Monday, March 29, 2010

Turning the Coin Over


First day of Spring Break. An entire week with my girls, starting out with playdates and a birthday party and ending with a long stretch of free time to hang out and shop for my sister's baby-girl-to-be. Eve is downstairs plotting out her novel on the kitchen computer, Lola's enjoying time with SpongeBob and I'm lounging under the covers, snug in the soft flannel with a 12 pound cat on my chest. As my fingers twine through her thick, velvety fur and she rumbles appreciatively my thoughts turn to the past two weeks.

I know I'm in trouble when I can't even hear my own instincts. For the past two weeks, it's been a struggle to make any decision simply because I don't feel that I can trust myself. I'm so afraid to mess up that I'm paralyzed. Instead, I've been focused on little inconsequential things like setting out fresh seed for the robins and chickadees and jays who have popped up with the sunshine, nectar for the hummingbirds, and throwing the ball for the dog who has a serious case of Spring Fever. Rather than planning meals for a week and shopping once, I've been flying by the seat of my pants, visiting the grocery store nearly every day and throwing together meals as they come up.

Friday night we made the final decision about where Eve will go to school next year and it was such a relief. I'm determined to not look back or second-guess. We went with our hearts and that has to be good enough. Saturday morning the girls and I met friends to walk in a 5K to raise money for local kids with special needs. Eve whined a bit, Lola was exasperated with how slow the rest of us were, and it turns out that starting the day like that was the perfect balm for my self-doubt. Walking with Lola's teacher and her kids, meeting up with Eve's old classmate who is still as-yet undiagnosed but a sunny presence, and running in to the deaf-mute teenager who has taught the girls sign language since they were five was pure bliss. The weather was perfect, the fair that followed the walk was fun for the kids, and we all went home feeling good about ourselves.

As my antidepressants begin to clear the dark fog in my head I find that I am increasingly able to turn my thoughts outward. As I spend time with my therapist I am increasingly able to find perspective. Rhythmically rubbing the cat's neck, I came to some clarity. Most of my days in the past weeks have been characterized by avoidance tactics, what I've come to know as "loss aversion." My decisions have been made on the basis of the principle of the lesser of two evils. Instead of thinking about what I want, I've been worried about avoiding the outcome I don't want. No wonder I can't find my instincts. My instincts are positive. They are intentional.

I need to get back in to the habit of thinking about what I want and giving myself permission to want. Recognizing that I deserve to have desires and wishes, too, and act on them. Then I can begin to feel better about my decisions.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Synchronization

For the past week our lives have been lived against the backdrop of a big decision. It feels as though the choice was sitting there like a mural on the back wall of our lives. As we moved through our days, engaging in all of the mundane and not-so-mundane activities that make up a normal week, that decision sat there and waited for us.

Eve was accepted to two of the three schools she applied to for next year. They are both great schools and, although Bubba and I were ultimately in charge of making the final choice, we wanted to hear her honest opinion before making our choice. Her immediate reaction was to choose the magic school, and that's how Bubba and I felt, too. We felt we owed it to ourselves to deliberate a little, though, so we didn't tell Eve what we thought. Instead, we gave ourselves the week to sit with it.

We made lists of pros and cons. The magical school is a 35 minute drive from here. The other one is five minutes away. Eve doesn't know anyone at School 1, she knows at least two other kids who've applied to School 2. School 2 would carry her through high school - no more transitions. School 1 goes through 8th grade only. School 2 costs about $8K less per year than the other one. School 1 is for girls - the other one is co-ed. Bubba, Eve and I all fell head-over-heels in love with School 1. We liked School 2 very much and are confident in their reputation and academics.

Eve waffled all week. I waffled some, especially when I thought about how the extra drive to and from school might impact Lola and whether it would make it harder for me to participate as much as I want to in both of their schools. Wednesday night we went to a reception for accepted students at School 2. The new, state-of-the-art auditorium was packed, the high school jazz band was playing as we entered, there were mini-cheesecakes on the tables and a panel of 20+ students, staff, parents, and alumni to field questions. The faces of the panel were white, upper-middle class, professional, friendly and eager to help.

Thursday morning Eve and I were invited to join School 1 for their weekly "community meeting" run by the students themselves. We entered the room to a busy, bright room with 130 girls of every color and shade sitting cross-legged on the floor. A 7th grade girl sat in the corner on a stool, her laptop on her lap, projecting her PowerPoint agenda on the wall. Staff stood and sat around the edges of the room and the student body president commanded attention with her microphone at the front of the room. Each grade level had specific announcements and then there was time for an 8th grade student to read messages from the suggestion box the girls instituted as an anonymous way to address sticky issues (one of them reminded the other girls to please wrap their sanitary items tightly before placing them in the wastebasket). Staff made announcements about ski bus, math club, the talent show, and other issues before the meeting adjourned so the girls could go to class. Five of the staff stayed behind with us to answer questions. Their faces were all different colors but in one regard they were the same - their eyes sparkled with humor, passion, creativity and joy for this place. They were so proud to share their school with us and genuinely interested in Eve and her concerns. They encouraged her to ask questions and made sure she knew she could call them when we left if she remembered something she had to know.

She skipped up the street to the car. She grinned from ear-to-ear. She squealed, "Okay, I've made up my mind. I have to go to school here. I just feel good at this school."

Good enough for me. It's time for that backdrop to come down, anyway. It's settled. Eve will go to the school that lights us all up from the inside. The drive matters not a bit. I'd take her piggy-back the 35 miles if I had to so that I can see that look of pure excitement on her face as she gets up to go to school every day.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Back to the Drawing Board


When Bubba and I had been dating for a little over a year, he graduated from college and moved to Washington state. Since I still had one year to go before graduation, I stayed in Oregon and we commenced a commuter relationship. Luckily, he found a weekday job that enabled him to drive down on weekends and my weekend job started at 4:30am and had me off work by noon, so most of Saturday was ours to spend together.

I had weekends off every once in a while so, whenever I could, I headed north on I-5 to visit him for the weekend. The drive wasn't bad - gas wasn't terribly expensive and I had a ton of music I could listen to. It was mostly freeway and the speed limit was 70 mph in most places, so I had the drive from door to door down to just over three hours. My only complaint was those damn ruts in the road. Over time, the interstate had been so well-traveled that there were two ruts in each lane that sucked you in and held you there. I wasn't often inclined to fight my way out of them unless it was pouring rain and there was standing water in the deep wells they made. My little college-student car wasn't heavy enough to push through to the pavement and I often found myself hydroplaning through the ruts.

Bubba and I used to joke that we shouldn't complain too much about the ruts considering we probably had a lot to do with their creation. All in all, it was worth it. I didn't mind braving the ruts for him.

About six months ago I decided to wean myself off of my antidepressant medication. Once I got past the side effects of getting rid of the meds, I felt pretty dang good for about three months. Last week I got sucked into the ruts. The darkness descended and no matter how hard I try, I can't talk myself out of them. No amount of sleep, exercise, vitamins or healthy self-talk is doing the trick. Every thought is tiring. Acting on those thoughts is exhausting. It's all I can do to get out of bed in the morning, get the girls off to school and stare at the wall for a while. I've forced myself to go swim laps every morning and have coffee with a close friend. Writing helps for a bit, but ultimately, all I want to do is climb back into bed and pull the covers over my head.

As frustrated and disappointed in myself as I am, I've been here before. I know that I can't just suck it up and turn on the happiness. So today, it was back to the doctor for a new prescription. I'm not upset that I need an antidepressant. In fact, I'm heartened by the notion that I can take something once or twice a day that can help. I'm frightened by the thought that I can't trust my own brain to snap out of it. Frightened by the knowledge that I can't just tell myself to get over it. For now, I'm keeping both hands on the steering wheel, staring straight ahead and waiting for the road to flatten out. I'm not sure what I'll do if it starts raining before my new prescription kicks in, but it's nice knowing that Bubba's along for the ride and his hand will help steady mine.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hand in Hand

Last Thursday I found myself in one of my favorite independent bookstores with some time to kill. It had been months since I was in this neighborhood and, even though I really didn't need any new books, I am brilliant at justifying book purchases to myself, so I walked out of there with two new books.





As is my method, I began reading them both the next day. The first one is a series of essays written by parents of children with disabilities that essentially serves to put a human face on these families for whom life is a constant series of struggles to find ways to accommodate their unique needs and help their children navigate the 'normal' world. Despite knowing many such families, I have found some new information in each and every story. Despite feeling as though I am fairly savvy about children with special needs, reading these essays has opened my eyes wide to the daily challenges one must overcome, often to simply walk out the door in the morning.

The other book is a bit tougher read. For a science-lover, I find the subject fascinating, but it is a book that I have to be fully present to absorb completely.

The biggest revelation I've made thus far is in realizing how congruent these two diverse books are. The author of "How We Decide" quickly explains that human beings, while long held as the most rational of creatures on the planet, would be nowhere without their emotions. He points out that emotions play a vital role in helping us make decisions and gave examples of people who have suffered damage or trauma to the limbic (emotional) system of the brain who went on to become paralyzed by decision-making. Simply put, we are completely unable to make a choice between different options without consulting our emotions to some degree.

As I finished yet another compelling essay about a family whose lives were turned upside-down by the appearance of a "special needs" child, I considered my own reactions to children whose difficult behaviors I've witnessed in public. I began lamenting the human condition that compels us to sort and group, stereotype people in order to more quickly assess where they fit in to our mental filing systems. I began to wonder what it is that causes us to have physical aversions or angry reactions to children who are clearly different and, often times, blame the parents for not controlling or fixing their children. It occurred to me that our emotions are at work here as well. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I know that I generally have one of two instant emotional reactions. The first is frustration that I have nothing to offer in the way of helping. The second is fear that 'there but for the grace of God go I.' Both of these lead to anger and an instant need to explain why I could never find myself in such a situation. I need to insulate myself from the possibility of ever experiencing the alienation or fear that this family is clearly dealing with, and so I need to find reasons why I won't ever be there. Both stem from my own inability to be comfortable simply being in that moment without needing to change it.

I believe that in that instant when we are witnessing a massive meltdown in the grocery store or an act of aggression on the part of a child who is clearly not in control of themselves, many of us make the decision to distance ourselves based on fear. I am sad to say that I know I have. When that fear grows from the simple fear of helplessness or "what if that was my kid" to the fear of potential harm to our own children, bias begins. We use that fear to support the logic of pigeonholing these 'types' of families in an effort to insulate our children from difficult situations. Now that I understand more fully my tendency to make decisions based on this flawed belief (autism is not contagious and I am not being asked to 'fix' the problem - only have compassion or, at the very least, keep my frigging mouth shut), I hope to interrupt the circuitry and replace fear with compassion. I can't wait to see how my decisions change with love and understanding as a base in place of fear.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

What If, Part II



Part I is here
Okay, so we've established that Bubba and I (not to mention Eve and Lola) are over-the-moon for this lovely, lovely school. Logistically, it will mean some restructuring for our family since it will not only mean that the girls will be in two different schools, but two different schools with different hours with two freeways separating them. Two freeways that are notorious for being clogged during rush hour.

We have eleven days to go until we are notified about Eve's application status. That being said, Bubba and I have had this feeling that things will just be okay. I hesitate to jinx myself by saying "she's in," but at the same time, Bubba is not the kind of man (read: farmboy with Rush-Limbaugh-loving parents) who gets feelings, so the fact that he has one now is pretty powerful.

As part of my preparation, I asked the admissions director at the school to put me in touch with some families who are currently making the commute so that I could pick their brains about how it works or doesn't. Monday she called me to say she had "the perfect family." Wednesday I emailed this family to propose meeting for coffee. Wednesday afternoon I received a reply asking me whether we would like to come to their house on Saturday to meet the family and talk. Eve and I accepted gratefully.

So what if? What if this family has two daughters, one and two years older than Eve, respectively? What if their journey toward this magical school was so similar to ours that there was an instant connection? What if the entire family welcomed us into their home, affectionate dog cantering out the front door to show off his toy, three girls poised at the entrance with smiles on their faces, ready to whisk Eve off to play and chat? What if their mother invited me in to this warm place, ripe with color and life, poured me a cup of tea and offered me "the Queen's chair" in the family room? What if, throughout the course of the next two hours our conversation never waned and the feeling that we were meant to meet and collaborate and become part of each other's lives blossomed? What if she suddenly recalled the name of another family whose two daughters were also applying to this school and called her to come join us? What if we all sat around getting to know each other over red wine and agreeing to rely on each other to get our girls to school and make this work?

For most of my life I believed that I had the power to make things happen. Make things right. Fix things just so. I believed that all I had to do was plan ahead, map out my actions, and work really hard to effect the change I wanted to see. It was exhausting, but I had control. I thought.

Ever since we embarked on this journey to find a place for Eve to go to school that would offer her joy and passion and a true community I have learned to let go. Simply putting the request out into the universe and trusting that something would present itself has been enough. The hardest part has been putting to bed any preconceived notions about what that something might look like. From the beginning, the pieces have simply fallen in to place. I know in my heart that this school is the best place for Eve and for all of us as a family. In two short hours with this family I came to feel even more strongly about this. While I sat in the family room, the girls took Eve to the park to play and answered all of her questions about their school. She came back smiling and settled.

The magic of this place continues to spread. Strangely, a table at the annual celebration event for this school (that happens to be hosted by the family I spent the afternoon with), just happened to have two seats open up. Of course, she offered them to me. Of course I accepted. There are eleven days to go until we find out whether Eve gets in. I'm not really worried. Did I mention that this mom is not only a musician but an interpretive medium? Yeah. That's right.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Cleaning Out


As I meditate, the vision of a clear mountain stream comes to me. Nestled in a forest, surrounded by evergreen trees miles above it, cool water moves across pebbles covered in a soft downy fuzz of green. The water is no more than six inches deep and the path it takes winds gently, curving in slight, undulating waves as it makes its way through the trees.

A large, preadolescent boy pads up on soft bare feet and stops at the water's edge. He is holding a discarded tree branch, about 2/3 his height and the width of his wrist and he begins poking at the pebbles on the bottom of the stream. Becoming bolder with each movement, he is soon stirring the water like the contents of a witch's cauldron, swirling rich, fertile mud up from beneath the rocks and clouding the clear stream with muck. Soggy, frayed leaves and pine needles catch in whirlpools and twist in with algae that has been freed from the pebbles it covers.

I cannot see the boy's face and am struck at how angry I am with him for disrupting this calm scene. I want to chase him away. I want the water to settle and be clear again. Suddenly I realize that, from my perspective, I can only be the stream. It is me he is mucking with. I am filled with debris and rotting organic material, moving in circles in an attempt to find a place to settle.

Much of the heavier, thicker objects will settle back, but just as much of the algae and mud are pushed slightly downstream to settle somewhere else - just out of my range of sight. I am seeing my own body's response to the detoxification I am going through. While I thought things were settled, it seems that many of these things I've held on to were simply lying dormant. Once stirred up, they momentarily cloud the water as much of them are washed away. In time, the stream will clear again and benefit from this cleaning out.

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