Thursday, January 29, 2015

Autism Answer: The Post-It Note Surprise

A few years ago I woke up one morning to see yellow post-it notes stuck here and there in our kitchen. On the dishes, on the cupboards, on the microwave, in the microwave, on the kitchen table, on my coffee maker. Each note was adorned simply with a different time. "3:13AM" "3:34AM" "3:44AM" "4:00AM" and so on.

I looked sleepily at my second youngest son, who was still awake and cleaning his roller-blades. Beside him was a yellow post-it pad.

"What's all this?" I asked, smiling and heading toward my coffee maker. Peeking curiously at the post-it note there I read "3:01AM".


"Oh, I cleaned all night, and left a record of what time it was when I finished cleaning each thing."

I turned away from my coffee maker with surprising ease and headed straight to my always-awake-all-night son. Sitting beside him I wordlessly took his hands from their roller-blade cleaning task, and wrapped him cozily in my arms. 

I spent the next few days telling family, friends, and strangers the lovely story. I spent the next few years craftily making callbacks and engaging with my kids in playful banter about the post-it note surprise.

Most sleepless nights my son would go through closets and drawers, making a creative mess. Or build a VHS tower of movies he wanted to watch, and then watch them all; one after the other after the other. Either way, most mornings I'd wake up to strange messes and a slightly cranky sleepless kid.

But my strongest and longest lasting wake-up memory is the post-it note surprise.

This reminds me that it's worth it, every time, to celebrate and enjoy and re-live those moments. The things we focus on most, the things we tell our family, friends, and strangers about most, are the things that live the longest and the loudest in our memory.

So, be an intentional storyteller! It's your life, and you have the power to create something pretty fantastical!!

Go ahead, stick that on a post-it note!
tee hee!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Autism Answer: Pretty Ugly Things

She wouldn't quit drinking, and so her children were born with disabilities. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome for all, and a few other challenges for some. When they were itty bitty babes it seemed easier to add beer to their bottles than to find a true way to get nourishment in their bellies. Indeed, she wanted nourishment for herself but was backwards about what that meant.

She wanted him. Him, who hurt her and hurt others. Him, who went to jail for some of his crimes and came out with the intention of hurting her more. He bought her drinks and hurt the babes, and spent the money meant to save them. When the social worker came to collect the children, he took her hostage and refused to give them up. He wanted people to see him as important and feed his soul, but he wasn't willing to do it himself.

So the itty bitty babes, who were from far away in miles and culture, became my brothers.

My mom, and a couple of the itty bitty babes!

My mom pleaded with social workers and teachers to see them as able. For years they tried to dampen her love while she insisted on giving hope wings. In our home there was so much love it almost hid the hurt and fear and challenges. Almost.

My step-dad couldn't hack it. He molested me, tried to kill himself, and was kicked out of our lives by mom. The professionals couldn't hack it. They refused to see the possibilities and progress, even as my brothers proved the progress over and over and over. Our neighbors couldn't hack it. They petitioned and complained and hated our beautiful mother for being willing to allow a little crazy in order to insist on a lot of hard work and forward motion.

There were some pretty ugly things. Life offers a whole lot of pretty ugly things.

And they are pretty ugly things. They are. When you step back and look at the piece of art that is life; when you're willing to shift things around and splash colors here and there, it's pretty. When you're willing to take control and become the artist, the pretty ugly things make the overall effect pleasing and rich.

Without the pretty ugly things I've shared here, I wouldn't have my brothers. My brothers who I love, and who've helped me grow into an awesome, thoughtful, and kind mom. I may not have learned about the realities of sex abuse, which I've taken advantage of to help so many teens. I wouldn't have grown up in the perfect storm of love and controversy that forever changed the terrain while always offering new views, and new growth. Without the neighbors chasing us away with petitions and ugly stares, my family may not have moved often, traveling the world and solidifying a bond that says with volume: Home is where your family is. Family is where you're encouraged to grow and be yourself.

I would, though, if given an opportunity, erase all of these ugly things from the world. 

Because even though we have been able to grow pretty things from them, they are unnecessarily ugly. 

And I'm confident that if given a pallet of only different types of pretty, never-ending shades and shapes that grow only from the beautiful, we would create such art out of life that it would bring forth gorgeous tears from a grateful Universe.

But for now, until that day, I'll continue to make pretty the ugly things. And I'll believe that my hard work is adding to the vastly colorful and intense tools we'll dip our brushes in, and borrow ideas from, when painting and sculpting only pretty.

For now,
life offers some pretty ugly things. 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 

There are pretty ugly things in our story. Always, we highlight the pretty!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Autism Answer: There's Nourishment There

"I sometimes worry that you think my problem is stupid," my youngest brother was saying to me through the phone.

I carefully turned my body away from my husband, hoping I wouldn't wake him as I whisper explained to my brother, "I told you, I don't think your problem is stupid. I think letting it run your life is stupid. We all have problems that other people wouldn't consider a problem, that's not stupid, but we're stupid when we let them control us."

It was past midnight and I was too tired to come up with smart words, so I just kept reusing stupid.

"I know," my brother sighed.

"I know it's not easy for you, but I also know you can figure this out. You always do, don't you?" I reminded my brother. He's come a long way since our childhood. It used to be that he had to have mom or me or one of our other sisters to lean on. Now, we just give him a hug and a hip bump in the right direction, and he figures his life out.

It's gorgeous!

"That's true. Thanks, Tsara. Sorry I woke you up."

I quietly returned the cordless phone to its cradle, turned toward my hubby and rubbed his broad back while I lay in the delicious silence and thought about life.

I've been blessed with a family that is wild and--individually--unbalanced. But as a tribe, we compliment each other well. Like a fancy dessert or hearty stew we carry the sprinkles and teaspoons and chunks of shared support and ideas. We're a recipe that surprises the pallet and nourishes the soul. Well... some souls.

We're not for everyone!

Often even the slightest taste of our out of the box beliefs mixed with our love for personal responsibility and equality can leave people disoriented, or simply angry. That's okay.

But for many, we are filled with nourishment and delight. There are those that fill their plates and come back for seconds, often requesting with honest interest the recipe!

And for most people we offer an idea. An idea for a recipe that they take home and adjust for their own tastes and loved one's dietary restrictions or preferences.

No matter who you call, or who calls you at midnight, regardless of whether or not you have strange problems or a stupid habit of letting them take over your emotions now and then, there's nourishment there.

In the friends you make, the phone calls you answer or ignore, the ideas you reject, and the colors you love.... there's nourishment there.

There is also poison. And if you spend your life denying the existence of it, seeking to cleanse it from the world, or addicted to the poison, that's what you'll most often ingest.

When my brother phones me at midnight to talk through a problem I can worry about the poison it is causing his brain, my sleepless body, my marriage that is being interrupted often by extended family and their needs. Or I can digest and seek out the nourishment of knowing I'm a supportive sister, a loving wife who turns quietly over and whispers, and part of a beautiful family that continues to forever grow and reach out and grow some more.

I consistently choose the nourishment.

And regardless of what recipe you prefer, I hope you choose nourishment too!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 

"Family ends where judgment begins." ~Lynette Louise aka THE BRAIN BROAD

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Autism Answer: Offering and Accepting Help (A Story About A Boy And His Sheepy Hair)

Baby Declyn and his wildly soft curls!

When Declyn was really small his hair was distractingly delightful! As his curls grew big and shiny we adored and complimented and ran our fingers through them obsessively. We'd never had anyone in our family with such interesting hair!

But then he got a little older, and his hair always looked so terrible. It was different, as I mentioned, and I just never knew what to do with it!

I'm a white chick with thin, straight hair and I've never been good at hair stuff. My own is almost always just stuck up in a ponytail. My son, Declyn, is white and black, but his hair is pretty much black. It's fantastic! Everyone in our family is addicted to losing our fingers into the deep cozy tangles of his head. But I'll admit, there were a few years where the tangles became horrible rats nests and it wasn't so lovely anymore.

The thing is, he loved having an Afro, but I didn't have any idea how to take care of it. 

Declyn and his wildly unkempt afro!

One day his friend's, mom's, friend was visiting from Jamaica and offered to fix it for us. We rejoiced and she showed me how to take proper care of his very different than mine hair. I comfortably admitted the things I didn't know, and she comfortably showed me and explained what she did know. 

As we played in and oiled his hair together she smiled at me and admitted, "I meet white moms who don't know how to take care of their black children's hair all the time. Mostly I can't help them because I don't want to say anything rude. Thank-you for letting me help you."

I could have kissed her! Not only was I more than happy to let her help me, my son looked amazing!!! His hair soon became even more addictive to our fingers.

Declyn is now fourteen and I no longer take care of his big head of hair, he does. He does it with confidence and pride. He does it with a professional flair that he may never have had if a visiting woman from Jamaica hadn't been willing to possibly seem rude by offering to help me know something I obviously didn't know.

She was brave, and I was brave. She offered (kindly) unasked for help that I willingly admitted (comfortably) I needed.

I'm not a fan of unasked for judgements, but I adore unasked for offers of help. As long as they always comes with a comfortable willingness to hear and accept, "No thank-you."

There are so many moms, dads, and individuals in the world who know nothing about how to help people who are "different". It's true, and it's okay. But it's also true that there are so many moms, dads, and individuals in the world who have learned and know a lot about how to help people who are "different". 

Declyn's cousins looking everywhere for him.They wanna touch his sheepy hair!

With kindness and courage we can help each other. We should help each other!

If I hadn't got help with Declyn's hair all of those years ago, I may have consistently cut all of it off and dropped hints to my adorable kiddo that made him feel as if it's the only thing we could do with his hair. Honestly, I had already begun to do that. He may have grown to dislike his own natural and neat head of--what his twin cousins call--"Sheepy hair". How sad that would have been!

As we grow and groom our "different" sons, daughters, siblings, and friends--we, too, may drop hints that make them feel as though they wish they could cut away part of themselves. As though part of them is just too hard to untangle or understand. Yikes! No! Let's not do that!

The courage it takes to offer and accept help is real. 

As are the dangers of not doing so.

Please, do so!

And go ahead.... ask if you can run your fingers through Declyn's sheepy hair! 

It's fabulous!!!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)
I love having a blog so that I can show off my favorite people to the world!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Autism Answer: Ask, Straight Up

Suddenly and randomly, I just had to know.

I phoned my son, who I haven't seen in a while--though I talk to him almost daily--and straight up asked.

"Sweetie, I just want to know. Are you happy?"

"With chocolate milk?" he asked. 

I giggled. "You know what I mean. In general, are you happy?"

"With chocolate milk or without chocolate milk?" he asked.

"With or without it, in general, most days, are you happy?" I reiterated, upbeat and used to these kinds of conversations with this adorably different kid of mine.

"Well, do you want to know if I'm happy when I have chocolate milk or do you want to know if I'm happy when I don't have chocolate milk?" My son was toying with me now, I could hear the fun in his voice and I missed him in that moment more than ever. 

"Okay, are you happy when you have chocolate milk and when you don't have chocolate milk? In general?"

"Boop," he replied. 

We both giggled together and then he answered my question with a delicious sound in his voice. A recipe of gratitude, truth, and love that was so decadent I could taste it all day in my heart from fifteen thousand miles away. "Yes, mom, I'm happy. Generally." 

There are so many ways to check in with and know our kids. There are so many times when we wonder and hope and worry and try to read the movements, tensions, reactions, and tea leaves. This is a very real part of parenting. 

But, also, we can ask. With honest interest, gentle curiosity, and no agenda, we can ask. Straight up. Some of our loved ones aren't the greatest at regular and familiar conversation, but they all love to know that we care about them. That we want to know. 

 "Are you happy?"
"Are you in love?"
"Do you feel overwhelmed?"
"Do you like the direction of your life?"
"What are your fears?"
"What is your hope for today?"
"How do you feel about your friendships?"
"How are you feeling?"
Don't forget to (sometimes) plain and simply and gently and with no strings attached, straight up ask.

Our teenagers might slam the door in our faces, our adult children might huff with annoyance, and our conversationally challenged friends might take us on a strange journey while we search for the answer, and that's okay. 

When we plain and simply ask, they know with potential clarity what we want to know, and that we care enough to ask. 

And, honestly, sometimes the answer is the opposite of "Boop. I'm happy." Sometimes it's stuff that hurts our souls as parents to hear. Stuff that makes us want desperately to crawl inside our children's minds and rearrange things until they know everything will be alright. They are awesome. They are exactly what the world needs right now. 

I've asked my sons, straight up, and had to hear these kinds of answers too. And scary as it was, boy am I glad I asked. Boy... am I glad. 

Most often I get the runaround. Most often they don't really want to talk to me about their feelings. But when I ask, they know I care. And when they do answer, I'm careful to truly listen and love. To truly give the gift of my understanding and allowing. 

And sometimes, when I ask, the answer is surprisingly delightful and delicious!

Boy.... am I glad I asked then too!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

He's happy. I know because I asked!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Autism Answer: Let's Listen - Stepping into the New Year

When black people take the time to tell us what it's like to be black, listen.

When autistic people take the time to tell us what it's like to be autistic, listen. 

When transgender people take the time to tell us what it's like to be transgender, listen. 

When women take the time to tell us what it's like to be women, listen. 

When homeless people take the time to tell us what it's like to be homeless, listen. 

So often I see and hear folks (including, once upon a time, me) discount the experiences shared by people different than them because that's not how they see it. That's not what they think it is. 

But..... what? How would we know? How? 

If we don't listen, if we aren't willing to hear and learn and re-think our assumptions, if we remain foolish enough to assume we can know the experiences of others by telling them what we think they should experience..... well, I don't want to follow this thought. 

Let's listen. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it means we must momentarily feel someone else's pain and confusion. Sometimes it means we are complicit in a cruelty that we believed ourselves far from ever being part of. More than sometimes it means seeing things differently and knowing for a challenging moment how often we've been bullies in our past. 

Let's listen. When we take the time to tell others what it's like to be us and we're invited to share our honest hearts and deepest reasons, we should listen to our own tale. Hear who we believe ourselves to be, and know that while sharing with others we are able to tweak and build our own selves with intention. 

Let's listen. Because when people take the time to share with us their truth, and when we take the time to share our own, we are being given a gift that is bigger than us and them. We are being given a gift that gives continuously, longer than our own lifetimes. 

But it's a gift that can only give when accepted openly and honestly. 

Step into the new year with me,  
and listen

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Go ahead. 
Share your experience, your story. 
I'm listening. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Autism Answer: Lessons And Laughter (aka Chasing Away Holiday Sadness)

What a fun-tasc-ular Christmas Day we had!

Leading up to this holiday there was a subtle but consistent sadness cloud hovering in my peripheries. Three of my four sons are far away, the rest of family is scattered and we were unable to plan a messily noisy coffee flowing food filled gathering of us. This isn't the first year we've had to have Christmas with less of us together, but it is the first year we've tried to accept that this is the new normal.

We are gifted happy choosers, but we are also human. So sadness tempted us.

Luckily, my mom is also a gifted movie maker and family event planner! So she shared with us a finished version of Living with Lynette, the comedy starring family and loosely based on our reality.

SIDE NOTE: The movie isn't available for viewing yet, we got a private screening. Often life is about who you know! Keep that in mind when going after your goals. Don't judge yourself when you take longer than others, and don't judge them for having connections--instead, grow organic friendships in the direction of your dreams! Okay, moving on....

In almost perfect unison around the country we watched the film together. As a family. 

In my home was my hubby, one of my sons, and two of my brothers. What fun!! What laughter!!! What a lot of work my mom did so that we could share our quirky truths with this quirky world!!!!

When the film had ended we sat down to chat, sip coffee, and eat food. We talked about our childhood and memories. But largely, we talked about laughter and jokes.

You see, my youngest brother had a video of himself on his phone he wanted to share because it was so funny. Watching it at first I smiled, then rolled my eyes, then cringed, then offered his phone back to him without finishing. I told him that it wasn't funny.

"Why? It's a joke! I'm pretending to be a mean and angry stupid homeless guy in ugly clothes. It's funny."

"No, it's not. There's no punchline, no reason to laugh except maybe to laugh at the person you're pretending to be. I'm not okay with that."

"Well, I'm not really like this. It's a joke." he defended.

"But remember when you used to be like that? Would you have wanted us to laugh at you? Or are you glad we disallowed it while helping you come up with other things you could do when you felt overwhelmed and angry?"

"I like that you helped me." he conceded.

"And I think it's great that you want to find something funny to do with that energy of yours." I admitted. "But you've got to have a punchline or a reason. Something that draws attention to the reality in a surprising way. We'll laugh with, instead of at. Like in mom's movie. There are lots of jokes about the different brain disorders, in the house and in the neighborhood, but the jokes have punchlines that make us think. They remind us to see the human being behind the challenges, while we're laughing. Does that make sense??"

Both of my brothers seemed to understand, and both of my brothers love to laugh and be funny, so we came up with some punchlines and jokes that we were comfortable with. I pulled in some examples from satirical shows I like to watch, and we talked about the truth that what one person finds funny and okay to laugh about, another may find fault and harm in.

"That's okay. That's actually good." I suggested. "If we don't think about why we're laughing and even grow and change what we laugh at, we're in trouble." I turned and told my youngest brother, "That video you made on your phone was funny to you, and it still may be. You still can make those videos if you want. But now you won't show me because you know I don't like it. And, importantly, you know why. You have a new idea. You might not agree with me or change, but I've given it to you to consider. It's a gift! Laughter is full of gifts!"

Entertainment is powerful, and laughter is telling! There is so much we can talk about and learn if we listen to our laughter!

SIDE NOTE: Whether or not you have any interest in watching The Interview with Seth Rogen and James Franco, I like living in a world that would allow it. Even if only so we can not go see it, or so we can organically change our nation's humor by talking about why we do or don't laugh at it.

So, this Christmas Day we laughed that subtle but persistent sadness out of existence! 

We chatted and shared pictures and phoned each other and felt love as big as if we were all together. 

Maybe bigger, because it had farther to go!!

I hope you are enjoying a fantastic fun, love, and laughter filled holiday as well!!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)