Perseveration

As my autistic daughter gets older (she turned 13 two months ago), the issues we face aren’t as “fundamental” as they used to be.  Gone are the days when we wondered if she would ever talk, when she needed a behavior modification plan, chewies and fidgets, compression vests and discrete trial learning.*  She is still in special education, and still receives occupational and speech therapies every week, but now our job has been learning how to deal with her special needs in a typical school context, and in balancing her desire to “be a cool teenager” with showing her what the limits are to that “coolness.”  An example of finding this balance is that her older sister (but not me!) is able to tell her that wearing FIVE necklaces to school or the mall is too much, even though she likes all of them and would love to wear them all together.

But some things haven’t changed.  While it’s been a LONG time since we wondered if she would ever talk, her speech still has a sing-song quality to it that can be well, annoying if I’m otherwise tired or cranky.  She still frequently gets her verb tenses wrong in conversation and her sentence structure isn’t what it should be.  Her eye contact is sometimes good, but often not.  Her voice is much louder than typical, and we constantly have to remind her to speak in a quieter tone.

Generally I’m pretty patient with her.  I know she tries hard, so I try hard too.  But there is one thing that gets to me almost every time.

blog_perseverate

By far the one thing that is almost guaranteed to get on my nerves and drastically challenge my patience is when she perseverates on an idea or event.  For those unfamiliar with the term, to perseverate means to “repeat or prolong an action, thought, or utterance after the stimulus that prompted it has ceased.”   My daughter will perseverate in speech.  She gets an idea, event or thought in her head and simply cannot easily stop talking about it.  And because her ability to “mix things up” in speech is limited, she’ll repeat the same things over and over.

When she starts repeating herself I have to start taking deep breaths, because I know it’s going to take a while for her to get through it.  There was a time I used to say things like, “We’re going to stop talking about this NOW.”  But I’ve come to realize that perseverating is just her way to try to process an event, to understand it.  These days I’m better able to tolerate listening for a good long while before I’ll say something like, “I really don’t want to talk about this anymore.  I need to move on to something new.  What else would you like to talk about?”

It’s not always easy.  And sometimes I fall back into my own old patterns.  This happened a few days ago.  I picked her up from school and heard all through the ride to pick up her two siblings how there was a food fight at lunchtime (I knew this was a fact because the parents got an email from the principal).  Certainly that’s out of the ordinary, and completely outside of any experience she’s ever had in the lunchroom or at home!  I knew she would talk about it, but after a half hour I was done hearing the same phrases over and over.  And I reverted to my old behavior.  I forgot.  I told her (albeit nicely) to just stop.  Ugh.

I’ve been stressed and tired recently and I am NOT on top of my game.  Patience truly is a virtue, and one that’s lacking in me right now.  But to be a parent (especially a special needs parent), means you need to dig deep to find that patience on a regular basis.  How do we do that?  There’s no universal checklist for self-care.  I can only speak for myself.

Today was a good reminder to do the things that I need to do to take care of myself.  The stress isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but I need to get out my coping strategies so that I don’t start taking it out on my kids or spouse.  As a pastor by profession, I find myself often telling people, “You can’t take care of (whoever), if you don’t take care of yourself.”  I need to follow my own advice.  My daughter needed my patience so that she could process an out-of-the-ordinary event that was HUGE for her.  I’m sorry I couldn’t let her.

I apologized to her (which is something I try my best to model with my kids), and told her I would try to do better.  That’s all we can do as parents, and as people.  When we make a mistake, apologize and try to do better.  Tomorrow is another day, a new beginning.


*I am grateful that my daughter HAS been able to make developmental strides in all areas – educational, motor skills and planning, and sensory.  Please be aware that not all people with autism are able to make these strides.  Autism is a spectrum disorder, ranging from mild to severe.  My daughter’s experience is her own, and no one else’s.

 

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push and pull

I’ve been pretty silent here on the blog lately because I’m having problems deciding what is appropriate to share.  Quite honestly, right now, I’m having more issues navigating life with my 16 year old “typical” daughter than I am with my 13 year old autistic daughter or 9 year old son.  And because my oldest is 16, the issues I’m dealing with are a lot more complicated than potty training or sleeping through the night.  I would have no problems sharing that kind of information here.  But the issues I’m trying to cope with are more interpersonal – my relationship with my daughter, her relationship with me – issues of independence and control.

It’s not that I haven’t wanted to write.  Believe me, there have been moments recently where I’ve wanted to lay down a blazing rant, but even in my anger and frustration I still want to protect my daughter’s privacy.  She didn’t ask to have her life chronicled in a blog.  I’m also fully aware that even as I stand tall in self-righteous indignation, I am only seeing my side of the story – or there are times when I can see her side, but think it’s completely ridiculous, or see her side and feel badly for her as a teenager wanting to be older.  I know what it’s like to want to be free from parental control and rules.

One of the HUGE differences between my daughter and me is that I grew up in an abusive home, and actual rebelling was NOT a realistic option for me.  I was brought up not able to openly question or disagree with my parents, especially my father.  Indeed, I grew up with a lot of fear.  I didn’t want that for my children.  The result?  My daughter feels perfectly comfortable disagreeing with and questioning me to my face (and my husband’s face too while we’re at it).  I love that and am SO uncomfortable with it at the same time.

She has always been this way, but since she turned sixteen back in October, there has been a more dramatic shift.  She somehow thinks that sixteen is a license to absolute freedom and autonomy.  Well, not in my house.  I never (to my knowledge) gave her any impression that once she turned sixteen she would be free to do whatever she pleased with whomever she pleased.  So there has been considerable pulling and pushing in the past few months as she has tested the limits.  For example, she can be angry, argue and even yell at me, but on New Year’s Eve she started hurling personal attacks at me, and THAT was unacceptable.  She got grounded for the first time in her life.

I recognize the need to give her more freedom as she shows us that she can handle it.  She gets very good grades and overall has a good head on her shoulders.  But like any normal teenager, her capacity to sense danger is limited if non-existent.  I’m afraid every time she goes out the door and gets in a car with friends (many of her friends are in the next grade up and have their driver’s licenses already – she is still learning).  Isn’t the fact I let her drive in a car with friends to the mall (or so she says) proof that I’m not an overbearing mother?

But the fear is almost overwhelming.  I’m afraid every time she goes to a friend’s house, every time she gets in a car and drives off…  I have set certain rules for those things that I think are reasonable.  But kids will sometimes be kids and work around those rules or lie outright.  I know she doesn’t tell me everything, and I don’t expect that she will.  I can only hope the lies she tells me (or the things she doesn’t tell me) aren’t ones that will endanger her safety.  Perhaps that is my biggest fear.  And there’s not a whole lot I can do about it.

I think my job is to balance my fear with her freedom.  There are times when I have to “suck it up” and let her go, to stifle that voice inside of me that’s screaming “NO!  Don’t you leave this house!”  But there are also times when I need to pay attention to that voice, trust it, and let that voice come out.  But dang it, there’s no rhyme or reason for when to listen to that voice and when stifle it.  Flying by the seat of your pants IS NOT EASY OR FUN.

I had high blood pressure before this.  I think I may need to “up” the dosage on my medication.  I’ve got two and a half years before she graduates from high school.  Then, when she’s living on her own, I’m sure I’ll enter a new kind of hell.  Pray for me please!

4th Sunday of Advent, 2015

4th Sunday of Advent, year C, 2015 (preached 12/20/15)

first reading:  Micah 5:2-5a

psalm:  Luke 1:46b-55

second reading:  Hebrews 10:5-10

gospel reading:  Luke 1:39-45


Church of the Visitation, Israel, photograph by Deror Avi

Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Israel, photo by Deror Avi

Today’s psalm and gospel readings are part of the same story, what we call “The Visitation.”  Shortly after Mary became pregnant, she went to spend time with her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant.

We learn earlier in Luke’s gospel that Elizabeth was about 6 months pregnant when Mary’s visit took place, while Mary was still very early on in her pregnancy. One author I read commented that The Visitation is a wonderful human interest story, but that its primary function is theological.  I disagree.

I think it’s a wonderful human interest story PRECISELY because it tells us a great deal theologically.  And I think it makes an amazing theological statement PRECISELY because it’s intimately involved in humanity.  I don’t separate human interest and theology.  Not only that, I don’t think GOD does either.

So, what is so profound about The Visitation?  WHY is it such a good human interest AND theological story?

The human part is pretty clear.

Mary had been visited by an angel, who told her she would conceive and bear a son even though she was still a virgin. Elizabeth, who was beyond normal childbearing age and up till then childless, was having an “unexpected” pregnancy herself, after an angel appeared to her husband Zechariah announcing that their child would be born.

Both women had concerns and fears I’m sure.  We read earlier that Mary was perplexed and pondering.  Her condition was not easily explained – and in that time and place an out of marriage pregnancy could be a deadly scandal.

For Elizabeth, the concerns and fears might also have been deadly.  Many women died in childbirth, and for older women the odds were even greater.  As thrilled as she was to be pregnant, I’m sure Elizabeth was also frightened for herself.

So we have two women with very unexpected pregnancies that were announced by ANGELS.  That makes for a definite human interest story.  Not only that, but for a religious book that is dominated by men, here the men are unseen and unheard, except for a little leaping in the womb.

This story is all about the women – and of course about God.

Intertwined with the human story of the women is the story of GOD – God choosing to become part of human history.  That’s the whole point of Christmas after all, isn’t it?  God taking on our flesh – our flesh holding God.

God chooses not only to preside OVER human history, but to become PART of it, to step into our lives.

And by choosing to do so, God makes Godself part of every moment, the good and the bad, the joy and sorrow, success and failure.  When God became one of us in Jesus, God became a part of Mary and Elizabeth’s joys and fears – and even their grief – OUR grief.

It struck me, as I prayed and pondered these passages, that the story of The Visitation isn’t only about two pregnant women – it’s also the story of two women who would bury their children.

Elizabeth and Mary would know the joy of motherhood, but also its unimaginable grief with the death of their sons.

As I reminded (one of our parishioners) when I visited with her on Friday – we need to remember that Christmas isn’t just the story of the happy baby – it’s the story of the baby who would die.  The joy of this moment of visitation is colored by our knowledge that John would be beheaded and Jesus crucified.

God through Jesus CHOOSES to become a part of this mess we call life.

Not just the line from the popular song, “God is watching us, from a distance.”  NO.  God is NOT just watching us from a distance, God is WITH us.  God knows it all, experiences it all, WITH us.

This is the gift of Christmas.  It’s not happy or sappy.  It’s not “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” or “Holly Jolly Christmas.”  It’s not about inflatable snowmen, or Santas, or mistletoe.  It’s more like “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and “the hopes and fears of all the years.”

It’s a couple with no place to stay.  A young woman with her husband, forced to give birth away from their family and friends – in a BARN.  It’s not about fancy nurseries and cribs – it’s a feed box filled with straw.  It’s what Mary sings in her song – that God has come to lift up those who are lowly and hungry – to bring MERCY.

Our culture puts a lot of pressure on Christmas to be happy and sappy, because our culture doesn’t want to deal with life’s underside.

People would much rather fight an imaginary “war on Christmas,” than look at their own shortcomings in loving their neighbors and themselves and God.

People don’t want to connect Christmas with Good Friday, but when we don’t connect the two – then the consumerism and the inflatable snowmen win.  When we don’t connect Christmas with Good Friday we feel guilt over our grief and/or sadness because we feel it doesn’t belong, that there is something wrong with US.  When we don’t connect Christmas with Good Friday then all we celebrate is a baby and we stay lost in our sin.

We need Good Friday to be part of Christmas if Christmas is to have any depth, any real meaning in our faith.

God CHOOSING in love to be with us in all our moments from life to death is a profound theological truth.

It tells us that God loves us, strengthens us and carries us no matter where we are.

It tells us that God understands our fears, our grief and our anxieties.

So, as we approach Friday, some of us with joy and celebration, some with sadness, grief, or anxieties and fears, let us remember that God holds it all, and is WITH us through it all.

Emmanuel has come.

AMEN.

brief encounters

I was in Target the other day, by myself, eating lunch before doing some grocery and Christmas shopping.  The past few weeks have been so filled with anxiety that I was relishing having a few minutes to sit at the counter and eat some pizza in peace while the store was bustling around me.  It was noisy and people were moving all about, but I was able to put myself in a bubble for those moments, enjoying people-watching.  Until Olivia burst my bubble.

Seemingly out of nowhere came a little voice, “Hi there!”  I looked and saw this tiny munchkin of a girl, maybe three years old, looking up at me with big beautiful eyes.  I couldn’t help but smile.  “Well hello,” I answered back.  Then I heard her mother call for her to come back to their table and sit down, which she did.  I went back to eating, people watching and scrolling my twitter feed.

A few moments later, “Hi friend!  What’s your name?”  There she was again.  It surprised me and warmed my heart that she called me friend, reminding me of preschool etiquette and Mr. Rogers (who I deeply miss – the world needs more like him!).  “My name is Lisa.  What’s yours?” I replied.  “Olivia,” she answered, and again, her mother called her back, this time with a warning that she either needed to stay put, or BE put in the toddler high chair.  I watched her as she went back to her mom.

Mom looked a little frazzled.  Schlepping a toddler through Target so close to Christmas would frazzle the best of us, and I felt compassion for her.  I’ve been there myself.  I pondered whether or not to go over and introduce myself and sit with them since Olivia was clearly interested in getting to know me better, but the introvert in me won out and I just smiled at her mom, hopefully conveying an “it’s okay, she’s not bothering me,” look.  I always go out of my way to be gentle to moms struggling with kids in stores – like I said, I’ve been there myself, and looks of reassurance always meant so much to me.

Something changed in me in that moment.  Olivia and her mom had given me a gift.  Instead of being in my own little bubble, trying to escape from my worries and fears, I suddenly felt grateful.  Grateful for that tiny beautiful face calling me “friend,” grateful that my children were in school so I could shop in peace, yet also grateful (in the present) for those years when they were young and curious and wouldn’t stay in their seats.  My worries and anxiety melted away for a few minutes, replaced by the joy of this little girl’s curiosity and trust.

I thought of how I could help Olivia’s mom if Olivia escaped her seat again – and of course I had my chance.  She came over to me and said hello again, and her mom looked at me with a face that said, “I’m SO sorry she’s being a pest.”  Well, she wasn’t being a pest in the least, but it was time for me to help this tired mama.  I got off my stool and got eye-level with Olivia and gently but firmly told her (loud enough so her mom could hear), “You know Olivia, I’m a mommy too, and we mommies stick together.  I can tell your mommy really needs for you to sit in your seat and finish your lunch, so I want you to do that for her okay?”  She looked disappointed, but her mother looked relieved and mouthed “thank you.”  I gave them both a big smile as Olivia went back to her seat.  I gathered up my garbage, said goodbye to them and left to do my shopping.

We mommies do (or at least should) stick together.  Our children are beautiful gifts, but they can also challenge our sanity.  When we can show just a little patience and kindness for each other, it can go a long long way.  It means the world but doesn’t cost a cent.

authority

Remember last week when I posted about how proud I was of my birthday and thankful to be in a good place?  Yeah, that.

What a difference a week makes.

One of the things that can happen when you grow up in a house with alcoholism and/or other types of abuse is that you spend your life trying to fly under the radar.  You don’t want to call attention to yourself, you don’t want to stand out, you try VERY hard to play by the rules.  You do your best to BE the best because you take the responsibility of the whole world (or at the very least the survival of your family) onto YOUR shoulders.  Failure is not an option.  Yet you KNOW you’re not perfect.  In fact, you feel pretty badly about yourself, so fear and shame and embarrassment of being exposed are constantly hanging over your head.  You can’t let anyone see how imperfect you (and your family) are.  The other thing that happens when you have a history such as mine is that when it comes to authority figures you either develop a tough chip on your shoulder, or you shrink and become a timid, cowering shell (I am the latter).

I’ve worked for YEARS in therapy on this stuff.  I’ve worked for years OUT of therapy on this stuff – which is my way of saying, that “in or out” of therapy, the work is ongoing – because LIFE is ongoing.

So, something happened last week, right after celebrating my birthday, which has brought my sense of pride and confidence to a screeching halt, and it has to do with authority.

I got pulled over by a police officer last week.  I won’t go into details, because honestly I really am embarrassed about the whole incident, and I’m only telling you so I can discuss the larger authority issues and how I’m coping.

Here has been my response.  I stayed pulled over long after the police officer drove away – crying. Sobbing.  Unable to drive.  I called my husband from the car and he was able to “talk me down” so that I would be able to drive home.  When I got home I had a mini-breakdown.  I cried and sobbed and cried some more, giving myself a monster headache, crying myself to sleep and waking up the next morning with my eyes practically swollen shut from crying.  I’ve experienced massive anxiety (although not panic) every time I have gotten behind the wheel to drive since.  While I’m driving my anxiety is high, checking and double checking almost every move I make (or don’t make).  And I haven’t been sleeping well.

Last night I had to go to the same place I was travelling to last week and purposefully went out of my way to avoid the route I took then, because I couldn’t face driving past the spot where I was pulled over.  By the time I got home, I was in tears, shaking.  Another headache…

This reaction is more than the police officer, more than being pulled over.  It’s about how I cope (or don’t cope) with authority figures – with those who have real or perceived power over me.

This is about stripping away the facade.  This is about my failure to live up to the good girl image – of always trying to do the right thing, to follow the rules, to fly under the radar – of being caught and even called out for not being perfect, for falling short and being bad.  The feelings of shame and embarrassment have, at times, been overwhelming.  I’m walking around with a sense of dread, like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and I’m failing.  I’m sure my husband would love to repeat the, “Snap out of it!” scene of Cher in “Moonstruck.”¹  Heck, I’d love to snap myself out of it too! Instead, what he IS saying is, “This happened.  Move on.  You’re going to make yourself sick.”

But moving on, removing the weight from my shoulders, is easier said than done.  Once those old weights of shame, fear and embarrassment hit, they don’t let up very easily.  It’s hard to move on when the ball and chain keep you from picking up your feet.

But there are a few things that give me hope that this won’t turn into a major episode.

  • I am recognizing my reaction for what it is – an authority figure problem.  I know this is more than my interaction with this one particular officer, and I’m not trying to ignore it, or hope it will just go away.
  • I am able to stick up for myself with my husband.  When, at one point, he started to feed the flames of my shame (without knowing it) I told him point blank, “You need to stop.  You are NOT being helpful.” To his credit he asked what he could do/say that would be helpful.  I told him, and he listened and responded (he’s a good guy!).
  • I am practicing good self talk.  Deep down I know that I’m not a horrible person.  This is the biggest change.  It used to be that deep down I knew I was a horrible person and had to convince myself otherwise.  Saying to myself, “You know you’re a good person Lisa, you’ll get through this,” is VERY different than, “This is just proof of how awful you are.”  I am actively combating the negative thoughts, with positive messages of my self worth, and accepting the love of my family.
  • I am using my anger positively to fuel my “moving on.”  I’m angry at the officer for being so cold and robotic.  I’m angry at my father for, well, EVERYTHING.  I was in a good place till this happened, and I will not let this drive me back to a dark place.  I’m channeling my anger OUT, and not IN.

Sometimes these things happen – events that remind us of pain and suffering, being brought back to places of shame and weakness.  Many times they hit us when we least expect it, and that too, is part of our reaction – “Damn it.  I thought I had gotten over this.  I didn’t see THAT coming.”  So the reaction isn’t just about the actual literal event, it’s about connecting it back to our past, and our SHOCK that we still make that connection.

It’s been a week.  Both my husband and I are keeping an eye on this.  If I don’t start to “lighten up” in what we both consider a reasonable amount of time, then I guess I’ll have to call the doctor.²  This is a difference from the past too, when I would keep all this stuff bottled inside and shut him out – a sign that, overall, I’m in a much healthier place.  Still, prayers and good thoughts are much appreciated. Thanks.


¹My husband has never EVER hit me.  I am the one who is thinking of this scene as an example of his feelings of frustration and concern, NOT him.  Actually it represents my own frustration with myself! I just wanted to make that perfectly clear.

²My reluctance to call the doctor comes not from a disrespect of the medical/psychiatric profession.  If you’ve spent any time reading this blog you know I have the HIGHEST respect for both therapy and medication.  I’ve gotten to where I am now BECAUSE of the work I’ve done in therapy.  But finances are tight, so if I possibly can, I’d rather handle this without having to pay a bill in the process.

the gift of life

Today is my birthday.  I am 50 years old.  Some people lie about their age – not me.  I am proud of every candle on the cake.   I feel like shouting from my rootop, “It’s my birthday!  I’m 50!  I am AWESOME!”  That may sound conceited, but I don’t mean it to be.  I mean it as a sign of true hard work, of fierce determination, of deep thankfulness.

I live with depression.  Now is a good time, but there have been many years that have been quite dark.  I have spent a fortune I’m sure on therapy, hospital bills and medication.  My depression has been serious and deep and dark and lonely and fearful and agonizing.  There have been moments where I was sure I would never make it to 50, let alone 40 or even 30.  I tried to die and was hospitalized TWICE before I was 25.  And for each time I tried to kill myself there were countless other times I just didn’t have the energy or the opportunity.  There were times I couldn’t get out of bed or take a shower, or make it to class and/or work.  I cut and/or burned myself to try to get the pain out of me.

My last depressive episode was just a few years ago – not reaching the point of suicidal ideation but serious enough to get me back into therapy and on medication.  I cried over getting out of bed, over getting my kids up for school, over doing the dishes, the laundry, over cooking dinner, over helping my kids with their homework.  With this depression I wasn’t sleeping all the time – I was suffering from insomnia, so there was no blessed escape in sleep.

Like I said above, I’m sure I have spent a fortune on therapy, hospitalizations and medication.  Some therapists were better than others, one hospital was certainly better than the other, and medication – well, you have to do some experimentation to find which one works best for each situation.  I’ve never done well on just one medication; each episode has been helped by a different anti-depressants and/or anti-anxiety medications.  I have worked HARD in therapy – confronting demons both real and imagined.  I scraped and clawed my way out of the black hole that is depression and I’m in a good place now.

I’m in a good place now thank God (and my therapist and my medication and my family and my friends and you all…).

And because I’m in a good place, I can truly appreciate the hard work I have done to get to this milestone in my life.  I can truly appreciate the hard work and worry of my therapists (I’ve had quite a few).  I can truly appreciate the worry and care of my friends and family.  I can truly appreciate the gift of these years and the gift of life.

I am happy to be 50 because I KNOW the alternative almost happened.  I am happy to be 50 because I could be dead and buried, never having had a career, a spouse or children.  I am happy to be 50 because I’m getting to see my kids (who at one point I thought I would never have) grow up.  I am happy to be 50 because there were times in my life I thought I’d never be here.

So I am thankful.  I think 50 is awesome.  I think 50 is amazing.  I am in awe.

Is it perfect?  There is no such thing.  I would be lying if I told you I wake up every day with a smile on my face and a song on my lips.  There is NO such pill that can make us be happy all the time.  The first time I went on medication the doctor explained it to me like this:  “Medication won’t make you giddy and smile all the time.  That’s not how it works.  What it WILL do is give you a higher threshold for tolerating pain, so you can deal with it more appropriately and heal.m  It raises your threshold for coping.”  That sums it up pretty well.  There is no such thing as a happy pill.  Life is hard and sometimes life just plain sucks.  But I’ve got it, and as long as I’ve got it I have a chance to work and make things better.

So I am wearing my age like a badge of honor – honor that comes through battles hard fought and victories hard won.  I never lie about my age, because I’m so darn thankful and proud to have made it this far.

I am 50, and it’s wonderful.

Thanksgiving

Today in the United States we celebrate a national holiday called Thanksgiving.  It’s a day to stop and remember to be grateful – grateful as a nation for our freedoms, and grateful as individuals.  There’s been A LOT of debate about that “national” part of it recently, with hysteria in some circles over refugees, but other than asserting that our national history dictates we MUST welcome refugees, I don’t want to talk about that now.  (Just wanted you to know where I stood.)

In this space, right now, I would like to share the things for which I am thankful.  It’s an important thing to do once in a while, because if we aren’t conscious about naming the things we’re thankful for, we can either 1) forget, or 2) take them for granted.  Naming those things helps keep us grounded, and in the chaotic world in which we live that is certainly important.

I am thankful for my ever-patient husband.  We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this year.  As with any couple who have been together that long, we’ve been through a lot together.  We’ve had bumpy patches – we still do.  There are days we don’t like each other very much; days where conversation is strained; days where marriage feels HEAVY.  I am not an easy person to live with – I require too much time alone, I keep too much to myself.  I am SO thankful that he accepts me, and pushes me out of my solitude (even when I push back).  He loves me, and that tells you A LOT about his character.  I’m a lucky woman.

I am thankful for my older daughter, now sixteen.  She is pushing way too many buttons for me to even mention here.  She reminds me of myself, yet she is a person I never was.  I am struggling mightily right now (along with my husband) to strike the balance between protecting her (from others and herself) and giving her the freedom to be herself and even to make mistakes from which to learn.  I feel like I’m walking a tightrope with no net.  It’s more frightening than I ever could’ve imagined.  As she gets closer to legal independence the more serious this tightrope walk gets.  Dang.  But she is AMAZING.  She is forging her own path, making her own way.  She is smart, funny, loyal, passionate, and she is (and will be) a tremendous gift to the world.

I am thankful for my younger daughter, who next month will officially become a teenager.  With her autism she has overcome in her almost thirteen years more than some people have been through in a lifetime.  She works SO hard everyday.  Her teachers and my husband and I have worked SO hard with her.  And that hard work is paying off.  A few months ago she made the leap from an autism focused program, to a district special education classroom!  We are all so proud of her.  She is friendly and cheerful, wanting to make connections with people.  She wants to be a teacher or a fashion designer.  I’m not sure if either of those things will/can happen, but whatever she does she brings light with her.

I am thankful for my son, nine.  He still loves to hug his mama.  He still loves to cuddle.  Although he can very well go to sleep by himself, he still likes me to sit with him while he does – and I don’t mind. He draws better at nine than I do at almost 50!  He has his struggles being at the end of the “child” line in the house.  He has his struggles being a boy that likes to play with dolls (shhh… don’t tell his friends).  He is smart, sensitive, creative and energetic and I can’t wait to see how he continues to grow.

I am thankful for my online community, which includes all of you who read this.  Those of you who follow me through WordPress or on Twitter have given me a life-giving creative and supportive outlet for all my musings.  The various camps I hop between:  autism, parenthood, mental health, and faith have been true lifesavers – keeping me from feeling isolated and alone – and not just alone but from the feeling like I am in the only one in world going through some of this stuff!  I am so incredibly thankful for you – you really have no idea…

I am thankful for the people in my past – the ones who held me and even the ones who hurt me.  They are all part of the person I am today, and for the most part I like myself.  I am thankful for the people in my present.  I am thankful for the country in which I live.  It is most certainly not perfect, and right now my level of frustration if pretty high.  I know that there are people within our borders who do not have the same level of freedom I do, even if we claim it on paper.  I know there are people who have even more freedom than me.  I promise to do everything I can to point out the flaws when I see them, and celebrate the successes when we have them.

I am thankful first of all, most of all, for my faith.  I can’t put it neatly into one paragraph, but without faith, the family above never would’ve come into being.  My faith grounds me, keeps me humble, lifts me up, pushes me, gives me strength.  Faith is the beginning of the person I am and the person I am becoming – a journey not a destination.

Enough about me.  What are you thankful for today – and why?  May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  And for those who struggle with these family related holidays – remember family isn’t just blood.  Family is the people who love you and look out for you and push you and protect you and laugh with you and cry with you.  (just my 2 cents…)