Naughty – or – Nice -?


Looking back on it, weeks and weeks before Christmas, Owen was clearly getting ready for the big day.

He was with his sister Freya in the bathroom, attending to business.  This is where Owen says most of his interesting things. Owen said:

“Santa Claus.  Be nice. Be naughty.”

Freya was amused.

“Yep, be nice, Owen!” she laughed.

“Be naughty,” Owen said, all seriousness.

She felt the need to correct his misapprehension.

“Be nice for Santa!”

“Be naughty.”

“Owen. Be nice,” she insisted, wondering how long he would hold out.

“Be naughty,” said Owen.


This went on a while. I imagine Owen got the last word.

He must have been thinking about it a lot – almost everyone in the family was informed.  Words don’t come easily to Owen, usually it’s an effort to bring them forth.  When he really wants to drive a point home, he has a particular manner of speaking his few words, with his eyebrows way up and eyes wide open, his head tipped to one side, informing, admonishing.  “Be naughty!”  When Owen does this, he reminds me just slightly of my dad, when he wanted to emphasize something.  Owen’s grampa was a college professor who taught decades of Composition 101 classes to recognize good grammar and punctuation.  It’s funny feeling, when you recognize that a communication that is clearly of great importance, and you still have not the slightest idea what it means.. I imagine many college freshmen felt just the same way.

Maybe Owen sensed he wasn’t getting through to us, because once or twice in those weeks before Christmas he growled into the kitchen in his Ogre/Papa Bear voice, “BE NAUGHTY!” 

I wondered why this focus on the “Santa/be naughty/be nice” thing this year.  I was inclined to blame the group of older special needs people with whom Owen’s rides the van to his program each day.  They can be sweet and friendly, but they are kind of tough on codes of behavior.  If Owen is passing gas or burping they tend to get grossed out.  Giving his safety belt the slip is a moral issue.  I get a solemn report: “Owen was Bad today.”

Coming face to face with the culture of shame and blame surprised me.     A more innocent group of adults you really could not find, except maybe on another van full of special needs people.  They were just repeating what they had heard.  Still, before now, I had only experienced Owen’s school mates treating him with affection.  The transition to the real world has been a little hard. I have to laugh at my response, defensive for my perpetrator –  like a mom in juvenile hall — “Yeah? he passed gas!  SO?”  In the Simons household, the standard method for dealing with breaches of etiquette is humor.  Ours is a jolly and forgiving God.  Like Santa.

Morally speaking, I consider Owen pretty innocent.  Then again, nothing cracks him up like doing something naughty, or hearing someone else getting reamed out for doing something naughty (the dog, his little brother).  The people on Owen’s van had good reason for hoping he would shape up for Santa.  Instead they may have inspired a whole new level of naughty.

I guess I missed my tip-off.

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On Christmas morning, I came down feeling clever and rested.  I planned to finish the stocking stuffing early that morning while Owen was in the tub, rather than staying up late Christmas eve.  But a large pile of papers beside the Christmas tree.  Candy papers. Translucent papers from maple sugar creams.  White plastic peanut butter cup wrappers. Clear plastic wrappers.  Half a bar of raw dark chocolate, gnawed, abandoned.  And four tangerines, each with one bite from the center.  Owen, rising earlier, had clambered over the barricade we built on the landing, and poured out his siblings’ stocking candy out in the dark living room, and eaten it.  All.  Four stockings were flat and empty.  He didn’t touch the parental stockings.  The whole thing reeked of intentionality.

For some reason, Owen had never thought of this past Christmas mornings.  Maybe he had and lacked sufficient daring. I struggled with shock, complete outrage, and feeling stupid.  How could he do such a thing?? My plans for this morning were broken.  Owen had “scribbled on my page” and I reeled like a preschool child.  Scolding and fussing, waking the household with my rant,  I put Owen into a tepid bath.  I reflected that I would never be able to write about this event.  I would never find anything Owen did to be funny again. Probably I would have to stop writing.  Unable to go forward, I left for a healing walk in the woods with the dogs, kindly accompanied by my daughter Bronwyn.

The walk was a good idea.  I cam home to find my husband re-stocking the stockings, divvying up the parental stash between the three other kids.  Daughter Freya was making Christmas breakfast.  Smells of bacon and cinnamon filled the air.  Oskar was setting the table.  I made Owee apologize to each of his siblings, and we went on to enjoy a lovely Christmas together.  Owen was pretty quiet.  His tummy can’t have been feeling too good.



Well.  No one can say he didn’t warn us.  And at this point I can see the humor in it.  But I’m not telling the people on his van.

Christmas night, Owen re-lives his day’s misdeeds…




Dark Walk Before Solstice


Owen loves to walk, except when he’d rather stand. He can stand for a long time, his back to me, totally still, pensive in the cold winter woods.  But thinking of what? seeing, hearing what?

Usually when Owen and I walk we take the dogs, who always need exercise.  But the dogs don’t do pensive.  They pull my arms out of my sockets rushing forward, particularly times like tonight, when Owen doesn’t want to move.  I wind up frothing at the mouth and frustrated, and my irritation becomes a flood of words pouring out my mouth into the space between me and my silent son.

Owen’s kind of humor, his language, the insights he brings, are fragile things.  They are easily lost in any commotion.  Like a reflection on the water’s surface, agitate it and you have only bits of random movement.  You miss the whole thing.  Owen seems incapable of thought, lost, vacant.  I hate it when he looks vacant.  And hate it particularly in the hateful mood I find myself in tonight, yanked forward by impatient dogs, detained by my unwilling companion, unable to move.  Then something precious is lost between the pulling dogs and the winter darkness falling outside and within.

I want to choose the way it will be: two of us walking side by side, enjoying nature, enjoying each other’s presence, dogs rambling in front.  But the dogs go in circles or strain suddenly forward, and Owen stops and lingers on the trail behind.

I want it to be that Owen, although a different soul, has things to contribute, isn’t too difficult to care for, laughs and smiles if he doesn’t speak, has a quirky sense of humor. But dark nights such as these press upon me the truth – that Owen doesn’t always respond at all, doesn’t laugh or speak, or understand my speaking, is sometimes distant as Pluto and cold as the moon.

As we come up the pathway to our warmly lighted porch I realize another truth:  in my frustration and hurry today I closed the doorway to language of all kinds, eye, face, and tongue.  I have been busy and focused elsewhere lately, not making any space for communication to happen between us. Communication for Owen will always require support, the best support simply tuning IN.  Stop stirring up the waters, and wait, believing that there will be something there to see.

What was Owen thinking about tonight?  Was there something he wanted to tell his grousing, criticizing mother back there, when he lifted his face up to hers for just a moment, coming down from the darkened farm field and the wide winter sky to our street?  His mouth opened, just slightly amused, eyes suddenly engaged, he seemed to search for words he could not find. Maybe It’s ok Mom – relax! Or Calm down – do not be afraid.   Or I have a stone in my shoe…?

I’ll never know.

I pulled on his sleeve and we came down the hill, home.

First published on Weebly, December 21, 2014. 


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We were home for Thanksgiving this year – and good thing, since I spent most of the week sick, lying in bed.  I had planned on connecting and creating with my children home for the holidays.  I had planned on building a garden with Edward, and attending a musical downtown, and cooking a few nice meals.  Instead I rested, and scrolled grumpily through people’s FaceBook postings about what they were grateful for, at a loss for what to write.

Owen was having a vegetative week himself, less communicative, less sparkly, and every bit as mulish and early-rising.  I’ve said that I write these postings to share our life with Owen.  I’ve said their purpose is to allow outsiders a peek into what it is that is subtly wonderful about a kind of person and a kind of situation that many regard with sadness or disgust.  This implies that I feel grateful for Owen in my life.

But some days you’re more inspired than others.

As I lay on my bed, scrolling ungratefully through grateful postings of lists of gratefulness, the task of finding my voice this Thanksgiving week seemed harder for the public outpourings.  A little public gratitude goes a long way, I thought.  Even if I could find the right words, what use to throw them into the din?  Perhaps it was just my prone position that made me sour.

Tomorrow my niece gets married to the young man that she adores.  And Owen will be there, to generate inappropriate noises, and fidget, and generally bless the occasion with his presence.  Nothing that he does in such a public setting is likely to be cute, or clever, or to provide any window into his inner Owen.  But we who care for him know an angel lurks there under that unlikely exterior.

And as with the grain of sand and the oyster, the pearl generated is worth the irritation.

Is the oyster grateful?



P.S. I was extremely grateful for my bed.  Also for my husband, a true partner in times of trial and a good cook.