Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shutting down

A friend of mine talked to me many months back about shutting down, taking things off her plate, getting ready for a big change.  "How do you know when it's time to pack it all in?" I asked her at the time.

"You just know."

Much like the answer my brother gave me to the question, now decades ago, "How do you know who Mr./Ms. Right is for you?"

"You just know."

He was right.  And my friend is right, too. I find myself in the peculiar place of knowingly ending some things, and readying up, preparing for something. What? I don't know. I just find that some things that need to be said are coming out, sometimes unbidden.  Things that I used to worry about now seem to be answered with "So what?"

The busi(y)ness of this year actually camouflaged an eerie calm. I can see the surface of our lives glass-clear under the sun. But I see red skies on the horizon, and any good sailor knows that you'd better pay attention to those skies in the morning.

I don't know what's ahead; I only know it's time to get things in order.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Perfect Storm

On October 17, we celebrated our 20 year wedding anniversary as a family of four at our favorite restaurant.

Unbeknownst to us, this was the beginning of a two-week tempest that encompassed family emergency with major life milestones. The short list:
  • Wedding anniversary
  • Younger boy's 10th birthday
  • Younger boy's hospitalization for burst appendix
  • Older boy's confirmation and first communion
And the last two happened concurrently.

This past weekend was 10 years since our younger guy was baptized.  Older boy and I head to Kentucky for cross country nationals on Thursday while little man celebrates his third consecutive year as popcorn king in his cub scout pack.

Hubby just returned from visiting his uncle in another state. While he was gone, I hosted a sleepover for the boys, which went extremely well.  Everything gets easier with a little practice.

Life ebbs and flows, and I enjoy the light, sunshine and colors  of this fall. I would not trade this life for anything, nor would I miss a minute of it. Older boy caps it all off with second honors--no grade inflation, this time, I'm sure--just mom nipping at his heels and making sure it all gets done. And turned in.  Such a typical, normal problem to have.

The best thing?  Older boy performing flash fiction with his class. He looked just like any other kid up there.

At long last.

Looking ahead, feeling thankful for so much, and blessed beyond all belief. God is good. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Celebrations Abound

I found out this past week what both my boys are made of. On one hand, I should not be surprised.

But by the same token, I'm floored.

My younger son had an emergency appendectomy almost a week ago. His stoicism got in the way of a quicker diagnosis. but his inner grit guaranteed a pretty quick turnaround. I see 'long game' thinking in the way he's approaching his recovery.

Should I be so surprised that he understood and responded to the blunt honesty of his care-givers?

Not to be outdone, older brother understood the gravity of G's situation and found a new reserve of stoicism of his own. Although we made every effort to keep life as 'normal' as we could, Nic had his own sacrifices to make. The party to celebrate his communion and confirmation needed postponement (since half the family was in hospital); however, I refused to postpone the actual sacraments.  After all, I have worked for years to get Nic to this point, and in my mind, there was no way it was NOT happening.

Minus the party distraction, Nic surpassed all my expectations. He suited up in his jacket, tie and slacks and told me "The hat stays home."  (Yes, that would be his going-out hat--which he never leaves home without), and comported himself with a poise I'd never seen before. Was this my son?

Sure was. And I'd never been so proud.

And he ran his second fastest time at Belmont Plateau that afternoon--despite all the insanity and distraction leading up to it.

Hubby and I celebrated 20 years married this month; Gabriel had his 10th birthday; Nic made his communion and confirmation; and Gabriel is home from the hospital.

We are blessed. There is much to celebrate.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Going National

"Who cares? He's never won anything in his life."~Dylan, Akeela and the Bee

So my older son's newest obsession is Louisville, KY. His elevator friend mentioned it as a destination over the summer (dad cautioning that there's really not much else there). It might have stayed an object of discussion if the CYO National Cross Country Champs weren't held there.

Boom. Set as destination.

Not so fast.  Mostly because elder son is not so fast.  He does not love running, so getting him out during the week is a heroic task, made entertaining by his shouting "I hate you, mom!" while we're out running.

Seriously, he will love me someday for this if he doesn't end up in therapy.

I read through the qualifications, and didn't think he'd be able to make the cut. Apparently, I didn't read them closely enough, because he can qualify as part of a team, and as long as he is part of a team and commits to running, he is going.

I am elated.  Elder boy, not so much. He was expecting a free ride to Louisville. Nevertheless, he will go. He will run. He will do his best.

"Why do you care, you've never won anything!" he growled after his slow showing on Sunday (no running and a soft pretzel and a half pre race bogged him down--he won't do that again).

I laughed inwardly,  because he's right.  As a senior in high school, I traveled to Nationals with my Forensic team as a considered right because I helped, in some way, the rest of the team get there. And I could not on my own.  And I look back on that experience with a chuckle, because there was little for me to do but have a good time and cheer on my teammates. No pressure. And I paid my way in other ways, so I figured this was my due.

But he's right. I never had this opportunity to be national anything. On the other hand, he does.  And he may never get this opportunity again.

Opportunity knocks. I'll make sure he answers the door.

Winning matters not. It's all about the journey.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Life lessons well-learned (while running long distance)

My eighth grader is thrilled. I can see it shining in his eyes from 50 yards as he rounds the bend toward the finish line.

I see he has 15 seconds to meet his goal time this week from the digital time-keeper at the finish line and can't help jumping up and down. "GO NIC! RUN IT IN!"

He's grinning, he's gasping, but he digs in deep and sprints for the finish line--and makes it over just one second shy of his goal for this week.  He falls into my arms gasping, grinning and immensely pleased with himself.

After all, he just ran 4K on one of the toughest cross country courses in the country. He know this, and this pleases him, also.

He will not win any speed records, mind you. He stands to come in last for every race. "And doesn't that bother him?" people whisper to me. "Doesn't that bother you?"

No. And no.

Because for us, it was never about winning. For us, it's about finding out what we can do,

And Nic is tickled pink about being able to run a 4K. And he's motivated to run it faster every week.

When he toed the starting line last week, he admitted to being nervous. "I don't know if I can do this," he said in a moment of candor. Despite that, when the starter pistol went off, so did he with the rest of runners.

And he ran it in his first race, too, his eyes bright with pride. Because he proved to himself that he could finish. And every week, he will compete against himself and challenge himself to do better than he did the week before.

Isn't that what life is all about?  Constantly improving our personal best?

It's never about us versus anyone else--but I think we forget that in the bustle of living.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Down Another Rabbit Hole

I had another meeting last night; I need to learn how to say no. It matters not how I got there, only that I'm there, waiting for the meeting to start.  As I stand in line for dinner, I see some familiar faces and exchange pleasantries and small talk.

I remark on the heat, and one mom says “I know and tomorrow will be hotter, I feel bad for my son running cross country…..”

This gives me pause. I am coaching a team, a team that consists only of my two kids. Then I freeze, realizing that she’s talking about another school’s team. I  blurt out “Really? We have a cross country team here at (our parish).”

“Well, you have to start somewhere!” she said breezily, and moved on.  Leaving me to wonder, start where?  What’s she talking about? I have a team, but my team isn’t good enough for her?  In any case, it feels like a slap in the face. And gets me to wondering, what else have I kept other people from engaging in, simply because my name is attached? Should I quit?  Drop out of teaching because people don’t want me teaching their kids? Drop out of other things because I don’t know what I’m doing?

It’s a rabbit hole, and I’m deep into it quickly.

She’s sitting at the table and trying to catch my eye. I’m looking past her  because I am trying not to cry. The demons don’t waste time when you’re down. I stare into my lap, and will myself to sit tight. The door is behind me, and escape would be easy……

Too easy.   In turn, hurt, anger, wounded pride have their way with me. And I sit. Face cast down. Knowing everything can be seen and willing myself to be still.

In the end, she makes eye contact and beams at me. I have no idea what it—or she—means by it.

So my meditation for the day is :

 How will anyone know that You are pleased with me and with Your people unless You go with us? What else will distinguish me and Your people from all the other people on the face of the earth? (Exodus 33:16)

I need to pray on this question. And listen well for the answer.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

In the moment

In two weeks, we'll be readying for the start of school. Actually, the kids are doing their reading and math packets now, so you can argue that readiness is an ongoing process. We're cleaning out, assessing what supplies we need to get, seeing what we have ready to go.

The materials portion of readiness is always the easy part. It's the intangibles--the soft skills, the social stuff--that always gives me pause.

My older son is psyched and ready for 8th grade. His summer program with the township finished, and he liked it so much he told me he'd rather do that than ESY next year. He had more get-togethers and sleep overs with friends this summer than he's ever had up until now.  One can argue that it hasn't been much; on the other hand, it's been nonexistent til this year.  Progress has been made.

My younger guy, as closed and internal as ever, remains my mystery.  He's had an easier time in his programming, but his social interactions come bundled with big brother's. and why not--everything they do comes bundled, because they are de facto best friends. Hubby worries that their childhoods suffer for their lack of friends; I argue they at the very least have each other. And us.

So, they don't go and hang out at other people's houses. I can't worry about that anymore. We do as much as we can, continue to create as many opportunities as we can for them, and outside of that, we can't make anyone like either of them.

We'll keep on doing what we can. Looking ahead, Big guy makes communion and confirmation together this fall; little man moves into Webelos scouts and starts trombone lessons. We'll see how these things go.

All we can do is keep moving forward. We've come so far, yet have so far to go.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Least of my Brothers (and Sisters)

It all starts and stops here.

Whether or not exactly true,  details matter not. The crux of this story is how people who call themselves Christians treat the very ones that Christ himself had no problem hanging and breaking bread with.

For me, this is personal.

I've been thinking lately of a family; the older son I taught in Sunday school a number of years ago. His mom, I was told at the time, had volunteered to teach, but was turned away because a number of families threatened to withdraw from the religious program if she did.

I remember thinking at the time how appalling it was that some one willing and able to volunteer to teach (especially given the dearth of volunteers and none of these people threatening were willing to step into the gap) would be turned down because of her differences. I won't lie; she marches to a different drummer. So do I, so I can certainly appreciate what that looks like.

I didn't say anything, though; I just nodded, the conversation continued, and that was the end of it.

But the family was always kind of there on my radar, since ours is a small community. And I watched the kids grow up at a distance.  I was told at the end of that year teaching that my student had an IEP. I hadn't realized it until it was pointed out to me.  I had treated him as I treated all the rest of my students, and he did a great job of learning what he needed to learn.

I saw him again about a month ago at a community function while I was manning a food stand. He approached me, and I remember, inwardly, my jaw dropping. Food on his face, ketchup smeared on his shirt, he asked me for something. I smiled at him, answered, gave it to him. And inwardly I wondered what happened to the small, bright-eyed boy who had been my student years ago.

And of course I couldn't help comparing him to my older boy, who is nearly the same age.

Which leads me to wonder what happened in the intervening years, and led me to appreciate how my family looks, and how we are treated in the same context.

After all, it wasn't lost on me that some people opted for their child to skip PREP K when they found out I taught it. I never really cared, frankly. My students always had a good time.

But, getting back to my original thought. I've spent a lot of time thinking and praying on the least of my brothers and sisters, and what I can do to help.

The answer is always "Look in the mirror."

Before you change the world, you need to change your heart.

Forget Christian. Be Christ-like.

That's what He wants.

For the least of your brothers.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On the Verge of Summer

So as I dropped the kids off at summer holiday camp this am, I was amazed at how 'normal' we look.  Mom, dropping off kids for the day, heads off to work.


Or, at any rate, just like anyone else. And by hubby's reckoning, we are as crazed as everyone else, and something needs to give.

It's been an eventful year. Nic wrestled, played basketball, ran track (not very well or cooperatively, but there's always next year) and Gabriel played piano and violin and sold more popcorn than any other scout in his den.  And we've gotten both of them extra help in the form of social skills groups and even found friends for them both to hang out with.

But the ends are fraying. It's been a tough but triumphant year. And we are all ready to hit re-set.

I'm struggling with what's next. I gave a keynote speech at a luncheon last month, and the president of the school asked me "so what's next for you? You should be lobbying in DC." I sent him a follow up email inquiring what that looked like and have yet to get an answer. Sweet talker.

I don't know. For the first time in a long time, I can't see what's next, only what's now. And what's now is that I need a break, to unwire, to disconnect for a little while to see what I really want.

But as near as I can tell, what I want is what I have. It's crazy, it's busy, it's maddening, but it's all mine.

I just want some quiet to hear myself think. I wonder what I have to say.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Blink. Breathe.

Yesterday, I returned as the keynote speaker for the annual supervisor appreciation luncheon at a local school. Last year, I was called in as a last-minute replacement. This year, first string.

The organizer tasked me with Social Skills as my topic.

Social skills?  This called to mind an image of a rough hewn box made up of hammered together, sawed down 2 x 4s.  I could even see a streak of red in one of the walls--an imperfection.  And it was completely nailed shut, really no more useful than a yoga block.

I have no idea why this is the visual that came to mind, at least at first. Over the ensuing month, as the day approached, I understood that the nailed-shut box represented what I thought was social skills--the half-hour blocks of time both my boys get a few times a week. Once I understood that, I knew it was time to break open the box.

Social skills, it's often joked, need to be taught to everyone. And that's where I went with my talk. My call to action was to be kinder, gentler to one another, to pay attention to what we sound like when we speak to other people; to speak as we wish to be spoken to.

I recounted my younger son's bullying episode last Friday; it was he against four. He quietly told them to stop, and quietly sought help when they didn't.

And the adults acted swiftly.

And my little man admonished that "Sorry is not good enough!' And he is right--in our moment of pain, we don't want to hear it.

But, it's the beginning of healing. And he graciously accepted the apologies when he was ready.

We are here but a short time. We can take an extra moment for a smile and a kind word.

Because sometimes, there's no time for anything else.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Where are you going? Where have you been?

In all that's happened to us in the last two months, it's necessary for me to take stock of all the wins and losses if I am going to figure out this ongoing maze of raising kids with autism.

It's a testimony to my faith that I've been able to see the wins and victories in the spaces between the heartbreak and losses. Hubby has been the level-headed one lately, and thank God one of us has his head on straight. I've been so busy tailspinning that it's been hard for me to do much between crying and trying not to cry.

Last weekend was as bad as it's been in about 7 years. My immediate response to depression is to completely shut down; last week, with all my responsibilities, that was an impossibility. And that in it of itself was a blessing;  I

  •   ran track practice and got to see, once again, the glory and wonder that is my team
  •   spent an evening under the stars around a campfire among the best parents I know
  •   spent a large part of a fishing afternoon with my den helping the boys with their tackle
  •   was tapped by a dad whose boy was in tears 'to lend a mom's touch.' He dried his eyes--and made an awesome fire with my help
  • received great feedback for Nic from his group facilitator and last, but far from least
  • Nic received a 6th place ribbon for shot put--with no training. We might have found something for him. 
But I can't look at these things without acknowledging
  • that his posse never came to pass. I was reminded of that this past week when Nic said he ran into a friend of his. (I use that term loosely) The friend was meeting another friend. And Nic was there alone.
  • that he and his brother still don't know how to sustain peer interaction. At all.
  • that some of the things I pushed Nic to do failed miserably and will have lasting consequences.

    I was up again in the middle of the night pondering my younger son's scout outing last night.  This picture is a pretty frank assessment of his opinion.

And asking the question: do I push too hard?

There's no simple answer. There's no all or nothing. Everything has to be tempered with moderation.  Their conversational tacks, really, are no different than mine at their ages. I consumed books with the same fire and avidity that they consume stories--books, YouTube, videos--and feel the same need to share blow-by-blow details to anyone who will listen. Peers don't. Adults feel sorry for them. I'm doing all I can do outside of school with psych, social skills groups, whatever I can think of to help them out here. I sometimes think the schools can be doing more to help me out here. I've despaired on that score; budget cuts make it a virtual impossibility. 

So hubby and I are exploring other options. And with so much of our lives up in the air, I'm planning in so far as I can plan. But I find myself more and more seeking divine guidance,  because I am finding that the more I seek, the more I am answered. And I don't always like the answer, but I am certain that the answers are what they are for a much larger reason than I can understand in the moment.

The gift of age: understanding that every piece of your life, the good, the bad, the ugly, happens for a very specific reason, for a very specific lesson.

"And I never lost one minute of sleeping 
Worrying 'bout the way things might have been ......"

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Family We Choose

Two of my favorite people appear here. 

I took this picture on Saturday, and find myself looking at it, smiling, looking some more, and wondering a little bit why I need to keep looking at it. 

And why I keep smiling. And wondering. 

And I arrive at a few different places, or perhaps one place via a few different routes. When I look at this picture, I look at something that didn't exist in my world growing up.  My father died early in my life; I never knew, really, either of my grand dads; one died when my father was 5, and the other passed early in my second year.  I vaguely remember his voice, but ultimately am not sure if it's his voice or my elder sister's recollection of it that I remember.

Fr. M arrived well into my adult life, materializing at age 35--and I remember at the time wondering at his arrival. He attended the same high school as my father, and our cultural similarities allow us a shorthand that allows us to fit in hours-long conversations in the space of minutes. 

But looking at this pic gives me another view. My younger son with this man who could easily be his grandfather, enjoying his company, sharing his book, reminds me that even though life deals us some strange cards, that we get the people we need to help us through the rough times.  I smile, thinking of the 'brothers' I now have who are not bound to me by blood but by love, how fortunate I am for my sisters who are likewise kin. 

We cannot choose family?  Not true. Those people I am closest to share my heart, not my blood. 

Although my two young ones are the exception. Not the rule. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

No accidents

I don't believe in coincidence.
I do believe that everything, on some level, is pre-ordained. It's the choice, the free will of all people, that provide the variables that make life so interesting, challenging and unpredictable.

In this latest stage of my life, I find my walk with God has taken me alongside, fortuitously, some one else of similar mind and belief who is making me ask some hard, hard questions.

Not coincidentally, my older son is struggling with a constellation of issues. My husband and I find ourselves struggling against his well-mounted coping mechanisms. We re doing saying all the right things and taking the right actions. But he's not seeing or hearing us.

I found myself asking my 9-year-old in first light this morning: "Can you help me save your brother?"

Wise little man that he is, he did not answer.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The small, still voice speaks

Where to start?

Gains? Losses?

Some things have gotten easier. I get fewer calls from school, now. Older boy successfully completed his first wrestling season with the support of his awesome teachers and staff; successfully completed his first season of CYO basketball, with the support of his fellow runners.

Younger son loves music class and piano, and is generally much happier and engaged. Not sure to what we owe it, but the fact that his classmates include him (as evidenced by his Valentine's Day party) probably has a lot to do with it. 

Nic had a new friend, but now, that line is silent, and I'm not sure why.

And then there's all my village elder commitments. I find that the small, still voice is telling me to back off. And I'm not sure if that's the voice, my own exhaustion, or some combination of both. 

The reality is this;  as both boys get older, it's just not cool for mom to be so hands on. Last night at Nic's wrestling banquet (which went better than I ever could have imagined, by the way), I was reminded repeatedly that Nic needed to be Nic--for better or for worse. His teammates did a great job of keeping him in line, just like his peers are keeping him in line for stage crew. 

Who said peer pressure can't be positive?

I am seeing an end to some of the things I am doing, though. I plan to follow through on my commitments to the end of this school year, and then refigure how best to spend my time and energy. I think I've done a lot of good, and I think I've done it all for the right reasons.  But.....

....something I can't quite put my finger on. I just know that these things are coming to an end, and I'm not sure if that's me talking or God.  

So. The next couple of months will play out and events will unfold as they will.

And the boys will be fine. It will not be easy, but when I think of what we've all already been through, I think we're up for anything. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Angels on Loan

It's been a heady week of introspection and unscripted detours. I'm not sure which happened first, but that matters not.  Both things needed to happen. I just need to take care that I don't get crushed by own sense of obligation.

Nic turned 13 yesterday; I celebrated this in a guest lecture I gave on Wednesday, naming all the milestones I thought he'd never hit 10 years ago, noting all his activities within the community. These things are nothing new; I'm accustomed by now to sharing our story, and I could tell the narrative in my sleep.

Then, that small still voice suggested a detour: "You need to tell the whole story."

It wasn't even like I could play dumb. I *KNEW* precisely what I needed to say.

"Of course you know need to know what this looks like," I said, coming out from behind the podium. I sat on the desk and looked around the room. The professor's eye brows were up. "I don't want you to think I'm delusional, that I think he's going to be a great sports' star. Practices are hard." I went on to describe some of the episodes during his sports' seasons that led his coaches to reach for their scalps in frustration; things that left me clutching my own scalp in frustration and disbelief more than once over the past couple of months.

"But he's learning from these things that there is not a separate set of rules for Nic; he is expected to follow the same rules as everyone else." I sighed.  I didn't realize until I was home later what these admissions took out of me.  But it wasn't over--not yet.

"Is it humiliating for you?" one student asked.  "I mean, is that over?"

I told two stories; one from 10 years ago and one from two weeks ago. The first story illustrated my own initial inability to defend myself from some one who thought they could--and did--parent better than me. The second illustrated how good I've gotten at shutting people up.

"The only problem," I concluded at the end of my second story, "is that for every one Steve I have to deal with 50 Robs."

I've gotten so good at dealing with the 50 that the one is there to remind me that I'm not alone. And sometimes I get so wrapped up in my battles, I forget. But I'm not alone. I do have plenty of help. And for that, I am grateful.

There's another piece here that I can't commit to writing, yet. I'll get there when I'm ready.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Balancing Life's Ledger (2013 edition)

Community involvement does not fix everything, but man, does it go a long way toward growth for our kiddos.

Life with my middle schooler has had more than its fair share of mouth almighty moments. To me, those are the hardest to navigate, since he chooses to mouth off when he has an audience. It's very easy to catch him misbehaving, thus. It's also harder to parent meaningfully while ignoring 'helpful' parental input from people who have no idea what larger context surrounds a publicly mouthy moment.

Harder, realizing the greater strides he makes quietly, without fanfare. Praying with his team before basketball games; watching the game intently from the sidelines, cheering key plays from his team (wasn't this the same kid lying on the bench and staring into space less than two months ago?); tying his shoes (thanks, wrestling); running the snack stand at Pinewood Derby....this is a short list. This is expected behavior from an almost 13 year old..

And this is the behavior of MY almost 13 year old.

And I find that he now has a nickname on his wrestling team--the same nickname his dad had in middle and high school.

So much farther we need to go, yet astounding how far we've come. Wrestling and basketball will end soon; track will start up again shortly thereafter. He's down 10 pounds and in better shape than he's ever been. Just need to keep building on this framework.

My little guy enjoys his music and scouts--and won his second trophy in Pinewood Derby this past weekend.

Nobody ever said it would be easy. But the payoffs are blowing me away.

Just keep swimming.