Understanding

Once when I was in Italy, in Milan, we went out for that amazing pizza they have. The kind with the crust so thin it's like a cracker. One of the people we were with asked the man who made the pizza, "how do you make the crust so thin?" He looked at us like we were nuts. Why would we ask such a question? He said "You just do it. You just make it thin." 

He didn't question how he did what he did, he just did it. Because that was the correct way to do it. You just do it.

People ask me all the time, "how do you do it?"

And I guess it's sort of the same thing. I don't ask myself how I do it. I just do it. Because what else are you going to do? Just lay down and not do it? That's not really an option. I don't ever remember my mother not just doing it. As a mother, most of the time you don't think about how you do it, you just do it. You feed the people and make sure they're dressed and get them to school and keep all the balls in the air and the trains running on time and all of the things. You just do it. 

But the past few months have been hard. I think I pushed and pushed, and did everything, all day, every day, until I got tired. Really tired. I realize looking back that those two weeks in January with one child very sick with pneumonia, so sick that she ended up in the hospital, might have been where I found the edges of my personal limit. That, on top of taking care of four kids every day, and a marriage, and a house, and the autism, and the asthma, and the school commitments, and the appointments, the lessons, and my own personal pressure to do it all so perfect. Juggling so many balls all the time is hard, and it wore me down until I was exhausted.

(Don't worry, I'm ok. I'm working on doing a better job of caring for the caregiver, and there's not a thing I would change about my life or my family - except maybe more sleep - but that's not what this post is about.)

But here's the thing about being a mother: no matter how hard it gets, you keep going. You just do it. Because what else are you going to do?

This is what mothers do. Because it is worth it. Because they are worth it. 

I have found myself lately sometimes feeling frustrated with my children for not appreciating everything I do. It's hard to work every day and have the people you are working for not get it. But then I realized that of course they don't get it. I certainly didn't get it when I was a kid. There's no way they could possibly get it. That's not their role right now. They're not supposed to get it yet. Their role is to be kids, and to be loved, and to make memories that are built on a foundation of knowing they are loved and cared for. Their role is not to understand what it's like to be a mother. 

Perspective is a gift. 

It seems universal that we never fully appreciate our own mother until we become a mother ourselves. Because honestly there's no possible way to understand if you haven't walked in those shoes. You have to be there, in the trenches, putting one foot in front of the other every day no matter how hard it is or how tired you are, before you really get it. 

You have to live in the hard days of mothering, to really understand.

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Only then do you see what your own mother did for you. Only then do you realize how hard she worked. Only then do you realize that she too must have had days when she just wanted to curl up in bed or hide in a closet. She too must have had days where she just didn't know from one minute to the next how she was going to get through it. She too must have had days when she watched the clock, praying that she could just make it to bedtime without losing it. She too must have had days when she went to bed having no idea how she was going to get up in the morning and possibly do it all over again. She too must have had days when she was convinced that she was doing it all wrong. 

But we never knew it, because she didn't let it show.  

She got through it. She kept going, no matter what. Because this is what mothers do. 

I'm sure she must have reached the end of her rope and snapped at us and lost her cool like I do sometimes. She is human. But I don't remember it, because it pales in comparison to how much she loved us. What I remember is always knowing that my mother loved me. And that thought comforts me now, in the hard days of mothering - knowing that what they will remember is the good stuff. What they will remember is the love I have for them, and how I put that love into everything I do for them. 

When I think about my mother on these hard days, I think about how hard it must have been for her, to keep going, to keep making sure we always felt cared for and loved, even in the hardest of times. I think about how she could have possibly held it together when her marriage was ending, and she was fighting skin cancer. I think about the pain she must have gone through in all those years that one of my siblings was giving her such a hard time. I think about how she must have felt so helpless every time she has had watch one of us struggle with a problem that she couldn't make go away. I think about all those times when I didn't understand her. When I thought her motivations were a little crazy. When I thought she was too controlling, or too over protective, or too bossy - all of those things that teenagers think. I think about when I wasn't happy on the rare occasions that she took time for herself or prioritized her own needs. I think now about all of those things that never even occurred to me before I was a mother.

I never thought about those things before because it wasn't my time to understand them. 

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Everything comes to you in time

My own oldest daughter is just entering that stage where she is convinced that I have no idea what it's like to be in her shoes. She's convinced that there's no way I could understand how she feels or what she's going through. We've had more than one incident lately of her storming off, crying, and yelling between her tears, "you just don't understand!". I want to tell her that's she's wrong. It's not me that doesn't understand, because I've been where she is and I do know what it feels like. I want to tell her that she is the one that doesn't understand. But I can't tell her that because it would serve no purpose.

Of all the lessons that I can and will teach my daughters in life, this isn't one. This is a lesson that only time and life and living can teach them. This is a lesson that only mothering can teach them. This is a lesson that they will only learn when they have lived in the hard days, and made it through, and done it all over again the next day, and the day after that. These are things they will only understand when they love some small people of their own so much that they would do anything for them. 

My daughters will be mothers someday. And then it will be their time to understand these things.

So to my mom on Mother's Day, what I want you to know is this:

Now I understand. 

 

In his bubble.

It is often said that autistic people live in their own world - in a bubble. And Danny certainly does at times. Except he is never alone in his bubble, I am always with him.

His world includes me, and he can't conceive of a world without me involved in every detail. I am not just invited, I am expected, even demanded, to be fully present. It is a privilege and often an amazing experience, to be so deeply immersed in a world in which others are seldom invited, but it can also be exhausting. His world is very intense, very noisy, very busy, very demanding.

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That was the original caption I included with this photo. But I wanted to tell more. 

I was explaining to a friend what life is like with him lately. It's so conflicting for me - it can be so amazing, but it is also so draining.

There is a concept in infant & child development that I read about back when my babies where babies. The idea is that they are born with no sense of themselves as an individual. They don't understand that they are distinct individuals, separate from other people, and in particular they don't understand that they are separate from their mother. Mother's voice is internalized because it's the voice that sounded like it was coming from inside of them. Mother's heartbeat is the sound they are used to hearing and the rhythm they are used to feeling. Mother's cadence of walking, mother's body temperature. All of these things are inextricably tied to their existence when they are born, because they are the rhythms of the only life they have every known. What's mother's is theirs, and what's theirs is mother's. They gradually learn to make the separation as they grow and experience the world around them. They gradually begin to realize that they and mother are two separate people, and they begin to define who they are as an individual. I don't know if there is a fixed developmental time when this happens, but from my observation it seems to be late infancy or early toddler when they have fully completed this separation of self. I think this is why people know of the "terrible twos" as being so hard - it's that stage of having finally reached independence. It's the stage of "me", "mine", and "I do it myself".  

But there are times when I think that Danny still hasn't fully made that separation. There are times in my day when I realize that his existence is still inextricably linked to mine, that he still very much defines himself by his connection to me. He matches his rhythms to my rhythms, his tone to my tone, his mood to my mood. He expects me to be completely attuned to his needs and completely instep with his train of thought. He gets irritated when I don't follow along with his every thought, when I don't immediately agree with his ideas. Actually, it's more than irritated - it's often rocked to his core. He can't seem to conceive of the idea that I might have different thoughts than he does. He doesn't want me to be happy when he is sad. He doesn't want me to be sad when he is happy. He doesn't want me to sleep when he is awake, or to be awake when he is asleep. 

He expects that we are the same. And anything other would burst his bubble. 

A hard lesson. But an important one.

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There was a lesson to be learned today. They aren't always easy, but they are important.

My daughter didn't want to finish part of her homework. She had lots of reasons, some of them valid. 

Homework is a whole controversy on its own, I read more and more articles about how it doesn't do any good and doesn't improve grades or learning at all. 

Honestly I don't really care all that much about the homework itself, because I agree for the most part that it's not necessary. But I do try to encourage them to do it, because I do think that what is important is learning to follow directions and complete assignments. The particular assignment doesn't matter, but what does matter to me is the fact that their teacher told them to do something, and so they need to either follow through on that, or have a good reason not to.

So I told her "You don't have to do it. I am not going to make you do it. It is your decision. But if you choose not to do it, then it is your responsibility to explain your decision to your teacher."

She knows that I am more than willing to help her do her homework. I am willing to sit with her while she does it. I am willing to offer suggestions even for what sentences to write, or prompts to help her get started (all of which had been offered for this homework). But I am not willing to make excuses for her if she just straight up chooses not to do it. 

So I also explained that to her. And I explained that I am not going to lie for her (she wanted me to tell the teacher that we didn't have time to do it), and I am not going to tell her what to say to her teacher. If she is going to make a decision to not do something she has been asked to do, then she needs to have a good reason for her decision, and be willing to state her case truthfully to her teacher. And if she is willing to do that - if she is making a choice she feels good about, and if she is willing to stand behind her decision and hold strong to her reasons for deciding it, then I will always stand behind and support her. 

So she made her choice (to not do the homework), but then when it came time to explain her choice to her teacher she realized that it was not an explanation she felt good about giving. But then it was too late. It was time to leave for school and the homework wasn't done.

Fortunately in second grade the homework doesn't really count for anything. She's not going to get marked down for not doing it. She's not going to get in trouble of any kind. And her teacher is pretty laid back about it. But the consequence she does have to face is the possible disappointment of a teacher that she loves very much, which is maybe the worst consequence of all for her. She realized this at the last minute and was in tears, and there was nothing I could do to make it go away. It was a lesson she needed to learn. I told her that yes, her teacher probably would be disappointed. And it will be ok.

I don't think I was being mean by not helping her out of the situation, and I'm not trying to set her up to fail. It's just the opposite. I'm trying to set her up to succeed, and to help her build the confidence of knowing she can make her own choices, and the confidence that comes from knowing it's ok to fail sometimes.  I don't think we do our kids any favors when we make excuses for their choices. I think too many people don't give kids enough credit for their ability to learn and do the right thing. I think it is good for kids to make mistakes and learn from them, and we are depriving them of valuable opportunities for learning if we never let them fail. They need to see that we trust them to do the right thing, that we trust them to make the right decisions, and that we trust them to sometimes get it wrong and learn from that. If we always take over and try to make everything right, then all we are telling them is that we don't believe in their ability figure things out for themselves. We can guide them toward the right decisions, and we can help them find the words to identify why they are making their decisions, but they need to be empowered to make decisions. 

There is one big lesson in life I want to make sure my children learn and internalize: make choices you feel good about, and then stand behind them. 

This applies to everyone, not just kids, but I think it's a life lesson that's best learned early. 

I really think that if you are making thoughtful choices that you feel very strongly are the right thing to do, then you should have nothing to worry about. If you believe that the choice you've made is the right choice, then there should be no problem defending or explaining your reasons to anyone who might question you. I see it so often now in adults. People are so afraid of being judged, so afraid of what other people might think of their decisions, so negatively defensive, and so critical of others. It all bothers me so much. Why are we so worried about what other people think? Why do we get so upset when other people don't agree with our choices?

If you really believe that you are doing the right thing, then why would you care what anyone else thinks?

Stand up for your choices. Believe in yourself. And move on.

This is one of the biggest things I want my kids to take away. I want them to walk into adulthood with their heads held high, feeling proud of what they've done and feeling good about the decisions they've made. 

 

Just a shower

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Take a shower with a glass of wine while your husband supervises dinner time. It feels like a mini mom-cation. It's amazing how such a tiny little break can fix everything. A deep breath.

Even if you are having to dodge bath toys. 

Also, a true story:

I announced to the family during dinner that I was going to go take a shower because I smelled (because I cleaned litter boxes this day, and once I've done that it's all I can smell until I shower). So of course the children all start yelling "I WANT TO SMELL YOU! I WANT TO SMELL YOU!" So I let them all have a sniff.

J said: "you smell like beer!" (I was drinking wine)
D said: "YOU SMELL AWFUL!"
S said: "I think you smell lovely."
C said: "what? You just smell like your regular self."

And that right there tells you everything you need to know about each of my children.

Silver Linings

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A few days ago a person whose words I always find inspirational said, "find silver linings wherever you can and hang on to them". 

And she is so right. 

It's been a rough week. I am way more tired than I even realized. I think, as a parent, when you're in the thick of it you hold it together amazingly well. Because you have to. People kept asking me if I was ok when she was in the hospital. And I would answer that I was doing surprisingly well. I was really surprised at how not exhausted I was. I think that's just how we get through. Because once she came home and was feeling better I realized how exhausted I really was. I've basically nothing for more than two days now. I've gotten a couple of good night's sleep. I've put my feet up. I've had tea, and takeout for dinner. And I am still tired.

So yeah.

But I paused this morning as she colored a rainbow with new scented markers that I couldn't say no to yesterday, and I found the silver linings.

Her and I have had a lot of quality time together this past week and a half. It was time the two of us needed. We've held hands and bonded and snuggled and have come to understand each other a little better. 

I also got to see my other children pull together and rally behind her, which warmed my heart so much. I saw their kindness and their depth of concern for their little sister. It was a good reminder for all of us I think.

So yes, there are always silver linings.