Autumn used to be my favorite season. It was the slow build towards Christmas – Halloween, my birthday, Thanksgiving, and the final crescendo of Advent, gradually growing excitement and joy with each passing day. It was the flash of defiant color flaming bright against the shortening days and cooling nights. It was the sharp relief of heat breaking like a sudden smile on a stern face. It was the beginning of a new school year with new classes and things to learn and a definite schedule after the chaotic fun of summer. It was apples ripening and pumpkins to be carved and pot pies pulled steaming from the oven. It was russet and gold and amber and deep brown turning all the world the warm rich colors of wooden bookshelves and leather-bound books – nature and library in one.
And I started out this autumn so well, taking the kids up north to try to see the changing leaves, going to local fall festivals, painting with the warm colors of fall, carving pumpkins – and then it all fell apart, in the fading glow of Halloween, as the realities of four birthdays and Thanksgiving and Advent and Christmas coming all hit me. If autumn has always been for me the season of growing anticipation of coming joy, than this year it feels like the season of growing anxiety about coming struggles. I hate that the same beautiful things I once loved, that have always been so special to me, are now mocking me for my inability to fully enjoy and live in them like I used to. I want to make beautiful traditions for my family, to give them the love of all the seasons of the year that I have always had (for all things are beautiful in their own way, or have the potential to be redeemed into beauty), and all I can feel is shame at my inability to do so – or to even see that beauty myself, anymore.
I just can’t wait for it to be over, this year. For the dead and barren branches of winter to take over. For the lights and colors and gifts and effluence of friends and family to be gone, and in the cold January air to be able to take up the tasks of everyday life again without the expectations of the holidays weighing on my shoulders. Beauty is too high a standard to live by, when I’m the one who has to create it in my home. Like a flame-tinged leaf myself, I’m swaying in the strain of the autumn wind and soon I must break and fall – only I can’t let myself and I have to hold on until the wind passes and the still of the winter brings peace.
I suppose turning 30 is as good a time as any for contemplating my twenties and looking ahead to my thirties, since we use a base ten system. Ten years is such a long time, when I sit down and think about it – I mean, ten years ago I was single and in college, and ten years from now I will have two teenagers…
It is interesting how time passes, how so many things change about life and circumstances, and how yet, inside, I still feel like the same person I always have been. I suppose I have grown and matured since childhood; but I still feel like the preteen who couldn’t put feelings into spoken words even when she was bursting with them, like the teenager who was haunted by feelings of inadequacy and failure, like the college student who knew how to excel academically but could never maintain social connections, like the young adult who tried to bury her insecurities by attempting to be perfect at absolutely everything. I suppose that is part of being a complete person: carrying a self that at its core remains one thing, one entity, despite the processes of maturation and the effect of time.
And what have time and maturation done for me, these last ten years?
Superficially, I graduated college; got my first non-student job (which I’m still at 8.5 years later!); lived with roommates for a year; recovered from a break-up; lost a treasured mentor; dated and got married to my husband; bought two homes (we moved); and had three kids.
Not so superficially, I struggled a lot over the last ten years with my inner companions of depression and anxiety. The first year of our marriage was especially hard because it felt too good to be true, I suppose, but in the long run our marriage has ended up being one of the most helpful things for that struggle since I have a partner I can trust to unconditionally love and support me through hard times. Also in this decade I sought out professional help for the first time and found it incredibly helpful. I’m realizing that depression and anxiety are fairly loyal and steadfast traveling companions, so I know I’m in for a more struggles still to come, but I’m also realizing that having them around doesn’t make me any less valuable or worthwhile as a person.
Along with mental health and marriage, parenting and neurodivergence have been the two big players in my life over the last decade, particularly the last five years. I have been learning that difference is not necessarily negative, in either myself or in others, that perfection is not the goal (and is ultimately a subjective goal anyway). I have been (and probably always will be) learning to be patient 😛 I am learning how to draw boundaries for myself – even with my children – and how to teach my children to draw boundaries for themselves. I am learning that a bad day or a difficult season does not make me a failure as a parent. And I am learning not to compare myself or my family to other parents and families, because the differences of personality, neurotype, and circumstance are so vast and varied.
Most days, honestly, I feel like an imposter at this whole adult-ing thing. Inside I’m just a teenager, nervous and insecure, with the added pressure of having more years of mistakes to look back on 😛 According to my husband this is fairly common, though, which is somewhat consoling 🙂 My hope is just that, however many years are still to come, I will keep growing in wisdom and holiness, and that I can be a blessing to the people around me instead of running away from them.
I shook my hands back and forth like there was a vibrato in my wrists; I made waves through the air like the swirling lines of a dancing ribbon; I watched my fingers sparkle against the sky.
We were at the park; a storm was rolling in and the air was cool and crisp, with a bite to the wind. I was pushing Aubade and Limerick on the swings, feeling like I could fly with them, happy in the weather and the hours we’d been at the park already and the laughter bubbling from them as they swung. I would run towards them as they flew backwards, then dart backwards out of the way just before they could swing forwards and crash into me, and they would laugh so hard they could hardly catch a breath. Aubade would crow, “Three!” and I would push her three times, each one bigger than the last, so the third push would make her erupt with glee. And as the happiness ran through me it ran to my hands, and I chose to let it be instead of shutting it down, and I found as my hands danced in response to my happiness they also made it grow, until I was as completely blissful as I have ever been as far back as I can remember.
Normally, I have my body on some sort of lockdown – I can feel an impulse to move and then before I even have time to process it there is a counter signal to hold still. Normally, the only things that get through this lockdown are the stims that I need to cope with my anxiety or the stims that occur when I’m thinking hard enough about something else that I don’t notice what my body is doing. In other words, I let my body process and express my negative or neutral emotional states (at least to some extent, because I have learned that it is important for my mental health), but I prevent it from feeling my joy.
I’m starting to think, now, that the stimming of my happiness may also be important for my mental health. I have walked the thought paths of depression for so many years, always feeling inadequate, always feeling like I was carrying a nameless secret that would make people reject me if they found out, always shutting down my happiness from reaching my body so that even the moments of the most joy and beauty were tinged with sorrow. But here my body is ready and waiting to give to me the gift of happiness – of taking my happiness and escalating it, elevating it, prolonging it – able to protect me from the darkness of those roads, if only I am willing to let it do so.
I stimmed today, for the pure joy of it. I hope I can feel free and confident enough to do it again.
It is hard to be a child. It is hard to be a parent.
It is harder still to be a child with a disability – to be noticeably different from the world while still having to find a way to live in it, to be growing and developing on a different timeline and watching younger friends and siblings attaining higher skills, to be unable to participate in “normal” activities and events. And it can be harder to be the parent of a different child as well: there is the pain of seeing your child left behind, isolated, excluded; there is the sorrow of knowing certain paths are closed for them; there is the hurt of watching them hurt, physically or mentally, because of their condition.
Anyone who denies that parenthood can be difficult is delusional, but in the autism world there is a subset of parents who twist their children’s difference into a curse, who portray themselves as martyrs and who thus by implication make themselves out to be the victims of their children’s autism (and, since autism is an integral part of a person, victims of their children). I haven’t had much contact with these parents, and I am not sure how large of a group they are though I have read about them often on neurodiversity advocacy websites, so I didn’t have the inoculation of experience to protect me when I opened up Pinterest and saw this image at the top of my home page:
This parent is clearly feeling resentful of their child. They see their son struggling, and instead of responding with compassion they just resent the burden that those struggles impose upon them as the parent. (So while they “see” their son’s struggles it doesn’t seem like they are knowing and understanding their son in his struggles.)
Well guess what?
Your son didn’t ask to have a parent who doesn’t want to hear his tears with love, or to help make his environment safer and more accepting so that he’s not continually triggered to tears and screams, or to view him with compassion and understanding.
Your son didn’t ask to be born autistic in a world that values normalcy and conformity, especially in children, who are expected to walk in obedient lockstep through the typical developmental stages and the standard grades of school.
And I can guarantee you that your son doesn’t want to scream and yell at you all day long. Every child – yes, even autistic children – want to have a relationship of peace and love with the people that they are most closely tied to. His behavior is how he is communicating to you that something in his life is horribly, terribly, wrong. He could be non-verbal and in physical pain he doesn’t know how to communicate or address (like my friend’s son often is). He could be overwhelmed by an uncomfortable sound or smell or feeling, and be unable to handle that sensory input on its own or in conjunction with some other social trigger (like my son often is). He could be in ABA training for hours each day and have no other way to tell you that it is sucking the life out of him to be forced into a neurotypical box where he knows he will always fail and always be judged.
Maybe you, as the adult in this relationship, need to address the anger issues you have with your son’s autism before blaming him for the way you are reacting to his attempts to communicate with you. I understand that things can be hard, but it is never appropriate to shame your child for his struggles on the most public forum possible (the Internet), and it is incredibly immature to add to that by insinuating that your struggles are all due to his inability to be a normal child, that you are some sort of martyr for putting up with him. Get the support you need, and check your attitude, in a private community where your child’s dignity can be protected and respected.
I love this second image so much because it acknowledges that both parents and children will struggle without victimizing either of them, without an attitude of resentment towards either of them, and with respect and tenderness towards both of them. (And it puts it so gently too!)
Like I said above, the hard and difficult behavior of a child, especially a child on the spectrum, and even more especially a non-verbal child, is a method of communication. Their needs and wants and struggles will show up in the way they act, and while their behaviors may be particularly challenging for a parent to deal with, they are a symptom of something deeper that is wrong.
And if you are that parent, faced with those challenging behaviors, feeling at the end of your rope, unsupported in your own struggles, please find help, and please do not blame your child or their autism for your struggles. Honestly, blaming anything only leads to more resentment. Try to see those behaviors as a clue to finding the best way to support and help your child. Try to see your child as fully human and fully deserving of respect and dignity despite their struggles and the struggles you have as their parent. And try to remember that no matter how hard your day is – as a neurotypical adult in a world set up for the way you operate – that your child’s day – as a neurodivergent child in a world foreign and alien to the way they operate – was almost certainly harder.
I’m linking up with Kelly again today and I have no theme at all! Proceed for seven very random facts about myself and our week, some of which (say, 1 and 3 maybe) may explain my relatively low posting volume this week.
Slightly embarrassing confession: I really like reading Harry Potter fan fiction (especially about the Marauders)… some if it is quite well done, and it’s basically like reading short stories about characters I kind of know in a world I’m already familiar with and it’s so good to be back in that world exploring it more.
Another confession: I love reading books that make me cry. And nothing makes me cry more than the fumbling attempts of imperfect human love and compassion to console and heal people broken by the world. Like, a story where someone is finally finding a place where they belong and are accepted after years of feeling alone and inadequate and unlovable? I’ll be sobbing all over the place and I’ll reread it at least three times.
We have been doing so many fall things that we almost burned out this month – multiple hikes up north, two different local pumpkin farms, picture books, pumpkin faces, pumpkin painting, fall-themed finger-painting, fall-themed play dough… it’s getting a bit excessive. I suppose we are simultaneously relishing the colder weather that makes it feel like fall and making up for the lack of traditional autumnal colors 🙂
I’ve been avoiding Facebook because it’s been making me angry, and I’ve been hanging out on Pinterest instead. But then today Pinterest made me angry too 😦 I’m going to try to write about it this week (update – here’s the link) because I think it is an important point and not an irrational emotional response. Short version? Don’t act like you are victimized by your kids. There’s a difference between having a hard time as a parent and throwing your kids to the Internet wolves like it’s their fault for existing and having struggles.
Rondel found a kangaroo Halloween costume he loved back in August… and he’s already outgrown it! He requested butterfly wings instead (because he glanced at my Pinterest and saw them) and chose a species called the Royal Assyrian from our Eyewitness book on butterflies. Neither of us felt comfortable just making up a butterfly; we both felt much happier looking up a real one. It wasn’t his first choice but it was his first choice that didn’t have black on it, since I have yards of felt in about 10 different colors but for some reason have no black felt. It is brown and purple, so it isn’t especially vibrant or bold – but he does want to add purple glitter so that should brighten it up. And it just makes me really happy that he can have all the fun of bright sparkly colors without someone telling him that purple glitter is for girls.
For anyone else wanting to make butterfly wings or similar crafts with felt, I strongly recommend using a glue gun and I strongly recommend not using ModgePodge. I mean, unless you want your felt to become stiff and hard and not reliably stick together…
And finally: it is not safe to let me into a craft store without a defined list and a spending limit. I went to buy a glue gun and pom-poms today and came out with pipecleaners, googly eyes, and a coloring book as well. (And the 300 pack of pom-poms instead of the 6 pack which is really all I needed, because they’re just so cute and fluffy and the kids will love them and pom-poms will be everywhere!!! My husband is horrified.)
I hope you all had a great week! Are you excited for Halloween? Are your costumes ready or are you in the midst of last-minute creations like we are?
“When we set children against one another in contests – from spelling bees to awards assemblies to science “fairs” (that are really contests), from dodge ball to honor rolls to prizes for the best painting or the most books read – we teach them to confuse excellence with winning, as if the only way to do something well is to outdo others. We encourage them to measure their own value in terms of how many people they’ve beaten, which is not exactly a path to mental health. We invite them to see their peers not as potential friends or collaborators but as obstacles to their own success. (Quite predictably, researchers have found that the results of competition often include aggression, cheating, envy of winners, contempt for losers, and a suspicious posture toward just about everyone.) Finally, we lead children to regard whatever they’re doing as a means to an end: The point isn’t to paint or read or design a science experiment, but to win. The act of painting, reading, or designing is thereby devalued in the child’s mind.“
Alfie Kohn, The Myth of the Spoiled Child, Chapter 4
We have been learning about writing letters and sending them in the mail!
Rondel has been coloring pictures by the handful (although not finishing them all), and he wanted to send some of them to the people he loves that live far away. So he has been learning about how to write letters by dictating to me the things he wants to say, and we’ve been tucking a letter and a picture into an envelope and mailing it off. It turns out that writing is a lot different than talking; I’ve been writing for so long that I had kind of forgotten, but when you are communicating with someone who can’t see you or what you’re talking about, and who can’t ask clarifying questions in real time, you have to use words in a different way than when those perks of conversation are available. So Rondel has been figuring out how to word things for a letter vs. a conversation, which is pretty neat.
He’s also been learning about addresses and the mail system – how does the mail man know who Grandpa Bob is? How do they find his house to bring the letter there? What do all those numbers and letters mean on the outside of the envelope? And so on. Rondel’s first question was actually about why we needed an address on the envelope, so I had to explain to him that the mail man here in Arizona who will pick up the letter doesn’t know his Grandpa Bob and wouldn’t know what state to send it to 🙂 I think he is starting to understand it, and it is a good step towards learning his own address and understanding why that is important information to know.
So far he has only sent pictures to his aunt, his great-grandma, and his great-grandpa – but I think if he could think of more recipients he would send pictures to others as well, especially if there were a chance of getting a letter in reply. Mail is so exciting – you never know when something special may surprise you!