Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Role play

When Jen at Sprite's Keeper announced this week's Spin Cycle topic, I wasn't overly enthusiastic. We are to write about roles and our ideas about them, and to be honest, I guess I have been a bit discouraged about my roles, my identity, lately.

I love being a mom, I really, truly do, but at times I don't love it, if you see what I mean.

I do not regret deciding to stay home with my kids, but once in a while, I do regret leaving behind my career as a high school teacher.

And I would never, ever trade my kids in or even send them to boarding school, as I like to threaten, but still there are days when I wish I could run away from home and leave them all behind.

You may have caught on to my ambivalence. I hesitate to share these feelings because I know that some may perceive them as just more evidence of my inadequacy as a mom and my propensity to complain, but maybe, just maybe, some of you share my feelings.

This issue is complicated for me, as I am certain it is for many women out there. I cringe when people make assumptions about me because I am a stay-at-home mom. Though I completely value the role of mother and feel there is no more important job, I cannot tell you how often I want to clarify to people that I am educated or that I used to have a career.

A perfect example happened last week when I chaperoned Danny's field trip. I took a box of supplies back to the bus, and the driver asked me, "Are you one of the teachers?"

It took me a moment to answer.

What I wanted to say was, "Yes! I am" or "No, but I did use to teach high school English in one of Chicago's most dangerous neighborhoods, and you know what? I loved it and I was surprisingly good at it."

I wanted to sit there and regale the bus driver with stories of students who had never finished a book before who devoured August Wilson's plays in my drama classes. I wanted to share about when students who could barely write a complete paragraph were so enormously proud of themselves after writing a 10-page research paper. I could have told her about kids who complained incessantly in my classes, but who later told other students they were so lucky they were in my class, because it was so fun. I wanted to share that though many people thought I wouldn't last a week in that school, I had actually flourished, and that when we moved and I quit my job, my replacement lasted just one-half of a day before she quit.

I also wanted to explain to that hapless bus driver that though I stay at home with my kids, I work my tail off. I do therapy with my son who has autism, I tirelessly (ok, well, actually, not so tirelessly) research ways to help him or ways to make our family run more smoothly. I teach my older two how to read, and do any number of projects to help them all learn and thrive.

In the end, though, I just said, "No" because, really, who am I trying to convince here, anyway?

Part of my ambivalence comes from wanting to be recognized as more than just a stereotype. But, if I am to be honest, the real problem here is not other people's assumptions. No, it's all me and my insecurity. I have difficulty at times accepting that my contributions to our family are just as valid and worthy as the ones I made when teaching and for which I received a paycheck. Too often I wrap up my self-worth in my accomplishments. Does it really matter that I have a Master's degree? Does it mean that much that I used to teach at a high school and several community colleges?

Well, yes and no.

These accomplishments mean quite a bit to me because I worked hard at them. Also, it took me a long time to find something I was good at, so when I finally did, I was proud and relieved. I don't think there is anything wrong with valuing that part of my life.

The problem comes when I feel like I have to justify my existence to others. And believe me, I am blaming no one here but myself. Sure, there are people out there who look down on women who stay at home, but why would their opinion matter to me?

No, the real problem is me. It's that I am not completely secure with who I am. I am not secure with what I have chosen to do at this time. I am not entirely sure why this is, but I am determined to make a paradigm shift, to start questioning my insecurities, to quit trying to prove to others that my contribution is important, because those people just do not matter.

Monday, April 12, 2010

note to my neighbors

Dear Neighbors,

I really enjoy living near you, but I have a couple of requests of you. First off, could you please, please, please quit barbecuing every single day? When I smell your perfectly seared steaks, I lose my appetite for the day-old casserole I am serving. It would so help my budget and diet if you would eat more liver and onions or mac and cheese.

Also, could you cool it on the landscaping? Your flowers and green lawn are beautiful, but they make my lawn full of dandelions look shabbier than ever. If you would mow just a little less often, my 6-inch high grass wouldn't look nearly as tall. Seriously, if you could just exert a little laziness, my life would be much simpler. It's not a lot to ask, is it? I mean, besides the patchy lawn, crying kids, and toys left strewn everywhere, we aren't terrible neighbors, are we? You don't have to put up that much from us aside from the occasional garbage that blows up onto your lawn because Bil has forgotten to weigh the lid from the can down so as to keep raccoons out.

Oh, and yes, I know my kids have on occasion wandered into your yard, not to mention all the sticks they throw to your dogs. But really, when you have a dog aren't you just begging for kids to throw sticks in your yard? Aside from that and the occasional yelling, my kids are quite charming, aren't they?

And I know we had a tractor parked in your driveway for much of last summer, and Bil has forgotten to return a borrowed tool, but....well, I can't really think of much to excuse that.

Think of it this way, less yard work and grilling will free up some leisure time for you. I'm just thinking of you and your stress levels.

Because that's just the kind of thoughtful neighbor I am.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

autism, appearances, and awareness

There has recently been much discussion about a blogger (Smockity Frocks) who mocked a child and her grandmother on her blog. The child showed many of the symptoms of autism. A huge stink was raised about how this mommy blogger, this Christian woman could mock a kid with special needs. Of course, the blogger had no idea the child was autistic; Smockity was just trying to be funny. At this kid's expense.

Since this incident, many bloggers have intensified their pleas that people raise awareness of autism, especially in light of April being Autism Awareness Month. I admit to feeling pretty ambivalent about this responsibility. There are times when I am just sick to death of hearing about autism. This disorder does not define us. Other times, I feel like a bit of a fraud. Danny is so high functioning, I can go days without even thinking about the A-word.

I like it that way, because autism is not who Danny is.

Still, I can't deny that it is part of his life. And mine, by extension.

But, this incident with Smockity Frocks has me thinking. A lot. About parenting and judging others and making mistakes. The thing is, what disturbed me most about Smockity's blog post was not that the child she described was autistic. No, what bothered me was that she was mocking a child and judging the girl's caregiver. The fact that she was probably autistic merely highlighted the scathing judgment.

And truthfully what really pained me was I could see myself in Smockity's snarky assessment of this supposedly spoiled child. See, Smockity made assumptions about this young girl based solely on her outward appearance and behavior. She decided after watching this girl for 10 minutes that she knew what was going on.

And I have done this.

I have been that person who judged someone by what they were wearing or how they spoke. I have, on occasion, looked down on people because their kids were so badly behaved. I have made so many assumptions (both good and bad) about people based upon their looks, it shames me to think of it. And I have mocked people under the guise of making a joke, which as my husband points out is the easiest kind of humor, the kind that takes no talent at all.

This is something I am not proud of, and it is something I am working on. And ironically, this is something I hope people won't do to me. I hope that people will give me the benefit of the doubt, as a mother, as a human being.

The Smockity post incensed many parents of kids with autism, because they don't want their kids to be mocked or judged in such a way. One major difficulty with autism compared to some other disorders or disabilities is that it is virtually invisible. Kids with autism look "normal." There are no wheelchairs or seeing eye dogs, no limps or hearing aids. It would be easy to look at a child with autism who is misbehaving and not realize that they deal with a disability on a daily basis. It would be very easy to judge them unfairly or assume their parents are spoiling them rotten.

And parents of autistic kids know this, and perhaps are even hypersensitive to the fact that others are jumping to conclusions about them. I know I am.

We parents hope that people will give us the benefit of the doubt. That they will smile compassionately rather than frown disdainfully when our kid misbehaves. We hope that people will show our kids love and understanding, even when they act in a way that is difficult to understand.

But isn't that really true of all of us? Don't we all have weaknesses that are invisible to the naked eye? Don't we all want to be given the benefit of the doubt? Don't most people hope that others will get to know them rather than basing their judgments on appearances?

Maybe we don't really need a special Autism Awareness Month message so much as a message about love and kindness and tolerance and on reserving judgement. My husband recently posted this to Facebook: "Want to be a nonconformist? Love everyone."

That about sums it up, I think.


For more posts about appearances, visit the Spin Cycle at Sprite's Keeper.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spin Cycle--Favorite Post

Jen at Sprite's Keeper has issued an assignment for this week's Spin Cycle, which is that we pick a favorite post. It was difficult to pick, not because I have so many posts that I love, but because I have many that make me cringe a little. However, I picked one from about 15 months ago when I was pregnant with Tommy. Here it is:

random thoughts

I know that many of you reserve your random thoughts blog posts for Tuesdays, but I don't feel like waiting that long. And I happen to be quite crabby and ornery, so don't argue with me, k?

**OK, the reason I am crabby and ornery is that I have been the target of germ warfare. Yes, an acquaintance has purposely infected me with a particularly insidious form of the common cold. How do I know it was on purpose? Well, she came to church sniffling and sneezing and coughing and then cornered me in the library where she breathed really heavily in my direction. Then, she forced me to take a book that she had just smeared all her germs on. What other conclusion could I come to? I can't prove it and I haven't determined a motive, but I AM plotting revenge, rest assured. This is honestly the worst cold ever in the history of mankind. I was up until 3 AM gasping for breath, popping decongestants, and praying that I wouldn't go into labor. I mean really, all I need is to go into labor after no sleep and while not being able to breathe.

**I have a pretty active imagination, which I feed regularly by watching episodes of Law and Order, Numb3rs, and reading the news online. I hear particular news stories of abuse or violence and have a hard time getting them out of my head. It seems that this gets worse when I am pregnant and I get a bit paranoid. Just last night while I was at the grocery store, a man gave me a funny look. He was probably looking bemusedly at my enormous stomach and giving thanks his own wife didn't resemble me, but it freaked me out. The next thing I know, I am convinced that he and his wife want a baby of their own and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get one. Then I realize that I have told the cashier that I am due in 2 weeks. Did this strange couple hear me? Are they now waiting to kidnap me and slice open my stomach to steal my baby? I was super-vigilant in the parking lot, checking under cars and looking people in the eyes, and I even checked to make sure no one followed me home. Even now, more than 24 hours later, I am devising ways to escape if this couple does indeed come after my abdomen.

**And as if I don't have enough to worry about what with homicidal baby snatchers after me, I just heard an ad for an upcoming lecture at SIU about the risks of polio. Apparently, we are not as safe from that disease as we think. Did they really need to add to my list of obsessions? Seriously, I would just rather not know some things. I do not need another disease to worry about and to imagine I am coming down with. Have I mentioned that I sometimes can be a bit of a hypochondriac?

**I just found out that my brother is being lauded as a hero in Chicago. He is a firefighter and he helped rescue two people from their burning home. I watched the news reports and press conference and wow, was that fire immense. It looked like a miracle that they were able to save these people. It amazes me that my brother, who tormented me from the very beginning (we are twins and I swear he beat me up in the womb) actually saves people's lives for a living. Though he has been doing this job for probably 10 years, sometimes I forget how dangerous his job is. I am really proud of him, though I do have to question the sanity of a man who runs INTO burning buildings.

**Despite a serious lack of sleep, I did not inflict any bodily harm on my daughter after listening to her whine and cry in the wee hours of the morning. That kind of makes me a hero, too, right? So, where's MY press conference?

**It's a good thing I didn't give in to temptation and send Charlotte off to boarding school today. She whined and complained about everything this morning; I had to find every one of her 7 Care Bears, make her waffle just right, hand the bottle of water to her at the specific angle she wanted, etc. Then, about 30 minutes ago, she barfed all over everything. Apparently, she was crabby because she is sick. I feel like such a heel for telling her to quit whining.

**We just got back from Wal-Mart about an hour ago where I happened to amble down the Easter candy aisle. I love candy, especially if it has chocolate, caramel or peanut butter or any combination thereof. The strange thing is that Easter candy has its own particular appeal to me. It is so much more irresistible than any other candy. I can't figure it out, but wrap some candy in pastel colored wrappers and shpae it like an egg and I am totally sold.

**I believe that there are hidden cameras in my ob/gyn's bathrooms. I am sure this is the reason they still insist that I pee in a cup even though I can barely squeeze into the bathroom. It's all for the amusement of the harried nurses and doctors. Also, I love that in order to get a sterile specimen you are supposed to clean yourself up, then pee a bit into the toilet, stop the pee flow and then capture the rest in the tiny, teeny cup. I mean, really? Really? Who came up with this system? It's practically impossible.

First off, it is really hard to reach around the 20 pound watermelon that is my stomach. So to be able to reach down and get the cup positioned just right really takes some flexibility and reach. I happen to have very short and inflexible arms. Then, there's the whole stop your stream of pee thing. Not too easy to do when you have 55 pounds of baby, fluid and miscellany sitting directly on your bladder. Once I start peeing, I don't stop.

Seriously. I don't even stop once I get off the toilet, if you get my drift.

Oh, c'mon, tell me you have never suffered from stress incontinence. No, on second thought, don't. I don't want to hear about your toned and fit pelvic muscles; I prefer to believe that you are all peeing yourselves every time you sneeze, cough, stand up, or sigh heavily. Misery loves company and I am ornery today. Have I mentioned that?