A day in the LEAF

LEAFAsheville, a center for arts and culture in the Southeast, has no shortage of events that enrich the soul. Fortunately, the local arts councils are also generous with these events, providing free tickets to those who could not otherwise afford them. Little Miss and I were lucky enough to score day tickets to the Lake Eden Arts Festival, or LEAF.

The clouds had burst the night before, and some rain lingered into Saturday morning, but it certainly didn’t extinguish the spirits of those on site. When we arrived, the event was in full swing, concert music spilling into the air outside the tents, a poetry slam tearing words from writers’ hearts, the aromas of hot garlic and smoky grills on the breeze. Brave (foolish?) younguns ziplined down into the lake, now a balmy 50 degrees. One bank of the lake was lined with the tents of those staying for the weekend, the other with the festival venue.

Kids ran everywhere, enjoying being kids, many barefoot, even in the squishy mud left from the rain the night before. Arts and crafts booths lined the perimeter, and soon Little Miss sported her own magenta and lilac African mask on a necklace.

The crowd was a burst of colors, so many dressed in flowing fabrics and “hippie” style. I fell in love immediately with the atmosphere, one which pervades Asheville as a whole, but seemed concentrated at the event in one glorious serving.

The headliner for the music scene was Macy Gray; she’s playing today, so we missed her, but we didn’t miss out. Saturday afternoon, we listened to bluegrass artist Sara Watkins, and as the evening wore on we were treated to a show by Cuban R&B/hiphop artist Danay Suarez.  She’s one of LEAF’s teachers in the visiting artists program at local Erwin High School. Though her concert was in Spanish, even her commentary to the audience, it was easy to decipher her meaning once she began to sing. The reggae and jazz beats reached into the soul and lifted it up.

Such a wild and wonderful combination of folks! We, of course, hunted down our family connections with Lucia and Kevin Barnes from Ultimate Ice Cream (did you know they have a CSA for ice cream???), then moved on. I loved the folks with this sign–good advice was free, and “bad” advice, you paid for. Sounds about right.

I’d had a rough weekend physically, so I had my cane and a folding cart with a camp chair, etc. that I finally set up outside the concert tent. Little Miss announced she wasn’t done exploring, so she spent the next few hours going from booth to booth, talking to vendors, learning about sound healing, swinging on some awesome hanging chairs, smelling incense and candles and much more.  I know it may not sound like much to most folks that a 17 year old worked a crowd, but for those who know the autism spectrum, and Little Miss, this means she overcame the noise of the music and crowd, went on her own, spoke with strangers to gather information, and experienced independence–knowing I was in one place where she could find me if she needed anything. Pretty awesome.

Mid-afternoon, LEAF was treated to a parade with a host of performers like those of Imagine Circus from Raleigh, sparkling and dancing in the sun. 

 

A glorious day, in the end, though I hadn’t expected it would be.  Something I’ve been working on, my expectations. When you have debilitating conditions, it’s so easy to slip into a niche where you automatically choose not to go out and do things for fear of increased pain or repercussions or inability. I’m trying now to “expect” that yes, there will be difficulties, but the experience is worth it once all is done.

And the lovely Danay Suarez proved my point. The beats of her music got me to my feet, moved me like a hurricane wind from her island. I didn’t look around to see what people were judging this old, fluffy lady, swaying her hips with one hand on her cane and one on her chair. I was simply the music.

We went to LEAF. Little Miss got to be a real teenager. And I danced. 🙂

 

 

Advertisements

Not always the most wonderful time of the year

A phenomenon many divorce attorneys like me encounter each year between mid-November and January 2 is the sudden drop-off of clients and client activity.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the holiday lull, the last-ditch effort to grasp the fast-fading warm feeling of family or at least the rational attempt to try to preserve the illusion that ‘everything is all right’ for the children.

DSCN0169Often, the holidays are a happy blurred memory batch from childhood, with ham dinners with families gathered at grandparents’ house, favorite (and not so favorite) presents we’ve received over the years, candlelit church services, carols and much more.

Overlay this with the commercial media blitz of glitter, bling (every kiss begins with k?? Who knew? Awesome!) and price cuts, and the secular Holidays take on an almost sacred tone of their own.

We want our children to experience this, to feel whole, to be glad and warm and loved. Often we are able to swallow our own pain–or drown it with well-doctored eggnog– long enough to let the little ones experience Santa and the magic.

But what we also see as the years pass is the carving up of these happy days with a broad knife, dividing the time the children “must” spend with father, mother, siblings, grandparents and others. When parents cannot look beyond their own needs to compromise with their children’s lives, the court will do it for them, with lack of emotion or feeling to guide it.

Four hours for mom. Two hours for grandma. Twelve hours for dad. Splitting the day so you have to be hauling kids on the road for two hours of the holiday you’d all rather spend at home. Weather? Schmeather. The court order says… Alternating years, so every other Christmas your hearth is empty and dark with no children to celebrate. Christmas Eve. Christmas Day. Thanksgiving Thursday. Friday? Maybe, if you’re lucky, a few extra days of the vacation when the children can have a parent all to themselves without other obligations.

DSCN0207There’s no good way to do it, so this yields the sucking-up and effort to maintain through the holidays “for the kids.”

In my generation, divorce was not as prevalent as today, and we visited in summers only, so our holidays, though father was absent, were not disrupted. My children, however, were subject to visitation orders, and spent most holidays with their fathers, which was fine with me. Holiday is a state of mind, as far as I’m concerned. You can have a special day on the 23rd, 25th, or even 31st, if you put your mind to it.

Many more children of my kids’ generation grew up in split parenting situations, so maybe for them, it’s not as traumatic for their own children to be visiting other households during these magic periods. And often, no matter how hard you’re trying to hold things together, the children are well aware of the tensions underlying the surface. If those tensions become toxic, then perhaps separation, even this time of year, could be the right choice, for everyone’s peace of mind. It’s important, though, not to compete with each other to “buy” the children with stuff.

But even if the magic fails on one front, there are many more, like these suggestions from Suzy Brown. As she says, “Holidays are about peace and sharing and gratitude and love. During tragedy, or divorce, or heartache we have to reach down and find those core things at a deeper level, a more meaningful level.”

It’s a tough time. I’m going through the single parent thing again for the first time in 15 years, and it’s a big readjustment. But it can be done. If you feel that you can’t hold on, for any reason, please seek professional help, whether in the form of legal counsel, psychological counsel, or just a heartfelt cup of cocoa with a good friend or close relative. Take time out for yourself. Most decisions about situations (absent actual danger) can be put off for a week or two. Give yourself and the children time in as de-stressed a manner as possible. This will pay off as they learn coping skills from you they can use all their lives.

lights06

 

 

Taking a moment to recognize success

little_girl_hugging_her_mom_0515-1004-2122-0454_SMUAnd in the end, the love you take

is equal to the love you make…  

(Lennon.McCartney)

 

Living with a child on the spectrum is so often a one-way street. No matter how you model appropriate emotional reactions or human interactions, many times there is no reciprocal response. While a neurotypical child may glean an empathetic response from experiencing such interaction in her own life, the same isn’t always true of a child with autism.

I say this having lived with three children on the spectrum, two of the Aspie leaning and the other more “typically” autistic. The boys often have no idea how to respond to emotional displays or the needs of others. (Surely this is why Sheldon Cooper has been taught by rote that when someone is upset, they should be offered a hot beverage.)

Little Miss, however, has come a long way on her road.

I know this because as I’m watching THE JUDGE this evening, a movie with Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall (which I highly recommend), there comes a part where a situation very near to my own life occurs, and it hits me right in the gut. I start bawling, kind of caught off guard by the depth of the emotional net that traps me.

My daughter, who’s playing in her room, calls out to me, then when I don’t answer, she comes out to the living room,, concerned. She asks if I’m all right, and when I explain the parallels in the situation, she slides next to me on the couch and puts her arm around me, telling me it’s all right and that my parents will always live in my heart, so I shouldn’t be sad. When I manage to get under control, she leaves me long enough to bring me her own tissue box. She waits until I’m all dried up and then reminds me it’s okay before she goes back to what she was doing.

red flowers

red flowers

The enormity of what I experienced brought another whole round of tears, for a very different reason. Out of that quiet, self-absorbed girl, such a display of exactly the right reaction was unexpected–even more reassuring that she knows how to be a kind and loving person, and may, someday, be able to exist on her own and have friends and loved ones in her life. What a blessing. Just another reminder that none of us should give up, even when the going is tough. Hope is in the love you make for your child to experience. 🙂

 

Summer trip, Part Two

DSCN0611I’ll start with the view from our campsite at Curry Hammock State Park which was interesting in a number of ways, including how close we were to the beach, although pursuing the wildlife was much more fun. The park is “green”, so the restroom/shower facilities were all specially designed to fit with the local ecosystem.

The wildlife that popped up all around our campsite included some fabulous green iguanas like this guy:

igianaThe area, though is known for its blue crabs, which had hideyholes in the ground all over the place, several around the campsite itself. My daughter had the chance for prolonged conversation with some in the mornings, since she is an early riser, but I didn’t get to see so many.

Out time in the Keys sadly came to an end, and we headed north, where M and kids rented a car to head home, while we stayed in Satellite Beach with a friend of mine from the old newspaper days. It was two days full of fun, great food and success!new adventures.

Linda’s friend Rob was so generous with his time–one afternoon, he took the girls to his neighbors’ dock. Here’s the result–they each caught one!

success strikes againAnd yes, Mr. Redfish was delicious.

While we were there, we also had the chance to visit Kennedy Space Center. Yurie was excited to go there because of the rocketships and the history. Little Miss just went for one reason:

DSCN0637Yes. Angry Birds in Space. A whole building devoted to it, with a maze, and games, and the opportunity to sling birds at pictures of pigs. What says space travel more than that?

She actually did pay attention to several of the other exhibits (though she was still pretty obsessed with the Birds), as she demonstrated in later conversation. We took a bus ride out to see some of the outbuildings (including the one where Rob works!) and then came back to sit through a mock-up of a moon landing, which was cool (especially for those of us old enough to have watched it on live tv) .

DSCN0630

DSCN0632It was great reconnecting with Linda. We’ve both gone on to interesting lives, she as a counselor/teacher and me as an attorney/writer. But to take just a moment to relive those escapades as young writers–driving out onto the flight line at the air force base, checking out the drug hangouts in Florida City and nearly getting nabbed by the DEA–was awesome.

Then a sad day as we drove to Miami for Yurie to catch her plane home to Japan. We all survived the logistics of getting her to the airport during rush hour in Miami in a giant RV, AND of getting her multiple suitcases to the baggage carrier successfully (and the fact that the Miami Heat apparently won some sports event and we could have been marooned in city traffic for days, but we didn’t know it at the time). Goodbyes were tough. We’ll miss you, kid.  😦

The next leg of the trip was to Fort Pierce to visit another old friend of mine. We were both a little worse for wear for the years that had passed, and both dealing with chronic pain. But it didn’t stop my friend from being a delightful hostess, and we had a wonderful couple of days. Here she is with her friend going to a Mad Hatter party:

DSCN0642She looked great, and I’m so glad we stopped to see her. She lives in a beautiful condo overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and invited me to come stay with her on a more permanent basis. Have to admit, I’m keeping that in the back of my mind. There are worse choices.

Little Miss was more delighted with the two miniature dogs living there:

DSCN0644They were cute, but definitely fonder of her than of me or other visitors.

Finally, north to Asheville, to complete our travels, to visit with K and her lovely partner L. We always have a good time with them, and they work so hard at creating a life together with L’s son, even though the state of North Carolina is much less than helpful in its acceptance of gay rights. We took the chance to do nothing a lot of the time, preparing for the long drive home, and took advantage of the KOA’s nice facilities, pool, park, etc. to just let go.

DSCN0654poolAnd of course we visited L’s new job–Asheville’s Ultimate Ice Cream shop. With unique flavors like goat cheese and bing cherry, chocolate and ginger, and even caramel with blue cheese (to DIE for…), it was an amazing tastefest. That was before we got the maple and bacon ice cream.

Yes, I said bacon.

It was unbelievable. Please put it on your bucket list. Right now. I’ll wait while you get a pen.

Hard to believe all this fit into 16 days, but it had to come to an end eventually. What didn’t come to an end, of course, was the pile of work waiting for me when I got back. But then that’s what the real world is about. Time to start dreaming of next year’s vacation!

 

 

Never give up, never surrender–a way of life

So, as many of my readers have commented, I have a pretty busy life, trying to balance the day job with the writing career and still take care of a family and breathe once in awhile, too. Fortunately, as the children have grown up, their special needs have been addressed, for the most part, and don’t affect the day-to-day living situation as much as they did in the past.

That’s a huge accomplishment in my book. Two out of three of the children have overcome their ‘disabilities’ to the point where they can function alongside their peers on a day to day basis and also contribute in the home setting. The Captain is still struggling with his issues, but we encourage him in his therapeutic placement and continue to hope that he will do the same, someday.

Because so many people were asking how I can manage all these things at the same time, I’ve written a post about it for the readers/writers site The Polka Dot Banner.

I left out the part, of course, about how I do all these things because I’m a woman and a mother and we just do what we have to do. The political candidates can bellyache about all those who complain they need help from the government to keep on surviving, but I’m here to tell you that I know a whole subculture of parents of autistic and other special needs kids who bust their butts every day to keep those kids moving forward, no matter what personal sacrifices they have to make. I applaud each and every one of you. Keep on keeping on, even when it seems like no one else is on your side and you’re ready to just lay down and surrender. Don’t. It pays off.

Why grandkids rule

We got to visit this week with M and her three kids from Pensacola, as well as S and her batch from Tennessee, and we were lucky enough to hook up with some free time with D, my daughter in town and her family too, for a wonderful BBQ chicken dinner in the neighbor’s garage (thanks, neighbors!).

Even though M’s plans changed and I ended up missing part of the time she was here with court events, we got some real good time in. I felt like we had some conversations that were really meaningful–adult, woman to woman conversations about life and how we did things in our households and with our kids. She’s just graduated (finally! yay!) with her BA in education, particularly special ed–so she has some valid input for my three kids with special issues, and I appreciated what she had to say. As an experienced mom, I had some things to share with her about potential health issues her kids were having. It was all good.

But for grandkids, you can bend the rules and miss a bit of work–I took off two days, one to go to the Grove City outlet mall to satisfy Miss Chloe’s penchant for fashionable clothes at Justice, once Little Miss had shared a 40% coupon with her cousins. Interesting to have them here, while outside the store it was 40 degrees and raining, but buying clothing to wear in Florida where it was 90 degrees! Another factor that played in was their move to the Seattle area later this year–a real switch in weather, for sure.

The other day, we drove up to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center where we experienced the wind off Lake Erie (holy cow, it was cold!) as we climbed the tower to check out the roller coasters from nearby Waldameer. My sister works with the Pennsylvania Sea Grant in the building, so we got a VIP tour behind the scenes, where the kids fed earthworms to the fish in the experimental tanks and got to check out whole racks of dead things in jars and boxes. (Okay, okay, the praying mantises were cool…) Above is the new dinosaur exhibit, and the expressions on their faces, well, they define how we lasted the day.

The TREC has a great little kids’ space, with puppets and puzzles, and the little ones got a big kick out of them, especially the owl puppets whose heads turned around like that girl in The Exorcist.

  Altogether a lovely day, despite the cold temperatures. Perhaps a heads-up for M, who’s lived in Florida and Guam and all sorts of warm places, but is on her way to Washington state. A little adjustment,  but she’ll handle it like she handles everything: efficiently and minimalist. So what if we eat off paper plates for awhile? Clean-up is easy, huh?

Especially after the April we had, it was nice to reaffirm life once again with an onslaught of children and growing things. Thanks for coming, guys. It was a wonderful early gift for Mother’s Day.

Whither my little girls have gone?

I’m on the road today, somewhere in Iowa, on my way to a five day intensive writing workshop with Margie Lawson, having a “deluxe continental breakfast.” Not really sure what continent it might be from, but the coffee is fabulous.

But the topic of conversation on the TODAY show overhead is whether mothers and daughters can be best friends. They interview a set who are, at the same time the experts are horrified and gasping “no! No!”

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about for awhile. Not about being best friends with my daughters, but my relationship with them. As I’ve said before, most of my girls packed up and bailed for parts unknown. M picked the Navy, traveled the world, met The One, has a lovely family now living in Florida and soon to take off for foreign parts, if she has her way. B lives 2500 miles away in Nevada. K moved to North Carolina. (D is still in town, but she’s so busy we hardly see each other!) It’s hard to stay close from that distance.  They have their own lives. Mother isn’t part of it.

I asked M recently if she’d done it on purpose, moved away to exclude me. She laughed and called me a “silly mom” and assured me it wasn’t like that.

So many people I know in our small town live here forever. As do their parents. Children. Brothers. Sisters. Cousins. Even the ones once removed. Big family parties, cookouts, so on.  I see B doing this with her new family, and I’m glad she has the support.

So am I wishing they were too frightened of the “big world outside” to leave to stay home near me? Of course not. Maybe I’ve just done my job and sent them out, free and secure, to fly on their own, like any good mother bird.

At the same time, I resent only seeing them once every year or two. I wish they were close so we could do things together, so I wouldn’t worry when they had hard times, so I could pop over with a pot roast when I knew they needed it.

Mary Quigley quotes Jonas Salk like this:

Good parents give their children roots and wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught them. — Jonas Salk

She makes some good points in her piece on adult children. It’s certainly not my intention to become a helicopter parent. I hate flying, for one. But I have grandchildren I hardly know, and all three of these girls are just slipping away in the passage of time. None of us knows how much time might be allotted to us. We might say, “Oh, someday we’ll…” but we don’t know whether we’ll ever get that chance.

Meantime, I suppose, I should be grateful they’re flying so successfully. If they don’t need me then I’ve done my job, right? It makes sense. But sometimes it just doesn’t satisfy my heart.