Thursday, April 24, 2014

Autism Answer: Living Within Our Means, And Loving It!

Sometimes I go get the mail and sigh sadly at the heavy burden of bills and bill collectors vying for my or my husband's attention. And every now and then I sit and daydream of a world where I send my sons to far-off places to learn and live lives matching exactly their goals and dreams, or of a brand new car that will travel the roads with confidence bringing me to see all of those I love everywhere they live, gas stations lighting up the empty roads while I pull out credit cards that are magically overflowing with credit. 

But mostly, almost always, I'm just happy. I love my life and have hardly any problem living within our means. We cut costs just like most families, and we hustle for money, just like most families. This is life, and I've decided to love it!

In truth, it's all about an attitude shift. I don't view cost cutting measures as things we have to do because we're poor, but rather choices we're making for the environment, society, family, and community. Even though...you know... we're also pretty broke and do get a laugh about that now and then!! I'll give you a few examples of my cost saving measures:

1) I don't grocery shop on an empty stomach, because when I'm hungry I tend to choose convenience foods which are slightly more expensive and ridiculously low on nutrition. So instead I take my time, sip a coffee, and buy foods that are high in nutrients. In this way we can eat less (because we are being nourished by smaller amounts of food) and our groceries will last the week. However, I do make sure to get at least one junk-food type treat that we can enjoy when needing to feel affluent and decadent!

2) I spend a lot of quality time with my boys--I have four teenage sons. We watch movies and talk about story lines, we dance in the living-room, we write songs, we go hiking and make each other laugh. Always we include my husband (who is a mechanic and is forever working!) by phoning him, talking about him, and celebrating him. And now that my two oldest sons have moved away we phone them, text pictures, mail packages... again, including them. These things are (mostly) free, but make us feel like we're really living it up. And they encourage a connection and feeling of support that is all too rare, and can't be bought!

3) We do almost all of our non-grocery shopping at thrift stores, which is really fun! Every item has a story--having lived in other homes or kept other bodies warm--and we get a kick out of imagining what that story could be. Also, we focus more on the recycling aspect of thrift stores rather than the cost saving. There's nothing wrong with being happy about saving money, but if we put too much emphasis on being broke then we are more likely to feel broke--which can be desperate and scary. Instead we get a kick out of our earth friendly thrift store purchases and the unlimited story imagining potential! 

These are just a few of my cost saving habits, but you get the idea! Living within our means and loving it is a choice, and I mostly choose it. 

Have there been trade-offs to living a life with less money? Well, of course.

The biggest trade-off I've made is allowing my oldest sons to move away from home when they were young (only fifteen), in order to follow their California dreams. My husband's job is in small town Texas, and so I chose to stay in small town Texas while my sons moved to California in order to live with my mom to go to an arts school, work with my sister (who is a producer of still-photo shoots) as models and production assistants, and go after their dreams of becoming film editors and actors. I would like to live in California, close to family, but there is no way we could ever afford it. And, in truth, I'm not sure my husband could ever be happy anywhere beside small town Texas. He's very comfortable here and it suits him. 

Are these trade-offs worth it? Absolutely!

My two youngest sons, who are still home with us, are doing very well in small town Texas. And my two oldest sons are happy and growing up beautifully. Most importantly, everyone has learned that you can go after what you want, regardless of income and other so-called hurdles. Our family has a feeling of support and togetherness that remains strong even while we're apart in miles, and we've broken free of the imagined shackles of poverty. When you make intentional choices about your life, and do it with support and passion, suddenly you see the limited value of money. 

I am not an advocate for poverty, but I do believe strongly in highlighting and seeking value in your life that doesn't rely entirely on money. There is much to be gained by living happily in your means, but there are also gifts being offered when living a life of feeling free financially. Free to give your time and donations to causes and people you feel passionate about. But the real gift offering isn't the money, it's the feeling of giving and discovering passions and people.

Regardless of your finances, there are always gifts!

This may seem strange but our small income has taught me how to accept financial help, or offers of food and clothes, graciously. I have always had a strange discomfort when getting money--even when I'm being paid for work!  But over the years I've had to learn to see the synergy in accepting help. When I was uncomfortable with it, I had a much harder time learning what I could do in return, because I was busy trying to hide away from people who I assumed were seeing me as pathetic. However, now that I can accept food, clothes, and other offered items from friends and even strangers comfortably, I'm willing to stay a while to find out what I can do for them. Suddenly, I see value is so much more than only things and money! I've learned to realize and act on the many things I can do for others that are equally valuable, and I've in turn been able to teach all of this to my fabulous children! Also, because my husband and I are comfortable living on a small budget I've gotten to spend so much time with my family, help out friends in need, and be there for my husband when my company is what he craves most. Always, I am available and more than willing. This has proved to be a much more concrete gift than I ever would have imagined!

And I feel successful! I walk through life proud of my accomplishments and excited to continue growing my what-I've-done-with-my-life list!

I really believe that the best intentional decision I made regarding feeling successful is attitude. In our family we tend to celebrate accomplishments, ideas, song lyrics, dance moves, the beauty of a night sky, the passion in our projects and the potential they have to inform, entertain, or enlighten. When these are the things you celebrate and talk about, these become the things you go after to feel successful. It's not as though we never wish we could buy an iPod or a car with less quirks, it's just that these are less often on our minds and so we less often feel broke. Because of this the other choices we make to stretch our money--accepting assistance graciously, organizing outings with the gas tank in the forefront of our plans, borrowing movies from the library rather than the Redbox--feel more like ingenuity and less like poverty. 

And how you feel is where you most often live. 

This is life, and I've decided to love it!




Hugs, smiles, and love!!

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Author's note: I'd like to thank Kenrya Naasel for asking me the questions that led me to articulate these answers. And for complimenting my work which encouraged me to keep believing in it! 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Autism Answer: Don't Hold Tightly To Excuses

Many, many years ago, when I was the mother of only two boys, I was walking into a laundromat with my kids when an Arab woman stopped me. 

"Your boys," she pointed,"they are Arab? Yes?"

Their dad is Saudi Arabian so I nodded proudly. My boys are so many things!! If she got me started I would never stop talking. I LOVE talking about my kids!!


Of course, here you are reading my blog, so you already know that.

Anyway, she interrupted my eruption of showing off with this doozy. "Arab boys are bad! So stubborn and so bad! Good luck!"

Huh. Okay.

Here's what's funny. At first I was just relieved that my boys hadn't heard her, since they were busy running around the laundromat being.... well.... kinda bad! 


And then I felt a warm relief to have heard her say what she said. You see, my boys were wonderfully wild and strong willed, and not huge fans of listening or calming down. It made me feel better to think that maybe my kids weren't a lot of work because I was a bad mom or because there was something wrong with them. It was their DNA! She had given me an excuse for the exhaustion and difficulty in parenting my boys, and I liked it for a while. 

But I was smart enough (well, my mom taught me to be smart enough!) to know the danger in holding onto that "Arabic boys are bad" motto. 

Admittedly, it is good to know that you're not alone, and that it's not "just you" in anything. It's excellent to have an understanding of the vastly different possibilities, whys, and whats that you're dealing with in anything. Culture, biology, religion, and so much more often does play a fascinating and fun to explore role in parenting, disabilities, social beliefs, romantic relationship expectations, political ideas etc. 


But there's a deep danger in choosing to hold on too tight and use it as an excuse rather than a possible ingredient.

So, for a few minutes that day in the laundromat I shook my head and even let out a fun exasperated sigh at my two "stubborn and bad" boys. But long before it could turn into a habit or excuse to give up and see my sons as actually bad to the bone, I stopped. 


And then I played color naming and imagination games as we sorted the clothes for washing.

My boys are many things, and all of them are something I love to live and work with! Even if sometimes it's exhausting and almost exasperating!



Here they are, my bad boys!
Playing in the plastic plants at the mall,
where they aren't allowed to play.
And though it was exhausting and people stared judgmentally at me often,
I miss those days!!!


Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Autism Answer: I'm The Easter Bunny!! aka It's Okay To Be Found Out For Being Fun!

Back when Shay was in preschool, his classroom was having a little Easter celebration and we parents were invited to bring goodies and join in the festivities. We hadn't been there long when my son's teacher pulled me aside and whispered,"We have an Easter bunny costume. Would you mind wearing it for the kids?"
Would I mind?! Heck no! I was honored!!
So, the teacher conspired with me to explain quietly to Shay why I had disappeared, while I would sneak off to an abandoned classroom and don an extremely warm and somewhat heavy bunny suit. The plan was hatched!
The kids filed outside to look for eggs, and shortly thereafter I made my grand entrance! I hopped and waved and hugged and posed for pictures. However, I wasn't out there long before one of the little girls from Shay's class jumped up and hollered,"That's not the Easter Bunny! It's Shay's mom!!"
Shay didn't miss a beat and, excited to participate in the cover up, replied,"Why would you think it's my mom? My mom had to go home to feed my brother with her boobs."
The little girl was not fooled--nor was she covering her mouth to stifle laughter the way all of the surrounding parents were. "I know it's your mom," she said with matter-of-fact clarity,"look how much fun she is!"
This Easter bunny/mom was rather thrilled to know that was what gave her away!!!

Happy Easter friends!
Have so much fun!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Autism Answer: Changing The World With Moments

"Mom, I think humans have bruised the world with pollution and disappointment."~Shay Shelton (my son, two years ago)

Driving to school the other morning my son said to me,"Mom, do you know that almost all of my friends take medicine that's made to help them get through the school day? I mean, don't you think there's something wrong if you need drugs to get through the day? And I don't mean there's something wrong with my friends, I mean there's something wrong with the school day."

I said,"Absolutely. Our bodies, especially kids bodies but grown-ups too, were not created to sit still and listen to what we're told to think. We crave movement and creativity and following our own ideas as well as other people's."

"It's hard for our generation, but what's it going to be like for the next generation?" he mused.

"Well, there are lots of us doing what we can to make a difference for you and your peers, but it will be up to you to make it different for your kids."

We chatted a bit more the rest of the drive. Then we had a huge laugh when I pulled up in front of the school and called out,"Have a great day at school boys!! Learn something!!"

Some things we can change in a moment, but mostly moments have to be what change the things.

Engage in and enjoy your moments!!


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



Shay Shelton
Getting an education by sharing, following, listening, guessing, discovering...
moment to moment to moment.



UPDATE: So, I ran into my son's school counselor and she said he came in to chat with her. She said they had a fascinating conversation about the public school system stifling creativity and more. She's excited to bring him some books to read written by authors who were also frustrated with the education establishment. I love it! She wasn't offended at all by his remarks, but rather enjoyed exploring options with him. 

There is something fabulous there, in the way my boys are celebrated and encouraged to share their ideas. It keeps us going and creating!

Not so stifling, huh! :D

Monday, April 14, 2014

Autism Answer: A Beautiful Story

Take a moment to remember a favorite book or movie. Remember how it encouraged you to feel, and think, and consider the motives and beliefs and struggles of others. Relive the way it validated some of your own emotions while at the same time challenged some of your ideas and assumptions. 

Breath in that beautiful story and all the gifts it gave you!

Now imagine that same story but written with terrible spelling and poor grammar, or told with bad acting, unflattering lighting, and clumsy edits. It's the same story, but the words are blunt where they could have been powerfully descriptive, or the wrong form of "your" glares at you picking a nerve, or a bad actor keeps saying "supposebly"....

Perhaps you would then have chosen to quit reading or watching in favor of moving onto a well polished tale. After all, you're busy and there are many such stories! Or perhaps you'd feel relief, or even joy, knowing that you are actually better than this storyteller. Instead you choose to experience the entire story with pity, searching for and highlighting the parts that prove your own betterness. Then there's those who will stay in the story only to laugh and pick apart the glaring mistakes that they wouldn't have made, the right way was so easy for them to learn themselves. Of course, they will ignore the truth that they too had to learn it.

But those who choose to enjoy and love and be moved by the story are gifted indeed!! 


And most deeply and beautifully effected are those who know that the story is beautiful regardless, yet take the time--without rush or desperation--to help that story present itself in a way that makes it easier for a larger audience to understand, knowing that the story may feel unloved and afraid to be itself over time without some tips or edits. Knowing that it may hide on a dusty shelf believing with more conviction over the years that it is of no value, while dust collects and people don't even laugh or feel sorry for it anymore, seeing the yellowed dusty pages or warped and cracked movie case, they only ignore it. 

They don't even consider it a story worth thinking about at all, and the story itself can't help but begin to believe it.

Imagine you take the time to teach and show and explain some of the grammar, spelling, lighting, camera angles, and delicious delivery tricks involved in storytelling. You work with no eye on the clock or calendar, no intention to please others or tell a different story that may have a more popular viewpoint or more money making explosions or gratuitous boob shots, but only to tell that same beautiful story with a little more confidence and a desire for it to be better understood and appreciated.

And here's my favorite part!! In teaching you don't push your own ideas or story suggestions, but rather allow the author to reveal their own. However, it's impossible not to become part of each other in this beautiful story. Together you will grow a little different.

You won't be able to help but see beautiful stories in so many more places! And your new friend won't be able to help but to notice how many more people are enjoying their own! Together you will grow confident and comfortable in a world that is filled with beautiful stories!

Stories that are beautiful exactly as they are, but become even brighter and farther reaching when offered a friend with the time and love to help them tell it.

We are all different parts in different types of beautiful stories. Don't make the mistake of pandering, or trying to be only a bestseller or blockbuster.

Be the story that has value for you, and the rest will follow naturally.

Being your own beautiful story will take all kinds of shapes over your lifetime! And sometimes it will mean being the person who helps another person's beautiful story reveal itself. Like Annie Sullivan did for Helen Keller.

And that's a beautiful story indeed!!

Everyone is a beautiful story.
Feel free to help your loved ones reveal theirs!

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

Friday, April 11, 2014

Autism Answer: Keeping And Teaching A Healthy Kind Of Crazy!

Lynette Louise aka THE BRAIN BROAD... her crazy ideas have helped heal thousands of families around the world!!

My mom, Lynette Louise, grew up with an unbalanced brain and received a few temporary diagnosis off and on throughout her life. Friends sometimes just called her "Crazy Lynette!"... her out of the box ideas gifted them with fantastic and creative games to play, and quickly revealed her global vision and leadership qualities. 

Eventually she would adopt four crazy boys, and get custody of two crazy teenage girls, to the thrill of me and my sister, her two crazy biological daughters! And together our family went from Crazy to Sane--which also happens to be the title of my mom's one woman musical comedy show. 

Ya. She teaches brain science and mental health answers with comedy and music. Crazy, huh?!

Why yes! It's the right kind of crazy! The fantastic and helpful kind!

The brilliant thing is, as mom went from crazy to sane, she brought her out of the box thinking and crazy belief in the value of disabled and mentally ill people with her. In other words, she held onto the right kind of crazy! 

Now she travels the globe as a mental health and parenting expert and teaches families her unique blend of play therapy, neurofeedback, and family dynamics counseling... because she has the crazy idea that her clients should become their own experts and learn to not need her anymore!! 

Growing up our family adopted this theme song,"Boom boom ain't it great to be--crazy! Boom boom ain't it great to be--crazy! Giddy and foolish all day long, boom boom ain't it great to be--crazy!?" This was an important attitude. Because it reminded us to appreciate the great in our crazy, while encouraging us to keep it light and positive. It gave us the desire to celebrate our uniqueness, while mom consistently exampled the value of marrying that comfort with intention and kindness. 

It was the crazy in mom, and the crazy in us, that gave us the audacity to believe we could be happy, smart, individual, and successful. And when our crazy was the kind that hurt, confused, or scared us... we were just crazy enough to believe we had the power and ability to change that. So, we did!!

My mom has a talent for sharing a healthy kind of crazy while healing uncomfortable and unbalanced brains. 

Celebrate the crazy in your life too. The world needs a little more originality and a lot less trying to fit into some mold made for somebody else. 


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I Ran Away, And There I Was~ Sometimes You Have To Get Away From Your Life In Order To Discover Yourself

Author's note: I told my son about an essay contest I wanted to enter that had the prompt, "The best decision you ever made". He told me to write about being the best mom. I may not have won the essay contest, but I won an opportunity to share how I became my own kind of "best" mom. Plus, I got to hear my son call me the best mom! This is that essay.
# # #


Despite being surrounded by support and praise, some people have an easier time hearing their own thoughts and discovering their personal style by disappearing for a while. I was one of those people, and this is a piece of my story.

It's crazy to admit that running away from my life, with my children in tow, was the best decision I ever made. Especially for me, the person for whom running away and avoiding responsibility has been a consistent choice, disappointing and proving to myself that I suck, time and time again.
Yet there it is. True and filled with personal history. Running away from Child Protective Services was the best decision I ever made. Of course, it wasn't my idea, it was mom's. As almost every strong, out-of-the-box, socially strange, right choice in my life has ever been.

Like so many little girls, I've always admired and aspired to be like my mom. She is beautiful and strange. She is loving and strong. She is very different from me, which makes her also mysterious and impressive at every turn. She thrives on responsibility, and is driven by an untamed passion to have more of it than would break most women.
When my sister and I were little my mom loved us almost too much. It made her emotional and intense; her love couldn't fit in our small family. She tried marrying a few times, but it's always been children that her love is best suited for. So, she adopted four mentally challenged boys and eventually two badly abused teenage homeless girls. My brothers and sisters were fantastic and loved. They were the perfect place for my mom to buffer the strength of so much heart and fight.
And boy, did my mom have to fight! With schools, social workers, neighbors, her mom, and herself. But we kids only felt love and had fun! My brothers blossomed with her belief in them and the strength she exampled. They constantly became more than professionals said they could. My mom's unconventional ways made folks uncomfortable (Family Comedy Performers; as a way for us to make money without needing babysitters) but also made my family strong and smart.
I wanted so badly to be like my mom. The problem is I'm not.

As a teenager I spent a lot of time alone, running away. I would skip school and ride the transit all over the city. Mostly happy, I enjoyed window shopping and spending hours in used book stores. Chatting with strangers and deciding who I was. Promising to meet people places, or go to job interviews, but then ditching them. Afraid that whatever they'd seen in me wouldn't be there the next time and so I'd hide away. I loved my crazy fun family, but was afraid that I sucked at taking care of them. My sisters and mom would look at my brothers and see people with challenges they could overcome, but I saw cute little unable people. And I was not proud of that.
I got jobs. At one point I had three jobs, and tried to prove myself responsible. My mom always had all kinds of jobs, but I couldn't handle it. I was overwhelmed. Yet I was afraid to quit a job, so I just stopped going and hid away from the phone calls. Later as a single mom I tried responsibility again. I was living on my own, and rather enjoyed it. My son and I danced and sang a lot. My pregnant belly grew and we talked about the brother or sister inside. But I was lonely for family. Plus, I lived on Mother's Allowance which is a beautiful gift that allows moms to truly give attention and teach their children, but is often judged as lazy. I'm not lazy, but I'm not my mom. So I began to wonder if I was lazy.
After my second son was born--with my mom there to deliver him before the ambulance could arrive!-I moved back in with mom and my brothers. My mom was excited by the idea of me living with her. She could be with her grandsons, and I could help teach my teen brothers more skills and hang with them when she had to go out of town for work. It was a win/win! I was also excited. Living with mom would be the greatest way to parent perfectly! After all, she has always been the best, so I'd feel compelled to do it right while she watched.
The theory is neat, but it couldn't work. After all, I was still trying to be like her. I wanted so badly to be like her that I wasn't taking the steps necessary to discover me.
My mom is supportive and non-judgmental. She never tried to parent my sons or give me any unwanted advice regarding my own style. So it took some mental gymnastics to feel judged when living with mom, but I am skilled! My floor show would gain tens from every single judge! Except the only judge was me, and I was in no mood to give myself tens.
I was inconsistent with my children. I was struggling to be seen as a good mom, a strong mom, a loving mom, a creative mom, and I was doing it without any true idea of what that really meant. I knew what it looked like when my mom loved us. But I could never grasp what it felt like to be her, and so I was playing a role that I couldn't understand. One I wasn't actually trying to understand because I was busy watching my audience's reaction and trying to play to that.
I got jobs, quit jobs, met a man, got pregnant again, left the man, lived with my family in an RV, helped some of my brothers learn to drive, moved with my family into a lovely run down home in the woods, met another man, got pregnant again, decided to get married, and then….
I was still trying to figure myself out. But I had learned that I love my sons and will do anything for them. That much is true of mom and me. I was beginning to notice my worth and feel the importance of discovering myself, because I was so full of desire for my boys to do the same. The man that I met and married fell in love with me when he saw how much I loved my boys. I knew I was doing something right. I just needed to know what, so that I could feel it concretely.
One day my sister was visiting us in our little middle of nowhere house while our mom was out of town. She was napping, and my then youngest son was asleep, so I picked up a book to read for a while. Some time passed when I noticed that the older boys were a little too quiet. So I headed outside to check on them. When at first I couldn't find them in the immediate yard I got a little worried. We have trails and a pond that they liked to visit, so I rushed to check the pond first. When I got to the water and they were not there I hurried back in the other direction, called out to them and checked the trails that they liked. They weren't there either. I panicked. We live on 67 acres of wooded property. Suddenly I knew they could be anywhere. I felt a fear so thick my vision blurred.
I woke my sister and the baby, and we hopped in her car to check the railroad track. There was no way I expected them to have gotten that far, but it seemed like the most dangerous possibility, and so I wanted to rule it out.
As we approached the track I saw my boys. The oldest was six and dressed in plenty of layers of ninja gear. The younger was four, and completely naked. Our dog stood tall and proud, keeping a loyal eye on my adventurers. There was also a man I'd never seen before, standing with them.
My first reaction was to hug and kiss my boys. But when I saw that man standing there I quickly scanned my brain for what would look like good parenting. For his benefit, I chose to yell at them.
The man gave me a lecture, I thanked him and nodded, just wanting to get home. In the car my son explained, "We were just going to Dairy Queen. I brought the dog so that we would be safe. "
It wasn't long before I got visits from Child Protective Services. I went to court and they told me, "We just don't like your kind around here." I'm not sure what my kind is. I didn't ask. Then they warned me, "If even one of your boys gets hurt out there on that property, we're going to take them."
I've never been so scared. I didn't know how to defend myself, because I wasn't even sure who myself was. For a while I became an even worse mom, so afraid of what people were seeing because it had been proven to me that what they see matters so much you can lose your kids. But there was no way to know or guess what they needed to see.
I love my sons. They are everything. And somewhere in that perfect storm of fear and love and stress a thought revealed itself. They are everything. The opinions of others aren't everything. The look of my parenting isn't everything. Even being like my mom isn't everything.
My sons are. And the only way I could be everything for them would be to know who I am. To stop slipping and sliding and not gaining traction on any of my own beliefs and parenting styles.
So when my oldest son broke his leg playing ball in the house, a decision had to be made. He had gotten hurt on our property, and I wasn't going to lose my children. When mom came up with the idea of me running away, spending months traveling while using her timeshares and visiting family, I first argued that running away was wrong. That it was a habit I was trying to break.
But she pointed out that it was just the opposite. That by gathering my children I would be stepping up and taking responsibility, and I could see that truth. After all, my mom is the queen of responsibility!
My husband didn't like it, but he agreed that it was smart. He supported it and ordered us phone cards so that I could constantly call.
I gathered my children and packed the car. I was quite pregnant at the time and feeling a strong desire to know my own self as a mom by the time my fourth son was born.
Armed with a mission, my loves, and the support of a wonderful family, I ran away one more time.
Those months with my boys, playing on beaches, snuggling and watching movies, teaching sibling care and finding my parenting self with passion were beautiful months indeed. My son was born while on the road. Family came and-once again!-mom was there to deliver another grandson.
While I was hiding from CPS, while my son's broken leg healed as he played with his brothers, while I sat listening to my children and myself, I learned to stop assuming judgments. I learned to stop fearing that I wasn't as good as my mom. I learned to stop needing approval from outside of myself.
I blossomed.
Turning the volume up on myself and heading home, I comfortably knew that my sons and I would be fine, as long as we choose to always be authentic.
Defending and being what you think you're supposed to be is uncomfortably wrong.
Defending and being who you are is beautiful and important.

I ran away one last time, and there I was.

Me, my four boys,
 and a seriously kick-ass awesome support network of family!!
Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)