Woke up on the couch this morning to all the lights still on, a heavy book across my face, and two hungry cats taking turns tapping me on top of my head, hoping that I'd feed them sooner rather than later. The taps were followed by Justin stomping down the stairs. I wasn't quite ready for the barrage of talk time, so I quickly slid off the couch and headed out the back door undetected. Stealth moves, Robyn! Well done on your ability to hide from your family!
Outside I sat on my favorite perch listening and watching the little hoppy birds and admiring our old truck. She's a beauty--rust patches, dents from years of abuse, and smells--automotive and otherwise. A true beater purchased for Home Depot and dump runs. She roars like an aging lioness when fired up, spitting initially but then settling in to a lovely growl. As the breeze picks up into a true wind, I close my eyes and summon another old truck--one that lurched and shook as gears shifted, the AM radio always a hazy cackle in the background tuning in and out as we wove our way through the eucalyptus and oak tree lined canyons. My dad would pull and pull the lap belt around me hoping that it would keep my small frame from bouncing too much. As the ride progressed, the bouncing would inevitably loosen the belt and the effort to secure me would begin anew. I knew I was loved based on the amount of force my dad applied to that seat belt. I knew I was loved when I was allowed to eat my sandwich from my favorite deli on the ride home (rather than waiting until we reached home). I knew I was loved when my dad trusted me with stories from his childhood. I knew I was loved when my dad asked me to throw his beer cans out the window as we roared through the canyon rather than getting caught with them should we be pulled over by the Laguna police. These were my measures and I knew I was totally and completely loved.
My dad was never meant to have an ordinary life. I learned early on that my dad was different than the other dads in our neighborhood. I understood that I was not to judge or create comparisons. He did not embarrass me even when my friends suggested that he should. Son of a mechanic and a drunk, he never excelled in school or sports nor had anyone telling him that reading and writing might be important. He was left at a boys home in the middle of the Mojave desert at some point by his mom only to be found several years later by his dad and whisked back to the San Fernando Valley. By the time he was fourteen in 1957, he had dropped out of school and began hustling metals learning his trade from Old Man Sam. What started out with recycling tin pop cans for $.025/lb soon led to learning the nuances of aluminum, iron, steel, and copper. He scavenged the valley looking for clean materials and when he didn’t find them, he would strip down car parts or other machinery to their purest level of metalhood until the material was ready for the scrap yard. He dreamed of having a huge yard or warehouse to store and prepare his metals for the scrap yard. It would be his way of stockpiling valuables; his Fort Knox. Eventually this dream was realized; a story for another time.
Part of raising a Justin means drawing heavily on the lessons learned from being raised by a Harry Saunders. We meet him where he's at rather than creating unfair comparisons to others in his peer group. Having fetal alcohol syndrome means that he will likely always have some challenges on many fronts, but that doesn't mean he can't excel on fronts that belong solely to him. Justin is a constant reminder of my dad in speech pattern, ability to tell terrible nonsensical jokes, the fumbling when words and situations can't be processed, and an explosive temper topped off with a need to save face. On some karmic plane, raising a Justin feels like traveling back in time and pressing re-replay on the "raising a Harry" button. It means encouraging adventure, considering what seems unconsiderable, and always taking the time to tighten the seatbelts. It means that the past can't be undone, but the future is of our own making--and success will be measured by our yard stick alone.