matril: (matril)
Today was the first day of school for Ryan and Emma. Ryan's starting third-grade at the school down the street, so I'll be walking him down there every day just like I did for him and Emma last year. My tiny little daughter, however, is starting middle school.
Read more... )

Luke

Dec. 16th, 2015 12:01 pm
matril: (matril)
Many years ago, a boy named Luke was born. His parents were very excited as they prepared for his birth. He was their firstborn, and they rejoiced in that. They also worried and wondered if they would be able to take care of him properly. He was born at a time of great uncertainty in their lives. But his mother named him Luke, a name that always filled her with hope.

Read more... )

The Force is strong in this one.
Read more... )
matril: (matril)
Once more I find myself at a sort of philosophical crossroads. I come here often. Perhaps I engage in too much thinking and not enough doing. But, as proven by how I voluntarily dedicated my college career to hours and hours of reading and overthinking literature, thinking is my favorite kind of doing.

What triggered this particular trip to the Overthinking Crossroads is an email from the mother of my one and only piano student (unless you count Emma and Ryan). Her son just isn't enjoying it at all; it's a huge pain to get him to practice, and he's going to have to take a break. I wished them well and said I'd welcome him back any time. Meanwhile, I'm spiraling into existential gloom. Since I started teaching four or so years ago, I've had two or three students, but I always sort of assumed that once the momentum got going, I'd get more. Instead, some have moved away, some have changed teachers, and one - my lovely adult student of three years - got a new obligation making her too busy for lessons. I thought it would change this fall when a piano teacher friend was moving away and offered to refer some of her students to me. I had five or six contact me and come for a trial lesson. None of them got back to me.

It's kind of hard not to assume there was something decidedly undazzling about my teaching.

I originally planned to be an English teacher. It was a crowded program at my college, so you had to send in an application package, including a video of a pretend lesson. When I applied, they informed me that the video concerned them, since I didn't seem to have much of a "presence" and they feared I wouldn't be able to maintain control of a classroom. It's possible that, as my last name was at the end of the alphabet, they didn't have any more slots when they got to me and had to think of some excuse for rejecting me. I mean, isn't it the whole purpose of such a program to teach its students how to teach, how to have a presence, how to maintain control of a classroom? All I knew, however, was that I had been measured and found wanting in my intended profession.

I toyed with the idea of going into library science for a graduate program, as working among the quiet shelves of a library seemed ideal for a mousy person with no presence. But after I received my regular old English degree, I just didn't feel a burning need to pursue any further education right then.

I had my children. I became, as they call it, a full-time mother. Though let's be honest: there's no such thing as a part-time mother. These are the sort of labels they use to sort everybody into tidy boxes so we know who's a Good mother and who's not...or who's fulfilled and who's repressed....or who's Like Me and Not Like Me. Blah. It was during my early days of stay-at-home motherhood, interestingly, that I became more and more engaged by the concepts of feminism, at least the sort of feminism that speaks to me. Because even though I was doing what I had chosen, and was very happy to do it, I still wished there were more resources to navigate the rocky transition from full-time student to...well, I know I need to take care of my baby, and that's my number one priority, but honestly it doesn't take up every minute of every hour, and what else should I do with my time that's worthy and fulfilling and useful, and how do I stay sane without much human contact beyond a gurgling infant, and am I selfish or selfless or some nebulous space in between? The specific details of my situation have shifted over the years - Luke being autistic, kids starting school, moving to bigger houses - but I still have that basic struggle, trying to navigate a place that no one's ever really mapped out.

I'm still not sure what I should do with myself.

The fact that I have a choice in the matter is, I know, a tremendous luxury. There are so many women who have no spare time to worry about the meaning of their day-to-day existence, because they're fully occupied with working long, lousy jobs to scrape together just enough money for necessities, worrying how they'll feed their children or keep a roof over their head...I know, I'm a place of privilege to even be pondering these things.

Having said that, here's my conundrum. As far as I can see, there are several motivators that get us to do things. One of them is necessity. I don't wash the dishes because I enjoy it; I do it because we need clean dishes. Work is a big part of this category, since, as most of us can't make, grow or build the entirety of our clothing, food, shelter and other needs, we have to earn money for them.

Another motivator is enjoyment. Hobbies go here, though people generally like to find work that at least sometimes falls in this category as well. If you have to do something to earn money, you might as well look for something you can enjoy too, right?

And then there's a vague "good for you" motivator. More on that in a moment.

So, what do I do by necessity? Housework, as mentioned above. I enjoy having a clean house but that doesn't mean I have much delight in the process. Caring for my children, obviously, though when they're at school there's not much to be done there. Earning a wage? I was bringing in a tiny fraction of our income with that piano lesson, but now...nope. Could we use the extra money? Of course we could. My husband's a schoolteacher. We bought pretty much the cheapest house we could move into, because anything bigger would have required a dual income. But we're getting by with just one. Barely.

Enjoyment. I have quite a few hobbies, and I feel plenty lucky that I have time to indulge in them. I might have lost all my piano students except my own kids, but I play the piano for myself all the time. I knit (working on my Halloween costume right now, as it happens). And yes, I do sometimes just watch TV shows and movies. Most of all, I write. Every day I spend at least an hour on something involving my writing.

But this leaves the "good for you." What do I mean by that? Well...

How do you measure your worth? Ideally, it should be absolute as a human being. And, as I believe, a child of God. Nothing you do or don't do should alter that sense of absolute worth. And yet I do judge myself as more or less worthy based on rather arbitrary criteria. One of those is by my career, or rather, my non-existent one. I don't make any money. I don't contribute a penny to our household. Sure, neither do my children, but they're children. Much as I try to silence this internal criticism, the voice keeps reminding me, You're basically a leech. No one has ever accused me of this. It's all self-directed. My husband is completely and utterly supportive of whatever I choose, as long as our family remains our priority. It's just my own issues.

And I think rather drearily, well, I don't have tons of options when it comes to making money. Last time I looked for a job, I ended up working at a register at a grocery store. For one miserable year. I was never happier when I quit. And that was when I got my first piano student, so everything seemed like it was working out great. But basing my worthiness on whether I'm earning any money is stupid and a fantastic way to set myself up for failure. I mean, we need to have an income, obviously. It's necessary, but it's not related to my worth.

So maybe it's not about the money; maybe it's about feeling like I'm contributing some good to the world. Volunteering? Getting involved at my kids' schools? This is the "good for you" stuff I'm talking about. Something that provides human contact for my hermit-like existence. Something that has me feeling purposeful and useful. Something that builds my character by stretching me beyond my comfort zone and teaching me new skills.

And here's the thing: that sounds like a perfect nightmare to me.

I like spending the day at home. Alone.

I feel like I shouldn't. I feel like I should be itching to get out and be around people. I feel like I should be longing for a career path, something to define my adult life beyond motherhood; something that makes use of my talents and desires and...ugh, it just sounds exhausting. I don't want it. I believe in fiercely defending the right of any other woman to pursue her dreams and excel in whatever her chosen field, but climbing the corporate ladder or working in a courtroom or leading meetings all day? Not for me.

Lots of guilt here. Am I happily squandering my abilities? I'm no genius, but I'm pretty smart, a hard worker, got good grades throughout high school and college. I don't feel my education was wasted from an abstract standpoint; I like the person it helped me become. But we like to categorize things by their cost - education is expensive, so why am I not using it to make more money? Or at least contribute to the world at large in some measurable way?

Oh, I know motherhood is my big contribution. I'm not diminishing the importance of that in the slightest. I'm glad that I'm available at home if they ever need me during the school day. I know that the time I've put and continue to put into raising them and providing a safe, clean happy home for them is invaluable. It's just...if I have this much free time now, how much more when they're grown and independent, at least Emma and Ryan? Lots of mothers find themselves seeking new careers, or renewing old ones once their children leave home. What do I want?

I know the ideal answer - I want to write novels, and have them published. Day-to-day, I would work from home, quiet and alone and happy. Once in a while I'd go on book signings or whatever, and get some amount of human contact and travel and all that good fun stuff, hopefully just enough to add a little variety to my life without making me miserable. But there is absolutely no way to guarantee that kind of career. And everything else....I don't want it. Even non-fiction freelance writing, or editing, other stuff people have recommended that really should be right up my alley...I've considered pursuing it, but it just doesn't feel right.

I know, I know. I'm really spoiled here. I can sit here, unemployed, and just summarily reject option after option of viable jobs. But every time I consider something, I think, well, what's the motivator? Do we need the income? Yes, but not so urgently I have to take it. Is it something I would enjoy? No. In fact, I'd probably be miserable. Is it good for me? Yech. Like medicine.

So I'd be perfectly happy going on with my simplistic home life, except for the crippling guilt telling me I shouldn't be happy, how dare I enjoy anything so bereft of monetary worth or real value, and what did I go to college for, anyway?

Apparently, for the sole purpose of writing overlong navel-gazing blog posts. Sigh.
matril: (matril)
It's the fourth and final full week of April, so this will be my concluding post in this life-with-Luke series. I don't know that I can really tie everything up in a pretty bow. The story is ongoing, no tidy conclusion. Mostly, I've found that as soon as I think everything is settled, a new complication arises - but that's not always a bad thing. For better or worse, Change is the only constant. )

Ripples

Apr. 13th, 2015 11:53 am
matril: (matril)
As I said before, everything in our lives was affected by Luke's diagnosis, and continues to be. Some of those effects are obvious, like having him in school full time since age three, but there were other, broader changes, rippling outward pretty much indefinitely.

For instance... )

After

Apr. 7th, 2015 12:18 pm
matril: (matril)
There are many events or changes that divide my life into sections - before and after high school or college, before and after marriage or becoming a mother. But the one that most defines the eras of my life has to be before and after Luke's diagnosis.

The changes didn't necessarily happen instantaneously, and in fact some shifts in our life began gradually before we had any notion of his autism. But I will always see my life in terms of Before and After. Where we live, how we live from day to day, our home and our possessions, are all deeply affected by Luke's autism. I'm not going to stick a label on it and call it either Good or Bad. As with most things, it's a complicated mix of positive, negative and indifferent, and there's no point in trying to pull out and identify every individual strand.

But here )

Before

Apr. 2nd, 2015 01:27 pm
matril: (matril)
So it's Autism Awareness month, and we all know what that means for me. Okay, maybe not. I'd like to hope I'm in a little better place this year. Maybe it's because I already got my rant out of the way in January.

The truth is, writing long soul-wrenching rants is very therapeutic for me. While my readers might come away from such a post thinking I'm broken, I actually feel much better after getting it all out in semi-eloquent prose. This month, though, I want to do something more than use LiveJournal as a kind of electronic therapist, by offering what little I can offer regarding this nebulous concept of Autism Awareness. I don't know what it's like to be autistic, and I don't know what it like for every parent of an autistic child. I only know what it's like to be Luke's mother. For whatever that's worth, I'm going to tell you what I know about that, in the form of weekly entries throughout this month. I'm going to be honest and thorough, and even more long-winded that usual. In order to more accurately capture some of the feelings I had over time, I'll include excerpts from my journals. I'll start with the beginning.

A long, long time ago (well, almost thirteen years) )
matril: (matril)
I figured after that fairly melodramatic post about Luke last time, I ought to give some manner of update. Oddly enough, though we haven't had much change either for better or worse, I'm feeling considerably more optimistic. Which goes to show that an attitude change is sometimes the greatest resource we have when the actual circumstances can't be altered much.

Why am I feeling better about this? I'm not sure. His teachers requested a meeting with us a few weeks back, and I was approaching it with dread, wondering if they were going to say they just couldn't handle him anymore and we needed to find another place for him to go to school. I tend to go straight for the worst possible scenario, however unlikely. I mean, it's not like they've never dealt with a 12-year-old boy struggling with puberty before, right? I knew that rationally but I couldn't help being paranoid.

In fact, they mostly wanted to talk about the various strategies they've been trying out to make sure we approved of them, as well as some observations they'd made on why he might be acting out. They noticed he was smiling during physical restraint, which indicated he just wanted intense physical attention and didn't know how to request it except by aggression! So they are trying to find safe ways for him to request it so it doesn't seem like he's getting rewarded for unacceptable behavior. They were also trying him out in different classrooms, since it's possible that other rambunctious students might have been setting him off. And we were only too happy to approve anything that might work. It's true that we didn't finish the meeting with a magical cure, but I just felt so heartened once again to sit with a team of people who are so invested in helping Luke.

Luke continues to have intense aggressive episodes at home, though I think I've started to have a stronger sense of the early warning signs, meaning I can sometimes redirect him before it escalates too much out of control. Of course this ridiculous winter has offered its own set of challenges, as we've yet to get through a full week of school without snow days. His schedule has been thrown awry and he gets quite restless being stuck in the house all day. He hates being cold, so playing outside doesn't usually offer much of an outlet. But on the other hand, when there's a snow day his dad is home as well (oh, how I love having a teacher husband at times like these) and Luke acts out much less frequently when he's around for whatever reason. Oh, I've pondered possible reasons, let me tell you. I've gone through the wringer of guilt about how I respond to stressful situations in a far more extreme manner than my husband, and it's all my fault that I've thus encouraged Luke to lash out around me because he knows he'll be rewarded with the Crazy Mom Show....but there's nothing good in that place. All that matters is dealing with the situation we're in now.

We were able to spend Luke's funding money on a bunk bed, which is fantastic. (And the delivery was on a rare snow-free day, so, hooray for good timing.) He doesn't settle down to sleep all that much easier so far, but at least Ryan can have his own space on the top bunk now. And the lower bunk offers Luke a more enclosed space, which is generally comforting to autistic kids. It's too early to see any long-term benefits, but I have to think it's helping him.

Truthfully, the majority of the time Luke can be found happily, quietly sitting somewhere as he spins his current preferred spinner. Emma and Ryan end up being far more exasperating with their more typical noisy, over-exuberant play (we're all suffering from a chronic case of cabin fever here), and then I wonder if I'd be better or worse at handling neurotypical children if I wasn't also handling one with autism. Another useless thing to dwell on. Let me come back to that attitude change. I still have moments of frustration, resentment, and fear. But at the bottom of it all, those feelings just aren't sustainable if I want to be at all functional. I have to actively decide to be positive. And it's starting to feel a little more natural to hope, a little less like I'm faking it. Maybe Harold Hill's philosophy wasn't all flim-flam after all: the Think System actually works.
matril: (matril)
I knew this was coming.

Read more... )
matril: (matril)
I don't like calling motherhood my job. Or my career, or my profession, or any other highfalutin synonyms you could think of. I'm not a fan of those memes that describe a stay-at-home mother's work as some insane combination of short-order chef, chauffeur, maid, therapist, coach…and all unpaid! 24 hours a day, seven days a week!

Yeah…no.

It's not that I think mothers have it easier, or that they have less to handle than whatever a typical job entails. Quite the contrary. Motherhood, and parenthood generally, entail some of the most demanding, challenging, stressful things one can undertake. But I'm feeling more and more that trying to shoehorn motherhood into a career box is a disservice both to mothers and to anyone with a job. It's a quintessential case of comparing apples to oranges, and it inevitably leads to mean-spirited arguments of who has it harder, who deserves more praise, and who's generally a better human being than everyone else. This is not productive. And it's a false dichotomy to being with.

And now for a cursory, entirely unresearched history lesson )
matril: (matril)
I have too much free time.

This has been a problem since I graduated from college. Luke was about three months old then, and I was eager to do what I'd always planned on doing - devote the bulk of my time to parenting, while any remaining time could be spent on the solitary activities I loved. Reading, writing, jigsaw puzzles, music. I like solitary activities. And that hasn't changed. But it is possible, shockingly, to get too much of a good thing.

Even with a baby, I wasn't as busy as I thought I'd be, because we had to live with my parents for a year while my husband applied to grad schools. I was extremely grateful to my parents for letting us stay with them, but it was rough for all of us. I felt like I'd moved backwards in terms of adult behavior. I had no household of my own. I went from full-time classes to almost no scheduled stuff at all. I have self-disicpline when someone else is setting the deadlines and responsibilities, but it turns out that when it's all up to me, I become very lazy.

Well, then we moved to Massachusetts for grad school, got our own place again, and then I was pregnant with Emma. It got better, with a house of my own to tend to and two children and so on, but in spite of what I'd heard every other mother say, I still had more free time then than I did at any other point in my life (other than, I assume, those few years before I started kindergarten that I don't remember). When Luke started school, there was even more free time. Ryan was born, things were busier, but they all grew and became more independent, and now, in September, they will all be at school all day long.

What in the world am I going to do with myself? And how can I complain about it when everyone else in the world is insanely busy and hates me for complaining about the opposite problem? I've been there; I've been so busy I could barely take a breath, and thought longingly of having just a single day without a packed schedule. My past self would probably hate me too. But here I am.

I do love having ample time for reading, writing, puzzles, music - you can add yarnwork to the list now that I've learned to knit and crochet. I have tons of ideas for writing lately, particularly since I've gotten into a new fandom and churned out buckets of fanfic. I have a novel that, with some revision, might be ready to send out queries for. But even I, an extreme introvert, can only fill so much of the day with solitary activities.

There are the necessities - dishes, laundry, cleaning - that I'll do when I have to but never gleefully. I don't look forward to having everyone else out of the house so I can go and tackle that pile of clutter. Oh, sure, there's enough clutter that I could probably spend several straight days on clearing it out. That sounds perfectly horrifying. I can spend maybe an hour, at most, on cleaning before wanting to flee.

A job? Yech. My pitiful qualifications would limit me to standing behind a cash register. I did that for about a year, and it was sucking the life out of me. Yes, I need to get out of the house and interact with people. Even I recognize that, much as I'm inclined toward the hermit lifestyle. But is there any way to have mild, comfortable interaction without tremendous effort on my part? No one is going to come to my door to randomly befriend me. I have to reach out to people. That's terrifying. No one is going to reach out to me because they don't know I need it, but an irrational part of me says it's because they don't want to interact with me.

Oh, and most other people are busy during the day with, you know, jobs and parenting and important things.

I don't want to be a complete ingrate. I feel very, very fortunate that our financial circumstances aren't so dire that we need a dual income, and that my husband supports my desire to be at home for our kids. I'm very happy to have kids and be a mother. I love our house even if I don't keep it pristine and tidy and full of cutesy crafty decorations. Overall, I'm glad I have the life I'm living. It's just.... you know.

Ideal scenario? I get a literary agent, start getting publishing deals, and suddenly my hobby becomes my career. Then I'll go on book signings and such, which would provide social interaction in just the sort of venue I'd appreciate. Until then, I'm going to be squirming here at home, somewhere in between fear of the outside world and boredom with the inward.
matril: (matril)
Today was Ryan's kindergarten orientation. The day started off chaotic and stressful. Luke's bus usually picks him up at the house with plenty of time to get Emma to her bus stop afterwards, but it was late today, and by the time we got Emma down to the corner, I thought we had missed her bus. We waited a while, then headed back home. Since my mother-in-law was coming by to take us to Ryan's orientation, I wasn't as panicked as usual. I was, however, extremely irritated to see Emma's bus drive by a few minutes later, after we were already back inside. So she was a little late to school. After checking her in at the main office, I walked Ryan to the kindergarten hallway and realized I was supposed to pack him a little snack. Oh well. More troubling was the fact that Ryan completely clammed up and didn't want to go near the classroom doorway. I should have anticipated it, since he was the same when he started preschool two years ago, but he's usually the polar opposite of shy. He would not budge. It happens to plenty of kids, I know, but I was already quite frazzled and had very little patience for it, especially when he'd been looking forward to it for weeks and I knew he'd have a blast once he went inside. And he goes to that school once a week for speech lessons, so it's not like the building or the concept was unfamiliar to him. Finally one of the administrators had the idea to get Emma and have her walk him into the classroom. It seemed to do the trick. I checked in the office after the parents' meeting and they said he was doing fine.

But because I was so full of frustration and stress, I forget to be nostalgic. See, this will probably be the last kid I send off to kindergarten. I should be cherishing this precious moment, making memories, blah blah blah. But no. It never works that way. Luke's first day of kindergarten was fraught with worry about whether he'd transition well from the preschool to the K-2 special ed classroom. It didn't feel like a beginning, since he'd already been going to school all day for two and a half years. With Emma we had trouble figuring out her bussing situation, so we were fretting about that, not to mention that Luke's unusual situation prevented us from creating lots of cutesy traditions and rituals for the start of kindergarten.

Maybe I'll have more wherewithal for fond nostalgia when Ryan actually starts kindergarten in September. I kind of doubt it. But I need to stop feeling guilty about it either way. Sure, it's important to commemorate things and appreciate milestones. Just not to the point that you can't actually live the life you're trying to commemorate. One day I'll look back and remember this era in my life, and maybe I'll think, "Yes, those were the days!" or maybe I'll think, "Ugh, I'm so glad to be done with that!" and maybe I'll think both things at once. I don't want to be one of those people who tells young parents to enjoy it while they can, because I don't like it when people say that to me. As if I don't already have enough to be worrying about, that I need to be enjoying the heck out of every little drop of my parental experience. I'll enjoy it in my own way, and sometimes I'll just be stressed and frazzled, and some of my best memories will be random moments unconnected to anything momentous, no photos or rituals or grand ceremonies, just my kids being my kids.
matril: (matril)
Here's a confession: I hate Autism Awareness Month.

Here we go )
matril: (Default)
(I wrote this a while back, but it occurred to me that I should probably post it here.)

I don't know when Luke literally became autistic. Was it written in his DNA? Did it become inevitable when he was exposed to some seemingly innocuous environmental factor? Maybe it could be pinpointed by milestones, or lack thereof, at around 18 months when the rate of his language regression began overtaking the rate of his language acquisition. The potential must have always been there.

But the human mind doesn't look at things that way. )

Sheesh

Apr. 28th, 2008 08:21 pm
matril: (Default)
I have lots of reasons to be cheerful and grateful today, but instead I'm grousing. Happiness really is a state of mind, isn't it?

Good news and bad )
matril: (neville)
Okay, I'm feeling rather antsy right now, so I'm going to ramble for a bit. (Short story - my husband just took our son to the emergency room, not for anything serious or life threatening, but to see if we can do anything at all for this cough that just won't stop so he can get to sleep and actually get the rest he needs to get over the cough and....okay, not so short. Anyway.)

Why Neville deserves lots of huggles )

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