Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Gratitude Journal #271

Today, I am grateful for the return of Bloom County. Berkeley Breathed just made all our lives a bit happier with Opus, Milo, Cutter John, and the rest of the gang in our Facebook feeds every morning.

Today I am grateful for my beautiful sister...for so very many reasons.

What are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Why I Won't Read the "New" Book by Harper Lee

Lots of people are excited by today's release of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. From the beginning of the media hype, however, a small but strong sense of unease rested somewhere between my bibliophile's heart and my critic's head.

As a trained literary critic, I've read plenty of books because I had to read them. Most were classics, and my critic's mind often adored them. Gravity's Rainbow, Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, et.al.: great books. A few classics didn't excite me, even though I could appreciate why they were classics and why reading them was good for my mind. (Yes, everything by Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Hardy...I'm talking about you.)

As a shameless bibliophile who's been reading all sorts of books--great, merely good, downright bad, popular, pure fluff, genre fiction, chick lit--since she was three, I find certain books simply speak to me in ways that run too deep for words, and some characters influence my thought and feelings in some primal place in my soul.

As you might imagine, the split personalities of my reading self get into arguments all the time. My brain is a very strange place.

To Kill a Mockingbird knocked me flat. I read it for the first time about ten years ago when I realized that this classic had flown under my reading radar, and I felt shame that all I knew about it had been gleaned from short, random snippets of the movie caught on cable. As a Southerner, as a compassionate human being, as a devoted lover of language, I fell hopelessly in love with Atticus Finch and Harper Lee. At a time when hate ruled hearts, just five years after Rosa Parks sat on that bus in Montgomery and three years before the church bombing in Birmingham, a white Southern writer sent Atticus Finch out into the world, a man who did the right thing even though it wasn't popular or comfortable or even safe.

Atticus gave me hope that we could figure this out, a hope I still cling to today in the wake of the murders of nine human beings in a church in Charleston. A hope we all need to cling to.

Stories shape us in almost magical ways, and they talk to one another. To Kill a Mockingbird converses in my mind with all the books I've read by African Americans about race. Maya Angelou, Richard Wright, Alice Walker, and Harper Lee are allies in making art to show hate and evil for what they are and break them, to heal a culture hurt by them.

Many writerly voices, united in an inter-textual conversation on life and the human condition, shaping thoughts and feelings...that is what reading literature is (or should be) all about.

When I listened to Maureen Corrigan's review of Go Set a Watchman yesterday on NPR, I realized that the magic would never survive, the inter-textual conversation in my head would shift forever, if I read about an Atticus who's lost his way. I'm so grateful to Corrigan for doing her job as critic and expressing so eloquently why I shouldn't read a book.

I choose hope. I choose the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Long live that Atticus Finch. Long live hope.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Gratitude Journal #270

Today, I am grateful for those brave men who, 71 years ago today, landed on beaches in France. May we never forget their sacrifice, bravery, and determination. 

Today, I am grateful that it's summer break. We need it.

Today, I am grateful my son got his learner's permit. At least, I'm trying to be grateful and not scared silly.

Today, I am grateful that Jack performed in his school talent show and earned a standing ovation from his classmates and cheers from all 500 sixth graders!


Today, I am grateful for this wonderful pin from Pinterest...because it makes me feel so much better about myself since I've been a reading machine lately. The dust bunnies are organizing.


What are you grateful for today?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Gratitude Journal #269

Today, I am grateful for all the men and women who gave everything they had in service to our great country.

What are you grateful for today?

Saturday, May 16, 2015


“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” Lao Tzu

As winter has changed to summer, I have watched with delight as a bleak, brown, skeletal landscape transforms with pastel blushes of pink, purple, and blue into a dense, lush green. Animals have cover to protect their babies, birds build nests, eggs break open, and the whole cycle of life plays out in front of us.

It's been a lovely spring. So much beautiful change.

I've never been able to relate to mothers who want to freeze their children at a certain age, who sob in despair when putting their kindergarteners on the bus for the first time, who regret their adolescent's need for deodorant. I look forward to each new phase and milestone...because sometimes it takes us so long to get there.

Such is the life of a parent whose child has developmental delays. We want that next developmental step forward like a heroin addict wants another hit. We want to see those changes as evidence that all the therapies and schools and interventions are working because so much of our selves and our resources gets poured into each tiny step.

Children on the autism spectrum, however, resist change.

That must be the single biggest understatement I've typed on this blog in seven years. Consider this one example of dozens I could rattle off without effort. When Jack outgrew his favorite robe a few years back, he refused to accept a new one with tears and anger and fear that the old robe would go away, to the dump, or to someone else who wouldn't be Jack. After pushing as hard as seemed reasonable, I put the new robe in the top of his closet, where it sat for almost two years as he continued to wear the old one. Eventually, he accepted that the old robe simply wouldn't fit anymore and pulled out the no-longer-new one.

Wasn't I smart to buy too big a robe in expectation that it would fit when he finally accepted it? Mommies learn these sorts of tricks after a few years of shoes worn despite holes, coats worn with inches of arm showing, shorts worn until they are tight past decency. I sometimes wonder what teachers must think of me, but I am not bothered by their judgment. I don't have time to be bothered. Jack's resistance to changes in his wardrobe has turned me into a special ops warrior mommy, smuggling ill-fitting or worn clothing out of Jack's room when he's at school and rushing the reusable garments to Salvation Army that very day. Bags lying around or boxes in the back of my car might be inspected...with predictable results.

After years of adjusting to changes made as gently as possible, Jack is slowly improving and adopting new articles of clothing or shoes with, well, not ease, exactly, but at least not with panic attacks.

Some ignorant people don't understand why parents of children with autism don't make their kids do what needs to be done. Clearly, they've never seen an autistic tantrum. These aren't your typical, willful toddler tantrums...autistic tantrums are motivated by fear. Studies show the fight-or-flight response in people with autism is triggered easily by sudden changes or any other stimulus they perceive as a threat. Their bodies flood with adrenalin just like an impala's body involuntarily reacts to a lion chasing it.

You can't spank that sort of fear out of someone.

Jack trusts me...most of the time. He trusts me because I don't force him too far out of his comfort zone very often, because I didn't rip the too-small robe off of him and throw it away in front of him, because I didn't react to his tantrum at the eye doctor by smacking his butt and grabbing his arm and making him look in the green-flashy machine that he said hurt his eyes.

I choose my battles carefully. For the most part, I've learned how to push and when to pull back. I pay attention to Jack's tone and response to the idea of change. I let him work through his feelings in his own time. Do I get impatient and frustrated? Sure. Do I screw up and snap and yell? Yep. But most of the time, I focus on creating an environment that will help Jack overcome his delays in positive, nurturing ways.

It's exhausting.

On Palm Sunday, as we headed to church, Jack announced, "Mom, I'm too old for Ms. Kim's class. I need to move up." You see, Ms. Kim runs the K-4 Sunday school class. I'd been trying for two years to convince Jack he needed to move up to the 5th-6th grade class. At the end of 6th grade, he finally made up his mind.

I said, "I'll talk to Ms. Kim and ask which room you need to go to."

He said, "No, I'll do it."

And he did. He even waited patiently while Kim finished a conversation with another adult...which, if you have 12-year-old with or without autism, you know is a miracle itself.

That night, I asked Jack what he'd learned in Sunday School, and he immediately answered, "Some Jews gave Jesus away to be crucified." Let's savor this answer for a moment. It means Jack actually listened. His typical rote reply to my question--for years--has been "Jesus was born in Bethlehem." Yes, he learned that in Sunday school...when he was five. Now that he decided he was too old for the K-4 class, he appears to have also decided to listen. Yay!

When your child has developmental delays, the smallest changes signaling progress are embraced, cheered, celebrated. You learn to ignore the standardized test scores that measure how your child stands up against a million others, because that's just meaningless and depressing. Instead, you focus on the progress itself, and you find that there's a lot of joy in accepting the reality of it.

Moms who want their children to stay young don't know what they are asking for.

Lao Tzu says we should let changes come naturally, and Jack has taught me the truth in that. Change won't be rushed, and it won't be slowed. We can't control it. It just...is.

It's been such a lovely spring. So many beautiful changes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Difference Between Fantasy and Reality

The Fantasy:
What I Would Love to Make

The Reality:
What I Have the Patience, Skill, and Will to Make

This is why my sister, Lisa, calls me the Anti-Martha. It started shortly after my firstborn arrived, and Martha Stewart sent me an utterly ridiculous Baby magazine, the cover of which featured a first-birthday cake made with fondant and surrounded by little, hand-made party favors. At the time, I was doing great to get a shower every day while washing a gazillion loads of poopy-pukey laundry and spending 45 hours per day breast feeding. I ranted to my still-pregnant sister that my son would get such a cake only if Martha sent her hoard of assistants to make it for him. Lisa dubbed me the Anti-Martha.


Just keepin' it real here on Questioning.

And happy birthday to my honey. You rock!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Gratitude Journal #268

Today, I am more grateful than I can say for George, Nick, and Jack, who made my Mother's Day the best ever.

Today, I am grateful to the mother who gave birth to me those many years ago. I was breech, and she had a most unpleasant time delivering me. That's when gratitude starts! I can't say she had an easier time during my teens, either. I am also grateful for my mother-in-law who raised my husband so well that he does most of the cooking. Thanks, Barb!

Today, I am grateful for flowers, including the lilac and rose bushes George planted for me Saturday and the pansies we saw outside a restaurant Saturday night. I didn't take a picture, but they were purple like these!


What are you grateful for today?