Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Round And Round

Life is hard. It really is - even for the people with the seemingly easiest of lives. Life on this side of heaven is . . . just . . . hard.

Add to this the fact that what is difficult for one person is not what is difficult for the next, which makes it all the more difficult for all of us to be understanding with those we interact with every day. We are dealing with our own circumstances, those around us are dealing with theirs, the world keeps spinning, and the price of gas keeps going up.

I honestly don't know how anyone keeps their wits about them. Which brings me to my next point.

Within all of this life going on every day fall each of our individual personalities and the tools and skills that God has given each of us - like monkey wrenches being thrown into the spokes of a very fast-moving bicycle.

Let me stop here and tell you about my experience with this.

One warm summer day when I was 11 or so, I was riding my bike home from softball practice with my mitt hanging on the handlebar. You remember, right, that the point of riding your bike, at the age of 11 or so, is to go as fast as you can, as recklessly as you can, without actually killing yourself in the process. Remember? That wasn't just me, was it?

I was flying along, sweating, happy, care-free, right up to the moment that my mitt slid - unnoticed - down the handlebar. It slipped cunningly between the frame of my bike and the wildly spinning front tire, acting as an instant brake that could surely stop a moving 18-wheeler. That front tire went from moving around something like 3,000 MPH to a dead stop while the rest of the bike and my entire body kept moving at the original speed - right over the front of the bike - like I was filming an episode of Jackass. Only there was no one around jumping up and down yelling, "DUDE! That was a-w-e-s-o-m-e!!"

It wasn't pretty; and neither is it sometimes when we are all moving around life like a bunch of tops spinning at all different speeds in all different directions and bump into one another. Sometimes the contact is positive and it makes us spin better, or we start spinning in the same direction and create positive momentum. Other times we make contact with others that sends us spinning out of control in the opposite direction, slamming into others who are then affected and sent spinning away from where they were content to be. At times the contact can cause us to stop spinning altogether, unable to get going again without help. This puts us in danger of being trampled by those who are still spinning. And the domino effect goes on and on, day in and day out.

We are all spinning within our own lives, within our own circumstances; but we are not living this life in a vacuum. What we do and do not do does affect other people whether we intend for it to or think it will or not. When we think we are being put upon, abused, or otherwise "victimized" with someone else's behavior, actions, or words, we need to remember that on the other side of that spinning top is the top that we ran into earlier and sent reeling. Did I intend to send someone else down a path of negative thinking, upset, or frustration? Probably not. So it may be very true that the person who is sending me spinning right now is not intending to, either.

Furthermore, on top of this is the fact that we are all equipped differently to deal with these issues. Some are strong, both mentally and emotionally. These people can analyze a situation rationally, see what really matters and what does not, make clear conclusions and decisions and move on from there. Others are ill-equipped emotionally to deal well with all the spinning and crashing and, therefore, are less able to cleanly and succinctly move through difficult situations. This makes for a lot of misunderstanding and a huge lack of empathy for others' abilities to deal or not deal well with life and everything it can throw at us.

This is what makes life so difficult much of the time. Beyond the illnesses, the parenting issues, the dirty house, the dirty boss, the job disappointments, the money worries . . . are simply our everyday interactions with those around us that can send us and our emotions - and other people and theirs - in 50 different directions in one day. 

So what can we do to make it all a bit easier? Heck if I know.

Okay, so here are a few things I have figured out but continue to need work on.

1. My way is not the only way. Life will not crumble into a million pieces if I sit back and shut UP when I really want to judge, scream, pout, or come undone about daily life not unfolding in the way I have it mapped out in my mind. God made me a certain way as well as he did the other people in my life. Who am I to have it in my head that the way I think this or that should be is the right way and everyone else must yield to that? And by the way, this does not mean shut up, but act like a mad, torqued-off jerk to make my point. This does nothing but make everyone around me miserable, which very much undoes the original sentiment of sitting back, shutting up, and recognizing the validity of someone else's way of thinking and doing things.

2. That being said, also be strong enough to assert when someone in your life is pushing you, emotionally, in a direction that is no longer positive for you. If you are bending so far to accommodate someone else and their way of doing things that you are no longer yourself, or that almost every interaction leaves you feeling worse than the last, then it's time to re-evaluate the relationship. Life is too short to spend it living within someone else's idea of what you should be instead of what you actually are. And if you are the one dictating who you think someone else should be and what they should be doing, see #1.

3. Act unconditionally. Whether you are someone who feels led to offer support to people financially, with your talent or skills, or with your time, do it unconditionally. Do not lend yourself with strings attached, because that is not authentic.

4. Quit making life more difficult for yourself by having unreasonable expectations - for yourself and for others. This can infect your life on so many levels and at the same time is something that we actually have control over and can change.

Life is hard. Remember the spinning tops.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I'll Take Heebie Jeebies for $200, Alex.

Death By Mortal Wound or The Heebie Jeebies?
My 7-year-old son is "star of the week" this week in his 2nd grade class, so he had to fill in a poster with photos of things he likes, his family, etc., as well as fill in a few questions. When he showed me what one of the things on his "wish list" was, I told him it was inappropriate and that he needed to change it. Am I wrong? Being a boy and the youngest brother of a Marine-bound 19-year-old, he'd written, "I wish I had a shotgun." Nice. No bueno, young lad. No bueno. So what did he replace it with?

"I wish I had a pet spider."

On second thought, I'd rather you have the shotgun.

At Least My Sons Have . . . Style?
So the only female in the house thinks less about her hair than each of the males. I haven't had my hair cut by a professional in one year and 10 months. I cut it myself. I haven't used any type of hair appliance that plugs in for, probably, a year. I put more time and effort into picking out my socks than I do my hair. I wash it and let it dry. And then the next few days, I put it up. Then I repeat the process. Sometimes I use mousse.

So I find it incredibly funny that I have three boys who care about their hair and how it looks. The 7-year-old is always trying to get his into a "fauxhawk" or combing it just right after it's washed. Today middle dude (12 years old) came home from spending the weekend with Nana and Papa with a freshly-cut flat top. In 2010.

Lastly, oldest dude (19) recently clipped his into a mohawk of sorts (leaving a thin layer on the sides) to honor an agreement he had with one of the youth leaders at our church. They both agreed to do it if the junior high kids raised a certain amount of money for the 30-Hour Famine, a World Vision ministry that fights world hunger. This is my son who used to have long, flowing red hair - which he cut off (16 inches total) for Locks of Love.

I used to think since I don't have any girls, that hair wouldn't be an issue in my house. This is not the case.

Well, There Ya Go.
This evening when I was helping youngest dude print out a couple of pictures for his "star of the week" poster, I printed one that was too small for his liking. After I made it larger and sent it to the printer again, he came walking back into the room, picture in hand, and declared, "Now that's my girl! This one is just right."


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Losin' It

I am losing faith. Faith in what, you ask? I'm not entirely sure. I'm trying to pinpoint what exactly this feeling is; this something-is-slipping-from-me-and-I-can-feel-it-but-not-stop-it feeling.

Faith in people? Faith in the process of life on earth? Faith in fairness? Faith in my continuing belief in doing the right thing when it seems to be an exercise in futility much of the time?

Have you ever been hit so hard with the realization that you are having absolutely no effect on a situation that you felt as though you'd just had the wind knocked out of you? Furthermore, have you ever been hit so hard with the realization that someone you thought knew you well is so far from knowing you and your heart that it makes you question your interactions with everyone else you know? Like - if this is what this person sees, what does everyone else see of me? Is this what I portray? Is this who I am to other people?

For instance, I was once told by someone I thought knew me very well that I act as though I think my family is better than anyone else's. If you've spent more than one hour with me and know anything about what I deal with and how little self-confidence I have in my abilities as a parent, this has to be as laughable a statement to you as it is to me. Right? But it happened. This was what someone close perceived of me.

More recently, when I was in a conversation with someone and mentioned, " . . . with the issues I have to deal with every day [with my two younger boys' diagnoses and issues] ..." I was mocked for portraying my life "as a big sob story" and called a martyr. To my face.

I am losing faith. In what, again? Well, I suppose I'm losing faith in, among other things, my own ability to do life in a manner that is anywhere in the zip code of what is appropriate to others. I am losing faith in being able to sustain a relationship outside those of my marriage and with my parents, brother and sister.

As I said in a previous post, I cannot seem to keep things to myself. Because if I could, I would have kept these incidents - that have stayed with me deeply - to myself. It is humiliating to know that is how someone sees me. It is disheartening to know that all my actions and beliefs in how to act and treat people and what to do with my time and energy seemingly amounts to this - at least to some. And it makes me want to shut down.

Why? Why would I let something like this dictate what I do or say or how I act? Because things like this affect me deeply. Yes, I am emotionally weak. You can take me down very easily, and I can stay down for awhile. Yes, I give away my power and give others a lot of control over how I feel. Not on purpose - it just happens to be the awesome way I'm built. There. I am not a strong person. Yes, I am stubborn and hard-headed; this is true. But stubborn and strong are not one and the same.

I am losing faith in the process of life as I am knowing and living it. I am losing faith in realizing any kind of remote fairness in the random way some families have so much to deal with while others do not. I am losing faith in getting through. I am losing faith in having any type of positive impact on any of it at all. I am losing faith in trusting that any of this that I divulge to anyone else is doing anything positive for anyone.

I am losing faith in trying.

If the above incidents are any indication at all of who I am and what I'm accomplishing in being authentic about my life as a parent, then I've been doing a whole lot of nothin' for a long time now.

If I live an average life span, then that means I'm half way through my time here on earth. And if this is all I've accomplished and the manner in which I've impacted those around me, then I'm doing it wrong. Very wrong.

Thank you, God, in all seriousness and honesty, for the awesome opportunities you've put before me. I've apparently completely derailed them. And for that, I'm sorry. I truly thought I was doing a good job for at least some of the time so far.

What can I do at this point? I'm not really sure. But I do know this. If these are the perceptions of my life and how it's lived, then I need to shut. up. about. it. I'm either obviously not portraying it accurately or, quite frankly, saying more than anyone can even fathom or believe. Or care about hearing.

I have been told over and over how people appreciate my "realness" and how authentic I am about my life being what it is, being honest about how I try to deal with it, and that I've even helped a few people who thought no one else in the world felt that way.

But it only takes one or two small things of the opposite manner to take me down.

So here it is. At least for now. I don't feel qualified or even comfortable talking about my parenting life in detail. I feel gun-shy, at this point, writing about my boys' lives being lived on the autism spectrum and about how things are spinning around here in any detail for fear of sounding like I'm searching for sympathy.

I really only feel even remotely okay right now writing about myself and my own emotional journey because it is mine and not another person on earth can tell me what is and is not true and accurate about that.

So if you'd like to hear about my own journey of ups and downs and of how I got to be where I am today, tune back in. That's all I'm promising for now.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Timmmmmme Is Not On My Side . . . No It's Not ...

I have two kids on the autism spectrum. I talk about it a lot. It's never been a secret; I actually don't have many secrets. Everyone has a few; and this girl does - just like everyone else. However, my secret bank has a low balance because, as we all know, I just say what I say and tell what I tell and that is who I am. The secrets I do have are not anything that anyone would find funny, amusing, or useful; therefore, I keep them to myself. Hence, the secret designation.

Besides, who really wants to hear about when my friend, Joel, and I (at the ages of about 7 and 5) used to hide behind parked cars on my street and throw dog food at passing vehicles?

See? You don't want to know my secrets. They are deep, dark, and very incriminating.

So. Two kids. On the spectrum. It's no fun, but as they say these days - it is what it is. But I'm here just to say out loud that this life I have as the mother of kids on the spectrum keeps me from being able to adequately participate in other, useful areas of life; therefore, I rely on people around me. I trust those around me and hope that they understand that I am not lazy or apathetic, just emotionally overloaded.

I feel the need to say this because, on the morning after mid-term elections with so many talking about the results, I feel like a very intelligent idiot. I could not tell you what candidate stands for what at this point. I cannot tell you that I'm glad or mad this person or that was elected or not elected into office. I am completely mortified saying this; and I know it makes some want to throw tomatoes at me. But I'm just being honest. I could keep it a secret, but I would rather use this opportunity to explain something that may open up a few to the reality of special-needs parenting.

First, this disclaimer: I am not speaking on behalf of special-needs parents everywhere. I know that a good majority of special-needs parents are very able to deal with all the issues they must deal with as well as become intelligently informed about the candidates representing them. In fact, many make it a priority because the candidates representing them have some say in issues that directly affect special-needs families. So, just to be clear - this is my experience, and not meaning to be representative of any other special-needs folks but myself. This doesn't even include my own husband. Just me.

So here it is. I have two boys on the autism spectrum; one diagnosed at two-and-a-half with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified), and one diagnosed first with ADHD at 9, then a mood disorder at 10, and finally Asperger's Syndrome at 11. It is a rough ride around here. Sometimes we're on top of our game, other times we are struggling just to keep our heads from exploding. This is the reality of our family.

I am the kind of person who, when faced with something I'm unfamiliar with, researches the topic to within an inch of its life. I need to know all I can; talk to whomever I can; find good, knowledgeable people and use them. I do not sit idly by and let what happens just happen. I will do all I can, in my power and within what is reasonable, to navigate toward the best possible outcome. And when it comes to my boys, you can multiply that tenfold. I'm not saying it always works, and I'm not saying it's always the most positive process. But I am a mother. And being a mother, to me, means doing everything that falls within what is feasible to help my boys overcome their challenges.

This takes time and a whole lotta energy - physical, mental, and emotional energy that must come from somewhere within me. We all have an energy bank, and every person's is different - just like our financial bank accounts. You earn only so much, and then there's only so much to go around. Some have unbelievable amounts and can pick and choose at whim what they want to spend it on; others have incredibly limited amounts and cannot do what others are able to.

I believe I'm somewhere in the middle. I don't think I have nearly as much as some people I see who have special-needs children. I see them deal with their children, work tirelessly in their favor, then spend their spare time working endlessly for the cause that has wrapped its wicked hands around their child's life and put them there in the first place. I am in awe of these people. Jane Grimes is one of these people. Look her up - you will love her instantly.

I feel I have a lot to give and spread around, but I also have a big budget that takes it all up. And - here it is, finally. One of the things far, far down in that budget is researching and knowing about mid-term election candidates. I'm sorry. I really, really am. I want to be a good citizen. I want to be informed. But this is one thing I'm relying on people I trust to help me with. People who I know think the same way I do and are parallel with me on issues. Because here is what I know about myself. If I choose to research and get to know the candidates, I will - again - do it to the fullest extent. That is how I do things. I will not stop at names and what they say they stand for. I will spend inordinate amounts of time to come to conclusions. And this is time and energy I do not have to spare right now in this season of my life.

Let's just say I'd be putting it on my energy credit card; and I would run up unbelievable debt. So I made a conscious choice. I cannot and will not compromise the time I am needed right now to deal with my boys' issues at home and at school (and it is daily) to become more informed about candidates. It's just the choice I have to make right now. Right now - when one of my child's issues are over. the. top.

So there. Secret's out. Or was it ever a secret? I feel bad and stupid this morning and just needed to tell why. Because that is what I do.

image from Indianapolis Times blog