My mother and father divorced when I was 4 or so. We lived in Utah and he moved to Texas. My sister and I would go to visit him there until he was killed in a car accident when I was seven. (Don’t quote me on any of these dates, because I was, you know, four and seven—maybe—and don’t have the best recall.)
Anyway, my dad’s father, stepmother, half-brother, and half-sister lived in Texas as well. When we would go visit my dad, we would visit them before or after. After he died, we mostly lost contact with them. But their address remained the same, so we always knew where they were.
When I was pregnant with Sam I wanted to know more about my father’s childhood. My grandfather had also died by this time, but my grandmother—″Oma”—was still there, by this time living with her daughter and her daughter’s two sons. (Are you still with me?)
I wrote a letter to Oma and she responded with an enthusiastic phone call. She was thrilled to hear about my pregnancy and touched that we were going to name him Sam, which was also my father’s name, and his father’s name, and the name of about 10 other men on that side of the family.
Since then she has kept up with us and made an effort to stay in contact, which is something I appreciate a great deal. Her daughter, whom I will refer to as L, because it is easier than referring to her as my half-stepaunt, or whatever she is, has also made an effort. We have a lot of differences, but they seem to be wonderful people.
When I sent out my Christmas letter this year (which was awesome, partly because of all the snowman clip art I used to accent it—if you got a copy, be aware that I had to Photoshop that 5th snowman into the snowman family because apparently snowman families only come in fours… But I digress. Let me start that sentence over.)
When I sent out my Christmas letter this year, I mentioned that we were pursuing an autism diagnosis for Jack. Most people know, but not everyone. So when the phone rang today and L said, “We got your Christmas letter and wanted to talk to you about Jack,” I got ready to extol his wonderful qualities and tell them that, for us, it’s not as scary as the word implies.
I was so happily surprised when L sort of interrupted me and said, “The reason I’m calling is because my youngest has Asperger’s.”
She then went on to share all sorts of encouraging things about her son, who was diagnosed in 6th or 7th grade and is now finishing up high school. She told me that elementary school was tough, but things got better once he got to middle school and was able to find friends who were interested in the same things he was.
We talked about a lot of things, including the similarities between her son and mine. She told me some of the things she and her son have done to work with his Asperger’s. She told me about how well her son has done academically, and how successful he’s been in finding friends with shared interests. She told me to expect the possibility that he may be a nerd.
Hey, I love nerds! Some of my best friends are nerds. Hell, I married a nerd. (Some might even call ME a nerd.)
Anyway, every kid is different, and I have no idea what the future holds for Jack. But after talking to L, who has been traveling these waters for years and had an older child’s perspective on it was encouraging. She offered her advice, should I ever need it, and her support. She was a school psychologist for a long time too, so she has a school-side perspective as well.
All of this is to say that you just never know where you’re going to find a buttress or a connection. And you never know when a family relationship may reveal a new facet.