February 11, 2017 § 3 Comments
My son is in the luminous stages of love, the sappy entanglements of easy infatuation. Words of endearments tumble recklessly with an enthusiasm that spills unchecked across the miles and throughout his days. It is a lavish generosity of appreciation for which there is never enough time for him to properly gather his thoughts.
From a distance, I understand the fleeting forever in these moments. The logic that measures the optimistic reality of an uncertain longevity against the pessimistic expectations of a perspective cluttered with the jaded assumptions of age. Still, I quiet the caution and invite my own memories.
Early loves are great educators of the impossible. The unlikely certainty that allows us to leap against the unknown bound by promises and dreams that forever tether our expectations of love in pages of old letters freckled with daydreams that parade as plans.
It is the love that comes before the labor of love that is marriage, the work of navigating an imperfect partnership for the grace of unconditional love, and the epiphany of emotion that is unique to the experience of becoming a parent.
On this, a month for lovers and friends, I’m reminiscing old loves and honoring first loves, forever loves and family with memories of Valentines past. The clumsy card stock of elementary shaped hearts and finger paint handprints shaped into talismans of love. Nursery school rhymes and the poetry of true love.
January 16, 2017 § 8 Comments
It’s the smallest request, to hold a space for someone to belong. There is perhaps no greater kindness than to offer such generosity of acceptance to one another; no greater space than home in which to teach belonging except school. This is the heartache I have been sounding out for over a decade as I help my children navigate the broken spaces of their education.
I have written often these past years of academic challenges and the emotional harm of exclusion, but these themes were offered new insight last November through an online parenting course offered by Brené Brown. I’ve long admired her research on shame, but this course offered a discussion on belonging and fitting in that gave me a new language for contextualizing the challenges I have encountered as a mother raising special needs children.
I posed this question (specific to my son) towards the end of the curriculum:
How do we address subjects of shame and belonging when raising children with special needs? My sixteen year old boy (son) on the Autism Spectrum cries openly, fails colorfully and speaks genuinely, he has been made to feel “other” for these behaviors/qualities we celebrate and cultivate in adults.
In an effort to keep my question concise, I edited the following from my submission to the live Q&A session:
He has given his younger sister a model of masculinity I think is both rare and exceptional; his emotions and vulnerability, the brave and authentic way he navigates mixed messages underscores a deficit in social norms.
Maybe one day there will be a parenting class to discuss the significance of belonging over fitting in as we look to inclusive classrooms to model empathy and diversity.
Privately, in my personal notes, I mused:
I’ve also been thinking about how we categorize children, offering preferential treatment that harks back to an unhealthy selection mentality; students who are deemed gifted are granted an exclusivity of privileged resources that in turn limit the potential of a larger population with an assumption of inequality.
This last wondering was specific to my daughter’s experience, but inclusive of so many misunderstood, stereotyped children. Those students ranked by generic test scores that exclude intelligence we cannot gauge in standard testing, but whose grit and resilience have made them stronger learners for their personal challenges. What might these children become if offered courses that encourage and inspire new passions?
I want to pause here to acknowledge the obvious deficit of editing. I debated tidying these thoughts into something beautiful, but there is an uncomfortable truth in the mess that I want to preserve for the integrity of my own experience. I am publishing them today to move them from the stagnancy of my drafts to better own them as an essential part of my story.
I considered offering a shorthand of harmful past experiences in the interest of identifying a pattern of exclusion that illuminate the essence of fitting in over belonging, but I want to speak instead to the rare moments of extraordinary kindness – of invitations to belonging.
For my son it was one teacher offering a safe place where others could not push, mock, tease or taunt for one period each day of his middle school career. During those three years she provided him his first experience of belonging, in which he was allowed to invite friends and breathe a sense of safety and acceptance not available outside her walls.
For my daughter, the experience came last year as a result of an administrative oversight after our move when she was allowed to perform academically by assumption of ability over predetermined restrictions. Her school saved her seat when paperwork dictated they shuffle her into another space. It was only after our daughter was offered an opportunity to thrive outside the limits of labels that we watched her excel along a trajectory of her own determination that exceeded expectations.
This is the truer gift of parenting children with special needs, the way in which we reframe understanding by potential; looking past the unspoken rules of fitting into social scripts for success to a more wholehearted place of belonging just as we are. It demands championing learning over testing, character over accomplishment; teaching children to save a space for one another with acceptance and appreciation.
I think we are on the verge of something remarkable and I’m saving a space for all of us to consider the difference between fitting in and belonging.
January 15, 2017 § 2 Comments
It started with an excruciating pain during an unfamiliar exercise. Despite my admonishment of physical resolutions this year, I was swept up in a sudden need to move and threw myself enthusiastically into a new routine.
My efforts at stillness had quietly underscored the way I use movement both for avoidance and empowerment. Restless distractions that allow me to cloak worry in productivity are intimately related to the way I use exercise to purge those feelings I struggle to name.
Yesterday, inventorying for injury in a posture of submission to a very immediate sense of vulnerability, I tested the smallest movements with patience and settled among my thoughts.
Our bodies are great teachers in crises.
My body demanded I identify the harm and tend to the moment at hand. There’s a certain power in naming what hurts, allowing ourselves to speak directly without apology for weakness.
There is also humility in acknowledging what worked once may not serve us now. Freedom in accepting that our needs and abilities change over time.
Images can be deceptive; a body may appear healthy, but hide a deficit of strength. Similarly one can appear weak while exercising great strength.
Lastly, we teach our children as much in good health as we do in injury and sickness. It is natural to tend to another in need, but there are great lessons in self-care.
In those moments of stillness as I tested my body for stability and considered how I had changed, what I might need, and the actions that would best nurture healing, the thoughts I had been circling in movement all week settled into place and I marveled at the way life invites us to presence.
This past week my son wrapped up another academic term with finals. The end of anything brings the beginning of something else and we’ve been chasing significant change with unconventional choices in anticipation of his new term.
There has been great joy in the anticipation of these adjustments, but also remorse and grief for the years I held my son accountable to a pattern of commitments that contradicted his needs for another’s impersonal trajectory of success.
For all my efforts to parent outside the mainstream language of success, I’ve bought into patterns of parenting that conflicted my earliest days of motherhood; days before labels invited comparisons that bred fear and worry. For years I gauged good enough and belonging by unfortunate standards akin to fitting in.
While verbally celebrating my son’s individuality, I was shaping his future with a mass-produced machinery of normal. If A, then B. Never accounting for a factor of C.
There is so much more to this moment. I’ve been gathering my thoughts, privately, trying to decide how to mark this milestone in writing as we embark on a new adventure. It was strange that a physical injury is my introduction to sounding out these changes, but so it is:
Name the harm.
Understand what worked once, may no longer apply.
Recognize that images are deceptive, one can appear weak while exercising great strength.
Our actions speak more loudly than words, our children are listening to our choices.
September 17, 2016 § 3 Comments
It’s been a while since I wrote, but this messy moment invites reminding.
I love you. As you are. No less than your best, more than your worst. Endlessly and forgivingly.
You have a history of struggling against yourself, internalizing false assumptions and pushing away from help.
Note: You’ve nothing to prove, no one to measure up against. You are enough.
These teenage years are not for the faint of heart. Mistakes are inevitable, struggle is predictable; neither is a gauge of ability, only an indication of effort.
Living requires risk enough to fail. You don’t have to be perfect.
Be kind to yourself.
August 17, 2016 § 3 Comments
I could measure the moment in minutes or miles, dollars or degrees. It was a hot day in an empty parking lot, only the space of regret between the water park and home. My teenage son was vacillating between the underwhelming energy of the nearly vacant park and a newly recognized wish to chase stolen moments of summer down winding slides.
He wasn’t sure we should splurge on a day’s fees for a moment’s indulgence, but the cost of passage was more an investment in joy. A lesson in listening to the little voice of intuition.
It isn’t easy to show up to our wants when we cannot hide our tenderness. Wanting to play with the exuberance of youth in the long limbed expectations of a cumbersome sense of maturity. How often do we dismiss joy in the name of reason?
Without ceremony I asked only what he might regret more, squandering a dollar or missing an opportunity? So he flew, up the stairs and down the slides in a tireless parade of contentment until there was no more pull to march the long, curving path to the top; only a restful readiness to return home.
May 19, 2016 § 4 Comments
We are an unusual family in our casual attentiveness to planning ahead. There is little talk in our home of college and career, even less of accomplishment. My son’s sophomore year of high school is almost over, but he’s no closer to knowing what comes next and there’s grace in the absence of certainty.
We aren’t practicing for big tests or stressing over academics. Our son is only newly exploring who he is outside the suffocating influence of family we no longer see.
For years our son lived under the toxic barrage of great expectations projected by my In-Laws. Suffocating under the ideals he might change the world with exhausting messages of genius. It’s an unfair label for any child to carry and leaves little room for either dreams or error.
He was their Autistic grandson with Asperger’s who was “better than” everyone else. Only, he’s always only ever been a boy with Autism who is sometimes heartbreakingly average in the wake of distorted misconceptions. I wish that they had met the little boy drowning beneath their disillusions.
This past year, moving further from the influence of such unhappy demands, our son has blossomed without so many questions of college and career. Gone are holidays and birthday’s tainted by endless critiques of accomplishment. Without the yardstick of failure looming largely over his hopes, he’s dreaming his own future in a language that speaks more to character than qualifications.
Right now he’s figuring out high school, worried more about making friends than making the grade. Choosing classes instead of career paths. Someday will come soon enough, but today is already here.
May 2, 2016 § 2 Comments
Lessons come into my life at the exact moment I am open to their wisdom. They may feel familiar as the universe nudges me gently on the shoulder, but they become my own only when I allow myself to relinquish my defenses and create unhindered space for understanding.
In hindsight, there are almost always clues that inform a prelude to learning.
My first clue came in the form of a casual read as another writer estimated it takes about 90 seconds to shift perspectives and allow emotions to pass. It was a well-articulated, personal reflection that I respected for insightful honesty. I let this first nudge pass uneventfully.
At almost the same time, in an online course, Brené Brown coached me through a lesson on creating space with conscious, structured breaths for recognizing emotions. I breezed through the exercise detached without something urgent to release. Even as the powers that be tapped my shoulder, I couldn’t quite make the connection.
I was taking note without, yet, recognizing the value in the lesson. Opening myself for the work of practice without the immediacy of necessity.
On Friday my son alerted me to a momentary frustration; a situation symptomatic of an ongoing misunderstanding. I cannot speak enough to how natural it is, as a special needs parent or just a parent, for me to move from empathetic listener to veteran problem solver.
Reactive over receptive.
In those moments when I rush to action, worry communicates to my son he needs my intervention while simultaneously cautioning the school that I stand in judgement of their fallibility. Sometimes help looks a bit like control.
Last week I surrendered in four breaths to a curious evaluation of the emotions I might otherwise act on. Worry, fear, frustration, doubt. These are not the foundations I would choose to advocate for my child or his school. I wanted to feel curious and connected, engaged and empathetic to better facilitate communication for learning.
It’s hard to listen when you’re talking, so I kept breathing quietly into a place of patience; assuming the best for more genuine cooperation.
In that unplanned moment when I consciously created space to learn, the scale of my emotions and the urgency of my reaction shrunk to accommodate a mindset of possibility over reactivity. Peace over panic.
I don’t have a perfect number of breaths or an easy answer to my son’s experience, Friday my only answer was four deep breaths. I’m learning.