How do I describe the 24 hour gathering I had with my grandparents and other assorted family members the day after Thanksgiving, in Longmeadow, MA?
It was short, for one. 24 hours from the time we got there at 4 pm Friday to the time we left at 4 pm Saturday.
But it was packed. Packed with moments, packed with connections, packed with so much interaction I think it's going to take me a week or longer to process it all.
Longmeadow, MA is a pretty, upscale suburb of Springfield, MA. It is a place I spent a lot of time in as a child, visiting my grandparents. I got to know the slope and shape of the sidewalks, perfect for walking; the CVS only about a third of a mile away, so much fun to walk to as a kid and buy candy. I took pleasure in the fact that you could walk to Connecticut from there, about 2 miles away (although walking back is another story). I spent a lot of time with my grandparents.
But it had been three years since I had visited this house and town. The last time was in September 2007. I remember it oh so clearly, because it was just weeks before the exposure in my Portland, Maine apartment would cause my chemical sensitivities to skyrocket, ensuring that my life would be changed forever. Because of the chemical sensitivities, traveling to see my grandparents after that and staying at their house was out of the question. I spent two years traveling around the country, trying to find a place to live that I could tolerate chemically. My life was chaos. How fitting then, that on what is only a few days before my first anniversary of finally living in a stable (knock on wood) environment, and moving back to the Maine I love so much, that I should make this trip back to Springfield.
Like I said, processing the events of those 24 hours might take a while. Which is why I'm glad I had my camera with me to document it. A lot of time, my mind is so engaged in participating in a moment or event that it is hard to actually emotionally process it until later. Therefore, being able to look at pictures of an event makes me feel more connected to it and remember some of the feelings I had without the extreme pressure of being in the moment. It also relieves some of that "feelings that I can't identify bottled up" feeling, because it helps me to process what went on.
The other good thing about having a camera is that when you get bored at family gatherings, or want to be present without having to actually be interacting with the people every minute, you can turn into an anthropologist and study what's around you instead. You can document what's going on you and preserve it for generations to come (if you're lucky). You can catch little moments of connection between people - which I believe is what family gatherings, and indeed life in general, is all about. They are just easier to bring to light in a gathering like this. When you go for mostly candid pictures instead of just a few posed ones, you can catch people as they are naturally, and if you're lucky, with a big, unforced smile on their faces. Then you can remember those moments of connection in living color for as long as the photos last, and remember with affection and pride just where it is you come from.
What is a family gathering but made up of small moments of connection? Two brothers teasing each other while playing with their laptops, or helping each other with their homework around the table on a Saturday morning; two older brothers, uncles in this case, one helping the other with a resume on the computer. People mingling, people exchanging stories, people laughing.
I can't actually remember the last time that my mom, dad, brother and I were in the same room. (We were missing one brother, however. He is supposedly surfing in Peru at the moment.) I saw my brother last year at this time, and my mom in August. But I really can't remember the last time I saw them at the same time. I wonder if I'd have to go all the way back to college breaks for that - not that I can remember if we were actually home at the same time then, but we probably were.
My aunt, uncle, and cousins I hadn't seen in about five or six years. My cousins grew up in that time. They went from being adorable 8 and 10 year olds to teenagers - mature, intelligent teenagers that are a pleasure to be around.
Not too much had changed with my grandparents, which was good to see. They were thrilled to see me, as I was them; it was a new relationship, based on the new people we were. My grandfather and I discussed our mutual love of Whole Foods and hummus. He sampled the fancy Dagoba chocolate bars I brought; he liked the lavender alright but predictably did not like the 87% dark chocolate. The expression on his face was priceless, and the laughter, I'm sure, was worth the bitter taste in his mouth.
My brother looked the same as he had last year, and it was good to connect with him again.
I think we actually look like twins in this picture, don't you?
They say time waits for no one. It is true. People go on with their lives admist the backdrop of oh so many things. It is easy to get enmeshed in the events of your own life and lose touch with others. I never lost touch per se, as I make a point of calling all my relatives at regular intervals because I value connection, but still, seeing them in the flesh was an entirely different animal. For Black Friday this year, we opted for an entirely different experience: family over consumerism. (We went back to the consumerism on Saturday when I sent my grandfather on a search for rice crackers and Italian pastries. Appropriately, someone had named it Small Business Saturday, so now it seems fitting.)
I woke up from a nap in the car (something I usually can't do) as the Beatles played on my father's Ipod, and we hit the border of Maine. Something about that "Eliot/Kittery, Maine" sign made me smile. Massachussets is a nice place to visit, and family important to connect with, but there's no place like home.
If you like this, please be sure to visit my other website, Accepting Asperger's. A lot of my older writing is stored here, including an editorial I once wrote for the Baltimore Sun. Click here to see it: Accepting Asperger's.
What's it really like to be a 20 something with Asperger's? On this blog, I hope to explore that question. But this blog is not just limited to an audience of people in their 20s - this is for anyone who ever wanted to know anything about autism. I plan to delve into the nature and experience of autism, and examine it from as many angles as possible. I would like to start a conversation between people with Asperger's or autism, parents of kids with autism spectrum disorders, and anyone who just wants to know more. Let's explore what autism means, together.
My goal is to start a discussion on and build a community of people affected by autism - parents and adults with ASD - so feel free to leave your two cents in the comments section of any post. If you're too shy for that, however, or want to speak to me personally, you may feel free to email me at KGoldfie@gmail.com.
Asperger's Book for Sale
Common Scents: Adventures with Autism and Chemical Sensitivity" is the story of a young woman's search for physical and emotional safety as she journeys through the mountains of the Cascades, small coastal towns on the Oregon coast, and out-of the-way towns in upstate New York. Along the way, she experiences things she would never have dreamed possible had she stayed in her Maine hometown, and begins to learn the power of human connection.
Common Scents is the story of the last three years of my life. It gives a gripping view of what it is like to experience the world as someone on the autistic spectrum, and some would say, is an entertaining travel story as well. Because of chemical sensitivities, I engaged on a three year journey for a place I could call home.
Comments from readers:
"The Asperger's element is remarkable. I feel that I understand my son better, so much better. I laughed at this part.... because I've stared at my son in the same way for the same thing." - mother of an Asperger's kid
"Your writing style is SO engaging and interesting. It brings me right into the subject and I always experience a little emotional punch towards the end. In other words, this is the third time I've teared-up reading your work. Kate, you've highlighted ALL the problems with how social skills are usually taught." - mother of ASD kid
"I stayed up entirely too late reading the first 14 pages. I can relate to so much of what you write. I really think you are expressing the true experience with MCS and autism in words that convey the experience." person with chemical sensitivity (MCS)
"Absolutely interesting, insightful and witty. You've blended together your three themes beautifully (Asperger's, MCS and travelling). It seems seamless."