When my children were young (eight kids aged 19-9) and my grandson was a newborn I took the entire family (plus a sound man) on a magical mystery tour of the penal system in North America. At that time four of my six adopted children were autistic.
Now you may think that traveling through Canada and the United States entertaining in prisons, jails and half way houses is a peculiar choice for a mom to make but then I am a bit peculiar, so I guess that makes it, in a peculiar sort of way. At the time I needed to create a more bonded family unit (Two of the adopted six were new arrivals — teenagers with biological families tugging at their sense of loyalty.) while still making a living in order to feed and cloth the brood that barely knew each other. I also needed to put some adventurous new thing in every single day in order to stimulate interest in external reality and encourage mental flexibility in my autistic sons (This was my own idea and counter to everything I was being taught but seemed peculiarlarly logical to me. And since three of the four autistic kids eventually came off the spectrum maybe peculiar logic is the answer to autism.).
I was looking around for ideas when I noticed that my teenagers had become enamored of the idea that they might be “bad girls’ destined to write books while serving time in solitary confinement. (It was a period when movies were romanticizing prison, my children were not outside the influence of Hollywood.). Knowing that a captive audience was a good thing for me I decided to hone my family’s performance skills by creating a show and then donating our time while traveling from correctional facility to correctional facility. I made the bookings. Since it was costing them nothing they were happy to have us.
I wrote, directed, produced and starred in the play whose inflated intention it was to save prisoners lives by teaching them that you can always make something good out of something bad. I also wrote, produced and sang on a CD in order to have product to sell. We would need gas (hence we often convinced truckers at truck stops that they couldn’t live without my music) and money for hotel fees and groceries. I would use my credit card for the hotels and packed up the CD’s for everything else. Away we went.
This story deserves to be a book, perhaps it will be someday but for now I want to share some highlights:
We were robbed of our sound equipment in New York.
We were late to Sing Sing and almost caused a riot.
We were taped for National TV in Stony Mountain.
We broke down in Houston missed our show in Dallas.
No Dallas meant no CD sales so our sound man left.
We were saved by truckers in New Mexico.
We were stars in Phoenix.
We were robbed once more, this time in Vegas.
We did our last American shows without shoes.
We were redressed in Calgary.
On the final leg home — after four months of travel – all the children were sleeping in the back of the van. I was driving down the highway in Northern Ontario when the sky lit up with a beautiful display of Aurora Borealis. Everything danced in muted greens, golds, pinks and yellows.
I pulled over on the side of the road and crawled onto the roof of my vehicle to watch. It was as if the universe were setting off spiritual fireworks in celebration of our return. I was breathless with awe and happy to be appreciated. One by one the kids woke up and joined me. Our own personal sky dance went on for hours. We watched until well after sunrise.
As we did this we were mostly silent and worn out with wonder. Then, as the sun began to glow and drown out the Northern Lights, conversation poured from us in unison. Even the autistic kids shared, in their own peculiar fashion. We were verbally tumbling over each other transported by the joy of all that we had survived and become privy to, each of us was excited to add our own personal vision to the pot of personal epiphanies.
It was then that I finally heard it: a bonded family composed of rag tags and misfits, happy to be alive.