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Lemon Season

posted Thursday January 27th, 2022



I’m really not one for physical pain, but there’s something almost satisfying about the sting of lemon juice on my fingers, a reminder that I really need to leave my cuticles alone. I’ve accidentally run the grater over my hand a couple of times. There’s nothing pleasant about that. And yet, I’ve addressed the overwhelming bounty from my one lemon tree with a singlemindedness usually reserved for thrifting or bingeing Gilmore Girls.

Even picking the lemons hurts — I’m sure it’s something I did wrong that caused the tree to sprout giant thorns. In any case, I spent much of January celebrating lemon season with a grim determination. I gave away bags of lemons, shipped them in boxes to friends in icy climates, made lemon icing, cookies, two kinds of pound cake, bottles of lemoncello. I can’t stop roasting chickens for soup, stuffing the birds with chunks of onion and lemon. I’ve got lemon zest in the fridge, more juice in the freezer.

Really, there doesn’t have to be a metaphor. I live in metro Phoenix. It’s winter. My lemon tree is aging, which means it’s finally producing.

And yet, I can’t help but think that the sour notes feel so right at the moment. Annabelle’s final semester of high school really was bittersweet, in the textbook definition. It was tough to sit through the final dance concert, to send her off to senior prom, and graduation was pretty soggy. Bittersweet, the good mixed with the bad. The launch is usually painful, and that one was, but full of joy as well. Bittersweet.

When it comes to Sophie, thinking about this milestone — high school graduation — stings like lemon juice hitting my fingers, a sour taste on my tongue when I try to lick the pain away. Don’t misunderstand. As with Annabelle, there is much to celebrate.

Just moments ago, Sophie rushed out the door, eager to make her call time for opening night of the school musical. She has a named role, as she’s told me approximately one million times. I never get tired of hearing that. I’ll be honest, even real inclusion isn’t pretty up close — you don’t want to watch that sausage being made. Sophie has fought hard for every moment of feeling like a regular high school kid and she’s left out more than she’s let in. But when she is included, it’s pretty fucking glorious. It’s been worth it.

And now it is ending. She will have to start all over again. This time, there is no community that will be legally bound to include her, to accommodate her needs, even in the half-assed way I’ve witnessed over the last 13 years.

The cliff awaits.

So you can see why I’ve been tackling lemons. I don’t typically do things like choose a word of the year, but a few days before New Year’s I rolled over in bed and the word CONTROL popped into my head. It hasn’t left. I think about it as I stand over the kitchen counter, grating lemon zest and, occasionally, my skin.

I stamp out cookies, simmer a chicken carcass, pack up care packages of lemons, putting off the real tasks at hand. I’m not even sure what those tasks are. I don’t know what to do. I’ve pushed Sophie’s final IEP meeting back several times, demanding all the teachers be present, that someone comes to talk about voc rehab and transitions, even though I have little hope that much will come of it.

As I email her case manager, trying to explain what I hope to accomplish, I think of all the times I didn’t push back in IEP meetings. Trust me, there were plenty of times I pushed. But was it enough? Too much? Sophie really struggles with regulating her emotional temperature. Me too, as it turns out.

I think to myself, maybe I can convince these people that the entire special education system is a farce, that there’s nothing individual about it. I just want someone to recognize it, even though this is not the fault of those with whom Sophie and I interact — the blame lands at a much higher level. We are fooling ourselves when we say there’s anything individualized about any of it. Mostly it’s checking boxes, writing meaningless goals, signing on the dotted line. But at least there’s that. We’ll have Sophie’s IEP meeting next week, finally, and I will have to let go of a system that is flawed — but familiar. After that, she will be one step closer to the void.

Luckily, I still have a few lemons left.

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5 Responses to “Lemon Season”

  1. I read your article. It must be hard to know where Sophie fits in. I had to let go-in effect distance myself from a group where their activities were too sedentary. The group I am now a part of is pretty active, which is what I needed. It’s really hard to know where to go from here for Sophie. Try to keep her as active as possible. Is there a community center that has activities for people of all abilities? Is there a Peoples First chapter in Arizona? I can give you the name of a friend from Tribe Inclusive who is autistic and lives with her mom. It’ll work out. I have faith.

  2. I am in awe. I hope the future for Sophie is rewarding and meaningful. You are embarking on an entirely new life. Bless you❤ And it’s bingeing!

  3. For those of us who have walked in these same shoes, sat in meetings for 15 years asking the same questions, searching for the never present “I” in IEP, standing at the cliff and hoping that he really did learn not to jump off but to pragmatically turn left and see what’s around the other corner, all I can say is “you’ve done good”. Sophie is happy most of the time. Sophie has had real and meaningful opportunities. Sophie will take that bow on closing night and you will walk the bouquet up and envelop her and know that these are the moments, the seconds that, while fleeting, tell you that “you’ve done good”. Yes, tomorrow is unclear. Yes, there will be many, many tomorrows with cliffs to tackle. But for today, know that “you’ve done good”. And, to Sophie: break a leg!

  4. Thank you for this lovely piece of writing. I am completely inside this experience as I read it. I found the metaphor the perfect frame. I celebrate your words, and I feel the pain of your dilemma. Sending much love.

  5. wish i could say the fear goes away, or the control lessens, or it all pays off . . .but what I know for truth is lemon trees continue to produce and life continues to zing us with tart reminders that it’s tough for our sons and daughters, that it stings sometimes and it makes life taste beautiful at others. But these precious lives are vibrant and command our attention. Yep . . .they make life messy as well as delicious . . and just maybe we wouldn’t have it any other way .xoxoxoxox

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