Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Holding Space

Today, tonight, I am holding space for my dear friend Gretchen.

I've only met Gretchen, and her sons, Tommy and Henry, once. But I've known her and her kids since the early days of this blog. And I know Gretchen on a heart level. I know her because we are Sisters.  And friends? My sister Gretchen is doing the hardest work a mother can ever do. Gretchen is shepherding her son through this life and onto the next. We are not supposed to out live our children. There is no way to ever make it okay. All I can do is hold space for my dear friend and her family.

If you want to know more about our beloved Henry and his dear mother -- my friend, my sister -- please click here and read the beautiful words of Mom-NOS.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What I am. ... What I'm not

This week, I am. ...
  • promising to make time for my banjo
  • bewitched by birds
  • loving alliteration
  • saying I love you 
  • wrapping up loose ends
  • counting down school days (31)
  • plotting another adventure
  • fond of root vegetables, roasted, with rosemary

What I'm not is:
  • getting the hang of the Crawdad Song
  • comparing myself to others
  • as patient as I should be 
  • as resilient as I could be
  • on top of the cleaning
  • hearing back from the plumber
  • quite convinced we need a dog
  • fond of Heidegger 

Monday, April 25, 2016

On The Subject of Secrets

In the interest of inhabiting that braver me that I imagine, I share with you an excerpt from a work-in-progress, tentatively titled Surface Tension:

Are you the sort of person uncomfortable with secrets?  Well then there's a difference between you and me right there. I've got a lot of secrets and so, in a self-preservation kind of way, I'm comfortable with them. But just let me be clear: I don't keep things to myself because I'm particularly secretive, it's just that the kind of things I'm talking about rarely come up in conversation. I spend a lot of time in polite company. And I learned early on that it's more than secrets that make people uncomfortable. Sometimes it's truth. So to save everyone I just keep a lot of things to myself.

As I've said before, so much of our truth comes down to the stories we tell ourselves. This week I marked the day, three years ago, of my mother's death. Her leaving released me from my long held desire to protect her from having to bear the weight of the damage done. It was better to just pretend that we had all escaped, but in truth, that just made the reckoning of it even more inescapable. For me, anyway. And at this point, I'm the only one left.

Maybe my rememberings aren't exactly correct. It's difficult to look at the situation from outside of the girl I was. To get another perspective on those years when I was mute, you'd have to ask my mother but she's dead and anyway I don't think she noticed much. I don't think anyone else did either, we were all only trying to get by. And if you don't count the people living in the house, that leaves exactly no one who knew what was going on or would remember. The only guests I ever remember having at 737 were loud Uncle Auggie and his wife, Sissy. It was just that once when we all ate a meal together on the good plates in the dining room and my father leaned over and said about the roast beef: Put some salt on it, it'll taste better.  Eating was another thing I didn't do much of, but it was the only advice I ever got from him so I took it and still remember the feeling of choking back that dry, salty meat. I would have liked to say something to them, those large people so strangely occupying a silent house where no one noticed when you didn't speak and might have even preferred it that way.  

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Finding Meaning on the Internet and Other Stories We Tell Ourselves

Maybe you guessed that I'm making an effort to sit down and write more. It's hard. I tell myself I don't have the time. That I don't have anything to say to anyone anymore. That I'm not a real writer, it doesn't matter if I make the effort today or not. But I peel back the layers and there it is, the tender pink of afraid. Of self-doubt. This business of making yourself known is scary. Almost no one that I can reach out and touch in my everyday life knows about this little space here. Do you find that strange? Chalk it up to another secret that I keep. To change that, to truly own my words, is terrifying.

Yet. ..  writing in this space has helped me in ways beyond measure. Because of this space, I've connected with a powerful group of women who have carried me through difficult times, women I consider sisters. And I've connected with people who told me that I made a difference in their lives, people whom I might never meet but who find their way here and tell me: Thank you, I don't feel so alone, so afraid, anymore. And that right there? It means something. Maybe it's the only thing that means anything.

So this week, a week when I found myself flirting with this space a little more, I suddenly noticed an uptick in visitors, which made me both terrified and curious. How is it that suddenly The Internet knew I was back? A little sleuthing took me here, where I was surprised to find myself on a list of things to read this week -- which was really terrifying because those other people on the list? They are real writers. But I'm on that list, too, so maybe this is an invitation to think of myself more bravely. To tell myself a different story.

Then, a little more clicking led me to the blog-owner's TED talk, which you can watch here, and is all about Self-Doubt and The Power of the Personal Narrative. ... so! Is The Internet sending me a message? The Universe? But I don't believe in signs, only in our own clumsy meaning-making, and so that's what I'm going to set out to do.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Oatmeal Recipe

As if the grey skies weren't enough, my morning started with a reprimand: There is so much beauty in this world if you choose to see it.

I squint hard trying to see it.

My gaze comes to rest on the boy's face. Beautiful, soft-skinned, still. There's something about him this morning, his far away look out the window suggesting the man who will take his place if I blink. My anxious mind does me no favors and beauty cascades into guilt for not having enjoyed him enough in his boyhood. Greed, my second sin of the morning, appears and I want it all back I think: the small hands, the milky breath. Though even as the thought forms I know it is a lie. 

I will my gaze past more piles of guilt covering the table -- laundry-in-waiting -- to the boy, also in-waiting, but for oatmeal, Bob Dylan tucked in one ear. He's listening hard when the soft flannel-clad one claims a neighboring perch. Oatmeal for two, then.

It's dreary outside and inside, both. We need the rain, I say to Oliver as though I know what he's thinking.**  Wildfire ash has blanketed the sky for two days, 6,000 acres a verdent dream. Neither respond and I breathe deeply and wait for their beauty to sink to my heart level, hoping it will do the trick of whisky on a cold night. It's the least they can do, I think to myself, stirring the last remaining blackberries into the pot, a final bit of frozen sweetness stretched from last years bounty.

I crush almond slivers in my hand, carefully so I don't make a mess, sprinkle them along with a bit of brown sugar on the two bowls of oats, and try to picture the beating muscle in my chest. Expand, contract, expand, contract, I think. Which will it be today?

** Though maybe I know something more than I fear I do -- here's our morning Dylan soundtrack -- brought to you by my beautiful boy:

"A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
And where have you been my darling young one?
I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Oh, what did you see, my blue eyed son?
And what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin'
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin'
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warnin'
I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
I heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin'
I heard ten thousand whisperin' and nobody listenin'
I heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin'
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Oh, what did you meet my blue-eyed son ?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded in hatred
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

And what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what'll you do now my darling young one?
I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin'
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are a many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner's face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I'll tell and speak it and think it and breathe it
And reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it
And I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin'
But I'll know my song well before I start singing
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Friday, April 15, 2016

If You Give a Girl a Piano Lesson. ...

(First of all: Shhhhhh! Three posts in a row? I don't want to say anything out loud to jinx things but.. ..? What is going on here??)


Yesterday I shared a funny story; today I'll share a secret.

You know that dream of Oliver's to learn to play the piano? Well, I told you how I found the perfect, wonderful teacher for him and how through the miracle of modern technology she comes to our home every Wednesday afternoon via FaceTime while sitting in her very own home in San Francisco, right? Yes, it's true and it's amazing. And Oliver is amazing. Every week I am profoundly moved by watching him tackle new and challenging things. He inspires me. They both do, honestly.

And I'm also secretly thrilled that I get to learn how to play the piano right next to my boy. Seriously, I didn't know I would love learning as much as I do! Sometimes I even boot my kids off the piano so I can practice. I squeeze in a few minutes every time I get the chance.

I never thought I had the talent for music. And maybe I don't really have any but there is something so incredibly joyful about learning to create music. I'm definitely hooked.

So, here's the secret:

Yes. That's me. With my banjo.

For the last, I don't know, ten years, I have secretly dreamed of learning to play the banjo. Why the banjo, you might ask? Well because it is such a happy instrument. It brings me joy! And I love old time music! And I want to play!!

So, with a year of piano under my belt, I suddenly thought: Why not? What is stopping me? What have I got to lose?

I found one online at the Seattle Goodwill store, ordered it, obsessively tracked it as it made it's way by truck across the country, signed up for a free online, at-your-own-pace, beginner clawhammer banjo course and have barely put the thing down in the last three weeks since it arrived.

I can't strum, change chords and sing along all the same time but I am having So Much Fun! Sami asked me yesterday when I was going to learn a new song. "This is a new song," I told him. In fact, it was my second two-chord song, the first being Skip to My Lou! "Hm," he replied, "Sounds the same."

Yeah, but just you wait! Today I'm tackling my first 3-chord song: The Crawdad Song:

How much fun is that?? Frankly, I don't do as much with three chords but you get the idea.

Happy Friday, Everyone!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Significantly Disabled: A Funny Story

Want to hear something funny?

I've been doing a lot of advocacy work in my community around Inclusive Education. It's a subject that deserves a post of it's own. Or several, really. But this post is more of an interesting aside.

You see, in order to advocate well, I've been reading a lot of documents, reports and studies related to educational outcomes for kids with disabilities. Several months ago I was reading something that described a kid very much like the boy who lives in this little green house. The author used the boy like Oliver as a case study for his central thesis. The paper concluded that this other child -- the one so much like my own -- and others with Significant Disabilities, could benefit from being included with their non-disabled peers in the general education classroom.


The funny part of the story is that my boy is thirteen, and for the first time upon reading this study, I came to understand that by any commonly accepted measures, he is considered Significantly Disabled.

This kinda blows me away -- almost like somebody told me he had a third eye somewhere that I didn't know about.

It blows me away because I would never, not in a million years, describe him that way. I don't think of him that way. Oliver is just Oliver. And yes, he's disabled. Autism is a central part of who he is. But significantly disabled? What does that even mean?

So it got me thinking.

One of the benefits of stepping outside of the system and homeschooling for so many years is that we were free to create opportunities and experiences for our boy. We made sure that we always found ways for him to be competent and successful. We didn't put him in situations where his challenges weren't compensated for by his strengths or supports. So, while of course the challenges of his autism have always been a central consideration, even a significant consideration, they were just part of the balancing act.

But the balance has been precarious this year.

School has not been smooth sailing for my boy -- hence all of my advocacy work. In fact, since the beginning of the new year, I have been spending a tremendous amount of time at school with Oliver. Many, many times we have considered taking him out altogether and retreating to a place where balance is more easily within our grasp.

So when I read those words, Significantly Disabled, it was like that feeling you get when you first try on a pair of glasses with your new prescription and everything shifts slightly into focus. Because over the last few months I have watched my boy flounder and fail in a way I'm not used to seeing. And now I understood: in a classroom where he is consistently asked to overcome his challenges in order to succeed, where they are not also pitching to his strengths. ... well, he is indeed significantly disabled. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen Oliver as disabled as I've seen him in the classroom this year.


What a revelation.

Now I finally understand some of those awkward silences around the table during school meetings! All along we've been talking about two different kids.

Significantly Disabled.

I won't adopt this new lens of disability. I won't think of my boy as less able than I know him to be and I won't use those words to describe him to others.  But, wow: What a lesson about words and context! And also about why people -- educators, doctors and therapists -- have the perspective they do and why advocacy is so, so important.

For a very brief moment I saw my boy through their lens -- I just like my vision better. And it's a vision that's worth fighting for. And so is he.

My Boy -- Riding the City Streets of Savannah