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.

Monday, May 1, 2017

On Parenting and Being Parented

I had a recurring thought throughout my childhood years.  I hoped that my parents would be there for me until I turned 18, that they would live long enough to see me pass into adulthood.  For one thing, I didn't think any other adults would do as good a job parenting my sister and myself (It's true guys...I really think you did a great job!).  I also assumed that once I was an adult, I would no longer need my parents.  Apparently I freaked my mom out by asking too many times what would happen to me when she died.  Sorry about that.

Although I no longer need my parents for basic survival (food, clothes, a roof over my head, keys to the car on the weekend), I have come to realize in my adult years that I still need my parents.  I need them for guidance and support through all the new experiences that come with aging:  how to maintain a home and how to fix a car and how raise kids and what is an appropriate wedding gift for a friend and which insurance plan to sign up for during open enrollment.  And don't even get me started on the free babysitting.  I don't know what we'd do without Nana and Papa's play house to visit and drop off children and fill up a cup at the Keurig.

I am reminded every few years how much I still need my parents.  At 23 and 27 and 31 and 33 and yet again at 35, as I watch my friends and loved ones lose their moms and dads.  As I sit in pews with tissues clutched in my hands, as I stand silently beside fresh graves, as I scroll through Facebook and see the heartbreaking news.  I watch as families splinter, because let's face it, moms are usually the glue that keep us all together, and grieving husbands don't quite seem to know how to take over that role.  I watch my friends, my peers, take the place of their parents, checking in on siblings and hosting Christmas dinner and determining what to do with Mom's closet full of clothes when it's time to move.

Friends, I don't know how you do it.  I don't know where you draw the strength to step into these new roles, to speak at funerals and organize fundraisers, all while you manage your careers and families.  I have so much admiration for the way that you don't give up in the face of your grief, but how you lean into it and make something beautiful and profound out of your loss.  I am watching you as the years pass and the inevitable day that I am in your shoes draws ever closer.  I hope that you will help me when the time comes, that you will show me how you kept calm and kept going.

Mom and Dad, I don't say this enough, and I don't want to use my best words after you are gone.  I love you.  I appreciate you so very much, more than perhaps you even know.  I would not be the person I am today without your influence, your love, and sometimes your example of what not to do. I am so glad we've had all these years together.  I am so glad my kids have had all these years with you.  I don't know how I'll go on when you're gone.  I imagine my mind will play tricks on me, so that I still turn my head when I see a black Nissan truck to see if you are behind the wheel, or still text you first when I have a question.

I know that when we can no longer make new memories together, that I will cherish every last one I have.  Even times we fought.  Even times you drove me crazy.  Even times I was convinced I was right and you were wrong.  I will never forget how it felt to be small and climb into your lap.  I will never forget how your hands can never be still when you talk.  I will never forget the times you kissed me on the head and told me you were proud of me.  I will never forget the things I learned from standing next to you, whether it was in the kitchen or the garage or at church or at a family reunion.  I will never forget the places you took me, the ideas you instilled in me, the home you created for me.

I want my own kids to have the kind of childhood I enjoyed, with bike rides through the neighborhood and basketball games on Saturday mornings and breakfast for dinner and trips to the library.  I want to embarrass them in front of their friends when they think they're too old for hugs and kisses at school drop off.  I want to accompany them on field trips and mission trips and college visits.  I want to ban them from reading books with content I deem too mature for them (remember "You can't read Sweet Valley High until you're in high school"?) and I want them to read those books secretly in their closets after I've gone to bed because their 12 year old selves are too curious to wait two more years to find out what happens to Elizabeth and Jessica after the party at Bruce Putnam's house.  I want to bust them for sneaking out to TP someone's house and I want to believe them when they say they've been falsely accused of vandalizing someone else's locker.

I want to provide for my kids but also teach them how to work hard for the things they want in life.  That new shoes and food on the table are a given, but getting into college and med school will require years of study and sacrifice.  I want them to feel like home is a haven, that no matter who doesn't like them this week or which friend they've fought with, when they walk in the door, they are loved unconditionally.  I want them to share my faith in God, but I also want them to know that I will do my best to answer any questions they have along the way.  I want my kids to know that they can count on me, that I will always show up to cheer them at their games or help them change a flat tire.

Most of all, I want for my kids what I have with you right now.  I want my kids to want to spend time with me.  I want to come home to find my adult sons taking a nap on my couch or cooking dinner in my kitchen.  I want to share donuts and coffee with them and talk about big ideas and current events. I want to take walks with them and spend long drives to family weddings arguing over what constitutes good music.  I want to meet them at the movies for a midnight show.  I want to run into them at the grocery store and spend thirty minutes laughing together in the baking aisle.  I want to sit with them and watch my own grandchildren play at Chick Fil A.

I want my kids to keep needing me long after they've turned 18 and moved into their own homes, because I want to have the same relationship with them that I've enjoyed as a daughter.  Mom and Dad, I hope we still have many more years together, because the bathroom sink is clogged and my car is making a funny noise again.  Also I love you.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

On Parenting and Celebrating Autism

I love writing.

For the past several years, I have been blogging about my life, and it has helped me process my ever-changing experiences as a woman, a wife and mother.  It has helped me share my story and connect with other people in a way that face to face conversations can't.  It inspired me to pursue my as-yet-unfulfilled dream of becoming a professional writer.

Expectant Mommy

The two subjects I return to again and again are my faith and my journey as a special needs mom.  Every April, I happily join with the voices around our country and around the world who share what life on the autism spectrum looks like, for those living it and for those caring for someone living with it.  I consider this both an enormous responsibility, to educate the world about my son, and an honor, to share this amazing kid with everyone else.

And I recognize my own limits, the point at which I am unable to write or share, because I am still just another person outside the experience.  I will never truly know what it is like inside my son's head, to go through each day as he does, to see the world as he has all his life.

But, thankfully, his ability to communicate is growing.

Learning the art of selfies
This past year, we have sat side by side and worked through the fourth grade together thanks to online school.  I have been his learning coach, his personal spell check, his cheerleader or his warden (depending on the day), his as needed occupational therapist, and it's been transformational.  I now know SO MUCH about how my son learns best, and I've seen so much more of his personality and thoughts as he completes his assignments.

I was particularly delighted this week that he is learning about writing to a prompt, and loved what he wrote when instructed to write a narrative about a time he played with another child.  After wanting to write about me, I directed him to think of an actual kid, and he chose to write about hunting easter eggs with his brothers.  The next day, the prompt was to share about someone who has made a difference and been an important part of his life.  Of course, I was expecting that he'd want to write about me.  There was a tiny chance that he might write about his beloved Nana, but I was gearing up for a little praise fest at the end of a difficult year.

That is not what happened.

After reading the question, "Who is the most important person in your life?" my son immediately began writing the answer.  He wrote about himself.  And my knee jerk reaction (no doubt influenced by my conceited desire) was to stop him, to make him think about the question again.  Then I realized he was probably right.  The person who has worked the hardest at speech therapy is James.  The person who has made the biggest gains in school this year is James.  The person who has learned to tolerate hair cuts and swallowing pills and loud environments is James.  I know I've made a difference to this kid, but I also know that I don't work nearly as hard as he does EVERY SINGLE DAY to make sense of the world.

And so, although I've written quite a bit already, I would like to share this space with my son, to introduce the next generation of autistic writers and let you all hear a bit from his side of the spectrum.

James is smart and capable.  He is strong.  He can
punch anything.  He is a boy.  He is great at scooter
training.  James has a beautiful brain.  He can love people
and control the body.  He is happy
because he has a heart.

And there you have it.  What is it like to be on the autism spectrum?  What is important to a ten year old boy?  What has made a difference in his life?  There are his answers, written in his own hand (transcribed by Mom), phrased in his own voice.  I look forward to sharing more and more as he is willing.

**Perhaps I'll write another post explaining "scooter training."  My husband and I are absolutely delighted by the hours of free time it gives us in the evening and the uninterrupted conversations we've been able to have because of it.