Posted in learning together, musings

learning together: from history to current events

Rondel and I have been slowly making our way through Joy Hakim’s wonderful series A History of US, an American history narrative that manages to be both honest about our nation’s flaws and proud of her successes at a level that children can understand. We’re on the third book now, watching the 13 colonies gradually coalesce into a single nation, and so far we’ve encountered quite a few striking dualities: religious persecution and the pursuit of religious freedom; the desire for liberty and the acceptance of slavery; the mingling of cultures and traditions combined with vitriolic racism. We’ve seen people leave England to be able to practice their faith freely (as Rondel commented, when will those kings ever learn that laws won’t change what people believe?) – and then create governments equally as intolerant of dissent. We’ve seen how European settlers as a whole used and abused the Native Americans they encountered, and how they built their economic success on the backs of unpaid labor.

He’s six, it’s his first time sailing through the choppy waters of history, and a lot of it is going to go over his head or be remembered in only the most general of ways – but the concept of slavery has been probably the most jarring and concerning element to him. He asked me why one group of people would think it was ok to treat another group of people that way, and all I could say was that people do a lot of horrible things because of greed and the love of power – that people did, and still do, attempt to convince themselves that another group of people is less than human or deserving of less dignity and justice if doing so will make their lives easier or more profitable in some way. We talked about how the consequences of those horrible parts of history echo down to the present time: how difficult it is to ever fully eradicate that toxic way of thinking, and how generational disadvantages persist unless deliberate work is done to counter the wrongs of the past. We talked about the privilege that he will have as a white man, not because there is anything innately superior about being one, but because of those historical roads our nation has traveled – and how that privilege comes with the responsibility to seek justice and equity for those to whom the trajectory of history has not been so kind. Which all sounds pretty intense for a six year old, but it flowed naturally from what we were reading (especially since he is very sensitive to injustice against others) and I think it’s one of those conversations that has to be had throughout life in age-appropriate ways.

And with all of this fresh in my mind, watching Hamilton for the first time thanks to DisneyPlus, I was able to see the diversity of the performers in a way I don’t know if I would have before. The characters’ races are not historically accurate, but I honestly think it is better that way – more thought-provoking, more eye-opening. We are so used to seeing our history in the color white – which is in our present culture the color of privilege. But those revolutionaries, while still racially privileged at the time, were looked upon with scorn and contempt by the British government for being colonists and “provincials.” Many of them were poor, working their way up the ladder of opportunity in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in England; many of them were the unwanted refuse of London seeking a place to thrive in a new world; many of them professed a faith that differed from the official Church of England and had fled from persecution there. They were a motley crew, to use the expression: their government saw them as a source of profit, as second-class, rather than as full citizens to whom full rights ought to be given. In our modern culture, showing us the revolutionaries as black and brown helps remind us of those historical truths. And it beckons to its audience with a call of hope: if the second-class citizens of Britain, the outcast and oppressed, could fight for liberty and justice against a “global superpower” and succeed, then just maybe the oppressed peoples in our nation today (most prominently people of color) have a chance to establish more perfect justice and liberty for themselves as well.

So study history well. Notice the parallels between the present and the past; follow the pathways that led from then to now. Whether you’re six like Rondel, thirty-one like me, or any other age entirely, there are stories to learn, connections to make, and hope and wisdom to be found for shaping a more perfect future.

Posted in musings

toward love, toward justice

A woman from my church – the leader of our church’s ministry for neurodivergent and disabled children, and the mother of one of those children – asked me what my thoughts were on the recent protests, the black lives matter movement, and how it relates to the autism community. To be completely honest, I’ve been pondering exactly that for a while now. It takes a long time for observations to settle into my network of concepts and data, and longer still for me to verbalize those new connections.

There are of course obvious similarities between the black community and the autistic community, as there are between any minority groups simply by virtue of being different from the majority. I’ve been listening to Morgan Jerkins essay collection This Will Be My Undoing, and her childhood longing for whiteness – for the ability to confidently belong in circles of popularity and influence – mirrors the longing autistic people often have to be neurotypical. (If you see that the way you innately are makes you a target for oppression and shuts down opportunities for careers, friendships, and more, it makes it a lot harder to live authentically.) Building a society in which all people can belong, can be treated fairly, can move with equal confidence – this is good and necessary for the full flourishing of all minorities, no matter their race, ability, gender identity, or so on.

But the two situations are also very different, and it wouldn’t be right to look at the black lives matter movement and only see it in light of how I, as an autistic person, can relate to it. Our country has harbored violent discrimination against black people for hundreds of years, and the recent occurrences of police brutality (especially combined with the default reaction of many white people to defend and excuse the officers involved) show that it still exists despite the last 70 years of almost completely nonviolent civil rights action. I believe our most recent presidential election was also in part a white backlash to the previous eight years during which the Obamas held their power and influence with dignity, intelligence, and principled character. To a lot of people in majority groups, the thought of a minority group gaining power is threatening – and to prevent it happening they preemptively threaten minorities instead. And in our county, black people have borne most of that scorn, fear, oppression, and discrimination.

One last point I want to make is that oppression compounds. A black, trans, autistic woman is going to be at a massive disadvantage against the norms and institutions of our culture, even more than the average black woman. Just looking at the intersection of blackness and autism, for example, autism has historically been significantly under diagnosed in the black community (though it is getting better, according to the CDC) and the voices of autistic self-advocates are overwhelmingly white. When I think about how much having a diagnosis can benefit an autistic person, it makes me angry that just having darker skin can make it more difficult for an autistic person to get that diagnosis – not to mention the social supports following diagnosis that can help autistic people fully flourish and thrive.

The Bible shows us a vision of society that is radically different than what we have in America today, with our myriad lines of division and discrimination. When the Psalms praise God specifically as King, they do not say that He brings equality. Instead, they say He brings justice, righteousness, and equity (see Psalm 99). He doesn’t place us all on an even footing; rather He gives more grace where more is needed. He forgives more where sin is greater, comforts more where sorrow is greater, provides more where need is greater. As Mary sang in the Magnificat, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” As we work to build God’s kingdom, it is important for those with power and privilege to set it aside (or to be made to set it aside, when they have used it unjustly), to learn humility, that those who have been outcast or oppressed can also experience those good things. His kingdom, being for all nations and tribes and peoples, is conceptually inconsistent with racism, with in-group power hoarding.

The path from where we are as a country today to a nation patterned after God’s kingdom – a nation of justice and equity rather than injustice and oppression – is not going to be short or easy, and I definitely do not have the expertise to outline public policy. But I do know that change has to happen individually as well as systemically, and I can speak a bit about how to change and grow on that level. Just as I recommend reading books written by and about autistic people to begin to understand the autistic lived experience, so too I would recommend reading books written by and about black people to being to understand their lived experience (and of course I include talking to real people about their experiences as “reading”, especially if you are not a socially anxious introvert like me, since good conversations can be as edifying as good books). Read widely, and let your preconceptions be proven wrong – so your mind can be changed. Read deeply, so you can begin to empathize with those who belong to a different group and see the world from a different perspective – so your heart can be softened. Read prayerfully, letting the Spirit teach and convict you – so your soul can be moved to confession and intercession. For it is only when we have those three things that we can truly know and love the other – whether they are colored or abled or gendered differently than we are – and begin to work together on the institutional and systemic changes that must also take place.

{recommended article} – police violence

“Armed, indoctrinated (and dare I say, traumatized) cops do not make you safer; community mutual aid networks who can unite other people with the resources they need to stay fed, clothed, and housed make you safer. I really want to hammer this home: every cop in your neighborhood is damaged by their training, emboldened by their immunity, and they have a gun and the ability to take your life with near-impunity. This does not make you safer, even if you’re white.

Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop, from medium.com

Posted in sqt

small things that keep going even when the big things are broken and scary

So, our country is going through some tough things right now, and my prayer is that greater equity and justice will come from it, that wrongs will be set right. It’s yet another evidence of the brokenness of our world, coming on the heels of a pandemic and mass unemployment. But for today, here, I’m going to focus instead on the small pieces of beauty and growth and happiness that are like gifts in each new day. And maybe God will give me meaningful words to address those bigger issues another day; right now, everything I try to say sounds so empty.

  1. Our corn is really taking off! This is my first time growing corn, so while I’ve seen it in fields before I’ve never really paid attention to all the stages of its growth. For instance, I’ve never before seen those tall, willowy flowers that bloom before the ears form, or gotten to watch the ears slowly grow plumper within their husks. They also make a good barrier to hide behind when having water gun battles with the kids…
  1. The bed that doesn’t contain any Three Sisters planting (corn, beans, and squash) was intended for tomatoes and peppers and potentially peanuts but has been completely taken over by volunteer sweet potatoes from last year! Last year’s harvest was disappointing, but I think I am better informed now so hopefully this crop does better.
  2. Even if the sweet potatoes themselves don’t fill out well, I’m going to try to make better use of the leaves this year. They have a very mild flavor – akin to spinach – and a slightly firmer texture. I think they’d be good in curry, to be honest, and Limerick invented an amazing green smoothie with them just the other day by combining them with frozen mango, frozen banana, and apple juice.
  3. Limerick also discovered fractals and tessellation in the past couple weeks, and has been trying to build models of them with all the various pattern/construction toys we have around. And then whenever possible he turns them into rocket launchers, with progressively larger fractal rockets 🙂
  1. He also got to help Paul change the oil in the family car, scooting under the engine block to see the oil cap and filter and looking in from the top to check the oil levels (and help identify a cracked part elsewhere on the engine…). He’s starting to show interest in learning practical skills by doing things together with us, which is just awesome for so many reasons (not least of which is the enjoyment of time spent together making something useful).
  1. Rondel, by contrast, has been so absorbed in the world of fantasy and imagination. He’s trying to build every Lego set we have so that he can set up a gigantic battle between them; he’s acting out stories with kings and queens and princesses and princes and good guys and bad guys and extremely dramatic climactic moments; all of his toys have some role to play in the ongoing narrative he creates. He begs me to read more and more of the chapter books we’ve been tearing through, so he can soak up the story, and his own reading ability has been increasing rapidly as well. It is so much fun to listen to all the adventures he comes up with!
  2. So, when we made bendy people earlier this week, it’s not surprising that the first one he requested was a king! (I later made a sword for him as well). Aubade asked for a princess (she is so obsessed with princesses right now), and I also made a grandma for her and an evil queen (not pictured) for Rondel since his king needed an antagonist. I used these instructions from The Enchanted Tree, although the beads I had available for the heads were quite a bit smaller than theirs. While they used embroidery floss for wrapping the dolls’ bodies, I found that yarn worked just as well, as did a strange metallic gold string I have around that is a complete disaster for just about anything else. My sister returned our bag of pipecleaners and my mom is bringing up her hoard of yarn remnants, so I’m expecting a new round of bendy people to join us soon!

Head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum today for the link up!

Posted in musings

books

Quote overlaid on image of the sides of books: “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” – Charles William Eliot

Over my lifetime I have read thousands of books (estimating from the years I’ve actually kept track). Books are easier than real life: the author filters out most of the irrelevant information from the narrative, internal perspectives provide verification for the emotions being communicated through a character’s body language or tone, and confusing sections can be reread until things make sense while the rest of the book waits. So sometimes it can be a nice escape from the complexities of life to dive into the world of a book – but on the other hand, spending so much time analyzing social interactions in written form helps me to understand them better when I encounter them in the wild, so to speak. There have been countless times when I’ve noticed something happening and thought, “oh! I’ve read about this! What was a helpful response when this happened in the book?” and based my reaction off of what I’ve read.

(The one time someone tried to bully me as a child I thought, “oh, I’ve read about bullies. They are usually sad and insecure people. Poor kid.” I was also highly amused that he though I’d be offended by the name “Four-Eyes” when it was a taunt straight out of the books! How unoriginal!)

Books also help me understand my own emotions. As the characters experience situations and as their emotions are described, I try to put myself in that situation and feel those emotions. This is anxiety: observe the triggers, observe the physical response, observe the words that are used to describe the associated emotional response. This is happiness; this is grief; this is insecurity; this is attraction; this is contentment. I feel things extremely strongly, but I struggle to understand those feelings, and books help me create a reference against which I can evaluate and by which I can name my own emotions as well as the emotions I see in others. And it does this in a safe way, allowing me to proceed at whatever pace I need to, not overwhelming me with sensory input about an unfamiliar or upsetting emotion.

(This is probably why I enjoy books with a lot of emotional content even though I am very uncomfortable with emotional expression in movies or in person. I can take a break if I need to, I can process the emotions slowly and through multiple filters, and I don’t have the intense sensory input of a strongly emoting person to deal with while I’m figuring out what’s going on and why. And I do think it gives me a foundation to work from when I encounter those emotions in the real world, whether in myself or in others.)

So I’m thankful for the gift that books are to me – that on top of the enjoyment of a good story, I have their help in deciphering the puzzle of emotion and social communication, in decoding the physical clues that reveal someone’s feelings, in learning the rules and patterns of social behavior. And that when I need them, they are always there to be my friends.

Posted in family life

socialization and social distancing

As a homeschool mom with autism and social anxiety, some of my greatest parenting worries revolve around social skill development – making friends, navigating a variety of social situations, participating in classes and activities with other people, and so on. I worry that I’m avoiding things that are beneficial for the kids because of my own anxiety; I worry that they aren’t going to be able to make close friends and have the incredible blessing of loyal and persistent friendship; I worry that they’re doomed to be awkward and lonely because of me; I worry that I’m not doing enough to help them engage with other people and become familiar with social norms.

But now, in this season, all that weight is temporarily lifted: because everyone is supposed to be at home, and all the classes and activities are shut down anyways. It’s such a relief not to have those worries pressing down on me! And it is so beautiful, in a quiet and peaceful way, to be able to devote this time to cultivating our own family relationships and creating an atmosphere of love and contentment in our own home, without the constant nagging voice whispering that I should be doing something more, something else, something better.

I’m not sure how I’m going to phase back into social endeavors over the next few months. My default preference is to stay home with occasional trips to parks, pools, and libraries; my default inner response is that my default preference should generally be overruled as being most likely defective in some way. (Obviously this is a cause of some internal tension…). But I hope that as the social acceptability of outings and personal interaction increases, I am able to remember the goodness and value of time spent at home as a family and not automatically bow to the cultural pressure that says more (activities, acquaintances, experiences, etc.) is necessarily better. I hope that I will be able to find the path that is best for our family – with all of our neurological differences – instead of trying to fit someone else’s notion of what we should be doing or aiming for.

Posted in musings

the works of our hands

One of the morning prayers from the liturgy of hours recently included the phrase, “Make us love and obey you, so that the works of our hands may always display what your hands have done.” It led me to contemplate just what the hands of Jesus did, when he lived here on earth, and how my hands could participate in and reflect those same works now.

Jesus’s hands broke bread and gave it to the people around him – to his disciples at the Last Supper, symbolizing his body; but also to the crowds of people following him when he saw that they were hungry and needed food.

Jesus’s hands got dirty (literally, sometimes) bringing healing to the sick and disabled – like the time when he spit in the dirt to make mud and plastered it on a blind man’s eyes to give him sight.

Jesus’s hands washed his disciples’ feet – tenderly and gently carrying out lowly and very unglamorous work for the good of others.

Jesus’s hands, for years before his ministry even began, built those strong and useful and beautiful things that a carpenter’s son would grow up learning to make – the work of a laborer.

And Jesus’s hands, in the end, endured the nails, stretched out over the world, giving themselves in love and hope for our redemption though the path was one of deep suffering.

It gives an entirely new perspective on the tasks of everyday life, especially the less enjoyable ones like cleaning or helping the kids with showers and bathroom needs… Instead of seeing each chore as some annoying intrusion that I have to deal with so I can get on with the things I actually like, I can choose to see those things as opportunities to display with the works of my hands the things that Jesus’s hands have done. By living for so many years as a human person in a human family with all the daily work that goes along with that (remember, he wasn’t born as royalty!), he showed how even those low, humble, tedious, unpleasant, or dirty tasks can be a conduit of God’s love through us to those around us who are blessed by our labor.

So I continue to pray that prayer, that “the works of our hands may always display what your hands have done” – that rather than acting out of pride, selfishness, or sloth, my hands would mirror Jesus’s deep love and humility.

Posted in sqt

snippets of life

  1. We are now flooded with blackberries! I have made 4 jars of jam, a crisp, and the most wonderful simple sauce to pour over crepes filled with tangy whipped cream – not counting all the berries we’ve simply eaten straight off the bushes! And honestly this is just the beginning of the season; we probably have another few weeks of fruit.
  1. I’ve been texting my sister all about my blackberry goodness and I think she’s a bit jealous, as she lives in a place where blackberries ripen much later. It might even be one of those places where you can legitimately eat the last of the blackberry harvest on September 29th for Michaelmas (which just boggles my mind as that seems so late for berries). But her turn will come in a couple months and then she can make me wistfully recall these blackberry days.
  2. My other sister, who lives locally, made me a very nice cloth mask to wear when I need to go out! She’s actually been making a lot of them and donating them to one of the local grocery stores where she knows some of the employees, and she even offered to donate some to the security personnel where I work after they commented on mine and on their anxiety about not having enough (the man I spoke to was going to be on patrol on one of the floors scheduled for deep cleaning after a confirmed covid-19 diagnosis and didn’t have a mask, so there’s clearly a problem here for people’s state of mind at the very least, even though the masks aren’t as crucial as keeping your hands clean and off your face).
Sporting my mask! It’s like the opposite of one of those superhero masks that just go around their eyes.
  1. I also got to wear the mask down to Aubade’s dermatology follow-up this week. Of all the places I’ve been, they are definitely taking the virus most seriously. Two people wearing masks stood outside the waiting room to take our temperatures before letting us in; the chairs were mostly removed with just a few left in isolated locations; and everyone there was masked and gloved. And while Aubade’s eczema (about which we were following up) is well under control currently, it was still a useful visit with regards to the molluscum epidemic among the kids (a possible treatment at last! Hurrah!) as well as Aubade’s nevi spilus birthmark (which apparently slightly increases her risk of skin cancer over her lifetime and is something to watch as she grows). Also Aubade got to show a bunch of new people her sparkly light-up sneakers, and we got to chat just the two of us for the whole drive down and back, which is always nice.
  2. Limerick is still loving numbers over here. He really just needs a whiteboard and a marker and a new concept to sink his (figurative) teeth into and he is so happy! This week he spent quite a bit of time calculating powers of different numbers until they got to be 6-7 digits long; he made lists showing the conversions between fractions and decimals for 1 down to 1/12; I introduced him to long division; and we had a fun afternoon counting in different base systems. (It always seems like we aren’t doing enough school, but I think that’s actually a lot for one week now that I list it out like that).
We did base 10, 16, 2, and 3 together; then he did base 4 on his own and here he’s working on base 5. He ended up making lists for bases 6-9 as well, counting as high as he could fit on the whiteboard for each base.
  1. In general, Limerick has a good mind for solving problems of the quantitative sort. Paul’s been setting up the boys’ loft beds so that one of the ladders and the two railings lie across the space between (with Aubade’s mattress on the floor below) so that the kids can crawl across and hang and swing and jump off them. Well, they decided they didn’t want to wait for him to be done working, so Limerick and Rondel figured out how to do it together. It’s not easy! The ladder is heavy and difficult to position even for me, as is the mattress they have to drag in from the other room (through two doors and a narrow hallway). But Limerick has an eye for angles and positions and possibilities, and was able to figure out how they could set it up without the advantage of adult height. It was really awesome listening to him direct the whole project, with Rondel providing good input and feedback as they worked together.

And… that’s all I’ve got for quick takes this week! (Well, I suppose I could add that Rondel and I have almost finished The Horse and His Boy since last week’s takes. I’m not always sure just how much he understands, especially in places with lots of names and places, but he keeps wanting me to read more.) Visit the link-up at This Ain’t the Lyceum! I hope you all have an excellent week filled with unexpected pockets of joy 🙂

Posted in sqt

finding joy in the little things

  1. Aubade has been so into princesses lately that I decided to make a couple little dresses for some of her tiny dolls, to match the princess costumes one of her aunts and uncles gave her for Christmas. I guess one silver lining of the quarantine is that I have a little extra time at home for little crafty projects like this! (Also, her pink nails are Crayola marker… she’s been coloring them to match her outfits!)
  1. For Limerick, I wrote a few quick Python scripts to let him see some of his favorite number sequences up to whatever parameter he wants – Fibonacci numbers, triangle numbers, square numbers, powers of any base, and reciprocals of integers. He loves being able to see those numbers in more detail (and more quickly!) than he could with a calculator. So far I haven’t gotten him interested in trying to write his own code, although since this is his first time using a computer he does have the whole learning curve of the keyboard and trackpad to deal with first!
  1. With Rondel I’ve just been reading and reading and reading. We started The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe towards the end of Lent and have now finished it, as well as Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair. He absolutely loves worlds of fantastical beasts, bold adventures, kings and queens, and magic.
  2. One of the hardest things about the quarantine is making sure we all get enough physical activity. The other day we set off on what I thought would be a short exploration through the neighborhood and ended up being a 3.2 mile trek (Aubade in the stroller, Limerick on his bike, Rondel walking)… but now the temperatures are hitting 100 every day and those long walks are a lot less enjoyable. Also I’ve been sick for the past week and really didn’t have energy to do anything active with the kids. My parents’ pool has been such a blessing, as their house is the one place we are still taking the kids, but for the first time I’m wishing we had our own! I’m sure when things are back to normal this desire will fade, though.
  1. My other personal challenge is maintaining a sense of rhythm and structure when all the milestones and pivot points of a regular week are gone. I think especially as an autistic person, I struggle significantly with having an uncertain routine. So far I’ve been doing alright with bookending the day – prayer in the morning, reading to the kids while they eat breakfast, and exercising on the stationary bike in the evening while listening to podcasts – but the middle of the day is a great gaping void. And when I think the day is going to have a certain structure but then it doesn’t end up working out, it’s really bad. I suppose if I had to find a silver lining here, it would be both the confirmation that I am autistic and didn’t somehow trick the psychologist as well as the reassurance of God’s faithfulness and grace as I find myself needing Him more.
  2. Related to that last point, the Easter season has been such a gift right now. The daily reminder that Christ is risen, the reaffirmation of the hope and joy to be found in Him, even just the singing of the alleluias – those things help me stave off negative emotions and unhelpful thought patterns. They give me a starting point for seeing joy in each day, for learning to be thankful, and for abiding in hope.
  3. Finally, the sudden burst of warmth has made the garden flourish! The last of the winter beets are rounding out under their thin blanket of soil and the herbs are thick and bushy. The blackberries are ripe, the peaches are blushing, the corn is shooting up, and the beans are filling in around the trellis. I even have some sweet potato and purple basil sprouting up on their own from last summer! This is definitely a joy-bringing aspect of this time as well.

I hope you are all doing well, staying healthy and finding joy, and that you have the support you need right now! I am linking up with Kelly today so head over to check out the rest of the link up!

Posted in book review

{book review} marcelo in the real world

Title: Marcelo in the Real World
Author: Francisco X. Stork
Date of Publication: March 2009
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Marcelo in the Real World is a coming-of-age story touching on neurodiversity, ableism, racism, family, ethics, religion, sexuality, and love – in short, all the passion and philosophy of a teenager stepping into adulthood as experienced by a young neuroatypical Latino man. While Stork is not, as far as I can determine, neurodivergent himself, I find Marcelo to be relatable and authentic as a neurodivergent character: from his subtle stimming, to his sensory struggles, to his logical rules-based method for deciphering people, to his thoughts on life and faith and God. And, quite satisfyingly, the resolution of his story does not come with a cure or a fix for his differences: just an increased understanding of who he is and a vision for living in the “real world” as someone who doesn’t quite fit.

Continue reading “{book review} marcelo in the real world”