Monday, June 29, 2015

Concert Acceptance and Professionalism

It was a regular concert day in a two band director family.  After school, I took Richie and Maelynn to get some fast food and made them a place to eat in my office. I ate my dinner quickly, then ran between the bathroom and my office making sure catsup was in supply and apple slices were accessible.  Yes, they're often consumed together.  I'm kinda over it at this point.

Then there were texts from a parent, texts to my own to make sure she and Ryan were on their way in time.  Where I work, kids start to pour in early so you'd better make sure you're presentable quickly.  Once the littles were through eating and I'd put on my only concert suit, we headed to the gym to double-check a few things.  I draw the line at making the kids dress up for concerts.  There is just too much to do to make a big deal of that.  In other ways, though, I do my best to reserve the greatest amount of professionalism possible in a one-sided gym.

Despite the black suit the goofy cracks through in its own way, so I do my best to reserve my words.  Shocking, right?  This concert is theirs.  It is a culmination of work throughout the semester, the year, and beyond.  Their work deserves the same dignity and respect as a professional wind band, even if only I treat it that way.  I learned at an early age that sometimes our teachers and parents show the greatest trust and pride in us in the most simple and silent ways, and that the converse is also true.  Their work and patience in not only putting up with my "do it again" and insistence that they are as capable as anyone else in any size school needs to be met with my best.  It is simple as my dress, my demeanor, my organization.  This is not what I would call my strong suit, but I try to maintain respect for their accomplishments as long as they are on the stage, in whatever form that stage may come.

As the last few of my "big kids" entered the gym and took their seats, Ryan and Mom came in and took theirs.  He seemed calm, and Richie and Maelynn were happy to see both of them, running along to take seats with them.  Relieved to see that they're seated, I go about the last few things and get the concert started with the recorder ensemble.  Two quick pieces and a trio, then on to 5th and 6th grade band, then 6th-8th, then about three pieces with just 7th and 8th.

Recorders did a great job.  I called up the student to announce 5th and 6th grade, remembering that I forgot to tell them to stand close.  Argh.  The student announcers read their blurbs well, and soon it was time to start the 6th-8th grade portion of the concert.

I guess Ryan decided that since all those kids in front of him got up, it was time to go.  As the announcer for the 6th-8th grade's first piece finished, the familiar strains of the beginning of a meltdown tore through the crowd.

All heads whipped around.

There he was, at the top of the stands, fists balled and banging his head in frustration.   He wanted it to be over… or at least thought it was over… and it wasn't.  Not even close.

At this point I hadn't really considered what would happen if his wheels came off in the middle of the concert.  I guess I figured if I didn't think too much about it then certainly it wouldn't happen.  I quickly tossed a heartfelt yet concise explanation over the crowd.

"He's mine, he's having a meltdown.  I'm so sorry."

At this point, so much could happen.  Parents could have every right to be angry that their child's moment was being torn by my child's inability to control himself.  I could have been in trouble, I guess, for bringing a child who didn't want to be there and who I knew might cause an issue.

In that moment, so many things flashed through my mind.  My selfish desire to have one adult family member at the concert, my longing for the kids to see and understand what Mom and Dad do… and love to do… with their lives, my refusal to move the concert date because it was already on the calendar.  Eric couldn't be there because he had a concert back at his school thirty minutes away.

Have you ever had a moment when you had to make a decision NOW?  At that moment, not just working mom but working AUTISM mom collided with pride and desire to do what I believed was best for the kids seated in arcs behind me.  What do I do now?  His wheels are off and noisily, and every head in the crowd looked his way.

The split second of panic was shattered.

Voices of reassurance and acceptance and of love and caring and empathy cried out things like "he's okay!"

"Keep going!"

And my personal favorite…

"He's awesome!"

I will forever be grateful for God's peace at this moment.  For those people, for my big kids behind me, and for the profession I love.

Again, I called across the crowd… not believing what I was saying.

"Ryan, would you like to come down here with mommy?"

Happily, he hand-flapped his way down the stands to the gym floor.  Because they admire him, Richie and Maelynn followed.

The concert continued with Ryan standing in front of the flutes first, then the clarinets, with his fingers in his ears, leaning over their stands.  He stemmed his way around to the percussion, banging a cymbal here and a drum there.  Richie and Maelynn sat in front of the podium at my feet.  Each announcer did their thing, each piece went by with my kids being with mom at work.

Simply being with mom at work.

No one was less than complimentary of the concert, and everyone thought he was a great band director's kid.  The only words that came to me were kind, many were behind happy tears.  Not one negative comment.  SO many folks hugged me and complimented the kids.  I lost count of how many amazing people hugged and loved on us that night.  But I didn't lose track of how loved we are.

Professionalism is not merely checking things off a checklist, making sure to not forget things like an extra stand and when to have kids sit and stand.  I would not even say it's the most important thing anymore, even in a concert setting.

I never in a million years expected the greatest show of love an acceptance I've ever seen in person to happen in a band concert in a town not big enough for a post office… but there it was.

Every day and in every way, autism challenges us.  Sometimes in the same old, tired way that we haven't quite gotten around to mastering, and sometimes in ways we couldn't manufacture in dreams if we tried.  Sometimes it brings us to our knees, begging for help or a breath of relief… other  times, few and far between but oh so precious, it shows us the absolute best of life in ways we couldn't dream if we tried.

True autism awareness and acceptance is the same as every other kind of awareness and acceptance.  The latter is the key.  People are people.  We are not the same.  Our challenges are not the same.  Yes, there are times when someone comes along who "gets it".  But the quickest way to have real acceptance of any people group whether they be joined by a disability, a preference, an experience, an illness or a host of other things is so simple.

Give them the benefit of the doubt.  Extend a hand.  Flash a smile.  Believe they're doing their best.  Encourage them to keep going.  Sometimes that's all that's needed to cause a needed paradigm shift in thinking.

Professionalism isn't in a suit or a plan.  It is in the way we care and show we care.  It is sometimes when we throw professionalism to the wind that we do our jobs the best.  It's when they get that glimpse into our hearts… the fear, the happiness, the joy, the trial… that our composure and ability to keep it going matters and speaks.  It isn't always about how high you can rise.  Sometimes it's about the things and people you can bring along for the ride.

Thanks be to God for Dew… its students, families, teachers, school board, support staff, and beyond.

And thanks be to God for my little ones.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

What if I like my job?

Recently, I came across a blog post of Facebook that initially, I found refreshing. It concerned working moms (all moms are working moms... but let's not wrap around the wheels of nomenclature, mmkay?) and that God hears sees, loves, and is proud of them.  It moved me to tears talking about how God sees you working to his glory, and goes on to speak of how tired you are, and how you wish you could be more involved a church... all personally speaking right from my heart.  

As I wiped my eyes, and right before I shouted "amen" and hit share, I read the next part.  

He sees you wishing you could reduce your hours...

He sees you saving so that you can work less... 

He sees you hoping to be home for good... 

And it lost me.  Honestly, it hurt and kinda made me angry. What about those of us who love what we do?

I went back to work because I was made for the work I do.  I'm not the very best, but I love it.  Most of the time it is as easy as falling off a log.  I had to work hard to pass the tests and make the grades to achieve the state's permission to teach band, but each day is not so much grinding away as it is joyfully assisting these kids and guiding them to reach musical and personal goals.  

No really... Not interrupting rehearsal and sitting up straight are honestly personal goals, and that is okay!

I've long said that I feel more comfortable in the band hall than I do at home.  I definitely fit there better than anywhere else.  It is the place where I'm the least awkward, or where the awkward fits.  Yes, days can still be long and I do still get tired.  But this is part of what God placed me on the earth for.  

So no, I'm not just working to make money.  God took care of us when I stayed home.  There were tight times, and the money has made some things easier.  But I didn't go back to work because of money.  I went back to work because I love my job. 

 What do you do when you want to be obedient, but just can't let this job thing go?   I had told myself that the best moms stay home, that certainly with a special needs child I had to be a homemaker.  I wanted to be the woman who pours out her life for her family... The proverbs 31 woman whose children call her blessed.  And then there is the old fear that I'll completely fail. 

So what would you do?   

Pour your heart out to your God. Do the same to your spouse.  Ask both what they think.  Ask for help determining the right thing. What was right for me may not be what is right for you.  I have found that I love this life.  It gets interesting.  We just discovered that our spring breaks for next year are on completely different weeks, and he is supposed to be gone for most to all of his.  

It makes no sense at all that this is the best way to do life for us.  But it is.  So all you moms who aren't looking to quit work anytime soon, or who are looking to go back into the workforce in some way... And especially those who like your jobs, I would like to share what I think God sees when he sees me. 

He sees Christ. Not your staying home, your working, your love for your work, your success or failure at staying home or housework or working or whatever.  He sees you beyond the expectations of cultural Christianity and in a way that no one can understand.  He sees and understands the things no one understands.  He sees you covered by the death and resurrection of our Lord.  He doesn't see that you didn't finish the laundry or that your husband wore that shirt you should have ironed (even if he wore it to church).  He isn't concerned with the last time you brought a dollar into your house toward the budget.  He wants you to know not that he sees you trying to do right, but rather that you are loved even when you do wrong.  You are covered.  You are good.  

Does this mean that we are not to strive to be obedient? Not at all!  Instead, we are free to try and fail.  

One of the best things I learned from my college band director has very little to do with band.  We were taught to tell kids right before a performance that no matter what happened, we were proud of them.  Of their hard work.  No matter what the judges say, you are a first division band in my heart.  

You know why?  It takes the pressure off.  The kids are free to perform and enjoy performing knowing that their director loves and is proud of them.  They cannot let me down.  Later, we will go back and relearn things based on how we performed and what the judges said, but they are free to try and fail, knowing our love is there.  And you know what? They always do when they know that to be true.  

So, dear fellow mothers, will you join me in seeking to not be ruffled by others' words?  Will you join me in trying to rest in who God has made me and what we know about him?  Can we stop striving toward the town's or community's expectations and strive to be who he made us to be instead? 

We were not made the same.  We must learn to encourage one another even when we do not understand, and to consider others before we speak or type.  We have to throw out the assumption that what is best for me is best for you without question.  We must seek to follow God's plan for our family, and not confuse God's best with cultural or personal expectations.  

If we believe on Jesus, we have already blown the judges' socks off, won the sweepstakes, and brought home the trophy.  We are free to try.  To fail.  To succeed.  Then try again.  We are free to rejoice, to cry, to recover.  We are free to celebrate, work through anger, and wrestle with forgiveness.  We are free to do all of this... and mamas, we are free to love our jobs.  We are free to enjoy our careers and motherhood concurrently, and to curl up in a ball and cry in his lap when it is too much.  We are free to wish we could afford to be home, and we are free to be home.  And mamas who are ar home... you're free to curl up in a ball and cry when it's all too much too.  

So dear mamas who love your careers... it's cool.  I do too.  Honestly, having kids has only made mine better.  

Thanks be to God for giving me something that comes easy.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Loving a Person

"Loving a person just the way they are; it's no small thing." - Sara Groves, "Loving a Person"

I met all three of my children the same way... Or three ways.  The first time on a positive test, then on a sonogram screen, then in the sterility of an operating room.  Two of them were born in exactly the same hospital, OR, and even the same room for the rest of our stay. Ryan was, of course, the wild card.  

When I took that first pregnancy test, I didn't hope to be a special needs mom.  I didn't sit in my childbirth class and daydream of therapy sessions while I kept my husband from barfing at the thought of an epidural.  And I certainly didn't hold my perfect newborn and dream of him pummeling his own head with a balled up fist at nine years old.  I didn't rock him for hours on end in those first few months and hope for ARD meetings galore with a team of people trying to figure out how to best educate, figure out, and all-around help this kid.  

But I did, on that first night of his life especially, pray.  As the rain hit the windows on that dark May night, I found myself worried.  All of my life, I knew I wanted to be a mom, and now was my chance. In typical Crystal style, I was afraid of messing up.  Terrified of screwing this kid up in the worst ways imaginable.  

So I prayed.  

I didn't so much pray as much as beg God to make me the mother Ryan needed.  I had no idea what I was getting into, as most parents will tell you.  So in the middle of the night, with my husband snoring on the hospital cot at the foot of my bed, I did what I knew to do with fear.  Ryan's sweet, round, baby face nuzzled close, and he was absolutely breathtaking to behold in the dim light.   

From that moment, life with Ryan has been an adventure.  It has held devastating lows and dizzying highs.  I've prayed since then, of course.  But over the years my prayers have evolved somewhat.  I prayed for him as a mother usually prays for her baby.  Then I started to pray that he would meet the next milestone in those cutesy little emails.  

Then I started to pray that he'd talk.  Or at least get the words back that he had. 

Then I started to pray that the speech therapist we found would realize that he is NORMAL. 

Then I started to pray that he would just not scream when they showed up at the house. 

Then I started to pray that they were wrong.  He couldn't be on the autism spectrum.  Pervasive Developmental Disorder was beginning to sound right.  Yeah.  That had to be it.  

Then I started to pray for high-functioning autism.  Or that it wouldn't be autism at all.  Just one breakthrough.  Come on, buddy.  

By the time he was five, I was praying for answers.  Help.  Relief.  

When the diagnosis came, he was five.  We started this process at two.  Three years of struggle, meetings, no talking, little help from the world.  Lots of lonely.  Lots of apology for his behavior.  Lots of crying.  Lots of begging for any shred of help.  

In the time between our hint at autism and his diagnosis, his brother and sister were born.  After all this, I still wanted a big family.  Honestly, if I hadn't had a horrible time with his sister's birth we'd have had at least one more.  Ever had a spinal headache? Postpartum depression and anxiety? Not for the faint of heart. 

Anyway, the next two babies came along, and I you know what? I don't recall ever praying they didn't have autism.  They were vaccinated according to schedule just like Ryan.  I fed them pretty much like I did Ryan.  I talked to them just like I did Ryan.  There was the stress of dealing with him while I had them, yes.  They have grown up with him and all he entails.  And you know what? 

They have no problem with him.  

For the most part, there is no more problem with them living with Ryan than there is with any other big brother and little siblings.  He is just Ryan.  He is their big brother and they love him.  

They came into that relationship with no expectations.  No strings.  No preconceived notions.  He was just Ryan.  He still is.  

Daddy and I are the ones that have problems. We are the ones who worry and have a hard time accepting.  Being patient.  Accepting.  

The adults are the ones who have trouble.  The younger ones... The ones who have twenty-five plus less years life experience are the ones who show us what love is.  They love him without question.  They cover their ears when he screams.  A two year old Maelynn even approached her hitting-and-screaming brother on her toddling legs and patted him, teliing him it's okay.  Richie, at six, grabs his hand and leads him back to the family when he wanders in public. They both laugh with him at silly things.  They repeat after him when he wants them to chant something.  They run behind him when those places in his favorite movies crop up and he needs to run around the room in circles.  

They do all this with joy.  

They don't complain that it's hard or different than how they thought.  They don't complain about how people look at us in public.  Yes, sometimes he does something that bothers them, such as wiping off the train table when Richie had build something.  Or playing with Maelynn's toy computer when she wanted to play with it.  But they always understand quickly and come back to remembering him and who he is.  

In all this, I have to say that Ryan is Ryan.  Autism is the name they give to his set of, or lack of, behaviors, but he is as God made him.  Anytime I think that maybe I should pray that God will take autism away from Ryan, I'm taken aback.  Autism is part of Ryan, in my mind, as my brown hair and eyes and inability to sit still for long, love for all things musical, and frustration with social interaction in large groups.  One of us happens to fit into society easier.  One of us has a harder time.  

While I'm tempted to look at the meltdowns and the hitting and the bad stuff and pray that autism would be, in some way, cured... I have to stop.  God made Ryan the way he is.  No matter what others say, he is who he is by God's divine providence.  Who am I to tell God how to make people? 

In the end, God has answered my first prayer.  I am not the best parent in the world, but I am being made who Ryan, Richie, and Maelynn need.  I have my own meltdowns.  I have my own problems and inconsistencies.  And they all love me.  

"Loving a person just the way they are; it's no small thing. It's the whole thing." -Sara Groves, "Loving a Person"

Thanks be to God for a love that knows no bounds... the love that gave us our savior. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Where have you been?

Right here… where have you been?

Okay, so mostly somewhere between working, cooking spaghetti (again… it's easy and they like it) and reheating Ryan's pizzas, having sleepy tea parties with Mae, playing video games with Richie, tickling Ryan, giving baths, reading stories, and falling asleep on the couch at 8:30 PM. But that's really kind of a cop-out too, although it's likely the truest of concrete answers.

The real reason I haven't been here in a while is that it felt stale.  Was I doing anyone any good, or was I just typing along in some kind of odd ego trip?   And it is really easy to not worry with it.  These things don't write themselves, although the hammering out of my days and worries and joys and fears on the keyboard is quite cathartic.

The more I thought, the more we all have issues.  My problems are not necessarily larger or more important than yours, so what gives me the right to make mine known?  Why would reading about my day help any of you at all?  Worse, what if you're all out there lurking behind the masquerade of a pseudonym, ready to tell me how completely ridiculous I am?  And why do I get so hurt by the thought of how ridiculous you think I am?

But that's just it.  I am pretty ridiculous.  I giggle at the wrong things, mama-bear at the slightest look-crooked at my family, and have an odd distraction with proving that I've made a good choice by going back to work/staying home for ten years/choosing to vaccinate/choosing to let my kids play video games… you can fill in the blank.  The list goes on. I get angry at stupid things.  I choose too often to react instead of respond.  I ignore the wrong things and magnify the wrong things.  And sometimes, I do a pretty darn good job at what I do, both at home and at work.

After hearing from some of you over the last few months, every  now and again, and not in droves… I don't want to give the impression that people are begging me to start this again… it dawned on me that the whole reason I started this was to share so that even one of you might not feel so alone.   This blog was started out of a heart of exhausted desperation to do something.  I couldn't seem to help my own child, so I wanted to help you.  Any of you.  I just wanted to do some good.

Over the years, I started to hear my own voice as a clanging cymbal.  The same drone over and over.  It's hard, it's worth it.  It's exhausting, but it's exhilarating.  It's infuriating at times, but it's also a source of crazy great joy.  There are only so many ways you can repackage the same message.

It's true.  It is the same message.  I love him because I am loved.  He shows me more about God's love every day.  But the telling of the message changes every day.

Somewhere along the way I lost the reason I started.  The message in a bottle to you who need to hear that yes, my child yells at the top of his lungs and beats his head with his fists.  Yes, we go through the ARD meetings and the therapy sessions with a 45 minute drive one way and the missed school/work for this, that, and the other.  Yes, our two younger kids are best friends… but they also fight at times with a ferocity that would frighten Chuck Norris.  We fight.  We argue and say cutting words to each other and then come back and have to repair it… and sometimes it doesn't happen until morning and another couple hours of discussion.

In the beginning, I promised myself (and by extension you) authenticity.  This is how it really is.  A true picture of our life.  Appreciation that your trip isn't the same as mine.  Somewhere along the way, I forgot that every painting is made of brushstrokes.  Every tapestry of stitches.  Every book of words.

Not every one of them is going to be earth shattering to everyone, but one of them might be just what someone needs to put one foot in front of the other.  Sometimes I need to see it all in print so that I can put one foot in front of the other.  It's not a sacrifice or a grand gesture.  It's just some words on a screen similar to the ones that gave me the courage to call it what it is.

It's life.  Sometimes it's hard.  Sometimes it's easy.  And sometimes it's both in the same minute.  Sometimes the trip between easy and hard is nauseatingly fast… and sometimes the easy is so quick after the hard that we're not ready for it.

The mundane… the clanging cymbal… is what I have.  It's what you have.  It's days that make up years.  It's the doing of the laundry AGAIN that clothes us.  The cooking of the food AGAIN that feeds us.  The shopping for the food AGAIN that fills the fridge.  The rehearsals and doing it over and over AGAIN that make the concert.

It's the telling of the same old story on a different day in a different way over and over that paints the picture of our lives.  And whether it's a bestselling book or a blog post with five views, it's a part of what I do.

So get ready to see stories of what we're doing again, and how each day reminds us in different ways of who holds us in His hands.

And to those of you who have so kindly appreciated this little corner of the internet and expressed that to me, thanks for saying something.  I'm so grateful.

Now for baths, bedtime, and to restart the ol' hamster wheel of a weekday.

Thanks be to God for the same-old, long days that make up the years that seem to be going by so very quickly.

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