Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hidden Costs

As a matter of course, I volunteer. It gives us something to do, and the boys help me out. The boys’ school had a fundraiser last night, and I signed on to help out, thinking at the very least, having something to do will be a good thing for the three of us.

As I drove from work to their school, that old familiar pang started gnawing at my stomach. I almost didn’t notice it at all, since it has become so much a part of my life. But, since I was hyper-alert because of the snow falling over rush hour traffic, I paid careful attention to everything around me, and probably for the first time in a long time, everything I felt, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Because I was paying attention, I knew anxiety played huge in the gnawing. If I were honest with myself, I would acknowledge that putting myself out there is, truly, the last thing I want to do.

I am, and have always been, a shy and introverted person. Anyone who knows me casually would say that I am lying through my teeth, but anyone who knows me well can see it. I’ve learned—the hard way—how to play through the performance anxiety.

However, it doesn’t mean that anxiety has gone away.
So. I grit my teeth, smile until I feel it, and dive in. I see familiar faces and feel better. I retrieve my kids from aftercare and put them to work. They eat before the party gets there. Then Nic helps collect the money while we work the concession stand. He greets his friends. G does sprints around the cafeteria and occasionally chats up the friend, teacher, or aide that wanders up to him.

But this is the extent to which my kids participate. They don’t go into the gym and play with their peers. One stays with the adults and runs the concession, and the other one is happy to absorb the good vibes around him. I note this and file it away.

When we get home, I bark like a dog for no apparent reason. The boys have Pinewood Derby cars to paint, but that’s no reason for me to shout. They exchange knowing glances, and for the first time, I see it, even though they have been probably exchanging the same glance unbeknownst to me for years.

The phrase came to me while I was unwinding with a glass of wine as I cleaned the kitchen. ‘Emotional Hangover.’

Nothing bad happened; the kids rolled the way they always do. And my insisting on volunteering at every opportunity ensures this. Not every outing engenders success, but it does bring about constant improvement in their interactions with the community.

But I think until now that I neglected owning whatever impact this has on me and my own emotional well-being. No doubt, this benefits me, too.

But I would be a fool not to acknowledge that this also costs me. The funny thing is, the kids figured it out before I did. And oddly enough, they forgive me for it.
Maybe, my living, by itself, has taught them a whole new set of survival skills that I never intended to teach.

That suits me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Letter from Home

I had to write something for Gabriel to present to his class as Star of the Week.

G is for Gabriel…..and Gift

I often call you my little G. I know you prefer Gabriel, but sometimes G just comes out more easily. And sometimes I think it’s because it is shorthand for all the special things you are:

G stands for gregarious
G stands for generous
G stands for gentle
G stands for genuine
G stands for gleeful
G stands for graceful
G stands for grin

Most importantly, G stands for gift—you are all these things to our family, and so much more, Gabriel Christopher. We love you, and we are grateful—another G!—for all the love you give back to us.

Love, Mom, Dad, and Nicolas

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Looking Ahead

What's worse, knowing a goodbye is coming or when it steals upon you unawares?

I'm struggling with the impending retirement of Fr M. I know it can happen as soon as March, as late as June, but I am going to be utterly lost without him. You would think that I spent more time with him than I actually do, which leads me to think that I will actually survive his departure, but I can’t ignore the resulting devastation his departure, as inevitable as it is, will be.

Ever the pragmatist, he was up there on the pulpit last Sunday, reminding us all that our faith, or our attending to our faith, is not about the homilist or our relationship with him, but it’s about hearing the word of God and our relationship with God, regardless of who is delivering the lines.

Yeah, but. He is irreplaceable. Just like everyone else I have ever lost.

Which brings me round to the big reminder—we are all eventually history. We all eventually die, and we leave behind people who love us, think about us, cherish our memories—maybe. I’ve been losing and missing people for so long that it’s just a matter of course. But those really deep connections, for as rewarding as they are, are those losses most deeply and bitterly felt when they happen.

I’m not sure which is harder, seeing the end coming from a distance, or its sudden appearance at your front door.

Putting it in first and other notes from the autism front lines

I had my annual back-to-back IEP meetings this morning; despite the surprise dump of snow, school convened, and I had to figure out how to get there. Well, how was simple--SLOW; a routine 7-minute ride became a 25 minute white-knuckled adventure.

Unfortunately, that was the easiest part of my commute. More on that in a minute.

Nic's team met first. Nic once again arrived to contribute for a few minutes; this time, he didn't retreat under my arm. He sat up in his chair, answered questions, asked a few of his own, and just amazed me with his poise. When he left, we got down to the brass tacks of his IEP and discussed his transition to middle school.

On the surface, Nic's inclusion looks easy; however, a lot of people put in priceless extra time to make it work. I realize that, but going through the pages of the draft IEP reminded me that a lot of work goes into Nic's individualized instruction.

Which is why I push him as hard as I do. I want him to deserve these efforts.

And as humbling (in a good way) as Nic's IEP meeting was, G's meeting actually outstripped his brother's. While G isn't quite the behavioral challenge Nic was at the same age, he is infinitely more complicated. We discovered early on (thanks to his preschool teacher) that his locomotion is actually a very important component to his ability to process data.

Picture it; you have a kid who is not going to learn sitting at a desk. This is a problem, both for the child and the teacher.

His team came up with a way to work with him--and early results of the changes they've made to his plan are promising. Dad and I agreed to the changes, thanked everyone, and left the building.

Leaving the parking lot, however, proved challenging. Two kind souls eventually helped me push the van out of the parking spot that refused to let us leave, only for me to get hung up in a drift that was inconveniently located in the only means I had to leave the parking lot. The usual reverse/drive rock failed me--again.

Hubby had long since departed; the school advised me to call Triple A. After I indulged in a Munch's Scream and a half dozen Hail Marys, the small still voice advised me to try putting the van in first.

I don't even know where that came from--I've driven automatic forever, although one of my friends tried to teach me to drive stick on his van in the wee small hours one morning as we cruised the old neighborhood. It could be that he or his brother told me about first gear a couple decades ago.

Anyway, bingo, that freed me, 45 minutes after my meeting ended. And then I had to dig myself out of my driveway, but at least I had a shovel this time around. And I managed to get back without injuring anyone or banging up the van, all good.

Backdropping all this is other stuff. That'll be another post. But for now, I am as ever grateful to my boys' teams, not only for the time and energy they spend on them, but for the very fact that they believe in them enough to do so.

When I think of where we were with Nic 3, 5, 8 years ago, I can't help but marvel at how incredibly far he's come. And I can't help but think, despite all the challenges that lie ahead, that he is going to be just fine.

In spite of himself.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bully Continuum

SIL loaned me a book last week that I devoured overnight. And it promptly game me indigestion.

It purported to be an 'inspirational' story of one woman's life as a victim. It read as a laundry list of insults visited upon her head with precious little insight as to how she got through it. And her resource list (if you can call two entries a list) was laughable.

And she misses a larger point. Bullying does not end in high school; it continues all through life, but most of us don't see it when it happens to us. Some people bully outright, while others take the 'frenemy' route, which takes on all sorts of guises and appearances.

So what's a kid--or grown up, for that matter--to do?

Nic's MO is simple; he keeps everything out loud and out in the open. His bent for the theatrical serves him well, and it's pretty damned difficult to get anything by faculty and staff as a result. And the fact that the said authority doesn't look the other way helps enormously.

(My standing in the background, arms folded, jaw set, glare steely, probably also helps)

One thing I discovered as I grew up was that people were always fine, even nice, one on one, even if they were brutal when surrounded by their pack. This is also true in adulthood. If you appeal to someone's innate humanity, only the hardest of hearts refuse to yield. And you don't want any part with that, anyhow, so it's safer to move on and leave them to it.

The other thing I learned is that people change; some improve, and some don't. And sometimes the varnish just wears off over time, and you see a person for whom he or she really is. And sometimes, it's just not pretty.

But I think the single most important thing I learned is that no one can make you feel bad about yourself without your permission. There is a certain subset of humanity (or H. sapiens at any rate) that possesses a gift for inveigling unsuspecting souls into friendship and then using knowledge gained to all sorts of nefarious ends. A practiced eye sees them coming, but to a loner, such a person is an oasis in the desert until he or she becomes the worst possible nightmare.

And how many of us have been taken in by such a person at one time or another?

But it's like touching the hot stove and all the other instructions we've been given from toddlerhood on up--some lessons you need to learn the hard way, and for some lessons, the hard way is the only way.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Okay, I have a lot of ground to cover while dinner cooks, so this is probably not going to be a neat and polished piece.

So Nic had another incident wherein some one deliberately set him off yesterday. He told me on his own before we headed out to meet grandmom for dinner, and the email from his teacher waited for me to come home and read it. Not surprisingly, Nic's story aligned with his teacher's, and I am grateful for the fact that a) he is a reliable witness and b) his teacher is wise to the nefarious attentions of others.

I resorted to A Christmas Story for the reliable life lesson: the snarled "NADDA FINGAH!" that the old man hurled at mom when she tried to salvage the leg lamp she (purposely) broke. Nic keeps his hands to himself, his mouth to himself, and gets an adult-no discussion.

Nic the quick study agreed that this is a plan.

G hurled his full lunch tray yesterday, for reasons best known to G. He will be brown-bagging for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, I am thinking about a book outline for the first time in years, spurned by a complete waste of my time finished this afternoon. I am going to make this time count....for something.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Getting our Service On

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." ~Martin Luther King Jr

I think I already covered the quote, but it's worth noting who said it. And in his name and in the name of service, I had the boys out and about from 9 am on, first at Nic's school packaging lunches for a shelter in Philadelphia, then at a local church making Valentine cards for shut-ins, writing letters to our soldiers abroad (Nic made a pretty cool card for one), making 'ugly quilts' for the homeless, playdoh for under-served preschools, and generally having a great time doing it.

I think we found a good tradition and are going to stick with it.

Afterward, we hopped a train into the city and went to the Franklin for a bit. Both boys had really nice interactions with other kids, for the most part got along great together, and Nic even had a couple ladies call him 'cute' and 'a gentleman' for holding the elevator door for them.

He smiled and blushed all the way to the train.

Although both my kids are on another channel, they are full participants in their community. I am immensely proud of them both.

Friday, January 14, 2011


I am laughing because I hear the above shouted in the voice of one of my old bosses. This is as good as any place to start, AP shouting DENIED when I ask a co-worker why she didn't accept my frendship on Facebook.

She eventually did, then we parted ways, and she closed her account, and occasionally surfaces to meet for coffee.

This all somehow connects to a minor epiphany I had enroute to work this am. (Another one? Damn, with all these epiphanies, one would wonder why I am not more enlightened.) I had been fighting off some niggling feelings the last fortnight or so, struggling with some old demons of people past. This morning, as I reviewed some files, a voice spoke--or did I actually see the words?--that no one makes you feel bad without your permission.

True? Damn right.

Back to my header. The implicit question "Permission granted?" answered in one hearty word. DENIED.

I feel almost as euphoric as when I finally learned to say 'no.'

And why not? There comes a time when you know your worth, your friends and family know and cherish it, and, as a consequence, you learn to shut down people who have nothing positive to contribute to your life. Kind of giving you permission to say 'DENIED!' to anyone who has nothing better to do than to tear you--and everyone else around them, for that matter--down.

Build. And if you don't know how, learn. The only real 'too late' in life is when you're dead.

It's not too late. Tomorrow is a new day. Make it count.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

When Life Hits 'Reset'

Late Tuesday afternoon, when weather-based cancellations rolled in, I fretted not. I needed a snow day to reset my head. So when the call came at 5:53 am yesterday to cancel school, my to-do list became my get-it-done list.

I answered emails, then made some pudding; I worked some, then shoveled the driveway. In between, my boys did some sledding and playing outside with friends (Did I actually type that? Yes I did, and yes, it’s true—these things actually happened). Black beans and squash soup cooked on my stove top while I circuited from my laptop to the playroom, office, and living room to make sure our guests and their hosts played near each other.

It didn’t go badly, but it reminded me I need to try to do this more often with my kids. It was a good day for them both, for many reasons.

As I put things away at the end of the day, I marveled at how close to normal our day was. Everything I see is through the prism of our collective difference. This day served to remind me, really, that we are more like everyone else than not.

Thanks. I needed that.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Living in a Shadow World

"Our kids," hubby noted, "are at the bottom of the barrel."

We sat at the dinner table together last night after the kids in question departed and occupied themselves with bedtime readiness operations. We spent our day running them from place to place in a variety of circumstances; group swim lessons, a trial gymnastics class (which, while it did not go well, was either mixed or disastrous, depending on which one of us you talked to), and SO swimming.

Hubby continued, "They really don't fit anywhere, do they? Too high functioning here, too weird or different there."

Not for nothing, I monitored hubby's reactions throughout the day, and at times checked any apologist commentary for my boys before I opened my mouth. I knew this conversation would happen, and I was ready for it.

"That's why I'm figuring another way for them," I told him. "The neighborhood association thing was instructive for me--"

"I'm sorry about that," Hubby interrupted.

"No, it's fine, it just reminded me that we need to be done doing what everyone else in the neighborhood is doing," I continued. "Our kids are going to fail if we expect them to do things that they are not interested in, not equipped for. I've always been about finding things they are good at. That's what the gym class was about today."

I ticked things off on my fingers. "They both like fishing, kayaking, hiking, swimming--Nic likes rock climbing, we need to find a music class for G, they both like scouts, and playing TOPSoccer." I put my hands down on the table. "I found that bowling league for them, and if Nic decides to meltdown, guess what, these kids are all in another township and we won't see them again. On the upside, he'll learn to be a better loser."

I let that sink in. Hubby was quiet. "They have friends," I reminded him. "They don't live on our street, but who cares?

"And," I continued. "They are both in their home school, with their peers. They are included, at least in name. We're done with the township sport crap--it doesn't work for them, and there's no law that says they have to do it."

Hubby is right; my kids straddle worlds. But I can assure you that ours aren't the only kids in that boat. And I am convinced that other parents do as we do; we figure out a third way, a way that works for our kids, so they not only find success at things they like to do, they gain confidence doing them. And they grow to like themselves--no matter how 'different' they are, they gain the quiet strength to stand their ground and honor difference--theirs and everyone else's.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Laughing at the Sky

"When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky." ~Siddharta

Angst has ruled me lately. As if I need to point that out.

Around 7 pm last night, the oddly familiar embrace of darkness enveloped me; upsetting, since I dumped that creep the better part of a year ago. And it rudely poked me awake in the wee small hours of the morning. I probably would have let it have its way with me if G hadn't interrupted and snuggled his fluffy little head under my chin.

Which was fine, except the shadow waited for me to wake up and dogged me all the way to work.

Something about clicking my laptop into its docking station, turning on, and settling back into routine drove it off. The iPod helped some, but the blue skies outside my window made me think of that Siddharta quote that begins this blog.

Nothing is perfect. I'm still weird. The kids still have their own issues. But it's okay. It's all good.

Maybe not perfect. But definitely good.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Love (continued)

I didn't quite cover all the ground I intended yesterday, because there was so much more that I wanted to say but couldn't quite get my head around the words. I keep coming back to my walk with the sharp-shinned hawk in hot pursuit of a mockingbird, which successfully thwarted its pursuer (the mockingbird emerged at high speed from the shrubbery; the raptor did not).

So this visual with Fr M's voice stayed with me yesterday; among those things he asked was: who was the greatest blessing to you this past year? Who posed the biggest challenges?

My short list of the former is not very short at all; a dozen names popped into my head and if you gave me more than a minute, I could probably come up with another two dozen or so. But the latter....ah, the latter. It is damnably complicated to love a difficult person, isn't it? Said person (if it's a loved one) thinks you hate him or her, especially if you acknowledge that person is wrong, or needs to take corrective action (I admit with a rueful chuckle that I am frequently that person).

I was thinking about some one else, some one who has been going out of her way to apologize to me lately, and I did not lie when I told her, "you are fine." Because she is. I know she took some things I said as an affront, but I was simply dealing with my family as my family needed to be handled. I am a tough room when it comes to my kids--probably harder than anyone else on the planet, because I have to be.

But not everyone gets my hard edges. If you are not here or paying attention 24/7 or living the dream, you aren't going to. But you do have to let me deal with my kids; cutting them slack because it's the easiest and most expedient thing for you is not going to do either of them any favors--in fact, the older one banks on people giving in to him.

So applying what Fr M's message, and I think this is a pretty good resolution, going forward this year, I am going to apply a little more compassion and a little less temper and impatience. I've definitely come a long way in the last year in this department, but it's the one area of my life that demands continuous and obvious improvement.

Because being a difficult person ain't easy....

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Embracing Love

It's hard not to love life on a beautiful mild day with the sun shining and bird singing--and it's a good way to open a new year.

Actually, my whole family stayed awake the ring in the new year last night. My brother and his family ate dinner with us (a three course meal that I actually made and executed with uncharacteristic expertise--it helped that Bolognese was ready to go from the freezer, but the lentil soup and Pollo alla Romana were all mine), and Nic and I played two rather intense games of scrabble while Toy Story 3 and Diary of a Wimpy Kid played in the background. Suddenly, it was midnight, and my pie-eyed G and Nic climbed into my lap, thrilled to be awake to toast in the new year.

For a moment, they were all I thought about. I recovered when hubby shooed the kids over to Nonna, we toasted, and time resumed.

Although this morning was not a mandatory holy day of obligation, I headed over to church, iPod in pocket with thoughts of a walk after. Fr M had a list of questions during his homily aimed at making us think about what we did last year, what we wish for this coming year.

The promptness of some of the answers surprised me. But while one level of thinking set about answering the questions Fr M posed, another worked at a deeper level, thinking about the infinite varieties of love and all the possible implications and combinations of it.

What popped into my head is the thought: "I don't believe in unrequited love."

I have no idea where that came from, so I decided to take apart what it meant. Unrequited means not reciprocated in kind.

So on a literal level, yes, it does exist. I remember as a teenager what heartbreak came with some one not feeling the same way about me that I felt about him. Yeah, that sucks.

But, something interesting happens when you look at 'unrequited love' through the prism of the past. More often than not, whoever rejected my affections ultimately did me a greater service than returning them. So I have to ask, is this not a type of love? Sparing a greater heartbreak?

I don't know, rejection in all its forms ultimately has been a blessing for me. Those people were in my life to teach me a specific lesson, and when it was time for them to move on, it ultimately benefitted me.

And there's the whole other thing about romantic versus platonic love. And on what level we allow ourselves to feel in this digital age, in this age of online relationships--how do we conduct our analog selves in real time, with real people?

My greatest salvation has been those with whom I interact on a personal level, every day, face to face. And yes, the love I feel from these flesh and blood interactions drives me to be the best possible person I can be.

Because really, isn't that what love is all about? Wanting to be a better person because of the special people in your life?

Those kicks in the ass are every bit as important as the hugs--and I appreciate them all.

Happy new year.