the world through rainbow eyes

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The Lines In Her Mind

Her hands are tiny birds that fly from here to there. The nimble fingers are bird wings that fly her to this wall, then to that one, over her shoulder to the counter next.

“She’s always dancing,” we tell people, and smile. We think of her inability to sit still as a precocious mind unable to be quieted, always moving. So she moves with it.

It is tiring, though. I just need her to brush her teeth so she can take a shower and get on pajamas and go to bed. Still, a half hour later, her hands are in flight. Her toes dance, too. Daintily she touches her toes to the floor in specific rhythms only she hears. Tap here, tap there. Twirl. Tap there. Her belly follows as she touches her body to the wall carefully.

I stand there holding the toothbrush with toothpaste already on it. “It’s time to brush your teeth, Pi,” I say for what feels like the hundredth time. She doesn’t hear me, it seems. Continuing to dance around the 5 by 2 feet of bathroom space.

“Pi? Hello? Let’s get your teeth brushed.” She startles but continues to dance. I get down on the floor, putting the toothbrush down.

“Why are you doing this?,” I ask her. “Is there some reason?” I caught her right after the last set of dancing hand flights. She looks me square in the eyes, and her eyes widen in shock. She crumples.

“Okay. I’m going to explain it,” she says. “There are lines I have to follow…”

She then went on to explain that she “sees” lines everywhere. That she feels she must follow the lines with her hands, sometimes also her feet or body. That she knows she doesn’t have to, but also knows she must. That she knows the lines aren’t there, but also knows they are.

She says the lines have always been there.

She says she’s sorry. She cries.

I hold the tiny 6 year old body that is my beautiful, intelligent, and yes, always sensitive and anxious daughter and tell her that it’s okay. That she can do the things she needs to do and it isn’t wrong. That it is her brain that is firing incorrectly, and not a thing that she is doing wrong. My smart girl understands this as I explain. She is relieved.

I tell her that we can do something to try to stop this. The next few days more things spill out.

The glow in the dark stars that we carefully set around her bed have been keeping her up at night wondering if they are maybe-possibly lasers. She knows they are not, but considers what if they were? The intrusive thoughts of Maybe They Are, But I Know They Aren’t fight it out for hours as she tries to go to sleep.

We remove the stars. We make appointments. I am heartbroken that such a heavy burden has been put on such a small child.

I am angry that she has to first see a counselor because that is all that is available to her in network. Yes, therapy perhaps, but also medicine. OCD is not something she is doing wrong. It’s something that is working incorrectly in her brain. While diabetics do need nutritional therapy, no one suggests that as a first and only step. Their pancreas is not working. They need insulin, and they need to be able to process it. Medicine helps both.

Why do we not treat the brain as we treat the body? It literally is the body. Why is this so confusing for so many people? Pi understood it immediately.

Our first appointment is on Thursday. Today is Saturday.

I’m waiting on some thing. Some solution to her flying bird hands, and laser stars. She’s waiting.

We wait together.

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The Herd of Gazelles at the Bus Stop

Pi and Phi are 5 now. They attend Kindergarten (two different classes so they can both shine their stars individually as bright as possible). They both insisted that they are old enough to ride the bus to school, and because the bus is actually available to them now that they are in Kinder, I agreed. So they ride the bus to school every school day morning. 

I drop them off and watch them interact at the bus stop with the other kids. They’re the only Kinder kids in our little neighborhood, so mostly the big kids are leaving them alone and letting them run around like animals waiting for the bus. 

Run around they do, too. Every single day, they drop their packs in the bus shelter and then have races from one sign to the other. About 200 feet of a race they do over and over until the bus gets there. Squealing, rambunctious, and overall dorky. Phi runs with his hands clutched high to his sides, a bit like a T-Rex. A smile of pure happiness. His feet hit the ground with the strange, awkward, delicate gait so familiar to other parents who have children on the spectrum. Toes pointed down, still somewhat clompy somehow. Like an elephant doing ballet. So happy.

Pi’s arms are thrown back and her clomping hits whole foot down, her face also has the same smile. So happy. She is a gazelle. 

The other kids are mostly silent while Pi and Phi enact these daily races. Pi and Phi encircle them, run between them, around them, near them. You can see the other kids pull back, stare at them. I want to tell Pi and Phi to chill. Be cool. The kids are judging them. I keep my mouth shut. One kid does a mock tiptoe of Phi to his other friends, and they cover their mouths to smile behind their hands. They know better than to laugh where parents can see them. Phi doesn’t notice, just keeps running. Keeps being happy. 

I want to scream at these kids. You think it’s awesome that you can run better than him? Running is hard for him. He’s a different animal. You are gazelles, and he is an elephant. His squealing trumpet of glee comes from a differently shaped throat than your own. Is it such a point of pride that yours was shaped different? Do you work for hours to make your gazelle throat shape the sounds that all the other gazelles make? 

No he does not have grace. What he has, instead, is hard work. He has perseverance. Thank goodness that’s part of the package with Autism. The same thing that makes him line up puzzles for hours is what makes it possible for him to make words that others understand. He works past the point of wanting to stop. I am furiously proud of his words. 

I remember his testing, and them asking us for a list of his words. For a week we tried to put together even ten words that he said at the age of 18 months. Duck. Ball. … Umm.. Daddy? We struggled to find any words that he had actually said. Now, at age 5, his vocabulary is huge. He inherits the wide breadth of spoken word that his father and I use daily, and it shows. 

But the kids at the bus stop don’t see that he is a hard working elephant stuck in the land of the graceful gazelles. They see that he is not part of their herd. They close ranks. 

So he runs with Pi. Pi who doesn’t care, yet, about gazelles and elephants. All animals are different to her. She takes it in stride. 

I want the other kids at the bus stop to see what she sees. I want them to feel the pure joy that he feels. 

I’m proud of my mismatched animals, and so furious at the herd that closes them both out. I know that in their classes there are other mismatched animals, and they find them and befriend them. The herd at the bus stop is not their whole world of experience, but only a small window onto it. 

I also know that the herd at the bus stop is going to grow. That as they get bigger, it will become more and more evident how different they both are to the herds they encounter. Him for his everything, and her for her acceptance of these things and for her own differences. That the ruthlessness of peers will run their world for the next fifteen some odd years. There is not a thing I can do to change it. 

I know that they are going to spend their lives collecting their own herds of mismatched animals. I hope they do not spend too long trying to assimilate into herds that are not their own and do not accept them. I also feel sad for the limited scope of the herd of gazelles at the bus stop. They have not yet learned the value of the different animals. I hope they learn it someday. 

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Parents Aren’t Causing Autism. Quit It.

You want a rant? I’ve got one.

This was shared on my feed and I pretty much had my brain spasm all over the place. Here’s what I said, try to ignore the twitching anger:

I can’t with this. I mean, I can’t even read it. I mean, I can’t read it and continue to not be seriously heated. 

You want to celebrate diversity? Here’s one for you: people on the Autism Spectrum? They’re people. 
Here’s another shocker: not all of them are “difficult to reach.” 
Autism is a spectrum “disorder.” It’s a collection of learning disabilities, and neurological conditions. Not all of them present, or at the same levels with all people on that Spectrum. 

We haven’t really delved very far into where ASD comes from as much as we have a new scare every month about what’s causing it, and how we’re being bad mothers if our children are affected by it. As though, somehow, we are the sole gatekeepers to our children. As though they are our possessions, and everything that happens with them, or everything they are is a reflection on us. 
This is a tool that has been used to beat women for centuries. It is a tool that women use to beat other women. It is a tool that women use to beat themselves. 

Early in the history of ASD as a disorder it was believed to be caused by mothers who were too cold to their children. Not surprisingly this was during much of the early 2nd wave Feminism when women were beginning to discover identities outside of only being mothers. 
You want to have a career, or a life outside of the home? You’ll cause your child to be irreparably damaged. Now take off those shoes, get back in the kitchen, and do your duty to your family, or else your children will suffer, and it will be your fault. 

Much has evolved since then, and we have come to learn more, but so much of that knowledge is a chaos of continued blame sourcing that seems to end nowhere other than hocus pocus faux scientific “medical” quackery. 

What do we know? There seems to be a genetic link for Autism. It runs in families. 
We know that the numbers of those with ASD have likely been underreported for decades. So many people lay in the wings of Autism Spectrum and were so “lightly” affected that they simply were never reported. They were considered late talkers. Exceptionally picky eaters. Late bloomers. Shy. “Weird.” Etc. Parents simply never understood what they were seeing and never reported it if they did suspect. Perhaps fear of the stigma of a diagnosis that would follow their child around for life gave them caution. More likely that they just truly did not know what they were seeing. “Uncle so-and-so was a late talker, and then he went on to be successful,” went family legend and the friendly advice of neighbors. And so they put their suspicions on hold. 
Lord knows the backlash that I incurred when I put my son in Early Intervention at age 2 was bad enough. I can not imagine how bad it would have been if I had not had the wherewithal of my own knowledge and the courage to listen to my own inner voice AND the luxury of time that comes with being decidedly upper middle class to back me up. If I had been fighting the daily grind of a 9-5 (or a 3-11 for that matter), and trying to put food on the table, keep the gas turned on and water running, and the kids in clothes? Would I have fought so hard? 
It’s pretty hard to say. 

I’m pretty insulted by this whole essay and it’s tone. I’m being frenetic and chaotic in my refutation of it. 

What I have to say? 

ASD isn’t the end of your child if your child has it. Not all ASD looks alike (my son could not be more sweet, more open, more funny, more loving, or more empathetic toward others). Mothers aren’t “causing” Autism. 

Continuing to feed any of the three beasts I have named right there? Not. Very. Awesome.

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You Be You

My friend Darlena over at Parentwin posted this today.  It’s basically a response and a plea to a great post by Hands Free Mama about how she learned to stop worrying and love the bomb time she spends with her kids. Which is great. I mean, great that Hands-Free Mama has worked that out, but, damn that’s a lot of pressure.

In the mommy blogging world (which somehow includes Pinterest, for reasons that mystify me) there’s all this pressure to “keep up with the Joneses.” The Joneses in the year 2013 aren’t just middle class American House Beautiful cover stories any longer, though. Not only do you have to have a well kept house and garden, beautiful clothes, and cook exceptional meals. Now we all have to be the best mom we can be, the best cooks, the best birthday party throwers, the best crafter, the best educational supervisor, the best organizer, the best social justice warriors, the best eco-warriors, the best feminists, the best at everything, really. Not to mention that we either have a career to prove how self fulfilled we are outside the role of parent, or fill up every moment with emotionally satisfying and rewarding activities to prove how fulfilling and worthwhile it is to be a stay at home parent as an equally worthwhile choice also.

It’s too much pressure.

This life thing is not a competition. There’s no awards and no real recognition of the hard work put in.

And another truth is, this job, this parent thing, it sort of sucks sometimes, and it’s sort of joyful sometimes, but mostly it just is. It’s common and everyday and blasé and sometimes even boring, or unpleasant, or, yup, rushing and harried. It’s not that I don’t want to do it. Put that aside. That’s not it. It’s that when one is tired from taking care of a house full of sick people, or just trying to get the daily stuff done, it’s not sustainable to always be worried about if one is enjoying it enough in a am-I-doing-this-right? sort of way.

What is that even? Are you doing what right? Being you? Hell, Boo. You’re doing it just right. You’re being the best you, and frankly, that kicks the pants off of being the best imitation of someone else’s idea of what you should do to be fulfilled and be a great person.

One of the first lessons I ever got in being a parent was in being a failure. See, Pie refused to nurse, and P refused to bottle feed. Unfortunately for P, I never produced more than an ounce or two of milk in a whole day. Ever. We tried everything. We tried the cookies, we tried constant nursing, we tried the medicines, but many combinations of factors put P in the hospital at around 3-4 weeks with a diagnosis of Failure to Thrive (he was far below his birth weight at that point), about to get a g-tube installed so he could actually get some nutrition into his quicky failing body.

We were lucky, and had doctors that were willing to try to do a lot of weird things to avoid that. By the end of 24 hours in the hospital we had found a combination of nipple types that worked for him (fast flow, orthodontic shaped), and a specially made nutrition-dense formula that helped bring him back to birth weight within a full 72 hours of being at the hospital.

Those hours were something of a nightmare of round the clock feedings, changings, reportings to doctors and nurses, and very little sleep. My husband had to work, and no one could take care of Pie, so she came with. Which meant that I was taking care of two newborn babies in a hospital room where only one of them was a patient, about 40 minutes or so away from home. There was no time off for meals or sleep or showers or just about anything. Add that on top of the fear that one of my babies was in such precarious health, and it was nightmare fodder for a new mother. Add in that it was my own fault because my own supposed-to-be-working, not-supposed-to-fail, ready-made feeding system known as my breasts simply didn’t work? Oh lordy. I won’t say I felt guilty, because I didn’t. What I felt like was a failure.

So I built a foundation of parenthood on that. I said to myself, “you know what, self? You’re going to fail. Anything worth doing is going to be a lot of failing. That’s okay. The work of it is to keep going. To keep doing, and to not get down on yourself for what you can’t do, or what you don’t get right every single time.”

Many of us, I’d hazard to say most of us, but I intuit there must be some people out there who felt they had idyllic childhoods, well the rest of us didn’t. Our parents failed us. Now many of us have arrived here in parenthood and we’re scared to death of failing our kids in the same ways.

All I can say to that is: hey, guys, calm down. Cut yourself some slack. Yes, get help if you need it. Don’t abuse your children or neglect your children, sure. But failing to stop and smell the roses every time you are running the morning gauntlet of getting the kids dressed, fed, and out the door on time to get to school when one of them is dawdling over ladybugs on the sidewalk to the car or bus, and frack, you just told them to rush, and crap, isn’t it great that they notice the ladybugs on the sidewalk? Yeah. Totally, but they really are going to be late, and frankly the school does not care one bit about what it was that made the child, your child, late. So. Yes, you told them to stop dawdling, and hurry up.

You’re not a failure for that. Just try to not be an jerk about it, okay? If you were? Buck up, camper. Say sorry, and do better next time.

One of the actual lessons we need to impart to our children is how to fail, and then how to keep trying anyway. How to say sorry. How to be wrong. How to change. How are they supposed to do that when we don’t accept it within ourselves? I repeat, how are we supposed to teach our children that failure is not the end of trying if we don’t accept failure as part of the learning process in ourselves?

We can not actually function at a level of accepting nothing less than an outwardly dictated level of perfection as outlined by someone else in a different set of circumstances than ourselves and simultaneously accept our children as the beautiful messes they are.

You want to stop telling your daughter to hurry, Parentwin? Start by stopping telling yourself to be Hands-Free Mama. I’m pretty sure she’d say the same thing.


Be Brave, Be Heard

Something sort of weird happened on the way to sharing a picture for the #WeStandWithWendy campaign.

A couple years ago my friend Lady Katza from Peanut Butter Macramé took a picture of her daughter. She had made a gorgeous Little Red Riding Hood costume for her daughter, and completed the costume with a bloodied axe and a wolf’s head.

Her daughter was 8 in the picture; unmistakably prepubescent. There was little question of context for herself, her husband, or for me. In this storytelling, Red had saved herself with a Huntsman’s axe. She did not need saving. The girl in the picture was wide eyed, with her innocence still visibly intact. She did not look menaced or menacing. She looked determined, and young. It was, ultimately, a picture of female innocence that was capable, and not the least bit helpless.

It was the kind of story-in-a-picture that upends paradigms, in short.

We loved it.

A few years passed. Years full of assault to women’s rights and women’s autonomy. Steubenville. The Paycheck Fairness Act being rejected by every single Republican representative. State after state falling down in upholding Roe vs. Wade.

Texas front and center.

State Senator Wendy Davis’s now famous filibuster blew our minds. We stayed up late into the night, completely riveted.

We watched as the Texas State Senate ended Ms. Davis’s filibuster on technicalities. We watched as other Senators picked up Senator Davis’s mantle and continued her filibuster. We watched  as the Texas State Senate closed them down, too. Then we watched as the outrage filled the Senate, and the people in the gallery picked up the mantle and ran the final minutes of the clock down. Then we watched the complete disregard for their own State’s Law with which they took the vote anyway, and passed the bill that would deny not only the rights that had been established with Roe vs. Wade, but also general healthcare for women in Texas. We watched as the record was fraudulently changed to show that the vote had happened within the time limit. Then we watched the bill dissolve under the world’s scrutiny.
Then we watched Texas Governor Rick Perry do what all knew he would, and schedule a second special session to again pass a bill that had been denied passage by the people of Texas.

This isn’t really about that, though. I mean, all of that matters, but that’s not even what I’m talking about here.

Orange was the new color. We donned orange to stand with Wendy Davis. Lady Katza mentioned the picture she had of her daughter and thought it would be an interesting picture to submit, were the color to change from red to orange. It was a picture of a girl with courage, determination, strength and no fear. She did not need to be saved. She was saving herself.

I agreed. It was late, though, and she had to go to sleep, so I turned to Laura Ross at @laurarossdesign.com to help turn Red’s clothes orange for us. Laura obliged happily. Red was now orange, and some subtle highlighting  was added.

I sent the result to Lady Katza, and in the morning she tested the waters by posting the original pic to her FB feed.

Then the weirdness started. The photo was picked apart. Red was recast as Lizzie Borden. Lady Katza was unsure whether it would be a good idea or not to post the picture at all, let alone with orange and text. Was this actually a strong picture, as we thought?

See, the thing is, there’s no context for this picture in our culture. This fits no archetype. A woman who violently defends herself is sexualized and fetishized into Lara Croft type tits-and-ass caricatures. We, as a culture, slut-shame away her frightening power.

That just wasn’t possible with this picture. This picture shows a little girl who is not menacing or menaced. She is competent, unafraid, and still in full possession of her innocence. The only other example we could even come up with was Hit-Girl from Kick Ass. That was kind of startling.

Of course people were going to create a menacing context for the picture, there was no other available context with which to view it.

Well then. We just need to change that. We need to create stories where the girl saves herself. We need people like Senators Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte to be strong examples for us. We need Brave’s Merida, and no, thanks, we don’t want her slimmed down, given bigger boobs, a tinier waist, and made into a simpering Disney Princess that needs her complementary Prince. We need a Little Red Riding Hood that doesn’t wait for a Woodsman to save her, but saves herself.

We are ready to stand, and we will not sit down, and our daughters are ready, too. We will be brave. We will be heard. We will stand.


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She’s Leaving Home

I’ve been very wrapped up in my kids’ stuff lately, and that’s put my mind very much on them, and noticing all the different things about them that are happening during their very exciting  journey of being 4 years old.

Of those, one thing has been striking me repeatedly with it’s abstract bittersweetness.

My children are entering a tunnel that will take them away from me for many years. Occasionally I will get glimpses of who they are, but as the years go on, I know I can not go where they go.

They are entering childhood, and no adult may tread there. It is a land of alliances, treaties, pacts, battles, wars, folktales, ballads, native culture, secret handshakes, separate worries and separate truths.

It is a place of scientific inquiry and an absolute certainty in local superstition.

I can give them the knowledge of my own travels in that land, but the nature of these communications is such that the further inland they travel, less of this  information will reach them. Many times by the time they receive that information it will be by their own hands and their own hard-fought experience.

I sometimes wonder if parenting styles like helicoptering, attachment parenting, free range parenting, and many others are simply methods people have come up with to fight or claim treaties with this land and those who travel through it.
My own truth is that I think there is no treaty to be made. All you can do is aim, and try to be a good person. I remind myself, again and again, of Kahlil Gibran’s famous poem “On Children”

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

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The Feminist Oppression Vacuum

There’s this thing that happens in feminism and the culture of women that is like a mirror to what happens in the outside, predominately men controlled, culture. It’s what one would expect, but it’s still ugly.

Women oppress other women.

As one of my friends said, it’s never over the mundane or neutral stuff. Never over the brand of toilet paper a woman uses, or what car she drives.

Yes, I said. It’s always over stuff that men oppress women over. As though there is this oppression vacuum threat, and hey, if we remove the oppression of men, oh no! We must be sure you’ll make the right choices and oppress, coerce, or shock you into making them.

Then she said that yeah, except for menstrual issues.

To which I replied, well, naturally, it squicks men out. They want nothing to do with it, so why should a woman have to oppress another woman over it?

At which point my friend’s mind was blown.

See, I see women stepping on other women about their choices in careers, their choices in sexuality, their choices in clothes, their choices in having children or not, their choices in pregnancy, their choices in childbirth, their choices in how to feed their babies, their choices in how to care for their babies, their choices in who cares for their babies, their choices in educating their children, their choices in relationships, their choices in how they present their bodies. Their choices. Theirs.

Let me repeat those words again. Their choices. 

Like women are afraid that if other women aren’t being pushed by men to go in the direction that men have been pushing us, that some women might just go that way anyway.

Ladies? This shit has to end. We have to respect the choices that other women make. Even if their choices seem monumentally stupid. As long as those choices aren’t hurting other people, it’s theirs to make. I feel pretty libertarian about what “hurting” means, too.

Sorry, but it’s not hurting you for someone else to choose to wear revealing clothes, or be promiscuous, or bottle feed, or be a stay at home mom, or choose a c-section, or get cosmetic surgery, or get married, or wear make-up, or do burlesque, or to have a family of whatever size they choose, or wear high heels, or to make the opposite choices you’ve made, or make contradictory choices, or dumb choices, or or or or. These are choices.

We can’t call them choices if there isn’t more than one, and we can’t take the predominately male controlled culture to task for pushing their agenda when we turn around and then command the opposite agenda of our sisters, mothers, daughters and friends.

It’s a common thing to happen, too. When a group is oppressed, then the oppression is internalized. That internalized oppression cuts both ways. It goes against the grain and with it. Both ways are oppression, though.

Power, when removed, leaves a vacuum, and abuse has a tendency to seek it’s opposite end. I have no wish to exchange one oppression for another, no matter how well meaning it may seem to those wielding the oppression, the idea behind it is the same.

“You can’t make the right choice because you don’t have all the information, you aren’t smart enough, you haven’t been brought up right, you’re too hurt, too small, too weak. You don’t really know. So, here, I’ll provide you with the right choice. Look how magnanimous I am, there’s a few choices you can make that can be right in this area over here.  See how much more free you are? I’m doing this for your own good. Isn’t this really better?”

But it isn’t.

It has to stop. Don’t pass it on. Let the vacuum collapse. Let this be your catchphrase, “this worked for me. Your mileage may vary,” then stand back.

Or, I don’t know. You’re smart, though. I believe you can work out your own way to be good to people that isn’t pushing your choices on them as the one true way. It’s a big world, and experiences really do vary.

I trust you.