Becoming brave

Stevie Nicks was right. Time really does make you bolder.

Folks who know me now have a hard time comprehending that there was a time when I wouldn’t stand up for myself. Because these days you pretty much know where you stand with me. But it was not always the case.

It may be hard to believe that there was a time in my life when the mere thought of standing up for myself made me tremble in paralyzing fear. But there was. This fear permeated all aspects of my life: school, relationships, jobs. I did not express myself. I did not challenge. I did not speak up. I was the most non-confrontational person on the planet.

Growing up, I was the good girl. The one who complied with all instructions, usually with a smile. I sought validation from others in everything I did, as if the approval of others was the only way I could be happy. My parents didn’t push me, it was just the way I was wired. A perfectionist from birth.

The thought of speaking up to a stranger in a grocery store would have me abandoning my shopping cart and digging for my car keys. The notion of defending myself in the workplace made me want to quit my job.  I was a pushover.

Beginning my adult life as an Officer’s Wife didn’t help. As a matter of fact, upon arrival at his duty station two days after we were married, I was handed a copy of a book called Mrs. Lieutenant, a social guide to being an Army officer’s wife. More etiquette and expectations. I did exactly what that book said I was supposed to. I dressed the way it suggested. I learned the proper greetings and attended the social events. I served my husband, the community, and the Army with a smile.

When my children were born, the pattern continued. Every teacher knew she could count on me, because I never said “no.” Even when I should have.

I seemed to disappear behind this person who couldn’t speak up.

But somewhere along the way the need to serve myself surfaced. And I found my voice.

I learned that speaking up for myself wasn’t a selfish act. I learned that disagreeing wasn’t a sign of disrespect. The change began.

Then I got a cancer diagnosis. And I cared a little less about pleasing others.

Then Hurricane Katrina shook my world. And standing up for myself became necessary for survival.

Then my mother died. And I learned that our legacy outlives us.

Then my husband spent a year in Iraq. And being strong was all I had left.

Then I learned to be brave.

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The New Normal

For everything there is a season.

And every season ends.

Giving us a new beginning.

All this philosophizing is my way of revealing something kind of big. Big to me, at least.

I’ve gone back to work. Five days a week. In shoes and business attire. (Cue sad music.)

For the last twenty years I’ve had the luxury of working part-time, pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors, and frankly, having time to myself. Now before you get an image of me eating bon bons and watching Oprah, let me backtrack. In that time I’ve had three kids, cared for ailing parents, managed our rental properties, run a business from home and kept up with my military husband, including a deployment. (There are no bon bons in my home and I’m not a fan of the Big O.)

But it was all done on our terms, and shoes were largely optional for most of it. It was a luxury we allowed ourselves, and our children and lifestyle were the beneficiaries.

Now, as we enter the next season – having two kids in college – that season is coming to an end.

So I find myself embarking on a new adventure. Trying to figure out how to continue doing all of the things that filled my days while managing a five-day-a-week commitment to an employer. Our tenants aren’t going away, and our elder care responsibilities have only changed a little. With two boys in college my laundry load should be lighter, and I won’t need as big a pot on the stove most days, but I’m wondering how that’s going to free up enough time for a job.

Are you ready to call the wh-ambulance for me yet?

Thank you for the royalty-free image, Microsoft.

Thank you for the royalty-free image, Microsoft.

I’m not really here to whine. (Well, maybe just a little.) But I am feeling the need to express just how terrified I am about the whole idea. The idea of failing.

Will I fail at the new job? There are technical aspects that I’ll have to learn. I’m starting to think of myself in the “old dog” category.  I don’t really want to learn how to use the new Tivo remote. So learning a new job where making a mistake costs people time and money is scaring the crap out of me.

Will I fail my kids? Will I have energy to help the Caboose with his homework? Will I have time to visit Slick at his new college out of state? Will I be able to help the Trailblazer settle in to his new house this fall?

Will I fail as a wife? Will I have time to fulfill my “wifely” duties? (Cooking Italian food, not the other thing.)

Perhaps I’ll just have to practice what I preach, and let myself off the hook for all of that, and remember why I’m going back to work. So my kids can have the futures we want for them.

The new normal will mean the house won’t be as tidy. But I already have a philosophy about that. I’ll just need to employ it. My garden won’t be as green. Not a tragedy. My youngest son, who’ll be the only kid left at home come August will have to become more responsible and independent. But it’s time for that anyway.

So it turns out it’s not really a big deal after all. Just a new season of my life.

Discovering his genius

Since my son’s diagnosis with multiple learning disabilities* four years ago, we have been on quite a roller coaster.

He is severely dyslexic. His ability to comprehend written words is practically non-existent. Oh, he can read. He can make the sounds in his mind or aloud. But his brain processes that information differently, making him unable to remember what he read when he’s finished.

So he learns differently than most people. He remembers by hearing. He masters by doing.

But despite this (or perhaps because of it?) he’s a bright kid, with a great vocabulary and a freakish memory. And while I have no doubt he will be a productive member of society someday, the challenge at hand is getting him out of 7th grade.

This has been on our fridge for years. We speak in terms of bird and fish often.

This has been on our fridge for years. We speak in terms of bird and fish often.

When frustration hits us, we talk openly about his differences. He knows he has a “learning” challenge, not a “knowing” challenge. What’s different for him is the way he learns, not the amount he is capable of learning. And once he masters something he owns it in a way that a neuro-typical learner does not.

He knows his genius is in there.

But it’s hard for the rest of the world to see it. Sometimes, it’s even hard for me to see.

Last night, for the first time, I really, really saw it. So  indulge me while I share.

He’s working on a computer assignment for school, and using a program to develop a computer animation. (His school is very tech-advanced.) After school, I heard him on the phone. I stuck my head in to see what was going on, and I saw him with his iPhone propped up facing his computer screen. He was explaining to a classmate how to do the assignment while showing the steps via Face Time. I recognized the classmate’s voice, and I was stunned. He was helping one of the “smart kids” do his homework.

A couple of hours later, I heard him discussing it again. Once more I stood quietly and listened. This time he was explaining the steps to the process in a linear manner – something he has NEVER been able to do. You know, first you do step 1, then step 2, and so on.

This ability – processing information in a logical, sequential manner – is one of the hardest things for a dyslexic to do. (To understand this better, click this LINK. This is the best explanation of how a dyslexic brain processes information that I’ve ever seen.)

The woman in the video is Diana Vogel, The Kid Whisperer from Australia. The first time I saw it I was finally able to understand how this seemingly disorganized brain had an ABILITY, not a disability. That BECAUSE of the way it worked, not in spite of the way it worked, he would be able to accomplish great things. That this challenge was a K-12 problem, not a life-long problem. That my vision of him was accurate, not just a mother’s dream.

In the video linked above, Vogel confirms my theory. “This [dyslexic] brain, if we can get it through school, has the ability to shape and change our world. Whereas this [normal] brain, while also having the ability to shape and change our world, has been trained to only look at the information that was demanded, and not all the information that it contains.”

What I saw last night, the thing I’ve been waiting for years to see, was his genius beginning to appear.

Not long ago I wrote about my longing for the world to see my son the way I see him. Last night I got my first glimpse of it. And my heart soared.

A LITTLE MORE INFORMATION ABOUT DYSLEXIA AND FRACTURED THINKING:

For more information on non-linear thinking click HERE: http://www.akidjustlikeme.com/id79.htm

To see a video with dyslexic simulations:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwZLFTW4OGY

*Their word, not mine. 

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Do you have a story to share about someone who learns differently? Do you learn differently? Please share!

Top 5 reasons NOT to donate to St. Baldrick’s

1. My tiny donation won’t make a difference.

2. They’ll never find a cure for cancer.

3. Those charities don’t give enough of the donations to the cause.

4. I won’t make a difference in the life of any one person.

5. It doesn’t really affect me.

–  –  –  –  –  – –  –  –  –  –  – –  –  –  –  –  – –  –  –  –  –  –

Do any of those sound familiar?

Here are a few facts:

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1. Every dollar matters. I’m pretty sure no one reading this can donate a million dollars. But if everyone who reads this would share it with a few friends, and each one donated $2, we could put thousands of dollars in the hands of researchers in no time flat. (But just in case someone is reading this who can donate a million dollars, that would be really awesome!! In fact, if I can raise a million dollars I’ll shave my head, too!)

2. We can and will find cures. But it takes money.

3. Before getting involved with this event, I checked CharityNavigator.com, and was pleased with what I saw. I even pulled up a few other well-known charities for a comparison. Then I signed up. Click HERE to see their rating.

4. There are parents and children drawing hope every day from these fundraisers. I know, because Robot Boy’s mom is a friend of mine, and I see her getting more excited every day as this event approaches. She knows it’s making a difference.

5. I’ll be posting pics of the event, and I guarantee that seeing what hope and gratitude in action look like its going to make you feel good. And don’t we all like to feel good?

So…

Pay a visit to us over at Team Robot Boy’s Fundraising Page. We’re hoping to break our goal today, and are setting a stretch goal of DOUBLING it before the event Saturday! But we NEED you.

So click. And donate. It’ll feel good. And it’ll make a difference.

LINK TO TEAM ROBOT BOY’S FUNDRAISING PAGE.

And if you’d like to read more about Robot Boy, his Badass mom who’s going to let me shave her head Saturday, and St. Baldrick’s, grab a tissue and click HERE. You’ll be a better person for having done so.

 

Bald Badass Moms and Little Robot Boys

By now you may have seen one. Those fundraisers where people get their heads shaved to raise money for a good cause. It makes for cute bits on the news, and everyone gets all excited when the participants are rubbing their newly-chromed domes.

This Saturday, I’m going to be a volunteer at one of these events. I’m going to show up, get my free t-shirt, and shave someone’s head! I’m a little excited about it, because it sounds like a fun event and the person whose head I’m going to shave is another blogger who turned into a real-life friend, and I’ll get to meet some other bloggers and maybe even get my picture in the paper.

This is the t-shirt she's going to wear after she gets her dome chromed!

This is the t-shirt she’s going to wear after she gets her dome chromed!

And when it’s over, I’ll head home to my husband and my kids. I’ll watch a little tv and probably have a glass of wine while I talk about my day. And I’ll think about that friend whose head I shaved.

Because she won’t be going home to relax with her family and have a glass of wine. She’s going home to resume her duties as caregiver for Robot Boy.

Her three-year old son—who has cancer.

Robot Boy after his tracheostomy and g-tube surgeries. Source: http://doodlesrobotboy.wordpress.com

Robot Boy after his tracheostomy and g-tube surgeries.                                     Source: http://doodlesrobotboy.wordpress.com

You can read a little bit about him and how he got the nickname Robot Boy here.

And about his mother’s thoughts on his last birthday here.

And if you’re not yet sobbing and need to read more, click this link and read the poem his mother wrote last summer. 

And then go look around. Think about the children in your life. If none of them has cancer, then you need to count yourself among the lucky ones. Then click the link below and make a donation to St. Baldrick’s via Team Robot Boy.

Link to Team Robot Boy’s Donation Page

st bald

Do it so more kids can grow up. Who knows, one of them may be the one who finds the cure. But only if they get to grow up.

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Rediscovering Beauty

A few days ago, I slowed down.

While this might not sound like much of a news flash to you, it was a big deal to me. Because I rarely do it.

Our days are full. We wake early and start hustling to get out of the house on time for school and work. While the kids are in school, I run errands, go grocery shopping, do housework, work on our rental properties, visit nursing homes. Afternoon carpool usually comes before my list is checked off, leaving the undone tasks for the next day. After school it’s homework, dinner, often more homework. (If you’ve been around for a while, you know my son is dyslexic, so he needs more assistance than most kids his age. So I’m not done til he’s done.)

Baskets of laundry often line the walls upstairs, and piles of mail await attention. I have a hard time overlooking all the undone work and relaxing, so when I’m home I’m usually in motion.

I tell myself that it’s this phase of my life. That I will be able to slow down one day. One of my boys is in college, another heading off in the fall. That’ll leave just one kid at home. And before I know it, he’ll be grown, too, and I’ll have all the time I need to finish my to-do list. But for now, I’m just too damn busy.

Busy

Too damn busy to notice what’s going on around me. Too engaged in action. Too full of distracting detail. Too preoccupied to notice the beauty around me.

In a slower time, I was very good at “everyday beauty.” I’d linger at the corner to take in the field of clover or pause to admire the clouds. I took pride in my garden and home. I helped neighbors. I sent hand-written birthday cards, baked cupcakes, did good deeds.  I made it my mission to see beauty in every day, and to share it with others.

But I’ve become so busy I’ve forgotten to pause and see it.

I’ve reduced myself to a “get it done” life.

And it has taken a toll on me.

So last Sunday, I was forced to slow down. My son had a choir concert, which is a very big deal to him. We kept our church clothes on (which made it feel like an even bigger deal) and went across town to hear him sing.

After we arrived, I fumbled with the program to make sure my son’s name was spelled right and resisted the urge to pull out my phone and check Facebook while we waited for the performance to begin. I just sat. Still and quiet.

I looked around at the church and admired the architecture. I stared out the window at the clouds. I looked at my nearly-grown son sitting next to me and marveled at how handsome he has become. Things slowed down.

The children took the stage and started singing. And the words that flowed were the very words I needed to hear at that exact moment.

“Let me know beauty in my mind, in my sight, let it brighten my daytime, let it comfort my night. Let my mind know the beauty that the world has to give, O let me know beauty for as long as I live…”                                                             — Allan E. Naplan

I needed to be reminded of this. I needed to be reminded that beauty and joy and happiness are out there for the taking. But they don’t come to you if you aren’t open to receive them. Whizzing by in a hurry leaves them sitting there, waiting for the next taker. 

So I’m going to slow down, recognize the beauty around me, and let it become part of me. I’m going to look out of the window more. Admire the architecture more. Listen more intently. Take it all in.

Because beauty is out there. It’s up to me to slow down and discover it.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Do you find yourself too busy to see the beauty around you? If not, tell me your secrets, please.

And do you check the program to see if your kid’s name is spelled right?