Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sacrificial Love 13 Years In

I left my house between the conclusion of homework and the beginning of bedtimes tonight.  A young woman from my church invited me to speak to a group of RAs at our local Christian college about what I was reading in the Bible lately.  I accepted the invitation because I love to talk and especially I love to talk about the Bible.  So I sat down with these women and we read through Romans 12, a chapter chock full of relationship advice and descriptions of sacrificial love.

"...in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice..."

I didn't mention that today is my 13th wedding anniversary.

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

As I left the house, I wondered, Is it hypocritical to ask your husband to put the kids to bed on his own on your anniversary so you can discuss sacrifice to a group of college students?  The answer that came back?  Probably.

"Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought..."

Probably I should have stayed home.  Probably I should have been excited about the passing of another year of marriage.  Probably I should have been having an honest conversation with my husband instead of a group of (mostly) strangers.

"...but rather think of yourself with sober judgment."

I started off talking about selfishness.  We are all born self-focused, because we can't even meet our own needs, much less think of or give to another.  We spend our childhoods completely obsessed with ourselves, culminating in the most self-centered developmental stage:  adolescence.  I can remember as a teenager feeling certain that EVERYONE was looking at me, that everyone could see whatever perceived minor flaw I was focused on that day.  What a shock to get older and realize that we could have done whatever we wanted in those days, because NO ONE was paying attention to anyone else. We were all consumed with our own inner drama.

"We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us."

I can also distinctly remember times when I was in college and felt so glad that I didn't have kids, that I was single and only responsible to myself.  I felt like I got a bonus selfish period, a few years after school but before marriage and family life forced me to flush out all that self-centeredness.  My time, my money, my body, and my possessions were simply MINE.  I did not share.  I did not take other people into consideration.  I look back fondly on those days.

"If it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach."

Because what came next--sharing my life and my home with my husband--it has been much harder.  It has required me to think of someone else.  I had to make room for another person in all those areas that used to be exclusively mine.  And that does not come naturally to me.  If we're being honest, it doesn't come naturally to any of us.

"Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil, cling to what is good."

We all know that adults should be responsible, considerate, giving, gracious, SACRIFICIAL.  Adults should be able to take care of each other and any children they bring into the world, as well as keeping plants and animals alive and performing light household repairs.  But look around.  Look in the mirror.  It doesn't just happen.  We don't wake up on our 18th or 22nd or 35th or 58th birthdays and suddenly know how to put other people's needs ahead of our own.  I spent the last week in Family Court and I'm ready to give up on humanity.

"Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves."

In fact, at this moment, I believe Paul's words to the Roman church more than ever.  It is God working through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that transforms our hearts and enables us to love each other.  It's nothing we can do on our own.  And we still manage to get in our own way.

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."

The women in my Bible study laughed when I said that pregnancy was one of the most sacrificial acts I performed.  But I was being serious.  My body was overtaken by another creature, someone I didn't even know yet who ate all my food and stretched out my stomach and made all the parts of my body ache in a symphony of discomfort.  It was the perfect preparation for motherhood.  Parenting is total sacrifice.  It is decades of watching another Elmo video and re-reading Harold and the Purple Crayon and going sledding when everyone knows snow is best enjoyed from INSIDE the house.  It is sleepless nights and worrisome doctor's appointments and combing through books to find a solution.  It is years without new clothes and too long between visits to your hairstylist so that your kids can play t-ball and go to the pool, not to mention that giant money suck known as Back to School shopping.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."

Marriage feels a little different.  Some days it is hard to muster sympathy for your sick spouse or stop yourself from rolling your eyes at their complaints.  Sometimes the limitless patience you can give to your kindergartner as he sounds out sight words is sorely lacking for a husband who has misplaced his wallet.  Again.  Maybe it's because the power dynamic is different.  Husbands and wives are on essentially similar footing, while parents and children aren't.  You sacrifice completely for the kids because you know they need it, know they won't be able to give you anything for years, if ever.  In my experience, marriage has its ups and downs, with one person bearing the brunt for a period until things level off, and then the other will take up the load for a while.

"Live in harmony with one another...as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."

It feels like I've been the one carrying the weight for a while now.

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink."

What I shared with the college students tonight is that while I would prefer to say, "I've lived a lovely, charming life that's been happy all the time, and now I'm just like Jesus!" I'm learning that God has a very different life planned for His followers.  It's in the hardships and struggles that we are transformed, it's only by enduring pain and loss and difficulty that we can grow as people.  Sacrificial love does not come as a result of a carefree life, it comes on the tail end of our most challenging seasons.  Yet in the midst of a difficult season, I don't feel like celebrating.  I don't feel warm and gooey and sentimental, I feel hard and tired and cynical.

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

These are hard words to read, harder still to live out, especially when there are days when I feel like giving up.  If faith is having confidence of what we hope for and being certain of what we do not see, then faith is the only thing I have in those moments.  Faith in light up ahead.  Faith in unloading the weight, in trading off with my partner.  Faith that something good and worthy will come out of this time of struggle.  Faith that all the time, God is good.

After 13 years, all I have is faith in us.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

When Those Who Came Before Disappoint

You looked at me with tears in your eyes.  Or anger.  Or sadness.  Because your parents had disappointed you.  Because the generation who came before you failed you.  Because some collection of adults who were supposed to protect you, educate you, set an example for you had let you down.  You told me your story as you choked back, clenched your fists, threw your hands in the air.

"What am I supposed to do now?" you asked.

(Stuart McClymont/Getty Images)
I wish I had a solution.  I wish my words were more than just words of comfort, more than just pointing in the direction of truth, more than the promise that no matter what, I'm here.  I'm listening.  I believe you.  But for now, all I can say is:  you are not alone.

There is a passage I turn to in times of high anxiety, when big life-changing decisions loom and wisdom feels elusive.  Whether for good reasons or bad, when the torch has been passed to me, I read the first chapter of Joshua in the Bible.

The Bible begins with five books, often referred to collectively as the Pentateuch, which contain the origins of the Jewish people.  In a book of firsts, Genesis introduces us to God, to the creation of the world, to the first man and the first woman.  After Adam and Eve name all the animals and, I assume, figure out exactly how God intended them to be fruitful and multiply, we encounter the first sin.  Eve takes the apple, the only thing that is forbidden, and, in the first ever recorded instance of FOMO, Adam eats it too.  I have to wonder, knowing what I do about human nature, just how long it took them to break the rule.  Was it after years and years of temptation?  Was it the first time God walked off into the Garden?  Either way, Adam and Eve receive a curse and must leave Eden.  Within a generation, we learn of the first blood feud, followed soon by the first diaspora, the first flood, the first promise God makes to a man to never flood the earth again.  Then we meet Abram, the man chosen by God to father an entire group of chosen people, a man credited with righteousness because of his faith, the first person to be given a new name by the Lord.  We see God honor that promise through Abraham's son and grandson.  We see Joseph sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and making a place for himself in Egypt.

Now this actually becomes a big deal as Genesis ends and Exodus begins.  Joseph's entire family moves to Egypt due to a famine in their own land, and they find the conditions perfect to greatly grow in number, just as God intended.  For hundreds of years, God's people, the descendants of Abraham, flourish in this foreign land.  Then a pattern, which has been carried out again and again across human history, begins.  The native Egyptians mistreat the descendants of Abraham.  They feared them because of their large numbers, so they enslaved them.  They ordered the wholesale murder of all their infant sons so they could be further dominated.  In spite of this, the chosen people continue to increase in number.  And the Bible tells us that they cried out to God, and He heard them.

God raises up one of their own, a baby boy who escapes the infanticide of Egypt and grows up inside Pharaoh's palace, a man whose name is Moses.  God calls Moses from his self-imposed exile in the wilderness to lead the people out of slavery and into freedom.  God makes a covenant with Moses that builds upon His promise to Abraham.  Now that His people number in the millions, God has chosen a place for them to call their own, a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey where they can worship the God of their ancestors and govern themselves according to His Holy law (aka the 10 commandments).  And so, after throwing up a few flimsy excuses and trying to evade his God-given job, Moses returns to Egypt and tells Pharaoh to let his people go.  There are some plagues against the stubborn Egyptians and some harsh punishments against the slaves as a result, but eventually Moses leads the entire population of Jews out of slavery and into the desert.  It doesn't take long for the people to start complaining about how good they had it in Egypt, in spite of God's constant presence and constant provision.  He takes them to the edge of the Promised Land, and then Moses chooses 12 men to spy out the current occupants.  Two of the spies return, full of hope and wonder, with reports that the land really is as good as God promised, with the certain belief that they can conquer it.  The other ten are not so optimistic.  They saw giants where the others saw bounty; they saw defeat where the two saw victory.  Word quickly spreads among the people, and a full-on rebellion begins to form.  No one except Joshua and Caleb believes that God will fulfill His promise, and so God makes a decree.  The entire generation will die in the desert before their children will inherit the Promised Land.

It shocks me every time I read it.  They were there, they were so close...and they missed it.  Not because of their sin, like the time they worshipped a golden calf at the foot of Mt Sinai.  Not because they were lazy or stupid or worthless.  It was because they didn't believe God's promise.  So they live like refugees, in camps in the middle of nowhere, for FORTY YEARS.  Their children grow up without permanence, without role models, without the free-flowing milk and honey.

This is where the book of Joshua begins.  Moses is dead.  He is the last of the faithless generation.  And now God speaks to Joshua.

 He said, “My servant Moses is dead. Get ready now, you and all the people of Israel, and cross the Jordan River into the land that I am giving them. As I told Moses, I have given you and all my people the entire land that you will be marching over. Your borders will reach from the desert in the south to the Lebanon Mountains in the north; from the great Euphrates River in the east, through the Hittite country, to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. Joshua, no one will be able to defeat you as long as you live. I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will always be with you; I will never abandon you. Be determined and confident, for you will be the leader of these people as they occupy this land which I promised their ancestors. Just be determined, be confident; and make sure that you obey the whole Law that my servant Moses gave you. Do not neglect any part of it and you will succeed wherever you go. Be sure that the book of the Law is always read in your worship. Study it day and night, and make sure that you obey everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Remember that I have commanded you to be determined and confident! Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go.”
Joshua is the keeper of the faith, and now he is the leader of millions.  He is tasked with the job his elders couldn't accomplish.  He will finally lead the people into the Promised Land.  When he stands before them to make his first big speech, I have to wonder what he was feeling.  Did the weight of his new responsibilities feel heavy?  Did he worry that he would fail just as Moses and all the others had?  Did he have even a moment when he broke down and cried because it was all so much and he was just one man?  Or did the words God spoke to him break through all the self-doubt?  Did a fire burn in his chest as he repeated them to himself:  "Be determined and confident!  Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go"?

Do those words speak to you in this moment, does your heavy heart feel lighter, does the path forward seem clear?  Because Joshua did exactly as he was told, and the Promised Land became his home.  He and Caleb settled within the borders and brought their people in.  God did what He promised, and went with Joshua through all of it, the battles, the long nights, the strategy sessions.  Joshua conquered the land where giants dwelled and he knew peace in his lifetime.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

That Could Never Happen Here

During my junior year in high school, I started taking college courses, so that after a full day of honors classes and marching band practice, I drove across town to get credit for Intro to Psych and Microeconomics.  It was on that drive, one warm April afternoon, that my Top 40 pop songs were interrupted by breaking news.  Reporters and law enforcement had swarmed to a Colorado high school, responding to shooters inside, murdering their classmates and teachers.  I was perplexed, the same way I would feel on another drive a few years later, listening to the report of airplanes flying into the World Trade Center.  My thoughts were jumbled, trying to make sense of the notion that apparently this happens now.

Denver Rocky Mountain News
People were quick to talk about the WHY, whether the blame lay in bad parenting or violent video games or intense bullying.  It never seemed like much of a mystery to me, with our unformed frontal cortexes and hormonal surges, the anger and loneliness and grandiosity that hid behind our smiles on Picture Day.  The next day, I returned to my high school with a certain amount of fear.  It felt like anyone with access to weapons and a big enough grudge could storm the building and open fire.

I showed up in the school office, where I helped the secretary take attendance and filed paperwork for the vice principal.  We usually talked during the 45 minutes we spent together each day, although in the wake of Columbine, our conversation centered on the tragedy that had taken place on the other side of the country.  Almost 20 years later, I can still remember her words as she looked at me that morning.  "There were BMWs in that parking lot," she said.  As news helicopters had filmed students fleeing the building, her eyes had focused on the makes and models of cars the students had driven to school that morning.  "There are BMWs in our parking lot," she continued.  The peaceful, secure illusion of our affluent suburban town had shattered for her.  If it could happen in Littleton, it could happen here.

I'll admit, I had several years of not following breaking news very closely.  There have been incidents of violence and murder that have flown under my radar.  Yet every school shooting, every child gunned down on a playground or in a classroom, the thought has resurfaced:  that could happen here. Now that my own children are enrolled in our local public school, I watch the enhanced security measures that are put in place each year, the reinforced doors and student dismissal procedures, I hear about the "man with a gun" drill from my 6 year old, and I wonder how truly effective any of it is.  Because THAT COULD HAPPEN HERE, is another lock enough to stop a person with a loaded gun and a mission?

I said my usual prayer this morning as I dropped my boys off at their school, as I watched the police cruiser in the parking lot and the children streaming into the building, dressed up for Picture Day.  I prayed for their safety, for their teachers to be able to do their jobs in peace, for every child showing up at school that day to make it through the day unharmed.  An hour later, I saw the story, reported by our local paper.  It happened here.

Amid the confusion and the fear, there was that same sentiment that my high school secretary had expressed so many years ago, the shock that something like THAT could happen HERE.  As though the price of your home or the designer labels inside your clothes can protect you, as though money can buy your family happiness and inoculate your children's minds from corruption, as though some invisible barrier exists around your zip code and protects you from human nature, from the very worst that we are capable of.

Today was a typical day for our little family, inside the walls of our home.  But it was a very different story across town, on my Facebook feed, as parents held their children close and sirens and helicopters were heard outside.  The danger is all too real for a new group of families, for another community, as questions swirl and peace of mind is long gone.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Worst Tooth Fairy

We care about oral hygiene.
I swear.
If I can be totally honest (and it's my blog, so why not?), I was fairly unprepared for motherhood.  Mostly I focused on getting through the pregnancies, and then I was presented a baby.  I didn't know how long they would wear diapers.  I didn't know when I should introduce solid foods.  I definitely didn't have a "parenting style" locked and loaded.  Then there's all the other stuff, the little stuff, the once a year stuff, the "we didn't have this in my day" stuff, that makes me want to throw up my hands and hide under a blanket.  It doesn't help that so many people are on Pinterest and making every day of childhood magical for their kids.

I can't even handle being the Tooth Fairy.

This is one of those unexpected roles that just popped up.  As in, we were out of town for Thanksgiving five years ago and our kindergartner had a loose tooth all of a sudden.  How long had the tooth been loose?  How long would it be until it fell out?  What in the world are we supposed to do to kick off this grand tradition?

The answers came quickly.  A loose tooth will hang from a child's gums until that child bites into an apple (his favorite food).  A grandparent will sneak down to the hotel lobby and purchase candy from a vending machine to slide under the child's pillow.  Parents will feel conflicted about giving their five year old a King Size Skittles, ultimately taking their punishment of sugar craze as penance for not being prepared.

You would think I learned my lesson.  You would think I would prepare better, now that teeth had begun to fall out.  You would be wrong.

I didn't want to keep giving my kids candy for each tooth.  I mean, it kind of defeats the purpose of celebrating adult teeth by turning around and rotting them with too much sugar.  But my very young son didn't seem to grasp the concept of money, either, so it seemed like quarters wouldn't give him a thrill.  I finally settled on giving him licensed Cars (like Lightning McQueen and friends) each time he lost a tooth.  Sometimes I would go out in the evening and purchase the car.  Sometimes it would be a few days later.  When he got a tooth pulled at the dentist, I took him straight to Toys R Us and let him pick out two.  It was working (sort of), so I optimistically purchased a few new Cars to have a stock pile.  He found them within a day and wanted to know why he had to wait to lose a tooth to play with them.

That's the saga of my oldest.  Again, you'd think that all that experience would translate to better practices when the next kid started losing baby teeth.  Again, you'd be wrong.

Once again, I was completely unprepared for my kid to start getting loose teeth.  Once again, a grandparent-supplied candy bar was needed.  Once again, I mentally flogged myself for my children's lack of a magical childhood.

But this kid was determined to be different.  When I spotted a loose tooth and ran out to purchase a toy that could fit under his pillow (and hopefully cost less than $5), it took MONTHS for the thing to actually come out, and more than once, I'd forget what I'd gotten or where I'd hidden it.  Problem not solved.  Also, with the second kid, there's the added pressure of expectation.  Because this kid's been watching his big brother amass a fleet of die-cast Cars, so everything has to appear to be as good as the older kid's experience.  Try telling a six year old that the Tooth Fairy messed up a fair amount with his brother.  That kid is NOT BUYING IT.

So I have a kid who loses a tooth with very little fanfare, and another who gives daily progress reports for 72 days.  (The oldest lost a tooth recently, and this is how it went down: he told me the day before that his tooth was loose.  While I was standing in the kitchen making coffee the next morning, he walks in, shows me the tooth in his hand, tosses it in the trash can and asks for his toy.)

Okay, I have one more kid left.  I was determined to get this thing right.  I found a pack of miniature Fireman Sam figures online and ordered them.  They've been sitting in my dresser for almost a year.  Every time his brothers lost a tooth, I'd check his.  Nothing was happening.

That is, until the morning of January 10th.  It started like a typical school day.  I got the younger two dropped off at the local elementary school and returned home for a day of tests for the oldest, who does online school.  Forty-five minutes passed, which wasn't even enough time to finish the first test (math :/ ) when the phone rang.  It was the elementary school secretary informing me that I needed to come pick up my youngest because he'd had an accident in gym class.  At the phrase "bloody nose," the smile on my face died.  I rushed the oldest through the last few questions (nothing says Positive Learning Environment like an adult yelling, "Just guess!" as she retrieves her shoes and coat) and drove back to the school.  There was my peanut, his feet dangling from the chair and an ice pack pressed to his face.  Under the blood and faint bruises, there was a loose baby tooth hanging on for dear life.

Cut to an emergency dental appointment, a shot of Novocaine that helped him get through the rest of the day, and a premature tooth loss presented in one of those little plastic containers.  We talked about the Tooth Fairy and her nocturnal visit, the gift he could expect to find under his pillow.  And then we muddled through the rest of the day, managing pain and presenting soft foods.  I caved to the request to sleep in his bed, even though it is a narrow twin and he's a kicker.

Then the morning came.

I woke up to my son rattling his tooth holder and looking disappointed.  "The Tooth Fairy didn't come," he told me, and instantly I shot up to rectify the situation.  "Oh, I think she left your present in my room!" I said, running across the hall and trying to not make too much noise as I retrieved the Fireman Sam figure from his packaging.  "But she forgot the tooth," he said, and the usual mental berating began in earnest.  I traded the toy for the tooth in broad daylight and shrugged my shoulders.    What can I say?  The Tooth Fairy wasn't anticipating all the trauma of the previous day.  And also, I suck at this job.

None of us is perfect at this parenting thing.  What's something you wish you did better?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

2018: A Year of Renewal

No school + lots of snow = Sledding!
January is coming to an end.  The daylight is finally starting to lengthen, and 23 degrees doesn't feel quite so chilly.  The kids are back in school, the threat of snow days mostly behind us.  It's the beginning of a new year, and it's given me a chance to reflect.  A few years ago, I started choosing a "word" for the year, something to encapsulate all I hoped to accomplish in the coming months, a simple focal point to set the tone.  It was helpful as I started incorporating healthier practices, as life shifted with growing kids, as I worked towards making dreams a reality.

For 2017, I chose a phrase.  "Don't let fear hold you back."  It wasn't quite the same thing as brave, or courageous, definitely not synonymous with fearless.  It was a personal kick in the pants to finally STOP hiding out, to FOLLOW THROUGH even when (or especially when) it was scary, to be unapologetically tenacious.  As a result, 2017 was a year of new things.  I joined a writer's group and read my fiction out loud, in public, to a group of people who critiqued words that have previously been shared only with a trusted few.  I went to Washington, D.C. and advocated for Pancreatic Cancer patients, sitting down with my representatives (or their much younger aides).  I walked into my local YWCA and sat down with women I didn't know, shared a meal each month with ladies from different walks of life than my own.  I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and wrote 49,722 words of a brand new book.  I did a Whole30 diet and managed to go without pop for 39 days, my longest stretch since I was pregnant.  When I look back, I am not the same person I was 13 months ago.  But with all the additions and challenges and new experiences, some really good things got lost.

When I recently went back to my blog posts from 2016, looking for something I was sure I'd written back then, I felt like I was reading the words of someone else.  Not a bolder person, but a more disciplined person.  I used to prioritize running, and drinking water, and reading books.  I used to make space weekly (if not daily) to pray and listen and be still.  I used to focus on areas and rooms in my house and work to declutter them.  I used to sit down with my computer and pound out my thoughts in this somewhat public space.  With all the new additions of 2017, some old things had crept in as well.  Stuff I don't much care for, stuff I'd worked to get rid of.

A few weeks ago, I made space for quiet for the first time in I don't know how long, and this is what I drew:

New isn't always better.  With everything I added to my life, I overlooked the most important thing of all--the state of my heart.  Good things that had been priorities fell out of place, and I've suffered because of it.  That's why my word for 2018 is RENEWAL.  I want to renew my commitment to things that bring me joy and nourish my soul.  I want to renew my priorities each day, focusing on my health and the health of my family, and working toward a targeted goal.  I want to clean up rooms in my house that have reverted to their cluttered state.  I want to exercise a few times a week and feel strong inside my body again.  I want to run a 5k in less than 30 minutes!  I want to make time to read books and spend less time on mindless computer games or scrolling through Facebook.  I want to make space for prayer and quiet.  I want to drink more water, and stop craving Coke when I'm stressed.  I want to sell a novel and finish two more.  I want to travel with my family more, trying new things as my kids grow and change.  I don't want to let good things slip by while I'm looking at something else.  And I certainly don't want to read these words in January 2019 and feel as though my heart has withered and broken even more.

Here's to returning to what works, to renewal in 2018, to accomplishing hard things.  Happy New Year!
Ringing in the New Year 2018

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

For Those Who Did Not Say #MeToo

Harvey Weinstein got fired and went to sex rehab instead of prison after a bunch of actresses said he sexually harassed them, groped them, used his considerable Hollywood influence to pressure them to keep them silent.  And as the stories filled my newsfeed, reminding us that this is nothing new, that this has been known in the movie industry about him specifically and powerful men in general for decades, I began to notice a small hashtag.  It simply stated "Me too."

It was an effort on behalf of the regular, every day women who don't star in Oscar-nominated movies to join their voices to the conversation.  To point out that it's not just 17 year old size 0 actresses who are objectified and made to feel small in their place of employment.  It is a problem that pervades every area of industry in our society, really in our world.  And I had no problem typing out the words and posting my own status this weekend.  I am someone who has survived sexual abuse and sexual harassment, and most of the people who know me have already heard my story.

But you saw those words and you froze.

Your heart pounded and your mouth went dry.  Maybe your mind took you back to that night, that moment when your innocence was lost, when the choice was made for you.  Maybe it went blank.  Because you haven't told anyone, you haven't spoken about what happened.  Not once.

And we can debate all day long about how effective a social media campaign is, if anyone with the power to change things is actually listening.  We can argue if it is your duty to pull your pants down once more and expose yourself to a world that is only interested in using you up and spitting you out.  I know nothing I can say will convince you that you will be believed, and that you won't be marked as different, wrong, damaged.

Let's forget about everyone else for a moment, okay?  Because this isn't about bringing your perpetrator to justice or becoming another statistic.  This isn't about making noise about #NotAllMen or #YesAllWomen.  Dear one, this is about you.

This is about the shame you're pushing deep down into your heart.  This is about the flashbacks that come at the worst possible times.  This is about the disconnect you have with your body.  This is about the emotions you shut off so you wouldn't have to feel the hurt anymore.

You were made to live.  You were made to experience the fullness of life.  You were made to fall in love and give your body to another and feel pleasure.  You were born with a whole heart.

And then someone took that from you.

Maybe it was several someones.  Probably it was someone you trusted.  Most likely you reached adulthood with the sense that this was just how life worked.

Please believe me when I tell you, it's not supposed to be this way.

You deserve respect.

You have the right to say what does or does not happen to your body.

You have the right to go to work and just worry about WORK:  whether you're being paid in accordance with your responsibilities, whether you should contribute $20 to Cheryl's retirement card, whether that new position that opened is right for you.

You have the right to post pictures of your puppy instead of #MeToo.

Just promise me that you will speak about what happened to you.  Tell it to a counselor.  Tell it to a trusted friend.  Tell it to that lady you only know through Facebook who shared her story.  Because your silence gives the person who violated you all the power.  Your silence robs you of your dignity.  Your silence guarantees that you will continue to feel like a victim EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

It was not your fault.

You didn't ask for it.

It's not something all guys do.

You don't owe us anything.  You owe it to yourself.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

On Art Imitating Life

I started watching a new show on Netflix this past week called "Atypical."  The show's premise, which intrigued me while at the same time making me concerned, centers on a family whose teenage son is autistic and desires a romantic relationship.  The eight episode season follows not only Sam (the one on the spectrum), but his sister, mom, dad, and therapist as they each navigate the challenging relationships that are part of any full life.

Mostly I don't talk about TV or do reviews of shows on my blog, because there are plenty of entertainment journalists who (in my opinion), do this so much better.  And I've read a few articles about "Atypical" in between streaming episodes.  However, since I spend a considerable amount of blog space sharing about my own autistic son, and the larger world of disability into which I get a peek, I felt like talking about this show, and a few others, might be a good companion for anyone else looking to this program for a better understanding about autism.

So.  My son is ten years old, and I'm finding myself more and more curious about what adolescence and puberty are going to look like, not only for a boy, but a boy on the autism spectrum.  To that end, the first episode of "Atypical" seemed like it might paint a picture of what my son's life could look like in just a few years.  It sets up the characters: Sam, who wants a girlfriend, sister Casey, who has also never dated and maybe just met a boy she could like, Elsa, the mom who has made her whole life about taking care of her kid who isn't really a kid anymore, and Doug the father who has never actually connected with his son.  We also meet Julia, Sam's therapist, and while it doesn't become evident for the first few episodes that her romantic life will be part of the show, she is certainly the catalyst for Sam to explore the world of dating and sex.

The show makes some good points over the following episodes: everyone wants to be loved, relationships are hard whether your brain is typical or not, and every member of a family reacts differently to an autism diagnosis.  YES.  However, there is so much that just doesn't sit right with me, stuff like the Autism Support Group moderator who keeps interrupting Doug the FIRST TIME he visits the group, telling him that he's not using the right words as he shares about his relationship with his son.  Not only is this counter to my experience attending such a group, it's just a bad way to treat him.  The whole point of support groups is to find like-minded people who understand what you're going through, and for many family members, it can be the place where you say the un-PC stuff and the raw emotional outpouring that comes from being a parent.  Moments like that ring false because the show is attempting to insert little "autism 101" lessons rather than just telling the story.

Another problem that I have with "Atypical" is that I don't see my son in the autistic character.  I had this same problem with "Parenthood."  So many of my friends LOVED that show, and kept telling me that I should watch it, but after the first episode, I just couldn't do it.  The show's creator has a son diagnosed with Asperger's (which isn't a diagnosis anymore, but I know plenty of people who disagree with the DSM on that one, so let's just move on...), and he wrote a character that was like his child for primetime TV.  As the saying goes, though, "If you know one person on the autism spectrum, then you only know ONE PERSON on the autism spectrum."  It's true because the disorder manifests itself in a thousand different ways and makes each person markedly different from each other, while sharing this umbrella label.  Kind of like...people.  So when I see Sam lock someone in his closet for touching his stuff, or constantly ask, "What's so funny?" or seem completely oblivious to the fact that another person is upset, I find myself frowning.  My son is incredibly empathetic, and never responds to people outside the family with violence or anger.  Sure, he hits his brothers when they bug him, and he talks back when I give him an order that he doesn't like ("Turn off the TV" being the worst one), but he wouldn't do that in any other setting, no matter how overwhelmed he became.  He loves to laugh and enjoys many of the same jokes that other kids his age like.  There's a disconnect because in being so specific, "Atypical" departs from the realm of what my family is like.

I think my biggest criticism of the show encompasses all the little things that I don't like, and that is (as far as I can tell from researching) the lack of an actually autistic person in the cast or crew of the show.  The ultimate take away is that the writers spent a lot of time researching Autism without actually involving anyone who knows what it's like inside, and the cast rely on stereotypes that make the show seem clinical rather than personal.  This is especially evident to me because of another show I watched this year, one that I absolutely fell in love with, called "Speechless."  That show centers on a teenager (JJ) with a physical disability and his family, and yet, the final product is something so much more relatable than "Atypical."  The show's creator grew up with a brother who is very similar to JJ, but even more importantly, the actor playing JJ has the same disability!  Amazing!  It's almost as though people whose brains and/or bodies are a little different from the standard Hollywood cookie cutter can ALSO ACT (*sarcasm*).  And while "Speechless" certainly educates its audience about the difficulties of finding appropriate services for a person with special needs, and how caring for a disabled child plus a few more can make things like mowing the yard bottom basement level priorities, it captures something that "Atypical" completely leaves out.  JOY.  Yes, life is hard when you are different in a way that is not widely accepted.  Yes, caring for a child with special needs is hard.  No, there are not enough hours in each day nor enough dollars in the bank to give each of your children everything you would like.  But good Lord, there is so much laughter and love and delight in the days and weeks and years of this life.  We have certainly found it, in bike rides and movie theaters and donuts and tickle fights and Monday morning dance parties and snow days and swimming pools.

So I would encourage the creators and writers and actors of "Atypical" to take a page from Scott Silveri and Micah Fowler and company.  If your show is picked up for a second season, bring some autistic folks on board.  Bring them into your writer's room and listen to their experiences.  Hire at least one to be on screen.  They are beautiful and intelligent and incredible people who will make your show better.  And maybe they can even help you find ways to incorporate humor that isn't at Sam's expense.  Because my son will be a teenager soon, and he will be navigating these tricky situations.  I'd love to have something we could watch together that may actually represent his perspective.