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.”


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!!