Friday, December 31, 2010

The Mirage of Stress-free

I kid myself.

I respond when people ask that it's an awesome thing to have a week where I don't have to worry about the school's caller ID coming over my phone.

Last night, hubby forced me to have a good, long, hard look at this comment.

I'm not complaining; it's been a good week. We have had plenty of outings and meet-ups and downtime and things to do, all I think in a pretty nice balance.

But it has not been stress-free. Not by a long shot. Because every time we go out the door, every time we are in a public place, my back is up and I am ready to deal summary justice to anyone who so much as looks at my children the wrong way.

I wish this were paranoia on my part. When we left friends after an enjoyable lunch outing yesterday, I had a mom make it a point to shadow me all the way to our car (I had actually paused to let her go ahead of me through a snow drift, and she hung back), and let her words to her daughter float ahead to me about what she thought of my kids.

I ordered the boys quickly into the car and shouted to G "QUICK! Close the door! We are surrounded by stupid people!"

I should have snapped a pic of the expression on her face with my phone, but I was too angry and too intent on getting the hell out of that parking lot.

I spent the next hour driving, boys in the back listening to the Arthur CD on the player, deliberately lost in the lower Bucks County snow-covered countryside, calming down, thinking, and wishing I hadn't cussed quite so much in the first five minutes of this particular leg of the journey.

My kids, language police both, know better than to remark on my language after an encounter like that.

And I know they both know that other people's invective is directed at the three of us; them by virtue of who they are and me by virtue of being their mother.

I told my husband that it really didn't matter where we lived; I run into ignorance everywhere, and I feel the need to at best educate and at worst discipline wherever I go.

"I cheated you," I told him. "This is not the girl you started dating 23 years ago."

Sometimes, this fact overwhelms me. I collapse, exhausted, at the end of every day, which for me is 9 pm. Night-owl hubby gets my undivided attention not nearly often enough. But talking to him forced me to analyze the 'why.'

The 'why' is my perpetual state of flight or fight. I do more of the latter these days. I *could* elect to segregate my boys and drop out altogether. But this doesn't work for me; they have to learn to live in this world, and that education is a nonnegotiable.

So, apparently, is the stress.

I thought I managed it okay; after all, I am a stress-eater, and my weight remains well in normal range despite that; I exercise, get the kids out, maintain relationships.

But stress collapses me like a rag doll at the end of every day.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blog Gumbo

Having spent the last two days in waiting rooms with nothing but my own head for company, I've had a lot of time to mentally masticate. In the past, I couldn't be left in this state too long, lest I devolve into a sputtering puddle of ...well, it would depend around what axle I wound around on a given day.

But since gratitude became my attitude, my head and heart remain on an even keel, thankfully. Reaching out and making peace by and large worked beautifully. That's allowed me to move on from some things that have been heretofore unresolved. And it's also allowed me to do some much needed physical cleaning and clearing out. The new year will ring in somewhat less cluttered and less complicated than previous years have.

Thinking about love. All kinds of love. Filial love, platonic love, romantic love. Some conversations I've had with Fr M factor in here, and naturally the love I have for my family looms large in my life. My friends rock. My kids are awesome. My hubby is wonderful. I am surrounded by amazing people, and am grateful for each and every person in my life and all the gifts each person brings.

I worry about Fr M. I can't help that.

I had a conversation with another mom in the waiting room today; we both chatted while we filled out our respective stacks of questionnaires, comparing notes from the life autistic. She has tried out a lot more in terms of curative measures for her boys, and we laughed about the autistic super mom sweepstakes, about the times we encountered people who accused us of not doing enough to 'fix' our kids.

"What this taught me," she concluded, "was that the possibilities for my boys are endless--and limitless."

G came in about then, and we went upstairs together to eat our lunch. He looked at me across the table with his intense gaze lasering out of those rock-pool eyes and asked me again when the star in the tree behind our house will turn off for good.

I don't always understand his fears, but I try.

Although he told me endless stories on the ride down to Baltimore, he remained quiet on the ride back. Reflective. He likes the mental work of solving puzzles and answering questions, but he has come of an age where he questions why this is necessary. He is an apt test-taker, and while he appreciates the one-on-one attention these trials give him, he understands that what he has to do is not typical of other kids in his grade or of his age.

He doesn't overtly question. But I saw it in his eyes at lunch today.

And for my part, my motivations are somewhat selfish. I know what I have to work with in both boys. But I need hard data to get them what they need in the classroom.

This gives me what I need to give them what they need.

As long as they both are willing.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

As Deep as the Ocean, As Vast as the Sky

The best gifts this season came without wrapping paper or bows.

With Fr M, I prayed for a family that needed strength and union. An email last night confirmed that those prayers were answered.

I asked for peace of mind and heart. And got it.

My yearly reunion with my family at mom's was amazing. And for the first year ever, my uncle went out with friends. Another Christmas miracle. I missed seeing him, but am so grateful on his behalf.

We woke up late yesterday, and interrupted our unwrapping to go to mass. Hubby grumbled loudly, but I reminded him that there would be no unwrapping of anything on this day otherwise and he needs to pay his respects. Grudgingly, he admitted later that it was a good mass and he was glad he went.

I took time to visit my dad's grave for the first time in over a decade, and for some reason, I sobbed uncontrollably from when I first saw his headstone. I spent many an afternoon talking to that rock as a teenager, and in my life until now, I never shed a tear.

I shed a lot of them yesterday.

On to hubby's family, had great food and conversation with the kids. (adults now, but kids to me always, I guess) Nic broke his favorite gift, a whoopie cushion, but managed to get through the day anyway. We came home with lots of good food, the blessing of MIL and good words from BIL.

It really was a perfect Christmas. And it was all about those things you can't buy.

Awesome. Thank you, God.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Too easily thrown

I think what happened this week was emotional hangover meets holiday stress. It wasn't pretty, and it sure wasn't pleasant.

Details matter not. The upshot: G's sobbing at aftercare in the beginning of the week, Nic's illness at the end of the week, throwdown somewhere in between, with a few pointless posturings and landing in a conversation I didn't belong in--these things flattened me, whereas in any normal week it would just be business as usual.

I found creative ways to keep encroaching hopelessness at bay; baking in the wee hours of the morning, cleaning out the downstairs, taking care of business, mending some fences, to name a couple things.

I found myself in the somewhat unusual position of getting shunted off to one side. And I found that I didn't have the energy or inclination to elbow my way back. My inability--or unwillingness?--to engage depressed me the rest of the day. A red tail that flew at eye level within feet of my car in the late afternoon reminded me that I needed to pull it together. G chatted with me from the backseat, and amazingly, everything righted itself.

A good friend showed up shortly after to drop off gifts for the boys, and she sat and visited for a bit. And her visit cheered me immensely, for no other reason than she stopped by to say hello.

Bringing me back to myself, back to my center, and giving me the motivation to finish doing what I need to.

I get by with a little help (and a whole lot of love) from my friends. With them, by the grace of God, all is right with my world.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Musing at the Moon

Lunar eclipse on winter solstice underway. Sitting in a chilly living room with my Christmas tree the only light other than the laptop. Feeling fractured and helpless amid my younger son's struggles right now, by turns enraged and defeated.

I want more than anything to say I have done everything I want to do, but today--and a couple other things--remind me that I have much to do. Still. Promises to keep, mostly in the spirit of wanting to eliminate the negative in my life. Which means acceptance of stuff that I have been rejecting--loudly, frequently gracelessly and artlessly.

I feel helpless in the face of my sons' struggles sometimes. Tonight, I sat sobbing on the kitchen floor, and my older son came running from the other room, almost as if he were a toddler again, laughing, kissing my face, hugging me, then jumping up and getting me a glass of water, standing over me, making sure I was okay, then dashing back into the other room, going back about his business.

He is clumsy, but compassionate, and possesses a heart bigger than mine. I smile through my tears, thinking that he is a beautiful kid.

And my little one, also a beautiful child, climbing into my lap and wordlessly comforting me when no one else notices that I need it. These are the reminders I need--that my kids do not want for compassion and empathy, despite the fact that they aren't supposed to have much of either.

My children are the delight and pain of my heart. And for them I want to forgive. And sometimes, that is enough.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sweet Breakthrough

The expression above is why I do what I do. This is the payoff.

So, the kids got to ride the bus home yesterday, because it was the last day of drama camp, and I had a special snack waiting for them when they came in from the bus. G changed into the foundation for his costume, and we walked in the bone-chilling cold--at their insistence--to church.

(I love the fact that both my kids would rather walk than ride whenever possible--they are truly my kids.)

When we get there, managed chaos reigns. Containing both boys until proceedings begin consumes me. I order Nic to stop trying to create a 'Mr Bean' disaster. G unknots the belt to his costume and hands the belt back to me.

I settle G in a pew with the other children and send Nic over to Miss T, who gives him a master script and marching orders. Dress rehearsal is a bit scattered for both kids, but they get through it. I border collie the rest of the 22 kids in the project while the three main leads are trying to do their jobs.

Fortunately, pizza arrives, and I shepherd the kids down to the cafeteria, where Nic declares the chicken nugget, french fry and pizza dinner a 'night to remember.' It doesn't even matter to the boys that they are sitting alone at the end of one table--they are happy to be in the group, happy to be sharing dinner, and for them, these things are enough.

After warm ups, we shepherd the kids back to the church and prepare to put on the show. The good turnout surprised the kids more than anything, I think, because the spotlight--not used in any rehearsals--acted like a bit of a stun gun to a good third of the cast--G included.

BUT, it was a good show, the kids had a great time, and Nic just blew me away as he showed off his crew skills--not just to me, but to every person sitting there in the audience.

I couldn't resist an inward smile. And he did a good job putting together the program, too.

So at the end, when the director included awards and acknowledgments, I was one of the people she called up. And this is what she wrote in the card:

Thank you for attending each week and for guiding Nicolas along with the interviews. You have a beautiful soul and I am happy to have met you.

I can't help but feel that my kids have created an awareness and appreciation for difference in this little community. And last night, I flung myself against one particular pane of glass one last time--and broke it.

I feel a little like Anne Shirley from 'Anne of Green Gables.' I always wanted to be her, and the lesson du jour is that you are never too old to become what you want to be when you grow up.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Adapt or Die

A couple ideas I had this morning converged in this common theme:

• Wondering, for example, why my kids continue to stick out like sore thumbs in the neighborhood, why it’s so hard for the other kids to incorporate them in their games

• Thinking about the pointed remarks from some one whom I ceased contact about studying the ways of neurotypicals very carefully to treacherous ends

Thinking about the way my little one looked at me this am, how he climbed over to be on the empty side of the bed and how he pushed his big brother over to make room for me. The look he gave me was me, probably at about the same age, maybe younger, and it was him too. He snuggled up under my chin and let me curl around him to warm him up.

Love is wanting to be the best person you can be for some one else, and G is just one of those people I want to be my best self for. Nic and hubby are two more. And the list continues from there.

Thinking about adaptation, it occurs to me that the kids in the neighborhood exclude because it is the natural order; there always has to be a them, and heck, I spent the first 18 or 19 years of my life on the outside looking in, so I should know better. Inclusion is not, despite what we like to think, instinctive. It’s easier to shut out and shut down people who are weird and different.

Which leads me to the second point. This same person has accused me (indirectly) of treachery and not being true to myself by adapting to the ways of the larger world. Actually, adaptation is important, because inclusion is not natural. If you want to survive in the larger world, you have to figure out a way to make your differences WORK in that world.

And I like to think that I’ve done just that. And it’s important that I imprint on both my boys the importance of applying their gifts and strengths in ways the larger world is going to see, recognize, and ‘get.’

I see nothing hypocritical in adaptation, particularly if the alternative is marginalization and death (in whatever forms these things take). If the point is surviving and thriving, the means by which to do these things is to find your gifts, and share them, and be amazed at what those who are open to receive will do with what you offer.

When I look back on this year, adaptation looms large. My returning to corporate after a 10+ year absence demanded much of my family, and they all rose splendidly to the occasion. And the larger lesson here is that I truly believe that they—and I—are ready for anything.

We are blessed. And I am humbled by the sheer magnitude of our blessings.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bean burritos and blessings

Maybe I should call this entry 'Finishing Business,' but I like the other title better; both are equally apt. I am finishing business and bean burritos are the best thing ever. I bring the ingredients to work and assemble them in the kitchen. I had an audience a couple days. It was pretty cool.

I lectored the 7 mass for the Immaculate Conception with boys in tow Wednesday. G did his sprints, and Nic did his impersonation of the drinking bird--which was sort of amusing, since this is a G move, but the whole church could see it, and it took all my self control not to lean over and tell him to stop (he did, on his own, after a couple minutes). After all, I learned the hard way that trying to stop a behavior oftentimes draws more attention to it. The woman I subbed for parted with "I love your boys. They crack me up."

My message made it, unchanged, to its recipient. The voicemail that came in response is one I am going to figure out a way to keep.

Nic is helping to run the holiday party committee, and I am pleased. He is taking on more responsibility on his own. And yesterday, he called first thing in his morning, upset that he forgot his Phillies hat, and could I go home and get it.

I convinced him he could get through the day without it, and coached the SPED director on how I wanted to handle him. She used common sense and consideration--and for her and these, I am grateful yet again for the wonderful people working with my boys.

Things go better with G, but I suspect sugar issues linked to his behavior. Time to dig deeper.

We got through drama camp, but not without some barbs from the teacher. One more week.

Work goes well. I am surrounded by good and good hearted people, and grateful not only that I'm working, but working in such an easy going environment with people who 'get' it.

Circling back, one basic truth emerges. Love, real love, spurns you to be the best person you can possibly be. That's what wires, fuels, and runs me.

I know I am good. But I know I can be better.

So I push onward.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Balancing on Occam's Razor

It begins with G's communication book.

His teachers, aide and I "talk' to one another in this notebook. We keep these notes short and sweet. Generally.

Yesterday's note went two pages. And so hard had the teacher pressed her pen to the pages that they crinkled when I turned them. I began my return note: "Clearly, you had a frustrating day....."

Back this up a bit: make no mistake, G is my good kid. Good to the point that most of my blog posts have been about his brother's struggles. Yesterday, he signaled an end to all that. Attention is as attention does, and it matters not how he gets it.

I own this, as does dad. Nic sucks all the air out of the room, and G is clearly advocating on his own behalf by doing whatever it takes to get anyone's attention. He will be silent no longer.

I thought of all the times in the past week he'd gone into time out for some infraction or other.

I called in to him while Nic finished his homework. He came in, sat on my lap, and regarded me seriously while I talked to him about the note in his book, and some of the things he had been doing. He nodded, answered succinctly, and we promised each other we'd do better for one another.

While Nic went off to scouts, I blew off my committee meeting and spent the evening playing with and reading to G. We had a good time.

Which links into some epiphanies I had riding in to work yesterday morning, namely that my time is short, and I need to be more judicious about the battles I engage. My little one clearly still needs me, and I need to be present for him.

I wrote a letter that will be delivered to some one special today, December 8. I am hoping that the receiver takes the message in the spirit I intended.

Regardless of what happens, I want to make sure all I need to do or say is done. I want no unfinished business this hoiday season.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Fabulous Fr M

Probably the best thing about getting my kids used to attending mass is the fact that I can now attend the mass myself once again. And all I needed to do was to teach my boys to follow the 'script' of the missalette.

G goes off for the Children's Liturgy, and Nic and I read the scripture together as the lector, then the priest, proclaims from the ambo. And Nic likes Fr M enough that he is now willing to tune in during the 'unscripted' (for him) homily. Which is a huge help to me, because I can actually focus on the homily now instead of trying to keep Nic contained.

Anyway, these gifts come for a reason: the yesterday's gospel spoke of John the Baptist and his words to the Pharisees--in short, "You may come here to be baptized, but if you don't acknowledge your sins, be prepared for the unquenchable fire."

Fr M was uncharacteristically blunt in his sermon, basically dovetailing on my previous post about people who claim to be righteous, but are not, and calling them out to reassess their lives and values.

I literally sat there with my mouth open.

I didn't get the opportunity to talk to him after mass, but we saw him again for the parish's carol night; I narrated, my family came to give me notes. Fr M sat with us. I thanked him for his sermon, telling him he knocked it out of the park--again. He is a humble man, and seemed more abashed than usual in thanking me. And I insisted, "No, really, I needed to hear what you said. And I think a lot of people need to hear it, too."

The attendence was low, but it was a really nice service, and my agnostic hubby even agreed that it was beautifully done. G held the holy water and Nic held the flashlight as Fr M blessed the tree out front afterward.

At one point during the service, I sat between T and Fr M, with G on the other side of Fr M and hubby and Nic behind them both, and had a real sense that my family was truly all together at that moment. I wonder if Fr M and T felt that way, too?

So it is this feeling, one of hope, warmth, and love for my family--those of my blood, and those I have chosen--that renews me, fills me with joy gratitude, and keeps me moving forward.....

Sunday, December 5, 2010

(Salt) Pillar of the Community

I can't post the previous without its partner, but I didn't have the time yesterday.

So bookending yesterday's smackdown was one that started Monday evening. I received an email from the drama teacher (you know, the one who professed to wanting to work with me and the boys) asking me where Nic was with interviewing the cast for the program.

I figured this a fair enough question. I checked his sheets, and he had gotten through about 12 interviews, and had 14 to go. I send this information back.

Five minutes later comes back an email: she is concerned that Nic will not get the program done in time, can another boy help with the interviews?

I shrug and answer: sure.

About an hour after that: another email, this time telling me that the set designer would much rather do the program on her own, could I please send drama teacher everything Nic has done?

Hmm. I email her back and tell her I will get everything to her in the am.

SO I type up Nic's notes, send them to her, and get a saccharine note in return. It makes me suspicious enough to send the set designer my notes with an attached message: So-and-so said you'd rather do this, so this is where we are, and we will see you on Friday.

Long story short, set designer was utterly mystified, and asked me when we saw her on Friday if Nic would finish the interviews, because she really didn't have time to do them.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what's going on here.

I tell Nic he needs to finish all the interviews THIS SESSION. He had 14. And damn if he didn't finish them all.

The program director's voice went up an octave every time she spoke to me. And at 5 minutes to 6, she asked me how many more interviews Nic had. "Because we have plenty of help here tonight.....?"

I smiled at her sweetly. "He has two more," I answered. "And he is doing them."

I had the pleasure of typing up his notes and sending them out yesterday morning. Yeah, I transcribed them, took all of 15 minutes. But he did the hard work of interviewing each and every person himself, taking notes, and making sure he got all the information he needed to get. In total, it took 3 hours of his time.

That's 3 hours she didn't have to deal with him.

You can bet I won't do this again, but I'd like to think that the program director learned an important lesson--that everyone CAN contribute something.

If you let them.

And if you don't let them, they will figure out a way to get it done on their own.

And the other point to this was that I really thought this person was on our side. I really thought she believed in my kids. And to have her turn around and try to strip him of the responsibility SHE gave him (and to try to pawn off that responsibility on an innocent bystander) speaks to a more insidious problem. If you say you are a Christian, this is not the way you are supposed to roll.

And I am certain that this person will find a way to make me look like the villain. Who cares? Bring it. Dealing with people like this is old hat to me, now.

Unfortunately, my kids, also.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ignorance is......

pervasive? Or bliss?

During a training today, I got hit with this 2 x 4:

Trainer: so we had a boy in our troop with Asperger's, which is a form of autism, the really nasty end of the spectrum....

I found myself speaking: "Excuse me, I have two sons on the autism spectrum, one of whom has Aspergers...."

(Once upon a time, I would have just sat in disbelief and fumed for days after. I think I've been in this position so many times that my mouth starts before it checks in with my brain...)

And didn't she start tripping over herself saying what a great kid he was...but he has behaviors and a temper.

And I said, "I hear what you are saying, but not all children with Aspergers are like that..."

So the question, would she have said any redeeming words about this child had I not spoken up?


(In a larger sense, it matters not. You can't unring a bell.)