Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Autism Answer: He Smiles in his Sleep

the sun rising, reflecting on the river, across the street from our house

“Snuggle bug, Shay Shay, you awake?” I ask quietly, crouched on my haunches beside him where he sleeps on the floor in our basement. My twenty-six year old son makes a small sound in response. I lean in closer to rub his shoulder and see his face. His eyes are closed and the softness of sleep is settled on him like fairy dust. 
I see a comfortable smile settled on his lips. 
My second youngest son is smiling in his sleep.
Rubbing his shoulder I speak again, a little louder this time, “It’s 6:45, you gotta get up for work.”
“Rugga bugga, baby boops,” he replies. This is a common reply from him. It most closely translates to, “I heard you.” 
There is movement now, he shuffles a little under his weighted blanket, his eyes remain closed and the smile does not fade. 
“I’m going to go upstairs and make coffee. See you in a few minutes Shay Riley Bones,” I straighten up carefully, trying to use my muscles purposely and to take advantage of every movement. I like to use life as my exercise room and every movement is an opportunity to stretch, strengthen, or simply care about my body. Also, I don’t want to hurt what I have always called my “old lady knees”. I am pretty much fifty years old now, but these have been my old lady knees since my elementary school track and field days.
“I like coffee,” Shay says as I slowly walk away toward the stairs that will lead up to our kitchen where organic shade grown fair trade coffee beans await to be ground and brewed. 
I love these mornings. I love making coffee while beneath me my second youngest son unfolds his giant body, stretches out of his bed on the floor (his preferred place to sleep) and gets ready for a job he feels competent and appreciated in. Meanwhile, above me, my soul mate showers in preparation for a day working at home, sitting focused at a computer that is next to mine, accepting a slightly annoying onslaught of obsessive touches, squeezes, and smooches from me. I love standing in the kitchen, lights off surrounded by shadow, while my gaze easily consumes the sunrise kissing the river outside our front room window and the cats meow for their specially made milk and morning affection. I love this spot where I can be in shadow while watching and feeling the world unfold via its morning routine. The house is big, but each room offers such specialness I don’t mind the size. 
The coffee beans have been ground and are steeping in the French Press. I set my adorable cube timer to the perfect four minutes (this timer is one of my favourite gifts given to me by Ian, the soul mate I moved in with only a few years ago) and take myself to the front room to stretch a little. Four minutes of random stretches in front of a window facing the river. Lovely. 
The timer beeps, upstairs I hear the shower turn off and imagine my soul mate toweling himself in our en-suite bathroom, I stand straight and smile. 
I remember seeing my son smile in his sleep, and I am overcome with a sense of gratitude. 
This home, this life, this morning routine that brings me such joy, is a gift. 
Another favourite gift given by my soul mate. 
A gift given to us. 
Invited into his home we – my second youngest son and I – have carved our space in it. The basement is my son’s domain, where there is a kitchen, a bathroom, washer and dryer, a pool table, a bar, a sauna. He is not dwelling in darkness and brooding, though he could if he chose. Some days I’m sure he does. But for the most part, he works, he plays his games and watches his shows, he listens to music and bounces around, smiling easily. 
My domain is sort of everywhere. I have a dance room where I can turn the music up, close my eyes, rock out and imagine myself alone in but also at one with the universe. I have roller skates and headphones for summers outside around and around the pool. I can spend hours listening, singing, and skating in circles. There is the car where I take people places and go to the grocery store, where I listen to French radio stations and practice saying and singing the words. But mostly, my domain is beside Ian. My soul mate. I follow him around unnecessarily. This is a big house and there are many rooms, the outside is sizable too and there are many delicious spots to sit and read, think, and write. But mostly I follow him around, often with a coffee in my hand, and mostly he doesn’t mind. 
We – my second youngest son and I – love living with Ian. 
We miss the ease with which we used to have access to the rest of our family, now that we are here in Quebec and they are still there, mostly in California. We have feelings and challenges that are hard, that hurt, that we must deal with. We work to be our best selves and to discover how we can best pitch in, how we can best take part in creating an environment that includes our influence, insights, and work. We struggle to know how we can be helpful without being underfoot or overstepping. 
But we are graced with a man who opens his home and requires very little from us. I do the driving (though I don’t pay for the fuel). My son pays rent (enough to feel good about pitching in while still paying far less than he would elsewhere). We are living in a situation where we play a part and ask for responsibilities yet are asked to do little beyond taking care of ourselves. So though we are human and have human hardships, we are also humans with less hardships. 
I sometimes wonder, should we work harder? Worry harder? Are we wrong for finding joy in this easy life gifted to us? Should we be more? Are we missing something and burdening others without knowing? Are we unfairly happy?
Maybe so. Maybe so. 
But I will not deny the perk of this place we are in.
My second youngest son smiles in his sleep. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

Autism Answer: Allow, but also Push - aka Old Lady Wisdom


Me trying to show my age but also using the vignette feature to try and make the photo look cool and not just like I'm trying to show my age :D

Ever since I was a little girl I've enjoyed the feeling of picturing myself as an older woman. 
More specifically, I'd imagine myself as a wise older woman with a smile, an approachable kindness, and a life alone in the woods. I would push myself in that direction. No rush, of course. I like enjoying all the states I'm in while I'm in them. But I would imagine my older self with a happy anticipation. 
Interestingly, I never imagined myself feeling older. 
Now, as I'm enjoying my 50th year, I am noticing that the feeling older is something worth paying attention to. No, I do not want it as badly as I want to look older, but I also do not want to hate it. I want to allow my age while I push in the direction of feeling great in my mind and body. 
I want the privilege of being older and I want to embrace it holistically. 
Which means celebrating the appearance, cultivating the wisdom (which my little girl self, with her lack of wisdom, had assumed simply happened when you got old), and focusing on the way I feel. 

My focus on how I'm feeling is to better understand others and to have more of those spectacular, "Oh, now I get it!" moments I continually crave. I freaking love stepping into a new understanding.  

Also, though, it is related to my desire to be an active participant in my own evolution. I want to feel myself age while I explore what that means for me, and while I challenge what it could mean for me. I want to be strong in my refusal of certain elements while being brave in my acceptance of others. I want to decide where to be strong and where to be brave as the evolution continues. I want to do this in real time, not predetermined. Not unthinking. Unaware. Unkind.

It is a valuable skill, knowing how to both accept and push against. My mom exampled this fantastically with my autistic siblings: they were to be accepted and allowed to be themselves while also pushed in healthy directions, growth, and skill acquisition. 
Each of my mom's children (there were eight of us) were unique. Which meant there had to be flexibility and understanding of where one could be pushed while another ought to be accepted. We grew up in a home that knew we were all equal but not the same. We knew not to judge each other for which skills we chose to work on, which feelings we insisted on finding, which challenges we chose to accept and rise to meet.
So, yes! I will allow age to enter me everywhere. The little girl in me claps with appreciation over how far we've already come and bounces with excited anticipation over what awaits. (Although she might be a little disappointed at how long it's taking the wisdom fairy to give us our old lady wisdom magic. tee hee!)
As I allow I will also insist. I will insist on pushing toward my own version of how age feels in my body.
Push, but also allow. Allow, but also push.
Because I am old I am wise enough to know this is worth doing.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Autism Answer: Just a Woman


My mom

Everyone is born equal and deserving of respect, celebration, and love. That is true. 
But, it is also true, some people stand out and are wholly uniquely worthy of particular attention. 
My mom is one of those people.
Her brain works differently and always has. As a little girl synesthesia caused her to say and do things that had an angering affect on many around her. Her innate ability to see unfairness - particularly where misfits and outliers were concerned - and to INSIST on change was not universally welcomed or recognized. And though she was different, she was also just a little girl.
My mom works hard, always has. Before most of us would consider her old enough she was babysitting consistently, a go-to for "problem" children and/or disabled ones. She left home at 15. She sewed her own clothes and worked as a car-hop for A&W. She worked in the mall as a gift wrapper and if she needed something she found a way to get it for herself. She went to auditions and wrote screenplays. As a single mom she ultimately raised eight kids, six adopted and four with autism. She was a hands on mom always there for us and insisting we could gain skills and be happy, meanwhile she was also an entrepreneur working constantly to feed and house us. To feed and house us well. She even found ways to work while sleeping, the small number of hours she was able to sleep. Though she worked hard, harder than many if not most, she was still just a young woman, a young mom. 
She is creative, always has been. From her youngest years she was writing poetry and songs. Attempting to use lyrical language to make sense of a world that didn't make sense. Everyone deserves love, yet that was not what she was seeing. She was seeing abuse that was often unintentional, but abuse non-the-less. She felt certain that if she could craft the right story, the right imagery, the right song, people would notice and the world would change. As she grew older she gained more perspective and more inspiration, and she continued to create with the intention of understanding and instigating positive change. And though she has always been creative, she has also always been just a girl. 
She is strong, always has been. She could impress people with her physical strength but even more impressive was her emotional strength and certainty. If mom saw injustice, if mom believed in possibilities and rights for people who were easier for society to set aside, to pat on the head and pity, or to simply hate, mom stood strong. I don't know where her confidence came from, I suppose her different brain played a starring role, but whatever it was she went to bat for so many others. Despite becoming continuously a target, she went to bat. It is impressive and so many are lucky because of her. But though mom is strong, she is also just a woman.
Just a woman. Not more or less than other women. Just a woman. 
my mom
This, I think, is part of what makes my mom, and people like her, so challenging to some. Because she is not an alien, she did not come from a world where her species can magically see what needs to be done to protect children who are abused, to accept people who are different, to create new beliefs and presumptions in order to build an environment meant for more of us to thrive. No, she's just a woman who is, yes, a little bit different, but also yes, from the same world as the rest of us. A confusing world that wants women to be everything and nothing all at once.
Today is my mom's birthday. Today, she is still being different, hard working, creative, and strong. When she wakes up most mornings it is alongside three of my five grandchildren, the three she is helping raise. It is not far from my brother, Dar, who is severely autistic and her right hand man. It is in a small loft, an apartment in the back of a house where a woman with DID (dissociative identity disorder) lives and relies on my mom for so much - neurofeedback, therapy, friendship and more. It is in a room with one dog, one fish, and one guinea pig. When she wakes up on her birthday today, it is surrounded by many things of her making, things she brought to herself via being different, hard working, creative, and strong. 
But it is also as a woman. 
Just a woman. 
More than anyone I know, my mom merits celebration. Not because she is more than anyone I know, but because she isn't. 
What she does, how she behaves, who she is, it is all impressive beyond measure. 
And she does it all despite the truth that she is just a woman. 
I love you mom. 
You are more than just a woman to me, but I also recognize that you are just a woman. (Which, you know, kinda sucks because I can't use the excuse that I am just a woman when I want to not be strong, hard working, different, or creative. 😃 )
Happy Birthday!!!!
Hugs, smiles, and love!!!!
NOTE: If you want to celebrate my mom on her birthday, I recommend Living with Lynette! The show where many of us star as ourselves - though I play the role of a neighbor - and we all giggle at the barely fictionalized true story of our home!