2/28/2013

Lessons in Life: Teaching Vonnegut

For the last seven weeks, Vonnegut's been on my mind. With six comp 2 classes focused on reading Slaughterhouse-Five, I've been deeply steeped in all things Vonnegut, in part to provide a thorough examination of Vonnegut the man and Vonnegut the author and how these intersect.

I hope the enrichment material I've provided, the discussions we've had as we've looked at how Vonnegut talks about his Dresden experience over the course of 45 years, from his letter home in 1945, to the novel itself, to a speech he gave in 1990 at the Air and Space Museum, has given insight into how we shape our lives and alter our narratives, and how deceptive we can be to ourselves. In the middle of those 45 years, Vonnegut gave an extended interview in 1973 to Playboy where he denounced the importance of the event of the firebombing of Dresden and his four months of captivity, saying that singular events like that don't have to change a person.

And yet...it's so obvious from the outside, from the vantage point of now, that the 1973 interview is an anomaly, a wish on Vonnegut's part, having finished SL-5 and seen it made into a movie in 1972, to be able to set aside the experience of Dresden and being a prisoner-of-war, to be free of it and all its baggage.

There are more reasons than I can articulate as to why I teach SL-5 every comp 2 course, why after all these years it continues to speak to me, reach me, change me. Vonnegut and the other men who went off to war and lived unspeakable things and sometimes did the unspeakable have much to teach us about the effects of trauma and how writing can be a way of sharing some of that trauma from a safe distance.

His experiences, and the way he instantly connected with fellow veterans over the rest of his life show the importance that singular events can have in rewriting our lives, and how we can find meaning and community in that trauma.

If you are a military veteran, if you served, no matter what branch, despite the rivalry, you have a built in community, a group of people who are yours. The connection is instantaneous, and it is because you are bonded through the singular experience of surviving basic training, which when I went through it in the late 80s was a truly traumatic, deconstructing experience. Of course, I was there for six months, so I had three times the fun of being torn down day after day.

Part of the experience, the immediacy of relationship, is that trauma does bind people together. There's no shame in the trauma that is experienced as part of becoming a soldier, so we can bond over that experience.

There is, though, shame, in trauma like rape, sexual and physical assault, and abuse, and we still, as a society, stigmatize the victims, attempt to blame them for what has happened to them. And yes, nowhere is this more apparent than when this happens to women in the military.

It is an odd dichotomy that we can, across genders and decades, have a common community, a core connection, yet still, as women in the military who have been abused, be denied the right to witness that particular trauma.

Vonnegut resonates with me at such a visceral level because speaking truth to the trauma, sharing the experiences without guilt, without shame, is something we need to get better at doing, regardless of how we have come to experience the trauma.

As a preface to teaching Vonnegut, the class studies PTSD. We watch the movie Heroes, we watch documentaries on PTSD, we discuss it, and whether or not Vonnegut had PTSD. We discuss whether people can overcome that diagnosis, if it ever goes away.

Inevitably, there are students who have PTSD, who have been traumatized, and I hope that there is a sense of shared experience, of community, and of acceptance. I hope that reading Vonnegut and exploring these negative spaces and places helps students build their foundation, what they will stand on as they continue their lives and the reality that trauma of all sorts will indeed find them.

I hope that they recognize that we are all bound together by this experience of living and losing, that we are all a part of the same community.

Is it lofty, idealistic of me, to hope for that level of change in a semester, to hope that the course goes beyond the mere learning of essay writing? I do not think so. I don't think Vonnegut, were he still kicking, would either, despite his moments of denial.

Everything we do has significance, even if we don't recognize it at the time, and every moment can be imbued with significance if we remain in the present moment and experience it fully. We've become a nation of people who want to get through life numbed, and it is a tremendous loss if we allow that to happen.

Life is supposed to hurt just as much as it is supposed to have its transcendent moments. Reading and discussing Vonnegut is a wonderful, perfect way to learn that lesson.

Siblings...


What looks like aggression from the outside may not be.


Playing hard, then cuddling in and napping:
cats are wise creatures.

2/25/2013

Fourth Year the Charm: End the Word

r-word.org

The last three years, I've weighed in, offered my thoughts. The last three years, I've asked my students to think about it, too. I did so today, as well.


It's time to look close, deeply at ourselves, our prejudices, and acknowledge that we all have them, that there's a group of folks we disparage. We need to question why. We need to challenge ourselves on our language, and acknowledge our slips and that we all have a ways to go towards accepting others who are different, with different challenges. We need to experience that dissonance, hold ourselves up to examination, and accept that we've got some dark sides that we need to bring out to the light.

I'm not sure there's a solution here; people do some spectacularly stupid things, even the smartest people. There ought to be a way to convey those failures of cognition without a derisive attitude that somehow still conveys the humanity, the value, and the validation of that humanity and value. I fear it's so much easier and so much more satisfying to just slip into the use of those words that convey that attitude than it is to painstakingly break down the claims being made, bit by singular, spectacular failing bit.
The problem is we're human, hypocrisy is inevitable, and lapses in theory of mind and the golden rule are going to happen.

I'm all for ending the use of the "R" word, but it's the attitude behind the word that has to be changed, and whether we use that particular word or not, I'm willing to bet that underlying attitude is one we all employ at one point or another.

Words HURT. We have to work harder to remember that, and to remember that we are all human and frail, fallible creatures who make mistakes but get up the next day determining to do better.
Let us not only resolve to do better, but actually do better.

2013

 I am not certain we are any closer to changing the use of the word nor the underlying attitudes behind that usage. I look around at the nastiness on the internet, at how trolls can be rewarded with hundreds of thousands of followers for their nastiness, and I wonder if we can even put a dent in it, this nastiness that festers.



I have to believe, though, that while we cannot eliminate entirely the nastiness that intentionally mean people put out there, that we can change how we use language, that we can create a more accepting society, and that we can become sensitive to how pejorative language demeans us all.



McGinley says that it is time to respect individuals with intellectual disabilities, time to end the R-word.

It's past time to respect those who are different, to accept them as equally valuable human beings.


2/24/2013

That Shouldn't Happen: The Just World Fallacy and Autism

Everyday, we hear about tragedies, some that hit too close to home for comfort, and our reactions range from "That just shouldn't happen!" to the belief that when it does happen, it must be someone's fault.

If we can blame someone, then we can reassure ourselves we can protect ourselves from that situation ever happening to us. When we do this, though, like our nation collectively holding Adam Lanza's mother to blame for his mass killing, we can pat ourselves on the back, feel good about ourselves, certain our parenting skills are so much better that we'll never be in that place. In the autism community, we've watched the nation not only blame Nancy Lanza, who cannot offer a defense, cannot rebut, but we've watched the media use autism as a scapegoat. The recent Frontline show focuses not only on what Nancy Lanza did or didn't do "right" (the father resolved of any responsibility because he wasn't there and he's stayed out of sight) but on how Adam Lanza was different, isolated, other, and how his mother's attempts to help him were somehow so deficient and damaging that it is what led to his acts.

Even the show's title "Raising Adam Lanza" makes it clear that the bias is on the raising, that the blame must lie there, that killers are made by others and by their otherness. There is comfort here, for the masses, for parents: if it's Nancy's fault, then we don't have to worry about it happening to us. The just world fallacy or hypothesis makes our adjustment to tragedies and injustices easier for us; it helps us resolve our cognitive dissonance and our fear. Unfortunately, it also means we are less likely to react compassionately to those who have been harmed. According to Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez,

"The need to see victims as the recipients of their just deserts can be explained by what psychologists call the Just World Hypothesis. According to the hypothesis, people have a strong desire or need to believe that the world is an orderly, predictable, and just place, where people get what they deserve. Such a belief plays an important function in our lives since in order to plan our lives or achieve our goals we need to assume that our actions will have predictable consequences. Moreover, when we encounter evidence suggesting that the world is not just, we quickly act to restore justice by helping the victim or we persuade ourselves that no injustice has occurred. We either lend assistance or we decide that the rape victim must have asked for it, the homeless person is simply lazy, the fallen star must be an adulterer. These attitudes are continually reinforced in the ubiquitous fairy tales, fables, comic books, cop shows and other morality tales of our culture, in which good is always rewarded and evil punished."

This plays out not just in cases of mass killings and the media's dogged determination to assign blame, even if that is at the feet of mental illness or parents, peers, schools and medical professionals who failed the perpetrator, but also in cases where autistic individuals are killed by their caregivers. Far too often we witness parents using autism to explain why another parent snapped. If the burden was so severe on the parent, then it is the burden to blame, not the parent. It's bullshit and entirely unfair to the victims, and fortunately, part of the autism community, an alliance of autistic advocates and their allies, has decided to stand up and rebut that, to offer a national day of mourning on March 1 for autistics who have been killed.

The just world fallacy is also at play when stories about aggression in autistic children result in families living in fear. Recently, Kelli Stapleton, mother to a lovely young woman, Issy, who is autistic and physically aggressive, went public with Issy's story because the family's insurance was refusing to pay for the intensive treatment needed to teach Issy how to more effectively communicate without aggression and the family how to respond more effectively.

The just world fallacy is behind the comments from people who blame Kelli for Issy's aggression, who insist that if it were them, they'd have gotten it under control years ago. It's nice to think so, isn't it, that we'd never allow that to happen, that it would never happen to us? It insulates us, makes us feel not only safe, but superior. Has Issy's behavior been reinforced, unintentionally? Yes; Kelli's the first to announce she needs help as much as Issy does. Unfortunately, that humility doesn't help reduce the criticism and censure being aimed at the Stapletons for bringing their story to public attention.

In a just world, bad things wouldn't happen to good people. Much of what we, as human beings, must grapple with throughout our lives is why we suffer and why that suffering is often so lopsided. It's much easier to blame others for the things that happen to them, even if it's the random devastation of a tornado or hurricane. When we blame others, we reduce our ability to empathize with them, to want to help them, to care about them. We ensure the status quo that way. Rich people can blame poor people for being poor, skinny people can despise fat people as weak, and healthy people can look down their noses at those who are ill, and those who haven't experienced violence at another's hands can gleefully blame the the person who has.

In order to truly make the world a better place, if never a just place, we have to reject the premise that anyone who is victimized, traumatized, different, etc. must be to blame for it. We have to stop looking for someone or something to blame and instead focus on how to help the person or people in need, in a compassionate, respectful way that does not deny the person/people autonomy and agency. A call for rejecting the blame game  should in no way be taken as a call for rejecting the accountability people must take for their own actions, though, just as a true attempt to identify cause and effect should not be mistaken as playing the blame game. If we can identify certain factors that make negative outcomes more likely, then it behooves us to make changes, to work to make the world at least a more even playing field for all of us.

Plus, there's a certain necessary humility in realizing that it's not a just world, that it could and might be you in that situation at some point in the future. Rather than raining down judgment and condescension, self-restraint and reflection are much more effective tools. Sure, you give up your air of superiority, your certainty that you have everything under control, but since those were illusions anyway, better to dispense with them entirely and accept that much of what happens to us is going to be out of our hands, out of our control. In the end, what we do control is how we react. It's foundation-building 101: making sure that our inner strength and fortitude will withstand not only the random hurricanes and hailstorms, but also the assholes who will get off insisting it was our fault that we were hit by adversity and therefore our obligation to get out of it on our own (and yes, that could be taken to the political arena as well).

2/23/2013

Musings on Being Sick, Napping, Reading, Foundation-Building and the role cats play in making the world right...

It was an odd week and a half, give or take a few days, time filled with strep throat (Kathleen and I somehow sharing a portal of infections and dealing simultaneously with sick kids) and sinus infections, kids home from school and me home from work, yet still grading and reading and interacting with students. It started with me first, after seven plus weeks of being sick giving in and going to the doctor, where I got a nice shot in the flank and a 10 day scrip of antibiotics, and was followed the next day with me dragging myself to the walkin clinic with Rosie, as eczema had flared up, marring Rosie's thin, elegant hands, making them red, rough and painful. And that led to lotions, steroid cream, and socks as mittens each and every day as we worked to get her lovely hands less irritated, less painful, and with each improvement we celebrated and then hours later groaned to see it undone, and on came socks as mittens again. Quickly, though, it was followed with both girls going to the walkin and getting diagnosed with strep, and for a change, rather than being hyper and shockingly well while running fevers, they were not--they were sick, miserable little girls keeping me company in my misery.

Unfortunately, they remained NON-nappers. Non-nappers! They did manage to spend much of the week immersed in Futurama and their favorite thing of all, drawing their own paper dolls and then playing with them.

I, however, napped. And napped some more. I have napped more in the last year plus than I believe I ever did as a child, and the napping shows no sign of ending any time soon. I'm still exhausted and finally realistic that almost all the extras I've done for several years have been put on hold, even, finally hospice. Even with the sinus infection appearing to be fought down, beaten temporarily, tired is a state of being, and seven composition courses and vibrant, busy girlies are more than enough for this middle-aged woman. I don't know what I'd do without the boy's and my husband's assistance and the increasing self-sufficiency of the girlies. It truly is a team effort to keep things running smoothly.

And smoothly, for us, it does run. It might not look it from the outside, and it might be really noisy and busy and chaotic, with a fair amount of screeching and meltdowns and hands clapped to ears (my hands to my ears as much as theirs to theirs, truth be known), but trust me when I say for us that's smooth. It's a really bumpy smooth, a really messy smooth, but it works for us.

Despite the various demands on time, attention, and consciousness, I've still managed to keep peeking into autism-land online, kept an eye on the feeds at the directory, noted the trends and memes and worries and arguments. Harmonious and smooth, autism-land is not. I think that's a good thing, though, or at least I accept it is what it is. I've come to believe that there's truly enough room for everyone, for the true diversity of beliefs, opinions, and voices.

Healthy discourse, or at least the chance for a diversity of viewpoints to be seen in one place, is good. I don't comment much anywhere anymore, but I do read. And those voices who offer something intriguing, substantial, meaningful for my students to chew on, that will make my students better thinkers, I place on the links for my comp 1 class to read, as they learn to consider what it means to be disabled, to be impaired, to be handicapped, and what it doesn't mean and who the stakeholders are. I am grateful for the fact that so many of the bloggers who are neurodiverse consider these issues and offer insight.

The longer I teach, the more I read, the more I learn, the less I feel any need to control the dialogue or weigh in. Listening is good, too. I want my children and my students to think, to weigh issues, to research, to listen, to reflect, and to come to their own informed opinions. I want them, and me, to have a firm grounding, a foundation to lean on when things get bumpy, when the road ahead is not only obscured, but downright terrifying--whatever that foundation is as long as it's their foundation and it's solid for them.

And that brings me back to napping, somehow, because I've recognized that napping, getting the rest I need, and stepping back from over-scheduling myself, is part of my foundation-building, as is letting go of the need to be right, to think that there is only one way to think about a problem or a situation. My dad's tendency to say "If it ain't eating no hay..." resounds frequently in my head--it's not apathy, but acceptance.

Sitting back, checking in so that I can learn from others, and then passing that on: this is good, I think, at least for me. Being informed is half the battle--the other half being how we use that information to make things better.

Plus, when one's lap is full of kittyboys, it's hard to want to much more than sit back and rest and drink in the comfort to be had in holding a cat's paw for hours at a time. Actually, it's pretty hard to do anything but that--that's over thirty pounds of kittyboys conspiring to keep me resting.






Spring Waiting









 




2/16/2013

Tears and Explaining

Navigating pre-adolescent relationships is, well, let's face it, we were all there once and it wasn't a picnic for any of us, I'm sure. It's a rough time for even the best adjusted, least hormonal kids. Add in communication issues and extremely sensitive feelings, and heartache is a near daily constant, not just for our children, but us as parents.

We want to fix it. Erase the hurt. And probably kick a little metaphorical ass. Yeah, except none if that is our job. Our job is to help our children cope with the occasional insensitive remark, understand where the other kid might be coming from, and then, come up with ways to disarm the kid the next time the situation arises. If it's not a situation where bullying is occurring, we need to back up and trust that we can give our kids the tools they need to handle it themselves.

Yes, it sucks, and we can and should communicate that with our kids. And then we can get down to tool building by asking questions, coming up with a variety of come backs, and then role playing. If we do that, then our child walks away feeling empowered and understood, and ready for the next time.

They don't need to know that we, in our minds, go all ninja style.

2/12/2013

When They Notice

Lily, even without her glasses (which she keeps forgetting to wear and I keep forgetting to insist), is sharp as a tack.


We started week 5 of the semester yesterday, and that means at least six weeks sick. I was sick before that, but I went back to work six weeks ago, so that's when I started counting. It didn't matter when I was home all day, so why count those weeks? (I will confess I felt like myself briefly this weekend and yesterday, but my throat hurts again...damnitall)

Truthfully, it hasn't been that different from far too many semesters, where I've limped through fighting various infections while battling a cluster of disorders, diseases and in general, pain in the ass stuff that a body puts a person through. I'd be surprised to see someone in their mid-forties who doesn't have aches, pains, and chronic ailments, honestly. 

What is different from other semesters is that Lily's noticing. Every day for weeks now she's asked why I'm always sick and why I'm always grading.

Hmmmm...could it be that easy a causation? Grading causes sickness! Hah, I wish it were that easy.

I've done my best to explain--I'm sick because I tend to catch every virus that students bring in and because I have diabetes, GERD, migraines, fibromyalgia (hah-that's fun to explain--well, you see, when I was 20, I was diagnosed with it when they still thought it was psychogenic .."Mom, what's psychogenic "...all in my head, ad infinitum), a slightly leaky heart valve, and so on...sigh. Add in anxiety and more than a touch of OCD and well, crap. Crap. Thank gods for meds?

I nap a lot, but that's usually before the girls get home from school, and I try not to whine. But, it's pretty hard to miss when someone feels so bad she wants to curl up in a ball and just hybernate. So I can see her noticing.

Coupled, though, with this sniffing, sneezing, coughing that I've been doing, has been the laptop in my lap for hours a day as I wade through paper after paper after paper times 100 or so. Stupid me with multiple assignments in a week and seven comp classes...

Why am I always grading, Lily wants to know, every day. And I patiently explain that students can't learn to write without writing a lot. And I can't help them get better without reading and marking things and offering suggestions and corrections.

Tonight she offered with sincerity that leaves me warm at heart to help me grade. Teach me how to mark them, she said, and that way we'll get the work done twice as fast. Smart girl. Diligent girl. I won't take her up on her offer just yet, but it's sweet to know how much she means it.

Bobby, too, notices, in his own way, and on days where I'm too sick to get out the door and get him to Meals on Wheels, he elects to stay home and take care of me rather than getting a ride from his uncle. He cooks, and now, bless him, he bakes. Not without some mishaps, of course, but he's doing pretty good and he's being creative, adding ingredients to the mixes to add some flair. He holds down the fort in the early afternoon when I need to nap, too, waiting on his sisters to get home, just in case I sleep on.

So much time, so much energy, spent on the internet arguing whether autistic individuals lack empathy or not...often ignoring that the real question is how many people in general lack empathy, how contingent empathy is on the situation, the persons involved, and the energy and attention people have to pay to others.

My three may be on the spectrum, may have a hard time articulating their feelings and more abstract concepts, may have difficulty inferring emotional states from text, may not get idioms or sarcasm at times. All that may be true, but none of that is as important as how sweet, how caring, how loving they are.

When they notice, and they do, their concern is immediate and heartwarming. Even Rosie, who is often too wrapped up in what she's drawing to notice, takes the time every night to tuck me in before her dad tucks her in. She covers me up, she pats my arm, hugs me, gives me a kiss--the child who had a broken pucker--and tells me she loves me as she continues to pat my arm, seeing how long she can avoid going to bed.

Sure, I spend too much time grading, and I definitely spend too much time feeling like crap, but I am blessed beyond all riches by these three children who take the time to see, to care, to offer help, and to give hugs and kisses, unaware that those are more precious than all the jewels in the world.

They are so worth the cost of ice cream sundaes. ;) 

2/10/2013

Self-Definition: The Right to be Bobby


Wednesday, Bobby and I took off from our respective normal routine (me teaching and him working the dishwasher at Meals on Wheels) for the opportunity to watch John Elder Robison speak. 

I told Bobby that Robison had Aspergers and had written a couple books and blogged and traveled the world speaking about autism and what life was like for him. We had seen Stephen Mark Shore last year, and that had been interesting, for several reasons. Last year, I introduced Bobby to Shore, and we disclosed Bobby's autism, and that the girls were also on the spectrum. Bobby had been annoyed at that disclosure, even though we were talking to a fellow autistic. I pondered on that then, but let it go.

This year, I asked Bobby if he wanted to meet Robison. He looked at me, that gorgeous smile disappearing, and a frown taking its place. "No." I didn't push. I can respect that. After all, we'd both walked rapidly into the building, bypassed the tables, the swirling crowd of people, we'd found an empty table to the back of the room, at the far left, as far away from the crowd. Even though we knew several people there, we sat and chatted quietly, drinking our coffee we'd brought from home. After a minute or two, both of us had our phones out and were involved in our electronic media, heads down, avoiding eye contact with the people rapidly filling the room. Our table filled with lovely young college students, and Bob's head dipped deeper--surrounded by vibrant young ladies chatting away. I noticed the peeks he made, though, out of the corner of his eye, rapid darting movements. He might not have engaged, but he sure was aware that there were pretty girls around.

As we sat there, waiting for the event to begin, my friends found me (pink hair will do that), hugged me and exchanged greetings. This was our first time in a few years for us to be there as audience rather than volunteers, so it surprised them that we had essentially snuck in and found a spot out of the spotlight rather than mingling. I don't think they know I hate mingling.

Robison entered the conference room and paced the perimeter, waiting to go up and speak. He didn't make a lot of eye contact, didn't look around much, as his lovely photographs kept popping up on the projector screens. When he began to speak, his voice boomed out, loud enough that it hurt my ears. He's an engaging speaker, and it was obvious that Bobby enjoyed listening to his stories about growing up and all the cool jobs he'd held, but there were times Bobby and I would stare at each other, surprised, disappointed, disbelieving about what Robison said: autism at 5, 6, and 16 sucks--there's nothing good about it. 

Does it? Did it? We studied each other for a moment, then turned back to watch him, chewing on it, holding it for later.

Robison was speaking at a Church of Christ private university, so he tailored his speech to that audience--why would God give a mother an autistic kid? He asked that several times in his 90 minutes, and offered stories, his growth, how he'd learned to adapt and fit in better to the neurotypical world, how he'd had success. Bobby and I again looked at each other askance and I thought about some of my internet friends and inspiration porn, how they'd be furious that he was using autism, his autism, my kids' autism, as inspiration porn. I pondered on that. As he finished the morning presentation, he concluded that the answer to the question of why God would give parents an autistic kid was so they could be inspired by the success, the growth, that their kids could have.

I think Bobby and I both groaned at that point. I know eyes were rolling. Um, no.

At that point, it was time for lunch--a gluten free baked potato bar--we'd had that last year--Bobby said no. He was, as was I, overwhelmed with the thought of navigating hundreds of people, the chit-chat and socializing that would be expected for the two hour lunch before Robison spoke again. We'd already had some chit chat and introductions with the young college ladies' professor, who had sat down beside Bobby an hour into the presentation, and I'd already seen that he wasn't going to go for talking about his autism. That smile that intermittently lit up his face kept slipping to frown, and at one point he turned to me and said, "I'm just Bobby. I don't have to be anything else." 

We ducked out, heads down, and left by the closest exit, avoiding the throngs of people heading the other way. As we were leaving we ran into another friend who was on her way in, and spoke briefly before sprinting, well, as fast you'll get me to move, to the car, so we could hit Sonic before coming home, where we'd both agreed we'd rather be.

On the way, we talked about Robison's talk, about what we liked, about what bothered us, was it true that autism made 5, 6, 16 suck, that there was nothing good about his Bobby's life at those ages? And the whole God thing--Bobby immediately blurted out that was a stupid question--he got his autism, the girls too, from me and his dad. Duh. Why would anyone ask that?

I think we concluded, as rationally as possible, that there were definitely things that sucked for a person who couldn't meet the demands of a world not structured for people who couldn't blend and adapt easily to the social demands, but that didn't mean that life necessarily sucked. Autism is about more than social demands, though, and no, it isn't easy to be autistic in a non-autistic world. Not easy doesn't necessarily equate with sucks. What a message of non-hope, a call to non-action, for young parents--it's gonna suck and there's nothing to be done about that? 

I wondered if I was being defensive in weighing this so much... I was tired, scared, worried, frustrated when he was 5, 6, and even 16 (but that was mostly because when he was 16 the girls were little). My life didn't suck, though, and I don't think that his, on balance, did either. It "sucks" when you constantly fail, yes, as Robison talked about--Robison didn't have a childhood that was good--but that doesn't mean that everyone's life will suck--that the common experience of autism as a child is suckiness.

I hope it doesn't, at any rate. I think that all parents grappling with how to help their children succeed, be happy, be safe, are hopeful, believing that their efforts can make a different world for their kids. I know I work hard to make sure it doesn't for my kids, that their environment is tailored to their strengths, that their challenges don't spend so much time front and center that that's all we see, all they see. 

And it isn't about changing them so they "fit in." For heavens sake, fitting in is overrated, says their now purple haired mother (pink for a month was enough).

I've come to realize that a lot of what's behind my embracing ever-changing hair colors, developing my own distinct style, and owning my eccentricities is that I want my kids to embrace themselves, who they are, to not worry if they stand out in a crowd. In fact, they should delight in their uniqueness and never apologize for it. Ever. They should reject the idea that their life is going to suck. 

Life is what they make of it. They don't have to wait to their forties to discover that, to embrace themselves, to find ways around the things they can't do, to not be shamed because they have weaknesses.

Self-definition, as I've watched my son struggle to articulate, means just that: the right to define who one is, what characteristics are important as identifiers. For Bobby, that means he gets to reject adjectives, modifiers, clarifiers. He is Bobby, and by gosh, that's enough, enough for him, enough for me. What a wonderful thing to be, to know who one is especially at the tender age of 23. 



2/07/2013

Pithy Sayings Don't Match Reality: Guns, Religion, and Schools

Far too often memes go across my facebook feed. The site someecards is a favorite for placing throw-away one liners on with an appropriate accompanying drawing, and then these ecards go far and wide on facebook.

There is no topic off-limits, either. From sex to guns to male and female stereotypes to bible-thumping and bacon, people express themselves in witty little sayings and pass them on, virtually high-fiving each other.

I much prefer the Dr. Who cartoons and memes along with animal pictures. Those are fun and who can resist them? Plus, really who can be pissed off with those?

I have atheist friends and holy-roller friends. I have agnostics and backsliders for friends. I have devout, kind peaceful believers.

Guess who posts the least offensive and inaccurate memes and pithy one liners? If you guessed agnostics and backsliders as well as the devout, kind peaceful believers (you know the ones who live their faith and let you live yours?), you'd be right.

I watch atheists post harsh, often mean memes that denigrate the intelligence of believers, and I see some believers post the brimstone and fire memes. And I keep scrolling.

I see the "if only Bibles were in schools" memes, and scroll on. But...here's the thing: our society doesn't have the problems it has today because of a lack of religious conviction. Religious teaching doesn't belong in schools. It belongs in the churches and at home.

Values and ethics are not dependent on a religious education or belief system. Morality doesn't derive from the bible. In fact, the old testament is rather violent, and let's be honest, the new testament isn't a lot better.

Kindness, empathy, charity: Jesus taught these things, but those who believe in him far too often fail to act as he did.

Religion is used as a cudgel to berate and belittle those who believe differently. Religion is used to separate out people and rank them and you know who comes out "superior" in that ranking? The people doing the ranking.

When I was a teenager I attended a charismatic Baptist church that, had we not been trying to find community, had my mom not wanted us to have a church home, well...we'd have run the other way as fast as we could have if we'd have been thinking clearly and critically. Any denomination that spends its time focusing on how all the other Christian denominations are wrong and all those people are going to hell--yeah, that's not about following Jesus's teachings, not about loving thy neighbor. That's about ranking.

If it's not religion or atheistic cracks going across my feed, it's guns and politics. I've shot weapons, some of them pretty damn cool. And I've enjoyed that activity. I also believe that gun ownership can be responsibly done. Weapons should be locked up and inaccessible to children. I also believe that if you aren't willing to pull the trigger, you better not pick up a gun in defense--if you can't do that, it's a liability to you. I don't think that law-abiding citizens should be denied the right to own weapons, but reasonable licensing and background checks are important. It's not going to keep a determined person from getting one, though, and bad guys are always going to be there.

Being callous and cold-hearted about the damage guns do, the role that access to a gun plays in suicide attempts, and the accidental deaths due to mishandling of weapons--not cool. And arguing that hammers kill more people than guns is not a convincing argument that the selling of guns shouldn't be regulated.

The answer to school violence isn't putting guns or bibles in the school. That won't change the reality that a determined individual can get around or might not care that someone in the school has a weapon. Suicide by cop is a reality, and these spree killers aren't often looking to outlive the spree killing.

One thing is certain: the memes going around facebook, the pithy one-liners and the arrogance of certainty underlying them WON'T solve our society's problems regarding how we reach out to the disenfranchised, the marginalized, and the mentally ill, who often cannot access good health care and quality psychiatric care.

As long as we turn a blind eye to children experiencing abuse and neglect in their own homes and in foster care, there are going to be adults so damaged by their childhoods that functioning in society is going to be more than they can do. The support services suck for those on the fringes, and as a whole, our society still thinks those down on their luck should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

No, it isn't bibles or guns we need in our schools or in our homes or communities, so much as it is common human decency, a willingness to help those in need without censure, and an infrastructure that doesn't allow anyone to fall through the cracks.

Acceptance of people in their full range of human diversity, from cis- to trans-, from gay to straight, from non-believers to believers, is key to creating a society that is truly different from the one now that creates people who think being as cruel as possible to strangers is a sport, a competition, that constantly needs one-upping.

I'm sorry, but if you simultaneously share these memes about bibles and prayer and schools, but then log onto the internet and spread hatred or make fun of those who are different, you ought to check yourself. If you look at the homeless person on the corner and think you're better than him? Yeah. A change of circumstances could easily have you there.

I've learned not to think, "Well, that could never be me." Yeah, it could, and karma has a way of kicking a person in the ass when the arrogance gets a bit much.

I'll keep liking and sharing cute animal pictures and Dr. Who mash-ups. At least, those are likely to piss no one off, as this post is likely to.

2/02/2013

Laying Heavily On my Heart

A few months ago, Bobby and I sat down and filmed a conversation about guardianship. The paperwork has been sitting by my chair since then for this year's renewal.

I hate this paperwork. In the couple months preceding the due date for filing it, it hangs there, this feeling of heartache, growing steadily with each passing day, until the inevitable day when I can no longer ignore the paperwork (not that I'm ignoring it--I see it, feel it, know it is there).

Today is that day. It needs to be done, and it is solely my job to do. I have filled it out so many times and each time, Rick does the final part of it, filing it. I've never asked him if it hits him as hard as it does me. Maybe the actual filing of it, the finality of it, maybe that it hurts more, that it pierces the heart more deeply. I don't know. All I know is that court when he was 18 was enough. Going to Social Security when he was 19 and applying for SSI was enough. Filling out all the paperwork each year for both the court and SSI is all I can do. Don't ask me to walk into the courthouse and file it. Please.

And so, each year, Rick and I do this dance, and we don't talk about it. Don't share the ache.

Everything we said in the video is real, is how we view it, and we're as pragmatic as possible about this as we can be. Bobby is wonderful and I love him completely. He has no idea that this process hurts me. He shouldn't. But it still, even as we work together to make a good, satisfying life for him, hurts me to fill out paperwork that clearly focuses not on that good life, not on all his wonderful qualities, but his "deficits."

That never gets easier. I kept expecting it to get easier. Instead, each year, each time I am forced to focus on what he can't do, what he needs help on, the more it hurts.

I used to wonder why Rick never discloses the kids' autism when he takes them to an appointment, but I figured it out. Too many times, when you disclose that information, the person told changes the way he treats one of the kids, ceases to see Bobby as an adult man and turns to me. Ask him. Even if he can't answer, even if I have to help, ask him. He's right there in front of you, so ask him.You would think the person could feel that intensity, that wave of emotion flowing off of me. But no.

What I appreciate most about Meals on Wheels, and for the couple years Bobby was at Rescue the Animals, is that the people in those places treated and treat him like the wonderful young man he is: they see Bobby. Not "deficits."

Most of the time, almost 99 percent of the time, I get to see just Bobby. Sure, we know that there are things he can't do, but in the environment we've created, that's not an issue. Sure, we groan at times when he gets unfocused, but it's Bobby. That's what he does, and we create time for him to have that unfocused time.

I'll finish this post. And I'll shut the computer. I'll take the pen, and I'll fill out the damned paperwork while my heart cracks in two because that is what it does, damn-it  whether I like it or not. And I will cry my tears, not because I pity myself or my bright boy who has become such a bright, shining man, but because that paperwork doesn't let him shine. There ought to be a place, as we speak honestly about the assistance required, to also fill in how he shines, how beautiful a soul he is, what a sweet, warm and loving man he is.

There ought to be and there's not and that is what breaks my heart. Not who my son is, not how differently his life is than what I expected. He has a great life. He spends his time doing what he can to help people, to make lives better with his contributions and he does it joyfully each and every day. I could not ask for a better son, a finer character, than him.

He is my heart. So I can cry, and I can fill out this damned paperwork because this is what he needs me to do. But I'm telling all of you, since there is no room for it, no place for it, in the damned paperwork, that this son of mine is a joy, a delight, an amazing surprise each and every day.


any chance to take a pic of a cat--
where oh where do they get that from?
said photogenic cats

always helping--
folding laundry

The paperwork and the process may lay heavily on my heart, but my bright boy never does. He lights my way.