Friday, June 9, 2017

Autism Answer: Expanding My Edges - A Leadership Role Nervously Executed



Author's Note: Following is a piece I wrote in response to the prompt "Stepping Outside of your Comfort Zone". I want to share it here with you specifically because this is an issue we struggle with in the world of autism. It is commonly understood that a comfort zone is somewhat more necessary for folks with autism. It is also extremely important that we continue to expand our edges, regardless of how extreme our challenges are. I have a hard time with this but my mom is brilliant at it! She is so deeply respectful of the person that her ability to expect more and raise the bar, while completely and actively acknowledging and caring about the challenge of it, gives her a special gift. I have tried hard to learn this balance from her. 

What I believe is that if we do our best to love the person completely and care about their wholeness, whether the person is ourselves or a loved one, we'll be able to help expand edges and step outside of comfort zones without harming or pushing too hard. We'll make mistakes, sure. We'll push when we should pull back, and we'll allow when perhaps we should have nudged, but I think our understanding and respect for the wholeness will help us make few mistakes. I believe that.

So, here is a story of me pushing myself to expand my edges. Dive in and get uncomfortable with me, friends! ~Tsara


 A Leadership Role Nervously Executed
“I don’t know anything about baseball but I have the time, so I can coach the t-ball team if someone will give me pointers,” I forced myself to say.


Everyone at the ballpark looked at me with unreadable expressions. “I’ve seen her around but don’t know who she is” and “thank goodness she’ll do it” and “should we let her do it” were ingredients I imagined in those expressions – logical, but perhaps invented by my own knowledge of who I was and who I wasn’t.


I could barely breathe and felt my lips go numb with nervousness as the coaches – now including me – headed into the small concession building to choose our players.


Who was this me I was being? I knew why I was forcing myself to volunteer but not who it would make me into. Although at nearly thirty years old I knew that who I would become was entirely up to me. I think that’s what scared me most. Knowing it was up to me.


I had always been a shy, temporary “helper” type. Growing up in a large loving family filled with disabilities (my mom is addicted to taking the lead and has always adopted people who needed someone to fight for them) we moved towns every two years, being sure to keep neighbors from growing too resentful of us. My mom was clever that way, taking advantage of our novelty and leaving when it had worn off. The experience for us kids was that we felt almost always interesting and likable.


However, it also gave me a feeling of being temporary. This was purely my own doing because shyness was a companion that traveled with me everywhere, and in each new neighborhood I would attempt to overcome it in different ways. Knowing that whoever I chose to be in this new place could be completely rewritten at the next one. I wasn’t lying about who I was exactly, just trying out different versions of myself.


But being temporary meant never taking the lead or becoming necessary. Shyness was temporary’s accomplice in this regard. And so I eventually defined myself everywhere as a helper, an assistant, a person who catches the stuff that falls out of the basket while walking behind a leader.

So, why was I offering to coach a t-ball team in my small town? Talk about stepping outside of my comfort zone!


Well, that was the point you see. I had watched my oldest son quit his baseball team as soon as it took him out of his comfort zone. He had been so naturally talented in the beginning that there was no work involved, only fun. Then the teams grew bigger and more challenging and my oldest son was no longer easily one of the best players. So, rather than work on his skill and try to become a more permanent part of the team, he quit. And I had known that as a role model I’d failed him. I was still failing him.


So when my youngest son asked to sign up for t-ball I made a quiet promise to myself to step up and play a bigger role in the game and in this town.


I guess The Universe heard and decided to test me. It turned out that they didn’t just need active parents, they needed another coach in order to accommodate all the kids who had signed up. I pushed those words, “I can do it,” out with force, wanting so very badly not to do it. Hoping that they wouldn’t accept my offer so I could pat myself on the back for being willing to take the lead without ever having to do so.


Well, I had to do so.


After choosing our players (the other coaches recognized most of the names on the list while I just called out whichever name was easiest for my nervous vision to see) we headed out of the small building, back into the Texas heat. “I really don’t know much about baseball,” I repeated to the woman who was running things.


“Don’t worry, it’s easy,” she offered. “I’ll give you everything you need. Thanks for volunteering.”


I nodded and walked toward my four sons who were playing wild and free with friends. They were between the ages of six and twelve and needed a mom who would not be temporary. A mom who was willing to try on a leadership role in this town that was, for them, home.


They hadn’t grown up moving every two years but instead had lived in this small Texas town for as long as they could remember. Their schools, friends, birthday parties, dance classes, and baseball teams were all here.


So I gathered my boys and took them home, filling my trunk with t-ball equipment and carrying a list of players and phone numbers. I spent the night afraid of messing up and writing a kids song about getting around the bases. About doing your best and having fun.


I tried to believe in my song.


What a fraud I felt like the next day when calling parents to introduce myself as coach! It took me two hours to phone ten numbers, frightened and nervous before each new introduction. I would pick up the phone, press a number, hang it up, go pee, pace the hall, try again, hang up. Everyone was friendly and just wanted to know where the first practice was but I wanted to know how on earth I was going to be a leader. Me? I’m a helper, I’m temporary, I don’t belong with all eyes on me.


But when I met all of the kids on the first day of practice I knew I could have fun. They were adorable! They loved my song, although I never did teach anyone how to play ball. I never quite figured it out myself.


What I did do was ask for help from other parents, show up for every practice and every game, step into the role of coach without any talent but with a willingness to do the work every single day, accepting the nervousness and fear. It never went away and it barely lessened, but I didn’t give up or quit.


I stepped into the leadership role and did a terrible job. It was fantastic!


Taking on a leadership role didn’t transform me into a natural leader but it did help me define and understand the value of my role as helper. When I reached out for help as a coach, when those parents pitched in and showed the kids what it meant to be in the outfield, I had more room in my schedule to listen and learn and take over in other areas. We were, by far, the worst team on the roster. But we had fun and got to know each other.


I am often recognized and chatted with at the post office and local grocery store. I don’t feel temporary anymore.


But most importantly, without hypocrisy I am able to push my sons outside of their comfort zone; and I am equally able to empathize and understand the challenge of it.

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Autism Answer: Real Beauty (Dove and Shonda Rhymes Want Our Stories)



Shonda Rhimes has partnered with Dove (the personal care brand) and they launched Real Beauty Productions. They have called for submissions and stories, from women of every type, that will help expand the definition of beauty. Stories that will help define beauty in a thoughtful healthy manner. What a valuable and necessary project! 

So, I am sharing my story with you here (yes, I also used their form to share it with Dove) in hopes that you, too, will have a story to share. And if you don't feel that you do, I encourage you to change that! Perhaps have your story now. Make a purposeful shift in how you see and imagine Real Beauty. 

Here's the link that I hope you'll use: #RealBeauty

And here's my story. Hopefully it will get you thinking about yours. 

#RealBeauty

I was a twenty-three-year-old single mom when I met my now husband of seventeen years. As I watched him fix my mom's car I was immediately attracted to him. Twice my age, rugged, and black as night I responded to his pull by swinging my hips, pinching color into my pale cheeks, and glossing my lips. However, he seemed entirely uninterested. I flirted while he avoided looking at me. I was a little bruised by the rejection but as a single mom dating wasn't easy, so I chose to pretend I was relieved.

Later, when I went into town to pay him for the work he'd done, I dropped the flirting and was comfortably myself. Animated and authentic I playfully complained about missing my sons, who were visiting my sister. The mechanic's demeanor changed and for the first time, he looked at me. "How old are you?" My answer surprised him and he admitted that he'd thought I was much younger. Well, no wonder he hadn't flirted back! But then, also, he continued to tell me more and the reasons for his lack of interest in my swinging hips proved deep and somewhat disturbing.

As a black man growing up in the south he'd learned never to look a white woman in the eye. Responding to my signals could prove dangerous for him, though unlikely dangerous for me. As he shared these things with me I found myself drawn in ever more, but quickly showed it in a new way.

I became more myself. Rather than pout my lips and fling my hair, I displayed my kindness and tossed ideas. We connected by exploring who we were, each of us encouraging the other to dive deeper and discover more. I began to feel more beautiful than I ever had. Who I was and what I did were beautiful and as I flirted with the mechanic a confidence in my beauty grew outward.

My family saw it. My friends saw it. Even I saw it.

The mechanic and I have now been married for seventeen years and we have raised four sons together. This newer understanding of beauty, as a displaying of who I am not how I look, has informed their understanding of beauty. I see it in the way they treat themselves and others.

So it turns out that discovering my own true beauty not only helped me feel gorgeous but also made me a better mom! How wonderful!

_________________________

Now, I don't know if my story will ever be shared via Real Beauty Productions. But I do know that taking the time to share it helped me feel it. Helped me know it. So, I have benefited! Also, by sharing it here with you (which may disqualify me from being featured by Dove, but that's okay) I have also imagined that maybe you will benefit. I hope so! 

Whether you share your story or not, I absolutely encourage you to take a moment or two to consider your definition of beauty. And if necessary, make a few changes. 

Whatever definition you create for yourself, be sure it recognizes your worth and your real beauty, friends. 

There's no shame in wanting to blossom further but it will be easier and more fun if you recognize your beauty now. 

Happy Saturday beautiful friends!!
Hugs, smiles, and love!!

A small sampling of women in my life that are beautiful.
 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Autism Answer: A Conversation With My Brother About Meeting Girls


Some of us siblings chatting in the sun.

My Brother: I try to meet girls. I try to talk to them but some women are just so stuck up.

Me: True, but mostly we're not. Mostly we've learned to protect ourselves by ignoring advances and random compliments from men.

My Brother: But I'm just telling them they look good, it's a compliment.

Me: Sure, but I promise you, most of us women have experienced men talking to us in nasty, rude, inappropriate ways. Sometimes it starts with a friendly compliment and when we respond, even in the slightest, it turns into something nasty and uncomfortable. Certainly not all the time, but often enough that we've learned to pretend we didn't hear you.

My Brother: I guess I see what you mean. I've got friends who talk to girls that way. But you were just telling me to practice chatting with people in order to meet them, so what the heck am I supposed to do?

Me: Well, for starters, don't focus on how they look. Chatting with people is about connecting, recognizing similar interests. That sort of thing. If a woman is buying coffee in the grocery store and you've never tried that brand of coffee, for example, you could ask her if it's good. But, and this is important, only if you actually want to know. And if she doesn't answer you, don't take it personally. But also, if she does answer you, don't try to turn it into, "Can I have your number?" Just let it be a natural conversation. The better you get at that, the better your chances of connecting with people.

My Brother: Ya, I did that the other day. I chatted with a girl about her day at work and the conversation flowed easy. When it stopped, I just said, "Have a nice day," and went on my way.

Me: Perfect! Great example! Right now you just want to get comfortable honestly chatting. Eventually, a friendship can grow out of some of these encounters but don't force it.

My Brother: Wait, I always see you chat with people. Do you do the thing you were saying? Ignore people for protection or whatever?

Me: Mostly? Nope. Sometimes I do, when my gut tells me to, but mostly I chat. I have a belief that in small ways I can make a difference by giving most people the benefit of the doubt and when it turns inappropriate (and, admittedly, it often does) I say, "No, I don't like that," in a strong, kind way. That's a new skill I have and I want to use it. Also, I want to get better at it. We have been taught in both subliminal and obvious ways that guys will do that, and girls will handle it, and that's just how it is. I don't agree. I think we can make it happen less if we change the underlying narrative and assumptions. So, I do my small part.

My Brother: Maybe those other girls should learn to do that. Give me the benefit of the doubt, like you said.

Me: Not necessarily. I used to respond to guys who called out to me and then I got myself in sticky situations when they were pushy. I didn't have the "no" skill I have now. So, for many women, ignoring is probably safer. It's not up to us girls to solve this problem, we need to insist that the boys don't think it's okay to treat us as sexy toys. We've got to work together on this one.

My Brother: So, I should talk to girls about things that are happening in the moment, not about how they look.

Me: Yes! Exactly! Eventually, you'll be comfortable enough that you can add the piece about them being pretty to you, because it will happen naturally and not as an excuse to talk to them. Besides, it will also be good for you to pay attention to things other than what the girl looks like.

My Brother: (Dubiously) I guess.

Me: (Giggle!) You are so funny to me. You call the girls stuck up but you are a little stuck up yourself there, mister!

My Brother: I guess.
___________________

I love that my brothers will have these kinds of conversations with me. I love sharing my perspective and learning theirs.

My favorite thing about diversity done well is the guided imagining of a different perspective.

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