Thursday, July 21, 2022

Autism Answer: Don't Judge, But Also Do Ask For Change

A pic of my oldest son with words he wrote about judging

I know, I know, I know: if I'm not judging you then I must be okay with everything you do, right? I mean, I don't judge. You do you.

Sometimes, that works fine. If I'm not judging you I can still choose to walk away, to judge your behaviors and beliefs as not for me, not my jam.

But what about my kids? My grand-kids? My closest friends and family? Do I just let them do whatever the heck they want without asking for, teaching, and insisting on change? Nope. Obviously that doesn't make sense. It doesn't connect us, it doesn't help us help each other. 

And it sets us up for being abusive and being abused. 

It's often not easy or obvious, and for sure mistakes will be made, but we should remember that asking for change, or teaching a different way to be, is not inherently judgmental, critical, or fault-finding. It can be, when we're being intolerant and hence telling a person to be a different person. But it isn't true that if we are not judgemental we won't ask people to shift, change, grow.

In fact, when you ask yourself to shift, change, and grow you may notice you do your best work when not sitting in judgement of yourself but, rather, seeing where your habits, behaviors, and beliefs are hindering or hurting you and trusting yourself to make changes. It is beautiful. It is an evolving of yourself that you influence. Not by hating something about you but, rather, by choosing a new thing. When you're busy hating a thing, you keep it alive. You feed it and give it power. It keeps you busy hating it and there's less time for changing it. When you instead see it as a hindrance, or something you were mistaken to believe, or something that once helped you but now hurts you, you more easily move on. (Er, more easily. Not always easily.)

We can do that with our loved ones. Growing up with autistic brothers gave me a unique perspective. Actually, it was growing up with autistic brothers and a mom with unique perspectives that gave me a unique perspective. But I saw first hand the differences between experts being fake nice with my brothers, judging them as less than or broken inside, while trying to force them to be different people vs my mom who saw them as born beautiful, burdened with overwhelming challenges, finding ways to handle those challenges that were, sometimes, less than ideal, and worth all the hard work and curious nature she could muster to help them be them, but in healthier safer ways. She raised the bar with my brothers and insisted they could be successful. She was almost merciless in her insistence, but she always considered who they were and what they wanted as she urged them to shift, change, and grow.

It's hard to explain the difference, but it is all the difference. Seeing people as generally awesome inside, navigating their world, the world their body and environment provides, and probably needing help from others along the way, is a non-judgemental view. We all need help from others along the way. Which is wonderful. That's how we learn about others.

Seeing different people with different styles as different rather than wrong is what we're after, I think, but that doesn't mean we can't ask for change. For growth.

Silly example:

When I was thirteen my mom confronted me about something, I don't remember what, but I know it had to do with my behavior at the time. I responded in a fun way. I chose to punch her over and over again on her thigh while screaming, "I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!" I was mature for my age. tee hee!

Anyway, she didn't say it was okay for me to do that. But she also didn't think I was bad or wrong for doing that. She reached into my torment and asked why I was doing that, made sure I knew I must never again do that, and helped me figure out a different way to navigate my pain. (Our pain? I did punch her.)

This. This is what it can be to love someone without judgment but with expectations of change.

It worked, too. I never said mean things to her ever again. (Mom, if you're reading this, pretend with me, kay? giggle!)

This is my long winded way of attempting to remind us of the thing I often need reminding of: It is okay to ask someone you love to change. It is okay to ask someone, including yourself, to behave differently. It is more than okay. It is what love often looks like. It is necessary, I believe, to practice knowing when to do so and knowing not to hate or think bad and wrong of the person, or even the behaviors, you are hoping to change. The behaviors are all symptoms and clues. The person is the seed.

Also, it is necessary to practice being open to the possibility that we ourselves are the one who may want to change. I can't tell you how often I would be asking a brother to change, to be more like something I thought was better, when suddenly I'd realize this was not one of those times when I knew better. This was me asking him to be different for my convenience.

Note: I said "I can't tell you how many times..." but if you look through my blog you will see that I have certainly tried!

Anyway, long story short: Don't judge the people you love, including yourself, but do believe in and teach change.

I guess I could have just said that, huh?

Hugs, smiles, and love!! 

Monday, July 11, 2022

Autism Answer: Sweet Serenity


Serenity in my arms at her first birthday party

Serenity: the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.
"Mom," my oldest son looked at me, concern surrounding him in a thick fog, contributing perhaps to the slow moving demeanor he appeared to have, "are you going to be okay? I have to take her to the hospital, are you staying or coming with us?"
Oh, I wanted to go. I wanted to be with him and his wife as their second daughter was born, but by some terrible twist of fate I was dizzy, pasty, unable to stand. Practically passed out on the couch as my son ran from one room, taking care of his labouring wife, to another, asking questions of his unexpectedly faint mother. 
"Maybe get Dramma. She can be with you and I'll stay here with Nevaeh." My mom could go with them to the hospital, and I would stay here, sleeping alongside my oldest granddaughter who was oh so soon going to be a big sister. 
My son ran up the stairs to wake my mom. I stood shakily up from the couch and went to my daughter-in-law, rubbed her back a bit while she lumbered wide legged out of the tiny downstairs bathroom. The roaring noise in my head was overwhelming and I was grateful it could only be heard by me and was unlikely to wake the baby in the other room. Even the labouring mom was moving with more grace than I could muster, and though the sound in my head was distractingly loud I could tell she was doing a good job of keeping quiet. 
Quickly, my mom and son came down the stairs. Again I was asked if I was okay, and asked if I wanted to go to the hospital, but again I opted to stay home with Nevaeh. They promised to keep me in the loop, photos and updates would be sent, and away they went.
With effort I moved my body toward the bedroom where Nevaeh slept. I saw her, there at the end of my fuzzy tunnel vision, tiny and sleeping on the big bed of her mom and dad's. A little baby, only one year old, about to become a big sister. 
Silently and carefully I crawled in beside her. I didn't want to wake her, but I had to feel her in my arms. I placed one arm over her and waited, she didn't move. I scooted my body closer to hers, I softly kissed her forehead, I felt myself drift peacefully to sleep. 
My phone was beside me on the bed, and I would open my eyes periodically to peek. Is she here? Is everything okay? It seemed things were moving along well at the hospital, and with each text or image that brought me closer to Serenity, I felt my body move closer to it's regular untroubled self. No longer feeling faint, simply bruised from it. 
Then, as Nevaeh stirred in my arms, in the wee early hours, I felt a true calm. I felt peaceful. I felt Serenity. My phone dinged.
There she was. Beautiful! Here! Born in a room I where I was not but where my mom and son were. Beautiful!
Nevaeh opened her eyes and looked at me with uncharacteristic softness. She is a sweet girl, but rarely is she calm and soft. She's almost always spunky and sassy. However, in that moment, she was serene. I showed her the picture and quietly announced, "There she is, Nevaeh. There's your baby sister, Serenity."
Nevaeh reached out and touched my phone with all the softness in the world. Her tiny fingers traced the cheeks on my screen. They moved slowly, softly. Soft small sleepy fingers touching the screen displaying her sister. I was overcome with love for these girls. These sisters. I was grateful, oh so grateful, to be there in that room. In that moment. Watching big sister trace tiny fingers over baby sister, happy and calm. Peaceful and complete. 
I put the phone down as Nevaeh snuggled into me to fall back asleep. Dreaming, possibly, of her baby sister. Feeling, in my arms, like a gift. A gift on her sister's birthday. 
Serenity: a beautiful baby, a sister, a daughter, a granddaughter, a niece, born four years ago this day.
Once morning arrived in earnest I brought Nevaeh with me to meet Serenity in the hospital. 
Serenity. There she was. It was a gift for me to share this moment - the moment of meeting Serenity - with my oldest granddaughter. The two of us having snuggled waiting for her, and now she's here. 
But I am also selfish. And I couldn't wait until my own moment, alone with Serenity. A moment I would get that night in the hospital.
It was my turn.
My son went home, my mom went home, Nevaeh went home, and I stayed. I chatted with my daughter-in-law, and walked the baby that night. Serenity woke up many many times, and I was fully there. Not faint. Yes, a bit tired, but oh so there. 
Serenity: my granddaughter, a child who helps me feel untroubled by the distance between us, calm in the certainty that we are not distant.
It is my fate as a grandma to only sometimes be there. The day Serenity was born was my first time choosing so clearly not to be there. It hurt, but became beautiful too. 
Today Serenity turns four. Once again, I am not there. Oh, I want to be with her! I want to hold her, sing to her, talk about how stronger she is with her. (When I saw her last month she woke me up every morning to show me how stronger she is. 😃
But it is also beautiful where I am, who I am with. Hence, it's okay. Serenity knows I am there when I can be, and when it's the right choice for us. Well, she doesn't know, she's only four, but she feels it and I hope one day it will grow into a knowing. 
In the meantime, I will always be here for her. Wherever my here is, wherever her here is, she has me.
Happy birthday sweet sweet Serenity!
I love you!
Hugs, smiles, and love!
"We write to taste life twice; in the moment, and in retrospect." ~ Anais Nin

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Autism Answer: I Don't See What They See



eye glasses on a glass table, out of focus furniture in the background

The kids all crowded around the game table—

Wait, I say kids and perhaps you imagine young children. The playful energy, adults necessarily nearby watching for mood shifts and play gone too far. You think of little voices, shy little ones, hyper boys ready to push.

But I’m referring to young adults. They are kids to us older adults who either birthed them, or are relatives of those who birthed them. Now that I’ve clarified, you picture similar but different people, right?

There is still the high energy, some are shy, maybe hyper boys pushing each other, but it’s different. Adults are watching in this case as well, but with less likely need to step in, though not none.

Did I mention alcohol?

Ah, maybe shift a bit again. There is alcohol. It’s a birthday celebration for the youngest cousin who is now drinking age.

There are about ten of them. Mostly girls, a few boys, all decked out in swim gear and sporting sun kissed cheeks, sun burnt shoulders here and there. The shy one isn’t overly shy, the boys not any more hyper than the girls. It is sunny, there is a pool near the game table, everyone is getting along, the older adults are fairly relaxed and enjoying the beautiful scene.

It is beautiful.

Should I, I’m honestly asking, describe beautiful people in order to ask you to picture the scene beautifully?

What color skin should they have? What sizes should their bodies be? What disabilities should I include, if any? Sure, you'll want diversity, but to what degree?

I was there and it was beautiful. I could clearly feel that. I enjoyed the range of conversations and energy styles. I loved noticing how some of the cousins reached out to newly introduced friends. How some sons and daughters delighted in a social opportunity of this sort.

It got a little less beautiful, in my opinion, with more alcohol.

But, for several hours, it was all simply beautiful.

Kids and adults alike.

However, I ask in earnest regarding appearances of people because, I confess, I hardly noticed and I cannot accurately describe much of what they looked like.

Yet, at least one of the adults (in our older adult group) said enough things about physical appearances that I couldn’t help wondering, not for the first time, what don’t I see?

Comments wanting to become conversation on weight, skin health, ethnicity, and the like, were confusing me a little, giving me a feeling that I am missing something.

Yes, I do see our outsides. I see weight and color and skin. But it is a part so included in the whole that it’s not often specifically noticed. I am aware of the clues on our outsides that point to how we’re doing on our insides and so I don’t try to not see. Yet, for much of my life I’ve noticed - based on the comments of my peers - I am often not seeing what they are seeing. My mom has pointed it out to me a few times, so I know I’m not wrong. A room full of people can be commenting on how something or someone looks, and I often don’t see what they see. (Please note, I don’t mean only bad stuff. I’m not talking about gossipy comments, although I do mean those as well. I’m referring to simply noticing how people and things look.)

This sometimes feeds a worry of mine, about myself.

A little after the birthday celebration, a celebration where most of us were waltzing around in swimsuits, I was asked if I had felt comfortable, attractive even,  at the gathering.  Ummmm…. I felt hopeful that I was not too boring, wanting to be helpful but not get in the way, curious about these people – many of whom I was meeting for the first time – and their stories. Was I supposed to think, also, about appearance? About looking appropriately, I don’t know, good?

Oh, sure, when I first stepped into the yard wearing my swimsuit, my hair unwashed and sloppily ponytail-ed, I was wishing I’d shaved my legs and bikini line, wished my bathing suit wasn’t the wrong size putting me in the position of having to adjust it more often than I’d like. At one point I was told there was dark under my eyes so I presumed I was looking a little old and tired. But I simply shrugged it off and continually stepped into the group hoping to add something beautiful. A listening ear, a helping hand, an interesting, maybe even funny, story or two.

I didn’t much see what I look like or what others look like.

I have wondered this before. Is being “body positive” more than being comfortable in my body? Am I missing something when I don’t much notice the differences, the variety of beauty? When I don’t see what they see?

And I have wondered often, did I embarrass someone? For lack of understanding, for not knowing what I don’t see, did I embarrass someone?

I know I sometimes do.

“Mom,” my youngest son once said in his usual thoughtful careful manner, “could you please come to my school event, but wear pants that don’t have so many holes in them?”

I don’t pretend to not see at all. I recognize a neat smile, eyes that are unique, an extra long beard. But, as I said, it is all part of a much bigger whole.

Books and covers, I was thinking about before sitting down to write this out. I do notice myself attracted to a book cover based on looks. If it looks like the type of texture that feels good in my hands, if it has colors and images that appeal to me, I notice. I think my attraction is in large part due to the experience of knowing which colors and styles are popular in my favorite genres. I see it and want to touch it, to know more about the story and feelings I might find inside. It is quickly more than the cover. As I read the hints and meaning represented on the cover reveal themselves. They change for me.

The kids, I guess, were like covers on books. People were looking at them and seeing more than I was because the other adults knew them better. They knew more of the stories inside and, hence, were able to recognize more meaning beyond the cover itself within the cover itself.

I saw them too, but not as much with my eyes. Hardly with my eyes. I guess, since kids are not books, there wasn’t the need to pick and choose which ones to pay attention to, which cover to reach out and hold. Their stories would simply reveal themselves and I was open to all the genres around me.  

I do try to use seeing more, but I often get it wrong. My mom has noticed. She’s noticed for years. I don’t seem to see what others are seeing. My sister has noticed, too. When I have been watching her kids in her house and she comes home, she's learned to be careful not to immediately say, "I need to clean this house," because, most likely, I think I already did it for her. I often see clean, I often see not broken, when others see dirty and broken.

I don’t mind, mostly. This is not a huge issue and hardly worth exploring. But sometimes I worry that it means I am the reason everyone is feeling uncomfortable, and I don’t know it. Because I don’t see right, I might not know how wrong I look.

I don’t see quite the same as others so when I try, I worry I’m getting it wrong. The point is, to fix it I’d have to see what they see.

Here’s the rub, I mostly like not seeing. It is a newer discovery about myself. I like it. I like hardly noticing these things.

And it is hard to learn a new skill. So, maybe I also like liking it, so I don’t have to learn.

There is the risk of missing an important clue about a loved one or myself, a change in appearance that is a symptom in need of investigation. So far, though, others have been helpful in pointing these things out. (Recently, when a cat was losing weight but I hadn’t noticed, the problem was addressed, because other people noticed.)

So, for now, I think I like not seeing.

Do you see?

Hugs, smiles, and love!