Sunday, June 03, 2007

Inactivism and the art of the one-handed mow

As you may know, I've been a bit absent from the blogosphere lately. Apparently, I've been even more absent than I realized, as I discovered when I read Joe's latest post over at Club 166, and read his opening sentence:

For followers of the blogs on the Autism Hub, one would have to have been asleep over the last several days to have missed it's mini identity crisis.

It seems I've been catching some Z's.

I followed the links from Joe's blog and more links from there and caught myself up on the conversation that has taken over the Hub, the crux of which seems to be this: it is time to clarify the mission and, perhaps, the membership of Autism Hub.

I'm all for it. To be honest, I've never really been sure if I was a good "fit" for the Hub. (This is not a veiled request for reassurance, so no comments that stroke my ego are necessary here.) When I became aware of the Hub in March, 2006, I sent two e-mails in rapid succession. The first was a request to join. The second was an apology and a request to rescind my previous request. After sending the first request, I'd spent more time reading the blogs affiliated with the Hub and noticed that most of them had an activist focus - and while I believe in the power and importance of autism activism, while I may tip-toe into it from time to time, it does not tend to be the focus of my blog.

A short time after sending my second e-mail, I got a reply from then-scary-to-me Kevin Leitch. I explained my dilemma to Kev - that it seemed to me that the Hub was designed for autism activism, and that I mostly posted cute stories about my delightful son. Kev said there was room at the Hub for cute stories and he welcomed me into the fold. For over a year now, I've been delighted to be in such wonderful company - but I have to admit that I've continued to wonder if I'm just a bit out of place.

So, this current Hub-identity conversation is, I think, a good (if difficult) one that will address important issues as the Hub continues to evolve: Should the Hub only include blogs that focus primarily on autism advocacy and activism? And, if so, should its primary emphasis be on bloggers who are themselves autistic? Good questions. Important questions. I'm glad that people are taking them on.

But, in contrast to my fellow Hub bloggers who are asking the hard questions and engaging in a powerful discourse, I will continue watching from the sidelines.

I thought a lot about the ongoing Hub debate yesterday while I was mowing the lawn. I thought a lot about my own inactivism - both my recent absence from the blogosphere and my tendency to blog more about Bud's sweetness than about the politics of autism. I thought about how I make decisions about where to put my energy - about why I am not more drawn to activism.

As I thought, I pushed the mower, its motor buzzing loudly, while Bud walked alongside me with his own Fisher Price mower in front of him, his shoulders hunched as he tried to muffle the noise from my machine. I turned toward Bud and saw his lips moving. I could tell he was asking me something, but I couldn't hear his words. I leaned down and put my ear next to his mouth, and he shouted his question to me: "Can I hold your hand?"

Bud was frightened by the sound of the lawn mower, but his desire to be part of the process was greater than his fear. Just the same, he needed some tangible, physical reassurance from me to know that he was safe. So I reached out my left hand and he grasped it tightly, and together we continued to mow the lawn. My right hand gripped the mower's handle and squeezed the power bar. I propelled the mower - uphill in the beating sun - with the power from my right arm and some heavy support from my abdomen, and we moved together, back and forth, uphill and down, cutting a little bit of grass and building a great deal of unspoken connection.

I thought about the parallel between autism advocacy and my unmown lawn. I need to think about both - I need to address both - for Bud's sake. He will always be an autistic person in a largely neurotypical world, and I need to do what I can in the world of activism to help create an environment that will both challenge him and support him, just as he will continue to be a child who wants to play in the yard, and who needs an environment free from the tall grasses that harbor deer ticks and other disease-carrying critters. He needs me to do my part with these things. In the big picture, over time, I need to make sure these things get my attention and my energy. I also need to make sure that I help him learn how to mow the lawn on his own, and how to become an effective self-advocate and, if he chooses, activist.

But in the moment, in the right-here-right-now, Bud needs me. He needs me to be his parent. He needs me to hold his hand. And so, for now, it is parenting and not activism that will continue to be my primary focus. Parenting will win out over blogging. Blogging about parenting will win out over blogging about the politics of autism.

That might make me a poor fit for the Autism Hub, depending on where the Hub goes from here. And I'm okay with that. I'll continue to support the Hub and I'll continue to read the bloggers who post there, whether or not I'm among them.

Right now, my lawn is one-quarter mowed. I couldn't sustain the physical exertion to do any more of it. If the rain holds off, Bud and I will do a little more mowing today - probably just a few square feet, possibly even blade by blade, but, almost certainly, hand in hand.

32 comments:

Daisy said...

Such a strong image -- the two of you mowing, hand in hand. I wish you strength and good luck, as well as the good weather to finish the job.

Kitt said...

Wow. Great post.

Harvest Mom said...

Hmmmm...my version of mowing the lawn is throwing the sheep out there and letting them munch it down. Sort of like my role in activism -- non-existant. I'm too busy being a Mom to my kids to worry about trying to change the world. I can do my own little part in my own little corner of the earth, but beyond that I have neither the time nor the energy right now.

But, Mom-NOS, I think you just defined why it is that I read your blog and not many others that are on the Hub -- your blog is relevant to where *I* am with my life. I love that there are other folks out there doing the activism thing. I just can't be one of them, at least not right now.

Mow on, Mom-NOS!

Niksmom said...

Mom-NOS, thanks for articulating so beautifully what I suspect is the sentiment of many such parent-bloggers —whether they are part of the Hub or not. Like Harvest Mom, I am drawn to certain bloggers because what they (you) write either is relevant to where I am now or gives me a sense of what may lie ahead on our journey.

I, too, read many of the more activism-oriented blogs and am grateful that there are so many people out there who DO have the time, energy, and focus to blaze the trail for the day taht our children need to be able to advocate for themselves. I look forward to watching from the sidelines, too, and cheering them on and following along as I nurture my son toward discovering, expressing, and achieving whatever potential and dreams lie within him.

Bud is on elucky kid and you, my friend, are one lucky mom.

gretchen said...

This post might belong in your "best of" column.

If we were neighbors I would guilt my husband into mowing your lawn and we would drink coffee :-)

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

Thanks for the great metaphor. I sometimes feel guilty that I am not (at all) into the politics/advocacy thing, but then I remember that I am doing what I need to do right now and putting the energy I have to the best use I can. And now I have a nice way to remind myself of that.

Like other commenters, I don't regularly read a lot of the other Hub blogs; they just don't resonate with me right now. I thought I must have been asleep when I read the post by Club 166. I'm not a reader of the blogs that were getting into it.

Mamaroo said...

I love this post! I can relate to knowing that autism advocacy is important, but I only have what it takes to be a Mom right now and nothing else. Maybe someday I'll be able to handle more.

redhead said...

I think your blog is perfect for parents of autistic kids. It adds some humor and normalcy to our lives. And we can relate to you and Bud. After all, autism is only ONE part of our parenting just as it is only ONE part of our kids. As a Beatles fan, I am interested in your writing about Paul. As a fellow teacher, I enjoy reading those parts of your blog.

So you don't fit in with the "typical" autism bloggers on the hub?? Feels like another metaphor.

Dadof6Autistickids said...

I applied to the Hub a while ago and it said they are not longer taking new apps. Oh, well I thought, we are pretty new to the whole blog thing and I guess there are plenty of others leading the cause.

We take the 'Autistic Parent' approach as well but would like to do more. But, as I mention (maybe too much) we DO have SIX Autistic children.

Our families story came out today on the front page above the fold of the Salt Lake City newspaper, The Deseret News. The story link is: http://www.deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,660226195,00.html

Please check it out and comment on our blog: http://autismbitestheblog.blogspot.com/

Thanks for your great comments, we'll continue to read your posts as often as you're able.

Anonymous said...

I suspect you may be more of an activist than you realize. In your everyday interactions with teachers, therapists, and the clerk at the supermarket, you model a positive, affirming attitude towards parenting an autistic child. If your blog is any indication.
Keep on keepin' on, lady. I will continue to enjoy your posts..00000

KAL said...

Lovely to see a post from you. The image of you and Bud hand-in-hand as you mow the lawn is wonderful. I can get my activism anywhere - it's the honesty and vivid writing about being a mom (even before being an Autism Mom), that I come here to read.

Joeymom said...

I wish I could write like that. A;;an and I have been considering the possibilities for a "Cute Kids With Autism Hub" while I've been stressing over the whole conversation. That's the glory of online living- its kind of like Bag End. Need more room? Dig a new tunnel!

Connie Deming said...

Just a few more reasons why my heart's most at home with you, mom. Thank you for your wise, nourishing way on the fulcrum, unafraid to teeter and unearth the soil, yet return to center with a wink and a hug.

kristina said...

This is so true that I can only respond with an extension of your analogy.

Jim is allergic to grass. Nonetheless, he has long been a mower of lawns, first his parents' (an acre---I did not think such was possible) and then our smaller plots'. In our lovely old house, he used to mow it with a pushmower, which appealed to his distaste for fueling a powermower with gas, and my deeply-rooted enviro-friendly proclivities (can't get the Berkeley out of me). Jim mows in a way I've never seen anyone mow: In circles. Starts at the edge and winds his way in, rather than in back and forth strips. I'd sweep up the clippings since, by that time, he was usual barely able to breathe with the allergies, and Charlie (in our latter days at the house) was enjoined to put in some sticks into the bins. We also never used any chemicals so our lawn was not really green, weed-plagued, bumpy.

I think you can see the metaphor: It suited us, as you and Bud mowing together, hand in hand, do.

Now a company comes in with a lawnmower car in a trailor and the acre lawn is done quickly. There's so many chemicals that I'm relieved to find a few dandelion on the edge. Charlie is so at home in the yard and, someday, we're going to teach him to mow it. On his own.

The pushmower is stored safely in the shed.

Joeymom said...

I mow my lawn in circles, too. It always just made sense that way. I didn't know about mowing in strips until I moved into this house, actually, and noticed the next yard looked striped. When I asked about it, the woman thought I was a little nutty, but I watched her, and realized she mowed it in strips, which gave it the striped effect because the blades of grass were lighter on the underside, and every other strip, the grass was pushed slightly to show that lighter side.

melody said...

I'm moved by the mowing image you painted.

I understand where you are at the moment. I've spent time wondering whether to get back into a stronger advocate role for abused children; and asked myself how to advocate for autism, bipolar disorder, cerebral palsy and ADHD. Sometimes my life alone tears me in many directions at once. Nurturing the boys and their needs can at times place me in a heap of nothingness. Having sons through the gift of adoption who were abused and suffer from the "special purposes" listed, my decision has been they need a mother and a mother who is their personal advocate.

So my blog remains a sharing of our lives in photos and words to help the world understand kids with special needs are kids.

And where did all these words come from...sorry for the long comment. :0

kristina said...

Joeymom (and mom-nos, obviously): great minds mow alike!

neil said...

Well at least one person thinks you are quite the activist. Right off the top of my head I can think of two posts that contained its seed, the one where you expressed your anger and disgust at someone who blithely told a fellow worker that "I'm not autistic - I don't measure time by the length of songs. I use an actual clock..." and the other post where you talked about a boy in, I think, college, that your fellow staff were talking about, when you told them that you saw your own son like that in a few years time.

It may be mostly activism in a velvet glove, but I very often see it in your posts. I think even blogging about autism from a parenting perspective is activism of sorts, it's getting the message out for those who want to see it. I think of my own posts as activism, for even though they are mostly about parenting, I'm engaging an audience, that for the most part, don't have much to do with autism. The information and stories presented the way you write helps people to connect with our community, regardless of whom you believe you are writing for.

That's activism to me.

My thoughts about Autism hub are this. As a food blogger, we have a central site that lists everyone as they post. To get on, you just email the site's host, who will check out your blog to make sure it's about food in some way. We have bakers, food historians, reviewers, cooks, the lot. It doesn't matter what your connection to food is, it's the message that's valid.

neil said...

One more thought about Autism Hub. Isn't a hub the centre of a wheel, all connected by spokes?

Christine said...

I'm so glad that you took a break from the rest of your life to post this! Like others who have commented here, I don't get swept up in the emotionalism of autism advocacy on purpose. But I still think I'm doing my part every day, in little ways, at home and in my community. And that is important.

Hope you got some good weather this weekend to finish the mowing :-)

farmwifetwo said...

I advocate and advocate strongly for my children in the classroom. And I do it politically too when we are at a "do". My dh is a Councillor so I meet the MP's and MPP's every so often at a function.

I advocate every day when I'm out and about shopping, going to dinner etc. Whenever anyone looks strangely at my boys when they do something I tell them what's going on and usually the conversation allows some explanation of the disorder. Most ask questions and I answer them.

But I will not turn my blog into an Autism blog. We are first, last and only a family. We don't "live" for autism. It's something we live with, not for.

And that's what my blog is...about my family.

S.

Club 166 said...

The whole Hub thing is very disappointing, to say the least. But life (and the Hub) will go on.

As far as activism goes, I've always been fond of the adage "Think globally, act locally."

I suspect that you already engage in more of this then you know.

Great post, with great imagery, today. Thanks for the link (that explains the jump in my web stats).

Joe

Melissa H said...

Oh my gosh, this is one of the most awesome things that I have read. I recently got railed on a local message board because I have decided not to take on the world (and my school district) to fight for what my son "deserves". Yes, it would help thousands of others after him. Yes, I have the intelligence to do it. Yes, it could change the way things are done. But, at the expense of my son? That is not the right choice. Perhaps I can be that strong autism advocate once my son is no longer my top priority.

THANK YOU for being strong enough to decide what is best for you and Bud and then having the courage to voice it.

Anonymous said...

Lovely, lovely post. Missy

Nicki Mann said...

Maybe you could get one of those old manual push lawn mowers.Might actually be fun for Bud to push it! ;)

Connie Deming said...

Bravo, Melissa H!

Sam I Am said...

Well, I am reading this a couple days late, and I certainly hope you and Bud have been able to finish the lawn by now. Sam and I are the same type of pic when it comes to "tomborning" as he calls it. He can hardly wait for me to mow. How precious of a site to hear and then see him hold your hand. I have been feeling the same as you lately about priorities and where to put my activism. You are an amazing writer, mother and someone I look to on the blogosphere when I need to read some great words of encouragement and writing on autism. So, whether you intend to or not, you are an activist in great parenting for special kids with special needs. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Yours is the first blog I ever read of this sort...I thought then and still think now that it is quite unique. I have forwarded your link to many other parents and they've all thanked me for it.

Your words are very valuable to me and I will read them as long as you keep writing.

Karen in CA

mothersvox said...

I guess I'd been catching a few zzzz's too, because I missed it too.

Thanks for the wake up call . . . I'd been too busy recuperating and doing our NYC versions of mowing the lawn . . .

You are so singularly wise, MOM-NOS. Some of our most powerful activism is integrated into our lives, in our mama-vism.

mcewen said...

Great post.
Cheers

thismom.com said...

so beautiful. i'm with mothersvox--so much powerful movement comes from mama-vism. i love the image of you and bud holding hands as you both mow. that is it, isn't it?

i don't even know what the autism hub is. ah well. back to my own little belly button...

MarkZ said...

Hand in hand is the way to go. You won't regret it. Your son appreciates it. Don't go changing to fit into someone else's mold.