Sunday, May 7, 2017

Autism Answer: A Mom Phrase That Matters To Me

Lately I've found myself wondering: Will my sons say things like, "As my mom always says..." followed by some memorable and wise life suggestion? For the life of me, I can't
Me and my mom
think of a single thing I always say. Wise or otherwise. 

I know I catch myself saying, "Like my mom always says..." often enough. "Raise the bar!" and "Duck and weave and rise above!" and "I need a neck-lift!" Most of my mom's phrases are brilliant and wise and helpful in moments of transition or necessary decision making.  NOTE: My mom wasn't always at war with her neck wrinkles. "I think I need a neck-lift!" was a mom-ism that came in my less formative years and I have no interest in adopting it for myself. I love wrinkles! Giggle!

One phrase, in particular, has been important for me. I am naturally timid and gifted at avoiding confrontation. (One might even say I "Duck and weave and rise above!" it. tee hee!) I also have a history of giving up or running away from things. These two issues of mine would have probably been a bigger problem in my life if I didn't also naturally have this going for me: I love deeply. 

So, when my mom says, 
“You can’t walk gingerly. You have to step in and say I am going to love you robustly, and we are going to get to the end of this!” ~Lynette Louise (aka "The Brain Broad")
I am innately stirred and spoken to.

This thing, this phrase of my mom's, has an important history.

She started saying it when all eight of us kids were younger. My four adopted brothers were disabled and on the autism spectrum. It seemed as though my mom was debating constantly with educators and doctors and neighbors and friends on the subject of how to love and teach my brothers. They would insist it was hopeless and she would declare: "Raise the bar!" and she would move our family just when the debates were turning into cruel arguments, folks trying to gang up on my mom by forcing her to see that my brothers were not able to learn the things she believed they could learn, and in moving our family we were able to: "Duck and weave and rise above!" 

However, I also quietly wondered if mom was trying too hard and believing too hard. After all, how could everyone be wrong and just mom be right? Well, when we asked her why she was teaching my brothers things that it didn't look like they could learn, holding their hands and believing in them as they struggled more than most, her response was always a version of, "You can't walk gingerly! You have to love robustly!"

And I could immediately feel the truth of this. Indeed, I wasn't watching my mom fool herself or create false hope. I was watching her love robustly, toss out timidity, and believe in reaching goals. And because of this - coupled with my mom's incredible ability to aim for a goal creatively while living in the moment - I also watched my brothers feel robustly loved and get to the end of things! 

Now, to be sure, there are times when you can walk gingerly. I often watched my mom be soft and kind and respectful of my brother's uncommon challenges. But there was also something different in her softness; something entirely unlike the sweetness poured on them by people who felt pity. Mom carried the knowledge that she loved them robustly and she would step in with them and they were going to get to the end of this.

As my brothers grew and learned all the things it never looked like they could learn (three of my four brothers are completely independent men, and my most challenged brother is what mom calls her "slow moving miracle") I adopted the proven phrase for myself. Of all mom's mom-isms, it is most necessary for me because I am tempted to ignore it. Not walking gingerly often means making noise and being noticed, which often attracts certain kinds of confrontation.

But as a mom myself, for me and for my sons, it became vitally important that I remember: “You can’t walk gingerly. You have to step in and say I am gong to love you robustly, and we are going to get to the end of this!”

For me and for my sons. Like my mom, I have four. They are all quite unique (as we all are) but so is my parenting. Although, admittedly, I didn't really know that. I was just sort of winging it and loving them and getting to know them and people were pointing and staring and avoiding me or applauding me, but I often didn't quite understand why. Allowing my oldest son to go to kindergarten with marker all over his face and arms seemed fine to me. He had created a look, he liked it, and kindergarten is filled with children who likely do the same! Breastfeeding my youngest son while his brothers ran around barefoot (as was I) at the local park seemed like parenting 101. 

Now, I wasn't entirely clueless. I did watch other moms and dads and try to see how they were doing things. I did try to get approval from others by copying popular parenting moves. I was, as most parents are, a wild mix of me and them; original and imitation. Which, I believe, in the right doses is good. We'd be fools not to learn from other parents, but we must also practice learning in order to decide for ourselves. 

Those were the days I had to make myself remember my mom's words. Tempted as I was to walk gingerly and be an invisible part of the crowd, the more I tried that the more lost me and my sons became. And so I loved robustly! I explained my reasons and listened to suggestions and revisited my reasons. I made friends but more often I clashed with people and we were kind to each other in passing. But by loving robustly and telling my boys we can get to the end of this (aka reach certain goals), well, we did! 

Not only has this phrase helped me as a mom but I apply it to helping myself as a woman as well. When I'm tempted to give up or walk away from something for all the wrong reasons as I habitually did in my youth, or I'm avoiding things out of fear, things I might want or hope for, I bring my mom's phrase forth and insist on loving myself robustly. I remind myself it is not always right to walk gingerly, and I can get to the end of this! And always, when I make those words matter to me, I do. I get to the end and it is worth it! 

In fact, by doing this for myself, by loving me robustly and getting to the end of things, I am showing my adult sons how to do the same for themselves. So, again, when I am tempted hide away timidly I remember my sons and step in.

I could go on and on about the myriad of ways this one phrase has given me strength and encouragement. How it continues to give me strength and encouragement. 

So, again I'm back to wondering. Do I say things that give my sons strength and encouragement? This is something I realize now I can't exactly know. My mom's phrases matter in different ways to all of us kids. And I wouldn't be surprised if my mom doesn't even know what things she says that matter to us. Anyway, if we tell her what we believe her phrases to mean she'd quite possibly disagree!

I guess I'll continue to wonder if I have any phrases that matter to my boys, but it's not deeply important. One thing they've proven over and over again is that they understand me. And they love me. And they know I love them. Whatever words of mine they choose to reflect that - if any - is just fine with me.

I'll be sure they know that one of the reasons we've been able to create such a strong authentic relationship is this: "I didn't always walk gingerly. Often, even when it made them angry at me or made us stand out, I would step in and say I am gong to love you robustly, and we are going to get to the end of this! And I was able to do that because I knew, even if I messed it all up, I had the love and support of my mom who would certainly love robustly, step in, and help us all get to the end of this.”

 *Sending robust love to mom's everywhere this Mother's Day month!*

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

Please visit FIX IT IN FIVE with THE BRAIN BROAD and watch what it means to love robustly!