Why do you ask?

Years ago my mother and I laughed about saying “Why do you ask?” to people who asked dopey, nosy questions. If you say this, they get a bit tongue tied because their answer should be “because I’m a nosy person”, but of course no one really says that. My mom was extremely private and never liked the feeling of being interrogated (who does?) and was very defensive when it came to the family, especially Bryan. Over the years I have learned to be more tolerant; trying to put this under the heading of  Isn’t it better for someone to ask a nosy question rather than not asking at all?  I still struggle with this one because people can be very thoughtful or thoughtless, but I try to keep in mind that people don’t know how to handle the unfamiliar.questions2

Case in point-Autism questions like, Is he high-functioning? If you know me, you know that’s a tough one, because it’s not like there is a standard scale. Yep, he’s 4.5 on the high-functioning scale. It’s subjective and no one ever wants to say, my kid is low functioning. It hurts, it stings, blah blah blah.  If I said he was low functioning, what would that do for you? I guess it’s better than people saying “I’m sorry” which they can do when you say your kid has autism. What the hell is that about? The first time I heard that one I have to say, I was completely shell shocked and speechless. I am never speechless. However, people don’t know the right protocol unless they have a kid with autism, so they are trying. Take the good with the bad, I tell myself. For me, some days I am patient and understanding, some days not so much. You get it.

Moving on to what’s in my mind, the impetus to blog. Yesterday was Mother’s day. This was the first Mother’s Day without my Mom being with us and the first one since my beloved Auntie Barbara passed away. A double whammy for our family. Recently a new question has come up that makes me want to say “why do you ask?” Every Sunday we have breakfast at my Dad’s club. It is gorgeous and it’s beyond spoiled and each time I remind myself and the kids of our good fortune. So a few weeks ago some woman who knows my folks came over to talk to my Dad and asked how my Mom was doing. She said to him “Does she know you?” and then points to me (literally points) and says , “Does she know you?”Here are the choices for the answer as they play out in my head:

  • Answer in my head:   She has no fucking clue who I am and it sucks lady.
  • Better answer, but not the one I typically give: Sometimes, it’s very difficult emotionally for all of us.
  • Answer I give: On occasion, but not too often anymore.

Any answer is typically met with no response, which is why you want to say, why do you ask? If I say she doesn’t know me, what info is gleaned from that? Sounds mean, but think about it.

I can’t imagine asking this question. Maybe it’s because of Bryan I have heightened sensitivity to weird, nosy questions, or maybe it’s because my mom taught me not to ask nosy questions. I would say this lady was an anomaly but it’s not the case. I am a pretty tough cookie at this point in my life, but people, take a minute to think about stuff!!! Ok so this blog is more of a rant than a blog, but if my purpose is to get something off of my chest and to raise awareness, I think I may be done. Well almost….

Recently I was shopping with my work BFF in Nordstrom; I was buying a gift in the jewelry dept and there were these mantra bracelets. I’m not big on that stuff but she picked one up and said, you have to get this one, it’s so you: “Be true. Be you. Be kind.” Nothing else really matters.  First of all,  the fact that anyone thinks this mantra represents me is enough to make my year, but it was more of something I aspire to be than something I truly am. Of course I bought it and it is a nice little reminder of how I want to be each time I put it on. I am going to be myself at all times, no apologies.  (probably a little scary for those of you who know me well) Accordingly, I offer some suggestions to people when approaching someone who has a kid with autism/a parent with Alzheimer’s/or anyone going through a difficult time/illness with which you are unfamiliar. How about, “how are things going?” How is so and so doing?” and “Can I do anything to help?” That’s it, just kindness.

You can. End of Story.

endofstoryWhile the focus of this blog entry is on Bryan, the title could apply to Bryan, me and basically anyone facing a goal. Bryan is 17 and is an extremely capable young man. I don’t say this flippantly or casually because there is absolutely nothing casual or inadvertent about where he is today.

About 13 or 14 years ago, when we first learned of speech and language delays, among other delays, before we got the big “A” diagnosis, we went to meet a speech therapist who was considered a guru in dealing with “these kids” and our pediatrician arranged an appointment. Bryan and I went and she was a very business like specialist who asked me a bunch of questions about him and his development. For the next hour, no joke, one hour, she sat on the floor with Bryan and played with him, using Sesame Street character figurines and a playset with slides and activities for the figurines. I sat in the room on the chair holding my breath and and trying not to cry or vomit-again, no joke. What would this woman say after this hour? What was she trying to get at? It was all so unfamiliar to me and terrifying. It was not the first, but it was the beginning for sure, of what would become a long road for Bryan, a long road for our family, and a personal journey for me. After the hour she let me know exactly what she thought. I can remember being in my skin at this appointment as if it was an hour ago. She said here’s what I think: “He’s in there. You will need a tremendous amount of therapy over many years. There is no magic pill; you cannot throw money at this to make it go away. You also need to use his strengths when getting him into schools and programs. You are lucky, he is a very handsome and engaging little boy. If you go to a program, take a photo with you, but don’t take him. You don’t want anyone judging him by his behavior at one meeting.” I listened intently as if the Dalai Lama was imparting the key to life to me. Since this was a long time ago and still very distinct, you know this had a huge impression on me. I feel emotional just typing this and remembering how I felt in the car trying to process all of this info. I won’t take you through the timeline because many of you know it, but it was solid, no bullshit type of advice, including the part about how he looks. It was a crash course in “put your big girl pants on lady, because this journey is not for the weak and you better realize in short order that if you don’t get cracking and face up to reality, you’re screwed”. That’s Janespeak for what went down and for the talk I had and continue to have with myself 14 years later. I am quite fortunate, as is Bryan, that his father was always and is always on board with whatever is best for Bryan, and literally has no ego when it comes to him. Men often shy away from these kids and their issues which can make things worse; but that was never the issue. We were and are still of the same mind when it comes to Bryan: You can. End of Story.

It would be so nice to say that Bryan is now a Phd student at Harvard and has outgrown autism and everything is perfect and rosy. That is certainly not the case, nor the goal. However, the goal has always been and will continue to be that if you work hard and set your mind to something, goals are not only achievable but are inevitable. Kudos are offered up to Bryan and his desire to do well, to learn and to please. What the general public cannot or does not understand is that special needs kids work so damn hard at everything and every moment and task is evaluated. “Gee Bryan was great at lunch last week.” Oh yeah, well how was Jason? I know it’s unfair but imagine your life was one big report card. It’s tough. The one thing I do know is that the most important thing we can give to Bryan is his sense of pride, his sense that he can do and be whatever he wants, without regard to a timeline. And for the record, autism still sucks. Yes, I am grateful for the life lessons, yes I am grateful for Bryan growing up in slow motion and still allowing me to kiss him and hold hands in public, and yes I am grateful for the love and support from some of the most unlikely people. The anxiety that Bryan experiences as “his autism” still thwarts some of his progress and still tests even the most patient of people. His impulse control issues and his language delays still impact him and us regularly. While he feels complex emotions which can be learned from his behavior and some language, his expressive self is still highly challenged. So while I suppose I can and do appreciate the progress, the lesson must always stay in the forefront for both of us. You can. End of Story.

 

Crank it up!

Science question: You’re driving and you have the music on; something good and loud, like the Who, We Don’t Get Fooled Again, what is the decibel level required to drown out the voices in your head? This is not rhetorical people; I need the info. Over the last week so many f-ed up things have occurred that I truly believe only a heartfelt, drug inspired 70’s real rock song could block out the noise. You know something you can crank up and sing because you know all of the words and although you know your voice stinks, it completely doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter that your windows are down and sunroof is open, you need to let it out. Feel free to substitute any song you like; I just happen to love the Who and the righteous, guttural way Roger Daltrey belts them out. I always see him in my mind’s eye as Tommy  in those jeans and shirtless, with the long curls,  singing his heart out(just to me of course) and well, that definitely helps get the adrenaline flowing. tommySo….please feel free to email me, text me, IM, twitter, instagram, snap chat, call or snail mail me the answer. I need it. You see I drove to work this morning and no matter how loud I made it and how loud I sang, no dice. Still couldn’t block out the noise in my head. You know something is pretty messed up when your kid says, “you probably shouldn’t blog about this one if you know what I mean”. I do. The actual event or events are not always the hardest part to fathom, but the processing, the clean up of the carnage, well that’s where the real work gets done. The carnage here was bloody and messy and no amount of mopping seemed to do the trick.

It’s  fair to say that you really can’t control most things that happen in your life. As those of us know who have been through therapy and/or are introspective in any way, you know that you can only control your own responses to what happens in life and choose the way you want to handle the damage control. These things are always easier said than done, and emotions have a way of clouding judgment.  What happens when things are unfolding before you and you think to yourself, um, why is this happening and now what the hell am I going to do? How does this get corrected? When things occur and the boys are impacted, I feel like I want to shout out “cut, let’s try this one again”.  When things are going on right in front of you and you are processing them it is not easy to step outside of yourself and say, “hmm, how am I going to handle this situation so my children are not damaged, hurt or angry.” These questions are rhetorical. I was meeting with some folks from my Leadership Broward group yesterday (#LB35 #highfive) and one of the team members is gay and he was discussing the parenting classes he and his husband have to take to adopt a child. Parenting classes? What is this thing you speak of my friend? My mind wandered to a place where I thought, shouldn’t basic parenting classes be required for everyone? Shouldn’t basic human decency classes exist? I guess those things are left up to your parents if you have kids the old fashioned way. In light of the events of my weekend, I was definitely more focused on this topic than I typically would have been. Maybe my personal sensitivity to the challenges of parenting this weekend cast a brighter light on our conversation.

It is my opinion that success, in any form, is not only the result of hard work and a little luck but overcoming some obstacle or plowing through some roadblock. People who have it too easy have nothing to grind against, nothing to strive for that requires the type of deep soul searching and tenacity that propels a breakthrough. I feel this way about innovation and technology, the problem solving aspect, but also the resolve. If I didn’t have autism in my life, I would not have learned what I am capable of. I love when people tell me how much patience I have. I think, “are you talking about me?” I spent the first half of my life so impatient and wound up. I do have a lot of patience now, but it didn’t come from anything natural, it came from survival and for the sheer need and desire to be the parent Bryan needed me to be. How could I face my beautiful boy if I couldn’t be kind and patient with him? (Believe me I have fallen off that wagon a million times, and many of you out there have witnessed it).  Autism is a disorder not a behavior. Would you lose patience if your kid was puking, well maybe that’s a bad example, but you know what I mean. An invisible disorder is still a disorder and needs to be treated accordingly.  I’m still a work in progress, for sure. So by now you may be wondering, why are we talking about success and overcoming obstacles when we were just talking about cleaning up an emotional mess?  The thing I guess I’m grappling with is how much is ok for our kids to have to deal with? How much shielding is good, how much is overprotective? Where are the lines drawn and who has the damn manual? Can I get it on my kindle? These questions in my head just beg for seriously loud music.

 

He’s got the moves like Jagger!

I’m doing it. You may unfriend me, unfollow me, dislike me, but I’m risking it. No, this is not a political post. It’s something way way way more important. It’s a bragging post, not about me, but about Bryan. Today was the day for parent/teacher conferences at Bryan’s school. He goes to a great private school that serves the neurodiverse community ages 14-22. Bryan is 16.  Last year was his first year and the first year after our divorce. To say he had a rocky start is the ultimate understatement. You know when the headmaster calls you more than 3x a week you are screwed. It was such a reach for him, I really wasn’t sure he could hack it. It took him the whole year but he did a good job and by the end he adjusted.proud

Well, this year, he has completely turned things around. Once a week they go to Florida Atlantic University (FAU) for the day to learn how to behave on a college campus as well as how to interact appropriately. Bryan loves it. He loves to go to the school cafeteria!!! So today, when I met with the teacher who takes him there, she said “Bryan is a rock star at FAU. I am thinking about moving him to the harder class that goes there or sending him twice a week.” Um yay and double yay.  Bryan has always expressed an interest in going to college, and I bet he will. You can never,  ever, ever count out a kid with autism. The surprises, both good and bad, well they never end. Of course I was elated, of course I was proud of him, but more than that, I felt so incredibly hopeful for his future. I met with 3 more teachers, math and language arts,  and then the teacher that does yoga with him and takes him to his part time job at Simply Yoga. This great program at school takes kids into the community for jobs. He is so proud of his job. He folds the mats and blankets, he puts the clothes on display and sweeps. A very typical teenage job!! The teacher told me that Bryan takes on a complete professional persona at the job. I’m kvelling!!! A professional persona!! What? Can you fathom the awesomeness of that? My loud Bryan, who is almost never quiet and has so much trouble modulating his voice, has a professional persona! They also do yoga at school to help stay calm. She told me not only does Bryan do the yoga, and stay quiet, he sometimes leads the class in a few of the poses. If I was not so over the moon,  so completely thrilled, I might have thrown the BS flag at them. Don’t get me wrong, I have been getting reports since school started that he is doing well,  but to go from teacher to teacher to hear in their words how well he is doing with tangible examples, it just fills my heart with so much joy, so much love for him. I came home and told him how excited and happy I was to hear all of his teachers talk so highly of him. Bryan, smart as he is, says, can we get movie tickets? Of course I said yes. I think I would’ve said yes to almost anything.

So by now, if you are still reading, you are either really excited too, or getting a headache from how upbeat I am. Here’s the thing. When your kid has autism, you spend most of your school meetings holding on to the table to brace yourself for the bad news. You brace yourself for the bad school calls and to hear that your 12 year old is reading on a first grade level. You also know that you must enjoy every triumph because things can change at any moment. The lows are very low, but the highs are sweet as sugar.

 

 

Tempus Fugit

IMG_3295So many things going on in my brain right now that I feel compelled to write. This week has been filled with so many emotions and while I know that it’s normal in many ways it still takes a toll. I started out wanting to address something that I’m so proud of with Bryan. He has really taken an interest in social media and loves to post both silly things, like I just shaved or cut my nails, to really sweet and meaningful things. In March we were visiting LA and we had dinner with some of our cousins. While waiting for the whole group to arrive, I was sitting on the couch with our cousin Dani. Bryan instantly took a photo of us and wrote “I love these two beautiful ladies.” At that point if he wanted soda or dessert or anything else I might have limited, well he had me. This week my beloved, adored Auntie Barbara or as the kids call her Auntie Bubbe passed away. She was quite ill and on some level we knew this was coming, but she miraculously kept surviving trips to the hospital so I know for me I was in complete denial that this would actually happen. As with the  rest of the family, my boys were heartbroken. They loved Auntie Bubbe with her warm and engaging style. She always greeted them with great interest in whatever was going on with them. Jason’s Bar Mitzvah was a  year ago. She loved to needlepoint and she made Bryan a gorgeous Talit cover for his Bar Mitzvah. She wanted to do the same for Jason; but knowing how ill she was she was afraid she would not be able to or be there for the day. About 2.5 years ago she sent Jason and me to a local needlepoint store that had many Judaica patterns. She asked me to take Jason to pick out what he liked and the sales lady, like any store she frequented, would know Barbara Henschel and would get all of the yarn and things needed to complete the project. I am proud to say Jason thought this was the coolest thing. He took his time and picked out an extremely colorful pattern. He was so interested in the fact that she wanted to do this for him and that he got to make a selection. I am truly happy to report that not only did she complete this masterpiece, she was at his Bar Mitzvah to share in our joy. So of course I got off topic a bit. Bryan was unsure of how to express his grief. He kept telling me he was so sad about Auntie Bubbe. You see she just had this way of making you feel good and special, and he felt it too. She talked to him with respect and warmth, and he responded. He wrote a little note to her saying “rest in peace Auntie Bubbe, I’m so sorry you died” and posted it on Facebook. I was a little nervous that my cousins might not like it or feel it was inappropriate. They did not. They love, like and understand Bryan and they found it heartwarming. They laugh with him and they just embrace all that is Bryan.  They can get frustrated and annoyed by him too but they don’t criticize or judge him in any detrimental way. They support me and my life and let him know that he can just be him. Is there anything better? Unconditional love is never to be taken lightly.

While not a new concept, I am luckily constantly reminded that family is everything. For Shabbat dinner we were gathering at my cousin Ben’s house. It felt like a combo of Shabbat dinner and private Shiva. I had recently come across a letter from my grandfather, our beloved Pop, and decided I would bring it. Anything and everything about him always electrifies us as a family and when Bryan and I arrived I shared it with my cousin. In typical sibling/cousin form, we joked about who had more letters or stuff from my Pop and he busted out a couple of beauties and the emotion filled laughter and tears that is and should be Shiva. When the others arrived we continued this laughing and crying and loving. Bryan was right in the mix. While he was a bit irritable and tired from a long week too, my delicious cousins/more like nieces, were all over him making him feel special and appreciated. We stayed until after dinner but with all things Bryan, we left early. He always has an exit strategy and I have learned to comply. I must admit I was exhausted too from the week and wanted to crawl into bed. I got home and while so so so tired, I could not easily fall asleep. Reflecting on the week and the life and love surrounding us I was weirdly happy. Certainly not happy that she is gone, but happy that she had such a huge impact on my life and her love that is here with me each day.

Choose your mindset, yep I know I have used that title before.

IMG_2951Some things resonate. A few years ago I wrote  a blog post about a speaker I heard say to “choose your mindset”. It gripped me then, and clearly, still has me now. The language we speak to ourselves, the things we tell ourselves matter. If you are not good at something and keep reminding yourself you are not good at it, well you are just reinforcing that bad behavior. You have a choice. Tell yourself you’re a fuck up or tell yourself, wow I just learned something and now I won’t do this again. I am evolving! I am a study of all things behavior and people, particularly myself and my kids. I have always been introspective. I hold myself to a very high standard of treat people how you want to be treated. This summer has challenged me in so many ways, and the mindset I have chosen is “I got this”. I am stumbling here and there for sure, but the focus, the way I speak to myself is positive and empowering.

If I have to trace this feeling back to anything, it is Bryan. If you tell someone you have a child with autism, you often get, “I’m sorry”. Damn cuz that hurts. It is easy to fall into the space of why did this happen to me or my kid. To build up the positive muscle of embracing the journey, you have to work it out. You have to keep pushing it and pushing it. No quick fixes on that one. And you fall of the wagon for sure, like when someone says, do you think Bryan will drive soon? Or do you think  he will be able to have  a job? One big lesson is to remind myself that no matter what anyone asks, they are typically inexperienced in this world and just don’t know what to say. I love the saying that you need to love the child you have, not the one you expected. Great lesson, not just for parents of special needs kids; this applies to all parents. But if you know me, you know that saying nothing to me or ignoring me doesn’t work well for me. Ignoring something or someone because addressing it or them makes you uncomfortable is immature. If you want to show someone you care, show them, take action, address the topic. No one expects anyone to have answers, but empathy is always welcome.

I had a huge reality check on this one recently. My mom has Alzheimer’s and has been declining rapidly. On two occasions recently she did not who I was. To tell you that was devastating is a colossal understatement. My dad is the major caretaker and is sad, overwhelmed and frazzled. When my sister and I call and he tells us some things that have occurred I find myself saying dopey things that I would hate if someone said to me about Bryan. A lesson for me to once again be gracious for those that ask about him and recognize that when you don’t have experience with something, it is challenging to help someone. I remind myself that these people are at least saying something and not ignoring it. At least they want to try and help. My dad gets very upset and says to us “you have no idea” when we ask how things are. So I decided to change my mindset and ask him, “Dad, what can I say to you when you say this?”. The answer is fantastic and the same answer I always want to hear: “just tell me that you love me”.

When love is a verb.

love2I am extremely fortunate. Lately I have been thinking about Bryan and where he is in his life now that he is 16. Does it still hurt that he does not do what typical kids do? Yep, still does. It stings. However, this boy inspires so much love that I really can’t complain. Many teenagers are obnoxious, lazy, fresh. Those words do not live in my Bryan world. A few months ago Bryan started really enjoying posting on Facebook. He has always been a Facebook voyeur of sorts, looking at photos of friends and family and showing me. Once he started posting comments on friends’ pages or posting photos and making comments, lots of people started commenting to me how great it was to “hear his voice”. For those folks that don’t regularly talk with Bryan or even if you do, the appropriate language can be very revealing, in a positive way. It is his way, although inadvertent, of telling the world, I’m here and I’m social and paying attention to what’s happening. Instantly family members, hence the verb, told me how great it was to see his posts, how awesome it was to see his photos, and how funny he is.  His quirkiness is always embraced by my extended family and grateful doesn’t even cut it. We all got together in January and everyone was so joyful over his new found FB posting and he felt included, and like always, truly loved for who he is and not who he isn’t. I always take time to think about that. People love my boy, not for who he should be, but for who he is, with all his differences, his autism. I am extremely fortunate. It’s worth repeating.

I have learned that Bryan is also making lots of phone calls. I keep getting texts and calls from people telling me that Bryan called them or Facetimed them. Who does he call? People he is sure  love him (verb again); his barometer for genuineness is always intact. They may be awakened by him, slightly irritated by his calling too much, but they don’t complain. They love him and support him, and support me. On Friday, three of his favorite ladies, other than family, took him out to a pizza and movie date with a female classmate in celebration of his birthday. He requested that they do this and they were happy to comply. The photos showed a fun, warm, evening and Bryan was elated. Jason and I were home and I literally could not stop smiling.

I’m not trying to sugar coat raising a child with autism. Those that know me know that I don’t do that. Often times it is so hard and so frustrating that you want to scream and cry for hours or you start looking into the witness protection program, as if you could disappear and start all over in a new life. After all of these years to still struggle with language and still wonder what is truly in his head can be draining. What is the difference between coping and coping well? Love. Love and humor. Love given so wholeheartedly and so unconditionally to him and to Jason and me, it humbles me. And not just family love. I have received pure, sweet love, from friends, acquaintances and from strangers who just get it or are just taking a moment to recognize the significance of compassion.