Tuesday, June 16, 2020

EQUALITY, UNITY, AND JUSTICE

For George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and their fellow human beings unjustly killed for being Black



I.


I’m about as white-skinned as it gets. 


But when I lost my still-alive white father to mental illness, a Black man—a former mentor and teacher—stepped up to fill that thankless role without even being asked. 



There are very few people of color in my current hometown.


But my daughter’s best friend all through grade school was one of them, and her family became my adopted family here. 



I’m a United States citizen.


But the first year and most formative times in my life were spent in the Darien jungle in Panama. There, my father and I were usually the only white people for hundreds of miles, amidst indigenous people, the descendants of escaped African slaves, (mostly) Spanish colonizers, and Chinese canal laborers, and combinations thereof.



My daughter is a U.S. citizen. 


But she was born in and adopted from China and is genetically of entirely Chinese descent.



Four rational reasons why I march, why I vote for equality, and why I always do my best to do right by all people of color.


II. 


My son and I are neurodivergent.


Just as a Black person may be in danger (or be bullied, or passed over for a job, and on and on) simply for “being in a black body,” my white-bodied son faces discrimination and danger for having an autistic mind. (I “pass” a little more easily, but have also dealt with plenty of neurodiversity-related issues over my lifetime!) 


Like most Black parents, many parents of autistic children teach their kids how to behave if they encounter the police. “Acting weird” or “different” is yet another way to “get yourself in trouble”—or worse. 


When we—whoever we are, whatever our skin color, etc.—say “Black lives matter,” we are in fact saying “All lives matter, because all people should be equal”; 

and we are also saying “We understand that, historically and in the present, people living in so-called black bodies have been, and are being, treated with extraordinary violence and injustice, as if they don’t matter, and we want everybody to know that black lives are of great and necessary value in the tapestry of humanity and we ally with Black people.”


If you’re “foreign,” gay, Autistic, brown, yellow, Black … in short, if you’re colored or shaped or oriented or identify differently—if (in the United States) you’re different from the dominant/“normal” white majority in any way, really—you know what it feels like to have your body and whole being seen in ways that categorize you, that relegate your existence and actions to a lesser status on the basis of a single trait. 


Another rational reason why I advocate and ally with ALL marginalized peoples.


III.


But rational reasons, even very convincing ones, aren’t the point. 


Dear persons, why must there be a reason behind understanding that we are all human beings?


As such, do we not all have hearts to care for our fellow beings? 


I once read about a U.S. senator discussing how he was grateful for the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of healthcare his sick wife received through health insurance. He spoke of how that huge amount of money would have been a stretch for him without insurance, and how he now understands why people need insurance


Do the math, senator. For most people, hundreds of dollars, even dollars, in out-of-pocket health expenses would be a stretch. I suppose that’s a rational reason behind healthcare coverage.


But it’s also a heart-centered reason behind caring: Do those less-affluent people care any less about their wives, children, partners, parents—or their own and loved ones’ health and access to healthcare?


Why would it take a direct experience of the need for healthcare to grasp that everyone needs healthcare—and that basic human decency demands that they get it?


Likewise, why would you have to know a [fill in the blank here] person intimately to include them in your species?


Even if we don’t have the empathetic capacity to make such a heartfelt leap of understanding, doesn’t logical reasoning tell us we are all fundamentally similar in the most basic ways? 


For instance, I think we can agree that we all want and need the same things: 

  • enough food to eat 
  • a safe home to live in
  • to be loved and to love
  • enough resources to access what we need (and, we hope, a bit more “for special”)
  • opportunities for meaningful employment and/or other activities
  • people with whom we can connect on what we care about
  • to be known as a worthwhile being and treated with respect


I might have missed one or two items (and, of course, some specifics for particular individuals), but it seems to me these needs are 

  1. widely if not universally shared,
  2. reasonable, and, more importantly, 
  3. achievable…if we work together


Let’s try this handy test:

Are you human?

Do you believe that other humans are also human?

Do you believe on some level that some humans, say, women, trans people, Black people, Autistic people, and/or members of some other subgroup, are somehow less human than other humans of another group (probably your group)? 

OR do you believe that all humans in general* have equal/shared humanity and worth?

If so, whether you came to this conclusion with your heart or mind (or both), do you believe it’s worthwhile, even imperative, to help ensure that all humans have access to the above basics? 

Do you accept that some of us have certain areas of privilege (such as being white, educated, verbal, male, financially secure, and so on)?

Can we use whatever resources, privilege(s), and/or power we’ve got to advocate for equality? 


Dear readers, I get it: It may feel like there isn’t much you can do in this isolating global crisis. You may feel angry, sad, tired, hopeless. Many of us have all we can handle with work and family alone. 


But the world is desperately in need of healing right now, and ripe for CHANGE in ways we may never again see. It’s an amazing opportunity! 


Know that every small shift toward inclusion, every friendly and/or courageous exchange between mutually human beings, can have huge reverberations. That means any little steps you can take will make the world better for all of us. 


Thanks and love,

Full Spectrum Mama




* Of course, some individuals commit acts that diminish their own and others’ humanity. I’m simply arguing against classifying any subgroup of humanity as less-than based on a single trait. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

PROM NIGHT II—LONELINESS IN A PANDEMIC

Years of meditation practice have allowed me to sometimes approximate a sane person.

The other day, I awoke inundated by cortisol and genuine worries, both pandemic-related and other. I didn’t know how I would get out of bed, much less make it through a very full day. 

Sitting up halfway, trying to muster my gumption to get a move on, a question popped into the tiny bit of spaciousness my meditation practice has created in my head: 

Is there some way I can see this differently?

I didn’t have an answer, actually. But it made a little room in my heart to not feel quite so despondent. Times like these, that's a precious gift. 

Subsequently, I’ve been finding plenty of applications for a “see-this-differently” approach! 

One area that's ripe for a bigger vision? My son's senior year. 

For the class of 2020, there’s no senior prom. No big, festive graduation. I hear that some kids (well, young adults, at this point) are defying social-distancing rules and hanging out without protections. But mine aren’t. Most others aren’t, either. 

And these kids are lonely. All of them. Not just the marginalized kids. Not just the students who don’t “fit in,” or are “different.”

In a way, it’s kind of an amazing moment for the latter groups, I suspect. 

Popular people just can’t be popular in the same ways while sheltering in place. And perhaps people who are often lonely can’t judge themselves (and others) in the usual ways. This is simply how it is—for everybody.

Is it possible that pandemic-induced social isolation actually mitigates the social isolation that so many feel in their usual day-to-day lives? 

I think of my mother-in-law, who—despite having seven living children—rarely sees anyone besides a caregiver who comes for a few hours every day and the one daughter who lives in the same city. 

Now, she must feel less disappointed—because nobody’s seeing anybody. I hope so, anyway. 

I think of my son, who as a junior so assiduously tried to get a date for the prom—with no success. At that time, I began to pre-worry about this year's prom. 

These days, I’ve been asking myself if the lack of prom is actually a great way for those who might not have found a date to avoid a lifetime of that bad memory? 

That said, is social-distancing in some ways a blessing in disguise for students who struggle socially? Especially those who connect better digitally? 

Has this terrible pandemic created online social spaces that are more accepting? 

If everybody is lonely, are some lonelier than others? Or are our children (and elders, and selves) being equally lonely, together but apart? Maybe even experiencing loneliness in ways that might make them (us) more compassionate and inclusive for the long term? 

In other words, is this challenging period in some ways a powerful equalizer? Aside from all the myriad challenges and tragedies, are we finally learning to create a world in which there’s more acceptance and our real gifts shine and we can be free to be ourselves? (I know a lot of wild animals certainly feel that way right now.) 

Also, I'm wondering what will continue to resonate most after we’ve moved through the pandemic—the terrible loneliness and fear, or the unprecedented shared experience of an extraordinary time?

I certainly see how this global crisis exacerbates inequalities around access and economics, and I genuinely fear many of us, and many of our towns and cities, may not be able to recover—for a very long time.I mourn for the hundreds of thousands dead, and for their living loved ones who couldn't be with them at the end.I'm deeply grateful for the many brave essential workers who have risked their lives to keep civilization functioning worldwide. 

Here in my own small, relatively safe universe, I nevertheless experience waves of such sadness, fear, plain-old grumpiness...So I’m trying to see things slightly differently, in the interest of family and community morale, in general, and personal sanity, in particular.

May we in our mutual loneliness find ways to uplift ourselves and each other. Some days, that’s going to be really hard. On those days, may we remember that it's possible to see our lives from another perspective.  

Stay well, dear persons.

You are not alone in your fears or your loneliness or your joys, and you are loved,
Full Spectrum Mama


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

SITTING STILL




We recently went to my daughter’s middle school concert. To my amazement, my 18-year-old son sat through the entire concert without fidgeting, talking, or calling out unexpectedly to kids onstage. 

It was the first such event I’ve ever attended without breaking into a cold sweat from anxiety over his behavior. That includes, over the years, many, many concerts, movies, plays, musicals and other performances during which attendants are expected to be quiet and attentive. 

I’ve been a mostly solo (my partner, Pardner, is a chef/owner of a restaurant) or entirely single parent for most of my children’s lives. With a couple of notable exceptions, I’ve spent every weekend on my own with them for the past twelve years or so. 

It’s been really hard—and REALLY wonderful. 

Early on, I decided I wanted to be a person and do things, and so I’ve been dragging them along to events all these years. 

I hadn’t realized how much G’s restlessness affected me until the other night. 

There are so many little ways in which life can feel daunting. What we usually do is soldier on, right? 

But it’s amazing to consider all the possibilities that open up when you actually feel free to enjoy an event rather than keep most of your energy on someone sitting next to you. 

Sitting through that concert like that was kind of a big deal. 

And it got me to wondering: How much energy have I wasted on worry over these many years? 

I usually explain and justify my worries to myself as solution-seeking behavior. 

But no amount of anxiety could possibly have hastened G’s development into the amazing young man he is now. 

And, to be honest, my worries probably kept my brain too busy to come up with good work-arounds and ideas. 

Plus, ALL ALONG, G has been the happy, kind, funny, fun, loving person he is now. Just a bit more fidgety. (And, truth be told, he wasn’t always all that into much of the stuff I dragged him to…)

Yet I persisted in worrying much of the time about G’s fidgeting and behavior—and not only insofar as it affected him at the time! I also future-catastrophized about potential impacts on his career and how it  might alienate him from the “regular” social world. 

What good did/does all that worrying do? How many other useless ways do I spend my time anxiously mulling over and anticipating possible disastrophes? 

We all struggle with how to be in society. And knowledge around expectations and societal norms comes slowly to some. So do the sheer physical ability to settle down and key mental capacities, including emotional regulation. 

So why do I torture myself unnecessarily? 

I know I’m not the only parent (or guardian, or loved one) of a child with differences (or parent, period) who does this. 

Frankly, I wasn’t much of a worrier, pre-kids. Somehow the little worries of new parenthood mushroomed over the years—sometimes with good reason—into a constant stream of nervousness. 

Looking back, I wish I could’ve enjoyed myself more as a mom, instead of only now realizing all this. 

I’m going to work on finding a way to avoid breaking into a cold sweat when I go places with my children. 

More to the point, I’m going to take a close look at the ways worry has come to pervade so many areas of my life that it’s often depressing and sometimes even debilitating. 

Because I have a hunch that in all cases there’s a similar element of complete futility.

I’m going to try to be gentle with myself in the process: This worry has developed as a result of a lot of hard stuff. 

But I’m also going to be firm, because I’ve had enough!

Worry is my issue and I’m going to own it. 

I cannot “control” my kids anymore now that they’re teenagers. Nor can I make everything right for them!! In fact, I never could entirely do either. 

I can see now that G has moved on. 

Time for me to do the same.

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama

Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop -- a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo -- from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month's Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

FAILING SAFELY/DARING GREATLY II

Dear Persons,

Last week, we as a family had a terrible morning. In retrospect, one might refer to it as comically dysfunctional, but at the time it was devastating.

G was in a bad/sad/mad mood right from the moment he woke up (at least in part due to extended-family stuff that’s out of the scope of this blog). Half asleep, I immediately started alternately almost simultaneously grilling him and trying to make him feel better. 

I knew I should just stop talking but I heard myself continue to try to “fix things” from a variety of angles. 

Things eventually devolved to where I almost smashed a mug in a parking lot, both G- and R-rated versions of a certain bad word were used by several parties, and a chia smoothie disastrophe occurred all, all, ALL over my son and car.

After finally getting the gang to school (tardy), I rushed back home to my writers’ group meeting.

My fellow writers saw how shaken I was and I quickly explained what had happened. Our dear retired clinical psychiatric social worker, who always has brilliant practical insights, sat me down and told me I need to come to terms with what I already know: It’s time to let go. 

“You’ll know you’re getting somewhere if you can go to sleep thinking ‘I was quiet a certain percentage of the time,’” she said. What this means, she added, is that I must actually create quiet space, as a purposeful activity. It’s not an absence of activity or stopping oneself, but actually involves proactively doing something different. 

Well yeah, I’m good at doing things. Not doing things…Now that I find very hard. For example, if I try to diet, I immediately start eating everything in the house, especially junk; if I try to eat more whole grains, nuts, beans, fruits, and vegetables, on the other hand, I eat way better! 

So in my parenting, rather than telling myself to stop talking, I could attempt to create spaciousness and a feeling of letting go.

Then the other member of our group told me how her son had used a denigrating term—“try-hard”—for some kids in his school. The phrase really got her in the gut, and when she asked him to clarify, he said, simply, “Mom, you’re a try-hard.” 

Even asking about it is “try-hard,” right? 

Having read the first FAILING SAFELY/DARING GREATLY post, this friend said she’d noticed that only a small proportion of everything I’d said truly seemed to get through to my son. So basically, much of what I was saying was not being heard, never mind processed and integrated on any deep level. 

Try-hard that I am, I’m always talking too much…even when I’m trying to give someone space to grow

While my fellow writers and I all value the try-hard aspects of ourselves that serve our growth and our families and loved ones, we as a group recognized that there are major downsides to being a try-hard. The trick is to identify and address them. You know, without, um, trying too hard

As explained in my previous post, I’d decided a month or so ago to allow G to experiment with making his own choices about basic stuff, like phone time, food, sleep, and so on. 

Yet I’d already been struggling with feeling like I’d simply transitioned from orders to suggestions, rather than really, truly changing the dynamic and allowing G his freedom. Yes, there were definite areas of success. But this wasn’t going to be an overnight process. And I had a ways to go!

I’d seen myself still doing and saying too much—being, in essence, a try-hard—when what G really needed was the space to learn to trust himself. 

Self-trust doesn’t just entail G being able to manage the things that are challenging for me (whether G is cleaning his room, changing his clothes, sleeping enough, self-regulating on screen time…; my wanting G to learn responsibility to go with his freedom...). 

Self-trust is an overall quality of enormous importance and value, learned through self-reliance and successful autonomy. And my constant “helpful suggestions” were interfering with G being able to develop self-trust. 

Flash back to that dreadful morning: a wake-up call as to exactly how much this try-hard needs to let go.

Being a try-hard by nature, it helps to have tools for doing so and positive ways to frame the process (thanks, writers!).

Dear readers, many of you have differences or family members and loved ones with differences, so you know how confusing figuring out the timing on certain developmental steps can be, especially when to let go. But that morning showed me, with painful clarity, that the time has come for this particular step. 

When I picked the kids up at the end of the day, I simply asked whether we were all ready to get off the family crazy train.* They smiled. Together, we all let go. 

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama


* From the song (which we love)--I had no intention of using "crazy" as a perjorative.

Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop -- a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo -- from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month's Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!




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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

FAILING SAFELY/DARING GREATLY


By the end of August, almost everything I said was making G really, really mad. Could be sulking mad, could be yelling mad; whatever I had to say, he was angry. 

All the time. 

If I said, “Ask yourself if you really need thirds on ice cream,” he’d be enraged, for hours.

“You’ve already watched two movies today, how about taking a break?”: infuriating. 

“Let’s get some fresh air”: seething, at length, with rage. 

Screens, picking up stuff left all over the house, bedtime, laundry, hygiene, homework, manners, state of his room…All were loaded topics. 

One night, after a loooooooong day, I decided it was time to let go. Yep, all at once. It was time for Operation [G] Freedom. 

I didn’t actually even think it through. At all. I just sat down at the dining room table and said, “I’m done. You’re going away to college next year and I’m not going to be there to remind you to sleep, or get exercise, or make good choices. 

“This year is a great time for you to ruin your life in a safe context. So do whatever you want! I don’t want to fight with you anymore and you have to learn this stuff to succeed in life anyway!”

Then I got up and went back into the kitchen to do all the things.

A few minutes later, I heard, in a kind of tiny voice, “Mom? I don’t want to ruin my life.”

“Oh sweetie,” I said, “I don’t mean ruin-ruin your life, exactly. It’s just that the things I tell you that make you mad, those are things that you need to do or not do. So if you do or don’t do them at home, that’s a safe place to fail. 

“I’m hoping you’ll realize for yourself that I’m not nuts or trying to annoy you. And figure out why you need to do certain things, like sleep regularly or not be on your phone 24/7. That way, when you get out on your own you’ll be able to do what you need to do to succeed—like get some healthy exercise and finish your schoolwork on time—without making huge errors in judgment.”

“In fact,” I added, “let’s call it ‘playing college!’”

Now, I don’t think any of this would’ve worked a year ago, or even a few months. I’ve watched my friends whose kids don’t have developmental differences gradually reach this point years ago, but G needed extra time. 

Paradoxically, I'm basically giving him more freedom than many of his typically developing peers currently enjoy. That's because until very recently G didn't seem to have enough common sense or self-regulation to manage the tiny amounts of freedom he was given. Now, he only has this year of high school left in which to practice those skills before leaving for college. 

What he said next showed me he was ready to try. 

“I don’t know if I want that kind of freedom,” G admitted a few hours later. “I think I’m going to use the same parameters you gave me.”

And he has, for the most part. Admittedly with less sleep and more screens, but not so much that he’s messing up in school or in general. (Yet?)

So far, perhaps the most amazing thing to come out of this is a huge shift in our dynamic. G can actually, finally hear me again without taking offense. 

For…years, really, there was a lot of struggle between us over just about everything. Now, because I’m no longer trying to command him—and because he feels respected—he’s able to listen respectfully. 

I’ll make a suggestion from time to time—“At your age, you need 10 hours of sleep a night, so if I were you I’d figure out what time I need to get up and see what is a good time to go to bed”—and then ask, “Does that make sense?”

He’ll usually answer, “Yes.”  

When he resists—“You just had cross country practice. How about a shower?” “Nah”— I simply state a logical consequence—“Well, you’ll be smelly all day”—and move on.

I never, ever claim to have “The Answer.” All families and all individuals are different. For some families, this shift is probably inconceivable (as it was for us not long ago); for others, it’s not on the horizon at all. And who knows, we may need to ease back into more  regulation—it hasn’t been that long!

Also? Don’t get me wrong: I’m scared. Really scared. About ALL the menacing things, for the foreseeable future. But this does seem to be working for our family right now. 


Figure I — Some Of The Menacing Things (not shown: accidental pregnancy, loneliness, driving, unintentionally breaking the law…)

Moving forward, I’m planning to try to stop even making those suggestions. I’m going to dare to allow for the possibility of failure—AND the potential for entirely self-directed success. I’m stepping back so that G can achieve his own kind of greatness on his own terms

That means when he chooses to stay up all night or never, ever do his laundry, or leave random dishes and papers and shoes and books and pens and Magic the Gathering cards (and so on, and on, and on...) EVERYWHERE I am going to stay quiet and let him experience the consequences…Also on his own terms.

That means I can reduce my worrying-about-college time significantly, freeing up time to worry about a bunch of random things for wholesome activities. 

At the same time, I’ve been grappling with ways to help him gain increased responsibility as a fair and natural part of increased freedom. That means picking up after himself more, at the very least, right? Fingers crossed.

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama


Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop -- a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo -- from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month's Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

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Click here to enter