Any Morning, Anywhere

photo-6I woke early this morning, before the light, and before the birds who like to chirp from the piney boughs outside my bedroom window. Thin streaks of dawn were just coloring the sky when Bean’s ipod alarm, set to “foghorn” and turned up to eleven, went off somewhere downstairs.  Of course no one woke, and I had to drag myself out of bed and find the damn thing, bellowing ridiculously from the edge of the dining room table.

I crawled back in bed, curled around my favorite pillow and stared out at the lightening sky. I’m in a strange state of stasis. After so many years of flux and flow (it felt like mostly flux, but looking back, there was a lot of flow, too— I wonder if all things are like that?) it’s very strange to have relative peace. Things are… quiet, mostly. I’m annoyed that my grad program has been pushed back, but I still have a spot, and it’s not terribly a big deal. I have employment that is enjoyable and meaningful, my kids are all healthy and reasonably happy… I kind of don’t know what to do with myself.

Is that weird?

There are undercurrents of things happening, but mostly those currents are not my story to tell— at least not yet. The chaos of moving, adjustment and settling are all done, and I think, just maybe, this is what regular life feels like. It’s been so long, I had forgotten. There are no raging brush-fires for me to put out every time I turn around, no papers due, no meetings with professors or advisors, no packing or planning, no looking for a place to live, no robbing Peter to pay Paul, no rolling the dice on which bill not to pay this month.

For the first time since before I had Jeffrey more than eleven years ago, I received a paycheck for work I provided, money I earned. Through my own employment, not with student loans, or a husband’s earnings, or the kindness of others, I was able to pay my rent, each of my bills, and look at pride with the tiny amount left in my bank account. There wasn’t much- but it wasn’t overdrawn. Miracles folks… they come in many ways.

You know what I’m doing with what’s left of my first paycheck? First, I donated part of it to a friend’s daughter’s Foreign Exchange Student Program so she can spend a year in India. The rest? To The Feminist Mormon Housewives Tracy McKay Scholarship Fund. I’ve never been so proud in my life to begin the process of giving back.

As for what I’m going to do with myself from here on out? Well… the future, my friends, is wide open. Today, I’m going to work from home, and then run carpool for Abby’s first play-date with a sweet little girl from her first grade class. I’m going to do a little brush-up studying, probably a quick stop to at the gym, and then I’ll figure out what to make for dinner. Hello, regular life, it’s nice to meet you again.

Quintessential Six


Abby Reading
Last night, while changing over the laundry, I caught this image of Abby, reading Calvin and Hobbes by the pink glow of her lantern, and the timelessness of it caught my breath in my chest. Leg folded under her, braids grazing her shoulders, bangs tickling her eyelashes, engrossed in a book. She looks tremendously like my mother at her age, but she has a seriousness, an intellect that surpasses my own by magnitudes. But for just this moment, she captures the age of six in perfect archetype.

Letting Them Find Themselves


There aren’t very many rules to parenting, and there are probably as many way to do it right as there are to screw it up. Who’s to say where one person plants a flag and draws a line is better than another’s (very different) spot. The mommy-wars and human nature do more than enough to stir up anxiety, but the truth is, unless we are truly depraved, we all want the best for our kids.

I don’t have many rules when it comes to how I parent, and I guess that’s good because I don’t think it’s possible to have three more different children than mine (100% of friends and teachers laughingly agree). One of my few hard and fast rules is to not impose my own preferences on them. I’ve tried very, very hard to give my children a lot of room at the margins in which to figure out who they are, and what ignites their passions. Sometimes this is harder than it would seem to be, but it’s also one of those things that gets easier the more I practice.

I protect my children’s free time with a vengeance- to the point where I will communicate to a teacher that the homework load infringes on family time, and it must be kept under 30 minutes, or my kids will not be completing it. They get my kids for more than 6 hours every day, and I will not spend every evening wrangling unhappily over busywork.

There are certain creative pathways that cannot develop if every spare moment is scripted, scheduled or filled with academics or lessons. I keep after-school activities to one per week, and while the kids have many of the electronics and gadgets their friends have, they also have screen-free time where they must entertain themselves. That’s where they figure out who they wish to be, and what they are capable of.

I like to let them solve their own problems whenever I can- if they are not in danger, I’ll hang back, let them roam a bit, find themselves in a pickle, and try to solve it without turning immediately to me or another adult to do their solving for them. Their victories belong to them, because their courage belongs to them.

I find when I want to jump in, to start to control things, it’s always (always always always) about my own issues, my own perceptions of what others might think of me, and never about what is truly right for my kids.  It’s hard biting that back sometimes, and it’s surprising how much I started out caring what other mothers thought of my parenting, and how little I care now. My kids are shockingly confident and happy. They are happier than I ever had any right to expect them to be, and despite what they have experienced.

I take no credit for this- other than for providing them with the best stage I knew how. They know that no matter what they do, how they look, what they accomplish, or how big the fail, that they are competent, that they can solve problems, that they are loved, and that they are of tremendous value. This is why they are happy. This is why it matters.

What that means is Bean sometimes goes to school looking like this:img_1042

It means Jeffrey can find a cookbook, choose a recipe, and follow the directions with absolutely zero help from me, and he succeeds:IMG_0213

It means letting him plate, ice and serve the cake to his delighted sister— yes, that’s the cake my eleven year old son made:IMG_0232

It means letting them roll the windows down on a cold January day just because they want to know what it feels like:IMG_0223

It means letting them lay around and do nothing sometimes:IMG_0168

It means making a Dalek costume even when we’d never made one, and most people didn’t know what it was:181801_10151136285030963_375699388_n

It means not caring about perfect Christmas cookies and caring more about letting the kids figure it out and enjoy the process:IMG_0029

It means letting her play with food color and glasses and straws in order for her to understand visible spectrum light, rather than just read about it:IMG_0165

It means letting them stand on the subway (even when I want to tell them to sit down) because they like holding the bar and the feel of the train under their feet.IMG_0158

It means making this kind of quiet time as important as any appointment:IMG_0210

But mostly, honestly, it means biting my tongue when my automatic response is “no”, and pausing for just a moment, and allowing “yes” to be a possibility.

Hope: Early Intervention and Autism Diagnosis

Photo on 2013-01-23 at 15.48 #3

I get a lot of emails from folks asking about Autism. There is a wealth of information on autism that can be gleaned from a myriad of sources- I’m not even an authoritative one, just a mother who has documented the experience of helping her son. But one of the drums I have beat the most consistently, and will continue to pound at every opportunity, is Early Intervention.

A lot of parents express grief at an autism diagnosis. I’m sure this is entirely normal, and to some extent, there might be a perceived loss over expectation and dreams one might have had for a child. (I would submit this applies to all children, and all parents, and is not particularly unique to children with Autism- we just simply have to face it earlier.) I know there are parents who strongly resist a diagnosis, not wanting their child to be “labeled”- frankly, this perplexes me. With my own son, getting a diagnosis was the answer to everything. When you have a baby who so clearly is developing differently than his or her peers, finding out why lifts a massive parental, psychological and personal weight. To be honest, while I can remove myself enough to abstractly understand, when parents resist helping their child (make no mistake, rejecting a diagnosis is resisting help) it makes me wonder who they are thinking of first. Their child? Or their own hopes and ideals of perfection? I am admittedly impatient with parents who put their own preconceived selfish ideas of who their child should be ahead of the child’s actual needs for one main reason: Early Intervention works.

The longer a parent resists the “label” for a child who might be in need of help, the worse the long-term outcome for that child. Autism rates are climbing, and yes, there is debate on whether this due to actual physiological increase, better diagnosis, or over-diagnosis. I have but a single thought on that: It doesn’t matter. Statistically, it might, over time- but to a child? No. Early Intervention is so important, that casting a wide net, perhaps getting some children who might not be fully on the spectrum, but in the process catching those that are- is far and above worth it. Early Intervention is critical to the child who has ASD and his/her future development. Critical. And for the occasional child who perhaps was just going through a phase? It won’t hurt him at all- it’s a little extra boost intellectually and developmentally. For me, that’s worth the odds.

In human development, it’s very difficult to show control groups— no researcher wants to sacrifice a human child to show what would happen without therapy. Yet we have enough data to support the importance of that therapy without debate.

In my own son, while I will never know how he would have developed without intense Early Intervention, anyone who has been reading this site long enough can see the overarching change for themselves. It’s that obvious, and that bright. When he was diagnosed at two years old, he scored more than 30% points lower than the baseline for a child to qualifies for services. At 2 1/2 years old, he could not make a mark on a paper with a crayon because his brain could not figure out the complicated process of enough pressure to hold the crayon in his fingers, enough downward pressure to make a mark, and the muscle movement to then drag the crayon down the paper. He could not do it.

He walked on his tiptoes. He could not abide bubbles in a bath touching his skin, let alone anything with seams or anything loose. He lived in his sisters tights. Anyone remember that? For seven years, he’s received therapy five days a week. For the first three years after his diagnosis, he attended a special school for children with Autism, and received 6 hours a day of specialized instruction. When he finally started at a typical school, it was with a classroom aid and pull-out services (this is where a SpecialEd child is removed from the primary classroom to a secondary classroom with a specialist for the needs laid out in their IEP).

He worked hard- he continues to work hard. Here we are, nearly seven years later, and he knows he is different. I don’t know how other parents deal with it, but I’ve been honest and open with him about Autism, what it is, what it means, and how his brain is different. He thinks this makes him special. And he’s right. He is never going to be a typical child, teen, nor adult. Autism does not go away, and there is not a cure. His mind is wired in a different way, and he excels at his own areas, and is challenged by things others find easy or inconsequential.  He wears noise-canceling headphones in church. He will likely always resist others touching him. He might always prefer tight, smooth clothing. But at the same time, with seven years of therapy, he can now tell me when something is making him anxious, instead of retreating to a corner to hit his head.

He smiles a genuine smile more often now, where once he had a grimace. He can handle bubbles in the bath, and he ate a strawberry yesterday (!). He sang- actually sang in school, instead of hiding and rocking. He curls up next to people he feels safe with, and will even tolerate a hug and a kiss now and then. He write with a pencil now, and can cut with scissors. He tolerates the children at the bus stop not being orderly because he can communicate to me how crazy it makes him, and we develop coping plans. People meet him and on first impression now tell me he “seems pretty normal”. Yep. Amazing, right? Early Intervention.

I lay out these bona fides because I want other parents who are just beginning this path, or who are resisting the “label” to not be afraid. With the label comes the help, come the specialists who have studied children like yours and mine. With the label comes therapy that will help your child create new neural pathways that will profoundly influence their lives later, and give them a chance to not just function and survive the world- but to thrive. With the label… comes hope.

Tracy McKay Family (102)

Damned, Either Way

It still surprises me how unkind some people can be. What part of building Zion makes it acceptable to be furiously judgmental? Over the last few years, I have seen the very (very) best my adopted community has to offer, and I’ve also been privy to some of the most scathing and biting commentary on women, in particular, me. I suppose so much light must cast a shadow…

I’ve been accused of milking my ward, being inconsiderate of my Elder’s Quorum in accepting a spot in graduate school and needing to move, of overstepping my proper place in seeking higher education. I’ve been called to repentance in a letter for being an apostate feminist and I’ve been shunned in person for being too orthodox. I’ve been called a Welfare Mother, I’ve been accused in a national newspaper of overfeeding my lazy fat children on the less than $4 per day that welfare provides. It’s been suggested that I should just find a husband not not take a man’s spot in grad school, and I’ve been told my children should be my highest priority, and to get off my ass and get a job.

I’ve been asked how I can submit my will to a patriarchal church, and I’ve been told by leaders of that church that I need not lobby for rights if I just remember how to be virtuous. I have been told that my undergrad should be enough, and if were less educated, I might have an easier time meeting a man. I have been told I sacrificed my children’s well-being by going to school, and that they are victims of my ambition. I have been told “how dare you?” when I admit I receive public assistance, and have had strangers comment on my belongings in line at the grocery store. I have been told that I am a reason not to pay tithing anymore.

I do not wear my CV around my neck. I do not owe every person I meet a run-down on how hard I have tried, how many mountains I have climbed, how my soul has been wracked, how many tears have fallen from my chin, how many times I have fallen, and been too weary to get up. But I just keep writing.

What should a woman in my position do? I am sick of retelling the sad story of the last several years in order to gain approval from strangers. I have chosen to be raw, open and naked in my narrative, and I do not regret it. The net good that has come from my vulnerability far outweighs the cruelty— a truth for which I am eternally grateful.

To the rest of the people who are overflowing with misdirected anger, hatred, cruelty and what they might imagine is righteous indignation? May you never walk a day in my shoes. To those who have loved me, picked me up when I thought I couldn’t do it on my own; you hold my heart in your hands, my gratitude in your limbs, and my teachable self moving forward, emulating your examples.