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.


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.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Life and Death

A few weeks ago I read a difficult Facebook post. Okay, it wasn't just difficult, it was probably the hardest post I have ever read. It wasn't a political bash, a gut-wrenching story on Godvine or even a friend posting a loss of someone near and dear to them. It was actually much worse than any of those because this post was a good-bye.

This good-bye came from someone I met years ago when our children were nearly babies. We both participated in similar activities with our kids and only lived a block away from each other. Our paths crossed quite often but as the kids grew we moved in separate directions. Thanks to Facebook, we reconnected, but like many friendships on Facebook, it was the only way we kept up with each other. When I reconnected with her, I had learned she was battling cancer. There were the usual ups and downs with treatments and miraculous recoveries, but in recent months, her health seemed to take a bad turn. Less than a month ago, she was admitted to the hospital. She kept us informed on her situation, posting pictures along with her optimism. I suppose I figured this was just another little bump in the road but instead, it was the end of her road and of her journey.

After a few days in the hospital, she posted on FB that she had said good-bye to her doctor and Hospice would be coming to her home that weekend. She continued to write her goodbyes that day, knowing her time was borrowed. Her words and what they represented nearly paralyzed me with deep, unrelenting sadness. My thoughts and fears surrounded me at the very idea of having to say good-bye. How does one say good-bye? I couldn't even begin to wrap my brain around the idea.

I am a faithful person. I believe in God, in Heaven, in forgiveness and in life after death. I believe we are reunited with our loved ones when we are done here on Earth. These beliefs have always brought me comfort when someone close to me has died. I can't imagine life without this faith. Yet, even with my faith, the thought of preparing for the journey when you know the end is near, is unfathomable. I'm sure our bodies, in their sick state, prepare the brain in some way and help us to eventually let go, but the idea of saying those last words to the people who have meant so much to you has to be the most difficult task to complete. It is an acknowledgment of the end of a future on Earth and an understanding that the memories you have made with others will be the only part of you that will remain. One can only hope that those memories are of a life well lived in spite of its length.

Every time I open Facebook, I look for the announcement and am flooded with relief when it's not there. There will soon come a day when she will no longer be here and the grief of loss will wash over me like large, crashing wave. But after the wave breaks, I will be looking for the calm and hopefully be comforted by the fact that the most difficult part of her journey is now over. There are no guarantees in life, but the fact that we are alive is a blessing. It's true what is said, we should live every day like it's our last, not in reckless abandonment, but in pure awe of the gift given to us. And further, we should allow each day to remind us that the small bumps in our road are meant to show us that we still have a road to travel, a journey to continue. Not always an easy motto to live by, but certainly one to consider when we are shown how precious and short life truly is.

Godspeed, my friend.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

History Lessons of the Priceless Kind

When I was young, history bored the life out of me. Sitting through a history class or reading a dry, fact-pact account of some event that happened way before my time on this planet was, for me, worse than getting my teeth pulled without Novocaine. Why did we need to dwell on the past? Shouldn't we be focused on the present and future instead? What value is this information going to add to my life? Yes, I was like most youngsters, naive. But, I never had a teacher who taught it from the correct perspective, who bridged the gap from the event to present day and beyond. I never had a history teacher who knew how to make it relevant to me, to our community or to our future.

Now, in my forties, I am enthralled by history. But my interest in history was inspired by more tangible experiences, not from some thick, overly complicated book. I was inspired by the places I have traveled to and the incredible people I have met in my life. I have been extremely fortunate to have traveled the globe. Even more fortunate, my children have shared these journeys with me. We have walked the ruins in Rome, placing our feet on the same stones as Ceasar. We have climbed up and down the stunning and sometimes treacherous Great Wall in China, climbed through the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam and explored ancient temples in Cambodia. To touch history is more powerful than any book ever written. Just the feel of stepping back in time inspires us to learn more and to better understand its impact on our lives today.

But, you don't need to travel across the world to be one with history. You may have a history lesson living just down the street from you; a real, living, breathing piece of history to draw inspiration from. Your community is full of resources and stories that I encourage you to seek before it's too late.

Yesterday, I delivered meals to the seniors in my community with two of my children. One senior, in particular, who I had delivered meals to on a few other occasions, had a small piece of cloth with a swastika on it, prominently displayed on his wall. It was the first thing you saw when you entered his home. I couldn't understand the display, considering he was a black man, other than being a reminder of a past we wish we could forget. But yesterday, he wanted to talk and I wanted to know what the significance of the swastika was. His history lesson was one I will never forget.

He was a soldier in WWII and ran the communication lines in the trenches. The swastika on his wall came off of a dead nazi soldier whose body lain next to him while he sat and ate his dinner. He reached over and cut the fabric off the soldier's coat and stuffed it into his pocket. He didn't know why he took the piece of fabric, but he reasoned that the soldier didn't need it since he was dead. He went on to express the difficulty he experienced being a black soldier in a discriminatory world. Even though black and white soldiers fought in the same trenches, they could not eat together. And when they came home after the war, they were not given the heroes welcome that was poured on the white soldiers. He spoke of the black soldiers being referred to as the "monkeys in the trees," almost indicating they weren't humans, but rather, animals. The hurt in his voice made my heart ache. In 2015, seventy years after his return from Germany, he was invited to Washington D.C. to finally get recognized for his service. At the age of 96, he took the trip to find some closure from the past. But as he sat at lunch, with both whites and blacks at his table, he found it to be bittersweet. "It should have happened much earlier. It came too late," he said shaking his head.

He gave my daughter a hug and told her: "Always work hard and never give up." His story will probably never be found in a history book and yet his story, along with so many others, are what brings the past to life and allows those who didn't live it, to connect with it emotionally. Feeling the emotion pulls us in and allows us to view history more intimately. He's not the only senior I have met with an incredible war story. Red, whom I met a couple of years ago, told me of being on a ship in the South Pacific, taking in Japanese prisoners and surviving harrowing gun battles at sea. He has since passed at the age of 94, and sadly, his stories will soon be forgotten. Yet, these stories are an invaluable tool in inspiring the uninspired to care about the past and learn to not repeat the same mistakes in the future.

I hope this inspires you to seek out such stories in your own communities. If you can't travel across the globe, you can at least travel down the street and find living history lessons that far exceed anything pulled from a book. That being said, if you love to read about history or even if you don't, pick up the book UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand. It's a true story that reads like a suspense novel with a protagonist who is thrown into a journey of insurmountable odds. You will be shaking your head and be wondering how any one person could endure so much.