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Taking control of chaos

This teacher’s not buying your kid’s supplies…

I know, I know. We are supposed to. It is part of the martyrdom intrinsic in the teaching profession. We work 70-hour weeks, we give students our lunch money, we buy them supplies…it is just what is done, right?

Not this year. Not in my class. I teach high school English. Each year until now, my school has provided me with a case of copy paper, 12 ink pens, 12 pencils, a box of chalk, a box of paper clips, a box of staples (no stapler, though), and a chalkboard eraser. Until now, I have spent upwards of $600/year on my classroom ($1100 year before last). I have ensured that there were tissues and hand sanitizer readily available. I have cleaned desks daily. I have maintained two computers and an electric pencil sharpener. I have purchased items to make learning fun in my English classroom…reference posters, a classroom library, beanbags to get the kids moving during discussions, balls to be used during learning drills, a spinner for the chalkboard to determine student groups, activity centers full of supplies. Every year, I have had to repurchase all of these items.

Why? Because students don’t appreciate them. I take money from my family’s budget to ensure my students are well-taught, and they jam paperclips into pencil sharpeners, steal keys from the computer keyboards, rip books apart, write on posters, cut open beanbags, steal the spinner, and throw activity center supplies around the classroom. They draw lewd pictures on the desks I clean, use hand sanitizer as a weapon, and make spit balls with the tissues.

In short, they are jerks, and I am no longer supplying them with materials they can use in their competition to be the jerkiest.

So, please, ensure that your student arrives to my class with a fully-stocked backpack. Because while I am willing to help polite, well-behaved students on an individual basis (and will maintain a small supply of materials for them), you need to do your part, too.

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When Mac n’ Cheetos are more than Mac n’ Cheetos

Today, I promised my son Mac n’ Cheetos. He has been wanting to try them since he saw the first commercial last month, and I figured it would be easy enough to grab some as a snack tonight. I was so wrong.

We pulled into Burger King, and he excitedly pointed to the giant Mac n’ Cheetos picture on the order board. When the employee said, “We don’t have those anymore,” my boy said, “But the picture says they do, and I saw a commercial today. I want Mac n’ Cheetos.” I told the employee never mind about our order and pulled into an empty parking space.

As my son started a soliloquy about mac n’ cheese being his favorite food and Cheetos being his second-favorite food, I attempted to calm him down. “You said I could have Mac n’ Cheetos! You told me! They have a picture!” I offered alternative restaurants where we could buy mac n’ cheese, to no avail. I reminded him how much he loves mac n’ cheese from Boston Market and KFC, to no avail. His mind, thanks to autism, had locked onto Mac n’ Cheetos, and nothing else would do. He had been thinking about them for hours, and nothing else would do. He had planned his entire evening, the entire car trip, around those Mac n’ Cheetos, and nothing else would do. The order board said there were Mac n’ Cheetos, and nothing else would do.

I pulled out my phone and looked up other Burger Kings in our area and 15 pulled up. I started calling the 14 in whose parking lots we weren’t parked. Only one phone was answered, and that employee told me they no longer sell Mac n’ Cheetos, either. I looked over at my son and he was leaning against the car door, lightly tapping his head against the window.

“Hey, kiddo, if we can’t get Burger King, what do you want?” He tapped his head harder.

I pulled out of the Burger King parking lot and headed to another Burger King eight miles away. All the while, my son was tapping his head against the window. We found out at the order board that this location no longer carries Mac n’ Cheetos, either, even though the picture is still highlighted on their order board.

A full meltdown ensued, complete with wailing, head-slamming, and pressure hug. (Before anyone jumps in with, “He needs his butt whipped” or “He is spoiled,” a meltdown is far more than a tantrum. A tantrum happens because a child doesn’t get his way, and it is done for attention. A meltdown happens when a child simply can’t absorb or deal with a change in schedule, routine, or surroundings and is so overwhelmed that he loses his sh!t in epic proportions).

I wish to thank you, Burger King, for my evening. I wish to thank the two locations we visited for not updating their menu boards. I wish to thank the 13 locations I called whose phones went unanswered (with my luck, 12 of them still have the damned Mac n’ Cheetos). I wish to thank you for the gas and time lost due to the wasted trip to the second location. I wish to thank you for continuing to advertise an item no longer available in our area.

And this, folks, is what happens when you promise your child with autism anything…In essence, though, this wasn’t about Mac n’ Cheetos at all. It was about my son’s inability to roll with the punches and think on his feet. It was about his hyper-focus on one particular thing (Mac n’ Cheetos) over everything else. It was about my failure, once again, to fix a problem, and his realization that sometimes I just can’t. Sometimes Mac n’ Cheetos are so much more.

Teensy, Tiny Baby Steps

Parents of neurotypical children may not understand why this is such a huge deal. And that is okay. I, your autism interpreter, am here to explain it!

Last night I had to spend the night away from home (and away from my son) for the first time in years. This was planned a few weeks ahead of time, and we prepared him the best we could, with frequent reminders and reassurances that he could call me if he needed me, that I would be back today, that he is brave enough to handle one night without me. We prepared him, and I worried. Oh, he seemed fine with it. He just said, “Okay.” In the past, though, that “Okay”in response to upcoming events has been misleading, so I worried.

I worried because, despite my husband’s best efforts, my son simply has not bonded easily with him. I worried that, as usually happens, we would get to the day of the event (in this case, my leaving) and he would balk. That he would melt down at the sheer anxiety of living one single night without my close proximity. That this event would end like all of the past events that have become raging sh!tstorms.

My phone did not ring once. Let me repeat – my phone did not ring once. Not once did my son feel he needed to speak to me to reduce his anxiety. Not once did he feel so overwhelmed by my absence that he had to reach out for immediate reassurance. Not once did my husband feel so over his head that he had to call me for backup.

It was okay. I have no idea why…the social skills and executive functioning work the boy has been doing? The therapy? Progress with his anxiety? A slow (slow, slow, slow, slow) acceptance of my husband as a suitable, caring adult? All I know is that I was able to pull away and focus my attention someplace else it needed to be for one brief night…and it was okay.

The World is Hurting…a Christian Perspective

It is not often that I quote scripture to support my arguments. They are usually based on common sense, so I don’t feel the need to do so. But today, the world is hurting. My heart is hurting. Everyone’s hearts are hurting.

God gave us guidelines to help the hurting. I am Christian, so I chose a few Bible verses to share (all are NIV translation). Other Holy books offer similar sentiments. Please go read them for yourself…seriously, read them! And believe it or not, Atheists and Wiccans and Agnostics usually follow a similar code entitled, “Don’t be an @sshole.”

Mark 12:31: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater. Nowhere here is there an unless. Nowhere does it say, “Unless you don’t like them.” Nowhere does it say, “Unless he is darker than you.” Nowhere does it say, “Unless he is a police officer.” Nowhere does it say, “Unless he is unemployed.” Nowhere does it say, “Unless he has a criminal history.”

Romans 12:20: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Wait! Our enemies are less than human, right? Why in the world would God want us to care about them? Maybe He wants us to raise ourselves above our base instinct of hate. Maybe He wants us to see people as human so we stop treating them as less. Maybe He wants us to evolve.

Zechariah 8:17: Do not plot evil against each other. Well, that one is straightforward, isn’t it?

1 John 3:17: If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?
and
Proverbs 22:9: The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor. It doesn’t say that the generous will scream that the poor should go to food banks. It doesn’t say that the generous will yell that churches need to clothe the poor. It just says that the generous, themselves, share their food with the poor. I will bet these generous people don’t judge those with less, either. I will bet they don’t scan the shopping cart of the food stamp shopper in front of them, then post social-media rants about the birthday cake that woman dared to buy with their tax dollars.

Amos 5:15: Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. This is where we should be concentrating our efforts. We shouldn’t be wasting our energy digging up decades-old police records to justify murder. We shouldn’t be making lists of evildoer police officers to justify violence against all police officers. We should be working together to fix the problem, to bridge the distance, to heal.

There is so much hate swirling in the air. Hatred of other races, hatred of officers, hatred of the poor who have less. I wish I could find a way to reach the “Christians” who fill the world with racist vitriol and anger. I wish I could find a way to ensure that our children, no matter their skin colors, would fix our mistakes. I wish I could find some faith that this will turn out okay. In the meantime, though, please don’t be @ssholes.

 

On raising a not-obviously-black son

little boy
light boy
broken

Can I still play with my [darker] brother?
Mommy?
I don’t want to die.

**************

Yesterday, while we were at a doctor’s office, my son caught the news of the Baton Rouge and Minneapolis shootings on a wall-mounted television. His eyes filled with tears and he said, “Thank God I’m light.” His comment demonstrated for me his disconnect from a vital part of his heritage. Although my boy is half black, his looks make his race hard to pin down. His hair is straight, his skin light enough to be tan, and he looks like his Native/White mother. I was a single mother for many years, and my son has special needs. Teaching him to accept his own uniquely American blend simply wasn’t on my radar because teaching him to talk to people/write/play with others/do his therapies made a larger impact on his daily life. We are now part of a beautifully-blended family and he is surrounded by darker-skinned siblings. Yet I have somehow missed an extremely important part of his education.

I don’t care what color people are, and I have been careful to expose my son to friends and experiences from a variety of races, religions, and cultures. I grew up straddling two worlds and never quite belonging to either, and I didn’t want that isolation for him. I have carefully raised him to be kind to everyone and to take a stand for right when necessary. He recognizes racism and homophobia, and he speaks against their unfairness. In my world of [non-black] privilege, I thought that was enough. It wasn’t. It isn’t. Because here was my boy, my amazing, kind, funny, smart, adorable boy, instinctively placing himself in a less-assaulted color category.

“Thank God I’m light.” Thank God the police won’t shoot me on sight because I don’t look as dangerous as other black people. Thank God I don’t look stereotypically black. Thank God I can pass.

This experience has highlighted even more for me that America’s cultural attack on black people cuts so much deeper than the physical murders making the news on a daily basis. Black people are also being attacked from within, faced with fissures between skin tones. This has been happening to some extent for hundreds of years, but now is the time to end it. We have to end it. The systemic, deadly racism America now faces is urging us to separate at a time when we most need to work together for change.

Now, after Dallas, we must fight even harder not to be separated. In the face of extremist officers or snipers, we are all at higher risk in our interactions with one another. I don’t want to live in a world in which my black son weighs the safety of playing outside with a darker friend. I don’t want to live in a world in which he is thankful he doesn’t look like half of himself. We have to end it.

Stepmommying

Being a step-parent is the second hardest job I have faced after autism mommy.

You walk into the lives of these kids, still feeling pain from their parents’ split, wondering on whom they can rely after their worlds were torn apart once before. Your very presence demands that they trust you will be there for them.They may fall right into a comfortable rhythm with you, or they may resist all efforts for as long as they possibly can. Eventually, if you hold on long enough, they realize that you are with them for the long haul, and you become more than friends, less than parent/children.

Their mother has done an amazing job raising them. These kids are smart, polite, caring, and confident. You do your best to stand in for her in her absence, and you try to make your own place in their lives in her presence. While she must be reeling at the changes to the family dynamic (namely, YOU), she is accepting of your love for her children, and she is careful to include you in important events. Together you carve out a weird you-shaped, kind-of-family-maybe spot.

In the blink of an eye, the kids become teenagers. You see them less often as their friends become more important, you struggle to keep up with their latest interests, and you watch huge amounts of food disappear from your fridge and pantry in a weekend. You are both less and more certain of your place in their lives. They are reaching more milestones, and you hold back slightly because these moments rightfully belong to their mother. However, they begin to notice that you may be almost as smart as they are, and as you are better able to offer advice, you try to hold on more tightly because you know the day is coming.

And the day does come. You look at these kids, these former little, little kids that once enthralled you with their barely-shaped personalities, and you realize it has happened. They are no longer teenagers. They are adults. They are a Mom with a baby of her own, handling motherhood seemingly as though it were nothing more than a new laundry routine. They are an Air Force Airman, fearlessly going off into the wild blue yonder to follow her dreams. There are two more of these kids following close behind, trailed by your own biological baby. It is too soon.

You cry more than a little. Time has moved so quickly, and you didn’t get to share those early years.  Stepmommying is equal parts rollercoaster, grueling decathlon, and lottery winning. In the end you feel a tremendous sense of pride because, no matter how small the part you played, you helped create these amazing gifts for the world.

 

Priorities

I have been feeling neglected and ignored lately. I think it comes down to a lifetime of doing everything I could to please others, to make them comfortable, to do whatever was necessary to keep the lid on the pending explosion from my father or ex-husband. In many ways, I have made positive changes. I no longer tolerate explosions at all. I no longer accept guilt trips tossed at me from the maws of those seeking to pull me under. Sometimes I put myself first. But not often enough.

I am 42 years old and have never had a birthday celebration of my own. Never. When I was a child, I shared a few parties with my younger brother. As an adult, I have baked him birthday cakes year after year, then watched my birthday pass by, unnoticed, a few days later.

Perhaps this is why it is so heartbreaking to me that my son has trouble with friendships…I want him to have those celebrations I never did. Hell, I would give anything for someone to think to throw a party for me. I don’t want him to have these same non-memories haunting him in his middle age. Despite his challenges, I want him to be recognized and cherished for the amazing person he is. Like I never was.

Recently, I graduated with my Master’s Degree. I did this while working full-time throughout my studies. I did this while beginning a completely new career. I did this while fighting a hostile work environment. I did this while sitting for and acing several career exams. I did this while juggling and putting out the fires that came with Dom’s diagnoses and therapies and routine changes. I did this while battling my own chronic illnesses. I did it, though. And the moment passed by. No recognition. No dinner out. Nothing.

I don’t believe this lack of recognition is necessarily the fault of those around me. I have trained others by minimizing my needs on a regular basis. I have trained others to dismiss my needs altogether, even to pretend they don’t exist.

Nevertheless, I have spent my life trying to accomplish enough, to be enough, to become enough, that someone would notice. That someone would care enough to celebrate me or even hear me when I speak. I am 42 years old and that has not happened yet. I am beginning to realize that if I want to be celebrated, if I want to be considered important, if I want my voice to be heard, it is up to me.

I am trying to reach the point at which it won’t matter that others don’t notice. For now, I am at the beginning. I have no idea where this journey will lead, but on the next nice weekend it will begin with a getaway celebration of me, of my son, of my Master’s Degree..the start of a new noticing of myself.

Why do I share our story?

Lately, I have come across a huge number of autism parents who believe that autism is about their children, not them, that it is their children’s story, not theirs, and that they therefore would be wrong to share any information about their children’s disability, their own coping strategies, or how autism affects their family.

I disagree, and I honestly believe that this movement is moving us backward in our journey towards acceptance. Once upon a time (not very long ago), children with autism were locked away. They were not challenged or enabled to become productive members of society. They were considered less than human, problems to be dealt with silently, a family secret. Parents didn’t speak of these children, is my main point here. Instead they remained quietly ashamed.

This new movement has the same end result. Children are locked away without awareness of the commonality of their disabilities. They are kept from accessing supports that would be available if their parents were willing to share their stories with those who could help.

So why do I share our story? Our struggles? Our triumphs? Because I am not ashamed of my son. I am proud of every gain he makes. I don’t think there is anything wrong with stating his disability or the ways it has affected our family. Numerous parents at the beginning of their own autism journeys have approached me, and I pray that our story has helped them.

Likewise, sometimes you must share information at work. I had intermittent FMLA leave last year due to my son’s challenges. I had to share some information in order to get approval and even to ease some of the tension with other teachers who had to cover for me when I dealt with emergencies. Once my coworkers understood why I was missing work, the environment became much less strained and stressful.

Finally, I know my son has been helped tremendously by learning that he is not alone, that there are others in our community who share his challenges and disability. If nobody ever shared their stories, so many people would remain isolated and lost.

Remaining silent (and seemingly ashamed) does nothing to promote awareness or community. And community is what pulls you through your darkest days. That is why I share our story.

 

Mother’s Day: Love and Loss

On this Mother’s Day, Rivi would have been 11 1/2. His little brother just turned 10. With every milestone his younger brother achieves, a piece of my heart aches…the Rivi-shaped piece.

That little heart spot hurts at other times, too, Mid-September through October, Rivi’s original due date, the beginning of every school year, but especially today, Mother’s Day.

My first Mother’s Day without Rivi passed silently. There were no flowers, no cards, no dinners out or gifts. Instead, there was me, quietly and desperately pretending it was just another day. I didn’t know how else to commemorate the tiny boy I’d lost, so I went and got a tattoo of Rivi’s name on my ankle, my first Mother’s Day gift.

By my second Mother’s Day, I had a living boy in my arms, but I still barricaded myself in my apartment, only taking a call from my mother. In advance, I refused all celebration. I held the boy I could and mourned the one I couldn’t.

This is my 12th Mother’s Day, and it is still an emotionally raw, bipolar day. I suspect it always will be to some extent. I thank God that I have an amazing boy here to ease my pain, but other mothers of lost babies aren’t so blessed.

To all of those mothers of invisible children, I say that I still feel your pain. 12 years later, I can only tell you to be gentle with yourselves and to celebrate your motherhood, no matter how fleeting the physical portion of it was. Remember your babies and do whatever you must to survive the day…and that pain? That pain is Motherhood.

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