The “Royal” “Family”

You need to know up front that this post is going to get a little catty. If you’re okay with that, proceed. If you’re not, just don’t read it.

Swear to god, if you aren’t okay with catty and you read it and then you judge–well, that’s your problem, isn’t it?

I was raised Roman Catholic by an Irish mother, who spoke openly of her disdain for all things English. From a young age, I was aware that the Irish had suffered greatly at the hands on the English, and that being Catholic and Irish was a badge of honor to her, and therefore, to me. And even though I didn’t know why, I knew that the British royal family was somehow involved in this whole business (I do know now). It was clear from my mother that Catholicism and Irishness were inextricably entwined and intrinsically good. 

My first Catholicism-related shock came when I met a Methodist for the first time, after I left Catholic school for public school in 7th grade. The non-Catholic was so good, so kind, and her family so full of compassion and love, I was heartbroken that they were going to burn in hell.

I mean, obviously, because they weren’t Catholic.

In high school, my boyfriend Tim’s Canadianism was novel, his accent thrilling, his lack of pride in his family’s national heritage positively baffling. When Tim and I got together as adults, and I started spending time with his family, and then spending time in Canada in the summer, I found out that his family rather admired the royals. Tim joked —
sort of — about being subjects of the Queen. At an all-male family gathering, all six grown men watched a VHS recording of the funeral of the Queen Mum. Not all of them did it enthusiastically, but they did it un-ironically.

When Lady Di became Princess Di, I watched in horror as this sweet young woman, blinded by the stars in her eyes, was shuttled off to become One Of Them, an elbow-waving, crown-wearing, titular-head-of-state, paid for by the citizens of the small island country full of poor dental care and recycled woolen socks. When she divorced Charles, I cheered; he never deserved her in the first place. And when she died, and when the very “proper” royal family was confounded about how to act in the face of such sorrow, I grieved. 

More than any man I’ve ever known, Tim keeps abreast of royal doings. It was he who alerted me to Diana’s sons’ engagements, and he who informed me about the shaky ground on which Harry was treading as he married an American.

I’ll confess I watched Harry and Meghan’s wedding, if only to witness the purest whiteness known to man becoming one tiny bit less white when Ms. Markle joined their number. And I’ll confess I cried happy tears when the choir at her wedding sang a gospel song — even though it was only the one. The choral director was a particular joy to watch.

All the shots of the royals burying their faces in the programs, and the hats in the crowd with their twitchy feathers. Such a clash of cultures, and I was happy to see it. Maybe this was a crack in the wall.

Tim and I have watched together all seasons to date of the Netflix show The Crown. I was reluctant, given my background and bias against these venerated people, but when this guy wants to do something with me, I typically agree.

It wasn’t long into the first season that Tim paused the show, turned to me with a stunned look on his face, and said “I just realized . . . this is how my family operates.”

I had no idea what he was talking about. He went on.

“Think about it. They have a strict, unspoken code of behavior. It’s all about keeping up appearances. And if somebody violates that secret code, the family doesn’t communicate about it directly; one person tells another person to go tell *another* person to please knock it off. All the while pretending like everything is just fine.”

This launched several discussions about the way his family behaves, and his role in the family, and how this method of conduct had affected our marriage and our children. We realized eventually that this insistent indirectness had threaded itself through family conflicts, and embedded itself in how we communicated with his parents, and that the relationship with them that sustained the worst damage was mine, as I tend to be very direct.

I am, after all, a Chicago native raised by an Irish woman.

So when I saw the news that Harry and Meghan were backing out of the royal family, I felt a little smug. A little “that’s right, leave those people behind or you’ll never have a normal life.” A little “Finally! A husband standing up to protect his family from the perniciousness of ridiculous expectations!”

Yes, I know, it’s about Meghan, not Meg. But I couldn’t help but see parallels, especially in the part about Harry and Meghan striving to become financially independent. That’s gotta be a tough gig when you’re a royal. Who’s going to hire you when you have walked away from the wealth and connections of the famous queen that graced currency and ceramic plates? What are they going to do, open a food truck? Is Meghan going to go back to acting? Will she need security protection? How does this work?

Meghan has much more difficult waters to navigate being the only person of color in a sheet-white family. She has to face racism every single damned day on TOP of this shitty family nonsense–and there’s no guarantee that the family itself doesn’t also give her racist bullshit to deal with. But on this one narrow issue, on needing independence from a controlling family, I see some parallels.

To me, the crux of the problem comes down to money. The royal family could pull the levers of power and force their members to behave by threatening to take away their means of support. “You’ll act as I demand, or no more fast cars and vacations and living in a dimly lit castle for YOU!”

And so, in a way, it was with Tim’s family; like many young families, we needed help occasionally, especially early in our marriage. Tim’s divorce and lingering custody war was unbelievably expensive. His parents, too, pulled levers of power and tried to force family members, us, to behave by threatening to take away their financial and familial support. Emotional support was never part of the bargain in the first place.

This was a potent lesson for me. What I saw, what I experienced was not the unconditional love of family, the sweet, welcoming comfort of people who know and love you, but a transactional relationship between powerful and powerless, between moneyed and in need. That’s not love. That’s certainly not parenting. How many years of our lives did we give over to the shrine of family? To the weight of tradition?

In the wake of the Harry and Meghan news, I saw tradition referred to as “peer pressure from dead people.” I never want my children to feel that. I hate that my husband ever felt that.

I backed away from Tim’s family when we moved out here, out of their sphere of influence. Coming to Portland freed me from their expectations immediately, and it has been freeing. Tim and I have vowed to keep any help we provide our kids free from any kind of strings. We made other mistakes, but to this promise, we have been true.

Harry and Meghan are in a very different situation for so many reasons, but I have a tickle of glee at them giving the royal family the finger and walking away.

Live your own damned lives, kids, and be happy.

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Poor Meghan. Get out while you still can!

Miss Bennet

My daughter and I saw a play last week at Portland Center Stage called “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly.” It’s a delightfully written riff on Jane Austen’s work about the Bennet girls. Fanfic, if you will. The famed Mr. Darcy makes an appearance. This play and this performance are fantastic; gorgeously staged, acted with verve and elan and delight by every single cast member. I cannot recommend this performance enough, and everyone in Portland needs to see it.

Despite having an actual degree in English, I have never read any Jane Austen. Yes, yes, terrible. But I took my daughter Sophia to this play because of its star, whose work I have seen multiple times on Portland stages, whose work I admire among my favorite Portland theatre talents. Lauren Modica has that rare ability to seize attention and weave it, like a spell, through her magnificent voice and intonation and gestures and facial expressions. She is riveting onstage.

My daughter, as you know, has a physical disability. She also has a power and magnetism that reaches beyond the shock Typical People have when they see such a tiny person in a wheelchair talking like a Rhoades scholar. She is funny and whip-smart, and takes absolutely no bullshit from any quarter.

Sophia and Modica are coupled in my brain because of their respective strength. Because Modica also has Dwarfism, I recognize that she and my daughter may have had similar experiences. Being in public with my daughter, I’ve seen how she interacts with a world designed for tall, ambulatory people, and I’ve seen how the world reacts to her. Those reactions are not always positive, to put it mildly. The responses often highlight the most ignorant, the most immature, the most narrow-minded of our culture, who for some reason also have no self-regulation in public. Raising my daughter in this culture has made me fiercely protective of her humanity, and has put me on the lookout for other people who understand the vastly different experience of being physically different.

I took Sophia to “Ms. Bennet” so she could witness the power of Lauren Modica, and witness that power in the body of someone who encounters the world like Sophia does. I don’t take Sophia to shows very often, but I took her to this one with the specific purpose of experiencing representation in the venerable person of Modica.

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There she is, Lauren Modica, playing my daughter…I mean, Ms. Bennet.

Going with that specific intention, then, it is impossible to separate the experience of being disabled in a Typical People space from the experience of witnessing representation onstage. I hesitated to write about it because I didn’t want our experience at the theatre to taint the public perception of the show. But when Modica herself, through her engaging and witty and brilliant Instagram posts, suggested that some members of the public have expressed negative responses to her being on stage, I realized that holding my thoughts back was not necessary.

She wrote

“…People have feelings about different bodies playing certain roles! People have lots of things to say to the person IN that body, ranging from the breathtakingly kind, to touchingly honest, to passive-aggressive and shitty and rude and dismissive. And you, and your body, take it in, let it go, leave the party early, get out of that lobby, excuse yourself.” @LaurenModica 

And so it has always been with Sophia, even on the evening of opening night, when we saw “Ms. Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.” Despite our best intentions and planning ahead, disability affects every trip we take out of the house, even when we go see a show starring a person in a different body. I don’t know why I thought, even subconsciously, that it would be any different.

First, when I made arrangements to see the show, I had requested accessible seats, and informed the person making our reservations that I would be bringing a person in a wheelchair. At the ticket counter, I said that we would need assistance getting to our seats. Having been several times to this theatre, I knew we’d need a chaperone through the hallway leading to our seats. However, the ticket person said “The usher can help you!” Oh, ok. Maybe the process changed.

To the usher, I said “I was told you could help us to our seats.” I didn’t explain more than that, as I was standing next to a woman in a wheelchair.

The usher gestured inside the auditorium door, and said “They can help you inside.”

Again, I was surprised, but maybe there were changes I didn’t know about.

To the usher INSIDE, I said “We will need help to our seats.”

The Inside Usher gestured to the accessible spots near the top of the stairs and said “Well, you can sit here!”

“Aren’t these reserved seats?”

“Well, yes. Let me see your tickets.”

I showed them to her. “We’re in the front row.”

“Oh,” she said, looking puzzled. “Well, how do you feel about taking the stairs?”

Again, I’m standing RIGHT NEXT TO my companion in a wheelchair.

I cleared my throat, took a breath to quell the rising fury. “You want us to go down those stairs in a wheelchair?”

“Well, let me call someone.” And she proceeded to help other patrons find their seats while we stood to one side at the top of the stairs which would, very clearly, not get us to our seats safely.

I waited a moment. It was nearly curtain time. Inside Usher didn’t make any moves  that looked like finding someone to help us. I waited a bit more.

I walked out into the lobby, found the very professional and composed House Manager, whom I recognized from my years of seeing shows at this theatre, and asked for his assistance getting to our seats. He *immediately* guided us to the secret, locked-door hallway that provided the only access to our seats. He did so without batting an eyelash. I did wonder why the ushers, who were surely volunteers, had not been advised on this process.

Once my daughter was situated in a theatre seat, and her wheelchair rolled into the hallway for the duration, we settled in for the absolute delight that unfolded before us. The moment Modica started speaking, and immediately after the opening monologue, Sophia could not contain her excitement. She whispered to me “You didn’t tell me she would be playing ME onstage!” She giggled and chortled and guffawed throughout the rest of the show, with delight and understanding and a freedom she doesn’t often express publicly.

I was not prepared for the resemblance of Ms. Bennet to my daughter — not physically, but intellectually. Ms. Mary Bennet, a character described as the “difficult” sister, as “bookish and overlooked,” takes on new dimensions when played by an actor with visible physical differences.

Modica played a character written for typical actors, a role not adjusted for her stature or physical dimensions. The character is just an intelligent, strong, uncompromising woman who is tired of being overlooked. Usually, she’s played by a woman in glasses, clearly signifying the reason she is overlooked (eyeroll). Modica’s stage dominion gave her new dimension, gravitas and significance. 

Dialogue about her being relegated to a supporting role in her sisters’ dramas felt suddenly weightier, and her sisters’ admonishments about Mary’s lack of romantic appeal because of “who she is” had deep impact for me. It was impossible for me to separate the words of the play from the physical representation of someone so like my daughter. 

I’ll admit here that Sophia and I smuggled a container of special eggnog into the show for us to share. We did sip at this drink throughout, full of both our exuberance and Christmas spirit, and for one beautiful moment of artistry and theatre magic, a feeling of being completely included. The show was an unmitigated delight for both of us, and we reveled in it like kittens in snow.

At the end of the show, we addressed the process of extracting ourselves from our seats. Ever a complex equation, this night’s process reversal required waiting until most of our row was evacuated, going to the usher near the door where my daughter’s chair was stored, asking him to retrieve the chair (to which he replied “What chair?” Dude, you were standing RIGHT HERE when they put it away!), and bringing the chair back to my daughter so she could transfer back to her sole method of ambulation.

Then it all fell apart.

When people waiting on the stairs headed out of the theatre saw me walking back across the aisle in the front, they decided it looked faster to exit that way! But they didn’t notice (because no one ever does) the wheelchair in the way. When they got to the spot where the wheelchair was sitting perpendicular to the stage–because that’s how my daughter executes her transfers, straight-on to the chair — they decided to climb OVER the chair.

I mean, they did it “politely”, saying “I’m just going to squeeze past here.”

And this, folks, is when Mama Lion showed up.

“No,” I said, “You can’t do that. You’ll hurt the chair.” And they would have: to get past the chair, they would have had to put their full weight on the handlebars and vault themselves between the wheels and the stage. No, ma’am. Not happening.

With my body thus blocking the tiny alley through which they had hoped to exit, a line of impatient but able-bodied theatre fans gathered along the front row. About a dozen people, aligned like lemmings, unaware or uncaring that this was the only course of egress for people in wheelchairs but one of but many for people who could walk.

To be fair, most of them waited patiently. Or I ignored them sufficiently to be unaware myself of their angst. Either way, once my daughter was safely situated, she turned her wheelchair out of the way and waved them through, hopeful that our ultimate exit was imminent.

Until.

The line stopped again immediately in front of us, blocking my daughter in place, with a line of others waiting yet again to exit on the only path available to my daughter. In spite of having initially waited until the aisle was clear, we were locked into our spot again, this time by a theatre-goer who just wanted to stop and take a good long look at the stage up close.

And while ambulatory people could squeeze past him, Sophia was stuck, turned away from the ramp, and crammed up against the seats.

I called to the gentleman to please move along, as we were trying to exit.

He replied, “Go ahead!”

I was all out of fucks to give.

“We can’t move. You’re blocking us. She’s in a wheelchair.”

He turned around and looked, then moved off the aisle to allow us to move. As I waited for my daughter to turn her chair, he looked at me and said “Wow. Cranky woman.”

There’s a whole lot wrapped up in those words.

First, audibly and directly criticizing a woman in public, a woman who is a stranger, for having the temerity to make a reasonable request is misogyny, plain and simple. 

As my husband said when I told him the story, that man would *never* have said something like that to him. Because the man at the theatre was inconvenienced by a woman, he felt entitled to mock her.

Second, he clearly felt entitled to take up that space, irrespective of everyone around him. He wasn’t just delaying our departure, he was delaying everyone else who was waiting in line behind him. But he targeted me.

And third, he was so willfully ignorant and lacking in basic empathy that he couldn’t see how he had trapped an actual person in a wheelchair, and prevented her from moving.

He was not worth a response, but I gave him one anyway, because, as I said, zero fucks were left.

I said “If you had to deal with this as often as we have, you’d be cranky too.”

I mean, it’s true, and it’s direct, but I wish I could have just said “Oh, fuck off, you ignorant jackass.” But because I maintain a polite demeanor in public at all times (fear and shame are good for SOMETHING), I have yet to let loose the way I know in my heart I really can. Even when I last played softball, the worst thing I said to an umpire who made a call for the other team was, at the top of my lungs, “I DO NOT AGREE WITH THAT DECISION.” I just can’t seem to spit it out.

That moment felt like a defeat. The whole night had been all about the idea of being a person with a disability in public, about just being a person like all other people. But that wasn’t possible, because, as Modica pointed out, people are sometimes passive-aggressive and shitty and rude and dismissive. When all was said and done, my daughter and I could not escape the inevitable shittiness of being disabled in public.

I used to end my theatre reviews with a wrap-up sentence, like “Go see Waiting for Godot at PCS for a rollicking good time.” I’ll add a qualifier to this one. “If you’re in Portland, and you want to see a great actor, go see ‘Ms. Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley’. And if you have a physical disability, keep your expectations realistic, don’t block the aisle for Typicals, and try to avoid eye contact with the jackass from row 37.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GFAF, a Complaint

One of the reasons I love cooking is because I’m good at it. It’s easy for me, another language like writing and music through which I communicate to people I love. I’ve long had recipes memorized like sheet music to favorite songs, selections to whip up when a child is sick and needs a hot bowl of soup, or a pot luck requires a tray of brownies, or I have an unquenchable thirst for shortbread.

Tim has long been my biggest culinary fan, encouraging both volume and diversity in our kitchen. One of our kids has a peanut allergy, and Tim’s allergic to seafood, so I became adept at managing around those foods that could kill them (yay me!), and we developed an arsenal of dishes almost everyone likes.

Only Sophia likes Brussels sprouts with me, but I am glad I don’t have to share those with anyone else.

Tim’s recent switch to a gluten-and-dairy-free diet has resulted in serious changes in the household. His mood is visibly and consistently different. I’ve gone gluten-free with him, as it’s ridiculously more economical to manage our food budget on one set of rules. My dairy diet was already limited, and Tim doesn’t like Greek yogurt or extra sharp cheddar anyway, so I proceed happily dairy-adjacent as before. But nary a crumb or a slice or a cracker has passed my lips in over six weeks, and that suits me just fine.

But Thanksgiving has been stalking me like a shadow this year, peering out around the corner weeks ago, with its gluten-centric traditional dishes passed down on my family line; Yum Yum (pecan) Coffeecake in the morning, and white-bread dense sausage/sage stuffing, sweet-potato casserole, mashed potatoes with plenty of heavy cream, pecan or pumpkin/praline or apple pie and cookies for dessert. I’ve long complained of the lack of chocolate at Thanksgiving (unless you’re Moonstruck, and you create this awesome/terrifying poultry centerpiece).

But Thanksgiving has gluten-a-plenty, gluten-a-extra, gluten-a-overboard, and I found myself at a loss as to how to prepare for this feast.

Yes, I know there are PA-LENTY of gluten-free options, but I was on auto-pilot for creating reliably spectacular food. And the layer of dairy-free on top of gluten-free is, not surprisingly, way more complicated than JUST avoiding wheat. Now I have to THINK. Now I have to PLAN. 

And, if you’re a follower of this blog, you know I’m conflicted about the whole “cooking for the family” business now. It was my job. My task. My responsibility. My identity for alllll those years, and I’m kinda done.

Just when I’m about to retire, to hang up my cleats, now I have to become a switch-hitter? Not only do I have the responsibility of creating the food in the house because otherwise, we would eat Tim’s gluten-free morning oatmeal at every meal; I ALSO have to figure out a day-long feast of alternatives to some of our favorite food on the planet.

I mean, sure, we could skip the Thanksgiving food. We could skip it and just have other stuff we like. But for the last couple of days, amid the inundation of holiday info on social media, I’ve found some fun dinner hacks I’m using on the family. I’ll “spatchcock” the turkey (lay it flat) and cook it that way–which doesn’t affect gluten or dairy, but it’s fun to say. Spatchcock. And I’ll be making mashed potatoes with chicken stock and Ghee (also fun to say.) Our stuffing will be wild rice (LOVE) and all the other stuffingy stuff we already stuff stuffing with.

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I still don’t know where to look when someone’s taking my picture. I used to be so good at that. I look like I’m tracking a fly ball in center field.

And we’re going to put the stuffing in THIS PUMPKIN that I grew in my garden this summer. It’s the only pumpkin that survived. It’s the gourd that lived.

In the oven right now is an apple pie on crust made from a mix (A MIX I TELL YOU. THE HORROR) from Bob’s Red Mill, who has a huge assortment of GF (look at me being hip with the lingo) options.

But yes, I am conflicted. I was the chef supreme, the reigning queen of my family’s tastebuds, and now I’m just another mix-using near-food approximater of the taste of Thanksgiving. I’m one of THOSE people.

Healthy. Food conscious. Dietary restrictions. Shopping in the vegan refrigerated section for some semblance of cheese for my husband. Spending twice as much on gluten-free flours.

This is, I know–I KNOW, stop nagging–the best course of action. I enjoy Tim’s renewed Timness so much, I never want him to revert to Gluten Tim, the Fun Sucker. And he’s lost weight without trying, and I’ve lost weight without measuring. Our energy is good and we enjoy finding work-arounds. This is a puzzle for us, and we do enjoy a puzzle. We’re good at working together on solutions.

It’s this one day. This super-gluteny-day of culinary debauchery that makes me kick rocks. Christmas is way easier; we do a crown roast with Hasslebeck potatoes and whatever major vegetable we feel like doing, plus homemade marshmallows and hard candy. *I* can still have chocolate. It doesn’t seem quite so onerous. Thanksgiving, I am finding out the hard way, is glutenous AF.

I will miss my flawless pie crusts, the ones I can mix up in 10 minutes, press into the pan without rolling, and have come out flaky and buttery and divine. I will miss the sweet potato casserole so full of butter and cream and sugar that it might as well be dessert. I will miss–oh how I will miss–the McArdle stuffing, my grandfather’s recipe, sturdy and hearty, like him, that Mack truck of a Chicagoan.

But it’s one day. It’s one day on which my husband and I will enjoy a peaceful morning wandering in the misty woods, talking about plans and news and ideas. And it will be sweet and close, like all of our days are now, and that’s so much better than pie. Way better.

That’s a pretty great trade off.

Ducks

I get migraines.

For years, I’ve had debilitating headaches that require a specific set of treatments; wrap my head in ice packs, lie down in a dark room, stay away from scents and odors, take caffeine and pain killers. If I do those things, the headache goes away in a couple of hours.

These are common treatments for migraines in people who don’t require prescriptions. I’ve been following these protocols for twenty years, and so far, I’ve avoided vomiting out the car window the way I did when the headaches first started two decades ago.

From what I have read, I don’t actually have migraines per se; I’ve never experienced some of the classic symptoms like tunnel or narrowed field of vision, the “aura”–which  includes irritability, lightheadedness, seeing flashes of light, speech problems–that presages the headache itself. I’ve seen friends go through these symptoms, and it’s unmistakable. But I’ve never had those symptoms.

It’s likely that what I have are cluster headaches; they come on suddenly, they are localized on one side of my head–usually behind or around one eye–and they happen almost always at the same time of day, in the morning for me.

Whatever they’re called, the ice pack/pain killer/low light treatment/no odors or sounds works. Every time. Because they can ruin my plans for a day, including work and other appointments, I have found it’s easier to tell people I have a migraine than I have a “cluster headache.” It doesn’t matter what I call it if the treatment is the same.

Since writing about Tim’s recent diagnosis, I’ve noticed some incredulity among people who have known us a while. What? Tim has Aspberger’s? How can that be? He seems so NORMAL.

A couple of things come into play here. First, high-functioning people with Aspberger’s develop coping skills over their lifetimes. These skills are known as “masking.” They see that there are rules of functioning in society, and strive to follow those rules, so when they’re out in the world, they seem just like all the other people in the world. Typical. Nothing stands out.

It’s when they’re at home that the mask comes off, and all the stress that’s built up from keeping that mask on all day gets released–that’s when the symptoms become evident. Social-function deficiencies aside, Aspbergians will become explosive over minor stimuli, an inability to empathize, difficulty understanding gestures or facial expressions, strict adherence to routine, inability to express or understand feelings.

And secondly, when you consider these symptoms, you’ll realize that these are the types of behaviors not readily observed in relationships with acquaintances. These are the kind of behaviors or gaps that are observable at home, and in the context of a close relationship, like your family of origin or a marriage.

Tim and I have discussed these symptoms in one form or another our whole marriage.  During the child-rearing years, the discussion focused on his difficulty getting close to the kids and providing emotional support during some difficult stretches. Going through his divorce/custody battle presented multiple occasions during which our youngest child required extra emotional support; our daughter’s medical challenges served up a host of other opportunities requiring emotional connection. Those were our first clues about Tim’s neurological differences. He didn’t even have an intellectual framework for the emotional demands of parenting.

I am the main reporter of Tim’s behaviors in the intimate setting of the home, so on some level, you have to trust my observations.  Marriage reveals behaviors not known to outsiders. Any marriage is the best mirror for examining an individual’s behavior; through the particular dyad of the two people, you discover your own deficiencies.

For instance, when I was first married to my first husband, our very first grocery shopping trips revealed some notable issues for me. When we got home, I waited until he was out of the room, then I proceeded to hide certain foods, squirreling away pretzels or cans of favorite soup. When he found the stash by accident and asked me about it, I realized that I was hiding food because I had learned as a child that if you don’t hide food from your three ravenous older brothers, it disappeared. My male siblings set upon grocery bags like locusts on a ripe crop of wheat.

My first husband was stunned that I had developed such habits. Although he was raised in a poor country in a family of eight siblings, he had never experienced such competition for food.

This particular behavior is not something anyone outside my marriage would have observed. No one besides my first husband–and then Tim, when I told him about it when we started grocery shopping together–would ever know that I did this. Occasionally, I will still hide things, only to happen upon them months later. Oh, right. Pretzels from July.

In the Aspberger’s diagnosis, we’ve discovered the best explanation for Tim’s particular set of behaviors. Other possible diagnoses–and their treatments–matched some symptoms but left others untouched. After 20 years of trying to force his very square peg into a tiny circular hole, we *finally* see things clearly.

But here’s the thing; nobody outside our household knows what we’re dealing with. That’s true for my marriage and for everyone else’s. Whether my husband seems “normal” or your husband seems like a real asshole, there’s no way either of us knows what we’re truly dealing with.  Sometimes, like when I was first married at 20, we don’t even know ourselves; it takes being in those naked spaces where we can’t hide anymore to find out what we’re made of, who we are, and how we behave toward the people we choose to live with.

For the faction of people skeptical about Aspberger’s diagnoses in general, and Tim’s in particular, besides the fact that your skepticism doesn’t change the facts, I can offer only this; if the treatment plan we follow helps the symptoms, does it MATTER what we call the diagnosis?

My cluster headaches don’t give two shits what they’re called, as long as you lay some ice packs on them and put me in a dark room. Tim’s diagnosis and our function as a couple are helped by techniques developed for people with Aspberger’s.

It walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck. It’s a damned duck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skeptical

Have you met my husband? He’s the tall one with Max Headroom hair and the quiet public demeanor, always Canadian-polite, gentle with animals. If you have had any kind of discussion with him, you know he’s a skeptic. Almost a cynic. On most subjects.

I could cite examples, but I (cynically) expect some readers would easily dismiss them as applying universally, so you’re going to have to trust me on this one. I’ve known Tim since he was 13, we’ve been together 20 years, he’s a skeptic.

He sure as hell ain’t the guy who will “try anything”, or who does stuff just for fun, or who experiments with crystals and essential oils. He took a six-week meditation class, complaining the whole way that he “didn’t think this would do ANYTHING, but I guess I’ll try…” (it did help) He thinks yoga is a joke perpetrated by limber people to make the stiff-jointed look bad. And yes, he thinks it’s personal.

So when the doctor who diagnosed him with Aspberger’s recommended looking into dietary adjustments for helping manage some of the symptoms, he literally dismissed her out of hand. Sitting in her office, I watched his face go from curious (oh, there might be a treatment for this?) to “ppppppppppppffffffffffttttttttttttttttt” in a nanosecond. Diet? Why would he give up his favorite foods on the off chance something MIGHT change?

It is because of this response, dear reader, that I hardly recommend that Tim try things. When a MEDICAL DOCTOR recommends something and he scoffs, I know I don’t have a chance.

When Tim met Dr. Dan–who isn’t a doctor, but we call “Dr.” to differentiate this Dan from his brother Dan, who is also not a doctor. But this one’s closer to a doctor, so Dr. Dan it is–everything changed. After the first meeting, Tim was trying techniques recommended by Dr. Dan for handling his responsiveness. First meeting.

After the second meeting, Tim was–seriously, brace yourselves–considering a gluten-free diet. Some Asperger’s patients metabolize gluten in a different way. Once the body adjusts past the phase of stomach problems and minor physical health issues, gluten is metabolized into opioids. The constant stream of gluten acts as a constant stream of naturally generated drugs. 

After the third meeting, Tim decided he didn’t want to be thus under the influence, has now gone gluten AND DAIRY free.

Again, I will ask–have you met my husband?

He loves pizza.

He laughs at vegans.

When he lived in New York state, he subsisted on pasta and toast. Not even whole-wheat toast, just plain ol’ white bread toast. Occasionally, he’d score some kind of greens to go with his gluten, but mostly it was just gluten. And cheese. Dairy on top of gluten is one of his favorite things. See also: Chicago pizza.

 

Lou Malnati’s, a Chicago specialty. If this doesn’t appeal to you, I don’t know what to tell you.

 

As of today, Tim has gone more than a week without gluten or dairy. To his surprise, many of our favorite recipes are already gluten-free, and dairy-free, when we skip the queso on black beans and cilantro lime rice, or sour cream with mujaddara. His wife (that’s me!) has been moving this direction for years, not purposely anti-gluten, just wanting healthier choices. This adjustment hasn’t been too bad, all things considered.

After four days off the stuff, we had dinner at a friend’s house over the weekend and didn’t mention the gluten/dairy factor. Tim wanted to just ride it out, not be That Guy. Dr. Dan had mentioned that Tim might start feeling better in a couple of days post-gluten, but aside from a more peaceful demeanor at home, Tim didn’t notice anything specific.

Not until after our spaghetti dinner with garlic bread.

About 30 minutes after dinner, he started getting the shakes, like an adrenaline rush. His stomach started “flipping out”, and by the time we got home, he spent some quality time in the bathroom. And that night, he had trouble sleeping.

The next morning, he was a reactionary mess. Once again, little things–dropping the coffee scoop–blew into a massive explosion. He grumped around the house for hours, knowing full well where his symptoms originated, but unable to stop them from taking shape in the physical world.

He felt so unpleasant in his gut and in his feelings, he isn’t interested in having gluten again any time soon. He is skeptical no more about the effects of gluten on his system. And this is a man who previously gave up smoking completely without assistance, no patch, no hypnosis, just cold turkey. Same thing with alcohol many years ago. He just quits, no big deal. He really does have a concrete emotional and intellectual constitution.

I’m proud of the work he is putting in on himself. I feel more free to tend to my needs, to pursue what’s important to me, when he is the one in charge of himself. My
well-developed co-dependence has maintained our dynamic a certain way for years–to avoid Tim being upset, Meg is in charge of the long list of things that might make him explode–but that’s starting to change.

Gluten-and-dairy-free is easy in Portland. He has choices on every street corner, in every coffee shop and grocery store. He will not want for delicious food–he’s already discovered Bob’s Red Mill GF oatmeal cookies.

I’m joining him on the gluten diet. I mean, why not. It’s just easier for our grocery budget and for cooking. Sophia can–and does–make her own food. I get to be creative in the kitchen again, flexing a muscle I’d allowed to atrophy when the kids left the nest. I’m not giving up dairy, however. My non-fat Greek yogurt breakfasts and pears with Gouda are not going anywhere.

My skeptical man has made progress down the road of taking care of himself. I see light. This tunnel has windows and fresh air. Our dynamic is a’changin’.

Look out world.