how many ways are there to love?

i slice perfect circles every day

for years

the shape is important

it keeps your world

safe

carrots for your lunch, and

a yellow apple

the sweetness

for after

always the same

they said this would be hard

on my heart, but

here we are

you and i so far up this mountain

that i cannot hear their voices anymore

they didn’t tell me that love

would fall from my hands

at lunchtime,

without carrying a single word.

— how many ways are there to love?

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photography by Monicore.

my son eats a handful of foods.

the same ones for years, now.

this is not uncommon in #autism.

initially—in the very early years, just after diagnosis, this scared me.

now, it is who he is.

we have our own language of love.

words are superfluous.

x

somehow, i have kept a child alive in the dark and please don’t tell me how to be beautiful.

the light has woken me early, but the night that was only 380 broken minutes long, has left me tender and not yet ready for all these new hours that stretch lazily ahead of me, like a languid cat already seeking my attention, and i have pulled myself back from sleep 3 times in the name of all that is holy, so that i can put a needle into my sleeping son’s finger to check that there is enough glucose and insulin for him to wake again in the morning—not too much, and not too little, the porrige must be just right said the baby bear, and there was juice and a biscuit in the dark hours, sit up my boy and drink, you are too low, and with eyes closed he hears my voice and drinks, just like a long time ago, and still i manage to keep him alive, and isn’t this a miracle i whisper to myself, and just right is what the magazines say i must be, and not too hot (how dare she…) and not too cold (she’s really let herself go…) and there are women who were not even conceived yet, when i said yes, and they, these lovely, shiny, unlined and untested women, are telling me how to erase the gentle rise, and fall of my body’s topography, and that i should feel shame at the contour lines that snake over my womb, and someone with teeth as white as revelation is telling me how to pretend that my hips never held a heartbeat, and that my breasts were never a source of life, and this is how you shine if you want it all she says, and who doesn’t want that? but this morning i will settle for coffee and a slow-burning hope, and i unroll my yoga mat and i unfurl my limbs and my heart gently follows, and somehow i have kept a child alive in the dark—can you believe that? i ask the pretty girl—and please don’t tell me how to be beautiful.

just don’t.

and now the morning light has climbed in through my window like a bold, teenage lover, and it falls softly on my skin, and i can see all the pretty young women, and all the men who tell us how to be acceptable and everything they’ve ever dreamed of, and i can hear them as i fold my body down, down, down towards my feet, and i can hear their hunger, and it is no longer mine, and somehow i have kept a child alive in the dark, can you believe that? and this, is enough.

—somehow i have kept a child alive in the dark, and please don’t tell me how to be beautiful.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Arthur Roman.

the old man at the door saw me.

today, on our way to a place

that holds joy for my son, i saw an old house — falling apart, but held together, somehow, by a hot pink camellia bleeding joy, brazenly onto the walls and the front of the sidewalk, and nobody saw this sign, but

i did.

and later, i saw an old man at a door, checking tickets, and i started to breathe the word autism, hoping for more than we need, and he saw my eyes, and my heart, and my fear, and my boy, and he said, aye, you’re alright, and enjoy — in that big scottish way, and he gave me a smile, and his light, that said, see! it’s going to be alright, wait and see, and

my child — barely ten and a few sleepless nights fresh from my womb, stood in the shadow of something that breathed 150 million years ago when the land looked so much different, and

life was more peaceful, i think, and he was in awe at those bones, and i stood there smiling at my cup spilling over, right here and right now, but not everyone can see through the mess, sometimes — these miracles that find me — stars, that guide me all the way home, and

last night when i was afraid of undressing my heart, and my words were more salt, than they were light, a friend said, it’s ok, no need to explain or apologise, your journey home is yours, and yours alone, and i carried her gift all night until the sun rose fresh over my life again.

and people have been climbing out of closets, and boxes, and other locked rooms for centuries, have they not? and still, life breathes and breaks new every couple of hours, but not everyone sees, but

i do.

and i look for the way that God breaks wide open in a face, in a smile, and the way that eyes can lift a heart right out of the mud and the dark, and how so many roads lead home, and i walk them, wandering here and there, and would you know? that,

everywhere i go i find others who hear the same silence, weaving songs from notes as ancient as bone, and who are not afraid of hands that flap and fold like birds, flying up, to heaven and back.

they, who keep watch over windows, and doors, and other ways into a soul — who hold up the walls that are crumbling, with light, and who say, aye, you’re ok, it’s going to be alright, just you wait and see.

— the old man at the door saw me.

© Liezel Graham 2019.

Photograph by Juan Pablo Arenas.

on teaching you kindness.

i turn you

into

gentle

words,

every

day.

so that

kindness,

will

always bloom

from

your

mouth.

— on teaching you kindness.

© Liezel Graham 2018.

I am Mum to a boy who is autistic.

Years of struggling with social interaction sees him confused whenever he is rejected by peers, or even adults.

He cannot understand why children reject his attempts at interaction and it is heartbreaking to watch, at times.

I don’t ever want his gentle heart to harden and after a failed attempt at making friends, we always talk it through—we try and figure out whether the other person was perhaps having a bad day, or maybe they didn’t hear him say ‘hello’.

I shower him with praise for trying—trying to reach out when it is easier not to.

I speak kindness over him, so that this will be his default language in spite of how others might treat him.

And perhaps, this is something we should do with ourselves?

Turn ourselves into words—kind, trusting, hopeful, compassionate, empathetic.

So that we can care deeply for our hearts when they are hurting.

xx

A moment in time.

We have had had some unseasonably hot, albeit pleasant weather in Scotland the last couple of weeks. This has resulted in a flurry of activity in our allotment and because it stays light until very late this far North, we have spent some lovely evenings rooting contentedly around our little plot.

A couple of days ago, on one of these fine evenings, we bumped into one of the other allotment plot owners, let’s call him Paul for the sake of anonymity. Seated at one of the battered picnic tables near the shed, he was enjoying a cup of tea from a flask that had seen better days. He had brought his mum, Moira, with him — a tiny, old lady who never quite made eye contact during the conversation. Introductions revealed that she was already well into her nineties, and it didn’t take me long to realise that she had Alzheimer’s disease.

As they strolled around the garden, Paul would patiently point out the different vegetables growing in the plots, and his beautiful mum, wrapped in a heavy winter coat despite the heat, would make appreciative noises, but would then turn to look him in the eye and exclaim that she ‘wished Paul could see this’, to which he would gently reply, “Mum, I am Paul”.

We watched them walk, Paul’s hand on her elbow as he pointed out the different plants and vegetables growing, patiently drawing her back to him each time that she did not recognise him as her son.

It was beautiful, and it was tragic.

A reminder of the cruelty of a disease that can strip a mother of the ability to recognise the child that she birthed and raised, and yet, a poignant reminder of the determined power of a love that can never be destroyed by the monster that is Alzheimer’s.

With us that afternoon, was our 9-year old son, Daniel, who happens to have Autism. Daniel struggles with social interaction, especially with strangers, and so, you can imagine how my heart contracted with a surge of emotion that I still cannot adequately put into words, when he gently took Moira’s frail hand in his and without either of them making eye contact with each other, softly whispered, “Look at her hands, Mom, they are so soft. Is she very old?”

And Moira, quietly stood there, not saying a word, except for the almost bird-like noises that would escape her lips every so often, whilst my son’s fingers explored the transparent skin on the back of her hand.

The moment didn’t last long, but it had a magical quality about it. A sense of something other-worldly taking place between these two strangers — boy and woman — who both inhabit a world that is, at times, inaccessible to the ones who love them.

We spoke a little more until it was time to leave, Moira looking at her son, nodding every so often at what he was saying, and Daniel, tugging at my hand, asking to go home.

And as we said goodbye, I had a sense of something deeply special having happened. I cannot give a name to it, but then again, I don’t think I need to.

— A moment in time.

(Warrior) Mum.

i mourn

the things

that

(this)

life

will not give

to you.

but,

i do not

mourn

you.

— (warrior) mum.

There are days that I mourn what my beautiful boy will never have in this life.

But, I do not mourn him.

He is joy and sunshine and innocence, and my heart is attached to his by an invisible umbilical cord.

He is the answer to desperate prayers and hope fulfilled — treasure in the shape of a boy.