Needing Spring

March- in like a lion, out like a lamb. Or so the old adage goes. Today is the dregs of March, and it’s not feeling very lamb-like here in the northwest. I suspect I write a post like this about now every year. I’m craving blossoms and color like mad, and the dreary ever-present early-spring drizzle is making me chomp at the bit and be a cross with the clouds, the rain, and the wet boot prints all over the kitchen. The only spot of color in my yard is the one brave hyacinth. Sure, the tulips are close behind and the buds are swelling- but it’s all promise for now, and only colored by last year’s memories. I’m craving some yellow sunlight and some warmth on my face- sundresses and sandals and green grass. Pink blossoms on the apple trees will be right around the corner, I know, and soon enough it will be time for picking berries and making jam and turning on the fans to cool off Little House. But for now? I really want some warmth. Some sunlight on my face. Some cherry blossoms on the breeze and in my hair. I’m ready spring… bring it on softly… any day now. Please…?

Oh, and by the way? Thanks to the divine HairyShoeFairy, I now have a button! It’s all part of a coming redesign I’m working on with a little help from my friends. So if you wanna, grab some code and a Dandelion Button and stick me somewhere on your blog!
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Bean

“MOM! Come outside and see what Bean did!” I won’t even tell you the gut lurch that accompanies that statement, or how often I hear it. Why, what is that he’s got? Ooooooh my goodness… is that what I think it is…?!

He’s beyond pleased with himself- he’s nabbed the sunshade from the front of the house, which is now a kilt for my most creative boy. He somehow got it down, (I won’t think about what he stacked up or how he did it) and clearly, he thought it looked like something fun to wear.

The broadsword is a nod to his Scottish roots- because what’s a rigged-sunshade kilt without a sword? The boy knows his stuff.

Book Link: Seasons & Reasons to Celebrate

Booyah! It’s up, and it’s available! Check out the Leisure Arts website, where you can order a copy or check your local Hobby Lobby, Michaels or JoAnn Fabrics… all are supposed to by carrying it. From the website:

Seasons and Reasons to Celebrate (Leisure Arts #5266) by Tracy McKay gives quilters lots of ways to celebrate with this collection of 6 seasonal wall hangings. Each features fun fusible appliques of animals, flowers, and trees, and one celebrates all 12 months. Several of the little quilts have a scattering of pieced blocks, while buttons and basic embroidery stitches add cheerful details. What a great way to use up scraps! 6 projects to piece, applique, and embroider: Hallelujah Nativity, Autumn Prairie, America the Beautiful, The March Hare, Bee Industrious, and Let It Snow. Pattern inserts feature full-size patterns for easy tracing.

I’m just tickled pink about this whole thing! Look for a giveaway later this week, too. Thank you all for your love!

Vignettes

There is actually water dripping from the ceiling, and Bean is very proud of this accomplishment. He evidently worked hard for it, and mama-concern does not hold a candle to the power of splashing giggles. They are crammed into the tub with the giant Playmobil pirate ship and at least a dozen new kitchen sponges they found in the cabinet. The ship takes as much room as they do, and navigates the spongy icebergs and tidal waves their little slippery bodies make with great glee. I cannot bring myself to stop them; the sound of their laughter ringing down the hall is as welcome as spring- it’s only water…

A surly boy slouches in his seat, crosses his arms and knots his coppery eyebrows in a furious scowl. I am driving and his profile is at once intimately familiar and ever elusive. He is changing into a man, but he is my baby boy still, and when he slouches and scowls because he cannot have what he wants, I see the scrumptious baby who cracked my heart wide open. He sasses, and I smile at him, agreeing that life is unfair, and perhaps human mothers should eat their young to solve this conundrum. He tries to hide his smile by looking out the window, and his brow unknots. He is my boy again.

Abby sits at the round oak table, lit by a pale strand of early spring sunlight filtering through the front window. She is holding a cosmetics mirror her Nana gave her, and earnestly concentrating on applying a thick layer of purple glittery lip gloss she talked me into in line at Old Navy. She looks over the top of the small mirror, lips gooey with gloss, and smiles, brushing her bangs aside with the back of her hand as she puckers up and asks if she can kiss me.

Pre-dawn light filters through the cracks around the edge of the roman blinds in my room, and I am not surprised Bean is the first one up. He always is- only this morning, instead of his cursory “Hi mom.” while he reaches for the remote, he climbs into bed with me and folds his little body into the curve of my arm. My breath catches in my throat and I am afraid to move- His copper haystack is right under my chin, and I gently, with as little movement as possible, kiss the top of his head. It only lasts a brief second- like a hummingbird he is up and gone, but I am left with the sweetness of him allowing me to hug him.

Curled up on the couch, the sunbeams have moved towards late afternoon, and I’m thinking idly what I should make for dinner. My chin is resting on my hands, and I watch the kids playing in the front yard- it’s probably still just a bit too cold to be outside without coats or boots, but they are so happy to have the grass greening and flowers up, they neither care nor notice. Bean is climbing the rope tied in the tree and Abby is blowing bubbles with a soapy orange wand, while Jeffrey is dragging a lawnchair up into the winter-neglected fort. Pushing their grand-baby in a stroller, our bishop and his wife wave as they walk by our busy yard.

There are violet hyacinths blooming next to my front steps. Life is good.

Saddling Up Anyway

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” ~John Wayne

I’ve got a little pet peeve. The row I’ve been given to hoe is not the easiest- boy howdy, do I know it. But the truth is, I have a roof over my head, student loans piling up, three kids who are healthy, food in the ‘fridge, friends and family who love us, and a great ward. I’m fairly smart, and the Lord blessed me with a few talents to help me get by. My current circumstances might kind of suck (and some days really really suck) but honestly, I’m just a regular person getting by the best I can.

Lately, as I plow through what must be done, people have been making what I know are meant as kind comments about how amazing or strong I seem. At first, this felt kind of nice. But as they’ve become more frequent, I’m becoming perplexed. I’m confused- I am no more or less strong than anyone- I get up each morning and do what has to be done. Sometimes it’s harder than others, sometimes I cry and yell, sometimes I laugh and dance. Sometimes the weight feels crushing, sometime I feel invincible.

It’s not “strong” or “amazing” to take care of your children- it’s simply what a mother does. Some days I rock, other days I crash and burn- just ask my kids. Hopefully when it all shakes out, the rocking-days will outnumber the fireballs, but who knows yet. The fact that there is no one else to share this task doesn’t make me strong, or a hero. It just makes it part of life.

Today at church a man told me I was his hero. I sat, while he chatted, and was bemused and kind of perplexed. I know he meant this as a compliment, as he told me how he was in school too, but with a wife and one child, and how hard it was for him. I don’t know what to say, so I smile and nod, and bite the inside of my cheek. What the heck else am I supposed to do besides find a way to make this damn thing work? I don’t understand.

In talking the other day with a friend who has a son with a severe disability, we agreed being told repeatedly how “strong” we were was getting to be a really bummer. What people are really saying, without meaning to, is that they are really glad they don’t have my life. And then I feel like I have to thank them for complimenting me on not having my life. It’s a very weird thing.

Comments on my strength are quite often followed up by a statement along the lines of “I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t do it.” And again, how perplexing is this? What do you mean? Yes, you could- and if your world blew into a million pieces, you would, because dammit, no one else is going to. I’m not stronger than you. I’m not braver or more heroic. I’m terrified most of the time, and I get up every morning and get back in the saddle- not because it’s fun, not because I want to- because I have to. And given the three little faces looking at you, you would too.

The Bent Petals

Last night I had the chance to go to the temple, and I grabbed it. For those of you who are not Mormon, the temple is not a place for our weekly services, but is instead a special “House of the Lord” where we go for additional teaching, learning and to perform services for our ancestors. It’s a place we hold sacred and its somewhere we can retreat to when we are needing guidance, answers to prayers, or just to feel closer to God. Not all Mormons go to the temple, but a great many of us do- myself included- and I love living close enough to one that I can pop in on a few moments notice.

Each temple has a Celestial Room, which is a room for us to gather when we are done with the services we participated in, and where we can sit, meditate, pray privately, talk quietly with friends or family, or just hang out because it feels good to be there. The room is different in every temple, but it’s always incredibly beautiful and peaceful.

Last night, I found myself alone in the Celestial Room. This doesn’t happen often- people always filter in and out- so I sat down on the plush sofa, curled my knees up beneath myself, and let my mind roam. Uninterrupted time is a rarity for me, and to sit, alone, in a lovely, quiet room and have time stretch before me was a such a beautiful luxury- the soaring ceilings, leaded windows, sprays of flowers and twinkling chandeliers all drew my mind up and out and opened me- and that was the whole point. Of course God can be found anywhere and is everywhere… but sometimes removing oneself from the chaos of life for a tiny bit helps quiet the mind and allows one to find spaces where we can hear things we need to hear.

As my mind wandered, I found myself looking at the giant spray of spring roses filling a vase on a table. Each flower was so beautiful- and yet when I looked closely, each petal was unique, different- bent here or there, a curl in the edge, a tiny ripple in the textured leaf, a frill here, smooth simplicity there- yet the imperfect petals, when placed in the context of being a flower, became perfect roses. And each rose, a collection of imperfectness, then was part of a greater bouquet which in turn became a breathtaking masterpiece.

It think this is what we all are- Imperfect Petals. We are made perfect is what and how we put ourselves in God’s hands and allow him to do with us what he wants. When we beat ourselves up for having bent our petal, or for our edges not being as smooth as the petal next to us, we are devaluing the beauty and perfection that lies beyond ourselves. I don’t think God cares so much about the marks on us nearly as much as we do- because he sees the whole rose, and knows if the petals were all perfect, the rose would not be so beautiful, not so perfect as a finished masterpiece. It’s the differences and so-called flaws that create the beauty.

Life is going to mark us. We are going to be bruised, torn and scarred by what happens here. But it doesn’t matter- not one bit. The bend of my petals is what makes me useful to God, what makes me unique, and precious. God does not need- nor want- me to be like anyone else, perfect copies of each other; indeed, such an idea is an affront. We only have to trust, and know that we are loved, and hand ourselves, flaws and all, over to God, in order to be made perfect.

See what happens when a mama gets a little time alone?

Academic Aggravation

Most of my morning and a sizable chunk of the afternoon was swallowed up running between buildings, floors and departments at my University. Mercifully, it’s spring break, so I was spared crowds and other people’s insanity, but unfortunately, I got dished out more than a little bit of stupid-crazy from my own department.

Answer me this: How does an academic advisor have no apparent clue how the registration process works? And how, when asked about it, does he look over the top of his glasses and dismissively tell me that, as though I really should know this, that he has no reason to understand that process. I am realizing, as I navigate deeper into the mess of academia, that this attitude is incredibly common. There is almost a suave, entitled “Heh, I know it sucks, but I had to deal with this, you do too now. Good luck.” followed by a slight sneer. The thing is, if I want those letters after my name, I have to play their game.

Today? I met with my advisor, and we came up with a plan for the next two quarters. However, he neglected to tell me the pre-reqs for several of the classes required his signature. He could not help me do this, because there was a hold on my account, but that wasn’t his department. I walked across campus to Financial Aid. Turns out FinAid cannot release my money until I am registered. Okay… I gather my papers and head upstairs to talk to accounts, per their instructions. In accounts, I learn I cannot register until my Fin Aid is released. Anyone else see the problem?

This went on for TWO HOURS. Back and forth. Notes, phone calls, emails. No one is responsible for more than their unique little niche, and had no idea what’s happening in other niches. By the time I left, I had gotten the FinAid woman to write a note on a Post-It to the registration deptartment, promising my cash would fund if they would release the hold on my registration. A Post-It note. I picked up 16 units today, based on the promise of a Post-It note.

I won’t even touch the fact that I was given a “Zero” on a class that was actually dropped, and the fight I have in front of me on that one. And I start back to school the same week my kids have spring break. Because life is just not fun enough.

Rethinking The Pinewood Derby

In the past, I’ve expressed complicated feelings regarding Scouts. Last year, with our advent into the program, I was focusing on how it all made me feel… and I was wrong. The truth is, I can have all the ambivalent feelings in the world about Scouts, but it’s not about me- and that’s what I was missing. When I step back and watch my son, really watch him, I see the joy on his face as he holds up the little metallic blue car he worked on all last week with our amazing Home Teacher. That joy is what matters.

The truth is, I cannot provide what he gets from Scouts. I can’t carve a car from balsa wood, drill lead slugs into it, and provide him with a respirator and a spray booth so he can learn to paint properly. But there is a man who can. I don’t want to teach him to throw river rocks into the fire and watch them pop while telling ghost stories and wiping s’mores-covered hands on his camp-filthy shirt. But there are men who will. I cannot be there to help him when the ghost-stories the older boys told cause him to jump at every sound.  But he learns something of tremendous value from the men who are. Because of the men who are willing to love my sons, and take up the slack left by another, my boys are learning things I cannot teach them. They are learning what being a good man looks like, and I am choosing to be grateful there are many men willing to fill that role. These boys need it.

So tonight, we joined a bunch of other families in our church building, and commenced the time-honored ritual of hurling 5 oz. bricks of pine and graphite down the sloping, gravity-fed track in our hall. Brackets were drawn on blackboards, boys lined up and were weighed, siblings pulled on flags and ate popcorn, and the cars raced down the hill.

At the end of the night, several boys stood tall, and even the boys whose cars crashed and burned seemed to have a good attitude and everyone was cheerful and happy and the hall was full of people laughing as we folded up chairs and broke down the track until next time. Bean got to run the giant church vacuum (made his night) and Abby ran in circles. Our Home Teacher was there with Jeffrey the whole night, and even performed pit-duties after Bean accidently dropped the car.

Jeffrey came in second place, and has been advanced to regionals on Saturday. It wasn’t until I saw the look on his face and watched him literally jump for joy that I understood what this meant to him. He ran to me and hugged me tightly, twirled in a delighted circle, and ran off- eyes sparkling, cheeks bright pink, and full of pride. And with that, mama steps back and learns to love yet another child in the way he needs.

The Cracked Heart of Autism

Bean and his mama, who loves him so much it hurts. Taken at bedtime on 3/22/2011

Bean came into the world screaming bloody murder. His little shoulders weren’t even pushed from my body, but his face was torqued with pain and what I can only imagine intense confusion over the sensory chaos of being born. Of course, I’m projecting with hindsight, but given what I’ve learned about my now seven-year old son, I think it might be close to accurate. At the time, I remember holding him as I had my firstborn, and wanting nothing more than to comfort and love him. We’re still working on it.

Within days, I knew this was not just a baby needing comfort. All the things I had done with my first son were futile with my second. At three-weeks, I took him in for the first time to ask the doctor what might be wrong. The usual platitudes about breastmilk, colic, gas and letting him “cry it out” were dispensed, and I was sent home with a baby that never stopped crying. When I say “never stopped crying” I’m not doling out hyperbole- if he was awake, he was purple-faced, back-arched, lungs-burning, screaming. He barely ate, had trouble latching and sucking was difficult. He would finally pass out from sheer exhaustion, and quiet would descend for an interlude. As soon as he woke, it started anew. Rocking, bouncing, warm baths, patting his back, driving in the car, the swing, a sling, everything that comforted other babies only seemed to make him panic and scream harder. It was hell- on all of us.

He didn’t stop screaming until after his first birthday.

There are swaths of time in that first year that are lost to me. Having a child that never, ever stops screaming is a level of hell unknown even to Dante. I know my older son moved from two to three. I know my parents came to visit, and my brothers too- but all of my recollections are clouded by intense sleep-deprivation and constant worry about why my child was so miserable. People at church would take him from me, assuming they, with their magic baby hands, could calm him- and inevitably would return confused and frustrated, handing him back to me, still wailing.

He was ten-months old when I first asked the pediatrician about autism. He brushed me off, saying autism seldom presented before 18 months. Looking back, I’d like to meet him in a dark alley and give him a little education to go with his fancy MD. Bean was smaller than my other son, but still growing and other than the screaming, seemed fine. The doctors did not listen to me then- I tried to tell them how he cried in the bath, how he wouldn’t get food on his hands, hated his feet bare, panicked when I changed his diaper… and no one listened.

Around his first birthday, I also got my first computer. And I learned how to to use it. I started reading- reading everything I could find. And I recognized my child in the stories of others. I recognized and learned about other kids who hated food, water, being touched, riding in the car, bubbles in the bath. I got mad. Then I became my son’s advocate. Dumping that first pediatrician, I found another, then another- doctors who listened to me, who believed me when I explained his life. We got assessments, and specialists called and when his scores came back for processing sensory-input in the < 15% range, I cried with grief for his little body and what he’d been going through.

Years later now, with special pre-schools, occupational therapists, physical therapists, sensory therapy, swings, slings, pressure suits, weigh blankets, jaw pressure sticks, brushing, special kindergarten, more OT, more PT, a typical first-grade classroom with an IEP- we are… where? Still in the thick of it. Things are better- yes. But the thing about autism that cracks your heart in two is that there is no cure. It’s never going away. He will never be “better”- and who’s to say what that even means?

In our daily life, this means me, Bean, and my two typical kids are used to dealing with what is kindly called “quirky” behavior. He honks when stressed. He hides and runs away when sound, colors, smells or touch overwhelm him- which is more often than any of us wish- especially him. My oldest son carries the weight of explaining his brother to peers and classmates. He eats the exact same food for breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day. If we are going somewhere, I have learned to pack what he needs, or it’s bad. Bad for all of us. So many times we have had to leave parties, events, socials, plays, parks, restaurants… because he cannot process what is happening. And the general public has little tolerance for a child who appears “normal” but cannot control his limbs, voice or behavior. We’ve felt the sting and heard the comments, believe me.

Tonight, in a fit of frustration, he threw a chair across the room at me, upended a bin of Legos and tried to bite me when I restrained him. There is little that can be done except wait it out,  and eventually he comes back to center.  The part that is wrenching is his remorse and sadness when its over. He climbs in my lap and begins to weep, and I gingerly place my arms around him before he shrugs them off. He wants to sit in my lap, lean his head on me, but I have to let him touch me- his brain does not process my touching him well. This is another hard part of autism. Rack ‘em up. The list grows and grows.

“Mom, I don’t know why I do those things. I feel so bad and I just can’t stop myself and it’s like I just can’t and I want to!”  He is sobbing now, and my own tears drop onto his coppery head in my lap. I want to brush his red hair back from his forehead in timeless motherly love, but I stay my hand so he will continue to relax and talk. If I touch him, he will pull away. It’s a constant balancing act, finding ways to show this boy love which he can understand and which are not about what I want.

He came in to hug me three times tonight before he finally fell asleep. The last time, he asked if I could take a picture of “Just the two of us, mom. Mom? I love you.” Yes, my son… and I really, really, love you, too- whatever, however, whenever you need it- I am your mama, and I will love you.

My Secret Crushes

Someone asked me recently what type of guy I’m interested in. It got me thinking- while once upon a time I absolutely had a type I went for (my cousin Michael can totally vouch for that and is probably laughing) it’s not really true anymore. My tastes, they are a-changing. Sort of…

Nathan Fillion- a lot of people know his as Castle nowdays, but to the sci-fi geek girl in me, Nathan Fillion will forever be browncoat Malcolm Reynolds on Firefly. Renegade, pilot, captain, a mixture of futuristic mercenary, and wild west gunslinger. He’s a hero- but he’s also everything a hero is not. He’s got a moral center that guides him, but he takes what he wants anyway. Let’s face it, if you’re a geek-girl, Steampunk is hot.

Matthew Macfadyen- Okay, really this is about Mr. Darcy- and really, if we’re honest, that one scene. Oh, come now- you know the one… yesssss, that one. Of course, any time I’m flipping channels and Pride & Prejudice is on, it’s the Shawshank Redemtion Rule, and I have to stop whatever I’m doing and watch. I’m such a girl about this one- my other total girl movie that I have to stop and watch shall remain a secret. Anyone know?

Anthony Bourdain- Here’s my foodie crush. I was so happy when Bourdain joined Top Chef- I love his ascerbic, biting wit and this intense devotion to good food. His Travel Channel show No Reservations has been a favorite of mine for years. He’s not only a damn good chef, but he’s a very good writer, and his blog is worth checking out as he blogs his travels. He’s got the good life- getting paid to write, travel and eat all over the world. Droool!

Leroy Jethro Gibbs- Mark Harmon never really caught my eye when he was younger- just another pretty boy- and if anything is apparent, the pretty boys are not what catch my attention. But when he started playing the reclusive, basement boat-builder with a sense of right and wrong that is unwavering, and his temples started to grey at the same time- well, then I noticed. I love me some Gibbs. I love his rules, the attention grabbing wake-up call of a Gibbs’-slap, and his love peppered with fatherlike tenderness for Abby Sciutto.

Mr Incredible- yeah, I know. He’s a cartoon character. Wanna make something of it? I dare you to tell me what’s not to love about Mr. Incredible. Just watch that movie again sometime- It’s really a masterpiece, and I’ve got a soft spot for Bob. From how he folds his super-hero self into his tiny car, to how he cuts the little old lady some slack and helps her get what she needs. He’s nice to the weird neighbor kid, and he’s a great dad. Plus, seriously ladies- imagine laying your head on that chest. Sigh…

Henry Rollins- Oh Henry! How I do love you… I’ve written about the hotness of Henry before- and nothing has changed. The man is brilliant, talented, writes unceasingly and has been the part of several pivotal bands. Henry’s spoken-word tours are worth standing in line for- you won’t be disappointed. And oh yeah, he’s a smoking hot too. Is this a holdover from my bad-boy days? C’est possible, qui sait.