Friday, May 3, 2013

Make Good Choices!

You remember the line, don't you? Jamie Lee Curtis' character in "Freaky Friday?" Her parting words to her moody teenage daughter, "Make good choices!" It became a joke in our family. Not that I said it, but the vocal inflection in which I used when I said it. My girls knew I meant the words, but I also meant to have them leave me in the morning with a smile.

Mornings are hard in our house. I am NOT a morning person. My husband isn't either, but he can be pretty chatty in the morning. He's learned over the years that I am not really the one to chat with in the a.m. My oldest daughter is like I am in the morning. Not chatty, kinda grumpy. My youngest daughter, on the other hand, apparently thinks she has been saving up all of the words she couldn't use while she was sleeping and share them ALL with us first thing in the morning. I have a look that evidently speaks to her. This look says, "Too. Many. Words. Too. Early."

But usually by the time everyone is ready to go out the door, we're all in a good enough mood to joke around. It used to be with me telling the girls to "make good choices!" For the last couple of years it's been a morning routine with my youngest, who is now 17, which goes like this:

Me: "Did you take your meds? (answer could go either way.) Do you have all your shit? (because I don't like driving to the high school at 7:30 a.m.) Do you have your phone? (same reason.) I love you."

JK: "I love you, too."

Me: "Have a good day."

JK: "Don't tell me what to do!"

I love it. Quality conversation with a 17 year old girl.

Today we had a different conversation. Today it did have to do with choices. Choices of how she can react to her Relationships teacher, an old-school FCS teacher who is on her way out. Retiring, thank goodness. I'm sure she's a lovely lady, but I'm also sure she has no idea how to use the grading program, since she had daily assignments listed in the assessment boxes (which carry a heavier percentage of the grade) and JK didn't give a quality effort on said daily assignments, and at conferences in February it appeared she was failing the class. She wasn't. She hates the class and really doesn't care for the teacher, but she knows she has to learn to get along with people of authority she doesn't like, so it's a learning experience.

I'm also pretty sure she didn't bother reading my daughter's 504 plan, or if she did she has no idea what those letters mean behind her name. Maybe she should look up what "ODD" stands for. Yes, JK can be odd, but that's not what it stands for. Oppositional Defiance Disorder. In a nutshell, it means if you back her in a corner using your position of authority, she's going to come out swinging. Plan accordingly.

But I digress (like I always do). Back to the "make good choices."

In Relationships, they are discussing psychological disorders, and Monday they discussed autism. They watched a video (which I'm tempted to say was a reel-to-reel given how I feel about the situation) about a boy and his severely autistic brother. During the discussion part of the class, the teacher showed her ignorance about the autism spectrum and lumped all individuals with autism in the severely autistic category. JK came home pretty upset, and the first thing she asked me was if autism was a disease. Not knowing where this was coming from, I explained to her that disease was a convenient term to use, but I wouldn't classify it as a disease. She then proceeded to inform me that her teacher talked about how "debilitating" the disease of autism was, and how some individuals with autism have a good chance of functioning in society someday.

Okay, now Mama Bear was beginning to emerge. I asked a few more questions about the discussion, which not only entailed the teacher discussing individuals with autism, but a few students trying to explain that autism was a spectrum, and not all individuals with autism are as severe as the boy in the video. These explanations were answered with a smug smile and a look of condescension and the discussion was moved along according to her lesson plans.

I asked if she wanted me to say something to the teacher or to her counselor, to which she immediately said no, for fear she would become a part of the next classroom discussion. I stored away my angry mother eyes and tamped down my feelings of anger in hopes the next day would be a better one.

Tuesday they discussed bi-polar disorder. JK isn't, but I'm sure she's seen a list of symptoms and has questioned it in her mind. I know I have. Pair that with the fact that her hackles were already up from the day before, and I'm sure JK was ready to pick apart what the teacher had to say. The part she chose to share with me was the teacher explaining how individuals with bi-polar disorder lead such debilitating lives on a daily basis. I took a deep breath.

I tried to explain to JK that this teacher was discussing the extremes of each of these diagnoses, and not the levels of severity they each can hold. JK gave me a look of understanding, but no words. I felt defeated by her expression.

Back to this morning and our discussion; I called her in my room and told her that she had two choices when she went into Relationships today. 1) She could be offended by the obvious ignorance of her teacher's explanations, or 2) she could take them for what they were worth:  the simple explanations of someone who doesn't know any better. (Okay, I added another part in there about it being a bitter old woman whose career was about to end, but that was more of a pep talk.)

Those choices are hard ones to make. The choice of how you react to someone's ignorance or misunderstanding of an issue. There comes a point where you have to figure out if what you say is going to make a difference to the person you're trying to explain it to. There are just some people that just don't get it. And by "it" I mean any other point of view besides their own. It doesn't matter if you present facts to them that contradict what they believe, they just don't care. They have an idea in their head and that's that. End of story. 

So over the years you learn to smile and nod and let them think whatever it is they want to think, no matter how incorrect or inaccurate or ignorant it may be. It might be that what they think is written in ink on their lesson plans and there is no room for discussion or alternate ways of thinking. It might be that they read it somewhere and if it's in writing, then it must be true. It might be how they were taught or how they were brought up, and they just don't know any better, and they don't have the ability to entertain other opinions. Or it could just be that they're ignorant assholes and there is just no way you are ever going to change their minds.

So tell me: what good choices did you make today?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What's WRONG with YOU?

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. Too bad we can't educate the world in one day. To try to educate some people I know might take all year. (As well as some 2x4 therapy) Some people just don't get it. Some people want to know "what's wrong with her?" Here's the deal: nothing is wrong with her. Everything is wrong with you. Maybe not everything, but everything as it relates to her. 

I have a child who falls on the autism spectrum, so I've got a dog in this fight. I'm the dog, and I'm fighting. Fighting to educate people about what they consider "different." We're all different. What a boring world it would be if we were all the same. I've often jokingly said "Well things would be better if everyone were just like ME!" But I really don't mean that. I mean, driving would be exponentially better, but that's about where it would stop. I don't want everyone to like the exact same things I like. Then there wouldn't be enough for me! What makes us different is what makes us unique. 

Ah, unique. If I had a dollar for every time a teacher started a parent-teacher conference with, "She's very unique," I might not be working right now. Yes, I know she's unique. I'm her mother. And don't try to substitute the word unique with "quirky," "unusual," "peculiar," "idiosyncratic," or "eccentric." They all mean the same thing. They mean my child is non-conformist and won't fit inside the tiny little box you want all students to fit into. They mean my child is one-of-a-kind. They mean my child is an individual. I get that. I understand that. Does it interfere with her ability to learn? Does it interfere with your ability to teach? 

There are three main diagnoses that fall under the autism spectrum. "Autistic," "Asperger syndrome," and "PDD-NOS." (pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified) These disorders are typically characterized by social deficits, communication difficulties, stereotyped or repetitive behaviors and interests, and in some cases, cognitive delays. You will notice I have underlined the word typically. That means there are exceptions. Don't question me if I state that my child falls on the autism spectrum by saying that she doesn't ____, or she's never ____ . I said "spectrum." Look it up if you have to, but here's a hint: a rainbow is a spectrum of colors. I hope that helps.

And there isn't a damn thing wrong with her. 

I'm a "fixer." What I finally figured out is that my child didn't need fixed, everyone else needed fixed. She may have a whole string of letters (ADHD, ODD, OCD), as well as severe anxiety issues, but she's not broken. You fix what is broken, and she isn't. I've never thought of her as different, but incredibly advanced. I had to explain the electoral college to her when she was seven, and she understood it. She's wise beyond her years and absolutely hysterically funny. But so many people are so incredibly uncomfortable around her that it affects me as a mother in ways I can't understand. Some of them are close members of our own family.

Sarcasm is an odd component in her life. She uses it like a second language, but most of the time when it is directed AT her, she doesn't get it. She takes it as literal. I explained it to a teacher once like this: "You might be using sarcasm with her, but she doesn't know you're being sarcastic. She just thinks you're a bitch." (She was a bitch, but pointing out to her that she was a bitch regardless of her use of sarcasm wasn't going to help out my cause, so I just left it at that.) 

She has NO tolerance for the intolerant. Because she's always been "different," she relates with the minority. She stands up for the little guy (or girl). She roots for the underdog. When you generalize about an entire group of people, she's going to be offended. When you use derogatory terms, she is going to be outraged. (I do too, but I know that those people in my life who do this are shallow, superficial assholes. I've come to terms with it.)

I guess my point is, there is nothing wrong with people who are autistic. They might process things differently than you do. They might respond to outside stimuli differently than you do. They might view what is important in life as something totally different that what you do. 

What is wrong is how you respond to them. Don't stare and frown. Don't laugh and giggle and point. Most importantly, don't judge. Don't talk about someone who is autistic behind their back. Or behind their family's backs. Chances are, it will get back to us, and then we will pity you for being so small-minded. Try to understand. (Honestly, I try to understand why some people are such assholes, why can't you try to understand?)

There's nothing wrong with her; what's wrong with you?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Mauled by a Bear and Lived to Tell the Tale" or "When I First Realized that Wisconsin Hates Me."

Since before I can remember, and even before that, our family has visited Pembine, Wisconsin to visit relatives on my mom's side of the family. They are a fun, down-to-earth, rowdy bunch of folks, and usually a good time is had by all. Pembine is a "don't blink or you'll miss the town" place north of Green Bay on Highway 141, almost to Iron Mountain, Michigan. Three families (my mom's mom's mom's siblings, if you can follow that) moved to northeastern Wisconsin in the 1930s and 1940s when times were hard everywhere. Some of them went to Minnesota as well, but three siblings moved to the Pembine-Dunbar-Beecher Wisconsin area. 

Since I was a little girl, I've always wanted to walk from highway 141 out the long and twisty road to my cousin's home. I didn't act on it until 2003 when I traveled to Wisconsin with my parents. We stayed at a motel that sits at the corner of Highways US 8 and US 141, and the first morning I started out bright and early for my long walk to their house. I guess it's about 6 miles or so.  It was a crappy morning, not sunny, not warm, spitting rain. I had walked almost half way when my parents drove up on their way there. It was yucky out so I jumped in the back seat and decided I'd try again the next morning.

The next morning I got up even earlier and started on my way. I had taken along my dad's red hooded sweatshirt since it was a little chilly in the morning, and I jokingly called it my bear-attracting sweatshirt. So I was on my way out Cemetery Road on a bright and sunshiny day, and even had to tie the sweatshirt around my waist because I was a little too warm. I was over half way when Mom and Dad drove by me, and I said I was going to do it that day but did toss my sweatshirt in their back seat. I just knew I would make my goal that day!

I was between 2/3 and 3/4 of the way there, and had been looking down on the side of the road for interesting rocks to take home to the girls when I heard some rustling in front of me. I looked up and there, about 50 yards in front of me walked a black bear, from one side of the road into the timber on the other side. It wasn't a small bear, not a cub or anything, but a full-grown adult. It was a black bear, but to me it looked as big as a grizzly. 

I wasn't sure what to do. I was afraid that maybe it was a mama bear and her cubs were on the side of the road she had just come from, and I knew you didn't get between a mama bear and her cubs. So I stood there. Panicking, not knowing what to do.

Well I decided the first thing I'd do is say every swear word I know (later I said it was because I wasn't sure if I'd ever get the chance to say them again) and that didn't help. (at this point in the telling of the story, my brother Tom says that me saying every swear word I know took about 20 minutes) That was plan A.

Plan B then went into action. I tried calling up to my cousin's house, but I was standing in an area with very tall trees, so I didn't get very good reception. I could hear them, but they could not hear me.  

Well, (expletive)! What now? If I only had a ride! Well despite having just taken the Lord's name in vain several time (and in three languages), the Almighty answered my prayers in the form of a very, very small car with a boat strapped to the top and four fishermen inside. I flagged them down (I'm sure I looked like a crazy woman, and I don't think they would have stopped had I not jumped out in front of them, and they probably thought I'd dent their car too much) and they stopped and rolled down the window. I told them that I was only going a little farther down the road to my cousin's but there was a bear up ahead and I didn't want to cross her path. 

They kindly opened the back door for me (or maybe they didn't? maybe I just opened the door and got in, I'm not sure. there was a bear involved in this!) and I got in. There were four guys, all in their late 20s or early 30s. Fishing poles were inside the little car from the back of the hatch up through to the windshield. Needless to say the poor sap who had to move over for me and sit in the middle had his neck all twisted because of said fishing poles. To be honest, I really didn't care about his comfort, only my safety. 

In the meantime, my parents had arrived safely and bear-free at our cousin's house, and Mom, Dad and Betty were settled in on the front porch with cups of coffee. My mother had just commented to Betty about a car that was coming down the road with a boat on top, "Look, there are some fishermen, heading down to the river! Oh, wait. They are stopping! Do you know them, Betty?" To which a bewildered Betty started to answer "No," but was interrupted when the back door opened up and out I jumped! My mother said, "Well! That's Barbara! I taught her better than to take rides with strangers! What does she think she's doing?" 

Well out I popped and ran into the house, first to the bathroom (because I was never at the point that I wet my pants, thank goodness!) and then out onto the porch with Mom, Dad and Betty. Betty was still laughing at this point, and my dad was chuckling, and my mother was demanding to know why I would ride with strangers and asking what happened. Don't get me wrong, she was laughing at the situation as well. 

I explained the entire situation to them all and Betty told me that bear was more scared of me than I was of it. That may have been true, but sometimes when I am scared I lash out, and what's to say the bear didn't react the same way? When Betty's son, Ken heard the story he told me I was in more danger from those four strange men than I was from the bear. Everyone had a wonderful laugh at my expense. 

That night I called home to talk to my husband and daughters and experienced the same laughter from my husband, but when I told the girls, the conversation took a little different turn. When I finished the story, I experienced dead silence on the other end of the line. Then someone spoke. One of the girls.

Me: "Yes, there was a bear!"
Me: "Only because there was a bear."
Me: "Did you miss the part of this story that involved a BEAR?"
"Officer Friendly tells us to NEVER take rides with strangers!"

We DROVE back to our motel room that night, but the next day Betty informed us that late that night, after dark, a little car zoomed down the road with a boat on the top of it, and honked on the way by. See? Friendly guys.

I am sure it won't surprise you to hear that every time I told the story it got better. The bear was closer and closer and bigger and bigger. Eventually it got to the point where the bear did charge me and I had to play dead and it knocked me around a bit. Probably at some point in telling the story, I was actually mauled or something. Anyway.

So the next March my husband and I took the girls to see the movie "Big Fish" with Ewan MacGregor and Albert Finney. On the way home, my youngest said "I still don't understand why the movie was called Big Fish." So my husband told her that the man was trying to sort out the stories his dad told him over the years and separate the truth from the exaggeration. Kind of like when a fisherman tells about the fish that got away, and it gets bigger and bigger each time he tells it.

That explained it for her. She piped up and said, "Kinda like Mom and the bear story?"

To which my loving husband answered, "EXACTLY like Mom and the bear story!"

And THAT, my friends, was when I first realized that Wisconsin hated me. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

I'm SO Ornamental

By definition, "ornament" means something that lends grace or beauty. "Ornamental" is defined as "of, relating to, or serving as an ornament." So "ornamental" means something relating to grace or beauty. So why is one of the antonyms of ornamental "functional?" Something that lends grace or beauty isn't functional?


There is a reason this word is stuck in my mind today. I have tried for the past 20 years to keep organized track of what ornaments we have that adorn our tree each Christmas. (TRY being the operative word in that last sentence!) The ornaments were mine from before I was married, they were Rob's before we were married, they are ours from the past 21+ years of our married life, they belong to Brett, and they belong to J. Kay. A couple of them actually belong to Nic. I acquired a few this year that previously belonged to my mom and dad. Some are ones that my Grandma Newbury made. She beaded several bells and a couple of Eastern Star stars. 

Before everything goes away until next December, I'm going to give one last shot at my organization. I'm going to know to whom each of these ornaments belong. Maybe even from where they came. I'm going to try my hardest, anyway. I'll be taking photos and writing on ornaments for the rest of the day. 

So this brings me back to my original question: Something that lends grace or beauty isn't functional? The definition of functional is something that is "used to contribute to the development or maintenance of a larger whole." 

The ornaments we have for our tree aren't all beautiful by the dictionary definition. They aren't what most people would consider beautiful. But nearly every ornament we own helps to tell a story of our lives. To tell a story about our likes and interests, our ages and capabilities, our pasts and our futures. They are an extension of each of us as individuals and as members of our family. 

THAT is beautiful. Our family is beautiful. Our family might not be like your family. We're unique. We're quirky. We function well as individuals and pretty well as a whole. 

So those ornaments, that are an extension of us as individuals and an extension of us as a family, are functional. Each tells something different from a different time. Each helps us relive a time of our lives we may only relive once a year. Some make us laugh. Some make us cry. All tell stories of our lives, which are beautiful. 

The English language is a funny thing that doesn't always make sense. This happens to be one of those times where it doesn't make sense. Especially if you couple this with the fact that another word for "ornament" is "decoration." Because the definition of decoration "something which adorns, enriches or beautifies." 

Maybe we should come up with a different word to signify those items with which we festoon our trees at Christmas time. Any ideas? Maybe "life markers." That's what they seem to be, at least in our case. They are the markers of our lives at that particular time and place. 

Which makes me smile, laugh even, because my next question was going to be, "How in the world did four (or five) people get so many Christmas ornaments?" I've answered my own questions. Our lives are full to overflowing. We have so many things to mark our lives over the past 16, 19, 20, 21, or 44 years. 

Our lives are full. Our lives are good. Our lives are rich. Our lives are beautiful.