I’ve always lived by the philosophy that “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” But unless life also hands you sugar and water, your lemonade will taste extremely bitter. That’s why I like to subscribe to my other favorite belief that “Humor is the shock absorber of life.” Humor, with a light dash of sarcasm, becomes the sugar and water that keeps my “life lemonade” properly balanced between bitter and sweet.
While sarcasm comes to me rather naturally, humor can take years for me to find, especially when it’s served with some of life’s bigger lemons. When my youngest son Caleb began showing signs of autism, I didn’t find anything funny about it. I was extremely bitter that autism affected yet another one of my children. But as I have watched Caleb grow over the past seven years, I have enjoyed dozens of humorous autism idiosyncrasies that make him the spectacular, sweet, lovable, and kind-hearted boy that brightens my life. For each laugh he brings me, a spoonful of sugar is added to my cup of “life lemonade.”
Without actually realizing it, my older son Tyler was quietly learning to make his own version of “life lemonade.” By the second grade, the subtle facial twitches of his nose and mouth began to change into a full sideways head jerk. He made lemonade out of his lemons by growing his hair a little longer and calling it his “Justin Bieber move.” But as Tyler got older, the body movements grew beyond the sideways head jerk and nose wrinkle. He developed more complex, repetitive and involuntary body movements that included uncontrollable verbal utterances that most people know as Tourette’s syndrome.
Yet again I watched my son make a new batch of “life lemonade” out of a growing pile of lemons. His teacher and I agreed to help him keep his diagnosis a secret from his classmates. Surprisingly, he made it work for a while. Tyler, an outgoing and likable kid, had just the right amount of charm, wit and sarcasm to work into just about any situation. When he would blurt out, “What’s two plus two? MOOOOOOO!!!” his classmates would think it was a joke with a zany punchline. When he’d say various forms of, “My grandma farted and the house blew up,” I’m pretty sure his classmates thought he was on his way to becoming the next Last Comic Standing.
But the situation got real for me the day Tyler got into an altercation during a PE class. Another student mistook his facial tics as a mocking, insulting smirk. That was the day I came to realize that his safety could be at risk, especially if there was no parent or teacher present to intervene on his behalf. After much persuasion, Tyler agreed to tell his classmates, and to his relief, they were accepting of his condition. He explained to his class that fighting a tic is like trying to not scratch a really bad mosquito bite. It eventually itches so bad, it hurts.
This summer, as we got ready to walk into Avista Stadium to watch a Spokane Indians baseball game, he said shaking his head, “Wow, Mom. I have a new tic and this one’s annoying. I can’t stop making this kissy, smooching sound.” My heart started pounding in my chest as I explained to Tyler, “You have to try hard to fight that tic. Someone might get really offended if they think you’re making kissy noises at them.” Tyler just smiled and said, “I already thought of that. If the girl’s cute, I’ll give her my best smolder look and give her a wink. Maybe I’ll even get her digits. But if someone gets bent out of shape, I’ll just pretend I’m calling my lost dog. You don’t have to worry, Mom. I’ve got this.”
Tyler continues to amaze me with his persistent ability to make cup after cup of delicious “life lemonade.” With the help of a local provider and a lot of practice and patience, Tyler has learned strategies to help him control the tic impulses. It takes a lot of concentration and his mastery is still ongoing because many of his tics and utterances appear and disappear without a clear understanding as to why. But selfishly, there is one utterance I hope he never loses. I’ll never get tired of hearing him tic, “Mom, I love you! Mom, I love you!” I’d be okay if that particular tic stays around forever.
Holly Lytle is the mother of three and is the founder of The ISAAC Foundation, a local nonprofit organization. In her free time, Holly enjoys chronicling her many adventures of motherhood for this column.