| Family Diary |

Meltdown: Chapter 13  

It wasn’t until a month after the chasunah that I sat down with my husband and addressed the nagging issue we’d been avoiding



he wedding was gorgeous — the culmination of so many dreams. I couldn’t help comparing it to our last wedding. Sometimes you need to go through the hard stuff to really appreciate the good stuff. Sometimes you need to make a Covid wedding to truly appreciate the luxury of a wedding hall with proper flowers, dresses, and loads of family and friends with nary a mask in sight!

And sometimes you need your son to go through several psychotic episodes to truly appreciate a Chezky who both enjoyed the wedding and added to it.

“Ma! Ma! Ma!” He pulled on my sleeve, nearly yanking the lace off. “Can I see if the caterer needs help?”

“Sure!” Let him go hock someone else’s chinek for a while.

“Ma! The photographer said I was the best model ever!” He preened. “What does model mean?”

“Ma! The band has an awesome mike! Can I sing now, Ma, please? Now?!”

My Chezky was back. Running circles around me and telling puns during the photos to get everyone to laugh. While in the past his behavior may have made my head spin, now I was just so grateful to have him grounded and with us.

So the chasunah passed in a glow of nachas and warm feelings of hakaras hatov that we made it until here. Shehecheyanu.

IT wasn’t until a month after the chasunah that I sat down with my husband and addressed the nagging issue we’d been avoiding.

“Chezky was awesome at the wedding, no?” I kvelled. “And he’s so happy every time he visits and gets to spend time with his brothers-in-law. They’re the big brothers he always wanted.”

“They’re amazing with him.” My husband leaned back in his chair. “Hashem has been so good to us.”

“But—” I paused, so not wanting to ruin the moment. “But, Ari was pretty difficult at the wedding, no?”

“Yeah, Ari.” My husband tried for a half-chuckle. “Well, Ari has been getting tough.”

Ari is our second son, four years younger than Chezky. A gorgeous kid, with deep dimples and the widest smile you’d ever seen, Ari was approaching bar mitzvah… and well… things hadn’t been right for a while. As a toddler he hadn’t spoken until very late, but after that had caught up quickly with his peers. He was clearly extremely bright with a flair for numbers and could already play a wicked game of chess.


The elephant hovered in the room.

“Should we have him evaluated?” I ventured, pulling the elephant out where we could see it and feel it. Its enormous mass seemed to press all other thoughts and emotions, squeezing us into a place we didn’t want to be.

“Let’s call Silvia,” my husband said in a rush, glad to have something to solutionize. “She did such a good job with Chezky’s eval.”

Silvia was an excellent diagnostician and her evaluations always covered academic, cognitive, mental, emotional. A full range of points.

So we began a series of meetings and tests with Ari. Each session ran approximately three to four hours, and we had several sessions. The logistics of just pulling off this eval were throwing my weekly schedule to the rocks. If someone could only invent an app that added hours to the day…?

Then came the final meeting to discuss Silvia’s findings. The elephant was bigger now. It had even developed long scary-looking tusks.  But I was determined not to let it sit on me, not to let it bury me under its weight.

“So based on my findings….” Silvia pointed out various tests, numbers, “he’s definitely above average in his cognitive abilities and…” the words marched on, until I heard the ones I’d been gearing up to accept, “And yes, according to… yes, I would say he’s on the autistic spectrum.”

The verdict was out. The elephant had escaped. But my husband and I nodded calmly. It wasn’t as if we hadn’t been expecting this.

“Ari manifests very differently from Chezky, as you know,” Silvia continued. “He’s less verbal but more aware of his standing among his peers. He’s so smart that he’s managed to compensate very well over the years to blend in. But now, with the beginning of adolescence, those challenges are hindering him more….” She went on to list several red flags that we’d known ourselves. As we’d really known the results of this evaluation all along.

“So nothing really has changed,” I declared to my husband as we drove home. “Ari is still Ari, and the only thing different is that we can direct ourselves more toward therapies and help.” My voice was determined, full of good cheer. After all, I had years of experience with therapies, nutrition and behavioral approaches. I could be a poster mom for ASD help! I knew what I was doing this time around. So nothing had changed, but full speed ahead.

Yet despite my display of confidence, that night I couldn’t sleep. I hated when my body betrayed me like this, when I’d thought I’d banished all tension from my brain. Tossing and turning, I finally gave up and went into the living room.

Snuggling into the couch, I pulled an afghan around my shoulders and tried to relax. And then like a dam bursting, I broke into sobs. Ari! Ari! Ari! Chezky! Chezky! Chezky! Ari! Not again! No! No! No! I couldn’t DO this! I didn’t care how much I knew. How much experience I had. My heart was refusing to face this reality. Ari, I love you. I want you to be there with me in my love. I wanted to connect. I don’t want to lose you… like I lost Chezky. The pain surged through me, rendering my thoughts almost incoherent.

I don’t know how long I sat there like that. I think the sun was peeking into the room by the time that last shuddering sob let loose. Drained, I was also almost bewildered at my meltdown. I knew this already; I knew what was wrong with Ari! I wasn’t even surprised. Yet, I obviously hadn’t yet accepted.

I got up slowly, walking like an ancient hulled-out shell. One step. Falter. Two. Stand. I can stand, I said to myself. I can stand and go forward.

I stopped in front of the hall mirror and stared at my reflection, at my tear-stained face. I peered deeply into my own eyes, wanting to know what secrets I could reveal about myself. Well, I wasn’t going to win any beauty contests. Then to my horror, my eyes filled again.

Hashem, I whispered, I don’t know if I can do this! I don’t know if I am capable of doing this again!

Yet somehow, as I perused my own features, I felt my shoulders straightening. Hashem obviously has more confidence in me than I have myself. And He trusts me to take care of two of His special neshamos. Two of His children who may need more love, more attention, and more support than others. He chose me to do this.

And I have done it with Chezky. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve stumbled and I’ve shattered, but I’ve done it, too! I have taken care of Chezky all these years, always trying to do the best for him. I’ve grown so much in my perspective of mothering, in my avodas Hashem, in my ability to utilize all my strengths for the sake of all my children.

“Tzippi,” I said out loud to my reflection. “You’ve been a great mother. And you’ll continue to try.”

Hearing the words out loud in the quiet of the night infused me with a new sense of mission.

Ready or not. Here I come.

My name is Tzippi, and I am the proud mother of two sons with ASD.


To be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 850)

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