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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Writer/Curator/Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project. Contributing Author to Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, and Concepts of Normality by Wendy Lawson, and soon to be published Gravity Pulls You In. Writing my own book. Lecturer on autism and the media and parenting. Current graduate student Critical Disability Studies and most importantly, mother of Adam -- a new and emerging writer.

“There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” -- Baruch Spinoza

Saturday, July 01, 2006


The Circle of 4 -- with a postscript

Henry is away with Max in Italy setting him up for film school. Again, I am alone this Canada long weekend, and for yet another week. Against what could otherwise be a very empty house with cold stone floors, I hear the pitter patter of Adam’s feet following me ardently.

Adam, just at the end of his school year, decided to begin his separation anxiety phase. Wherever I go, he will follow like my shadow – to the kitchen, up the stairs, to my office…to the bathroom. He is my loyal little lover-boy, enamoured with me, it seems. If I am ill and in bed for two hours, he will sit dutifully beside me. But if I go to get something upstairs and leave him behind for a minute, there is bedlam – whimpers turn to tears which turn to inconsolable wails.

He will no longer go to his long-time playmate/nanny, Flor – the very same woman who consoled him under the fluttering leaves of our hundred-year-old maple tree which seemed to covet them both when he couldn’t stop crying; the same woman who tried alongside me to put him to bed, which often took up to three hours; the very mate who taught him how to climb his first climbing wall just when I thought he might be so motor-challenged, and it might take him much longer.

Yet, Adam will go to Grandma and easily abandon me. But he will run away at the sight of Flor’s face. Flor, a single, forty-something Pilipino woman, a Jehovah’s Witness, who it seems, has devoted her entire life to praying to God and to the raising of Henry’s five children. She is in tears, “I love him so much,” she said to me yesterday as I tried to console her. “He doesn’t like me anymore.” Flor is a child-spirit in a woman’s body --jolly and playful. She does not yield to tears often.

It used to be after five minutes of leaving the house, Adam would be okay with Flor and happily resume playing under the covers, “peek-a-boo,” or greedily keep requesting a “sqeeeish” from her under a pillow.

So, the problem-solver I like to peg myself out to be, I have Flor and one of Adam’s tutors working together with him. I am also scheduling more time for Flor to be with him. She needs to re-bond, reconnect. They both need to find their mutual playful sides again. They really are best friends.

At four, mommy is the centre of the universe, I’ve discovered. With no other children as a point of reference, I have to recall my own four-year-old memories – being terrified when my mother got out of the cab before me in fear that the driver would skid off with me cowering in the backseat. My mother recalls the many stories of her own exhaustion tempered by her love for me as I followed her, as well, to every bathroom visit. I remember my mother’s devotion, her friendly, sweet voice and the many nights we spent alone together when my father was off on business trips. Yet, how thrilled was I to see him every time he came home with a little something just for me! At four, my dad was fun, full of smiles and caved in when I begged to be taken to a drive-in movie, even though he knew without fail, I would fall asleep in the back. It wasn’t as if he didn’t make me feel secure. It was just that my mom was always there.

I come from a short-line of only children and do not know my father’s biological parents because he was adopted. He was taken away from a family and put into a German one at the beginning of WW2. He was part of a long list of children who were stolen from families in Poland and Sweden for their Aryan features. German families adopted them – and it is for certain that my “adopted” grandmother couldn’t have any children herself. By the time he was fifteen and living in Canada, my father left his “parents” because he felt he didn’t belong to them, and because of what the Germans did. Fifteen. A boy with an unknown background, with no place to call home. At eighteen, he joined the Canadian navy and got himself educated. He did end up resuming a complicated relationship with his adopted parents, for the rest of their lives. Much of those mysteries and complications, I have inherited to mull over, investigate and discover, perhaps, the meaning of it all.

Being separated from one’s roots, now that I have my own child, another “only” child, and married to a man whose roots are firmly planted, perhaps has made separation, togetherness, loneliness and the temporary nature of all relationships, so much more apparent. Perhaps being an only-child instilled this innate sense of independence and impermanence. In many ways, it is quite liberating. One learns how to create family with all the people in one's life. On other days, there is a shadow of existential starkness to it all.

As an only child, I wasn’t spoiled. In fact, my dad was tough on me, I know now because of his knowing about one's need to be resilient, and to create one's own happiness. My mother was attached to me. In fact, I think my parents were very “attached” to me, and my leaving was tough on them. I married to leave the nest right after university, and that marriage didn’t last long. My mother got sick right at the same time, and I attribute a lot of it to her separation anxiety. I understand it now, especially these days when I am tired and want to complain about how much energy Adam can take out of me. I think of when he will be in his twenties, ready to leave me for his own greener pastures. I think of how autism has pulled us so closely together, how our destinies are entwined, and perhaps how much more involved I may be in his life when he gets a little older, although I have no doubts that he will be that proverbial “success.” We can never predict the shape of our lives, but can figure it out a little, by the time we reach our forties. Adam certainly has taken a large lump of the clay of my life and given it great form. It's simple for me to say that I don't know what I'd do without him.

So now, at four, when he is trekking behind me with the putter of little feet on our limestone floors, I have to smile. He will get used to Flor again quickly, I imagine. All things recounted and considered, his phases are pretty short-lived. Weaning him took 3 ½ years, and now it seems like a million years ago. He has just turned four. He is about to go on a school bus to a half-day camp on Tuesday. I hear him crying in the background – he is looking for mommy as he learns to cope with separation.

I imagine I will have many sleepless nights when Adam decides it is time for him to leave home, Henry is away, and I am again, that only child.

POSTSCRIPT: The bonding time worked a great deal. I walked in the hot sticky afternoon, leaving Adam to bond with Flor. Perhaps the quiet streets abandoned by Canada Day cottage-goers has made me think about solitude. There is no work to be done, no store to distract myself with errands.

Adam saw me later and made a fuss. I told Flor to "take charge" and give him a bath. It took only five minutes for him to calm down.
She came to say goodnight to Adam and he did not run, did not cry, but smiled. "Ah," she said with her usual giggle. "We've made up!" Now my four-year-old Adam and I have two days by ourselves in quiet Toronto to enjoy some Canada Day Weekend hoopla, some time which will be spent with Grandma and Grandpa too -- our tight little circle of four.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Germans never actually invaded Sweden (summer vacations excluded), although they did occupy Norway from 1940 to 1945.

Personally, I think they were put off by the prospect of having to deal with the annoying guy in the Ikea commercials.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Camille said...

Thank you, Estee. This is a very nice post. It's sad about the "aryan" looking children being stolen from their parents. Really awful. I can't imagine the pain of losing a child that way. I can't imagine losing parents that way.

I hope everything works out well with Flor and Adam. I'm sure Flor feels terrible for losing Adam's friendship and I hope that she'll get it back eventually. It's so nice that you have people, even outside of your immediate family, who love Adam.

Some Jehovah's Witnesses lost children to Nazi adoption, too, at least for the duration of the war. The Witness parents were seen as politically dangerous, they trained their children not to "Heil Hitler," so the kids were separated and put into "good" Nazi families to get "good" Nazi training.

5:22 PM  
Blogger r.b. said...

This is a beautiful post!

Ben was always physically bonded, for the most part, rather than through his eyes. (No puppy dog looks...) Even now he jokes about sticking like velcro to me! The physical sensation of closeness means everything to him.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Estee Klar-Wolfond said...


No. The Germans didn't invade Sweden, but children were kidnapped. This was part of Lebensborn.

My dad remembers Poland and his first family.

6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Confusion is good -- it makes you think.


10:33 AM  

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