Thursday, May 22, 2014

Portrait of a Shift in Perspective (However Slight)

Today is a dark day, heavy with a rain pounding on trees, grass, road, and roof with a fervor not unlike that spent by a weeping infant (I'm thinking of George, whenever I try to put him in the play yard so I can get work done).  My interior response to this undulating torrent is dread.   

I fear this exterior darkness may further sink my already tired mood; I worry that the basement will flood and the pool cover pump will cease working, I’m apprehensive of the clingy wetness of my clothes when moving from car to house, or house to mailbox, because none of my own laundry has been washed and so I will be stuck in damp skin for awhile.    And that will annoy me.

My kids argued this morning.  My oldest girl shouted at my youngest girl and called her Annoying at the breakfast table.  From that moment on, Gianna actively tried to pester. everyone.  In response to my cues to get ready for school, my autistic son defied me, ignored me, was purposefully rude to me as he sat cross-legged on the floor and went right on playing with his die-cast Nascars (CRASH! ZOOM!  BANG!).  Then, faced with the disciplinary consequences of his behavior (no iPad in the car), he tantrumed. 

After nearly a week of no yelling on my part (a pretty big victory for me, by the way), I broke said fast and shouted and lectured, guilted (I’d hoped) and silenced all of my children by the  force of my sharp tongue and strong disapproval. All those bad parenting tricks I keep disavowing were back and at my disposal. The drive to school was silent; my heart did not de-thaw until we were more than half way there (and school is an hour away), after which point I wondered where I had gone wrong.  And then began analyzing and cataloging My Life’s Mistakes as they apply to Wounding and Screwing Up children.

OK, I exaggerate, but only to make a point.

As those storm clouds gathered above, I inwardly cursed them.  I wanted the sun to come out and lighten all of our moods.  I had shadows gathering inside of me, true enough: fears about my son’s future; how to effectively manage our brood in the upcoming summer; financial stress; my mother-in-law’s chronic and debilitating health issues;  my husband dealing with all of this, and graduate school; my feeling helpless to aid him in shouldering this cross; temptations to beat myself up over my every human mis-step.  These emotions bubbled up and pounded me from within, as loud and hard as the rain.  

My rough interior mood needed help.  Prayer for sure: so I prayed. Good.  But what could I bring to my exterior?  What was there that I should do to get relief  from anxiety?

Once I'd hauled my still-sleeping baby from the car, I knew the action I should take:  I played Anonymous Four's The Origin of Fire via iTunes and I lit a candle on the stove.  Now the house smells spicy and gregorian chant sweeps in and out of quietude.  My own senses have guided my mind out of this moment to Someone that extends over it, through it, and beyond. 

 With this change I’ve remembered something I’d forgotten.

I like rainy days.

The light in the daytime sky is muted by clouds heavy as blankets, and those mundane people-made sounds of refrigerators humming and motors turning are muffled by rainfall.  These days are cozy.  They are an opportunity to enjoy tea by candle light, and to spend time typing one’s thoughts, just for the sake of having them.

Because like any rough morning or trying time (with one’s children or spouse or parent or work or whatever) the storm will rage and then pass.  The sky will lighten again, gradually, and the air will feel a little more fresh once the rain ends.  

Even as I’m finishing up this post, the rains have moved on and birds are again singing to one another in the trees.

Deo gratias.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Chin is a Nose

I have lately discerned a theme in my life.  Relationships, heck people themselves are to me like those hidden picture optical illusions: I think I see the picture, but then someone pulls the page out of my hand and points out that “this chin is really a nose, see?” and suddenly the haggard old woman transforms into a beautiful lady in a choker. Same page, same arrangement of ink.  Given new information and a different perspective, I suddenly relate to the picture in a better way.

So it is with my son, who has adored and play-acted the liturgy since before he could talk; who erects all sorts of interesting and fantastically elaborate structures (churches, trains, ) out of chairs, boxes, books and stuffed animals; who has always struggled with fine motor delays, vision issues and problems with gross motor co-ordination; who as a toddler/pre-schooler hated, trembled at and wept over fireworks and other loud sounds; who, as a school-aged child, began launching into tantrums around academics, making homeschooling my own circle of Hell; who was also sensitive and easily hurt by corrective words; who wanted to cuddle on the couch every morning, and sneak into my bed after any bad dream; who was quick to say “I’m sorry” after a blow-out, and desperate to feel forgiven...

Our mysterious, wonderful boy could always talk a blue streak at a dinner party, and draw connections between architecture, historical facts and theology, seemingly remembering every detail I’d ever verbally shared with him since preschool.  He can comfortably converse with adults but struggles to connect with most of his peers.

For three years I worried that I did not home school him properly. I have beaten myself up for not parenting through his tantrums appropriately, for being too mean or too easy, for being around him too much, or not around him enough to adequately model How to Act, for not properly socializing him and for homeschooling in the first place, because evidently all of those “un-socialized home schooler” stereotypes were true. That was my fear, given what I was seeing.

Now I see the picture differently.  Take all of those details, step back and see the same picture from another angle...  How did I ever miss it?

John Paul has Autism.

His increasing intolerance of “itching” clothes, the belligerent shouting of “No!” and kicking of feet from my otherwise loving and moral boy,  those tantrums and meltdowns over schoolwork, (life’s biggest stressor for him because of his vision, processing and fine motor issues.) Those heretofore separate troubling issues now coalesce into one simple and beautiful picture.

Yes, I said beautiful.  Because this is my son, and now there is coherence in my perception of him.   He is not damaged; I have not broken him.  He is, as I have often said, “wired differently.” Considering the multitude of crosses that J.P. carries on his developing shoulders, he in fact exhibits more patience in his life's trials than frustration.  Behind his known vision, fine and gross motor problems we also now know for certain, there is ADHD; there is the diagnosis of Specific Learning Disorder with Impairment in Reading and Math; and although mild, there is an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I wrote the above paragraphs two months ago, and did not post until now because Emre and I needed time to sit and to process this diagnosis in private.

There has been a lot of pondering in my heart.

I am more proud of my son than I have ever been, and grateful to God for this clearer vision of him,  unclouded by my guilt, blame or regret.  His struggles are no one's fault: not mine, not his.  Those behaviors we'd labelled "bad,"and read as intentional disrespect or disobedience are suddenly not so cut-and-dried at all.  If I had his entire childhood to do all over again, I'm not sure I would change very much about how we've lived it;  this child is such an intelligent, interesting and creative person.  That is no illusion.

Now, to help him to see it, too.