I took another sip of my wine and I opened the coat closet.

I was spending the evening gathering up blankets, shoes, and sheets to donate to a clothing drive for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.  The Girl Scout troop in our town arranged for a large truck to be at our high school in the morning and I wanted to help fill it.

I found sweaters that were still packed up from our move six years ago.  Crib sheets that were of no use to us anymore.  Winter boots that my kids had outgrown years ago.  All into the box.

The posting came on Facebook that what they really needed were jackets.  The weather was about to get quite chilly and no power means no heat.

So out came another empty box.  And to the coat closet I went.

I moved some winter jackets around and some rain coats.  The ones that still fit my kids went to one side.  The LL Bean pullover fleece that I hadn’t worn in years came out.  As did a button down Gap jacket.

And then there it was.

My dad’s old gray Black Diamond fleece coat.

It’s been hanging in one coat closet or another of mine for almost 14 years now.  One of three articles of clothing that I have of his.

I don’t wear it.  Ever.  It hasn’t been washed since he died.

It just hangs there in the closet.  No matter what season, that coat stays.

I can still see him in that coat even after all this time.  It’s that soft heather gray color with black trim around the collar.  It was an in-between season coat – not quite warm enough for a winter coat but too warm for early fall and late spring.

A “mud season” coat I guess.  Going by Vermont seasons.

He had a gray Black Diamond vest that was just like it and he wore that all the time when he was sick.  When I think back to the memories of him those last months, he’s in that vest.

I don’t know where that vest is now.

And really I never understood the vest anyway.  How does that keep you warm?  I need something that covers me…something that envelopes me.  Something I can feel secure in.  Like a big fleece hug.

The big fleece hug hung there in the closet.

It was begging me to donate it.  It makes sense, right?  After all these years it should go to someone who really needs it. To someone from the hard hit areas of Long Island where my dad grew up.  Or to someone from the city where he first taught.

And considering how much he gave to others in his life and how much he taught us to give back, shouldn’t I give up this coat so that someone else can use it? So that a father can wrap it around his daughter to keep her safe and warm?

I pushed the coat aside and pulled out a 3T sized raincoat.

I closed the coat closet door.

The memories are starting to fade after all these years.  Some days I feel him so close, other days he’s so far away.  I try to remember things but I can’t.

It’s just a coat.  But I still need it.

I take the 3T raincoat and put it on top of the box.  I slip some money into the pocket of the LL Bean pullover fleece, hoping to bring a “Hey! Found money!” smile to whomever wears it next.

Tomorrow I’ll put the boxes in the car and bring them to the high school.

I sit here now in the dark with another glass of wine.

The coat is just on the other side of the wall.

It will stay with me for a while longer.

And oh I couldn’t understand it, for I felt I was rich
And I told them of the love my mamma sewed in every stitch
And I told them all the story, mamma told me while sewed
And how my coat of many colors, was worth more than all their clothes.

But they didn’t understand it and I tried to make them see
that one is only poor, only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money, but I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors, my mamma made for me
Made just for me.” – Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton

Take a moment to donate what you can to relief efforts on the East Coast.  My family and my friends who are like family need your support.  If you can’t donate money, find a drop off location for coats, blankets, shoes, and non-perishable items.

Please.

There are times when I realize that my oldest knows too much.

Like the other day when Howie was bouncing off the walls after school and Gerry asked me if he had had a good day at school.  When I answered “Yes” he replied with “I could tell.  He held it together all day at school and is letting it go now at home where it’s safe.”

Yeah...

And then there was tonight.

**********

I was working on dinner.  We had just received the call that school was cancelled for tomorrow due to the hurricane.

Gerry was on the couch about to start a game on the Playstation.  Howie was rocking back and forth in his beloved green chair right next to the TV.

The verbal stimming had started.  For Howie, this is his “silly words”.  He yells out a string of nonsense words while he sits in the chair.

For the sensory avoiders in our house (my husband, Gerry and myself), the sounds are our trigger.

I’ve worked hard with Howie to remind him that he can make his silly words but he needs to either do it quietly or in another room if someone is trying to watch a show or play a game.

Many times, this scene ends with Gerry yelling at Howie to stop.  Conflicting sensory overloads.

Gerry started. “Hey Howie!”

I braced myself.

“Hey Howie.  I’m about to start my game.  If you have silly words, can you let them all out now before I start a new level?”

I froze.

“Okay,” came the answer.  Followed by a thirty second long string of loud sounds and words.

“I’m done.”

“Thank you.”  And Gerry started his game.

I still didn’t move.

About five minutes in, Howie looked at Gerry and said “Wait!  I have more.”

Gerry paused his game.  Howie let another string of sounds and words out.  Then stopped.

“I’m good.”

Gerry turned to Howie. “Thank you for warning me.  I appreciate it.”

He glanced over at me.

I mouthed “Thank you.”

And game playing started again.

**********

I know I ask a lot of Gerry.  And a lot of what I ask is conflicting and confusing.  I ask him to understand his brother and tolerate his behaviors, yet I reprimand him when he steps into the role of parent.  I want him to know why his brothers do what they do, but then ask him to do things that go against his own sensory sensitivities.

My kid takes on more than he should and yet I need him to.

Tonight, he showed acceptance and understanding.  And in the most loving way possible.

His way.

My boys in pink. For breast cancer awareness day at school. Gerry told Howie that his tie was “awesome”. I think they both are pretty cool kids.

Not enough love and understanding
We could use some love to ease these troubled times
Not enough love and understanding
Why, oh why?

We need some understandin’
We need a little more love
Some love and understandin‘” – Love and Understanding by Cher

E-mail I sent to Howie’s teachers this morning:

Just wanted to give you a heads up with Howie and the upcoming hurricane.  Howie is very sensitive to big changes in barometric pressure.  I am as well  but while it manifests itself in the form of a headache for me for Howie it causes big behavior changes.  His vestibular system gets rocked when the pressure drops.  I know it sounds weird, but we’ve seen it several times, including the last hurricane and that summer when the tornadoes rolled through western MA.  It’s usually about 24-48 hours before the actual weather event comes in.

With this upcoming hurricane, I just read that the pressure will drop incredibly low.  Based on the track of the storm, Sunday is more likely to be Howie’s harder day, but he could start feeling it as soon as today and into Monday.  If you see extra stimming, or he seems out of whack, it’s probably that.

Hopefully we won’t be hit too hard! At least it’s not snow!

These are the types of e-mails I write lately.

The news today is full of reports of a “Frankenstorm” as Hurricane Sandy heads towards the east coast.  Forecasters are calling for an incredible drop in barometric pressure as it hits land sometime late Monday and into Tuesday.

And so I write e-mails about meteorology and storm tracking and sensory processing disorder.

I know that for some people this connection makes no sense.  As in “really?  The weather affects your kid’s behavior? Come on.  Weather changes were something that made old people complain about their aches and pains, but it’s not really real. “

It’s just an excuse for his bad behavior.

I’ve been at this long enough with my kid to tell you.  It’s real.

I get headaches and neck aches right before a storm comes through.  When Hurricane Irene passed near us last summer, it felt like someone was standing on my head.

I can verbalize it.  I can explain what is happening and why.  And people understand it.

My son can’t explain it why all of a sudden he needs to run laps or crash into things or spin in circles and stim.  His reactions to the same trigger look like behavior problems.

It sounds like hooey to someone who doesn’t live it.  But I’ve tracked it.  Storms, moon phase changes, illness…all these things affect my son’s sensory system.

They probably affect all of our sensory systems. But most people have learned to cope with how we’re feeling.  A few extra Tylenol.  Or a nap.

Howie is still learning what makes him more regulated.  He knows what activities make him feel better but he has yet to figure out the trigger or how to do it most “appropriately” for the setting.

I’m not making excuses for how he’s acting. If he’s being unsafe or not able to be in the classroom then he needs to be removed, redirected and helped.  Unacceptable behavior is still unacceptable behavior.

I will however be proactive in helping those around him understand what is a sensory response versus what is a behavior so he doesn’t get into trouble for something he can’t control.

So that maybe he gets an extra sensory break during the day.  Or two visits to the OT room versus just one.  Or just a well trained eye on him looking for signs of discomfort and dysregulation.

And hopefully we can teach him why he’s feeling the way he does so that next time, he has the tools he needs to cope and feel better.

So I send e-mails warning of Hurricane Howie as Hurricane Sandy approaches.

At home, we’re stocking up on Stonyfield yogurts, fruit leather and flameless candles and padding the house with pillows and bean bag chairs for safe crashing.

Getting ready to weather any storm that comes our way.

Got our umbrellas ready

Squalls out on the gulf stream,
Big storms coming soon.
I passed out in my hammock,
God, I slept way past noon.
Stood up and tried to focus,
I hoped I wouldn’t have to look far.
I knew I could use a Bloody Mary,
So I stumbled next door to the bar.” – Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season by Jimmy Buffett

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