Don’t forget to sing

We’ve had a let’s-just-hold-on-and-try-to-survive kind of a week.

It’s been physically painful with lots of restraining of a raging twelve-year-old, and emotionally grueling in a way that’s difficult to describe. I couldn’t get out of bed the other day. I just couldn’t do it. I literally called and cancelled a doctor’s appointment because I could not make my brain propel my body out of bed. When they asked why, I wanted to say, “because my mentally-disabled son is beating up me and the rest of the family every day and breaking the house and we are desperate for solutions and I’m so sad that I can’t get dressed and drive to your office and pretend things are okay.”

This is what I really said, “I have an issue with my children and can’t make it.”

So there was that. But there were some good, really good things, too.

The high points:

  1. Jack’s IEP. IEP Day is to the special needs parent what bone marrow transplant day is to the leukemia patient, I suppose. It’s big and emotional. It has a reputation for being confrontational, spawning memes like this one:

But Jack’s IEP was positive and productive. His team is terrific. His teacher was hand-picked by heaven to influence Jack and his classmates for good. He has come a long way in many areas, and for these things, I am grateful.

2. We had a big meeting with two behaviorists, our ABA therapist, and Jack’s respite sitter to collectively determine how to proceed in this new realm of violence and destruction. Jack has entered a new phase of growth and boundary-pushing behaviors. The same things we’ve always done at home to help Jack aren’t working anymore. So we huddled and shared ideas and I felt that Jeff and I weren’t alone in this painful trek. The new behaviorist actually had a promising lead on a foundation that provides some of the support services Jack needs. When the meeting ended, I felt like God tapped me on the shoulder and said, “See. I told you I would be here and here I am.”

3. Jeff and I got to leave the house for a few hours on Saturday afternoon to eat lunch and run errands. It felt like the boulder rolled off my shoulders. As we drove home afterward, Jeff said, “This is what normal people do on Saturdays. They go out. They eat food. They buy a shirt. They buy a dress.”

I said, “We aren’t normal people. But we did get to go out and eat and shop. So, huzzah.” We nodded knowingly at each other.

As we were taking Jack on one of several thousand drives this weekend, a voice in my head said, “Jesus took all of this on himself. He knows how you feel when your little boys are afraid of Jack. He knows how Jeff feels when he has to pin Jack to the floor to stop him from biting and punching us. He knows how Jack feels because his brain doesn’t function normally and he can’t speak and he’s frustrated.”

And then I read this scripture and it sang to me. “Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world.”

Don’t be afraid.

Don’t be sad.

Don’t worry.

Get up and take a deep breath.

Put on your shoes.

Get in the car.

Keep going.

Remember Jesus.

Sing.

The Low Place

I wrote that snowy Saturday post that was all hearth fires and loveliness, and I haven’t been able to write a thing since, despite starting several posts.

It’s been hard.

Jack is not sick. He’s healthy and robust. But he’s time consuming and destructive. He sleeps less than ever before, possibly because he’s twelve and a half years old. He is aggressive when he doesn’t instantly get his way.

This is not a phase. It is not an ear infection. It’s the fruition of the crystal clear prompting I had on the day Jack almost killed me and two of his brothers in the car in the middle of that intersection, when the Holy Ghost spoke to my mind and said, “It isn’t going to get easier with Jack.”

It just isn’t. At least we know this. I appreciate the honesty.

I have watched his behaviors escalate. I communicate constantly with his team at school, with his pediatrician, with the psychiatrist, with the behaviorist. Jeff and I are constantly trouble-shooting. What more should we be doing? What do we need to change? How can we keep the rest of the family afloat as we handle all of Jack’s pressing needs?

And I have just felt like crap on a stick. What is the point? It isn’t going to get easier. It is going to get harder. And it’s already pretty hard.

All of this makes my head hurt. It’s a boulder sitting square on my shoulders and neck. It also feels like some fat, furry marsupial is sitting on my head and wrapping it’s big gross tail around my face.

I don’t like writing when things are like this. It feels like complaining, when it’s actually just the truth, unvarnished.

I could talk about all the things that I would like to be different. I could talk about all the things that we can’t do because all our energy is focused on surviving. I could make a big list of broken household things. I could outline all the ways Jack has been literally beating up his family members.

But I don’t want to. I’m weary and I’m in a low place. My faith is in a holding pattern. I’m not getting any major epiphanies. I feel that God is helping me function, despite the sadness, so that’s appreciated. I’m in the trough of the wave, though, and my experience tells me I could be here for some time.

 

Snowy Saturday

Jack is asleep beneath a quilt in the armchair and outside it is snowing.

Jeff and I saw La La Land this afternoon and I’m warm and happy and sad, all at the same time. I am one of those people who falls disreputably in love with a musical, no questions asked. Disreputably and desperately. Don’t even talk to me unless you want to rehash the opening song and the observatory scenes with Stone & Gosling. We either discuss at length or you get out.

Jeff’s take on Emma’s and Ryan’s performances (we’re on a first-name basis, see), “They both just smoldered.” They did smolder. Significantly.

Also, I unequivocally loved Moana, possibly even more than my little boys did, and keep singing “there’s a line where the sea meets the sky and it calls me” into perpetuity. Can’t stop won’t stop.

If nerding out over movies where people break into singing and tap dancing is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

At this moment in time I am in my little corner of heaven, which is beside the fire, cigar chair beneath and behind me, laptop on my knees. I am such a simple creature. Just give me stories and songs and heat and comfort. It’s all I ask for. And something to type on. And soup. And dark chocolate. And boys being peaceful. And post-date euphoria.

It’s all I ask.

Which is a lot.

I know.

I ask for a lot. Because in order for a date to happen, we need reliable respite care. We need people who know and get Jack. In order for Jack to occasionally fall asleep on a weekend instead of raging and spazzing out, we need all the meds to be in perfect balance thanks to the psychiatrist we’ve known for years. For the other boys to be happy of a snowy Saturday, they need friends nearby, and snow gear on hand that fits every changing foot and body and head. And we have it—all of it, huzzah!

Me at peace on a weekend is a 180 reversal of our weekend tradition since we entered the Autism Spectrum Parenting adventure theme park, nearly thirteen years ago . I can relish it as a reactionary opposite to years of Death by Special-Needs Saturdays.

It’s the concept of not fully appreciating a gift until you realize how precious the gift is, and how good.

I’m aware that just because this quiet Saturday is a thing of beauty, doesn’t mean that all future Saturdays will be.

Knowing this makes the date and the fire and the laptop and the boys playing in the snow and Jack napping that much sweeter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why, and for whom?

My children *might* have entered into a pact to relieve me of my grip on sanity.

The naughtiness and the sass-pants attitudes were rampant last night. It wasn’t just one of them acting out at a time. There was far too much overlap. I had to believe it was a conspiracy.

I may or may not have stormed around after a particularly rebellious and screamy bedtime routine, thundering to Jeff, “I spend my entire life caring for them and they are being such jerks. I want to punch them all in the face.”

This was after I spent fifteen minutes cleaning peppermint tea off my laptop, lamp, bedside table, wall, baseboards, rocking chair, outlet and charging cables, TV remote, and new (hilarious) Jennifer Weiner paperback. Because Jack doused them, intentionally. And then laughed—cackled!—when I told him I wasn’t amused.

If I had done even one self-centered thing yesterday, maybe I wouldn’t be quite so ready to bash their skulls together. As it was, the day had been one kid-serving errand after another.

“Parenting is essentially being someone’s slave. You are their slave labor and they don’t care about you, as long as you are working quietly in the background, doing everything to make their lives comfortable and possible.” That is a direct quote from me to Jeff. Maybe they will put it on the front of the printed program at my funeral service someday.

My friend Marianne sometimes uses the hashtag #iamaninspiration when she posts funny pics of her first world shoe dilemmas or forays into the domestic arts. It’s funny because her posts are of the anti-Instagram sort, meaning they aren’t carefully curated into flawlessness. This means that she really IS an inspiration, because she keeps it wildly real. Comedy is hard, but she effectively does it by letting the shizzy parts of life shine forth in their majesty. She owns them. That’s what makes her stuff funny. By nature, she is a dry wit. She’s the person you want sitting by you during something boring, offering up deadpan gems about her childhood imaginary friend, Ms. Karen Getty, or how her new twitter handle is going to be the name of that one variety of their backyard chickens: Silkie White Chick.

The tongue-in-cheek references to all the areas of her life which are flawed and funny and weird are essentially Marianne winking at the idea of what most of the internet does currently find inspiring.

In a very real sense, I felt plumb out of “inspirational.” I felt like the opposite of whatever an inspiring mother is.

I was a really irritable mother who wanted to throw snowballs at her kids’ faces to snap them out of their self-indulgent/demanding reveries. I wanted to bounce giant exercise balls off their heads and tell them to wake up and a) start appreciating their mother and b) stop wigging the heck out about everything.

But I had to model calm, so I wrote it out here instead. And then resolved to wake up early to make a giant, hot breakfast and prep five billion meds and read from 3 Nephi to Henry while he ate his lumberjack breakfast. And then wait for Jack to come downstairs, and remind Charlie 45 times to wake up and get moving. And I would await that moment the bus would leave with Jack and Charlie, and Truman would begin building with pipes, or lining up his stuffed animal pets.

Because that’s when the Coca-Cola pours out, delectably crisp over ice, and I can drink it before stretching my tightly coiled back, while listening to Alma and praying for strength.

It’s not the endless service that bothers me. I am doing what I want to do. This is the life that is right for me, in purpose and meaning. The problem is that so many times I am met with screams and sass and yet more demands.

So here are my existential questions for a day when people flipped out more than not: Who am I serving? Why am I trying? My children may only appreciate it in a theoretical way, like how we appreciate running water and functioning appliances only when they suddenly aren’t available.

The truest type of service is that which is given with no thought for reciprocity. Am I helping my sons because I want them to thank me?

Or am I doing it because I love God?

It’s a good question.

And then I woke up today, and it was a fresh start.

Everyone had had enough sleep, including me. We were not jerks to each other. We were nice.

The boys went to school. Truman played pipes. I wrote my syllabi and updated my class calendars. Truman went to preschool. I went to physical therapy for my back. Truman did therapy. I went to Henry’s basketball game. Jack’s helper came and helped. Jack was happy. Charlie did therapy. Charlie was happy. When we have helpers we are happy. Life is able to proceed fairly well when we are not tied up in constant battle with constant meltdowns. It hums pretty nicely along when we have a thousand people assisting us with all of the things.

I thought to myself as I watched Henry play, “I cannot believe I have a son who is capable of playing a competitive sport, and who is good enough to be on a school team. This is amazing. That is my kid out there.”

Then I thought, “And all my other boys are currently doing therapy with people who understand them and who are helping them learn things. What miracle is this?”

I didn’t want to punch anyone in the face anymore.

I wanted to hug God.

I wanted to tell him, “Thank you.”

And also, “I’m not doing it so my children will thank me. I’m doing it for you.”

A meandering post discussing Trash versus Fire

After a perfectly reasonable Christmas holiday and a “typical kid”-centric vacation to a warmer clime for a few days, the rest of the winter break has been utter trash.

“Trash” is how my fifteen-year-old describes anything that is annoying, disappointing, or ridiculous. It must be vocalized as though it is painful to even say the word. Trash.

The Utes offense in their bowl game was trash. Having to wake up before 10:30 am over Christmas break is trash. If there are no Oreos or vanilla ice cream in the house, you have pure trash.

I digress.

We returned from our family trip and things began to go poorly. Decidedly so. Jack’s left ear is again infected and his behavior is temperamental. By temperamental, I mean he has flushed a pair of sunglasses down the toilet, broken the light fixture at the bottom of the stairs, tried to re-break his bedroom window, smashed some dishes, and repeatedly thrown his Christmas presents around the garage until they died.

Jeff and I generally enter a fugue state of our own when Jack is sick. We are constantly living with heightened awareness bordering on agitation. We don’t get enough sleep because Jack doesn’t get enough sleep. Nothing happens around the house other than mediating Jack’s messes and managing the destructive behaviors.

We would like to engage in some projects to improve the parts of the house wrecked by Jack when he is sick. But all of our weekends/days off feature us focusing on Jack like a laser. He’s not just a full time job. He’s a full-time job for at least two people.

All of this may sound like me whining and complaining, but you guys, it’s just the actual truth of our lives. And I haven’t felt like writing about it. I haven’t had anything to say other than, “this is complete trash.”

Sometimes I hesitate to bring this sort of thing to light, because it’s not funny, nor inspirational. It’s just this nightmare scenario on repeat in our house that we can’t fix (on many different levels). Most people don’t know the ins and outs, the outs and ins, the what-have-yous of Jack’s ear infection/strep infection/cold & flu behavior. And when they do learn something about it, they’re usually quietly horrified.

Sometimes they will ask if we have considered institutionalizing Jack. I think they ask this because they see the depth of our struggle and wonder why we haven’t looked into other options. So while I don’t like it, I understand why they bring it up. I suspect they are picturing themselves living all the time in a house where violence happens regularly and entropy is the business at hand.

The reality is, it’s more complex than just dropping Jack off at a “home.” There are more factors at play than, “life would be easier if Jack lived somewhere else.”

A few of the sticking points: there really aren’t many residential treatment options for a person Jack’s age in our area, and those that do exist house children and teens with the very most aggressive and uncontrollable behaviors. The patients in these facilities interact together, meaning Jack could learn even more disagreeable things. The risk of abuse is high for a nonverbal person. Then there’s the part about not living among the people who love him the most in the world, but around staff members. And the people who manage his disability services don’t want to approve a residential facility because it costs far more than if Jack remains at home and receives other in-home services.

Not that I have to explain this to the world, but I will if it helps people understand that “finding a home for Jack” isn’t like finding a home for a dog that you can’t keep. It’s not the same thing at all. It’s complex. And he already has a home with the family that God gave him, which is the ideal setting. Until there is a better option or we can no longer care for him, he stays here.

I’m not sure how this post turned into a dissertation on Why Jack Still Lives With Us, but there it is.

Let’s talk about trash and its opposite.

Trash is that Jack gets more ear infections than anyone who ever lived on the earth, and that when he hurts, everything about our life turns into roller derby meets The Walking Dead.

Trash is that we can’t give Jack a Eustachian tube transplant.

Trash is that despite all the specialists and all the interventions and all our best efforts in every regard, the death spiral behaviors are here to stay. Much of the time, anyway.

But.

In teen speak, the opposite of trash is fire. Actually, fire! Things that are fire! are “sick” (which doesn’t mean ill or disturbed). Other synonyms are cool, excellent, on point, rad. You get the idea.

There are, thankfully, parts of bad weeks like this one that aren’t pure trash. They’re fire!

Like the fact that we have late church now, and Junior came to help out this morning, so Jeff and I got to take a Sunday morning walk in the frosted and flocked landscape of a freezing fog. It was iced loveliness.

Also, we sang “For the Beauty of the Earth” at church today.

And Jack was pretty good as we took turns staying home with him during the different hours of church meetings.

Jeff made a pot roast and mashed potatoes for dinner. This is the very definition of fire!

Then Jack passed out in the red armchair after eating a dozen warm homemade chocolate chip cookies.

It’s a new year. I’m sitting by the fireplace, writing. Jacky is momentarily peaceful. My children are all here. Jeff is with me through all of it.

Fire.

Vacation Melancholy

We drove away from home this morning, leaving Jack at home with a sitter, which, predictably, left me conflicted. I was excited to leave, to take my other children on a little trip where we are doing normal things, like going to movies and out to eat, after a longer car ride than Jack would’ve been able to comfortably handle. In order to do regular vacation-y things for a few days, we have to leave Jacky behind.

Of course, we haven’t left behind autism or profound anxiety, because where the two little boys go, those things go too. But the little guys can do things that Jack can’t, and sometimes, I think we need to expose them to a world outside of our carefully structured, self-contained life at home. We need some family memories that aren’t about things getting broken in our house.

The whole situation makes me feel both relieved and sort of blah. I’m relieved we have respite help, and that we can get away. But a mom is a person who wants every good thing for her child. I want Jack to be able to do everything with us. I want him to be able to talk and behave in public and wear regular clothes and eat a variety of foods. I wish he could do all the things.

I’m sad that he can’t. His life is so limited and limiting. I feel very meh about all of it.

How hard must it be to be Jack? To not have a voice. To be left behind. To struggle to even wear shoes.

Multiple times this Christmas season, I thought, “Jesus was born. He lived and he died so Jack doesn’t have to stay disabled.” It was a warm, glowing thought. It’s so straightforward that many people find it overly simplistic.

But to me, the concept of the atonement is much bigger than I feel I can fully grasp. I don’t know how Jesus’s suffering washes away every disappointment—even my dumb first-world problem of being glum we can’t take a little trip all together.

I don’t know how every bad thing can be swallowed up by that one act of love.

But wow. I’m grateful it is.

I know it is because when I experience this kind of depressing evaluation of how our family operates, I think of Jesus choosing to die, simply so Jack wouldn’t be alone or forever stuck in this nonverbal, mentally disabled state, and so I wouldn’t be hopelessly sad about the fact that my family can’t take a vacation together.

I don’t know how he did it, but Jesus did it—for us.

This is my Christmas gift. It’s Jesus. And the way he takes away the sting of the weirdness of our life.

Merry and Bright, Maybe

It’s Christmas Eve day and it’s raining. Tonight it will turn to snow—lots of snow—and keep snowing into tomorrow.

A white Christmas is magical. But my expectations about this holiday are modest. Will Jack behave? Will he be overwhelmed at the family parties? Will he get cabin fever since he doesn’t go out in the snow? Will this weekend be harried or happy?

A positive attitude and planning only goes so far in the face of someone else’s behavior. I can’t change it, only accept it, cope with it, perhaps attempt to influence it, but with no guarantees.

We aren’t sure we will even make it to church on Christmas Day since we won’t have any sitters for Jack and our ward is combining with the neighboring ward for sacrament meeting. This means it will be crowded. There will be lots of singing, which I personally love, but which may simply provide Jack repeated opportunities either feel sensory overload or to applaud after musical numbers as he did last week when the Primary children sang.

In years past, my complex feelings about Christmas stemmed from my expectations. When I expected something sweet and magical, I was usually disappointed by something real and raw and frenetic—by something flawed. So I lowered my expectations, which surprisingly resulted in two outcomes. When I expected something less than ideal, I found myself a) less excited about the season and b) pleasantly, genuinely surprised by anything positive at Christmas. This is what I did: expect practically nothing, anticipate less, accept all of it, and sometimes enjoy the fleeting gifts and unexpected miracles. There was nothing else to do.

There were two Christmas Eves when Jeff had to stay home with Jack all evening because he was too violent and unpredictable. I took the other boys to my parents’ house and Grandma Snow’s house and felt like I had cleaved my heart in half with a butcher’s knife. We were divided as a family, not because of geography, but because of disabilities. It was disheartening.

For the past dozen years, Christmas has never not been complex and shifting. These were seasons where I felt sad, hopeless, depressed, uninspired.

Yet I can identify memories which broke through the difficulty, letting in pin pricks of light through the dark shell of Life with Severe Behavioral Disabilities.

There was the Sunday when two men at church sang “O Holy Night,” and I felt like my body was literally buzzing with joy and gratitude. There was the winter morning I sat on the floor by the fire and read A Christmas Carol in one sitting, and had renewed hope for the process of living.

There was the magical evening after Christmas five years ago when Truman was released from the NICU, and my whole family was together in one place. That was the year Jeff and I sat on the couch with our three big boys between us and watched an entire movie together (Fantastic Mr. Fox), without any behaviors, and I tasted heaven.

A backward look makes me wonder if the best Christmases aren’t the ones when things flow with precision and perfection.

My life seems to indicate that the truest moments of Christmas hope burst through the hard scales of ugly times and offer a ray of light in the gloom.

I’m Lighting the World, yo

This could end up being one of those We Had the Worst Day Ever with Jack posts that unfortunately tends to populate this site.

This is because Saturday was one of the worst days ever with Jack. His right ear appeared to have blown out due to infection. We saw all the signs, but were loathe to take him to Instacare on a weekend, because neither Jack nor the medical staff in an unfamiliar place do well together. We need familiarity. Familiarity isn’t open on evenings or weekends.

We administered antibiotic ear drops, as the ENT has instructed us to do when we see drainage. We gave Jack pain relievers. We took him on thousands of rides. He (who weighs 140 lbs) took a nap on my lap.

He lunged at us, throwing things, breaking the couch, headbutting walls and windows, and screamed.

Saturday lasted for roughly seventeen weeks.

It was the kind of day where we did nothing but survive. Jeff and I were in a heightened state of tension, waiting for the next outburst, or med dose, or upset to the delicate balance of Jack is Happy Right Now, Nobody Move or Speak or Heaven Forbid Ring the Doorbell.

I’ve been following along with the #LighttheWorld campaign, applying the daily ideas for centering every day on Jesus and the essence of the season. I like the way it has reoriented the Christmas season for me, making Jesus the focus every day of the month. This is what I need more of—less busyness, less stuff, less shopping, more giving in a personal sense. Also more thinking about the reason we don’t have to live in sadness and difficulty forever.

I’ve noticed that when I’ve considered how to consciously attempt to #LighttheWorld, I can see that I’m already doing much of it. In my house. This is not because I’m saintly, but because my children require it.

I’m not being self-congratulatory.

I can thank Jack, mainly, for giving me the opportunity to minister all the time, even when I’m not in the mood. Just always.

One of the days last week emphasized being humble, like Jesus was humble to the will of his Father. I couldn’t think of anything to specifically DO that day to demonstrate humility. I listened to Christmas music while doing laundry, sweeping, unloading the dishwasher, making beds, wiping down counters, and picking up Truman’s 10,000 pvc pipes littering the house (he tells us he will one day be a plumber and I believe him). I thought about the fact that it’s a humbling thing to clean up the same messes, day after day. To cook food that people complain about. To wash the same batches of laundry, over and over.

Taking care of small people is an exercise in humility because personalities and wills and opinions are involved. My children keep me humble because their needs far exceed my abilities.

On that particular #LighttheWorld day, I guessed that my solution could be deciding to be humble by not resenting the repetitive difficulty of raising complex children. I could accept it, if not joyfully, then with neutrality and an open mind. That was my offering. I felt pretty okay about it.

And then Sunday dawned, bitter cold and clear. Jack was happier. The drops appeared to be working. Junior came with us to church. Jack sat nicely, laughing periodically during sacrament meeting. When the Primary children finished singing a Christmas song, Jack applauded.

Tomorrow’s theme is “Jesus calmed the storm and so can you,” to which I say sure. I will be the calm in the face of my children storming and screaming about all the things. I can do that. Perhaps Jack will clap for me, too.

 

 

All the Dreams We Cannot Flee

I had an eerily vivid WWII-era-ish dream. I am not making this up. It sounds made up. But I dreamed it and it was awfully real.

Even in hindsight, writing it down is disconcerting as it brings the associated stress right back to my psyche.

I dreamed my sister and I were in a European village, where we apparently lived. There was knowledge of an imminent threat coming, so we grabbed food and coats and left our house. We were walking across a field, our arms full, when I said, “I forgot my boys’ meds! And I have no diapers for Truman.”

Amber kept walking. “We can go back later and get them,” she reassured me. I knew we wouldn’t be going back.

The beginning of the dream felt like a compilation of every World War II story of Nazis coming for Jewish families and yanking them away from their lives in a matter of minutes. The difference was we hadn’t waited for anyone to come and tell us it was time to go. We left before it could happen.

We walked briskly through the town. We agreed to meet at a bakery (which sounds like basically all the stories ever written about German-occupied France) a few blocks away.

“Split up,” Amber said, under her breath. We were being watched. I turned right down an alleyway and she continued straight on. The alley ended in a T and I went left. I noticed a large man ahead standing by a tall fence, watching me approach. I ducked down another alley. I saw through the windows in the warehouse between us that he was heading around the other side of the building to cut me off.

I ducked down low and went back the way I came. My heart blared in my chest. “When did my life become a Holocaust movie?” I thought as I crouched and ran.

The dream shifted and I was now sitting on the floor of the bakery, talking to my mom and sisters about what we should do. I looked through the plate glass window at the front of the shop and noticed that Truman had gone outside to play on the path. Just then, a man grabbed him and began carrying my wailing, terrified five-year-old away.

“He’s grown up in safety and doesn’t even know to hide and be afraid,” I thought as my mind raced. What should I do? The man was a few yards off with Truman, and had stopped to talk to some people.

I went outside and called to him, demanding that he give me my son. He set Truman down and walked toward me, large and menacing. We were face to face. He was taller. Fear liquefied my bones.

I thought, “This is it. He’s going to kill me.”

At the same moment, I also thought, “What does it matter? I couldn’t live with myself if I let him walk away with Truman.”

The dream ended as I looked him in the eye and said, “You will give me back my son.”

I woke up and felt that sense of tremendous relief that one feels when a bad dream turns out to be only a nightmare, and not reality. The adrenaline ebbed. But my mind was troubled.

This dream was distressing. We were in a war. Evil men were hunting us. I didn’t have meds or diapers or even the ability to protect my children from tyrants.

Why did I have this dream?

I feel that the message was entirely, inwardly personally related to my life.

Later that morning, I considered the dream and I remembered facing off with the menacing man who had taken Truman. I thought about how I’d stood up to him, despite my relative weakness and fear.

I commended my dream self for bravery. Good job, dream self.

Even as the dream played out, I remember thinking that the rural European-town-caught-up-in-a-war was a symbolic setting. It is something I could understand from plenty of reading on the subject, and from cultural osmosis. I don’t think my subconscious came up with this dream on its own. God sent me this dream to show me something.

I am not literally in a war. But figuratively? Yes.

I am fighting anxiety, rigidity, developmental delay, autism, food aversions, flexibility aversions, toilet aversions, and ridiculously aggressive behavior. Jack has fought me through every one of the seventeen documented ear infections he’s had in the last thirty-six months.

I see my sons’ fears. I see past their fears to their hearts. There is no blame—only empathy and a desire to help them overcome. I want them to feel peace the way I do.

My own fears disappeared when I slowly realized that Jesus knows how I feel, and that he is helping me manage the logistics of war.

My dream was about me seeing that God knows me and my war.  I’m capable of standing up to powerful, antagonizing forces because Jesus did it first and he is at my side.

Sometimes life is beautiful, and occasionally, we walk through a landscape of horror.

Because I’m not doing it alone, I have the will to face it.

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Dreamscape

I’m having the wild dreams again.

It’s obvious that my dream life sometimes rears up like a sleeping dragon that is tired of dormancy. The dragon has launched, guys, with fire coming from its nostrils, reptilian wings flapping.

All the anxiety comes out in the dreams. They are an ethereal, visual manifestation of my fears. And yet they also feature my subconscious saying things about what I am capable of.

Exhibit A: The mad driving skills dream.

A few nights ago I dreamed I was driving my Odyssey with Jeff, Jack, Junior, and my friend Brittany (who lives several thousand miles away, but why not) as my passengers. We were in my neighborhood, and suddenly turned on an unfamiliar street I’d never even noticed before. I use the term “street” loosely. It was a rutted out disaster of a dirt road.

In an effort to not get stuck, I gunned my minivan, employed evasive turning maneuvers, and at one point, even drove across a “bridge” made of two unconnected logs spanning a muddy, swollen riverbed.

“I don’t know how to drive in these conditions!” I yelled at everyone in my car. “This is insane!”

At this point, I was “driving” in a flooded, twisting ditch that resembled the lazy river at the local rec center.

“No one taught me how to make a minivan float!” I growled.

Jeff, riding shotgun, said, “You’re doing it. It’s fine. You made it through all the ruts and across that log bridge thing and this is working too.”

That’s where the dream ended.

My sister, Kate, recently noted that Jeff plays a pivotal role in my dreams/life/blog, to which I solemnly nodded as one can only do when one’s blood relative speaks the truth, unembellished.

She pointed out that whenever the shiz is flying and anxieties are high, Jeff usually deadpans some calm remark that makes sense of everything and turns the situation around. He does and she’s right.

Then I told this dream to my sister, Sarah, who squealed, “That’s your next post! There is symbolism all over the place! It’s a gold mine!”

It’s practically ridiculous, the obvious parallels between the driving dream and my actual life.

I’m driving a van over a booby-trapped death road = I’m raising three children with special needs + one regular teenager (being a teen is arguably kind of a special need, in a way).

I’m driving and Jeff is in the passenger seat = I’m the mom and he helps whenever possible, but is also the dad and is, by definition, often out bread-winning and such.

I had a carload of people I was responsible for = I feel responsible for a LOT—of people and outcomes and laundry and schedules and futures and dental appointments and neuroses.

We were close to home, geographically speaking, and yet it was a wilderness terrain = I am parenting, much like a good part of the world parents, and yet it feels remote and dangerous. It’s parenting 2.0.

I was yelling = I yell, irl.

Jeff was calm, diagnostic, and analytical = Jeff is Engineer Husband and Dad.

Things looked bizarre and, frankly, bleak. And yet, I was doing it = Things often do feel quite bizarre and muy bleak. And yet, we are doing it.

We are making it work, because God is helping us make it work.

I got a Christmas card from my dear friend, Jana, this week. Jana is one of the most spiritually astute people I have ever known. She teaches me something vital every time she opens her mouth. Her letter filled me in on their lives and concluded with the statement, “I have realized that I am completely dependent on God.”

Jana is a beacon of faith and wisdom in my life. And she functions in complete dependence on God.

My Dukes of Hazzard dream driving success wasn’t because I’m great at handling a minivan. We didn’t sink because God is, in a manner of speaking, the Odyssey.

He is the vehicle carrying us through turmoil. He’s put me at the wheel, and told me to drive, but he is the frame holding us up and the wheels moving us forward.

He’s seeing us over the logs spanning the gulf.

He’s holding us up in the flood.

 

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