Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Inside Out

Bud and I haven't been to a movie theater in years.  When he was younger, we tried seeing movies a number of times, but we had mixed success. Movie theaters can be sensory nightmares - surround sound that's too loud, audience members sitting too close, aisles too dark, a screen too bright. There were times we left during the previews, and times we left in the middle of the show. There were often tears.  So, after a while, it seemed ridiculous to continue to make tearful efforts in the name of entertainment, and we stopped trying to see movies.

But Bud is a lot older now. He's much better able to advocate for himself and tell me what he needs. A good friend had recommended the movie Inside Out, and I really wanted to see it. I thought that maybe the time was right to try again, and, I reasoned, even if the attempt ended in tears, maybe a movie about emotions would give us a new framework through which we could discuss the way we were feeling about the experience. So I pitched the idea.

Bud thought about it, but didn't respond. I took that as a good sign. Usually, the suggestion that we watch a full-length movie is met with, "I don't think so, Mom."

I suggested he watch the trailer, and he did. Twice.

I told him we could get popcorn.

He watched the trailer again. And then he agreed - not even reluctantly.

We went to the show in the early afternoon and from the time we left the house to the time we entered the theater, I waited for his hesitation, his second thoughts, his panic - but they didn't come.

Bud and I shared a bucket of popcorn and he munched happily through the previews and through what turned out to be a very lengthy animated short.

Then the movie started. Then the popcorn was gone, and I wondered if that would be that.  But it wasn't. Bud was engaged. He said "awww" when the baby was born, and he laughed out loud at the funny parts.

A couple of times, during some slower segments, he asked me if the movie was almost over, and I told him it was. And then, suddenly, the screen got darker and the music got lower and I could tell that the obligatory Disney "scary part" was coming.

I leaned over and whispered, "Bud, I have to go to the bathroom. Will you come with me?"

He whispered back, "No, I'll stay here and wait for you."

I waited a few more minutes until things on the screen got a bit more ominous, then I leaned over and whispered again, "Why don't you come to the bathroom with me, and then we'll stop at the snack bar on the way back?"

"Please, Mom," he whispered back, impatiently, "I'm trying to watch the movie."

And soon enough, the scary part was over, and I decided that the bathroom could wait.

It was a beautiful movie.  It was about emotions - their complexity, their interplay, and their importance. But it was about so much more than that. It was about growing up and dealing with change and letting go and hanging on. It was about childhood and parenthood and empathy and love.

With themes like that, so universal, and yet so deeply personal, with ideas and images that hit so close to the heart, it was no surprise that there were tears before this movie ended as well.  But this time, the tears played out differently.

This time, the tears were met with this:

"Mom, are you - are you crying, Mom?"

And then this:

"Aw, Mom, it's okay. Don't worry. It's only a movie."

And then this:

"Mom, don't you think you should blow your nose?"

And then this:

"Why are you crying and laughing at the same time?"

It really was a beautiful movie.

Tears and all.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The ghost of iPhone past

Last week, my iPhone fell victim to the blue screen of death. I'll be honest - I didn't even know that could happen. I thought the blue screen of death was a Microsoft phenomenon. But, no - there was my Apple product, glowing a serene, peaceful blue, but doing nothing else.

After a couple of hours of Googling and trouble-shooting, I restored the phone to its original factory settings. My photos were backed up, thank goodness, but everything else was gone. Or almost everything.

I opened my contact list and was startled to find that it wasn't empty. My current contact list had been replaced by the contact list I had when I upgraded to my very first iPhone, and it was a startling reminder of how much my life has changed since then. I felt like a modern-day Ebeneezer Scrooge, visited by the Ghost of iPhone Past. My husband Brian was missing from my contact list, and there, in his virtual place, was Somebody That I Used To Know. It triggered an avalanche of images in my mind - images of what was, what is, and what might have been. And, like Scrooge, I emerged from it grateful for where I am right now.

A few days later, my friend Alysia posted to Facebook a question posed by her son Howie: Would you rather go back in time one time or go into the future one time? You could come back to the present time, but you couldn't time travel again.

Strangely, my contact list sprang to mind.

When the past was the present, when my old contact list was not old, I was happy - happy with my contact list, and happy with my life. But I know things now, here in 2015, that I didn't know then, and those things make me view that time differently. They cast a different light on the actions I took and the choices I made. They make that time seem less happy, or they make my happiness seem foolish. They make me judge myself unfairly, and too harshly.

Because here's the thing - as I go through life, I try to do the best I can with the information I have at the time. In many cases, I get new information later - information that suggests that I should have made my decisions differently. But it's simply not fair for the information-rich current-me to judge the informationless past-me for not using the information I didn't have.

And here's another thing about the past. We have all shaped our memories in particular ways for particular reasons. Perhaps sometimes our memories are inaccurate and self-serving, but they are ours, and they play an important role for us as we move forward. If we were to travel back to the past to view or experience that time with our right-now knowledge, we would see that time differently and, I fear, our dearest memories might suddenly seem less dear.

There were some sweet responses to Alysia's post. One person said she'd like to visit the past so she could go fishing with her grandpa one more time. And that is incredibly sweet. But I still wouldn't do it. Because 40-something me would see Grandpa differently - would understand him differently - than 7-year-old me did, and 7-year-old me's perspective matters. It's whole and it's real and it's meaningful, and it's an important part of who I am now.

I wouldn't want to visit the future either.  If, some years ago in my pre-iPhone existence, I had been given a glimpse of my current contact list, I think I would have panicked because of who was missing from it. And despite being told that it all worked out, that I found Brian and Buster, and that different turned out to be fabulous, I think that past-me would have spent those intervening years distracted with worry about how it would all play out. And, in in my distraction, I probably would have missed a lot of the good stuff.

We're all in the midst of an unfolding narrative, and it has to unfold in its own time. I'm glad that no one told me in my youth what would happen in my life up to now. I don't think that back then I could have appreciated that loss and grief would make me more kind, that making poor choices would help me learn to make better ones, or that a diagnosis that seemed terrifying at first would later reveal itself to hold a million different gifts.  I'm afraid I would have lived my life with a sense of fear, or dread, or foreboding. Instead, having let the narrative unfold, and having taken the time to process it as it did, I can appreciate the richness of my experience and the joy of the space I'm in now. (I don't peek ahead at the endings of books either. I just don't want to know until I'm ready to know.)

So, my reply to Alysia, which probably seemed off-the-cuff but was actually the result of considerable phone-inspired pondering, was this: "I'll stay right where I am - blissfully ignorant of the future and happily ensconced in my revisionist history of the past."

But I've learned an important lesson from my recent brush with the past. In the future, I will back up my iPhone.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Phone a friend

When I started blogging, I was hoping to meet other parents of kids with autism. I did, of course, and they have been a great resource. What I didn't know when I started out, though, was that I would also meet a lot of people with autism, and that their insight would be equally valuable to me.

One of the autistic friends I've made through blogging is Chloe Rothschild, a young adult who is a writer, speaker, and autism advocate. Like Bud, Chloe is part of a blended family. Through her experience, she has learned to navigate life with younger step-siblings, so it was natural that as we were chatting last year, shortly after Bud and I were sharing a home with Brian and Buster, the topic would come up.

Chloe asked me how Bud and Buster were doing together. I told her that the dynamics between them could be challenging at times, because preschoolers are notoriously good button-pushers, and our resident teenager has some very easily-pushed buttons. And sometimes, when his buttons were pushed, his response was not entirely kind.

Chloe said that she'd experienced similar things, and said she thought it was important to make sure that Bud had his own space so he could retreat when he needed to. I told her that he often spent time alone in his room, but I worried that he felt like he was being pushed out by this new little person in our life.

"Schedule Mom and Bud time, too," she said. "That's crucial."

And then she asked, "Does Bud have a phone? Does he text? Could he text?"

The question intrigued me. He didn't have a phone, I told her, but yes, he could definitely text.

Chloe explained to me that a cell phone could be a valuable tool for Bud. She said he could text me from another room if he was upset, or if there was something he wanted to say that he knew might be interpreted as rude. She said he could also use it to ask to speak to me alone when he needed to.

I thought a lot about Chloe's suggestion in the weeks that followed, and a short time later, Bud got his first cell phone. He took to texting immediately, and Chloe was absolutely right - it gave him a new channel of communication and a way to express himself without having the pressure of trying to say things out loud in front of an audience. To my great relief, it also helped me to understand that when Bud retreated to his room on a weekend afternoon, he was doing so happily. He liked having space and the ability to do his own thing, and did not feel at all bad that Brian, Buster and I were playing a game or watching a movie without him.

By great coincidence, as I was writing this post, I checked Facebook and saw that Chloe had linked to a piece she'd just written for The Mighty called Four Things I'd Like My Future Step-Siblings to Know About My Autism. I hope you'll click through and read it. I'll be bookmarking it for future reference. I suspect there may come a time when Bud might like to share it with Buster.

Friday, August 07, 2015

A beautiful day in the neighborhood

In the weeks leading up to our wedding, many people asked us if the boys would be playing a role in the ceremony. We'd decided early on, though, that we didn't want them to feel any kind of pressure - no spotlights, no expectations. This would be a day for Brian and me to make commitments: to each other, to our boys, and to our new family. Bud and Buster didn't need to do anything except know that they were wholly and unconditionally loved.

I didn't want Bud to feel like he was being excluded from the ceremony, though, so I let him know that when the day arrived, he could do or not do anything he wanted. We'd planned a very casual ceremony and reception, so there was plenty of room for improvisation. I told him he could say something, read something, sing something, watch quietly, swim in the pool, or spend the time on his laptop making PowerPoints. There were really no wrong answers.

Bud listened to his options, but didn't offer many thoughts as to what he'd like to do at the wedding, except for one: he wanted to wear a tuxedo. I explained to him that it wasn't really that kind of wedding, that Brian and I would not be wearing fancy clothes, and that it might be a hot day and a tuxedo might not be very comfortable in the backyard.

Despite that, he was insistent - he wanted to wear a tuxedo.  We compromised on a short sleeve dress shirt with a tuxedo vest and bow tie. He added a top hat to complete the ensemble. But that was all the prep he seemed interested in doing, so I didn't push it and I waited to see how things would unfold.

The day before the wedding, we were at Nana's house doing all the day-before-the-wedding things that needed to be done, and suddenly, Bud decided what he really, REALLY wanted for the wedding:

He wanted Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Redman to perform.

You know them, right?  Yo-Yo Ma, world-renowned cellist and Joshua Redman, jazz saxophonist and composer? Yes. That was all Bud wanted to make the day perfect: just one little appearance from these two big stars.

I explained that this was something we really couldn't pull off - that Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Redman were very famous musicians with very busy schedules, and since we didn't actually know them, they would not be available to come to our wedding.

We spent the rest of the day talking about Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Redman. Bud seemed sure that there must be a way to make it happen. They had both appeared on Arthur, after all. Why not our wedding?

As nighttime neared and Bud's determination seemed unlikely to wane, I reminded Bud that Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Redman appeared on Arthur as animated characters, which meant that their appearance was really pretend. I also reminded him that we could pretend, too, and that in our imaginations, anyone could come to the wedding - Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Redman, ANYONE.

Bud was delighted. ANYONE?

He immediately set about making a guest list. As it turned out, the people who would be coming to our wedding were all people who had also appeared as animated characters on Arthur. People like:
Michelle Kwan
Mister Rogers
Alex Trebek
Marc Brown
Jeremy O'Neill
Art Garfunkel

And, of course, Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Redman.

Bud spent a lot of time talking about the guest list and making guest-list-related PowerPoint slides.

Of all the guests on his list, though, it was Mister Rogers who really captured his imagination - because in our imagination, in our world of pretend, Mister Rogers could come to our wedding, even though we knew that in real life, Mister Rogers had died.

Bud and I have spent a lot of time over the past year talking about Mister Rogers' death. In early 2014, we lost my father, Bud's Papa and best friend in the world, who passed away after a difficult struggle with Alzheimer's.  We've spent a lot of time talking about Papa too, of course, but I think it has been easier for Bud to process his loss from one step removed, by talking about the loss of Mister Rogers. And certainly, as we gathered for our wedding with the same people and in the same location where we'd gathered to grieve my father's death, it was understandable that Papa was as present to Bud as he was to the rest of us, and that the related emotion was almost too much for him to bear.

Enter Mister Rogers.

As Bud worked on his guest list, he suggested that we might hold the wedding "in loving memory of Fred Rogers." I told him I thought that was a wonderful idea. He went to bed with his guest list complete, excited for the day ahead.

The next day, a few hours before our guests started to arrive, Bud told me that he'd like to make a speech at the wedding. I told him he could absolutely make a speech and started asking questions to try to find out what he had in mind. Bud's answers were definitive; he had a clear vision of how he wanted this to play.

Yes, he wanted to give a speech at the ceremony. No, not the reception.

Yes, he wanted to use the microphone.

Yes, he wanted his speech to start the ceremony.

Yes, he'd like to write it out ahead of time so he could read from a paper.

In fact, he said, he knew exactly which speech he'd like to give. He wanted to give Mister Rogers' acceptance speech from the ceremony at which he received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award.

Bud got right to work. He pulled up the acceptance speech footage on YouTube, donned his headphones, and started transcribing. Once he had the speech typed up, we emailed it to our friends across the street so they could print it for us. We tucked it into a lucite frame, so it would have some stability in the breeze, and we were good to go.

Before we headed across the street for the ceremony, I did a final check with Bud to make sure he had everything he needed. His tuxedo vest, bow tie, and top hat were on straight and his framed speech was tucked under his arm. He stopped as we were about to head out the door.

"Mom?" he asked, "Can I take Papa's cane with me?"

My heart nearly melted on the spot.

"Of course you can, Bud," I said. "Papa would love that."

He ran back to the closet where Papa's cane had been hanging for more than a year, and hooked it over his arm.  NOW we were ready.

We made our way across the street, where our friends were gathering. Brian had already gone over and was busy greeting people, and before we knew it, the yard was full and it was time to begin.

Brian and I stepped forward, and our friend, who was performing the ceremony, introduced Bud.

Bud walked up to the microphone.

"Oh," he said, "it's a beautiful night in THIS neighborhood!"

And then he started his speech.
So many people have helped me come to this night.
Some of you are here. Some are far away.
Some are even in heaven.
All of us have special ones who have loved us into being.
Would you just take along with me ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are? Those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you and your life.
Ten seconds of silence.
I'll watch the time.
Bud paused and looked intently at his wrist, where a watch would be if he were wearing a watch, and we all waited in silence for what Brian tells me was a remarkably accurate ten seconds.  Then Bud lifted his head and continued.
Whoever you have been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel that they've made.
You know, they're the kind of people television does well to offer our world.
Special thanks to my family and friends and to my coworkers in public broadcasting, Family Communications, and this academy, for encouraging me and allowing me all these years to be your neighbor.
May God be with you.
Bud stopped speaking and stepped away from the microphone. The moment took my breath away, and as I wiped the tears from my eyes, I saw my soon-to-be-husband and our family and friends gathered in a semi-circle around us, smiling and crying and totally getting it.

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Even better than a performance by Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Redman.

And my father, Bud's Papa. How pleased he must have been to know the difference that he made.

Monday, August 03, 2015

For Jess, 'cause she's awesome

I recently found myself in a conversation about the ethics of restricting toys, books, tv shows, and other things from autistic kids (or, really, any kids) (or, really, any people) because they are not "age appropriate."

In the heat of the conversational moment, the well-reasoned, articulate thoughts on the subject that live somewhere in the recesses of my mind had a hard time turning themselves into actual spoken words. I found it was better to end the conversation before it turned into an expletive-laden diatribe THAT COULD ONLY BE CAPTURED IF I SAID IT IN ALL CAPS.

As my cooler head prevailed, I did what I often do when words escape me, and I looked to see if the wise and articulate Jess Wilson from Diary of a Mom had already said everything I wanted to say. After surfing her blog for a while, I couldn't find what I was looking for, so I messaged her and pleaded with her asked her if she had something in the archives that I'd missed.

She didn't, she said, but she'd see if she could put something together.

And, in less than a week, she produced a thoughtful, articulate post, entirely expletive-and-diatribe-free.

Please click here to read it.

Thanks, Jess. I owe you one.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Our Wedding Neighborhood Festival

Yesterday, as Bud and I were out for a walk together, I asked him if it would be okay for me to write a blog post that told the story of his involvement at our wedding. He quickly said that it would. I reminded him that it would be published on the internet, and that lots of people who don't really know us would read it. He said that sounded great.

Since then, he has asked me many times if my blog is done.

The truth is, it has been a busy weekend and I haven't even started.

But Bud is really excited to share this with you, so I'm hoping that this preview will be enough for him (and for you) for now. The full story will follow sometime later this week.

For now, I give you three pages from a PowerPoint Bud created, which is titled "Our Wedding Neighborhood Festival":

To be continued.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Step by step

Another incredible thing happened to me last month, actually on the same day that I married Brian: I became the step-parent of an extraordinary four-year-old boy, Buster.

Of course, Buster has been in my life for some time now, but even so, my marriage to his father has made me stop and think even more deeply about the role I play - and will play - in Buster's life.

Buster lives with us part-time, and we have been sharing a home for almost a year. When we made the move from play dates to real life, I found myself almost immediately confronting a bias that I didn't even know I'd been carrying around with me.  See, I knew that raising a child who doesn't have autism would be different from raising a child who does, but - and here's where the unfair bias comes in - I'd assumed it would also be easier.

It's not - or, at least, it's not for me. It makes sense, I guess. Bud is the only child I've ever lived with. Bud and I have been doing our thing together for fifteen years, and everything I know about parenting has grown up around him.

It's like you spend fifteen years raising puppies. You focus all your energy on learning about puppies, observing and interacting with puppies, taking puppy classes, talking to puppy-raising friends, until you finally get to place where you hit a puppy groove and find your puppy mojo.

And then one day, somebody drops off a baby kangaroo at your door.

Now, don't get me wrong. Baby kangaroos are AWESOME. They're fun and cute and they make you laugh and they make your heart swell, but I'll tell you what: baby kangaroos have no interest in playing with your squeaky toys and they are not motivated by your milk bone dog biscuits.

It is, very much, like starting all over again.

There is a whole lot that I have to say - and even more, I'm sure, that I will want to say in the years to come. I'm certain that the wisdom of the blogosphere would prove invaluable to me.

But here's the thing: you won't be reading much about my life with Buster here on the pages of the blog. Because, in addition to learning about the care and feeding of a kangaroo, I am simultaneously learning how to be a step-parent.

Here's what I know so far:

1. Being a step-parent is inherently different from being a parent, and

2. It is not as simple, nor as straightforward, as The Brady Bunch made it look.

As I think about how to negotiate my place in Buster's life, especially in these early years, as he's making sense of who Bud and I are and how we have come to land in the middle of his life, I'm finding that as a step-parent, I need to err more on the side of step and less on the side of parent.

Because here's something I know from being Bud's mother: the mom role is singular. Buster has a mom, and I am not her. I can be a friend, a mentor, and a role model. I can love him, celebrate him, console him, encourage him, redirect him, support him, and challenge him. But I can never try to be his mom. He already has all the mom he needs.

I also need to remember the place I hold as a non-decision-maker in his life. His parents need to collaborate on the big-picture decisions about what he needs and how to provide it. If I have opinions, I can share them with Brian, but only if I understand that, ultimately, I don't get a vote. And I'm okay with that. It's part of the package deal that I signed on to, and, frankly, I got a really good deal.

So, I'll write sparingly about Buster here, but it won't be because he's a minor player in my life. On the contrary, he is central to it. But if I have concerns about overstepping my rights in sharing Bud's story (and you know that I do), I have twice the concern about doing so with Buster. And if Buster's mom ever stumbles on to my writing, I hope that all she will see in it is respect, both for him and for her.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to run. I have a kangaroo to chase.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Face the Face(book)

When I started blogging, I was part of a little group of like-minded bloggers who made the rounds of each others'  blogs every couple of days to catch up and have conversation. Once our corner of the blogosphere exploded, many of us started to rely on RSS feeds to tell us when our favorite bloggers had new posts.

It seems that things have changed since then, and to a great degree, Facebook has become the primary source for information and updates. My blog stats tells me that the vast majority of people who read my last two posts came to me via Facebook.

Another interesting change since I was last blogging on a regular basis: people seem to be a lot more comfortable commenting on the Facebook link, instead of on the post itself. That makes sense. If you're a Facebook user, chances are good that you're already in the habit of "liking" and commenting there. And the Blogger interface can be cumbersome at best. In fact, several people have told me that they have not been able to get their comments to post there at all.

So it seems like Facebook is a great platform.  But it's trickier than it seems.

Let's look at RSS feeds. RSS feeds work this way: I tell RSS that I like a blogger. That blogger posts something. RSS tells me a new post is up.

Simple. Clean. Reliable.

In contrast, if I understand it correctly, this is the way Facebook works: I tell Facebook that I like a blogger. Facebook files away that information for future reference (their own). That blogger posts a link to a new blog entry.

Facebook smiles.

Facebook adds the blogger's link to the news feeds of a small number of their followers. I may be one of those people, but there's a good chance that I will never see the link in my news feed.

Facebook tells the blogger that they would be happy to share the link with more people who would like to see it.

For a fee.

Right. As a blogger, if I want people who have "liked" my page to see the things I have posted there, I need to give Facebook a kickback. Only, my blog doesn't generate income. I don't have ads. I don't get paid. So I'm certainly not going to start paying to get readers.

From what I hear from people who know more about this sort of thing than I do, Facebook also uses some complicated algorithm to increase or limit traffic based on the popularity of a post.  So, if Facebook shares my link with 200 people, and many of those 200 people like it or comment on it, Facebook will plop it into the news feed of more people who have "liked" my page. If, however, those initial 200 people just kind of yawn, my link will die a quick death. (Which seems counter-intuitive to me, but, then, what do I know?)

So, anyway, what is my point here?

1) If you're on Facebook and you haven't "liked" my page yet, you may want to, because, as I've said before, one of the best parts of blogging is what happens in the comments, and a huge portion of the commentary is happening on Facebook. You can find the page here.

2) Even if you "like" my page, Facebook may never let you know when I've posted to it. I'm sorry about that. I don't have any idea what to do about it.

3) If you know a clever work-around to get Facebook to show you the stuff you really want to see, or if you have any greater understanding of The Ways of the Facebook (What, for instance, is the difference between "liking" and "following"? And why would anyone want to "like" me, but "hide all posts" from me? Can't they just avoid all posts by not "liking" me?), please share your wisdom with the rest of us.

And if you're reading this post because Facebook plopped it into your news feed, you can rest assured that I did not pay them to put it there.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Like the ceiling can't hold us

Me again.

How about that? In two days, I've matched my output for all of 2014. Not a bad re-start, eh?

First, thank you so much for the warm welcome back. It's been staggering, actually. I didn't expect to be met with where-the-hell-have-you-been hostility or anything, but - well, I'm not really sure what I expected. Crickets, I guess. But your messages and your "likes" and your kindness have meant so much to me.

Okay, I'll stop before I go all Sally Field on you. ("You like me! You really like me!")

I've decided that I'm not going to try to recap everything that's happened in my life over the past whatever months and years. I'll just let the narrative unfold from here, and when there's some back-story that's critical to understanding the big picture, I'll give it to you. The rest of the story can remain in the shadows, comfortably gathering dust.

There is one piece of information that I want to give you up front, though, because it's big and it's awesome and it's actually still new enough that it gives me chills every time I say it out loud.

I got married last month.

I know, right?


Last night, I was talking to my husband (my HUSBAND!) about this tentative foray back into writing, and I told him I'd need to come up with a blog name for him.

"Uh," he said, tentatively, "how about Brian?"

Brian. Which is interesting, since "Brian" is, you know, his actual name.

I hadn't really considered using his actual name. I was coming up with names like Terrapin and Wonderdude, but "Brian"?  Never occurred to me.

Even when my own real name became linked to the blog, I continued to refer to Bud as "Bud," with the hope that in the future, it would be difficult for people to Google him and land here. My reasoning was that it would give grown-up Bud the option to disavow all connection to blogger me in the future, if he chose to do so. (Though, frankly, if Bud ever has concerns of that magnitude, this blog will be gone before you can say "toaster brain.")

So, for Brian to opt to be Brian here in blogland?  Well, suffice it to say that I take it as a good sign that my husband is not reserving the right to disavow all connection to me at some point in the future.

Anyway, back to the point of the story: Brian and I got married in June. I'll skip the back-story of our relationship, except to say this: with him, I have exhaled for the first time in a very, very long time.

Our wedding was perfect - a small gathering in the backyard of our good friends. During the ceremony, Brian's brother did a reading that we'd chosen because it resonated so completely for both of us. It's called "A Marriage" and it was written by Michael Blumenthal.  It goes like this:
You are holding up a ceiling
with both arms. It is very heavy,
but you must hold it up, or else
it will fall down on you. Your arms
are tired, terribly tired,
and, as the day goes on, it feels
as if either your arms or the ceiling
will soon collapse.

But then,
something wonderful happens:
a man or a woman,
walks into the room
and holds their arms up
to the ceiling beside you.

So you finally get
to take down your arms.
You feel the relief of respite,
the blood flowing back
to your fingers and arms.
And when your partner's arms tire,
you hold up your own
to relieve him again.

And it can go on like this
for many years
without the house falling.
My eyes are filling up right now just typing the words on the screen. The ceiling had gotten really heavy, friends. And my arms had gotten tired and were starting to feel weak.

And then I met Brian.

I keep replaying a moment in my mind - Bud and me dancing on the lawn during the wedding reception, singing along with the Pharrell Williams song, "Happy" - "Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof..."

Our lives are still as challenging now as they were before we were together. Things are still messy and complicated and hard to negotiate. The ceiling is still there and it still needs to stay up, but it's no longer pushing us down. And some days, we barely notice it.

Clap along, indeed.

I'll share one other thing before I end. It's one of our wedding pictures, courtesy of Bud.

I'm the one on the right.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

You own everything that happened to you

Back in April, two days shy of her 61st birthday, Anne Lamott wrote a kickass Facebook post that patched together her accumulated wisdom from the past six decades. The whole piece is fantastic, but one paragraph climbed inside my brain and has been roosting there for the past three months. She wrote,
Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart--your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it's why you were born.
This morning, I woke up to an email from someone called "morning dew" (Hello, morning dew. Thanks for the email.) She wrote, "Hi! I was hoping you could fill me in, or link me to, what you're currently writing. Your blog, though currently an archive, has meant a lot to me." 

She went on to say lovely things, but I got stuck back there on those three words - "currently an archive."


She's not wrong, of course. I've written just one post in the past year. That's hardly prolific. But still. Archive.

It's not that I don't have anything to say. I have composed full posts in my head that I've never put in writing. I've put posts in writing, but let them linger in draft form. I've written and deleted more than I would have thought possible.

The thing is, I can't reconcile my inside voice with Anne Lamott's shared wisdom: "You own everything that ever happened to you."

Except that I don't feel like I do.

I'm not just talking about Bud's privacy here.  Every parent who blogs has grappled with the line between the appropriate sharing of a parent's story and the violation of a child's right to privacy. I started writing about that line when Bud was seven, and I feel like I've developed really good instincts since then. If I've ever felt a hint of "I wonder if that crosses the line," I've edited it out. As Bud gets older and the issues become more complex, the area on the privacy side of the line has gotten a whole lot wider than the area on the sharing side of the line, but still, the line remains clear to me.

But Bud is not the only person who has been in my life. Anne Lamott tells me that I own everything that happened to me. But virtually all of those things that happened to me involved things that happened to other people, too. 

Things were a whole lot easier when I started blogging back in 2005 and was completely pseudonymous. Nobody who knew me in real life even knew I had a blog. Slowly, over time, I started to tell people about it, but even then, I had some control over who knew about the blog and who didn't. Then, in 2010, a number of things happened in rapid succession - the Hairdryer Kid series took on a life of its own, I got a bit of recognition, and suddenly, I was out there on the internet as a real person with a real name. Google the blog and you find me. Google me and you find the blog.

At first, it wasn't really a problem. I'd written carefully, so there wasn't much on the blog that I was reluctant to share with the general population. The few things that made me go hmm got deleted. But I quickly found that writing new pieces became a lot more challenging, and the more complicated the things I experienced (and believe me, the past five years have been nothing if not complicated), the more difficult it was to find a comfortable way to write about them. So the posts became less frequent until they finally petered out completely.

And yet, that Anne Lamott paragraph has been haunting me since April. I own everything that ever happened to me. I am going to feel like hell if I never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in my heart - my stories, visions, memories, songs: my truth, my version of things, in my voice. But writing it and tucking it away in a drawer - that just doesn't do it for me. I have never been a diary-keeper. What kept me writing when I was writing was the dynamic element of blogging - the sharing of stories, the comparing of perspectives, the crowdsourcing and the collective creative problem-solving. Without someone to write to, it hardly seems worth the energy to write at all.

I'm getting to that point in the post that I've gotten to many times over the past year - the point at which I've said what I've come to say and it's time to publish (and go public) or perish (and hit delete). Here I am at the end of the post, and I'm still not sure which I'll do.

But I'll feel like hell if I never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in my heart. I'll feel like hell if here, smack in the center of midlife, I decide to be an archive.

Here goes nothing.