Teachers

Excited for their respective field trips, both kids had no trouble getting out of bed.

“Where’s my class shirt?!” One hollered from the closet.

“Hanging right there,” I hollered back. “Right where you hung it up last night so you wouldn’t forget it….” I continued, mumbling the last part to myself as I grabbed the freshly brewed pot and poured myself the delicious, and necessary, first cup of coffee.

Her trip was to the local art museum to engage in some performance, dance and music fun. With ease, two talented performers from the museum wrangled a play out of three 2nd grade classes! It was a feat of epic proportions!

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What these pictures don’t show you is that while the kids are engaged in activity, their teachers are watching, monitoring and helping. For one child, the noise is too overwhelming. Instead of shushing him or telling him to sit down for the 100th time, she creates a space for him to calm himself. For another, the urge to fidget is too great. Not only do I see these educators focus on reading and writing and math everyday, but they are seeing the whole child. They are soothers. They comfort. They wrap their arms around the child that for the first time is requesting to be hugged. It’s a joy and a privilege to witness.

I’d been asked to chaperone his class field trip to the aquarium and happily accepted. This is, after all, why I chose to not work outside the home; so I could do all the mom things and help out when needed. Having field trips on the same day, in the same part of town allowed me to hop from one to the other with out missing much of either. I looked forward to having a bit of one on one time with each of them. After this year of single parenting, there’s been but a time or two that they’ve been apart, much less had me to themselves. I think they look forward to their dad’s return not only because they miss him, but equally because they need some space from each other and some undivided attention.

The day was lovely and perfect for an outing. The aquarium is one of Jake’s favorite destinations, loving all things ocean-related.

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YES! A real live octopus!

The exhibits went smoothly, the aquarium staff delightful and engaging. Sitting in front of the dolphins, questions and answers flew fast and furious.

“What grade are these kids in?” asked a man in a wheelchair behind me, having heard a few of their questions.

“Third,” I whispered quietly, smiling holding up 3 fingers.

“Wow,” he replied. “I taught fifth grade. They are really smart.”

Nodding in agreement, I turned back to the playful dolphins twirling behind the plexiglass. The really are incredibly smart I mused, simply enjoying the moment, and the opportunity to be a part of it.At the last exhibit during a group exercise, Jake was frustrated having not heard the instructions, then realizing he wouldn’t have any input in his group’s presentation as they worked. The tears started. (The other kids were not being overtly mean, but sometimes it’s easier to ignore people than to actively include them.)

It’s these moments that are hard. Autism or not, kids (as well as adults) have to learn how to deal with emotions, deal with disappointment and handle frustration with others and themselves. Group participation isn’t always easy, but it’s part of life. Physically, I was too far away and couldn’t get to him, and it was hard to hear over the chatter of the kids, engaged in their task to create an imaginary creature.

His teacher noticed the situation and swiftly grabbed an additional folder so he would be able to participate. img_5798She got down on the floor and engaged him. She didn’t have to. It would have been easier not to. She helped him help himself. She didn’t scold, embarrass or patronize. He didn’t have to have mom intervene. She was subtle and quiet.

She cared.

I smiled and mouthed a grateful ‘thank you’ as she got up to assist other students. I was humbled and as my eyes started sweating, I sternly told myself to save it. Lord knows my kid didn’t need a blubbery mess of a mom sobbing about gratitude in the middle of a field trip.

But I was, and am, very grateful.

How supremely lucky we are to have teachers that care so much.

 

 

 

 

WordPress Daily Prompt: Story

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Internal Thought Vomit

Eric and I have a commonly repeated conversation, usually while driving. It goes something like this:

Me: “What are you thinking about?”

Him: “Nothing.”

Me: “Hmm.”

Him: “What are you thinking about?”

Me:”I’mwonderingwhyyouaresoquietandthisotherthingI’mworriedaboutandblahblahblahblahblahblahmorestuff,” comes tumbling out.

Him: “Oh…I was thinking about how the cotton is only a foot high now.”

Me: **Crickets**

WHAT?! I have brain on rapid fire and he’s just looking out the window and seeing what’s there. I don’t think he gets thought-vomit like I do.

“I really don’t know how you do it,” says any number of people, shaking their heads slowly as they discover we are a military family and my other half is deployed. “I could never do that.”

Yeah, you could. If it was your life and you didn’t have a choice. There are plenty of us doing it.  It sucks. There are good parts, like anything. The highs are high and the lows…well, they suck. My strategy is to tuck my chin, focus on the next right thing and move. Keep moving, keep doing, keep on keeping on. Everything we do gets us that much closer to it being over. Every missed holiday, every missed event, every school function he’ll watch via social media….it all gets us that much closer to homecoming day.

A random day of mid-deployment thought-vomit looks something like this:

It’s Saturday and we’re at the trampoline park because I feel sad that they are missing their dad. They need activity and busy-ness from time to time. They need to wear themselves out. Looking around, I’m struck by how no one smiles. Looking across the cavernous lobby, I catch sight of a couple walking to the exit with a small child, their jump time now concluded. The sweaty, flushed face looks up as she reaches to grasp the hand of one of the adults.

“They don’t even look happy,” I think to myself as I condescendingly judge them. The adult seems to carry the burdens of life physically on her back, slightly rounding at the base of her neck.

As they walk out, I continue to ponder the inner thoughts of other patrons. Cell phones in every hand, boredom tinged with a traces of anxiety, we are all watching each other, sizing everyone up. “Look at how good I’m doing at this whole parenting thing. I’ve really got my life together, ” we all think as we pray no one sees how we really don’t have it together, and we are all pretending.

Or maybe it’s just me who feels like a pretend adult.

My eyes return to my book, though I can scarcely recall the sentence I’ve read 4 times. Turns out this whole deployment business has well, ups and downs. And some of the downs, I don’t handle very well.

Thanksgiving. The 4th holiday he missed. Fourth out of the 8 or 9 that he wasn’t here to celebrate. Normally the holidays evoke gratitude and reflection. This year I was angry and irritable.

I’m angry at the political climate. I’m angry that my son is blind in his right eye. I’m angry that I can’t be with my person. My best friend. I’m angry at the sexual harassment perpetrators, the hypocrisy of politics. I’m angry at the church and myself for not loving people as well as we should, being chastened by a remarkable conversation with an atheist/agnostic who’s actions are more Christ-like than most of us who claim a relationship with Jesus.

I’m angry that I have to fear when I send my kids to school that they may not come home.

Still sober and clinging to my 9 months. I feel good about that, but life isn’t as it should be. It’s paled, almost black and white. The color has slipped a bit…my anger turning to a melancholy I can’t shake.

I can laugh. I can take my kids camping in the rain. I can joke and be social with friends. I have girl friends that I see regularly for adult interaction and coffee. I’m reading, learning and growing. I’m working at being a better dog parent/trainer. The stuff I’m learning about is awesome and I want to pick up the phone and talk to him about it, and then oh..wait. I can’t. Dang it.

I look over and see a birthday party in progress. The noise makes my skin crawl.

I’m nervous about our move to San Diego and simultaneously can not wait to get there. Once we get the transition over with, it’ll be fine, I remind myself for the 500th time.

I want to wake up and have this year over.

I try, yet again, to read my book. The kids come running up, their faces flushed. “MOM! This is so fun!” they holler over the loud music, then darting back out to play dodgeball, practice their flips and cartwheels and see how high they can jump.

They will be okay, I marvel. Borrowing some of their enthusiasm, we’re getting through it, I think. Maybe not without some bumps and bruises and rough days, but we’re getting through it.

Put most simply, my thought vomit is well, messy.

Perhaps everyone’s thought vomit is messy like that. Or not. Mine’s pretty loud. And she likes to talk and analyze. A lot.

In our pre-marriage counseling some 20 years ago, a reference was made to a marriage book, by Chad Eastham, “Guys are Waffles, Girls are Spaghetti.” In short, men compartmentalize areas of their life, like the little squares and of a waffle. Women, on the other hand, are a tangled mess of saucy goodness where everything is tangled and intertwined, like spaghetti.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve got some sauce falling off the plate because the noodles of my mind are being twirled a bit too fast by life.

Hmmm, now I’m hungry.

Messy spaghetti, anyone?

Wonder and Joy

I need to say thank you.

Thank you to the internet for inspiration. Thank you to all the people who do the holiday season up big. Thank you to the Heather Lands of the world who make me belly laugh about our silly traditions. Thank you for the conversations of dear friends as we eat delicious food, do laundry, and find humor in our family and our work. Thank you for far away friends as we compare notes and ideas to make the holidays wonderful, and commiserate with us when they go awry. Thank you, Mom, for the conversation about the wonder of Christmas, and letting kids be kids.

And a special thank you to Hannah’s teacher.

You see, her teacher shared that she had said her home elf was quite boring. Dobby only moved around but never did anything funny or amazing like the elf in the classroom. She wasn’t shaming me or ridiculing me by sharing what Hannah had said, but was simply sharing the magic of the season…she loved how her students’ faces lit up each day as the elf did some new and crazy thing – even simple things – all by themselves.

It woke me up. Big time.

In a season where perfection abounds, it’s hard when things aren’t they way we’d like them. My person is deployed. (No, they don’t get Christmas off. Or New Year’s. Or the kids’ birthdays. Or their birthday. Or any of the other holidays this year.) The kids are missing their dad. It sucks. Yes, it’s part of it, but it still sucks.

And yet….it’s Christmas.

Hannah’s teacher sharing reminded me that even though it’s not an ideal holiday, that while our hearts are hurting, they can also be filled with joy.

And wonder.

And the magic of a silly elf on the shelf.

Not only did he do all these silly antics over the past month…

…he reminded us all that wonder and joy can still be found.

Kind of what Christmas is all about anyway, right?

❤️ Wishing you joy and wonder this Christmas season ❤️❤️❤️

The Life Raft of Gratitude

Navigating this deployment with kids old enough to comprehend time and distance more than they did the last time around, I’m finding that it’s teaching me how to teach them how to navigate tough emotions. One has to have a good cry, the other wants to not talk about it, for now. “Later, mom. We’ll talk later.”

The urge to fix it is there. It’s like this gene that makes us desire to make everything all better is implanted the minute we hold our children for the first time. I resist this “fix-it gene” because in the long run, masking over feelings is not healthy. I want them to sit in the middle of the mess and know it’s going to be okay. Cry, rage, be mad, exhaust all of it. Feeling all the feelings is healthy and normal. Stuffing, ignoring, masking, and distracting pain will only prolong the inevitable. You cannot go around, over, under pain; at some point you have to go through it. It takes guts. When I don’t know what else to do, I grasp for the things that ease pain. Exercise and physical exertion are often-utilized tools in my belt. I don’t always have that in me, though. That which eases without fail: gratitude. Gratitude is the raft for traveling through the gut-wrenching sludge of pain. It’s a survival vehicle that my kiddos will know well.

For today, I’m focused on the little things; a freshly mowed lawn, dogs that seem to sense a shift and are snuggling in close as if they know we need a little more love today, the dishes that were done last night so I could just sit and be today, teaching my daughter the exquisite release that comes from laughing through tears, the automatic coffee maker for preparing a warm pot before I even slipped a foot out from under the covers, and the quiet calm of knowing that the worst part for me is over, so I can focus on what the kids will need in the coming weeks.

Figuring out one thing – even a tiny thing – that I am grateful for can create a 180-degree shift in my mood and attitude. It creates calm in the midst of chaos, fear, and uncertainty.

I used to love browsing shops and looking for sales before kids. Getting lost in a store or the shelves of a Barnes and Noble was a way to pass deployment time. I still enjoy it a little from time to time when I am afforded the opportunity to escape alone. I really don’t like shopping with other people. While I would gladly stop a bullet and step in front of a train for my kids, I loathe dragging them to the store. LOATHE.

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As a person who gets distracted easily, the concentration of remembering what I need from the list I left in the car (but am too lazy to go back and get), mentally canvassing the cupboards and refrigerator from memory, checking ingredients and prices, all while attempting to keep the kids in line, not grabbing stuff, and preventing bodily injury to themselves and unsuspecting passersby with the cart – I come home exhausted and cranky.

The big thing I’m thankful for this deployment? Amazon Prime and our local HEB Curb-to-You online service.

Seriously. LIFE. CHANGING. I know I’m late to the party, but whoa! School supply shopping? DONE. Birthday shopping for August? DONE. The next upcoming birthday and Christmas will be done and done online. I will never have to leave my house if I don’t want to! No crowds, no hassle, no problem! I got this!

Table for 3 please. We’ll take gratitude for things large and small, with a big ol’ side of humor.

 

 

Far from Perfect. Not Even Good. 

….Tra-la-la-la-la….skipping happily through summer, making delicious vegetarian meals for my family to savor as we gather around the table for dinner every evening…after playing merrily through our warm South Texas days….

Yeah. Keep dreaming. We are also smack dab in the middle of Crap Week. What’s Crap Week, you ask? Oh, let me explain. Crap Week is defined as anywhere from 1-3 weeks for a military family right before the service person departs. We are down to the last few days. It’s a flurry of last minute preparations, last one-on-one dates with the kids, family adventures and trying to inhale as much of him as we can. Meanwhile, he’s reminding me of house duties like replacing the filters, where the water shut off valve is, and mentioning oil change schedules, blah, blah, blah, I-can’t-hear-you-because-I’m-in-denial, blah, blah, blah. In the midst of this, I decide that going meatless is genius. I’ll wait while you cease snort laughing.

Here’s what actually happened last night:

As per usual, the kids decided to lose their minds right around 3:30-4pm. Convenient considering that that is when I’m deciding on and prepping for dinner, hubby coming home, etc. (And by “etc.”, I mean finishing up a video game that I was playing with my son, but I got engrossed in, far after he’d lost interest and moved on to antagonizing his sister, who is simply trying to watch Moana for the 873rd time. At full volume.) I reluctantly shut off the game, erasing the evidence that I’d crushed my high score.

I had planned to make yummy burgers, since I’m sure poor hubby has been craving them as we adventure into meatless territory. Finding a mere 1,876 recipes for black bean vegan burgers online, I picked one based on ingredients I had on hand. Toasting the buns we had leftover from another meatless miss, I pull them out of the oven to notice tiny little green spots.

Mold. I have moldy buns. My delicious made-with-only-4-ingredients-whole-wheat buns have grown green hair patches. Luckily I have 4 more buns of the preservative-laden “sit on the shelf and not mold for 6 months” variety. I quickly pop them under the broiler to toast while I whip up my “burgers”.

Taking them out of the oven, I eye them dubiously. I look at Eric, who is also surveying the mess. I think I know in my heart of hearts how this is going to end, as does he. He puts on a brave face for me, since I’ve already tossed the first round of moldy buns – he feels bad that this will likely all end up in the trash.

Parchement paper was *supposed* to ensure crisp edges. The internet lied to me.I feel so betrayed.

I even made this yummy plate of veggie toppings for what were going to be scrumptious burgers! Sadly, Hannah mistook the purple onion for some purple cabbage and couldn’t figure out why her mouth was burning! “Why would the cabbage be so spicy, Mom?”

Note to self, don’t eat raw onions. You know, unless you like them.
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My sad, disgusting meatless bean burger.

Eric took a bite and smiled at me, chewing slowly. I looked at him and asked, “How bad is it?!”

“Just try a bite,” he said, struggling to swallow.

It should be noted that when someone smells something awful, what is the first thing they do? YES! They offer it to someone else to smell the awfulness. I believe the same could be said of taste. “This is so gross! Here, you try it!”

I bit into it.

I immediately stood up, grabbed my plate, spit my bite out, dashed over to the kitchen and dumped it all into the trash. Hannah refused to try it after our reactions, and I didn’t blame her one bit. We were all laughing at the ridiculousness.

He made a box of mac and cheese for him and Hannah. Jacob (who’d already eaten his usual dinner and was unaffected by all of this nonsense) accompanied me to Freebirds where I had a decent dinner that I didn’t have to prepare.

I’ll call it far from perfect, but funny for sure!

 

Resist

I’ve been sitting here staring out the window to my backyard for about 3 minutes with my hands resting on the keyboard.

“I don’t have a clue…” I think to myself as the sun shines through the trampoline screen that is now a semi-permanent fixture right outside my bedroom window. Dog hair litters the floor, the sun highlights the fact that I haven’t had the energy or inclination to vacuum lately, among other things.

I don’t have a clue. There is so much noise right now. Many valid points, but it’s as if everyone is screaming at everyone else with their hands over their ears, no one hearing anything but the sound of their own anger.  Not my president, get over it, pro-life, pro choice, anti-this, anti-that…..I feel like the kid in the middle of a horrendous divorce. The issues are plenty and every participant wildly passionate.

I find myself pushing. Pushing away.

Resisting.

When the anxiety gets to the point of overwhelm, I have found that I have to resist.

Resist the idea that there is only a this or a that. The black and white thinking that there is only a right or a wrong, an option A. or a B. You are either pro or anti. No. Not with everything. Many things are multifaceted and require investigation into grey areas.

Resist the inclination to know everything, to be certain. I love having a plan and executing it. That’s where I’m comfortable. Whether it’s a recipe to follow, food plan and prep, an exercise regimen, a life philosophy, faith, or anything else – I am wary of people so certain that their thoughts are right and everyone else is wrong. The older I get, the more uncertain I feel about so many things I thought were long ago nailed down. To be certain feels a lot like a mind closed.

Resist the temptation to sit down, be quiet and not think critically.  Despite the appeal of sticking one’s head in the sand, that’s not a solution for anyone.

Resist responding with angerAnger is draining. I have to respond with curiosity, love and a genuine desire to learn. The alternative is to join the deafening chaos of the crowd and I won’t do that.

I look at the trampoline outside my window once more and visualize my laughing, screaming minions bouncing around, as they will no doubt do again this evening, just like they did yesterday and the day before.

Resist doing nothing because everything feels overwhelming. Glennon Doyle Melton said something that struck a chord with me. “Do not discount the work that you do at home with your children.” I may only be able to show two little people what love and kindness looks like, but eventually they will grow up to be big people and they will in turn show love and kindness in their school, in their work, and in their communities.

 

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

“Love begins by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home.”

-Mother Theresa

 

Daily Prompt: Resist

A Peek Behind the Curtain

Not just because of an election season that has left most of us feeling like we’ve been sitting in the spin cycle of a washing machine all wrung out, and not because of another public shooting, or other tragic event.  Just the d-word in general. Depression.

I started writing about my own experiences with depression a couple of years ago and it’s been sitting off to the side ever since:

As I’ve gotten older, I have noticed seasons come and go where I was more myself, light-hearted and easy going. There were dips when I made poor choices in relationships, knowing it wasn’t going to lead anywhere good. Job changes, promotions and other events gave cause for the usual ups and downs of life. Overall, I had a hopeful outlook  – and that things would always work out even if I didn’t love the crap out of every single day.

I got married when I was 23. 8 years later I felt the weight of postpartum depression come crashing down on me in the shower as the water rushed over my now-foreign body, the sound of my hollow sobs echoing against the bathroom walls. Would he ever stop crying? Would my nipples ever stop aching? Bleeding? How was I ever going to be a functional person again? It was all so very overwhelming and completely unexpected. No one tells you about this part of bringing a baby home. No one told me there would be a “new normal”. I thought my new normal was insanity and a deep, dark hole that seemed insurmountable.

A few years and another child later, my husband left for what would be in total a 15 month deployment with a couple of weeks off during the holidays. That was a rough couple of years. We didn’t know then that our son would later be diagnosed with HFA (High Functioning Autism) or Asperger’s. We thought he was defiant and strong willed. I felt like a total failure at this parenting thing.

And now, here I sit. In the middle of it again. Our oldest is now 6 and our daughter is 4. Every day seems like such a struggle. They are bigger kids, but they aren’t quite big kids yet, so they are pushing every boundary and testing every limit. They don’t listen like we think they should. Our expectations are often more than they are capable.They fight with each other. Both my husband and I were the youngest of our own families and were much younger than our siblings – so we were basically raised as only children. It seems we don’t know what we are doing, daily. I have a book on my bedside table called Stop Arguing and Start Understanding…but it seems so exhausting to put forth the effort to read it. I’m so tired. I’ve been exercising daily, as I know that it is my tether to sanity. But I’m lonely here. I don’t have many friends yet, and I don’t have the gumption to really put myself out there to meet people. At the end of the day, I often feel like I can barely give enough to my kids and myself I just don’t have anything left over to offer in terms of friendships. I would be a taker and it just would be so much effort.

Yes, I know, I’m worth it, and I matter, and all that. My hope is that this is just a season. I really do. And I want it over. I don’t usually like to rush the time with my kids, but there are a few phases that I would love to just skip over entirely. This would definitely be one of them.

I wrote this in a draft 2 years ago. The kids are older and some things are easier with them. They are more independent and we are moving forward with evaluations for our son. I have peace about the things I was unsettled about before, but there are other things that seem so much the same. I feel it coming again. The heavy blanket that I know is not good, but feels so comforting. It’s deceptive in the way it makes me think I want it. I want the heavy blanket to wrap itself around me. “Sleep…” it whispers. “Don’t fight it…relax…” And rest is what I crave. It always knows what to say.

In my work as a trainer, I often fill the role of encourager, cheerleader, or simply the friendly instructor who is quick to smile and offer a friendly good morning. Exercise and physical activity has, and will continue to be, my method to maintaining mental health. “We leave all the stuff of life outside those doors,” I tell participants in my group classes. “Turn off the phones. Whatever is needed of us will still be there in 1 hour. Take this time – it’s yours. If you are anything like me, we need this time,” I say. Lately it’s been a struggle to be the encourager. How am I supposed to help others when some days it feels like I can’t even help myself?

Part of it is the season. Part of it is less sunlight. Part of it is – I just don’t know.

And I don’t care.

That’s what scares me.

Depression is the not caring that you don’t even care. I just want to sleep. I want to numb out. I want to drink and stay in that perfect buzzed state where you know you won’t get sick, but have enough that you just don’t give a shit or have to think to deeply about anything.

Sometimes I think those of us that feel things deeply have to go through periods where we numb out for a while to turn it all off. The feeling of everything just gets to be too much.

For me, I wait this out. It passes. I let go of what I can. I take a deep breath and try again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.