Saturday, December 31, 2011

Flirting with Normal (and having it look back)

Yeah, I know there's no such thing as normal. It's taken me a while to accept that. However, there is the expectation that things look and feel sort of average.

Honestly, I'm not all that familiar with average, either.

All I know is that nine years ago on a sky blue August day my expectations for anything resembling a 'normal' life went out the window with Nic's autism diagnosis. My own and Gabriel's dx'es in 2006 just compounded the fun. I became fluent in jargon to facilitate my understanding of systems. I attended the church of "Throw it against the wall and if it sticks/works, keep it; if not, toss it and move on."

I became a practitioner of 'real life immersion therapy'--that is, dragging both boys everywhere so that they learn what appropriate public behavior looks like. And as a consequence, I've grown a very thick skin. Still, I grit my teeth and moved on, determined that my kids would succeed, and they would receive direct instruction from me on how to do it.

So where are we today? My middle schooler has a peer who dreams about him (and tells him about it). My second grader happily marches to his own tune, has friends, and has even become next month's shining star at his school's after care program. They are both in their home schools, working hard, making friends, and having fun. And they are doing a lot of the same things other kids their ages are doing.

They're happy and healthy kids who also like themselves.

Going out of 2011, I couldn't be happier or more grateful that their hard work is starting to pay off.

And I couldn't be happier that my vision for success for them both is now shared--in a big way--by so many people.

As ever, I am thankful for all the people who believe in them, but more importantly, expect them to toe the same lines other kids toe.

Truly, it is making all the difference. Although we are no where near finished, it's nice to look back at this juncture and see that we are already much, much farther than I expected we'd ever go.....

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Love and Other Stuff that Keeps Us Going

Right now, the boys and I are reveling in the fact that we don't have to be anywhere.

Yeah, there are things to do and places to go. I've already gone out and taken care of a few things that needed doing. Nic would like to go for a train ride into town. But my little one is still in his pajamas--he's voting with his clothes.

Do I blame him? Not really. We went from packed schedule to packed holidays, culminating in a trip to NYC yesterday--which would have been fine if every family from Baltimore to Boston didn't have the same damned idea.


I think yesterday in Times Square has cured Nic of wanting to be there for New Year's Eve.

Hubby was originally quite bitter about us not spending an overnight there, but I had thought (and stuck to my guns) that a day would be more than enough for these two. And by the time 8 pm rolled around, they were more than ready to collect the van and head out.

(Yay, mom)

Some good things happening in real life--not the least of which was a girl stopping Nic in the hall to tell him that she had a dream about him. He told me about it while I was cooking dinner late last week. Which is cooler, that she had the dream or she told him about it? And what's cooler, her telling him about it, or him telling me about it?

And another real life moment: modeling a gift hubby gave to me, and his very real, very unscripted reaction, his eyes goggling followed by a wonderful smile. It matters not that we've been together nearly two and a half decades, he's still in love, and I love that guy in love. It's all good.

MIL lands later this week, so I'd better get this place cleaned up.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Scenes from a Life

When establishing life's priorities, distractions abound. The phone rings, the Blackberry blinks, Outlook pops up in a corner of the laptop screen, some one sticks his or her head in your office. Sometimes the distraction is an absence; some one who failed to show up or do something or whatever--because those absences are also a source of all the preceding stuff.

I've discovered something new about myself in all this. That I am, in fact, capable of diving into those crevices of quiet and staying there as long as I need to. The means vary, but the end is the same; I do the needful and manage to let the execution of what I need to do stay where it's needed.

I've had a lot shake up my world this week, but the fact that I'm unshaken is something of a revelation. But how do I explain?

Spending time with my younger boy at his class holiday party today opened my eyes to a whole new experience. My years as Nic's room mom were hard. It was hard being in that room, whatever that room was, and seeing how different, how much the outlier, my son was. In a way, that was my distraction.

In G's room, even though, yeah, he's different, he's as much a part of his class as his brother probably was. But he's also a different kid. And watching him, in all his quiet glowing glory, was a pleasure. He cuddled up with me while his teacher read a couple stories at the end of the party. Then he hugged me goodbye and let me go about my business of finishing holiday shopping.

Nic would have balked. Nic has balked. But that's okay, because that's who he is.

I get that, now.

So, speaking of who he is, I sat at a stop light after my shopping trip, and who did I see but my big guy, walking up the hill in search of an elevator adventure. I looked down, thinking he didn't see me. I look up again, and there he is, waving wildly at me and jumping up and down, the biggest, most radiant smile on his face.

His joy at our unexpected encounter choked me up. I smiled and waved at him. He gestured that he was taking a walk and trying to get into the elevators up the hill, and then gave me a big thumbs up. He kept turning around and waving as I drove away.

Suddenly, I was seeing Nic as he was at 18 months or so, on the campus of UDMNJ. It was a sunny late summer afternoon, and he was wearing a red and blue rugby jumper, and a big smile, his curly blond hair waving in the breeze, his big blue eyes sparkling. He was chasing a butterfly, and he turned around every few steps, waving, and would turn and run on......

And so my tween waves and walks on, and turns and waves again. And walks on.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mishpoche

I'm still waiting for my head to stop spinning from the past week. This morning's run slowed it somewhat, but things continue to rotate a little faster than I'd like.

It all started with a phone call that initiated me into a new sort of elite (if you want to call it that) last Thursday. Meetings ensued. No threats were uttered, only the promise that it wouldn't happen again.

All well and good. But then I attend a training (ironically from the Archdiocesan arm of the agency who contacted me) wherein the trainer stated (and I quote): "in the case of developmental disabilities, you have to wonder which came first, the disability or the abuse."

Yeah. That resulted in a letter from me. I heard from the person who developed the training, but not the trainer. Kind of don't think I am going to hear from that person. Like, ever.

If these were the only things that happened in a week, that would be enough. But then, I also had to break up with G's music teacher (yeah, that's what it turned into--turned out fine, but I could have dispensed with the drama), G getting back on the big bus and coping with all the behaviors that move has generated (and thus thinking about moving within the school district so that the bus and bus stop ceases to be an issue--also, I think hubby would like to just dump the house and run anyway, and this is as good an excuse as any), and trying to repair relationships with the people who were responsible for the phone call in the first place.

Ripped pants may have gone a long way to helping mend some souls.

And so I find myself fixing other things, too. G's pack meeting on Wednesday went phenomenally well, thanks to hubby's contributions and the vision of our fearless leader. The kids had a blast and the adults were pleased at this.

I find myself thinking this morning of the word 'mishpoche,' which is Yiddish for family--particularly extended family (for those who don't know Yiddish). My friends to me are really not so much friends as family--and I don't use the word 'friends' lightly, either. These are people for whom I would move heaven and earth without a second's hesitation, and they would do--and have done--the same for me. I am fortunate enough to work with some of these people at my day job, and with the scouts, and with the parish and the kids who cross my path. I can't believe how fortunate I am to have so many amazing people in my life.

My mishpoches have gotten me through so much this week. Not surprising really, since they laugh with me as much as they do get irate on my behalf and help me figure out my next steps when things go wrong. I really am surrounded by love and support, always. I know it, and I appreciate it and thank God for it every day.

My mishpoches rock.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Re-imagining what's possible

I called my mom this morning and handed the phone to my older boy, who had an apology to make.

I held the phone for him because I thought it would be a brief exchange. After all, Nic's not all that conversational, at least on the phone.

That's what I thought, anyway. Two minutes later, I'm still standing there holding the phone to his ear. Hubby passes by, shakes his head, puts Nic's hand to the phone, takes mine away, and Nic chatted on with Grandmom for another 3 minutes.

I lost count of how many volleys after 10. The kid's conversational.

Last night, we stopped off at Dave & Buster's to celebrate the end of the week. What I thought would be a 10-minute stop stretched into an hour; Nic met a boy named Kevin, and the two of them hung out together, I guess while his folks were upstairs eating. Foolishly, I didn't get his info, and he didn't get ours. But still, Nic and Kevin more than interacted--they had a great time. Without anyone facilitating it.

At our team meeting last week, Nic got high marks for flexibility. It only took 3 months, but he's settled in.

Are we perfect? Hell, no. We have no shortage of moments I'd rather forget. By the same token, I am awed and amazed that bit by bit, he really is beginning to look like everyone else.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Safety Mirage

Almost as if in rejoinder to my last post, I had a dream last night of safe harbor.

Ironic, considering I spent my last waking moments at DEFCON1. And I don't even know what to say about that anymore. As Fr M always tells me, if it were easy, it would be heaven on earth, and that's just not what we have.

It leaves me resolved to fix what's broken, but then again, if it's not me (and in this case it's not), then I have to lead the horse to water and hope he drinks.

But the horse is my mulish 11-year-old boy; I'm not optimistic.

And that voice in my dreams telling me it's going to be all right is coming from a suspect source. Which means there's something else in play and I need to watch my step.

I think of where we were, hiking in the woods together and spending time talking, and for a little while, I felt like the world was a beautiful place. And a safe place, connecting where we were to the associations I have with being there.

Therein lies the problem; Nic was in one place, telling me a story of a well-loved narrative, and my head was elsewhere, no doubt in some happy place of my creation.

What happened later just affirmed the actual here and now, minus masks, props, and scenery.

I need to *be* here, because there is so much to do. Hubby throws up his hands. And I bend down, prepared to get dirty, because I know precisely what needs doing. Except I keep hoping I don't have to. I don't want to. This is *hard*.

Understanding, again, the respite I get isn't so much that as an opportunity to recharge. Because I need to. Because the work doesn't stop. And because I need to gather the strength to accomplish what needs doing. And thinking about other stuff helps me problem solve.

And sometimes, it's just a nice distraction.

I think I've finally learned how to differentiate one from the other.

Game on.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Dizzying Heights

In my dream, I am perched high on what looks like a diving platform. It slopes downward enough that I slide, sit down, and grip the sides, looking down, appreciating the fact that if I fall, the ground is quite a ways down, and I can do some serious damage if I lose my grip.

This is what waking life feels to me lately. Vertiginous is a good word. I live life bravely on the outside, but fear assails me in my dreams. So that when I wake, my first instinct is to pull the covers over my head.

Not very brave. Not even close.

The covers come off, because I know pulling them over my head isn't going to make those things I fear go away. They will only sit out there and wait...they have nothing but time on their collective hands. It's like going up that rock wall a few weeks ago; the fear is there, but I need to work/walk/play through it.

It tires me out. But necessity compels me.

So today, I declare myself thankful for the seemingly bottomless well of strength that I have to keep going. Some days, I feel I have exhausted all my resources. But on those days, I have the help of my friends and my family, on whose backs and shoulders I lean until I can muster up enough strength to keep going on my own.

I am all that we are. And I am thankful.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Raw

I really have not given myself much in the way of downtime this week. But I feel I have to take a moment or 10 for myself. It's been a good week in that I have had a lot of love and support from my friends to keep me going. But, by the same token, I continue to get tripped up by the usual stuff. Nic. G. Everything they have going on all around them, all the ways in which they both adapt and cope.

And I sit here with my glass of wine and reflect that as much as I do, I still need to do more. But I do get tapped out. There are a multitude of distractions, and I see how people mix up priorities. Meeting up with a friend and her boys tonight reminded me (in a good way) that distractions are just that; problems don't necessarily go away because you are paying attention to something that gives you pleasure. Distractions are a sort of illusion--something that looks good probably isn't. You focus and deal with the hand you've been dealt--anything else is a deviation from your responsibilities.

The stinkeye I get from a certain young man is a reminder.

Whenever I feel myself getting closed in by everything, I pull back and try to see the bigger picture. What's going on here that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with me? Do I need to own any of that? Usually, no, I don't. And it's so much easier to disengage when you know, for sure, it really isn't you.

The trouble is, there's always so much spillover, isn't there? Life is messy. It just is.

I know that, right now, I am literally doing everything possible to ensure the success of my family. And by success, I mean, just doing the right thing, ensuring that they all know what their collective right thing is, and that they do it. Whatever that entails.

But I do tire of being a border collie. I do.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So much to say

I don't even know where I should start. I feel like my life is an endless obstacle course. We went to Ft Mifflin almost two weeks ago with the scouts, and ironically, Nic is getting more out of scouts now that he is no longer actually a scout. I had a run-in with a mom who made an example out of G, so I had to make an example out of her (she did not like it). We had an adventure-packed weekend last weekend that culminated in an impromptu road trip to the shore.

Nic is rocking his social skills group, even if he is not rocking middle school. Confirmation kick-off went better than expected. And G rocked his first piano lesson tonight. He will hit our pack leader in the face with a cream pie tomorrow night as the top seller of popcorn in his pack. (and I will endure a similar fate at the hands of another person's child and savor that irony on many levels).

I'm tired. The running is constant, and I have to call the little one's teacher tomorrow (and I am sure I am going to hear--again--that I am not doing enough for him). We continue to take corrective measures for both kids, but they are both almost painfully aware of what we do for each of them--and that what we do for each differs.

You know, if there were one catch-all fix, I'd be all over it. But there is none. I can only do what I can do for each of them, addressing individual needs while not comparing them. Which can be difficult, if not nearly impossible.

On the way to pick up G last night, Nic asked me "Is G better than me?"

I sigh, because I have heard this question in so many different permutations from both boys since this school year started that it all sort of blurs for me. "No, Nic. You and G are equal, but different. I can't compare you, since you have different strengths and different things to work on. But know this." We were stopped at a light, so I turned to look him in the eye. "You are both amazing, courageous, awesome kids. And I am so proud of you both."

The light changed. Nic was quiet for a moment, then leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.

"Thanks, mom." His voice was a little hoarse.

"You're welcome, Nic." I cleared my throat, and there was something in my eye. Both eyes.

I don't know some days how we get through. But somehow, we do.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Words to Live By

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.”~GB Shaw

And for now, I have nothing further. Later days.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Task paralysis

Waiting on work on the house is giving me time and space to think on a few things. As I've said before, I tend to overschedule in an attempt to outrun all the things I'm afraid of.

So. I'm in the figurative time out chair, confronting my destiny.

It's no wonder I don't know where to start. Hubby is thinking biomedical intervention for both boys; Nic's looking more ODD (oppositional defiant disorder, folks, but odd also works) by the day; G, my little opaque one, internalizes to what end, I don't know. My dead interrupt my dreams, each telling me to go check on the other until I yell "But you're BOTH dead!"

And I've figured out who they are really talking about, but I can't go there. Yet.

I'm overwhelmed in all possible senses of the word. I find myself finally unlocking some doors firmly shut, those surrounding my older son's first months and understanding simultaneously why I locked the doors in the first place and why I need them open now (but I find myself overwhelmed with grief to the point of not even being able to think). I've made some of the first steps, the first phone calls, tentatively setting first appointments, and I find myself stopping every few steps, wiping my eyes and am completely bewildered at the depth of sadness I feel.

I think I've contained a lot of this for such a long, sustained period of time that it just needs to come out.

At bed time last night, Nic came up to me, and asked. "Are you okay, mom?"

I guess a lot of this has been boiling closer to the surface than I thought, and the complete surprise of his question caused me to well up. He kissed me on the cheek (he can reach, he's now over 5 feet tall), and put his arms around me. "I'm going to be all right, mom. I promise."

He knows; he's always had a sixth sense for the hows and whys of my moods, even though how and why questions in daily life continue to stump him. Fortunately, dad saw this, and witnessed it. He needed to see this. For a lot of reasons.

He'll be all right, because he has determined that he will be all right. Whatever form that takes. He is owning that.

But I still need to help him do that responsibly.

So, with one task complete, and another, and another, we will get there.

And I need to help my little, quiet, opaque G to get there, too.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Climbing Walls

So this is what 2011 has driven me to:







Actually, I had made my mind up earlier in the week that I was going to do this. I had never climbed a rock wall, and I would never let a silly little thing like a fear of heights keep me down.

Onlookers told me that I scaled that wall quickly, and like I had been doing this kind of thing all my life. The reality? I wanted to get it done. I felt the wall rocking in the wind. Not fearless so much as staring fear in the eye and telling it to get out of my way.

This moment is so emblematic of my life right now; Nic want to his first school dance last night, and it was not a disaster. In fact, he had a great time, but the music got a little loud for him and he called me to come get him when it became too much for him.

He did well on a class outing this week, meeting the demands made of him. I think finally we are settling into a groove.

And for myself, well, I face moving goal posts where I am working, and the posts continue to move out of my reach every time I get within striking distance. Facing down that other demon, pride, will be harder than facing down fear; it is a much more insidious and determined foe. Fear can be vanquished; pride, well, that's harder to make go away for any length of time. The best I can do is keep it at bay until I figure out what I need to do next.

But I will always have the rock wall. And I did rock it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ask, and receive.....

So. I sit writing in my favorite spot, which is as good a place as any to sit in a quandary.

I had another note from AS at the middle school late Friday afternoon about Nic, disruptiveness and elevators--specifically, the elevator at the middle school that he is not allowed to ride. I mean, it may as well not exist.

Unfortunately, to Nic, it not only exists, but it looms so large in his consciousness that he can't concentrate on anything else.

As dad says, we have moved from obsession to pathology.

Get help? I supposedly have it, and it's not working. I've been looking since May for some one who can help us. And it would be easy if it were *just* elevators; it isn't. Elevators play a huge role in helping him cope with the demands of living in the community. That's a fact. Do I really want to strip him of something that is working for him?

Well, he's disruptive to his class on this matter. This is also a fact.

He insisted on reading the email I received. He read it twice. And I saw his eyes well up, even though he didn't speak. I realized that this is something he literally can't help.

But here's the thing. Even if we found a psychiatric genius on the subject, at the end of the day, it is encumbent on Nic to help himself.

"Here's what I hear," Nic told me from the back of the van yesterday. "Blah blah blah blah blah elevator blah blah blah."

I recognized the cadence of the mayor from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs reacting to Flint's warnings. "And you remember what happened to the mayor, right?" I reminded him. "He wound up in the middle of the ocean all by himself. And it was his own damned fault for not listening."

Nic got quiet. I knew my shot hit true.

"Nic, we can all talk to you until we are blue in the face, and you can tell us you can't help it, but the fact is, you have to figure out a way to help it," I told him. "Because no one else can do it for you."

He has gotten so good at figuring out ways to give himself an out if things aren't going his way. I need to figure out a way to show him how to give himself an out here, with this elevator.

Wow. That's my solution. Right there. He needs to give himself an out.

Game on.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Never Argue with a Reasonable Man

I have all kinds fun stuff to report. First of all, I show up here in a local news story.

That was pretty cool. We also had G's bowling party on Saturday. Saturday was a little insane, starting with bowling league, follow into swimming (please don't tell my husband, but while I was supposed to be mopping the kitchen floor, I was actually QCing slide decks for a meeting that's going on now..), party, friends over for dinner....what an awesome day, but hubby told me later I could have cut a thing or two out.

As always, he's probably right.

Sunday, he headed out for a road trip, leaving me with the boys, mass, PREP (Nic haunted our poor DRE, but what the heck, it's only one hour out of her life, right?), then lunch and hiking and bouldering through Valley Green. That. Was. Awesome. My kids are great hikers, and Nic is an adroit cliff navigator. G gave me a few moments of pause ("Hey mom, look, it's a sheer drop!" "Awesome, G, please keep moving.). Last year, he couldn't have made these hikes; he has come such a long way in terms of his endurance and agility. Of course the day would not have been complete without a trip to the bookstore and some elevator adventures. Everyone fell asleep happy.

Probably the best stuff happened Friday night. I meant to take the kids to the playground, but instead got pulled over. And boxed into a spot. And I knew exactly why.

"Ma'am, do you have any idea why I am pulling you over?"

I do, but in my usual scattered, artless, panicked way, I am inarticulate. "Yeah? Um....no. Actually, I'm really sorry for whatever I did. My son back here is autistic, and he was telling me he is going to break into (secure location across the street) to ride the elevators, and....gosh, I am really, really sorry for whatever I did."

He looked like he could barely contain his laughter under his carefully controlled gruff exterior. His eyes gave him away. I have that effect on people.

"Ma'am, I am a reasonable man. I am sorry to hear about that, sure, but you have to promise me you'll pay more attention."

Nic (from the back seat): "MOM!!! You are getting me into trouble!"

Me; "I promise." (to Nic): "It's your fault for telling me you are going to go break in and ride elevators." Back to the officer: "I'm sorry, seriously, it won't happen again."

Nic: "Next time, mom, you need to ignore me while you're driving."

Amen. I will never argue with a reasonable man. But ignore either kid while I'm driving?

That's going to take some doing.....

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The View from Under the Bus

Many years ago, a former classmate of mine found himself under a bus. Literally.

It's not really clear how he got there, but the general consensus is that he was indeed pushed. I remember the stories about the skin grafts most vividly, and how painful his recovery was.

I contemplated this memory last night as I consider my older son's predicament. I realize life is unpredictable and he needs to learn to deal with that. There are things he needs to own; but when the adults fail to communicate well with one other, things break down, and my son with them. He does the best he can. But he's still learning. And he needs help.

This picture somehow ended up in my bag this morning. It's a solemn reminder of my duties.

I pray for wisdom.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Blessed is Better than Lucky

I left off with my struggles with pride. A few things have happened since that last post, all relevant, but some more so than others. I've actually began this blog several times, but I can't seem to settle on what my story is.

Suffice it to say, I'm not really sure. But it can be best said that life asserts itself, as do my priorities as a consequence. I know what they are, but occasionally, I need reminding. Life doesn't smack me down so much as tug at my sleeve; what looks like a smackdown is really a gentle reminder.

But pride plays a big role in perception.

Circumstance, I find, also plays a big role in perception. I find it funny that I am viewed differently as a consequence of the 'big save' a week ago; the irony is that I didn't do anything differently than I would have any other day.

The difference is that a lot of people paid more attention to me that day. And that is the only difference.

Just like other people's opinion of my parenting; before the ASD diagnoses of my kids, I was ruining both of them by the way I parented. Now people praise me for being such a wonderful parent.

I am not doing anything differently (accounting for the differences in their ages now, of course--I parent them in the same firm loving manner I have always had); but the acknowledgment of their differences, again, changes perception in the way I do things.

As I told a frantic young girl on Friday, you can't do a damn thing about what other people say or do, but you can control how you react to it all.

I opt for the high road, because it feels right to me. I don't see any point in talking or dragging anyone else down. Life's hard enough.

I have more to say about this, but my little one just came down (7:21 Sunday morning, and he has Sunday School homework to do) and needs to tell me about Buccaneer Bunny.....

....and I need to listen to him.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Feel good moment du jour

Much weighs on my mind, but I did want to share a good moment from today:

I was standing in line at Costco in King of Prussia when a man who had checked out came back to the register. After a couple of moments, the cashier thanked him profusely, and it became apparent that she had given him $10 too much change.

"I don't want your drawer to be off, and I don't need the money that bad, you know? Karma, what goes around comes around. You know?"

The cashier thanked him, flagged another cashier to give her change, and when he wished her a good day, she answered, "I'm having one, thanks to you."

I caught his eye and called over "That was a great thing you just did. Thank you."

He grinned back. "No, not a great thing, just the right thing."

Amen.

Where my head is....

Monday, September 26, 2011

Over.....it

I think it's pretty safe to say that everyone reacts differently to stress. Some people overspend, others overeat, yet others oversleep.

Me? I overschedule. I think on some level that I firmly believe I will outrun stress if I give myself no time to think about it.

How's that working for me? Well, I'm too tired to care about much right now. Today turned into a 7-5 day, followed by late pick-ups for both boys, then off to Nic's social skills group while somehow cramming homework in between transit time. And hubby (bless him) made dinner, which gave me one less thing to stress about.

I also packed my weekend without meaning to. An IEP clinic ran my morning into afternoon, followed by volunteering at our parish carnival, popcorn sales for G, late dinner at the carnival (when was I going to find time to cook, anyway?). Sunday found me waking up, helping G with his PREP homework, me prepping for my class, teaching, church, and more popcorn sales.

G cleaned up his first weekend selling. He could quit now, but the competitive bug has bitten and he wants to see how high he can go. Nic is egging him on. I'm proud of him because this is all him--HE is selling it. He handled his numerous rejections with a great deal of equanmity.

Could this be a calling?

Nic enjoys selling, too. He actually closed a couple deals for G yesterday.

Just reminds me that possibilities--for them and me both--are endless. I just need some sleep to help me figure out what those are.

But for right now, hubby tells me that I need a break.

"Yeah, I know you need to save the world, and the world does need saving, but we need you more."

Copy that.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rewriting the scripts

About a year ago, I wrote a little bit about the whole idea of life as drama; everyone has a starring role in their story, surrounded by all variety of bit player. And no one wants to think him or herself a bit player in some one else's story.

I find myself (again? still?) in the bizarre position of having a fixed role in the collective conscious of, well, let's just say an influential (to me) group of people and leave it there. The story I get from these folk is that the role I am in is the role I will remain in, and that's that. The story I get from another quarter is that I'm 'not ready' and there is 'no visibility' in what I do.

So, having said that, shortly after I wrote my last post, I found myself filling a vacuum, my only thought being that I couldn't possibly make a situation any worse than it was--all win, from where I was standing.

So, the whole argument of 'not ready' goes away. No visibility? The situation allowed for plenty of witnesses. For better or worse, I rewrote my part in a lot of people's scripts.

And this all felt, really, really good. I think of Nic and G rewriting the scripts other people have written for them; I see Nic's smile when he knows he has floored his audience. G is simply G, humble and content and mindful of his own accomplishments. He remains sanguine, Nic, Saturnine, and truly my kid in this regard.

If I'm honest, I know what I did will fade, and my role, as it were, will be assumed to be assumed once again, as it was before.

I think the real test of character is not what you'll say you do in a given situation; it's what happens when and how you react to adverse circumstances.

Short term, I'll take hubby's advice, keep it all in perspective, and remember that others don't get the final word defining who I am.

(But I can't wait to see how this particular story ends....)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Increased Bandwidth's Mixed Blessings

Once, not all that long ago either, I had a relatively easy life at DEFCON1.

When you are poised for imminent disaster, there isn't room for much else. So, any perceived virtue in you as a result isn't really a virtue at all; it's necessity. Life is stripped down to its most essential elements.

As we settle into the new school year, I've eased off, almost imperceptibly, into the new rhythms of our lives. Nic accepts all the rights and responsibilities of his life as a middle schooler (but will continue to try to get away with whatever he thinks he can get away with), and G blossoms in full sunlight, now away from the shadow of his older brother. Great stuff.

Suddenly, my own frontiers expand out in every direction, as far as the eye can see. My sons' collective burgeoning independence has granted me freedom, of a sort. I think about other things, because I can.

I wish this were as cool as it sounds.

On one level, this all-consuming fire of vigilance exhausted me. But only now am I appreciating how much it shielded me.

Now that I've contained the fire, I'm free to see everything that's around it. And the last 24 hours have taught me how much I relied on it to keep from dealing with other things in my life.

I find now that I am consumed with things that have passed me by, and I am forced to confront this daily. Doing nothing is not really an option, but acting brashly won't win me any medals, either.

I walked the labyrinth again yesterday, after a walk, a cry, and Reiki in the woods. I had to stop and ask myself what I was REALLY upset about, because as it happens, I occasionally swap out my truths for less painful alternatives. That doesn't work, because in my heart of hearts, I can't lie to myself, as much as I'd like to, as convenient as that would be.

So, I come to the center of the labyrinth. And I wait. And I am aware of how foolish I look, standing there, waiting for wisdom.

Finally, I speak aloud. "I'm nowhere near home, am I?"

Suddenly, the wind picks up. The low hanging clouds and threatening rain had almost discouraged me from this walk, but I still did it. I wanted my answers. I stood still as the wind whipped through the trees around me.

I continued. "You're not done with me yet, are you?"

One last gust, and then peace.

I walked out from the center, pondering all the implications, none the wiser regarding courses of action I need to take. I hear Fr M's voice once again: "In God's time, not yours."

As life settles into routine, I find I have a whole new set of challenges ahead.

I hope I am equal to them.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Transformations

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
~Lao Tzu

We are a house in transition.

I'm sitting here on the couch with my younger guy pelting me with questions about Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds, and explaining to him that the original 1966 album is NOT the soundtrack to the 2002 concert DVD (that's in our van....what an education they have ahead of them). We just made two batches of muffins; I'll make some cookies once the butter melts and I have another cup of coffee.

I'm liking the change and chill in temperatures. Our house reflects the changes, in a good way. We just finished the first full week of school; although Nic has a lot to learn about the rhythms of middle school (organization promises to be our bete noir), he's doing well, making friends and even won an event in the spirit day competition for his team (people high-fived him all afternoon).

I'm a little more troubled by my little one. The kids on the bus stop ignore him, and the one kid he sat with on the bus apparently got wind from the bus stop that G is 'not cool', so a once-promising situation is not so much now. G doesn't seem to be bothered, but by the same token, he is as opaque as Nic is transparent.

I'm worried. But I don't think there's much we can do to fix the bus stop sitch.

On the plus side, he loves Aftercare and has friends there.

And Nic likes his after school program, although he packs up at 4:30 on the nose every day. I think we would do well to lengthen those days. When we get a little more settled, when I have a little less to get worked up about. I reacted overmuch to their collective disorganization Thursday night; G ordered me to "get your angry self out of this room this instant!"

Stress pulls me in a few different directions. I'm playing the elimination game. The kids will win. Everything else will get figured out when I have the energy for it. I get out walking in the woods as often as I can to keep me going.

In the meantime, I have an antsy second grader who just finished loading my dryer for me and is anxious to get cookie-making operations underway.

Time to get busy.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Love Letters

I've always been an accomplished lover, but not in the erotic sense. The happiness of the people in my life has always been essential to my own, for better or for worse. Thinking like that kept me in two very unhealthy romantic relationships and countless other abusive platonic relationships.

I've loved indiscriminately. And it's hard to function when you're that splintered.

So, by dint of necessity, I have gotten more discriminating in my affections. True to Mary B's maxim, I have learned to love many and trust few. I have also learned a thing or two about moderation.

I find this the best way to couch my story, another of one of my favorite people, Fr M. As I've said in the past, I love him like my own family, and in many ways, I feel like we are family who have found one another, albeit a bit late in life for us both.

After he visited my family last month, I wrote the following letter:

"Dear Fr M,

Thank you again as always for spending time with my family. Truly, it was a lovely evening in every sense of the word, and more than ever, I get a real sense that 'God is here.' As always, I feel lightness after I talk to you--not as if you've taken anything from me, but more a sense of shared purpose. So funny that we talked of pride, my single biggest sticking point--how often I feel that I am on a mission from God on my own, and how often I am reminded that God is here with me, working through me, speaking through me, and acting through me.

But he is not without his sense of humor. A few weeks ago, I walked a labyrinth for the first time--the one over at St Thomas in Whitemarsh. Have you ever done that? Anyway, a little while before I posted on my Facebook page: "Nic needs to learn gratitude. I need to teach him that. He is a little heathen."

So anyway, I walk the labyrinth a little while later, and when I get to the center, the Holy Spirit has a thought for me:

"So you think you came into this world fully formed and thankful at the outset."

(The divine has a way of cutting through my pomposity.)

So, as I walked the labyrinth out from the center, I reflected on the nature of my gratitude and how it evolved. And the short answer is this: my CHILDREN have taught me what it is to be grateful; my attitude of gratitude, though it feels like I've had it forever, is a relatively recent development. And it was a gift to me from my boys. That I take nothing for granted, that everything--even adversity--is a gift, because you learn your best lessons when things aren't going your way.

And one gift you've given me--'In God's time, not yours'--has gotten me through many a difficult time.

(Actually, you have given me many gifts over the years--too many to list, but I am grateful for all, particularly our friendship).

Please know that our door is always open, and you are always welcome."

This letter sat in my pocketbook for nearly 3 weeks. I got around to sticking it in an envelope on Saturday, thinking I'd drop it by the rectory. But I forgot.

Sunday found me sitting in the church with other second and third grade prep parents, when Fr M stepped up to talk about the sacraments. I remembered the letter in my purse, dug it out, and stopped him on his way out. He thanked me again for dinner and hurried out.

Less than 5 minutes later, my phone vibrated. It was him. I hurried out to the vestibule, answering quietly, "Hello?"

"Oh Liz, hi," he said. "I forgot you were still in church, but I just wanted to say thank you thank you thank you. (I laughed, I couldn't help it, he sounded so happy). I'll talk to you soon, okay, hon?"

"Sure, take care." I hung up, grinning ear to ear as I went back to my pew, and thinking yet again how much happiness, joy, relief, solace he's given to his flock over the years, and thinking how happy it made me to give some of these things back to him.

You can't necessarily take pain away from anyone, but you can lighten the load in thousands of little ways. It doesn't cost anything, yet the rewards are priceless.

And these gifts that I didn't even realize I had until recently have me thinking of other ways I can use them. A path is beginning to suggest itself to me. I know I am doing exactly what I need to be doing right now, in this moment.

But I feel that it's all about to change. Soon.

My prayer right now? To be ready. For anything. And to face it with courage and resolve.

I don't think I ask for much.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forgiveness

As I prepared to lector the Saturday vigil mass last night, I pondered unfinished business in my own life. Over the last couple of years, I've honed my task to get good with God to a fine point. Yet I wondered, have I done EVERYTHING I need to do?

The first reading, from the Book of Sirach, gave me my answer. I felt color creeping up my cheeks as I read:

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor's injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
remember the Most High's covenant, and overlook faults.

By and large, I have forgiven my enemies. But this, and the gospel, plus an outstanding homily from a visiting priest brought home something that I have been avoiding, and now is the time to put one last piece of business to rest.

It's human nature to hold grudges, but in the business of becoming more like God, you have to aspire to be better than human nature. You have to be bigger than whatever slight or injury was done you. Because in the end, these little things snowball--for better or worse. This energy becomes positive or negative--it's your choice which way it's going to go. (Or, as G would have it, blue core or red core).

And a conversation with two of my former grade school grads I met with last night confirmed to me: you must lead by example.

So, with that, I just want to openly say to Amy and Sharon that I forgive you. I let these things go, because things of this earth in many ways matter not.

Wishing love and mercy to all my friends.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Note to the Team.....

We didn't get a chance to meet with Nic's team prior to the school year, so I am hoping you can forward this email to those who will be teaching him. It's just a short history of Nic, written by Nic. I hope it will give his teachers some insight. Nic's come a long way to get here; he was diagnosed with autism at age 2, and for all I know would never speak. He communicated using virtually all scripted speech until age 7, when he started generating his own content. When he's upset, he will resort to scripted (yet appropriate) speech. He takes a minute or so to gather his thoughts to answer questions. He likes elevators and security cameras. He meets expectations, so if you expect nothing, he will give you nothing. If you expect great things, he will deliver great things.

Peer interactions are difficult for him, but he is persistent and determined.

Here's Nic.

I'm going to need a little help with hard social studies because going through the textbook erases my mind. Math is fun, but only a few fraction problems are tricky. (Multiplying and dividing.) Some words in reading can be tough to pronounce.

My mom told me that middle school starts at 7:30 in the morning so I'm not sure that I can make it in time. But I'm going to make sure I do not get detention. If bullies pick on me or someone else, the security cameras (which I'm obsessed with) will capture the scene, then it's detention for them! I know that the elevators are for injured students, but I'm expecting them to be a special end-of-the-day reward if I have a good day. (That's also another thing I'm obsessed with).

I hope I have a good year, work hard, and do well.

Nic

Me again. He did that without spell check or edits from me. Please feel free to talk to either of us with any questions. I might be the better person to frame his needs--he knows what he needs, but he is still learning how to verbalize them.

Thank you so much.

PS He had a great first day of middle school. I can't expect him to string 182 days like it together, but we'll take it one day at a time....

Sunday, August 28, 2011

G, The Genuine Article

My younger son, largely overlooked in the shadow of his brother, deserves some air time.

He is reserved, intense, deeply resourceful, and probably the most gifted self-advocate I have ever witnessed. I frequently worry about his older brother, who lacks the last, but I never worry so much about G, because G always figures out a way to get what he needs.

Although his IQ testing has always revealed a vastly splintered cognitive profile, his emotional and spiritual maturity often leave me humbled. He can almost always be counted on to say or do exactly the right thing at the right time.

For some one who has not even reached his 8th birthday, I think this is pretty remarkable. I know plenty of adults who don't even have a handle on these things.

So today, during church, G turns to me, his deep sea-green eyes locking with mine in intense concentration.

"You know, mom," he observed. "I see God in your head."

This observation momentarily floored me. "You do?"

He nodded. "God is very big. Bigger than you. You worship Him."

I nodded. "That's right. So do you. That's why we're here."

"You know, mom," he continued. "God lives in the sky."

I pointed to his chest. "He lives here, too." I replied.

He gave me a sly little smile. "But I still see him in your head, mom."

I have to chuckle at the last exchange. He was accusing me of leading the witness in his own way--of trying to tell him how to see.

But he was letting me know that he can see just fine, thanks.

You just can't teach that.

But I wish his brother would take some notes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Enlightenment (hurts)

Yesterday, I had an epiphany about the nature of goodness and the costs of doing the right thing.

In the course of a meeting, I found out that by doing right by me, some one brought himself a lot of grief and quite a few brickbats thrown his way.

And this revealed to me the larger reason why my sons have such a hard time, why I am required to dole out the stinkeye with almost alarming regularity--doing the right thing, in this world anyway, brings little reward, or at the very least, little instant gratification and incentive to do more.

If you're thinking "Well, DUH!", try to see this from my (granted, limited) perspective. I've always done the right thing as a matter of course--not that there's any merit to my goodness, it's almost like that's just the way I'm wired. I'm just realizing that a vast majority of people are not wired the way I am.

I'm not sure the way this person is wired; he may be dissuaded from doing what he did ever again because of what it cost him. Because, as I am finding out the hard way, that's the way a vast majority of people are wired. Path of least resistance. Don't go against the grain. Don't draw any attention to yourself. And for God's sake, don't do anything that will draw the wrath of others.

So that's why I continue to intercede on behalf of my sons. But I sit here realizing that this will be never ending. Unless, of course, my kids encounter people like I have who are willing to take a brickbat for them.

But, if there's nothing in it for them, why would anyone do that?

My thoughts turn back to Fr M, who came over for dinner with us the other night, a wounded healer, like myself, who understands what he needs to do, does it, but occasionally fights it, because that's what we who struggle daily with pride do. I'm understanding now that the warmth of that evening, as beautiful as that was, is a reminder of what I am here for. And there is nothing warm and fuzzy about doing the right thing. Doing the right thing is difficult and largely thankless.

But I must continue to lead by example. And when I see some one doing good, I have to make it a point to acknowledge it.

Possibly, it's the only way I can keep it going.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Light Within

I love it when I make some one's day.

The smallest things can be the greatest pleasures in life. I had one split second interaction today wherein I made eye contact with some one I think the world of, and his whole face lit up when he saw me.

That moment has had me smiling all day. And it's led me to think about the things that make me smile. Canoeing and fishing with the boys yesterday does that--my favorite things with my favorite people. Certain people make me smile no matter what. Running in the mornings--when I can--always puts me in a good mood.

And this am, while I was out running, I found some one's wallet abandoned by the curb, with all their information (some one had already cleared it out of cash and credit cards); I drove it over to the police station and did what I needed to do. I hope that made someone's day. One can hope.

On the downside, a chunk of our tulip poplar came down and our tv has inexplicably died.

Always something.

But hey, if that's the worst that can happen? It's still a good day.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Stinkeye

So we were at the mall the other day and found ourselves on an elevator with three teenagers. Ordinarily, Nic is so engrossed in 'pushing his buttons' that he fails to notice anyone else.

I curtly tell Nic to stop pushing the button, well aware of the glances and snickers the three are sharing. So Nic stops. And does something he has never done before.

In turn, he looked over his shoulder and fixed each boy with a look that I recognize from the inside--the same look I trot out every Sunday when some one makes the mistake of looking at us like we are a disruption and/or an abomination.

Watching this look emanating from my son's eyes elicited both a thrill and horror; a thrill at the fact that he's got both mom and dad's confidence and daring.....and horror for pretty much the same reasons.

All of this happened in the 30 odd seconds it took for the elevator to get from one floor to the next. And as soon as the door opened, I grabbed G by he shoulder with one hand and Nic at the elbow with the other. An unauthorized (but deserved?) dogpile had no place in my schedule. Nic, undeterred, continued to glare at the boys through the glass walls of the elevator as they continued upward. I grabbed Nic's chin and forced it my way.

"Really?" I wanted to know. "You really want them to come back and kick your ass?"

"Stupid teenagers," Nic muttered, his eyes cutting sideways.

So this tells me two things; he is developing an awareness of what he looks like to everyone else and he is starting to care what other people think, to such a degree that he is actually communicating what HE thinks right back.

Many implications in this development. It's all good, but as we know, Nic likes his lessons learned the hard way. This takes us to a whole new level.

Middle school: ready or not, here he comes....

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I love August

I'm having one of those 'if you blink, you'll miss it' moments in life, where everything has landed exactly in place. It's part of the reason I've been quiet here--if I'm not working, I'm playing with the boys, and friends and family. Everything is in perfect balance.

I know how rare that is, which makes it all the more enjoyable.

Even with all the balls we have in the air, the boys have had a great time with friends and family at the beach, at baseball games (Nic threw out the first pitch at a Lakewood Blueclaws game last week), the pool, at tennis, and bowling. Yesterday, we hiked through the Wissahickon Valley and met up with Coach S. And this weekend, I am going to figure out a way to get on the river with the boys.

What makes this time so special is that we are off the town grid. All the usual grind begins when school starts up again in three weeks. And I can't say I'm looking forward to engaging the same old stupid battles I've been fighting the last six or so years.

So, for now, I enjoy life. I recharge. So do the boys. We spend time with people who want to spend time with us. We enjoy each other and these days. And we'll be ready for whatever comes.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Worth a thousand words.....



If there's any one way to sum up our summer, the above image does a nice job.

As always, I am grateful for the love and mercy shown us in big and small ways throughout our travels. These kindnesses keep us going. Despite all the blips and bumps in the road, we keep moving, we keep learning, and we keep enjoying life.

For everyone who has ever done us a good turn, given us a second, third, and even fourth chance, thank you.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Letting Go

I'm not sure where to begin this entry. I had written one earlier in the week that, through circumstances that still puzzle me, disappeared into the ether.

It's just as well; it was very angsty.

And I am not feeling angst, at least not as much as I did about a month ago. Actually, things are pretty good. Thanks to Facebook, I met a friend for drinks this week, another and her kids for a swim date, and a third I will meet down the shore with kids in tow tomorrow. All are my 'high school girls,' and I thank God every day I reconnected with these ladies. They never fail to bring a smile to my face.

My kids, naturally, factor into the good cheer. All the work we are doing with Nic is paying off. He's still high-strung and dramatic, but he is also a bit more settled as we move into August. I had been beating myself up about not facilitating interactions with both enough; I get to stop that, because they interacted just fine with my friend's girls at the pool yesterday. Nic sustained conversations on his own with everyone all afternoon. So did G.

Clearly, he knows how, and he can do it when he wants to. This is good to know.

At tennis, for the first time in the four years we've been doing the program, I left G alone to follow directions. And he actually did better without me hovering.

And I found a competitive bowling league for them to both compete in this fall. They will be separated by age--a good thing.

It just seems like all the hard work of integrating and working with them is finally starting to pay off. It's almost like it's happening all at once, even though I know we've been working toward this point for years.

Oh, we're not done. Not even close. We have plenty of hard work ahead of us still. But, how gratifying it is to stand back and watch them do things on their own.

I step back with relief and gratitude. And certainly, they will stumble and fall.

But they have shown me that they both know how to brush themselves off and keep going.

And they wouldn't have had that opportunity if I hadn't stepped back in the first place.

(What can I say? It's been a process for me, too. I've had to take the leap of faith necessary to believe in all of us--and I did.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pretzels and Ice Cream

Grandmom--my paternal grandmother--tends to make a guest appearance in my consciousness when one of my kids is in need.

My younger guy left his ice cream last night. As I pondered melting chocolate in a tea cup, I found myself, age 4 or thereabouts, at Grandmom's house with my older sister. We spent an overnight, and I can remember it only in flashes.

One my sister and I both remember is the pretzels in ice cream. Present day, looking at the melted ice cream, I remembered the pretzels in the cupboard and added them. Nic came in, took a look, and left, holding his nose.

So as I indulged in this treat, I remembered how the last time I dreamed of her, she helped me with Gabriel.

Today, I invoke her memory as I head into middle school today on Nic's behalf.

I gather my angels around me, knowing that this will only be the first step in a long journey....

Yet. As I cleaned over the weekend, I found Nic's memory book from Kindergarten. And as I leafed through the art and photographs from 5 and 6 years ago, I marveled at how much he has grown--and how far he's come since those pictures were taken....

How far WE'VE come.

So while the road ahead is daunting, I am reminded of what we've withstood so far. What's happened to us. And how we've lived through it all.

What I sit here with right now: Nic's smile and laughter as he he cajoled me into another elevator adventure last night after his class. How we joked--and how he understood my jokes--and how we laughed together. His big green eyes smile and laugh and are full of humor and life.

And I am reminded, yet again, of how much he depends on me still. And how, as charged, I cannot fail him.

By the grace of God. I will not fail.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I dream of eggplant (and other stuff)

Pieces of my past come to me at odd moments lately, as if they are trying to teach me something about my current life.

The current life. Lots of good stuff; Nic played wiffle ball with his cousins at a party on Sunday. Doesn't seem like that big a deal, and in most places and in most families, it isn't. But in mine, it's a huge deal. Nic interacted and played like any other kid....and that, my friends, is a first.

I take joy in these small things. I understand if people don't get my enthusiasm. But, I guess in light of the fact that I, and my boys, have suffered rejection in so many ways the past two months that it's with mixed feelings that I am writing what I'm writing. I've always prided myself on being positive and upbeat, but lately, the face I've been keeping on is just that. I'm worn out. I'm tired to the point of tears. And those things that I depend on to keep me going, well, they just aren't there.

So my mind's been taking trips down memory lane when I am alone in the car. This morning, it was August 2004, and Nic uttered a rare spontaneous phrase.

"He's standing!"

The he in question is Gabriel, barely 10 months old, his big grin revealing all four of his teeth, his fluffy curly strawberry blond hair waving in the breeze, as are his arms, giggling, triumphant and barefoot on the blacktop of our driveway.

I reflect on all the comfort he's been to me over the years.

Another moment: mom, now younger than I am, preparing to make fried eggplant. My sister and I join her, her only comment that I remember was that my dad really enjoyed it. We ate it as quickly as my mom fried it up, hushed, reverent, as if we were performing a ritual of memorial. Which, looking back, I think we were.

So, what do these moments in the past have to do with the here and now?

I don't know. I think they are to remind me that life is still good.

But I am struggling. Although I am working hard to make sure Nic's transition to middle school is successful, worry that my best efforts still won't be good enough haunts me. I'm reminded almost constantly that my best efforts aren't enough--and it's been hard for me to stay sunny and keep smiling.

My best efforts there--not sure how that's working out.

I'll keep trying, and I'll keep looking for that silver lining. And keep hoping for the best.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Address the Fixable

After a month and change of letting the world have its way with its me, I've made a decision. A lot of it revolved around repetitions of the serenity prayer. What can I change? What goes into the "that which I can't" bucket? And where's my wisdom to figure out which is which?

Life teaches much if you are open to the lesson plan. Everyone is open to learning as long as it doesn't inconvenience her. But reining in pride and hubris? The stiff-necked rebellion that comes with humiliation? These things are hard.

I've gone through more rounds than I care to count with the last in the past few weeks. I found myself in our tent on Sunday, in another state, wondering how I was going to deal with Nic's latest round of escapades.

I let myself get quiet enough to hear my instructions. "You have a choice; you can continue to hang yourself on the cross of other people's doings, or you can own what's yours and let others own what belongs to them."

This is where I get strung up, and this is what's been stringing me up since the end of May--I let whatever anyone else is doing spoil my good time, either by trying to own what happened or by trying to buffer other people.

Why? Who knows? But clearly I need to stop because it's making me nuts.

And suddenly, life just got a whole lot better. Nothing has really changed, only my perspective.

But what a difference. If only I could figure out a way to bottle and sell it.....

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Not sweating the small stuff (because it's all small stuff)

So this summer of tackling the hard stuff and saving Nic from himself before middle school starts has already taught me some important stuff--namely, that this is not about me. I tend to get lost in the weeds in spite of myself. But an overnight we spent with friends lent me fresh perspective on my kids, my family, and the way I roll with all of the above.

The visit went well, despite a few hiccups. Nic was able to identify what worked for him and what didn't; he listened to our hosts and heard about it when he didn't. For my part, I spent less time buffering Nic and more time allowing him to assess boundaries on his own. While this was painful for me, it was instructive for both me and Nic. It also allowed me to see to what degree I interfere with Nic learning things on his own.

My intentions are good, but sometimes I overstep. This weekend, I learned how to step back. And guess what, Nic did fine. It also helped that our hosts got Nic and had no fear of correcting him as needed. It's all a matter of degree and moderation. Even our mini golf outing produced minimal drama and maximum fun for all. Really, good times.

And for his part, G had a great time interacting with kids who were interested in engaging him. I need to do more of this kind of thing for his sake, too. It's not easy being Nic's younger brother.

So it was not only fun, but educational, all around.

Boy, do I have a lot to learn. This song showed up on my iPod the other night--and it's amazing how to the point it is....

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Shards

I've been in literal pieces this week.

The smaller details matter not. Just Nic, again, epic meltdown over something so inconsequential it leaves bystanders scratching heads.

I work so hard to integrate them into the fabric of our community, and have to talk people into giving them a chance, and when he blows up like this, he just doesn't seem to understand how he acts just cements and seals people's bad opinion of him.

Corrective measures taken, I sit here on this beautiful evening on my front step unwilling to fight anymore. At least not this week. I have deferred at least one phone call to next week, when I will be in a better frame of mind to deal with whatever comes.

I went out walking last night and saw B with a friend. He imitated my walk to his friend, then waved at me. His parents, of course, didn't see what he did, so there was no point in calling him out on it. But I did take his name off the 'supportive of Nic' list I'll take with me to the middle school. Nic's supportive list is dishearteningly small, but I'd rather put the names of one or two kids there who will really back him versus 20 names that won't mean much of anything.

We do have several families here that don't mind being seen talking to us in public places. But again, that's less than a handful. In a township of how many families? It's shameful. It's pitiful. But it is what it is.

I found Isaiah 40:31 this morning: Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Despite everything, I am still here. But I weary of the scarlet letter we wear; how funny that it's an A; how sad that we wear it at all.

Most people dread change. I hunger for it. Because change always holds the promise of something better.....

Sunday, June 26, 2011

These days are blessings

How can I best encapsulate this birthday week?

My sons have been away at camp; while I miss them, I know that they are safe and having a great time. Their first time away like this has been exciting for all of us; I can't wait to hear what they've been doing, who they have met, and if they have friends they will want to keep in touch with. I'm hopeful.

In the meantime, I awoke on my birthday in wonder at the fact that I'm older than I have ever been in my life. How funny to think that, because this is true of all of us, every day. But I, literally, did not ever dream I would live this long. My clean bill of health earlier this month is doubly sweet.

Although I experienced a serious disappointment earlier this month, perspective has tempered my anger and sense of injustice. I always tell Nic, "Life's not fair," and I had a healthy reminder that these words apply to me, too.

Still, I always get what I need, and certainly, all I deserve, good and bad. So it is in the spirit of the latter that I am happy to say that I enjoyed a phenomenal birthday with family and friends; hubby and I enjoyed 'Midnight in Paris' and gelato on my actual birthday, and I had dinner and lunch on different days with two of my closest friends, and yesterday, hubby and I packed a picnic lunch and kayaked and fished all afternoon on Lake Nockamixon.




When I pick up the boys later today, we'll continue my celebration. We all have so much to celebrate. Yes, we have come through an extremely challenging time, but there is so much good in our lives. We are blessed to be surrounded by loving family and friends.

And really, what more can anyone ask?

As I sit here and listen to the birds sing, and feel the cool breezes coming in, I'm thinking it's going to be another beautiful day.

Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Gift of Kindness

There are actually two things I want to address in this blog post: Nic and kindness. The title of this blog came to me in the car ride home this evening, and it's part of the story. Kindness came in the form of my sister in law and niece coming to Nic's promotion last week; that little bit of extra family support meant the world to me, and I know it meant a lot to Nic, too.

This past weekend, we had friends visit from Maryland, and my kids loved the company. I had a great visit with their mom. And one of the best coincidences came in the form of a yard sale across the street on Saturday. For the first time in years, Nic spent some time with the cousins that stay sometimes with their Nan. And what came of that (in addition to the great deal Nic got on an O-scale train set) was another act of kindness; on Monday, one of the boys helped Nic fix his bike. The two of them worked on it together, and Nic was ecstatic, not only to have his bike working, but that D (who once called Nic a butthole) helped him fix it.

Thinking about Nic, having such a hard time, and the way he looks at me lately; he knows I know he's having a rough time, and he knows that I am doing everything I can to help him. He lets me know by the way he takes my hand when we walk together, by the way he smiles at me. I feel hopeful for the fall; not overly so, we have too much work ahead. But I think that come September, he will be ready for almost anything.

I hope. As he and his brother spend their first night away at sleep away camp, I wish them both sweet dreams, good friends, good times, and much love.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Turning the page

So my son, who could not string together his own words and relied so heavily on scripting to communicate when he started K, was promoted to 6th grade.

All I could think as I watched him yesterday sitting with his classmates was how the relief I felt at having "done that" mixed with the high anxiety of the abyss called middle school.

It's been such a tricky year, especially with the social nuances that he misses, the bullying that goes on that he grasps on some level, but much of it he misses (he still believes everything that everyone tells him). The worst of it is that I can't tell him anything--because if mom (or dad) says it, it doesn't count (why oh why does he have to be typical tween in this instance?). But it's also been a year of great personal growth for him. I was proud of him when he said to a roomful of adults at his IEP on Monday that he was worried about bullying in middle school. All the adults in the room hastened to assure him that there were policies in place so this wouldn't happen.

But I saw the look in Nic's eyes, and although I am not a mind reader, I know he was thinking about all the times he went to an adult when he was being bullied by B, and all the times he was simply instructed to 'stay away from B', effectively allowing B to follow him around and continue harassing him. There were no consequences for B, so the bullying continued until April 30 of his 4th grade year.

Thanks for nothing, responsible adults.

So part of this summer will be about planning, working with Nic to transition to middle school, working with him on his letter of introduction to his new team, outlining his hopes and goals, his concerns, and his own history of how he got to where he is, and how he hopes to get where he's going.

For my part, I'll be working on plan B. I may never have to use it, but it's best to have it--just in case.

In other news, the bag of crazy that has been my life over the past month--Nic's issues as well as my own--have settled down. I find that taking the high road, while difficult, rewards in unexpected ways. The medical scare turned out to be nothing, but it has galvanized my sense of urgency in settling a few matters for both boys.

Upset, fear and disappointment yielded some excellent stuff in spite of themselves. I'm not sure if it's just me looking at the glass half full so much as that adversity presents unique opportunities that wouldn't exist if life were perfect, and the wise person understands this.

So, as my middle schooler prepares for the next phase of his life, I find myself gearing up for new parental challenges. I understand that this won't get easier. And as my little one moves to second grade, I remind myself that this is when bullying started for Nic, and hope that my little one has a smoother ride than his big brother had. Life will not be easy for either of them, but they will be that much more appreciative of what they have, because they had to work that much harder to get there.

Adversity, after all, has its advantages and teaches its own lessons.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mixing ponderables

It's really been a hell of a month.

I don't want to rehash--I've already disclosed the worst of a lot of it, but there's a lot more I can add--but discretion forbids it. SO suffice it to say, that's all I'm going to say about that.

I will add, though, that my mammogram turned something up. I go back on Tuesday for a follow up and an ultrasound. I'm not even really thinking about that right now--only in terms of how a negative outcome will radically change things around here. Which begs the question: should things change, anyway?

And I spent an hour pondering and reflecting on Nic's re-eval. It's accurate, for better or for worse. And now that we are starting group and one-on-one therapy, I know we are remediating what we can; now it's up to the school to meet us halfway.

(I'm not optimistic.)

I came in from a 4 mile walk and am sitting with my younger son, eating banana bread we made together and listening to him retell the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I know I am doing everything I need to do for both boys. The medical stuff now has me wondering--more than usual--how much time I have left on the clock and whether I will have enough time to get it all done.

I hope for a good outcome. Oddly at peace, not worrying, because that's not productive. Just focused on my to-do lists and enjoying the boys.

Which is probably what I'd be doing, anyway.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Stop the World....

A friend of mine would tell me I am suffering from having too many windows open.

She'd be right. My spillover week from just about two months ago has been outdone by a few orders of magnitude the last two weeks. As it happens, the field trip and the teen harassment are the symptoms, not the problem.

The central problem, as it always seems to be, is that I too quickly conclude that Nic's problems are/were my problems--and while he runs into many of the same situations that I have, he has his own ethos--which I forget, at my peril. And as it happens, at his peril, and perhaps my family's peril, as well.

I can yell and scream about consequences, but he won't necessarily hear me; I can warn all I want, but will he really understand danger until it's too late? As hubby said, dangerous attracts him.

I want to do more than wring my hands. I want to throw myself in harm's way if it means saving him from himself. But I know, in my heart of hearts, that the only way he'll learn is the hard way.

And, oh, how it twists me up inside how fraught with hazards that is; how his whole future is threatened by his own stubborn short-sightedness.

But I will not wring my hands or stand to one side. He will learn to make better choices because he will be held accountable for the choices he makes. He will learn that you can't take back things that you have already said or done. But he will learn that you can put things right; you can make amends; you can ameliorate situations.

He just needs to be shown how. And he needs me to show him.

Game on.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Coping

If the high-jinx from Thursday's trip weren't enough, we had the perfect topper coming home from a local restaurant on Friday night. As we cut across the train station parking lot on our way home, a carful of boys pulled up alongside and one called out: "There's the mom with her two retards."

I have no idea who these "people' were, but apparently, they knew us.

Hubby, on Long Island, called later that night to ask if I were joining him the next day. Distracted, thinking of a 3-hour drive, I said no.

I spent a nervous night, wandering from room to room, bed to couch and back again, fretting about my sons' futures, wondering if there was a place in this hostile world for any of us, finally falling into a fitful sleep that lasted perhaps a couple hours.

When I opened my eyes at dawn, I felt anxiety where I had previously felt nothing. I stilled myself, listened to the birds, and heard the voice telling me "You are going to Long Island."

I blinked. Gabriel wandered into my room, as if on cue, and curled up next to me. He was fully dressed. "Mom," he said. "So are we going?"

Apparently so, I thought. "Wake your brother, make sure he gets dressed," I replied. I threw on some clothes and put some edibles for the kids together, filled a couple water bottles, and told Nic as he descended, fully dressed but rubbing his eyes, "Find a book and get into the car. You too, G."

So that's how we headed northeast Saturday morning. I called hubby repeatedly and kept getting voicemail. Traffic was light. Miles clicked past quickly as the boys listened to Amelia Bedelia on the CD player and quizzed me about where we were headed, what we were doing, what would the day be like. I really didn't know what to expect, and I had no expectations other than to leave the bullies and name-callers home.

When we connected with hubby, he was pleased. "But you're crazy," he admonished. "On the other hand, I'm glad you're here, so I'm glad you're crazy." Nic rode the elevator at the hotel while I grabbed my first cup of coffee of the day from the cafe. Hubby packed up his car then joined us in the van to head to the party.

Hubby's old boss lives on the Long Island Sound, and to walk through the woods as the landscape gives way to dunes, and finally, cresting over the last hill reveals the beautiful expanse of inlet with the sound opening up to the right. I stood there, amazed and joyful at how the vista alone was worth the drive.

The boys went to work exploring. Nic rescued a horseshoe crab that was stuck on its back and spent the next half hour following it around the beach. G threw stones in the water. Our friends C and F joined us. Hubby came down to watch the boys so I could visit with his colleagues (he grumbled that his old lab missed me more than they missed him and were disappointed that I missed the dinner).

The food and conversation, and exploring on the beach, and later taking the boys over to the University and to some of our old stomping grounds, did so much to heal what was broken in the previous two days. The kids loved it, are clamoring to go back this summer, and are still talking about some of the people we met and things we did.

So this little bit of time out of mind was good for them, too.

Meanwhile, I have 13 days of this school year left to deal with plus a transition in front of me. And as always, I will do my best and pray that it is good enough....

Friday, May 27, 2011

5th Grade Trip in a Nutshell

Could have been worse, but I can't imagine it could have been better. It was a long, intense day--we had to be at school at 6 am, we got there, got down to B'more before 9 (the Science Center didn't open til 10), so Nic and I wandered off and did some elevatoring in the meantime. Came back, saw the IMAX movie, tooled around on our own
(with the same obnoxious boys yelling down 'Hi Nic!' and Nic like a trained puppy waving back.

After lunch, we gathered outside the aquarium, and the boys started up again. Nic came back, I told him they weren't his friends and to stay away from them. Did I know Nic was going to go over to them and tell them that? And that they would call me a liar? And that Nic would start screaming at me to stop harassing him, throw himself down on the ground and pull me down with him with the whole fifth grade, teachers and parents looking on?

Obviously, if I knew all that, it would have shaken out differently.

And the kicker is that those kids had the balls to keep doing it. Karma will be a bitch when it shows up.

On the upside, I knew that was the worst that could happen, and the rest of the day went fine.

But I was raw by the time we got home after 8 (Couldn't even rest on the ride home, had to make sure Nic didn't disturb anyone around us, and he literally could not contain himself).

The headache I have today? Probably connected to yesterday.

But Nic and I are still here.

Team C: 10 Bullies 0

(But I will make sure justice for yesterday is meted out--one way or another)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bucket Wisdom

G, my old soul, told me very gravely last night: "Mom, I am afraid that people keep dipping into Nicolas's bucket. Can we help make them stop?"

G had read a book in his first grade class about "the invisible bucket we all carry with us; those people who make us happy keep it filled; those people who make us sad dip into it." (He explained this to me between trips to our gardening bucket while we were weeding on Saturday). He then went on to assure me that I keep his bucket full.

But his concerns about Nic's bucket are valid. A coterie of kids at the aftercare have taken to picking a play (or 10) out of him lately. He's been watching it, and processing it, and I think he's not sure what to do about it.

So I spoke to both boys separately about it last night. Nic and I brainstormed possible responses, and I talked to G about some things he can do to help.

And in the meantime, I continue to give Nic the support he needs to manage these situations on his own. His accomplishments and activities outside of school keep him going. Although he finished last in his event in areas, once again, he has proven that he more than makes up for in heart what he lacks in speed.

I love my kids. They are the most courageous people I know--bar none.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

(The Illusion of) Total Victory

A couple decades ago, I had a sleepover with a couple girlfriends. My boyfriend (now my hubby) was out of the country, so I was cramming in all the socializing that my full life of school, work, supporting myself and maintaining a long-distance relationship didn't allow me otherwise.

This particular evening, one friend had two decks of tarot cards, and we amused ourselves with readings. And she was flummoxed by the fact that no matter what my question was, the card for 'total victory' kept surfacing.

"Let's try this out on the Egyptian deck," she said. From my limited understanding, I got that it was harder to get a favorable reading from that deck. Yet somehow, the 'total victory' equivalent kept surfacing.

"Tarot loves you," she muttered as she finally put the cards away.

I never chalked it up to Tarot loving me so much as what I call my network--all the loved ones I have lost in my lifetime, some of them way too young and lost to this world too soon. And I often wonder how many times over the course of a given day, month, or year, they put some one in my path who will help me, or my boys--because we, the four of us, seem to have an abundance of good fortune when it comes to meeting good, good-hearted people.

Take Nic's track coach. Only this man could figure out a way to get the slowest kid in Region 10 to the Area Championship with the rest of his team. Last Sunday, Nic ran his first 800, only to have the heavens open up and pour rain on his last 300 m. Nic not only finished the race, he finished a full minute and 19 seconds ahead of his coach's expectations, won a medal, and advanced in that event.

It goes without saying that Nic is a full minute and change behind the rest of his contenders this Sunday. But he's still in the program.

Moreover, he joins the rest of his team at this championship.

I am just happy that he gets a full week more out of this rewarding season. And working on trying to get these successes realized on the track to translate to the rest of his life. He still battles courageously with his frustration, and hopefully the steps I am taking to help ameliorate that will help him as he transitions to middle school. (Disorientation, which happened the other night, will get its own post when I finish digesting it all. On paper, it sounds fine; throw in the Nic factor, and surprises abound. And some surprises are simply unacceptable.)

I feel sometimes like I am building something from bricks and mortar, and the last few days have had the satisfying feel of completing something. I am not sure whether it is a foundation, or a wall, or a bridge, but I feel it will be revealed to me soon enough whether I finished something, or am finishing a stage of something. But nonetheless, I am aware of the clock ticking, and that I have a ways to go before I sleep.....

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Confluence

Funerals bring their own baggage. Yesterday’s challenged me to dump mine out in plain view and re-examine three separate life events—which included yesterday’s.

ME was loved in much the same way H was loved. I am grateful to have known her, but selfishly, I felt more grateful that I wasn’t closer to her. One H-magnitude loss in my life is enough; I’m not sure I could bear another. The fact that the prognosis and progression of their respective diseases was almost identical heightened my feeling of loss— not MY loss, but the loss felt by her family. I know—firsthand—what that feels like. Knowledge can be treacherous.

As her family gathered around the casket to say goodbye, my own unfinished business blindsides me. Even the youngest said goodbye. I didn’t get that opportunity with my own father. So shielded was I from his last illness that I don’t have a definite memory of when the last time I saw him was. I have six memories or so that *might* have been the 'last time,' but I have no way of knowing which memory it is.

And H didn’t have a funeral. Sometimes, I catch myself thinking I need to call her and tell her about something. Then I remember.

Fr M, my own family present, hurried by, hugged us hello, exchanged a few words and hurried on. “What do you say? Can you say?” he asked. “I’ll leave it to God.”

He did. And he did as well as he could be expected to do. No unctuous platitudes—just a gentle urging to comfort one another the best we know how and in the ways we best can.

He did his job well.

Her hubby performed the single greatest and most courageous act I have ever witnessed; he gave exactly the eulogy his wife would have wanted. I appreciate how difficult much of what he said was for him—not just out loud, but to a church full of people. But he did it because that’s how she would have wanted it. Because he loves her that much. Brave heart. Brave soul.

Going forward, offering comfort where and when and how we can. This hard new normal will soften over time, as it does, as it has always done.

Godspeed, Me. You've done well.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Hourglass

“Beyond a certain age, a journey across the city becomes uncomfortably reflective. The addresses of the dead pile up….One day, I, too, will prompt a moment’s reflection in the passenger of a passing cab.”
Ian McEwan, in Atonement

Suddenly urgent business fills my day, although nothing has subjectively changed in the material facts and appearance of my life. My dear friend H looms large in my thoughts, and it’s no accident. Imminent loss weighs heavily on my mind and heart, and while it won’t affect me and mine directly, I’m reminded—again--how easily that could change. We live our lives, dream our dreams, and make our plans, seemingly oblivious of the knowledge that it takes so little to tear it all asunder.

I’ve been busy with errands and paperwork, casting a wary eye around, making lists, checking things off, creating new lists, spending time with my boys, eying my little one jealously, perhaps fearing the worst—but carefully leaving the naming of those fears to one side. It’s possible to know too much—fear paralyzes.

A snatch of memory haunts me: my parents’ living room full of adults, seated in a circle pray the rosary. I am not quite 7. I run from one to another, asking what they are doing (I didn’t know what it was at the time outside of a seemingly endless stream of Hail Marys), not getting an answer, and finally an older adult thrust a toy set of beads into my hands and pleaded for me to be quiet or pray.

Rosary or not, dad died about 3 months later. All prayers are answered, but you don’t always get the answer you want. Pray for peace for the dying and the living, because both need it in equal measure.

As much as possible, I want everything settled, in the event I don’t live into my 90s as the women in my family are wont to do. I realize I won’t have everything prepared, but I will do my best to have it all laid out.

I think of how much we squander in a day—how much time and energy in trivia and inanity, how much energy is channeled into holding grudges, getting even, worrying about things that, ultimately, don’t matter. Do we do these things in an effort to forfeit mortality?

If so, I can’t think of a bigger waste of everything that matters.

I am reminded—constantly—that every day, every moment, is a gift.

What will you do with your gift today?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Opportunities, won and lost

When I think of all the crap Nic has to put up with regarding his ongoing bullying sitch, this image will remind me of all the things his tormenters won't be.



Tuesday night, my boy took the field with 1600+ other athletes. As my brother said, he came to compete, he competed successfully, running the first leg of his heat and successfully handed off to his teammate. They finished the race, were not disqualified, and did not even finish last in their heat.

He did something not many people get the opportunity to do. He took the same field as the best runners of the last 100 years and did it in front of an audience of thousands.

How cool is that?

I love that we could actually share this experience with family, as my brother and his wife and their oldest were also there to cheer on his youngest. It's a night I'll remember for the rest of my life.

And as for Nic, he had a great time hanging with his teammates and acting, more or less, like any other kid.

The world is bigger than this town. I think he will be fine as long as he remembers that. And at the age of 11, he's already had more experience competing in big venues than I've had in my entire life.

It's all about finding opportunities and taking advantage of them.

Because this is the stuff that will keep him going, even in his darkest hours.

But I can't help thinking of the one moment of his I missed. The fifth grade was supposed to sing in a district-wide choral concert, and he successfully made it through the rehearsals, but opted out of performing.

As I drove the boys to track one afternoon, an excerpt of school children singing "What a Wonderful World" came on the radio.

"Hey, that's what we were singing at school," Nic said.

And suddenly, I choked up and my eyes filled. There is already something moving about children singing this song, but the fact that I was denied the pleasure of hearing my own child sing this hit me unexpectedly hard. I asked, carefully, trying not betray my feelings, "Don't you think I wanted to hear that?"

"Oh mom," Nic huffed. "It's embarrassing. I don't want anyone to hear me sing."

"But I want to hear it, Nic."

"Never mind, mom," Nic said dismissively. "You didn't miss anything."

Ah, Nic. But I did. But this was your decision to make. And this will be one regret in life, that I didn't push you harder on this point.

So when I hear children sing this song, I'll always hear your voice, too. As I might have heard it that night.