Friday, July 16, 2021

Autism Answer: Body Positive - The Way I See It

Sipping coffee with the sun bursting through the window behind me.

 

It is summer where I live. 

As I sit at my desk I'm surrounded by reminders. Behind me cats are shedding and seeking cool tile for sleeping. My love taps on his computer only when necessary and heads outdoors (shirtless when I'm lucky!) to take care of the pool, dig up dirt & reorganize landscaping, climb ladders & fix stuff winter broke.  Out the widow ahead of me I see a river teaming with life. People kayak and canoe, birds hop and fly, fish splash, green growth floats past lazily. On the path and sidewalk people skate, walk, bike, roll, and enjoy all manner of interesting seasonal transportation. 

Everyone is dressed in the summer attire most comfortable to them. 

The weather is hot and humid. Some of us respond by wearing as little as possible, some of us respond by wearing light fabrics over most of our bodies, some of us respond by sweating in sweaters and feeling perfectly good about it. 

I like it all.  

When I was a young girl growing up in Ontario, Canada I rarely wore clothes that allowed skin to show. Long pants, long sleeves, long bulky sweaters were more comfortable to me than shorts and Ts in summer because shorts and Ts showed parts of me I was uncomfortable having seen. I wore t-shirts, yes, but always with a sweater or flannel wrapped around my waist as a safety net. When I went through my phase of wearing skirts and heels I did so wearing panty hose to cover my skin. My blouses were most often sleeved. Regardless of the weather, that was what I felt comfortable wearing. 

Then, I moved to Texas. I had two small children at the time. Little people who would climb all over me, need hugs and holding, need lap sitting and sleep snuggling. The heat in Texas nearly made me mad, and I started to dislike myself as a mom when every time one of my boys wanted to hug me I instinctively pushed them away because it was too hot to handle more things on me. More things touching me. So, I decided to be comfortable wearing t-shirts and shorts. Once that was comfortable suddenly I wanted less. Tinier shirts, shorter shorts. The smaller amount of clothes the better. Any itty bitty breeze that existed I wanted to feel as much of as possible. I wasn't any more comfortable with the look of my skin but I was far more comfortable exposing it in order to feel not so dang hot. After a while, I forgot to be uncomfortable with the look of my skin.

I know you don't care much about me or my evolving fashion sense, the entirety of which has to do with my desire always to be comfortable. But I think it's a nice little peek into how what we and others wear shouldn't be overly judged. We are kinder and our better selves when we're comfortable. So if someone is comfortable wearing something you don't like or understand, maybe don't waste time judging it. In fact, if it is appropriate to do so, make good use of your time by asking questions! What is comfortable about wearing a sweater in the sweltering heat? What feels cozy about not wearing a bra even though we can tell you're not wearing a bra? Get curious in a kind way. We learn so much about ourselves when asking and answering questions. 

I've been thinking lately about the balance between liking the body I'm in while continuing to actively take care of it. Even work on making it better. Sure, I can say it's only because I care about keeping my body healthy but, the truth is, I'm in a new relationship and find myself back in the headspace (one I haven't spent time in since my teen years!) of hoping I look good.

So I thought it would be fun for me to answer these questions I recently came across about working out and body image. While answering these questions for myself, my best friend called and we talked about the answers together. It turns out we have a lot of similar opinions on the issues though the things we choose to do about them are quite different. The conversation was fun! Feel free to peek at these questions yourself, check out my answers and consider your own. Are we surprisingly similar? Wildly different? An interesting mix of the two? 

Having a positive feeling about the body you're in - and there are so many types of bodies! - is a valid part of holistic health. But that doesn't mean shrugging your shoulders to any potential problems and just saying, "Well, I'm body positive so I guess I like it." When we love we pay attention. We notice things and check in. We are brave and do the work of admitting when something isn't okay so we can find a way to fix it. <--- This is all stuff I'm loving about being in love, by the way. :D

So, here are my answers to some questions meant to help me continue to find balance between loving my body and wanting to help it be better.

I hope you'll share some of your thoughts as well! 

The Way I See It:

1. Why do you work out?
I confess, I don't exactly work out. However, I do actively and purposefully include activities into my day that will work out my body. I have never been able to consistently put aside a set amount of time to exercise, I don't enjoy the work out and I don't get that accomplished energetic feeling others talk about afterward. But I do strongly believe that my health is my own responsibility so I do things like dance, roller skate, stretch, and go for walks in order to keep my body looking and feeling healthy.

2. What body image issues are you currently fighting against?
My biggest challenge at the moment is wanting to believe I look sexy. I'm in a fantastic relationship and for the first time in my forty-six years I'm enjoying great sex. I love that. The only down side is I'm noticing this new need to believe I look sexy to my partner. I feel sexy when we're being intimate, but throughout the course of a day I'll catch myself hoping I look sexy. Suddenly I'll notice that my stomach is flabby, there is an overwhelming amount of cellulite on the back of my thighs, and my breasts are like deflated balloons. In a way I feel like a teenager again. Wanting to look good but not believing people when they say I do. Luckily I'm not a teenager so I know better and don't let it hurt or influence me too much. Yet, it is there.

3. Do you think it's possible to love your body if you still
want to change something about it?
I absolutely believe that. Because loving our bodies means being willing to see when we need to make changes in order to keep them healthy. We are always evolving and the health needs our bodies change, too. And quite often the clues for changes we need to make will be in how our body looks. I think the trick is keeping an eye on why we want to change something about our bodies. Even if the why is that we want to like the look of it, that's okay. As long as we want to like the look of it for ourselves, and not only for other people. And as long as we don't fall into the "grass is greener" mindset. When I'm struggling to know if I want to change because it's what I want or because it's what society tells me to want, I imagine living alone in the world. Does the cellulite still matter to me then? If the answer is no, I decide it's not worth my worry.

4. Do you think diet and fitness culture is toxic?

I think it can be, yes. Just like any movement or culture, we can get caught up and take it too far and hurt ourselves and people around us. And when there is a whole group of people doing it with us we are at greater risk of not seeing when it isn't healthy for us. Each person will have different reasons for caring about diet and fitness, and finding a healthy balance will look different for each person and family, so I think it's important to keep an eye on yourself and not judge others too harshly in order to avoid toxic culture.

5. What lessons have you learned about body confidence? What would you still like to work on?
Personally, learning to focus on how I feel in my body rather than how I look in my body has made a huge difference in my life. On top of that, practicing not comparing myself to others but rather appreciating the diversity of shapes, sizes, and abilities has given me a great boost. I would, though, like to work on this new wanting to believe I look sexy thing. It's annoying! And it is definitely my job to work on it since my partner has given me all the signs and said in all the ways that I do look sexy to him. I feel embarrassed that I want to believe I look sexy, but I do.
Hmmmm.... maybe working on feeling embarrassed about it is where I can start. It can be hard to figure something out when you're brain is busy being embarrassed. So there it is. I want to believe I look sexy to my partner and I think that means continuing to take care of my body while trusting he's serious when he says I'm sexy to him.

 

So there I have it. A few things I'm sticking with and something to work on. 

I wonder if my love thinks me learning about myself is sexy? tee hee!

Happy summer, friends! 



Sunday, June 20, 2021

Autism Answer: So Many Dads

 


Dads


When I first started having babies - looooooooooong ago - I thought dads were overrated. I thought sure, dads are fine, but I never really had one and I didn't think much about it. Staying in a relationship just to keep a dad around is worse for the kids than walking away and doing it yourself. Dads are fine, I guess, but overrated.

Now that I've had a lot more life and have met so many dads, including two of my sons who are now dads, I have a different way of seeing it.

My mom raised eight of us on her own, and she was undeniably enough. She was strong, no nonsense, hard working like a stereotypical father and soft, loving, singing like a stereotypical mom. Yet, she was anything but stereotypical. With adopted kids, biological kids, foster kids, homeless kids, crippled kids, disabled kids, abused kids, all the kids - she loved everyone equally, saw potential all around, and pushed us fiercely while showing us how to build our wings, roller skates, trucks, businesses, homes, whatever we needed to move freely our way in the world.

So it's true that a family can be raised without a dad. But it is not true that dads are overrated.

My own dad wasn't around much when my biological sister and I were growing up, though he wasn't entirely out of the picture. He was okay. He didn't help mom at all but he didn't hurt us when we visited. My step dad, however, was around and did help our mom for a while. He also did hurt us. When mom saw that she left him. It would be hard to overstate how drastically our lives were affected by him.

My entire childhood and teen years I dreamed of being a mom, but not of being a partner. I wanted the children and I wanted them alone. When I finally was having babies I never told the dads they could not see their children, but I subconsciously picked ones that wouldn't.

I, errrrrrr, I am not my mom. So I wasn't as awesome on my own. Luckily, my mom was there to help me out. And then, luckily again, I met a man who would be their dad.

He was great! I didn't live with him so I got to have my dream of being a mom alone, but I had help. He worked hard, cared about each one of the boys equally (only one was biologically his but you'd never have known by the way he treated them, though only one having black skin might have given it away. :D) and supported any dream we had. He was not overrated.

I started to notice other dads. Dads who were always there, dads who were behind the scenes, dads who were not really dads but taking on the role, dads who were helping and dads who were hurting. Dads are not, I began to notice, overrated. They are powerful.

There is no one way to be a good dad. But when you are a dad, you matter. My sons, the ones who never met their biological dads, had been hurt by that. But, luckily for all of us, they were also cared for by so many.

Right now two of my four sons are dads. (All four of my sons have always dreamed of being dads and I love that.)They are drastically different dads, but they are both dads that care about being dads. They are not overrated.

My love, the man I live with now, has been being a dad - with his own children and children of others - since he was nineteen or twenty. He stepped in and cared. He is not overrated.

My own dad wasn't there a lot when we were little. But later in life, when my sister and I were moms, he reached out. Funnily enough, to ask for help from my mom. For a while he was like one of the children my mom took in and loved fiercely while showing him how to build the wings he would eventually need to move freely out of this world. He was an attentive and available grandpa, my boys thought of him as a father figure. My oldest particularly. His presence in their lives, in our lives, is not overrated.

There are so many dads. Some are dads biologically, some are dads because they are moms alone, some are dads that step into a dad role, some are dads that are doing it alone. There are so many ways to be a dad. Fierce, quiet, available, at work, playful, nervous, accidental, confident, hard-lined, most often a mix of it all with certain features prominent. Whatever type of dad you are, whatever type of dad you have, whatever type of dad you are evolving into, remember you are powerful.

I was right that you don't have to have a dad but I was wrong about them being overrated.

A dad is a powerful thing.
If you are a dad, any kind of dad, one of so many dads, I hope you're aware that you matter. Whether the children you care for are little or grown, you matter. You are not overrated.

If you are a dad that is doing your best to be your best, thank you.
That matters.

Happy Father's Day to so many dads!
 
Hugs, smiles, and love!!!

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Autism Answer: Sexuality is Often Fluid

 

icicle
icicle

 
It is #PRIDE month. If the energy and camaraderie of this gives your child the confidence or desire to come out, to tell their family and friends that they are gay, trans, nonbinary, bisexual, asexual, queer - I have a simple suggestion.
 
Believe them. Accept their version of who they tell you they are, appreciate the courage they are showing, and give them space to discover. 
 
Keep in mind, sexuality is often fluid. So if your child is gay today and nonbinary tomorrow, don't presume it's because they're making it up or just trying to jump on a trend. It's quite likely they're simply evolving. 

If your child has been afraid to reveal their sexuality and struggled to understand it quietly then they have also been building walls and inventing stories to change, accept, challenge, hate, and love themselves. Coming out doesn't magically make those narratives disappear or push them easily into the past.
 
And yes, as with all of our children, (but not us adults, no, never us adults) they could be jumping on a trend. It could be they want so bad to be an ally they take on a role, or they want attention, or they're simply curious.  It can be tempting as parents to aggressively try to figure out which it is but that's a mistake. 
 
Most of our children are going to try on identities in reaction to trends, and most of them will do things, make memories, that create issues they'll have to deal with. But ultimately we help our youth most when we accept who they are, ask how we can be good allies, and imagine futures where they are who they say they are. 
 
In this environment of acceptance and freedom I believe our children are most likely to change in their own healthiest and happiest directions. It may be that they continue to be bisexual or asexual. It may be that they are and always have been gay. It may be that they don't quite know who or how they love but they do want love. I don't think this means we stay completely hands off and just nod in acceptance as they work to figure out who they are, particularly where our more socially challenged loved ones are concerned. This is a time when our guidance is especially important. (Though, admittedly, appropriate appreciation from our teens and young adults will almost certainly be severely lacking. 😃)
 
I think we're likely to be the most helpful to our kids by knowing we love them, knowing we want them to be caring and to be cared for in any relationship, and moving forward with them and that in mind.
 
In this environment I believe our children, our families, and our societies are most likely to change in their own healthiest and inclusive directions. 
 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Autism Answer: Getting Past The First Part

 



I'm suddenly seeing it more and more, I love that I'm seeing it more and more, and I can't wait till I'm not seeing it at all. 
 
That's how I feel about the diversity and inclusion I see in shows and in print. Finally, there is more representation and inclusion for people I love. Autistic people, overweight people, older people, gay and trans and non-binary people, physically disabled people, black and brown people. Mixed groups and unusual relationships. I could go on.
 
Now, I have to be entirely honest. I'm fairly new to watching shows. I've always been a fan of movies and books, but I have generally avoided watching shows. Not because I don't think they're good but because I don't trust myself to nibble on them in moderation. However, in my love life at the moment we are having a blast watching shows and smooching between episodes. (Okay, sometimes we smooch during episodes, too. This is why shows are great! Unlike movies, you can smooch during the show - especially sitcoms! - and not miss out on any urgent or necessary plot points. Even with the real good shows where subtlety and sophisticated storytelling are employed, there's so many more hours of show to help you get caught up. So, smooch away!) So if this diversity and inclusion has been more of a gradual graduation and not so much of a fantastic splash, as it seems to me, then my observation will be old news to you. But I hope you'll permit me to appreciate it out loud anyway. 
 
When I watched shows in my younger years, I rarely saw people that reminded me of the people in my family (my mom was a single mom with eight kids - six adopted, four with autism and other diagnosis that included fetal alcohol syndrome and mental retardation - three of my brothers are native American, mom is bisexual, a creative entrepreneur and has been diagnosed as "historically Asperger's") and if I did see someone with any similarity to folks in my family it was generally in the form of a character who never changed, was whittled down to a stereotype, and was not the main character of the show.
 
I think this is partly why it was so hard for me and almost everyone we met to believe my mom when she insisted my brothers were far more capable and complex than we allowed for. When she would beseech us to see them as so much more than a character who would never change and grow, we couldn't fathom where she got this assumption. She confused us by asking us not to see them as challenged but to instead see they had uncommon challenges. Because, yes, they had challenges. My youngest brother, Rye, ran with desperate speed and agility to wrap his little lips around hot tailpipes for a reason. Mom insisted if we cared enough we could help him by figuring out what that reason was in order to find a new way to give him what he needed while keeping him safer and his lips less blistered. I have no idea where she got this certainty, but I know she was right. 
 
There are so many people in the world like the ones in my family. Yet, we rarely see them. They're not the most common, but they are common. 
 
Lately when I watch shows and see commercials, when I see print ads and read stories, I notice how many more of the less common people there are. And in more sophisticated and complex ways, as people with more to them than only the part we would label. I love that! 
 
It still feels a little bit forced, or too purposeful, sometimes. Like, maybe the characters are there merely to say "see, we put them there" or something. But that's partly because we aren't used to seeing it so much. Sure, some of it is likely pandering. But I think it is largely genuine. 
 
The thing is, we have to get past this first part.
 
This first part where we make mistakes, where we notice it everywhere, where we struggle with our human nature to resist change while insisting everything needs to change, while we remember that a lot of people think diversity and inclusion is actually the wrong thing to do, and while we opine that we're doing it in the wrong way but struggle to agree on the right way. We have to get through this first part and get to the part where people are more willing to be who they are, to take their disabled loved ones to the store more often, to hold their same-sex spouses hand on the walking trail, to wear a bathing-suit in public regardless of thigh size or body hair or surgery scars. 
 
I think once we get past the first part it will become like so many other things. Seeing ourselves represented we are more comfortable being ourselves, the public spaces become more accessible to the various disabilities and we meet more of our disabled neighbors, the husbands take their children to a park and so many people don't bother thinking "good for them" or "what is this world coming to" or things of that sort because we are past the first part. 
 
I think it is deeply important to pay attention what we let ourselves get used to. People who have spent a life being abused are used to being abused. This is something worth changing. And being used to caring about and considering very few people who are disable or sexually diverse or not traditionally attractive is something worth changing. 
 
And then one day, as it is with so many things, we'll be past the first part and onto the part where we see how it plays out. People and societies are always evolving so this is a never-ending gig. Paying attention. Making changes. Getting past the first part.
 
But, for the most part, I like what I'm seeing.
 
And I like looking forward to when I don't see it anymore. 
 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Autism Answer: A Hand Holding Me

Often my partner will place a hand on me, my hip, my shoulder, my thigh, my arm, my chest, and I will feel at once broken apart and held together. The way that hand holds me I feel safe and encouraged to let go, I breathe deep and swim in colors, my energy spreads out and connects with the universe yet I feel we're alone with only our love. Our love. 

It lasts. This unique feeling, this new feeling stays with me while I work, write, skate, read, dance. Oh, how it grows when I dance! I facilitate the growth, encourage it, now that I know this feeling. I close my eyes and feel that hand on me. I feel it hold me with a tenderness that's somehow strong, promising not to let go. That magic hand. And I fall deeper into the music. My body moves and I escape its borders, growing out into the room and imagining scenes I'm every part of and so is the universe; it is not about me yet always me. That hand promises I can go where I will without fear because it will hold me, my partner will hold me, and I won't be lost. 

I look into the eyes that look at me and feel connected, feel supported, feel seen. How had I not noticed this lacking in my life? Or, more honestly, why did I think only I could see me and hoping others would was childish and weak? In fact, with my partner I see more. 

I seek those eyes for stories of their own that might break free when my hand touches the body they belong to. What part of me, or who I am, is like that magic hand for my partner? Love has not made me never worry, I worry that I don't have a magic hand at all. I worry that I am not giving back the intensity I am being given. 

But love has given me the confidence to try, to ask. Because I want this love to continue to grow with our participation, with our desires and hopes gathering sustenance, so the avoidance of asking would take more strength than fear of the answers; fear of failure. 

Being in love, being loved, being touched by a hand that gives me freedom to become, a hand that doesn't try to paint over my scars but instead explores them to understand, is surprising me. It is unexpected and deeply, deeply, wonderful. I want this for me. 

I want this for others. 

It doesn't matter to me if the love is experienced by people of the same or different genders. If the love is experienced by people with the same skin color or spiritual beliefs. If one is more able bodied than the other, or one is much richer, or one is a generation or two older. It doesn't matter if there are more than two people experiencing the love together, I want this for others. 

There is danger in wanting this kind of love so bad we lie to ourselves or justify cruelties (others' and our own) in order to invent it. We might build it out of all the wrong materials on a faulty foundation and simply pretend it is what it isn't. 

But it isn't our place to assume someone else has done this merely because their love looks unlike something we imagine love should look like. 

The hand that holds me, places itself on my skin and cracks open a new world of meaningful memories and safe vulnerability, is magic to me. 

I want this. 
I love this. 
I am better with this. 

I am better with this. 

 ____ 

 

NOTE: Today, May 17th, is International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia. I wrote this love story today because I am an advocate for love, inclusion, and not judging who loves who. My mom is bi-sexual, my son is gay, my other son is bi-sexual, my nibbling is nonbinary, I could go on. I want everyone I love to find healthy love. And that is easier done when the world relaxes it's judgements regarding what love is supposed to look like. 

Hugs, smiles, and love! 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Autism Answer: From Client to Clinician by Louloua Smadi - Book Review

"From Client to Clinician draws readers in with the beautifully told story of a family searching for something. Louloua Smadi shares how her brother's autism triggered a family mission and how that mission led to her own personal fascination with human behavior and neurofeedback. By taking readers along on her journey she offers a compelling case for neurofeedback therapy, specifically when combined with putting the client and their personal goals at the forefront. From Client to Clinician is an important and inspirational book." ~Tsara Shelton, one of Louloua's biggest fans even if she is a bit jealous of Louloua's absolute awesomeness :D 

 

From Client to Clinician by Louloua Smadi

 

Traveling with Louloua Smadi From Client to Clinician, from sibling to self, from France to Lebanon to America, feels like journeying with someone who brings out your best self. And on your travels you are often introduced to something new while simultaneously reconnecting with something familiar. The tone throughout From Client to Clinician is one of stimulating discovery, and the mechanism used is a limitless love the author has for humanity in all it's diversity.

Throughout the book Louloua shares with refreshing frankness the obstacles and fears her family faced when trying to love and teach Milo, Louloua's autistic brother. With that same frankness she invites readers to undergo and understand the massive shifts they made as a family - shifts in beliefs, in behaviors, in methods - in order to better understand Milo, each other, and what true healing looks like.

Full Disclosure: I love Louloua. I have not (yet) met her but she is a sister to me. In life, and throughout the book, Louloua shares experiences and conversations she's had with Dr. Lynette Louise ("The Brain Broad") which influence her style and bring success to her own healing; lessons and conversations that reveal why The Brain Broad's holistic methods create such unique results around the world. And Dr. Lynette Louise is not only The Brain Broad but also My Mom. However, my love for Louloua runs deeper than the mere fact she and I share a mentor. While reading From Client to Clinician I felt connected to her as a person. Admittedly, we are not the same (truthfully, she's been a better sister than me) and her interest in neurofeedback is far grander than my own (Read: Louloua is smarter than me and probably my mom's favorite. Giggle!) but the way she learns, the way she chooses to understand what she's learned, the person she wants to be in the world, these things are familiar. And the way she writes, with vulnerability, clarity, and vision, remind me of how I want to write. 

I believe I am not the only reader who will feel similarly connected to Louloua when reading this book. If you are autistic or have an autistic family member, you are going to recognize your own family in these pages. The fears, the hopes, the obstacles, the reactions we receive from the pubic, though your stories won't be the same as the Smadi's they are likely similar. And with these stories weaved in throughout a book that offers realistic hope and answers, the familiarity feels exciting rather than commiserative.  

Also, the author manages to affect readers with her passion and innate interest in neurofeedback (bio-feedback for the brain). Louloua is drawn to neurofeedback therapy first when it helps her brother and then as it helps her. Her curiosity and excitement influence the reader and as we learn about this natural therapy, as we are offered cogent and compelling information about the brain and behavior, we easily understand otherwise challenging concepts. 

Reading this book, infused as it is with empathy, science, personal stories, hope, humanity, and a vision of diversity that includes everyone while raising the bar, is a transformative experience. I highly recommend it to caregivers, parents, educators, disability advocates, and anyone who enjoys spending time in conversations that consider all the people in our world. 

You can purchase the book here: From Client to Clinician: The Transformative Power of Neurofeedback Therapy for Families Living with Autism and Other Special Needs


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Autism Answer: In Transition

 

Shoes and headphones on the road

The California night air was warmish, my headphones – Marley's purchased as a random “I love you” gift from my youngest son – pressed comfortably over my ears as I walked, danced, and spun continuously along the same path, repeatedly circling the cul-de-sac where my mom's house was home to much of my family. Some of my sons and grandchildren, my mom and my brother were living there.


I had lived there.


At some point in time almost everyone in our circle had lived there with mom.


However, as I shimmied my way through the neighbourhood, transition was everywhere. Not only in the lives of my family but everywhere in the world.


A pandemic was pushing people of every nation to make shifts. For some, the shifts were subtle. For most, they were (and continue to be) remarkable.


Almost everyone I knew had wondered, did I cause this? Is it manifested from a mixture of reluctance and need to make drastic changes in my own life?


Like so many others, my family was making drastic changes. Pushed into the position by uncontrolled circumstances we were at once – though separately – doing the work of controlling our outcomes. A living feeling of excitement, concern, and uncertainty danced in all our moments.


I was using music and movement to focus my feelings; to corral them into myself so perhaps they wouldn't interfere with the loved ones around me.


And boy, was I feeling.


I had fallen in love. I suspect for the first time. It was (still is) intoxicating.


His name was (still is) Ian. And though I was married, he was not my husband.


So I was breaking away from the people I'd spent over two decades actively holding to me. I was breaking away to live in Quebec with the man I was in love with. Despite having absolutely no clue what that would mean for anyone in the future. Despite knowing it would for sure hurt and confuse people in the immediate.

 

 

Despite all of that it did (still does) feel like the right and only thing to do.

 

But, boy, it was not easy. I'm gifted at going with the flow and pointing out how and why everything is awesome along the way. But pushing away, making my own waves, swimming out alone - I had little experience with this. Feelings filled me and spilled out into every room I entered. 

 

So I was stepping outside to avoid trapping loved ones with my moods. 


The cool concrete felt rough and real on my bare feet as I danced and related to the Rock Music pushing its way into me from my headphones. (Rock Music, a love child of Folk Songs, inherited an activist social change attitude, which I love.) I was trying not to sing along with those rocking tunes loud into the night where neighbours might be sleeping. At least not too loud.


Falling in love. I didn't believe in it. Oh, for sure I believed in love. In choosing to love; in acting with love toward ourselves, in finding ways to evolve - lovingly - with our environment, in loving each soul on the planet and recognizing our connection. Loving our connection.


But “falling in love” seemed to me like a dangerous trope, an uncomfortable trap.


Wanting or waiting to “fall in love” held a person hostage in a place where they would make excuses, change only to please someone, focus too much on the other person in the relationship, put too much expectation on what they could and should be, put their intimate happiness and success in the hands of someone else. Not walking away when they should or not staying the course when they could.


But my experience has been entirely different. As I fell in love I felt myself expand. I didn't change or dig my heals in and refuse to change, instead I grew interested in, simply, more. The exciting butterflies-in-my-stomach-barely-breathing-addicted-to-him-swooning was there too, which has it's own fun, but there was so much more as well! His words and ways brought me new ideas and perspectives, offered as parts of himself that were a reaction to parts of me. Our words and ideas being honestly shared, noticed and cared about, considered and consumed. I felt him touch me before he touched me. I wanted not to be “right” when discussing my ideas, I wanted to be heard. I was. He was.


It isn't easy when you're forty-five to consider that what you believed and lived isn't good for you anymore. It especially isn't easy if you've spent much of your time teaching it to your children; explaining it and exampling it. It especially isn't easy if transitioning into a new belief means knocking down the life you've built, a life that includes and is relied on by others, in order to build something completely new that, frankly, might fail. Might even make you feel and look like a fool believing in magical forest fairies.


But at forty-five I'd built a life enough times, feeling entirely unprepared and even sometimes like a fool, to rely on experience. Plus, I was a magical forest fairy. I'd be okay.

 

As I was getting ready to leave for Quebec, my mom was letting go of her house and making plans to live with my brother in an RV. What an adventure! What a transition! Mom, more than most, is gifted at building a good life for her family after banishing old beliefs, or simply discovering better ways to live the ones she's got, and starting from scratch. Again and again.


My sons, though, they had less experience. They were building their new beginning that is closer to their beginning.


How wild, how spot on that I was spending my last few weeks, before heading to my next new beginning, there. At that home, with mom. My brother. My sons. My grandchildren.


Everyone was having to make hard plans. The pandemic had pushed everyone around and forced decisions. Admittedly, everyone had been sort of sitting on decisions they wanted to make but had yet taken the scary steps into, “I want to, I need to, but who knows what will happen? And anyway, how?


How wild that we were all there together, making separate plans. Considering where we would go and how we would create the lives we felt were best for us. How spot on that we were all piled into that home mom graciously shared with us – a house from yet another new beginning - before spilling out and finding our separate paths.


My oldest son, his wife and children, they were trying to find a place to live on their own, trying to decide what kind of family they wanted to be.


My second youngest son wanting to live in Canada. Almost all of his life having dreamed of a small cabin in the woods of British Columbia. Now that he was without work or a place to live, time to figure out how the heck to make that happen.


My second oldest son living with my sister, wanting a place to live with just him, his wife and daughters, and a business plan for his life. Maybe Canada. Something he and his wife often thought about. Well, time to make a plan.


And my baby boy, the one who bought me the headphones, living in an apartment in Texas with a couple of roommates, not far from the University campus. Dealing with me and his dad more than he wanted to. More than was fair to him. Wanting his own life. Especially now that his parents were getting a divorce because I fell in love.


Sometimes goodbye is a second chance.”


As I neared the bulbous dead end of the cul-de-sac, considering one more circle of the street, the song, Second Chance by Shinedown, started playing in my ears. Manifested by the perfection of it. Finding my feelings and giving them focus.


My youngest son in my mind, singing at the top of his lungs, “I'm not angry I'm just saying, sometimes goodbye is a second chance,” his favourite Shinedown song, meaning much to him.


I'm not angry I'm just saying, sometimes goodbye is a second chance.” So much.


When we do choose to make changes in our lives, our beliefs, our way of thinking and living, we often think we have to see the old way as bad. To be angry about it, or consider it wrong. Conversely, sometimes out of an unwillingness to see how we've lived or thought as unhealthy, we stay. Hold tight. Argue for it. Dig our heels in.


But change and transition are going to happen. And when we take the reins it can be more than exciting, it can be what we need. It can be life saving. Often it is necessary for our very survival. 

 

While we're in transition, and transitions often last long, it's good to be careful how we categorize the people, places, beliefs we're transitioning from and be mindful of the expectations we build for the people, places, and beliefs we're transitioning to.

 

As I walked faster and danced harder and sang along a little louder heading back to mom's, deciding to walk circles no more, itching to share these thoughts with Ian, I saw my oldest son stick his head out the front door. My heart leapt at the site of my boy. I love him!


“Mom,” he said, “you're singing too loud. I'm trying to get Nevaeh to sleep but she keeps hearing you sing and asking for you.”


Oops!


I guess my feelings can spill out and interfere with my loved ones even when I'm unaware. Even when I think I've done a good job of containing them.


This is worth noticing. 

 

Hugs, smiles, and love!




Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Autism Answer: Pinwheels and Prevention (Child Abuse Prevention Month)

 

Tattered colorful toy wheel with statue of children behind it.

When I think of a pinwheel (which, I admit, I rarely do) it's not so much a feeling of childhood innocence I get but, rather, the sweet simplicity and reliance on an outside force to move it - like a child. I think, because pinwheels are often used as a prop in storytelling to denote childhood innocence specifically when that innocence is going to be manipulated or completely mutilated, I have come to see them more as a warning about childhood innocence.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. It is also Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month as well as Autism Acceptance Month. [A list of awareness dates can be found HERE] In my life, these have played an important role and I find it simply neat that they choose to be together in April, when my mom also has a birthday. She too has played an important role in my life and is the reason child abuse prevention, sexual assault prevention, and autism acceptance are major players in my world.

My mom is an unusual mom. Not surprising, she is an unusual woman and they make unusual moms. She herself struggled with a not-so-typical brain back in the days when nobody was talking openly or thoughtfully about autism or synesthesia or schizophrenia or any of the other variety of diagnosis professionals have flirted with for mom. Also, she was a “strange” child at a time when smacking kids around was almost expected, and unusually harsh abuse was kept quiet. And sexual abuse? Well, as my grandma said when mom told her I had been sexually abused by my step dad, “These things don't have to end a marriage, I can pay for her to go to boarding school.” Sort of explains why grandma and grandpa stayed together till the day he died and mom lived away from home from the age of fifteen.

What on earth does my mom growing up in an abusive environment with an autistic brain have to do with pinwheels? I myself had no idea until just this moment.

Pinwheels for Prevention was started in 2008 by Prevent Child Abuse America. The idea is to shift our thinking and actions around child abuse prevention. Rather than publish and post pictures of abused children with copy that begs us to care, which we do, overwhelming us to the point of being unable to think of good ideas that might make change, Pinwheels for Prevention asks us to focus on our community and any actions we can take to prevent abuse before it happens.

This brings me back to my mom.

My mom cared so much about becoming a mom and doing it with fairness and love. I think it's in her soul, but growing up in a home that treated her and her siblings in abusive and unfair ways had her hiding in a cubbyhole making clear and specific plans to be better than that. My mom was able to bear two live children, me and my sister, and one son who didn't make it. Then for health reasons she had to have a hysterectomy at the young age of twenty-three. And that is when she began to adopt and otherwise open our home to others. Children from homes of abuse, children with disabilities and dysfunctions, children in need of fairness and love. Fairness and love that was not offered in their homes or in their communities. These people became our family.

My mom wasn't able to prevent the abuse that had happened before my adopted siblings and temporary friends stayed with us, but she was able to help everyone understand how these things happen, what to do to heal ourselves, and – importantly – how to break the cycle. For some of us (like me and my siblings) this is not new news, that there is a cycle of abuse and that we must take action to break it. For my mom, this was horrible wonderful news. Horrible, because she had to contend with the mistakes she herself had made before seeing the cycle, and wonderful because something could be done and she would do it.

Perhaps the hardest most wonderful time in our lives so far was during those years of hard lessons, introspection, walking away without knowing where to go, seeing my mom make it all up out of thin air, necessity, and creativity.

My mom was planting pinwheels for prevention. She was focusing on her vision where all children grow up surrounded by belief in them, raising the bar, fairness, love, and support. For my brothers who were on the autism spectrum, this was easy for my mom at home but impossible in the community. Schools, neighbors, grocery store shoppers, parents at the park; everyone in the world treated mom and my siblings like problems, dangers, or people to pity. This, my mom and so many other special needs parents have said, is the hardest part of raising children who are disabled or cognitively challenged. So my mom took us out into the world, often, but always carefully and cleverly. She knew that the world would not change if we hid away, and she knew we would not become independent happy people if we hid away, and so her pinwheels were us and the attitude she practiced. “We stretch people,” she likes to say, it helps her take the time to explain and be patient with others.

Mom's diligence and consistence with me and my siblings worked wonders. We have all grown in ways professionals and statistics argue against, and we are happy.

Around the globe my mom plants pinwheels. She works and speaks and writes and performs, always with a meaningful message and specific actions to be taken that include and care about everyone; but especially children. Especially children with extra or special needs. 

Children are like pinwheels in a way. They are reliant on outside forces to spin them and unable to choose which outside forces and in which way. Unlike pinwheels, though, children are alive. They matter more. We have so much power with children; they need us to care about their reliance on us.   

The pinwheel is a symbol. And I think it is a good one. Planting pinwheels can remind us of our role in the lives of children; whether we have our own or not. 

We don't all have to be extreme like my mom to plant pinwheels, but we can all plant pinwheels. We can focus on a vision of the world where all children grow up surrounded by belief in them, raising the bar, fairness, love, and support. And we can make shifts with that in mind. We can consider our attitude in the grocery store when a parent is struggling with their child, reach out to an overwhelmed mom or dad we know and do something to help: make a meal, watch children for them while they nap, simply tell them we see them and point out something great you noticed they did. Notice great things they do. It is not hyperbole to say that these shifts can change the course of a life, can actually help an overwhelmed parent not become an abusive one. And where abuse exists and does happen, being a safe space rather than a closed off judgmental one can mean a child reaches out. These are pinwheels we can plant.

Also, we can plant pinwheels. Perhaps get together with a child in your life and make them out of materials you have at home. Get creative, plant pinwheels, create connections.

Or, adopt a bunch of kids and be amazing and teach the world to do the same like my mom does.

Whichever you prefer. 

 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Book Review: "Of Women and Salt" reviewed again but differently - Because One Thing is also Several Things

Today is publication day for Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia! 

I invite you to read my review of this book on Disabled-World. I decided to write a separate review for SexualDiversity.org - a site highlighting news and stories related to LGBTQ love and sexuality as well as other underrepresented or commonly misunderstood relationships - because I want to highlight the theme of the book that struck me as most relevant for those of us creating romantic relationships while contending with the romantic relationships that came before us.

____________________________ 

Of Women and Salt is an expertly weaved tale starring five generations of Cuban women. All of these women are connected either through family or happenstance, affecting each other's lives regardless of distance in time and place. And all of these women are both extraordinary and ordinary; like so many women we know.

The mothers in Of Women and Salt are all living in places and times where building a foundation of stability is darn near impossible. Revolutions rage around and inside them, husbands rage around and inside them, and the threat of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) rages around and inside them. These mothers find ways within the chaos to bring safety and stability to the lives of their daughters and, in so doing, build their own unstable stories and frameworks. It is beautiful and human and real and raw.

The daughters in Of Women and Salt (of which some are also mothers) struggle to understand themselves and their pasts. Because their mothers are strong and unwilling to yield in areas they believe best for their daughters, they make strong barricades between them. Again, it is beautiful and human and real and raw.

As the daughter of a strong woman myself, one who never built barricades but was perhaps unnecessarily open and honest in order not to do so, I felt my own connection to these women grow deep. As they (mothers and daughters) made choices and took actions in love, choosing to hold onto or, in dark and dangerous ways, get rid of husbands, they were teaching each other what love is, what we do and don't allow in our relationships, who we become in order to make it all work. And each woman chooses to see what they are being shown in ways that are both unique to them and built by their relationships to each other.

I watched my mother struggle with relationships. When my step-dad molested me and she left him, becoming a single mom with six kids – four of whom were small adopted boys with various disabilities and challenges – my mom worked with passion and vulnerability to learn what the “cycle of abuse” is and to take any action to break it. Mom rarely dated (six kids doesn't leave a lot of room for romantic love) but when she did she was careful. Whether dating men or women she watched them closely for any signs of prejudice or cruelty. And because we all have some prejudice and cruelty, she always had to let them go. Not trusting herself to choose well.

My sister and I learned different things from watching this play out before us, but we both learned from it. Lucky for us we are all close and supportive and believe in consistent growth so the times we found ourselves needing to make changes we were not alone. We had help. We had each other.

My mom, though, did not. Like many of the women in the book my mom had to do it all alone. She made choices that were near impossible to build the support and strong foundation we – my siblings and I – were able to take for granted.

While reading Of Women and Salt I was moved by how well the author shows these relationships between women, the way we are influencing each other and how we are both unable to insist on the way our influence is received and how we are responsible for being careful with it.

There are moments in this book that break your heart; there are moments that reach out and acknowledge you; there are moments that give you power while simultaneously reminding you how little you have.

Ultimately, though, for me the novel was a moment of feeling connected to women around the world and finding comfort in that.

We are building society together, fathers, mothers, daughters, sons. We are connected, regardless of time and place. And though we can't be certain of how our influence will play out we can be careful. Be inclusive, open, and willing to make changes.

Like my mom, we can work with passion and vulnerability to learn the places we are perpetuating cycles of abuse (in our homes and communities) and take actions to break them.

Like the women in Of Women and Salt, we are all bound to environments that we can only partly create. And like the women in the book, who are expertly crafted and imagined, we are influenced by our environments.

These women will influence you.

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
Publish Date: March 30, 2021 (today!)

Pre-Order via Amazon: Of Women and Salt

 

Image: me reading "Of Women and Salt" with the novel cover fully in view.