conveniently troublesome

March 13, 2017 § 5 Comments

Our daughter’s school trip utilized social media for the purpose of sharing photographs with parents and permitted cell phones for communication, time (in place of a watch), and camera use. When they first outlined these details in the family pre-travel meeting, my daughter was uninterested in bringing a phone. My husband and I suggested she use her phone for photographs but resist the temptation to check in with us. To disconnect from her phone and connect with her environment.

In the same meeting we listened to humorous anecdotes of previous trips, parents calling the chaperones to ask questions based on social media snapshots of the trip. My husband and I laughed along with the collective amusement of the other parents at the obvious interference of helicopter parents and pledged not to disrupt our daughter’s exercise in independence.

Then, our daughter left home and early online images of her trip challenged our conviction. Looking at the social media snapshots of our daughter’s first day, I wondered such insignificant worries. Why are some chaperones so much more thoughtful in their documentation, while our’s appears lacking. Other times I would catch the corner of my daughter’s image and wonder if she were warm enough, tended to.

The pictures were inconsequential to my daughter’s experience and their value disproportionate to my doubts.

It is a strange disparity in pictures. The stories we tell ourselves and the meaning we infer. This age of hyper-connectivity invites unwelcome comparison and worry. These conveniences meant to lend comfort, invite opportunities for troublesome interference and undermine the illusion of independence our children need for maturity.

Modern conveniences let us meddle in a way that sabotages mindfulness with a distortion of truth. At the end of the second day it took every ounce of willpower not to pepper my daughter with reminders, to use the information I had been given to assume and infer, interrupt and instruct.

Today I’m celebrating the invitation to succeed with an imperfect practice of patience. Setting aside the stories I’ve created for my daughter’s photographs, to better fill in the space of her absence with the stories she tells face to face. Honoring the spirit of our first instructions with actions, disconnecting online to reconnect in realtime.

to my daughter

March 12, 2017 § 2 Comments

Saying goodbye, as you prepared for your first trip without us, was almost too easy. The effervescent enthusiasm of your anticipation was contagious. You were eager to leave; waking hours too soon, ready to take flight.

It was barely after one in the middle of the night when you woke me, draped in a blanket and wide awake. Worried you had overslept and ready to begin an adventure, you were restless. You curled up beside me, completely unable to sleep, perpetually checking the time and losing the struggle to silence with fragmented bursts of disconnected chatter.

When at last I conceded the hopelessness of sleep, you raced efficiently through your morning routine. It was, perhaps, the first time all year you were untempted to play when there were tasks undone.

At school, as the groups of families gathered for goodbyes, you bounced between friends and raced through impatient hugs. I tenderly and with great amusement remembered the little girl who clung so tightly to my legs each morning of kindergarten drop-off. Gone was the hesitation that informed an uncertainty, in its place a fierce independence.

It is as it should be and so your father and I were pleased when you messaged us late your first afternoon away that you missed us, but only a little.

Soon we will sift through photos of your school trip, a visit to a place we once traveled as a family. I’ve been peeking at old images in your absence, lost in the space of so many changes. The shape of your smile as you’ve grown further into yourself and the lingering traces of an essential self that sparks humor with a twinkle in your eye.

I wish for only a moment, to be your companion on this trip; to share your awe and gather your wit. Instead I am contentedly eager to be the recipient of your stories. To save you a place of homecoming.

Love, Mom

words between us

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.

practice

February 8, 2017 § 7 Comments

Today the sky emptied its clouds of delicate flurries that made the world feel new and I relished the promise of those first footprints scattered across a perfect canvas. I was reminded of January’s resolve.

So much of creating an intention for the year is inviting conscious action to hopeful expectations with small goals. The first month of the New Year enthusiasm and momentum upended more stagnant routines with the promise of controlled change. The novelty of work feels a bit like play and I approach frustration with curiosity and determination.

Living mindfully has meant rooting myself more firmly to the moment I’m in while still trying to create a plan for my time. This is where the work of practice has been essential to cultivating new choices into stronger habits.

Mindfulness, in practice, has given me a path to simplify larger ideals into smaller actions that nourish my well-being and connectivity. In particular regular exercise, sacred rest, and healthier food. I’ve turned my attention towards a definition of health that embraces a kinder sense of self-care.

When I was ill, this meant rest in place of play. In good health it has meant embracing new physical challenges for greater strength. I’ve become less apologetic in honoring my awareness for those foods that leave me tired or unwell with the same wholeheartedness I embrace those moments of celebration or comfort with food choices that reflect joy. Most importantly, I have begun to indulge in bedtime routines that carve aside time to unravel the day from my night.

Scheduling time to move and be still has created a more “awake” in between the busier rhythms of my day so that I am present among others. I am listening more intentionally and leaving space in my relationships for appreciation; pausing in gratitude rather than dwelling in anxiousness or frustration.

It is an imperfect practice, one that demands flexibility and forgiveness as insistently as routine and accountability. Moment to moment, one choice at a time; mindfully connecting the optimism of New Year’s expectations with the work of daily efforts.

accidentally on purpose

February 4, 2017 § Leave a comment

Last week I suffered ailments of comic proportions. Physically uncomfortable and persistently impatient, I was desperate to exercise against my better judgement. Having only recently gained the momentum of new muscle I was stubbornly determined to rest, productively.

I fell into a compromise that created stillness with a gentler practice of yoga.

It should be noted that I have failed colorfully and inflexibly at previous attempts in more public displays, but this past week was an accident in grace. Small pockets of time with unhurried devotion produced a new relationship with an old beau.

I’m playing at something I love with all the fussy infatuation of novelty in the comfort of well-groomed familiarity. Postures of strength and lines of submission.

More importantly, I am practicing without an audience; there is no mirror to reflect or compare, only presence.

In the uninterrupted attentiveness, there is only the gentlest listening as I open my body and mind moment to moment.

Accidentally, on purpose.

 

one at a time

January 23, 2017 § 2 Comments

Before we were a family of four, I drafted lists of good intentions for who I would be when we were no longer three. At the very top of my list was a pledge to set aside time to devote to each child – separately. One at a time.

I understood that I was better when my attention wasn’t divided, but I could not yet know how I would grow into another version of myself; that I would find beauty in the chaos of both children unraveling my frayed sense of order. More importantly, I did not anticipate the ways they would complete one another.

Last Thursday, our children sharing cookies after an evening band performance, the conversation overlapped in a family shorthand of movie quotes and comedy skits. These moments of frenetic stillness, times when the dishes stay put and we linger unhurried in the noise of our thoughts, these are the reasons I’ve returned to a commitment of fewer distractions, less multitasking, and uncluttered weekends. Singular conversations and collective contentment.

Small moments, together.

One at a time.

save me a space

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.

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