Thursday, November 23, 2023

Autism Answer: Growing Up Greedy


Family portrait

Parenting was my goal, ever since I can remember. I have learned more from teaching my children than I could have ever learned from chasing a dream with fewer people to care for. I am greedy. And so I filled my world with a lot of people to love.” ~Lynette Louise, aka "The Brain Broad"
aka my mom
She really did fill her world with a lot of people to love. 
I can confirm this statement of hers. 
As one of her children I was not only a witness to mom's active inclusion of people to love, I was not only one of the people she greedily loved, but I was also actively involved in learning to love.
When my mom was a little girl she planned her future with confidence: she would be the mother of many children - about twelve, she figured - and she would guide them with such love that her own upbringing would be washed away. There would be no trace of the abuse my mom lived through in the environment she would create for her children. At the time she didn't know anything about the cycle of abuse, but she did know it was not in any way okay to treat a child, a person, the way her mother treated her. And so, she would not. She would not treat anyone in such a way ever. Her love would be such a storm of goodness and fairness that any trace of the name calling and humiliation and beatings of her past would simply drown to death.
Mom was young when she had me. She was still young when my brother was born dead. By the time my sister was born my mom was almost twenty. She was twenty-three when she had to have a complete hysterectomy due to an infection. 
She had not reached her goal of twelve children, but she was crazy about the two of us she was raising. Always, mom put us first and cared so darn much about how we were treated. My sister and I were lucky little girls and were loved beyond measure. I wish our brother would have lived to be part of it. That love. 
But despite mom's best intentions, her own upbringing was insidious. Mom did not know how to love herself the way she so easily loved us. And whether you believe it or not, a certain kind of love for yourself is necessary for a healthy love of others to grow.

And here is the magic of my mom. She is, at her core, a genius who cares about children and outliers. Even as a little girl imagining her future she would see herself loving people who were having a hard time finding love. Not in a savior way, but in a "don't you see they are like me" way. She saw herself in the outliers, the unwanted, the unlovable. As she grew wiser, she saw all of us in everyone. 
Mom's biggest challenge was understanding how the rest of us could not see. It was so obvious to her that everyone was capable and everyone deserved to be seen for who they were, not what label they might be given. It was so obvious to her that she just couldn't see how so many of us were blind to it. 

So, the magic of my mom was this: help herself, learn to love herself, while gathering so many others to love.

My mom was fierce in her intention to create a healthy and loving environment. One that would guide us to independence and strength. She was always an example of that strength and always a seeker of her better self. What started as me, mom, and my sister became me, mom, my sister, two more sisters, and four brothers. And then there were a myriad of others who mom allowed into our lives for temporary help and guidance. There were also many she did not. Love means saying no, too. 

But we did have many. I remember a woman from... hmmm, I can't remember... Kenya? ... trying to raise money to bring her young son to Canada. I remember a teenager, a girl about the age of me and my sisters, with physical disabilities I can't quite recall but her body moved different from ours and one of her arms was misshapen. I don't remember her well but I do remember us girls sitting around chatting about the usual teenage girl stuff. And I admit to being surprised that her interests aligned precisely with ours. There was almost a boy from Columbia who we all wrote to and tried to learn a little Spanish for. After most of us kids had grown and only some of us were staying with her for different reasons at different times, there were more extreme cases. Mom was a renowned brain change and behavior expert by then so she helped an addict who no longer wanted to be an addict, she helped autistic people in extreme need.
These people willing to accept mom's help (not my siblings, the ones that came later) knew it was a temporary thing, something meant to fuel them with ideas and skills for the forward motion they were struggling to gain footing with. My mom is not the sort to help without a goal. In fact, she would likely see helping without a goal as the opposite of helping.
I don't always remember understanding mom's love for children who were unwanted or unloved, and admittedly I didn't always like being expected to learn to believe in everyone's potential and worth, but I did always learn. About others and about myself. 
I watched, also, as my mom learned about herself. As my mom grew healthier, stronger, happier, more balanced as a woman. As a mom. 
I do believe it is a wonderful idea to plan a certain amount of readiness before gathering people around you to take care of. I do. 
I just also believe that as we gather people to love and care for, we are going to realize that we are in need of more. We are going to discover new areas of unreadiness we will do well to examine, to change. 
“Parenting was my goal, ever since I can remember. I have learned more from teaching my children than I could have ever learned from chasing a dream with fewer people to care for. I am greedy. And so I filled my world with a lot of people to love.” ~Lynette Louise, "The Brain Broad"
Mom is greedy and fills her world with people to love.
In this way she encourages others to become people who love.
And this helps us become easier to love. 
We are not all like my mom. 
Be we are all capable and of value, we are all able to step up and over our own obstacles, and we are all responsible for doing so (this includes asking for help where it is required for forward motion).
I know this because my mom is like my mom. 
And she will not allow me not to know this. 
Not if I don't want to be grounded for a month. :D 
Hugs, smiles, and love!!! 

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Autism Answer: Being Seen

A camera sitting on the floor

Warning: This post is about me and how I feel and how I think and what I notice.... oh, what's that? You already knew that? You have been here before and recognize a pattern? Yes, I see. Well, thank you? tee hee!

Confession: I am kinda bothered by the amount of plastic surgery, laser hair removal, fancy serums and other similar things that have become fairly commonplace.

In part I am bothered simply because I'm inclined to advocate for less manipulation of what is natural. I recognize in these procedures and items a desire to sculpt and bend and shave who we are until we like it better. Maybe to fit in, maybe to stand out. (I am impressed by the availability of these things, by the way. I am only bothered by how common they seem to have become.)

However (and here's the confession part) I am also bothered when I notice how popular these measures of manipulating our appearance have become because I worry I will appear increasingly unhappy and haggard and, well, yucky to look at, in comparison to my peers.

I admit, I hardly think about it. What I look like compared to my contemporaries, I mean. Maybe because I live a fairly sheltered life. I mean, I work from home, I am not obligated to attend meetings or video conferences, and my soul mate works here with me too, so I'm less likely to wonder if he's comparing me to other lovely ladies. (Our co-workers are also ladies, but they are of the feline variety. And since I am in charge of making appointments for them and doing their shopping, I am confident they are not having work done or spending lots of money on fancy creams that make them look fresh faced and healthy.)

I love wrinkles, my own and the ones on others. I love grey hair, I love the look of age on people and am happy when I see it on me. It's not aging I'm talking about.

I worry about looking unhappy or haggard, less fresh faced, less healthy.

For some reason I want, have always wanted, my happiness and energy to show, to be noticeable outside of myself. I don't remember how young I was when I stopped looking in mirrors, but I was fairly young. And it was because I would FEEL so happy and full of life, but then I would SEE just some pale, plain, girl. Not the energy I thought should be reflected.

Silly, I know. I am happy and I have happy energy regardless of whether it can be seen. Why do I want it to be seen?

Why do I want the me I feel like I am to be seen?

Why am I less content when it is only me who knows how I feel?

I'm not entirely sure. But just now, as I was typing this, I had a thought. I realize one of the reasons I want my natural way, my comfort with choosing to blossom naturally (while caring about myself at the same time, I don't mean to infer that I don't try to manipulate to some degree by being careful of what I put in my brain and body) is that I want my beliefs to be valid to others. I want to be seen as having a point with potential.

Like, if I say I am comfortable with myself and find strength in feeding my body and mind nutritiously, that I try to make sure not to live too sedentary a life in order to stay healthy-ish, that I am happy in my choices, that I feel it is enough to be me naturally, I want to be believed. To be seen as making sense.

And, darn it, that means I want to be seen as happy and healthy. Not haggard and yucky.

But when so many people are taking advantage of the more extreme versions of looking that way, I worry I will seem less so by comparison.

Silly, right?

Wanting to be seen is not silly.

Parents of children with differences and disabilities work hard to ask for that on behalf of their children because it is not only not silly, but necessary and urgent.

But wanting to be seen as happy and healthy just to prove my point is valid?

That's silly.


Hugs, smiles, and love!!!!!


Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Autism Answer: Parenting is a Journey, be a Good Traveler


My son walking with his cousin

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." ~Lao Tzu
Parenting is a journey you cannot fully plan, and if you try to stick religiously to a plan, you put yourself and your child(ren) in harms way. It is dangerous to watch the plan more than the people. 
Of course, goals and plans and places you are heading are a valuable part of the parenting journey. Without them we are at risk of simply wandering the path of least resistance regardless of how unhealthy it might be, or for people with an "it must be hard work to be worthy" personality, you might choose the path of most resistance, again, regardless of how unhealthy it might be. 
"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." ~Lao Tzu
The journey of parenting has no *fixed* plans. But plans, dreams, ideas, goals, pictures imagined and heading toward, these are wonderful. These give us passion, purpose, and help us see our progress, recognize our arrivals. 
"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." ~Lao Tzu
As a parent, there are many arrivals. There are many moments to celebrate and recognize. Don't miss those! 
But also, in the journey of parenting, there is no ultimate arriving. If our children are fairly regular, fairly irregular, dead or alive, close or far, the travel can last as long as it is right for it to last, so do not be intent on arriving. Notice the arrivals along the way, celebrate and remember them. But travel to wherever and however and for whatever time it takes.
“Remember, the timetable is arbitrary. There is no point at which a child must be done and done is an illusion.” ~Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad 
Happy Tuesday, friends!!!
Enjoy any and all travels you are in the midst of!

Friday, October 27, 2023

Book Review: Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will To Survive by Stephanie Land


Book: Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, And A Mother's Will To Survive
Genre: Memoir
Author: Stephanie Land
Reviewed by : Me! (Tsara)


me reading the book my daughter-in-law lent me

She was using birth control but it didn’t work.

When Stephanie Land discovers she is pregnant not long after her 28th birthday, she finds herself in an all too familiar place. One where she has to make choices that will drastically decide the direction of her life. Hers, and if she chooses, her child’s.

Some of the choices she makes are thus: have the child, tell the father, become a mother.

Putting her plans to attend a writing program in Missoula, Montana – a place that calls to her like home - on hold, she tries to build a family in a trailer with her increasingly abusive boyfriend. When his abusiveness becomes clear, when he punches a hole in the plexiglass window on the door, meaning she can call the police with a type of proof, something to point at and say, “See that? He did that to us,” she does. She leaves him and begins her time as a single mother.

I admit to being impressed that she knows it is right to walk away. I have not always been so aware. Others, however, might have been unimpressed with how long it takes to leave. Others, still, would judge her for leaving at all at so “little” abuse. The point is relevant to this book where a recurring element is how easily we judge each other and ourselves.

Stephanie does not have much support from her family. Her mother is inaccessible, living in Europe and not interested in making changes, and her father – living with his second wife and their children - is unwilling to be inconvenienced for too long by his oldest daughter and his granddaughter.

So, Stephanie works. She works at finding work - landscaping and as a maid - she works at getting assistance for day care, food, housing, utility payments. She works at bartering her way to a better life for her daughter, offering to clean toilets and houses in order to get sparkly dresses, healthier housing, and safer day care. She works at stifling the shame she feels for being a single mom, for being poor, for not being better at doing better. She works at trying to keep her daughter safe from black mold and an abusive father. 

Everything she does is motivated by motherhood.

The struggles of getting assistance from the system, while working your butt off for very little pay as a landscaper or maid - tidying up for others - is portrayed so well in this memoir. So clearly and balanced. She isn’t overly bitter, she isn’t overly appreciative, she isn’t overly anything really. She simply invites us to join her in a life of hard work, poverty, navigation of grants and services, parental fears and primal needs, impossible choices and urgent decisions. By bringing us with her we are inclined to feel bitterness, helplessness, and, on occasion, appreciation, but only because they are appropriate.

Being a single parent while having to share every other weekend with an abusive one is an impossible sort of exhaustion. Watching your little love deal with tantrums related to a life hard to understand, feelings bigger than their bodies, homes with hidden health dangers, foods that are minimally healthy, and consistent illnesses due to it all. It depletes your physical, emotional, and financial health; often keeping you from the gift of dreaming which can, itself, cost too much emotionally.

But Stephanie describes well the moments that re-energize and reinvigorate parents; the moments with your child(ren) that infect every ounce of your body and vision with a love that is special largely because of the urgent responsibilities.

I have known a variety of single parents. I have been one myself. My mom, though, is the only one I know who had a similar lack of support from any family.

And though my mom found different ways to solve the same challenges Stephanie faced, she faced the same sort of discrimination regarding her creative solutions for feeding and housing all eight of us kids, as well as simply for being a single mom. 

An Aside: Stephanie Land navigated poverty and single parenting in the United States, my mom did it in both Canada and the United States. 

For so many of the reasons Stephanie shares in her book about the paperwork, the constant proving of your poverty, the all-day waiting for meetings that might end in merely more requests for gathering paperwork, all while also working and trying to get better work in order to do better while finding yourself losing necessary benefits when finally doing a little bit better, never able to get even a little bit ahead in order to become able to be properly ahead, for so many of these reasons my mom avoided the help of systems. This meant trying to find (and invent) other creative means of making enough money. (My mom painted houses, joined a bartering group, did comedy shows that incorporated us kids at fairs and similar events, performed as characters at birthday parties, and a variety of other interesting work that could either bring us along or have us older girls babysit the younger boys.) She also did do the paperwork for a few government and nonprofit organizations. She got help from a shelter for abused women, various disability groups, food banks, kind people she met with a desire to do good and some disposable income, and one wonderful Christmas a truckload of gifts from Canadian Tire. 

The point is, I recognized the exhaustion and hard work of trying to raise a child, or children, on your own while consistently being bombarded by the extra layers of unnoticed obstacles; the nasty looks and cruel comments at grocery store counters when using stamps or WIC coupons, the inability to host proper play-dates or bring foods to school functions, the inability to seek medical care for yourself when you make just a little too much to qualify and working through the pain and illness, the judgements of everyone when your child has a public outburst, the constant worry that you are doing everything wrong while working so hard at getting it right.

Something every reader can take away from this true story of one woman’s hard work, low pay, and love for her child, is the ways our judgements hinder and hurt us. The ways they are most often wrong.

She was using birth control but it didn’t work. She had been responsible. She had taken the steps required. Done the “right thing” for a young girl not planning for a family. She had been careful, responsible.

And throughout the entire story she shares with us readers, she remains impressively so.

Maid is an excellent read. For moms, for social workers, for people wondering about abuse, for people who want to better understand poverty – their own, or that of others.

Maid brings us into a variety of homes to tidy up while encouraging us to take notice, to wonder and imagine other lives, without being overly critical of the mess. 



Maid by Stephanie Land, sitting beside a cloth and fairy wings

NOTE: My daughter-in-law recommended this book to me. Not only recommended, lended! She has mentioned several times in conversation that she adores this book and so much about it; that she wants someone to talk with about it. What I do not yet know is specifically what she loved or why. She is the young mother of two lovely little girls. She and her husband (my fantastic son!) are in that place financially where every dollar they make must be carefully allotted for and if they make a little more they lose a little of the medical financial help they could qualify for. They love their little family fiercely and will do anything to keep it healthy, strong, and happy. So it is easy to imagine pretty much every element in this book is meaningful, helpful, relatable, understandable, inspirational to her. But rather than merely imagine, I think I'll call her. We now both have someone to talk with about this book. :D

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Autism Answer: Our Example Is More Than What We Do While Our Children Watch


One of my granddaughters sweeping

Our kids do learn from our example. I know they do. But.... 
Working hard while they watch doesn't mean they're learning to work hard. Reading great literature while they climb all over us on the couch doesn't mean they're learning the value of great reading. Maintaining a comfortably clean environment in their presence doesn't mean they are learning to do the same. 
Our example is more than what we do while our children watch.
It is also how we include them in what we're doing, it is how we explain our reasons for doing what we do, it is the ways in which we guide them to try, to join us, to tell us their reasons. 
It is our own attempts at meeting them half way that help them more honestly notice us and our example.
Regardless of our children's abilities, styles, basic personalities, they are learning from our example. But that does not mean we can simply do things we think are good while they watch. Because what they are seeing when they watch is not actually the thing we are doing. 
What our children see is themselves. Particularly our children with sensory issues and social challenges. They are contending first with themselves, and what they see of our example grows out from there. 
If I keep a clean house but don't show them why or how, my children will not likely learn to keep a clean house but, instead, will likely learn (from my example) that they should expect a house to be kept clean for them. (Don't worry, I did not do that. A clean house? Ha!!) 
So, yes. It's nice to know that if we work at always being a good example for our children they will learn from it. But it's important to know that what they will learn is always up to them, and that the only guaranteed bonus of setting a good example is that we ourselves will be someone we believe is a good example, and we will be able to remember having done that for ourselves and our children. 
Our children do learn from our example.
Even if what they learn is to throw my books away because when I am reading great literature on the couch I am not doing a good job of paying attention to them.
Hugs, smiles, and love!!!
An example of what learning from example can look like from my own childhood: 
My mom raised a lot of kids. I am the oldest of eight and not only did mom raise all eight of us on her own, she often allowed for others to live with us while she helped them raise up as well. People with disabilities, people who were severing themselves from abuse, people who were simply unhoused, mom was always open to finding ways they could help each other. In this environment, mom expected us to all pitch in. Us kids were often delegated to the work of keeping the house going; cleaning, lunch making, putting brothers to bed. In the meantime, what I saw was my mom doing the important work. The work of helping people with challenges, writing articles or shows meant to change the world, finding work that was inclusive and would pay enough to feed, house, and clothe our family. Mom also did most of the housework, but I didn't actually notice that. I wasn't watching that. I was growing an opinion that housework can be done by anyone but the important work, the stuff that matters, is done by someone special. Someone who sees what others don't see. My opinion was bolstered by the fact that I did not see what my mom saw, until I listened to her explain and teach it, and then - yes - I would see her insights exampled in the results. 

I know she was not exampling "people who spend time cleaning the house are not special people with wisdom and important ideas" but as time went on I began to develop that belief from her example. I grew to feel less than when I would clean, I started to think mess was a sign of brilliance, but I also did not have the courage or even the ideas for the other work my mom did. For a lot of years, I just sort of stayed in mess and played with my kids and worried I was not wise or important. Luckily, I also learned from mom's example that being a mom who is all in, a mom who is entirely into the role and willing to do the work of becoming better along the way, is important and wise. So, ultimately, I grew beautifully. In part because of mom's example and in part because of how I saw myself while learning from it.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Autism Answer: Not Too Shy To Tell You


My mom w/one of her grandchildren

I was terrifically shy as a little girl. 
I was considered quiet and polite by adults, for the most part. Being shy often means being quiet and polite. Being polite does require an amount of social effort, challenging for a shy person, but it is less effort than dealing with the attention of not having been polite. 
As with many things I didn't like about myself as a girl, I would often blame my mom. My hairy arms? Her fault, clearly. I mean, who has a baby with a hairy man when they obviously know that will put the child at risk of one day being a girl with hairy arms being told to wear a t-shirt in P.E.? I mean, c'mon. It's just selfish really. Darn moms. Am I right? 
Anyway, one day I made the mistake of politely mentioning to my mom that my debilitating shyness was, no offense, her fault. (We were in the car and she was asking me to go into the store to purchase something and I was too scared and shy and whining at her that it was her fault and she was a terrible mom.)
Mom patiently encouraged me to go, pushed me with just enough force to let me notice that it was ME being a big baby and that she was not cruel and was only encouraging my growth. I got madder at her for that. 
"If I ever have a kid as shy as me," I snapped at her, "I will put them in situations where they have to talk to people so they get practice and won't be shy! I'll do it from the start! I'll make them ask for directions and order food and talk to everyone so much they won't ever have a chance to be this shy!!" 
I don't remember, to be honest, if I walked into the store that day. But I do remember mom pointing out that she was doing exactly that by asking me to go into the store. She was creating the situation for me to practice not being shy. I remember the horrible feeling in my stomach when I realized what I'd done and what I'd basically asked her to keep doing. 
That was so many years ago. Since then I have performed on stages, been on camera, ordered pizza, talked to immigration officers, been interviewed about my ideas on the phone and on video, asked for directions from strangers over and over. So much of that has been at the request of my mom. Sometimes the request is a fairly forceful request; a request bordering on a demand. Sometimes it is simply a request that requires my willingness to be lost and ask for directions. (MOM: can you drop my headshots off at my agent's house? It is a brown house on such and such road between so and so and so and so street in Toronto. By a KFC. I think there is a window? ME: Lots of houses have windows. MOM: Yes, but this one, I think, has a really big window. ME: Okay.)
I am still foundationaly shy. I am still deeply happy alone, I'm desirous of being anonymous, I naturally avoid company more than seek it. And no matter how many times my mom puts me in the position of doing so, I still cannot make cold calls.
But I am not devastatingly shy; debilitatingly shy. And I tell you what, I definitely was. 
My mom needed my help. She had eight of us kids, she was a single mom, my siblings and I were all challenging and challenged in a variety of uncommon ways, I am the oldest. She needed my help. Had she not pushed me to be less shy, I would have been less help. 
And of all the things I am today it is being helpful, being an assistant, being a right hand man, that I find consistent joy in. It is how I make my money and a place I find purpose. 
I am grateful to my mom for pushing me.
That doesn't mean I enjoy it.
But I truly am grateful. 
And I'm not too shy to tell her I blame her.
(Though maybe with less whining this time?)

Monday, July 24, 2023

Autism Answer: In My Opinion, We Don't Always Need an Opinion


Looking up through the leaves

The rustling of leaves in the trees, a breeze caressing my skin in unpredictable intervals, birdsongs dancing through the sky-waves, smells of flowers and soil intermingling and reminding me to breath deep, this is a sensation I love.
This is a place I go where I don't judge myself, where I don't feel judged, where I am not surrounded by opinions and I feel no need to form one of my own.
I disappear when I am inside nature. I feel myself melt away and be consumed, become an element or an ingredient, a component of something so spectacular I cannot feel anything but wonderful. I am not ugly and fat, in nature. I am not stupid or a burden, in nature. I am not in debt or unable, in nature. My ideas are not bad for society, or brilliant and necessary, in nature. Simply, I am not and nature is.
With Children:
When I was raising my children I found nature similarly wonderful, but I did not disappear. I had a role, I was mom. But in nature, unlike how I felt in town among other moms and children, I could see my children more clearly. Without the mess of feelings and worries and expectations I felt when in a more social setting; nature cleared the air for me. I could see them, see their behaviours, notice their uniqueness without fear of how it was being received or judged. I could simply see. And in that place I was more comfortable guiding them while I learned. I could see them clearly and so I could better see where they were in need of learning. There is freedom in the wild, but that does not mean allowing only wildness. Many mothers in nature teach their children ways to behave. But without the need to conform them in order to fit in and, rather, with a need to give them skills to help them thrive.
In nature I become more. Yes, I disappear. But I disappear into everything. My sounds and smells, the feature of me, is equal to the sensations around me.
With Children:
Their sounds and smells, the feature of them, is equal to the sensations around them. They are not being asked to conform or play by the rules. In nature the rules are be what you are until you no longer are. If what you are works well, you might last longer and pass on your genes. If not, okay.
I want to exist comfortably in society. More than that, I want the children I love to find ways to exist comfortably in society. But not without caring about our nature.
It is a worthy pursuit, finding ways to fit in. Practising politeness in your culture and gaining the skills to participate in the games people play.
But one of those games, I've noticed, is having strong opinions about everything going on in the world.
Having an opinion about everything and everyone, ourselves and the people in the world - online, particularly - becomes exhausting. It becomes unhealthy and unkind.
In nature, things are sometimes trending, but there is no need to form an opinion. It simply is what there is more of at the moment. That's how nature works (when we allow it to work). (We are encouraged to make certain judgments, of course, since many things in nature will hurt or kill you.) (Also, growing an opinion is fantastic, fine, and fun when encouraged to blossom naturally, without a need to make it sound smart, or match a movement, or instigate a reaction.)
Spending time alone in nature helps me practice loving the world without needing to have an opinion.
Spending time with children in nature helps me practice having an opinion while loving people in the world.
In my opinion, I like my opinion.