Wednesday, June 17, 2015

SUGAR, DEAR

You do keep Dear Sugar in your bathroom, yes? So that when you wake up first thing in the morning and think “I can’t do this day,” or when you get that precious three minutes where you sit on the toilet ALONE pretending to poop, you can take the book in your hands and Sugar can be your oracle and give you exactly what you need to open the bathroom door and emerge human and more whole just by opening up the book and reading? 

If not Dear Sugar, what is your DEAR? What shows you TRUTH, on a bed of laughter, with a chiffonade of tears? HOPE, wrapped in brutal honesty, with a core of sweet, sweet love? PERSPECTIVE, nestled in a can of whoop-as$, with a side of I-get-it-though?

Ideally, everybody should have something like this, a tiny escape-comfort that is always there when needed. Maybe for you it’s music, or cooking, or...? Books have always been that thing for me, as they are for my son. Even at parties

I was recently invited by a Very Big Deal Agent to write a book proposal for her agency. I am still struggling with the requirements of the proposal, above all, the selling-of-self. But I think that very quality of being there for others in a very honest way makes this writing worthwhile, and makes a book a valid proposition for this blog. So I am doing my best to get it done.

At the same time, summer is looming. I see people posting on facebook about how they “can’t wait,” and I try to share their enthusiasm, and heaven knows I want my children to have those idyllic summers of which people speak, but—but...: I’ve never had a chance to not be working in the summer, which makes things sometimes quite rough. This year I at least had the foresight to coordinate what few camps the kids attend (hey, both kids in camp during the same week: my big insight from summer 2014!), so that I will have some time to work while both kids are having summer fun. (Have people noticed that camp often costs more than one can earn? What’s up with that?)

Like so many of us, I also hope that I too will get some glimpses of summer fun. That during the times when I am with my kids, I will actually be with my precious kids, rather than being physically present while mentally worrying constantly about keeping us afloat or getting other stuff done, such as The Proposal. I guess that would be a form of practicing mindfulness.

Ever wonder, though, why it’s so hard to remember to be mindful? Perhaps it’s because one’s mind is...full? In those full-brain and heavy-heart moments (big and small), I know Sugar will help. Mostly, she’ll remind me that it’s on me to make things right, to feed the good wolf, to see clearly and be present and not take things personally. Basically, you know, to be mindful. But she says it in a way that I can really hear, my dear, dear Sugar does.

Well, my friends, I am heading out now for the last-day/half-day* pickup rounds. Here’s wishing you plenty of whatever Sugar-esque entity feeds your soul this season and beyond. Summer...starts...NOW!

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama



* Wee tad of a rip-off there?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A SENSORY PROCESSING/NEURODIVERSITY MANIFESTO

My challenges have always been social–neurological–ethical-familial, never academic. My first encounter with academic challenges came when I – in my third and final (and, finally, successful [after a year as a runaway in the East Village]) attempt at high school – landed in a struggling Quaker boarding school that accepted a lot of students with learning differences. The dean there, the man I now call “Dad,” shepherded his motley crew of misfits with infinite love and respect. Students like me who were fleeing troubled, if wealthy, families, were treated just the same as wealthy, healthy, happy-familied students, scholarship students, “learning-disabled” students, all combinations thereof...all students, period. That is to say, equality really happened under his watch.

Until I began raising my son, who happens to have some learning differences, I actually never knew that the official term for such differences is “learning disability.” You see, Dwight, our dean and my “Dad,” referred to students who learned differently from the "average" student as having...wait for it...”learning differences.” And I spent most of my life thinking that this was how everybody thought about the matter.

How much did that linguistic switch mean to those students, my friends, some of whom had felt “less-than” most of their lives because they didn’t process and/or express information in just the same way as everybody else? You can bet it meant a great deal.

G’s early life involved quite a lot of testing, always at the request of his teachers. I began early on to use different terms for many of the labels that were used by professionals for my son and, later, me. I’ve suggested -- whenever the online or in-person conversation comes up -- that we use the phrase “Sensory Processing Differences” in place of “Sensory Processing Disorder,” and people have generally agreed. I do understand that there are contexts in which a disability label may be more effective in managing our differences. However, for the sake of our selves, and our communities, and our children, I contend that the following labels need to be changed, for daily use, if not for services and adaptations (and this is by no means a comprehensive list, just getting this here manifesto going!):

Sensory Processing Disorder              to                     Sensory Processing Differences
Autism Spectrum Disorder                 to                     Autism Spectrum
Accommodations                                to                     Adaptations
Disability                                             to                     Diffability 
Disabled                                              to                     Differently-Abled

Yes, we are different. That doesn’t always make us fundamentally disordered or syndromed.

We are all different. All that difference is not the same. Some of it is MUCH harder, because this world was constructed primarily by people who are embodied and think in “normal” ways. The adaptations some of us may need are framed as “special” “services” because of the way this world is designed – and for whom – NOT BECAUSE THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH US.

Here’s an example I see as very simple and non-loaded: because of my Sensory Processing Differences, when I go into a big box store the artificial scents used in cleaners and scented candles etc. give me an instant migraine. Does this make me defective? In my humble opinion, it makes me more of a canary in a coal mine: Nobody should be breathing those chemicals...and it’s not “disordered” to know so in a very visceral way. 

Another thing about language: it’s okay to ask! There’s been so much discussion, much of it rancorous, around whether or not to use person-first language. How about using the language that the person/people in question prefer/s? I, for one, aim to use language that is respectful and egalitarian. When I speak with others, I am willing to use the language they deem respectful and egalitarian, so long as it does not demean me.

Changing the ways we talk about difference are an important step toward healing this world so that we are all included in the spectrum of equality. Although there is some weight to having “differences,” the word itself also implies variety and, in some important ways, validity. We must continue striving to speak and write in ways that are increasingly fair, as language evolves to better fit reality..

You’ll note I’ve no cute rainbow graphic for this Full Spectrum manifesto. (Please see Figure I.)


                                                    Figure I – No Cute Rainbow Graphic

...because the way we talk about stuff is serious.

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama







Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop -- a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it's like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!Want to join in on next month's Sensory Blog Hop? Click here!

Monday, June 1, 2015

POSITIVE PARENTING: FUN!

Just a little example of PP from the Full Spectrums:

Pardner used to be a dawg. Not literally, but – let’s just say he spent his twenties, most of his thirties (there was that...brief first marriage), his forties...even the first part of his fifties, as a single, hunky, zest-for-life-filled, man-about-town chef who had a great appreciation for female beauty of all sorts.

And I do mean all.

When we first started dating, I asked him this highly original question: “What is the most important quality you value in a woman?”

“Fun,” was his simple answer.

Well, I felt very superior when he said that. How trite, I thought. How superficial! And how hard can it be to have fun with no kids, a thriving/rewarding/creative business, excellent health, and that special freedom of the non-married to extricate oneself from any less-fun relationship? A person who thinks fun is the most important thing must be pretty durn trifling, no?

Then I got to thinking about it. Here I was, newly-divorced and unemployed as yet, with two young high-needs kids (neither had labels yet, but the high-needs part was Not Subtle). I was shattered, really, at the time. And yet there he was...into me in a big and, to him, very new way.

Maybe he meant something different by “fun” than I thought.

As we got to know each other, I began to see how fun actually encompasses everything I truly value in life. It dawned on me that a most precious sort of fun was our finding a way to laugh together while courting despite my being in precarious mental, physical and fiscal health.

Fun isn’t just everything always being easy, lighthearted, and effortlessly sparkly all the time; sometimes fun is finding the sparkle in the (heavyhearted, hard, crusty, messy) mud, my friends. It’s choosing to giggle when you get to that giggle/sob crossroad (or at least to gigglesob). As well, fun is exercising our innate capacity to recognize and appreciate that sparkle, that giggle...

Now, we Full Spectrums hold FUN as our High and Sacred Family Virtue. Fun is finding a way to ENJOY each other’s company – even just for a few minutes, even after a crapola day.  Fun is being GRATEFUL for the kids you have and the family you make, whoever and however they are.

Yeah, this isn’t easy all the time; heck, it’s not even happening most of the time. But when it is? That’s fun. Thanks, Pardner!

Positive parentingly,

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama



#Positiveparentingday is the brainchild of the Introverted Matriarch. <3


Friday, May 29, 2015

SWEETYPOO

Um...warning: You might not want to read this if you are new to yoga.

For nine years I was a yoga teacher, co-owning and co-directing yoga centers in New York City’s East Village and New England with my ex-husband. For a variety of reasons, I came to dislike that world. My neurology leans toward the literal -- and black and white distinctions -- and I was chronically unable to reconcile what I saw as rampant hypocrisy by yogis, especially yoga teachers (not to mention yoga studio owners!), with the practice and philosophy of yoga. I came to feel that people in the “yoga community” – most egregiously those in positions of authority -- often used what they knew of yoga philosophy to justify their actions: cruel actions were “awakening people to their own egos,” greed was “removing other people’s attachments,” stuff like that...

But in terms of the teaching itself, I think my biggest obstacle came down to this: while I would be saying the first part of the instruction in a sweetypoo way, I would be thinking the second part (in italics), like so:
“Feeeeeeeel the bliss of being in the present moment…because we are all going to die.”

Sometimes it got worse. Even though I liked and even loved most of my students, there would be pairs like this:

“Let gratitude suffuse every fiber of your being…You know what? You are so totally privileged to be here at 9am in the morning when everybody else is working or worse, and yet you still complain!”

Or:

“Be kind to yourself. Lift the corners of your mouth. Give yourself a hug….we all know that as soon as you leave this room you’ll pretty instantly turn right back into the total beyotch [bastahd] you were before class.”


When I got divorced, I left everything but the kids behind, including the yoga center my ex and I had run together for almost ten years. I haven’t had the time or money to attend yoga classes since becoming a single then working (of the non-running yoga center and teaching yoga variety) mother. Instead, I’ve been practicing at home, which I very much enjoy on those rare occasions when I am able to make the time for it.

The big news for me is I’ve just started back to taking public yoga classes -- on a super-limited basis (two classes in three months)…Guess what? I am having a very hard time with it! Every sweetypoo thing the sweet, sweet teacher says sounds inherently vapid to me, and I keep adding those dreadful non-sweet codas to the sweet sentences the teacher utters: “Now, just let go of all those thoughts…[Oh...Really? Do you think we should just be able to do that so easily? Have you ever actually truly suffered? Been worried about putting food on the table? Worried about being harassed just for the color of your white skin?...Do your children, if they are lucky enough to have enough to eat, get bullied???]”

I know this is totally unfair. I probably even sound bitter and evil! The funny thing is, the rest of the time – when I am not in a yoga class -- I am usually thinking pretty kind thoughts. TRULY! Also, I know the teacher is probably sincere.

Yet the thoughts keep popping up. It’s like when someone tells you not to think about something and you Just. Can’t. Stop.  

So, even though I always secretly criticized people for viewing yoga as a physical thing, I’ve decided to try to just focus on the physical for now -- the breathing and the movement and precise alignment of the body -- since I am clearly still disillusioned with the spiritual side of the yoga world after so many years of seeing people not “live their yoga.”

There’s a tradition of practicing silence in yoga known as Mauna. With Mauna, one practices clearing the brain and mouth of chatter, bringing clarity and peace and spaciousness to life. I’ve actually gone on Mauna retreats (back in a very different reality) and loved them. But for now, I am just trying to be as mentally and philosophically silent as I can in my practice.


What does this have to do with the Full Spectrums? Recently G has been getting up to no good at school. Being sneaky and lying about assignments to avoid the whole new academic success program we have him on. So that he doesn’t fail out of 7th grade? (That’s another post). And Z has been up to some of her old RAD* tricks too.

As I revisit the whole sweetypoo yoga thing, it occurs to me that I am a talkative, and, yes, sweetypoo mom. Despite my ramblings herein and my scoldings to them, I always think my kids are fundamentally perfect and am prone to telling them so. And G’s teachers and the ex, even Pardner, are sometimes incredulous about my inability to really see and accept the more trifling aspects of G’s behavior and/or character. Z is better at “passing” for healthy outside of the home, and hiding her behaviors, but she, too, could improve her act at school and at home.

It occurs to me that the kids are – consciously or not – adding on to the exchanges we have. Clearly, I am not always getting through to them, as evinced by their actions, eye rolls, &c. -- and perhaps it’s because there’s too much sweetypoo talk! Here, the italics are their add-ins:

Typical praise-fest:

Me to G: “Wonderful Junior, I just can’t believe how much I love you!...Mmm hmm, that’s because you’re my mother.”

Me to Z: “My very own darling daughter! You are so fun to have special time with!...Give me more sugary treats now!”


Here, too, it gets worse, especially with my “famous” advice:

Me: “[G], make sure you remember that if someone is mean to you it is because they are hurting inside...blah blah blah. Heard this before.”
G: Yes, Mom...yeah right

Me: “[Z], always, always listen to your teacher!”
Z: “Sure Mom...except when you’re not around...”

If it’s my fifteenth philosophical exhortation or admonishment for the day, what should I expect?

OTOH both children truly are happy most of the time, and seem to be on the right track in most areas. They’ve been told enough times which fork to use, and when to say please and thank you, and to wipe, wipe, wipe....At a certain point the ball is in their court, right? So I’ve decided it’s time for me to can it a little bit with the yapping. Dare I say...Let go a little?

You see, the second halves of my yoga sentences above are true. People who get into yoga are usually looking for healing on some level, and they are flawed and broken just like the rest of humanity. Perhaps many yogis are seeking because they are more hurt, broken and flawed than the average person. And then yogic practices can take some time – not hours or days, but years, even lifetimes - to be effective. So teachers and students alike aim with their sweetypoo words toward what they hope is true...yet we do not necessarily live that truth in all our thoughts and actions.

The first parts of my yoga sentences above are sweet...and potentially insipid; the second parts are ugly...and real. Same with what’s going on with my children’s sentences. And I want to change that. Call it Parental Mauna: I want to try to be more mentally/philosophically/verbally frugal (silence being impossible for the obvious reasons) as I can in my practice of parenting.

So here’s my PLAN:

Less talking, more showing.

Ideally, less thinking.

More listening.

In place of lavish praise - more hugging.

Keep it simple.


Let’s see if they notice.

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama


P.S. Dear readers, feel free to share your own such sentences in the comments section below! I would LOVE to hear them.



*RAD=Reactive Attachment Disorder



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

TEACHABLE MOMENT

WE ARE NOT YOUR TEACHABLE MOMENT


We are a Colorful Family. When we are out in public, we are usually the ones people are looking at. Because we are unusually attractive. OR, perhaps, because one of the kids is usually doing something "interesting" and one of the parents (usually me - Pardner is a chef, and chefs quite a lot) is usually doing something "creative" to try to channel the "interestingness."

I’ve realized over the years, because I find myself staring when I see families with differences or public challenges, that some people—like me -- look on with identification and empathy.

Some look with scorn and judgment (those guys don’t even deserve this sentence).

But the other group consists of the ones who want to use my family to teach “tolerance” – which feels a little condescending -- or those who (much better) are aiming for respect and acceptance, whether of neurodiversity or ethnic diversity or any other inclusive impulse…

Um, may I just say that being anyone’s “Teachable Moment” can be a wee smidge annoying? But okay, I get it, people.

So here’s my Lesson Plan for this Teachable Moment:


                                           Figure I – The Full Spectrum Family Lesson Plan

Guess what. It's a spectrum. Is yellow "better than" violet? No. Red vs. green: who wins?

Nobody.

Neurotypical's not better than neurodiverse -- and vice versa.

White? Brown? Peachy keen? Melungeon? Different?...Equal.

Orange? Blue? Indigo? Sensitive? Impervious? Female? Male? Trans? “Normal?” Weird?” Can’t tell?

Equal.

Please think carefully before you approach us just because one of us is brown and might not be “mine,” or because one or two of us seems quirky…unless you do so under an equal and inclusive flag.

Whatever we are representing to you, it’s probably not our "fault." It’s not even necessarily that interesting.

There's nothing wrong with us, or at least no more than there is with any other given family. And we all need to learn to get along. Best we do so with the basic assumptions that no one is a specimen and that we are all equally valid members of this funky human rainbow.

Thanks – I needed to get that off our Spectrum.

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama











Monday, May 4, 2015

MY GREATEST SPECTRUM PARENTING SECRET…REVEALED!

I am finally ready to share my greatest Full Spectrum parenting tool of all time: Rainbow Mac n Cheez!



                    








Figure I – Rainbow Mac n Cheez with a FULL SPECTRUM of Vegetables*













What's that you say? That it does not look like mac n cheez? To YOU perhaps...but in the Full Spectrum household Rainbow Mac n Cheez  has, in the fullness of time, become our go-to savory treat. Rainbow Mac n Cheez maximizes vegetable consumption while lending children a pleasurable frisson of eating junk.

The trick is, you’ve got to sneak it up on them. I started over ten years ago by mixing a little bit of store-bought spinach salad into a box of prepared gluten-free, casein-free, store-bought “mac n cheez” mix. By the time Z came along a few years later we had gradually worked up to a 1:1 ratio of vegetables to noodles. Also, we had ditched the gluten-free, vegan thing, although we did try that again later (and Rainbow Mac n Cheez is totally doable GFCF). 

By now the ratio, having increased over time, is more like three parts vegetables to one of pasta. I also toss in chunks of whatever cheese we have lying around once it's all in the pot, since there's plenty of hot stuff in there to melt it. Trust me: it’ll taste gooood!

My daughter has been known to scoff, “What IS that?” when she sees some plain elbow noodles with orange cheez sauce (I admit she will gladly eat it!). Then again, she’s offering, this evening, “Vegetarian chicken with banana yoghurt, peas and paprika.”














Figure II – “Vegetarian Chicken with Banana Yoghurt, Peas, and Paprika”










Happy eating!

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama


* Yes, this was eaten - in its entirety -  by the Full Spectrum children.