Friday, October 27, 2017

When Your Friend's Child Dies

As a parent, I can't think of anything worse than losing a child. It is a fear that grips me at unexpected times, wakes me in the middle of the night and brings me to my knees in prayer. Children should always outlive their parents, yet every day, for the parents of some 21,000 children worldwide, this is their reality and their nightmare. It's easy to distance yourself from this statistic when it doesn't reach you. Yes, in some way we are affected when we learn of the news or in our social media threads of a child who has died, but if we don't know them, it's easy to shed a quick tear and/or say a quick prayer and move on with our lives. But when we know them...well, it's an unexpected navigation that has no clear direction and no clear destination.

This August, my dear friend, lost her daughter who was hit by a car three days after arriving at her university. I had just dropped my own daughter off at her university and was in the middle of a 12-hour drive home when my daughter called and told me the horrible news. I couldn't believe it. For the next 6 hours, I drove in complete silence, waffling between tears and prayer. I had planned to stop somewhere along the way and sleep, but after the news I had to get home, knowing I wouldn't be able to sleep anyway. What do I do? Do I call her? Text her? Do I hop on the next plane and go to her? I was honestly paralyzed with a fear of doing or saying the wrong thing that it kept me from doing anything at all.

When someone dies, there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to comforting those left behind, just like there is no one way to handle grief when it is you who is directly impacted. A person's faith, personality, and history all play a significant role in how they deal with their grief. And yet, even if we think we know them intimately, there is no guarantee we will know how they will react to the tragic event or what they need. So what are we to do? We go with our gut. We push through the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing and do what we feel would comfort us the most if the tables were turned. For example, I would want to be surrounded by my friends. I would want them to just be present so I wouldn't feel so alone. I would appreciate the calls and texts, even if I didn't answer them, take in the hugs sent in many ways, (flowers, prayer cards, silly things that make me laugh), and I would want to hear every story they have about my child.

It has been over three months since my friend's daughter's death and I have taken my own advice yet, there are so many things I find myself struggling with as I navigate this new terrain. First off, I can't physically be there to help my friend due to my recent move across the country. While so many are able to bring meals, stop over with a smile or get her out of the house, I can only offer texts or phone calls. I want to be there and the fact that I can't makes me feel helpless.

Second,  I believe I am suffering from a form of survivor's guilt. I wasn't aware of it at first but as I reflect on these painful months, I see that this survivor guilt started the minute I heard the news. Normally, I would have posted the picture on Facebook of my daughter and I that I took just before I left her at school. But after the news, I just couldn't. And since the accident, I've only posted a handful of times, always concerned at how my post would affect my friend. I felt like any post I made, especially about my kids, would be a punch to her gut and I didn't want to cause her any more pain. But it isn't only guilt that has pulled me away from interacting on Facebook. It's also the shallowness and hurtful posts that make me think people have forgotten how precious life truly is and the impact their words can have on someone else. When your friend loses their child, all that bullshit doesn't matter anymore. What matters is that I am kind in a world where kindness is not the lifestyle of choice these days.

Third, depression has been my constant companion. Before this news, I was already going through some big changes. I was moving across the country, leaving my son behind and dropping my daughter off at college. I was going from a family of 5 to a family of 3 in two short weeks. It was as though I was wading in the shallow end of the pool and reached the drop-off, unsure if I could doggy-paddle my way to safety. It was all too much at one time and then add my friend's daughter's death. When I was in the process of packing up my house, I was asked if I was sad. I was asked if it was strange to see my house empty, to watch the moving truck pull away, to close the door for the last time. But I didn't have time to be sad, or mad or nostalgic--I was up to my eyebrows in logistics and I knew that if I lost my shit, I would never get through it. So I bagged up my emotions, figuring I would deal with them when the dust settled. I would have a good cry, feel sorry for myself for a few days and then move on. But when tragedy struck, those bagged emotions were sealed because there was something bigger than my own bag of crap.

I am still waiting to open that bag. I thought at some point it would explode, but it appears I am suffering from some kind of emotional constipation that keeps me from moving forward. It's been months since I have written a blog post or worked on my novels. But I am determined to put some holes in that bag, to unleash the contents, accept all that has happened and turn what has bound me into what will lift me. It will be a slow process, I'm sure, but as I have learned, there is always the opportunity to grow, to be a better, stronger, kinder human being.

Growth comes from our experiences, the good the bad and the deeply tragic. What we do with that growth, who we become from those experiences is up to us. We can either let them pull us down and make us into miserable people, or we can allow them to mold us into a more understanding, gentler person who can make a difference in this world. I will leave you with this saying I found on a plaque that I sent to my dear friend:



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Special Night

It was 5:00 on a Monday evening and I was done. The day had begun with some mysterious smell that only he could detect triggering my sensory sensitive eight year old's projectile vomiting five minutes before we had to leave for his homeschool class. This required a full outfit change and clean up. Not for the first time, we had to do the late walk of shame to the sign in desk. This meant that we were late getting home to meet my four year old's therapist. He was out of sorts and uncooperative. When the bus arrived at 11:25, he did not want to get on and the bus driver had to bribe him with music.

I took the dog for a walk and tried without much success to bring some sense of order to the house, quickly becoming overwhelmed as I tend to do. Nothing got done and the piles of papers and school books loomed. Hampers overflowed. The washer and dryer were full. The cat threw up a massive hair ball. You get the picture. Nothing earth shattering or noteworthy happened, but the trivial hassles were piling up and grating on my patience.

Consistent with the theme of the day, The bus was late dropping my four year old home, which meant I was late getting to my eight year old's homeschool class to complete my clean up duties. Since his musical theater class started this same afternoon (why is everything always on Mondays?) we made the forty-five minute trek to the church facilitating the class. When we pulled into the parking lot (you guessed it - late), A was not budging from the car. He was tired, his allergies were flaring, and he had convinced himself his stomach was sick again. After ten more minutes of cajoling, I gave up and we were driving toward home. The four year old began to cry because, why not?

By the time we got home A had diagnosed himself with every known illness. Do you see why he's in theater? I told him to put hi pajamas on. His brother wanted pajamas too. I declared a movie night. Camped out on the couch with blankets and stuffed animals, they watched as I scrolled through the free on demand movies, debating about the validity of super heros and the entertainment value of various animated characters. Finally, they agreed on Curious George Christmas. I wasn't going to be the one to point out that it was September.

While the puppy tried to steal blankets and stuffed animals, I looked at the clock and realized I had no dinner plans. I opened the refrigerator to make an unfortunate discovery. The raw chicken defrosting in there had somehow leaked on the bottom shelf and into the drawers. I closed the refrigerator, washed my hands, and busted out the popcorn popper to buy myself sometime before the hunger monster struck. My four year old when he's hungry's got nothing on salmonella, people!

I may have slightly overloaded the popcorn popper, which started to smoke in protest. I'm pretty sure that's not supposed to happen, but I managed to serve up a big bowl of freshly popped popcorn. To the boys' delight, I even tossed the "no eating in the family room" rule to the wind.

As I disinfected the refrigerator and snuck peeks of my kids (and the dog) eating mouthfuls of popcorn at 6:00 P.M., My inner voice began. Don't you just love her?

"This is a shit day," I thought. "We were late to everything, A missed his first theater class and now he'll probably get a leftover part, and he can only miss two for the session. Should I have made him go? He's not really sick. Am I sending the message that it's okay to not honor your commitments? Why didn't I put this chicken  in an extra bag? Look at them eating popcorn for dinner, and no bath! I really failed today."

In the midst of my inner monologue, my four year old suddenly came running into the kitchen. He wrapped his pajama clad arms around my legs. I looked down at his smiling face. Then he said the words that changed my whole perception. "Thank you, Mom, for the special night."

Before I could respond, E was racing back to the family room to catch up with George and his Christmas shenanigans. I stopped. I looked at the evening from his eyes. He was safe and warm in cozy pajamas watching a special movie with his favorite blanket, his brother, and his puppy. He was eating popcorn in the family room and no one was concerned with crumbs or a spoiled appetite.
What I saw as failing on my part he saw as making the night special. I hope he will remember it that way. If only we could always see things through the innocent, joyful eyes of young children. Often my children are the ones teaching me without even knowing it.

I leaned an important life lesson: Sometimes a mom's shit day is a child's special night.

https://youtu.be/QKWc_mMal1A


Saturday, May 20, 2017

What my Sons Have Taught Me

As I sit down to write about what my sons have taught me through their struggles and triumphs living with a disability that they don’t fully understand (especially my four year old) I realize it’s going to be difficult. It would take far less time to list what they haven’t taught. I just celebrated my seventh Mother’s Day. I was twenty-five and naïve when my first child was born. Go ahead and do the math. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I mean, I did a lot of babysitting growing up and I was a nanny for twin toddlers in college, so obviously I was qualified to be a mother, right?
            
I didn’t know that the only food I’d be able to keep down for the first four months of pregnancy was Kraft macaroni and cheese. I didn’t know that I would call my pediatrician’s emergency line at ridiculous hours for ridiculous reasons, (“Why is he sleeping so much?” “Is green poop normal? Google told me it could indicate too much iron.”) terrified that I’d miss something. I didn’t know that I would miss something. I would pass off my sweet, docile toddler’s dramatic and overnight behavior change just before his third birthday as acting out because of the new baby coming. I would blame his violent meltdowns on attention seeking while I was consumed with caring for a high needs baby and his father travelled. I would tell myself the appearance of phobias were just things he’d grow out of and that all kids were sensitive to the shrieking of baby brother. I let people tell me that he would adjust to kindergarten when he was five. That was one of the most crucial lessons my eldest son taught me. He taught me not only to listen to him but to also listen to myself and trust my mom instincts. God gives us those instincts for a reason. No one knows your child like you.

I pulled him out of school under the wagging fingers of the school social worker, principal, and teacher, who believed the problem was me. I was being too soft. That his hands clamped over his ears in the lunchroom, the tears rolling down his five year old face, and the gagging at hot lunch day were not symptoms of a problem but a deliberate act put on by a child who simply didn’t want to go to school. But I had swallowed and indeed fed myself the “kids do this” line too many times. I have always gone far beyond being a people pleaser, struggling most of my life with anxiety over what people think of me. While counseling was a huge tool in my overcoming this, it was A who taught me that what people believe about me is not nearly as important as what I believe about myself, and others’ opinions can’t hold a candle to what’s best for my child. A taught me that I can’t control what people believe, and just because someone believes something doesn’t make it true. When A was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at six years old, he taught me about self-forgiveness. I had to forgive myself for what I didn’t know. It had been wrong of me to punish him for meltdowns that he couldn’t control. He was teaching me how to parent him and he was teaching me how to be kind to myself.

When I began homeschooling A, it was truly my job to teach him, and it was daunting at first. Once again, he’s taught me so much more. Every day that we spent locked in battle, every dent door and torn up math sheet would make me question myself again. “Maybe everyone’s right; maybe I can’t do this. He’ll fall behind.” They weren’t and I can and he didn’t. A year of intensive therapy, an amazing hybrid school where homeschooled kids attend small classes twice a week, and a lot of learning later, A has blossomed in a way I could have only hoped and prayed for. Homeschooling is absolutely the right decision for him, despite the well meaning advice from naysayers, including therapists. A taught me to have confidence in myself, and in him. A taught me that the toughest situations can get better with a lot of faith, hard work, and patience. A taught me that the autism diagnosis I was so afraid of is not a prison sentence but merely a roadmap, a tool. The autism that makes it difficult for A to participate in large groups, the anxiety that makes sounds, textures, and smells hard for him, also makes him understand others’ differences. When A sees a child throwing himself on the floor in the grocery store he will be the first to say, “I feel bad for him and his mom. It seems like he’s having a really hard time.” He has compassion for a situation that many adults sadly approach with scorn and assume to be “bad parenting”.

 I can’t leave my precocious E out of this conversation. E was spitfire before he was born. He was so active his little feet knocked one of my ribs out of place! Little did I know this little boy would change my flat screen world to three dimensional HD color. E started teaching me when he was an infant. When I say he NEVER slept, I am not exaggerating. The first time he ever slept more than ninety minutes at a stretch, he was 15 months old. The well meaning advice-givers told me to let him cry it out and that I was spoiling him. Now, I am not against the cry it out method itself, but E needed to be held. He needed to rub/pinch my arm and comfort nurse. He needed touch and motion to feel calm and secure. Since he was conceived E and I have had an almost uncanny connection. I knew I was pregnant with him even when test after test sowed one line. You can’t not know E is there. If you know him, you know what I mean!

E has always taught me what he needs. To this day, E still needs touch to fall asleep or to calm down. E taught me that it is possible to do whatever you need to do for your children, even function on an hour’s sleep. Moms are super heros, whether your child is typical or has special needs. When E started preschool at the same school A attended, he taught me to be flexible. We loved (and still love) the school, but it became apparent that E needed more than the school could provide. Due to his difficulty following verbal instruction, E was not able to complete our school district’s evaluation process accurately. He did not qualify for special education that spring, at two and a half. In the fall of his second year of preschool I returned to the district’s early childhood center armed with the results of a private evaluation completed by and occupation therapist. The results showed that E had dyspraxia and sensory processing disorder. He was reevaluated at the early childhood center and this time he qualified for special education placement, a full IEP, and bus service. E has been obsessed with school buses forever, so this was and still is thrilling for him. The child who struggles with transitions runs out to that bus every day like it is a flying carpet arriving to take him to Disney World.
            
E taught me persistence. E taught me advocacy. E taught me that one person’s special ed school bus is another person’s golden chariot. E teaches me courage every day. The first day that bus arrived to take him to a brand new school, he jumped on and bravely waved to Mommy from the window, headed for the unknown. E teaches me that life is an adventure. When I mention in conversations that E  receives special education services, I’ve been met with an , “I’m sorry”. Please don’t be. I’m not. E is thriving. His speech has really taken off.
           
E’s meltdowns and aggressive behavior have increased lately. When he received his official autism diagnosis at four, it wasn’t a surprise. Applied behavior analysis therapy was recommended. I was nervous and overwhelmed. A lot of hours, a lot of therapists coming and going through our home, and varying opinions in the autism community left me unsure. Still, we tried. The benefits are already apparent. E has taught me patience.
          
E teaches me tolerance and compassion. Public outings are a struggle with E. He jumps first, asks questions later. He has no concept of danger. If you’ve seen me out and about with E, you’ve probably seen him elope. You’ve seen me running after him. E does not do this to be naughty. He does it because the world is his playground and when he sees something interesting he runs straight for it. His expressive language is delayed, and like many on the autism spectrum, verbal communication is a challenge for him. It is difficult for him to stop and say, “Mom I want to go see that.” Conversely, E is prone to sensory over load. When he needs to escape a crowded, noisy, bright place he will simply take off. He is quite literally fleeing with no regard to where he is going or if an adult is coming with him. E will also fall on the floor and kick and scream when he gets over loaded. He may also seek sensory input by touching things, repeating phrases, or making loud noises/speaking loudly. Sadly, people gawk at E like he some sort of exhibit when he does these things. You can’t look at E and see that he has a disability. E has taught me to have a thick skin. Yes, it is exhausting and sometimes even heart breaking to take E to a restaurant, the grocery store, or the children’s museum, but I will not hide him away or deprive him of going to fun places like the museum or Rainforest Café so that the world will be more comfortable.
           
E has taught me that there’s often more to behavior than meets the eye, and I’m not just referring to autism. I feel like I have become a more accepting, less judgmental person all around. I still have a lot to learn, but I would like to think I’ve learned to choose kindness over judgment more often. My child flailing on the floor of the Lego store is not being a brat. He is experiencing sensory overload due to a lot of people, fluorescent lights, colorful displays. Likewise, the obnoxious person who doesn’t know when to be serious may be insecure and using humor to cope with social anxiety. The mom on her phone at the park may be burned out. This might be the first time her kids have entertained themselves all week and she’s finally sitting and catching up with friends or reading an eBook. The person with the bad temper who is angry at the world may really just be sad. I’m not saying behavior should be excused, but there’s usually an explanation. E has taught me that the world still has a long way to go when it comes to acceptance.

I believe my boys have taught me more than I could ever teach them. Seeing them try, struggle, and try again teaches me strength. Being in tune to their needs has helped me to be in tune with my own. When A goes up to his room with noise cancelling headphones, his blanket, and his iron golem stuffed animal, he teaches me that it’s not only okay but important to take a break when its needed. When E runs like the energizer bunny, he teaches me to never apologize for uniqueness. My boys have taught me that some people will never understand, never try to understand, and that’s okay. We won’t hide away to make them comfortable. My boys have taught me love behind measure, patience I didn’t know I was capable of, self-care, grace, and that the world is a better place with them in it,






Wednesday, May 10, 2017

To My Daughter's "Friends": You Suck!



To My Daughter's "Friends": You Suck!

There you have it. It's out there. I am tired of my heart aching because of you. Yes, YOU! Do you not notice the effect your choices have on my daughter? Or do you see it but you just don't care? I would like to think that your exclusion and abandonment is only a small oversight, a one-time mistake you clearly did not intend to make. But as you know, this isn't the first or the second, or even the third time this has happened. So why don't you just admit it, you suck as a friend.

Growing up is tough, I get it--we all get it because we have all been through it. Friends play an integral role in our lives as we forge through the muck of adolescence and beyond. Without friends, we would sink. But when you're that friend, the one my daughter chose to keep her from sinking into the muck, the one who she shared her secrets, fears, and dreams with, there is responsibility. She's counting on you to be there through the good and the bad, the laughter and the tears, the victories and the epic fails, and everything in between. But when you're not there, when you find others to replace her, when you decide that your world and all that revolves around it can no longer accommodate her, she feels it more than you could ever imagine. You might think she doesn't care, that her silence is her acceptance, but it's not. Her silence is pain, sadness, loss and abandonment. All the times you pushed her away and she came back, never giving up on what she thought was solid and secure; the times she was there for you when no one else was, dropping everything to be at your side because you were--YES--that important, seems so easy for you to ignore.



Whatever your reason for not giving a damn, for not noticing when you leave her to eat lunch alone, for excluding her from plans that appear to include everyone else, for carrying on conversations with others as though she's not right next to you, you need to know, it doesn't go unnoticed. As a matter of fact, it stands out loud and clear as though you had written, "you don't matter to me anymore" on her hand in permanent marker.

Life's short, and you will find that true friends, the ones who you never need to pretend you are anyone other than you, are rare gems hidden among the treacherous rocks you will climb throughout your life. I would like to think my daughter was one of those rare gems in your life like you were in hers. Someday, I hope you are able to see what you willingly threw away as irreplaceable. And someday, I hope you are able to hold on to those gems, (if you're lucky to find them) and realize they are priceless and special, and although made of solid material, they dull when not polished and shatter under enough pressure.

Regards,

The Gem Protector

Disclaimer: I have two daughters, and although this is certainly geared toward certain individuals, it will remain a mystery as to who I am directing this to. That being said, it's no secret that no matter what the age, friends can suck. Friends, more than family, can make you feel incredibly isolated and alone and can leave long-term scars. The lucky ones who find the strength and help to move on, carry the scar, the others never carry on.

Know the signs that come when someone is suffering. Teach yourself and your child what to look for and let your child know that reporting their concern is not "tattling" but an act of compassion and concern. But also teach your child that inviting the kid who sits alone at the lunch table, or anywhere else, into his/her group, could be the lifeline that kid was so desperately looking for. One small, kind act can save someone from thinking they are nothing. Besides food and water, what we, as humans crave the most, is being something to someone. Be that someone. And don't suck!




Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Please, I Beg You To Do This One Thing



Not too long ago I received a text while working on some time-sensitive material.

"Hey, want to grab a quick glass of wine?"

Well, dang, yeah! You have to understand that I don't get many texts like this. It seems like my friends are always too busy to take the time to grab a cup of coffee or a drink these days. I know we all can be consumed with the responsibilities of parenthood, work, and other obligations, often putting our friendships on the back burner until we have time. It's easy to think of friends as a luxury, something that is allowed only after everything else is taken care of. But I think of friends as a necessity.


I have been exceedingly jealous of those who have unbending friendships. Those friends who survive the test of time and distance, who have and will continue to show up at your doorstep with a bottle of wine after a bad day, who plan girls (or guys) trips, take your kids when you need a break or call just to check in and show you how much they value your friendship. Those same friends don't fuss to clean their homes before you arrive or bother with their appearance or slave over the stove to impress you with their culinary skills. These friends have seen you at your worst and still love you. But they will also be the first to tell you the truth, even if it's not what you want to hear. If you have a friend or multiple friends like the one I have described, you are incredibly lucky.

There are both emotional and physical benefits to having good friends. Just knowing you have the support of others, especially when times are tough, can make what would be mountains seem more like hills or even small bumps in the road. Even if you have a supportive family, there's something special about a friend who wasn't forced to be connected to you and, chances are, your friend is at the same stage of life as you and can more closely relate to what's going on in your life.

Lately, as I have attempted to forge new friendships, I have found that pure, uncensored honesty is one of the most respected and desired elements of a relationship. When I chat with people, I hone in on what's going on in their lives, hoping to gauge what they need from me. Do they need a pat on the back? A stroke to their ego? Or do they want to feel like they are not the only one who's treading water while sharks are nibbling at their feet? Usually, it's the latter, especially for women. Women are masters at covering up their struggles with a smile and a sweet Facebook post, but few live a charmed life void of conflict, anxiety or self-doubt. We are emotional creatures, always negotiating between what the heart wants and what the brain tells us, which rarely seem to agree with each other. So when I am talking with a friend, it's not usually the logical validation I am searching for (because I can get that from my husband), but rather the emotional validation that I crave. When someone can understand my heart, no matter how skewed it may be, and shows me through their own emotional struggles, I can connect and so can they. When I know a friend is treading in deep water, I find it's important to let them know that they are not alone by sharing similar struggles. For example, your friend might be flashing a faltering smile, and you say,

"What a craptastic week. I think I need a drink, how about you?"

Your friend's heavy smile falls, and her shoulders relax knowing she no longer needs to pretend that she's holding it all together. "Oh, yes, I could use a couple drinks, and a valium couldn't hurt," she says.

You both sit down with your drinks and after a toast to some needed time together, you blurt out, "My son just flunked out of college. Now he's home, and I think I may lose my shit."

And that's what starts an open, honest and supportive conversation that can last well into the night.

I do have friends who want to know all about my problems but never share their own. At first, I didn't think anything of it. I just thought they were amazing listeners. But as time passed, I realized I didn't know who they really were. I began to get frustrated that I had made myself vulnerable and it wasn't reciprocated. I thought because I had bared my soul, they should have done the same, like they owed me the same openness I gave to them. But, thanks to listening to Dr. Laura on the radio (I love her frankness and logic), I was set straight. They don't owe me anything. My idea of "I share, you share," is not and should never be a requirement of friendship. However, I do believe that those who do share, who dare to trust, allow a deeper friendship to grow.

What's my point exactly? Friendships are important, no matter what your age or what is going on in your life. Whether you're a ten-year-old or pushing 100, everyone needs someone outside of the family, to share things with. Women need other women just as men need other men. To push off those friendships because you're too busy or because you're struggling with something and are afraid to let others know, not only punishes yourself, it also punishes your friends and denies them needed time with a trusted friend.

So think about your friends who you have set to the side and ask yourself why. Is it because you don't enjoy their company? Or is it because you didn't prioritize them as being as important as everything else, or because you're embarrassed about some aspect of your life; the troubled child, the struggling marriage, the increased circumference of your waist? Would your friends judge you for those things or would they be the first to commiserate with you? Now that you have your answer, call them or text them and see if they have time for a coffee or a drink, sooner than later. Because your friend is waiting for you and I bet they need you just as much or maybe even more than you need them. Please, I beg you, to call that friend, make those connections and let them know they are worth your time.

My friend's text, the one that came when I was in the middle of something, meant more to me than she knew. It was the floatation device I needed after treading water for so long.



Monday, January 9, 2017

When My Son with Autism asked, "Mom, Do I Have a Disability?"

I knew the question would come, in one form or another. I thought I was prepared. I'd read countless articles, met with therapists, had late night discussions with my husband. My search history is filled with variations of the question "How do I tell my child he has autism?" This type of preparation is not unique to special needs parents, although the topics may be. Eventually, as a responsible parent, you know you will have to have uncomfortable conversations with your kids. Unfortunately, mumbling awkwardly doesn't satisfy when your child asks you an important, deep philosophical question in the drive through line or as you're drifting off to sleep. You don't know exactly when the moment will come but you know it's inevitable, so you prepare.

My moment came on a family vacation just over a year after my oldest son's autism spectrum diagnosis. I had prepared for it. But I wasn't prepared for it.

When I became a parent I knew I would face  the big questions. Yet it's not the sex talk that's been on my mind (although that will come). For my husband and I, since D-day the questions hasn't been if we tell our son he's autistic, but when and how. These questions are individualized and unique to the family situation; I don't intend for this post to be a piece of advice. I'm no expert; I'm just a mom navigating without a road map.

I remember my husband and I watching the show Parenthood when out oldest was a baby. One of the characters, a young boy named Max, is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. Max's well-meaning parents do not tell him about his diagnosis, although they do seek the help of a behavior aide. Eventually, Max overhears a heated conversation between his dad and uncle during which his diagnosis is revealed. Max is angry, confused, and devastated while his parents run major damage control. My husband and I rather sanctimoniously agreed that we "would never" keep something like that from our child. Turns out revealing this information isn't so straight forward.

Our son also has high functioning autism. When he was diagnosed, we felt that it was important not to hide the diagnosis from him as we didn't ever want to make it feel like it was some kind of shameful secret. Again, our personal situation. The other edge of the sword? Our son also lives with anxiety disorder NOS. He is very sensitive and he cares what people think. He is naturally self conscious. He perseverates. How would we tell him about his autism without him over-identifying with it? How would we keep him from feeling like something was "wrong" with him while at the same time circumventing the trap of minimizing the very real difficulties he faces as a result of his autism?

The consensus of my research indicated that when a child begins asking questions or making observations about a topic, you know they are ready for an explanation. Obviously, the depth of the explanation will be adjusted based on the child's age and developmental level, The rational is that once a child is observant enough to begin asking questions giving them an explanation is far better than leaving them to ruminate (and believe me, our child ruminates!) and come up with their own version of reality.

I first discovered this information when my research history contained variations of the question: "How to talk to kids about a parent's depression?" Interestingly, when this question came up, ("Mommy why do you take that medicine every day? Why do you have to go to the doctor so often? Are you sick?") I was surprised how readily my son accepted my explanation. While I thought was being discreet, he noticed the pill bottles on the counter and the frequent doctor appointments and worried I was sick. While it was not a conversation I ever wanted to have, I explained to him that yes, I am sick, but my sickness is in my brain so you can't see it. But, it's okay because my medicine helps me and I go to the doctor so often because he helps make sure my medicine is making me better, I think he said something like, "Oh, okay. Can I go play Minecraft now?"

So, when the day came, I figured I'd be prepared. It turns out some things you just can't prepare for. Life is not an exam to be studied for. If only.

We were perusing the science museum in San Diego. My husband was with our youngest playing Legos while I trailed A and my niece through the genetics display. I was thinking about something important like where we were going to go for dinner, when I noticed my son staring intently at a chart about genetic disorders. He was uncharacteristically quiet and then he turned to me and said, "Mom, do I have a disability?"

I deflected. I asked him what he thought and why he asked that. That night during tuck in  when most of our heart to heart discussions occur, I readdressed his question. I asked him what he'd meant earlier when he asked if he had a disability. He replied, "Well, I was just wondering, because you know how I'm different and stuff?"

Ah, yes. Different. He knows he's different. He struggles with things other kids don't. He notices things other kids don't. Subtle social norms are often lost on him. And he knows it.

As badly as I wanted to appease him with some "different is not less" "be who you are" "we are all unique" platitudes, I knew his question was deeper than that. He's deeper that that. The time had come. Except all preparation went out the window. There's no script for this type of thing; there just isn't. I took a deep breath and told him he had something called autism spectrum disorder. I asked if he knew what that was and he shook his head. Now, the hard part. A label is one thing, but autism (like any condition) is more than a collection of bullet point symptoms. I told him it meant in some ways his brain works differently than a lot of other people. It means he has very special gifts like being able to remember things and being able to learn so many facts of things he is interested in. I told him that it also means certain things are harder for him, like doing something new, loud, noisy areas, or coping with surprises/changes in plans.

He nodded. I told him we would do everything we could to help him with the things that are more difficult and continue to encourage him in the things that are strengths.I told him that the world needs people with all types of brains and that we were proud of him and loved him just the way he was. He asked me if other people have autism or is it just him? I said that many people have autism, in fact a few people he knows! We talked about other "disabilities." I prefer special needs to the term "disability". I know it's just semantics, but it's the term I'm most comfortable using. He asked me if everyone has a disability. I said no, but everyone does have things that they deal with that are hard for them, and often you can;t see it, that;s why it's always important to be kind.

He yawned and rolled over, which is usually the signal that his mind is finally slowing down for sleep. I asked a question of my own. "How do you feel about learning you have autism?"

With his back still to me, he shrugged one shoulder in that eerie teeager-ish way of his. "I don't really care. I mean, I don't think it really matters."

Out of the mouth of a seven year old. I couldn't have said it better myself. In moments he was asleep and "the talk" was over. But I'm sure it's not over. These talks evolve but don't really end. At least I have a few years before the big sex talk, right. RIGHT?







Monday, November 14, 2016

In the Aftermath of the Election

Unless you live under a rock you know what happened Tuesday. Yes, I know; if you read one more Facebook rant, meme, or blog post about politics your head is going to explode. Here me out. If you are living under a rock do you have a vacancy? I'm moving in, because I for one would like to move on.

I am not here to tell you who you should have voted for, who I voted for, or where president elect Donald Trump falls on the spectrum between anti-christ and savior. Here's the thing, the election is OVER. The results are in. We have the right to vote in this country and even if the choice is between an egotistical, obnoxious reality TV star and a lying criminal (as some may believe) we still had the chance to cast our votes. Do you know why we vote in this country? I mean other than the fact that people have fought for our liberty to do so. We vote because we don't all agree. Someone has to decide and in a democracy that someone has to be the majority. It's the only "fair" way.

The electoral college makes little sense to me and I am not a fan of the two party system, but here we are. The votes have been cast. After any election some disappointment is expected. To say this election has been particularly polarizing is the understatement of the decade. Feeling are hurt, tempers are flaring, and people are lashing out blindly.

Here's what I tell my kids. Feelings are neither right nor wrong. You can't always decide how you feel but you can always decide what you say and do. It's okay to be disappointed, angry, enraged, even. It's NOT okay to hurt people to diffuse your anger. It's not okay to hit your brother because he's annoying you. It's also not okay to burn the American flag, break car windows, destroy property, put people in danger, or assault anyone either with words or actions. It is okay to dislike the president. It is even okay to hate the president. It is absolutely not okay to threaten to assassinate the president (or anyone, for that matter).

The riots have been heart breaking to me. I told you I wasn't going to mention who I voted for, but in the interest of full disclosure, I will. I didn't vote for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton. I voted for the third party candidate Gary Johnson. I couldn't get behind either Trump or Clinton from a personal or moral stand point. I am only adding this fact because while I may not have the same visceral reaction as a Clinton supporter, I also can't share the relief of Trump supporters. Regardless, Trump is our next president and violent protests change nothing. Yes, damaging property and hurling threats is violence. The behavior I've been seeing is absolutely disgusting, and it began before the rioting.

When I opened my Facebook feed the morning after the election I quickly wished I hadn't. Did I expect everyone to be linking arms and singing Give Peace a Chance? of course not. I'm not naive. I expected opinions and feelings and memes. What I saw was a train wreck and as much as I wanted to, I couldn't look away.

Over night my Facebook feed had turned into a seventh grade classroom during recess when the lunch mom is stuck in the bathroom with the runs. People against Trump have expressed concerns about his ugly speech, his insults, and his prejudice. I understand these concerns. What I don't understand is how many of these concerned citizens can turn around and do exactly what they criticized Trump for doing. Name calling. That's not democracy, it's hypocrisy. Remember that book, Everything I Needed To Know I learned In Kindergarten? If you don't have something nice to say don't say anything at all.

I saw posts saying that the election results "prove the uneducated win out over the educated". I saw friends who voted for Trump called racist, homophobic, stupid, and small minded. I saw people accusing each other of not caring about human rights, and of being privileged and naive. Jan was the recipient of some of this mud slinging. I am sharing her experience with her permission. Her post expressed disappointment over the name calling and juvenile behavior. She asked that we all please be kind with our words and respect each others' opinion. I'm paraphrasing here. She stated it much more eloquently that that The point is, while she did receive some agreement, some so called friends downright attacked her. One even unfriended her. This is the behavior of adults. This is the example we are setting for our children. If someone has a different opinion than you, call them names, beat them down, dismiss THEIR concerns. Don't respect their view or agree to disagree; accuse them of  hating entire groups of people.

Don't get me wrong, I think that Trump making fun of people with disabilities, using fear as a tool, and making derogatory comments about ANYONE is abhorrent and also sets a terrible example. I have talked to my children about this. My three year old doesn't care as long as no one touches his hot wheels cars, Oh, to be three again. My seven year old has been affected. A kid who is "different", he has in his short life been on the receiving end of hurtful words. He worried that Trump was a bully and Clinton was "going to be thrown in prison". We had the election coverage on a lot in our house, but even if we didn't it would be impossible to shelter him from it. Instead, we used it as a learning opportunity. In general, it was a great time to teach him about the branches of government, American history, the power of the president and the checks and balances in congress, and the difference between a democracy and  a dictatorship. It also opened up dialogue that people don't always use their power for good as God wants us to do, and sometimes the very people who should act as role models and protectors stoop to name calling, fear mongering, and lying to get ahead. These are issues he will face both in his personal life and on a broader scale. We all do. When I was bullied in school my mom used to tell me that we can't control what other people say and do, we can only control what we say and do in response. These are wise words.

Obviously my son is not on social media yet, but I did talk to him about how people had strong feelings about the election results, and some of these people were taking their anger out on others in the form of insults. Yes, even adults behave badly. Calling someone a racist or a bigot is a serious accusation. Please don't assume someone's reasons for voting. Chance are no one agrees one hundred percent with a candidate. Some Trump voters probably are racist or homophobic, but saying they all are is not better or worse than marginalizing any group of people. Some voted pro life. Many on both sides were concerned with the safety and security of our country. Now we have to worry as much about tearing our own country apart as we do about terrorism. I'm not be dramatic. This is a very real concern. It's time to move on and come together. This doesn't mean we all have to agree. It doesn't even mean we all have to be friends and get along. It comes down to respect and tolerance. Let's set that example for our children, for our leaders, for the future of this one nation under God.

We can't change the results of the election. We can't change what has been said and done. We can be mindful of our own words and actions. I saw one response to the election claiming, "Last night, hate won." I say hate only wins when we let it.  I will end with a notorious quote from Mahatma Ghandi: "You must be the change you want to see in the world.

Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.
The lips of the righteous feed many, But fools die for lack of understanding.