The right to be safe.

ASD, autism, equal rights, equality, freedom of speech, mental health, motherhood, neurodiversity, parenting, special needs, special needs parenting, Times Up

The article below was written over a year ago. I would like to say things have improved in the world but the most I can say is that things have improved in my daughter’s world.

She spoke up to us, not for the first time, about being bullied and attacked at school so we’re keeping her at home. Sometimes what’s best for our kids isn’t the easiest option but doing what’s right rarely is the smoothest route in life. I hope my kids see monumental changes in their lifetime of better mental healthcare, equal rights created and protected, and an end to sexual violence.

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“Mama, why am I so different?”

For some reason I wasn’t expecting this question, not yet, not from my six year old. How can I explain to her and convince her of what I see and believe about her when everyone around her finds fault with her for those same reasons? She speaks softly and melodically. They tell her to speak up. She is achingly vulnerable without any guile and it terrifies me every day that she’ll be hurt by someone. They think it’s wonderful that she’s compliant to authority.

You see, she’s every teacher’s dream. A quiet kid who listens to directions and does everything she can to please them and doesn’t question authority. Yet she’s also the kid that gets forgotten, mistreated, fears speaking out, bullied, misunderstood, and is bewildered by the malice of others.

She “can’t find the words” and hits herself, “I’m a bad girl. I can’t get it right.”

She cries easily. Her feelings are often hurt. She feels so intensely the emotions of others around her that her stomach pains her with anxiety. This is autism in girls. This is what PTSD looks like in kids who have been sexually abused.

I love my daughter and accept everything about her but that doesn’t mean I love her autism, or my son’s, or my husband’s. Watching someone you love struggle to navigate the world is never a pleasant experience when it ends in tears or explosive tantrums. There are days where I feel like an incompetent ringmaster running from lions. Please hold my hat.

My least favorite moment recently was when a therapist asked, in front of my very verbal daughter with sensitive hearing, “How did you explain to her she was autistic?”

Sometimes I wish I could pause the world for my children so I could ream someone without them hearing my obscenities. I managed to bite on the inside of my cheek and ask, “Good question, she can hear you so why don’t you ask her?”

Nora smiled good-naturedly, waiting patiently, as the woman blanched in embarrassment. We continued the appointment and I suffered through yet another barrage of convince-us-your-daughter-is-autistic. It’s a great game, it only costs hundreds of dollars an hour, no one wins, and it always ends with, “Oh, yeah, she is…”

Diagnosis isn’t a one shot deal. It’s a process where you try to convince people of what you’ve observed and they test your ability to stay calm as you struggle to understand what the !$#% is going on with your kid. We’re at the tail end now and facing more therapy as we try to grasp at what we can do to make her life easier.

Accepting your children’s autism has little to do with yourself and more to do with what choices you make for them. Constantly debating when to get out of their way and when to push, when to go mama bear on their behalf, and when to let them struggle. I’ve made mistakes. I’ll make more mistakes. I can only hope my kids know how much I love them. Even if I’m the mom that says !$#% a lot.

“Mama, why am I so different?”

I bit back tears, hugged her, and looked her in the eye, “Because you’re wonderful.”

I took a deep breath for the next part, “You know how Owen and Papa think differently than others?”

She nodded and looked down at her lap. I made a mental note to myself as I noticed she was picking at her hands again and the skin on her lips. I would need to tell the doctor. I took her chin gently and kissed her cheek.

“You think differently too and that’s a good thing.”

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It’s been a year since that moment. We’ve since found a Psychologist and clinic that specialize in helping girls on the spectrum and supporting them with processing trauma. Our neighborhood school refused to acknowledge any of the medical diagnoses or recommendations so now we’re on a new adventure of finding what works for our kids. The road is bumpy but the journey is never boring.

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It takes one moment.

mental health, politics, Times Up

“What?! Anthony Bourdain? Oh no! Why?!”

I said this aloud to myself as I read the news. My daughter looked up at me and asked, “What, mama?”

“Oh…,” how do you answer that a writer and celebrity chef you looked up to had suddenly died by suicide? How much do you share with a seven year old?

“A man I once met, who I looked up to, passed away because of mental illness.”

“He had a sickness in his brain?”

“I think so, baby. That’s what some people are saying but they don’t know.”

She thought about this and startled me with an insight only the young possess, “Did you see the sickness when you met him?”

I was at a loss for words. Not uncommon in her presence, “Honestly, no. He was gracious, funny, full of life, and generous. He bought silly grown up drinks for everyone and told stories….Not in a million years would I have thought…”

I trailed off as it hit me that maybe it isn’t shocking at all. We so often think we know someone, whether it’s family or an idol, and yet we only know them as well as we can. We see what they share of themselves and not the struggle or darkness laying below the surface of pleasantries. How often is there ever a clear reason as to why someone succumbs to suicide? How many of us judge them, reasoning that it’s a choice and label it “committing suicide”? As opposed to, what I’ve narrowly missed myself so many times, a moment of illness and despair.

My parental brain ached for his daughter, his ex-wife, his siblings,… One of my worst fears is having a loved one pass from suicide. No matter how angry or shitty the interaction, I always try to end the conversation with “I love you”, unless they’ve hung up. Then I text.

Because you never know if it’s the last time you’ll speak. You never know what someone else is battling in life. It’s not easy, but I try to forgive even when I can’t forget. I try to teach my kids the same. I try to show others the kindness I hope is in us all and rankle at the intolerance of others. Sometimes all it takes is one kind word to save someone’s life.

How many times have I been saved?

How many moments was I close to doing the same?

What are the words that can magically help?

Little arms hugged me and looked up at me, “You want a tissue?”

I laughed, “No, I’m good.”

She was looking at me intently.
“You want to play Minecraft, huh?”
Giggles, “Uh-huh.”

She dashed away with her tablet and I watched her retreat. As parents, how do we avoid this fate? How do we help our kids be healthy mentally?

I tapped her on the shoulder and she looked up at me with slight annoyance, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Ok.”

She crawled onto my lap and, not for the last time, I thought about how this might be the last time she would do this. She’s growing so quickly and I’m fortunate to be a witness to her evolve. I pet her hair and murmured, “I’ll always listen when you ask for help and you can always come to me. I’ll never stop loving you, no matter what.”

She sighed, hugged me, and stared intently into my face, “Will you help me with my house?”

Damn you, Minecraft.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Stop being an @sshole.

equality, March for Our Lives, parenting, politics

It’s a simple yet, at times, difficult expectation we have of our children. We ask them to be kind.

We try to teach them about the balance of justice in our small acts of asking them to return a borrowed toy, to say “hello”, to say “thank you”. Where does that kindness go as adults? How do our kids make sense of a world where parents and educators ask them to be kind yet they can’t expect to be safe in their own school? How do we stop violence before it begins?

They witness violent tragedies every time they hear of another shooting and every time they have to participate in yet another drill. Every shooting brings about impassioned responses about guns, mental illness, school policy, politicians, and our children. Yet the words “every shooting” should upset us more than any of those topics.

When our own children are calling “bullshit” and saying “enough” for us then we have failed them.

We have colossally missed the simple mark of keeping them safe in one of the few places they should never doubt their safety, other than their home, their schools. Yet we see no forward movement in making any positive change in the situation other than our schools now becoming accustomed to “active shooter” drills and locking down the building as if our kids are imprisoned rather than being educated.

Where does this end? What will it take to change the habituation to violence that has reached so far that our kids are having to endure the fear of being attacked in their schools?

In the past, I’ve been guilty of stating “no guns” and being filled with dread for my kids. Now, I see why others might find this dramatic but I find the apathy of others horrifying. You’re right, it’s legal to own a gun and you can choose to do so. I don’t agree with that right but I’m willing to hear you out as to why it is so important to you. To me, that’s being open-minded. Just the simple act of listening with kindness.

I have a crazy theory that I’ll throw out there. Stop being an asshole. Stop valuing your political beliefs over the safety and lives of our children. No one is asking you to give up your rights. The reasonable request being made is to be responsible and vote with logic that no one with a criminal background or violent history should have access to a weapon.

We wouldn’t allow a pilot to fly a commercial plane unlicensed and risk the lives of hundreds of people yet we’re ok with the idea of armed teachers around our kids every day. Some states require little to no training to own a firearm and many don’t require background checks.

Personally, I don’t think anyone needs to own a firearm; on the other hand, I have no problem with an adult owning them if we had proper controls in place to keep violent criminals from owning them. If there were proper laws and if they were followed: an adult owner would be fully researched and registered, have proper training, and storage for their “boom stick”.

The gun owners that frighten me are the ones that cry foul over such protections for all of us and feel that the right to own a gun is fundamental when, clearly, they have no idea how the Constitution works or why the Second Amendment was created. You could Google it but allow me, the Second Amendment was created to protect states rights to protect themselves before the days of the National Guard.

I sincerely doubt the original intention of our forefathers was to allow someone to have a gun rack on his truck and show off his AR-15 to his buddies at a tailgate party. If a gun serves as a grown up dangerous toy then just spend money on something far more enjoyable but potentially harmful like Botox, a trip to Taco Bell, or a lap dance during happy hour. All bad decisions but perfectly legal.

Here’s something else to consider: every school shooting has been a male, typically, lone white assailant. Women get accused of being crazy far more often then men yet we’re not commmitting school shootings and mental illness is the cause according to staunch gun advocates.

So where do we begin? It starts with our parenting, with our choices, and the act of being kind. Raise your kids to be kind. Do I need to be more blunt? Stop being an asshole.

Stop arming our teachers.
Stop scaring our kids.
Stop blaming the mentally ill.
Stop the violence.

Boys will not be boys. Violence doesn’t need to be condoned. We need to focus on what has driven a child to become violent and help them before it starts.

Mental illness is not dangerous or criminal just the choices people make.

Your gun is never as important as a child’s life. This is about our kids getting an education without the fear of violence. Please, here’s your public service announcement, stop being an asshole.

https://event.marchforourlives.com/event/march-our-lives-events/search/?source=ggnp_mfl_b&utm_source=gg_mfl_b_&utm_medium=_p&utm_campaign=mfl_b

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/nra-guns-second-amendment-106856?o=1

https://www.army.mil/article/70758/national_guard_marks_its_375th_birthday

https://www.statista.com/statistics/476456/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-race/