Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 11 blessings of 2011

As I reflect on this New Year's Eve, may I present to you Plaiditudes' Top 11 Blessings of 2011:

11. Thanks to the ones that brung ya (and me): 
Okay, this one isn't new, but I as they get older, I appreciate my parents and in-laws more and more. Mom S with her love pats and fussing over us, Dad S's encouragement and confidence in me, my Dad with his sense of humour and desire to help (and the way K is his "co-pilot"; hopefully someday little G will be his co-something special too). And my Mom, because for better and for worse, she's that voice in my head and I wouldn't be me without her. They've had a few health scares in recent years, and I treasure every day we have together.

10. Yay for me!
Health and Heart winning 2nd place for Canadian Church Press Christian column of the year went by unnoticed, at least in Christian Week, but it was an affirmation to me that what I'm doing is valuable. I explored more personal, controversial, near-to-my-heart topics this year, particularly in the area of mental illness (schizophrenia, borderline personality, and depression), and had the pleasure of interviewing some dear friends.  

9. Who says the internet makes you antisocial? 
The Autism Winnipeg Facebook group has put me in touch with some wonderful parents in my area for support and friendship, both for us and our children. G just had a play date with a new friend we met through Facebook, and it went well, so three cheers for technology!

8. How do I love poetry, let me count the groups...
I finally got the nerve to attend poetry readings, particularly Speaking Crow at Aqua Books (soon to be moved to Pop Soda) the first Tuesday of every month, but also Writers' Guild events and McNally book launches. The Blue Pencil workshop with Jennifer Still was so encouraging, and I've started a poetry group with another writer to comment on each other's work. I had a couple lovely coffees with Sarah Klassen (still my favourite), and through their books, I feel like I've gotten to know local poets Ariel Gordon, Sally Ito, and Di Brandt. So great to be part of a writing community!
7. Come on baby light my marshmallow
We bought our pop-up camper at the end of 2010, but this was our first full summer of swearing sweating as we set it up under the shady oaks of campgrounds around our beautiful province. The only major mishap was the breaking of the bike hitch on the train tracks in Morris. We enjoyed a sunny, mosquito-free summer of bonding as a family around the campfire.

6. So long and thanks for all the funding
We are so grateful that we finally received Level 2 EA funding for G for Grades 4, 5, and 6. The process of painting your child with horns just to earn necessary services stinks, so I'm glad I don't have to go there again for a few years. So far, Grade 4 is much smoother than Grade 3, so: yippee!

5. A dog by any other name would smell too
In September we picked our Lily. T should have gotten a picture of me leading her out of the Humane Society: I had the deer in the headlights, oh crap, what have I gotten myself into-look down pat. But she's lovely. She sheds, she digs, she chews, but she's also very quiet, affectionate, and trainable. No regrets here.

4. Sleeping with the Paparazzi 
This is the year I got into poetry and my hubby got into photography. Big time. Unfortunately, his little hobby is a tad pricier than mine. Semi-pro camera, 40 mm lens, zoom, camera bag, tripod, blah, pen. I win and you owe me something pretty. He's done a few family shoots, so that helps pay for all the photographic "necessities." And hey, he's happy.

3. Very good, young Padawan, but you still have much to learn
My most exciting news of the year is that I'll be mentored for the next five months by award-winning poet Meira Cook. We meet for the first time next week. Have I told you today how excited I am?

2. Still working for a living
I am soooo grateful that my one-year maternity leave position at the Herald that could have ended this summer was extended till next June. I love being part of the creative process of putting together a beautiful, thought-provoking, community-creating magazine, I love the flexibility of putting in my 65 hours per month from home/office/when the kids are in school/I have a sitter, and I love bringing home a regular pay cheque!

1. And the academy award goes to...the Academy
The best thing to happen to our family this year was a new school for K. Words can't describe how well he's doing or how grateful we are to his teachers. He's now in the classroom all day, participating in group discussions and independent work, even in math, like everybody else. No longer wandering alone at lunch, he's now playing street hockey in the parking lot with his classmates. He made a marvelous Moroccan professor in the social studies fair, and was very proud to receive an honour roll award for his 88 percent average in the first term. It's wonderful to see him smile every day when he steps off the bus.

Hope your 2012 is full of love, support, and poetry (or love, sports, and punk music, whatever turns your crank).  

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

No-I'm-not-on-crack parenting advice Part 3: Honey, you'll feel better if you *don't* just let it all out

PMS-ing psycho with a weapon or hot mamma needing to chill? Choose your words carefully.
I'm one of the quiet ones at the autism support group. If you know me, you know I love to talk, but I feel terribly guilty when I interrupt, especially when everyone around me is pouring out their hearts about blow-ups, bullies, blind doctors, deaf resource teachers, foul-mouthed teens, and long-gone daddies. So if there isn't a break in conversation, you won't hear much from my corner of the table.

But if I would get the nerve to jump in, overactive conscience be darned, I might say something like this:

Is this helping?

I can tell you love your children like crazy, but when you nickname them "vixen" and "devil-man," and call your life "hell in a minivan," does it make you feel better about your world?

There is a place for sharing what you're going through now and getting support and advice for the next step on your path, but does retelling the story of how your son destroyed the living room furniture five years ago or how your father blamed you for her behaviours before the diagnosis make you love them all more? Oh, sometimes it's a bonding thing, and sometimes it helps us see the humour in our situations - and almost always it's downright entertaining - but often I think the negative talk just makes a difficult situation that much harder to bear.

I met a friend for coffee last week and she said she'd noticed so many changes in me over the dozen years she's known me. The biggest one is in the way I talk about my family. When she met me, I used every opportunity to shock people with painful stories and try to squeeze out a few more drops of sympathy. My right, my consolation prize, for having a bizarrely painful life package, right? But I decided years ago to choose words that made my husband and children look good in public. Even when I feel like running away from home. Because I found those words didn't only change the way others saw my family; they changed the way I feel about them too.

When I'd say, "My daughter's constant lying and stealing makes me so mad I want to strangle her," I really meant "My daughter has lagging social skills that make it difficult for her to control her impulses and recognize the effect of her actions on the rest of us. She needs patient guidance, and I need supportive friends and plenty of rest, so I have that kind of love to give."

And "My husband is a self-centred sofa-warmer who never shows affection and wishes he were rid of us" has become "My husband is overwhelmed and suffering from migraines again, so he doesn't have the energy to stay calm when the kids are screaming, and he's afraid to spend time with me because I've been so naggy lately. I need to be clear and gentle when I ask for what I need from him." It doesn't sound as interesting, but it sure makes me feel more content, calm, in control. And most of all: hopeful.

I'm guessing some of you think I have too many self-help books shoved up my prissy ass, but that's okay. That's another reason I'm doing this here and not in person: I'm not only leery about interrupting; I'm also sensitive to criticism. Write me off as a goody-goody, but I still think it's worth saying. What's more important: to go home feeling glad others share our personal "hell" with their own batch of "Satan-spawns" and "sperm-donors," or feeling empowered to accept every challenge and blessing our precious handfuls can dole out?

Words have power. They don't just reveal how we feel; they determine it.

So please do cry on my shoulder. I may not talk about it as much, but I've been there too. And I care deeply. Tell me the truth. Be real. But know that the way you say it could alter that reality.
May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be plaid. Happy holidays from Plaiditudes.