Clemency Toward Grace

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The other day–sometime last week–I was just hanging out inside my own brain and came across the clearest, most refreshing thought. It came like a revelation. It was about me, directed at me, and it made me pause and feel sudden joy:

Z’s therapist is not a better mom than you.

Seems obvious, right? Seems that I wouldn’t need to hear this so plainly, because the opposite is so ridiculous, right?

For the past year and a half that Z’s had therapy, I would observe some of her sessions. I’d notice techniques used, instructions given, then little, destructive whisperings would creep into my mind:

Why didn’t you think of that? Why didn’t you research that?

If you had been a better mom, Z wouldn’t have to be doing this right now.

Reilly’s a better parent than you will ever be.

Z spends three intense hours Monday through Friday with her therapist. Of course there needs to be a relationship established. Trust. It looked so easy between them. I would find myself getting jealous, especially during those first months, and then sporadically in the last year.

They’re so close now. Look how Z hugs her. Look how they laugh and play together.

Z loves her more than she loves you.

That last thought felt so horrible. I knew these thoughts were irrational, but I had trouble dismissing them. I’d back away from her sessions feeling discouraged and lonely and definitely not good enough.

I felt so defeated.

But internal pep talks also fought their way to the forefront of my mind.

You are her mom.

She loves you. 

Both of you are worthy of each other’s love. All of it.

Where did these thoughts come from? Not completely sure, but I consider them gift of much-needed grace.

With this motivation, I would take the damaging thoughts and negative whisperings and try to use them in a constructive way. I would implement those same techniques and give those exact instructions from her sessions. I found that this reinforced her learning and development, as well as cultivated our relationship. I found myself improving. Researching. Noticing Z’s progress and encouraging her in as many ways as I could.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten angry or impatient–because I still wrestle with weakness–but it does mean that I’ve learned to breathe, and taking time to explain ideas to her and teach her vocabulary not only calms me down, but helps me realize the still-new and growing perspective of our little one. I appreciate this.

The negative thoughts linger, but I’ve learned to focus on working more closely with our daughter, and strengthening our bond and building and maintaining trust with her. I realized that Reilly and I spend far more time with her than any external resource would, and our presence as her parents has become an integral, inextricable part of her. We work hard, all three of us, together.

Understanding this has allowed me to forgive myself.

Now, those negative thoughts no longer dominate that inner conflict. They are not fact. They are not true. They instead have given way to a brightness and warmth and peace and freedom of these undeniable truths:

I am enough.

I am the best mom for her.

My Fitness Journey So Far

At the beginning of 2018 a good friend of mine named Amy began talking about her health and fitness goals. We discussed macro intake, elements of the Keto diet, and exercise. She told me of some fitness groups she was a member of. I told her that if she wanted, I could check up on her weekly. Over the next month or so, she told me how great she felt, that the plan she and her husband were following felt like a true lifestyle change–a paradigm shift.

I loved hearing about Amy’s success. She shared before/after photos, and she looked amazing. I wasn’t actively engaged in a fitness routine at the beginning of the year, but with each discussion, I tucked away for later the enthusiasm she shared. There were times after having Z that I thought about exercising, but I found an excuse not to do it. She was now four years old. And I was feeling tired all the time. I wanted to change that. I began researching:

  • Keto diets
    • Could I limit myself to 20g of carbs each day?
    • How big of a commitment would I need to make to change my diet that much?
    • Would this change really be compatible with the way my family currently eats? Would it be realistic and/or healthy to encourage them to eat that way?
  • calorie calculators
    • How much do I eat right now, and how would I change amounts of the kinds of calories I eat?
      • Carbs
      • Fats
      • Proteins
    • How long would I keep track of calories required for weight loss?
      • Is weight loss a true goal, or am I looking for overall fitness?
        • If I were to develop strength and balance, would the number of pounds would become less of determinant in overall fitness?
  • exercise programs
    • HIIT programs:
      • Betty Rocker
        • 90-day challenge
        • 30-day abs and booty
        • 30-day free challenge
      • Nike Training App
    • treadmill
      • how many times/week?

At the beginning of March, I started with a little bit of treadmill. It was hard, and I managed to get 20 minutes at a time, which was almost long enough to watch an episode of Friends. 

In the middle of March, my work office was getting renovated, and everyone would be able to work from home. During this time I ran on the treadmill and did an Abs and Booty workout almost every day.

I bought a Fitbit and started keeping track of calories. And sleep. And physical activity. If you can measure performance, you can improve performance.

Then Spring Break came the first week of April, and we went on vacation to Florida. I thought I’d be able to stick to a workout schedule, but that wasn’t the case. I did, however, manage to go jogging three times during the nine days we stayed. I ate smaller portions, and I drank a lot of water, and I got a lot of sleep. But, I also let myself eat some of Z’s birthday cake and some other treats. Because VACATION.

Considering all the sweating I did in Florida, even in early spring, when we returned home and I weighed myself, I’d lost three pounds.

This encouraged me, because if I could lose weight on vacation, then I should be able to follow a fitness plan during a regular, structured day. Week. Month. Months.

So I kept going. I still had two weeks left of working from home, so I worked hard at near-daily exercise and keeping track of calories. And drinking water. And sleeping more.

After counting calories for a few more weeks, I more or less memorized the calorie amounts for certain foods.

I ate more proteins, fruits, and veggies. I’d cut back on treats (chips, bagels, and sweets left in the kitchen at work) during the week, and allow myself one of the donuts Reilly would get on his way home from the gym Saturday mornings. And I’d try to drink between 64 and 96 ounces of water every day.

After finishing the 30-day Abs and Booty program (which actually took me about 45 days, because I wasn’t going to stress myself out about exercise) I took about a week off of HIIT and just ran on the treadmill. By the middle of April, we were back to working in the office, so I had to really consider whether my exercise expectations were realistic.

If anyone’s wondering when I fit in my exercise, it’s during Z’s ABA therapy, which takes place 4-7pm. Her regular schedule makes it easy for me to stick to a workout schedule.

Around the second week of May, I began Betty Rocker’s 90-day program, which is basically 3-4 days of HIIT per week. I’d combine 20-30 minutes of treadmill with 1-2 of these weekly workouts.

During this 90-day challenge, I realized I could not expect myself to maintain 5-6 days of intense exercise every week. I felt myself starting to burn out. I needed to listen to my body and allow recovery time.

I decided to keep exercise to 3-4 days/week. And give myself about a week break between programs.

I started a 6-week program from the Nike Training app in the middle of August.

Then the free 30-day challenge sometime in October.

Then treadmill for a month while watching The Great British Baking Show.

Then a 4-week Nike program, which has carried me through most of December and into the first week of January 2019.

What next? Maybe a more intense Nike program? Repeat Betty Rocker? Something else on YouTube? We’ll see. This is the longest I’ve maintained any type of consistent exercise since living in NYC. It feels good to have reestablished healthy habits.

The first week of last month, Amy invited me to join an 8-week fitness accountability group on Facebook. She and one of her friends created a nifty spreadsheet for tracking various aspects of fitness. When we were asked to introduce ourselves, this is what I wrote:

Hey, everyone! Amy is a dear friend from NYC, and she invited me to this group. I’ve never really been a part of something like this, and I’m very excited!

My goals are for general fitness, which for me has included: eating more veggies and protein, and consistent exercise. I jog on the treadmill and/or HIIT up to 5 times/week. I love how much stronger and more energetic I feel. Weight loss has been in tiny increments – 7 pounds in the last 9 months, with about 3ish? pounds to go. I may just stay where I am. For me, slow and steady equates to sustainable. And maintainable. Which is sooooo possible! I’ve also been trying out intermittent fasting, where I get to eat all my calories between 12pm and 8pm, which seems to work with my life so far.

I’m looking forward to the next 8 weeks. Mostly to hang out with really cool people in this forum, but also because I like spreadsheets. That tracker is pretty rad.

(By the way, jury’s still out on intermittent fasting, but I actually don’t feel very hungry skipping breakfast.)

Here is this week’s progress, as of Wednesday night 1/2/19:

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There have been times in the past 9 months that I haven’t felt like exercising, so I didn’t. Or that I didn’t feel like running on the treadmill for 30 minutes. So I walked instead for 20 minutes. Or I felt like I wanted a cookie. Or chips and salsa. Or a rare bottle of soda. I let myself have them. I feel like I’ve worked hard and consistently enough to enjoy occasional treats in moderation. (Cue: Christmas break.)

The left side of this photo was taken March 27. I snapped the right side December 21. I’m pretty pleased with my progress. My goal for 2019 is to keep it up.

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Smoke and Reflection

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On my way to work this morning I came upon this view. Smoke from neighboring states’ wildfires has drifted into our mountain range and somewhat obscures the view. This haze has lingered for days, or has it been weeks? It reminds me of a roadtrip I took through the Great Smoky Mountains, where fog cloaked the peaks, not smoke. The mist was beautiful and mysterious but also inspired meditation. As the day warmed the fog eventually lifted. Here, the smoke continues to cling—a sticky, choking cloud. These Uintas should trade names with the range back East, because of all the literal smoke.

People talk of rising above the haze, finding clarity, a better view. People find a way to ascend—hike, horse, plane—or they hope for this veil to lift.

To see. To see, and to breathe.

The path isn’t clear all the time. The religious rely on their faith to nurture what they cannot see into knowledge; the spiritual also have a form of faith that guides them. The rest of humankind also believes in the goodness of others and desires improvement in themselves, but without any post-life motivation or incentive.

This is overly simplified: there are more than these three groups of people in the world, and there are definitely overlaps between these groups. Lives and attitudes and philosophies are so different. I accept this.

How do I assess the meaning in my life? What is my why?

Do I contemplate my purpose because of the smoke, or because of what the smoke obscures? Because I know the mountains are there, does this sustain my hope for better things? Does this motivate me to rise above the current smog?

What if I didn’t know what was hiding in the smoke, would my plan of action be to wait until it clears?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m being faithful, or just naïve.

Mother’s Day 2018 Thoughts

What is Mother’s Day to these groups? I may have missed some categories, but in general this is what I have observed:

  • Married women with children
  • Single women with children
  • Women with special needs children
  • Single women without children
  • Married women without children
  • Women who have lost children through tragedy: war, accident, illness, other circumstances
  • Women who have lost mothers
  • Women who don’t want children
  • Women who can’t have children but want them

Looking at this list, I know what it’s like to:

  • be married with a child
  • have a (relatively high functioning) special needs child
  • want another child but unable to have one (yet)
  • be single until the age of 36 until marriage stabilized my life enough to have children

This is my life experience so far, and I admit my empathy is limited to women who fit into these categories. Some fit neatly, for some the lines are blurred. I do my best to understand that, too.

I know women who:

  • are single with children
  • are single without children
  • have special needs children across a very broad spectrum
  • have lost children through tragedy
  • have lost mothers
  • don’t want children
  • can’t have children but want them

Every Mother’s Day I think about these women. What are their struggles? How do they cope? Is this holiday something they even care about, or is it just another day? It seems the world praises mothers as women who have children, but I’ve always felt strongly that to be a mother you do not have to have children. I’ve always cringed at that part of that (cultural/societal) definition of motherhood; I’ve always felt to side with those who may fall in the shadows of the child bearers.

Not that child bearers shouldn’t be standing tall, because they totally should. Raising children is never easy, and devoted moms everywhere should be extremely proud of their hard work. My mom is wonderful. She sacrificed and taught and nurtured and scolded and guided me to learn really important lessons about life. I will always be grateful for everything she’s done and is doing for me.

I know many wonderful women who qualify as “super moms,” because they’re doing it all. They overcome all obstacles; they push aside excuses. They bend the universe around their will. These women have determination and passion, and I know they have their own trials and internal conflicts, but to me they are unstoppable. I admire them, because I know they also have to be super tired all the time.

But you guys. YOU. GUYS. I probably know even more women who deeply suffer when Mother’s Day comes around. It seems they feel a lot of traditional moms look down on them. They feel inferior, less than; their divinities/self-worths don’t measure up because of their different life experiences. Feeling this way, year after year — or even every day for some — is really hard.

If we don’t dedicate this day only to women with children, are we dismissing them? Is this their one day to feel better than the women without children? To say, “I’m so much more like Christ now because I have children”? Is motherhood the only thing that matters to our (eternal) happiness?

Wouldn’t the womanly and motherly thing to do is to include and love women for their differences and experiences, no matter what they are?

Every ten years or so a good thought graces my soul, and four years ago on Mother’s Day I posted this on Facebook, and it still holds up:

As women are all descended from Eve, we all should remember our nobility as Mothers of All Living. Our stewardship, however we currently define it in our lives, is divine.

Happy Mother’s Day.

To my glorious mom, happy Mother’s Day. To all mamas everywhere, happy Mother’s Day. But especially to my dear women friends who face pain, loss, and sadness, and live with heartbreak: at the very least, you have nurtured and guided me and helped me heal in profound ways. If that isn’t being a mother, I don’t know what is. Happy Mother’s Day to you.

Four Zinger Years

This post was written 10 April 2018, but I’m backdating it to Z’s birthday, 8 April.

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April is Autism Awareness Month

Dear Z,

Almost three months ago, you and I got sick with fevers, headaches, and congestion. You and I went to the doctor to see if we had the flu. The doctor sent us somewhere else to get a nasal swab to determine the flu. I’m not sure why he or any of the nurses in the office couldn’t swab us. I still might be a little bitter about it.

The doctor’s office wasn’t entirely clear on where we were supposed to get the swabs: do we get them at the hospital, or at one of the affiliated clinics near the hospital? I should have asked for clarification; part of our long day was that I should have gotten better directions.

We stopped by the hospital first. When we were checking in, the intake lady heard you coughing, handed me a mask, and instructed me to put it on your face. This wasn’t going to happen. I knew you weren’t going to keep the mask on. You sat on the floor, keeping mostly quiet, being very good for a sick 3-year-old.

The intake lady heard you cough again, and she reminded me to put the mask on your face. I didn’t do it, because that was a battle I chose not to fight: I’d rather you quiet than struggle to keep a mask on your face. She double checked our insurance and told us a flu swab wasn’t covered. I was irritated. My head was throbbing. I remember half-heartedly asking about the insurance, and the intake lady answered something. I took your hand and quietly walked away.

We eventually found the place where someone would be able to give us the flu test. We ended up both negative. That was a relief, but we’d spent a lot of the day driving around, feeling like absolute junk. I’m so sorry for dragging you all over Orem and Provo that day.

We both tested negative that grey January day, but I can’t stop thinking about my lingering negative attitude about that experience, especially at the hospital. What I wanted was not to have to explain why you wouldn’t wear the mask. What I resented was the assumption that you would wear a mask at all. Maybe the intake lady trusted that moms know the best approach for putting a mask on their children, since no “normal” sick child would cooperate wearing a mask. I didn’t know how to say I was clueless. What I wanted was an acknowledgement–at least from this healthcare institution, in a state that has a higher population of autistic children–or some sort of effort to accommodate, a simple “if your child has sensory issues, then [here’s an alternative].” That can’t be too much to expect at a hospital that probably sees hundreds of children every day.

But guess what? I figured it out. When we were at another waiting room, the receptionist asked me to take masks for both me and you. You started coughing, and I held a mask up to your mouth. Every time you coughed, I covered your mouth with the mask, and you were actually ok with it. I was so grateful for this!

 

Dadda and I have been your parents for four years now, and we’re still figuring it out. I’m still learning patience, but I’ve appreciated the process of learning to see the world through your eyes. I love how you’re never in a rush. How you give in to adult-perceived distractions, when you’re just enjoying your surroundings. How you run your hands over all surfaces. How sometimes you exercise your curiosity by sticking your tongue on things (which often grosses me out). How you run and laugh and sing–and spin, of course. How you verbalize your feelings even though you don’t have as many words as you’d like.

You’re working on getting more words, though. More skills, more coordination. More understanding. A greater attention span and focus. You’ve developed a liking for coloring and puzzles. You can sit with these activities for at least an hour sometimes. Your teachers have been so impressed with you over the past year. When you began preschool, you weren’t able to sit still, and you had no words. Now look what you can do!

We’ve taught you to repeat simple phrases like, “I’m cool” and “I’m smart”; Lola has taught you, “I’m beautiful,” and on your birthday you’ve been able to repeat, “I’m four.” Four. We can’t believe it.

You are adorable, and everyone loves you. Friends and family, definitely. It’s a little weird when strangers smile at you while we’re out or traveling, but most of the time you’re oblivious and could give zero cares. I need to find a way to live more like you.

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It can be so hard being a kid sometimes. So many rules, so many boundaries. It’s been hard for me to reconcile your supposed limitations with your potential. Just thinking of your immense potential makes my heart full. But to you, you don’t have any limitations, other than your parents’ occasional inability to understand what you want or need. Such understanding often requires words. Which you are acquiring more of every single day. Your language–both jabbering and intelligible words–has expanded our minds and blessed our hearts in so many ways, made us better parents. We’re learning as we go. Just like you, we’re figuring it out. We try our hardest to open up the world to you. No limits, baby girl. No more assumptions.

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We have you as our daughter, and you have brought us more than we could ever imagine. More love. More happiness. More life.

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Happy birthday.

Love, Mom

42 Months (in two days)

Dear Beautiful Z,

In the middle of last month you had picture day at preschool. I preordered the package online, not knowing how they’d turn out. All I wanted was to preserve the memory of your very first picture day.

On your very first picture day, your teacher sent home a note. You usually get a daily note of your general behavior – this comes as a golden rod laminated form that your teacher fills out: What you ate, what you played with, any tantrums, or moments in the calm-down corner. But the note your teacher sent home on your first picture day was a pink note. The pink notes are achievement notes, and this is the one from your first picture day:

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This made me excited to see your pictures! I asked Dadda when he thought your pictures would be ready, and he said they usually take two weeks.

The next two weeks the suspense was unbearable. I kept busy and tried thinking about other things to pass the time. But it occurred to me that it was possible your teacher sent home notes like that for all your classmates, and doubt crept into my mind. What if your smile wasn’t really a smile, but a weird smirk? What if it was one of those forced smiles with your eyes squinty or tightly shut? What if you got all muddy or grimy from snack time? I’ve seen bad school pictures. Many of my school pictures were horrible. I definitely lowered my expectations of how your first school pictures turned out.

But the day came when I picked you up from daycare and one of the workers said your school pictures were on the top shelf of your cubby hole, and that they were sooo cute. And we saw another daycare worker who commented likewise about your school pictures. And so you and I went to your cubby hole and I glanced at the photo through the window of the big envelope, and I just about fell to my knees and cried from the cuteness. this is what I saw:

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Everyone loves your school pictures! I love them. Dadda loves them. I’ve shown them to you and asked who the girl in the pictures is, and you’ve answered with your name in that sweet little voice of yours. It’s nice to know that your teacher just wasn’t being nice when she sent home that pink note. She was being sincere, and I’m so glad we have this memory!

Yesterday Dadda and I had parent-teacher conference with your teacher. We talked for a good while about the progress you’re making, and she remarked how much energy you have! She’s impressed with you, and I hope you continue to let your teacher challenge you, and that you’ll eventually learn to harness that energy. We know you’re 3, we know you’re a sensory-seeker, so we definitely understand the spinning and running and climbing everywhere.

While we were at your school, we also got to talk with your speech pathologist, who had the chance of talking with your ABA therapist. It sounds like they will be able to coordinate their efforts and methods to bring about the best results for your speech development. How fortunate that we have these resources. We feel so blessed.

And today: Your teacher sent home another pink note!

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We are super proud of you. We love that you’re learning and expressing yourself. We love that communication is starting to click for you. We’re doing our best to help you, and your sweet spirit and desire to learn keep us from feeling too overwhelmed. We are here for you, and we will support you always.

Love, mom

Teacher’s Note

Yesterday was Z’s first day of preschool. It should have been Tuesday, but there was a mixup with the buses. They reversed our home address and the pickup address. I was annoyed, but things got straightened out, and when I picked her up from daycare yesterday, the workers said she’d had a good day, that she was a happy little girl. And had a nice nap. And that she’d gone potty just before I got there. The bus pickup and dropoff had no glitches, and the bus aide told the daycare that Z had a good day at preschool. I was so pleased to hear all of this good news! To top it off, Z was holding a clear plastic cup with some animal crackers. I buckled her in the car.

Then we got home and had about 20 minutes before Z’s ABA session. We sat at the patio table and ate some chips, then Dadda got home. And then Z’s tutor and the tutor’s supervisor came over. The supervisor talked with us about the additional things she’d like to implement in Z’s program and asked us if we had any questions. Reilly mentioned that Z sometimes reverses the sounds of letters in a word, like saying the “K” sound first in the word “drink.”

Then the supervisor brought up apraxia. The way Z tries to say some words may indicate apraxia. None of this is conclusive right now. But it’s another thing I have to research and worry about. I wasn’t told not to worry. I was going to worry anyway, but it makes a difference to be told not to worry.

This afternoon Z’s preschool teacher sent us an email:

Z’s day two has gone great, she really likes snack time, but wanted to walk around with the “juice” (gatorade) that she chose so we put in in her sippy cup and then she was able to drink from it when she was thirsty. She is listening and following directions so much better than when she first started in April which is awesome, especially considering the long summer break.
Just wanted to let you know.
As I was reading, tears streamed down my cheeks, and I’ve yet to really identify the emotions I experienced. Maybe I felt a combination of happiness and relief. But I felt most strongly pride. I can never articulate what all my concerns are for her, especially when it comes to navigating the world and discerning trust in and from others. Her safety, her knowing who she is, her ability to contribute to society. The preschool teacher’s email gave me great hope.
The other day, I tweeted this:

I’m grateful for the tools our biggening girl has acquired in her life so far. We can’t wait to see what else she can do.