Wildflowers for Jade

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

I Could Walk Away

"I could walk away now," I told someone in January. And until the words were out of my mouth, I had never even thought them. Not once considered them. But they echoed in my head for days into weeks, weeks into months. And with every passing day I took another step away.

I've been writing, blogging, admining, researching everything autism and special needs from the moment we got my son's diagnosis. Before that time I had already been writing, researching, etc. attachment parenting, and long before that studying child psychology. I'd say "It's just what I do," but really it's for the kids. It's always for the kids. Children aren't resilient (that's why so many grownups need therapy and are dx'd with personality disorders) and childhood can be a nightmare for some people, and if I can be that one little light in the dark for one person, then its worth it. But it starts with the parents, and parenting, because ultimately they hold the most influence.

Then I got thrown into my biggest challenge yet - parenting my own wonderfully stubborn (I'm serious, I dig that about him) child with a plethora of personal obstacles he had to overcome. Every moment meant something important and I wore myself out making sure it meant something important and all forward progress; to being the most confident, caring, self-reliant version of himself that he can be. It was hard work for both of us. I'd love to tell everyone how we did it, so I wrote more articles and counseled more people and, and, and... I'm tired. He's doing pretty good now. We continue to make forward progress, but on autopilot. Meaning, all the stuff is now second nature and we just do it.

So I went to school and got my English degree and made myself more tired but happy, and put up a website that I mentally gave myself a year to start making enough money to pay for itself. I was a single mom, I didn't have that much. Then I said the words and thought the thoughts. "We're doing really good. I could walk away now." From all of it. From a world I didn't volunteer for. Its a chance I know a lot of people don't have. I wasn't getting a lot of feedback. As far as I know, my voice is swallowed up in the wind of a million other voices and maybe doesn't make it past my face. I don't even know anymore. Was I helping anybody?

I didn't make a decision out of the blue. I just stopped. Rested. Thought. Stopped using Facebook. Stopped listening to the screaming fray. Stopped trying to yell over them. Just took a step back, and then another. Did a lot of thinking about what I wanted to write. About what I would have been doing if this parenting-special-needs gig hadn't swallowed me whole.

I decided to be selfish.

Then I got a text and drove 9 hours to Louisiana to help someone with a very difficult, stressful thing and did that for a month.

When I put the two together I said "God is laughing at me." Jaden said "It just proves you are who you are." Because he is wiser than I am, and less apt to jump to the conclusion that I'm the constant punchline of a cosmic joke. I'll still wonder.

So I guess the conclusion is that I did walk away, deciding to work on different types of projects. Still avoiding the world of online, preferring instead the company of bumblebees and the breeze blowing in the trees while I sit with a pen poised over paper. But I'm always on call.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Should You Tell Your Child About Their Diagnosis?

“When should I tell my child about their diagnosis?” 
“Should I even tell him?
“I haven't had the heart to bring it up yet.”

Once upon a time, children who were adopted were rarely told that they were adopted until they were adults. This would be a devastating revelation because by that time, they felt that their whole life had been built on a lie.

Keeping a child’s diagnosis from them is the identity lie of the 21st century. 

We would only commit the lie of omission because the thing we hesitate to reveal is bad, right?

As much as you may not understand it, a mental health diagnosis is part of who your child is. Even a diagnosis we learn to overcome, such as anxiety or OCD, leaves grooves and scars, and shapes us in ways that a neurotypical person will never understand. If someone you love has a diagnosable condition, you may feel and even hope that if you ignore it, they can ignore it also. Life doesn't work that way.

Any health condition, and any mental health condition, is something that is going to make life more difficult in some way for the individual. If the atmosphere in your house is that “we don’t talk about this,” then the individual will probably feel that they shouldn’t talk about their difficulties. They should try harder to be normal, or at least look and act normal. The fact that this is a struggle when it seems to be so easy for everyone else is a cause for depression, heightened anxiety, mood disorders, self-harm, and even suicide. This isn’t hyperbole or a scare tactic. Children who commit suicide overwhelmingly deal with the struggle of trying and failing to fit in.

Ignoring the issue won't make it go away. It makes it worse.

No matter what you do or don’t do, your child will know that they are different. 

On the other hand, knowing that it’s not all in their head, or that there are others like them with the same struggles, and that it isn’t their fault for not trying hard enough, can be a bittersweet relief. In our desire to fit in, even finding a seat with your name on it in the Island of Misfit toys brings the comfort of community. And there is a community with your name on it.

So when should you tell your child about their diagnosis? Right now!  

How should I tell my child about their diagnosis?

The diagnosis should be revealed in a positive way. Parenting isn’t about you, it’s about them. You can have your cries in the dark corner of the Target parking lot, or get drunk and compare parenting notes at the next Moms' Night Out. And if you haven’t found your local special needs parenting community, that should be your next mission. They’re out there. But when you talk to your child about themselves, it’s about them, and your struggles parenting them shouldn’t have a voice in the conversation. Their identity shouldn’t be tangled up in improving your life.

My son was quite young when I started talking to him about his autism for the first time, and his receptive language skills (the ability to comprehend what’s being said to him) was low, so I kept it simple.

“Your brain works different than a lot of other people. That’s a good thing! The world needs people who think different. My brain works different too.” 

As he and his comprehension grew, so did his questions. I got books that we read together. He spent a lot of time among non-typical peers, and among our special needs community. We could both relax around other families who don’t blink an eye at odd behaviors; the ones that make everyone uncomfortable in neurotypical groups.

And like that, autism has always been a word in his life. There are no bombshells, no feeling isolated because he’s not like anyone else, and he doesn’t feel any negativity about his diagnosis or himself. He’s actually rather proud of his differences, while still understanding the extra struggles that it's brought him.

Talk to your child about their diagnosis, keep it on a level they understand, grow the conversation as they grow, and keep it positive. Find your community of non-typical peers and parents who laugh in the face of a meltdown.  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Why You Absolutely Should Be Friends With Your Child

“Am I scary?” I asked my son.
He wrinkled his brow. “Only when you mean to be,” he answered.
That seemed appropriate.
It was random question inspired by a somewhat disturbing novel I was reading, but I do like to check in with him from time to time. I like to get his take on how I’m doing at this parenting thing. Even if I were to disagree with some of the finer points of his perspective, it’s good that he feels safe enough to be honest. And sometimes he has a valid point. I’m not perfect. There’s still room for improvement.

The art of raising a child is in keeping the end goal in mind – while cherishing every moment of the present. The end goal is that we are raising them to be adults. In every act of discipline, teaching, admonishing, there has to be that question: how will this best shape their future selves?

Like every one else I’ve seen the parenting advice making the rounds on social media; the ones that say you should absolutely not be friends with your child. I say that’s absolutely wrong. That’s a terrible way to approach parenting; to keep your child at arm’s length, practically insuring that that distance will widen to an irreparable gap. Who will they turn to if they can’t trust you, or feel that you don’t trust them? They will either turn inwards, to their own inexperienced council and lies bred on insecure identity, or peers who are equally inexperienced and of questionable loyalties, or both.

Why not you?

The advice seems to grow from an erroneous belief that to give your child the gift of friendship will erode our position of authority. And I suppose if your goal is not to raise stable adults but raise fearful subjects, that will be true. If you want to keep yourself on a pedestal as long as possible, if your desire is for your children to bow in submission to your god status, then continue shutting them out. But really, you’re not that special. And really, your kids should know that. Otherwise, every parenting mistake you make, every insulting slip of the tongue, roll of the eyes, or temper tantrum you have, they will turn inward on themselves.

That’s why therapists get paid $150 an hour.

Because we’re all human and make mistakes, insult, roll our eyes, and have temper tantrums, the least we can do is save our kids twenty years of ‘self-discovery’ and tell them upfront that we’re idiots, we’re sorry, and it’s not their fault. We were idiots even before they were born. Humility is not a thing that will knock you down. When you show your child that level of respect, your god-like status may crumble but you will earn so much more of something real.

And, really dude, this parenting thing isn’t about you. It’s not about us. If you need it to be about you, you might want to try the therapy thing.

I am, however, reaping the most amazing benefits from deliberate parenting. I have the coolest kid. He’s bright, articulate, kind, and polite. He still likes me better than chocolate cake. We respect each other. When discipline is needed it’s like a quickly passing cloud on a sunny day. We never let it last long, never let things fester, because we’re friends.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Untitled is still a title

I started this blog so, so many years ago shortly before Jaden got his autism diagnosis. I’m actually a fairly private person (no, really) and even more, I try to stay respectful of my son’s privacy. I don’t post things about him that I wouldn’t have wanted posted about me growing up. Which means I didn’t write about a great many things, even if they could help others. Mistakes and issues and various quirks are part of the growing. I’ll leave full(er) disclosure for when he’s old enough to consent.

But – and especially at the time Jaden was diagnosed – autism fears, misconceptions, and ‘woe is me’ parenting attitudes dominated the headlines. Perhaps sometimes they still do, but my eyes have turned elsewhere. So this blog became about him, and really how awesome he is, and me trying to figure out my own part in his world.  Guess what? Being a parent is hard, and parenting a child with special needs is even harder. Mostly because we don’t want to screw it up. Because raising a child right is so very important. The most important thing.

I’m still completely dedicated to special needs advocacy and parental education and this isn’t a goodbye post. But I have to tell you why things might not be the same. Well, obviously things aren’t going to stay the same. Jaden isn’t 3 anymore and I’m not still lost and desperate. We got this. We climbed the *bleeping* mountain. I forged paths that others could follow, if they want to.

And when I got him to stable ground, it was time to do the same for myself. So I went back to college and instead of writing blog posts I’m writing papers. Actually, I’m still writing blog posts for my college because I work there as well. So we’re both in school, and I’ve joined the American ranks of the way-too-busy to sleep. Which is… really not much different than too stressed to sleep.

But we’re happy. And that’s different.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Jaden gets a birthday surprise! (It's a puppy!)

Jaden has been asking for a dog for a long time. We had to save up for one that we can train as a service dog for him.  
I took him to visit a friend while his dad went to "fetch" the puppy. Watch his reaction! It's priceless.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

I'm a PG-13 Parent

I started cursing when Jaden’s dad left. I’m not saying I never cursed before, but the divorce proceedings brought out an unrestrained, almost talented stream of cursing and epithets. I don’t know about you, but I’m reminded of Clark W. Griswold’s epic Christmas speech.

I am not that talented.
Most often I would save this angst for the trips to and from my son’s therapies. Nashville traffic, after all, is the perfect sounding board for projecting anger. Instead of taking it out on him or anything in our personal lives, I saved it for the asshole who cut me off and made me slam on the breaks.
Sometimes Jaden would say, with awesome autistic logic, “You know they can’t hear you, right?”
Well duh. That’s kind of what makes it perfect. Not that I’ve never told off someone in person who needed the telling. I am, after all, an autism parent.

Some time ago I read one mother’s account of her “worst parenting moment ever.” It was a cute little story where she had accidently blurted out “read ‘em and weep, bitches!” while her angels looked on in open-mouthed horror.
“That’s your worst parenting moment?!” I yelled at the computer screen. Because this was part of my therapeutic M.O..
Keep up.
Either she was lying or she’s the holy mother’s twin. Either way, she thought her “worst” parenting moment so soul-cringing that she posted it for all the world to see and have some lolz.
My worst parenting moments I’m not likely to write up and glorify, but instead crawl cringing on my knees to beg my son’s forgiveness.
“It’s okay,” he’d tell me in soothing tones. “We all make mistakes. Remember when I said I hated you because I was mad? But you know I didn’t mean it. We all say stuff we don’t mean when we’re mad. I know that.”
Because he has the wisdom of Buddha, and the temper of Zeus.
I think of raising a child as one big experiment. The difference, I think, between raising a down-to-earth human or causing a personality complex is admitting your mistakes, your humanity, and asking for forgiveness. And offering a just amount of understanding and forgiveness in return. Some parents never say they’re sorry. To them it would be weakness to admit they fucked up as a parent. It would undermine their authority.
I can be human and a parent at the same time. To me, that’s the only way. My son needs no delusions of me as a God figure.
“What about God?” someone might ask. Oh right, the whole nary takingeth the Lord’s nameth in vain clause.
I doubt you want to hear my theological musings at this point because that would take us well into the night, and require a copious amount of coffee and personal trust.
But I find it funny that my “god dammit” would offend people who wrap themselves up in the name Christian while, I don’t know, cutting off a mother and her child in traffic (Honk if you love Jesus!) Or calling someone “retarded”. Or telling their kids that they are lucky they’re healthy and whole and not like them. Or slurring people who want to live differently in peace, or gossiping, or malice of any kind, all while wearing the name of Christ.
I’m pretty sure that’s the real definition of taking the Lord’s name in vain.
But hey, none of us are perfect. I forgive you.
My own little angel has a potty mouth too. I tell him to reserve it for my company only, but he slips up sometimes. I don’t really give a damn. I’m raising him to be a man, not a perpetual child.
His mouth better run though, if I hear the “r” word, a racial slur, or malicious gossiping or insults come out of it. I do have standards.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Letting yourself drown

and learning how to breathe. 

Some time back I wrote how getting the diagnosis and learning to live in this altered universe was like


Maybe I should take you into my own (strange) head because I want to explain. 

In the movie Abyss there was a scene (which was also about where I stopped watching it) where they had to fill their helmets and breath in this amniotic fluid stuff to go out into the deep. Obviously, their bodies fought the unnaturalness of it at first. 
This was the analogy I was really thinking of when I wrote those words. This is what goes on in my head. 

Or (and a more lovely thought) that we have gills, the inherit ability to breath in the deep, we just have to learn how to use them. Either way, living with or parenting special needs is a different level. This isn't the white picket fences, all-American Brady Bunch or Leave it to Beaver. This is no level of perceived normal. This is our strange Atlantis. 

When I read about struggles where it seems to turn the darkest, the grimmest - I can see many of these parents still trying to find the surface. They're still gasping for air. They're still trying to find normal instead of breathing in that this is their normal. 

They still care about what people think when they get "the look" or (don't ever) read the comments. They care too much what the neighbors think. Or their family. They haven't got a community around them of people who live

and breath

under the surface of normal. 

I'm going to tell you something - 

Trying to pull a struggling, drowning man to surface will get you killed. 

I was the unfortunate non-volunteer that this was demonstrated on as a child in swim class at the YMCA. It was etched into me that day. Every drop of drowning water. 

I see people struggling, striving to swim with one arm flailing on the surface and the other tugging their child's collar trying to get his head to the surface. And they drown. 

What do you do then, when your child is down there, in the depths? 

You take a deep breath. 

And let yourself sink.

Take their hand.

And learn to breathe in their world. 


Their world. 

Because what does it matter 

what the Jones' think, how June Cleaver is keeping her house sparkly with one judgmental eye slanted your way, that they're praising Jesus in the church (that their kids are "normal") while you run out with a child who's screaming or praising Jesus too loudly, that the old lady in the mall remarked in your hearing that misbehaving kids should be spanked, that your uncle or brother or cousin or all of them give you a lecture when you feed chicken nuggets to your child at Thanksgiving, that your child isn't keeping up in school, that you have to drive to your child because he gets bullied on the bus, that your husband walked out the door because he couldn't handle the stress, that that that

it doesn't matter. 

What does it matter when that's your child standing in front of you? 

When it's your child that's distressed. 

When it's your child waiting, hoping, screaming for you to "fix it" and you DO whatever tiny, little anything you can to make it as better as you can even

if it just means

Taking them out of the crowd. Sitting with them in the dark. Pulling them out of school. Holding them as they fall asleep. Hugging them when they rage. Crying with them when they melt. Learning to understand them. 

Drowning with them. 

And if you're lucky they will teach you how to swim in it. 

And search for treasure. 

And nothing, nothing, nothing up there is worth breathing 

more than breathing your child

's world.