As I watched the little boy in his navy blue fleece jacket; with his warm knit hoodie covering his wavy brown hair, happily bouncing along the sandy path, I couldn’t help but smile with grateful relief.
Every three steps, without fail, he would stop, bend down and draw a circle in the sand. “Look Nana! a circle!”
This was my grandson, 3 years old, diagnosed with mild autism a little over a year ago. I had limited contact with him, partly due to distance, but mostly because of a grueling 3 years dealing with my son’s (his dad) slide into addiction.
It has been heartbreaking to watch the events unfold like a classic textbook of addiction’s strange and darkened chaos. With the collapse of my son’s business he built for over 10 years, his 12 year marriage,and the loss of watching his 2 little kids grow up, my son had now isolated himself from everyone.
Relations had been strained with his now ex-wife, as the hurtful trauma of divorce along with everything else, had everyone scrambling to survive their emotions and salvage what was left of their lives as they knew it.
I was with this little boy for the first month of his life, as a preemie baby confined to oxygen until his little lungs could catch up.
I didn’t see him for almost 2 years after that, while his mom struggled with her transition from the marraige and her new home while ( hopefully) realizing that we were not the enemy trying to inflict more pain onto the situation.
The first time I saw my little grandson again was Christmas 2019. My amazing daughter had somehow negotiated for the now ex-daughter in law, to come to our family Christmas party and bring the kids that all the cousins had missed for so long.
I can’t imagine her anxiety, walking up to the house we had rented for the occasion, to the family she had been a part of for over a decade. Not knowing if we held any blame or malice to her for anything. Would there be an argument over the addict? I found out over a year later that she was fearful he would show up, wanting to see his kids, even though he was safely out of state in his first rehab.
As the door opened and they stepped in, I couldn’t believe how big the kids were. I had seen occasional pictures that were swiped from social media discreetly since we were all blocked, but to see them in person was amazing. I especially was curious if the little boy resembled my son. I watched him be carried inside, with bright wide eyes looking cautiously around. His thick hair and smile was the image of my son.
His long eyelashes melted my heart, taking me back 30 years to my innocent happy funny son playing in the dirt. How I wish I could go back to that moment and tell my son that’s he’s tough enough to resist anything that comes his way, that he doesn’t have to partake of anything that makes empty promises. But of course, I probably did say that. No amount of shudda, wudda, cuddas are helpful with addiction. It happened.
As the salutations and reacquainting took place, watched him casually but with inner analyzation; I won’t deny that my heart instantly sunk a little as I could see that he carried himself a little differently, maybe a bit stiff. I didn’t know what it was, but I hoped It was nothing. I found out later that night,that he had tested for mild autism.
Wow, this is huge. I couldn’t process it adequately while trying to do holiday party activities. I wondered if my son knew. They had talked on and off over the 18 months, mostly in regards to the divorce and bancruptcy and selling their beautiful new home, but I dont think she divulged much about the children, since there was so much hurt and abandonment. Would this devastated him and push him back into his addiction after rehab?
My son had wanted to see his kids at different times the previous 9 months to rehab. And even after, he wanted to be in their life. He asked me recently, “why do you think she wont let me see them?” I was so exhausted by then, trying to get him back into treatment and such, that I didnt have the energy to say, “ Because you are on drugs, you are not reliable and safe, and its better to not go in and out of their lives and have them see you like that”. All I could muster up was, “it’s probably better for right now.”
This is one example of how their (persons with a substance use disorder) hijacked brain lies to them, telling them that they are perfectly capable of using drugs and managing a regular life. They’re not. For one thing, they absolutely do not understand time management. An hour to them is a week in real life, I swear. The part of their brain that controls assessing risk and consequences, is basically in a coma. And future plans? Non existent as their reptile brain is the only one working for survival. “Get dope or die” it screams daily.
So now, a year later, to have my precious first born son’s kids with me, doing one of my very favorite things, -hiking; and in my very favorite place, was simply heaven.
Such a mix of feelings as I was able to walk and talk and play with these two little humans. Their mother, despite so many ups and downs this year, so many disagreements and misunderstandings- the last one just a month ago- was pleasant and agreeable. It was just like old times, sans the elephant in the great outdoors- my son.
I was torn between feelings of sadness that my son should be here, jumping off rocks and acting goofy like he used to, and just accepting the situation for what it was: A family enjoying each other, healing from life’s traumatic experiences, and moving forward with love.
It can only help everyone involved. To see that life can go on despite a difficult diagnosis, despite a traumatic divorce, 2 huge bancruptcies, extreme lifestyle changes with no money to maneuver it.
These precious kids need to see how healthy people handle stress. How unconditional love with boundaries works. How cunning and false some things are despite shiney promises. They need to know that people can make the best of what life throws then, without bitterness and regret. Who knows, these lessons is adults are lovingly teaching, may come in handy when my grandkids’ kids are faced with challenges.
So play in the sand, my little grandson. Get your fingers dirty. Smile that smile. Blink those long eyelashes. Run and play and enjoy life as a child without knowing adult problems yet. Most of all KNOW
that you are loved. You are safe and loved.