Monthly Archives: June 2014

More on Service

I’m still thinking about what it means to serve and be of service.

I decided a few more things about good works:

1. I want to do them because it is the right thing to do.

2. But sometimes I don’t want to do the right thing. It’s hard. Some people don’t appreciate it. Often there are no really obvious positive results to serving people.

3. What I’m saying is, I sometimes serve not because I want to or because I think I’m making a big difference. Sometimes my efforts are for me, because I only want to live with myself if I think I’m doing what God wants to do. I know that I am trying. He knows that I am trying. Good enough.

My friend Jana, who is serving a mission with her husband in rural Kenya, sent me an email which blew my mind and then reconstructed it in a much-improved way.

She said, “One lesson I have been learning is not to be too concerned with the outcome of things. All my life I have been able to put my energy to a task and see it come to fruition. The harder I work, the better the outcome. So I have begun to think I am pretty capable. But none of that is working here. No matter how hard I try , I cannot get on top of [things]. And no matter how great I think our in-service lessons are or how wonderful I think our sacrament meeting talks are, there is no feedback, little change in the teaching practices, no expressions of gratitude, appreciation, or even acknowledgement. It has made me stop back and evaluate why I do things. With no earthly reward, I must do it for God and God alone. That presupposes that I am doing what He wants me to do which has also made me look at the service I give. So I am now free to serve as He would have me serve. And I don’t have to worry about the outcome. That is in His hands also.”

Jana’s experience verbalized what I have long felt about Jack and now Charlie too. I can work and try, but I can change very little about my boys. They are who they are. They have the gifts and the limitations God sent them to Earth with.

The good part is that they are valiant. They don’t need me to change them. They need me to love them and shepherd them.

And then Dutch sent me this quote by the woman who wrote my favorite book in the whole wide world:

“Men judge us by the success of our efforts. God looks at the efforts themselves.” Charlotte Brontë

Boom.

God is good.

How lucky for us that He sees everything and that we are his children.

The Art of Nurture

I have decided that I have a very messed up attitude toward service.

Because I am a Christian who believes in trying to emulate Jesus’s example, I believe in serving people. Like, whenever possible. This is not the problem.

My problem is that I tend to think of serving and good works as taking place in the community and beyond the hand-printed walls of my house. I’ve had this nagging sensation for some time that because I can’t venture out to serve in seismic ways in my neighborhood, I’m not contributing. That because I am mostly consumed with the (really quite demanding) demands of my children, I’m not doing my part.

But.

Am I not perpetually caring for small people who need nurturing? Am I doing this from a place of selfless love?

Doesn’t raising special-needs children provide even more opportunities to serve those with greater needs?

Full-time parenting doesn’t offer much in the way of a paycheck, obvs. It does have a pretty great benefits package though.

The benefits are accruing in tiny amounts daily, and over many years.

They are the results of repetitive tasks, like sweeping the kitchen floor 700 times a week and cleaning up poop smears around the house. All. The. Time.

The fruits of my daily routine are real, but they are buried in the always-full laundry hamper. Or maybe in the nasty rabbit warren known as the basement family-room.

I can’t always see them, because they are hiding. Forming. Emerging.

I suppose that here service looks like the peanut butter sandwich I give my overstimulated six-year-old as I help him into superman pj’s.

Serving is deciphering the nonverbal cues Jack uses to communicate what he wants.

It’s seeing what the tween needs and casually making it happen, but not in an obvious way, because let’s not go crazy mom.

Good works and reading the toddler ten bedtime stories? Kind of indistinguishable, I guess.

Here’s my crystallizing perspective on what I do in my house:

I’m making this environment which nurtures children and nudges them positively toward adulthood.

It’s consuming, but not thankless.

It’s real work, though it is not paid.

And as service, it counts.

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Good Things

Because this week has descended into the depths of the underworld, it’s time for some thanksgiving.

Things I’m grateful for:

Mountains
Canyons
The color green
A bend in the path

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Sun shining
Dutch
Henry
Swimming pools

The nitrous oxide they gave me during my root canal this week
That my root canal is over
That I’m not Tom Hanks’ character on Castaway, doing my own oral surgery with a repurposed ice skate

The room I’ve claimed as my Writing Room
The books, piano, desk, and armchair within my Writing Room
The door with a lock on my Writing Room

Date night
Sherlock (and Benedict Cumberbatch)
Bedtime

Coca-Cola
Ceiling fans in the summertime

The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep

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We have retuned from this place.

Our nation’s oldest and best national park is glorious and beautiful (see what I did there?). It also did not get the memo that it was mid-June and our family vacation this week. The Yellowstone high country put the ix-nay on any temperate weather and instead delivered snow, hail, rain, and freezing temps every day of our camping trip.

We inadvertently went winter camping in the summertime with two special-needs boys whose rigidity with routines (a hallmark of autism) rules us.

So it was a trip, not a vacation.

I do not mean to sound boorish and ungrateful. Yellowstone is resplendent in any weather. Truly.

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The view of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone from Artist’s Point is breathtaking.

The woods and valleys, the lakes and mountains—their beauty does not suffer in inclement weather. I found them especially beautiful in a brooding, melancholy way when they were shrouded in clouds and mists of rain.

But keeping Jack warm in this environment was an exercise in frustration. He Who Will Not Wear Socks or Coats spent most of the time shivering. We had to take him into the car or the trailer for warming sessions periodically. The rest of the time, I tried putting socks and (non-sandal-y) shoes and a warm jacket on my boy, who kept removing them and throwing them at me.

Yellowstone and Jacky: two forces who cannot be moved.

We hiked to our perennial favorite place, Mystic Falls, in a biting wind and intermittent snowfall.

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We walked to Storm Point on Lake Yellowstone in the stiffest of wind gusts that ever blasted right through me.

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It was picturesque and memorable. Also, really really cold.

Because our camping trip (which was really not a glamping trip) was like a visit to the tundra, I learned one of Yellowstone’s secrets:

When it snows there and the lodgepole pines are dusted with sparkly white powder, and the sun breaks through the clouds and illuminates the woods, it is the scene of a fairy tale.

Hansel and Gretel would be right at home in this magical wintry place where forests are iridescent with snowfall, and so much of the landscape is untouched and pristine.

I’m glad we helped Jack experience it, even if his hands and feet required frequent thawing.

Even in the biting cold, there is a largesse of beauty.

quiet LOUD

There are some lovely, languid backyard summer moments in my recent memory. But there was also yesterday on the freeway in rush hour with three of the guys.

Jack screamed when we turned right instead of left, and lunged violently at Baby until I shouted repeatedly at him to stop. Apparently, if I shriek wildly enough, my lungs can halt an in-car attack. And yet, I made Truman cry, so there were no real winners.

I felt like the meanest mom in the world with my perma-furrowed brow, fists clutching the wheel as I screamed at my son—my voice a megaphone of fury making my toddler cry.

Nice.

I hate that I must morph during these stress moments into the special-needs mom-version of Mr. Hyde.

No one listens if I speak sweetly and softly. It’s white noise to two of my children. They struggle reading social cues, so visible anger is the quickest means of portraying “NO!” Especially on the freeway, when I am the driver and the only parent in the car.

When his brothers began to chill, Charlie had questions for me. “Can we get rid of our garage?” “Can we put four dogs and two cats in our house?” “Can my last name be something else?” “Can we have three boys instead of four?” “Can we shoot zombies down?” “Can helicopters have guns?” “Can we go to Alaska?” “Can Dad have a beard and be bald?” “Can I have blue hair?” “Can ladies drive motorcycles?” “Can I be twelve?” “Can we go to the movies/pool/curiosity museum/cabin?” “Can I have surgery?”

The answer to all of these, incidentally, is ,”Maybe. We’ll think about.” Any other response is unsatisfactory and results in ongoing arguments with a six-year-old with high-functioning autism.

At one point, mid-questioning, Charlie wailed, “This song is making my ears bleed!” when “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” played on the radio. Dude couldn’t handle any more REO Speedwagon.

I get it.

Sometimes we just crave silence.

All of us.

This Post is TMI, Guys

If anyone out there has been wondering where all the poo stories have gone on this blog, you can sit up and cease your wondering.

Jack has spent the first ten days of summer dropping cow patties all over the kitchen, bathtub, bedroom floor, and backyard.

Not to be the grossest blogger who ever lived, but seriously, my house is dotted with giant wet cow pies.

While cleaning up the Code Brown in the kitchen last week, I inadvertently stepped in a secondary patty.

A mom tantrum ensued. I kicked off my right flip flop and cussed. My sailor-speak was the better alternative to karate chopping the offending child.

Henry, the twelve-year-old who gives me a lecture every time I utter a swear, let my cluster cuss slide. He just knew.

That was just one of several super nasty episodes.

I adjusted Jack’s meds, as I’ve been instructed to do in such cases. Finally I called the nurse line at the pediatric gastroenterologist’s office. By the time they called me back, Dutch and I had made an interesting discovery:

Jack has been covertly inhaling the lemon Fiber One bars in the food storage room. Sometimes, we think, up to six a day. Jack essentially gave himself a lemony enema.

Sometimes I am the dumbest parent in the Northern Hemisphere. Just really, really too strung out on the raising of the boys to realize from whence the problems originate.

It’s the fiber cookies, yo.

Soda-Licious

I should self-impose a moratorium on blogging during the first week of summer. I need to remember this in the future (unlikely, since my brain is not so reliable in the memory department anymore).

I believe I should abstain from posting during this time frame because the transition from school year to summer break takes some getting used to. It takes finesse, in which I am apparently deficient.

The boys are adjusting. They have gone from crazed nocturnal people to zombies trudging around the house and then back to their usual selves once forced to eat a nightly melatonin Oreo under duress. Special cookie = adequate sleep.

My last post leaned toward the whiny side, regretfully. I wrote it during the Awful First Week. It’s a week that can’t be trusted. Or, rather, a week during which I can’t be trusted.

I can, however, be trusted to drive my children hither and yon, morning and afternoon, to camps and such.

I can be trusted to clean 32 ounces of sloshy, sticky Sprite from the cup-holders and seats in the back of the van after Jack disposed of someone’s abandoned McDonald’s drink in an aggressively sensory fashion.

I can be trusted to impose a nap schedule on the toddler, who is beginning to suspect that naps are for nerds, which they totally aren’t. Or maybe they are. Who cares about nerdiness if one is getting regular naps in, right guys?

I can’t be trusted to keep Jack from pouring Coke into the top of the whirring AC unit, resulting in some elegant splattering of high fructose corn syrup onto the house and the fence, making a sort of abstract art piece in caramel coloring.

We are totes having soda issues this summer.

There are simply limits to what one woman can do. Give her a week to adjust. Give her a giant bag of those Brookside Dark Chocolate Blueberry Acai bits of heaven. Give her a Dirty Diet Coke and don’t give Jack access to it. Give her a pass on flipping out about things for a few days as we settle into summertime and figure things out.

Sunday Torpedos

The irony of respite care for my family is that while Jack stays home during church doing sensory activities with Kirsty, Charlie is still a church torpedo.

It takes massive amounts of persuasion and mind games to get him to a) put on church clothes (today this included one Adidas sneaker and one batman sneaker—the other half of each pair have gone missing. We need new shoes, like now. Church-ish shoes people, not the superhero footwear he wants to wear), and b) get in the car to get to sacrament meeting on time.

You know that saying about how we should always do something we fear every day? That saying is so lame. It is irrelevant for parents of children on the autism spectrum. Every single day is a rigorous, anxiety-producing battle to get someone to wear underpants, to not poop on the floor, to put on situation-appropriate clothing, to stop screaming in the chapel, etc and etc.

I live in constant fear of not being able to convince my children to do normal, necessary things.

I wake up daily wondering what I will face with my two kids on the spectrum who don’t want to do anything they are supposed to do. What will I have to coax/bribe/force them to do today? I feel like I run out of ideas before breakfast.

I read a book by a local author Terrell Dougan called That Went Well, Adventures in Raising My Sister about her experience caring for her mentally disabled sister. The entire book made me laugh out loud and nod my head in understanding, but the line that I’ve never forgotten was this: “What fresh hell awaits me today?” It was practically her daily mantra. I totally get this.

What extreme, inappropriate behaviors will the guys whip out next? How will we be judged by those who think children shouldn’t be rolling around under the church pews and wearing mismatching superhero shoes to church?

I have a nagging sense that while most people can look past the weird behaviors of my children, there are those who will only see the strangeness.