Year-End Ramble: 2017

This year: Pick your best cussword.

2017 has challenged us in so many ways. It has strained our rights as human beings, divided us from friends and family, tested faith, broken individuals seemingly past repair. It has taken my family down stressful paths. Although we have been blessed with quality time and other graces, others have suffered deeply, and often silently.

Some time during the summer someone from church asked me to help out with organizing potato dishes for funerals. Cheesy potatoes are important to any post-funeral luncheon. People gather after saying goodbye to their loved ones and find comfort in sharing food with those who also love the dearly and recently departed. Their emotional needs are met through one of their most primal needs, by eating something delicious, something made with love.

Cheesy potatoes are only one aspect of the meal, but it’s a favorite among mourners. Lots of starch, and lots of cheese. Those elements in that combination are meant to fire off certain neurons that translate to comfort, which tries to coexist with the burden of grief.

After receiving this assignment, a few months passed, and no funerals had been planned. The first half of the year had been replete with passings-away, but I was not yet part of the funeral meal committee. Then the last Sunday of October the lady who extended the assignment remarked how quiet it had been, and I thought to myself that this was a good thing. I wasn’t opposed to doing the work, but I was glad that people hadn’t experienced that kind of heartache in our ward, at least for a few months.

Go figure the moment someone mentions how a thing hasn’t happened, the thing happens shortly after that. Later that week our ward received an email about the passing of someone from our ward. I researched the person and found out that he had suffered from depression. His beautiful obituary profoundly saddened me. Usually during these times I feel the most helpless, but this time I could actually do something. Never had potatoes seemed more vital. If the other parts of the luncheon failed, cheesy potatoes had to prevail.

I had a list of sisters in the ward who were willing to make the cheesy potatoes. It was my job to call these ladies to see who would be available to provide the potatoes that weekend. I came up with a spreadsheet and kept track of responses and commitments, which would also help with future funerals. Here, I deleted names for privacy:

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GF=gluten-free; LM=left message; nr=no response

The sisters who were able to help that weekend were very kind. I had never really been an active part of this kind of effort, and their love and solemn treatment of this responsibility humbled me.

The ladies made their dishes and dropped them off at the church the morning of the funeral. It wasn’t until the following Sunday morning at church that I found out the funeral had gone well, that the food was delicious, that the family was grateful for all the help and support. I had imagined everyone eating and sharing stories and feeling a degree of unity that only comes with grief over a mutual friend and family member. Potatoes were all I could do—and I didn’t even cook them but just called people on a list—but for this moment, they mattered.

I have several close friends whose lives are entangled with depression and anxiety. They navigate their brain chemistry and the changing seasons and pollution and other circumstances with medication and therapy and exercise and hanging out with loved ones. It’s not easy for them, fighting the grey. But they are brilliant and creative and so passionate about the earth and humankind. They are the best readers and writers and experiencers of life; they are musical and endlessly curious and know all the best cusswords (and usages). I am so honored to know them.

Reilly’s mom has had every excuse to spiral into depression, yet she pushes through with such determination. And a smile. And enduring positivity. She’s coming up on her first full year of bi-weekly cycles of chemotherapy for stage IV metastatic colon cancer. It’s hard to imagine her daily hardship of increasing weakness and regular wooziness, but she has kept busy with work and doing as much as she can. She’s had excellent care with amazing doctors, and she knows she is surrounded by so many people who love her. Everyone faithing her well seems to be making a difference. Her strength amazes me.

She and her family have seen a pet cross the Rainbow Bridge this past month. A Chocolate Labrador Retriever, Maya was a boisterous and carefree and previously big dog, until diabetes caused drastic weight loss, blindness, then finally loss of use of her hind legs. No one likes to hear the vet say what the best course of action is to minimize suffering, even though it makes the most sense and really is the most humane for the dog. It’s painful saying goodbye to a pet, especially after almost ten years of companionship.

This year Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, and other ailments have ambushed or harrowed loved ones’ journeys.

My mom broke four toes when she slipped from an elliptical machine. But she hasn’t slowed down. This is both annoying and endearing at the same time. I love her for that.

Friends in Florida and in/near Texas or with family in Puerto Rico endured hurricanes and are trying to repair their lives.

Friends who married their high school sweethearts nearly 20 years ago have gotten divorced.

Other friends are enduring similar trials and heartache.

Earthquakes. Fires. Volcanoes. Shootings. Tax cuts. Health insurance. Church. #metoo.

How do people find comfort? What helps them in their agony and despair?

Z’s diagnosis was not as much of a bombshell as the anticipation of her diagnosis. This expectancy involved asking myself (after wondering what I did wrong) how I would handle this situation, what our “new normal” would be, how we would teach our innocent, nonreader of emotions to defend herself against monsters and assholes, among a plethora of other questions. But once we obtained a diagnosis, a wealth of resources became available, I found out several families are in our ward who have children with autism, and Z’s ABA therapy has helped her little personality emerge in ways that that weren’t obvious even six months ago. We have received an outpouring of support and love from so many caring people. You know who you are, and we are infinitely grateful. Thank you for your acceptance, kindness, and generosity.

This past year I have looked forward to Sunday dinners in Payson and Saturday donuts with my family. Family visiting from Florida. It has been nice to go on occasional movie dates with my perfect husband. To travel, to take long breaks and relax in our home. It has been rejuvenating to hang out and eat pizza with friends and discuss actions for lessening the hate in this world. Like a good nap or fresh air.

I have enjoyed picking apples and peaches and trying to make pies and making toffee and brownies and other little goodies to share. But I have also found calmness in literally tearing down walls (maybe figuratively, too?) and building shelves and painting and caulking. I have nurtured new friendships. I have explored more good music, movies, books, and television. I have discovered Twin Peaks while rediscovering the treadmill. My heart pumping, blood flowing, and sweat dripping are sometimes all I want out of life. It feels so good.

I have marched.

Voted.

Contacted my senators and representatives.

We have also relished hosting a quarterly lecture series in our home, where we listened to speakers/friends talk about a variety of subjects: Satire (Reilly), the Poison Control Center (Reilly’s sister, Amber), Horror and the Family (Jon Smith), and Fan Studies (Melissa Beattie). What an exciting reason to gather with friends!

Yes, there’s a shload of darkness and nonsense in the world right now, and we make it through one day at a time. Probably more like an hour—or even a minute—at a time. Sometimes at the end of the day things don’t look brighter. We’re still sad or confused or hurt. It is ok to feel this way. And sometimes all we want to do is pull the covers over our heads and cry. It is ok to do this.

It is ok to bring this version of ourselves into 2018, because 2017 was ruthless. Pick your best cussword. You know: it’s complicated. I may spend the first part (or majority) of the New Year swimming in my covers, trying to find/push away sunlight and coming up for air/holding my breath.

This supply of oxygen, though, the most significant mercy that came out of 2017, was that many of us took the time to listen to each other. Even though we have disagreed on many fronts, a greater striving for understanding has risen from our immediate social circles, communities, and the world. This has sustained a hope I will always cling to.

I want to keep listening to you. I want to bolster the comfort and love of real friendship between us. I want to be there, to be the equivalent of cheesy potatoes for you. Something full of love.

Or I could just make cheesy potatoes. And hug you with them. In 2018, and in years to come.

You matter to me.

A Quasi Rant and an Update on Z

In the past months since the last blog post, a couple of experiences have lingered in my memory. These remind me just how different human beings are, and in terms of behavior among “normal” individuals, there is also a broad spectrum to navigate. And how we respond to these people reveals more about ourselves than they.

The first experience comes secondhand. Reilly came home one day the middle of last month and recounted he and Z had taken Sia to the vet for her booster shots. They were in the waiting room, and Z was spinning in place and jabbering happily. An older woman was watching her and asking her questions, and Z wasn’t answering, because as a 3-year-old, spinning and jabbering are far more important. But Z did stop spinning, and the lady asked her a question. Z answered with more jabbering, which made the lady turn to Reilly and ask if she knows real words. She wasn’t mean about it, and Reilly explained that Z has autism and delayed speech. The lady then replied that her daughter is a special education teacher in an elementary school and asked Reilly if he knew her. Z attends pre-school in a different district, so it’s not likely that we would have run into this lady’s daughter. Nevertheless, this was a short, but cordial conversation, and I was glad to hear how accepting the lady seemed of Z’s circumstances.

The second situation happened about a month ago. I was observing a group being talked to by an important person in a certain industry. He was telling the group how essential they were to the overall vision, that he was pleased with how their colleagues in other offices were looking to adopt this group’s production model. He told the group that they were special, “not special ed, but special.” Some of the people in this group laughed. I did not. I was disappointed that a person that people respected would make a joke like this. I don’t know if I was particularly sensitive because of my new closeness to the special needs world, but I also wondered why people are still making fun of others who happen to be different.

Yeah, broad spectrum. I’m generally accepting of most decent and well-intentioned people. And sometimes I say things that may be insensitive to others’ circumstances. And yes, I do want to protect our daughter, but I know she’ll have to face the world to live her own life. And if I struggle reading people at times, I just wonder where on the autism spectrum is Z’s ability to discern emotions in other people. How much will we be able to teach her, to prepare her to handle interactions with complete cussheads?

On a sort of similar note, Z has been through two weeks so far of ABA sessions with a tutor. The interventionist (the tutor’s supervisor) says Z’s learning really fast and likes to push her with different challenges. Z now has a little toolbox of word approximations, so that when we ask her, “What do you want?” she can say, “dee” (candy), “boo-boo” (bubbles), “chih” (chips), “chee” (cheese), “kha” (drink), “koo-eeh” (cookie), “doh” (donut), “side” (outside), a maybe a few other little words. You can tell that food is a major motivator for her. She’s become a better imitator, she waves and says, “bye-bye-bye-bye-bye,” and she can say “mama” and “da-yee” when prompted.

This is so exciting and reassuring. Our little communicator. We love her.

A Journey and a Process

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There were concerns.

There was knowing without any professional confirmation. We knew, though.

There were doctor’s appointments.

There were assessments.

There was Early Intervention through Kids on the Move.

There was a scheduling for a screening. The earliest possible date was in July.

There were more assessments.

There was an IEP with a panel of special education preschool teachers.

There was special preschool.

There is progress.

There was a cancellation from someone else, which meant an opening for an earlier screening at the University of Utah.

There was a psychiatrist. And play. And observation.

There is a diagnosis: Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Now we are here.

And now there’s more.

Unknown territory for us, but we’re damn good parents that will give the absolute best to our daughter that we can.

Thank you all for your continued love and support and patience for our little girl.

There you are.

 

Three Zinger Years

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Dear Zinger,

Happy third birthday, my love! I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking of what to write you for your birthday. I thought I could plan something elaborate and fun and recap the last year of your life with a flourish, because your third birthday is a really big deal. The planning didn’t go so well, but I’ll still reminisce this past year with you. You have grown so much, and the world anticipates all the new things you have yet to discover.

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Dadda and I worry about you all the time. We’ll keep worrying about you as the world continues to open up to you. That’s what parents do. We wonder how you’ll play with other kids, communicate your wants and needs. You do express yourself well; all it takes is one look at your irresistible face, and we can tell what you’re feeling.

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You want to be independent so badly. You’ll climb the countertops to get what you want. If you need help with it, you’ll bring it to us, at which time we realize you’ve climbed the countertop, which is a big no-no. But you’re stubborn and persistent. These characteristics will ultimately prove valuable to you in this world, if you use them the right way.

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Lola and Poppy are in town to celebrate your birthday, and you’re so eager to show them how much you know. Just last night you led Lola to the bathroom, where you brought the iPad, then brought the stool to the toilet, put your potty seat on the toilet and had Lola help you with your pants. You then sat on the toilet and went potty. Lola was so very impressed.

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Only recently have you started opening the refrigerator to retrieve one of your favorite foods, yogurt. You’re getting stronger and more resourceful, and if there’s a way to do something without our help, you’ll figure it out.

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A few months ago, we bought a house with a back yard and lots of space to play. You seem to enjoy it. You’ve found your little niches where you love to play, but it seems that you can fall asleep anywhere, which is so convenient.

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For some reason, you’ve gotten a lot more energetic as you’ve gotten closer to 3. You run, skip, jump, and dance so much more. Jumping on the couch, jumping on the bed. Running from one room to another. Going down your slide while watching one of your favorite movies. Climbing the fence, throwing rocks. Spinning and spinning wherever you are. You’ve also gotten a lot more curious in your old age, and it’s so much harder to keep up with you.

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You’re also putting a lot more stuff in your mouth that isn’t supposed to go there. Just the other day I barely saw you eat a giant booger before I could do anything about it. It really grossed me out, and we need to do better at catching you eating prohibited things. We actually need to be better at teaching you not to eat those things. Ah, parenting. Thanks so much for your patience, little one.

 

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We love how you’re participating more at school (daycare). We love how excited you get when you want to show us something. We love how often you sing and how you recognize the songs we sing to you. We love that you like watching music videos, how Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and ‘NSync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” are among your top favorites lately.

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So much is happening in the world. So much legitimately weird stuff. You’re oblivious to most of it, but we do want to teach you how to navigate all the weirdness in a constructive way. We want to teach you how to give beauty and goodness to the world. I know you’re only three, but you’re actually already three. You’re growing too fast. I would like to stop time just for a little bit, just for today, to really sit back and enjoy remembering the past three years with you.

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We’re having a party for you today: balloons, yummy food, family and friends. Toys and clothes and everyone cherishing your life. We hope you like it. Thank you for bringing us so much joy, for teaching us, for making us love more deeply and way beyond what we originally thought our abilities were.

This next year will be very exciting, and we cannot wait to live it with you.

Happy birthday.

Love, mom