Category Archives: Parenting

..On the other side..

I planned this weekend to be magical and full of memories ..

I reserved a campsite on the  northern shores of Lake Michigan.. planning weeks in advance. We were going to be able to watch the sun set over the great lake while sitting at our campfire… enjoying all of our favorite campfire foods… and just relax.

HA..

..well?

Let’s just say that it didn’t exactly go according to plan. 

When we arrived at our campground… so excited… the first thing we did?

..was drive through a massive cloud of Midge flies….

Midge flies…. 

I am a native of Michigan. I have been camping all of my life.. in all 4 seasons. And I had never experienced Midge flies. 

Well at least not… “clouds” of Midge flies. You see? The smoke puffs we thought we had seen on our drive in … along the beautiful Lake Michigan shore line? 

That wasn’t smoke. It was millions of tiny.. “Mosquito look alike” flies. 

As soon as we passed through the third cloud of bugs, we saw that the campground host had posted signs that the Midges were harmless and would only last 2 weeks.

BUT… that didn’t help us at all. Our reservations were for this weekend. 

They also offered to honor our reservations at a campground further inland… safe from the Midges. 

But further inland meant AWAY from the sounds of crashing waves… away from sunsets on the great lake.. 

Nope… inland was not in the “magical” plans.

The signs did say harmless... sooo….

We set up camp. 

My dad always told me, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”.. and then he would laugh and say.. “But you’d be surprised what you can live through.”

We did NOT get a single bite from a Midge… but they love to fly into your eyes, nose, and mouth. They rested on anything solid.. in a cloud type coating. They landed in our drinks if they didn’t have covers, our food while we tried to cook.. and.. we finally resorted to covering our mouths so we could breathe (and talk). 

But when the Ranger came by to make sure we had seen the offer to move inland.. we were stubborn.

We stayed. 

We tried all the usual tricks.. citronella candles… all natural bug repellent… deep woods bug repellent … deep woods bug fogger… manually killing them by the hundreds… nothing helped. They filled our camper.. made a layer of little bug armies covering the tents and tables. 

They weren’t hurting us… but they were making us crazy. 

The first night was cloudy… hiding any magical sunsets.. and the Midges drove us inside … so NO magical campfire treats. We even ended up driving to town to eat in an environment free of things flying into our mouths. 

But our family was NOT without humor. “Because the Midges have decreed it…” or.. “the Midge cloud has disrupted the satellite connection..” … yes.. our family was still making memories through laughter during this vacation disaster. 

The second day was clear… so we trekked up and over the very  small hill that separated our campsite full of midges from the beautiful beach on the other side. 

And on the other side? 

..yup… 

….more midges.

In fact… climbing over that small hill..? We encountered more Midges than ever. Thick clouds of them that we charged through with our mouths covered and our eyes closed. We learned not to bump the pine trees… their nesting grounds.. 

…and then when we reached the beautiful sandy beach?

.. yup.. 

..more midges…

But… we could also see the beautiful glow of the sun going down over the great lake. We still had to keep the Midges from landing on us. But it was easier to laugh as we searched for skipping rocks… easier to ignore the flies when we were taking beautiful pictures. 

It was easier to enjoy ourselves.. despite the Midge flies… when we were being creative..

…and enjoying life….

I think that sometimes it is so easy to pack it in.. or to hide in our camper.. when life gives us Midge flies. And we were ALL tempted to do that this weekend. 

But if we had stayed safe inside the camper… or moved 2 miles away.. to make it easier.. 

..OR had we turned back when the Midge flies made it absolutely miserable to breathe… 

I would never have gotten to take these beautiful photos of my family… We wouldn’t have skipped rocks… and .. we wouldn’t have made some funny  but beautiful memories.. 

… and we will laugh about our Vacation with the Midges for years. 

This month was hard for our family.

Very hard…

The journey with Autism is neither clear nor is it easy. 

Parenting is hardly ever clear or easy..

But with Autism added in? 

… sometimes? 

Sometimes…  I wish I could hide my son away from the world.  Away from the disappointments.. away from the failed attempts that we all encounter.. away from the people who doubt that he will succeed… 

But if I kept my son… (or my daughter for that matter) … hidden away in the camper..?

Away from the flies of annoyance and frustration… and disappointment? Hidden from failed attempts at success?

If my family had stayed home this weekend to hide away from the flies of Autism, instead of going on the worst vacation spot in Michigan?

Then.. I would have 500 less pictures on my phone right now. And we wouldn’t have made all of these beautiful memories. 

So.. my family is gearing up to go over this next hill in the journey of Autism. We will travel it with family by our side.. and laughter in our hearts.

Because you notice the Midges less that way. 

 

 

…balance..

I once heard that regrets taste the worst when you drink them with coffee in the morning..

I always thought it referred to … I don’t know… someone else.

But lately..?

Lately, I have really struggled with taking time to write. It seems so selfish to take time out to download my brain when my to-do list is piling up.

.. but I feel like my “to-do” list just goes in circles..

… and I feel like I’m half checked out..

…overwhelmed by all the things I need to do.. that I SHOULD be doing…

… distracted by my thoughts all piling up in my head.

And then I’m further behind than when I started… so it would be even more selfish to take time NOW…

((Insert Deep Sigh Here))

This morning..?

This morning as I started to do my more chores… ??

The power went out..

Unexpectedly…

.. the power company was “assessing for causes”…

…meanwhile…

I could not do any of the things on my to do list…

Soo.. after I got my son (who is distressed by power outages.. and who does not like the phrase “estimated” or “unknown”..) distracted with mowing the lawn…

I took my coffee outside .. with my notebook..

… and no excuses…

… no guilt..

…and I wrote..

…and for the first time in a long time… I had no regrets with my coffee…

Recently, I read that being so Selfless that you don’t take care of your Self.. is one of the most Selfish things you can do..

The first time I read that I laughed.

After all, being selfless is exhausting .. and well…? … you give up any idea of pleasing yourself..

In its very nature, the idea of being “so Selfless that it’s Selfish” doesn’t make sense.

But this morning?

As I drank my coffee, and found myself at ease ?

I realize that giving up so much of yourself.. selflessly… that you have nothing left to share?

You start to feel your spark disappear.. your focus… your enthusiasm…

… it all disappears until there is nothing left to share…

THAT is selfish …

…and I dislike being selfish..

So my goal today is to find balance..

.. a balance between living a useful life… living a life that makes a difference to the world…

.. and living a life that is worth living…

A life without regrets.

How will you drink your coffee?

…still warm…

Coffee in hand, I headed to my couch this morning.

The sun shone through the window and illuminated my favorite spot.

The pillow was still crinkled. The blanket was still rumpled.

In fact, it looked as if someone just got up from this spot.

It looked like it was still warm.

Instead of sitting on the couch? I sank onto the coffee table.

Too often in our lives… we take fore granted the people that sit on our couches. We expect to see our loved ones sitting in their favorite places.. forever..

.. because they are always there…

Earlier this week? A man in our community died suddenly.

One minute? He was where he always was. Running his boys to practices, helping out in the community where he was needed, calling his wife…

.. he was where he always was..

.. and now?

Now there is an empty couch cushion that is still crumpled. Like he just got up for a moment and walked from the room..

.. like he would be right back.

His spot in this world still warm.

For awhile that spot is going to feel so empty for his kids.. for his wife…

And not just the spot on the couch.

There will be an empty place in the bleachers.. an empty place in the church pew.. and empty place in the car for road trips.

.. so many empty spaces…

But the truth is?

This Dad’s presence was so strong in his family..

.. so strong in his community…

He left his presence so strong.. that those places are still warm.

And they will stay warm.

His time here was shorter than he would have wished. But he made good use of that time.

Once the pain and shock has worn off?

Once the grief starts to lessen .. a little?

We realize those empty places .. are not really empty at all. The spirit of our loved ones stay with us and occupy those seats still.

And if we keep the memories of their spirit alive?

Then the spaces will still be warm..

.. decades of work..

My son turned 20 today.

My baby boy.

My little man with autism and a side of mood disorder…

..is 2 decades old.

When I look at him it seems like yesterday that I started researching digestive disorders while my family .. slept.

It seems like just yesterday that I read every book on parenting kids with Autism.. and every book on Childhood Bipolar.. Reading 4 inch books on the “science of the chemistry of the mind”.. while my friends read a funny romance.

It seems like yesterday when I questioned whether I was doing a good enough job … with tears running down my face.

And I can remember it clearly when Simon leaned his head on my shoulder and said “With God, all things are possible.”

How is it possible that this young man has come so far?

No longer a boy that is silent.

No longer a boy that hides his face in my shoulder.

No longer a boy who watches from the doorway.

Here stands a boy that walks confidently through doors. A boy that sings in front of a whole auditorium of people.

Here stands a boy who easily orders his own food at a restaurant.

Here is a boy .. who amazes me in every way.

Two decades of work have flown by…

… I can’t wait to see where the next 2 decades take him …

Self …

Last night.. a mom hurried onto the stage. It was late and she looked exhausted. But she took off her jacket and rolled up her sleeves and asked what she could do to help.

In that moment, I had a moment of clarity.

This mom was tired. She had just come from a commitment that involved small children .. and it was 8 pm. She really needed to go home and rest.

But yet?

She was ready to work to help the kids’ theatre stay on schedule …

Who was I to tell her to go home and take care of herself?

How could I tell her that when I can’t say ”no” to anything.

I can’t say “no”…

Anyone who knows me.. Knows that..

And when I get tired? Really, really tired?

.. my friends? They try to coach me ((once again)) on how to say “no”..

They tell me to spend some time on myself. To selfishly take care of myself for a few moment..

But that is not how I work.. I am the happiest when I am helping others.. when I am working towards making the world a better place for others..

..there are definitely days that are more full and more tired than others.. but I manage..

Even society tells us that good moms .. and especially moms with special needs kids.. need to be involved.. really involved..

AND .. every moment counts because they grow up so fast..

So I skip a calm moment for myself this time.. so that I can do one more task for someone else.

I skip all those moments for myself.. until I’m exhausted and my head is full of noises.

Julie noises..

.. wanting to write.. wanting to paint.. wanting to read.. desires to explore the world around me.. to create .. to write some more…

.. so many voices…

But there are things to be done.. responsible things..

Committees that ask for help.. chores that need to be done.. messes …

So I put my “noises” on the back burner.. and square my shoulders and head off to a meeting..

For holidays this year, I received 2 willow figurines as gifts.. I love Willow figurines and these both were beautiful as usual.

And they were to represent me..

The first .. Simple Joys.. represents my love to give things to others.. gifts of time, gifts of work, gifts of love.. all of the best of me..

This Simple Joy figurine? .. it very much represents the essence of me..

But the second?

The second was a gift from my daughter.. it is titled Shine..

Shine..

.. my daughter .. encouraging me to reach for my dreams.. to take time for myself..

..my daughter… the one I encouraged to always shine for herself.. now turning my words back to me..

.. giving me permission to think about my own needs…

But it feels so .. selfish.. to think of yourself ..

It seems selfish to take time away from making the world a better place.. take time away from helping others…

… just to write my thoughts down on paper…

Balance ..

Looking at these 2 figurines.. I realize I need balance…

Looking at the tired mom standing before me last night?

I realize we all need to find balance..

Balances between being selfless and being selfish..

… a balance somewhere between simple joys and shining

.. the balance between the selfless and the selfish is where we will find our true self…

.. and then all that remains?

It’s to give ourselves permission to accept it.

Heroes

Some people look at my son .. and see a disability.

They look at his face and his mannerisms.. and they see Autism Spectrum disorder!

When I look at my son?

I see a strong boy. I see love, compassion and a love for our world.

When I look at my son? I see my hero.

Here is a human being that has been dealing with extreme medical issues since he was 6 weeks old.

A boy that had to have casts to hold soft bones in place. Screws to hold soft joints in place. Medicine to allow stiff joints to move.

Here is a child who learned to read labels to avoid 30 of his favorite foods.. because he wanted to walk without pain.

Here is a young adult who is enduring countless treatments to heal a painful skin condition.

Here is a boy who has always been in pain.

And yet?

…yet he greets people with a smile. He never mentions his pain. He will walk on painful feet to cook for his sick mom. He sees beauty and art all around him…

.. and he sees his future as bright and exciting…

He is in constant pain…

And he sees his future as bright and exciting…

When I look at my son?

I see my hero!

And when I grow up? I hope to be just like him.

.. finished plans

“.. and it is finished!”

20 years after I started.. I put the last photo in a frame and closed every painful prong..

Flipping it over, I let the memories flood over me as I studied each picture in my daughter’s collage..

Ok ..

It wasn’t really finished. I opened up those painful prongs one more time and straightened a couple pictures .. and… changed places of two..

.. but then it was finished..

When we started this project 20 years ago.. the plan was simple!

Choose 1 picture to represent every year of her life..

Add in her newborn picture and her graduation photo..

Waa Laa… Easy peasy plan… and Go!

At the time I made that plan? I’d only been a parent for a year.. with my second on the way.

BWAHAHAHA…

I had no idea what life had in store for me… how big my adventures with my kids would be.. NO idea how big my kids’ personalities would be..

I had NO idea how many pictures we would take each year..

After 5 years? … after only 5 years, the task of only picking 1 picture was too daunting.. and I did not chose that year.

The rule of no one else in the photos was quickly set aside.. and the rule against school photos.. gone..

The plan was to display this collage at my daughter’s graduation.. but it wasn’t finished ..

So the new plan was to finish it before the open house. I pulled 200 pictures to fill 20 slots..

Sooooo….?

So.. the new plan was to fill board after board with pictures that represented my daughter’s life… for the open house… then I’d finish the collage later…

..That was 2 years ago…

This morning I was supposed to be cleaning.. because we have a houseful of guests coming to celebrate the New Year with us!

..so naturally ..

I pulled that collage down and started pulling pictures to put in each year’s slot.

I started pulling one picture for each missing year.. but they didn’t fit the sized pictures I needed… they weren’t following the rules.. and it still wasn’t working the way I planned..

The more I sorted?

.. the more I realized…

Life doesn’t follow rules.. and it doesn’t take plans into consideration…

So instead.. ?

I started pulling the pictures that showed the light in her eyes .. the ones that emphasized her beautiful soul… and sense of humor..

.. and before I knew it… ?

It was finished..

Parenting is like that…

Parenting doesn’t follow rules.. and it doesn’t take plans into consideration…

We started out with ideas.. a road map.. an “easy peasy” plan for success..

.. and then we went off-roading.. so far off road that our parenting job could not be more different from what we thought..

But .. you know what??

I think it’s better than what we planned..

This life? …it is so beautiful…

I have a collage full of pictures to prove it..

…storms in life..

img_2512Sometimes after a storm, I walk through my yard just to see what blew in. My favorite finds are nests. I find them fascinating!

So intricate.. so beautiful…

.. but when there are eggshells still in the nests.. I remember that what I find fascinating? It’s what’s left of a creature’s home.

This summer I found many nests blown down.. it was hot and dry.. and very windy here in Central Michigan..

.. but I also made a different find!! I found a nest in my Locust tree. High above my head.. on a solid branch.. a solid built nest. It wasn’t as delicate as some of the beautiful nests I had found .. and definitely NOT as pretty..

… and on the backside I found some creepy critters..

.. but it withstood storm after storm… In fact, I found myself checking in with it every day. Well.. at least until my life got busy again..

This morning, I sat and watch news footage of the hurricane destruction in Florida.

So sad.

Putting my phone away… I walked out to feed my chickens, and once again checked in on my nest.

As the wind whipped around me.. I looked up into that tree.. with its branches bending dramatically…

.. and in the middle of the storm.. this nest still held firm.

The tree has fewer leaves now.. and the ones remaining have changed colors.. the feathers have blown away.. and the sunlight isn’t as bright..

..but this nest is still there…

Most of us don’t experience storms like Hurricane Michael.. or Florence.. we don’t see storm surges and wind speeds over 100 mph… we don’t see our houses blown down ..  homes destroyed…

…but we all experience storms in life…

Parenting itself is a storm at times..

.. then add in special needs storms.. a new diagnosis… health issues.. emergency surgeries.. medicine changes.. family emergencies… conflicts in our world.. death of a loved one.. financial strain…

..yes…

…we all have storms..

I have had storms…

…many… many storms..

Today? As I stood there in the wind.. I thought about my nest…

.. my home.. my life…

Some people think that our nests are in a specific location.. some people think our homes need to be beautiful.. most people think our lives shouldn’t have creepy critters in them…

My nest isn’t a place … I have moved too many times…

My home isn’t perfectly beautiful.. we are too busy living life in it…

.. and the people in my life aren’t perfect .. but neither am I..

… but when a storm blows through my life? Will the life that I have built withstand the winds?

Or will I be blown out of that tree.. and into God’s lawn?

.. Will God pick my life up out of debris? Pick off a creepy critter… or two? Will God have to put me back in my tree? Will He move me to a safer tree? Will He put me right back into the storm?

I have fallen in storms…

I have broken down in tears…

I have asked God to put me a different tree…

I have asked Him to take away my storms…

… but I have weathered a lot of storms firmly rooted to my branch…

.. I have come through storms looking for rainbows on the other side…

.. I have formed bonds inside those storms…

… and found happiness.

I will always continue to look for ways to improve my life and make it more storm proof. … But I like the nest I have built…

So today..??

Today.. as the trees bend and twist in the wind… take a look at your nest and consider…

…how will you withstand the storm?

Marinade…

I love to make my own homemade soaps and scrubs… but sometimes?

Sometimes the writer in me comes out.. and my imagination gets the best of me..

… rosemary… thyme.. holy basil… lime…

… wild orange peel…

.. ALL in a coconut oil base…

Let’s face it.. it’s practically a marinade…

If Earth is invaded by predators or aliens? Would they think that I’ve already been marinaded in advance?

Will their mouths water at the smell of the Rosemary and thyme?

…will the Holy Basil be enough to keep me safe if they are demonic invaders?

Ha… as I stir the sugar scrub I’m sending to my daughter? I could write a whole book on whether I’m saving her .. or preparing her marinade!!

But really this isn’t unlike any other parenting question…

I often wonder if I’ve given my daughter the tools to be confident and stand out..

.. does she have the confidence and understanding to avoid predators in her life?

… does my son have the discipline and coping mechanisms to succeed in a workplace?

… Did we teach enough skills to let his light shine brighter than the Autism?

… did I fill my daughter full of enough empowerment.. that she knows she is more than her pretty face and her waistline?

Sometimes I worry that I didn’t put enough Holy Basil in their marinade…

But then?

Then I see their smile.. I see them laugh..

I see them confidently go into the world to meet their alien invaders…

.. and I know it’s enough for now..

.. and I’ll be here if they fall.. to help them up..

Ha… then add another ingredient into their marinade before sending them back into the world…

No one ever tells you how dangerous parenting can be…

Sowing seeds

My brother sent me a picture of the pumpkins he is growing in his yard. The pumpkins he had not meant to plant.

You see…?

Last Halloween’s pumpkins….?

Last fall, he was too busy to throw away the jack o lanterns.

Ok.. ok.. his actual words were that he was “too lazy”… but how many of us don’t get too busy and feel too tired to do the small things..

We all get lazy..

Looking at his pumpkins, made me remember that we had planted some in our garden.

Planted on purpose ..

..but then left to defend themselves.

As I walked through the garden… I was surprised by how well the plants had blossomed. How big our harvest was going to be.. with no actual work on our part beyond the sowing of the seeds.

Those pumpkins took the seeds we gave them.. and didn’t just sprout.. and blossom.. they grew into beautiful fruit..

They took the space we gave them and spread their leaves … made a place in this world.. some even grew despite sickly plants and bad soil..

We all sow seeds in our lives..

Some we spread on purpose… our help.. our time.. our smiles.. a listening ear..

.. but we also spread seeds on accident..

Yesterday.. I was researching a concern I have about my son…. when I felt a soft object hit my face. A balled up napkin. Looking up, my son smiled at me and said, “There you are.. you’re being too busy.”

I laughed.. and put my phone down. My son may have a disability (in the eyes of the world) .. but he is pretty smart.

We are all so busy with worries, and tasks… working … and taking care of our responsibilities…

..but the seed I was sowing in that moment was.. I’m too busy.. you aren’t as important as my phone…

Those are not the seeds I want to sow.. and most of the time they aren’t.. but accidentally?

Accidentally we sow seeds everyday.

The question is what kind of seeds.

This keeps me up at night…

I want to change the world.. I want to make it a beautiful place for kids.. a better place..

I listen to kids.. correct them when they are wrong… justify their emotions.. empower them to change their own world..

…but what about the kids I can’t reach.

What about when I am too busy to slow down and listen?

Last night I walked around a football game with my son. The night was supposed to be about him (for me).. Last year’s homecoming king crowning THIS year’s homecoming king.

And it was about my son.

So many people stopped to shake his hand. So many people greeted him. Asked him how he was doing. This boy with a disability… showing the ability to touch so many lives. It is such a beautiful thing.

But what surprised me?

What surprised me were the kids that were excited to see ME. Many of the students from the school I worked at last year.. shouted across a crowd to get my attention. Some rushed to hug me, before rushing off with their friends.. A few gave timid waves before moving on.

Those students are just like the pumpkin blossoms that I find in my garden. So beautiful.. so open to the world.. so ready to grow into their full potential..

What we give them … as parents.. as family.. as a community?

What we give them makes a difference in how well they grow.. what they grow into…

Will they be small but mighty… will they hide behind bigger plants… shy but powerful in smaller groups.. Will they be big? Will they search for a bigger world? Will they grow despite bad soil and sickly plants?

Or will they stay small and sickly on a vine.. forgotten..

After so many hugs, from so many students last night? I realized I had sowed some good seeds. Even some on accident … to kids I hadn’t realized I had affected.

For me..? I worry…

Is it enough..?

What about the young man who timidly waved and then walked on? What about the young lady who stayed back from the group talking to me?

Did I sow bad seeds on accident …?

…or …

…did I not sow enough seeds on purpose?

This morning I looked down at that pumpkin blossom … worrying about those other students..

… and I realized those blossoms looked like starfish…

The story of starfish has been told to me so often.. Starfish that get stranded on the beach with high tides.. People who doubt they can make a difference because they KNOW they can’t rescue ALL of the starfish.. because they KNOW there are too many…

The story of how one rescuer smiles as they toss a starfish safely back into the waters.. “I made a difference to that one.”

Standing up out of that dirt.. I smiled.

As I looked around, I could see the good I have done… and realized I can’t let myself get distracted by worries.. I need to put those worries away.. and keep sowing good seeds…

…because those pumpkins.. those starfish.. are very important to me …