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 family life, musings

fear of change

After eight years of working in a genomics research center, I’ll be transitioning to being a stay-at-home parent a week from now. Technically I’ll be working eight hours a week, in a sort of consultant role, which will keep me connected to the science – but it will still be a big change. It’s what I’ve been wanting ever since Rondel was born almost four years ago – but as it approaches, I find myself becoming more and more anxious.

I like my job, and I am good at my job. My supervisor respects me and my opinions; the researchers who rely on the services our facility provides respect me and my scientific knowledge and experience. I know what types of problems are most likely to arise, and I have tools and strategies for troubleshooting them. And I know that if I put in time, effort, and energy, I will have a successful outcome.

To be totally honest, I really like having the respect of other professionals whose opinion I value and who do innovative and important research. It gives me self-confidence: I may be a complete wreck if I have to call my doctor to schedule an appointment, but when I sit down with a researcher to discuss their experiment and figure out the best plan for them to take moving forward, I am completely at ease. It also gives me a sense of identity and self-definition: when acquaintances ask what I do, I can tell them about the science and feel that I’m doing something of worth, something that uses my talents and gifts, something beyond just staying at home and cleaning and cooking like any other person could do.

At the heart of my nervousness about the transition, then, I think, is a fear of losing that respect and identity – of becoming part of the crowd, no one in particular, no one with any valuable skills or gifts to offer my community. When I spend time with other moms, I feel so inadequate in the areas they are gifted in: my home is rarely clean, laundry and meals happen on an as-needed basis rather than with planning, small talk eludes me, playdates terrify me, schedules and extra activities overwhelm me, my children are dirty and wild. My mind is usually lost in a book, or an idea, or a project, instead of focusing on the people around me. I say nothing and feel isolated, or I say too much and still never manage to connect with anyone else. I simply don’t have the skills that these other women have, and without them, I’m not sure where I can fit in or belong in the mom world (especially the homeschool mom world… those women are so organized that I give up just at the thought of trying to be like them).

In the workforce, in academia, where everyone is a bit weird and everyone is valued simply for the expertise they offer, I knew where I fit in and I knew how I could flourish.

In this new world, I’m afraid I won’t ever be able to flourish – and that in my lack of flourishing, I will stunt my children’s future as well.

I’m not going to let my fears make a decision for me, when I believe on principle that a self-directed education is ideal for children, and when I observe pragmatically the stress that a classroom environment would add to our family life. I’m going to choose to let my love for my family be the motivating factor here instead!

But I’m still afraid.

Posted in musings

the girl who became a warrior

Once upon a time there was a little girl who worried. She didn’t worry about practical things, like fires and robbers; she trusted her mom to handle things like that. But she worried about heaven, and how to know what happens when you die. She worried about wanting to be alone and making her friends feel hurt. She worried about being the littlest and the last and being left out because she was too late. She worried about losing her stuffed bunny that kept her company in the dark at night.

When she grew up, her worries didn’t really leave; they just changed to fit her new grown-up circumstances. She still worried about death, and wondered just what she would find after passing through that painful door. She¬†worried that her introversion made her less of a good Christian by crippling her witness to Jesus’s love and grace. She worried about never measuring up to the people around her; she worried about missing out on something important by showing up late to anything. And she worried about losing the people closest to her, the relationships that mattered most, the love that kept her feeling safe in the dark at night.

This little girl didn’t realize, for years and years, that she worried about all these things. She thought that because she didn’t care about what other people thought of her, and wasn’t anxious about the future, and didn’t get nervous for doctor appointments or tests, and could handle large crowds and speaking in public (although it wasn’t enjoyable), that she wasn’t a worrier. She prided herself on her ability not to worry, to trust God with the outcome, to embrace new situations and attack new problems with confidence. But the worries were always there, in the dark corners, ignored but not silent.

They were there in the moments she wanted to speak but couldn’t open her mouth for fear of saying the wrong thing; they were there in the Psalms of trust and strength she memorized and would recite over and over again before getting out of the car and walking back into the relationships that mattered so much they hurt; they were there in the nights lying sleepless in bed aching over a careless word that might have damaged a friendship; they were there in the years and years of picking away all the bumps and scabs and scratches on her arms. But it wasn’t until they grew so strong that she couldn’t leave her house without physical panic that she admitted they were there, and that she wanted to let them go and help them rest in peace.

Worry grows like a climbing plant, wrapping its tendrils tightly around the support bars of your heart, cracking stone, weakening foundations, inserting itself into every nook and cranny and taking hold. Removing it is not the task of a day, nor an effort for the faint-hearted. Sometimes, this grown-up girl worried that it would be an futile effort, not worth the time and energy it demanded. But now that she knew how deeply it could incapacitate her if allowed to grow freely, she could see that even just keeping it fought back and somewhat maintained was a necessary (if unrewarding and unending) task. Left to itself, it would destroy everything else.

Worry builds unseen walls around the tended places of your heart, sealing them in, claiming to protect them from danger and harm. But all the time, as it builds, it pricks and pokes and pierces those vulnerable and intimate areas with images of all the possible scenarios that could bring about your devastation and despair. You may be safe from the actual event you fear, but you are locked in a dungeon with your worst tormentor of all. It took years of patient love, proving the worries false and unfounded, to open doors in those walls and coax the frightened areas of this girl’s heart out into the wild and beautiful free world again, and still she finds herself drawing back into those confines in moments of fear or anger. But now she knows the feeling of warm sun, fresh air, and flowing water in the deepest part of her being; now she knows the peace that comes from leaving behind worry’s dark and fearsome fortress.

Worry tried to convince this girl, through all these years, that she was unable to control the forces surrounding her life, and that events were sure to overwhelm her at some point or another. It tried to tell her that she could never hope to be enough, to break her spirit and close her in. But the deeper story, the more lasting truth, is that worry has trained her to be a warrior, fighting for her own joy and peace and love and beauty, and for all those things for the world she lives in: a warrior who will never give up, who knows her enemy is a liar and a coward – a warrior who fights with hope.