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 autism acceptance month, book review

autistic #ownvoices fiction: the boy who steals houses by c. g. drews

Title: The Boy Who Steals Houses
Author: C. G. Drews
Date of Publication: April 2019
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

So I have to admit that I have a not-so-secret love of angst, longing, and heartbreak in the books I read. Every time I read a story of someone searching for family, home, acceptance, love, etc., and especially of working through the challenges of trusting in those things when they show up, it hurts my heart in such a hopeful way. I remember back in high school telling my dad that I just wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere – like there was someplace where I could be completely exposed and still be completely accepted – and I think it must be a fairly common human desire because so many books touch on it. In The Boy Who Steals Houses, C. G. Drews beautifully describes both that longing and the thing itself: the desire to be loved unconditionally, and the shapes that unconditional love can take in very imperfect people and circumstances.

I can’t think of another book I’ve read that looks at autism from the outside (the main character, Sam is not expressly autistic – his brother Avery is) with such tenderness and acceptance. Sam gets frustrated with Avery and Avery gets frustrated with Sam, like any two siblings, but they love each other so fiercely, so intensely, with such mutual protectiveness. Sam tries to protect his big brother from a world that doesn’t accept or even care to understand his autism; Avery tries to protect Sam from his own anger and from the justice system. Avery stims; Avery gets overwhelmed; Avery has meltdowns and has to be rescued and pulls Sam in to the lowlife world he’s ended up in; and through it all Sam just loves and loves and loves him – and Avery loves him back. At the beginning of the book, since it’s told through Sam’s perspective, most of the narrative is showing Sam’s love and care for Avery; by the end of the book (letting the reader realize it along with Sam, I believe) the narrative shows also how Avery has always been there for Sam loving and caring for him as best he could, through all the bad decisions they’ve both made and all the bad things that have been done to them.

But Sam is really the heart of this book, with his anxieties and his desperate longing for home and family and acceptance and belonging and love. I was instantly drawn in to his story; I’ve read it twice already and will probably read it again since I can’t get him out of mind (and since Drews ended on what was essentially a cliffhanger!). To be seen and known and loved no matter what – that is the treasure Sam is searching for, and the book holds out hope that he may finally find it.

The only reason I’m not giving the book 5 stars is that the writing was a bit over-dramatic at times. Sometimes the stylistic effects really contributed to feeling the characters’ emotions; other times they seemed over the top (but that may just be due to my own intense discomfort at overtly expressed emotion). Oh, and the ending 🙂 If only a sequel were forthcoming!

C. G. Drews has written one other book, A Thousand Perfect Notes, which I have not read (I’m still too caught up in the lives of these characters to move on!). She just posted a Q&A post celebrating the one-year anniversary of The Boy Who Steals Houses that is great in itself and also links to an article she wrote about writing #ownvoices fiction and autistic representation in fiction specifically, which I found to be quite good.

Posted in family life

making space for beauty

Aubade (who loves all things sparkly and frilly and fancy) discovered today the few formal dresses I have saved over the years, and convinced me to try one on. She was really rooting for the wedding dress, but putting that one on is not a one-person endeavor, so I ended up in a navy blue full-length gown from high school.

I am still surprised I managed to put it on; my ribs are definitely wider post-pregnancies. And it felt far more elegant than I remembered, which was nice. But the best part was when I walked out wearing it and Aubade was overwhelmed with delight that Mommy was wearing a pretty dress like she was and Limerick ran to me instantly to exclaim over the dress and claim a hug. I was reminded of the time my mom dressed up in the most gorgeous burgundy outfit with sheer sleeves for a fancy event with my dad – how I thought she was just the most glamorous and beautiful person I’d ever seen, and how it made me so happy to see her so beautiful, like my heart swelling inside me. And now somehow I found myself in her role in the cyclical drama of life, the mother instead of the child, the familial archetype for human beauty as well as human nurturing.

I’m still figuring out where it comes from, this child’s joy in seeing their mother beautiful. I remember feeling it quite strongly; I could tell my children felt it, as they demanded I not change back into normal clothes even when I had to do dishes and get ready for work; but I’m not quite sure of the source. My guess is that it has something to do with the overflowing love a child has for their mother, because when a person loves someone else they delight in that person’s beauty.

And knowing my children have this deep unconditional love for me, as children typically do for their parents, makes me want to be beautiful in character and not just in appearance, to be truly worthy, somehow, of this love pouring itself out for me for these short years of childhood. If it takes dressing up more frequently to remind myself of this, then (despite my love of the comfortable and casual) I am all for it.

Posted in musings

this broken beautiful world

My heart is heavy with the brokenness of the world tonight.

Tonight my family sleeps under one roof, with full bellies and soft blankets. Tonight my children’s memories are of books and snuggles at bedtime, an afternoon swimming with their grandparents, a morning of music and crafts at church. Tonight I have no reason to worry about where I will find food to feed them in the morning, or whether I can let them play outside safely, or whether the water they drink will make them sick. Tonight I can sleep with the confidence that nothing is likely to break in upon the refuge of love I have built around them.

Continue reading “this broken beautiful world”

Posted in family life, sqt

starting our summer strong

Because Rondel was in zoo camp every morning this week (which, by the way, was a major success – he absolutely loved it), I got to spend some more focused time with Limerick and Aubade, and they got to spend more time playing together. Normally, Rondel does most of the talking and directing when the kids are playing, so I was curious what would happen in his absence; what happened was that Limerick filled in the gaps quite easily and just about talked non-stop, especially towards the beginning of the week. And it was nice to have the chance to listen to him without having to simultaneously try to listen to Rondel… it can be a bit much when they are both talking to me (and demanding a response!) at the same time.

  1. On the first day, we stayed at the zoo and watched the Andean bears for a long time. Limerick decided he would be an imaginary creature called a buck bear, and spent at least thirty minutes describing this animal and its habitat to me while Aubade slept. (It is very much an atypical bear, as it has sticky feet like geckos and gills like a fish! Rondel never lets him get away with such aberrations from reality 😛 ). He also was brave enough to sit right against the glass next to the baboon! He’d been watching Aubade interact with her for a while, and had clearly wanted to see the baboon up close himself, but had been too scared to do so. I was proud of him for getting closer even though he was nervous.IMG_3386
  2. On the second day, we came home and just hung out together. We cleaned, we read books, we played with stuffed animals – it was relaxed and fun. (Also, that night we received Rondel’s official diagnosis of autism, after several weeks of waiting.)
  3. On the third day we did more of the same, but stopped in Downtown Mesa on the way home to explore the musical instruments in front of the IDEA Museum. We used to visit there all the time when we lived within walking distance, when Rondel and Limerick were Aubade’s age, but she hasn’t gotten to experience it very much, and judging from her reactions she was very glad we went!

    Yes, I let her choose her own clothes and accessories… apparently oversized T-shirts pilfered from her brothers and metal chain VeggieTales necklaces are in fashion in the 18 month old set these day 🙂 She is so opinionated about what she wears – and always ridiculously cute in it, no matter how off-the-wall it may seem at first.

  4. On the fourth day of camp we rested in the morning but took Rondel with us down to IKEA in the afternoon! IKEA may be a store, but my children seem to think it is a giant playground. Every couch needs to be sat upon, every pillow smushed, every stuffed animal hugged, and every bed snuggled in. We were just there for some curtains, but we lingered everywhere (and let Aubade take a nice long nap in her carseat in the shopping cart en route!). Then I kept my momentum going long enough to hang and hem the curtains, and make a curtain and valance for the kitchen sink window with some fabric I found in my stash.IMG_3475Here they are all pulled back! Those are south-facing windows… and it’s summer in Arizona… so the curtains haven’t been spending too much time open like this. Even just the white fabric over the sink made a noticeable difference when I first hung it up. And I impressed myself (and probably my husband too) by managing to actually complete a project!
  5. The last day of zoo camp I missed out on drop off, pick up, and sweet time with the littles because it was my husband’s day off and my day to go in and work. Not quite as fun, or not fun in the same way, but I did get to consult with a colleague from a different core facility and develop a project and sample tracker for their instruments and workflows, which was both interesting and satisfying. Since I’ve started working such limited hours, and partly from home, my position has shifted a bit away from the biology lab work to the information systems behind the lab work, and I’m finding it really engaging.
  6. It feels like we began the summer at a sprint, and I think it is just going to keep on this way as we have swim lessons and a visit from my sister in June, and my parents are funding a second session of zoo camp for Rondel as a birthday present in July. But honestly the heat is so intense that having planned activities helps prevent me from doing nothing but lounging around the house eating ice cream! Not that ice cream is a bad thing, necessarily… I finally jumped on the nice cream train this summer, one night when Rondel was emotionally collapsing over the absence of ice cream in our house and I knew there were tons of frozen bananas just calling to me. The plain vanilla flavor isn’t my favorite, but the chocolate peanut butter version tastes like decadent chocolate ice cream, with the added bonus of being healthy enough that I can serve it to the kids for lunch and become the coolest mom ever. I don’t really have a recipe, but in essence I just blend up frozen banana chunks in the food processor, with a bit of milk if necessary, and then add in a huge scoop of peanut butter and a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder. We’ve made at least three batches in the past two weeks, and would have made more if we hadn’t run out of bananas and had to buy more, wait for them to get nice and overripe, and then wait for them to freeze! My skepticism regarding this whole concept has been removed by the goodness of nice cream.
  7. And zoo camp itself? Well, every morning Rondel cooperated with me to get dressed and eat his food, he ran ahead into the group to participate, and he greeted me back at the end with endless excitement, ready to tell me about everything he did. He got to pet, hold, and feed a huge variety of animals (from bunnies and boa constrictors to sting rays and giraffes); he drew pictures; he played games with other kids; he got to bring home a sting ray tooth that he sifted out of the sand in a pool; and he got to see so many animals that he loves. In short, he got to practice social skills and adaptability while also being in one of his favorite places in the world, getting to spend time focused on animals without any distractions. I just wish I had pictures!

What are your favorite ways to deal with the heat, especially with little kids? They don’t approve of me just lying in the sun soaking it up, but running around when it’s 100 degrees outside gets tiring fast! And do you have any awesome plans for the summer?

Linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum today!

Posted in family life

2017

2017 is coming to a close.

We started out with postpartum depression and RSV; we’re ending with all three kids sick with the flu! (Well, to be more accurate, they were sick over Christmas and are mostly better now.) In between we fit more into one year than I would have thought possible, with therapies, medications, travel, moving into a new home, dipping our toes into the world of special needs education, and beginning a new round of transitions with my husband graduating and finding a job (which will start shortly after the New Year).

And I have learned so much this year, including about things that I thought I already understood but was able to look at from personal experience or through the new and edifying perspective of someone else’s experience or research. I acknowledged my anxiety as an obstacle in my path rather than a personal failing, thereby removing the associated guilt and shame and allowing myself to move forward; I began to make space for myself and the people I love to be different, express their differences, and be loved for who they are with those differences; I learned when to stand up for myself and when to disengage, and that both are ok given the circumstances as well as my own mental state; and I found the courage to make uncommon decisions for uncommon reasons without becoming defensive or belittling the choices I turned down. At least, those are the seeds of change that are beginning to germinate within me as a result of this year – I think I could spend a lifetime watching them grow!

This was also a year of good reading. What began as a way to cope with my depression when almost nothing else could distract my mind from the darkness turned into a re-ignition of my lifelong compulsive love of books and a chance to discover new characters, adventures, worlds, and authors. For the first time since childhood I kept a book log for myself, which was a massively encouraging endeavor in and of itself, and managed to read and record 84 previously-unread-by-me books since I started tracking mid-January! I think the books deserve their own post so I will say no more here – but it was a major part of my year and a consistent source of pleasure and refreshment as well as an escape from my own head.

And of course this was the year of Aubade, since she just barely made an appearance in 2016 but has by now infiltrated herself into every thread of the warp and weave of our lives. Through her, the boys have gained independence and learned compassion and gentleness. She has stolen our sleep but given us laughter. She is a confident baby princess, secure in her belief that whatever she wants, she should have, and she will get it for herself if no one will get it for her! She is a fearless baby explorer, certain that she can do whatever she sets her mind to do, and that around every corner (or behind every door, or on top of every high place) there is something new and exciting to discover. She is a bestower of hugs and a jealous claimant to her mommy’s lap. She is a passionate lover of showers (or pools, or baths, or splash pads), peek-a-boo, mud on her fingers, the thrill of the climb, the loudness of blenders and vacuums, snuggles with the people she loves, and singing or playing music. I can hardly believe she has only been in our lives for a year, because life without her would seem so empty.

Overall, it was a year of crashing lows, dark valleys to endure, and steep mountains to climb (my saint for the year was St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes, and it certainly seemed fitting when I was in the depths of the depression) – but it was also a year of soaring highs, transcendent mountain views, and glorious sunrises. A more stable and mundane year would certainly have been easier, but I am thankful for the things that happened and the way they shaped the person I am now. And now, let the adventures of 2018 begin!

 

Posted in family life

Michaelmas 2017

This year, for the first time, our family celebrated Michaelmas – a traditional holiday in both the Catholic church and the Waldorf educational philosophy, honoring the angels (the name comes from the angel Michael) and emboldening us to fight against evil in our world and our own hearts.

Michael4

Michael is often portrayed in religious art as slaying a dragon (representative of Satan), as he is considered to have led the armies of angels against the devil, casting them out of heaven. Going strictly from Biblical texts, there is also Gabriel’s message to Daniel, in which he says that he has been delayed because he was fighting against the demonic powers in Persia and had to have help from Michael to get past that barricade to Daniel. In either case, from the little that is said about the angel Michael it appears that he is a mighty spiritual warrior, and one whose strength comes from God and is without arrogance or pride (the very name Michael means “who is like God?” – signifying rhetorically that no matter how great of a warrior and leader he is, even then he is not like God, not on the same level as God. Michael stands for exactly the opposite of the devil’s error of pride in believing he could actually be like God, an equal in power and worth.)

So for Michaelmas, the celebratory ideas tend to center around this theme of fighting dragons: in a more literal sense for the younger set, and in a more metaphorical sense as well for more application 😉 We didn’t do much; I was going to plan a whole party and invite other families, but I couldn’t get past my social anxiety in time, so it was just us. Fortunately, however, I was able to make a dragon costume for my brother and some quick “swords” for the boys, so they could fight away a dragon in honor of the day (just like Michael! With the power of God! I’m not sure that those connections were made though…)

IMG_7706I made the mask using a template I bought from Wintercroft on Etsy, from card stock, and threw together the cape at the last minute from a curtain left behind by the previous owners of our previous house (I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to fabric… but see, you never know when it might be useful!)

The swords were made from pool noodles, cut in thirds; the hilts were felt circles with an X cut in the center for the noodle to slide through.

Rondel jumped into the fray instantly, laughing from the excitement of battle, ferociously attacking the dragon as it roared and advanced and battered him with its scaly wings and fiery breath:

Limerick stood back and observed for a while, but when the dragon disarmed Rondel he began to fight wholeheartedly, keeping the dragon at bay until Rondel came back with a new sword and they could “kill” the dragon together.

(Aubade stayed out of the fray with Grandma… the poor baby was terrified of the dragon mask and screamed out the alarm even when Rondel was bouncing around with it on later.)

As I’ve personally been thinking about the holiday, I’ve been trying to identify the dragons I end up fighting most often. They might not breathe fire and hoard treasure, but they do wreak havoc and destruction on the things that matter most: home, family, and community. The dragons of anxiety and depression try to isolate me from other people and from God with insidious lies; the dragons of impatience and ill-temper try to destroy the relational bridges between me and the people around me. But if I see these things as dragons, it clarifies them in my mind; it gives me something defined to fight against, and a powerful mythic story to illustrate the fight. Like Michael I can throw down my enemy, not because I am so great and mighty, but because there is no one like my God.