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Actively Grieving Through My Miscarriage

I woke up reaching for my children, knowing they weren't there anymore and sobbing that they were gone.  My nurse drugged me into silence with both dilaudid and percocet and a prescription for 800 milligrams of ibuprofen for when I was out of hearing range. Her relief began when I was too drugged to cry for a pain she couldn't soothe. Even through my pain and the opiates, her relief was such a contrast from what I felt.

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Pride isn't an Option in Parenthood

Motherhood breaks down a woman's pride fairly quickly.  Parenting will do the rest.

Your body will strip your pride in pregnancy before you realise how powerful it really is.

I'm lucky enough to only seriously experience morning sickness with my last pregnancy.  Having two placentas means insane levels of HCG which will make you feel like your thyroid is out to get you.  Specifically, it was terrible nausea and frequent vomiting, a racing heartbeat, severe weakness and weight loss.

Being sick for no obvious reason is specifically humbling.  Vomiting out of your car window and continuing on your commute is a bit hard to do with your head held high, but I managed.  Dry heaving because someone took a bath in their perfume is uncomfortable enough, but it's also insulting to the person who now knows they stink. In pregnancy, bladder control can be iffy and gas happens much more often with the relaxed muscles of pregnancy. Hormonal changes can mean your body is creating a whole new brand of funk. Breasts will swell, then sag.  That mom walk that feels confident starts to sway into a waddle because my center of gravity is constantly shifting. A grocery run with mild hunger becomes an indulgent pregnancy craving smorgasbord, complete with odd and indulgent smiles from strangers.

Giving birth and seeing the life created and growing in you is one of those powerful moments that really does make it all worth it in the end.

Strangers will claim ownership of your body.

I've had strangers guess the sex of the children in my belly.  I've had them question my sanity over carrying so many children (8 and 9 growing as I type). I've had strangers reach out to touch my belly. They'll critique and judge your parenting at all ages and stages because even if they aren't the community helping you raise your child, they'll expect being in public makes you subject to their judgement and opinions.

*Side note on belly touching: If you are on a date and touch a belly without consent, you're being rapey. Really, at 20 weeks, the highest part a baby reaches is mom's belly button (still mom's body).  Any time before this, you pat that area, and you're touching my intestines.  Even if lunch was epic, my bowels don't need the encouragement, and if you're going to reach lower to actually touch my uterus, I would hope for dinner first.  Maybe flowers.  Jewelry is always encouraged. When they start kicking, I'm likely to encourage the touching and show you exactly where my belly is going alien outtakes on us both.

Your children will change your pride perception.

Littles are sweet, but they will embarrass you.  They'll stink, and cry at the wrong times.  They'll puke on clothes not meant to experience spit up.  They'll make you into living zombies.  They are so cute and helpless that you'll put up with it and continue to try to make them into humans others would want to be around.

They will find their voice and repeat favorite and inappropriate phrases.  I remember my little one saying "fuck you" to someone when my mom took him to church.  They each went through phases where they learned the fastest way to hurt mom was to tell me that they hated me.  They took the one fear they had, of rejection and not being acknowledged and turned it into a weapon against bedtime and desired activities.  I had to push past that pain and by the third child, it was hard not to laugh at such pint sized rebellion. (Even on his worst day, my youngest is not capable of doing what his autistic brothers did in search of self regulation.)

They'll get older and rather than say they hate you, they'll try to convince you that you really don't love them.  They'll need more reassurance that they are loved and valued.  You'll learn in that first game of tic-tac-toe, that it's really not fun to beat the pants off of the kid you just taught to play.

Being prideful means you aren't being compassionate and that isn't the most connected way to parent. In my home, I'm frequently wrong and sometimes I lose my shit.  I try to always apologize to my kids.  I acknowledge the ways I was wrong.  I ask for their feedback and make communication safe.  Sometimes they'll call me out before I see what I've done. I don't get to always be right because that would mean I'm wrong. Sometimes I have to listen to well meaning grandparents, even if that brings out the rebellious teenager in me.

With my teenagers it's hard to remember that they aren't grown men.  I have to be intentional with reminding myself that they are still the sweet and sensitive boys that look to me when things are scary and painful.  I have to ignore their size and their attitudes and the ways they remind me of their father.  I have to be the one to come to them, over and over and likely into adulthood.  I think of the times older friends and my parents will talk about not being called, forgetting that the phone works both ways.  My mom is great with checking on me several times a week and I hope hers is an example I never forget.

You can't be prideful and parent at the same time.  At least I don't think I could.  You learn with your kids and pride assumes you know all there is for them to teach you, forgetting that the lessons never end, even into adulthood.

You Were Meant to Face What is Coming Because the Life We Live Was Created For Us: My High Risk Pregnancy Announcement

img_2502 A little over a month ago I did another Facebook live video.  I was in the hospital on pain meds for the gallbladder that was later removed.  I don't like being high, so I didn't handle it well and the video was kinda all over the place, but authentic.  Not one of my best Facebook live encouragements, but one I wanted to flesh out here.  While not on drugs.  All of my live videos are public and I'm easily searchable.

This year has so far been a series of events that were foreshadowed by something else in my life at some point. Something complex and scary before me was similarly experienced in a previous experience that is now part of my history.  It's about getting through on the strength earned before.

Taking it back a few years, I chose to be a surrogate mother after having my 3 children.  I did 6 IVF cycles.  This means weeks of intramuscular injections into the upper, outer quadrant of my rear end.  It was typically at least a shot if not two a day and I still have the scar tissue from it.  Any shot in that area is super painful because of all the shots I had before.

When I had pulmonary embolisms, I was given lovenox shots until my blood was thin enough to be sustained without the risk of blood clots on coumadin pills. I was already past the fear of injecting myself with medicine, and I was already accustomed to the schedule of medication because taking hormones on time is so important in IVF assisted pregnancies. It's just as important when you want to not let your body create blood clots that can travel to your heart or brain and kill you.

My last pregnancy was twin girls born at 29 weeks.  I was hospitalized at 25 weeks because my body was trying to deliver them early.  I was technically in labor for a month.  I have had five easy labors before that which means I didn't feel a thing until just before they were born.

Back to that hospital visit for my gallbladder . . . I started feeling pain and while doing standard tests to treat me at the hospital, I found out I was 3 weeks pregnant.  Too early to miss a period, feel body changes, or see anything by ultrasound. I knew the lovenox shots would start and they did within 24 hours of that positive test.  I have been here.  It was a stretch, but not one that was unfamiliar.

At the start of my 5th week of pregnancy, I had my gallbladder removed.  There was no way it could have waited for the pregnancy to end or the second trimester to begin.  It needed to be done. The pregnancy had already survived 2 CT Scans with Iodine.  We were already defying the odds and I hoped we'd get through general anesthesia and my surgery.

After surgery, refusing to take pain meds just 4 days after surgery (because I hate being drugged), and just before 6 weeks, I found out I am carrying twins. The baby split and they are growing in two sacs while sharing one placenta.  Identical twins with two older brothers on the autism spectrum.  I should be a gambling person.

At 8 weeks, I was feeling the strain of becoming parents with a man I had known 3 months.  This wasn't planned but I'm good at working with what I have, accepting that it's not the situation but my interpretation of it that gives me control and empowerment. All of my insecurities about being drawn to an abusive relationship because it's what I'm accustomed to and my pride over being a single mom doing well on my own hit me in a defensive way.  We're still figuring things out and making heroic efforts for each other, but part of me is content with being a single mom to these twins because that is the cowardly and easy road for me.  I was a wife, entirely dependent on a husband and I had to figure out everything on my own, and giving up that control is painfully hard.

At 9 weeks my doctor went over some of the complications that could potentially come in serious depth.  I have had embolisms, but it's a genetic thing I was born with.  I have Factor Five Leiden.  It means my blood is great at clotting but not so great at stopping the formation of those clots.  My doctor was a bit puzzled because it's usually seen in caucasian and europeans but I look black.  (My black genes can be traced back to slave ship America and there is history in my bloodline.) I laughed and told her it just means I'm special.  It's been that kind of a pregnancy and luckily she seems to see this as a challenge but not one worth giving up on.  This chat has me sitting in the present as much as possible because it's possible the pregnancy will be all I have. I've been a surrogate 3 times, so again this is familiar.

At 10 weeks, maternity clothes are a must.  I was sitting down and a stranger asked how far along I am.  Two prune size babies and I have an obviously pregnant belly.  I am in between jobs and going on interviews, hoping I just look like I'm sporting a stress belly. Since it's a pretty large momma belly, I'm ready to announce it because it won't matter what I write here when I show up for an interview as a party of 3.

I have been in similar positions on this road so far, and some areas are new.  I didn't know that my liver would have to learn to function without a gallbladder and it would look like a breakup.  Painful and messy.  New lands in familiar places. I have had to give myself injections before to sustain a pregnancy and prevent blood clots, and I'm doing so again.  I will probably have siblings or parents visit in the hospital but when I get home I don't know if I will be on my own, caring for my older kids, and figuring out life with two infants. And gosh,  I get to find a car big enough to carry me and my 5 minor children.

I'm looking at the future and I can see the road that lies in my past.  I can see where I am strong.  I can feel where I need to grow and how I need to ask for support.  The road I'm on was created for me.  No one could compare my journey to theirs because this life was created for me.  I grow as it forces me to and no one else can do it for me.  No one else can encourage me through it.  They have their own lives to figure out.

Be your own cheering section.  This road called life is a life you were called to.  It's meant to help you grow and reach places others will marvel at.  It's not what we're given in life, but how we choose to grow from it that defines where we will one day land and the impact we'll have on the lives of others.

Why Dad Has to Look Great, Even Through Divorce

I might give more clarity than is appreciated by my ex on my blog, but not to our kids.  They don't read my blog.  They don't always want to do the reading for homework and Mom just blathers on. I don't lie to them but I defend their Dad to them all of the time.  They are free to express themselves in my home, so when they call him names, I'll remind them that he loves them as much as I do.  When they justify their opinions, I remind them that we can all be a bit selfish or lazy, but that doesn't mean we love anyone else any less. I remind them that having them do chores around the house prepares them for life alone and their Dad is doing the right thing by teaching them independence.  They help out when I need them to but I resented feeling like a slave to my parents, and will never ask my kids to do work I won't help them with. I might not like their Dad as a person and my life is so much happier without him but I admit, my kids have a good Dad. Why do I defend him? Because even in the ways Kid1 splays himself across my couch, he is in every way his father's child.  I love my sons.  Every part of their personalities is special to me.  There are even ways where I see their Dad or grandfather coming out and those are special.  I know them and I know where they come from and they're my kids.  I want them to feel safe talking about him to me, and they do. Because I defend him even when I don't want to.

We get our first sense of identity from our Dads. It's how we fit in his world that tells us we matter.

My relationship with my kids started in pregnancy.  I was talking to them before they had ears to hear me.  I had that bond or connection, and I still do.  The act of growing up means we are part of our mothers and spend a lifetime learning independence from her.  Even as an adult, I see the ways I follow what my mom did and the ways I try hard to distance myself from her.  I see it in my sense of style and the way I give my kids affection.

When a child is born, they still rely heavily on the parent they attach to, but the smell of mom can soothe a crying baby because that feels like home.  It's instinct.  When they get older, they start to look to the other parent, (in my case my Dad as well as my children's Dad) to see where they fit.

Mom is different from Dad. There's a sense of safety when a child gives mom a melt down.  Mom understands and will make it better so they can safely fall apart.

With Dad, there's a distance that holds a different sense of security and safety.  They will behave differently.  It's not just me.  Most seasoned moms will tell you their kids are different people, depending on who is around.

When it came to angry tempers and who was more capable of losing their shit, it was always me.  The pressure of keeping a clean house, behaved kids and his needs met was overwhelming.  My needs were neglected and it looked like anger.  I was scary.  Without fail, I could tell my kids to behave or I would call their Dad, who was usually more patient, and they would behave.  They listened to his authority without him needing to raise his voice.

Our home feels different now.  I have certain rules, but I allow flexibility.  I will ask them to shower after dinner, but I'm flexible with showers as long as they happen before they leave for school in the morning.  I will ask them to go to bed, but in bed with devices is okay as long as they're asleep before I am, and even if they aren't, they won't be punished for brains that won't slow down. I don't worry about what they wear to school as long as their bodies are comfortable and warm.  Much of this is very different from their Dad and most homes because as mom and head of my household, I can do it how I want to and giving my kids more control and authority over their bodies is important to me.

But I'm not Dad.

When my niece was younger, I asked her brothers to step in and be the man in her life.  I asked them to take her out and play basketball and spend time with her.  I let them know that if the men in her life don't give her a sense of value, she'll believe any boy that tells her he's the only one that cares about her and that will groom her into his victim.

My Dad has always been part of my life.  To this day, I see my Dad fairly often and we talk.  I've become more open with him than he probably appreciates at times.  Growing up, I still had Daddy issues to reconcile.  It was mainly that he was present and my Dad, but he wasn't the person I imagined him to be.  He failed the rules I set for him in my head.

My Step-Dad was patient beyond measure.  He gave me rides, bought me things I wanted, was kind and patient.  I was terrible to him.  I called him "Penis" and sometimes to his face.  I treated him like the name Step-Dad meant I was to step on him.  It was years of patience and I couldn't see him as a decent man until 5 years into his marriage to my mom.  Now I'm so blessed to have him in our lives.  He's been a terrific grandfather to my kids.  He spoils them.  He loves and cares for them, and he looks out for me.  Step-Dads are really special and mine is a great Dad.

I'm lucky to know my brother in law as a great Dad to my nephews.  They live separately from me, so I don't know all that happens as they parent, but I've seen him guide my nephews in a way that they are respectful, responsible, and caring.  Of course, my sister had a great deal to do with that too (because my family is filled with badass warrior dragon slayer women), but I'm not writing about moms.   He has been present and involved in their lives.  He has given structure and discipline as well as encouragement.  He has put being their Dad above being a person in the ways where selflessness has been more common than selfishness.  That's a great Dad.

There's a holiday schedule for my kids.  Easter is coming and I get the Saturday before Easter and their Dad gets Easter Sunday.  We used to visit his family and I wanted the kids to keep that tradition and enjoy a quiet day with them where they don't have to house hop and we can just enjoy each other privately.  For Christmas I get Christmas Eve.  My mom started having celebrations on Christmas Eve so we could spend Christmas Day with our spouse's families.  Without a spouse I was planning a hike alone but a friend invited me to share their Christmas meal.  I sat at the table and watched a Dad hold a baby so his wife could eat her meal.  I watched him connect with his children and guide them with love.  He knew the needs of his children as well as his wife did.  I was so blessed that night by being able to watch a man be a great Dad to his children in supporting his wife.

I remember taking a picture of the mess Kid3 made in my hair when he wanted to brush and style it for me.  It was fun for him but it reminded me of all of my bad hair choices as a child.  I cringed.  I couldn't go out like that.  The smile on his face made it a moment worth remembering through the selfie I snapped.  Yesterday a facebook post almost moved me to tears.  A friend posted a picture of her husband with their girls.  He was proudly wearing the polo shirt and tie his daughter picked out to go out and spend time with his daughters and a niece.  That is a great Dad.

It seems to be an anthem among single moms that there are no good Dads out there, but that's not true.  There are many amazing Dads out there and it comes down to a choice to be that person.  Just like moms, it's a moment to moment choice. Sometimes we shine with patience, love, care and understanding.  Sometimes we fail miserably and hurt the children we love with impatience, anger and selfishness.  The great ones never quit and learn with the kids coaching them to greatness.

Entering the Pro Choice or Pro Life Debate

I'm pro choice.  I always have been.  I have had one of those in the trenches motherhoods that taught me not everyone is cut out to be a parent and it's not a decision that should ever be forced on anyone. When I was a teenager, my mom gave me a book on Christian abstinence, but also made sure I got birth control if I needed it at the doctor.  I had boyfriends, and I didn't always practice abstinence.  I had tried every temporary form of birth control available before I finished high school. With the amount of time I spent peeing on a stick, it's miraculous that none of those tests were positive until Kid1, 8 years after losing my virginity and after getting married.

I think back to the possible fathers in my expression of experimental irresponsibility and I'm grateful that I never had to face a pregnancy with the boys that were all ephemeral ideals of lust with hope for love. It was usually infatuation.  I liked the boys that liked me back, and it's only in my late 30's that I realize how much better it feels to be selective and picky.

When I imagine what life would have been as a teenaged mother . . . In a relationship that was built on teenage hormones . . . During a time when I was unable to take care of myself. . . A pregnancy created out of irresponsibility is what I escaped and  I'm so grateful I never had to choose when I was unable to make a decision from a place of empowerment. In my youth I was never put in a position to have to choose.  That only came once I was married.

I never had anyone force their decision for my fertility on me. The parts considered private have always been under my control. I couldn't imagine the way I would feel about a pregnancy resulting from incest or rape.  Still, we have politicians trying to use "Beauty from Ashes" as a natural consequence disguised as a euphemism to help stomach the idea of being brutalized and further victimized by legislation enforced by men who will never experience the consequences of their control. Thank you George Faught.

It's not just a financial decision.  It's emotional.  It's religious and ethical.  It becomes physical and affects families.  No one person's ideals should force itself on people they will never meet.

I would want the women I love to be able to choose when or how she has a child.  I would want her to feel safe and protected in making choices for her body.  I say this but as for me and my body, I'm pro life.

When I was pregnant with Kid3, I felt extremely lonely.  My poor OB doctor stood uncomfortably as I sobbed and contemplated a late term abortion over several appointments.  Late at night I would sit on the floor next to my sleeping husband and cry.  My son would kick and remind me of how much he wanted to live, and so he did.  My reward has been his light and love and hope.  He has inspired me and encouraged me with his sweet smile and the way his tiny arms would wrap around me for a hug, patting my shoulder with his tiny hand.  I made the decision then, that any child trying to fight for life within me, would have every opportunity I could offer.

The test of your belief is how firmly you stand on your word as difficulties and finances assert their authority over you. When you say you believe in life, do you put your money where your mouth is? Do you pass judgement from the high tower of the distance you keep from your own life? If you found a young mother in need, would you try to support her with a kind word, or anything she might need?

A pregnancy for me would involve daily injections of blood thinners and be high risk.  I know this. My last pregnancy delivered prematurely.  I'm 39 this year.  The risk of birth defects jumps with that 50% fertility drop once a woman hits 40.  My youngest is 10 and I have long gotten rid of all baby gear and maternity clothes.  I would need a bigger car for my minor children.  All of this said, my personal stance is pro life.  A child trying to stick to my womb deserves every chance I could offer it, but the point is, it's a choice I would make, no matter the cost.

A woman should have the option to do as she chooses with her body.

You Deserve Your Interpretation of Your Own Life

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Thank you Diego Perez

What is this concept about?

This nugget is golden and I want to carefully unpack it. We're conditioned to feel we deserve something.  It starts as soon as we're old enough to choose our behavior.  We're told we need to earn play time, or a desired toy or activity.  We're told in love we deserve better treatment.  We deserve the love we've been offering for ourselves.  We deserve to be treated the way we've treated someone else, even if that means we're acting like deplorable human beings and it's what we deserve because of it. I'm arguing that we're not victims to the life we get to live.

What does it mean to deserve something?

Dictionary.com will tell you that the word deserve originates in Middle English.  Actually, I just told you, but feel free to fact check me.  I'm not talking Tolkien's middle, but more Chaucer.  It's English that doesn't sound like English because that's how old it is.  It's English that still blends other languages into it. It's a really old concept that says what you get in life is determined by what you have done to earn it.  You have to find a way to qualify or have a claim because of something you have done.  This means that you are given what you earned, and it takes the accountability of your choice away from you.  Deserving something is still part of who I am but I'm working on that.  Right now I love Meghan Trainor's new album and one of my favorite songs is all about announcing, "I deserve better."

People will always try to tell you who they think you are.  You don't have to believe what they say.  I recommend rejecting what doesn't come from your own intuition, including this suggestion.

Deserving love

When I tell you that I want to love unconditionally, and I spell it out here and detail it in my posts about mothering, it's because love is a gift and shouldn't cost the person we give it to.  I don't barter my love for affection or attention.  When I give my love it's free.  I give it no matter what I'm getting in return because I see value and have a desire to build and call out what I see until it is greater than it was.

Deserving mistreatment

Internal dialogues can be insidious.  Sometimes guilt can weigh on us and make a bad day look like something we've earned.  That perception takes away our choice and when choice is stripped, we lose control of our reactions.  It becomes cyclical and repeats.  We teach our reactions and adaptability to our children and they thrive or falter because of what we show them.

Deserving our lot in life.

When my kids were first diagnosed with autism I started to really question what we deserved.  Did I deserve what they have to deal with (I'm not always proud of my thoughts, and this was one of those moments)? Did they deserve what they had to go through? People with platitudes would suggest that God only gives special kids to special parents.  I call bull on that one.  All special needs parents are just like other parents.  Sometimes we do really well with adapting.  Other times we don't.  It's a choice and my choice is one I can stand by on most days.  The choice is to be better to my kids than I want to be.  It's not about deserving something.  It's about deciding it doesn't matter why this is in our family. It's about deciding how I can help my kids navigate our world.  I didn't get lost in what I expected and my perspective shifted.  It was a good shift.

Reactions and Interpretation

We're all in charge of our reactions and interpretation, but so often people are ruled by stress over what they wanted to happen and disappointment controls our ability to move forward.  Stress isn't even quantifiable.  It's real, but it's manufactured by us to torture us into stagnation.  People are always feeling major and minor effects of the stress they feel, but stress is entirely a choice you don't have to choose if you shift your interpretation and redirect your reaction.

When we live in the past, time drags on and we can't see what is right now or ahead of us. When we live in the future, there isn't enough time. There is too much to get done and again, we lose the gift that is the present.

When my husband of 15 years quit on me, I didn't react well.  It was bad.  It was ugly.  I was a living and breathing open wound, bleeding everywhere.  It was hard to live through and hard for others to watch.  A year and some months later I haven't jumped into a relationship but I have enjoyed a couple of crushes that reminded me how awesome infatuation could be.  They showed me what a really great guy might look like. They reminded me of the fun of seeing only the good in a person, ignoring the bad and glossing over the rest. My latest crush deciding to take himself out of our equation could have been devastating.  It wasn't.  It was fun.  It was exciting.  I needed to see what he showed me and hopefully he needed to experience what I offered.  There's still friendship.  I'm getting in touch with my geeky side that is entirely awkward and clumsy when it comes to him lately, but I'm enjoying that for what I've chosen to make it.

I didn't deserve to get dumped.  And I was, by everyone's standards.  Twice.

I get to be an autism mom. I got to be a stay at home mom.  Now I get to work at a job I love doing.

I got to be married for 15 contented years where I loved and was loved for the majority of it.  Now I get to fall in love again, and as many times as I'm comfortable with.  I got to sleep next to someone and care about his needs, and now I get to put my needs first, and look at all of the pretty men I see, without worrying about my actions hurting someone else.  (I have a special appreciation for watching men run.  It's beauty.  It's inspiration.  It's a public service and I'm so happy when I see a man in full stride.  It's my bliss at times and I have no shame about it. It's right up there with Crossfit and entirely yummy.) I got to love deeply.

I get to restructure my priorities.  I get to really connect to what brings my life meaning and it's a beautiful life I get to lead.  I get to do epic shit on a daily basis.

I get to be reminded that I really am beautiful by the many men that have tried to entertain me, and I get to pass on them because I get to choose who I want to spend my free time with.  And lately it's me, and people that don't want sex from me.

Nice, right?

There's a cost to the life we get to lead and it's not the price set by someone else's standards.

Deep End Love

I'm excited that I get to fall in love again.  I'm not saying I'm there or it's happening as you read these words.  Maybe I'm just not saying.  Maybe you are overthinking my love life. Love comes with variables and accepting the ideals of romantic love means you are willing to accept what you cannot control.  You are willing to take a risk because something may be worth doing in spite of the fear that grips you.  Really, I love lots of things and lots of people.  If I love everything, I can allow that love to flow freely through me and it's not being poured into an abyss that will dissolve love into memories that are ephemeral visions without depth or meaning once my love object morphs into someone I don't recognize or my tastes and desires shift because they will. I'm in this moment, loving each moment for what it is, without adding the weight of possibility and plans because I'm not there yet.  I want something strong that has teeth and those teeth better mark me, or it won't be worth that first bite. I want right now because I'm not living in the past or the future. What I'm finally writing about is the big scary idea of falling madly and deeply in love.  It's big and scary because it's a topic I've been avoiding but my latest muse has my mind turning things over in the way a muse is supposed to inspire deeper thought. Half the time my muse has no clue because I don't share every thought I have, but it's often written all over my face. At least I keep hearing that from those willing to pay attention. It finally seems like something I can look forward to because the dread I felt was washed away when I removed the bandages and discovered I didn't only heal in the last year, but there was growth, and it's not the gangrenous type.

I couldn't honestly say how many times I've fallen in love.  I've lost track.  I think my first love was a blonde football player.  That was obsessive and  really scary.  I was scary.  Fast forward through many others and the last true love experience was with the man I married.  These feelings are almost instinct and familiar and  I don't have to assume every guy I imagine playing with is the one I want to settle down with.  I have talked about wedding bells seriously with 3 men and even received tokens of promise before I actually exchanged rings and vows.  Falling out of love and releasing the future you planned is a process and I'm familiar with each step.  I can embrace them.

I love the feeling of falling in love.  I don't even mean that silly infatuation stage that makes my inner whore want to dance and play and learn every single detail about the man I am so happy to talk to and be around.  I mean deep, resounding love that makes you want to plan for a future together because you can't remember the last time you cared so much about someone. Their desires and needs are important to you because somehow their happiness makes you happy and selfishness doesn't occur to you first where this person is concerned. I fully embrace the idea of being the only one falling in love because as terrifying and risky as that is, the reward is always greater than being closed off.

The big scary part of love is the part where you trust someone else with your fragile parts.  You know how delicate your feelings are and you have to trust that someone else will care as much as you do.  You hope that you are handled carefully and with compassion.  You want to be safe because you know that you are choosing to fall and you want to believe they understand this concept because they are doing the same thing with you.  You aren't jumping or aiming but falling freely and only holding out hope that you will be caught because there are no guarantees in love.

You choose to take a risk. You choose to love. If you're already infatuated it's easy. That heart is already racing at the thought of this person.  Random things will constantly remind you of their smile or something they said. If those initial feelings have faded into the realities of compromise it can be harder. But you choose and feelings follow. You make a decision and that choice helps you follow through.  That's how couples grow old together.  They make a choice on a daily basis. They don't see a life together as being victimized and bound.  It's a choice and there is freedom in it.

It's not love that hurts us.  It's not love that leaves an empty ache that makes breathing painful and silence agony.  Love doesn't make you question who you are.  Love fills you so much that in its absence you feel the ways you were supported and the pain of its loss is what drives so many to protect themselves so carefully.

There is something so beautiful about a woman in love.  When a woman loves and is loved back, she walks with confidence and grace.  Smiles are genuine and given freely.  Laughter comes easily and stress is manageable.  She is attractive and others are drawn to her because they can sense how loved she feels.  She gives what she's received.  I've had the pleasure of really feeling love for myself in the last few months.  I love being able to put myself first.  It feels like freedom.

The love I felt as a Mom was instant.  The moment I knew there was a life separate from mine thriving inside of me, my hand was constantly on my belly, touching my now 14 year old son.  The love was immediate and overwhelming.  I started planning a future and daydreaming our existence together.  I had adjustments.  It was a long time before I was completely at peace with the idea of a parasite leeching off of me and the fact that I was growing a penis was mind blowing for a bit.  But the love was there.  My maturity is subjective. My motherhood looks like choosing to do what is best for my sons.  I want to do what is right, even if it's not the easy thing to do.  This looks like hovering, giving space, fighting for, with and against them, and trying my best every single day to be the mom they deserve, and not the mom I want to be. It means I can't disappear.

Even as a surrogate mother, I was in love with the children I carried. I still love all four of them. I never distanced myself so far emotionally that it was a paycheck or that these children were not mine. Those babies are all in my heart.  I was able to find peace in never seeing them again in the love I have for their parents.  I have so much faith in the women that shared my journey, that I have enough love to let them go and believe they are happy and healthy and loved beyond anything simple words could ever express.  My love was in my release and the faith I have in them to care for their children in the many ways they cared for me. My love is in letting go because that is what is best for the families that I will always love.

In the transitional training I experienced a couple of weeks ago, I was able to fully examine what it must have been like for my mom to find out she was having me.  She was a teenage mom.  She came to the States from Thailand and left her entire family without knowing the culture or language during a time when interracial marriages were shunned in local churches.  The eldest was 10 and the one closest to me had been the baby for 7 years.  My mom was past diapers and chasing toddlers.  During her pregnancy with me, she experienced varicose veins and thyroid issues that my sisters didn't introduce her to.  She opted for sterilization with my birth, but this was 1978 and the doctor wouldn't do it without my Dad's consent.  In all of the bitterness and rage that flowed through me at what I did to her, I never once felt that from my mom. I've only felt unconditional love and experienced what it looks like when you know without a doubt that the person loving you only wants what is best for you. To this day she will sacrifice her needs for mine and I'm a grown ass woman.

I love my sisters.  Growing up there was a large enough gap that I couldn't get in trouble with them.  I was telling on them because of what I saw them do with the boys they brought around.  Later they were telling on me.  When I was younger, they had moments of trying to be the sisters I needed them to be but I was too selfish to appreciate it.  One sister would pick me up for lunch during junior high and we'd sit and chat and she always made me feel so great when I went back to class with a doggy bag full of yum.  Another took me to a house party where she threatened me not to take anything.  It was years before I realized she meant drugs.  Eventually I was acting out in terrifying ways and they stepped in as mother hens, pecking and guiding me in ways I rebelled against.  As a wife, and later a mom, we found a place where our commonalities no longer throw us into a system of dominance, but allow space for connection.  They still have moments where I feel they are shocked at the things I say and do but the overall feeling is that we are so blessed to have each other.  We will defend and guide each other.  We want what is best for each other and that looks like happiness.  Even if we have to tell each other how we think they should do it.

Romantic love is so often written and sung about because we're all excited and confused about it all.  The hard reality of a love that I let consume me is that it often means I'm so happy with what it feels like that I'm willing to accept the bad and even the abusive. With all the bad, it's still a risk I am willing and happy to take.  There is freedom in letting go.  There is joy in the unexpected.  There is love and it's everywhere and I get to pour what I have into someone else and that ability to give love, whether or not I receive it in return is where my joy is because I have learned how to love myself first.  I don't need to be filled and fixed but there is freedom and peace in what I can give.

I'm excited that I get to fall in love again.

Single Mom to Boys

Waking up to a full house with small fry snuggles and the pop of a toy gun means I stumble out of bed with sore muscles from too much walking to amuse ourselves and prepare to short order cook through breakfast.  Country fried potatoes, with ham, with no ham, and less ham, Mom.  One wants eggs, the other says no, the third thinks I'm crazy for asking what I should remember.  French toast and syrup but why are there eggs? No, not that, anything but French toast with eggs in it. My child is antsy and skates through the house.  My care is still in bed and I mumble about pads.  He throws an empty beer can down the steps into the back yard and I tell him to go put it where it belongs.  I didn't mention he should take off the skates because I thought self-preservation would tell him for me.  He descends and toward the bottom he falls and he's landed on his stomach, crying but not moving as I'm covered in soapy suds.  Water is turned off and my hands are wiped on my sleep shirt as I run to his side unconcerned about how exposed I might be or the neighbor that said he wants to see what I'm showing.  I help him up and get the skates off but force him to walk up the steps as much as he can.  I need to see if he is physically able or if a broken bone won't allow such movement because it's a knee that was injured and scraped and brings tears.

In the kitchen he's passed my test and I reach down and lift him and cradle him to my chest.  The mom that claims no upper body strength . . . The woman that is too old to carry her 9 year old.  I carry him to the couch and set the pillows up to elevate the source of his pain, and head to the kitchen for a bag of frozen corn because sensory integration dysfunction is what we've called the destruction of all of the gel ice packs I no longer buy.  "Mom, I'm thirsty and hungry."  He didn't want my short ordered breakfast but he wants food and he wants me to get it because Mom's attention makes the pain go away.   He settles on leftover tri-tip for breakfast and I hope this morning isn't counted in the Mom of the year award nominations.  

I'm running around to pick up dishes and laundry and scrub around the toilet where aim was more like point and shoot and adjust pillows and refill drinks and sit long enough to be noticed and asked for a snack and then get rewarded in hugs and exposed cheeks that I cover in kisses.

I want to go to Mom's house for food and love and it's a day where I need my Mommy.  The kids are entertained by technology and have no interest in going.  "We'll only be there a little while." And I get a sulk and sadness and dejection.  I remember it's his holiday too and he's old enough to be home alone.  I leave him for a short run and we head to grandma's house long enough to show off my latest tattoo and tell the family I finally shot back at the ex who hates me and wishes me dead.  I'm growing in ways they can applaud and I'm given hugs and healing.

We're home and they're hungry because they couldn't possibly eat from the table loaded with fresh fruits, vegetables, barbecue ribs, chicken and thai foods at Grandma's house.  That would be too easy.  I'm home and step into the slow progression of my knife chopping through pounds of spuds for homemade mashed potatoes and the dredging of cubed steaks in flour and buttermilk and flour again, careful that they don't see it's gluten free for me, or they might not eat it.  I use too much sausage in my country gravy and know at least half of it will end up in the trash because Kid1 doesn't like gravy. Kid3 wants to watch the neighbors with their fireworks while I'm frying up dinner and I say no.  He screams and cries and slams doors and hides underneath bunk beds.  And I say no.  He rallies and reasons and screams in fits and I start singing just as loudly Cosette, then Eponine's lines in a Heart Full of Love, because performance holds the rage that is simmering because I've had enough.  The song ends and I offer another no, but he thinks his rage might win me over because he can't see past the calm I force.  He says no, and I remind him of the videos on Instagram that prove he doesn't know how close is too close to fire and that he didn't see the wisdom in taking off his skates before descending a flight of stairs.  He goes off to cry and I know I've hurt his feelings.  I care.

I give it time for him to cry and for myself to calm the rage before I find and apologize to him.  He rages through his hurt and blame, and I accept that he needs to explain his feelings.  Kid2 comes in to tell me how much he hates summer school and that I am a horrible parent for making him go to boring summer school because he hates learning and exercise and I ask him to leave the room so that I can cry.  I know this trick is dirty, but I needed the moment to not be yelled at.  I fake a cry that is a slow whimper of defeat while I watch animal videos on Facebook and try not to laugh and Kid3 climbs out from under the bed to wrap his little arms around me.  I open my arms and shield my tear free face from him and hold and kiss him and he apologizes for the anger he gave me.

Morning comes and Kid2 reminds me he doesn't want to go to summer school. He stomps and slams doors and yells that he doesn't want to go and I know I can't have a day where I have to go to the school and calm him down, so he is allowed to go to Grandma's house and Kid1 flips me off because he wants me to be a firm parent with Kid2.  A couple of hours later he's asking for minutes to be added to his phone and I give them to him because I had already offered the day before.

It's Wednesday.  I'm grateful for work and grateful that it's Dad's turn.  I'm aware of the guilt I have.  The guilt that they have to house hop when they don't like it.  Guilt that they have two houses of not enough because two houses are struggling on a single income and they are stuck in the middle.  I know the rage I quiet when facing the ocean and watching a sunset and feel I am their ocean and the abyss needs to house their rage in a safe place.

Amusement Parks

Every summer when I was a kid was spent at amusement parks.  We went to Six Flags Magic Mountain the most and Knott's Berry Farm came in second.  There's sweet nostalgia in the biting smell of chlorinated water, the burn of heated oil frying funnel cakes, and the clank and roar of a roller coaster loaded with excitement. We would go in groups and make sure we were able to ride together, asking strangers to ride ahead of us. We were in large groups, playing hothands or slide in line as we would laugh and gossip and talk about cute boys.  Sometimes we would split off to ride different rides, and meet up for lunch at a designated spot and time.  It was an endless day of rides, plotting our day in a progression across the park, acre by acre, ride by ride, greasy treat followed by too much sugar.  And water rides.  The water rides were a morning, noon and night treat because in the morning and at night the lines were short, and at midday, we talked and got sunburns and didn't mind waiting two hours for a ride that lasted less than five minutes.

"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed." - Carl Jung

img_0532I was given about $40 and I had to really consider if food was more important than an airbrushed shirt.  All day in line with a cute boy and hand holding was different from back in the real world where we had friends that watched closer and had opinions.  I still remember a ride on Free Fall at Magic Mountain with a cute boy holding my hand and giving it a squeeze right when we dropped and for the first time really yelling on a ride because I generally smile and enjoy the drops and turns. He was flipping his baseball cap on and off his head with the visor and his hair was slicked back like a helmet. His name was Manny.  He changed the experience that day. 

"She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world."—Kate Chopin, "The Awakening"

Yesterday I took kid3 to Knott's Berry Farm.  His older brothers were at Anime Expo with their Dad so we had a mother and son date weekend. Age has done some wicked things to my body and things feel different.  They look different.  There was a determination to make the day one where my son could just be a kid.  It happened on our way into the park when I was telling him that my last trip was before I had kids when I went with my Dad.  Knott's honors our Veterans with free admission around Veteran's Day.  My son wanted to go then so it wouldn't cost me.  It was then that I realized he was so concerned about having enough that I wasn't allowing him to be a child.  He was worried about money. Before we set foot inside the park, I looked him in the eye and said the only thing he needed to worry about is how much fun he could have, and keeping me from puking.  He kept having moments of making a request, and then covering it up by saying he was just kidding.  I spent the day telling him that his thoughts, opinions and desires are important, and he doesn't have to be kidding, but any requests that had to be denied came with a reason that even he could validate.  If at anytime he had to go to the bathroom, was hungry or thirsty or wanted to see or do something, it was up to him.  There were limits, such as climbing on railings, but I wanted to stress how important his childlike innocence is to me.  Figuring out being a single mom is stressful and I didn't see until that moment how much it was weighing on him as well.

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"I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become." - Carl Jung

My stomach was different when I was younger.  It was stronger.  I was able to ride anything and shake it off to ride the next big coaster by the time we got through the long line. I loved the loops and riding backward. Now I don't.  Now the loops and spirals make me want to vomit.  Don't get me wrong, I've never been able to stomach a Merry-Go-Round.  I get dizzy.  But rides that twist and spin tend to make me want to vomit now so I avoid most rides that are not wooden coasters.

"Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people." -Carl  Jung

There were many rides where I stood in line with my son and waited with him, only to step through and wait for him to ride alone.  Or I asked if others would ride with him.  It wouldn't have been fun for either of us if I got sick and we had to sit the whole day.  I know my limits. Mind you, only a few weeks ago, I got car sick in someone else's car.  (It might have just been a bad date and a reaction to him.) Wooden roller coasters are made for steep climbs and tremendous drops.  I love the weave back and forth. While Ghostrider made me burp like it was a Beerfest, I didn't want to hurl.  I was smiling throughout the ride.

At one point there was a family behind us complaining about the long wait. My child started to grumble.  I pulled my son into a hug and told him the long wait wouldn't get any shorter if we started complaining and it just means more time to hang out and give him my full attention. Then we started tickling each other. 

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." - Carl Jung

My son loves terrifying rides.  He feels fear and excitement and will talk about being afraid, but he's also very determined to ride in spite of his fear.  This is bravery and I am so proud of him.  At one point his determination made a grown woman suck it up and go on a ride she almost backed out of. 

Throughout the day, I was declining rides because of a fear of being sick.  It's a solid concern considering how consistently I get sick, but still, I kept chickening out.  The times I did get on rides, I laughed and screamed in joyful exhilaration while my son rode next to me with terror etched in his 9 year old features.  At the end of the ride, he was happy and excited and wanted to ride again while I was happy during the ride, and sick afterward.  I'm not sure what it means yet, but it means something, right?

"Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes." -Carl  Jung

Unringing the Bell

Sometimes it would be amazing to unhear or unsee something.  A chance at a do-over is the stuff of great novels and daydreams.  We all want to take something back and start over.  Sometimes it's impossible.  Sometimes you can use the point where it all fell apart as a launch pad for something new and deeper. The devastation I felt when my husband left me was traumatic but there is value in it.  I have learned so much about myself and I have found true joy in who I am.  There was a cost but I didn't expect the payout to touch so many various areas of my life in such a ginormous and beautiful way.

In 2012 I was hospitalized with my last surrogate pregnancy for about a month.  At 25 weeks gestation, a regular check up with the neonatologist showed that my cervix started funneling and the twins were trying to come out. Well, more like my body wanted to force an eviction. I've always been blessed with fairly easy pregnancies and contractions I couldn't feel until I was about ready to push. Why else would I be willing to be pregnant 6 times? I was planning a pedicure and Target trip that day but I was told to head straight to the emergency room. I couldn't stop at home for my laptop or Kindle or even extra panties.  I was in a hospital bed from week 25 until week 29 when they were born.  They eventually left the hospital and then the country.  During that time I was on complete and total bedrest, and allowed to take one 5-minute timed shower while sitting.  The rest of the time I was stuck having nurses give me bed baths, and I spent a week in the trendelenburg position.  This means my bed was tilted so I was laying upside down at a 45 degree angle to keep gravity from doing what is natural.  I will always feel like I could have done things a little differently to keep them in longer and give them a stronger start in life.  I can see most would imagine I did enough, but believing there is always more to do and that I could do a better job is just who I am. I deal with it.  You should too.

This time of being forced away from my family reset things for me.  It gave me a do over. I realized that motherhood was a gift I was squandering in superficial ideals of what I should do and what I should be while my kids suffered my short temper because I couldn't possibly do it all and be happy about it at the same time.  I came home and things changed.  I decided I would be the mother my children deserved, rather than the mother I wanted to be. I started putting their needs ahead of mine and the desire to whine about it settled into a version of peace for me.  I stopped feeling defeated because I felt what it was like to not be able to sleep with my kids near me and steal random hugs whenever I felt son sick and needed a refill.  I never imagined it as preparation for shared custody.  I saw it as patience when I needed it and compassion when they did.

In 2005, my oldest was 4 years old and nonverbal.  His pediatrician with too many letters behind her name told me he would talk when he was ready.  At the time I was a teacher's aide at an elementary school and had a friendship with a speech therapist.  She suggested I ask the school district for an assessment.  His assessment was the same day as his first IEP.  I took him for the appointment and the team asked me to come back in a few hours and bring the whole family.

A few hours later I was there with the ex and our two boys.  They psychologist played with our kids on the floor while the rest of the team explained what autism is and that it was in our home.  They explained the characteristics to us and I right away made the connection that they were describing everything Kid2 does as well.  From the floor, the psychologist told us that in her professional opinion, Kid2 was also on the spectrum and his characteristics were more severe than Kid1.  Kid2 was still 2 years old and an official diagnosis wouldn't come until later. Autism spectrum disorders can often look like normal toddler behavior and while it may seem like everyone has autism through some sort of connection, they really don't like to hand out labels unless they have to.

My emotions were swiftly all over the place.  Before I left that meeting, I had cycled through the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression) and I was at acceptance. Every thought and action for the next few years became, "But how do I help my boys?" I had to field the questions from family, making them feel better about what it was like for me to raise special needs kids because somehow the stigma affected them even though I was the one dealing with meltdowns and being a bad mother in the eyes of everyone around me.  It was a long time before I allowed myself to mourn the loss of expectations that were born with my kids and died in that meeting.  I would deny myself the freedom to revisit those stages and emotions because it wasn't productive.  I would instead go through a moment of sensory integration messes like poopy painting on the walls and floor and beg others to envy me in snark and frustration, not realizing that there really are women that would give anything for the work I faced in place of the grief they felt.

There are fewer expectations and more pleasant surprises. I was told my middle son would never even say, "Mom." I smile when he has long conversations about Nintendo or tells me how loved he feels.

My boys are still autistic.  That doesn't go away or fade into the background.  It's in our face with meltdowns from time to time. We do our part to make others autism aware, it just doesn't look like stickers and ribbons.  I'm usually good at knowing where their limits are but I constantly remind them that they need to communicate their needs.  I don't mind cutting a day short, but I mind knowing they pushed through a day of torture because they felt my needs were more important than theirs. I will always run the risk of a total melt down with violence if I try to change routines too drastically without plenty of warning and coaching along the way. The difference is they have learned ways to regulate how they feel and they have learned how they are expected to behave in society.  It's not a perfect formula but it's one we have all learned to work with.  At the same time, I am at peace with the idea that they prefer to be home at all times because it's a routine they can predict.  It's structure they crave and when they are calm, we all have peace.  That is until Kid3 has a meltdown. He doesn't understand he's not capable of competing with what his brothers have already done before he was born and the part of me he is poking with a stick has long since been broken and looks at him with pity and amusement.

Would I ever unring this bell?  Probably not.  Of course I'm Mom and would love to protect my children from every moment of suffering.  The reality is they are often blessedly oblivious to most social slights. I'm the one that sees more than I should and I may or may not have wanted to cut a kid because of it.

There are things about being a special needs mom I would never give up.  I'm an advocate.  I know how to fight for my kids.  I have.  I've won.  Fighting Like a Girl and Pulling Punches is all about what my kids have taught me. It has made me grow in patience and empathy.  I'm the person that won't judge the mom with the crying child in a grocery store because I know that child is probably hungry, tired, uncomfortable and bored. I know that parent has been doing all they can think of to do for their children while doing what they need to do in order to take care of themselves and be the parents they want to be.  We all try to do what we think is best for our kids.   Being an autism mom has made me an optimist.  I will always look out for the best in a bad situation and find the silver lining because that is a necessity in the life we get to live.  We have to stay positive because it's not just our joy on the line, but that of the children we are blessed with.  Their peace and sense of self comes from me.  I'm responsible for the inner voice that I've helped shape from their infancy. I'm responsible for their ability to navigate the world outside of our home and the thickness of skin that protects them from discrimination and aggression.

As for Kid1, he has the ability to see the world with a fresh perspective that takes each part separately and examines it carefully before putting it all back together.  He has a gift for art that is detailed because one of his superpower characteristics is to fixate on one thing to the point of mastery.  He amazes me with how he sees things and the specific diction with which he describes things.  One of his loves is my mashed potatoes.  He's always called them "smashed potatoes" because that is what I'm doing when I make them.  (Not much in my kitchen came out of a box until recent months.)

Kid2 is completely guileless.  While he would love to lie, he's often incapable of it. He has an open appreciation for affection.  He understands the value of a great big hug and snuggles that hold you up and together. He loves video games and will research and obsess over them. He's passionate.  He will have moments of joy and laughter and moments of rage.  The only times he is apathetic is when he is experiencing a sensory overload and needs to reset with hugs, and a calming routine. Or when he's being affectionate.

I've heard some lines about special needs parents being chosen.  I call BS on that.  The learning curve has been sharp for all of us, and we haven't quit or died trying, so we're doing okay.  But we're far from the saintly.  We know how to live on call every moment and know that an emergency is seconds away at any given time.  We've been judged for our parenting and had our instincts go against professional opinions and we've been right. Given true respite where someone we trust has our kids, we can let loose and party harder than the average parent.  We know how to accept a break when it's offered and we trust the person that has our kids.  At the same time, not everyone is trusted with our kids.  We're not magical or unicorns, but we learn to choose our battles and let the small stuff slide.  The big stuff will be a bigger battle than you could imagine trying to bargain for.

Right now this first draft is being written with 9 year old Kid3 having a tantrum because I won't allow him to eat Funyuns in my bed.  It's been about an hour of crying, throwing things and slamming doors.  It's part of his fallout when transitions between houses gets to him.  I'm at peace and ignoring him, except when he calms himself enough to talk clearly.  I respond calmly and talk to him at his level while speaking slightly lower than he does until he has begun to calm his voice.  I wouldn't unring this bell.

Mother of My Othered

When individuals or groups make connections based on setting aside a group as intrinsically different, we've othered them and the cost is being paid in shootings and suicides that we are forced to compensate with loss and cultural anomie. We have done this based on race, sexual orientation, gender, disability and any other thing that could make one person believe they deserve more than the person next to them.  I do my best to keep an open mind and love each person because they are a person and that is enough.  I can't think of a group I'd discriminate against except maybe rapists . . . the irony sounds like, "they were asking for it." (And yet I will objectify random men with errant fantasies because I can.  Don't ask me to justify it.  I can't.  I won't.)

About six weeks ago my middle (autistic) son had a meltdown.  Meltdowns happen, but this one was bad and there wasn't much peace I could offer him.  I'll drop it on you, but you might need a minute afterward.  I did.

He was having a hard time with math and decided he would never be able to get a job to support himself.  It occurred to him that one day his parents would die and there would be no one to take care of him.

At 13, my child has absorbed the idea that he is disabled and can't take care of himself.  It is right in front of him and all around him.  He is sensitive and sweet but he's also aware of what others say and has no way to protect himself from the fears of what could be because tomorrow is uncertain and he is aware that he is different.  He knows that he's been othered by strangers and loved ones alike.  He has violent moments and I really don't have to wonder why.

Wow.  Right?! This is the main reason why my goal is to be a financial powerhouse and set up a trust account where they can eventually live comfortably off of the interest.  Or I just need to set up an amazing life insurance policy.

A couple of months ago my oldest (autistic son) admitted he's not as exciting as another kid.  His Dad's current relationship has built in play dates and these kids are full of what makes a cool kid envied.  Kid1's shoulders slumped a bit, and his deepening teenage voice lowered in shame as he admitted he isn't into sports or breakdancing.  (Kid3 is and they get along fine.) My response was typical of me.

"Has it occurred to you that he might be the boring one that wouldn't have a clue where to geek out if he was thrown in with your friends, and that your friends would probably welcome him before his friends welcomed you?  That makes you the exciting one to me."

Growing up, I was a loner by nature, but that didn't stop me from joining drill team . . . running for office in the student body (and winning that popularity contest) . . .  dancing on stage as well as the steps of City Hall . . .  singing a Les Mis solo in high school and later having a nipple slip while in costume for a Moliere play On the same stage . . .  learning to take down a really tall blonde god in karate . . . squatting for a bump in volleyball  . . .  learning to ollie off of a curb on a fat skateboard . . . swimming on a team each summer . . . or half of the other non-structured ways I played that my kids don't. I did these things, but valued my alone time to be stuck in my head.  I was an emo kid before there was a name for it.

I don't get all of the things my boys love.  It's not for me to learn. What they love has nothing to do with how I love them. Their superpowers are in technology and it looks like anime and gaming.  Kid1's talent is in his artwork that I will frame and hang around the house.  Child’s Play and Raising Gamers is a whole post on this.  Go on, read it.  This will be here when you hit your back button.

My kid brother studied marketing and has a clothing line.  I'm not part of his demographic and even if he offered it, I'm not made to wear his clothes.  I'm a Mom.  By some accounts on various dating sites, I'm beautiful with a great body and an amazing smile.  You don't get the vapid selfie moments that are all over my Facebook and Instagram, so I have to give you their word for it. My point is that my brother is looking for girls that wear their Daddy issues in the skin they expose.  These girls go out in mini skirts that give the illusion that they are in fact weather proof.  I used to be that girl.  Now I get cold and I'm not her.  He's looking for the up and coming young men that need to prove their virility and success most nights in clubs and bars all over the southland and Vegas.  I am not made to wear my brother's clothing line but I'm so proud of him. He can doctor up my resume any day.  (Then I'll edit out the lies.)

When I watched Man of Steel with my boys, there was a scene where young Clark Kent hid in a closet.  He was having a sensory meltdown. He could see and feel and hear too much and it was hard to just be.  He was going through everything an autistic person feels from time to time.  I pointed out to my kids that Superman can see and feel things that we just don't.  We would never call him disabled, and since autism offers those same super powers to a lesser degree, they are not disabled.  They are my super heroes. They gave me smirks of disbelief but I stand by this.

I plan to watch Finding Dory because I hear great things about Ellen Degeneres's portrayal of an othered child in the way she is constantly apologizing for who she is and feeling that she is not enough. Really, it was just this post on the Mighty.  I plan to watch it alone because I tend to ruin movies for people that want to be entertained because I can't shut that part of my brain off.  (I saw Superman vs. Batman with my Dad last and I don't think he's looked at me the same since I shared my thoughts on it.)

There is a flow of ideals that filter from well meaning people to my sons who can't ignore what they hear.  There is a struggle to show them that it's okay to be who they are and being themselves is perfection. I try to fill them with how amazing they are every chance I get.  It looks like more concern for them than broken things that I've had longer than they've been alive and it smells like stinky hugs from boys who don't enjoy wearing deodorant (might be a teenage boy thing).

Showing them it's okay to be in their skin means when Kid2 starts chewing his shirt because he needs the oral stimulation, I don't make him feel bad about a destroyed shirt.  It's a shirt that will be replaced, but his self worth is only what we build it to be.  They don't make eye contact often because according to Kid2, he gets easily distracted.  I once heard an interview given by an autistic girl. She said that faces have too many areas to focus on and it's hard to pick one thing, so she looked away instead.  My kids are okay with eye contact sometimes but other times it's too much to ask.  They will often be destructive.  Paper gets chewed into giant spitball wads. Couch cushions get stabbed with pens and scissors.   Even beloved toys get destroyed.  I have an ammonite that is broken in half.  My kid destroyed a fossil when nature couldn't. I don't get angry anymore.  It just means a need for a fidget was huge and the broken item filled a need.  One day my house may look like a museum but it won't feel like home.

Kid1 gets angry with my more destructive Kid2.  There's an ongoing boundary issue. I've had to learn the difference between a melt down and a tantrum.  A tantrum is intentional.  A melt down can not be controlled and it happens when I've failed as a mom to see when they were reaching their tipping point.  Kid2 punching grandma was a tantrum.  I know this because he would have never punched me.  When anger looks like aggression it usually means they have reached a limit of their needs and wants being put aside or ignored.  It means there is too much noise or they are over stimulated.  Or the teasing needed to be stopped sooner. (They can go from playful to murderous intent fairly quickly and I don't encourage horseplay.) Something needed to be adjusted for them and they can no longer soothe themselves and it looks like a tantrum or they are being loud or they need to lay in bed in sweltering heat under a blanket because they need to reset themselves and stimming movements are not helping anymore. A blanket fort is also a good place to hide the anime porn.

At the end of the day, accepting who they are means I have to meet them where they stand.  It started with my not forcing them to hug people.  If I tell them they can't control their bodies and must give an adult a hug, I have just invalidated their gut instincts that may be saying to stay away.

Forcing them to give affection (in a really extreme set of glasses) can look like grooming them to be victims of abuse.  Hug this person that makes you uncomfortable because making me look like you are affectionate and well adjusted means more than what you feel.  While you're at it, keep quiet and respectful because this is an adult, and their thoughts and feelings mean more than yours.

I don't force haircuts anymore.  It's their hair and I won't touch it as long as they brush through the tangles daily. If they want to be home, we stay home.  If it's not a school night and they want to stay up, I let them.  Even if random laughter wakes me at 4 in the morning. (Yes, I'm editing at 4 and this will suck later when I'm on my way home from the beach tonight.) On a school night, we try to stick to routines and rely on melatonin. If it's the middle of the day and they are tired, I let them sleep.  It's about letting them decide what is right for them and showing them that their needs are important to me and to them.  There is value in their needs and desires.  There is nothing more important than what they think or feel.  I ask them questions and their answers are never wrong as long as they answer with the same respect I offer.

I think all of our relationships teach us what we need to learn to help the next person grow.  I learned to mother my sons from daughtering my Dad (yes, I make up words and you'll get used to it).  I love him deeply.  He will never be what I hoped for as a teenager, but the day I decided to love and accept him as he is and meet him where he is instead of demanding he take my designated route to where I wanted him to be was the day I found healing.  I know that he loves me and will always do what he thinks is best and that is how he expresses his love.  I know my kids will surprise and amaze me but not if I'm too busy looking for ways to measure them up to someone else's ideals and expectations.  I find there is a great reward in flexibility and learning to meet someone where they are.  Sometimes they'll surprise me and return the favor. Sometimes they'll want to stretch because they can feel the warmth of my sunshine.

Child's Play and Raising Gamers

When my kids were about 3 or 4, they loved lining up Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends or Hot Wheels. They were perfectly arranged and evenly spaced.  They had to be taught to imagine people driving or what a family might do on an outing. Nonfunctional routines were more likely to happen during floor time than functional play. Play times weren't always ordered.  These were the same older two that would dump out all of their wooden puzzles at once to piece them together because that was a superpower at one point.  These days I'm the only one that really enjoys jigsaw puzzles.  With each thing that held their attention they would obsess (much like I do with interesting men).  They would repeat the word "why?" in an echolalic refrain, but perseverative speech would cover every single possibility about a situation. They needed answers from all angles.  It was also an inability to comprehend receptive language. At first it required insane amounts of patience, but I've grown to appreciate and love the curiosity that drives a person to seek deeper meanings and answers. Lately my kids are all about gaming.  It feeds a need for repetitive behaviors and restricted interests.  Taking away their release for punishment has lead to meltdowns and tantrums and I eventually had to start defending their gaming habits to teachers.  It's not just my ASD kids, but my neurotypical 9 year old as well.

One year a teacher kept sending me articles about the negative impact of gaming on kids.  I answered her with the positives, but it was more defiance than anything.  My kids were developing relationships online with kids that were becoming friends.  They talked. They enjoyed each other.  I wasn't about to let anything stop their new friendships.  My kids have friends of all ages from all over the world, and surprising political views that I've never shared.

The latent benefits of gaming that I've witnessed include mastering fine motor skills and problem solving.  You have to be able to plan things and when working with others you are working on teamwork.  These are school and workplace superpowers.  My boys have been curious about history because it's woven into the histories of the games they play and I've caught them singing songs that I grew up with.  I secretly hope gamers will revolutionize modern music.  There's the mental exercise to gaming that can keep those neurons firing into older age.  I know how I feel when I'm mentally stretched and gaming does that for gamers. They have to be able to think on their toes and make quick decisions.  That gut instinct is something I hope to cultivate for myself.  For my middle son, I've seen a huge jump in his research skills.  Ask him about the next console Nintendo is rolling out next year and he has excited answers and will geek out in the most adorable way you could imagine.  He hops and I love it.

Like my reading time, when my kids are gaming, they tend to not overeat because sometimes they actually forget to eat.  My boys first told me about French Macarons.  I had never had them, but their friends made it sound like they taste like love feels and we tried them. Now I make them sometimes because I can and they ask nicely.  Sometimes isn't more often because they're sugar, almond meal and egg whites, but mainly sugar.  The direction that modern medicine is heading in would put my kids on the right trajectory for world star surgeon status. I can live with that.  I can also live with them doing exactly what they are doing now for the rest of their lives.  My expectations are low but they also tend to surprise me in a huge way.  They want to get paid to be gamers with snarky commentary. I once saw a studio where these things are recorded.  I can support that.  Other Minecraft mothers will recognize the voice of that creepy Brit.  That man has been an idol.  I checked out my YouTube and it's filled with recommendations for all sorts of cute girls playing Minecraft, Minecraft School and Five Nights at Freddy's. They're also big on anime.  Anime Expo is coming up and they'll be there with their Dad because cosplay is not my brand of geekology.  In the meantime I'm tasked with checking internet browser histories for anime porn because that is a fun thing for my 13 year old.

Gaming was always something I left to their Dad and I've only gotten involved in recent months because we have separate houses and they need their things at each place.  I bought a PS4 with Call of Duty for them for Valentine's Day.  Kid1 loved it but never touched it.  Kid2 had a meltdown.  He is all about Mr. Mario. His Dad told him two houses mean two of everything and I broke that rule by not getting a Wii U.  Kid3 liked it but also never touched it.  Last night I jumped into the role that is now mine and bought a used Wii U console and Naruto Game for the PS4.  I'm paying attention to the Minecraft games, forums and videos they watch.  I may even start reading Homestuck, but I'm not sure I'm there yet.  Kid1 acts like I'd love Splatoon, but I'm also okay making sure they're well fed and watered while I read and write around them.

You would think I was at one point a gamer, but I've never really been into it.  My big sister bought my Nintendo console when I was a kid.  It was the original console with Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt.  I had fun, but eventually got bored.  I'm one of those rare people that never beat the game.  In frustration I would shoot at the dog that laughed at me.  My other sister beat the game.  She is 7 years older than me.  She was the beautiful one that all of my friends liked.  It was especially hard to lose to her and I quit playing.  She had the cute boys that liked her and the body of a runner.  All of my friends liked her and I couldn't compete with her.  It took years to fall into mutual love and respect because it took that long to learn that she was never competing with me and wanted to see me happy as well.  I quit playing video games around the same time I was more interested in skating with the neighborhood boys and before I gave that up for getting lost in romance novels, warping my ideas of love and romance.

Having Babies as an Act of Faith

When I was younger, I didn't see myself having kids.  They were messy and demanding.  I didn't even see myself getting married when I met the ex. I liked picking my date each night and it was like putting on a persona with each of them because I was good at being what I thought they wanted.  It was lots of dress up and pretend and nothing was too serious.  Okay, so keeping track of who I was dating and what I wore on each date and where we ate or what we did required more work and brain power than it was worth, but I was happy to do it for as long as I did. And once in my lifetime is enough to teach me I prefer dating one person at a time because I'm happiest when I'm obsessing over one person at a time. Even when I got my fertility tattoo, it wasn't about procreation, but about fertility in thought and creativity. There was something that felt right about the ex.  I didn't see an endless fantasy of right now and fun, but a lifetime of caring for each other.  We spent the 6 months we dated doing a lot of night fishing and making wishes on falling stars.  I felt I could live like that for the rest of my life. I saw something special in him that made me feel like it would be good to bring children into the world that would learn to be just like him.  The dream in my head didn't pave the course of our reality.  I had no idea that children would change everything, including how much I would want to avoid large bodies of water, or how much their wants would guide my actions.

There was something so amazing about getting called by the doctor's office the day after a routine physical to tell me I was pregnant.  There was excitement and I was inexplicably happy about something I wasn't sure I wanted just the day before.  The ex was right next to me when I got the call and from the bits and pieces he could hear, he understood and the news made him so happy he cried.  Every bout of morning sickness was silly and fun.  I laughed after I puked because it happened so rarely.  He went to most of my prenatal visits for that first pregnancy. We explored every single stretch mark that traced the growth of my belly and the life blooming within me.  I developed the pregnancy cradle, where my hand was constantly drawn to my belly, to touch the child that I knew was there because I was told he was. It's often how I can tell if someone else is pregnant.  We want to touch our babies, even when they are only our secret.

Once Kid1 was born, the reality of how unmotherly I was really set in.  I had sisters and in laws and my own Mom at the hospital, coaching me to support his head, and burp him gently.  My nurses had a firmer hand, and they had their own pitying looks to depart with.  I didn't feel like I might know what I was doing until he was a few weeks old and one of the wise sages telling me what to do couldn't calm him, but I did.  Her inability highlighted the fact that for his whole life, I had been doing what she told me I was doing wrong, and he told me I was doing it right.

After Kid1 and Kid2 were diagnosed with autism, we found out we were having Kid3. At the time, the odds were somewhere around 1 in 150 kids would be diagnosed with autism.  Six months ago, Autism Speaks was holding that statistic at 1 in 45 according to the newest government survey.  Either way, I was two for two and probably had some insane gambling luck I should have tested out. Our families gave us a hard time about a third child we couldn't afford. Some time when I was defending our choice to risk a third child with autism and not terminate a surprise pregnancy that I wanted, I realised what a true act of faith having children can be.

Bringing life into a world full of death and pain on the news and world wide is an act of faith.  You have to believe that there is enough good in the world to keep your child safe.  There is no way to be within arms reach of your children for 18 years, so you have to trust that there will be friends, family, teachers, clergy and strangers that will not harm your child, although they will have opportunities to. You have to believe that in your life, you will be the example of a person that will contribute to society, rather than take advantage of society and the weaker ones that make up our society.  You will want to give every benefit of your labor to your children while instilling generosity in their gratitude, and a servant's heart to give of themselves as well.

In being a surrogate mother after my three children were born, I was acting out faith that each of my three couples will continue finding ways to consistently choose to love each other.  In agreeing to carry their children and go through fetal testing, I had to believe that months of shooting hormones into my hips wouldn't end in a terminated pregnancy and the emotional burden of turning my back on all of my beliefs about abortion.  I was believing in my ability to safely bring children into the world and to send them off and potentially never know how they are doing and what kind of people they will become.  My faith was based on the love and care they offered me as their surrogate and I have no regrets. I quietly remember each birthday and reminisce through each scrapbook I put together for each pregnancy from time to time. I don't miss the children, but the feelings of love and hope that met every phone call, meeting and shared appointment.  I miss the friendships of parents that would never have met me in a perfect world. It was amazing to have a cheering section and experience all of the joys of pregnancy with none of the worries outside of a happy and healthy child or set of twins.

I believed in the covenantal bond of my marriage being a cradle of nurturing that would see our children into adulthood.  There's been a necessary shift, and now my belief is that as parents, we will do what we can to ensure the emotional wellbeing of our children, even if I can't see or talk to the ex without having to quiet my rage.  I forgive him but it's a choice and I'm still letting go of my anger because my emotions are not chosen. I have to feel them as they flow through me, and choose to redirect my passionate rage into open hearted joy. I believe that no matter what I face as a single parent, there will always be enough of what we need.  For 50% of their lives, I will have to be both parents and that means putting my selfishness and unease aside, even if that means allowing their boundaries in my home.  I have to give them space to be and allow the idea that growing up means allowing them to grow away from me, in the way they have since birth.  And it means I will have to accept that there will be times when they will need me to coddle and support them because the great big changes in their lives can at times be bigger than they can handle.  I have to put my pain aside for their needs, and believe that it is what is best for them, even if for a while, it goes against what my selfishness needs.

As much as I love being pregnant, I'm not sure another child will come from my body. Yes, I'm talking about a seventh pregnancy. Birth control pills did their worst and gave me pulmonary embolisms.  It's a side effect risk and I am quite good at odds, apparently. I will never be able to go on hormonal birth control again. I am fertile and a pregnancy would be high risk.  And yet I don't believe in abortion. That just means one day I will find myself in a complicated conversation and today I don't have to make any decisions.

What I do believe in is the good in children and I have 6 siblings through adoption.  I would adopt.  I believe in children, even if I have days where I can't believe in me. The best part of adoption is teaching a person that they were not a surprise, but a perfectly planned and chosen member of a family that was missing them. Birth parents in this way have honored us in their selfless sacrifice. I love being part of an adoption family. 

 

 

Ambulance Ride

My first ambulance ride was about 9 years ago.  There were no lights and sirens.  The seatbelts were tucked into the bench and I held my little boy's hand as the ambulance drove from County USC Hospital to Kaiser Sunset.  He was stable and he was being transported for observation. Kid3 was 8 months old.  I didn't process the fact that there was standing water in the bathtub or that it could be a hazard to the baby crawling on the floor. He wasn't walking and I didn't know he could pull himself into the bathtub until he pulled himself into the empty tub about a week later.   Kid1 was home alone with their Dad and had his hands in the tub with a Lego Boat he wasn't even allowed to play with when his brother was awake because Legos are an obvious choking hazard.  When I got home with Kid2 and Kid3, I was unloading groceries and the ex was running out of the door.  We had one car at the time and he was ready to escape the moment I walked in.

I was having a tickle fest with Kid1 when Kid2 started tugging on my shirt.  My nonverbal autistic 4 year old son saved his brother's life.  My baby was in the cold water on his back, arched and blue faced.  I pulled him out and tried to remember CPR.  I took the classes and knew the drills but in that moment I forgot it all. I pushed on his little belly and water flowed out of his mouth. I didn't realize I could have made things worse if he had aspirated that water.  I was frantically screaming for someone to call 911. I was screaming at the top of my lungs for someone to help me. I was home alone and so helpless.  I didn't have neighbors to call on because they saw too much. We didn't invite them in because they saw enough from outside.  I found a landline phone with my limp son in my arms and called for help.  The ambulance came and the paramedics took him away.  His chest was rattling in air and he was otherwise unresponsive. We only had one car at the time and I was stranded at home with two children.  I waited until my sister came, or maybe it was my mother in law.  I just know that I waited for them and the ambulance took my son.  One of the fire trucks stayed, then took me to my son.  It was agonizingly slow.  They obeyed all traffic laws and carefully kept an eye on me because I was a caged animal.

My house was a mess.  I had been at the store, and my major clean up day at the time was Sunday evening. (They go to their Dad on Wednesday, so that's my new day.) I was tickling my son and preparing to get to work.  I picked up here and there throughout the week, but caring for two children, aged 5 and 3 with sensory integration dysfunction and a crawling 8 month old that started walking at 9 months meant my house was a disaster.  Dealing with the messes on my terms meant I was angry a lot less and able to play with their trains and Playdoh. It meant not freaking out over yogurt on the ceiling and peanut butter on the walls.  It also meant the house was a hazard. I didn't have help and it was less stressful to not invite people over.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was held at a distance until they were sure I wasn't trying to kill my son.  It was standard practice for the situation.  They see that on a regular basis and had to imagine the possibility that I could do the unthinkable because other mothers had thought it. They interviewed my family and neighbors.  They asked if there was abuse in the home and my Mom later asked if there was because she suddenly wasn't sure what she had seen and what I had said because I was not living like the daughter she raised, spitting fire and raging at the world.  I was in someone's shadow and I was still defending my position there.

My neighbor across the street expressed her concerns about the times I was yelled at or other times she saw anything that wasn't love.  She saw power and aggression and she reported what she saw and for years I didn't want anything to do with her because she saw what I refused to acknowledge.  This is the same neighbor that filmed what my ex took out of the house when he left and offered to call the police for me.

Two days ago my chest pain was extreme.  I couldn't stand up straight and the band of pressure was squeezing me painfully like I was placed between two icy plates of stone.  For a person that has willingly given birth 7 times, I can say I never want to relive the sensations I felt Wednesday. It was hard to stand, and I was slick with sweat.  I called 911 and stayed in bed, barely pulling on yoga pants and a tank top. I asked Kid3 to help me and get dressed and I've never had his obedience react so swiftly in the months since I've become a single mom.  When they arrived and asked me to sit up for them, I vomited in a waste basket as several paramedics watched and checked my vitals.  They moved sticky contacts from my chest to my legs to get the best possible reading. I was given pills to chew and a spray under my tongue because I was presenting as a heart attack, and they checked the important things.  I was given baby aspirin.  I had to take it during IVF because studies show baby aspirin helps keep you pregnant through the first trimester of an IVF pregnancy and it's not a taste you forget. It was becoming clear to them it was probably stress, but still felt I needed the lights and sirens on the way to the hospital.

It's different when you're the patient.  Normally I'm hyper aware of everything, but there was a haze of activity.  I don't know how many paramedics arrived.  I don't know what I was given. I remember being put in a chair and being bumped up a flight of stairs and out of my front gate in a bed that was a chair but was a bed because that felt better to me. I didn't even notice being swabbed before  I was stuck so they could check my blood sugars. I just know that my neighbor across the street held my son's hand and called my family.  She met me at the hospital and took Kid3 to his Dad for me.

My nurse asked about my stress levels. I told her it probably was just stress.  I explained the way my life looks right now and that I was sending my kids to be with their Dad.  It's the same stress I've had for months but some days are harder than others. At some point I was given Ativan and the giggles started before the pain subsided and I drifted off to sleep. They should bottle that stuff and call it happiness because it was like being drunk only I wasn't and it was like being high . . . which is probably why it's not handed out like candy or sold over counters.

Right when I was being discharged, my Dad picked me up.  My neighbor still checked on me throughout the night and into the next day.  I have good neighbors and I owe her homemade brownies or something equally less stressful than macarons or homemade toffee. My Mom and Stepdad came by.  My sisters have been calling me.  I feel loved and cared for.  I am loved and cared for.

I've been resting for the last couple of days. I've been sleeping when I feel I need it and I've replaced coffee with cocoa.  The only marathons I'm contemplating are on Hulu and Netflix.  I may start a Xena Warrior Princess Marathon because I loved that show when I was younger.  And Star Trek because . . . Well, no explanation is necessary, but I'll be sipping Jasmine tea because I don't like Earl Grey.  So now my geek is showing but it is who I am.  I'm still happy.  My joy wasn't stolen. I just need to give my body the rest it needs when the stress builds.  I could've built a castle with my shoulder load on Wednesday and if I'm lucky, there will be no more ambulances in my future.  The next time I see a paramedic or firefighter, I will thank them for their service the way I first started to almost 9 years ago.  I still thank every one I see because of the handful of people that saved my son's life and kept me calm when I was afraid for his life.

 

The Day I Knew I Wasn't a Teacher.

After I finished my undergrad, I took the CBEST.  I passed all areas in one day without studying.  Not studying was because I don't know that I was taking it seriously, but I felt good in knowing I am smart enough to teach kids.  I majored in English because reading and writing are my passion.  Studying literature tried to kill that passion, but most English majors go into teaching or law. Teaching is a fast track career in comparison to law school, and my kids wouldn't have to become orphans to the stacks.  I wanted to see what teaching would be like before committing a year and a half of my life to a teaching credential. I was brought on as a substitute teacher at a local college prep school.  I had a long term teacher's aid position with kindergarten and a lot of hopping around through all of the other grades.  I also had a long term teaching assignment as a high school English teacher. I was covering a couple of classes at the end of the day, a few days a week for a teacher that found a better opportunity teaching a class in a local college. I won't go into the bad side of private schools for students or teachers, but I will say I will never again teach at one, nor have I ever wanted to put my children in one.

The kids were great.  They were bright and friendly and energetic.  There were a few girls that reminded me so much of myself as a teen.  I wanted to wrap a sweater around them and tell them they were so much more than what they looked like.  I wanted to prove to them they could get attention from their work, and they didn't need it from the football team or a Dad that was always travelling for work or at work so he could pay her tuition fees.   There were lots of bright exchange students and kids that were so hungry for the attention that comes with being smart as a birthright.

One afternoon, I had the high school English class break into groups of three.  Throughout class as is often the case, some lunch time drama was spilling into class and rather than break it up, I let things fall where they did.  Don't get me wrong, when the kids talked about a fight after school, I was the first person to bring it up to the Dean.  When bullying became teasing through text, I confiscated cell phones. This was different.  This was a boy acting like a jerk, and thinking he could get away with it.  I'd seen him do this throughout the semester and didn't intervene before.  This time, she said (loudly and with authority) that she had taken it long enough. She went into a fully expressed tirade and I stood silently and let it continue until she was done. She stood up for herself in the last few minutes of class, then stormed off.  I quietly had a friend of hers go get her and come back to me once the bell rang. After hiding in the bathroom, they both came back.

The rest of the class started to tease him, and I intervened enough to regain some decorum.  We spent the last two minutes going over the papers they were critiquing for each other.  I couldn't quite find my joy in making their papers bleed red with corrections.  I felt conflicted because I knew what I was expected to do and didn't do it. Once the bell rang, I assured this boy I would have a talk with this girl, and to try his best to get on with his day.

When she returned to class, I had her sit for a bit with her friend and promised I would be held accountable to their next teacher. I won't forget how her delicate shoulders were still trembling with what she had done. It was a free period, and I wasn't in a hurry.  She calmed down enough to start explaining why she was justified in telling him off. I stopped her.  I told her that she didn't need to make me feel better about her choices.  I told her that friendships are a two way street and if you find you are becoming the road instead of heading in the same direction together, it's okay to find a new direction and travel buddy (a lesson I've needed to remind myself about my marriage repeatedly).  I also told her that the changes that teenagers go through can mean an uncomfortable shift and we hurt the people we trust the most, but that didn't make it his right to make her a punching bag.  It also doesn't mean it's too late to heal their friendship but it would require her to decide it's what she wanted.  I asked that next time standing up for herself might happen out of my classroom so it's not a reflection on my ability to keep order in the classroom.

I went home that day and thought about the situation and how I handled it.  I saw what I should have done as a teacher, and couldn't see how I might have done it differently because I didn't want to.  That was the day I knew I wasn't cut out to be an educator.  I can't teach people how to do what is right in the classroom when the Mom in me was standing on the table and cheering her on for standing up for herself and kicking the patriarchy in her life.  That, and I couldn't find passion in the classroom.  I watched the clock right along with the students.

Motherhood as Leadership

I was one of those Leadership kids in my Freshman year.  Over 20 years ago it was the last year of Junior high and not the first year of high school. We had meetings and someone took minutes, but it was really a free pass out of class to run around and plan school dances and fundraisers.  There was so much more to what it was supposed to be, but I only ran for my office as a popularity contest on someone else's social agenda.  I got the hall pass and sweatshirt and front and center seats for major assemblies, the panorama picture and graduation.  We booked the d.j. and diluted fruit punch concentrate into hydration for the circles of dancers that showed off their moves, but would pretend to be wall flowers as soon as the lights were back on.  We sold tickets and decorated a depressing boys gym into a room suitable for raging hormones, gross insecurities and cliques of kids rushing in hordes for potential dance battles and fist fights. I never understood what the goal of the class was meant to be because we had a series of tasks but I didn't have the understanding of the reasons behind them. In recent years, my thoughts on leadership have grown.  During my last pregnancy, we spent a lot of time at amusement parks.  The ex lost over 100 pounds and he wanted to go and keep going with his new-found energy.  We had littles and I was pregnant with another couple's twins.  We would walk in a line where he would lead and I always took up the rear to make sure we didn't lose anyone.  That was when I decided I wanted to be more than a mom.  I wanted to be a leader to my sons.  It was in noticing that our pace wasn't set by the most capable, but by the one that needed the most guidance and hand holding, which switched between kids several times per hour.  In taking the rear, and making sure my kids were on course, I was guiding them. I was encouraging them to catch up to Daddy and watching that they didn't wander in a different direction.

Leadership isn't about telling people what to do and expecting them to jump because of your position or their fear of you.  It's not about puffing up your position, but letting your team know the ways they are a valuable and essential part of your team. It's about guidance and encouragement to lead your team to want to do better and think in ways that promote the team, and not the individual. Leadership means the leader is as much an integral part of the team as every single member, but the leader is accountable for fostering a culture of advancement.

For my family, leadership is about establishing a compelling direction and for now that is a direction founded in acceptance and unconditional love.  No matter what choices they make in life and love, they know I will always love and support them.  Soon after they started telling me they loved me, I started telling them that I will always love them, whether or not they love boys or girls. Their choices might not always make me proud, but I will always be proud to be their mother.  I do my best to encourage open communication and I don't place my shame or my feelings on them if I can help it.  I help them solve problems and the day they stop coming to me with them, is the day I know I have failed them as a leader.

My goal for my family is to foster relationships that build each other up.  I hear it gets easier when brothers are older.  Leadership in this way takes the direction of enabling a structure of support.  It's encouraging them when they play together and discouraging destructive competition. It's in helping each other to do well.  It's a thank you when one sacrifices for the other, or when one helps with a homework problem explanation when my reserves are low and I need the perspective of someone else in my single mom home.

One day the authority I empower as mom will help my children internalize my ideals.  When those thoughts become theirs and they understand their own manifest and latent benefits, they will idealize and live out these lessons in every area of their lives.  Leadership teaches others to lead their own lives with intention.  It's not enough to be an angry mother with timbered calls of authority.  It's the gentle guidance that makes them search for answers on their own, with nudges from me that lead them along the path I had scouted in my own adolescent adventures.

It's been a difficult year.  There's no way to sugarcoat that. Being positive is part of my personality but it's also about leadership.  If my kids see that I can be positive in a negative situation, it shows all of us that our answers are not impossible. It's about knowing I will make mistakes and just get things wrong. It's allowing them to hold me accountable and asking them to call me out on my prideful ignorance.  I frequently remind myself to be the mom my children deserve, and not the mom I feel like being.  I let them know that our family is ours, and our home is not just mine.  It helps them find enthusiasm in being part of our family and obligation becomes privilege.

I believe leadership is found in doing what is right, rather than what is easy.  It falls in line with financial stewardship and embracing the idea that you don't know all of the answers, and you don't have to, but your curiosity will be rewarded with at least trying to find the answers.

Broken Birthday Wishes

My birthday sucked this year.  Big time.  Most birthdays aren't days I celebrate.  I had one year when the ex invited my large family for a restaurant meal.  It was big, and for a few hours it was special, but it came with a price. The emotional lashing in the days before it tempered the night.  There were pictures posted on Facebook and my smile was genuine, but I don't even remember if it was 29 or 30.  I wanted to make it a big deal because it was a milestone to me. It was the lead up that felt like a big deal because there's supposed to be significance in it.  When the next morning came, I was slightly jaded.  I still had laundry and dishes and kid chasing and the part where I was special felt like exhaustion from the gratitude I was in service to.  I'm used to still being Mom on my birthday because if I don't do dishes or laundry, it'll be waiting for me in double portions the next day.  I didn't expect breakfast in bed. I rarely eat breakfast.  I often made my family breakfast as a short order cook, and hoped for time to go back to bed. I've spent birthdays at the zoo and Chuck E. Cheese's. I used to say that all I wanted for my birthday was my Kindle, Amazon store credit and a hotel room with room service and housekeeping.  No one ever believed me and one year I'll do it for myself. My birthday hasn't been about me since I was 21 or 22.

Birthdays and especially Mother's Day are not about me.  These are days when I get to show my family how much I appreciate whichever ways they want to show me they love me. Kid2 once took the cookies I had baked and made them into cookie sandwiches with school glue.  I almost ate it until I asked what he used.  I would have swallowed it with a smile because mom duties include instilling value in the children we raise.  My birthdays have become a day to really feel gratitude for my Mom because I know my birthday is about her as much as it's about me. I don't get it when people celebrate the entire month, because usually I want the day to end. I'm not afraid of aging.  I like where my years have placed me.  I've earned my laugh lines and the random gray hair I sometimes find. Eventually I will take ownership of my birthday again.

In the last year, I've found there is so much peace and joy in life alone and on my last birthday, my ex reminded me of how much pain and damage he could cause. I'm all for putting individual needs first until those needs start to fall as burdens on others.  I took off my wedding band on Valentine's Day, but I decided I was not going to continue waiting for him to divorce me on my birthday which was the Friday before it.  Up until then, I felt that if he wanted to leave me, he could be the one to divorce me.  I didn't want to hold his hand, or finish what he started because for a long time I didn't want that. We didn't fight.  I'm not a fighting type for the most part because I'm fully aware of the damage I can cause and I never saw him as capable of handling me at my worst.  I never wanted to hurt him but my reactions would say otherwise.  I don't think he could imagine the damage I could inflict intentionally. On my birthday, I saw that it wasn't about waiting for him to finalize things, but deciding his choice was the best thing for me as well. I am content in the knowledge that he will no longer be able to control my financial freedom or how I look or behave around other people.

Every year my birthday Facebook post is a reflection of where I am in that moment.  I had been posting for years, but In 2015 I started expressing more than gratitude for the happy birthdays I received and I wrote:

I'm at the age where decades blur with the business of life and if you asked how old I turned today, I would say I turned old. It's easier than doing the math because I won't remember my age until the next milestone which will be 40. 

 I'm at a place where I feel that love means doing what you know is best for the person you love, even if it's not best for you, and not looking at it as a sacrifice, but as a gift, because in the end, their wellbeing is what's best for you.  

I found passion in school but failed to temper it with goals or a dream, so now I'm living the dream and it looks nothing like I thought it might. I still don't have a live in housekeeper. Or a dishwasher. Or more disposable income than sense.  

I went from finding a random $20 in the wash to a few coins and sopping wet toy cars and game chips.  

I stopped going with the flow of life to picking fights for everyday injustice. My calm nature holds in check the furious beast that loves to research the alleyways to victory. (Autism Mom superpowers)

As a new Mom I refrained from buying toys by gender identity. 13 years later I hope to raise feminist men because equality feels better to me than misogyny. 

 Another trip around the sun and my creaky joints keep trying to tell me to slow down, but that girl in the mirror keeps telling me I'm gorgeous and slim (clothes sizes lie - arbitrary numbers and nonsense) I used to try to show off my cleavage or legs. Now I just don't want to embarrass my kids when their friends see me. 

This was when I was still content in my marriage and I thought both of us were happy. This was posted in February with a few redacted bits:

 2016

Life is about balance and there might be beauty in my ashes or hope through my despair and the gift of humanity is emotional interaction and deeper meaning in the mundane.

I reached out in love to two really amazing people before the sun came up. I saw them posting online and I knew I wasn't waking them-although I could probably call them at any time of the night and get the same love. Love can't tell time. That's why infants survive until they sleep through the night. This morning there was anger and rage streaming through my tears, and I called them instead of passively aggressively posting that it's my party and I'll cry if I want to. I see that as growth. I was greeted with love and encouragement and a reminder to pray through. 

I got to work (stepping out of my car) and a complete stranger found me as a person well put together. She couldn't taste the salt stained cheeks or see the red eyes begging for rest as I fought my bedding through fitful sleep last night. I'm still running on fumes of 4 hours of sleep and way too much of that burnt coffee that Starbucks calls medium roast. I looked at her. I looked into her eyes, ignoring years of meaningless meander through a faceless city and I thanked her. She was safe to confess my latest heartache to, because after this morning I'll never see her again. She hugged me. She saw me for my strength and embraced me for my vulnerability. 

As my day progressed, new co-workers peeked over at me to wish me well for my birthday, one spending moments of his day to ask about my plans. I was encouraged. They complimented my white Home Depot dress and found out what a Home Depot dress is. It's sexy and classy and you wear it at Home Depot when you're feeling low and it'll boost your day by the time you leave. It pairs well with my Ruby Woo Mac lipstick because nothing says you're kissable like red matte lipstick that is a cross between berries and blood. It reminds people of love, sex and death and is somehow sensual.

My new license plates came for my new car and I was grateful for the unwrapping of my present to myself. I finally have a car I'm excited to stick my CSULA Alumni license frame on. My neighbor offered a hand (that Home Depot dress kept delivering all over town) but I enjoyed putting them on myself. 

There is no cake because I don't eat wheat and didn't plan a flour less cake. I've also always thought blowing spit and lung juice over a cake that others are expected to eat is a bit gross. Sometimes frosting will seduce me with the siren call of a sugar rush and pre diabetes because I am a sugar addict. Self-control isn't always one of my gifts.

Tomorrow is a new day and a new year. It's leap year so I have 366 days to set new goals and kick the custard out of life with a blowtorch in hand. Custard is creme brûlée with extra sugar and a torch. And the food joy is exponential when custard becomes brûlée. And fire. (I just pictured Beavis and Butt Head, did you?)

Parts of that post were cut out.  I stepped out of my car that morning knowing that by this time next year, I would be a divorcee. As much as I was crumbling at the edges, I was determined to face my day with pride and grace.  That was the face this stranger saw.  After nearly a year of believing that I could forgive anything if I kept my eyes on my faith, it was a moment of deciding I didn't want that anymore and a test of what my faith means to me. My prayer life has suffered since then.  That's my truth.  The day was full of good and bad, and there are times when the bad still batters me.

I had planned to take my kids to Catalina Island that weekend.  My car died in January and my trip became a down payment. The ex did his best to control my birthday weekend and my powerlessness reduced me to angry tears on my commute home that day. Plans were shifted because I do what the kids allow.  I tried to salvage a good memory that weekend and bought a Playstation 4 for my kids which was met with a meltdown by kid2 and collects dust because kid1 and kid3 believe in the gaming potential it holds.  Just Tuesday kid1 and kid2 were talking gaming, and I heard kid2 say, "you should just get a Playstation 4." I reminded them they have one and I was met with laughter.

What I didn't include in my Facebook post that day was a moment.  It was a brief moment and for a while it was my private happy place.  It was a moment that made me feel attractive and desired.  There was a look and that look was everything.

My Children's Autism and Our Codependency

 Never underestimate an autistic person.  Their beguiling brilliance will enchant you before they abuse and reduce you to tears.  Never dismiss their needs because as difficult as it is for me to help them navigate our world, they face the most difficulty in just being and trying to do so in a way that is socially acceptable.  My kids are praised because of how well they are doing, but it often includes a complete collapse at the end of the day because they have been working so hard just to be perceived as what we consider normal.  We need to remember that autistic and neurotypical are both normal and natural.

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Look for Blessings and They Will Find You

I expected blessings yesterday and I was blessed. My day started with helping my Dad around his house.  I’m starting to enjoy moments when he underestimates me and I surprise him with my strength and ability.  His local Albertson’s is like his Cheer’s bar.  Everyone knows his name and they are full of bright smiles for him.  He kept introducing me as his daughter, then pointed out to his favorite butcher that I am single.  My response? "Seriously.  You really just did that?" We had fun shopping together.  He wanted to fill my fridge and I introduced him to goat’s cheese with water crackers and fig preserves. He’s a fan.  He filled my gas tank and funded a manicure.

I got groceries home and spent "me time" in a nail salon.  From there I headed to Will Rogers State Beach where I caught the sunset and picked out a few rocks.  I love quiet beaches and sat in my car for a bit to watch the waves in comfort.  As the last families headed home, I went to Santa Monica where there is more light and patrolling officers.  I wanted to thank the photographer that brightened my Wednesday.  He thought I was kind, and offered more coffee and tea.  I declined, and walked around the pier, checking out the night fishing. A few anglers were just setting their bait and hadn’t had a chance to catch anything. I used to fish with my Dad off of that pier and laughed a little at all of the couples leaning on the rails, oblivious to the fish guts they romanced in.

I walked around and approached the police officers that stood in conversation across from Bubba Gump. I thanked them for their service and wished them well in safety.  They thanked me and as I walked away I could hear their conversation shift into the gratitude I offered and their gratitude that it came from someone who looked like me.  That made me smile.

I wandered to the other side of the pier, and enjoyed a few moments as a shameless cougar, watching young shirtless men play beach volleyball under the stars. I left when I felt like I was being creepy enough.

I found myself watching the surf alongside a single mother.  She understood my desire to stay out when I know there's an empty home waiting for me. Her children were fully dressed, running in and out of the ocean as if it weren’t freezing.  They kept running to her for hugs and praising her for being a terrific mom. They’re on a similar plan where she also has stretches of days to decide what she wants to do now that she can do whatever strikes her as fun. They had spent a day at Disneyland and she was tiring them out so she could have a quiet drive back to San Jose with dry clothes and blankets in the car.  We talked spousal and child support. We talked love. In all of my anger, I still held back from trying to hurt my ex with every bit of fire in me.  She helped me see that with those I love, even when they’ve hurt or upset me, I would never try to cause them pain or make them feel insecure.  The love I looked for in him looks a lot like power and domination. We talked dating.  She dates, but she doesn’t get too close to anyone.  The natural progression of a relationship means having someone to sleep by your side every night.  She has young children and cannot sleep with one eye open.  She ends her relationships before they get to that point. That never occurred to me.  In all of my dating thoughts, I just assumed I’d get to be a fun grown up when I didn’t have my kids and both worlds could remain separate.  I never considered dating for keeps and just thought about dating and being married again.  The in between phase and the practical aspects of it never crossed my mind. She reminded me that I need to deal with my codependent tendencies so I don't bring them into my next relationship.

We talked tattoos and how she covered hers. She used a hamsa, because a hand of protection used in many cultures must mean several religious folks have placed their values in something meaningful. (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shamanism, Jain beliefs and Anatolia, but we didn't talk cultural appropriation.) She made a suggestion for mine.  I have a bee and my ex’s name on my shoulder.  My nickname for him was Honeybee.  For so long he would’ve done everything in his power to make me feel like a queen.  The name is going to be covered, not altered. I don’t know if I want to keep the bee because I like bees and I have longer than I've known the ex, and it ties into the life that brought me my kids.  I don’t know if I want something to devour the bee, but that thought makes me laugh.  I love California Poppies and like the idea of flowers on my shoulder. She suggested a honeypot.  Bees eat honey.  Bees need honey.  Without the queen, the hive dies.  I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I really liked her suggestion. At the same time, my days on movie sets make it impossible to not think of a honey wagon and that's not an image I am fond of. Besides, I've had his name on me for long enough that covering it should be all about me.

For today, I’m overflowing. That means I’m able to give and that looks like helping out with my niece and kid brother’s 11th birthday party.  I’m not a party planning mom and lucked out in my kid’s sensory integration dysfunction.  I don’t like to throw parties and they don’t like to be at parties.  Usually they want Mountain Dew, Doritos, Gummy Worms, and a fast Wifi connection. Today I got in a tug of war with a bounce house and didn’t freak out over ruining my new manicure.  I have polish at home and I may play with my own nails later. Depending on how this day makes me feel, I may decide to hit the beach again tonight.  Whatever my day brings, I will look for the blessings and see the grace that covers me.