Category Archives: Misc. Thoughts

The Re Week

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This particular week is my favorite time of year – the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I call it The ‘Re’ Week because I spend a lot of time doing things that start with ‘re’: review, reflect, and re-evaluate. (Those of us in the retail industry also know this week as the week of returns, but that’s not what this post is about.)

If you’re a friend or family member, or if you’ve been reading this blog a while, you know that I’m a very introverted person. I value time with the people in my life, of course, but I also value time alone, and as an introvert, I need it to recharge. Three times a week I take a fitness walk on a bike and pedestrian path that runs close to our little town, and true to my nature, I usually go alone. It’s my processing time – 45 minutes of pounding the pavement, pondering questions or issues about my life, all the while getting fresh air and a light endorphin rush. I need this time.

Often while I’m walking, cyclists or other pedestrians will pass by me on this well-loved rural path, and I smile and say hello. But one day about a month ago, I had gotten to my half-way turnaround point and realized that I hadn’t seen anyone else out there. It seemed eerie to be the only one on that stretch of the path, even though I enjoyed the solitude. I turned around to head back, and about twenty minutes later I neared my starting point, still having seen no one. But then, about five yards from the end of my walk, I saw her. It was a large female wild turkey, walking on the dirt beside the asphalt path, headed in my direction. She was about three feet tall (or long) and stunningly beautiful. I literally gasped. I’ve heard over the years that the turkey was close to being chosen as our national bird, and that we should be “glad” that the more majestic eagle won out. But let me tell you, as I slowed down in the presence of that amazing creature, all I could think was that the turkey is every bit as impressive as the eagle. I hear people call someone a “turkey” as a deprecating word, something a little gentler than “fool” or “jerk.” And now, having seen one and looked into her eyes, I’ll never think of the word that way again.

I slowed down, in awe, and watched her as she watched me. She kept slowly walking toward me, showing no fear. At first I thought perhaps she was injured, but she seemed to be walking fine, just slowly and purposefully. I swear she looked right into my eyes for a moment as we passed by each other. Then I turned my head and watched as she walked off into the brush.

Intrigued by this encounter, when I got home I tried to find out the symbolism of turkeys, especially hens. I just couldn’t get past the fact that there was no one else on the path that afternoon, and I truly believed that the turkey was some sort of sign for me. I found this great website and discovered that although the turkey (not surprisingly) is a symbol of abundance, it also symbolizes awareness, generosity, and sacrifice. The turkey is a sign of cycles, preparation, and new beginnings. To quote the site: “When a turkey visits us it is a sign that we must be mindful of our blessings [and] a message to express our strength and brilliance…and reveal our true selves.”

And it’s the perfect message for my annual “re” time. I’ll be thinking of the turkey this week as I reflect and review, looking forward to a New Year of greater awareness and a few other things on that list (perhaps even abundance).

Happy New Year, my friends! May it be filled with many blessings and special memories.

*photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Hope on a River

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.”  – Anne Lamott

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Sometimes I think that as much as I have defined my hopes over the years, it is they that have defined me. Hope is the thing that gets us from one day to the next. And those days turn into weeks and months and years, until finally we look back, exhausted but still hopeful, and see where those hopes have taken us.

My hopes have certainly changed over the years, evolving and developing as my son has. I remember hoping when he was six years old and learning to talk that someday we could have a conversation. I remember hoping that someday he would stop screaming and bolting away from me in parking lots or other public areas when a noise startled him. And I remember hoping, as he started talking more and bolting less, that someday I could take him on an international trip with me. That he would be safe, and that he might even enjoy it. Because I love to travel – my whole family does – and someday I wanted to share that with him. It’s a frivolous hope, I know – unimportant, and certainly nowhere near a matter of life or death. And in the grand scheme of things, in all of the hopes that I’ve had and still have for my son, I can assure you that international travel was low on the totem pole. But still, it was there.

Last month, after a year of planning, both of my sons (one with autism, one without) accompanied me to Thailand, where we met up with my father on his annual Thanksgiving in Thailand trip. We had purchased our plane tickets back in February, timing our departure with the school district’s break for the US holiday. What we didn’t know was that our arrival date coincided with the festival of Loi Krathong (pronounced loy krah-tong), a Thai holiday that takes place on the evening of the full moon of the twelfth month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November. And this year, it just happened to be on the day that we arrived.

It was night when we flew into Bangkok and checked into our hotel. We slept well and had continental breakfast before heading out for a stroll that morning. Everywhere we walked, people sat outside making and selling krathongs – handle-less baskets traditionally crafted from intricately folded banana leaves and loaded with flowers, incense sticks, candles, and other offerings. They are beautiful in and of themselves, but it’s what they symbolize that really hit home with me. The krathongs are released into waterways across Thailand as offerings of hope – an opportunity to wash away the past year’s misfortunes and let go of resentment or fear, so that one can start fresh, with hope for good fortune in the future. A festival about hope! How wonderful is that?

That night, after a lovely outdoor international banquet at our riverfront hotel, we watched as the locals picked up their krathongs and walked down to the dock when it was dark. There they stood, holding their krathongs in front of them, eyes closed and heads bowed for a moment as they meditated. Then they placed their krathongs in the river and watched them float away. Parents held their children by the hand as they walked to the dock, bent down, and, it appeared, instructed them about what to think of before they released their krathongs into the river. I watched in wonder; I was so moved by this beautiful tradition.

Then it was our turn. The hotel had provided pretty krathongs for its guests, and we each picked one out, lit our candles, and slowly walked to the dock. I thought about all the things I needed to let go of in my life – fear, resentment, stress, sadness. I thought about all the hopes and dreams I have for my children and myself and the fact that at that moment, where we stood there on the dock of a river in Thailand, one of my hopes had come to fruition. We were there; we had made it. I released my krathong, and then I looked out across the river and saw dozens of tiny candle flames floating down it, bobbing along in the water. And I watched as my family’s krathongs floated away together and bobbed along with the rest of them.

The remainder of our trip was just as magical. We had our challenges, of course, as my son (now 16) still has a tendency to wander and has a very limited palate. But overall we were blessed with safe travels and wonderful memories. And hope that continues to evolve.

The Lowdown, Vol. 6

It’s sort of been good-days-and-bad-days around here lately. Good days, like what I wrote about in a recent post, and bad days, like what I don’t write about. I allude to Nigel’s “grumpiness,” which is blog-speak for blatant disrespectfulness; I say that he is doing well emotionally and behaviorally, and days later he is raging and crying about being irresponsible and worthless; I write about him being comfortable at his current school, yet his academic/executive functioning skills are still lacking (putting it mildly), and I have no strength to deal with it now, after years of dealing with it alone. I need a vacation. We need a vacation.

Fortunately, several months ago we started planning a vacation for the week of Thanksgiving. My father, whom I have written about before, is an avid world traveler and wanted to take his two older grandsons on an international trip as their high school graduation gift from him. Not sure what direction his cancer battle would take (he is currently undergoing his third round of treatment), earlier this year Dad suggested that we accompany him on his annual Thanksgiving-in-Thailand trip now rather than wait for their graduations. And so, I am very excited to announce that early Friday morning we leave for a week in Thailand!

The boys are ecstatic about their first international trip – they have read and enjoyed National Geographic since Kindergarten and can’t wait to get out and explore and experience (albeit briefly) another country. Grandpa has planned some amazing activities! And it will be so great to spend some time together. We can’t wait!

In other news, I was recently honored with the Versatile Blogger Award – twice! I’d like to thank both Stacey at The Four Cannons and Jazzy at Jazzygal for thinking of me! Jazzy noted that it would be perfect to post in my sidebar (the green!), and as soon as I have time to do some size tweaking, I certainly will:

Instructions for this award state that I should list seven interesting things about myself, but since I had done that for a previous award (and I can’t come up with seven more at the moment!), I’ve decided to do a variation – Seven of My Favorite Things:

  • Book: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • Movie: Best in Show
  • Color: green
  • Food: sushi
  • Animal: tiger
  • Country: Greece (so far!)    

              

I’m going to have to humbly bow out of tagging since I have a huge list of things to do to get ready for the trip, including packing! I’ll be back here with pictures in two weeks!

Plan B

Sometimes I think that the last sixteen years of my life have all been one big Plan B. One long divergent path. Sixteen years ago I graduated from college and, through no fault of my own, started having children long before Plan A had stipulated. Having two children with special needs was not in Plan A. Autism (although it starts with A!) was not in Plan A. Divorce – no. Single parenting? No way in hell was that part of Plan A.

And so I learned that I didn’t just need to have a Plan B, I was constantly living it. We all do to some extent – life takes different twists and turns, and we all must adapt to change, some of it completely unexpected. Plan B has to happen whether you planned for it or not, whether it was an actual plan or a split-second decision. You go into the grocery store, race around throwing a few things into your cart, hoping that your distressed autistic child can hold it together for just a few more minutes, and then someone turns on an electric coffee grinder and it all goes out the window. Your child shrieks and tries to bolt, and it’s time for Plan B. You leave the blasted cart in the blasted store and carry your hysterical child out to the blasted car, dragging your other reluctant child by the arm because you can’t leave him in the store because he’s a toddler for God’s sake and you’re a blasted single parent. Everybody’s either shrieking or crying or kicking you or pulling on you or staring or shaking their heads at you. And you still didn’t get the few groceries you needed. Plan B sucks. Sometimes, even, it’s the loss of a job, a home, or a loved one – and then Plan B takes on a whole different persona, a whole different significance. It’s no longer just a new plan. It’s a safety net. Those, of course, are the most life-altering Plan Bs of all.

But I’ve also learned that Plan B, whether big or small, doesn’t always have to suck. Sometimes Plan B can even offer some comfort in disguise. And even though it’s not what you wanted or hoped for, you can make it work. It’s not Plan A, but in most cases, you can live with it, sometimes because you have no other choice. Slowly you get used to it. And you might even warm up to some aspects of it. 

My latest Plan B, in a long string of Plan Bs (sixteen years’ worth), involved what to do after I’d moved my two teenage boys seven hundred miles away to live with their father in Los Angeles while I stayed in Oregon to sell the house. First, Nigel’s IEP wasn’t amended so that he could go to a special school for students with autism. So we came up with the Plan B of their father moving to a better school district in the L.A. area, one that had a good special education department. Meanwhile, I felt so confident with the timing of this major change in our lives that I was certain my house would sell before August. Surely one of those two things would work out. But neither one did.

So technically, we’ve moved onto Plan C at this point, or perhaps Plan Q by now. The boys are coming back to Oregon and will attend the same schools that they did last year. I have taken my house off the market. I’ll have to work extra hard to get Nigel’s team to meet his academic needs, which is the whole reason why I wanted him to go to the special school in the first place. But here’s the wait-a-minute moment, the half-the-battle factor – Nigel loves his school here in Oregon. He has friends here, he’s comfortable here, he’s safe, and he’s happy. Why would I want to mess with that?! Well, there are two reasons why – one, his father’s not here. Two, the school hasn’t yet figured out how to teach him to work independently. And those are pretty significant reasons.

In spite of that, every day I’m feeling better about this particular Plan B. The boys will be back at familiar schools in which they are comfortable. And I don’t have to find a new job (even the thought of that was a huge stress for me – those of you going through it, you have my deepest empathy). Those are pretty significant reasons too. And so, although Plan B isn’t what I’d hoped for (is it ever?), I can live with it. It might turn out just fine after all.

These photos are of our much-loved and oft-climbed tree, which split in half a few years ago during a storm. The stronger half is still standing in our front yard, and the firewood from the weaker half lasted a long time. 

The Different Card

As is common in many autism homes, we had PECS cards all over the place. We started using them when my son was three years old and sort of phased them out of use by the time he was ten or so. And they were a godsend. We could tell him when we were going somewhere, he could tell us what he wanted, or we could tell him what needed to be done instead. We could use them to make visual schedules so that he could anticipate what would happen when, to ease his anxiety. And one card that we used quite often was the Different Card. If the day’s plan deviated from the norm or what he was used to, we would show him the Different Card with the two arrows pointing in opposite directions (one up, one down), and he could process the change. Even in his non-verbal days, we’d show him the Different Card and sometimes he would just nod slightly in acknowledgement and then keep moving, seemingly unfazed. He knew something would be different, and he mentally prepared himself the best he could.

We’re three weeks into July. I thought by now I’d be writing about how crazy-busy I am with packing my home, downsizing a four-bedroom house into a two-bedroom apartment. I thought by now my house would be sold. I thought by now I’d know where my children, especially my teenage son with autism, would be going to school in September. I thought by now at least some of the unknowns would have revealed themselves.

But really, I had only hoped. After all, how realistic were any of my thoughts? And hope, though fervent, is still wishing. Sometimes I feel foolish, sometimes resigned, often dejected. When things aren’t going the way you’d hoped, how else should you feel?

It’s hard to keep at it, to remain hopeful. But I’m a long-time special-needs parent. My son has taught me to believe, and I am a champion of hope. It’s what I do, what I’ve done all along. My major moving plans are not going the way I’d hoped, but regardless, I know that life will work out the way it should. It always does, whether I worried or not. Whether I planned or not.

And that’s when the other thing that we do best comes into play – when things don’t turn out as we hoped they would, we adapt. We go with Plan B (or come up with one on the fly) and keep moving, because that’s what we’ve always had to do. That’s our life. And whether it feels that way or not, I think that’s actually pretty hopeful.

As for my situation, what will be, will be. It will be different than how I’d thought, but that’s okay. I know different; I can handle different. My son has trouble handling different, but we’ll get through it. I’m not sure if the Different Card will work as well this time (or if I even still have it), but he’s come a long way since his non-verbal days, and maybe he’ll just nod his head and keep moving, like he did all those years ago.

I’m hoping.

Believe

I just finished reading an amazing book called Fearless Nest: Our Children As Our Greatest Teachers. So many of the beautiful stories in the collection resonated with me. And one thing the book really has going for it is that my friend Carrie is one of the contributors! In addition to that, it got me thinking about what I have learned from my children. What I’ve learned from Aidan deserves a post of its own, but for today, I’ll write about what I’ve learned from Nigel.

It’s the power of belief.

But I’m not just talking about the belief I have in his potential, or that he would learn to talk, that he could be mainstreamed in school, that he would learn to regulate his behavior. All of that involved a tremendous amount of belief, and, for that matter, it still does. Because I truly believe, in spite of all his challenges both past and present, that he will be able to navigate adulthood with some degree of independence. Most of all, I believe he will find people who will appreciate him, and he will have friends and be happy. Even if his connections aren’t typical, I believe this with all my heart.

And I believe that he will follow his dreams in adulthood, because he already does. Since his early years he has been a huge Disney fan. He loves the characters so much that he thinks of them as friends. In fact, his stuffed Tigger prompted him to speak one of his first words and start showing some imaginative play. These days, he owns almost all of the Disney movies, animated and live-action, the older ones as well as the newer ones with Pixar, and he rotates watching them. These movies have taught him how to talk, how to interact with people, and how to tell a story, among many other skills. But mostly, they comfort and entertain him. They are a big part of his life and he loves them.

For a few years now, he has talked about a movie idea he has that combines all of his favorite animated Disney characters. I’m not clear on the plot details, but it involves him becoming an animated character and going into their world (a la Roger Rabbit, I suppose) to help save them from a new Disney villain, worse than all the Disney villains combined. A few weeks ago, he wrote a letter to the Disney Corporation outlining the plot and asking if they would be interested in his story idea for a future film. He typed it on his computer, printed it out, folded it up, put it in a #10 envelope, and addressed it by hand, which is no small feat with his dysgraphia. He sealed the envelope and came to ask me for a stamp. I mailed it the next day, not knowing what he had written, but hoping that it was coherent enough for them to at least send him a form letter thanking him for his interest. I told him that the Disney Corporation probably receives hundreds of pieces of mail daily and that it might take several weeks before he received a reply, if any. I tried to let him down easy, gently prepare him for disappointment.

But he believed.

My boy believed so strongly that he would receive a reply within two weeks. After the first week, he said to me, “It’s been a week now. My response from Disney should be arriving soon. Let me know when it comes in the mail, okay?” And I again reminded him that Disney may not be able to answer every letter they receive, etc. Still he believed. And I suppose I should not have been at all surprised when, on day eleven, a letter arrived from the Disney Corporation addressed to my son. He was shaking as he opened it, saying, “I knew they would reply!” And they did, within the timeframe that he believed they would. It was such a generous response – not a form letter at all. The kind soul who had opened my son’s letter had taken the time to write a personal response. She told him that they would probably be interested in his idea (he loved that part!), but diplomatically – gently – explained that due to legal restrictions, they could not pursue it. And Nigel handled it very well. He said that he understood and was okay with it. He got his response, addressed to him on Disney letterhead, and that was enough for now. His belief came to fruition.

And what do I believe? As we go forward with our out-of-state moving plans, I find myself faced with several huge unknowns, especially now that Nigel won’t be attending the special school we’d hoped for, at least not for a while. I don’t know where the boys will go to school. I don’t know when my house will sell. I don’t know where we’ll be living. I don’t know what job I’ll have. There is so much I don’t know. But Nigel has taught me to believe. And I believe that everything will work out as it should. I believe that all of our needs will be met. I believe that all that I seek is seeking me. I believe that all will be well. And that is enough for now.

The Lowdown, Vol. 3

Since the boys are gone this week for Spring Break (visiting their dad in L.A.) and I am feeling the usual disjointedness with them away, I figured it was time for another edition of Personal Posts. Because I’m sure you were all waiting for it with baited breath, right? No? Okay.

But surely you must be slightly curious about the raw food thing I wrote about last time. You might recall that I was pretty excited about it, and I still am, but I’ve had to slow waaaay down with it. I got a little overzealous and went 100% raw and lost weight that I didn’t need to lose (nor wanted to). While it’s true that many people go on a raw food diet specifically to lose weight and become healthier, I just wanted to become healthier and increase my energy. And I discovered that being underweight does not make one feel energetic. So I cut back to about 50% raw for the time being while I try to gain back the weight I lost. I know – that’s not something you usually hear – trying to gain back weight – but some of us unfortunately fit into that category. I am still having green smoothies for breakfast every morning, which I love. So, I’m not giving up on raw, but I have to find a way to do it without losing weight, and that may take me a while since I’m focusing on several other things.

And one of the things I’ve been focusing on is publishing my book. Like, really focusing, pushing myself. And I am thrilled to say that I’ve made significant progress! In fact, I hope to be sharing some exciting news very soon! Sorry no deets yet – that will be described in a post of its own, you can be sure.  But I promise I won’t leave you hanging for long!

In other news, we’ve lived in our current home for almost seven years, and the carpet is sporting seven years’ worth of stains and hard living (with two boys and various pets trampling it), so I’m having it replaced. I had hoped to have it done while the boys were away, but it turns out that the installers are on Spring Break as well. So it’s going to be done next week, and I’ve spent all of this week moving everything out of the rooms and closets – seven years’ worth of books, DVDs, papers, Lego, clothing, Nerf guns, action figures, cars, stuffed animals, and whatever else I stuffed in our back room, to be sorted later. Then I touched up the walls in the rooms that will get new carpet, and I used up a half gallon of paint just “touching up” the boys’ rooms!  Not to mention half a container of Spackle. God help me, boys are hard on a house!

But those boys are also the loves of my life, and I enjoyed talking to them on the phone yesterday. They are having a blast, spending time with their dad and visiting with L.A. friends, and they even got to go to Universal Studios! Nigel was ecstatic over the Jurassic Park ride, of course. Aidan, with his vestibular issues, preferred the Mummy ride. They had flown down again, their second solo flight, and everything went well. When it was time to board, I waited with them in line for a few minutes, and as they neared the ticket-taking agent, Aidan said gently, “Mom, I think we’ll be fine now. You don’t need to wait with us.” And Nigel chimed in, “Yeah.” So I tried not to cry and hugged them, saying, “Be safe and have a great time. I love you!” And as I stepped out of the line, an older lady a few feet behind us said good-naturedly, “You boys be good now!” And right then, at that moment in the airport, I felt like a regular parent. A regular parent saying goodbye to her teenage sons as they boarded a plane, trusting that everything would be fine.

I smiled and waved, watching them pull their carry-ons. And for the first time, I felt normal. I know – we shouldn’t use that word. I even discourage Nigel from using it when he describes non-autistic people, because I want him to think of himself as normal too. But the nonchalant way that woman said what she said, and the way I felt just knowing that I didn’t have to worry, I can’t think of another word for it. I guess the fact that I was aware of feeling that way negates the normalcy of it. But I don’t care. I felt normal, or what I assumed felt normal, and it was great, that little glimpse. And hard-won. I sat at the gate for a while longer, and then I watched the plane take off, taking my beautiful, almost-grown boys with it. And although I feel disjointed with them away, somehow it feels a little more manageable this time. A little more normal.

On Blogging

“If you’re one of these people considering giving up on blogging in exchange for paying more attention to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and MySpace, or whatever else they throw at us mere mortals, bear in mind you are giving up on something rather unique and wonderful.”                —Hugh Macleod

It’s funny how sometimes we never set out to do the things that end up being such an integral part of our lives. Take blogging, for example. I never really made the conscious decision to be a blogger. Two years ago this month, I had recently begun to homeschool my son Nigel, who was thirteen at the time. He had been diagnosed at age three with classic autism, and again at age five, because he was still not functionally verbal. Through many years of intensive therapy, he learned to talk and filter his sensory issues so that he could be mainstreamed in public school with full-time assistance. That full-time assistance was dropped in middle school, and horrible problems arose. I began seeing regressive behavior that I hadn’t seen in years, in addition to new difficulties that I had no idea how to handle. I turned to the Internet and searched for information on autism in the teen years. I didn’t find much, and I figured that there had to be other parents out there whose children, like mine, had been diagnosed in the early years of the autism “boom.” Those other parents of teens had to also be searching for information, and I wanted to provide a much-needed resource for all of us. I wanted to connect with them – with any parents of children with autism – and end my years of isolation. And so, Teen Autism was born. 

Initially, I didn’t plan for it to be a blog. It was to be a website, so I researched how to create a website. Not knowing code, this undertaking was hugely insane. I bought books, purchased a domain, and discovered through my host that I could use the blogging software called WordPress as a content management system (CMS). This sounded like it would work for what I was trying to achieve. I had to learn some code in order to install the software and get it doing what I needed it to do, and I was pretty proud of myself for figuring it out (after hours of head-banging agony). And then I started writing. I wrote on all of the topics that concerned me as the parent of a child with autism, and I categorized the posts on the sidebar so that other parents could scroll down, click on a category that they wanted to read about (sensory issues, bullying, language, siblings, homeschooling and many more), and all of the posts within that category would come up. I wrote and posted five days a week, trying to build up the categories with information for other parents to read. But I wasn’t really blogging yet.

Occasionally, friends or family would comment on one of my posts, and that was gratifying. My page views per day were increasing, and I received my first encouraging email from another parent of a teen on the spectrum, thanking me for writing. But it wasn’t until about four months later that I really started blogging, i.e. reading others’ blog posts and commenting on them. First Casdok found me and left a comment, and then Mama Edge, who had just started blogging and found me by searching “teen autism,” just as I’d hoped parents would. She left a comment on my post “To Catch a Fly,” and I went to her first blog, saw her blogroll listing many other parents of kids with autism, and I started blogging. It’s strange to say that I started blogging after I’d already written 105 posts, but that’s how it happened.

I listed my blog on Technorati and the Ringsurf page for autism bloggers, but other than that, I didn’t do anything to market it. I started building up my own blogroll and realized that I was reading so many blogs that I needed to set up a reader, which I did at Bloglines. My feeds have changed a bit over the last year and half, but I am currently reading 72 blogs, and the majority of them are autism-related. For now, that’s my focus. I intend to keep posting on Teen Autism until Nigel, now 15, transitions out of high school, and I’ll write about that experience for a few months. Afterward, my focus will probably shift to blogs about writing, which I wish I had time to read now. Almost a year ago, Nigel went back to regular school part-time (with assistance), and I resumed working full-time, so I had to reduce my posts per week. As a single parent of two boys whose father lives 700 miles away, I don’t have much free time. But the connections I’ve made through blogging are so important to me that when I do have free time, usually in the late evenings, I blog. It’s a lifeline for me.

But even lifelines have to be scheduled. I’ve been asked how I manage to blog, comment, work, advocate for my son, advocate for others (through volunteer work that I do as a chapter rep for the Autism Society of Oregon), and be a single parent. To be honest, I’m not sure how I fit it all in. Some days are very hard for me to keep it together. But there are three things I do that help me immensely. First, everything is scheduled, even showers. Of course, things always come up, so the schedule must have some built-in flexibility, and that’s challenging. But it’s essential. Second, I maintain perspective. Every night when I go to bed, I lie in the dark and take five minutes to remind myself that my kids are safe in their beds, we have a good roof over our heads and food in the kitchen, and I have a job that doesn’t have me on my feet all day (I have a lot of respect for people in service-oriented jobs). It’s a mental gratitude journal, reminding myself of the positives in my life, and it’s essential to my well-being. The third thing I do is just keep moving. My life won’t always be this busy, and if I keep moving, eventually I’ll get to a point where it’s a little less hectic. Sure, I’ll always “keep busy,” as my retired aunt says. And I certainly look forward to the day when I’m able to choose how I spend my time. But for now, with the little time I have available for chosen activities, I choose blogging. I may be an accidental blogger, but I am a devoted one. And a grateful one, too.

A Birthday Story

You have to take the jump faster than you feel comfortable with.                                       – my younger sister, Macrina

Four years ago, two days after my 35th birthday, my sister and brother-in-law took me snowboarding as their gift to me. At the time, I had snowboarded off and on for fifteen seasons, and they had skied for at least that long, if not longer. We all felt comfortable at our intermediate-to-advanced skill levels. As I recall, my sister had started doing some small jumps the previous season, and she wanted to practice a bit that day. I thought, Wow, I’ve been snowboarding a long time and I’ve never tried jumping. “I think I’ll try, too,” I said. I followed my younger sister down a few side runs and did some practice ollies, catching a little air off some bumps and landing solidly. It felt so exhilarating! There didn’t seem to be anything to it.  

Then we decided to try the real jump in the terrain park. We stood about a hundred feet behind the ramp, watching the person before us approach, jump, and land. It looked easy enough. It looked fun. I was game. My brother-in-law went next, executing a smooth take-off and solid landing. Macrina readied herself, and then she gave me her little tip about needing to go faster than I felt comfortable with. She took the jump the same as her husband, and then waited off to the side with him.

I can do this, I thought. I jumped out of an airplane and landed that jump just fine, so I can do this one. 

I readied myself and took off, keeping my eye on the ramp. I was certainly going faster than I felt comfortable with. In fact, as I quickly approached the base of the ramp, I realized that I was going faster than anyone would feel comfortable with. I suddenly knew that there was no way I could land this jump. That if I tried to land it, I would probably end up breaking both of my wrists, and do some severe ankle and knee damage while I was at it. In that instant, I remembered that people in accidents usually fare better if they relax their bodies rather than tensing up. I knew that my entire body would be ultra tense if I tried to land the jump. So, I made a split-second decision to pass out. As I hit the ramp and literally launched myself into the air, I willed myself to lose consciousness – right at that second. And that’s all I remember of the jump.

My sister and brother in law later told me that I even looked unconscious as I flew horizontally with my board in front of me, about ten feet up and forty feet across. I landed on my right shoulder, but I didn’t feel it. Thank God I was wearing my helmet, because I’m sure my head hit the ground just as hard. The first thing I remember as I was coming to was my brother-in-law leaning over me saying, “Did you get the wind knocked out of you?” I opened my eyes then, not remembering the jump and wondering what I was doing lying on my back in the snow. Moments later, as the Ski Patrol arrived, it started coming back to me. They asked me my name and my age, and I said 34. Then, either Macrina corrected me or I corrected myself, and we laughed that I had forgotten my age.

I ended up being snowmobiled out on a stretcher, as the Ski Patrol, who called a week later to check on me, were certain that I had broken my collar bone. I could not move my right arm at all. My sister and brother in law loaded me into the car and drove to the hospital for x-rays. My shoulder and chest were purple, and they would turn blue, green, and yellow as the weeks went on. I would later learn that my shoulder was separated in two places, but I did not break my collar bone. I was bruised and sprained in several areas and would need three months of physical therapy, but I did not break a single bone in my body.

For the first two weeks I was in constant pain and on Vicodin, but not enough to really dull the pain because I still had to drive and work, take care of kids, and pilot this life of mine. That’s what I feel like sometimes. Like I own an airline and not only am I the pilot but also the flight attendant, mechanic, customer service, ground crew, and the engineer. With my right arm in a sling, Nigel learned to scrape ice off the windshield in the mornings, Aidan learned how to work the microwave, and I learned to do a lot with my left arm. We managed. The bruising on my right shoulder and other areas of my body was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Because I was going so fast, I think that it must have been a bit like being thrown from a vehicle, except I had a helmet on. So even though I did something stupid, something I had no business doing, at least I was wearing my helmet. I cried the first night, alone in my bed, in pain, angry at myself, not wanting to think about how bad it would have been if, instead of my shoulder, I had landed six inches to my left, on my neck. The helmet would not have helped.

So, after three months of physical therapy and three years of not being able to sleep on my right side, my shoulder has healed. I even went snowboarding again the next season! But I avoided the jumps, happy to just cruise around and carve my way down. Fortunately, my birthdays since have been much less eventful. And forgetting my age? That probably wasn’t the last time. In fact, I’m sure there will be plenty more opportunities for that in the future. But today, I’m definitely 39. 39 and feelin’ fine.