Monday, September 10, 2012

The Graduation Speech I Would Have Made If I Wasn't a Cry Baby!

Our second daughter graduated at the end of this past school year... we went through the college application process, the waiting for acceptance, the financial aid process... more waiting and then all the planning and nerves and fears and so on.   Our summer was so insanely busy we never had her official graduation ceremony and party as we did for our older girl four years ago.   We finally held her party this past weekend.  This time I opted for a short "Thank you for coming to share this day with us, thank you for supporting us through this process... here's our graduate” mostly because I am a big cry baby.   For many reasons it was both easier and harder this time so I didn't trust myself to make it through more than a few words.  

So here's the speech I wish I had been brave enough to utter: 

Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in our family's life... today my favorite child graduates and leaves me.    She is not my favorite because she's the best, prettiest, brightest, most helpful or any or all of those things.   She's my favorite because all other positions were taken.   Her older sister, Sarah, is my oldest, my first, and my "experimental" child who endured many parenting mistakes made by her parents but turned out awesome anyway.   Her younger sister, Ainsley, holds the distinction of being the baby girl... she will always be the youngest girl... my baby girl who has many special qualities that will keep her my baby girl forever.   Her brother, Jack, is the only boy, the baby of the whole lot of them!  So that leaves most favorite kid as Anna's job.   
Anna has spent half of her life volunteering on a regular basis in a variety of worthy organizations, she’s worked since age 11 with Horse and Buddy, being a huge part of a great organization, putting many, many hours in helping make the lives of children with special needs brighter and healthier.   She has had some amazing mentors during her years in that organization,  Sharee Liles, Janet Mason, Sue Walker, Holly Confroy, Laurie Pate and many others over the years.   She's learned, she's grown, and she’s become strong and independent.    Anna has also spent many hours this past year and a half working at Orange Co Animal Services and been so fortunate to have amazing mentors there as well, Sarah Fallin, Evelyn Lilley, Anne Clancy, Hannah Barber, April Bolton, Ashley Ray, Jess Allison, Helen Wemmenhove and many others.   There cannot be enough said about the importance of incredible mentors and role models in the lives of our children.   Adults that teach, set amazing examples of hard work and intense dedication to the good of others and will love your child during the process.   Thank you to all these amazing people that made this journey a lot more secure.   Thank you to all those involved with these organizations that I did not name by name... there are too many to list!  
Anna has found the perfect college... if there weren't signs saying it had been around since the 1800's I would swear it were built just last year just for her.   Who knew there was a college that not only has a farm but values service and hard work just as much as academics?   A college that believes learning looks different for different people and embraces those differences in a whole-hearted way. Warren Wilson College has embraced her and celebrated her commitment to the greater good by awarding her two amazing scholarships that will enable her to study there without worrying about the cost.  Anna has been awarded the Sutton Scholarship and the Warren Wilson College Grant.   
Now my advice to the graduate: 
You know who you are, probably more intensely than is healthy!  Do not lose your self in the masses of other people around you.   Remember what you value and hold those close...but not so closely that you miss new and unique opportunities to explore other things.    Listen more than you speak, you have two ears and one mouth and I believe that design was not random.   Listen to those around you and hear what they are really saying because it's not always the words leaving their mouths!  Love those that need it more than others but aren't always easy to love.   Be the soft place to fall for your friends and in other relationships in your life.   Sometimes people need a hug more than advice so make sure you are paying attention and give the best thing for them at the time.    Open yourself up to other relationships.   Life is full of amazing people; get to know as many people as possible.   This is such an exciting time in your life don't close yourself off to new people by holding on too hard to the ones already there.   Your time-tested friends are not going to go anywhere and they hold you just as tight even separated by distance as before.   
Be present; take advantage of learning as many new things as possible.   Put away the things in life that distract you and really BE in the moment.   Learn something new every day.   Embrace every new thing even if it scares you, annoys you or confounds you.    Be nice to yourself, find time for a cup of tea, some yoga, a walk, and a swim, sitting in meadows or petting an animal.   Do what feeds your soul.   You are an amazing young woman, a fierce bright soul that will set the world on fire on day.  In the meantime be patient and enjoy being young, enjoy not having it all figured out, enjoy the sunrise and sunset and appreciate that nothing is promised to us.   
Most of all know how much your family loves you; know that there is NOTHING we wouldn't do for you to help you succeed.   You will be missed at home but this is your time to grow, learn and be free and young.   You will leave the world a better place that we know for sure.    Go out and change the world... we all know you can and will.   

We love you Anna banana... you are my heart and soul!  Congratulations on your graduation!  

Monday, April 2, 2012

Autism Awareness Month

It's April so it's Autism Awareness Month. What I wouldn't give to be a person who only has to be aware of autism one month a year!! How wonderful it would be (or would it?) to not be the parent of, the sibling of, the family member of, the friend of , the neighbor of, the church friend of, the schoolmate of a person with autism? To not dwell in the trenches with this perverse condition that makes the world seem upside down so much of the time?

When I think about how dull my life would be without autism I am repelled and intrigued... autism has brought great things and people into my life while bringing some pretty awful things along for the ride. My child is "high functioning" for whatever THAT means but it still means that day to day our lives can be difficult. There are things that on a good day just make my child quirky while on a bad day that same thing can make life downright unbearable for us all. I can't imagine how it feels to be trapped inside of the loud, overwhelming arena that is autism. Though the family lives with it we can always take 2 seconds break for our selves while the person living with autism is always there in it and can not escape.

My son is also considered to have autism spectrum behaviors with a diagnosis of Sensory Integration Dysfunction, Dyspraxia, ADHA, and learning disabilities in reading and memory. His "package" is so different though there are days just as difficult as he struggles to connect his intelligence with his difficulty with output. We worry less about his future as his difficulties are less severe and less impacting of his day to day life but we worry all the same. We worry that his difficulty with reading will paint him as unintelligent. That his frustration with the world as an unpredictable place will send a message that he is difficult. His progress can be excruciatingly slow at times and then leap ahead in an unpredictable manner.

Recently the new figures came out from the CDC.. autism rates are now 1 in 88. ONE in EIGHTY-EIGHT!!!! I am so alarmed at these figures! It terrifies me because it makes me KNOW for sure that statistically we will have more family members with autism in our future. This is NOT a club for which I desire more members! Autism is so complex and so different for every person affected so having one person in your life with autism does not better prepare you for another! I tell people all the time "if you know one person with autism you know ONE person with autism!" We can't pretend for one second that we will ever know exactly what to do for our family member.

After almost 17 years (how ironic that my child with autism was born in April? She's always liked things orderly!) I have days when I feel like I know nothing about autism. Days that are so excruciating to survive that I wonder how I will do it when I am 60, 70 , 80 yrs old, when I am old and frail and she is still young and robust? Then I have days when there are good things due to her autism that keep us entertained and encouraged! Ainsley has amazing talents and devastating deficits. I wonder daily what really goes on inside her brain, what is she thinking, what could she tell me if only she could organize her thoughts and tell me verbally all that is there. Though she is verbal she has great difficulty explaining her thoughts and feelings. We are working on communication methods that may allow her to tell us one day all that she feels and thinks but progress is slow.

Our state is working on making cuts that will limit services to our most vulnerable citizens and I have to ask myself why we can ever think this is ok? Why do we support every other disadvantaged group but so easily turn our back on our disabled citizens? Our system is supposed to be designed to allow every citizen the ability to live and work in their own community and contribute yet the current cuts will send many of these individuals into institutions when the families become exhausted mentally, physically and financially. I wish I had all the words to explain how wrong it is to limit a person's potential because of a label and "lack of funds" all the while watching the enormous amounts of money being spent on things so frivolous you can't even fathom the absurdity.

So Happy Autism Month ... I think.

What is Autism? (from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)
Autism Spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopmental disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotypical patterns of behavior. Autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD, is the most severe form of ASD, while other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger Syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS). Although ASD varies significantly in character and severity, it occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"You should have a blog or write a book"

Well actually I DO have a blog... see right here.... no HERE! But as you can see I am notoriously sporadic in my blogging. Sometimes when I would most like to blog I am indignant about something and when I am in that state... well sometimes it's just not pretty! I tend to be more honest than most people can handle and that isn't always a good thing. Sometimes the truth is less important than the relationship. I know I am right so I don't always have to rub the other person's nose in my "rightness". Ok well there are some people I would like to SMOTHER in my rightness but those aren't the ones that I care about the relationship enough to squelch my "rightness".

You are going to have a random sampling of life as we know it right now because tonight this is about posting something and I won't promise any of my thoughts will be coherent or cohesive just here and real. I have found in my writing that sometimes you just have to write...the content can be fluff or meaningful but the more you write the more the habit returns and eventually my faithful readers (all 3 of you!) will get something worthwhile to read.

We are approaching another graduation and you guys remember how that went the last time... the sobbing, the gnashing of teeth, the agony... you will be happy to know James has promised to be braver this time! My Anna Claire, my Anna Banana is approaching the end of her homeschooling days and will be off to college in the fall. She has been accepted to Warren Wilson College which is THE coolest place on the planet. As Sarah remarked after reading their brochure, "This is SO cool, it's like SUMMER camp!"

Soon I will be searching for music and pictures, ordering a diploma, cap and gown, booking a hall for the graduation ceremony/party. This is a new season for me as I am not ashamed to admit Anna is my favorite. My other children know that and often juggle for position on the rare occasion that Anna falls from favor. It usually doesn't last long but they get a brief stint as favorite until she dethrones them and resumes her post. I won't get all sappy because I have many months ahead to do that with all the details of the impending graduation and her leaving me for college.

So for now I am back and I will try hard to make this a worth way to spend a few moments in your day!