The REAL Superheroes: The Magical Siblings of Autism

Blog-1

It happened on our beach day.

I was trying hard with four children to get out the door by 7:30 a.m.

We were off to Jellybowl and there was still a bit left to do. I had three kids plus one child’s friend to get organized, sandwiches to make, a dog to feed and a cat to appease.  The kids needed to get dressed, remember their rash guards and beach shoes and mom needed to remember to find the sunscreen, pack chairs, gather enough towels, bring clean comfy clothes for the drive home and enough drinks to keep everyone hydrated (but not too many since I would need to  carry them all up and over the train tracks).  I’m pretty good about the chairs and towels but I have forgotten the sunscreen before and it is never pretty.  I didn’t grow up using sunscreen so it is not top on my list but today I have been entrusted with a friend’s child so I can’t mess that one up.

Ok, I digress.  Away from the sunscreen and back to my point.  This is about autism.  Really, it is.  Just wait for it…

So in the middle of the chaos, and after I have just finished cleaning up the zucchini bread mess Miss Maisy left in the kitchen (because we did not adequately protect the zucchini bread my daughter made from the food obsessed labrador), I am  brushing my teeth when my fourteen year old daughter comes in to my bathroom to finish drying her hair.  It’s all good.  We co-habitate well and we share pretty well too.  And, at the same time as my daughter begins to unravel the cord on the hair dryer, my twelve year old son comes in to ask if I will tie his swim trunks.  He is all about being naked at home and not ashamed of his body in our halls but being on the beach and losing your shorts is an entirely different story.  He wants to be certain his shorts stay up.

With my toothbrush in hand and the toothpaste slop dripping off, I ask him to wait a minute.  He stands there patiently, waiting pretty well and then his sister does this thing she has started doing.  She is fourteen, he is her little brother and the really neat thing I see that morning is that he is just her brother… before he is her autistic brother… and she does this thing.  She steps in to help in.  Without a word, without a huff or complaint, without announcing it to me and before she plugs in the dryer she instinctively reaches down and, in a motherly fashion beyond her years, she ties his shorts.  He says thank you and goes on his way.  Without fanfare, she asks, “Isn’t this autism day or something?”  I finish brushing my teeth and tell her, “It’s autism awareness day.”  It’s a quiet conversation between us.  I tell her what the world is doing.  She asks what we are doing.  I tell her we are going to Jellybowl.  I tell her she can wear blue if she wants to.

I smile quietly to myself so that I don’t shine too much light on it.  This is all normal for her now.  I realize as we are speaking to each other that…. autism is natural to her.  Autism was never really part of her existence.  Well, it was and it wasn’t.  Everything about autism is familiar to her but it just never had a defined name.  It was not applauded or hated during her childhood.  It was just part of us and, because of that, autism is different to her than it is even to me.  It was just her little brother.  We never spoke about autism or being less or giving him special privileges.  He was just her brother and she treated him…well,  just like a brother.  She never asked what was wrong with him, he was just part of her world and she organically accepted who he was.  His value was simply equal to hers and her other littler brother.  Yes, he might have been quirky or amplified or different at times but it was normal to her.

He is simply the older of her two little brothers.

She was twelve before she ever spoke the word.  She was twelve before she ever asked what autism was.  She was twelve before she asked if her brother was.  I had books on the shelf and she was helping me organize them.  Actually, being the girl she is, she asked if she could organize the shelf.  When she was finished, she asked, “Mom, is my brother autistic? You have a lot of books about autism.”  And, that was the beginning of her understanding and maybe even putting together the pieces of her memories.  It wasn’t a big conversation.  I think I said something like, “Yeah, he is.  But that doesn’t mean we treat him any different.  We expect as much out of him as we do anyone.  He is just as capable as any of us and just as intelligent.  This doesn’t change anything.”  Her response, in that oh-so-lovely-twelve-year-old-tone, was something like, “I know, Mom.”

And, she is the sibling.

She is the next generation.

She is amazing.

She knows autism on a different level than most and it is simply part of life.  It is neither less nor is it more.  It just is.

She is the awareness others seek.

And, honestly, there is little fan fare.  We don’t hang banners, we don’t do walks, we don’t shine blue light on it.  We accept it and love it and bring it to the world in our quiet way and when others ask, we say, “Yeah, it’s autism.”  And, they say, “That’s autism?”  And, we say, “Yeah, it’s autism.  Yeah, that’s what it looks like.”  It looked different at three than it does at twelve but, yeah, that’s what it looks like. It was a lot crazier at three and at five and at seven than it is at twelve but he is still himself.  Autism is part of him but it is not all of him.

Yeah, it’s autism but it’s more than that too because he is more than autism.

My daughter is a straight A student who has a skyhigh IQ that mine never ventured anywhere in the vicinity of and I have great hopes for her.  She is remarkable and I hope one day that because autism is so natural to her that she will be the awareness in her generation that says, “Yeah, it’s autism.  So what?”  And not the kind of “so what” that says we don’t care about your needs because you are not like us but rather the best kind of “so what” that says, “What’s your point?”  The kind of “so what” that says we all have the same value and WILL be treated equally.  And the acceptance that follows the awareness begins with her as a role model for autism’s “So-What-ness.”  By birth she has become an autism ambassador but, the really cool thing, is it is so natural to her…she doesn’t even know it.  She simply accepts it as normal.

I hope she becomes a scientist or a doctor or the POTUS and with her strength and her ability I hope she sets the tone for her generation to begin to see autism through new eyes.  Her kind of eyes that see iridescence rather than a lessening of value.   In my biggest dreams (mine and not hers I have to tell you, LOL) I imagine her becoming a doctor who works with kids.  And, with her understanding, I imagine her telling these new parents,

“Hey there.  Yes, I do have the diagnosis.  We have found that your child is a bit iridescent.  Yeah, you’re right, he/she is going to be quirky.  It’s a kind of quirky sparkle that you may not be used to and you may need some support with it.  I know, it won’t be easy and some days will just down right suck because it’s not the norm, it’s Holland and not Italy but, take heart, these iridescent kids are crazy brilliant.  They’re going to seriously rock your world.  You just have to be patient.  Part of their brilliance gets stuck in their sparkle and it takes a little longer for these iridescent kids to sort it all out.  Don’t give up and don’t lower your standards though because he/she sure is going to surprise you. OH, and hey, if you’ve got an extra minute…let me tell you about my brother.”

And, I know, not everyone will agree with me.

I get it.

Autism is different for everyone.  But this is my dream…that one day the awareness will be so internalized that no one will care about the differences, or the tantrums or the lack of eye contact because we will also have a plan of action, a path to follow and others will inherently understand that, indeed, different is NOT less.  I hope one day that people will understand more so they will point and blame less.  I hope one day play groups won’t gripe and complain about their inability to socialize as easily as others and teachers won’t feel they are doing favors or being slighted by taking these kids into their classes.  That it won’t take specialized training to prepare teachers for autistic students because teachers and school districts will be expected to teach all students together and equally.    And, when the world is trying to point fingers and lessen those with autism I hope she, and others like her, stand up with their young peers and begin a new generation that says, “Yeah, it’s autism. So what? It’s all good.  They are just like us but a little bit different and that’s okay because when you stop being scared of different it just so happens you find out different is also pretty darn brilliant.  And then you find out, in this life, the more we share our differences, the more we are the same.”

Hands Up? Hands Down? YES.


autism sparkles-138

I sat in church today and inevitably, as it always does, it started again.

That dance she and I do.

It must look comical to those who stand around us, beside and behind, who can see us.  No one snickers out loud that I have heard yet but I am sure we are amusing.  We could not be more different if we tried and the differences are deeper than the blonde and brunette hair on our head.

I am the brunette.

Since this is church related, I’m going to digress at this point, even change up the font a bit, and say, right up front, I do not have all the answers about who He is, how He is and I have not memorized the bible.  This is not a post about that.  You can call Him what you will and worship Him as you see fit or not.  I am not here to fight those battles. 

All I know is I believe because faith gives me strength. 

It gives me a reason to get up in the morning and hope the blackness that filled the day before is gone and I can start with a clean slate with a God who is looking out for me.  I believe because faith gives me hope that the answers I don’t have yet rest within Him and, in time, He will share them with me.  I believe because faith helped me stop beating my head against the proverbial brick wall and it helped me to see that all the head banging in the world won’t change one thing…but having faith will. So, I believe.  I give it up to God.  I rest my head on his goodness and inside the promise that He has my back, sees all, is a loving Father and He will see me through the rough spots.  And, you know what?  It’s good and ever since I stopped needing control and handed it over to Him, a calm has settled into me that evaded me most of my life before that. A calm that says, He has this.  A peace that says that no struggle is bigger than He is but it is bigger than me. 

Okay, I am done digressing.  Back to that dance she and I do.  That’s what this post is about…believe it or not.

When it comes to the dance, today was no different.  I was sure it would not be.  Certainly nothing has changed since last week.  Not in her and not in me.  In fact, nothing has changed in us during the last four years since my kids and I were fairly new to the town we live in and she took us under her wing and invited us to her church.  This woman has, since I arrived in this new town six years ago, evolved into my closest friend here.

Despite the fact that we each have three school aged kiddos…

Despite the fact that we both have jobs that fill our weeks…

Despite the fact that we are both hands-on and busy mommas…

Despite the fact that our time to sit and chat together without kiddos is rare…

…we have Sunday morning and Sunday morning is ours.

Side by side, third row from the front, the time in church is ours.  Well, it’s God’s and Pastor’s time too but, in a week that revolves around kiddos, schedules, schools, activities, cooking, laundry and the ever present cleaning, on Sundays we have carved out ninety minutes of time together, to sit side by side.

Busy mommas will latch on to that.

And, you might think that time in church might be easy for two women to make happen.  You might think it’s just a schedule thing but, my friends, you’d be wrong.  Scheduling is sometimes the easiest part to overcome.  Sitting us together in church…it runs a whole lot deeper than that.

Whew…Oh yes. D-E-E-P.

She and I are different and, like I said, it’s not just our hair color.

The church we share isn’t Pentecostal but it’s a whole lot more animated than my quiet Baptist and Catholic upbringing.  It’s actually non-denominational but with strong animation.  I am used to a hands-at-your-side, quiet voice, church going experience.  My friend, on the other hand, worships with both arms raised up high and her body comfortable in mild movement.  She prays out loud along with the pastor.  I am quiet as a mouse.

Thankfully this church is not as regimented as the one another friend attended.  The one where the pastor actually taught a class on the arm/hand language in church.  He taught that elbows locked and hands held up high was the ONLY way to really show your whole devotion to God.  If you were halfway committed, you held them up halfway with unlocked elbows and if you weren’t ready to commit to God, you kept your hands sadly at your side.  Crazy rules for me who is an iron-arms-down-tight kind of worshiper.  The quiet girl that does not want to be noticed.   (Yes, I have my issues and I own them.)   Thankfully not all church communities believe in predetermined rules for existing in their community.  I am blessed our church does not walk down that road.  In our church, you worship in whatever way you are comfortable and Pastor is clear about that.

Hands up?  Yes.

Hands down?  Yes.

Tolerance of others is mainly what exists in our church community because Pastor believes the experience that made people who they are matters. He even reminds us to value the individual within the community.  Do what works for you, he tells us…not anyone else.  I like that philosophy and that is largely why I have burrowed into this church community.  Here with him, with her, with God…I am enough.  I am not wrong for being different.  Our church community believes it is your relationship and your life and you have to do what works for you…and you are beholding to no one else in making choices that work for you and your family.

My friend and I clearly worship differently.  We stand beside one another, as tight as friends can be despite our differences.  Doing our quirky dance, week after week, year after year because, really, we are the same…despite our differences.

Sound nutty?  To some perhaps but not to us.

In fact, we have never spoken about it.

She has never asked me why I don’t and I have never asked her why she does.

We find no fault in our differences.

She is she and I am me and we are united…in our sameness and our differences.

And we don’t care about arbitrary rules someone else creates because we are us and we do what is right for the betterment of our own lives and we treasure each other completely…different or not.

Whoever you are, whatever you choose for you…your choice is your own… as is your life.  You are the only one who can make the right choice for you no matter what the larger community says.  Only you know YOU well enough to know what is best for you and ascribing to my rules of life does not make you more complete or better equipped nor does it make me somehow better if I ascribe to yours.  That is what individuality and free choice are all about.  In fact, I’d go a step further and say that when you begin to rise and fall according to preset rules set up by anyone else, you somehow lose a piece of yourself and your ability to hear your own intuition.  And, friends, when you stop listening to your own intuition, that voice in your head that agrees or disagrees with what is thrown your way, that crucial voice begins to dissipate and you lose touch with who you are.

Only you know what is best for you and your family and labels and rules only work if they work for you.  I am home here, in this church, in the larger community with my friend, with my children, with this pastor…despite how different we all may be.  We are free to choose as we need to choose.  In fact, about half of the church is animated while the other half is quiet like me and, you know what?  We each make our choices and we each love and respect one another…no matter what.  It works and no one ever takes exception with anyone else.  We simply come together for the greater good.  Period.

Tolerance allows differences the opportunity to become complimentary to each other when given enough time, kindness and acceptance. I kid you not.

Sparkle On, my friends.

The Different Faces of Autism

autisms sparkles-170

One day I think the “experts” are going to decide that the spectrum, being as broad as it is, may have been a little too vague. I think one day, years and maybe decades from now, they will better understand the complexity of autism and perhaps even the causes. I think there are probably various causes because autism carries within it SUCH variety.
I hope they redefine the spectrum as they discover that all of these different forms and faces of “autism”, Asperger’s all the way to severe autism, were actually from different root sources. My son is high functioning now (we have been PDD-NOS, then straight autistic, then Asperger’s) but I have good friends whose children are considered severely autistic and their experience has been so entirely different.
Were the delays and their differing severity from different causes? I know parents who swear they watched “the light go out” after the vaccinations and others who never saw that. I think both parents are right.
Just a thought.

MJB: Indeed, Good To The Last Drop

autism sparkles-96

Third grade was a very good year.  I can still remember her project to this day…which is odd since I can’t remember my own at all.    The “her” I am referring to is one of my earliest childhood friends, Mary.  There were no Logans, Cadens, Emmas, Sophias, Masons or Hunters back in our day.  We were simple-named kids, born in the later 1960’s, with plain Jane names like Mary, Danny, Kathleen, Chris, Steve, Tammy, Mike, Sheryl and Joe and we stepped onto Canalino’s kindergarten playground for the first time in 1972.  In 1975, when we first walked into Mr. Spittle’s third grade classroom, we plain named kiddos of the 70’s were sporting some eye popping polyester, waffle stompers, vibrant florals paired with stripes, bell bottoms and a whole lot of hand sewn and hand-me-down clothes. I still remember the yellow, button-up, Raggedy Ann shirt my mom made me.  We were, without apology, a myriad of fashion don’ts.

There were two third grade classrooms at Canalino and they sat right next door to one another with a moveable, accordion style, wall separating the two.  Thirty-eight years ago, there were roughly forty of us third graders in those two classrooms and we’d been friends since kindergarten.  Small town, small school and that forty or so member alumni third grade group (combining Mrs. Kerr’s and Mr. Spittle’s students) would also go on to create 1/3 of our 120-kiddo high school graduating Class in 1985.  Small towns are like that.  The kids you meet in kindergarten stay with you throughout your school career and go on to shadow you into the rest of your life. Few in number but as solid and enduring as they come and, consequently, the loss of even one is a heavy blow.  I can still remember when Lee and Denny moved to Sweetwater, Texas and, to this day, it feels like we lost one of our own.

The project I remember, hers and not mine, was titled: MJB: Good to the Last Drop.

We were expected to use our initials or full name to make a product and then design or sketch a prototype.  I think, if my cloudy memory serves me at all, we had to write a letter to a company or celebrity as well.  I wrote a letter to Dusty Baker and that is the entire extent of what I remember about my project.  Mary’s project, on the other hand, is etched into my memory because she was just downright brilliant.

I won’t give you her whole name.  I love her family too much to compromise any level of privacy but, for the sake of explaining her project, I will confess her initials are indeed MJB.  Very much the same as the brand of coffee from the 70’s.  For our third grade project, Mary made her own brand of coffee, named it MJB (replacing her last name with the word “BEAN”) and thus was born her product.  She then brilliantly allowed two powerhouse coffee companies to collaborate on her product as the motto for her MJB coffee became Maxwell House’s slogan, “Good to the last drop.”

These flashes are what hit me on Friday.  The Friday last week when I fell head first into a puddle of tears.  They are the same flashes that fill me, today, the 364th day since her untimely death.  They are flashes from a childhood and an adulthood that we shared and traipsed in and out of during out last forty years.  Moments mostly.  I am left with a handful of these nearly still shots that spread out to include her smile, her laugh, sarcastic comments whispered under her breath immediately followed by a giggle, both of us dressed in our red polyester pantsuits for the Pixie (the precursor to Daisy Scouts back in the day) meeting after school in first grade, a monumental, pee-your-pants kind of belly laugh on a stair case while on a double date in college as we tried and failed to mix the flavors of two bottled drinks with a turkey baster, and the very overwhelming moment when I was homesick for Cali and friends after just moving to Cleveland and while on the phone with another Canalino friend who asked, “Doesn’t Mary live in Cincinnati now?”  I still can’t figure out how two Cali girls, raised a few streets away from one another, wound up living in the Midwest just three hours apart but God was good to us.

These moments are like a lifeline, filling up the spaces, as I approach tomorrow…a year to the date that I lost this Canalino friend who is as much like family as anyone I know.  Friends from small towns are like that and become  family with as much ease as a tributary embeds itself into a river.  There weren’t that many of us growing up so you hold on tight.  Friends in small towns become second nature to you and when you lose them, it’s like losing a witness to your life.  There were things about my life ONLY Mary knew.  She walked the still shots with me and, with the witness gone, it was as though those moments no longer exist.

I have been ultra aware that tomorrow is approaching.  I have struggled with her absence in every single one of the 363 days that have passed before today.  What I wasn’t aware of is how deeply her absence would swell inside of me as the 365th day approached.

Friday morning, Day 358, is when the tears began to well up with such force that they would not be still and stop falling.  Thankfully, shortly after the water works turned on (even tho I am NOT a crier), I got a surprise text from a Canalino friend.   He sent me a good morning text from where he lives a few hours away. I immediately gave him a kind head’s up that I was having a bad morning and that he might want to high tail it out of range of me ASAP.  The very endearing thing about those Canalino friends… is they don’t run.

Canalino friends step in closer during the rough spots.

He texted back, “You know I won’t run from you. EVER. Give me five and I’ll call.”  That is what a good friend, a childhood friend, a Canalino friend does.  He stepped in to hold me up while I was crumbling and I cried my eyes out for two hours while we talked.  I gave him all sorts of excuses of why I was a red hot mess until it hit me and I whispered to him, “Mary”, and it all made sense.  And I told him, “I need to do more because she can’t.”  And, my friend, the tattooed, roughed up, tough guy that might just scare you if you didn’t know him, the boy who is simply my sweet childhood friend despite the rough exterior he’s gained as an adult, set me straight.  He reminded me that, just like he and I are connected no matter how different we are and no matter where we live or who else is in our lives, she will always be connected to us too.  She’s still here, she’s a Canalino friend and Canalino friends step in.  She is part of who we are and though I can’t text or call her any longer, her vivacious nature is present.  She is embedded in each of us.

In the beginning as I stepped up to meet death head on, I had thought it would simply mean I would grieve, lose her and move on.  I have struggled all year with why I cannot let her go but now I know, I was ALL wrong.  Big time wrong-ness.  Talking with Danny reminded me of MJB.  Talking with him, hearing his voice, it took me back to third grade and Mr. Spittle and the Dusty Baker/ MJB project.  That’s when it hit me HARD.  That’s when I finally understood that MJB is indeed… good to the last drop and there is absolutely NOTHING to let go of.  It’s wicked funny how Mary’s project from thirty eight years ago is still imparting wisdom and comfort.  It’s crazy how brilliant the woman was and currently is.  It’s amazing how she is still at work in my life.

Childhood friends, friends like my Mary and my Danny, leave droplets in your heart, they leave flashes in your memory and they imprint themselves so deeply into your soul that they never really leave you.  Even in death, they simply step in closer.  When you have navigated life with a friend for so many years they leave a layer of themselves under your skin and in your heart and you are never far from who they are or from the laughter they shared.  Every single drop she left behind…her humor, her audacity, her laughter, her skill, her brilliance …every piece of her remains solid and present.  And the anniversary of her passing, the day when her body lost a fierce battle, is the day I vow to welcome her back into my life because I know that no amount of emptiness will ever be fierce enough to take her place.

Strong her whole life, she was a uniformed customs agent for 21 years, an expert marksman, a K-9 handler, a mother and a friend but she was never delicate.  She never gave up, she never walked away from family, she never backed down.  She was vast and brilliant every day and I realize now that what I am left with, a year after she passed, is a thousand tiny drops of MJB laced within my life.  Moments, laughter, and brilliance that were bathed in her light that are embedded in each of us that loved her.  And, somehow, I am able to see life and death differently because of Danny and Mary and I am thankful for every single day I knew this fabulous woman that lived so fiercely because, I know now, the beauty of a life well lived…is that it lives on… in every single drop and the drops never end.

Autism: A Lesson From The Trenches

Blog 114

To the Wonder Souls who are in the trenches right now, fighting as well as working with autism every single day, please listen to what I am about to say.
You see the thing is….in those early days, I was scared too.  I thought autism was a childhood crasher, game over, dream ender.  I thought if I worried more I was working harder. Crazy stuff you say but I bet you know what I’m talking about ;).

I am here to tell you it is NOT a game ender, it’s just a different processing system.  That’s the crazy, crazy part I can see now as I look back….autism just means it’s going to be tougher, the challenges are going to stand a little firmer, and your are going to live in a gray area for a pretty good while…BUT….autism is full of some wildly good stuff and autism does NOT mean it’s over.   Autism just means you have to throw out the old rule book and write a new one.  Or, better yet, let’s go without rules and wing it.

Yes, your child is going to be quirky, your child’s progress will come more slowly and your are not always going to have the answers.   Nonetheless…trudge forward, stand your ground and I guarantee you that when you look back you will understand what I am saying….you’ll see how different may be harder sometimes but it’s still GREAT.  It’s great because the lessons you learn from autism aren’t taught in any book.  They are bigger than rule books.  I have fought, I have thrown down, and I have pushed back hard…and he and I are both better for it all.  And, just in case you wonder, let me say crying is okay too.  Cry for goodness sake…it’s a release from all the hard work and emotion you fill your day with.  You have to let it out sometimes.  I have cried my eyes out in moments but it didn’t mean I was losing…just meant I needed a moment to gather myself.

And, for the record, my boy is not perfect.  We did not overcome every obstacle, he is still on the spectrum and he still faces setbacks and struggles but we’re OKAY.  He is the very best HIM and I like who he is.  He teaches me mountains of stuff that I never would have known.  I would not change him.  He’s okay, I’m okay…we are okay together.

If I could change one thing….I wish I had understood all of this sooner, like when he was three….so that I could have put the fret ball of worry aside and just enjoy him completely.  Worrying robs you of your smile and your joy and doesn’t do your kiddo one bit of good.

Finding Your Big Girl Panties (or big boy chonies).

Okay, I have a pet peeve I’m going to share.  This last week the monster reared its ugly head again and although I try hard to be accepting and tolerant, this one is getting to me….so I am sharing with you.

Did I miss the generational memo that some knucklehead sent out that said parenting was supposed to be easy?  There seems to be this sentiment among parents today that parenting was supposed to be fun and easy and comprised of little Ken and Barbie dolls that speak on command, don’t talk back and don’t fill their diapers with the smelly stuff.  Some parents seem to be suffering under the delusion that children were supposed to be another fun night out and they seem downright resentful of the realities of parenting.  I have even started hearing a lot of grown-ups complaining that life with kids is just too tough, not what they signed up for, and a whole lot of other drivel that reeks of self indulgence.

It seems someone in my generation, or the generation shortly after, has started this rumor and there are some of my generational people and generational neighbors who have bought into this delusional way of thinking…hook line and sinker.  Lately this rumor has gained such popularity that parents are actually flocking to web sites to vent their frustrations anonymously as to how their life with children is just such a struggle.  From one parent complaining that she isn’t able to get her manicures with regularity because it interferes with her kids’ activities to another saying she just can’t stand always tending to others anymore.  One mom complained she never knew she’d lose all her free time and sometimes she opens her wine bottle and never closes it back up.  Another complaint stated that parenting is so much harder than it was in past generations?

Really?

Who started this rumor?

Who would be so gullible as to believe such a rumor?

My question for them is …seriously?  Can they be serious?  Why did you have kiddos anyway?  And, honestly, did you intend your child to be an accessory on your list of wants or did you realize you were being entrusted with the care, nurture and raising of an actual human being?  I am confused.

Our generation has the world at their fingertips, so many advances, that this almost doesn’t warrant the justification of a response.  But…I would be so remiss if I did not point out at least the most obvious.  When you get down to the nitty gritty and admit it, our generation, unless we are trying to be green and environmentally responsible, doesn’t have to struggle with cloth diapers or even glass bottles.  And, as far as the parent’s complaint that there is so much more competition today to meet the pressure of excessive scheduling, I would say past generations probably had us beat in the backbone department and they also indulged the whims of their children less back then (and I say that as a child who was raised in those “days”).  Back in the “day”, parents also had a handle on the value of using the word “no”.

I have to say as well that from what I have heard and read, most of the complaints have come from parents who live a life with a spouse in the house and who do not have a child with a disability and have never once faced down a deadly disease taking hold of their child.

So, truly, what are you complaining about?

Let me please set the record straight, without any candy coating, and tell you the truth about parenting:

Parenting is hard.  Some days are messy and loud and mushy.  Of course it’s full time.  Of course it’s going to be both dirty and smelly and the little people you had such fun creating are going to be absolutely and decidedly uncivilized.  Multiply that by twenty seven if you have boys but get used to it because that is their job.  The days are going to be long and the house is going to be consistently messy…no matter how many times you clean it up.  Whoever led you to believe that having children was simply a way to allow you to keep up with your trendy neighbors led you wildly astray.  These kids you are creating are little “people” and they did not ask to come into this world.  You chose them.  They are not props.  And, to be clear, I want to make sure I say this as well:  manicures, spa days, nights out, drinking binges, luxury vehicles, Bunco parties, bling and ‘escape the kids’ vacations are not owed to you….they are OPTIONAL at best and for a lot of hard working parents…they are non-existent.

If you want to know what it’s like to face a real daily challenge in the parenting arena, just holler at me and I will hook you up with parents who face REAL struggles every day with children who have disabilities and diseases.  Not once have I heard these parents complain about their lack of manicures or show resentment for the all nighters they pull with their children.  They are some of the most stand up, knock your socks off parents I have ever met.  They truly wow me.  From the friend of mine who has already lost a spouse to cancer and is still battling cancer with their child… to another friend whose autistic child not only doesn’t sleep but also has daily meltdowns that last several hours long …to yet another friend whose child is nearing the teen years and is non verbal and not potty trained.

Let me be very clear in saying…the following list is compromised of those parents who have earned the right to vent:

  • Parents of children with disabilities are the parents who are allowed to vent.
  • Parents of children who have pure melt downs (these are NOT tantrums) that last four hours straight are allowed to vent.
  • Parents with children that do not sleep at night, because their brains will not settle, are allowed to vent.
  • Parents with children whose cognitive levels will never reach their actual age level are allowed to vent.
  • Parents with children who have physical disabilities are allowed to vent.
  • Single parents are allowed to vent.
  • Parents of children who struggle with any kind of disease are allowed to vent.
  • Parents with a disease themselves who are raising children
  • Parents with a spouse deployed and serving this country

If you involve yourself in this level of parenting then by all means, vent, complain and scream out to the world because you truly face parenting challenges every single day.  The really quirky thing about this pet peeve of mine is that the parents who are “allowed” to vent…they really don’t.  They may seek solace and comfort in a trusted few friends who understand their challenges but I don’t know of one who would sit there and whine and complain about their children or the lack of time they have for manicures.  Not one.  They no doubt see the challenges in their life but the ones I know step right up and they find the smile and the humor, even the humanity of it all, before they let the inner diva start broadcasting.

I would ask the DIVA parents, before they vent anonymously…what is there really to complain about?  If your children are healthy, I am not sure I understand why you need to complain at all.  If your complaint is that you are no longer able to practice self indulgence or live a self centered life, then please put on your big girl panties, or your big boy chonies, and deal with it.  Suck it up if you must because parenting is hard work.  Oh, and by the way, Welcome to life.  Give your children a parent and a role model who is a grown up and who can look past the manicures, the wine and the escape vacations to tend to your children without resentment or complaint.

Sure…we all have rough days….days are long and hard, some are even unbearable,  and that is part of parenting.  Vacations are great and we all need a break on occasion but those vacations are for AFTER everything else is taken care of.  When the children’s needs are met, then by all means, do some taking care of you.  And, next time, before you complain and whine or drink yourself into oblivion, take a look at your blessings.  Look around you at all you have and all you have been given and ask yourself what it is you are complaining about.  If you children are healthy, if you are healthy if you are not living in a war zone, if your spouse is not off fighting a war…then please, take a closer look at just how much you have and how much more difficult your life could be.

Okay…my pet peeve is complete.  Thank you for your patience .

Life in the Treehouse

Image

I could move.

Well, if it weren’t for the kids’ schools and IEP’s and my parents…I could…I could move right on up to Oregon, right this moment.  And, if I were to move…I would move to the tree house resort or, as they so eloquently call themselves, the Treesort.  I would.  I really, really would.

The best vacation the kids and I have ever taken happened last summer.  After driving up through the gorgeous Redwoods and enjoying those giants, we landed in Takilma, Oregon’s Out n’ About’s Treesort.  Before we arrived, we even got emails from the treefairy!  It was outstanding.  Five days, sleeping in the treehouse, swimming in the gorgeous and cold river fed pool, riding the horses, playing kick ball and frisbee with new friends, the Tarzan Swing and ZIP LINING! What could be better?  I will tell you absolutely nothing was better than watching autism on the ziplines…and the ADVANCED ziplines.  Take that autism!

Well, the only thing that could have been any better was to stay forever.  To move into our tree house permanently, drop out of school and take up permanent residence in the trees!

I remember being the first person awake in all of the treesort and how quiet it was there.  Through our window, I would wake to see the horses in the pasture next to our treehouse, the pool calm and reflective of the beautiful blue sky and even the rain clouds that hung around for a few days looked delightful in her water.  It was a place of peace and tranquility during those mornings before all of the children staying in the treesort woke up.

There must have been twenty kids, aged four to seventeen, and the children ALL played together and ran in packs.  It was tremendous to watch the dynamics of the children unfolding.  All of these children from different towns and different states, of different interests and background, melded together as though they had known each other for years.  It took them only days to bond in ways that other friends need decades.  These new found friends were in tears upon good byes and even us parents remarked how odd it was that we were already so close and so terribly sad to see one another go.

The treesort is a remarkable and magical place and, for the life of me, I can hardly explain why.  But it is and all of our memories and our new friends are stored safely and are still warm in our hearts.  I won’t even begin to explain Taco Tuesday.  Sadie and her grandkids may be the only people ever who will break out in side splitting, spit your drink kind of laughter at the mention of Taco Tuesday in Takilma.

Sadly, we didn’t get to stay forever and, in hindsight, that’s okay too.  There was something special about the exact families we met during our week that could never have been duplicated with the new families arriving.  No one could have been a better friend to my youngest son than the older boy he met.  Priceless and unexplainable how a fourteen year old and an eight year old can become best friends in two days and how two teen girls who are all “teen” can cast aside any insecurities and bond as tight in those two days as it had taken my daughter years to bond with girls back home.

After our mind boggling five days, another family was anxiously waiting to check in as soon as we checked out.  Their lovely family would have no part of us staking a claim to their reservation. So, we regretfully checked out of our beloved treehouse but, I will tell you, our memories are so warm and fond that my kids would willingly hop in the car right now and joyfully travel multiple days in our car to go back.   The best part of the last day at the treehouse was breakfast with the cook, Steve.  Steve made us peach scones that were out of this world.  Steve, being the amazing person, even shared the recipe with me when I asked.

I think the next time I visit the treehouse, it will be with women from The Village.  That would be some good times and laughing stories to tell.  Imagine if we could fill all the treehouses with our girls and have a Wonder Soul weekend.  That would be some kind of fun though I am not sure the staff at Out n About would survive.  Here’s to planning some adventure in the future.  Add it to the Fetchin’ Gretchen Must Do List!!

And, instead of waxing on about how wonderful it was or how beautiful the place is…here are pics….!…you know you’re in the right place when the entire navigation screen is GREEN 🙂

Beware when your entire navigation screen turns GREEN! First time E-V-E-R!

This is where my spectrum boy slept…up in the loft :).

This is the view from our front porch…and the swimming pool 🙂

This is Jasper…he was a funny fellow.

My kiddos having a swim party in a river fed pool, hand lined with rocks and colorful marbles.  My kiddos met this bunch of kiddos about ten minutes before they all fell in together as old friends.  Kids from Cali, Indiana, Oregon and England.  Very cool. And, yes , the water was COLD.

The pasture in the morning…this is the side view from our deck!

Spectrum does ziplines!  My boy not only liked this, he went on to the ADVANCED ZIPLINES with his sister.  Outstanding stuff!

My youngest…zipping away!This was some crazy stuff.  The picture above, with my youngest up in the tree is the TARZAN SWING.  OMGoodness.  They pull you back, up into the tree, about a hundred feet up and then…they release you.  Actually you are holding onto grips…and YOU have to let go.  W-I-L-D.  Mom only did it once…once was clearly enough.  My youngest…the wild man…did it FOUR times and would have stayed all day long.  He worries me JUST A BIT.

Seriously, BEST vacation EVER.  Can’t wait to go back one day 🙂