Judgement Not Welcome Here

512px-WGHardingRecently, I posted about a couple of my friends whose marriages have faltered.  Then I was notified about a couple of comments on the post, comments that were rather judgemental of my friends.  I know this person who commented may not realize how preachy her comments sounded, but they were unwarranted, and rather unwelcome.

Those of you who have gone through divorce can probably guess what they said, verbatim, because it’s just what a person in their situation does not need to hear.  The I-hope-you’ve-really-thought-about-this, and you-have-no-idea-how-this-is-going-to-impact-your-kids kind of crap that I heard, too.

First of all, there are enough single-parent households out there nowadays to prove that the world doesn’t end with a divorce.  Plenty of kids not only survive but thrive in a single-parent household.  This notion that a home without two parents is somehow “broken” is positively ludicrous, and needs to be sent packing, back to the Victorian age from whence it came.  My son has thrived since the ex left our home.  The idea that “staying in it for the kids” is better somehow, as if children aren’t negatively impacted by two parents who fight constantly, don’t ever speak to each other, do not show any sign of affection to each other, or contribute to an ever-present tension in the house is just plain wrong.

Second, I dare say that the great majority of people who decide on divorce did not make the decision lightly.  If you think that’s the case, you’ve been watching too much “reality” TV.  Divorce is a heart-rending, soul-breaking decision to make.  And there is enough hurt, guilt and anger in that decision already without having to also be judged by society at large.

Third, just like the old saying, “If you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism,” no two marriages are alike.  No one knows what goes on inside of a marriage except for the two people in it.  They may be over-sharers, but the outsiders are only getting one side of the story, and therefore no one really knows.  When I got divorced, my ex mother-in-law actually sent me a letter saying that they “never saw it coming.”  A perfect example, as the ex and I had both been miserable for the previous six years.  The two friends I wrote about?  I never claimed to know what caused either breakup, because I don’t know.  I even said that I didn’t think the autism, either father’s undiagnosed nor the son’s caused it, although dealing with autism in the household can strain any marriage.  My friend has never once said anything about it, and is not using it for “justification” of anything.

So why don’t we listen to the old advice, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it?”  Why do people insist on getting behind a keyboard to say things to people they would never say in real life?

Judging someone for their divorce is a big no-no in my book.  It makes one look small, and your unwanted “advice” only hurts.  I choose instead to support people whom I trust to make smart decisions and weigh all their options.  Being a parent to a child with autism has taught me that life is hard enough without having to worry about how others will judge you.  You lose nothing by supporting others in their personal struggles.

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Butterpats and Old Newspapers

This weekend, I helped my mom sort through her antique butter-pat collection.  She started collecting them before I was born, and has kept them through the years, hoping they will accrue in value, but mostly admiring their beauty.

We pulled them out once when I was a girl, and from the evidence we saw today, it must have been when I was about ten, in 1984.  I vividly remember doing this, because I accidentally dropped one on our ceramic tile kitchen floor shortly after we had started, and it shattered.  My mom was disappointed and probably angry, while I was mortified that I had broken something she valued so much.  I was in tears, and ran to my room, and in the meantime, the butter-pats were re-wrapped and put away again.

Today, as we pulled out each butter pat, carefully unwrapped it and placed it on the table, she reminisced about when she had purchased them, and we both remarked on their patterns, age, and condition.  Some are Spode, some are Wedgewood, some are Haviland and Limoges.  I noted my favorites, and we looked at the markings, and her previous notes deciphering the codes in the imprints on the back.

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We also noted the newspaper they had been wrapped in.  One or two from 1984 (including the Detroit Tigers 1984 Season Schedule, the year they won the World Series), but most from 1974, in the summer before I was born.  There were announcements of concerts by Eric Clapton and the Grateful Dead, advertisements for recently released movies like “The Sting” and “Blazing Saddles,” and other interesting news of the day.

It was a wonderful afternoon for remembering, and an unexpected look into the past. Who knew the material in which she wrapped those butter-pats nearly 40 years ago would be almost as interesting as the butter-pats themselves?

Another

512px-Broken_glassYet another friend of mine told me recently that she and her husband were separating.  And they have a son on the spectrum.  I don’t think it had a lot to do with their decision, but it may have been an elephant in the room because her husband is probably also on the spectrum but was never diagnosed.  They just told the kids this past weekend, and they are all still reeling.

And my best friend at work called a lawyer today to make an appointment to get the ball rolling on her divorce.

People in my circle are hurting, and I empathize.  They are in places I was in, what seems like a long time ago.  Ages ago.  Lifetimes ago.

Luckily I know what not to say.  I know what they do not want to hear.  And I hope they see me at the other end and take heart that the pain they are going through does not have to last forever.  They are both strong ladies, but even the strong have weak moments, and this is one of the hardest struggles they will ever live through.

My heart aches for them, but I also admire them for their strength to face what they are in for.  And I stand ready to catch them when they need to lean on someone.

Tuba Update

Aren’t we done with this yet?

Well… maybe.

I wrote my four-page letter to the principal almost two weeks ago, and haven’t heard a single word from her, nor from the band director.  I haven’t heard a thing from anyone (except from LinkedIn, which notified me that the band director had viewed my profile, the same day that the principal received the letter… a coincidence?  I think not!), and so I am beginning to believe they have stopped trying to get him to switch instruments/quit.

I still need to get him an actual tuba to practice, and I can’t believe the help you all have given me.  It’s amazing, really, and makes me realize that the internet can be a very good place.  College band directors and nonprofits have been contacted by us, as well as on our behalf, and one of my readers here referred to tuba players as a “brotherhood,” and he said they take care of their own.  This brought me to tears (good ones!) because that is something I hoped for when The Boy began school band.  I saw it as a place he could belong, and meet neurotypical kids who were a little more likely to be accepting of him.

It also reminded me of when I was in the college marching band, in the piccolo section, and we traveled to Las Vegas for a bowl game.  The stadium continued to sell beer past halftime, and by the end of the game, the opposing team’s fans were incoherent, and several young men were actually threatening us, the piccolo section of the band!  The tuba section, all big, beefy boys left their seats to stand in the aisle between us and our bullies with their arms crossed.  It was a very brave and gallant gesture.

You helpers and supporters are lifting this boy up, in the face of someone who wants him out.

I feel very thankful.  We should have a tuba in the next week or two, and then I will ask to visit class to videotape so we can work on some modeling for The Boy, and help him to participate, which should have been the focus of all of our discussions from the beginning.  Keep sending us your positive thoughts, as now The Boy will need to get caught up!

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Not Fate But Opportunity

512px-The_knock_knockI like to think that there’s a reason for the important stuff that happens.  Not the “God doesn’t give you what you can’t handle” garbage, because there are lots of people who can’t handle what they’re given.  But I like to think that when you are open to opportunity, there’s a hell of a lot of coincidence out there to take advantage of.

My background as a teacher has always helped me be a better parent to The Boy.  My background as a band director is helping me fight for my son’s rights as I write this.  Even my first crappy marriage has made me a better wife the second time around.

Tonight, I became the lynch pin, the go-between for my autism society friends and my boss’s wife who owns a local restaurant and offered for them to have fundraisers at her place.  And it was so coincidental, and so much good came of this chance meeting of people who happened to know me… There are times when nothing seems random, yet we seem so incredibly lucky.

It’s times like these when I feel like I am contributing something good and important to the world, even though I am not as nobly employed as I used to be.  I’m building a network of good people who can help each other out, and have a direct positive impact on everyone in our community.  It’s a rare thing, but it’s starting to happen… I love opportunity!

Buddies

The Boy has always relished the attention that The Man has given to him without a thought, most likely because his own dad doesn’t give him the time of day, even in the one week of the year (or less) that he sees him.  The Man was the one to teach The Boy how to ride his bike, and The Man will be the one that shows him how to shave.  He is constantly creating teachable moments with The Boy, and doesn’t hesitate to take him to the hardware store or the convenience store for a little hang-out time.  This morning, he suggested The Boy start his truck while he started my car for me (ice and sleet having covered our windshields, and not having an ice scraper because the old one got busted in the last ice storm).  It pretty much made The Boy’s day.

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Tonight, The Man and The Boy had a wrestling match, which they do a couple of nights a week – we use it as a reward, and The Boy adores the sensory input and the bonding.  Later on, he came out of his room and sat with us (an unusual occurrence), and it was a wonderful family moment, giggling and laughing as I asked yes or no questions and they controlled eachother’s heads to nod yes or no in answer.  And he chose to stay to watch some skiing with us, cuddling up to his stepdad on the end of the couch.  And he even invited The Man to have a sleepover in the family room with him tonight since he has a snow day tomorrow…  The Man has fallen asleep, but The Boy is still there cuddled up to him, enjoying having a real dad for the first time in his life.

The Problem with a Spectrum Disorder

Spectrum4websiteEval“The difference between ‘high functioning’ and ‘low functioning’:high functioning may mean your child’s deficits are ignored and low functioning may mean that your child’s assets may be ignored.  It is our job to educate and make the community aware of our child’s strengths.  Inspire others to do the same.”

Picked this up on facebook (someone point out the original attribute if you know).  These “functioning” classifications have always irked me a bit, but in spite of that, part of me says, “Hell, yes!  This is the truth!”  And I suppose it is for many on the spectrum who are clearly “high functioning” and many who are clearly “low functioning.”  It’s a paradox for kids (and adults) who “pass” for neurotypical – People see no tangible issues and have expectations that can be unreasonably high, as well as for kids (and adults) who clearly have issues, and as a result people have expectations that are unreasonably low.

The other part of me says, “And the kids who are in between are the most misunderstood,” because that is The Boy, and he is misunderstood.  He’s bright and clever, and with proper supports, is very capable of A level work in school.  But he needs the supports, and is a good bit away from “passing” for neurotypical.  People see his issues, and have no idea what to expect.

Here’re my two cents: While it is important to enlighten the community about typical behaviors, commonly used strategies, and the like, we must also hammer home that every child has different strengths and “areas of opportunity” – nothing is as it seems.  No child on the spectrum is what you expect, and only by getting to know each individual will you begin to understand them, their struggles, their triumphs, and their potential.

Tightly Wound Today

I’m aggravated.  Today was A MONDAY at work, and the boss was aggravated, making everyone else aggravated.  And I keep spelling aggravated wrong… seriously.  It has been A. DAY.  I am so glad it is almost over.

So how do you let go when you get wound up?  It’s not fair to your family to sit and seethe all evening long.  The whole reason we work is so that we can support our families, but if we don’t also get to enjoy them, it isn’t worth it.

Here are some things that work for me:

  1. Breathe.  You think you are, but you’re not.  You are taking little tiny shallow breaths that don’t even come close to filling up your lung capacity.  Try it.  Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.  Amazing how much better you feel, huh?  Our brains need oxygen, and they feel better when they are getting a good and steady supply.  Those tiny little breaths we slip into just don’t cut it.
  2. Take a moment to un-clench.  Many, many times when I do this, I can only imagine what I looked like before taking deep breaths and un-clenching – my shoulders must have been up around my ears!  No wonder I get killer  shoulder/neck/headaches…  I read somewhere to think of yourself as an unwinding spool of thread when you want to unwind – go figure!  Try it.  It works for me.
  3. Laugh.  Go back and look at the photos you’ve taken with your phone, go to a funny website that has been proven to make you laugh out loud (damnyouautocorrect or cakewrecks work for me!), or watch something light and funny like AFV (America’s Funniest Home Videos).  After you’ve been giggling for a bit, you will find yourself naturally breathing deeper and un-clenching, i.e. letting go of the stress.
  4. Treat yourself well.  Tell yourself it’s OK to be aggravated (nope, still spelled it wrong) or stressed, but that whatever’s on your mind can wait until you get back to work (or the aggravating situation).  And then eat a piece of chocolate, give yourself a mini-hand massage, or close the door and be by yourself for a few minutes (always a treat in my house!).  You work hard, and you deserve to be rewarded for it.
  5. Talk about it with your spouse or a good friend.  Getting support from the people who mean the most to you will take the sting out of your stress, I promise.  But don’t dwell on it.  Let it out, and let it go.

These are already helping me, tonight.  What works for you?  Let us know in the comments.

Yes, please...

Yes, please…

A Peek Into Their World

Lawson's_JournalYesterday, we had an informal parent meeting with the teacher of The Boy’s program and the county autism specialist to check in, and give some feedback about the program so they can satisfy their grant requirements.  Everyone was very pleased, and remarked at what a haven they have created for our boys, and how thankful we were for the program’s existence.  The teacher then told us we could look at our kids’ binders where they keep their journal writing related to their social skills class.  The Boy hasn’t done much of this because he is the only 6th grader in the program, and therefore doesn’t have much of a social skills class, but the other parents were like little children on Christmas, “Can we really look in their binders??”  I watched as they read the entries, pointing out certain phrases to their spouses, all the while reading like they wanted to get to the end of the book before lights out.  For parents who don’t often get verbal communication from our kiddos, this opportunity was an incredibly valuable peek into their world.

I’m so thankful for special education teachers who know what their doing, programs that provide what our kiddos need, and opportunities to connect with our boys, even indirectly.

Out of Sync

I find myself really empathizing with The Boy this week.  My post yesterday highlighted how important it is to have something that helps you calm down when you get ramped up, and I’ve been ramped up since Monday morning.  Along with that, my routine has been blown to smithereens in the past week.

You see, today should be the weekend.

256px-Less_busy_desk_red.svgI have worked everyday since last Friday, and by my calculations, in a normal workweek of five days on, two days off, today would be an off day.  But it’s not, and I am all discombobulated, and out of sync.  I have three more days of work until the weekend, and if I am able to keep from snapping at someone at work, it will be a miracle.  It’s a busy time for my closest colleague, as her half of the business has a big roll-out at the end of next week, and right now we are all chipping in to help it happen, even though we have plenty on our side to do, as well.  And then you throw in the drama of one of your underlings blaming you for a mistake she made and referring to you as a “dumbass” to the boss…

Anywho… I’ve been “on” and working hard for a full work week, and feeling like I need a break.  Again, like our kiddos, trying to adjust to a change in my schedule, managing my emotions while desperately needing some down time.  A good reminder how tough it can be for our children on the spectrum.