Monday, 12 June 2017

There's A Little Boy From Chile...

I remember my husband first telling me about Carlos. We were already two years into our second adoption process and the plan was to adopt another child from Sri Lanka but Sri Lanka had stopped international adoptions indefinitely at this point so we knew that likely we could wait five more years, seven more years...we had no idea.

One day my husband came home from work and said that he had read about a little boy in Chile who was two and needed a family quickly because he had numerous special needs and would benefit from being cared for in a family setting. At this point, we read that he couldn't walk yet, couldn't move much at all, couldn't speak, and needed a lot of help. But we also read that he was a happy boy who loved people and loved to hear music and be read to and that he loved cars.

As we have so often done in our lives, we changed course and applied for special permission to adopt Carlos.  Almost a year later we were on our way.



How odd to think that three years ago, we spent May and June 2014 in Chile completing the adoption process that would allow us to welcome Carlos Jesus to our family.

We flew over the Andes and touched down in Santiago, on a chilly winter morning. I remember how tired we were after flying those 17 hours (plus 6 waiting in Paris) with four year old William.

An old man named Max who wore a panama hat met us at the airport and took us to an apartment high up on the 24th floor of a building in Nuñoa and later that night, after I'd slept a bit, I stood on the balcony, looked down at the blazing city lights shining in the bluish darkness and then out toward the shape of the Andes in the distance and thought how unusual that I felt so immediately at home there. I like "strange" places, I do well in the unknown I am not expected to know.

The following weeks were unpredictable, filled with meetings with lawyers, child services, and other officials. At one point, a psychologist came to us for surprise visits over the course of three days and spent time observing us and our family interactions.

We traveled back and forth between Santiago, Viña del Mar, Rengo, La Serene and several towns in the Valle del Elqui. It was a time filled with complex emotions. An important distinction to make is that an adoption journey is not "traveling". Although there are many amazing experiences, the focus is often on simply surviving the challenges each day brings.

It was also around this time that William's more troubling signs of autism began to manifest, due in part to the unpredictable nature of both the trip and the sudden arrival of a toddler who was now immediately his brother. It was a bewildering time because we didn't know then William was autistic and we believed the regression and outbursts we were experiencing were caused by the emotional turmoil (and trauma) of adopting Carlos. Spending six weeks in Chile, visiting different officials almost daily, and no day being predictable, as well as suddenly having a noisy toddler in the family who none of us could communicate with would be a difficult transition for any child, let alone an autistic child.  Also there was the issue of visiting the orphanage that brought up a lot of anger and pain in William because for three days we had to return Carlos there in the evening after spending the day with him. Those nights were filled with screaming, raging and fear for William because he couldn't comprehend why we said Carlos was his brother and yet we had to give him back to the orphanage. He began to fear we would do the same to him.

As for Carlos, although he was a happy boy with a constant huge smile right from the start, he didn't know or understand us either. We couldn't speak Spanish and he couldn't speak at all. From the time he was newborn, he had been very ill so had spent his first years belonging to no one, alone in a hospital (born with several illnesses and has various special needs) and then later an orphanage. He had no concept of what a family was or what purpose having a mother served. There were many surprising, almost unbelievable, things about Carlos.

Aside from going from building to car (back and forth between orphanage and hospital) he had never been outside before. At the age of almost three, he had never played in a garden or at a park. He had never been on a walk. He had never been on a visit to the shops, to church, to the beach.

I remember the first day we cared for him, I tried to spoon feed him small pieces of banana and again and again the banana fell out of his mouth. I wondered if he was being defiant or stubborn but after a few tries I saw he actually didn't know how to chew food. I had to move his jaw and show him how to eat a banana. We learned later he had only eaten baby food from jars up until that point.

The magnitude of the experiences he had not had was hard to grasp fully.

They told us that his favorite activities were lying on the floor which was cement (often for hours until it got too cold and he had to be moved) or climbing onto a chair and staring out the window. As if those were usual "favorite activities" for a boy almost three.

However he was well cared for at the orphanage but it is strange to think that there are many experiences from his first years of which we know nothing.

Carlos has come a long way in three years. Now he is beginning to try to speak more although it is difficult for the muscles in his throat to form proper sounds. He goes on a weekly hike, yes hike!, with his preschool, often up a mountain nearby. He is very active and usually happy and loving. He tires very easily though and his muscles in his legs, arms, and hands especially, although much stronger, are still quite weak and need a lot of training. He has a tenancy to get sick easily and often struggles with respiratory issues.

He is a brave little soul and will take care of any spiders or bugs around the house without flinching. He loves people and is very friendly! He also loves to play with other children. And he loves to eat at McDonalds and to shop for new clothes! :)

He has a kind heart and often says "I take care of Mommy" or asks me with his face beaming in delight "You like Carlo, Mommy? You really really like me??" or he will say carefully as though from a script "Mommy, daddy, William, Carlo are a family."

And I think how far he has truly come. He had a rough, lonely start to life and of course, life and learning won't be without struggle for him as he grows, but he has a lot of spirit and seems to have the sort of personality that overcomes a lot. There is a real strength and resilience in him.

It hasn't always been an easy adjustment or transition and all of us have taken our own time with it but three years ago in Chile and the months that followed, a sort of frightening chaos reigned. It wasn't smooth and it wasn't at all easy. Now things have settled down and each day Carlos grows more and more into who he really is. And we learn daily to be a family. One made up of flawed individuals certainly, but Carlos has the family that the the smiling judge in Chile said he needed.

And we really, really like him. :)


















Friday, 2 June 2017

The Last Time I Saw My Grandpa

The last time I saw my grandpa I was 21 years old.  Hadn't seen him since I was 12 and before that, I had just a handful of visits with him but I remembered his deep, rough voice and his laugh.  His honest kindness.  He liked to tease, he was funny.  I held him up high in my memories, I loved him without question.

He was a fascinating and unconventional man.  He owned three antique/junk shops.  I remember visiting one when I was 12. It was walking into Aladdin's cave to me.  Dust settled all over glittery things.  Beautiful ornate things.  Odd clutter.  Piles of comics and books.  Interesting jewelry.  Pieces of people's lives.

"Choose anything you want!"  he said, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, a smile on his face.  I was shy at 12.  I chose a butter dish.  An odd choice for a 12 year old but it was a thing of beauty, the dark red-purple glass shone like jewels...

But anyway, the last time I saw him, we met at a pub, The Magpie and Stump, in Banff.  He was back, briefly, from Haiti.  He was just passing through.  Couldn't stay long because the road out there, the road out there, it always called and it had a strong voice.

It was dark in the Magpie.  We sat there for hours.  Long enough for him to smoke about two packages of cigarettes.  The waitress came back every ten minutes to empty the ash tray and pour more black coffee.  He called her "sweetheart" and I could see she was charmed by him.

He'd lived in Haiti for years at this point.  Ever since the day he sold those antique shops and everything else except his car which he drove from Ontario to Florida.  Went away forever, aside from the occasional trip back home to Ontario.  Chatham to Florida to Haiti. Beautiful, dangerous Haiti.

He'd written letters about lying awake at night listening to voo doo drums in the distance.  He wrote us about finding a dead body on his doorstep.  Although he had owned the antique shops, he was a carpenter by profession, so he lived near a group of nuns and built house after house for the poor there.  Constant action, constant work, constant love.

He loved the people there.  He saw need and beauty and truth in them.  He used the money he had left and paid for collage educations for girls so that they could be nurses instead of having to work in other, far worse, professions.  He joked with the children and made friends of the adults.  Because he was authentic in the way he treated others, the people he met loved him.  He wrote story after story about the individuals he met.

My favorite was a simple one.  Nothing "huge".  Nothing like paying for a collage education or building a house but it moved me all the more for its simplicity.  He wrote about a homeless old lady who refused to live in a shelter.  She just wanted her head rubbed.  To be touched.  He wrote to me that he made time to go see her and to rub her head.  That moved me because in life, is that simple act of love not equally as great as ones we would consider greater?  He wrote about her with genuine affection:

"This little sweetheart loved to have her head rubbed.  She didn't want to live in an institution in town because all her dead friends were still in the neighborhood.  Eventually she joined them."



He corrected wrongs where he could.  He wrote of how many people died of starvation.

"This man is a resident at the homeless shelter.  Here he is enjoying a snack.  When I returned he had died --- of starvation.  I checked through the town and made arrangements for the Sisters of Charity to provide food for the remaining 8 crippled residents.  So for the past three years now, no one has died of starvation.  This cost 45 US dollars a month."



There were countless such stories that he described in his forthright yet humble way.  These letters and stories made me want to go to Haiti and work with him.  At 14, it was my strongest wish.  Instead I went to Catholic boarding school and read the history books he sent me and the letters he wrote.  I studied the photos he sent and dreamed of a "bigger" life.

However I never went to Haiti and years passed before I saw him again.

The last time I saw my grandpa, we sat across a dark wood table from one another.  The Magpie was dim and the steady stream of smoke from his cigarettes made my eyes burn and his conversation made my head spin.  He was a brilliant man and he wanted to talk.  Well, not talk, he wanted to argue.  He was intensely intelligent, often argumentative, self-educated, a prolific writer of fascinating letters and an avid reader.  He enjoyed playing the devil's advocate.  He was good man with a good heart but he wasn't really an "easy" man.

The oldest son of Icelandic immigrants.  A hard worker all his life.  A man at home in unusual places with unusual people.

He made unconventional choices.  He cared deeply and intensely for the poor, for criminals, for the marginalized.  He was a man at ease when at work, when providing for those who couldn't provide for themselves.

I could have been wrong but that last time I saw my grandpa, I thought I heard anger running through his words.  Anger at injustice, anger at the world we live in.  Anger at some of us having everything and some having nothing.  An anger that wanted to understand how this could be so.

His sense of humor was wry.  He wanted to engage.  But he was talking to the wrong person.

I wanted to know him.  To ask him more about so many things he had written to me about in his ten page letters.  I thought he might want to get to know me as well.  Looking back, he probably did want to know me.  But he wanted to know me through verbal combat.  It's safe to say, he didn't fit the traditional, cozy grandpa stereotype.

I remember him challenging me on where I got my information about various things from.  Asking me from across the table, "Do you even read books?  And come on, don't just tell me you read fiction!"  I could hear the disdain for "fiction" in his voice.  I sat there bewildered and answered that I read all the time.

I felt like every question he asked me was an attack.  Now I understand it's just the way he spoke, the way he connected with people.  He liked a challenge, he liked to question everything and he enjoyed making comfortable people uncomfortable.  He delighted in a mind that could logically argue, defend it's point of view, but I've never been like that.

After a few hours, he gave me the last hug he ever gave me and drove off into the mountains.  I cried on and off for days.  I didn't know what to make of him.  I was sorry we had had such a terrible and upsetting visit.  He later told my mom it had been a fantastic visit. :)  When I heard that I remember feeling angry with him but now, it makes me smile that while I found our visit stressful and confrontational, he enjoyed it.  I'm glad that to him, our last visit was "fantastic".

I think William, my grandfather, was a good man with an authentically good heart and soul.  He was extraordinarily gentle and caring with those he met in Haiti.  I think he was also searching all his life for something he already possessed without knowing he possessed it.

His whole life, if one were to write it, would make a fascinating story.  These few paragraphs are only my poor and incomplete description of our last meeting and some of the history that went before it.  I can't possibly claim to understand him and I know I don't have a full picture of his life.  I have only little glimpses.  Bright memories full of sunshine and dust.  An inherited love for "old" things.  I have words written in faded ink on paper and on the back of pictures.

But then again,, all we ever have of someone else is our own filtered impressions and they may differ greatly in comparison to someone elses but the things I write about him are how I perceived him.

Below is my favorite photo of him.

"My dance troupe.  When we were building the little house for a man and his family, we hauled the stone from the river about 200 yards away.  The children would climb on the truck to go to the river but coming back, there was no room for them so I would dance with them all the way to the building site.  The little girl on my right made up a song about dancing with grand pere which all the kids sang as we danced, much to the amusement of the neighbors."


His heart was in Haiti.  He left a legacy of good there...

(I have written more about him here: http://thenocturnalflower.blogspot.no/2016/01/haiku-and-fragmented-heart.html)

Monday, 19 December 2016

Advent Done Badly



I sat at home alone yesterday morning, while my husband bundled up our two sons and took them out to mass on his own.  For the third Sunday in a row.

I did try.  I got up, got dressed, had coffee and even got in the car but in the end, I came home.

I walked through the front door, threw my coat over the back of the nearest chair and fell gracelessly onto our red couch, where the day before we found the body of our beloved cat who had died peacefully in her sleep.  I looked around and saw the advent candles, all still the same size they were at the beginning of advent.  The Christmas tree that I have to say looks beautiful because William decorated it on his own, stimming with excitement after putting on each ornament, all the bottom branches boasting three or four glittery balls.

I put my head in my hands in exhaustion and thought of all the plans I'd had to make this advent THE advent.  The most peaceful, the most spiritual, the most beautiful one yet.  In my mind we would gather around the dark wooden dining room table in the evenings, light a candle, I'd read a Christmas story in my most gentle and motherly voice.  My sons would listen.  It would be magic.

And in regards to myself, I had decided confidently at the beginning of advent I would grow so much spiritually.  I would meditate on the first Christmas, I would journey with the Holy Family.  I would pray the rosary and be filled with unshakable peace and joy.  I would be generous and not yell or get angry or judge people or focus on myself.

As I read back what I have written, maybe therein lies the irony.  I would not focus on myself.  What were all my great plans and expectations, if not the ultimate focusing on myself?  How good I'd be and how I'd be that spiritual and good all on my own.  All because I decided to and I had the strength and discipline to carry it out.

How I would benefit from an advent full of quiet peace.  A cozy, candlelit, storybook preparation for the sacred birth of our Lord.

Then I could hand the Lord these things at the end of Advent and say "Look how perfectly I've preformed!  Look what I have done!"

However, the reality has been that I haven't made it to even one mass this advent.  I did maybe six reflections with the kids and then the books I laid out with such good intentions, sat unopened.  I have been so tired and worn down that I have complained every day.  This advent has passed in a flurry of changing sheets, illness, exhaustion, impatience, trying to calm meltdowns, trying to explain the death of a much loved animal to a little boy who thinks the cat died because we didn't pet her enough.
 
Yet nothing catastrophic has happened.  Only daily distractions, small daily failures and sorrows.  Somehow the spiritual got all lost in the mundane.

Some wise friends helped me to remember though, that the spiritual is also found in the mundane.  I tend to separate the two.  As in, if I am a success at spiritual living, all aspects of my life will fall into place and I will no doubt awe others with the transcendent glow that surrounds me.  If I am not successful, well then, it all falls apart.

Deep in my heart, I know it all falls apart anyway.  I can't make anything perfect.  Not myself, not my children, or my home, or my prayer life.  I don't have that sort of power or control.

Maybe I approach this Christmas with hands full of ugly, imperfect offerings.  Approach the stable tired and a little disillusioned. With only unsuccessful attempts as gifts.  Here's all my impatience Lord.  Here's my quick temper.  My sharp tongue.  Here's all the yelling and exasperation that my kids didn't deserve.  Here's my grief, yes, grief, over the loss of our cat.  Here are all the things I put before you.  Here are all my other gods.

Maybe I approach with these imperfect gifts but I don't leave empty handed.

I know the soft glow of joy that is found in uncomfortable circumstances.  The knowledge that failure isn't always as it appears.  The promise that we can be made new.  Again and again if need be.  And need be.  In this season of Advent, rather than give, I can ask for healing, for humility, for gentleness, for all the things I lack.

I can keep trying.


Thursday, 1 September 2016

Parenting When Autism Is Your "Normal" and Neurotypical Is Not

It's a novel experience, having a child you don't have to constantly worry about.  A strange and marvelous realization, a little bit awe-filled in fact, that the things you do worry about are, quite simply put, extremely normal things.

They might fall down or off something, they might have a quarrel or a fight with another child, they might have a tantrum.  If they do, no harm done, they'll manage, they'll be ok.   When it comes to my neuro-typical son, the worry is barely there, showing me the sort of mother I might have been had I had two such children.

For example,I took my younger son, C, to a huge "picnic" in the city last Sunday.  Complete with blaring music, loud crowds, numerous bouncy castles, and a general atmosphere of friendly, boisterous chaos.  It was all a bit of an assault of my introvert soul but I managed because C was in heaven.  For four hours straight, he ran, shrieked with joy and excitement, tried everything there was to try, made friends of the other children, made enemies of the other children, ate four plates of food, and at the end of the day was sweaty and happily tired.   His refrain on the way home was "So fun Mommy!  So fun!"

And I smiled a slightly bewildered smile and thought "How very interesting!  He enjoyed himself!"

It was another novel experience for me.

I have tried this before with my older son, W, not understanding really why every time we went out to things I thought he would enjoy, we almost always both left in tears.  I would end up sweaty and exhausted from trying, trying so damn hard, to avoid a meltdown, to avoid stress, to avoid other playing children because something in me knew that in order to maintain a level of calm we have to avoid his peers for the most part.  I couldn't sit on the grass and relax, I had to follow one step behind, to make sure everything was always ok.  Because it could change in a second.  I knew this.  I just didn't really know why.

W could be excited at the thought of going somewhere and then we would arrive and reality would quickly set in.  I knew at any point, the screaming could start, and then there would be me, trying to hold his hands to keep him from lashing out, and always people, walking by and tutting their disapproval.  The unpredictability of this was emotionally exhausting.

Going out anywhere "fun" was difficult, anywhere with noise and color was unpredictable.  Almost without fail, it didn't go well. We had no car rides home with the refrain of it being "so fun" sounding in our ears.  Our car rides home from most things were filled with screams and the sound of a little head banging again and again into the back of the car seat.  We became "escape artists".  I can't say how many events and parties we had to leave quickly, my husband and I saying to one another "Let's go!  We have to get home fast!"  We would arrive home, W would run to his bed and spend hours there literally, his small body heaving with great gasping sobs until he fell asleep.  Sometimes he could hold it together in public but it was always the same when we came home, there was always a price, always a fall out.

Over the years I built up a sense of anxiety about this lack of control I felt.  But because it was my normal as a parent, it became for me, simply normal and for a long time, I accepted it as such.  We accept as normal what we are conditioned to accept as normal.

When W started pre-school at the age of 4, I would drop him off and then go home, sit on the couch, my stomach in knots, my heart pounding, feeling such a strong sense of impending doom.  Danger. Danger.  Go back.  Get him out!  Get him home!  Make sure he's safe.

I would watch the clock and rush to pick him up early.  I would often find him standing alone outside his body pressed against the fence, head banging into it or inside sitting rocking with his head banging against the wall.

"How was his day?", I would ask, forcing myself to sound cheerful but always with my heart in my throat.

"Not good.  He didn't answer any of our questions.  He would pretend the playground was an ocean with fish in it!  We told him it is not but he insisted and wouldn't stop saying it is!  He didn't get a star because he couldn't lie still and be quiet so he wasn't allowed to play with the toys he wanted to play with all day.  He hits other children.  He repeats himself all the time!  He always needs to know what will happen next!"  *exasperated sigh*

I couldn't bear it.  I would scoop him up and take him home and as I had since the moment I laid eyes on him, delight in his quirks, his funny behavior, all the things that made him so unique.

We would get home and first he would run to the bathroom and be sick from the stress of the day.  Every day without fail my four year old was sick when he came home.  Then we would put on quiet cartoon and he would lay on the couch recovering for the rest of the afternoon.

This was my normal.  I could only see that they couldn't see he was just beautiful.  Yes, different, even I acknowledged that, but so bright!  So engaging!  So imaginative!  The light of my life.

To me, different has never been equatable with wrong.  No one over the years ever suggested that maybe we should try to find out why W was different.  However many people told me I had to "find out what was wrong with him".  Amazing how a word can make all the difference sometimes.  When I was told "there is something wrong with your son", my determination to protect him would increase and my defenses would go up.  I hated those words.  Something wrong.  Maybe if they had said "something different" it would have been easier to listen to them.

It was only when we adopted his brother C (C was 3 and W was 5 at that point) that I began to actually see how a neuro-typical child behaves.  I kept exclaiming in wonder and mild confusion over C.  "Look, he just...plays!" as though that were the unusual thing.

I still catch myself doing that, treating the typical behavior as though it were unusual.  Marveling in the evening to my husband as we sit and relax, "It's so strange, when I take C to preschool, he is actually just happy!  He runs in!  He greets people!  I don't understand it!"  Or "Funny how he can just play with another kid!  How interesting!  Do you see that?!"  I am puzzled and enthralled by the things most parents would find normal behavior.

C is also a special needs child and has his own challenges but they are so easily dealt with.  So very, very normal.

My perception of "normal" though remains somewhat distorted.  It's funny, the things that shape our understanding of what constitutes normal.

I think it's good though.  In my more confident moments, I think it's really good in fact.  My "normal" is a pretty fluid thing.  I have a mind that adapts easily when it comes to the needs of those I love and to challenges.  I will read every book, I will learn everything there is to know and become an expert. That's what I do.  I did it regarding adoption and I'll do it again now.

Because my normal as a parent is not yours and yours is not mine.  In fact my experience of parenting due to factors like adoption, other special needs, and now this, is quite different than some others. The thing is though, it's totally normal to me.



Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Mug That Said "Embrace Change": The Aftermath of a Meltdown



I wipe down the counter.  After putting away the things that don't belong there, I stop and look.
What's left?  A grapefruit.  A folded blue cloth.  A fat mug with words "Embrace Change" written on it.

I feel a sudden irrational rush of resentment.

I feel, unfairly, that those words failed me, owed me something and let me down.

I am a happy embracer of change, I really am, I want to say out loud to someone.  My adult life has been spent adapting to all sorts of changes.  I am good at change, I think stubbornly.  I don't resist it, I roll with it.

This time though, my heart contracts and the words on the mug become blurry.  I think, rather unreasonably, Stupid mug!  What do you know about change?  I glare at it and its pretty flowers and calm color.

I step back.  One physical step only but much further away in my mind.

Until all things large and small become distant.

Time stops.

There has been another tornado.  My palms turned upwards in dismay.  It's left miles and miles of damage and debris.  Things got broken.  Time seemed to stand still.  For awhile we just existed in the eye of the storm.

A gentle question.  How was it?  Were you afraid?

Yes.

 It was...unspeakable.  Inconceivable.  It seemed to come from nowhere.  The sky had been calm for a month. Nothing!  I had looked out my window, there were no small funnel clouds hovering menacingly over fields.  There was no darkening of the sky.  The wind didn't even pick up.  There were no alarms ringing in the air, telling us to run.  Get somewhere safe. To be somewhere safe.

I live where this sort of thing happens sometimes.  But even so, I forget pretty easily.  Second guess myself.  After awhile, when all evidence of the storm is gone, I go about my day, I smile to myself.  Maybe... it wasn't so bad, that last time.  It takes on the quality of a dream...of something not quite real...

But that's the weather for you.  That's life for you.  Isn't it?  

Later, there's a lot of discussion.  A lot of explaining the details.  A lot of words on paper.  A lot of change on the horizon.

In the aftermath, everything feels suspended.  Tender.

There is a little, still so little really, black haired boy skipping down the road ahead of me, a lopsided backpack half the size of his body, hanging off his shoulders.  Turning, peering at me over his shoulder.

"Mommy?  Do you still love me?"

"There's nothing you can do that would make me stop."

And silently I think "I've got this.  I've got you.  Don't worry.  We are going to take care of this somehow."



Friday, 27 May 2016

Schoolyard Bullying



Bullying.  A word that has only gained in intensity and power despite its frequent use.  Everyone is outraged by bullying. It is the hot topic at parent meetings and "zero tolerance for bullying" has become every school's catch phrase.

And rightly so.  Consistent bullying is intolerable and can lead to horrific situations and leave lifelong wounds, especially on the heart of a small child, unequipped to make sense of a situation that would baffle most adults.  We have all read the stories, horror stories really,  of children and teenagers who take their own lives as a result of prolonged, systematic bullying.

We read these stories and try to convince ourselves that these things couldn't touch us on such a devastating level.  

We tell ourselves that a child who is bullied so badly that they take their own life must not receive the necessary love or attention at home to overcome the bullying by their peers.  A child who would take their own life must not have really been taught how great their worth was, how precious and irreplaceable they were.  However, if we are honest, we know that this is not always the case.  It's far more complex than that.  A child who is terrorized daily on the playground may have vulnerabilities in other areas already and may not have the capacity to cope with or process the trauma they are enduring.

Sometimes the most loving home in the world can't save a child who has been made to feel so utterly worthless.  

It is frightening to acknowledge that sometimes the most secure home isn't enough.

Bullying is intolerable.  

Schools should have a zero tolerance policy.  These words instill confidence, the idea that something is being done right, but is there substance behind these words?  

Sometimes a concern about bullying is met with something frighteningly similar to victim blaming.  "I am sorry but your child isn't like other children.  I'm sorry but your child doesn't read social situations very well.  I am sorry but..."

In essence, I'm sorry but somehow your child has brought this upon himself.

The bottom line is that these "I'm sorry but" comments are essentially contradictory to the idea of having a zero tolerance for bullying policy in the first place.  These comments in fact, contribute to bullying rather than lead to finding a solution.  The message given is that children could avoid being bullied if they would just conform to a standard notion of normal.  If they could manage to become just like everyone so as not to stand out in any way.

Is this what we want for our children?  It isn't what I want for mine.  The answer to bullying is not conformity or eliminating differences or the very things that make someone an individual.  As my children grow, I don't want to teach them to blend in and not stand out.  I want to teach them to stand up and be who they are and were created to be, even if who they are is a little bit quirky, a little bit different.  

We can try to teach ourselves and our children courage, empathy and hard things like how to stand up for someone who is being hurt or made fun of.  We can try to help them understand that a person is allowed to be different.  

It's important to keep teaching children that there are obvious differences we see at once.  For example, we may remember to teach our children that we don't bully a child who has a different skin color or who speaks with an accent.  We may remember to teach them not to make fun of someone who has uses a wheelchair or a child who has a visible disability.

It's also important to teach our children and perhaps ourselves, that there are less obvious differences as well.  Disabilities or syndromes we don't see or understand fully because a child seems "normal" on the surface.  The little boy who is bright and engaging but obsesses over one thing and repeats himself constantly.  The child who is sitting quietly in class and suddenly has a series of noticeable vocal or motor tics.  A child with sensory issues who has trouble processing the light, feel, noise, and speed of the world around them and experiences meltdowns or shutdowns.  All of these things may seem funny to classmates until someone sits down and explains to them what is actually happening to the child experiencing these things.  

That that child may just think a little differently and understand and experience the world a little differently.  Most importantly, that there is room in the world for everyone and it's ok to be a little different.  It's a pretty good lesson to take with us as we go through life.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Things I Would Like To Control



Tonight I am not looking to produce a brilliant piece of writing.
I am just looking to control the things I can control.
It's been the worst.
The most overwhelming.
I feel like between this and that, I can't quite reach the surface to draw breath.
I find myself wanting to scream at innocent people saying normal things
The words I always so smugly deemed as arrogant:
You don't understand.
But of course, I bite my tongue.
I had this urge tonight to smash my fist into a wall in frustration.
Or to see it fly through glass.
I, the peace loving, non confrontational, smiling optimist.
But of course, I kept my fists to myself.

Because I have to be emotionally stable now.
I don't get the luxury of hurling raw emotions all over the place
And leaving others to wade through the debris.

I am just looking to control the things I can control.
It's how I know when I am overwhelmed.

I struggle with a sweeping desire for clarity,
And when I can't find it.
I feel the panic burning in my throat and I want it gone.
Everything.  Every excess thing.
I want it all gone from my sight, gone from my home.

I keep hoping that in one of these purging binges, I find it.
That I will raise my eyebrows, give a rueful laugh,
Oh there it is!  Clarity was just hiding in the back of my overstuffed closet!

Material things, they make it so I can't breathe.

As soon as life starts spiraling, I start trying to breathe by throwing clothing into bags to give to a friend, by piling books on the floor to give to the library, by tossing papers and pictures into the garbage.  I open up my cupboards and slam them shut again, take a deep breath, overwhelmed by the excess...

Each thing that leaves the house gives me a rush of vivid relief.
A heady injection of the illusion of control.

The truth of it is this:
Material things are things I can control.

Things I can't control:
I can't stop someone from hurting,  Not even someone who is my world, my heart.

Walking home from dropping my son off at school in the morning, my stomach in knots, my heart pounding heartbreak, there's so much I can't control.

I can't keep him safe.  I can't protect him from the laughter, and fists, and words.

I can't keep his shining exuberance intact.  I can't wrap my arms around him and keep him from being hurt.

And this is when it hits me, the helplessness I feel.  I wish there was a contract I could have signed.
Between God and I when I became a parent.

It would have asked me to confirm please,
Am I willing to take all the pain, all the needless suffering this child might experience, on myself,
Let him get through life whole, unscathed?
Sign and date below.

I would have done it.  I would have said, yes anything.  Just let him keep his smile.

If that were a thing I could control.