wisdomfromthesisterhood

The Sisterhood is a place to bring your cup of coffee to. Heck, bring the whole pot :). Sit down, relax, and fall in for a while. No divas or meanies allowed. It's about boy brain, kiddos, food, one crazy labrador, autism and a cat in recovery from a back tire incident. Oh the places you'll go :)

Autism: The Brighter Side of the Rough Spots

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It was on the winding drive up to Sugarloaf that I noticed the familiar hill rising up on our left.  Actually, driving beside it, I can remember those late summer afternoons on the ridge and it indeed seems bigger than just a hill back then.  Maybe it’s a mountain and not a hill…I’m not sure the difference.  It’s more than a hill you can walk right up without stopping.  If memory served me at all, I seem to recall that when I last walked that rising piece of earth in search of my spectrum kiddo’s lost Lego piece, it took me three separate rest breaks to make it to the top during the search and rescue mission.  I will tell you it felt like every bit of a mountain on that day we scoured the brown dirt for Fire Toa Jaller’s silver sword.

Looking back over a five year’s distance, I can see a lot of things happened on that mountainous hill.  From losing Jaller’s silver sword to the foal whose life was spared to the sleds in the back of my van as we drive, I realize, the road has been long and good.  It’s funny how the universe and God are such expert crafters and have this way of weaving layers of substance into our lives.

The mountainous hill I have come to love stands at the edge of Granite Station.  Once upon a time, way back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Granite Station was a stage coach stop in Central Cali.  Today the mountainous hill is at the back side of the chimney that marks where the stage used to make its stop.  The day we saw her again, we were on our way with other friends for a day of sledding higher up into the iced peaks of the Sequoias.

Five years ago, when we were new to Cali after our move from Florida, I remember how it felt taking drives to Granite Station with my kiddos when we used to check on our friend’s horse.  The horse he rescued happened to be pregnant and, with him often out of town, he needed help checking on her.  I enjoyed the drive and the peace so I volunteered to periodically take the drive up to Granite Station.  I enjoyed the freedom of climbing to the top of the mountainous hill, of walking around to find the horses on the property and, for as many miles as I could see, looking out upon that seldom found and often craved bare-ground-touching-blue-sky serenity that lives at Granite Station.  Divorce will make you crave that serenity and I was craving it as much as the air I needed to breathe.

It was on one of those roaming walks across the mountainous hill that I became aware, mostly by the sound of my spectrum kiddo’s voice rising with sudden and fierce agitation, that a beloved and critical Lego piece was missing.  If you are not yet a Lego builder, finder, lover, you may not know that one eensy-teensy piece can throw an entire character into ruin, can make a truck into a crumbling heap, a boat into a sinking scrap pile.  Losing a piece is not easy to swallow.  Well, it’s actually quite easy to swallow, as a matter of fact, and we’ve lost a few that way as well but I won’t go into that now.  It’s neither pretty nor clean.

Losing Fire Toa Jaller’s silver sword that day was d-e-v-a-s-t-a-t-i-n-g.  On the mountainous hill we scoured the earth around us, backtracking our steps with four sets of eyes fixed into the dirt but despite Herculean efforts and desire, we never found the critical silver sword that would make our Lego Bionicle Jaller whole again.  I remember the insistence, the pleading and the panic in his voice.  It was a sound that would become the hallmark of the autism stage we were in at the time.

During those early days in Cali I would drop everything to fix the panic, to ease the anxiety and calm the chaos he was trying to eliminate from his life.  It even took me a few complete meltdowns that year in our new school before I came to see that turning myself into a fixing wizard was not the answer.  I was continually scrambling to make it better but, in the big picture, this was not helping him and, if anything, it was causing him to derail further.  The behaviors he was getting mired down inside of, in his bid to seek perfection in all things and with my wizardly power aiding his mania, were now interfering with his academic future.  It was getting serious f-a-s-t and it was becoming apparent, I was doing him a disservice by helping  him to believe that Mom could make everything in his life perfectly pristine.

Shortly after the last meltdown at school I had an enlightening moment of my own as it became clear for the first time that, in my bid to make it better and ease his panic, I was taking away his ability to learn coping skills and mature.  I decided then and there that I would no longer be his enabler.  I would no longer let him believe it was okay to fill himself with such panic during his blinding bid to seek and retain perfection in his life.  That was one of the first moments I can remember when I knew I would be in for a fight.  I would have to push back and consciously begin to work toward desensitizing him.  I would have to be strong enough to say…our life will go on despite this loss or imperfection…and stand beside him through the ugly moments until he could come to believe it too and learn to cope with imperfection and even the concept of loss.  I will say I stood up and found my backbone more quickly than he found the skills to understand it could be okay.  It took him a while to realize that even if mom could not fix everything and present him with perfection, life would still be okie dokie.  It took time, it took ugly moments, it took some push back for him to finally see and be able to internalize that it would indeed be okay if everything was not in his or my control.  We also practiced saying new words every day.  Simple things like, “It’s okay,” and “It’s no big deal.”

That year was the year the kids and I moved by ourselves to California as the divorce our family experienced became exceedingly real.  That was the year we left our home behind and found a new one.  That was the year we said good bye to our neighbors and friends and came to a new state where we would be forced to find new ones (even though we still loved the old ones).  That was the year we said good bye to the school and the teachers and the librarian and the families that we loved and who loved us and we set out to discover a new academic life.  That was the year we all had to start over and we went through some awkward moments as we grew and stretched and morphed into more resilient individuals than we were when we left Florida.  That was the year we all learned that there was grace in imperfection.

Not once did we stop loving or supporting each other through the rough spots because, as we found out, the rough spots are when you grow and learn and become seasoned in life.  Sometimes you even have to lose things, shake things up, to grow into a healthier version of you.  That was the year a Lego on the mountainous hill taught each of us that even when we lose control of life, even when the pieces don’t all fit together perfectly and we are in transition, it will still be okay… if we stick together.  Sometimes, it might even be better once you get to the brighter side of the rough spot.

The rest of the story unfolded on the mountainous hill at Granite Station when my friend’s horse finally had her foal.  Driving up to Sugarloaf  was the first time I had glimpsed the mountainous hill at Granite Station in many years and I was reminded of just how deep the ripples of Jaller’s sword were felt and how far that simple lost Lego piece reached through the community.  As it turned out, the foal born on the mountainous hill was surprisingly not perfect.  It was born with a funky foot that normally, for men like my no nonsense ranching friend, would have meant a swift and practical death for the baby horse.  For all practical purposes, a horse that cannot walk unassisted is of no use to a rancher.

The first time he called to say the foal would have to be put down I pushed back kindly as friends can do to one another.  Our friend, an old fashioned rancher whose bottom line is practical usefulness, had never know about disabilities before my spectrum kiddo but luckily, he was wowed by the quirky briliance that lived in such juxtaposition to all he’d been taught his whole life.  For him, disability had always meant inability and my son had caused the man to throw out every truth he’d ever known.  Different suddenly became ‘W-O-W, that’s autism?’  Had the foal been born six months prior to meeting my spectrum kiddo, I am fairly certain the foal would have been put down.  After losing Jaller’s sword on his mountain and participating in the search, the hardened rancher came to understand that different isn’t less and differences can open a world up to miracles.  He also watched my boy stand in the middle of six of his rough around the edges ranch horses in a field as the horses all gave my son their complete attention and full manners.  A lot of things happened that the rancher simply could not explain.

The next time we spoke, when I didn’t ask about the baby horse, he asked me if I wanted to know how it was.  When I nervously hesitated, he went on to tell me that his vet friend said they can put a prosthesis, a brace of sorts, on the foot and it can work.  He insisted the foal wasn’t going to win any races or shows but it would be just fine and, in my heart, I could see he knew…different might not have been perfect but it was also eye opening and miraculous and there was value in that….even for a practical rancher.

That day when we drove past the mountainous hill and made our way up to Sugarloaf in the Sequoias for our sledding trip, I realized the search for Jaller’s sword had done more than just churn up dust on the mountainous hill.  My spectrum kiddo, who hated snow years before and asked every fifteen minutes if it was time to go because he was bored… had ceased his need for perfection and control.  He’d actually gone on to love sledding.  In fact, the boy who loved nothing more than electronics  made snow balls, he hiked up the four hundred foot run with his sled in hand and he sledded and crashed and even skidded over the mild jump without complaint.  He tolerated the cold and he tolerated the fact that he would not be handed electronics to soothe him.  And thanks to one spectrum boy and his Lego, the search for Jaller’s lost sword rippled far enough to touch a hardened rancher who found his own grace in our search for the peaceful side of imperfection because, as we all discovered on the mountainous hill, imperfection is actually just an opportunity to discover a perfect kind of grace.

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The Pumpkin Patch…or…The Halloween Drama Zone: Round 14

Thankfully, this picture is pretty.  I appreciate that more than you know because if our day at the pumpkin patch is going to deteriorate into a drama zone then I at least hang my hopes on getting a good and pretty picture to take away from it.  Lots of verbal and mental combat took place yesterday and I’d like to say I never saw it coming but, knowing my children and their sibling rivalry, I can’t.  I’d like to say it’s unusual for us but, let’s face it, it isn’t.  If there are cameras involved and high expectation of one good picture of kids or the perfect family outing together, there will be drama.

With three kids, ages 10, 12 and 14, there will be drama and we will be dosed with sibling rivalry without fail.  My daughter just turned fifteen and I can roughly say this is round 14 for us in the Halloween drama zone.  As I look over the pictures from yesterday, I can still vividly remember the time when she was just two and wearing a vibrant red sweater and how she and I struggled to get just one picture of her in the cute wagon with the mini pumpkins.  If you have children who like to pose and who have practiced smiles…all I can say is rejoice in your good fortune!  With three children, pictures can be tough to say the least.

The upside of having just completed round 14 in the Halloween drama zone is that these kids will have some crazy memories to laugh about one day.  I can almost hear my youngest son saying to my middle son, “Remember when you got lost in the corn maze that one Halloween and I went back in to find you and then we pretended like we were lost and we hid from mom until she came looking for us? Remember what her voice sounded like when she finally found us?”  And my daughter saying to my youngest son, “Remember when you and I got into the fight over the monarch butterfly in that green house and how mom’s face got kind of red and she was so embarrassed by our behavior she could hardly find her words?  And how, at first, she just gave us her Mom-stare?”  And my daughter saying to both boys, “Oh and don’t forget about that time when we dropped the big pumpkin in the store and the cashier was starting to be mean to you two and how Mom got between her and us and reminded the lady that even though it was a mess, it was just a pumpkin and kids are more important than pumpkins?”

In the moments when I would sometimes like to start lecturing them about following the rules and being sweet citizens I try hard to remember that these frustrating moments for me are also the memories that will fill up my children’s childhood bank of stories.  The stories they will laugh about one day and the stories that will bind them together as brothers and sister.

I am thankful they have siblings to fight with.  I am thankful they are not alone.  Siblings may make life crazy but they also weave life into living.  I am thankful they are individuals with strong minds and they don’t always agree me.  I am thankful they have ample opportunity to practice conflict resolution within the family (both privately and publicly) and they have the chance to practice how to make an apology mean something before they make it out into the big world alone where the mistakes count a lot more.   Siblings may make life messy, dirty and loud but they also make this life a better place.

We are not perfect.  Sometimes we disagree and don’t get along and sometimes we do not use our best manners but every single day, inside this family, we practice.  Some lessons are harder to learn than others and we practice them over and over and over and over…well, you get it.  That is what childhood is for and that is what home is best for.  Home gives you a soft place to fall into, unconditional love, unlimited forgiveness, and a load of second chances when you need them.

Family isn’t always pretty but, thankfully, it’s always family. One day I am hopeful we will have some incident free outings but, until then, we will keep practicing our social graces and we will keep coming back to home base in those moments when our grace falls short.

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Jack Otter’s Breakfast

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The Place I Go Back To…

This is my go-to spot.  The place I go back to that soothes me and resets the world when the world needs resetting.  If you know me, you know exactly where it is and you have stood on this same sand and stepped through the same tide pools.  I no longer live there but there is a piece of me that somehow never really leaves this beach.

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Life is big…Soak it in


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Mississippi Sky

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The thought of the sand still makes me smile :)

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Wish I was here too :)

Wish I was back on the farm in Mississippi eating boiled peanuts.  These two characters live across the road.  Love them.

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Jellybowl…wish I was there :)

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Boy Brain…Letting boys be all boy

All Boy...

I call it boy brain…all things boy that make them what they are. With their boy brain wiring, my boys make me LAUGH out loud and I marvel at their originality and their fearlessness. This is on one of our jaunts back to visit the family farm in Mississippi. Wide open spaces, lizards, snakes, blueberries to pick, dirt to cover with and a whole lot of creative trouble to stir up :) ….and there were NO broken bones.

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