Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Autism Answer: Social Skills, Academics, Life skills, and Family Love-Living on Vacation

My little sister, Brandessa, and my little brother, Rye, were hanging out with me at a resort in East Texas. 

We were taking advantage of the timeshare my mom bought years and years ago. Back when we lived in an RV and my mom was homeschooling my brothers because school had done nothing but stifle, scare, and hurt them. Back when we lived in an RV and traveled the country and discovered a resort offering unheard of deals in order to get people in the place and the business off the ground. 

Back when my mom cleverly took advantage of happy vacationers and activity centers to teach social skills to my socially challenged brothers. Back when I was living with mom so that she could help me raise my boys and I could return the favor by trying to help her raise my brothers. 

Two of my sons were born in cabins at these resorts. All of my brothers learned years worth of academics and social etiquette at these resorts. They made mistakes, and then we'd switch locations, and then they'd do better, and then they stopped making mistakes. My entire family feels at home in these resorts. 

Last week my little sister, Brandessa, drove in from California with her family and her children while my little brother, Rye, took a couple days off of work to visit and swim in the pool. Some of my sons (the ones still living with me) and I drove up and sort of played host, arriving before everyone and leaving last.

All of our children agreed that the resort feels like home.

There is no way we could have known for sure, years and years ago when my mom took my brothers out of school and we lived in timeshares and an RV that we were for sure doing something that would play a huge role in the learning and growing of generations of us. 

But we did know it could. 

So, mom did it. 

And although mom couldn't make it to the resort this trip, although mom had to work and miss out on the family shenanigans and joy and memories and mini golf and late night tennis games surrounded by Texas sized bug clouds, mom was there. In our gratitude, in our conversations, and in the skills we have as siblings and parents to make those fun things happen. 

Mom could (and does!) find joy in the knowledge that she helped create us!

This picture of my little sister, Brandessa, and my little brother, Rye, is possible because of mom's ability to always see possibility, and to then take the next step into action. 

And also, it's a picture of two people that I love very much!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 

Brandessa and Rye!
Feeling at home in the Cabin.
A view of the lake from the activity center.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Autism Answer: Hiking in the Woods

Life keeps changing and we continue to find new paths.
Hiking in the woods alone has always been one of my favorite activities. 
At a resort in East Texas

Hiking in the woods with my sons when they were tiny, noisy, and adventurous, daring each other and themselves to do bigger and more dangerous things, was also an activity I enjoyed; though it was rarely relaxing!

Hiking in the woods with Shay now, my seventeen year old son with an imagination so wild it compliments the overgrown forest, while the overgrown forest returns the favor by enhancing his imagination, is one of my favorite activities indeed!

Hiking in the woods has shifted and grown different for me through the years. When one path is lost to me, another will be carved out or surprisingly discovered. 

Sometimes I have to find the new joy intentionally, temped a little bit to consider the fun gone once a path has been lost to me. Once creeping vines or noisy children have changed the effect and experience entirely. But with a shift in attitude and a trust in unknown and new kinds of fun to discover, I always find myself once again hiking in the woods.

Once again, discovering new joys, new life, and new survival techniques!
Hiking in the woods with Shay

As it turns out, hiking in the woods is always a delight!! With a flexible nature and the desire to bring newness to old joys, hiking in the woods is a forever delight!

Right now, hiking in the woods with Shay is the path I'm on.
And it's awesome!!!

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

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Autism Answer: Moving in with my Husband (aka Learning to Live Together)

I'll admit, moving in with my husband is one of the least challenging challenges I've had to overcome in my life. But it was a challenge. One that was filled with fabulous, evergreen, life lessons!

My hubby and I have been happily married for fifteen years. We are as different as two people can be (he's black, I'm white, he's a hard working mechanic who's never left his small town Texas life, I'm a free spirited Canadian hippy type who never learned to stay in one place, he's twenty-three years older than me) yet our marriage is a comfortable and nourishing one. And it was always simple, too.

Mostly because we truly love and respect each other, but also because for thirteen years we lived in two separate homes.

Me in the woods where the kids (we have four sons--three are from my previous relationships) could run wild and make unlimited amounts of noise, and he in town where he could work on cars and watch the news. Our homes were not far from each other and we were together often, but there is a gift in not having to learn to live together as well.

Eventually, though, there was also the gift of learning to live together.
My hubby and the boys: Working Togehter

The house I was staying in with my boys was sold and we packed up any belongings we felt compelled to keep and moved into the tiny trailer house with my husband. By then two of our four boys had moved out on their own so we weren't crowded, but we were challenged to learn life more consistently together.

At first, I was an uncomfortable mix of overly polite and quietly defensive. Not defensive for myself but for our sons and their strange habits. Which is, admittedly, defensive of myself and my parenting, but I digress.

Our two youngest boys have social issues and sensory sensitivities that make them quirky and unusual. This is a lovely thing! But for my husband, who had always known about the quirks but never had to live with them, it was hard. He was now faced with a feeling of needing to parent. Because he was there in the middle of the night when our sixteen year old son wanted to empty drawers and invent stories and tape stuff together, he felt an obligation to teach this away. And when our fourteen year old son would hide in his room singing and laughing and watching videos and burning incense and eating sporadically, only coming out to go to school or to get a drink of water, my husband would feel a need to tell him to come out of his room and stop watching videos. 

On Money: Living together has meant that our vastly different views and beliefs on how and why money should be spent is much more in our face. When I choose expensive organics, my hubby sees it in the fridge. When he watches television, I see it in my living room (and on our children).

This has become a gift, but we had to make it one! Learning to argue and show and explain why we believe in spending money the way we do has made us better at teaching, while it's invited us to dig deeper into our beliefs about money. It's encouraged us to remember the value of patience and compromise, along with the value of sticking to your core belief when you must. Often, I must!

My handsome hubby and I are going to live together and spend money together for a long time so it's worth the discussions and flexibility. It's another important lesson I use when I step out into the world with the desire to listen, love, and be heard.

At our home in the woods, we had the freedom to be ourselves and with that freedom we grew confident in many ways. We also grew dangerously anti-social in other ways. So I knew that I wanted to learn life in town; life with people and social expectations. Not so we could become what was expected of us, but rather so we could grow more connected and compassionate. Human beings are social creatures, and we are no exception. 

So I allowed myself to be defensive with my hubby, but I also pushed myself to keep my eyes open. To see what others were seeing and to learn what lessons I agreed with- to raise the bar, as my mom always says.

Because my husband and I respect and love each other so much, and because we both believe in and are amazed by our impressive children, it didn't take long to love this more together life. My hubby has found comfort in the sound of our son awake in the night building cities out of trash and I've found pleasure in teaching him to respect our sleeping hours with quiet. My husband understands now the toll being social at school places on our other son and I adore the creative ways I've found to get him out of his room.

Also, I've gotten fabulously gifted at recognizing the difference between an annoying habit and a true problem. It's rare that my husband and I have to work something out between us, an issue or contradiction that's truly problematic, because mostly--as different as we are from each other-- we're coming from the same place. So when we do need to deal with something in our marriage, we both feel a deep respect for each other's point of view. Sure, it's frustrating when he keeps arguing for his wrong point of view (tee hee!!) but it's also not something we're working on only after a mountain of itty bitty issues have piled up. Living with my husband has given me the gift of seeing clearly the things to simply let go of. And I've become a better sister, mom, and friend because of it.

Our marriage has grown stronger and our sons have grown stronger and our dreams and futures are starting to grow more concrete. Because now we're truly and completely doing it together.

Moving in with my husband has challenged me to learn and value true collaboration. Not just with my immediate family where collaboration and comfort have almost always come naturally, but from outside of us as well. From people and places that have gifts and experiences to offer that I may have missed if I hadn't begun to incorporate new folks into my world. If I hadn't gained the skill of knowing the difference between annoying and truly problematic, and the value of allowing both the exist while collaborating and working together. 

Moving in with my husband has brought me a huge step closer to truly moving in with the world. 

And that is one great big huge fantastical evergreen life lesson!

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

A long ago picture of my hubby and me!
*For more fun stories and life lessons be sure to check out my book Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up. Available in ebook and paperback on Amazon, Barns & Noble, Powells, and Archway Publishing.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Autism Answer: It's Not About Taking Sides

I headed excitedly to the back of our trailer home where my son sleeps. Shay was alone in his room, writing in his journal and listening to music. I knocked, opened the door without waiting for a response and exclaimed, "I'm babysitting The Little Lady today!"

He looked up and, being the hugest fan of babies, grinned and clapped and asked, "Are they here yet?"

I admitted that they weren't. But he got up and came out of the room and walked outside with me, hoping to make them appear with our excitement. While we tried to manifest the appearance of The Little Lady and Her Mom, Shay said something perfect. 

"You know what's good, mom? The Little Lady is my brother's ex-girlfriend's baby, and Her Mom hasn't been dating my brother in years, but we all stay friends." He reflected for a moment and added, "We love The Little Lady and Her Mom, actually. Because with our family it's not about taking sides."

I scratched his back and nodded in agreement. 

We waited for a few more minutes. Then I got a text that it would still be another hour before The Little Lady and Her Mom showed up, so we headed indoors, seeking air-conditioning and distractions. 

As we walked in my other son, Declyn, came out of his room and looked around. "Are they here yet?" he asked. 

"Not yet, soon." I answered. 

"Well, I was going to ask for a ride to my friend's house but I changed my mind. You must be so excited to see The Little Lady, I just want to let you have that fun for today. I'll go to my friend's house tomorrow." He gave me a pat on the shoulder and headed back to the black hole of anime, video games, and fantasy/sci-fi series books that is his room. 

Finally, The Little Lady and Her Mom showed up. I only babysat for a few minutes, long enough to laugh at the chickens next door and to share a Popsicle. Her Mom and I chatted a bit and shared mom thoughts. Then she headed home. 

It was lovely. And, Shay was right. My son's ex-girlfriend brought her baby over and gave me the gift of loving and playing with her. I had that gift because in our family (and in The Little Lady's family) it's not about taking sides. 

It's about loving people and helping out when we can. It's about knowing when we can't or shouldn't reach out and creating a story of inclusion to explain it rather than a story of sides or dualities.

It's not about taking sides. 

Unless you're talking about the side of love and humanity. 

I'll take that side, with a Popsicle please!
tee hee!

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

The Little Lady and Me!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Autism Answer: Be Strong And Smart And Loving Enough To Listen

When my four sons were itty bitty adorable snuggle bugs I used to playfully whine and beg them for hugs. I felt like I was being fun and reminding them in silly ways how much I love them. 

One day my second oldest son (who liked snuggles least of all) said with clarity, and a bit of anger, "You always say that rape is bad, but then you don't listen when we say no to your hugs. It's like your saying one thing and doing a different thing. It's snuggle rape." 

Wow! My son was only about seven at the time but he was absolutely right! It hurt me to remember all of the times I'd insisted and begged and believed I was doing the right thing. I apologized and made a promise to always wait for permission. You know, as long as they promised to remember that I always love them and always want a snuggle! tee hee! 

Now that my sons are all teenagers and adults I'm so glad that I listened to my darling boy that day. 

Not only are my young men growing into fantastic people, but we are (mostly) comfortable talking about the so many important lessons we learned on that day. Not only when it comes to sex, but when it comes to how we treat others in general. Especially the importance of listening when they tell us how we're making them feel. 

One thing we've all been encouraged to learn in the autism world is the concretely different ways the world behaves and feels and smells and looks from person to person. For people with sensory issues or unusual pathways and connections in their brains, this is especially true. So even if a person appears to be the same as you--the same color, religion, and sex--they aren't. Possibly they are drastically different!

Very often we have lovely intentions and it can be easy to roll our eyes at people who tell us our actions make them feel perpetrated on. What a dangerous and cruel mistake! 

My son was strong and smart and stood up to me that day. And I was strong and smart and loving enough to listen. 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
(But only if you want it! Giggle!)

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)


Author's Invitation: Yesterday I enjoyed being interviewed about my book Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself on the podcast Envision This! We talked about parenting, autism, poverty, mixed-race relationships, and living on the edge of society. I also spent some time explaining more about the importance of listening to others. I hope you'll head over and have a listen! Not only was the conversation fun but they also played never before heard studio recordings of my song (Sexy Daydreams) and my son's song (Brothers)!!!! Enjoy!!! 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Autism Answer: Parenting Propaganda

The four similar looking cars driving on the highway this morning made me smile. I was traveling behind them, windows open, hair down, music playing, and imagining the cars as my four sons. I imaged myself encouraging and cheering and loving them from my position behind them. I even felt obnoxious enough to imagine myself as the wind guiding them forward; together yet separate. 

But suddenly the car second from the front put on his turn signal. As he applied the brakes, slowing down to make his turn, my stomach lurched and I fought a sudden urge to cry. I'm fighting it now. 

The car at the front was now far ahead of us, the car that was leaving didn't change his mind--he left. The cars behind him skirted carefully but without concern around him on the shoulder. 

I wanted to cry out! "Come back! Stay with us! You can be your own car but don't go your own way!! We miss you!" but then I saw that the first car was almost out of my view and I felt my hope and fear pulled in his direction. "Wait! You're going too fast, too far! You have to wait for your brothers! We have to go get the one that got away! We miss you! I miss you!"

Honestly, friends, I held back a tear.
Honestly, friends, I had to get a grip.

Many of you know how I best get a grip. I tell myself a new story. 

So, I sat all four of my beautiful, strong, struggling, different, lovely sons down at a coffee shop in my mind. They were gabbing amongst themselves, laughing and teasing and living in the energy that grows when they are together and completely comfortable. Before they had time to remember the small cracks and jealousies in their relationships, the me in my imagination spoke up. "Okay boys," I told them, surprising myself with the conviction in my voice and surprising myself even more with the authenticity of it, "I have to say something. Please, don't interrupt."

I sipped my organic imagination coffee and looked for a moment at each one of my boys. Then, with a breath and a tiny quiver, I told the the truth. "Ever since there was more than one of you I have wanted, more than anything, for you to have strong brother bonds. Because my relationship with my sister has been such a blessing for me, and because my selfishness as a mom has me wanting you to stay together, my desire for your brother bond has tinted everything I do." 

Even in my imagination I wanted to stop. I wanted to leave it there--a truth shared can be enough. I could tell myself that I told them, that I didn't need to take the extra step and let them go. 

But I love my boys too much. I love my life too much to start hiding and justifying again. So, I continued speaking. Softly so that they would lean in and really listen. I knew I might not be able to say this again. "Everything, boys, has been tinted. And in some way, tainted. Because my want, my desire, is exactly that: Mine. It's not right or wrong, but it isn't fair either. Because as your mom I have so much power. So even though it was always with love that I colored your lessons and games and conversations with brother bond propaganda, it's still true that it was propaganda."

My boys sighed and smiled. In my mind, my boys looked lighter and--interestingly--closer to each other. It helped me gather the strength to reiterate, "You are lucky to have each other, and you are lucky to have the bond you have. But you are not required to have that bond. You are not 'less than' or 'making bad choices' if your lives take you in new directions. If you're world becomes full of new relationships that leave less room for each other. I want you to know that, though I'll probably always tint my conversation with the beauty of brother bonding, I am forever willing to see and celebrate other beautiful bonds you boys choose to highlight. I love all of you so much. The turn signal and brake pedal and steering wheel is with you. And I want you to use them your way."

I felt a smile grow and knew I meant it. Coming back into myself--away from the coffee shop of my mind into the car on the highway--I looked at the son who sat beside me in the passenger seat. I reached over and tousled his hair, pulling him out of his own imagination and enjoying the smile he offered me before turning back to the window, staring out and imagining his own stories. 

It's so important to let our loved ones know that we love them and that we will be there for them. That we'll tousle their hair and let them wander the contents of their minds while we drive. 

But also, that we'll let them go. That we love them so much we want to see who and what they'll discover on their own. 

I had no idea when I drove to the grocery store today that I'd be swallowed up by this imagining and lesson. I had no idea that I'd discover something about the truth of parenting propaganda; how it can come from a place of absolute love and even encourage beautiful things while also having the power to taint absolutely. 

But that's the gift of freedom. Unexpected imaginings and lessons that can safely be shared and celebrated. 

My sons deserve that gift. 

And, I admit, I really, really, really hope they'll often want to celebrate it together. 

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

*Author's Note: Take a moment to enjoy this amazing song my son wrote! You'll see that the parenting propaganda works. My sons do have a really fabulous and beautiful and strong brother bond. Parents are powerful! And the brother bond is a nice thing that my sons are lucky to have. However, because my desire was so all consuming, it's also true that they feel slightly trapped by it sometimes. Encouraging brother bonding is something I will always say yes to, but that's different from what I've done. I've always painted our days and lessons and games with the belief that brother bonding was necessary and right and an absolute must. That was my mistake. That's what I'll try to do different.