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Simple Ways Expectant Parents Can Save on Pregnancy Expenses 

Preparing for a new baby on a tight budget? You’re not alone! Statistics show that saving money is important for most expectant parents. Finding those savings can be simple too, if you know where to look and how to plan. So if you are trying to prepare yourself, your home and your life for pregnancy and a new baby, be sure to use these savvy tips to save and keep your spending under budget. 

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Raising Men and Villages

I had to be the person I needed as a child and as a woman so they could learn to be the men I know they can be. I needed to be stable and secure in who I am. I need to provide for them and help them feel safe. 

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Self-Soothing and Raising Men

He wasn’t someone that could handle himself out in the world.  He still needed others to blame and others to carry him.  He was all about doing the easy thing, and never the right thing. He wanted life handed to him on a platter.  I think that was the first time I realized no one pays you to be a pussy in life. I can’t grow with someone I need to mother.  I walked away. 

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How to Spot a Parent

I was leaving the Barnes and Noble by my job a few weeks ago and I spotted a Dad.  He didn’t have a diaper bag or a t-shirt that identified anything other than the job he was working.  There wasn’t a stroller around him or a child he was looking after. There wasn’t a mom around, looking to him for support and he didn’t have a baby strapped to his chest in a carrier or sling. I could see his fatherhood in his stance because he wasn’t standing still. Parents with infants learn a hip swaying motion that is most soothing to little ones.  I would say it’s instinctive but it’s really a learned ability. Babies like the rocking and swaying.  They like the smooth flow in a side to side direction. It soothes them and soothing a crying infant can soothe a tired and stressed parent.

If you look around, you might see parents without kids doing the hip sway without kids around.  I do it when stressed or tired and it soothes me.  I don’t do it on purpose.  It’s become part of who I am.  I felt such a strong connection to this man in the simple body language learned through many sleepless nights that I felt the pull of his fatherhood in a way that brought me comfort.  I asked if he was a Dad and he was surprised when I shared my observation, but it was a connection that pulled me out of my thoughts and gave him something to chuckle over, breaking up the monotony of his day. He recognized the sway once I pointed it out.

I think of this so often lately.  Who we become as parents is a transformed person.  My reality before kids will never be a reality for me again.  It's impossible to go through so much and become that selfish child I was.  I will never be able to cook a meal for myself and not worry that my kids might not eat if I'm not the one to feed them.  It's impossible to think only of myself without wondering how my actions will affect my kids.  In dating, I had to learn that some choices need to be made for my sake, as my children need to learn to adapt.  They need to learn that I matter and I need to show them this by proving that I am capable of loving myself too by not sacrificing everything I am for who I want them to become.

I've been pregnant.  I've given birth.  I've lost children.  I've stayed up all night with sick children, catching projectile vomit in my bare hands.  I've kissed feverish foreheads and smelled the sickened breath on parched lips. I've sat in a cool bath, trying to break a fever with a limp child.  I've woken throughout the night to comfort and care for my child, only for him to wake and feel well enough to not allow me to take a nap, even if he was keeping me up all night.

In spotting a parent, it's the subtle things.  It's not flinching in a store when you hear a crying baby.  Or seeing a mom grab her breasts, as this sound so often made my breasts tingle and my milk would "let down." It's the sway that becomes it's own source of comfort even when there are no babies around.  It's over explaining because you're used to the many questions that come from the curiosity of a child.  It's being able to be aware of details without giving your full attention because you have the peripheral vision of parenthood that often feels like eyes in the back of your head.

It's being who our children make us and knowing we'll never be done, so long as we live, because we never stop being parents, even when our kids are no longer in our arms, or even our homes.

Teaching My Child To Give

In my flustered push and pull through getting Christmas together for my kids, I was trying to see if I missed anything from my kid's wish lists.  We were in the car and I asked my boys if there was anything else they wanted that they didn't tell me about.  They're getting better at telling me what they want.  For a while they were afraid to want anything.  At some point I made them feel like wanting things was a negative feeling.  At some point I taught them to function and live in scarcity, and I get to teach them to live abundantly as I learn it myself. My oldest son looked timidly at me, then tried to tuck himself away shyly into his hands and shirt.  My 15 year old reminded me of a turtle.  I could see his fear and uncertainty, so I encouraged him to talk to me.  He told me about a friend of his that wasn't expecting much for Christmas.  My son understood that his friend was living on very little income and he understood that because it has been our reality.  He asked if he could buy his friend a $40 game and pulled a little wad of cash out of his wallet to show me he needed my support.  I've been trying to teach them that they don't need help.  They don't need me to rescue them.  They could use my support though and I'm happy to offer it.  They can be supported through their journeys, and here he was, putting that lesson to work.  I asked what he was willing to do if I had said no.  He said he was prepared to ask his friends if they would work together.  I mean seriously? I get to raise this kid.  I get to be this young man's mother.  That night we went to two Walmart's and a Target.  We also survived Kid3's meltdown.

We got home and with my support, he wrapped it himself.  Then I had a moment of fear and it became a lesson for my son, and a lesson to me.  My lesson was how my past so strongly influences my future.  For me to worry about a reaction I had received and given . . . my hang ups on gifts . . . I get to look at that.  I get to examine and change things.

In talking to my son, I realized my fear was about the many times I had given or received a gift and the emotions that go with that. It was about the times I received a gift that wasn't what I would have wanted, but something the giver would have wanted, without any thought to who I am.  It's more honest than polite people would ever admit.

I wasn't always great at gift receiving.  Especially when it came to my Dad.  I was never satisfied with what he offered. He's given me jewelry, and it was always large and not something I would ever choose to wear.  I would accept it and complain later.  I once asked for a keyboard so I could learn to play the piano.  It came several years later, and in my teenage selfishness, I couldn't appreciate it until my ex gave it to one of his friends. Now I remember that not every Dad is around or generous, or half the man my Dad is.  His gifts are treasured.

When my boys were young, I would try to find gifts for them, and they would be more interested in the box, or smearing peanut butter and yogurt on walls, because sensory integration dysfunction is an adventure that way.

I remember one Mother's Day I was so upset that I didn't receive what I wanted.  It was a few years in a row of receiving less or other than I hoped for.  Honestly, I would have loved a solo hotel stay with a full Kindle and room service. I was very vocal about it too. But I was in my mood and pretty angry at my ex.  This was about seven or eight years into my marriage.  I remember being able to count off the ways I was disappointed until the day my son handed me a gift he made for me.  That was when I realized receiving a gift was about how much I could show the giver their thoughtfulness was appreciated and I really didn't have to be so selfish.

So back to my really considerate son . . . Here he was, about to gift a present to a friend and I worried about his friend's pride in terms of the gift.  I worried about it being something that wasn't wanted, and I worried that my son's generosity would become a source of pain for him. I will always want to protect him.

I told him to think of giving as the gift he was offering.  He told me about a game he had given to his brother that was lost and how angry he was.  I pointed out that once you give a gift, you stop worrying about what they'll do with it.  You give a gift as an act of love.  You don't worry about how it would be used or if it would be immediately discarded.

It's too much to expect a gift to live the way you want it to and the greatest example is the life of a child.  I gave the world my kids and it's hard to accept the world might abuse my children and it's hard to accept that my kids won't always behave the way I want them to. I get to send them out after caring for them the best way I know how, and I get to hope there is enough love to cover them.

As I explained to my son, giving is about giving and not how it's received.  Once we give a gift, we don't worry about how it's received or what is done with it.  We find our joy in thinking of someone else. We think of how much they'll like the gift because we're not giving what we would want, but what they would appreciate and find useful.  However it's received doesn't matter as much as the love we put into giving it.

Then I told him to consider how much joy he found in thinking of his friend.  I told him to think of that and consider how much others enjoy giving to him.  I told him to accept gifts with that same feeling because of how great it feels to give.  We would want others to experience our joy in receiving.

 

 

 

How I am My Father's Daughter

Yesterday I was walking past a Dad with his children.  They were taking turns and jumping onto and swinging from his forearms like he was a living jungle gym.  There was laughter and love and a gentle reprimand to one of his other children to not run through the halls because we were in a building that isn't really a playground.  In that moment I felt so much tenderness for a person I have never met. He reminded me of my Dad and the times I could run at him like he could take all I could dish.  I thought of the times I was on all fours with my children on my back and wrestling with them the way my Dad used to do with me. I walked away remembering the times I would spar with my Dad and he would teach me to block a punch and his love for "tiger claw," which was fierce with his long talon like nails. I remember as a little girl, sitting on the toilet seat and watching my Dad shave his face.  He used to have a mug with soap in it, and use a brush to lather the soap up and slather it on his face.  He would stretch and pull his face in different ways to get a clean shave and I would watch every time.  He would rub Aqua Velva or Old Spice between his hands then slap and smear it on his face and neck.  Then I'd watch him button up his shirt and wrap and tie his tie around his neck.

As I've gotten older, the ideal Dad I imagined gave way to the one I have.  I stopped trying to place the image in my head on top of him.  I realised he has always done what he felt was best for us and he's always shown love, even if it wasn't in the ways I wanted him to. It was my need to put a premium on the love I gave that dictated the value I saw in what I received.  That sounds vague.

I have learned that the ways in which I saw my Dad as not what I wanted are the ways in which his PTSD have shown up as he's struggled with it my whole life and I could see the outward expression of his inner demons.  I can no longer hold him accountable for the way his survival looks.

I get my bravery and courage from my Dad.  He has moments of posturing and trying to assert his dominance.  He does it with any man that wants to spend time with the women in our family.  He says it when he feels the need to meet and approve of any men we might be dating.  It shows up as the choices he makes and the ways we live those choices out.

Yesterday he had heart surgery.  In his 7th decade of lapping our sun, it's his first and he's doing really well considering how epicurean his tastes are.  I was trying to figure out how to be present for him while also living in my authenticity.  I realised I couldn't sacrifice myself for him because I wouldn't be engaged with him.  I would be torn.  I had an office party on Thursday that I went to.  I had a great time.  Once I left, I picked up a few things for my Dad and went to visit him.

He wanted to shave and insisted he could stand over the sink and do it himself.  I saw his gown was stained and helped him change out of it.  He was surprised at my understanding of easing him out of and into a new gown but I reminded him I was hospitalized for a month with the twins I carried as a surrogate mother. I was upside down in the trendelenburg position for a week, eating meals and going to the bathroom in this 45 degree, feet above my head position. Two years later I was hospitalized again for pulmonary embolisms.  I understood his discomfort and how to get him dressed, taking advantage of the way the gowns are created.  I brought him a basin and washcloths and watched him shave.

He relies on a mirror far less than he used to, familiar with the stretch and pull of his face and the ways his skin folds with the wrinkles offered to him through time.  He handed me his razor to swish and shake through the basin of water. He tried washing his hand in the water, and I showed him how effective a damp washcloth could be.  When he was done, I used a fresh, damp washcloth to wipe his face gently.  We talked.  I encouraged him.  He encouraged me.  He wanted donuts but I only carry suckers and I left without one, once I got approval from his nurse. He wanted me to go to work and not wait for him during surgery but visit him after he was out.  He knows my job doesn't pay me when I'm not there to work and he knows I need to care for his grandsons.

During his surgery I was having a hard time focusing on work.  I was present.  I was engaged, but it was easy to rabbit trail my thoughts else where.  I hoped the boys could have stayed with their Dad so I could spend more time with mine, but they couldn't and in accepting the situation I was in, I saw that this forced my visit to last exactly as long as it needed to for my Dad's post op. I checked on my kids, and picked up my sister to go see our Dad.

He was tilted in the way he needed to be.  He was starved and able to eat but only in that position, so I fed him.  Bite by bite, I have to admit it was more satisfying than feeding a baby that is learning with solid foods.  I helped him find his things as he was moved and had no control over where his belongings were. He was on really good drugs and not really aware of his limitations or why he needed to have them. I helped him get situated and after a short while we left.

There was something so humbling about helping him because I have always seen him as a powerful man.  It was a moment of being able to give him my love in a way that was an offering and not a request of his.  It felt like a gift to be able to offer my love through service and have it received so completely.

While life still happens at the speed of existence, I was still able to jump from conversation to conversation with catfish and real men alike.  I was able to paper tiger through work orders and purchase orders in the magic that is my pre-invoice.  Facing and correcting errors created during my training. I was able to be mom and sister and daughter, and I was gifted with being able to support the man who has made me the woman I am today.  I'm often asked how I'm doing because that is how we reach out to others with minimal risk.  It was a great day to be me, and this is what it looks like.

Honoring Mom on the Day You Were Born

Last week my youngest son hit the double digits.  I have a ten year old.  In his adorable attempt to milk it for full value, he kept saying, "come on mom, it's my birthday weekend." I pointed out that the day he was born was kinda a big deal for me too. Ten years ago we were at day 3 of moving into the house I share with the boys now.  I was unpacking boxes and felt like I needed to rest. An hour later I thought getting checked out would be a good idea. It was a short walk up the stairs to the car but I kept stopping with the contractions.  The drive to the hospital was less than 15 minutes, but every bump on the road felt intensely painful and within an hour or so after I was admitted, he was born.  It was a 3 push pass and it was good.  He shot out like a little 7 pound, one and a half ounce football. He was my easiest labor.

I mean yes, I was still in the process of moving, but a human came out of me.  It's not like I could go to the mall later that day, or even go home that night. It was a big deal.  He and I worked together to push him out of my body.  He had to figure out how to breathe air but there was a second birth while he was being cleaned and worked on.  My uterus had to shrink back to the size of a pear and it complained every time I nursed him in the first weeks.  Laughing and walking were painful and messy.  Everything leaks after a child is born.  It was and is still such a big deal that in my busy-ness of mothering him last week, this post waited until I had the space to write.  I expect this to continue long after he's an adult if my life as an adult is any indication.  I still rely on the continued love and support of my family, starting with my parents.

A friend of mine celebrated her first born's 17th birthday yesterday.  I stopped by her desk at work to congratulate her. As a mom, my care started the moment I realized there was a life inside of me, growing independent of me.  I wanted to acknowledge the fact that she was able to get him past his infancy. She got through his sicknesses and moments where he looked at her defiantly and said, "I hate you."  She got him through the seasons when she had to defend the indefensible behaviors of a father that didn't always remember how to be a Dad.  She kept food on the table and clothes on the backs of her children, with the judgements that come with being a single mom.

Being a parent is hard enough.  Every other person has ideas of how you should raise your children, but when you're a single parent, you make compromises that you never want to make because you have to weigh and balance what you have. Sometimes these judgements are a bigger gift than a consequence though. I try to remain coachable.

My most recent example . . . I chose a job that is 9-6, so I can send my boys off every morning that I have them.  I chose a job not far from home, so I'm not spending my time with them in traffic on my way home and angry because of it.  Christmas is here, and my kids have bought into their commodification completely.  It was their birthright in the life we had two years ago and I would like to hold some traditions.  I have been working overtime this week.  Yay for doing better than I was.  Last year I was a welfare mom, buying my kids a dollar store Christmas.  This year I'm using credit and next year, it'll be cash.  At the same time, my kids don't have me home to ignore me while they play their games and decide they don't want the dinner I made, or barely made in my exhaustion because they should have but don't always choose to eat at Grandma's house.  I had a couple of people mention my failure, and it sparked a conversation. By the unanimous decision of my offspring, I will skip the overtime when I have them, and they will expect less for Christmas.  I have amazing boys because even when they ignore me, they prefer to have me around. And they have amazing Grandmothers that care enough to call me out even though they faced the frustration and anger that their input unleashed.

My point is, for as long as we have our kids, we will celebrate them, but do you realize what it means for the moms that carry those humans and get them through each lap around the sun?

We feel what it is to have our hearts removed from our bodies and forced to survive independent of us.  We nurture them and care for them in a way that makes us want to hold them closer while the natural order of life dictates that they will always move further from us until they no longer need us, but will hopefully honor and love us by choice.  We make the hard decisions because they are the right decisions.  We know that one day they'll understand the choices we make, but we hope that day comes soon because the emotional pain is often too much to stand when we know we must stand silently in our choices and hope time's lesson is gentle and complete. We stand in silence at injustices we know need to happen, and we fight fiercely when that is what we are called to do, brushing off our accomplishments as motherly duty.

Moms are badass.  When that birthday of yours comes around, don't forget to thank your mom.  Even if you were given up for adoption, you were given an opportunity. Even if you have baggage and childhood pain, you're here.  YOUR EXISTENCE IS NOT AN ACCIDENT. You get to be here. You get to do better.  You get to create the life you want.  You have the opportunity to see every painful moment as a way you needed to learn and grow. And you get to remember you weren't the only one affected by your birth.

Walking Like A Confident Mom Should

I walk like a Mom.  I've been told more than once that I walk like a model but I've never modeled.  It's about getting to where I need to be.  This has been a thing for others for a while, and I've written about taking a step before. I've mommed.  It's a simple gait . . . I remember months ago when I was first starting to wear high heels after years of being barefoot or in flats.  I had to decide I had the confidence and once I did, my muscles no longer had to make up for my insecurities. I had to decide that I was confident enough to walk the way I do.

It's a mom walk.  I can teach you.   One foot in front of the other, hips sway in the imbalance of it.  Usually I walk quickly, but slowing down means I often lead with my hips a little more. I smile and make eye contact.  I'm friendly. I strike hard with my heel, certain of my footing. If you need further instruction, you're over thinking it.  It's not something you mechanically do.  It's an extension of the empowerment I embody.

It helps to have a mirror session.  Look at yourself in a mirror.  Really look at yourself.  Make up or clean face.  At your current weight which is perfect once you decide it is.  Look hard. Look brazenly.  Decide that you are beautiful and strong and powerful.  Then step back and start walking.  As you walk, remember that your veins carry the life force forged in the DNA of warriors before you.  No one's family has survived as an accident.  My birthright means I have the blood of women that have fought and lived, not as survivors of their situation, but as women who learned to thrive because of them. In spite of them.

Dating sometimes makes me feel like my dates believe they are owed something in exchange for taking me out and paying for a meal.  I often feel like I need to explain that affection is not an obligation because I agreed to coffee.  I know that my time is a gift. If I had a going rate, most couldn't afford my smile.

My smile was always a thing to hide behind when I was younger.  For years my smile was gone.  I recently had a random text and that text put a smile on my face that let me know I wasn't smiling just before it, and that is rare lately.  That moment was me in the middle of a gnarly purchase order and a disorganized project I had to sort through. That man sent that text and I felt a huge difference.  I don't expect any more of his texts, but I have my walk.  This walk boosts my confidence and my smile tends to cheer others up too.

The cost of my smile means being so confined and crushed emotionally that there was a shell filled with broken pieces.  It costs the insomnia I lived through and crying myself to sleep many nights.  It costs choosing being alone over being in the wrong relationship. It costs figuring out life instead of indulging in a midlife crisis and finding empowerment through that.  It means begging for a feeling I couldn't name and finding indescribable joy in knowing that I don't have to be who I was. The cost of my smile was to be so solidly held as valuable to only one man in a shallow existence and being rejected so hard that the only deliverance was to discover true self love.

My smile is a promise to a new life and more joy than I thought I had a right to. It's the hint to the secret of the wonder I feel when I stand in the sun or smell a fresh orange with its peel intact and living in each moment as if every single breath matters.  It's knowing that my smile can brighten someone else's day and the odds of hearing it's a beautiful smile are fairly good. It's not knowing my worth, but understanding I am worthy.

I walk and I smile and a lot of days, this walk down the block on a busy street are all I need to fill my cup and recharge.

Learning to Lead My Sons on a Hiking Trip

I was determined to take my boys hiking today.  I felt we were due to physically work out what it feels like to be a family in transition while we looked at pretty things. We went to Malibu Creek State Park.  Kid1 has had a rough couple of weeks with school, transportation to school and my childcare arrangements after school.  Kid2 needs me to step up our physical activity for the sake of his health.  His last physical revealed a 20 pound weight gain in 6 months. Kid3 is emotionally suffering and trying his hardest to be resilient.  It looks like aggression against Kid2. As we set out for the day, Kid1 was determined to show me his defiance by sitting in the car when we stopped for drinks and snacks.  We got to the park, and headed out and he was determined to lead, not knowing where we were going.  He was kicking at trees and rocks and I decided to let him go off, because he has enough of a sense of self preservation that he wouldn't go off trail.  There were several people on that trail and for the most part at the beginning, I could still see him. At one point, he doubled back to say he wanted to go home.

He set off again, and I kept pace with Kid2 who was going the slowest, and setting my pace.  Kid1 was thundering off, and Kid3 was anxiously going back and forth between us as Kid2 and I were bringing up the rear.  As people passed me, I asked if they had seen a teenager in dark colors wearing a beanie up ahead, and everyone noticed the angry teen that wouldn't acknowledge them.  We were heading to the Rock Pool, and it was a left turn that happens well before the MASH site (which I might just experience on my own one day).  Because the MASH site was straight ahead, I was sure Kid1 was continuing straight ahead.  It's what I did when I went to Runyon Canyon on my own.

Kid2 was starting to suffer and I didn't want him to continue that far beyond where I planned to take them.  I had him sit on the trail and rest, and told him I would go find his brothers.  He was happy to rest, and within a short while I caught up to Kid3.  He had already turned back, to make sure I was okay.  I had him sit with his brother, and started running along the trail in search of Kid1.

I can't tell you the last time I ran, because it's not my jam.  But I ran.  I was running on a dirt trail, littered with dips and rocks.  I was light on my feet and I felt powerful.  It might have been my irritation.  When I caught up to Kid1, I had an earful for him. I let him know that his anger and stubbornness and unwillingness to seek direction made his entire family walk farther than we needed to. I acknowledged my failure to lead him in staying with the son that needed more physical support and encouragement.

I was this powerful gazelle, running along the trail toward him, but in stomping anger as we walked back together, I slipped on a rock and fell.  He was angry enough and probably afraid of what used to be normal that he didn't laugh at me.  I told him I appreciated it, but not laughing told me how upset he really was.

We headed back and Kid2 and Kid3 were walking toward us because they wanted to catch up to us.

The details aren't nearly as important as the lessons.

  1. The last person sets the pace because we're a team has always been my ideal, but it's not enough when I'm alone with the kids and there isn't another adult to lead us.I need to take us places that are not just my choice, but destinations they would like to explore.  I need to internalize the joys of the outdoors and exercise for them and I can't do it when I'm forcing my agenda.
  2. Kid1 is just like me in his need to stubbornly go off on his own. I normally look at it as adventure but the cost to my team as a leader isn't always fair.
  3. Kid3 is a mother hen, worrying about everyone.  I spent the day trying to show them it's my job to be mom, casually intervening when they tried to correct each other. I told them they should be getting in trouble together and they are not eachother's parents. They can't take my job.
  4. I failed Kid1 in not reining him in and leading him more closely. He is not ready to lead and I shouldn't have let him. From where I was, I didn't see it as leadership, but when he hit that fork that he didn't even see, and I had to chase him down a good mile or so, it became clear he needed me to set boundaries. On the way back, he was allowed to go ahead as long as he waited at every single fork in the road for my guidance.
  5. More preparation wouldn't have been terrible.  I kept looking at the progression of the sun with our late starting time and wondering what would happen if we had to hike back in the dark and I didn't have a flashlight. We got back well before the sunset and watched it from Point Dume.
  6. I'm fearless in life except when it comes to my boys.  I was worried about the little ones when I was off and chasing my oldest.
  7. Hiking isn't a family trip for good reason, and our future compromise is museums. I couldn't enjoy the beauty on the hike. It felt like exercise and not fun.
  8. I'm in better shape than I thought I was and running doesn't have to be a dirty word.

When we were heading home Kid3 went from a tantrum to complete break down and it looked like aggression toward Kid2 and a meltdown on the floor of the car as we parked along PCH.  Being near the ocean was a bonus because we got through his moment and the ocean and the music I played in the car allowed me to shift back into joy before we got home.  As a family, we had a collective break down.  I nearly lost it, yelling at Kid3 and it was a look from Kid1 that gave me a moment to pause.  (Mom fail.) Kid1 told us about the many things stressing him out the last two weeks. (Bonus for him finding his voice!)  Kid2 is always the King of a Delayed Reaction, so I get to see what that will look like later.  I was losing it and watching the ocean to find it.  Once we were home, Kid3 admitted the divorce isn't sitting easily with him and that was part of his need to cry and kick his brother. We'll be heading to my mom's house to hammer it out with that 100 pound heavy bag later.  He said all he was ready to and I'm sure we'll talk again later.  We always do.

We'll be okay, but I get to learn from what today looked like.

Autism Awareness Because You Should Have a Peek

So I'm cheating with this post.  I actually shared it to my Facebook feed on this day in 2013, with some editing. When the boys were babies, I talked to their pediatrician with the MDFAAP behind her name about the crying for 7 hours straight. I talked to her about the words they weren't saying and the poop they'd smear and eat. I asked about a lack of eye contact. She assured me this was normal. Kid1 and Kid2 are 18 months apart and shared behaviors. Yes, we changed doctors. (Fewer letters behind the name, but much more personalized care.)

Autism was a new word for me. It took a long time to learn the name that covers the habit of running head first into the wall only to slam the back of their heads on the floor. I thought climbing on top of the highest pieces of furniture to jump down had more to do with being boys than a need to control a sensory overload. It took a while for them to break me by dumping all of their toys over their head the minute I picked them all up.

I once had a stranger come from off of the street into our apartment complex to investigate the child abuse sounding cries from Kid1 because I left him inside the house to unload groceries from the car.

I thought this was normal. When I found out it wasn't, I looked for support groups. Of course, this was after a visit with a different doctor who looked me in the eyes and said, "you poor woman. There are medications for this." She stood quietly as I sobbed and thanked her. In the long run, the drugs weren't worth the risk to a 3 year old.

In the early days, with other parents of newly labeled kids, these groups became safe places to complain about the many ways our kids failed our ideals. It was a place of blame and anger. The group meant to strengthen and encourage me left me broken down and unable to face the strangers commenting on my children's bad behavior and my lack of parenting skills and discipline. Once I told a woman that I was sorry my autistic kids were ruining her perfectly peaceful grocery store trip. I didn't ask her what was wrong with her as she began to question the bad genes that put autism in our family.

I've heard all sorts of possible links, and commonalities, but so much is unknown. No one knows exactly where it comes from. There is no cure. There's learning to cope and autism awareness. You see it in the form of meltdowns as long as you stop assuming all kids are bad.

At this point, having gotten past the harder stages and facing the social and emotional pain to come, my kids have given me a gift and education that have made me a better person. I hate that this is the road they have to walk because it is difficult and painful, but I feel gratitude for being chosen to help them find their way.

My autism awareness became my trial and error process in figuring out what makes my kids happy, and how far am I willing to go in mutual discomfort to help them adjust to neurotypical expectations.

While this can be a lonely place, it has a magic that I can only see when I try to look through the eyes of my sons.  They are intelligent and observant.  They don't ignore the questions of life based on societal norms and what should be ignored in politeness.  They ask the bold questions and want to know why and how.  I like to think I get this from them.

With the space of learning who we are as individuals and as a family, I've been able to follow adults with autism on Facebook and they've been healing to me.  They've given me answers my children cannot yet articulate.  When I'm on Facebook.  I'm blogging and adventuring and posting, but rarely reading what others post anymore.  I think that's what happens when you get to live the life you want.  You stop obsessing over other lives that aren't yours.

There's one girl I follow that has inspired so much hope in me. She has down days, but the fire inside of her makes hers the voice I would want on my side when I need an advocate. She has taught me that it's not enough to teach my kids what is expected. I need them to set their own boundaries and know when and how to fight for those limits. She taught me that I am failing them by teaching them to be complacent and acquiesce to others because of an ideal that neurotypical is normal and right. That's how you raise a victim.

The comfort from other families is knowing that I'm not the only one who wonders if my kids will ever live independently. I'm not the only one who worries about my kids having to care for each other if I die before my kids do. I'm not the only one that has to fight school districts and Regional Center as well as Social Security and In Home Supportive Services.  I will not be the only parent to have to go to court for guardianship of my children once they become adults. I'm not the only one who feels that Autism awareness groups are not on the same page with my boys. And I'm not afraid to share that being test subjects for an autism cure was no longer empowering, but frustrating and difficult as a family. I'm not the only one. We are not alone.

Advocating For My Children with Autism

It's been awhile since I've written about being an autism mom and this weekend it's come up a few times in different conversations.  It's come up in a way where I get to decide to do something about it.  I haven't decided what that looks like yet but it's something that won't shut up, so it's time I listened. I was with a teacher from the Montebello school district yesterday.  We were talking budgets and it kinda surprised me to learn that they are allocated $.33 per student, per year.  So yeah, shout out to Montebello for short changing your kids by giving them the equivalent of a box of crayons for the year while teachers can't afford paper.  And mad thug life props to all the teachers that make it happen and teach our kids anyway.

I've learned that when you are committed, you do whatever it takes, no matter what it takes.  If you are not committed, you look for any excuse to turn and run.  At that point, it's okay to decide it's the best course of action and go with it. Even if that means accepting that someone else failed you in finding excuses.

We were talking about the education system that has structured learning times, and a minimum for physical education that gets pushed back as far as possible for learning. We talked about the schools having less art and music, and more structured learning and the kids that are falling between the cracks.  I've worked as a teacher's aide in a public school and a substitute teacher in a private school and I could go on a rant pointing out the good and the very bad in both, but that's not really the point.  I passed the CBEST exam without studying, and a credentialed teacher has taken the time to learn to teach what I pretty much have covered.  I like to think I'm sharp, but not sharp enough to hone someone else's child.  Not distanced enough anyway.

As a special needs mom, I learned that teachers can't help you serve your kids.  There are certain rules the districts have to follow. Teachers can get in trouble for educating parents in their rights. Whether or not your child is a student your local school, if they would normally be served by the school in your neighborhood, you get to ask for an assessment in writing, and they have to give you one for free within 30 days.  There are several rights and responsibilities that fall to parents and schools, and there's a booklet with that information that you can pick up from the school, and it reads like a boring textbook.  My advice? Get to know a special needs parent.  We've all been through the trenches, and we've all had to fight in one way or another and know a network of other parents that have learned in the same way.

Prepare to get your questions ignored.  Prepare to write letters and make phone calls that will end in an unanswered voicemail that you get to repeatedly follow up on.  Prepare to put your child through testing that will take longer than they have the patience for and teachers that don't get to be with your kids full time.  Take the steps they've outlined as their process, but don't be afraid to take it to the next level.

Prepare to be judged by a teacher that has taken classes and has been in a classroom for several hours with an aide or two engaged and  focused on teaching.  They won't know what it's like to work when they do, but still need to do laundry, make dinner and go to the grocery store with your kids, because you don't always get to structure adulting with blocks of parenting.

Accept that there will be strides and breakthroughs that had nothing to do with you.  It will happen with your children under the care of a teacher you might not like.  Know that at the end of the year, they'll love and miss your child because you've spent a year co-parenting without the struggle of reconciling scorned lovers.

Prepare for the anger and frustration.  Don't lose your shit because it won't serve you.  Know that you aren't alone.

It's safe to say the kids are set up to learn and test and test some more.  The grading scale looks for an average and that average includes children that can't communicate right along with kids that don't speak english, and kids that are gifted and sometimes ask questions their teacher can't answer. The tests are there to see where your kid needs help, not to categorize them into a workable distance.  Take it with a grain of salt and know you're doing what you feel is best for your child because parents aren't usually capable of doing less.

Listen to your kids, and figure out what they aren't saying. Get really comfortable with teachers and principals.  Recognize you're an adult and not a kid in trouble and act like a grown up. Make sure they know your voice when you call the school.  You aren't being annoying.  You're involved, and these principals and teachers will surprise you when they lower the mask of their profession, level a steady look of admiration and offer support in the ways they can.

The Point of Labels on People is Pointless

The thing about having special needs or a different gender identity or sexuality is that you will always be who you are.  Labels that box you into a definition are for the people that aren't able to see you as you are.  They need to define you. We all do it.  We see someone we like and start looking for the things we share in common.  We meet someone we don't like and start stacking differences to build a case.  If we removed these labels, and learned to look for commonalities instead of differences, we could meet everyone where they are, without needing to box them in and create distance.  They become people instead of labels.  This could apply to political parties, race, religion or diet.

I was hiking with a group through Griffith Park but it wasn't all heavy discussion.

We talked about pregnancy changing my sense of smell so now I'm part canine.  We talked about sweating as a teenager, and how your body changes and reeks after you give birth.

We talked about cinnamon flavored toothpicks, and pink bathrooms and toilet paper.  Of course, this was met with, "they used to do that back then?" Yes, I tucked my old back in.

We talked about my singing out loud and a friend told me she loves my voice.  I assured her that changes depending on how loud the music I'm singing with is.

Mainly we talked.  We walked up a mountain.  We talked.  We laughed.  We took pictures. And I connected.  It was a good morning.

 

Silly Boys Online and the Men I'm Raising

It's Tuesday and my last night with the boys until Monday night.  I was going back and forth about what to do when I picked them up but finalized my decision when I picked them up and they grilled me about an absentee ballot I cast a weekend or two ago. I can't control an outcome, but I can decide on my reaction and interpretation.  I decided we were eating out and away from news. This choice looked like traffic after a long day at work.  Kid1 didn't want to go at first, but loved the food so much he wanted to keep the bag we brought our leftovers in so he could tell his friends to try it out.  Kid2 was mellow and happy because he's the adventurous one that loves new tastes.  He'll eat fresh water eel and experiment with sushi. Our next adventure for him is Indian food because he tasted curry in a dip and loved it.  Kid3 was so full of energy from his day and he wanted to excitedly tell me about every moment of it.  He was loud and exuberant.  He made sure I caught and could repeat details.  After the ups and stresses of a full shift, the internet being down for a bit at work, sorting out documents by hand and the highs of random texts that made me smile all day, I was exhausted, but I gave him 110% of what I had for him, digging deep so he didn't feel my deficits.  We got our food and Kid1 and Kid2 were in a silent slurping heaven, with muttered gratitude between bites. Kid3 was immediately nauseous with the smells of Japanese food that doesn't look like sushi.  We all ate a bit faster so he could get home and later complain he's starving.

When my only job was to raise a family as mom, I did all of the cooking at home from scratch.  I seared and simmered over the stove, running to the laundry room to swap loads of clothes or bang through a sink of dishes, breaking my nails that weren't bitten down to the quick.  Help looked like the times we ate out.  We piled into the car and headed to a restaurant I usually didn't like so we could sit quietly, lost in the places our devices allowed us to escape to. Single parenthood means we've made some life style changes and family meals in restaurants took a major hit.

Tonight we went to a restaurant that a friend of mine manages.  He was off, but I wanted to check out what his Kingdom looked like.  He is the boss in way that would be so hot to me if he wasn't gay and therefore not into me. (How into me a man is has a lot to do with my attraction.)  I love that we have the same taste in men and plenty to talk about when we share eye candy moments. He has dark hair and beautiful eyes with the most alluring lilt to his voice.  He's beautiful. He gives the greatest hugs and one day he'll make some man really happy.  And maybe I'm a bit biased towards a man that has fed me more than once.

As we were sitting I watched my boys interact.  I watched their excitement.  I honored a wish to not take pictures of them.  They were discussing politics with phrases they borrowed, but concepts they tied together themselves.  Kid3 believed we could get Kid1 to vote illegally just to contribute their beliefs. It was a moment where I sat in awe of the growing they've done over the last year.  I am so proud of my boys.  I made them with my body!

At that moment . . . at the peak of my happy momma feelings I got a text from a man I had forgotten about.  I don't think I was ever fully into him.  I would have blocked him a lot sooner if I wasn't so amused by his texts.  I directed him to this blog and told him to call me if I didn't scare him away.  He never did call me.

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The laughs keep coming from this one and I did finally block him. I'm usually nicer to men in general but there is nothing about him I would want to protect and I'm not always nice.

I wouldn't call myself a male hater.  I love men. I love the way they look and smell.  I love their strength.  I love the way they think in the direct lines of logic.  I love the way they see things the way I can't.  Ultimately I would love to find a man who I believe in and would be willing to submit to.  It wouldn't be out of fear but out of respect. He wanted to be the Alpha Male, but he was far from my ideal and he didn't get it in the texts I ignored or the kindness I offered in scaring him away with my authenticity here.  I knew it would make him walk.  He's not the droid (or man) I'm looking for.  I never entertained the idea of him meeting my boys and I was never interested in giving up my alone time for him.

My laughter died down and my boys asked what was funny.  I didn't explain that he suggested I might want to call him after insulting me when I wasn't making any effort to be on his radar to begin with. Instead I told them there was a silly boy that thought their mom was dumb or that he meant enough to hurt my feelings.  He just didn't have that power.

I realized that we were in a perfect space as a family.  As mom, I'm raising men to be proud of.  (Still working on those times when Kid3 rage quits.) Apart, I'm sure their Dad is doing better than he ever did as my spouse and I can relax in the knowledge that we're doing right by them.  I don't have to worry about them when I don't have custody.

As far as dating, setting that bar really high and raising it with each solid man that I meet, whether or not he's the one for me, is the right choice.  I was having a moment in the last few days, wondering if maybe the bar is too high.  I got my answer yesterday, and no, it's not too high.  I could probably even raise it to match the man that's been making me smile like a blushing idiot all day. (I don't intimidate him.) Deciding on what I want and knowing when I'm not looking at it feels powerful. I don't feel powerful in a dominant aggressive way, but in the way where I get to control my life, unmoved by insignificance.  I don't have to believe someone else's value of me because I know who I'm showing up as to myself and to the only boys that really matter to me - the ones that are part of me and grew strong right under my heart.

I think about who I was a handful of years ago.  This boy might have hurt my feelings back then.  I've never met him in person and we never had much to discuss through text.  He read enough of my blog to feel threatened enough to do more than just fade away.  It broke whatever false kindness he thought was enough for me to offer something he wasn't even worthy enough to look at.  Call it ego.  I know my worth.  Once upon a time, I might have valued his opinion with only a glimpse of my personality through my words, and it might have mattered more than my desires for my life.  That's insane to me now.  I like that it's so crazy because this life I get to lead is that important to me.

Yes! Opportunities

My life is rarely predictable.  It’s not supposed to be, is it? Would that be great use of my adaptability or optimism? Not likely.  I go with the changes.  I can’t predict or control what happens, but I can certainly shift my perspective and choose my direction and that guides my reaction so that it’s less of a visceral reaction and more of an intentional response. Lately things have been coming up, and my first response is typically to say, “chet!”  It’s not a “shit” moment.  It’s a failure to curse.  It’s so messed up that my response isn’t even fully formed in vulgarity and missing the mark allows me to grasp the situation for the opportunity it is.

I spent many years as a stay at home mom.  I didn’t love it.  I did it because I didn’t want someone else to have my children’s earliest attachments.  I didn’t want to miss those first milestones.  I loved early morning snuggles and nursing my babies on demand.  They were learning just as much from me as they were teaching me.

Shared custody is the biggest possible “chet!” moment.  I can’t control who is around my boys.  I can’t control the fact that decisions that were once solely mine are now shared and dragged out longer than I’d like.  I can’t control what they eat or how they’re treated when they aren’t in front of me.

I was never a true helicopter parent.  I watch from farther away . . . Sometimes mothering means you get to keep an eye out for your littles when you can’t trust the other littles.  It always means your eagle eyes are on the lookout for predators. My mom supported me in anything I wanted to do.  She still does.  Swimming, dance, gymnastics, acting . . . She paid for classes and when I wanted to quit, she accepted that too.  I tried to follow this.

I’m also an autism mom, so I had a whole set of duties that are unique to my family.  It’s easy to get carried away into doing everything, but my kids teach me that they need the space to fly or I’ll just crush their wings.

It looks like I’m a homebody every other weekend.  There’s housework, and home cooked meals.  During the week, I get to rely on the support of my team.  I have a team of family and a caregiver that steps in and they overlap where I need them to so I can bring home the bacon, then cook it later.  I can’t be a badass without them.

The reality of my reliance is there are moments when I get to let go of control.  It was hard at first.  I remember that first court hearing when I made a huge list of demands.  It included parenting classes and financial responsibility.  I had it lined up that everything I wanted was important or I would try to take away the boys.  I had no intention of that.  I just didn’t want the new girlfriend in my arena.  The kid’s schools were my home turf.  I had friends and teachers that have been there for years and I couldn’t handle having this woman at the school.  At the end of the day, we came to an agreement that had his loophole built into it.  I got to learn to let it go, and from that moment, everything I couldn’t control about my kids became secondary.

I even adopted a motto:

It’s not my shit.  It didn’t come out of my ass.  I don’t have to clean it up.

Last night and all day, situations came up and I took these “chet” moments and turned them into “Yes!” opportunities.  My day didn’t crash.  My kids are being cared for.  I’ll get an earful later, but I get to give hugs and they will be listened to.  I get to listen to them complain about a long day. I may be handing out foot or shoulder rubs.  I miss doing that sometimes and the boys love it. But I get to shift in a way where these pop up situations don’t destroy my day.  I get to rise to the challenge, make the calls that matter and accept that the small details don’t matter.  I get to accept in these incremental moments that I can’t control anything but the way I respond.

A favorite visual of mine is a baby duck.  Don’t think of a momma duck.  (Those bitches be cray cray.) Think of a baby duck that is so focused on learning to swim, they don’t even notice the water rolling off their backs.

Gift Receipt

I love receiving gifts, but sometimes it's not the right fit, or you wanted a different color, or the gift in no ways satisfies your wants or desires.  It's terrific when we have a gift receipt.  We can find out the value of the gift.  We can make an exchange or return. We don't have to keep what we were given.  Yesterday I found a gift receipt and I didn't even know what I had before I found it. During part of my Advanced class, I really took a look at my parents.  At the end of the day, I had a good childhood.  It might have been cold in some ways.  Dad would shut down and sit inside of himself.  Mom was physically affectionate but as I got older, her affection looked like encouragement to be better.  I've accepted that I may never reach who she wants me to be, and I only ask that my kids are loved and loving others because of how that feels. There was a space of disconnection.  I love my parents, and they've given me all that they thought was best for me, but I had to look at how they shaped my ideas of love and connection.

Let's start with my Daddy issues.

Dad is a war vet and he lives with PTSD. His war experience is never farther from him than yesterday.  Emotionally, he is disconnected.  It's not something I'm angry about.  It's just what I grew up with.  I realized I tend to feel like he can't see me.  He's in his head so much that he can't see me.  He stands bravely, but I've always known the fear he lives in.  I spent my adolescence, declaring to myself that I can't live in his fear or face his demons.  I just can't let them control how I live.  I spend a lot of time on the town alone.  I don't always remember to lock my door.  I don't carry the taser he bought me.  I refuse to live in fear.  At the same time, I've been afraid of deep relational connections. I've been afraid of letting people in.  I've been afraid to dream big and expect greatness.

Dad has kept things at a distance.  He doesn't share who he is outside of his faith and maybe it's because he can't see his value outside of his faith.  This summer he kept asking my kids, "What do you think of Grandpa."  I finally said, "I need you to be strong for them, and not question who you are.  You don't need acceptance.  You need to just be who you are and get your answers by who chooses to be around you. You tell me you are the son of the Most High God, and I need you to act like it.  My sons are learning who they are from those around them." He once tried to share his experience of Vietnam with me.  I don't remember what he said, but he remembered the look on my face and uses that as an excuse to hide who he is to protect me . . . to protect him.

This showed up for me in a way that I could see how every man I've ever dated was emotionally unavailable or stunted in some way.  I have always been attracted to men that feel like I did when surrounded by my Daddy's demons.  His fear . . . His emotional distance . . . His superficial connection . . . His need to control that made love feel like obedience and service to him.  I found his gift receipt and I don't need it anymore.

And now, my Mommy issues.

The Basic class showed me that I never appreciated what it was like for my mom.  She came here from Thailand as a teenaged mother, not knowing the language and leaving her entire family.  She was in a controlling relationship, but she's strong, and for years, her strength looked like distance, and angry yelling.  It looked like financial independence and generosity toward those less fortunate.  She had three daughters, back to back (just like I did), then I was born seven years later.  I was the surprise.  I came along after she had settled into who she was as a mom.  She had gotten comfortable with finding her financial independence and stepping outside of my Dad's need to control.  I barrelled through her body, giving her stretchmarks and messing with her thyroid.  When she wanted to make medical decisions at my birth, it was vetoed by my Dad and the doctor wouldn't follow my Mom's wishes about her body. She never gave me anything other than a sense that I was a cherished and treasured child.  I got hugs and kisses.  She bought me everything she could.  I married a man so much like my Dad, that when he left me, my Mom knew exactly what I needed, but never gave me a deep heart to heart about what she felt.

My Mom is emotionally distant, but she does it out of love.  I have no idea about my Mom's history before she met my Dad.  I asked a cousin about it and his response was the same as hers.  There is so much pain in the family past that they need to protect me and will not say anything at all.  What I know is that they grew up extremely poor in the countryside in Thailand.  My mom had to work by free climbing up coconut trees.  She never went past elementary school and yet she came to the states and earned an A.A. Degree.  She lived in such a way that she needs to protect me by hiding who she is from me. There's an emotional disconnect.

The way I see my mother in my romantic relationships is I tend to want to get lost in the history, the desires and dreams of the man I'm dating.  I hide my desires, putting myself last in getting to know them.  I mirror what I want from my Mom.  I want to be seen and sometimes I don't feel that I am.  I never doubt that she loves me.  I don't feel a deep connection, and I fight for that with my boys, often giving them more transparency than others think is appropriate.

What this means is . . .

I can look at this.  I can see what it means in my life and how it has created who I am, and I can decide that yes, I had a loving childhood, but I'm still trying to fill gaps that were created in me.  These gaps aren't things that my parents did wrong.  This is more that my parents were unable to be who I wanted or needed them to be and now that I see that, I don't have to keep filling those voids in others.

I can see how the circumstances of my parent's life never allowed them to fully express who they are.  I grew up with so much empathy for others and a total disconnect from myself.  Part from my parents . . .  Part from my suicidal years (1993-2006).  There are things I feel so deeply that the only way to survive has always been to shut it off.  If I don't allow myself to feel, it can't take me deeper than I can stand. I hide in my smile.  I hide in my confidence.  I hide in not allowing others to see who I really am because my darkness might be too dark (thanks Mom and Dad). They didn't have a choice.  I won't suggest they should do better because I know they did the best they could.  I'm certain that my Dad must have grown up with love as a barter system because I'm learning unconditional love now.  It comes from choice.  It comes without a cost or expectation and it's independent of the ability to be disappointed.

I understand that the distance from my parents in hiding who they are is because they still need protecting from what life has offered them. It's not at all about me.

I've had so much kindness in the last few days.  I've had so many people give me their love from the gut, with openness.  They're just as raw and gutted as I am right now.  I'm seeing how I've been in my world, trying to fix parts I didn't know were broken, and shutting out decent people.

A week or two ago, someone at work was opening a door for me, but I opened the other side because I'm not used to this kindness.

Wednesday, a man looked me in the eyes as I was opening up about my bruised parts, and he told me I was beautiful.  I could feel the zit growing on my cheek, and the tears streaming down my face, and my face was in an open and ugly cry.  But I was beautiful to him.

I had someone feed me.  He offered food.  As simple and human as that is, he offered food without expecting anything more than the company I offered.  And I keep trying to mother him.  What does that say about my mommy issues?

I found my gift receipts.  I know the value of what they've given me and how it looks in my life.  I'm taking it back and deciding what I'm committed to creating in my life.  It's going to being brave, courageous, and heart led.  It's already pretty epic.

 

Trans Nerdy Podcast

I'm not a podcast listener.  Not really.  I have a friend.  This is her thing.  I say "her" but she identifies as gender fluid and while she was born a cisgendered male, she has now gone above and beyond in a transformation I am inspired by.  Everything she has internalized as her desire to be has become an external expression of who she is. From losing weight, to reassigning her physical gender, to days when she balances where she fits and how she straddles genders.  It's hard enough to be a woman with people telling you how you should look or present yourself, and what beauty means.  Any magazine would show you we're all doing it wrong.  She's both, and she takes the good with the bad, learning with excitement and aplomb.  She sees limits but they aren't her limitations.  I admire her and her podcast is my only subscription on iTunes or anywhere. This friend has done more than I would.  I see her and call her my sister because when I see her, she is more like me than a man.  I identify with her probably more than she identifies with me. She has moments where she is very male, as do I.  I mean, when we're walking down the street and I stop her to say, "look at him! He's beautiful." I'm being the more sexually aggressive one, which is traditionally a male characteristic.  This is especially the case when I vocalize my more intimate fantasies. Then I try not to enjoy her discomfort and feel a bit of shame because I've made her uncomfortable. When she takes her time texting back, she's definitely being more male.  It doesn't bother me. It's who she is.  And that's the point of a text or email, right? You get to it when you feel like it. I think she sees the distinction as more physical but I don't see her that way.  I see her as a beautiful person full of light and raw with emotions most of the time.  Her jawline is solid and I can imagine what she would look like if I could only see her as a man.  He is beautiful and if I could only see his face the only barrier for me would be the age gap.

The podcast itself is well researched with enough personal influence to express so much more than I'd ever get from a news article on the same topics she explores. She talks about issues in the LGBTQ community and it's stretched my perception in so many ways.

Just this morning I listened to Episode #8, Transgender and Acting.  She brought up so much about issues I never considered, but the more I listen to her, I can see how the LGBTQ community shares so much with the Special Needs Community.  There was a moment when she explained how an actor could portray Superman but never fully appreciate what life as an alien is really like. My explanation of the ways my boys are othered by their autism usually involves Superman.  He's different.  He's othered.  He has extrasensory perception, similar to my autistic sons (hearing and seeing more than I ever could) and yet I would never call him disabled.  Both LGBTQ and Autism are characterized in ways the rest of the world can understand although each person is unique and grouped under an umbrella.  The umbrella is for others to understand what the people under the umbrella get to live.  I'm so excited that I get to keep learning and stretching because of her.  Give her a listen and she'll give you a lesson.  I promise, it'll be good.

Firstborn

My firstborn completed his 15th lap around the sun this afternoon. He altered my body in ways I couldn't imagine. He was the first of 7 children to rest beneath my heart. He barreled through me, shifting my ideals of the person I was supposed to be because I chose to be who I wanted him to have as a mother.  It came with the backlash of being someone I wasn't and my hormones fluctuated, throwing me into one of the deepest depressions I have ever experienced.  It was called the baby blues, but there was a darkness that suffocated me and held me in oppression that was a vile mockery of sisterhood. He was born a little early and at 5 pounds, 5 ounces, he was tiny and his whole body fit along my forearm.  He needed constant contact and wanted to be held at all times.  I was on my own around the clock as my ex was working more than one job to support us.  He would often get home late in the afternoon and remind me to eat and shower because I would forget to eat.  My respite came in the form of a baby swing, but after I had learned to do everything with one hand while he rested along the other arm.  He was colicky and would cry most of the night and at 4 months old, I called my mom in tears, and thanked her for not killing me in my infancy.

By his first birthday, he was obsessed with the toilet.  He would climb in and sit in it, fully clothed.  It was wet and held him closely.  It was sensory.  He would defecate in a diaper, then explore the textures with his hands and mouth on clothes and walls.  He loved flushing things, and I learned how to uninstall a toilet, flip it upside down in a tub, flush water or a snake up the back way to dislodge puzzle pieces, cutlery, cars and trains and reinstall the same toilet.  I now keep a toilet auger and this year there's only been one spoon but it might have been Kid2's misadventure. (Two wax rings can be sandwiched if you can't find a double thick one and don't over tighten your screws because porcelain can't take that kind of pressure.)

I took him to a pediatrician with several letters added on after her name.  I placed my faith in her and believed her when she told me he would talk when he was ready.  I can't describe the rage and betrayal I felt when I believed her, and I was told he was on a spectrum that was a word I knew nothing about. She assured me he was fine, but there was a reason I felt like a failure and other mother's encouraged this notion.  Autism looks like a naughty child and a mother bent on spoiling her child.

I've watched him seek alignment for what I can never really appreciate but understand as Sensory Integration Dysfunction.  I've watched him try to make friends, only to be othered for an inability to understand the cruel social cues of children learning their limits and boundaries.  I've seen him try to make sense of where he belongs.

I've seen him make friendships and interact the way I did as a teenager, but his play is far more imaginative than the silly Sassy articles I would read to my best friend during long nights on the phone.

I've seen him shelter his brothers, and beat them mercilessly.  I've seen him stand up to me and call me out when I'm failing, because I've asked him to, and he trusts me enough to give me his honesty.  He's not just brave but courageous.

When their Dad was injured recently, my first born son had the presence of mind to call an ambulance, when the grown ups around them lost their heads.  When they were with their Dad this weekend, my son stood up to help his Dad in every way necessary. When the pressure became too much, he texted me for encouragement, and continued being the young man I am so very proud of.

He's a gamer.  He loves anime and has been working on his own drawings.  He encourages and supports his friends.  He looks after his brothers and calls me out to be better.  He makes me want to make yesterday's ceiling tomorrow's floor because it is a gift to watch him rise above every expectation put before him. He inspires me.  He is my bright light and brings me so much joy.  I'm so proud of the man he's growing into and only hope to honor who he is by who I consistently show up as.

He's my firstborn.

Pregnancy memories.

Today the twin girls I carried during my last surrogate pregnancy turn 4.  It's been that long since I've had children in my body, tapping all of the amazing places you might feel a random foot or hand.  Having had five boys before them, one at a time, I wasn't prepared for the crazy hormones.  I had pimples and I was so sensitive that crying in sadness and joy and because clouds were fluffy was completely normal.  All of my pregnancies before them were easy in comparison. With Kid1, the placenta wasn't functioning the way it was designed to and he was induced at 36.6 weeks to save his life.  He wasn't gaining weight and he didn't have enough amniotic fluid to swim in.  I was at a clinic full of learning doctors, so my pregnancy was a learning experience and I got used to random doctors poking and prodding around my lady bits.  If I had any modesty that survived my adolescence spent in raves, I lost it during this pregnancy.

Kid2 was so by the book it was almost boring, but his labor was sped up for the doctor's convenience and I went with it.

Kid3 was also easy.  I felt labor pain for about an hour before we went to the hospital and found out I was already at 10 cm dilation, although my water hadn't broken.  After some assistance, he was born an hour later.

Kid4 was my first surrogate pregnancy, and my second IVF cycle.  Considering how quickly Kid3 came, we went early and they kept me because we had a whole party waiting for his arrival.  What I wasn't prepared for was back labor, but he prepared me for the back labor that came with Kid5 who took 3 IVF cycles.

Kids6&7 were different from that first HCG level.  The first IVF cycle was cancelled on the day of the transfer and we had a second cycle and both girls decided to stick around. The numbers were really high, which could mean a strong and healthy pregnancy or twins.  At first, I had really bad morning sickness.  In all of my other pregnancies, being sick was a novelty and I laughed at those rare moments. As I was getting through the first trimester, my heart would start racing randomly.  I was losing weight, but that was normal for all of my pregnancies.  High HCG levels can make your thyroid act wonky. I had an erratically racing heart rate.  There were moments when I was jittery from it.  What looked like Grave's disease eased after the first trimester. At a normal perinatologist appointment during my 25th week, I was sent to the emergency room because my cervix was funnelling, meaning, my body was trying to kick them out.

With the girls, I was hospitalized from 25 weeks until they were born at 29 weeks. It was a private room, but I was still woken every few hours for monitoring and testing. I was allowed two showers that whole time, sitting and timed for exactly 5 minutes.  I had sponge baths by the nurses every other time.  For a week, I was in the Trendelenburg position.  I was tilted upside down at a 45 degree angle to keep pressure off of my cervix. At the end of the pregnancy, there was bleeding and one of the umbilical cords decided to block the opening that the girls were too tiny to use anyway.  I had my first c-section.

The girl's parents are from another country and they had to go back home to their careers and other children but I was asked to visit them, and bring breast milk, which I was honored to do.  Towards the end, it was stressful and exhausting and I didn't like going, but in the beginning it was an opportunity to see them grow.  They were on feeding tubes and oxygen and had masks over their tiny eyes.  They were tiny and fragile but I got to see them get strong and eventually I caught their first smiles.  They spent 8 weeks in the NICU.  They went home after that, and a month or two later they went to their home country.   Every once in a great while I'll see a picture of them in my Instagram feed.

I've been asked if it's hard to give up a child I carried.  It really wasn't.  I was loved so deeply and cared for so much by their mothers and fathers that I know they'll be okay.  It was harder to release friendships with amazing women to let them have the life I imagined would have happened without needing my help.  It was worth every inconvenience because it was an amazing experience.

So this was my moment to remember and celebrate the girls with names loosely translated into "Commitment" and "Shiny" like the sun.

Brotherly Love

My boys are boys.  They fight and yell and curse each other out.  They are affectionate and loving and sensitive and tender.  They protect each other but they are also terrifyingly violent with each other. They're boys and they're brothers and all three are my sons. Kid1 was a surprise that came with joy and excitement.  Every time I puked while pregnant, I laughed.  It didn't happen often, but really warm gatorade would make anyone vomit, and I just learned to steer clear of whole milk, but 2% was just fine.  I celebrated the stretch marks that were his permanent gift to my body.  I was altered by him in so many ways from the girl that lived for attention in short dresses and only worried about making sure I had my three packs of cigarettes a day and enough boys in rotation throughout the week to buy me drinks.  A week before his first birthday, I found out we were having Kid2.

During my second pregnancy, I would place Kid1's hand on my belly to feel Kid2 move and kick.  I'd also pick out pictures in magazines or point at the television anytime I saw a pregnant woman.  I would point at the belly we saw, then mine and say,"baby." When he was 18 months old we went to the hospital and in my hospital bag was a toy packed for Kid1 from Kid2 because he needed a toy to keep him busy while he was too little to be played with.  When we came home, Kid1 was taught that Kid2 was his baby and we all had to be gentle with him and care for him.

With Kid3, we had a 3 year gap, but the older two were taught the same way.  Earlier this year I heard Kid2 (at 13 years old) tell Kid3 (9), "you were created so I could love you." In that moment I knew they would be okay.

With my first surrogate pregnancy, I didn't mention much at all.  I kept the kicks and wiggles to myself and just enjoyed what it felt like to have life so fully inside of me.  The hospital stay was odd for them, but I came home to them filled with hormones that directed my happy bonding compulsions at them.  It was the same with the second surrogate pregnancy, but with the third, they were older and Kid1 was upset that the girls I carried wouldn't be ours.  He likes babies and would like a sister.  I'm not looking to start that kind of adventure but that might be one of the perks of divorce.  He has a Dad that might.

Tonight, there was fighting and playing.  And more fighting and name calling.  I finally got them to stop.  I explained that I love them all and it hurts me when they say things like that about each other.  I explained that they never hear me say bad things about their Dad because I know it would hurt them.  I explained that the same hurt they would feel is the same hurt I feel whenever they say things like, "are you on team pussy now?" (I admire their creativity.) It took about 3 reminders but they were better about treating each other with love.

There was singing today.  My boys sang with me, as we belted it out to Lady Gaga.  They laughed and explored with oobleck (cornstarch and water and super fun). They played Minecraft together and helped each other scoop boba into their glasses for homemade Thai iced tea.  These brothers are everything to me and through their experience, I am unlearning a lifetime of what I thought it was to be a man.  They are sweet and sensitive.  They are caring and compassionate.  They love children and are willing to step beyond what they see and tap into their beliefs and how those beliefs inform their choices.  They remind me that motherhood is amazing.

Balance and Family

Life is full of balance, and my weekend family vacation was all about that lesson.  It was a trip that seemed simple and even exciting to start, and as the party in my room grew, so did the stress.  At first it was me and Kid3.  He's easy and enjoys the shenanigans with his cousins.  My mom convinced Kid2 to go and I began to worry about sensory integration and his needs coming first because it's not always easy when you go on vacation but autism doesn't.  Then my Dad wanted to come and I was going to drive him and I was worried about him and his health on such a long ride and in extreme temperatures. Earlier in the week, I suffered for my procrastination by having to order my bathing suit online.  I have been blessed by my late grandmother and my Mom and I had a hard time finding a swimsuit that could accomodate my top as well as comfortably fit my bottom in stores, so I opted for a bikini I found online because at least then I could choose by bra size.  I got the suit and while it was slightly tighter than I liked, it fit my new body shape.  The suit I had last year doesn't fit.  I wore it one Sunday and the band no longer fits, but the halter top knot left my neck in so much pain for a few days.  It's a lot of weight to wrap around a neck that is used to holding my head. A while back I had to get past the fear of wearing a bikini in public without the protective and admiring gaze of a husband that was mine.  It was probably a bigger deal than I explained here, but I was excited to wear my new bikini. It was even better to realize the sarong I have now fits in many other ways because my body is smaller than it was when I got it. 

As we started on our long road trip, there were good moments, but I was with my Dad and there were not amazing moments.  I went into them here.  At the end of the day, he's my Dad and no one else can make me feel like a teenager.  Well, almost no one else, but this post isn't about him. And we're talking different ends of the spectrum on the fun levels of re-living my youth.

The real fun was all about Saturday.  After getting into Laughlin and being greeted with late night lightning that was fierce enough to startle the locals, we got up and took a lot longer to get going than I was happy with.  It was an effort with kids and Dad taking their time because it was vacation and I needed the reminder to slow down.  I just didn't like it. We stay in Laughlin in Nevada and drive into Arizona during the day. We got to Katherine's Landing where the family enjoys calm waters.

As we were on the water, my sister told me about an unspoken rule for the moms and wives in the group, as the family vacation includes a lot of her friends and all of our children.  It's a family outing and the moms and wives cover up their bodies out of respect for the group.  I was shocked by this.  My nieces were quick to point out I'm not a wife anymore, but I get the culture they are trying to cultivate and out of respect, I covered up.  It reminded me of an amazing Muslim woman I knew.  She was smart and confident and as a medical professional and business woman, I was in awe of the power and authority she commanded and like all muslim women willing to cover up, I admired her faith.  We talked about the hijab and burqa.  She explained that it is a woman's job to not tempt a man into sinning by covering herself.  I could see her point of view, but I left feeling thankful that I'm not Muslim.  That is a huge responsibility to carry but I admire the honor in their faith that is so strong it's announced before you ever get a name.

A short while later my Dad wasn't feeling well in the heat and I got to take him back to the hotel room with Kid2 who was happy to go with us. While taking care of my Dad, I was able to get him to mellow out because the stress of not feeling well was making him feel worse.  I put on my playlist of classical piano instrumentals that I usually write to when I'm trying to be creative.  I encouraged him to practice breathing deeply, and I brought him cool drinks and propped him up with pillows.  There was something calming about knowing he was being taken care of and comfortable and I didn't have to worry about him.  His blood pressure stabilized. He calmed down and he looked like he was feeling better and I got to take Kid2 down to the hotel pool, where I kept my phone by my side in a waterproof case, while I stood in the shade and watched my son enjoy looking at the bottom of the pool with his goggles on.

I stood in the shallow  water under the sun and enjoyed the warmth on my skin and the laughter all around us.  I saw a woman in a white version of my bikini and had to ask if her boobs kept trying to pop out of her suit too.  We laughed and agreed that Victoria's Secret needs to learn that mature boobs flop and float and we're both at the age where we really don't care.  I stood next to a few other people and chatted as they kept offering to buy me drinks, but I was on Dad and kid watch and not into the idea.

After checking on my Dad and finding out that Kid3 was really happy with cousins and my sister was taking great care of him, I took Kid2 to an all you can eat buffet.  I have wheat sensitivities.  It's extreme.  I try my best to avoid wheat and anytime I think there might be wheat flour in a dish, I will ask to be sure and avoid it to be safe.  I ate something at the buffet that I reacted to.  I was planning on spending time poolside with the family but ended up in serious pain and vomiting. Being ill means I try my hardest to think about anything other than being ill, and I may be overthinking things, but I started replaying the bikini situation in my head.

This was a third trip for my family, but the rest of my family has been going for over a decade.  My ex never wanted to go, so we didn't go, but the first year I wore a one-piece and the second year I wore a bikini. Last year the trip was cancelled and this year I was called out on my bikini.  My first thought was no one complained the year I had a husband and over 30 extra pounds.  Then I really started to think of the implications of expecting the women in the group to cover up.  I know a few readers have already considered the internalized rape culture that runs through the group.  If you haven't, I'll unpack it for you.

I had my partying days in my youth where I was weather proof and wore tiny dresses, no matter how cold because I wanted to be cute.  Those days are long gone, but it was hot, and I was wearing a bikini, which covers just as much as the matching bra and panty sets I'm in love with lately. It was totally appropriate considering that was what everyone else was wearing, except the women in our group that wore a one-piece or swam with a cover up.

I actually had to dig for the courage to wear a bikini in public alone.  I was proud of that.  Then I was asked to cover up because I'm expected to help the men out by wearing more clothes.  The situation made me angry because the moment I tell my sons their gender excuses them from responsibility for their own actions, is the moment I've failed as a mother to my sons. Saying a woman should dress a certain way is assuming she's responsible for the actions of someone else.  It wasn't the men policing the issue, or even making me uncomfortable with their looks.  It was the women in the group, policing other adult women. This excuse is a slap in the face to the men that have self control and respect for women.  This rationalization opens the door to victim blaming and slut shaming.  I've already touched on those thoughts.

In my life, I have been honored with being secret keeper to more than one woman who has shared her experiences with rape and physical violence with me.  I've stood between a man with raised fists and his victim because I was willing to fight for a sister.  Once was right after high school.  Another time with different people was with a toddling Kid1 near my feet and after the ex realized what was happening, he chased the guy off for us. It would dishonor that trust to ever imagine anything they could have done or done differently would have affected the choice of one human being to violate trust and the personal rights of another person.

As I was feeling sharp pains in my upper back, and writhing in pain, from a bad food choice, I had both Kid2 and Kid3 surrounding me in bed.  They needed to be close to me.  I would toss and they would adjust and throw little legs and arms back over me, in a protective embrace of sleep.  At one point my Dad was on the bed across from us, and he saw this and laughed because it tickled him to see my boys treat me the way he and my uncle treated my grandmother. It reinforced how important it is that I import the value of respecting a woman in my sons, no matter how strong she is, or how much she needs their protection.  They trust me and it's my duty to offer my best. 

There were other great moments with my Dad.  There was singing and laughter.  My kids caught a glimpse of my Dad's discipline and the way I grew up.  It gave them appreciation for my parenting style and reminded me that I really did marry a man just like my Dad.  It was a bad visual, but it was necessary.  I needed to notice.  I need to do what's right, and I need to not do what hasn't worked out in the past. The ride home included laughter and singing and it wasn't just my perspective that was shifted.  The good came with bad, and that is where there is balance.