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Marriage and Autism (Part II)

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This post is a continuation of "Marriage and Autism (Part I)."

When our daughter Emma was diagnosed with autism, I threw myself into researching it. I was determined to find out everything I could. I quit my job and devoted every spare second to reading books, trolling the Internet for information, talking with specialists, etc.

It was my husband Richard who said to me, "Ariane, this isn't healthy."

"What are you talking about?" I said indignantly.

"You can't even see it -- this searching, every second spent reading about autism."

I was furious with him. Here I was devoting every second of my free time trying to help our daughter, and he was telling me it wasn't healthy?!

Richard took a deep breath and continued, "You have to go back to work, do something with your creativity. Do something that has nothing to do with autism."

He was right. My life had lost all semblance of balance. And so I did. I found the career and creative outlet I had been looking for my entire adult life -- jewelry design. I began my own business and recently, with my business partner, opened my first store -- Ariane Zurcher & Aspen Jewel Box in Aspen, Colo.

The summer after Emma's diagnosis, Richard was under tremendous pressure at work. I told him that I would take the kids to stay with my mother in Colorado for a few weeks so that he could have a break and not worry about showing up for the children and me. The point is that we watch out for each other and encourage each other to have some balance in our lives.

Early on we realized the importance of down time, because with an autistic child, there is so little of it. I cannot remember ever, in the last six years, sitting down to read the paper without feeling a tiny tremor of guilt. I should be engaging Emma in some sort of play no matter how tired I am. In addition, not only are you suppose to interact with your child every waking moment, but you are supposed to interact with a child who often does not want to be interacted with. Add to the mix the lack of sleep, a full work week and all the stresses that come with owning several businesses. You get the picture.

Richard and I decided that we each needed an evening out. We picked a night: mine is Tuesday, and Richard's is Friday. On my night off I go out with a friend, see a movie or often just stay at my studio and work late. We also have a standing date night. It is sacrosanct. We have a caregiver booked for the same evening every week. Both of these nights have been crucial to the well-being of our marriage and family.

At a dinner party years ago, someone asked each of us to use one word to describe our partner/spouse. When it was my turn I said, "Kind." Richard is of course many things, but that is the word I still think sums him up better than any other.

I am a better person as a direct result of being with Richard. I am pretty sure he feels the same. We push each other to do the right thing. We encourage each other to stretch beyond what is comfortable. We challenge each other. I can say the same thing about both our neuro-typical son Nic and Emma. Each of them pushes me to show up in ways I could not have imagined. Each of them challenges me to dig deeper, to practice more patience, to stretch, to work a bit harder. Emma has taught me to appreciate the seemingly insignificant -- a hug, a kiss, the unexpected laugh -- and my life and marriage are the better for it.

Over a decade ago, during a particularly difficult time in my life, I took a walk along 23rd street in New York City, where I lived. It was a clear, beautiful, spring day. A single crocus had pushed its way up and out of a crack in the sidewalk, a single flowering plant amidst concrete. I remember thinking how strange it was that I hadn't noticed it before. After all, it was right outside the front door of the building I lived in.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine, who is going through a particularly contentious divorce, said, "Life is hard, suffering is optional."

Being able to see the occasional crocus makes it a bit less so.

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