Category Archives: Parenting

..the game of life..

.. this Christmas Eve I had the pleasure of playing the game of Life with my nieces and nephews…

..now…?

Most of these nieces and nephews were well below the suggested age bracket of “8 and up” that was printed on the box…

But they all wanted to play… so we opened the box… and put the board together.

… when I pointed out the starting place on the board.. one of my nephews looked at it with doubt.. and said that it looked more like the end of the game…

HA ha…

I think more than one person would say that starting a career or starting college would be the end of their life.. or at least the end of all things “fun”…

.. as I tried to get them all focused on setting up the game to play… they were FAR more interested in filling their cars full of kids … or visiting their uncle Tim in Jail.. or picking out their houses.. and definitely running over their little people…

.. finally I gave up trying to show them the rules and just watched them play.. I watched them drive their cars backwards on the roads.. ha .. that is IF they stayed on the roads at all..

As I watched them play?

I couldn’t help but think how they represented the world around us.

Not everyone wants to follow the rules of Life..

.. and some people don’t get the option of starting at the beginning.. OR following the road exactly..

Some of us start OUT doing things according to the rules.. traveling the roads in the directions we are supposed to.. ONLY to find a detour (or two) that takes us off the main stream road..

…special needs

…widowed

… job changes

… house fire

The point is?

The point is.. that there is no “perfect” road through life. No rules that apply to every person..

Who was I to tell them that my game “rules” were more fun than the “rules” they were playing by… ??

…so I laughed.. and pointed out to my nephew that it didn’t matter if he was driving backwards on the road.. but that Jesus wouldn’t want him to run over his kids…

… He looked down at the game pieces and scowled..

“Those aren’t my kids.. that’s my wife.”

I silently vowed to never loan him my keys as I helped his poor wife back in his car.

The obvious issue…

img_8646-1Last week, we drove to the frozen Northern coast of Michigan to see my daughter perform on stage.

…and yes… with it being December? There was snow… a lot of snow.

Yes… the beautiful upper peninsula of Michigan was very white.

Joking around with my son, I pointed to Lake Superior (with its chunks of ice) and asked him, “Hey Buddy… should we go swimming?”

He looked out the window at the huge waves and the snowy beach … “No.. no .. no.. wait a minute,” he told me, obviously appalled at my lack of good choices. “We CAN’T go swimming.”

Trying not to laugh at his tone, I asked seriously, “Why not?”

Annoyed, my son stated, “There are FISH in there.”

As if the FISH were the OBVIOUS reason we could NOT go swimming in Lake Superior in the middle of December.

After we all burst out laughing, I told him that it was “too cold” to go swimming anyway.

He looked at me for a second, then said, “Yeah, it’s too cold.” … like EVERYONE knew it was too cold.

It makes me laugh to see the world through my son’s eyes…

…but it also makes me think.

You see?

My son has Autism .. and he sees the whole world differently than I do. And it fascinates me. The things that I see as obvious? He looks past them. The things that I look past? He finds them fascinating…. and very important.

As a result, he makes me look at the world differently.. every day.

My son is a senior in high school this year. Which means that next year we will be heading down a different road. An unknown.. untraveled road …for us.

… and I admit… it looks a little bit like that windy beach… high waves crashing down on the sand.. limited visibility of the horizon???

Yeah… I have some worries.

My son wants to go to college. There are colleges for students with Autism… and there is even one in Michigan.

Even so…

.. there are still unknowns.. there always will be unknowns with mood disorders…

But… where I look at obvious worries and stop?

.. where I see obvious worries… my son looks beyond .. He sees the “cold weather” and the “waves” as a given… and looks beyond to the things that worry him.

So what I figure?

…if we have gotten through 18 1/2 years of wind and obstacles on this journey through life?

… Then maybe.. just maybe… we can help each get past the obvious issues.. I can help him past the fish and he can help me see past the cold…

…and we will make it through this new adventure together…

..and it will be beautiful….

 

 

Left behind..

Today I was flipping through the 100’s of photos I took last week.. and I found one I hadn’t intended to take.

The accidental picture of my shadow on the pavement amused me at first..

Partly because my first novel is titled “Shadows” … and it’s based on my belief that we are often affected by the “things” left behind by others in our lives.. the “shadows” that are left behind..

As I flipped through the rest of the pictures from that parade?

I started to see that picture in a different light..

So many of my pictures were intentional. I was capturing memories of my son as he rode in the back of a truck with a top hat .. talking to an angel of a girl. I intentionally took photos of the international students as they carried their flags in the parade. I tried to capture the joy on the faces of those kids around me as they enjoyed that day.

THEN? Then in the middle of these amazing photos.. is a random picture of the ground (and my shadow) .. that I had not intended on capturing.

How often is that the way life is?

Today I INTENDED to comfort a girl who was nervous about a presentation…

Today I INTENDED on being a good influence on a young man who struggles to trust people..

Today I INTENDED to encourage a little guy who hates math.. because he doesn’t understand it..

Today I INTENDED to impress on my son, the importance of good behavior in all places.. even the halls of school.

…but what about the other impressions I leave with people ..

…the impressions I hadn’t intended to give them?

My last few weeks have been jam packed and as I go into the last few weeks of theater season? They aren’t about to get any calmer..

… I always worry that in my times of stress, I will leave behind an impression.. (or a photograph of time…) that I hadn’t intended to give…

As a result?

When I feel emotions in me start to rise? Anger, frustration, impatience, .. or tears…? I take a deep breath … and decide on an intentional impression…

… and I hope that it’s the “photograph” of myself that sticks with someone..

.. and hope that it’s enough…

What are you leaving behind today?

..from the sidelines..

This week has been jam packed for me.

Ok .. this month has been jam packed for me.

Starting a new job… jumping into high school musical season.. trying to meet writing goals.. paperwork.. phone calls..

…Not to mention keeping the laundry up…

Soon enough?

Yup.. I’m exhausted and behind schedule..

But tonight I took a couple hours and just wore my “Mom” hat… I just sat on the sidelines of the action…. and watched..

Our high school does an annual Powderpuff football game.. and as is the tradition? Yup .. the boys dressed up as cheerleaders.

This year my son dressed up with them. And he cheered with them.

As most of you know.. my son has Autism .. and a splash of mood disorder.

But have I told you how this community has embraced my son. Embraced him and encouraged him. They challenge him to succeed and cheer on his successes…

… and my son has soared here..

Tonight?

Tonight my son did not need me. He did not want me to stand next to him. He did not NEED to hold my hand.

I did not need to stand in the trenches… the trenches of fighting battles within ourselves to move forward.

Tonight I was able to step back and watch my son from the sidelines. I was able to watch his confidence. I was able to see his joy and his independence. And his laughter…

In a world where the internet says how bad the world is?

I see a world where a senior class nominated my son for Homecoming court. Nominated my son.. a classmate who struggles to succeed every day.

I see a world where a senior class goes out of their way to make my son feel welcome on the Powderpuff field.

I see a world where a group of students will pause in the hall to talk with my son as he waits for his mom (who was running late)…

I see a world where my son felt safe enough to grow into an amazing young man..

…a world where my son has loved to go to school every day.. even though it was difficult for him to concentrate there. ..

Tonight as I took a break from my hectic schedule? I let the joy and peace from my son’s soul seep into me..

I don’t know how to thank so many people for the impact they have had on our family and most importantly on my son. They are ALL my heroes.

But I do know that today I enjoyed seeing my son be so Independent.. I enjoyed not being in the trenches of Autism…

As for my son… I’ll always be right here.. cheering him on from the sidelines..

Adventures..

Last night I took my son on an adventure. Honestly? It was the first adventure I had been on in awhile.

It wasn’t extravagant.

Actually.. it was the simplest of adventures. But it was amazing.

If I had to list the ONE thing that I thought was the least known about me? It would be how adventurous I am. I love to explore. I love to learn knew things, meet new people, explore new places..

In another time? I would have been a pioneer. Searching out new lands..

But as a parent of a child with special needs? (Ha.. actually? Just being a parent in general…) Parenting is an adventure in itself..

So for awhile? I didn’t have time for adventures.

But this week.. my soul called out for an adventure. I have been wanting to see the sunset on the big lake again.. over Lake Michigan. Something I hadn’t seen for a long time.

And I wanted something I thought my son would enjoy…

So I packed my camera.. and some extra clothes… some food for a picnic.. and we set out for the beach as soon as my crazy schedule allowed.

With a few unexpected delays.. and a 45 min delay in traffic… we arrived.. a little hungry .. and a little stressed..

But with the feel of the sand on my feet..

..and the breeze from the lake on my face..

.. the waves crashing against the shore..

.. I was relaxed within a few minutes..

And surprisingly…so was my boy…

We ate our picnic in silence as we watched the waves .. and he was completely calm.. like a peace had washed over him.

Then? Then, I talked him into taking off his socks and shoes and putting his feet in the water.. He was tentative at first.. worried it would be cold. But then he did something amazing .. he started to dance.

Often with Autism, simple things can seem overwhelming.. the beach can be too hot.. too loud.. too overwhelming…

As a parent of a child with Autism? I struggle with the balance between keeping him successful.. and challenging him to try new things. My adventure side always wants him to try new things.. but my realistic side? Well? I know realistically too many new adventures would stress him out..

But as the sun set last night? I watched a happy .. relaxed … giggling boy dance on the shoreline… jump waves with me.. asking me to take pictures..

If I had been cautious last night? If I had ignored my need for an adventure?

I would have missed seeing that happy, peaceful boy come out to play…

So with tears in my eyes I enjoyed those moments.. and these small hours will remain in my heart for a long time..

.. and I took a few more pictures..

…selfish…

When we go to camp with my family? Chances are some small animal will be captured within the first day..

That animal?

Whether it’s a frog or a toad.. a snake.. or once even a lizard… That poor animal will be handled from one kid to the next.. making each kid enormously happy.. and making the animal enormously stressed.

Fortunately most animals take the stress well and just learn to carry on.. and well? .. I’m sure they will hide better when they hear the pitter-patter of little feet.

In some ways I know how the toad in this photo feels…

I love to make people happy.. especially my family .. especially the little ones. So by taking the little Blessings in my life for fun rides.. walks.. to make sand castles… to hunt for small defenseless animals … and to make snacks.. ? Tell stories around the campfire…?

It feels good.. I love to see them happy. In fact?

In fact it seems selfish of me NOT to do little things to make them happy.. It seems so selfish not to use my time to make the lives of other people better and happier places. So I have always avoided being selfish..

And I am always happy with my choices..

But at times?

At times I think I know how that toad feels.. over handled.. tired.. desperately in need of a shower..

Just recently I have been learning that there is a difference between being selfish with your time..

…and taking time to care for yourself..

You see.. if I have to choose between doing something for my kids and doing something for myself..? I will pick my kids.. and squeeze reading for pleasure in between bedtime and 1 am.

But I often do too much .. for too many people.. and I just end up feeling tired.. and overhandled.. just like the toad..

Last weekend we went camping for the last time this summer. As everyone planned a kayak trip down river, my niece came to ask me if I wanted to go.

In the past? I would always Loan my kayak to someone else.. because after all..

it IS my kayak.. I could use it another time.

As I started to offer it to someone else, my niece scolded me. And said frankly.. ” You KNOW you want to go kayaking.”

You know what?

I really DID want to go kayaking.

So I loaded up my kayak.. and we went kayaking..

This was the laziest, slowest kayak trip I have ever been on.. I got to take 300 pictures (no exaggeration there).. my nieces and nephew decided on trying to kayak the “gondola” way.. we got stuck a few times..

We got a little sunburned as our 1 hour trip turned in to 2 hours.. or 3…

We laughed.. we sang songs (loudly and beautifully)… we counted how many times the gondolas tipped over… and we let the peace flow into our souls..

What about you? What have you done lately to take care of yourself?

**No animals were hurt in the making of this blog…

..washed away..

With all the rain in the south, it seemed trivial for us to worry that a sprinkle of a rain would ruin our hike yesterday… so hiking we went.

Up a VERY steep hill to see the Dead River Falls..

For me?

For me .. I was going up that steep rocky hill in flip flops..

You see? I had not anticipated that we would have time to go hiking .. so I did not come prepared with hiking shoes.

But I would never miss a chance to see a piece of wilderness.

And a beautiful piece of wilderness it was. Rugged and untamed… At one point, I left my shoes behind and continued bare footed. Not as comfortable as I would have liked (and I wouldn’t recommend it). But I was able to experience laughs with my kids, see them marvel at the beauty of it and I took so many pictures..

So prepared or not? It was worth it…

As I walked back to the rickety log bridge… I saw the most beautiful sight. A tree that stood strong and healthy.. even though half of the soil was washed away from its roots ..

The soil was washed away.. Big rocks pushed up from underneath.. it looks like gravity and a little wind would push that tree right over..

.. yet there it stands.. strong and sturdy…

And it brought tears to my eyes..

As a parent of a child with special needs?

I feel just like that tree..

.. 18 years of Autism.. 18 years of tears.. 18 years of letting go of how “things were supposed to be”.. 18 years of learning new autism research.. 18 years of medical issues.. 18 years of having life wash away at the roots I had dug into the Earth…

I should have fallen over long ago..

… but I have also had 18 years of laughter, 18 years of watching this boy grow with joy in his heart, 18 years of discovering the beautiful soul buried beneath the surface…

The laughter and joy have kept me strong and sturdy… despite the feeling of being worn down..

As I pushed back my tears.. I walked back across the log bridge .. ..my son ran towards me with a smile.. and his hand outstretched to me.. and said with confidence, “Here Mom, take my hand.”

Ok Buddy… I will take your hand. And no matter how prepared we are? …we will make it strong and sturdy…

Safe place..

We went to church yesterday for the first time in awhile. I love attending services.. but churches aren't always the safest places for kids with special needs.

I know.. I know.. I was surprised by this too..

You see? My son has Autism with a side order of Bipolar.. add in the fact that he is also still a kid? It can kind of be a mess at times …

When my son is distressed he quotes movies.. Blue's clues, Dora, Alone in the wilderness, Peter Pan.. you name it.. he quotes it..

…but talking in church is typically frowned on.. even if it's in the back corner of the back row by a cute boy with lots of freckles.

We have gotten a lot of dirty looks.. a lot of stares.. and shushed more than a few times… throughout the years…

The problem is?

The more shushes.. the more glares?? …the more anxious he would get… the more he would quote.. AND the more often we would end up in the lobby listening over the speakers.

So we stopped going to church for a while… choosing to worship at home.. where he was safe..

When we lived in Missouri we found a church that smiled at my son when he quotes randomly in the middle of service. They high fived him in the lobby.. and we went to church regularly…

It was amazing..

But when we moved back to Michigan .. finding a new church was a little daunting and my son was very unstable.. so we kept our services at home again.

Yesterday we attended church with some friends at their invitation. We have attended this church a couple times with these family friends and another family as well. But my son was unstable and it was still uncomfortable for us.

But this year has been a good year for us, and my son is making great strides. So? So we made plans.. marked it on the calendar like it was an appointment.. and we went to church.

We arrived at church .. my daughter in jeans.. my son in his favorite 3 piece suit.. and we were greeted by a handful of people.

ALL of us were greeted.. especially my son.. who was obviously overdressed.

The extra effort that the congregation put into making him feel welcome.. and the extra effort our friends went through ??

It meant that my son sat through the 2 hour service holding my hand … mostly quietly.

To someone who goes to church every week it might not seem like much..

But to a mom who thought church was an impossible task?

It was a modern day miracle…

Growing.. 

A little over a week ago, I took my exchange daughter to the airport. It’s always hard to say “see you later” to these girls. They truly become a part of my heart during the time that they stay with me. 

But this last daughter was something that I didn’t expect. She was something I didn’t even know I needed. 

She helped me grow. 

Yes .. yes.. I know.. I should be done growing. 

But I’m not.. and honestly I doubt I ever will be. 

And today? Today I am so glad that she was a part of my year. I’m glad she taught me to live in the moment.. and to love myself.. and to remember what is truly important.. 

I can’t wait to hug her again.. but she is a part of my heart everyday from now until I do!!! 

I love you Başak.. today and always… and I am EVER so thankful that God led you to my door.

Too many hats…

Growing up, I was really close to my Dad. (I still am.) We talked about everything.. but I only remember him yelling at me once. 

Now don’t get me wrong.. I wasn’t a perfect kid.. so there were many times that he was disappointed in me.. and many times that he corrected me. 

But he only yelled at me once. 

It was my senior year, and I changed my college plans at least 5 times .. and my majors even more. And when I changed to a completely different field of study, my dad told me I was going to have to make a decision. And then he said something I will never forget.. “You have so many interests that you divide your energy too many ways.. and you will NEVER succeed at any of them.”

Wow did that hurt… 

At the time? Yeah.. at the time I was mad .. and hurt. I mean why would he say something so hurtful. “..NEVER succeed..?”

Well??  I see what my dad was talking about …now…

I have always had a lot of interests. And I mean.. A LOT!! I volunteer for everything… and I never ask anyone to do something I could do myself.. 

But… 

I get really tired. 

These days, I call these interests my “hats”.. 

There is my Mom Hat.. the one I wear whenever my kids are my biggest priority.. Chaperoning, rides to school, panicked calls from college kids, help with homework.. baking cookies… 

I have 2 kids of my own.. and I have had 4 exchange students call me “Mom”… the most amazing of all my interests! These kids amaze me. 

My Wife Hat.. (kinda self explanatory) 

The Aunt Hat.. closely related to the Mom Hat.. the Aunt Hat is a nurturing Hat but in a fun way. These 17 nieces and nephews are blessings to my life .. and I love to put my Aunt Hat on and invite them all over for Cousin weekends. Hide and seek in the dark, swimming at midnight, shaving cream paintings, watching movies until dawn.. I wouldn’t miss this.. 

House Elf Hat.. All things having to do with the house.. There is the typical cleaning.. then canning veggies… making jams.. baking bread… caring for the birds.. gathering the eggs .. haircuts.. pool cleaning.. it seems like the House Elf Hat is always on.. 

Then there is my Author Hat, my Director Hat, my Exchange Student Coordinator Hat, my International Club Hat, and my Substitute teacher Hat.. my Research Hat.. OH .. and My Creative Hat..

I could go on and on.. 

And I realized my dad was right.. 

I am not really a success at any of them. I do not focus ALL my energy in any ONE direction.. and as a result everything is mediocre. 

So this LAST year? 

I tried to put some Hats away.. I put my Author Hat away during Musical season… I put my Director Hat away during off seasons.. I don’t take the Substitute teacher Hat home with me. I don’t even think about my Creative Hat .. most of the time.. 

But still I find myself not giving my “all” to the things that are important.. because my interests are still divided .. 

So I am going to take this next year to put away Hats I can’t wear anymore.. and it will be hard  (because I love ALL the jobs I do).. 

…but if I want to make a difference in the world?? (And I know I do..)

I think I need to finally take my dad’s advice.