that there was no Santa, we acted shocked.

“What?! Who said that? They are in such trouble. If you don’t believe you won’t receive,” I said. “Santa-denying is a very bad thing.”

“Really?” said Noah.

“If you want to believe in Santa, that’s okay. Dad and I do, and you can too. You don’t have to go along with the kids at school. Believe what you want to believe.”  Noah was a little naïve, a little too trusting of his dad and I. He was born with cerebral palsy and relied on us, not only for his mobility and day-to-day care, and for much of his life information outside the classroom. Sometimes the worldview we provided was laced with imagination and irony.

Noah seemed suspicious, but was hesitant to question us too strongly on the chance of jeopardizing his relationship with Santa.

“When can I go see Santa?” he asked me at Halloween.

“That’s going to be awhile,” I said. “You have all of November and some of December. You don’t want to go too early because Santa could forget and you don’t want to go too late because he might be out of things. We have to time it just right,” I said.

“When’s that?” he said.

“Around December 10.”

Noah held me to that date, checking the days on the calendar after Thanksgiving. We’d see Santa out and about while shopping and he’d crane his neck as we wheeled by.

“Now? Can’t we go now?” he said.

“No. Not yet. Still too early.”

“Those kids are with Santa Claus.”

“Yes, they are. You’ll get your chance,” I said. “Do you have your list ready?”

“Not really.”

“Well, then. There you go. No need to see Santa today. Let’s get that list in shape,” I said.

We didn’t make a paper list. We just talked about the things Noah wanted and needed, and his job was to remember the list when he finally got to see Santa. “It’s more sincere that way,” I told him.

“Buzz Lightyear. Talking Woody. Racecar set. Charlie Brown DVDs,” he recited, working on his memorizing.

“All good stuff. How about some pajamas? A new jacket? How about some underwear? You can always use underwear,” I teased.

“No underwear,” he said. “I’m not asking Santa for that,” he said with disgust in his voice and a wrinkled nose.

The Saturday we headed to visit Santa was cold and clear, unusual for West Michigan which tends to be gloomy in the winter. The sun was out and there was a thin layer of new snow on the ground. We bundled Noah in a jacket and mittens and loaded him and his wheelchair into the back of the van.

“Are you ready to talk with Santa?” I asked.

“I’m nervous,” Noah said.

“Don’t be. It’ll be fine. Just remember your list. And be polite,” I said.

“I’m nervous.”

He looked nervous; his face was flushed and slightly sweaty. Perhaps I’d put too much pressure on him with memorizing the list and all.

“Dad and I’ll be there with you. There’s nothing to be concerned about,” I said.

As we stood near the mall’s North Pole chalet, an authentic-looking Santa motioned toward us with a white-gloved hand. We looked around, up and down the line, not quite knowing for sure who was getting the wave. Santa sent a helper to fetch Noah.

“Come on up here,” she said. “Santa says he’s been waiting to see you.”

Noah’s eyes widened and he sat up tall in his wheelchair. His involuntary startle reflexes took over and his feet kicked the footplate of his chair and his hand flung out to the side. “It’s okay, Noah,” I said. I looked at the helper. “He can’t help the flailing.”

She smiled and we pushed on up to Santa.

He came down from his Santa chair and knelt close to Noah, putting his arm around the back of the wheelchair asking his name. “Noah,” he whispered. Santa’s hearing must have been excellent.

“Well, Noah,” he said in a normal, not too ho-ho or loud voice. “Have you been good this year?”

“Yes,” Noah squeaked.

“I thought so. What would you like for Christmas this year?”

Noah paused. His eyes gazed heavenward as he worked to recall his list, he bit his lip, his hand clenched and relaxed. A long stretch of seconds passed. It felt like hours to Mike and I.

“Well?” Santa said kindly.

Then, in voice loud enough for people to hear he blurted, “Underwear. I want underwear!”

Santa looked surprised. Mike and I laughed. Noah blushed and looked at his feet.

“Is that all?”

“Yes,” Noah said.

“That’s a good thing to want for Christmas,” Santa said. He was trying not to laugh. “I’m sure my elves can find some other presents for you, too,” he said.

Noah sighed. “Thanks.”

We thanked Santa, too.

“Wait, we need a picture of this young man with me,” he said. He wheeled Noah over near the painted backdrop of pine trees, a glowing cabin and snow.

“On the count of three, smile,” said the photographer.

With confidence he smiled, knowing, believing that Santa would take care of him.