Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Autism Answer: In Defense Of Sunny D

Sitting in my fridge.
Five huge plastic jugs of Sunny D sit in our refrigerator. Thinking about it, and even more seeing it, makes me want to cringe. Admittedly, I have cringed. I little bit.

But, here's the thing. My husband loves to buy soda. Tons and tons of soda. He knows I don't like it. He knows it goes against many of the things that make me, me. He also knows that I never have said, and never will say, he can't have soda in the house. 

When he brings it home (generally several two liter bottles, seemingly always on sale in larger quantities) he looks at me sheepishly, he apologizes timidly, and he puts the soda in the fridge. I remind him that I don't like it but that I love him and he likes it. I remind him why I don't like it and he hears some of what I say. He understands that I don't think it's healthy, he doesn't quite understand the stuff I add about plastic, giving money to corporations poisoning us for profit, etc. 

What he fully understands is that I don't think he (or our children) should drink soda because it's unhealthy. That's one reason, and he's right.

So sometimes, like today, he comes into our home proudly touting items he believes I will applaud. He loves me, and he loves to show off the "healthy" snacks or drinks he's spent money on for us. He looks pleased as punch and smiles nearly-toothlessly at me with anticipation. He displays for me the item, today it was jugs of Sunny D, and eagerly awaits my praise.

"Oh, look, Sunny D," I say, forcing the smile and grabbing desperately for all the reasons I know I want to give him the reaction he's hoping for.

And there are reasons.

He loves me. He thinks of me while he's at the store. He puts down the soda (which he'd much rather spend the money on) and picks up something stamped words like "Vitamin C" and "Citrus Punch" and wants to do something healthy for my benefit. He is a beautiful man who puts family first and we are different but our moments add up to memories shared.

So, I clap my hands and say, "Yes! It's not soda! Awesome!"

And then a little later, after I find that I'm honestly happy and no longer have to push myself there, I thoughtfully add a few comments. "Now imagine if it was real juice, in a glass container, made from sustainably grown produce?! You'd have to pick me up off the floor after I fainted from surprised joy!"

And that's all. No more. I need to say my truth, and I need to love my life.

I will not drink the Sunny D but I will not choose to hate the sight of it in my refrigerator. How could I? It looks like love.

In relationships, this is a skill I consider worth working on. Seeing the actions done in the name of love without losing sight of expecting to be understood.

It's true that sometimes my husband (and my children) do things for me that actually just prove a lack of listening. But most of the time the love is showing and the action is about how much of the listening is understood.

I've experienced this even more so with my brothers. They are more challenged at understanding social cues and even straight up explanations (when my mom adopted them all four of my brothers had brain dysfunctions and learning disabilities) and so they struggle in various bigger ways to show their love and their listening with recognizable actions. It took me longer than I like to admit but once I was able to see how hard they were trying to both be heard and to listen, to be loved and to show love, my joy and comfort and ability to help grew a thousand fold! 

So, I'll pour my husband a glass of Sunny D while I sip my coffee (yes, organic, fair trade, yadda, yadda) and I'll tap his foot with my foot as we sit on the floor, him watching his shows and me reading my book, and I'll feel loved.

I get to think about this right now, and share it with you, because of the emotions and thoughts that ran through me when I saw all those jugs of drink in my fridge.

So I'll admit it, this moment was a gift given to me by my husband with the help of Sunny D.
*Today's Autism Answer brought to you by Sunny D, though not sponsored by it.*

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


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Autism Answer: A Mother And Her Sons - A Tale Of Co-Sleeping

Snuggling my youngest son.
A while back I saw this question online: Do Many Mothers Co-Sleep With Their Sons?

As a mother of four sons who is a fan of co-sleeping I was happily compelled to answer. I thought it might be fun to share that answer here with you. 

My Answer: 
Well, I don’t know about “many” but I’m happy to share about “me."

I have four sons and they all slept with me.

I had no worries about co-sleeping except this: How will I know when it's time to no longer allow it? 

It turns out that while I wondered, they answered. As they got older they themselves pushed away and all I had to do was allow it. So there wasn’t a time when I found myself pushing them to sleep alone. Sure, I encouraged and guided and nudged, but it wasn't much of a challenge. As they got older, they wanted it.

However, with all four of my sons this age came at a different time.

Now, my situation was certainly unique in that I was a single mother of three, and then a married mother of four, but my husband and I lived in two separate (but close) homes. So sleeping arrangements could easily and organically follow this rhythm.

We didn’t snuggle in the same bed every night - though some of my sons did more than others - and sometimes I slept with them in their beds. Also, we travel a lot and when sleeping together in cars, hotels, people’s homes, it was easy for us because we were already comfortable with sharing space.

My sons are mostly adults now - ranging in age from 17 to 23 - and they are healthy sleepers. 

Admittedly, my 21 year old son complained to me the other day about one thing that might have been caused by all of this co-sleeping and snuggling. “You’ve turned me into a cuddle addict. It’s driving me and my girlfriend crazy! It’s like I’m begging her for a cuddle-hit all the time.” And though we laughed, it is actually true. He loves physical contact. However, he is also an easy sleeper with a lovely life and a healthy confidence. So, maybe it also gave him some of that. :D

The truth is, my four sons are all healthy young men who sleep well and are largely emotionally confident - though they are all definitely drastically different from each other! I don’t think any of that is because of the co-sleeping but I do honestly believe much of that is because of the reason for our co-sleeping. We did it because we were comfortable, happy, and followed our instincts more than our desire to be seen as “normal” or “right."

Oh, I should add this - in terms of ages, they were older than you might expect when they stopped snuggling me for sleep. They were all different ages but it was between eight and twelve. The son who was twelve is also the son who is the most quirky and unique. “A little bit autistic,” he calls himself.

And, indeed, my two youngest sons (one of whom is the gentleman referring to himself as, "A little bit autistic") do have symptoms of autism, though they've never been diagnosed. One of my younger sons doesn't sleep at night. Sleeping at night has never been natural for him but in his younger years, as a student of public school, he had no other choice. Having me snuggle and sing and chat and tell stories helped him find a way to get some sleep. And my very youngest son found comfort and good dreams with the sensory delight he discovered in playing his fingers through my hair. So we would snuggle, I would sing, he would wrap his hungry fingers through my hair, slowly getting less and less needy, first as the evening went on and then, over the course of years, as days and weeks went on. Eventually, he no longer felt compelled to play with my hair in order to destress and find comfort. Though he still sometimes touches it out of curiosity and nostalgia. I like it! 

I am absolutely certain that if I was living with my husband for those years our sleeping arrangements would have been different. But even my hudnsnf is willing to follow what works in our family more than traditional norms. In fact, we live together now (with only two of our sons) and our bed is in the living-room. That way the boys have their own room and we are in the center of our small house where we can feel among everyone without being annoyingly close.

So, ya. That’s how we did it. I think it’s important for moms and dads to allow their children to push them away if they do choose to co-sleep, and I think it’s important not to do it at all if it feels overly uncomfortable or just wrong. 

I think parenting is a lot about following instincts and working together with a willingness to be different and allowing the environment to play a role.

So, I was a mom who had sleepovers with her sons. 
And sometimes, I miss it!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Snuggling and co-sleeping with my granddaughter. It's tradition!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Autism Answer: No Means No - And Even More, You Need Permission

Me, thinking.

"What did I do? How did I screw up again? What is it about me? Why am I so weak and pathetic?"

Those are the things I wondered every time I was sexually harassed, molested, or raped.

"Well, it was only boob touching, it was only rubbing my bum, it was only uncomfortable sex, it wasn't me screaming and fighting and getting punched and stuff."

Those are the things I said when loved ones encouraged me to tell, to bring the incidents to the attention of authorities.

"No means no. Even if you think it's a game, even if nobody is screaming, no means no. Every time. Not only that, you need to get permission. You need to be told yes. Every time."

That was the thing a judge said when I did go to court, when I did listen to my sister and my mom and go to authorities.

It was a huge, huge, huge important thing. Because, you see, I hadn't known. My rapist hadn't known. We were equally surprised to learn it. I had felt certain that my promises of sexual interest the weeks before gave me next to no rights that day he showed up with a friend. I believed my tears and quiet pleas of, "no, I changed my mind," were, as my rapist said, unfair and invalid.

I had heard, of course, that no means no. I had heard it before that day. But I hadn't believed it. I hadn't seen it proved true in the the world. So, I hadn't really believed it. Not until that judge said it with such clarity from his important place in that room. 

I listen, we all listen, to authority and power in a different way than we listen outside of it.

When authority and power takes advantage, sexually and otherwise, we hear it different. We believe it different.We expect different things from ourselves and the people around us.

By that same token, though, when authority and power chooses to teach, example, and insist on equality, on kindness, on speaking up, we hear it different. We believe it different. We expect different things from ourselves and the people around us. 

I would like to say that when I left that court room I never blamed myself again. I'd like even more to say that I never had reason to wonder who's fault harassment and sexual abuse were. I can't say that. 

It still happened. In this world, where the culture is one that breeds a belief in "boys will be boys" and "what a cock tease" and "way to go man, high five" and "well, you shouldn't have been alone with him" it's more likely to happen than not, I fear. 

I can tell you, however, that I knew now that no means no. I knew that people had no right to touch my boobs or my bum without me telling them yes. And I knew I had no right to do such things to others without their permission. 

I can tell you that I started expecting different things from the world, and I started walking away and telling authorities when things were inappropriate. I had learned that sometimes people just don't know that what they are doing is wrong, and when they do know I have a right and responsibility to speak up so it might not happen to others.

"What did I do? How did I screw up again? What is it about me? Why am I so weak and pathetic?" This is one reason people don't tell when they are abused or harassed.But there are many others. Losing our jobs, thinking it's normal, knowing that other stronger women have been through more and handled it, these are a few other reasons. And there are more. 

Some people don't tell because they don't have the ability to. In the world of disability sexual abuse and harassment is a big problem. Also, pedophilia is a big problem. Disabled people and children are already too often taught by society that they ought to shut up and do what they are told. Often they are treated as less than or as lucky to be taken care of in the first place. Often, they just don't have the ability to speak at all because of their disability or young, young, young age. 

I wish I could gather everyone into that courtroom with me, everyone in the world, and we could listen together in the same way I listened that day. I wish everyone could hear, the way I heard - with conviction and belief and life changing tectonic plate shifting clarity - what I heard that judge say. 
"No means no. Even if you think it's a game, even if nobody is screaming, no means no. Every time. Not only that, you need to get permission. You need to be told yes. Every time."

If you ever catch yourself, as the done-to or the doer, justifying by thinking these sorts of things: 

"Well, it was only boob touching, it was only bum rubbing, it wasn't screaming and fighting and getting punched and stuff."

And there was not permission given, no clear "yes" offered, then something went wrong. (And where disabled people are concerned "yes" can be not enough, depending on the disability, and where children are concerned, just NO.)

Don't hate yourself. But take steps to change it. Reach out and apologize or admit your cruelty if you were the doer, talk to the safest person for you, in your situation, if you are the done-to. 

Sex and sexuality are interesting and exciting and filled with valuable fun, love, learning, and exploration. I encourage you to do the work of making sure it is done carefully and mindfully. 

We have to change the culture around this issue. We have to be not afraid to ask for sex while we aren't afraid to say no. We have to teach each other that it is never ever okay to push or force or sneak in unwelcome touches. 

No means no. And even more, you need permission. 

It's simple, really. 
Let's make sure everyone gets the memo. 
Let's change the culture.  

We've got to.

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
For more on this topic I suggest this article by my mom, Lynette Louise ("The Brain Broad"): When I Was Easy To Rape It Was Still Rape

As well as my mom's survivor spotlight on RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network): 

Survivor Spotlight Domestic Violence Awareness Month 

Also consider checking out this documentary that my mom was a part of: HUSH: Hollywood's Uncovered Sexual Harassment 

Or even purchase a copy of my book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up where I talk candidly about being molested by my step-father and mention being groped by a fellow co-worker as well as threatened by a creepy phone repair man. I also tell the story of me raping a boyfriend. As is my habit I tell these stories with an eye on answers and hope. It is my intention to always tell the difficult stories, to not hide from them, while seeking helpful nuggets of wisdom and suggestions for change. My success rate is yet to be determined. Actually, scratch that. I am successful because my home and my life and my mind are healthy, happy, and safe. :D

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Autism Answer: Long Distance Grandma

My granddaughter

"Trust me, lovely, you don't want to make those choices. Not yet, anyway."

I was chatting with my daughter-in-law, my granddaughter was sleeping in her car-seat, safely buckled in the backseat of my car. We were in no hurry, heading to the high school with plenty of time to spare, the conversation had wandered into "mistakes we make when we're young parents" territory.

This is my domain. This is a landscape I understand well.

"I know," my daughter-in-law was characteristically agreeing with me, unwilling to disagree out of politeness. This is another habit I understand all too well.

I had only four days to spend with these two. I had flown them from California to visit me in Texas - first time flying for both my daughter-in-law and my granddaughter - and I was getting in every second of snuggles, chatting, and connecting that I possibly could. 

"You remind me of me, in many ways. I used to drive without a license, I used to drive without registering or insuring my car. Until I went to jail. Until I found myself unable to get home to my own children because I was, apparently, a "bad guy" needing to be locked up."

"The system is all wrong," my daughter-in-law, who had been a foster kid since the age of seven, was following the train of thought I had laid down for her. The system, authority, laws. I knew this was a track we could travel together in order to bring us to the place where her recent choices would make a stop at the station of my once-upon-a-time choices and I could offer her a ticket to a new and safer destination.

"Tell me about it," I organically agreed. "Protesting and civil disobedience are necessary to change a broken system. But your job right now, your biggest job right now, is to always come home to your daughter." As if on cue, my granddaughter made a sweet cooing sound in her sleep. My heart fluttered and I smiled. My daughter-in-law smiled, too. "And, anyway, something else I learned back when I was your age, making similar mistakes. Some of those laws and rules are valid. Sometimes, we're avoiding them, not justifiably refusing them." She was nodding and I was nodding and we both knew how real that statement was.  

"So," I continued, "take less chances, for now. Tie up loose ends, do dreaded paperwork, make choices that are not outside of laws, though they can certainly dance on the edges." We laughed. I had previously been telling her about my own belief in giving my sons freedom when they were little and how it had often put me in the position of being stared at and tsk tsked by strangers and acquaintances. Sure, my boys were practically naked in the backseat of the car, but they were legally buckled. Dancing on the edges of the rules!

"But," I promised her with passion, "as a long distance grandma I can partake in some important civil disobedience. Don't you worry, I plan to! There are so many places where the system needs changing, where the rules are put in place for reasons that are sometimes understandable but in practice they don't work. They harm people. Not only that, but in the places where it's not the laws or rules that are in the way but a cultural indifference or cruelty, I can step up there too! Fearless, that's what I hope I can be. For you, and for my granddaughter."

I have a feeling that at this point I had lost my daughter-in-law's interest, but not my own. 

This is something I'd thought about before, the necessity of treading carefully so that we can always come home to our children when they are young, along with the necessity of carefully and cleverly, thoughtfully and purposefully, stepping onto less safe ground when insisting on social or political change as they grow older and no longer need us at home.

Because our children, our grandchildren, our planet and our fellow living beings, will always need and rely on each other. But we don't always have to play it safe.

As a long distance grandma I have the responsibility and the freedom to go the distance. I live far away and I can see far away, too. Years and intention have given me that. Listening and telling have given me that. Travel and stability have given me that.

"Anyway," I said as we pulled into the high school parking lot, picking my youngest son up from his Leadership meeting, "just take the paperwork one step at a time. Let me know when I can help. Don't forget, just because I'm a long distance grandma doesn't mean I can't get on the phone or online and help you with whatever needs doing."

My daughter-in-law gave me a smile and a thank you. She reminded me that I had just finished helping her with one of the very things she had been avoiding, and I reminded her that I would happily do it again.

My granddaughter stayed sleeping in her car-seat. Safely buckled and trusting.

Trusting us.

We're going to prove to her that by trusting us she's making the right choice.

Her mom and dad will come home to her, and I will step into the world and ask it to be a better, safer, kinder, heathier place for her. 

I'm a long distance grandma. 
I'll go the distance. 

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