Things I Don’t Want to Say

I’ve been planning to write this post for a month or so. I’ve held off for a few reasons. One of them is that I know that a lot of you will be stunned.

It’s about Tesser. I’m worried about her.

So many of you have met her. And everyone raves about what a beautiful, sweet, smiley, happy baby she is. And she is all those things.

She also hasn’t progressed in any notable way in the last 2 or 3 months. Besides sitting and adding a combination scoot-roll mobility to her gross motor repertoire, it’s been stagnant. Her language has stalled out at just a little bit of babbling, light on consonants. She will respond to voices sometimes. She plays intensely and concentrates hard. Talking to her doesn’t give you smiles or feedback. She doesn’t mimic.

Yes, she is beautiful and sweet. And I’m also worried she’ll end up with an Autism diagnosis.

It’s preliminary, of course. This week she has her 9-month pediatrician appointment. I’ll talk to her doctor. And depending on our conversation, I’ll probably make a call to Early Intervention to see about having her evaluated. Delays have to be a certain amount behind before they can step in. But I’m seeing significant enough receptive and expressive language delays that I don’t feel comfortable.

This feeling has been creeping around the edges for months.

It’s a big change from how I used to feel. I was so certain that she wasn’t. Not this baby. Not this little girl that I held on my lap every day during Graham’s therapy and smiled at.

How could she look at me so deeply all the time and have anything wrong?

Of course I know better.

And I know what you’re going to want to tell me. You want to tell me she’s FINE. You’ve SEEN her. There’s NOTHING wrong with her.

But everyone told me that about Graham, too.

A child can be bright and charming and still be autistic. And I can’t put off thinking about it any longer.

So I’ll be talking to the pediatrician and possibly getting her evaluated by Early Intervention.

I am trying to learn my own lessons and not grieve for a lost future when I don’t even know if it’s lost yet. I’ve always seen those hyper-verbal little babies, so inquisitive and outgoing, and always knew I’d have one.

But a few weeks ago I laid Tessa down for her nap and I just had this sudden strong feeling. I am going to have two autistic children, I thought. And it will be okay.

Proclaiming any diagnosis right now is hilariously ahead of the game. But I’m getting myself ready for whatever news there is, good or bad. I’m not an expert.

But I know one thing.

It will be okay.


Peace, Love and Understanding

The other day I was driving down the street and saw a group of people braving the drizzly weather in ponchos, holding signs for a political candidate.

I am not the kind of person who would ever do that unless I was related to the candidate and even then, that candidate would owe me brownies or something. So I didn’t think much of it.

But as I drove by, I saw a car roll down its window and the passenger made a big show of giving a big thumbs down and yelled a few choice words at them.

And I just thought, This has got to stop. 

Why do this? Why be hateful to people you don’t even know? Why be hateful to anyone? Especially because of politics?

It’s bad enough that you feel like you’re walking on eggshells on Facebook all the time. Most people I know get into the habit of hiding people from their feeds when their status updates get too overtly political. And I don’t know many people who wouldn’t happily delete a comment someone else made on their wall that tried to pick a political fight with them or someone else.

I know we’re all surrounded by politics right now and it gets annoying. When we stayed in Texas with my parents for a month, a political primary was coming up and there was a local race that had the kind of ads that make you want to pukethat boil down to little more than So-and-so is a insert derogatory word here. These insults usually were something like “Washington insider” or “Bad for Texas.” What they boiled down to was old-fashioned name-calling. It pained me to see these ads, and everyone I talked to felt the same way. They weren’t effective, no one even noticed who was throwing mud at who anymore.

I don’t think the answer is to suspend all political talk. After all, it’s important that we know what’s going on and are able to voice our opinions. As I learned in law school, political speech is the most protected speech.

I think we need to change how we talk about it.

I also think we need to change how we respond to it.

Here’s the thing. I have friends. You have friends. I like these people. For the majority of my friends, I have no idea what their political affiliation is. But it would be foolish of me to assume that all my friends feel the same way that I do. I don’t even agree with my parents, so it’s likely I disagree with many people I’m close to, whose friendships I treasure.

So how to talk about politics without stepping on the toes of my friends or hurting someone’s feelings? I try to do it respectfully. I try to think about the fact that people disagree with me. I try to think of what other people say that offends or hurts me and avoid it.

But obviously that’s not enough. Just hiding the crazy-in-the-tank folks from your Facebook page doesn’t fix all these problems, right? If it did, why would that lady in the car have felt the need to respond so hurtfully to people she didn’t know at all based only on the fact that she didn’t want to vote for their candidate?

Why, when someone posts a link with a political agenda do we feel the need to respond that we disagree or that we’re upset by it? Why can’t we just, well, let it go? Live and let live a little more often? Why do we feel the need to correct someone when they don’t agree with us?

It’s not just about what we say, it’s about how we respond. Both of them are ways that we can show respect. And show what we expect from the world and from each other.

I don’t expect you all to agree with me on everything. And while I try to keep the blog nonpartisan, I feel that if we were more open about things sometimes it might make things easier.

For example, I plan to vote for Obama this year. That doesn’t mean I agree 100% with his policies or agendas. It doesn’t mean I feel like he is perfect or his party is perfect. It’s simply what I feel like my choice should be based on my own opinions and concerns.

Notice I don’t say it’s the right choice. I feel like so much of our political speech is embedded with this morality underneath it, this idea that I am voting this way because it is better and if you don’t you are somehow worse.

Reasonable minds can differ. I love and respect a lot of people who plan to vote for Romney. I don’t think less of them because of that. And I don’t want them to think less of me because of my preferences.

The media likes to make it a horserace. And the parties want to turn it into a good vs. bad decision. But you know what? Last time I checked, both parties have taken plenty of turns running this country. We are still here. We are still together. We continue to make progress. We continue to be one nation all together.

I don’t like seeing words like dangerous in political discussions. Or evil. Or wrong.

What I do like is people talking about what’s important to them, what they’re passionate about, and causes they’d like to support. Politics has too much negativity already. Let’s find what we have in common and then we can figure out how to work together towards those goals. Because I’m pretty sure we agree a lot more than we realize.

So what are my issues? Where are my passions?

My husband is going into medical research. Funding for science is important to us, not only because of his career but because we feel like it leads to important breakthroughs that benefit everyone.

I spent years as a public defender who worked with a lot of families and children. It’s important to me that programs that help people with mental health needs and provide extra family support stay intact and get stronger. I’ve seen the impact they have on people’s lives, and I’ve seen how easy it is for many of us to live our lives with no idea of the things people struggle with all around us.

My son is autistic. I’ve seen the difference in services we’ve received here in Massachusetts than a lot of other states provide. I feel that it saves us money in the long-run to help kids with difficulties through early intervention services and school-provided structures that are effective and respond to the needs of families.

And after the first debate, I’m really concerned about the way we talk about poverty in this country. Politicians pander to the middle-class, and “the poor” are mentioned as an afterthought. I wish we focused on the poor, the needy, the homeless, the sick, the disabled without talking about entitlements or laziness. I wish we talked about how to find real help for communities that need it.

These are things I feel passionately about. But I don’t see much of this in our discussion. Some of this is my own fault. I’m not standing up and saying how I feel the way I should. And I feel like we benefit when we look at these issues in a way that’s courteous, but also a way that’s personal.

That’s one reason I love blogs. My eyes have been opened to so many different kinds of triumphs and struggles that I didn’t see or that the people around me didn’t always share openly.

Something else I believe in: voting. In law school when I read the cases around the one-person-one-vote idea, I felt inspired and proud of my country. In Massachusetts, registering to vote is a kind of annoying process (which should really be digitized, people!) and since we’ve moved we have to re-register.

So I want to end by reminding you to vote. And there’s a handy little form you can fill out right here.

Full disclosure: this is a form I am using in participation with the #blogforobama campaign which I’m doing through The Mission List. (Totally uncompensated.) I thought long and hard about whether to post anything political because it can be so tricky. But in the end, the tricky-ness of it was exactly why I felt I should post. Because I feel like we’re pretty open here at the Mess. And I want you to see that I have this point of view because it’s part of me. And I want you to say, hey, we agree/disagree and that’s okay. Because that’s how I feel about all of you. I would never want someone to stop reading my site because they disagreed with my beliefs, be they political or religious or otherwise.

I know it’s possible to talk about this stuff like grown-ups. I’ve seen it happen.

And we, as adults, talk so much about how bad bullying is, and yet isn’t it bullying to leave someone out of your circle or call names because of what they think or who they are? Maybe it’s not their clothes or their looks, but it’s still part of who they are.

So. I love you guys. Thanks for reading. Thanks for still reading even if you like/dislike Obama or Romney or whoever.

You know another thing I’m passionate about? The internet being a place for everybody to come together and support each other.

Maybe it’s foolish of me to think that a few of us deciding to be more respectful in how we talk to each other and respond to each other could have an impact in the world. But I’ll strive for it anyway.

The Extroverted Introvert

Every so often I get the idea in my head that I’m going to take the Myers-Briggs personality test again. You  know, the ESFP or INTJ, etc. I don’t know why I do it. I’ve taken it loads of times. I can never remember what I was before or if I came out differently this time.

And the funny thing is I hate that test. Every time I’m done with it I just roll my eyes. Because it makes you choose one side or the other. Black and white, no gray. Like thinking vs. feeling. For me that’s a very close call that changes from one time to the next. The only thing I always get the same is the J because I’m not really very spontaneous.

One of the other ones where I vacillate a bit is the Introvert vs. Extrovert.

And it has me questioning what I know about those things. Because I thought for years I was a strong introvert. I stayed home on weekends. I read books. I enjoyed small groups. I hated chit chat. I longed for deep, personal connections. I hated parties.

But the last few times I filled out one of those tests, it asked me about wanting to do stuff, wanting to talk to people, wanting to go places and I realized that things were different. Sure, I wanted deep, personal connections and I hated crowds. But I no longer wanted to spend my nights with a book. I wanted to go out and meet people and do things and have fun.

I’ve been trying to figure out what changed. And I don’t know if I changed or if everything around me changed instead.

Now I go hang out with my blogger friends and I’ve become the person who knows everyone. How did this happen? Since when am I the center of any social circle? I’ve always been the person fluttering around on the outside longing to get in and be needed. I introduce people, I tell people who they should meet, I give cute little bios when new folks get together. I don’t care if I’m on the end of the table or in the middle since I’m able to make myself at home either way.

I wonder if it’s having kids or being at home so much. Or maybe it’s just the combined effects of so many years of a nonexistent social life. I didn’t go out much when I was young. And after I finished school I lived in places where I hardly knew anyone. Having a social calendar and people I can hug and say hi to is such a weird new thing for me.

I do feel like I fit in for the first time. And I’m a natural loudmouth, so those naturally give me some strong extrovert tendencies these days. Some people may never guess I’m an introvert if it weren’t for the fact that I sit around at home writing meditative posts like this one to post on the internet.

I’ve been wondering, though, if this extrovert/introvert thing isn’t more something I just am rather than a tug of war in my head.

I want to connect. I want to have something in common with people. I want to laugh with them. I want to share stories.

But. I find that even when I’m with people I’m close to and comfortable with and having great conversation, it takes very little for me to find myself feeling like an outsider withdrawing into my shell again. As much as I want to be the same, I can’t avoid differences.

It’s hard being around any talk of toddlers. I wonder if some day this will be easier, if maybe Tessa will have a normal toddler-hood and I’ll no longer feel like there’s so much I missed. Graham is great now and it’s much easier if we talk of big boys in preschool, but those lost and low days still hang heavy on me, heavier than I realize.

Our family is still in the lean years. We don’t have a house. I can’t even have more than one or two people over to my apartment without it feeling crowded. We get our groceries with coupons and our clothes on clearance. It  can feel like I’m stepping into another life when I step into another person’s house. (This weekend I met up with a group of totally new people who live very close to us and was amazed that we could be so geographically close while we live in our small apartment and they live in a regular house.)

And there’s plenty more. Sometimes it goes both ways. I’ll feel like the only stay-at-home parent among working parents. I’ll feel like the only parent who’s worked among long-time stay-at-home parents.

It feels like my mind constantly sticks to whatever it is that makes me different. Is it habit? Instinct? Whatever it is, it makes me feel like I’ll never shake off that introvert who insists that I’m not really comfortable being the social butterfly that I’ve been lately.

When it comes down to it, though, I can’t complain much. I have been more social in the last year than I’ve ever been in my life. I owe so much to the Boston Parent Bloggers, the Boston Brunchers, my online communities, my fellow Autism parents, my Twitter friends, and loads of people online who’ve made me their friend and a part of their circle. Lord knows my blog isn’t big enough that they’re just trying to kiss up to me.

If I’m an extrovert these days I’ll happily take that title and wear it around for a while and see how it feels. So far it feels pretty good.

Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer

When you read blogs full of instagram photos that capture lovely little moments of life, it’s easy to think that everyone is just having a wonderful time.

Recently, after we’d been out for a long day, Graham protested as he often does that he didn’t want to go home. And this one time I indulged him. I turned off the road back to the house and stopped at a park. The weather was perfect. I sat on a shady bench. Tessa was calm and comfortable. Graham played happily on the playground. I took a minute and let myself enjoy it.

I sat there in that wonderful moment. And I thought about how I’m really not the greatest parent.

Normally, when I find myself sitting on a park bench, I’m wishing I could be somewhere else. I sit there knowing I’m supposed to be treasuring every minute, but I can’t always muster the maternal love to treasure this particular minute when Graham is burying his toy train under wood chips again like he does every time we go to the park.

But that time, that one time, I snapped a picture of Graham playing and felt at peace. It was a nice feeling. And I wonder if that’s what other people feel every time they take their kid to the park and take a picture of their child at play.

The truth is, most of the time when I snap an adorable picture, what’s happening around that picture isn’t particularly treasured. It’s the obligation of the parent to capture the moment, to be able to later show your child their own childhood and to be able to show yourself that you gave them this moment and you love them and you are a good parent.

Picture-taking can make your life seem better than it is. And maybe by snapping one, you can make your life a little brighter because, hey, at least it looks pretty in this little square that you posted on Facebook.

The truth is, this last August has not been a good month for me. I knew it was going to be hard and it didn’t disappoint.

There’s been a lot of un-bloggable stuff going on. I know it’s hard to believe that this champion oversharer actually has stuff she won’t blog about. But it’s true. Everyone has a line and lately there’s been a lot going on in extra-super-private land for me. I know that feels like an indulgent blogger tease, but it’s all I can really say to give you a little bit of context.

August was a month where I just had to put my head down and push through. I just had to survive it. (Truth be told, I have one more week in this same mode, so I’m not out of the woods yet.)

The result is that I haven’t been a great parent. I know the automatic response when someone says that is for everyone to jump in and say, What are you talking about? You’re a great parent! I’m not saying I’m not providing a suitable home for my kids or anything like that. But in today’s world where we expect parents to provide not just the basics, but a loving environment filled with learning, I have not been up to snuff.

I have been exhausted. I have relied far too much on episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine on the Roku. I encouraged Tessa to sit because I needed her to have that extra bit of independence for the sake of my own sanity.

There haven’t been that many exciting outings or even unexciting outings. It’s usually hard for me to muster the energy to get both kids out of the house, especially since we haven’t had a car most of the time.

There’s been plenty to complain about. You know the stuff. The blahs of parenting. The ups and downs. Still, this month, with the extra gloomy layer of badness around, it’s been hard to stay peppy and be a good mom.

The kids’ schedules (or lack thereof, in Graham’s case) have meant I get less time by myself to recharge. And when I do get that time, it isn’t time where I kick my feet up and relax or time where I get a few extra things done to prepare for the next day. It’s time where I just exist on the lowest level possible to give myself a little buffer before I go to bed.

I know I can’t be the only one that does this sometimes. I can’t turn off life, I can’t pause it, I can’t make it stop. But I also can’t really turn it all the way on. I have little things to help me feel something good. Lately it’s been things like a carton of Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer. I’m not incapable of being happy or anything like that. But that time by myself, it can’t really be a refuge and so instead it just becomes a bit of nothing. A bit of sensory deprivation, if you will, where nothing is too loud and no light is too bright and nothing can get my brain moving too much in any one direction.

I suspect the nothingness is my brain’s way of avoiding lots of feelings I could be having. I don’t want to end the day with a deluge of negativity, with an onslaught of emotion that will leave me spent. So instead I end it with nothing much at all. And every day a little more of that nothingness trickles into the next day and I wake up with a little more of it still left in my system.

Do you remember the law of inertia? A body in motion tends to stay in motion. It also applies to a body at rest. And that tells you a lot about how we find ourselves at home more and more days.

The kids won’t be scarred for life. They won’t look back on this time as The Month Mom Sucked. It’s more likely to do damage to my own psyche than to theirs.

And I’ve been able to push through thanks to the hope that things will be better when Graham starts school and I have time to get things done and Tessa will be independent and I can find a way to function well as a parent and as the person who keeps our household running.

I have no idea if that’s how things will really be. It’s completely possible that Graham being in school will not magically fix anything and that I’ll still be operating on basic-survival-mode for a while longer.

In times like this, the blog is a good thing. It’s good because it gives me something to do. It’s something I can work on almost every day. And it’s something that I don’t hate. It gives me a place to go where I can do something that isn’t just an automatic reflex. The blog doesn’t care if it’s been a few days since I’ve been able to squeeze in a shower or if I’m still in my pajamas. And it lets me be happy or sad or write about something else entirely if I just don’t feel like writing about me or the kids just then.

The honest truth is that this mom-of-little-kids thing doesn’t come naturally for me. It takes some real effort, not just to do it but to get myself to enjoy it. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way, but when it’s just you and the kids and plenty of long days, it can feel like it’ll last forever. This last month I’ve tried to take those moments where I see something beautiful in my kids and hold it in my head for a bit. Kind of like when you snap a cute pic, find the perfect filter, and then post it on Instagram.

Take it, freeze it, remember what’s beautiful.

The picture, it’s just a moment. Whether it’s a lovely moment, or just a second of pretty in the chaos. At least when I have that picture, I can feel something good, whether or not it was a perfect moment. It is, in its own way, a bit of nothingness.

That picture doesn’t come with any noise, it doesn’t come with anything that needs to be done, it makes no demands and has no requirements. It is just something beautiful, something beautiful that is mine. It is something more than that moment. It is its own refuge.

So that’s what you see when you see my pretty pictures. Not a perfect life. But perhaps a vision of one.