Sunday, April 23, 2017

The More Things Change, The More Things Stay The Same

In case you didn't know (and how could you not; I've posted about it ad nauseum), Pierce will be graduating from Brentwood High School next month. Spring is becoming a flurry of activity. Travel plans are being made by family. I've spent hours writing up his info and compiling his slide show pictures for our church's Senior Night service in a couple of weeks. My daughter tells me that Pierce will probably get his cap and gown this week. That will be followed by a sign in our yard telling all of our neighbors that a Brentwood senior lives here.

It comes up in casual conversation with people I meet.:
"Do you have kids?" Yes
"How old are they?" 16 and 18, almost 19
"18? A senior?" Yes
"Oh wow! So where will he be going in the Fall?" ...

That's where things get complicated. I've been asked by people that know us, "How does it feel, now that Pierce is a senior?" I've been giving pretty much the same answer: "It's weird." And it is. That's the easiest way to say it. I don't think people really want me to vomit all over them exactly what's going through my head right now.

We are going through the motions with all of his senior friends. Pretending that he's on to new and exciting things just like the rest of them. But Pierce's future just won't be the same as everyone else's. I can't deny it. The thought of watching him walk across that stage in his cap and gown and getting to celebrate just how much he's managed to accomplish does fill me with joy and excitement. But come August, he will carpool with his little sister right back to the very high school he "graduated" from the previous Spring to be in the Transition Program, where he'll learn more life and work skills. He will be at BHS for 3 more years. In fact, his younger sister will leave BHS before he does. Though he will technically still be a high school student, he will no longer be a part of the youth ministry at our church. Pierce will be in the "young adult ministry" instead. I don't know if any of his friends will still be in town, but most likely he will have to make a new group of church friends. It's as if everything and nothing is changing all at once. Instead of starting a new chapter, it feels like a comma in the sentence.

Selecting pictures for the Senior Night service at Otter Creek was a stressful and depressing process for me. Nineteen years of photos edited down to 20 images. Oh there were lots and lots of smiling pictures, and his high school years have given him an opportunity to participate in Best Buddies, so I could share pictures from prom and his 1st place wins in Special Olympics events. But how do I tell his story in 20 pictures? I found photos from his first Kindergarten program and wondered which one to select. The one before the program of him dressed like his father in a hard hat and smiling in the doorway of the gym, or the one of him sitting on the risers in the lap of his resource teacher, red-faced and crying, totally overwhelmed by the noise and the people, while his teacher tried to soothe him and help him do the hand motions along with his classmates? I looked at pictures from the Disney trip our family took when he was 10 years old. There aren't a lot of smiling Pierce pictures. The one I chose was pretty descriptive of that trip. It's a picture of Tim and Pierce together on the sidelines of a parade, taken just before Tim took him back to the hotel to get a break from the excitement; Pierce had his hands over his ears. I included it in the slideshow, because it is so symbolic of life with a child on the autism spectrum.



I've been asked if Pierce is excited about graduation. I honestly don't think he knows what it's all about. I have no doubt that he will soak in the applause when his name is called for him to come forward and accept his diploma, and he'll be happy that his grandparents have come to town for the occasion. But when he gets home, he'll most likely add his diploma to the pile of school papers on a table in his room. And I'm sure he doesn't realize that he only has a few months left to hang out with these friends of his before they all go their separate ways to colleges around the country; that he won't see them every Sunday morning like he has for the last 8 years. That will be hard on him.

To all the moms of the seniors that are graduating with Pierce, please know that I am SO excited with you for the bright futures that lie ahead for your kids. And I really don't want things to be awkward when we chat about graduation. I will likely get all teary, and I sincerely hope that it's not off-putting. Our parenting journey, like yours, has been full of ups and downs, and this moment in time, for me, is a little more bitter than sweet. But it's on me to find more of the beauty and joy in this. I love all of you, and I love all of your kids; especially the ways they have loved Pierce along the way. They have been such a blessing to our family.

I am so scared about what happens next. I don't know what to expect. But I do know that Pierce will continue to amaze us with what he's able to accomplish, so that gives me some comfort. I will find a way to cope with this "new normal"; I always have before. But until I manage to pull myself together, please forgive me for being a puddle in the corner for a while.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Proof Positive

A month ago, I started my Things That Made Me Happy Today project. I've journaled every day in the month of February, and shared my lists of happiness on social media. Several of you have told me that my posts have encouraged and inspired you, and I sincerely appreciate those sentiments. But as I said in my last post, my main motivation for doing this was purely selfish. I did this for me as a mental health experiment. I'm pleased to share my results/observations with you.

I can honestly say that this has been life-changing for me. By thinking so much about what happy thoughts I can write down every day, I've found that I'm able to let go of the things that irritate me a little more readily than before. I'm not dwelling on those negative aspects of my day the way I always have. Now, it's possible that there are other factors at play. About the same time I started journaling, I began taking an herbal supplement from Advocare every morning that "promotes a sense of well-being and brightens mood". I've also stopped reading articles that are politically inflammatory and gotten better about either scrolling past those sorts of posts on Facebook or hiding them altogether. Facebook is not where I want to get my "news", anyhow. And with the beautiful Spring-like weather we've been having, how could I not feel more cheery these days?

Along with the journaling, I discovered a fun method to track mental health. It comes from the practice of bullet journaling. Basically, you set up a grid for the year. Pick out some pen colors and assign a mood to each color. Then, based on your mood that day, you color in the day on the grid. I started this along with the journaling, but I went back and filled in the chart for January by looking back at my social media posts and from memory. For the month of February, I've had more amazing and really good days, and though I have had a couple of exhausted, frustrated, and stressed days, I've had NO depressed days (as opposed to about 4 in January). That's pretty huge for me. Tim can tell a difference in me as well. He notices that I'm not as prone to those knee-jerk freak-outs as I was just a month ago.



Do I think I can just will away the negative in life by trying to think happy thoughts? Absolutely not, especially knowing my history of depression. But science has proven the health benefits of keeping a positive outlook on life. I'm going to keep up the journaling and mental health tracker, though I don't know if I'll be sharing those posts on social media every day. To those of you that have shared happy stuff on my Facebook wall, I'm grateful for your encouragement and support of my experiment. And though I've done this for my own gain, I do hope that I've brought a little joy into the world and maybe helped to start a "happiness movement" on social media.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Things That Made Me Happy Today...

Things that made me happy today:

  • Rearranging a couple of kitchen cabinets that allowed space for stuff that's been cluttering our counters
  • Sunshine!
  • The lady in the chair next to me at the salon that was doing a crossword puzzle and enlisted the help of everyone around her to solve it
  • The most relaxing eyebrow wax I've ever had. Seriously, y'all. I almost dozed off.
  • Riding with the windows down and blaring old-school rock from Rush, Queen, and Yes.
  • Watching Pierce try on a jacket and pick out the vest and tie he wants to wear with his tux at next weekend's Best Buddies Prom
  • Laughing at old SnapChat videos that Reagan has saved on her phone
  • Reagan wanted to show us her documentary assignment for her broadcasting class (she did it on the marching band's trip to Pearl Harbor a couple months ago) and then she lit up when we told her how much we loved it and how great we thought it was
  • A new Fixer Upper
  • A long, hot shower, with the lights dimmed
  • Reading the beautifully illustrated book, How To Be A Wildflower, in bed
  • Kissing my husband goodnight


Most of you know what a struggle winter is for me. I made all these goals in the hopes that I'd stay busy and keep depression at bay. But, it's just not working. Along with my tendency for depression, I'm also a VERY anxious person. The bombardment of news about current events from every place, every person, every TV, every computer, every radio, is doing nothing but feeding this tendency in me to FREAK OUT ABOUT EVERYTHING, until I feel like I can barely keep my head above water. I can't do this anymore.

One of my goals for 2017 was to reclaim my joy. It's been so very difficult to find lately, and when I do find it, I can't seem to hold onto it for any length of time. I decided today that I'm going to try an experiment for the month of February. Instead of just trying not to focus on the things that stressed me out or caused me to complain each day, I'm going to try to write down all the things that made me happy that day. And not just by using my note-taking app on my phone, but actually writing it down on paper, maybe in a pretty journal.

I feel like the world is trying to tear me apart, and I need something physical to grasp onto. Because y'all, let me tell ya, there was some crap today. There were things I dreaded, things I should've done but put off, things that REALLY pissed me off and made me angry with people I love, things that scared the snot out of me (anyone else teaching their teenager to drive?!). My hope is that taking some time each day to put pen to paper and remind myself of all those glimpses of joy, however fleeting, will be one of those life rafts that will keep me afloat when I feel like I'm sinking. I am doing this for ME, but I can certainly share some of these happy thoughts for those of you, like me, that are ready to stop the world and get off. I KNOW I'm not alone; every day, I see another Facebook post about how tired someone is of the political banter and the desire to see more pictures of what you had for dinner or your cute baby instead of sparring over what's happening in government. So, if telling y'all about the little mundane things that made me smile might in turn brighten someone else's day, then I might make these lists public every now and then.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

I LOOOOOOOVE CAMP!!!!

A couple weeks ago, I shared the story of how Pierce was involved in the theme and artwork for Otter Creek Christian Camp this year. I said in that post that I had another aspect about camp that I wanted to write, and that deals with Pierce's journey at OCCC.

In 2010, we had been a part of Otter Creek for little more than a year. That summer, Reagan would be a rising 4th grader and Pierce a rising 6th grader. We expected for Reagan to go to camp, and wondered if Pierce would be able to handle it. We were encouraged to sign Pierce up. Camp director Jamon Martin met with us a couple of months beforehand. If you know Jamon, then you'll recognize the title of this blog post as his "catchphrase". He told us that Pierce would be their first autistic camper, and he was EXCITED about the challenge. He wanted camp to be a place for ALL children. He didn't sugarcoat anything; he was scared, but not so scared that he wasn't willing to give this a shot. He knew we were nervous about sending our child, who was prone to wander, out to a large wooded camp in the middle of nowhere, but Jamon assured us that someone would be with Pierce 24/7. We told him that we felt relieved that his little sister (who very much acts like his big sister) would be there with Pierce, but we didn't want her to miss out on any fun because she was constantly looking out for him. He said he'd try to make sure this wasn't an issue. 

The day came to drop our kids off at camp. I was a nervous wreck. This wouldn't be Pierce's first sleep away camp, but his other experience was Camp Discovery, a camp specifically for special needs kids. Most of my fears subsided, though, when we pulled up to Pierce's cabin. One of the 6th grade boys, coincidentally Jamon's son Gunner, yelled out, "Pierce is here!!". He and a couple other boys came running over to greet him. I can't explain the peace I felt, but I just knew that Pierce was in a place where he would be loved on and watched over. I heard nothing but great things at the end of the week. Reagan was able to enjoy herself, although she did admit that there were times she worried a bit about how her brother was doing. At Camp Night a few weeks later, I saw a slide show filled with happy pictures of Pierce. To my knowledge, there weren't any meltdowns or incidents of him trying to run from upsetting situations. It seemed to be a place where he was happy and carefree, and the campers loved having him there. He loved it! Every year, anticipation for camp was almost greater than that of Christmas. 


Pierce and Reagan OCCC 2010

Pierce and Jamon

He LOVED the giant slip 'n slide

Pierce's cabin mates (a few 6th grade boys)

This year, I was blessed to experience camp first-hand. Pierce was totally in his element, as comfortable as being at home. This was his last year at camp. The rising seniors dress up in a different theme before dinner every night. After a mix-up the first night where Pierce didn't make it out in the clothes I'd labeled for him, those senior guys made sure that Pierce was ready for all the theme nights to follow. They watched out for him, almost more than the counsellors and staff, and made every effort to include him in all the senior rituals. One night, they dressed in 50s attire, which I thought was an odd choice. Then during dinner, We Go Together from Grease came blaring over the speakers. The seniors jumped up and did a choreographed dance number...and Pierce was right up there with them! The seniors had met a few times before camp, but didn't know how to get Pierce there without tipping us off. They met and rehearsed the first night of camp, and Pierce learned the whole dance with them that night. Turns out Pierce likes to dance. On Monday night, we had a dance party. He was right in the middle of it, jumping all around. At one point, he grabbed an inflatable flamingo that was on the stage as part of an earlier skit. He had it by the neck, shaking it and dancing. I got coaxed out onto the dance floor when the Spice Girls came on, and he came wandering over. I took his hand, and, floppy deflating flamingo in his other hand, we danced together for a minute or two. Then he and his flamingo danced away. Such a sweet moment that I'll never forget. Years ago, the loud music would've sent him over the edge. But in recent years, he's learned to appreciate the loud youth group environment. Game nights were always some version of "capture the flag". Pierce mostly wandered the field during these games, but occasionally his teammates would remind him whose flags he was supposed to pull. He'd target someone and chase them relentlessly, until the kid being chased finally gave up and let him pull their flag. EVERY. TIME. Trust me, these kids wanted to win, but they had a soft spot in their heart for Pierce and didn't mind losing their flag to him. Some of them even cheered with him when he managed to "catch" one of them! He loved all of the silly camp songs, but also loved the worship music and would sing along just as loudly as the other kids. It was such a joy to watch him praise God with all of his friends.


Seniors with Jamon Martin

Pierce pulled a flag!

He's proud of himself

Senior guys on 50s night

Staff that had been going to camp since Pierce's first year told us how much they loved having him there. Some even said that they felt it was just as beneficial to the other campers as it was for Pierce. One day, I was sitting with Jamon as we waited out a giant storm. He echoed the sentiment that having Pierce there was great for the entire camp. I told him how grateful I was for Pierce to be there. He admitted to me then that he'd been terrified that first year, but so glad he took the challenge. He said that these kids will carry their experiences with Pierce into other aspects of their lives. It will forever change the way they interact with people who are different than they are. He thanked ME for trusting HIM and for sharing Pierce with camp. On the last morning of small group time (a mixture of campers and staff), we decided to go around the circle and tell our camp highlights. When it got to me, I couldn't hold back the tears. I told this group of kids that the whole week had been a highlight. That they couldn't possibly know how much it meant to me to watch how loving and accepting they were of Pierce. That I was so grateful for all of them. When I finished, one of the senior boys in our group quietly said, "Pierce is special to us, too". 

I was teary all week long. My heart was about to burst witnessing the joy Pierce was experiencing, watching my children together in a place that's so dear to both of them. And along with that emotion, I felt profound emptiness that his camp journey was over. Every "last" of camp was bittersweet. Sure, he'll still be able to go to Camp Discovery (they take campers from 8-years-old to 80), but it won't be the same when he's surrounded by kids like him, most of whom can barely communicate with him. Being with his "normal" peers stretches him in ways I'd never imagine. And knowing that he won't have this kind of camp experience again makes me ache. It has been suggested that maybe there's a staff position he could fill so that he could be at camp another year or two, but there would be lots of logistics to work out before that could be a possibility. Reagan has 2 more years of camp left, and I'd love for all of us to be at camp together again before she graduates. So, I'm not ruling anything out.

OCCC has been a gift to our family, one I wouldn't trade for all the money in the world. Oh that every church had a Jamon Martin, a man so passionate about camp being a place for EVERY kid. He never once suggested that either Tim or I would need to accompany Pierce for him to be able to attend camp. And we had faith in Jamon and other OCCC staff that they would not simple "babysit" Pierce for a week, but that they'd include him in camp activities and make him feel like any other camper there. Thank you, God, for people that dedicate their lives to being the hands and feet of Jesus to "the least of these". Thank you for Otter Creek Christian Camp. Thank you for these campers that gave Pierce the same respect they'd give any "normal" camper. Thank you for the opportunity to watch Pierce be a part of a church family. In the words of every OCCC camper every morning, I LOOOOOOOVE CAMP!!!


Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Story

This past week, my husband and I were blessed to join our kids at church camp as staff members. Those of you that REALLY know me may have been surprised to hear that I VOLUNTEERED to do this. With the exception of my love of gardening, I am an indoor girl. I don't "rough it". I love my roomy shower and a big hot water tank. I adore my pillow-top mattress and sheets with the ridiculously high thread count. Air conditioning; sweet, glorious AC. Oh, and have I mentioned that I am a ginormous introvert? Being hot and sweaty all week, constantly surrounded by people, sleeping on a rock-hard bunk bed, and getting 3-4 minute-long lukewarm (but mostly cold) showers has NEVER appealed to me. Our kids, on the other hand, LOVE camp. People involved with camp over the years have told us how wonderful it is to have Pierce there, to watch him get so much out of it, and how sweet the other campers are with him. Last year, Reagan told us how she wished we could experience camp. She felt she just couldn't do it justice by simply telling us all of the things she loved about it, and how cool it was to see Pierce in a place he loved so much. This summer, Pierce would be a rising senior, and it would be his last year at camp. Tim and I made the decision that we would all attend camp as a family.

Our camp theme for the week was "The Story". We studied Jonah, Saul's conversion, and Peter and Cornelius. We focused on how we write our stories; how we have choices for our path; that no matter what choices we make or what happens in our story, God is working through it all. All week, some amazing people shared their stories. Well, I have an incredible story to share, but there are 2 different facets to it. The first is Pierce's involvement in this year's camp theme, and the second is how Pierce was welcomed into this camp experience years ago and watching him as a senior this year. Here's part one of my story.

This past school year, Pierce took an art class. This is a kid that HATED to draw or color when he was little. But in recent years, he's tried drawing some of his favorite VeggieTales characters. So I knew he had at least some artistic talent. Debbie Bagley was assigned as his Ed. Assistant for that class. It just so happens that Debbie attends Otter Creek Church of Christ with us. She emailed a few of his pictures to me, and I was pleasantly surprised at what I saw. Unbeknownst to us, in February, she told David Rubio, one of our ministers that works with our youth group, about Pierce's artistic talent and suggested that maybe one of his drawings could be used on an OCYG (Otter Creek Youth Group) tshirt. David thought that was a great idea and tried to figure out the best opportunity to use it. With about a month of school left, David came to watch Pierce compete in the Special Olympics. That day, he told Tim and I that he was planning to use Pierce's artwork for the camp tshirt this year, but told us this was top secret information. Honestly, I envisioned some simple little design that would look cute on a tshirt. Though Pierce had had a few art pieces displayed in the school art show and gotten the award for Most Improved Artist in his life skills program, I still couldn't imagine the depth of his talent. A month later, we were at the camp staff meeting. We were told that the theme had to do with the idea of story and how life was like a "choose your own adventure" book. Camp director Jamon Martin told us that the banner/tshirt art would be something amazing and very special. At this point, Tim and I had seen nothing. We were going to be just as surprised as everyone else at the final product. 

On June 26th, all four of us made the trek to camp. Tim and I were given pretty basic, white staff tshirts. We were told that name tags and schedules would be forthcoming, but we couldn't have them yet. Being new to this camp thing, I thought this meant we'd have to play some kind of mixer game to get our stuff, but the staff veterans seemed to be in the dark as well. The campers all arrived, and it was time for camp kickoff. This is where the banner containing the camp theme and artwork would be revealed. This is always a secret for the kids, but this was the first time that details had been on such a lockdown for most of the staff. Only a few people knew about Pierce's involvement, and 2 of those were me and Tim. All of the campers' parents are supposed to be gone by this time (except staff, of course). Debbie Bagley had come up to drop her daughter off, but she stuck around for the reveal because she, too, had a hint about what was coming. We sat with the staff at the back of the room, while our kids sat with their friends. After a couple of silly camp songs, David called Jamon and high school youth minister Nicole Hendley to the stage. In their hands, they held the rolled-up banner. David told the campers that this year's artwork was very special, because he had commissioned an award winning artist to draw it. He told the kids that even if they weren't familiar with the Nashville "art scene", they would recognize the name. He continued talking to draw out the suspense as long as he could, and the longer he talked, the more teary I became. Finally he asked for a drum roll, and Jamon and Nicole dropped the banner to much applause. It was a huge treasure map! Even from the back of the room, I could see it was very detailed and must've taken him weeks to complete. I was stunned! As the applause died down, David told the kids that the artist was in the room with them. He asked whomever drew the picture on the banner to please come to the stage. There was lots of chatter, but no one moved. He began to spell out "P-I-E-R...", and Pierce finally realized what was going on. Debbie hadn't told him the drawings were going on a shirt, because she didn't know for certain what David was going to do with them. He recognized the artwork on the banner as the pictures he'd drawn months ago. When Pierce got up and walked to the stage, the room leapt to their feet. Campers and staff were crying. Tim, Reagan, and I were an absolute wreck. He stood and looked at the banner for a second, then turned to look at the room full of people...all cheering for HIM. He was beaming with pride. Once the room finally calmed down, David asked him what he thought about the picture. Pierce said, "It's about The Story". He started to go sit down, but David put an arm around him and gave a summary of what the kids would be learning about this week. He then acknowledged that Pierce's whole family would be at camp for the week, and he called the rest of us up. As soon as she saw me, Reagan asked if I'd known about this. I nodded, and she said, "You knew and didn't tell me?!" I said that I'd wanted her to be surprised along with all of the other campers. Pictures were made of all 4 of us with our puffy eyes and tear-streaked faces, standing in front of the banner. Of course, Pierce didn't understand why the rest of us were so emotional. He was just grinning from ear to ear.






Later that day, I got my tshirt, name tag, and schedule, and finally got to focus a little better on all of the detail. The treasure map was on the back of the tshirt, and the full map was on the cover of the schedule book. Parts of the map were scattered throughout the book and on the back cover. There was also an island from the drawing on everyone's name tag. I was in awe. PIERCE did THIS?!








At dinner that night, I was flooded with questions. I told people that beyond knowing Pierce was involved, I was as clueless about the details as they were. Pierce's art teacher, Emily Martinez, also attends Otter Creek, and she was there for the reveal as well. We got to chat for just a bit, and she told me that Debbie worked with Pierce for about 30 minutes a day, everyday, on these drawings, and that Debbie was the one that made the suggestion to David that Pierce's artwork could be used for something great. Pierce was told that they wanted a treasure map, and he was shown lots of pictures that would work. He chose from those what he wanted to draw, and they were able to use a few pictures he'd already drawn earlier in the school year. Emily was the one that compiled them all together for the finished product. I didn't get to talk to Debbie before she left, but once I got home, I emailed her. She shared a few more details. She began the school year modifying his art assignments but quickly saw potential in Pierce. When he finished an assignment early one day, she gave him a step-by-step drawing book and was amazed at the finished product. She began challenging him with harder pictures, and he did a fabulous job with them. Earlier this year, the students were taught how to draw using a grid technique. By putting a picture on a grid, Pierce could copy the picture nearly perfectly onto his own blank grid. This was the method he used to draw all of the pictures for the banner. Debbie says, "Pierce worked so so hard. I would say, can you draw another picture, he would always respond 'yes!'" ...he really surprised me too with his artwork. This project forced us to push his limits. Trying to find things he could draw, that high schoolers would want to wear, forced him to have to try harder things. I wasn't sure he could do the dragon, and when he easily did, I wasn't sure about the alligator or even the treasure chest. But he worked so hard and did so well!"

It was a super emotional week, seeing Pierce's drawings all over camp, hearing how moved and impressed people have been. For the first couple of nights, the banner was used as an actual treasure map for the nightly skits in worship. The last couple of nights, it hung over the stage while kids raised their hands in praise and worship. Some have said this is the most special theme reveal and artwork the camp has ever seen. There were 13 baptisms at camp, and some of these kids want Pierce's artwork as a memento of their "birthday". On the final day, the banner was laid out on 2 big tables, and campers and staff signed their names in Sharpie, following a long-standing camp tradition. The island that contains Pierce's signature ("Mouse Island") was reserved just for his parents and sister to sign. When Pierce got home Friday, he dug his camp shirt out of his trunk and put it on. He stuck out his chest and ran over to me. I said, "You drew the picture on the back." He spun around and tried to look at it. I asked him if he was proud of himself. He grinned and answered, "Yeah", then went on his merry way. I don't think he has any idea what a big deal this is to me and everyone who knows and loves him. This kid that just couldn't figure out how to tap into his creative side when he was little, has discovered a skill that I could never have imagined he had within him. This child that's known by all of the youth group as a quirky teen that can make you laugh with Pixar movie quotes, has created something so special that these teenagers were moved to tears. Will he ever fathom the enormity of this moment? Teens and adults are in awe, but Pierce?...he just knows he had a great week at camp and got a pretty cool t-shirt.















Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Faking It

On March 6th, I auditioned for an annual production called Listen To Your Mother. The cast reads essays they have written about motherhood. These can be aspects of being a mom, having a mom, or having/being a mother figure. I went to last year's show with a friend that has read my blog and knows a couple of the producers. I didn't think I could possibly write anything remotely as good as what I heard, but my friend encouraged me to audition anyway. There were about 90 people vying for a dozen slots, so I knew my chances were slim going in. Still, I summoned up some courage and gave it a go. The producers could see right away that I was a nervous wreck, but they were not at all intimidating and did their best to put me at ease. I choked up a couple of times, but I managed to get through the piece without totally losing my composure. Yesterday morning, I awoke to find an email in my inbox informing me that my piece was not selected for the show. A few people knew I was auditioning and wanted to read what I wrote, so I'm sharing it on my blog. I'm grateful to Listen To Your Mother for encouraging people (especially women, but not limited to) to tell their stories. After all, we ALL have a mother-story of some sort; even if you grew up without a mom or have memories of a difficult childhood, it's your story and it should be told. Will I audition for next year's show? I don't know. I'm learning that as long as I'm in a chorus that competes every April AND I work in a garden center, I should limit the activities on my Spring calendar to try and preserve some sanity (which is why I'm not totally disappointed that I didn't get in. It's one less thing on my to-do list.) Why did I audition in the first place, if I'm so busy right now? LTYM was another opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and do something challenging and scary. It's good to stretch yourself. So, without further ado, here is my audition piece. BTW, I say Pierce is 18, because if I'd made it into the show, he would be by then. We still have a few more weeks of 17.

My son loves Legos, Pixar movies, and Minions. His favorite book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and he has heard or read it so many times, he can recite it from memory. At the dinner table, he sits on his haunches with his knees tucked under his chin. He runs everywhere he goes. He burps loudly in public, and we have to remind him to use his manners. When friends or family come to visit, he proudly shows off his latest artwork or Lego creation. He learned a joke this summer that he delighted in repeating: What is the pirate's favorite letter of the alphabet?...ARRRRRRRR. He LOVES to sing, especially songs from VeggieTales videos. He plays them on the computer and sings "Oh wheeeeeeeere is my hairbrush?" as loud as he can.

He sounds like a typical little boy...only he's not. My son is 6 feet tall, 18 years old, and autistic. He is a junior in high school. But while all of his friends are visiting college campuses with their parents, we must contemplate a different future. Instead of the "college track", we are on the "survival" track. He attends a high school with a fantastic life skills program. Oh we pretended for several years that he would obtain a college education. But one day as a 12-year-old, his usual habit of riding laps around the house on his bike turned into an adventure when he drove away and disappeared. This prompted us to call 911 and led to a team of police stopping 5 lanes of northbound traffic on interstate 65 where they finally found him, 5 miles from our house, riding frantically beside the concrete barrier. It was at that point we realized that working so hard to water down facts about ancient Mesopotamian culture in a way he could understand was a waste of energy, if he couldn’t grasp the concept of how dangerous it was to cruise down the interstate among traffic going 70 miles a hour.

So here we are at 18. I get lots of questions. "Will he graduate with his class? Will he go to college? Will he get a job? What kind of job does he want to pursue? Will he live at home with you, or do you think he can have his own place?" Fortunately, he qualifies for services through the school system until he's 22-years-old.

Through all of his challenges, he's made some wonderful accomplishments. When I share these achievements with friends and family over social media, I get high praise: "You're such a great mom!" "You and your husband are wonderful parents!" I even get the “God knew just what he was doing by giving YOU a kid as special as your son.” But I'm going to let you in on a secret. I am just making this up as I go. The honest answer to most of those questions I've been getting is "I don't have a clue what's next." People have asked me if there are any group homes available for him locally. I don't know. I haven't even looked. Last year, there was a special on Dateline about parents caring for their adult autistic children. I got reminders from friends; people posted about it on my Facebook page. It is on our DVR at home, unwatched. I just can't go there. Not yet. My fa├žade shows a mom who's got it all together, but inside, I know I'm faking it. I don't like to be less than genuine by sharing only the good stuff on social media, but I do leave out the ugly parts of the story. I don't tell you about those Saturdays when he's been sitting on the computer a couple of hours singing and repeating the same line of dialogue over and over and OVER again until I'm ready to throw myself from the second story window. I don’t talk about how jealous I am of his friends' parents as they watch their kids drive wherever they want and help them pick out a college. Their sons will likely get married and have kids of their own, while my son is stuck in eternal childhood. 

Still, even though I've been winging it, I have a deep-seated faith that we will make it through this next phase of my son’s life without too many bumps or bruises. After all, he’s made it to adulthood without me ruining him. I tend to believe he thrives in spite of me, not because of me. Maybe that's why I'm not overly concerned with mapping out right now the future that will happen 4 years from now, when his time in public education is over. God knows autism is constantly throwing curve-balls, so even the best laid plans fall to pieces sometimes. Parents of typical children may see me and other parents of special needs kids as these amazing, strong people. But we’re just doing what most parents in our shoes would do: We carry on, and tackle whatever life throws at us to the best of our ability. I’ve always wanted to be a mom, and even though the challenges of raising an autistic child was not in the brochure, bailing when parenting gets too hard for any mere mortal was NEVER an option.  So I’m strapping in for the dark tunnel full of unknowns on this windy road we're traveling and trusting we’ll come out unscathed on the other side.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thank You For Being A Friend

I joined Facebook seven years ago. It seemed like a fun community, an easy way to reconnect with old high school friends, and a way to stay in touch with family far away. It has brought me much joy and laughter over the years. I love seeing pictures: of your children, places you've been, life events. I enjoy hearing about your blessings, your funny life stories. I REALLY love the funny memes and videos, especially those involving cats. How can cats be so annoying and yet so freakin hilarious? I miss the days of flair. Anyone remember that? On your profile was a virtual bulletin board where you could post little pictures of all the stuff that made you happy: coffee, movie/book/tv quotes, animal pictures, favorite sayings, scriptures, etc.. I have opined about Facebook before, and like I've said, when Facebook is good, it is really good...but when it's not, it is soul crushing.

I have contemplated giving it up before. There have been at least 2 occasions when I've been misinterpreted and couldn't handle the criticism, so I walked away for a short time, but my Facebook obsession always brought me back. I've watched some of you give up Facebook for Lent and thought, "I should do that", but then I always find some reason to justify why I can't. The benefits and joy I get from Facebook have (until now) seemed to outweigh all of its annoyances. Truthfully, with the app on my phone and always accessible, I have a rather serious addiction to knowing what is going on in your lives at all times, afraid I might miss something important. The hours I've wasted scrolling through Facebook is OBSCENE. 

Lately, the joy has begun to fade. Pictures of children and anecdotes about your lives have been overshadowed by political memes. Somewhere along the line, we decided that Facebook was a good place to rant about all that is wrong with government, religion, and society, instead of being a light of hope amongst all of this darkness. I say "we", because try as I might to stay positive, I'm guilty of saying and sharing things that have been quite negative, and making statements about my political beliefs. These days, every time I get on Facebook, I die just a little bit inside. Oh, I can still find pictures of children and cat videos, but I have to dig through all of the political posts to find them. Lately, I've begun to feel that it's not worth the search. Facebook just isn't much fun anymore. I've tried to "unfollow" those that are so full of negativity, but it only makes things marginally better...and the presidential election is still a year away. Look, you have a right to say whatever you want to say. But I don't want to know who you're voting for and why you think their opposing political party (and anyone who supports them) is a bunch of morons. I don't want to know how distraught you are about the Supreme Court's ruling on marriage. I don't want to know how appalled you are by the latest celebrity scandal. TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD. Tell me who or what inspires you. Tell me about something beautiful you've seen or heard. Tell me something incredible that's happened to you lately. Give me something to cling to when I feel those dark days creeping in on me. Don't feed me doom and gloom. Sometimes as I scroll through Facebook, the Hee Haw skit and song "Gloom, despair, and agony on me" pops into my head. Stop sucking the joy out of this community. And I realize that so very few people can be upbeat and positive ALL of the time (certainly not me); that's not what I'm seeking. I speak sarcasm fluently. It's how I try to get a laugh, but most times, it comes across as negative and ungrateful. Life happens; we get knocked down and feel deserving of a pity party. But maybe instead of finding someone/thing to blame for our struggles, we could instead ask people to help us back up and then do the next right thing. Prayer is a necessary element of community with one another. We need to edify and encourage each other more, instead of tearing each other down. Don't drag others into your pit of despair. We live in a world full of people, living day to day, desperate for a reason to keep going, needing hope and light. On this website where they come to take a break from life for a while, can we stop telling them that the sky is falling and confirming their belief that humanity is lost? Can't we leave all of the horrible in this world to the 24/7 fear-mongering news networks and just keep Facebook as a fun space?

I have seen family and friends rip each other to shreds over disagreements that began on Facebook. Our need to be right, to be liked, and to be heard has overshadowed our need for relationship and community. But trying to be right all of the time is EXHAUSTING. So until a social media outlet comes along that consists of nothing but joy and hope and LOVE, I'm out. At least for 2016. That goes for Twitter as well. Maybe, with all of the time I'm saving by staying off of Facebook, I will blog more. If you're really interested in what I have to say, you'll still be able to know about all of the crazy stuff in my brain. I will keep posting on Instagram. It hasn't been taken over by the Debbie Downers and Negative Nellys YET. So far, it's still mostly babies, puppies, sunsets, and food pictures over there. If you're on Instagram, follow me at Creativemelmac, and let me know your account name. I'm not deleting my Facebook account. My chorus has a private group page where we post things that are inspirational and uplifting...and nerdy musical stuff that no one else thinks is funny. I may still get tagged in pictures, so you'll be able to see those. I will miss all of your funny posts; some of you are pretty stinkin' hilarious. To those of you that have told me over the years that you think my posts are funny and something you look forward to seeing...bless your little hearts. And thank you. Many of you will tell me that I should stick around and keep posting, that I shouldn't let all the negative people of Facebook win. You're sweet, but no. I'm tired of trying to make a difference here. I am forever grateful for all of my prayer warriors that have gotten my family through numerous health crises and encouraged us when my sister passed away last year. To my friends: if you want to stay in touch, message me...especially if you have something funny you think I should see. Or here's an idea: let's interact face to face. Have coffee. Meet for lunch. To all of my family: surely we can figure out another way to stay connected. Maybe we need a private FB page (no negativity allowed!).

The world needs more people professing what they are for instead of yelling about what they are against. If you're as frustrated as I am, why don't we jump ship together? We could start a whole new online community that doesn't tolerate the crap you can easily get from news websites. Until then, be excellent to each other. Now to do all of those things I could've been doing during the hours I've wasted on Facebook...