And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
It’s amazing to me how things sometimes fall into place in such a way that it’s hard not to believe in kismet. Sometimes I think coincidence is so much more than coincidence. I think someone somewhere is maybe snapping his or her fingers and saying, “Look! Pay attention!” A whole story unfolded this weekend, but it was a story that presented its pieces to me over many years. Almost 21, in fact.
I will never forget my response to the doctor on the day I sat in his office and he told me that Olivia was autistic. Now please bear in mind that we all love this doctor. He’s been Olivia’s pediatrician since day 1. And he is probably Olivia’s #1 fan. On that day, he had to deliver the news from a specialist who tested and appraised and analyzed Olivia. Dr. Joe delivered the A-word, and then said, “This might mean that she will never speak. That she’ll look at you like you’re no more than a bump on a log.”
Olivia was three, and she hadn’t said much, that was for sure. But that day in the office, she played on the floor, and as Dr. Joe told me these things, she tapped my shoe. When I looked down, she looked me right in the eye, a very un-autistic thing to do, and she beamed. I, in turn, looked back at Dr. Joe and said one word.
I wasn’t denying the autism. But I was denying what its effect would be on my daughter.
Dr. Joe looked at the two of us, beamed at me as brightly as Olivia did, and said, “She’s in there, Kathie.”
And that was the truth.
After her diagnosis, I was sent a big packet of forms to fill out by an organization, I don’t even remember who, and these forms were supposed to lead us the right way down an incredible number of possible therapies. It took me days to fill out those forms. Then I brought the big fat envelope to the post office and mailed it. Weeks later, I hadn’t heard a thing, and so I called the place the forms came from. “I’m sorry,” the person on the phone said. “We never received them. You’ll have to fill them out again.” And I said that word again.
We didn’t search out therapies. In school, Olivia received speech therapy and some occupational therapy as needed. That was it. We looked at Olivia, we learned Olivia, and through her, we found the right paths.
When she started kindergarten, which she did with a queenly wave and a “You can go now,” to both me and Michael, I went down the hall after school to tell her preschool teacher how well she did on her first day. I told the teacher, “We expect Olivia to live a full life. We expect her to go to college and become whatever she wants to become.”
The teacher hugged me and said in the most patronizing tone, “We can always dream.”
Guess what word came out of my mouth again.
We didn’t dream. Well, we did, but we also knew.
So you could call that the prologue to the story.
Then, on September 12, 2010, about a month before Olivia would turn ten years old, the three of us went to the Starving Artist Show at Mount Mary University. Olivia ran ahead of us through most of the show, and she exclaimed over all the different types of art on display. “I want to do that, Mama!” she crowed. “And that too!”
People smiled at her. Her exuberance and joy was contagious. She beamed back. She didn’t see bumps on a log.
I’d been told that there was a labyrinth on campus, and so once we finished with the art show, we went in search of it. When we found it, I was delighted. It was simple and well-maintained. I walked it, but Olivia danced through it. One photo I took of her shows a shower of sunbeams falling all around her. As she approached the meditation bench, she flung her arms skyward into the sunbeams and she shouted, “I’m going to go to college here, Mama! I’m going to go to college!”
See, she dreamed too. And she also knew. She was no longer “in there”. She was everywhere. She talked with a vocabulary of a college student. There was no silence. There weren’t any bumps on a log. She saw everything in life as vibrant. She was vibrant. She still is.
Years passed. She developed interests in music, art, and writing. She decided to become an art therapist and she was accepted, with fine financial offers, at all four colleges where she applied.
In August of 2019, she moved into a dorm room at Mount Mary University.
“I’m going to go to college here, Mama!”
She has been a Dean’s List student every semester but her first.
Last weekend, on September 12, 2021, exactly 11 years since we attended our first Starving Artists Show at Mount Mary University, we attended it again. Olivia didn’t run ahead of us this time, but she still looked and examined all the art with an avid interest. And she still said, “I want to do that, Mama.”
And she will. We dream it. We know it.
We stopped at the labyrinth on the way out, before Olivia returned to her dorm room and we returned home. I wanted to take a photo of her there. She rolled her eyes, but she sat for the photo.
A story told over years. “We can always dream,” said to the declaration of a college expectation. “I’m going to go to college here, Mama!” shouted during an exuberant dance in a labyrinth. And eleven years later, a Dean’s List student, supported by scholarships and grants for her academic and intellectual achievements, at that exact same college.
And there’s so much more to come.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.
(And by the way, my poetry chapbook, Olivia In Five, Seven, Five; Autism In Haiku will be released on 8/22/22 by Finishing Line Press. The book has a series of 31 poems about Olivia, and concludes with a poem by Olivia. There is even a “blurb” by Dr. Joe! More details as we get closer!)