12/31/2011

Oh, How They Grow

 I look at them, together, and am amazed. Bobby is 22 but looks 16 at the most. He's a few inches taller than me and a few inches shorter than his dad. Lil, at 10, is growing taller and curvier by the day. Already her feet and hands are longer than mine (of course mine are short and wide, so not hard to do), and she's only three inches shorter than me. Rosie is still so little next to them, but at 8 is beginning to grow out of sitting in my lap.
They are happy kids, still entwined in each other, loving to get together with their Nintendo DS and battle their pokemons with each other. The girls run to Bobby and ask for his help, constantly distracting him, but the sounds of their loud, animated conversations and infectious laughter is sweet to hear, even when it's frustrating because it's a school morning and we're trying to get them all out the door on time.

I don't know how they're going to change over the years, how far they'll go, what they'll do, but I'm enjoying the journey, even though it's filled with worry and anxiety. I want the best for them. I want them to be happy and of service. I have to stop to remind myself that they are. They're already there. Whatever else they do, wherever else they go, they are sweet people who care about others and want to be of help. 

Bobby's expanded Meals on Wheels to five days a week, and he's thrilled. We're building him up to being there volunteering 40 hours a week. We've switched the SPCA to Saturday, but have to work out the timing so he gets there when he can be let in. Last Saturday worked out, but this morning he knocked for over five minutes without getting in. No big deal; he and Rick are off running errands instead. I know he wanted to be with the cats, but he adjusts pretty well now to glitches.

He loves to paint and draw, so he got a new art set for Christmas. It's hard to tell, but I think he liked it best, although he was really thrilled with a huge skull wreath that lights up, too. He's a funny young man, and I love watching his interests change and expand. Get him paints or anything with a skull, and he's happy. Or Pokemon or Yu-gi-oh. He's generous, too, and spends his money on things for others. I'm proud to say I'm his mother.

If I had to describe my Lil in one word it would be exuberant. She does nothing halfway. From meltdowns to elation, she is fully into the moment. She cracks me up. She's smart and stubborn and yet has some gaps in what she understands so that you can't help but giggle, like the time she melted down because she had a math problem that wanted her to draw a rectangle 10 miles by 20 miles on a sheet of paper and she couldn't do it because it wouldn't fit. It's going to be such an interesting journey with her. She's spent the entire school year wearing Spongebob tees to school everyday, but hasn't worn Spongebob on break at all. She's saving them, she says. I'm just glad to see other clothes being worn.

Dreamy. That's Rosie. And a little secretive. She's got this little smile that lets you know she's holding back, keeping things to herself and she knows it. If she doesn't want to answer a question, you get that smile and no words. She still puts her shoes on the wrong feet and does it on purpose just to mess with people, namely me and her grandma. She carries a half dozen toys with her throughout the house, whatever is her favorite batch at the time. She's the baby of the house and knows it, revels in it.

They grow, even when it seems that progress is slow, like with the boy; they grow. The journey is not easy, but it's not meant to be. Learning that lesson, that sometimes things are hard, that's the lesson we have to learn: even when it's hard, even when it hurts, we have to keep going. We have to keep moving forward, and when we find ourselves treasuring all those moments, even those that hurt, we know we are on the right path: we are embracing our entire journey, and we, too, grow.

12/30/2011

Abuse, Restraint, and the Uphill Battle



Many in the autism community have already heard of the horrifying story of the young autistic boy being confined in a bag (the mother calls it a gym bag in this video). Lydia Brown, of Autistic Hoya, immediately acted, setting up a petition on Change.org that has nearly 150,000 signatures, a facebook page, and speaking to the media about this case. We send our children to school in the hopes that they will be well-cared for, respected, and not abused, but too many of our children are abused, are bullied, are mistreated.

And  yet, in covering previous restraint issues like a Florida school using a full-body restraint system on children, what's amazing are the people, including parents, who support the use of such things. You would think outrage over this would be universal (at the very least from the parental perspective), but the reality is that such abuse occurs because there are parents and professionals (and people in general) who wholeheartedly approve the use of restraints. The Judge Rotenberg Center continues to exist because parents went to bat before the state legislature praising the use of shocks on their children. Parents even use the shock systems when they take their children home for visits.

How could anyone do this? Part of it is the dehumanization of individuals with disabilities--the tendency to place anyone different in our outgroup. It is the removal of empathy. No one feeling empathy towards an individual could place a nine-year-old boy in a bag and tie it up and sit calmly by the bag. No one feeling empathy could place a child in a full-body restraint face-down and think that act is acceptable. Yet, it happens all too often.

Restraints, chemical and otherwise, are unlikely to go away any time soon. They are prevalent in institutions and prisons and are (supposed to be) used against individuals who are violent and out of control (when no other method will work). Regulations and oversight exist to try to avoid abuse of restraints, but that oversight is inadequate, and the people who are employed to care for these populations are often poorly trained, poorly paid, overworked and understaffed. The environments are ripe for abuse to occur. Add in dehumanization, lack of empathy, and the frustrations that come from being poorly trained, paid, and overworked, and it's inevitable.

The use of restraints are easier and faster than teaching an individual an appropriate way to respond to a person who is behaving disruptively or dangerously. In a culture in which spanking and smacking kids is still seen as an appropriate response, why is anyone surprised that restraint and abuse occur? After all, when nearly 1800 children in 2009 are believed to have been killed due to maltreatment and neglect in the US, and CPS reports in 2009 show nearly 700,000 unique children with substantiated abuse or neglect, why are we surprised when a teacher or a caregiver engages in abusive behavior? What should be really scary is that this is the tip of the iceberg--think how many cases of abuse and neglect are never reported.

In order to eliminate the abuse and mistreatment of our most vulnerable populations, we as a society must first change how we view violence in general and the use of physical force as a disciplinary tool. It is an uphill battle, especially given how the internet has allowed us to be anonymous and spew hatred without consequence. However, we are not without hope. Nearly 150,000 people cared enough to sign the petition at Change.org. Now, we need to act. As Lydia points out, ordinary people can make a difference. Stand up and speak out. Contact your legislatures and demand that legislation be passed calling for the equal rights of the disabled and disadvantaged to a safe environment where physical restraints are not allowed and that educators or caregivers who abuse and detain or restrain individuals are legally liable for their actions. If the act would be considered assault against a non-disabled individual, then it is for a disabled, as well, and all the more heinous an act because of the vulnerability of the individual.

It may be an uphill battle, but it is not a losing battle.




12/27/2011

Busy is Better

One of the perks of teaching college is the breaks. Between the fall and spring, I get a month off. Sure, I always teach a minimester online so I still have students to help, and the girls are home with me for two weeks. Still, that leaves lots of free time. Lots and lots of free time. I don't know what to do with free time. I don't like free time.

So what to do, what to do? We've been cleaning, sorting, getting rid of some accumulated extra stuff. I've been reading Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, but I've only got three books left. Well, there's always all those cat calendars I've been holding onto. 




Yeah, I can do something with over 100 cat pictures. Sure...




Bathroom door. Check.




Bedroom door. Check.

Hmmmm. Wonder what tomorrow will bring?

12/22/2011

When Little Girls Sing

The other day, the kids and I were on the way home from picking Bobby up at Meals On Wheels, and we were listening to music on the ipod that Rick has set up in my car with his and the girls' favorite songs. Now, I don't know where they find all of this music; I don't listen to the radio, don't keep up with contemporary music. Occasionally, I'll really listen to one of their favorite songs and take it apart, like the song Boston.

Most of the music they like is almost melancholy, and I believe it's the music, the melody, rather than the lyrics, that appeals to them, but every now and then I am floored when I really listen and try to pick out the actual words.  Most of the time, I'm only playing it to drown out the ringing in my ears. The girls were singing along to this song called "Come on, Get Higher." Oh dear God in heaven, is there anything less appropriate for an eight year old and a ten year old to sing than this? And they were doing a beautiful job, too.



I miss the sound of your voice

And I miss the rush of your skin
And I miss the still of the silence
As you breathe out and I breathe in



If I could walk on water, If I could tell you what’s next
Make you believe, make you forget



So come on, get higher, loosen my lips
Faith and desire in the swing of your hips
Just throw me down hard
And drown me in love



So come on, get higher, loosen my lips
Faith and desire in the swing of your hips
Just throw me down hard
And drown me in love



I miss the sound of your voice
The loudest thing in my head
And I ache to remember
All the violent, sweet,
perfect words that you said



If I could walk on water, if i could tell you what’s next,
make you believe, make you forget



So come on, get higher, loosen my lips
Faith and desire in the swing of your hips
Just to throw me down hard
And drown me in love



So come on, get higher, loosen my lips
Faith and desire in the swing of your hips 
Just to throw me down hard
And drown me in love



I miss the pull of your heart
I can taste the sparks on your tongue
I see angels and devils
And God
when you come on 
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on - HOLD
Singing shalala la
Singing shalala lala
Ooooooo
Ooooooo
Oooooooooooooooo



Come on, get higher, loosen my lips
Faith and desire in the swing of your hips
Just to throw me down hard
And drown me in love



So come on, get higher, loosen my lips
Faith and desire in the swing of your hips
Just to throw me down hard
And drown me, drown me in love



(come on get higher, loosen my lips)It's all wrong
(faith and desire at the swing of your hips)It's all wrong
(just to throw me down hard and drown me in love)It's all right



So, come on, get higher
Come on, get higher
'Cause everything works love
Everything works in your arms



Is it a gorgeous song? Absolutely. I love it, even more after really hearing the words. Is it appropriate for Lil and Rosie? No way. I'd have never willingly picked this as a song for my daughters to listen to. And if Rick had really heard the words? No way.

"The swing of your hips" from these babes?


 If there's any doubt about the intent of the song, listen to the songwriter explain (not appropriate for children):




"I always wanted to write a song that people could have sex to."

He did, absolutely. Not okay for kids, though.  Rick will redo the ipod and make a kid friendly version without this song because I seriously don't ever again want to hear my sweet girls singing these words, no matter how prettily they sing it:

Come on, get higher, loosen my lips
Faith and desire in the swing of your hips
Just to throw me down hard
And drown me in love.



12/21/2011

If I Were to Write A Christmas Letter

Well, I'd have to send Christmas cards, and I've only sent two...can't bring myself to do anymore...but, here is what I'd write if I wrote Christmas letters.

It was a long year here, and yet it raced by. Big changes here, some good, some difficult, some sad. I suspect most of you feel the same about your year.

It's hard to look back and remember all the high notes and low spots of the year, but I'll note that we lost friends, we lost pets, and we dealt with health issues (and crises), but we're still here, still grateful for what we have. We also made new friends, added new pets into the family, and were blessed to see my youngest brother get married in October to a lovely woman and add to our family more grandchildren for my parents. I'd say that for every low, there was a high, and that we gained.



The boy turned 22 last week. I like that number, its symmetry. He's now older than I was when he was born. Wow. He's been volunteering with Meals on Wheels in the kitchen for six months now and is a valued member of the kitchen team; they took the time and effort to ask him to change one of his days to the day they  did their Christmas party so he wouldn't miss it. 

He's attached closely to Little Dude, the cat he picked out after we lost Ibit. And just as importantly, Bobby is Dude's person. It's beautiful to watch them together. 

Bobby's happy, he's healthy, and he's doing well. He makes an awesome spinach alfredo lasagna, too. He's working his way through the science fiction and fantasy books that I read and loved when I was a teen and in my twenties. It's a lovely connection and gives us things to talk about.



Lil's in fourth grade. So hard to believe. She's affectionate, lively, and totally absorbed in Spongebob. She's worn Spongebob to school EVERY single day this year. Impressive, to say the least. She remains hyper literal, which leads to funny exchanges where she has a conniption because one of her math questions wanted her to draw a rectangle 20 miles by 10 miles on her paper. It took awhile to explain scale, but once she got it, she was her cheerful self again. She's doing well; it's taking some extra effort at home to help her navigate the trickier aspects of fourth grade work like making emotional inferences from the text, but we're confident that we can help her get it figured out.


Rosie's in second grade and reads when you need her to be doing something else and won't read when she needs to. Go figure. She's an obstinate one. She's finally making her e's correctly, but decided to compensate by being extremely sloppy on the rest of her letters. Did I say she was obstinate? Last week she had to move her behavior clip down because she shoved unfinished work into her desk because as far as she was concerned, she was done. I can see her point; they're doing 100 addition problems per page and timing it. 

As for the older generations here, well, we creak a little more, but our sense of humor is keeping right up with the creakage.

Some of us have a lot of gray. 
Well, we would if we didn't keep it so short.


Some of us are hiding it under unnatural colors.
Of course, this shade's more discreet than October's color:

That's what my Christmas letter would say, if I were to write one. It would end, though, with these thoughts:

We learn each day to hold the people we care for a little tighter, to cut them a little more slack, to show our love and appreciation more. Our losses have taught us that. So have our gains. We've been blessed to have added to our lives some incredible people who have enriched our lives and made us feel lucky beyond belief.

It's been an interesting year, and we've worked to make sure our laughter has outweighed our tears. Sometimes, it's been a real close call and we've had to dig deeper to do that, but we have. 

I hope that your Christmas holiday (or whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year) is blessed with laughter and hugs, with family and friends, and good food.



12/19/2011

Friends in High Places: The Gift of Grace



Little Dude, who is no longer quite so little, has made a habit of getting to the highest places he can. We've had to Dude-proof these spots, removing Rick's model cars from across the beam Dude loves to run across and my tea cups and other breakables. We've never had a cat quite so active as Dude. He runs from one end of the house to the other across the beams and tops of bookcases, having a blast, and likes to plop down up there to watch us all.

Such energy and grace; I'd love to have both. I managed to fall up our front porch stairs Saturday. How's that for grace? As for energy, I had to wait until Rick helped me to get up. I didn't break anything, but I'm sore and it's just not been a good couple months for my feet and ankles. Ah well.

Grace. We all could use more grace in our lives, and not just the physical kind.

Grace. When we give it, we get it back in abundance.

This week, as we go into the Christmas holidays, I send out to the cosmos and the creator, the hope for grace for the families who are coping with loss, for whom the absence of their loved ones rings loudly in their lives. I hope for grace for those who are consumed with anger and bitterness. I hope for grace for each of us, as we can always use a little more grace.

12/18/2011

Of Cats and Community

Cats are solitary creatures, content to sleep alone in a sunny spot or tucked into a dark corner of the closet. Not all cats are like that, of course, but there's no way to tell whether a cat will be a friendly sort who wants to sleep on one's head or an aloof one who pretends people don't exist except at dinner time. And there are those who alternate between friendliness and sudden batshit-crazy moments where they lash out and strike their person upside the head with claws drawn for no good reason other than the head was there. 

Sometimes, people are a lot like that last category: friendly before going on a frenzy. The autism community is often like that: friendly and supportive only if we're on the same side. Heaven forbid someone be independent and want to make up his own mind about things rather than adhere to one side or another. As the bright boy says, drama--too much drama, as he sighs and wanders off to play with yu-gi-oh where there are clear lines--attack points, strengths, weaknesses all there on the card--clear boundaries and no extraneous drama.

Sometimes the real world drama and the online drama combine to be too much...and it's all been too much of late. Something's got to give. Guess what that is--all that extra drama that can disappear simply by closing a browser.


Feline Fine.

This week, my buddy Frankie got sick with a urinary tract infection. I rushed him to the vet in a panic, my heart in my throat. Frankie spent the night and the entire next day at the vet while I fretted and pestered the clinic about his condition. They cathed him and gave him antibiotics, and he is good as new now. I have to give him antibiotics twice a day for a couple weeks and he's now on the prescription urinary tract food instead of the store bought food. He's back to sleeping on my chest and all feels right in my world. Amazing how one animal can do that. I'm so glad to have him back that I'm holding him a little tighter and calling for him when he disappears for a secluded cat nap.


Escaping into books.


There's a part of me that's just shut down right now, that says enough's enough--the online dramas in the autism world just aren't worth wading into, at least not directly, so I'm trying to read for fun...trying to stay away from autism books, autism blogs, taking a break from all of that, except for those blogs where I know I will be uplifted and be able to share support. 

It feels like too many people out there are interacting for the lone purpose of tearing others down or, just as bad, to top-dog or manipulate others. I don't get how people can demand acceptance and the freedom to say whatever they want without consequence and behave however they want and then beat up on others for expressing their own feelings. Does that make a bit of sense? And the unwillingness on the part of some to ever give another person the benefit of the doubt or the chance to grow, learn, and change--it's bullshit, and since I don't tolerate that well, the only way to responsibly deal with it is to distance myself and not engage. 

Here's the thing -- I know I've written things that tore people down, caused them grief, and almost without exception, I regret that. How was that helpful or compassionate? It wasn't. I think ideas and misinformation can and should be tackled, but that there should be ways to do that without tearing PEOPLE down. 

Sure, there are people I think are off the deep end, but it's probably not helpful to me or to those individuals to point that out directly. And some battles aren't worth directly engaging in. Instead of pointing out the specific individual and targeting him or her for a massive attack by the community, there ought to be a way to provide accurate information without the personal attack, to show compassion rather than a desire to tar and feather others.

Perhaps we could consider whether we're engaging in behavior to avoid our own personal drama and whether others out there are doing the same. I can't help but think of a certain Huffpost blogger who I've held up to ridicule over his outlandish ideas about the universe and how death doesn't exist because there are multiverses. He lost his sister, and in trying to make sense of that loss, he went astray. As fun as it is to poke holes, once you consider his very real pain, how can you not turn away and let it be? One thing is certain, we will all lose loved ones, and there's no way to know if we will cope adaptively or not.

It takes so little to just pause and reflect before acting. It's a wonder we don't do it more often. Of course, there's the difference between the immediate satisfaction of going off on someone versus the reality that considering another person's plight might invoke feelings of sadness and heart-hurt. We like cheap thrills--they're so much easier to live with than those heavier, deeper feelings of compassion that linger and cause us pain.

It's that willingness to feel compassion, to carry another's pain, to pause and reflect, though, that lead to true community--where everyone involved knows unconditional support and that those awful feelings, the despair we sometimes carry, can be expressed without the worry that we will be unmercifully attacked.

12/14/2011

Sick Kitty



It never ceases to amaze me at how fiercely and completely we can love our pets. Nor the depth of fear that chokes us when one of them is sick and we are faced with potential decisions of life and death. 26 years ago I lost my cat Lincoln to a bad urinary tract infection. Lincoln looked almost identical to Frankie, and I loved him terribly. I was devastated when I lost Lincoln my senior year in high school, enough to check out from school, writing death in the family as the reason. Eight years ago, we lost Shadow for similar reasons.

We caught it early with Frankie. He's at the vet, getting cathed and they'll figure out how bad it is, what they can do. And I will try not to hyperventilate over the next 24 hours.

I love all my cats, but there's a special place in my heart for Frankie. He sleeps on my chest; he reminds me of both Lincoln and Shadow, and after all the losses this year of three other beloved animals, I'm not ready, so he better be okay. It better be fixable.

Damnit.

Oh, and on a side note, taking a cat to the vet is actually more panic inducing in me than getting on a plane. Good to know.

12/13/2011

You Looking at me?

me..
Got my attitude for sure.
Mom's got five goldfish; they're named after us. 
And three algae eaters..who don't have names. Hmmm.

12/12/2011

Squeeze and Release





The pressure that's squeezed me for months has loosened. It had gotten progressively stronger, more forceful, wringing me exhausted even before the morning started. It's loosened, but it's not gone, and I know that it won't ever fully leave. I will get periodic reprieves, opportunities to rest, and I must make the most of those moments so that I am girded and ready when the pressure tightens again.

I am not unique, not even extraordinary. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a teacher, a  friend, and so I am pressured. Each and every day, as I expand my heart and let more people into it, I am pressured. I am squeezed with worries and concerns and fears.

I am also, though, stretched, expanded, and just as often filled with a deep, kniving joy; who knew that joy could hurt? Who knew that caring about others could make one's heart expand past breaking, so that each moment of bliss was also filled with loss?

I am less pressured this morning, but it is only a reprieve, and it's only because I have put a semester to bed, tidied it up, input grades and called four months of a journey with over 150 lovely, unique and valued students over, done, destination arrived. There is joy in seeing how many made it to the end, learned, grew, got it. There is joy in seeing how many I got to know well, got to care deeply about, got to see master new skills. There is joy in looking ahead at the next semester's rosters and seeing so many of them choosing to continue that journey with me.

There is sadness, though, at seeing the names of those who did not complete the journey with me, who traveled only part of the way and left. There is sadness in seeing the names of those whom I was not able to help. There is disappointment when I see the names of those with whom I did not connect.

The pressure, though, is relieved. The semester is over. The grades are uploaded; the gradebooks will be dropped off today. This section of the journey is over, and I can breathe easier. Now, I get to look forward to the next part of the journey, to tweak and adjust and plan how I will plot the course (literally), how I will impart the wisdom that will let the goals and outcomes be met. I like this part, this anticipation of new journeys, that new faces will be mixed in with the precious, dear faces of students who have expanded and contracted my heart. I fall asleep each night with thoughts of what I will teach, what I will share, how I will get there, to May, and wonder how many will be able to stay on the road with me.

I know that I will feel the pressure again, the tight squeeze, and that just like each moment, each breath, each beat of my heart, that the pressure will ease before it squeezes again. The steady rhythm, the predictability, comfort me. I am never on this journey alone, and each year, more join me, and my heart expands past breaking point.

12/09/2011

A Failure to See

We set up divides, barriers, eager to seek the boundaries that create commonalities so that we know where we stand at all times with one another. We each have our own deal breakers, things which cross our boundaries and for which we simply cannot allow our companions to partake in, believe in.


Our boundaries constantly shift, though, depending on what particular thing holds the utmost importance to us at a given time. We often fail to see people in their totality, to value them for who they are, regardless of who they are to us.


In the online autism community, we face these divides constantly, and we push those boundaries, watching them snap back at us, till we find ourselves suddenly on the other side, looking in instead of looking out. It's an odd thing, especially given the unique qualities that we, as parents and individuals on the spectrum, bring to the table. Even the most neurotypical of parents and siblings tend to display certain characteristics; some of us more so than others.


We're quirky, eccentric, interesting individuals, all of us, with our own baggage, and we often find ourselves in the middle of miscommunications that leave us befuddled and upset. Too much drama, too many spoons used trying to sort it all out, too much period.


I don't think there's a fix to the many divides, the shifting boundaries, the rotating allegiances, other than to stop and focus on the big picture, which can be hard to do when we're hyperfocused on the details.


We're so ready to cast stones, to see the other as the enemy that we often fail to notice the things we share. Sometimes it's important to stop, to see, to acknowledge.


Julie Obradovic writes


"Your children are in there. They see you. They feel you. And they need you, especially you, to see and feel them. Be responsible for the energy you bring to them. Make sure they know you feel more for them than just the pain and anxiety you feel deep in your heart. Make new memories. Good ones. Ones that have absolutely nothing to do with Autism. Treat them like a child as much as possible, not just a medical case. It's easy for them to get lost yet again in all of this. Don't let that happen.Whether your child ever recovers from Autism or not...and I pray with all my might for you that they do...they will only be this little once. They are children. Stop. Sit with them. Play with them. Enjoy them as they are, as hard as that may be for some of you. You must choose to make new memories.
There's so much more to our children than the Autism. And that's at least one thing I agree we need to celebrate."

Enjoy them as they are. Those are words of wisdom, and failing to see that, to honor people, to acknowledge them, well, that's just another way of cutting ourselves off from our fellow man.


Joseph Campbell wisely notes,


"People are afraid to move into the free fall of a totally new way of looking at others. So the new mythology to come must be a global mythology, and it's got to solve the problem of the in-group by showing that there's no out-group. We're all members of a society of the planet, not of one particular place, and the fact that the three main religions of the Western world-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-can't live together in Beruit is a refutation of all three in terms of their value for the contemporary world. They're monstrous! We must begin to realize that each is saying in his own language what the other is trying to say in his. There must be brotherhood and cooperation. Because unless that comes, we're going to blow ourselves to smithereens.
Every single one of the old horizon-bound mythologies reserved love for the in-group, and aggression and denigration were reserved for the out-group. Now, something's got to break that. And when we see that picture of our planet taken from the moon, the question arises: What are we going to do with our aggression? How is it going to be absorbed into love and transmuted from gross matter to gold? I think teaching "I-thou" relationships, rather than the "I-it" relationships, which [theologian Martin] Buber spoke about, is the first step. The teaching of humanity rather than the teaching of in-group appreciations is what's important.”

Take the time. Make the effort. See the other, and in his or her eyes, see yourself reflected back, see our common humanity and reach out. Connect. Share.

12/08/2011

Mom's Flowers

Nothing is blooming here in my yard, but Mom always makes sure to have pansies at her house.






12/07/2011

Blame Game

More than a year ago, after yet another horrifying story about a parent killing her autistic child, I wrote a post on how scientific research shows that filicide is almost always accompanied by mental illness.


Parents kill, not a lot of them, but when they do, it makes national headlines. Friedman and Resnick note that "the US has the highest rates of child homicide (8.0/100,000 for infants, 2.5/100,000 for preschool-age children, and 1.5/100,000 for school-age children), [but] the problem of child homicide transcends national boundaries (6). These rates of child murder are probably underestimates, due to inaccurate coroner rulings and some bodies never being discovered (4,7,8)." They continue, asserting that most maternal filicides involve some type of mental health issue. 


In Colorado, the woman who confessed to smothering her six month old because she believed him to be autistic was found to be mentally ill and the prosecuting attorney chose not to pursue a trial. Instead, she will be evaluated and likely committed to a psychiatric institution. Both the prosecution and the defense will argue to the judge that this should be the course of action. Although she will not face prison time, it is unlikely this woman will be on the streets.


It's tempting when these horrifying stories about parents killing their children come out to play the blame game. Indeed, it's something we often can't resist. It's Age of Autism's fault because they present autism as so awful. It's Autism Speaks' fault because of that stupid sentence saying autism is more prevalent than  three dreaded diseases. It's everybody who has ever complained about autism. It's everybody's fault but the woman who chose to kill her child. If only there wasn't negative things written about parenting a child with autism that woman wouldn't have done that. She was mentally ill. She chose, whether she was in her right mind or not, to take her child's life. That is not the fault of anyone on the internet, although it is comforting to think so.


What we should do as a society is to work harder to recognize and treat postpartum depression, to provide adequate assistance and education to new parents, to provide respite for parents dealing with disabled children, to make sure that families don't fall through the cracks.


As parents, we love our children, we take pride in their accomplishments, and we celebrate them in all their wonder. We also worry for them, fear for their future, and work to make the world a safer place for them. That means making the world a safer place for ALL children, making sure that no parents are without safety nets, that seeking treatment for mental health issues is not seen as personal failure but heroic and brave.



Childhood Obesity and Parental Responsibility: Not as Easy as Some Would Have It

Huffington Post has a piece up on whether parents of obese children are in denial. Of course, the comments are typical for Huff; there are the usual close-minded asses who assume that all obesity is a result of fat parents "sharing the misery" (as one commentator wrote).

Like most things in life, childhood obesity exists for multiple reasons, and judging these parents to be unloving or abusive misses the complex factors that combine to create obesity in individuals.

I'm the first person to admit I'm obese. I'm not thrilled with that, but I'm absolutely not in denial about it. Unlike some people who judge overweight people to be people with poor self-control and lazy, I know that obesity has nothing to do with a person's value. I don't feel sorry for the person because if he or she just tried harder, the weight would disappear. There's no pity; there's no shame. I'm not going to feel embarrassed about my weight or that I should have to apologize for it. People can deal with it or not; it's not my problem how others feel about the fact that I carry more weight than is healthy.

But what about my responsibility as a parent to my children? Bobby's struggled with his weight since he was nine and placed on risperadol for six months. He went from fifty pounds to over one hundred pounds in that time, and it took us years to get that extra weight off of him. When he reached adulthood and had more control over what he ate and when, it no longer became something I could control--he's gained weight, but he seesaws back and forth within a fifteen pound range. I'm not about to make him feel guilty. We work to have healthy food in the house without depriving ourselves of treats.

I'm trying to teach my children that moderation and movement are key while also promoting the belief that a person's value lies not with his or her looks or weight but instead with who a person is, the character of the person and how he or she treats others.

It would be nice to reduce the obesity problem in children down to parental abuse, but that is not the case. Obesity arises from complex factors, and just because parents are obese doesn't mean they are lazy. Poverty and the reality that the cheapest foods are often the least healthy foods play a role in obesity. The convenience and relative cheapness of fast food also plays a role. Snack foods, candy bars, sodas: the availability of calorie-laden foods is a problem, as is our fast-paced society which places no value on recess or PE for kids in school, that enforces a couch-potato mentality after school, and that makes it difficult for disadvantaged children to partake in private sports teams.

The next time you see an overweight child, rather than be disgusted with the parent, consider the complex factors that may be at play. Don't pity them, don't feel sorry for them, don't judge them. Instead, consider that you might not have all the facts, don't know their situation, and move on, realizing that our society has created this problem and it won't be fixed with dirty looks, nasty comments and removing children from their parents' care.

12/06/2011

When Dreams Haunt: Loss

It's a wonder I haven't had these sorts of dreams sooner, when one thinks about it. I started volunteering with hospice in July, and I've had three patients that I volunteered with die in that time. I also call about a dozen different grieving families every week to check on them. I've been to more visitations and funerals in the last six months than I have in the last decade. I will, as a volunteer for hospice, deal with death regularly. And yet I know that I will still be insulated; the full-time staff of nurses, aides, chaplains, and social workers deal with it constantly. It is their livelihood to help people have a dignified and comfortable last few months (or even days).

Despite this increasing familiarity with loss, my dreams have been free of this. Despite the reality that my mother deals with Addison's and is at risk, despite Rick and Bobby's blood clotting disorder, somehow dreams of loss have not darkened many of my nights.

Last night, though, I was not so lucky, and the remnants of the keening sense of loss still wash over me. Objectively I know that it was just a dream, but emotionally, I still feel it, still relive in my mind the gut-wrenching pain of loss that had me on my knees in the dream, screaming out, reeling from the loss. In the dream, I wondered how people could lose someone and not be reduced to that all-out wailing, that incoherent, blubbering mess.

I know that hospice care, terminal illness, often affords families the chance to prepare for loss, to find the end of a horrible illness a blessing and a relief (although not all do). I also know that people often put on a stiff-upper lip, compartmentalize, and additionally may medicate themselves so as to avoid the messy embarrassment of losing emotional control. I know that I do not witness those most private moments of grief.

In my dream, I felt the totality of the loss, the reality of the absence of my loved one. I knew it viscerally and I was undone. I woke up from the dream with an ache in chest, a knot in my gut, and the fear of loss without the chance for goodbyes, for a last hug, kiss, eye contact.

There's nothing we can do about the reality that life is short, that bad things happen without warning, that we can lose everyone we love, lose it all in a moment.

When that happens, when the loss occurs, as it inevitably will, I don't know if I will be so undone as I was in my dream last night, if I will hide that overwhelming loss and pain from others, if I will wear a mask and continue about my daily life with no pause. I don't. None of us do. None of us knows how we will react, how it will impact us, whether our belief systems will offer us comfort and peace or the stark reminder of the permanence of loss.

None of us knows, but it pays, I believe, to make sure that our foundations are sturdy, that we do the soul work ahead of time, that we take the time to show our love to those we care about, that we make our time with our loved ones well-used time. It pays to not leave things unsaid or undone.

Being there for families who are both in the midst of going through loss and for families who have suffered loss is a blessing. Being allowed to share some of that journey, to offer care, concern, acceptance brings a measure of grace not just to those families hopefully, but to me as well. We are all on the same journey; we're just taking different routes to get there. Remembering that truth is important. Learning it, truly getting that, makes it impossible not to feel compassion for others, no matter what road they take.

My dream resonates with me; its message is not lost on me. Today, my loved ones are still with me, still here, and for as long as they are, I will try to not waste a moment. I will lose. We all will. But if we build a network of support and open our lives to others, we do not need to face the loss alone.

12/05/2011

Happy Kids


Taking stock, reflecting on all the things that are going well, that's important, especially when there are things that are going bumpy. Life is rarely a smooth ride, and I suspect that if everything were perfect, we'd be almost paranoid, waiting for the sky to fall.

We've got issues, no doubt about it, but a great deal of the time, we're pretty darn happy here, and as long as the smiles and laughter outweigh the tears, we're gonna call it a win here.



How can you look at these kids and not light up?

12/04/2011

When the Weekend Drags...

It's by no means been a bad weekend, but it nonetheless feels like we're stuck in a time dilation field, with no exit in sight. That seems grossly unfair to the kids and Rick, but gods, I can't wait for tomorrow. It might have something to do with Rosie being home with a bum ankle since the 23rd. It might have something to do with the month-long sinus infection I've been putting up with.

It could also be that there are only three more finals to give in order to put this semester to rest, and I'm ready for the grading to be done, but I swear by all that is red-inked and error-laden that I am so ready to be done grading that I wish finals weren't obligatory. I'd skip them with delight.

All I really want to do is curl up in bed with a Stephanie Plum adventure and veg, in sweet silence with a cat at my side and another on my chest. Alternately, running down the road helter skelter also appeals. I am skin jumpy again, and that seems to set off the time dilation field, so that hours pass by so slowly it seems as if one is riding on a slow-moving molasses wave.

The kids don't seem to notice or care, though. Rosie's walking normally again despite the lingering bruise and slight swelling. She and Lily are wrapped up tightly in each other's company, playing intricate games they create together. Bobby disappears into the field, so that I wonder if he constantly lives there, in a time dilation field of his own. He seems happy, though, so who am I to complain? If he's ever suffered from skin-jumpiness, I've never seen it, nor has he ever indicated that he ever feels stretched past capacity and in need of movement to shake the little prickly tingling sensations that crawl on the back of one's neck. There are times, especially days like this, that I wonder if any of my children or Rick have ever felt like they could jump out of their skins or needed to.

I am certain, though, that Little Dude, our kitten, gets it, understands that feeling, as he jumps onto the top of the fridge, and onto the ledge  that runs the width of the house and divides the living room from the kitchen and runs across the tops of bookcases as if the devil were chasing him. I can't help but watch him enviously. I'd like to do that...of course, then I'd no doubt be back in the walking boot and really dealing with a serious case of skin-jumpy.


12/03/2011

Give a Cat a New Rug...

 And she'll immediately pounce on it.
 She'll give a whirl.
 She'll pause for a good scratch...
 And then the next cat will come by...
 And look underneath...
 Stop to examine the pattern.
And lie down for a good naw on the edges.
All while the other cat looks on disapprovingly.

12/02/2011

Stubborn Can Be Stupid

In  this case, it's definitely my own stubborn, mule-headedness. I've been sick now for four weeks. It's obviously a sinus infection based on the pain in my cheeks and forehead, the copious amounts  of mucus, lack of a sore throat or cough, and this week has been particularly bad, with a sinus infection induced headache/migraine (also have all the other things like nausea) that will not go away despite maximum meds. I've got to go to the doctor, but I've been busy or had Rosie to tend to.

Well, Rosie's limping independently now and will spend this morning with her grandma while I give a final exam. There's no excuse for me not to drive directly to the walk-in clinic as soon as the final is over, except my own stubborn-headedness.

I plan to go; I just don't want to. Sigh.