Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Autism Answers: A Lack of Ideas

Shoes and headphones on the road, looking for new ideas

I don’t have new ideas. I tend to do things the way I see them done or the way I’ve been taught to do them. Never do I think to myself, “hmmmm… this is kind of cumbersome or imperfect, I wonder if there’s a better way?” and, hence, I don’t explore the idea of better ways. Even when I am thinking things along the lines of, “It’s too bad this is cumbersome or imperfect,” my automatic next thought is, “but if there was a better way it would be how everyone did it.” So, again, I don’t explore the idea of more ideas.
When I was little, I watched my mom create, explore, and insist on more ideas. I watched my little sister stomp her foot, push her fists into her hips, and, rosy-cheeked and cheeky, tell the grown-ups that her ideas were better ones. In both cases, I felt embarrassed, inadequate, and annoyed. Who the heck were they that they would have ideas? That they would be the ones who knew better when looking around I saw everyone else doing things – confidently and in great numbers – based on the old ideas. 
I was a mess of wanting back then. I wanted to be wise and have ideas like them. I wanted them to stop standing out of the crowd with their ideas. I wanted them to stop getting us in trouble by refusing to back down. When they would explain the reasons their ideas were better, I couldn’t help but agree with them, but then when others insisted that things had been done this way for so long and we should keep doing them this way, I couldn’t help but agree with them. I wanted not to be like that. 
My mom adopted many of my siblings (I am the oldest of eight) and among us were challenges ranging from sexual trauma to malnourishment to severe autism to fetal alcohol syndrome and more. New ideas were necessary for us to grow up healthy, capable, and happy. 
Attempting to navigate the world doing things the way they had been done was continually injuring us. 
It wasn’t easy for me, but I got better at trusting my mom and my sister’s ideas, despite the status quo fighting us almost every step of the way. It became easier as the health of me and my siblings clearly benefited from these other ways of doing things. Soon, I recognized how everyone benefited, regardless of disability, dysfunction, sexuality. My mom and my little sister, for some reason I can’t fathom, have always been hyper-aware of discrimination. They’ve always had an eye on equity with an all-encompassing empathy, and they insisted on the same from others. For me, this understanding of a lack of empathy for the outliers embedded in most of the old ideas only revealed itself when I was living with and loving people who are outliers. 
My lack of ideas was directly tied to a lack of diversity. Yet it was my resistance to the new ideas that feels particularly relevant. Embarrassing but relevant.
It should not have taken me so long to give the different ideas a chance. Particularly since I actually thought they sounded good. When explained to me, I did see their value. But the moment I looked around and saw way more people doing things the usual way, the way they were already being done, a few things happened. I got afraid, for one. Of standing out and not fitting in. Of needing to prove the value of doing it different and not being able to do so. Also, I couldn't believe the world didn’t already know what my mom or my sister knew. Hadn’t already weighed the pros and cons of their ideas – with equitable and inclusive and kind intentions - and landed on the way it’s being done. I knew there were people in the world who cared more about power and money than people but I was absolutely certain that those people were fewer and farther between than they are, which led me to believe our society must be equitable and good already.
But loving my brothers and sisters, loving my mom, loving myself, meant seeing I was wrong. 
As I grew more certain of this, and as I began to see the proof of it, I made it a point to seek new and different ideas, born from lives that rely on them. The ideas run the gamut from practical ways to build private and public spaces, to shifting our social commentary, to making political change, to examining and reforming some of our deep seeded beliefs about humanity.
Life-hacks are a helpful trend and I like discovering new ways of doing mundane things. These are almost always suggestions I not only wouldn’t have come up with on my own but I never would have tried coming up with a solution to begin with. Because I am just not that type. 
When I was young, I thought it might be because I was not smart. But whether or not that was true then, it is not true now. I still do not tend to invent new ideas. But I am smart enough to seek them out, to truly consider them, and to decide for myself if I think they will make life better in the long run for the most people. Funnily, life hacks meant only to make things faster or easier are not often ones I choose to implement. I’ve discovered that ideas meant to speed up tasks take away greatly from the wisdom of and connection to the task. Of course, that’s not always the case. But often it is.
Ideas are never ending, always evolving, forever in need of refreshing. Without a willingness to consider new ones, without a purposeful seeking of ideas grown from uncommon soil, without the intention to actually listen and actually consider changing, we sit in our old rot and spoil. 
Some of us have the skill of seeing what isn’t obvious to those they are surrounded by. I am not that. 
However, those of us who are less able to see are powerful too. We are able to listen, to learn, to make friends and family of those who – often by necessity – are seeing what isn’t obvious, and willing to share it with us. Not all ideas are better just because they are different or new, but they are ideas. Which are always worth exploring.
A lack of ideas is not the fault of ideas. It is the fault of idea seekers who are unwilling. Unwilling to stick out, unwilling to be wrong, unwilling to listen to outliers and other people vastly different from themselves.
Let's be idea seekers who are willing.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Autism Answer: The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease


My wheels (roller skates)

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. 
This is because when the wheel is low on grease resulting friction creates a sound letting you know that if the parts are not greased soon, the friction will cause things to break (burning, corrosion, seizing, etc., depending on the mechanics we're referring to) and the wheel, along with it's adjoining parts, will not be able to work well, if at all.
Some wheels need to be greased more often, some can perform well for quite a while even while squeaking, some will not squeak at all because they are simply able to work with the grease they have, but wheels need grease in order to perform smoothly. The ones that need more grease are not necessarily of a lower quality than the ones that need less. Sometimes it's because they work longer hours or on rougher terrain, sometimes it's because they are a special type that performs better in certain situations but in order to make them special they need to be greased more often, sometimes it's simply that you have not been using good grease. Regardless, wheels need grease. 
The squeaky wheel does not get the grease simply because it is begging for attention. In most cases, a wheel that squeaks too often without truly needing the grease, without doing sufficient work of being a wheel between oil breaks, would be replaced and left behind. 
I only mention this as a reminder. 
Don't grease a squeak just to stop the squeak. Do it with an eye on the entire machine. On how the mechanics all work together. 
Take time to see if you are working the wheel too hard, or if you are greasing too often in hopes of keeping it from squeaking (which can cause the chemical degradation of your grease to quicken), or if you are not being careful about the terrain you're traversing. Not all wheels are built for rock climbing or snow. Sometimes we pull one on the back of another until we get to the proper environment. Sometimes we simply wait for the right weather. 
I'm only mentioning this as a reminder.
Don't use "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" as a justification for being a squeaky wheel unnecessarily. And don't use a distaste for "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" as an excuse not to take time to help someone. Also, let's not use a fear of needing help keep us from squeaking, potentially causing us to break the mechanics of our machine unnecessarily.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Because a properly greased wheel keeps everyone moving in their chosen direction.
Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Monday, October 10, 2022

Autism Answer: Bannock on the Living Room Floor with my Uncle Henry

*Bannock is a form of bread. Most Indigenous nations in North America have some version of bannock as a staple in their diets.


Uncle Henry


My Uncle Henry was murdered when I was still young. I only have a few memories of him. My memories are few but I have thought of him often.

I have often thought about the lack of time we had with Uncle Henry. The sadness of his story tends to envelop these thoughts like a fog. He was native and adopted into my mom's white family. The history of his specific why and how I do not know, but our Canadian history I am aware of. I think of how my uncle's stories were stolen from him, of how his life was manipulated, of his murder and the horrific unsurprised and hardly caring attitudes about it.

My mom loved my Uncle Henry and was angered by the way her family treated him. When she shares memories of their childhood, the angry passion she expresses reminds me of the angry passion I would see in my own little sister when she witnessed cruelty dressed up as kindness. It is a passion I have always felt uncomfortable around. My awe of their innate vision mixes with my fear of their inability to be in the background and ignore it, shrug it off. Be a good girl.

I think of my Uncle Henry and, often, I think of children like me. So busy being a good girl they don't let angry passion get them in trouble. With practice, they learn not to have angry passion at all. I suspect, from the little I knew of my uncle, he was a child like me. A good boy. But unlike me, he wasn't white. No amount of being good could change that.

But today, for me, this is the wrong way to think about it. The wrong focus.

I have only a few memories of time spent with my Uncle Henry, and only one that is clear and easily replayed in my mind. It is a wonderful memory that brings no sadness. Only a feeling of family.

I remember bannock.

He sat, quietly - he was so quiet in my memory - on the living room floor with my sister and me, making bannock on mom's hot plate. He was telling us, in a quiet uncertain sort of way, about the bread he was making and a history of learning it from his native family. A history he may have been both inventing and remembering. A history I craved knowing more about but feared asking too many questions lest he feel singled out and interrogated. I was loving the moment, the stories, the food, the family, and I didn't want him to stop sharing.

He was living with us for a bit. His family had refused him, and eventually my stepdad refused him, but not mom. She fought for him, insisted on finding ways to help him even when my stepdad wouldn't allow it. My mom deeply cared about her brother. She didn't treat him like a problem, or a hardship, but like a person she cared about.

A person worth the work of caring about in an environment that didn't make it easy.

I'm sorry I didn't have more time to learn with him. To know him. To discover the person my mom cared so much about.

There is sadness in his story but to focus on it takes away from the beauty of the bannock. It also creates a feeling that sadness belongs in his story. That it is a necessary part of remembering my Uncle Henry. How sad!

Today, I am grateful. For the time he did spend with us, for a mom who made room for that, and for the quiet way he showed his caring.

I'm grateful for an uncle who was shy and uncertain yet inclined toward sitting with my little sister and me on mom's living room floor to make bannock.

An uncle who sat on the floor with us to share bannock.

Hugs, smiles, and love! 

Bonus: I am including a link to the song my mom wrote about my uncle and his murder. Have a listen. Maybe sit on the living room floor while my uncle, through my mom, shares his bannock. 


Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Autism Answer: He Will Make a Great Dad

I love a world that celebrates great parents. Working ones, stay-at-home ones, quiet ones, struggling ones, silly ones, older ones, strait laced ones, single ones, partnered ones, funny ones, young ones, adopted ones... parents have so much power. I love when we care little about the labels and a lot about love, evolution, and all encompassing caring.


Shay building fun stuff for the kids with his brother, their dad

My son, Shay, is missing the kids like crazy. 
A little background: Shay is living in the basement. He traveled with me from the USA to Canada, where he wants to plant roots. His dream, from as far back as I can remember him dreaming of where to be a grown-up, is to live in British Columbia in a small house amongst the trees. Well, a small house or a retired train car refurbished to be a house? Also, he wants to have a working phone booth randomly in his woods to weird out any trespassing teenagers? He's a funny fella, my Shay. Anyway, he's living here - in the basement, which is actually quite a luxurious basement - but unable to work until he gets his proof-of-citizenship certificate. Which, fun fun fun, he's been told could take more than a year. Until then, he isn't comfortable leaving the country to visit the kids, his nieces and nephew, who are all still in the USA.
Shay has really been missing the kids. His arms reach out for little bodies, which are not here. His mind replays all the laughter and phrases they shared with each other, the games he'd invent to make chores and diaper changes exciting, the songs he'd sing so they'd sleep safely in his big strong arms. His mind is kind, but also cruel. It replays these things so he can relive them, but then sometimes pushes him to realize how much laughter he's missing, how much growth and how many games he is not being part of, now that he's here in our basement. 
A little background: Shay lived in my mom's home for years, along with my brother, my oldest son, his wife, and the kids. Shay was sort of a live-in babysitter (while my mom was sort of a live-in nanny, my oldest son and his wife had a lot of helpers!) so he spent many days and nights taking care of his nieces, as well as his infant nephew. Hence, he misses them in the way a person misses someone they spent delightful time with and felt partly responsible for. 
When Shay comes up from the basement to do the dishes - there are no babies here for him to babysit, but we are kind and so we offer him dishes to bathe - he almost always says something about the babies. Clearly, they are on his mind. Almost always, they are on his mind. It can give me the feeling of being a sub-par grandma, actually, since they are often on my mind but not, I think, as often as they are on his. When the babies call and I chat with them on video, they always ask for Shay. They always want to see and play with him. The kids are missing Shay. 
A little background: My oldest son and his wife struggle as parents. (Sort of goes without saying, everyone struggles as parents.) The help they get from my mom, and the help they got from Shay, were necessary. Living with Lynette (a great show, by the way!) means people are pitching in, but it also means those people are there because my mom's special brand of helping is required. My mom, who is a behavior expert, is a believer in teaching how to love fiercely, how to raise the bar, how to insist on stepping up while acknowledging particular challenges. My mom loves with such strength that it pushes itself everywhere, fills nicks and crannies, and lifts people up. It's a lot of work, even when it is also a lot of fun, filled with sweet children and delicious laughter. So when Shay was living there, he was part of that intensity. He was helping his brother take care of his children and navigate a rocky marriage while everyone was trying to learn to do better. 
As Shay does the dishes here he often talks about doing dishes there, and about how a baby would cry and he'd go bring them out of the room to be with him so their mother could sleep rather than yell at them. And he'd make them small cups of pretend coffee to sip while he sipped his morning coffee. And he'd lift them, to their great pleasure, high up in his arms to touch the little bell hanging from the living room ceiling. Soooooooo high! Shay is a tall man! He talks as well about wanting to be a dad. 
A little background: Shay is a gay man. He hasn't had many relationships and isn't sure what he wants his future long-term relationship to look like. He wants to work, but he also wants to be a stay-at-home dad (this is a conflicting desire all my sons have, they want to work and they want to be stay-at-home dads) so he often imagines himself and his future boyfriend or husband owning a maple tree farm, or a vineyard, or something he imagines he could turn into work and stay-at-home dad-ing. 
When Shay talks about being a dad, he has ideas. He, like most of us, has a lot of opinions about how he will parent and why his way is the best way. He, like most of us, will be surprised to learn all the ways he's getting it wrong. Not that he's getting it all wrong, just that in practice, we end up having to make a whole lot of adjustments. His experience with his nieces and nephew has informed him and given him a lot of true skills, but parenting is so much more. And it is something I think he'll be great at. 
A little background: Being a gay man isn't easy. Asking another man out can be dangerous. Going out together, holding hands and leaning your head on his shoulder, is still often frowned upon. And worse. Being a gay man who wants to be a dad isn't easy. Having a baby with another man can only happen with the involvement of others. Shay knows this. He always knows this. When I am not bothering to know this, he knows this. 
My son is in no hurry to be a dad, though he is missing the kids so much lately that he would probably jump into a relationship with a single dad pretty quick. Here's hoping that doesn't happen unless it's meant to. But he isn't in a real hurry. He's only twenty-four, so he's got time. But he does want, with all of his heart, to be a dad. And I am pretty certain he will make a great dad. 
A little background: There are places where my son falling in love and having a family would be illegal. Where people would not bat an eye at seeing him beaten for wanting it. Maybe murdered. There are places where it would be seen as perverted, sinful, or simply wrong. 
These are not the kind of places my son would allow his home to become. This kind of targeted harmful hatred would not be cultivated or invited into his home. 
My son, Shay, is missing the kids. The kids are missing him. 
He is looking forward to one day having a child of his own. Of being a dad himself.
He will make a great dad.