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 šŸ˜› ). 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 šŸ™‚ 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!Ā 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 šŸ˜‰ 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.

Posted in family life, musings, quotes

different (a full review)

Sally and Nathan Clarkson’s bookĀ DifferentĀ didn’t exactly live up to my hopes and dreams for it – that is, I suppose, it didn’t give me a checklist to follow or an instruction manual to read or even a set of principles to live by which would ensure success in the endeavor of parenting a unique and uniquely challenged child.

But that really wasn’t the point of the book. As Sally writes, “…don’t try to use our family’s experience as an exact template for your family. Every child is unique and requires a unique approach.”

And the story they told together, of struggles, pain, faith, and triumphs, was just as beautiful as I thought it would be. While they shared specific aspects of their personal lives, they made those intimate and individual stories relevant to a whole range of readers, drawing out empathy for both the challenging child and the challenged parent (or in other words, for both the different child and the parent who longed for normalcy). As there are in my close family many people on both sides of this dynamic, it spoke to me on a number of layers, and both encouraged and convicted me about several of my relationships.

(For example, it is easiest for me to apply the need for patience, acceptance, and understanding to my children, while failing to give that same grace to my husband, parents, siblings, or in-laws.Ā Different, while primarily about that parent-child relationship, continually challenged me to scrutinize my motivations and intentions in my other relationships as well, and to try to bring them also into a more open, gracious, and loving posture.)

My primary take-away from the book in this season of my life is the value of making a home in which everyone in the family can feel at ease and accepted for who they are: a place where each one of us can truly feel that we belong. When my children are losing their tempers over trivial affronts, or melting down for inexplicable reasons, or refusing to answer a simple question when everyone else is waiting for their response, or taking out their frustrations on each other; when my husband is tired, preoccupied, or worried and speaks more sharply than typical; when I am moody and irritable and impatient – in those times, it is very hard to accept each other, to love each other, to give grace to each other. It is tempting to construct a narrative of the people in our family using only those negative moments, to focus on their immaturity or sinfulness, to attempt to fix and correct them with annoyance and frustration for their present state. But Sally addresses that temptation directly (emphases mine):

“…creating a welcoming home also includes the choice to accept the unique design of our families and the limitations of each family member. We have to learn to lean into life as something beautiful even if it is not exactly what we expected. Trusting that God works all things together for the good despite the challenges we face is a gift of worship we give to God. Acceptance with humility must eventually come to each of us if we are to please God and not always fight against the limitations of our own family pattern.

If Nathan had grown up in a home where he was constantly put down and corrected, I think the oxygen of God’s love would have been strangled from his heart, which needed a wide berth of unconditional acceptance. Love is the food our hearts need to grow, and so I had to figure out a way to give it in a way he could feel.”

I can choose to be impatient, irritated, frustrated with the imperfections I see in myself and my husband and the immaturity inherent in my young children – or I can choose to see the beauty and value of who we are and what we are building as a family. Only one of those choices will fill our home with the love our hearts need to grow, and the welcome we need to feel that here, at last, is a place where we – no matter how different – can truly belong.

Posted in musings, poems, quotes

success

It’s easy to feel like a failure when you don’t have a clear picture of what your success would be.

In the academic sphere where I work, success is measured as the achievement of either a PhD and a professorship or a competitive job in the biotech industry. And here I am with a bachelors and seven years of experience as nothing more than a technician, without even a good salary to show for it. Does that make me a failure?

When well-meaning adults see talents they admire in children, they often forecast futures of greatness related to those talents – so a musical parent might overpraise her musically inclined children but ignore the athletic achievements of her other child. One of my friend’s moms always said that she thought I could find a cure for breast cancer. But I’m not pursuing that path, and will probably never have a scientific breakthrough to my name – does that make me a failure?

Many of the moms I admire online and in person, advocates of respectful parenting and unschooling, both Christians and not, emphasize the difficulty of raising children with freedom and dignity when both parents are working outside the home. And I’m caught between my desire for their best and the exercise of my own skills and gifts. I’ve worked their whole lives, so far – does that make me a failure?

I still don’t know what success looks like for me, or what it will look like for my children, but I found a poem this week that gives, I think, a good foundational definition to build on.

To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child, a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Posted in family life

a vignette

On Saturday my parents-in-law watched the kids for a few hours so we could have some time to celebrate our anniversary, and they brought a few activities with them to occupy the time. One of the toys they had found was a wooden bowling set, with a small wooden ball about the size of an orange and six (I think) wooden pins with different color stripes around the neck.

After understanding how the game worked, and attempting to knock over the pins with the wooden ball a few times (without much success), Rondel set the wooden ball down on the table, walked over to the toy shelf, and came back with a basketball… not surprisingly, it worked much better!

Meanwhile, Limerick spent his time lining up the pins in perfectly straight rows, organized by the color of the stripe on each one.

Neither of my boys are “typical” kids, but they deviateĀ from the norm in very different ways! As my in-laws put it, and as this one situationĀ demonstrated, Rondel is an out-of-the-box thinker, while Limerick is an organizer and categorizer to his core. And I can’t imagine my life now without either one of their quirky personalities.