Thursday, February 4, 2016

lessons learned

Time is a school in which we learn. This has never been more true than when my oldest son Greyson started Early Intervention preschool. Everything about the way the world operated was foreign to him, and everything about how to best teach him and navigate this new world was foreign to me. My ego in mothering crumbled and I eased into the pain. I had no choice but to mother into the pain- so I did.

I think when a baby leaves your body something else immediately replaces that void. Massive strength that can hurt and ache and trick you into thinking you have no strength at all, but it's in there. Einstein said “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” I think all that baby just turns into love. A love so big, it can even tower over fear. And that's saying so much, because fear can grow really big.

It's been almost five years since that fear first made its appearance. Why isn't he talking? Why doesn't he hear me call his name? Why doesn't he reach for me from his crib?  And then an awful moment turned fear into reality when Greyson was diagnosed with autism.  And then for twelve solid months I mothered into the fear for my youngest son, Parker. He was four months old at the time- I knew I would know for certain by the time he was 16 months old. I negotiated with that fear, refusing to let it rob me from the joy of his babyhood. LEAVE ME ALONE, I told it in the ragged portions of reflection. LET ME BE. We will meet again next August. Until then you have no place here.

And something happened to me after I grieved that second autism diagnosis. I fully embraced my bitter, beautiful story. If this was the story I was to be given, I was going to KICK ASS at it. I decided to learn everything I could about helping my boys navigate this world, and to really do that, I had to first step into theirs. It's taken YEARS, and countless mistakes. It's taken trial and error and error and error. And their perseverance while navigating their unknown- taught me how to navigate mine.

Sometimes I wish my boys learned big and sweeping and all at once. I wanted them to talk and count and advance in leaps. I quickly realized that they learn in millions of tiny little baby inches- not even steps. It's slow and inconsistent and frustrating and amazing to watch unfold. But this is their path, unfolding in this particular way, and I respect the path, the journey. I also realized the greatest tool I have is love and the ability to teach them. It felt like an awakening.  Like a door to sanity was opened and I finally decided to walk through. Like I could do something.

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Learning how to categorize is critical to processing and language development. These AMAZING free printables can be found HERE. This entire blog is great, developed by a Special Ed Teacher with obvious passion and heart. She has SO many great aids you can create at home here. Looking through it is making me want to print and laminate RIGHT NOW!

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Parker LOVES playing with them. Notice I said play, not work? As in I had to take them away from him so he could go to bed tonight. When work is disguised as play EVERYBODY wins. When creating home teaching tools for your children you are limited only by your imagination. Resources are everywhere.

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I purchased a few packs of play money at the dollar store. I taped each bill on a piece of paper and then laminated the sheet. Your child can sort by the dollar amount. This is double goody gumdrops because they are working on categorizing- and learning about money- a great functional life skill.

The number one recommendation for all Special Needs parents is a laminator. You can get your own quite inexpensively. I completely dork out when I have new things to laminate and cut.

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There are also numerous resources for daily and weekly schedules. Choiceworks has an app that allows you to customize any type of schedule you may need. Here we have created a morning and bedtime routine, as well as a more detailed Monday through Friday schedule. It's available for $6.99 in the App Store.  Schedules are great for increasing Independence and reducing anxiety for many individuals with autism. The time it takes to create schedules is paid back in the form of better behavior and less stress management.

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I also created a Weekly Schedule for my oldest, Greyson. He was having a lot of anxiety because he didn't know what days he went to school and what days he got to stay home. He didn't know when Dad was going to be out of town for work and he would ask for him constantly.

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This schedule is slowly teaching him what he can expect from his days, while simultaneously teaching him the days of the week.

Speech is something that must be worked on every day in every setting. We supplement what is done at school because I have found that it isn't nearly enough. We do an additional one hour per week with Teacher Amy. She teaches the boys things in expert ways only privy to Speech Language Pathologists.

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Greyson struggles with spoken language and auditory processing. His ears work, his mouth works and his brain works, but they don't always work together. He frequently doesn't understand what you are asking him and it often appears that he's somewhere deep inside his mind- as if he doesn't hear you. Visuals are a great way to help him figure out what is being asked. Once he gets the hang of it, the visuals will be faded out.

A great way to keep kids motivated is by using token economy. This is a system of behavior modification based on the systematic reinforcement of target behavior. The reinforcers are symbols or "tokens" that can be exchanged for other reinforcers.

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For each task completion or desired behavior, Greyson gets a piece of the ipad picture. When the puzzle is completed, the reward is earned. It's also good for him to have a picture reminder of what it is he is working for. This aid was created by our incredible Behavior Therapists. Both Greyson and Parker have 3-6 hours of Behavior therapy daily, and it has been life changing. 

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The day I stopped looking at therapy as a burden and saw it as an opportunity, my life changed. My kids are professional learners, and they will be all their lives. Nothing is more important to me than making sure that learning is filled with joy and fun. The great news is, this stuff works for all children of every shape and size, whether they have Super Powers or not. 

And nothing, I mean NOTHING can replace the joy you feel when it all comes together. 

It makes all the hard work worth it. It reminds me how amazing it is to watch them unfold.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

wild and crazy friday night

This week went by fast, which is great and what I always wish for in my head. PLEASE, LET IT BE FRIDAY ALREADY. Which is also confusing, because I look at how fast my boys grow and I beg time to slow down. Please Time, slow down. Except for right now time, because it's little boy bed time in 43 slow crawling minutes. Go fast until then, then slow down and I'll let you know when to go fast again. Pretty much any time I'm uncomfortable is a good guideline. How about I just make you a schedule on when to hurry up and when to slow down?

Sounds like a plan. And sandwiched in the hard middle, sometimes it's good to talk to time then. This feels like forever, but I know I will make it to the other side of this. You just go at your pace, time.

I think I'm finally a grown up. I went to Costco by myself for the first time ever this week. I even acted like I knew what I was doing. I found a couple of things that I didn't mind paying $5 more for 4 times as much. Like coffee. Yes please. A humongo bag of tortilla chips or jar of pickles? No thank you.

But maybe I'm not a grown up, because sometimes after I burp I say, "Q me." and laugh much too hard, every time. Because Parker does that- he thinks "excuse me" is "q me", and I think it's HILARIOUS every time.

Michael travels frequently for work. It's starting to give Greyson a ton of anxiety because he doesn't know when Dad will be home or gone suddenly. And now when Michael is home- Grey follows him and doesn't like for him to leave. He wants him to take him to school and pick him up. When I go to pick him up from school- which is 90% of the time, he stops moving towards the parking lot when he sees it is me. "DAD!!!" "DAD!" He yells out, so mad that it's my face he sees. Which I'm starting to TAKE PERSONALLY. OH I'M SORRY-Dad did not CARRY YOU IN HIS WOMB FOR 9 MONTHS. Dad doesn't even have a womb!!! And I do!!! How cool am I? And Dad NEVER had heartburn so bad it practically burned his face off --for you. And dad did not breast feed you FOR A YEAR. And when you get the flu and are throwing up chunks of hot dog and freaking out- Dad freaks out too, while I am catching your hot dog puke in my hands and calmly steering you towards the bathroom. But WHATEVER. Sorry, it's me. I'm taking you home today.

Today we are going to a craft store to put together a week schedule so he will better know what to expect from life. The unexpected gives me anxiety too, so I get it.

Last night my two bitty boys and I had a wild and crazy night.

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Sometimes I don't know where the sun ends and he begins.

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Any time Parker sees anyone in the shower, he assumes he is invited too. In fact, he will strip down and jump in the shower all on his own if I'm not fast enough to catch him.

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Grey is the opposite. He hates the water on his face.

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And since he gets ice cream when he poops, he tries to poop ALL THE TIME. Even when there is no poop in there at all. And if he plops out a millimeter sized nugget he announces, "Parker went poo on the potty! Now you get ice cream! Good job."

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Grey's favorite thing ever. Next to dad.

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Parker's dinner. PEEEETE-ZAHHH!

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Parker is obsessed with cooking. Any time I'm in the kitchen he comes to "help". He will try (and sometimes succeed) in throwing his own special ingredients into the pot. You know- like a hot dog in your oatmeal or something creative like that.

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And he gets PISSED when I don't let him have any fun- you know,like using a big knife to chop up vegetables.

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Grey loves our playroom. I'll have to take some pictures of it during the daylight.

I can't WAIT to hang this.
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I made this using photoshop and then had it printed BIG at Costco- which is how I found myself there alone on a Thursday night.
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Here is an electronic version if you want to print it too. I think you can right click and save it- but if that doesn't work- don't ask me. I'm not an expert on that stuff. Please note: It is NEVER ever ever too late to dream big. Or even little. Something is better than nothing at all.

Off to go enjoy our Saturday. (And time- you can go slow all day today.)



Tuesday, January 19, 2016


I am rocking precious Parker to sleep tonight, and this thought- this moment- this feeling leaped into my head and my chest. This is it. This is your dream come true. 

I take inventory of my current state. Dirty, crazy, rained on my head all day hair curlyish straight hair. Pajama top -and still daytime pants- on. Contacts out, glasses on. We were out this evening and got home later than Parker's bed time. I am a lot tired and a little frazzled.

But this is everything I wanted and I didn't even know. How great is that?

I remember vividly sitting wide awake in the middle of the night, pregnant with Greyson. A boy I only knew by name and by kicks. Not like I know him now, by his sly, up to no good smile. Not by his thick wavy-I would pay for those highlights-hair. Not by his incredible strength to try and try again.

I tried so hard to picture what Moming would be life after he arrived. I could dreamily picture going home from the hospital, birthday parties, trips to the zoo and nighttime rituals. However, I couldn't at all picture how it was going to be on a regular old Tuesday. What will life look like then? What kind of mom will I be? Will I be strict? Will I know what I'm doing? Will I be a completely different person all together? Will I be fun? (YES! I must make sure to be fun.) Will I be that frazzled, super not put together Mom? WILL I WEAR MOM JEANS?

The answer is yes, to all of those things (except the jeans). It was so clear while rocking Parker.  Yes, I am all of that and much much more. It's impossible to claim one mothering style, described by just a few adjectives for any of us. We are simply, all of it- at different times. Frazzled, calm. Scattered, collected. Crazy, sane. Happy, sad.  Everything bagels, mixed with blueberries and chocolate chips. (But more delicious than that sounds.)

I've been MIA, and I've missed you. I blame it on this- sounded like a good idea at the time, 10 day cleanse I'm doing. It's online and run by a health and fitness expert. Today is day 9, and I'm certain the next 24 hours will CRAWL. It's called an anti-candida cleanse. You'll have to google Candida, it's super sciency and I'm too malnourished to explain. But the diet basically consists of NO COFFEE!!!!, sorry I'm yelling, but I haven't had coffee for nine days now and Michael left at 4:45 am this morning and kissed the two bitty boys tucked under my arms, which woke them up, which means I was left with two wide awake (one crying) kids before 5am. And that was the longest run on sentence in America.

Oh yes, the cleanse- NO COFFEE, all meals are 80% veggies, 20% starchy vegetables, a protein or a grain (We can have quinoa, millet, amaranth and one other thing I've never heard of and can't remember.)  No cheese. No dairy. No nuts, except for raw and sprouted almonds. No rice. NO COFFEE.

And I don't like quinoa because- COME ON ALREADY. It's too tiny to really chew properly so I feel like I'm eating warm, soft bird seed. Half the cleansers quit over the weekend, and the other half are going on about how they have never felt more energy and more productive in their lives. I don't know how we are on the same cleanse. And when discussing side effects, everything is attributed to the detoxing process.

"Hey guys, my butt turned inside out and my eyes are leaking blood,"

"Oh yes, that is how your body detoxes sugar. That's great news actually, you are really getting clean in there!"

Despite all of this chaos, I'm so glad I am doing it. (I can't believe I just wrote that. I also can't believe it's true.) I mean, how often do we get to choose to do something uncomfortable for growth? Mostly never, because most of us are sane aren't wired that way. We are quick to run from discomfort.

But then LIFE happens and we have to find a way out of discomfort and into a new kind of normal. And it's so so hard, because we feel so lonely, so lost, so alone and so hopeless and drowning in quick sand. We are so out of practice when it comes to surviving that middle, awful, endless part of pain. Pain cannot be denied, ignored or side stepped. You gotta walk right down the middle of its awfulness.

So in a way, I think of this cleanse as discomfort practice. And it's a proven fact I just made up to prove my point, that people who can get to the other side of hard stuff- are happiest. Are the most authentic. Are simply put- AWESOME. The cleanse was unbearable the first two days due to caffeine withdrawal. Then it slooooowly got better each day, but no cray cray energy or leaking bloody eyeballs. And I've wanted to quit 3,456. TODAY ALONE. But I will do it to prove to myself that I can. I will do it because I don't need another thing to feel like a failure over. I will do it because that was my goal and the only thing bigger than the pain of discomfort- is the JOY of making it to the other end of that something hard.

And I've gotten a handful of takeaways from the cleanse.

  • Nutritional yeast (this nutrient, and protein rich, seasoning powdery stuff that is supposed to taste like cheese) smells like sweaty balls. Like the inside of a filthy men's locker room. Luckily it tastes better than I assume that smells, but I can not confirm or deny that. I would have to hold my nose with one hand and shake with the other. The last time I shook it on something I smelled it by mistake and gagged, so I don't think I'll be revisiting that seasoning anytime in this life.
  • Vegetables. I need to eat way more.
  • Sugar- I need to eat less. I don't need little doses of it throughout the day every day. With a fruit snack here and a sugary latte there, and marshmallows and hot chocolate in my afternoon coffee. I will never give up my weekend ice cream binges. THEY COMPLETE ME. In fact, I will continue my method of healthy Sunday-Thursday and whatever the heck I want on the weekends. I'll just be a little smarter about what "healthy" looks like.
  • I am a better mom when caffeinated. TRUE STORY. But I don't need to drink it all day long. A little tea can help crave those urges when they come along in the afternoon.

This past week I couldn't eat and I just didn't know what to do with myself. So we painted our playroom and finally finished Grey's room. So -more productive? Yes. Happier- HELL TO THE NO WAY JOSE.

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Toy car storage DIY tutorial found HERE.

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And we did have fun with friends. That is a must. (Fun + Friends are my favorite F words).

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SENSORY HEAVEN. A gymnastics place with free play- YES PLEASE. (For my local friends, It's called Gymnastics Beat and I plan on being there lots this Summer.

And there you have it my precious friend. So now if you do not want to- you do not have to do a cleanse. I did one for us. You are welcome.

Time for bed. 



Thursday, January 7, 2016

2016 intentions

As the new year begins, so do we. Life or bust, baby. Those are our only options.

Like many, I aspire to live a good life. An important life. An honest one. A life makes me stretch and reach and grow and feel proud. And also, like many of us, I often feel like I am falling short. Daily. And that begins this strange stretch and pull of what matters, and what doesn't. But once that struggle starts, I don't remember which way is which.

I've been thinking long and hard about what I want to focus on this year. It's so easy for me to forget when the merry go round is spinning. I need a focal point so I don't get dizzy. We plan all the great things we want to do, see and accomplish when we go on vacation, why not do the same for life? When we add them up, the life days completely outnumber the vacations days anyway.

This is my third year of hand picking three words to help guide my actions and my heart for the new year. They are my intentions and I want to share them with you. If you decide to play along I'd love to hear yours too.

1. I intend to let go. (Shew). 
This is a hard one. This is a big one. This is a good one. And one that can take the shape of so many things for so many people. I think one part of this for me, is forgiveness. It's taken me a long ass time, but I'm realizing you can forgive people, without keeping them in your life. Without saying- what you did is ok and I'm fine

Sometimes when I can't sleep, or I'm stuck in traffic, or on a way too often thinking marathon- I think about something or someone that has hurt me. Maybe it was a friendship gone wrong. Maybe it was something bigger and more painful. People are hard. Relationships are hard. Sometimes it's so hard to be a human. While I stir those mucky memories, I feel...sick. I feel just as angry and just as let down as I did the first time. That's SO MUCH pain and junk to hold onto. I don't want to be angry- I want to let go. But that means- I have to actually let go. Right now my prayer is simply: God, help me really be ready to let go. Then when I am ready, I will take a person or thought at a time and tell it goodbye. Maybe I'll write it a letter. Maybe I will simply whisper it into the wind. 

I also intend to work on letting go of what my life isn't. Of what my marriage isn't. Of where my expectations about life fall short- or just fall different. I now take a moment to think about how it would feel if that anger and sadness simply didn't exist. It would feel...light. Happy. Content.

2. I intend to do more things that make my hands shake

I think of the instances that have made my heart pound, my voice quiver and my hands shake. Most of them are the epitome of awfulness. Like that whole "your son fits the diagnostic criteria for autism." (TWICE.) But some, well, some of those hand shaking moments have been awesome. I mean- awful and scary at first, but mostly AWESOME. But boy do I avoid those things. The big things. The things I tell myself I can't do. I like predictable and new things are NOT predicable in the slightest. 

This year I want to be physically and mentally challenged. I'm not totally sure what that will look like, but currently, I'm exploring.

I take classes at a place called The Bar Method. One day several months ago there was a teacher in training teaching a small portion of the class. I vividly recall her putting the microphone on her first day. Her voice was quivering. I thought- She's so nervous! I'm so glad that isn't me! For the first couple of classes the drill was the same- she taught a small portion of the one hour class. At first her voice was quiet, she would sometimes fumble over her words. I thought again- I'm so glad isn't me. And before I knew it- she was teaching more of the class. And as the nerves melted away, she began to bloom. She was good, and sweet and funny and an encourager. She wasn't afraid to mess up-and if she did- she just kept going. 

And as chance often has it- I was there on her final training day - her day of certification. After months of practicing and learning and studying and test taking and video-taped evaluations and a hundred other things I'm sure, she was finally official. And on this particular day she was teaching her very first class all on her own as a certified instructor. For 60 minutes she owned that room, and I was inspired. On our final stretch, as we bowed our head down, the doors opened up and the other teachers walked in, cheering and carrying flowers. The entire class exploded into applause. Tears started to jump out of my eyes, I was so moved. I was so incredibly inspired by this transformation. My thought changed into, I wish that was me

So that- my friends. I want that feeling of fear and doubt and triumph more. 

3. I intend to be more awake. 

Awake is not the opposite of sleep in this case- it simply means more present. I want to notice all the gifts that God lays out just for me, daily. I want to slow down when I don't need to be in a hurry. I want to look people in the eye. I want to meet children at eye level when I talk to them. I want to try seasonal ripe fruits and smell gardenias and notice happy trees. I want to light candles and use a fancy glass for no reason at all. Sometimes I get too busy or distracted that I forget how much I love the details of life. I want to shhhh my inner asshole so I can focus on each moment as it comes along. I've been practicing because it's really, really hard. That voice tries to be my constant companion, my wingman. Why did you say that? A good Mom would do this. If you were a good friend/wife/mom you wouldn't/would have done that. Your face looks fat and your hair is awful. You should have left earlier. 

I used to think that voice was me. I used to think it was helpful- so I wouldn't forget things (drycleaning! groceries! empty dishwasher!), but that's a lie that voice that isn't me- told me. That voice is mean. Boy is it a bully!!! It tells me lies about myself and my children. It tells me I'm not enough. That it's my fault. That I am wrong and broken and a bad person.

That voice isn't me. It's the anxiety of my mind. Anxiety is not me, it's something I struggle with. Some days I kick it's ass. Some days it kicks mine. Lately I've been telling it, "Shhhhhh. I don't need you here right now. I've got this", whenever it pitches in.

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Super cute hand painted frame found here

Spiritual guru, Deepak Chopra says, "An intention is a directed impulse of consciousness that contains the seed form of that which you aim to create. Like real seeds, intentions can’t grow if you hold on to them. Only when you release your intentions into the fertile depths of your consciousness can they grow and flourish. 

I've written down my intentions, and they now hang in my closet so I can see them every day. They keep tabs on me, and I on them. My happiness and life is worth it, and so is yours. And here I am now, throwing my seeds out into the world, hoping that with proper water and nutrition, they will bloom. 

Now your turn, friend. To borrow from poet Mary Oliver, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Or at least with your one wild and precious 2016?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

hello 2016

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Christmas is over and we begin to look towards the beginning of the new year. I humbly offer you my imperfect attempt at a New Year Post.

I don't really know what to say because I feel like whatever it is should be sweeping and grand. You know- some sort of revelation or lesson I learned that could change both of our lives. FIND ETERNAL HAPPINESS IN 2016!!!READ THIS.

But here I sit alone with you and my simple thoughts, without a sweeping or grand in sight. I do have tired and honest, though. Which fits, because lately I've been on a quest for the acceptance of imperfection. Sometimes just the want to love imperfection is all I have, which is still a step ahead for this OCD, Type A, Tightly wound-Recovering Perfectionist. Because you know- trying to get your love of imperfection -just perfect, sort of defeats the entire purpose.

I sit and reflect on the year that is coming to an end. I'm realizing that lately, my struggles have been so good. They aren't Cancer or moving or the realization of autism. They are normal, every day life struggles, which in comparison aren't actually struggles at all. Sometimes struggle is just another word for growth. If you are stuck in a moment, free of serious struggle- rejoice. Woo hoo with me.


I struggle to find joy. It took me a long long time to realize I had to search it out, not wait for it to knock on my door. And so for joy I search. Whatever you seek- you will find. Seek good stuff. I'm realizing joy comes more frequently when I am awake. I don't mean awake- as in the opposite of sleeping. I mean awake as in aware. I struggle to be awake. To live in this moment right here between these two parenthesis of life. To notice smells, and hear sounds. Stop now, pay attention- what are all the sounds you can hear? I hear the crunch of leaves as someone walks over them. A faint lawn mower in the distance. The calming rhythm of my dogs breathing in and out. Paying attention to details brings me joy. And details of a beautiful life are a commodity that will never run out.

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Parker seeks joy better than anyone I know. And the more he seeks, the more he makes.

I struggle to recognize love. I've always equated love to a feeling that comes from words and from doing. And not just doing- but doing how I would do. You see, sometimes it's hard for me to accept others for exactly who they are.

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Jack the dog was my first encounter with a love that knows no words. Jack is the dock to my boat. I need to know he is near in ways I can't explain. I remember vividly a time almost seven years ago. My aloof, I'll give you attention if I feel like it, Jack, wouldn't let me out of his sight. I felt like a movie star and he was my paparazzi.  

If I were sitting on the couch he had to practically sit on top of me. He's 42 pounds, and not really a lap dog. He slept pressed up against me, a little spoon to my big. It all felt like love in just the right amount because I need a lot.  When I was in the bathroom he would scratch at the door until I let him in. It was the craziest thing- but made perfect sense a couple of days and one positive pregnancy test later. He sensed I was pregnant with Grey before I even knew I was. And he made it his job to make sure I was ok. Boy is that love. It paved the way for two bitty boys who can't really talk either. But they find ways to tell me I love you, in a million different ways. I just have to remember to recognize it when the ache for words comes along.

I have to work at recognizing love from my husband. If I am sad and want to be listened to- he buys me a starbucks and says, "It's not a big deal. Don't be sad" and the conversation is over. Sometimes that makes me so mad. Sometimes it makes me sad, sad, sad. But it doesn't sting as much when I realize he is loving the way he knows how. Imperfectly. So it is my job to recognize love. A love that doesn't look like my love, but occupies the same cells just the same.

I struggle to be myself. My REAL SELF- not the self I think I should be. Not the self I think I am expected to be. Those selves just turn me into a jumbled mess. I was made on purpose and by design. ONE OF A KIND SISTER (and Mister!) I do not need to veer from God's blueprint in order to be enough. Repeat after me:

I am (more than) enough, just the way I am. 

The older I get, the easier it is to embrace my true voice. We owe it to others and ourselves to be our true, imperfect, messy, complicated, brilliant, loving selves. I still have to work to silence the mean voices in my head. They try to make me like everyone else. And they never say- Boy are you awesome, (or beautiful, or strong). I'm working on shhhh'ing those voices, one single day at a time. Sometimes a million times a day.

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Look at my boy here. Just looking at this picture brings tears to the front of my eyeballs and makes me FEEL. Greyson is 100% himself. He wouldn't even know how to be someone else if he tried. I watch him in envy and awe and just try to absorb a little bit of it's goodness.

A little while back he rode on those go-carts above. When the real ride was over and everyone exited- well, that's when HIS ride began. The lights were swirling and forming patterns on the floor and ceiling and everywhere and music was blasting. Greyson got out of his car and stayed on the floor. He jumped and flapped and grunted and squealed and danced, not politely and looking around like I would do. He did it disjointed and like he was possessed by authenticity. He did what felt good. I want to be more like him.

For this upcoming year I want to search for all the religion I cannot find at church. The religion not sung in hymns, or found in psalms. The religion that God places before my eyes daily.

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His toes are my religion. I worship them. I kiss each one goodnight before bed. I squeeze them so hard I'm afraid they may pop. His eyes light up and lock into mine, my little life enthusiast. We squeal over the goodness of his toes. At least once a week the beauty of his perfect toes almost knocks me to the floor. THANK YOU GOD!!! I yell out loud, excited for this gift. Thank you God for his toes and for the way they make me feel- in love and alive. If his toes were people, the big one would be my best friend. He would give the best hugs. We would go out for cheeseburgers and he would always make me laugh.

My religion is connection. My religion is plugging into life. Into you, into my family, into my environment, into friendships new and old. Sometimes I walk around for days with my head down. I don't want to run into anyone I know. I fear small talk. I feel lonely and empty. That's a sure sign that what I shy away from is exactly what I need- human connection. I do not need to hide, I do not need to be afraid. I need to see and be seen.

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I need reminders as to what matters most to me. Awake is my religion. Yet I sleep for days. Not aware of the beauty of my surroundings. Not aware of the beauty of my pain. The beauty of my mundane. Please God, let me always see this beauty.

As I embark on 2016 I make friends with time. Think of the pain, hurt and disappoint you have waded through this year. What has it taught you? What has gotten you through? I'm learning to see the places I ache as a reminder that I need to accept or change something. Right now while the waters are calm, take a moment. What will you seek this year?  When the rapids start you will forget to remember.

Prayer is not asking for what you think you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can't imagine, says poet, Kathleen Norris. So yes, what she said God. 

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I'm ready to let you go. Thank you, you've been a wild ride. XOXO Chrissy

Monday, December 21, 2015

what happens when you stop looking for perfect and start getting real

I realized it was getting harder and harder to capture my then two year old son, Greyson, with our camera. Like any other, more energetic than lightening toddler, it was hard for him to sit still for even one click of a camera shutter. But there was something else going on that I couldn't quite decipher or explain. His eyes, once a sparkling blue that made strangers comment in adoration, looked cloudy and dark. In pictures, he looked as disconnected as I was starting to feel from him. I would sit and say his name over and over, waiting for him to look at me. It didn't seem to ever happen anymore. I tried to remember the last time someone commented to me about his shimmery blue eyes... It had been months. What happened between then and now? was the wonder I wondered late at night when sleep competed with fear.

At night while Greyson slept, I read every single thing I could find on portrait photography. I watched video tutorials. I asked people who knew. I was determined to make the image I took reflect the Greyson I saw. I was desperate to capture his sparkle, to prove it wasn't gone. During the natural light of day, I practiced all I had learned on Greyson. Finally, after millions of imperfect attempts, the image I saw of Greyson in my heart started to match up to the Greyson I saw with the eyes of my camera. 

A few months later, Greyson was diagnosed with autism. Suddenly his lack of eye contact and interaction with me made painful sense. Fast forward a couple of years and add one precious baby boy named Parker. Despite my passion for photography and my King Kong sized determination, I still couldn't get a perfect picture of my two beloved boys together. Photo shoots ended in tears, (theirs and mine.) I yelled the entire time. Sit down! STAY STILL! GREYSON STOP!!!!! PARKER LOOK AT ME!!!

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PARKER! Don't bite your brother!!! 

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GREYSON- Where did you put your shoes? They were JUST ON!

Over the years I was able to get a handful of acceptable shots of the boys together, but what I really, really wanted was that perfect posed family picture. You know- a picture where we are ALL looking at the camera at THE SAME TIME, and we are all wearing pants. (I gave up on the shoes part).

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Hmmmpffff. At least we are all wearing pants. 

Over the years we tried everything. Bubbles, iPads, bells, toys, reinforcers, bribery and threats. We brought in Behavior therapists and babysitters to help. Nothing worked. Below is the photo shoot that made me say, "Screw all photo shoots".*  (*Warning. What you are about to see is unedited, imperfect, real life.)

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My hair was butchered by an impromptu Super Cuts trip, Parker's jeans were 17 inches too short, Greyson wanted to be ANYWHERE but there, and Michael got punched in the jimmies.

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Parker is trying to get down to run to the mall to buy himself some pants that fit. Possibly even some shoes for Greyson.

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At one point in the shoot, I was laughing hysterically WHILE I was sobbing. And to make it worse, the perfect family Christmas card people were just feet away getting their perfect family photos taken. The children listened to every request of the photographer. They even followed directions. No one was flailing on the floor or trying to hit anyone in the private parts or taking off their shoes.They even had their perfect dog with them WHO ALSO FOLLOWED DIRECTIONS. I'm not kidding.

I was so mad at them for being so calm and uncomplicated. I also desperately wanted to be them.

Now Greyson is 6, and Parker is 4 years old. It's been a few years since I've subjected us to the torment of a photo shoot. This year, I thought long and hard about those perfect family cards. I asked myself- why is this so important to you? Because everyone else does it? Because you can't have it? I think it was probably a little of both. But these pictures are torture for our entire family. There isn't one single moment of joy to be found in any of it. I decided I just couldn't do it again.

I love pictures because each one is an opportunity to tell a beautiful story. This year I realized, I don't need our picture to depict my family as something we are not. I want our Christmas card to be a true story. One that makes you laugh or cry or simply feel as though you can relate. 

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Here is our card this year. We were on an Behavior Therapy community outing at Target. We were racing our cart through the aisles as fast as we could and having a ball. I realized this is about as real life as it gets, and while perusing the Christmas aisle I asked our awesome therapist, Jordann, if she would take our picture. She took a series of pictures with her phone and texted them to me. I picked the one that was the worst because it made me laugh the most. It shows our real life and it is awesome.

I now realize, most people don't have perfect Christmas card lives. Even the people who DO have perfect Christmas card pictures, don't actually have a perfect life to go with it.  Some families have two moms. Some families don't have any. Some families are blended by marriages or separated by death, distance, estrangement or divorce. 

Although pictures can be in black and white, real life is not. Real life is a million beautiful shades of in between. We are all just humans, making mistakes and trying our best to contribute to our real life story, every single day. We are all imperfect, but perfect- just the way we are.

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I love us. I love our family and our sometimes hard, real life. I no longer ache for that perfectly posed family portrait. Candid pictures are my favorite. I love our truth and the story we are writing as each day unfolds. Real life is very complicated, and the very best lives are the ones that can't fit inside a 5 x 7 little box. I am grateful for my two perfect boys who have taught me what real beauty looks like. 

Like our picture says, This Holiday Season, Embrace Imperfection.
From my family to you and yours, Happy Holidays.