Category Archives: Learning & Growth

Awakening the Heart: Patience

011Part 3 in a series of posts about improving any type of relationship by practicing basic Buddhist teachings, based on a non-residential day retreat taught by the lamas at the Buddhist temple where I used to work. The six basic Paramitas (a word which means ‘going beyond’): generosity, ethics, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom. For this series of posts, I have been writing about the first three Paramitas, which focus on our relationship with others (the second three Paramitas, equally important, have more to do with our inner selves). [Read Part 1, Generosity, here]


If you thought the previous post, Ethics, was hard, brace yourself for patience. When we think of patience, the first thing that comes to mind is waiting in line at the grocery store or maintaining your composure when your young child asks “Why?” for the twenty-eighth time that day. But patience is much more than waiting or grinning and bearing.

It involves endurance and forbearance, and as such, is about strengthening ourselves. When I first heard this tenet, it resonated with me on a deep level. At the time, I was dealing with some very challenging behavior with my young adult son (who has autism, epilepsy, and bipolar), and I realized how important the concept of strengthening was for me. I wondered what on earth I could do to strengthen myself even further, since I figured I had already developed an excess amount of patience over the years. What more could I do? How could I continue to live with the emotional and verbal abuse?

I learned that I could start by “demilitarizing” myself on the inside. According to the Buddhist view, we are victims of our emotions unless we notice how we express them. We must be present, alert, and aware. And we should try not to aggravate the situation by thinking negatively.

For example, my son’s worst episodes of abuse (directed at me) occurred before his bipolar was diagnosed and managed by medication. Negative thinking caused me to lash out in my defense, and to take personally the ugly things he said. I wasn’t realizing that the malfunction of his neurotransmitters had caused it.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that we should just continue to take the abuse. We need to know when it is necessary to defend ourselves and to what degree. When we are in danger of being harmed physically, we should get out of the way. When we are at a point of lashing out, we should leave the room.

The hardest thing is to be patient with a being who causes hurt to ourselves or others. Patience is an antidote to anger, aggression, and aversion, which are obstacles to peace and harmony. Buddhism teaches that the anger is the enemy, not the person. We need to investigate the nature of the one causing harm before taking it personally. Perhaps a loved one had just died. Perhaps they just lost their job or their home. Perhaps they are in pain or have an untreated disorder. This doesn’t excuse or justify the behavior, but it could explain it and help us to find ways to alleviate it.

One of the central teachings of Buddhism is that suffering is a part of life – it’s a universal condition. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” (attributed to several different sources), is highly applicable here. In my case, my son’s behavior improved for a while, then became abusive again. It was a huge part of why I pursued having him receive supported living services while moving him into his own apartment. I was getting out of the way, strengthening myself. And it worked.

Awakening the Heart: Ethics


Part 2 in a series of posts about improving any type of relationship by practicing basic Buddhist teachings, based on a retreat taught by the lamas at the Buddhist temple where I work. The six basic Paramitas (a word which means ‘going beyond’): generosity, ethics, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom. For this series of posts, I will be writing about the first three Paramitas, which focus on our relationship with others (the second three Paramitas, equally important, have more to do with our inner selves). [Read Part 1, Generosity, here]


Merriam-Webster defines “ethics” as such:

ethics: an area of study that deals with ideas about what is good and bad behavior | a branch of philosophy dealing with what is morally right or wrong

That’s a pretty general description. How, then, does the topic of ethics apply to interpersonal relationships? Buddhism has a few things to say about that.

Ethics in this context is not about judgment between right and wrong, good and bad, and whether someone is or isn’t. In Buddhism, ethics is more about refining, sort of like editing a piece of writing. We take a closer look at our conduct, how we relate to others, and noticing both of these things. After that, ethics refers to what we do about it.

In doing so, we develop a vigilance about our behavior. This does not mean that we nit-pick or brow-beat ourselves for every mistake. Mistakes are useful for us because we learn from them! A rather obvious concept, one I’m sure you’ve heard before, but so difficult for us to embrace.

Of course there are different levels of “mistakes.” One could say that consuming caffeine before bedtime is a mistake. One could also say that driving drunk and causing someone’s death is a mistake. In that case, “mistake” is a tremendous understatement, but one would hope that those responsible for such a tragedy would learn from it, at the very least. There are unfortunately those who don’t seem to learn from their mistakes. Perhaps it is because they have not developed a vigilance about their behavior. Learning from mistakes usually requires changing our behavior, and some people (of those who have the ability to do so) choose not to.

When we take a closer look at our behavior, the refining part of ethics also teaches us to adopt what is beneficial and reject what is harmful. We let go of what doesn’t serve ourselves or others. It sounds lofty – “what doesn’t serve ourselves or others” – but how does that translate in the real world?  Certain emotions spring to mind – jealousy, anger, resentment. Gossiping fits the bill. Excess TV-watching. These are not “bad” or “wrong” things, as the dictionary defines ethics. But if we are refining our behavior, we might question how these things are serving us.

On the flipside, beneficial behavior would be acceptance, forgiveness, and motivation. Don’t be jealous because your co-worker bought a new car. Look at your behavior (spending vs. saving, industriousness to increase your income vs. excess TV-watching) and be motivated. If she can afford something she really wants, you can too. Refine your behavior. Adopt what is beneficial.

As there are different levels of mistakes, there are different levels of difficulty in letting go of what does not serve you. For example, if you had been abused as a child, of course you have the right to be angry and resentful. You have every right to feel that way. But, ultimately, how do those feelings affect you? Does continuing to be angry make the pain go away? If anything, it only adds to your pain to hold onto it. Letting go of this level of pain requires much work and/or professional help, but it is worth it for your well-being. Reject what is harmful.

Everything we do affects the world around us, including ourselves. Our lives are interdependent, which is why refining our behavior, adopting what is beneficial, and rejecting what is harmful are decisions worth making. And actions worth taking.

Awakening the Heart: Generosity


Part 1 in a series of posts about improving any type of relationship by practicing basic Buddhist teachings


After almost 15 years of managing accounts in the fast-paced, demanding office of an order fulfillment company, I landed a job at the complete opposite end of the stress meter. For almost a year now, I have been the Office Coordinator of a Buddhist temple.  I work with wonderful, compassionate people in a peaceful environment with two wise, funny, and amazing Tibetan Lamas. Last year they conducted a non-residential day retreat to teach the six basic Paramitas (a word which means ‘going beyond’): generosity, ethics, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom. For this series of posts, I will be writing about the first three Paramitas, which focus on our relationship with others (the second three Paramitas, equally important, have more to do with our inner selves).

Generosity, the first Paramita, is more about how we give than how much. One of my favorite quotes of the whole teaching retreat is “We have a fondness for imagining that we are poor and occupied at all times.” How true is that?! When the lamas said this, everyone laughed with the recognition that we all do exactly that. How many times do we talk about how busy we are, as if it’s a contest? How many times do we complain about not being able to afford something?

But knowing this about ourselves, that we believe we are poor and occupied at all times, makes generosity that much more meaningful. Being generous is more than giving a gift, donating to a cause, or volunteering at a soup kitchen. It’s about the attitude we bring to it, the hold that we have on whatever we’re giving – money, objects, or time – or the expectations of how our generosity should be received.

We probably all know someone who gives things to people with conditions attached, usually along the lines of “take care of this in case someday you no longer want it and I’ll take it back.” If we’re going to give something to someone, whether old or new, we must release the hold we have on what we view as ours. Practice letting go of the object and give fully, without attachment.

Perhaps the most difficult thing of all to accept and practice is to give without expectation of the results. That means giving teenagers $75 for their birthday and expecting them to buy a jacket or something else they might need, and you’re bothered by the fact that they decide they want to invite their friends to have a pizza party and race go-karts. Or they give some to a poor friend who needs new shoes. It means helping someone by loaning them money and not expecting them to do something for you, like helping them to move or fix their computer, as thanks. It even means not expecting thanks – some people might have disorders that make it difficult for them to say thank you, or remember to say it, or they’re embarrassed.

And it’s logical to think, “Well, if I give them something and they can’t even say thank you, they should be embarrassed.” But the word generous means “free in giving,” and even if someone should say thanks, which is the socially expected thing to do, we are not being truly free in giving if what we give comes with conditions and expectations. If someone doesn’t thank you or reciprocate and this bothers you, you can simply choose to stop giving to that person if you want to.

The lesson here is that no one should feel forced to do anything. No one’s saying they should keep giving if they don’t receive anything in return. This is just food for thought about what it really means to give without expecting anything – keeping the object in good condition in case they can give it back to you at some point, giving money saying that it can only be spent how you want it to be, even receiving a thank you – in return. I know, I’m there with you – it’s a concept that is difficult to understand, let alone embrace, but that’s why it’s a Paramita – it’s ‘going beyond’ what we know, and what we believe. No one’s saying we have to do this. But what if we did?


Are Special Needs Actually Special?


adjective \ˈspe-shəl\

: of a particular kind

: peculiar to a particular person, thing, or purpose

: unusual, exceptional

: especially important or loved

–          New American Webster Dictionary

Back in the days when I had time to write more than one post a month and actually read other peoples’ blogs, I came across somebody’s post suggesting (boldly, I thought, and perhaps rashly) that special needs aren’t special. And I couldn’t figure out if I was offended or simply indignant, but I do remember thinking, That’s ridiculous. Of course special needs are special! My son needed full-time, one-on-one assistance in the classroom – that’s a special need! For years my son needed laminated cue cards in order to communicate – that’s a special need! At age 19, he needs me to keep track of all of his appointments, finances, medication, and hygiene – special needs, I tell you. I could not see how anyone would think otherwise.

But due to the fact that my son, who has autism, among other disorders, recently said this to me: “I don’t like it when you say ‘special needs’ or ‘developmental disabilities’ about me. It makes me feel like I’m incapable of doing things,” I have spent the last few months trying to find an acceptable alternative (since he vetoed ‘differently abled’ and asked, “Why is it so important to you?” when I pressed for his preference).

And so I refrained from saying “special needs” in his presence even though I continued to use it when he was not around. In all honesty, I’ve never really liked it. After all, “our” kids are not any more special than anyone else’s kids, or our other children who don’t have disabilities, for that matter. But some of our kids’ needs are special. Of that I was certain.

And then last month I started attending the Partners in Policymaking program. A 6-month leadership training program for adults with various types of disabilities and parents of children with disabilities, it exists in 46 states. Partners in Policymaking makes participants better advocates for themselves, their family members, and the greater disability community. I highly recommend that everyone should attend it at any point in their parenting journey. Why? It will rock your world. It will turn everything you ever thought about disabilities and “special needs” upside down, no matter how many rodeos you’ve been to.

So why aren’t special needs special? Because we all have the same needs. I know this is revolutionary, so bear with me. We all need to:

-Be loved and appreciated for who we are
-Be safe, well, and comfortable
-Get around
-Have autonomy
-Have friends
-Have a creative outlet

Some of us can meet these needs without any assistance. And some of us need support to have these needs met. But that doesn’t make those needs special – because they are the same for all of us. Some children (or adults) need assistance so that they are safe (tracking devices, locks and gates), comfortable (weighted blankets, sound protection, head support, etc.). Some need support with communicating (voice devices, iPads with apps, PECS cards). Some require a power chair, medical transportation, or other assistance with getting around. But the need is to get around, the need is to communicate, or be safe, and those needs are not special. We all need them, unless we want to say that we all have special needs.

My son requires support in meeting several different needs, but his needs are not special. I have the same needs! I just don’t need assistance in meeting them (most of the time). It may have taken me a while to get to this point, a point where I’m ready to embrace an idea that just a few years ago made no sense to me at all, but I’m here. And I’m here because my son told me, in no uncertain terms, that it was time to change my entire way of looking at his needs: “It makes me feel like I’m incapable of doing things.”

I’ve been in the parenting trenches a while now, feeling like I’ve earned some kind of a badge, like I’ve got this. But the old adage is true – I’m learning that I still have a lot to learn. And I probably have at least a few more rodeos, too.


Image courtesy of

Roller Skating in the Different Lane

My first pair of roller skates, a gift for my eighth birthday, looked very similar to the ones in the picture except the toe clamps on mine were a bit larger and covered with red vinyl. I loved having roller skates. We lived at the top of a hill in a suburban residential neighborhood in L.A. County, and I would skate down the hill on the sidewalk, occasionally crashing on random front lawns when I got going too fast (notice the absence of toe brakes on these things). I would spray WD40 on the metal wheels when they got so gunky they wouldn’t turn evenly. But after a while that didn’t help much.

And then Xanadu came out when I was almost 10. I wanted nothing more than to have a pair of leather shoe skates, preferably white, like my friends had. I was as embarrassed by how my old metal skates looked as much as I was frustrated by how often the wheels got stuck. After a while a friend of mine received a new pair of skates for her birthday and offered to give me her old ones. They were white leather shoe skates with orange wheels and toe brakes! I was ecstatic and figured with these skates I would finally be able to learn to skate backwards (impossible to do when wheels get stuck).

I had to loosen the toe brakes and turn them around because my friend had worn them down to nearly nothing on the front. But for a girl who had managed for almost three years with no brakes at all, it wasn’t even an issue. They did, however, come in handy while learning to skate backwards. I would spray WD40 on the wheels and man, those skates were fast. They were a bit big, though. I had to stuff the toes with paper towels so that my feet didn’t slide around too much. By the time I grew into them, the toe brakes were completely gone and I had started using the sides of the wheels to brake, so the wheels were getting lopsided and I would thunk, thunk along instead of roll.

And finally, I think for my twelfth birthday, I had my own pair of new white leather shoe skates. They were beautiful, and they fit me for about a year. And when I grew up and had kids and my nine-year-old son indicated an interest in roller skating, I bought him inline skates that were adjustable (I specifically researched this). Because I had learned a few things from roller skating, and not just the need for them to be adjustable.

I learned that sometimes one skate is operating fine and the other skate becomes stuck. One skate is going along, functioning, and the other skate has some issues. The other skate is a long-term single parent. The other skate has a special needs child, or a spouse with a terminal illness, or a family member with an addiction. The other skate has lost its job or has a significant disorder. And so, gradually and over time, the other skate gets stickier and stickier, until you have no choice but to drag it along or to go in circles.

Sometimes you can trade off doing those things for years. For a while you keep dragging the stuck skate, trying to move forward. Then you get tired so you let the stuck skate stay put while you keep making half-circles around it, wishing that it would become unstuck. Finally you sit down and put a bunch of oil on the stuck skate. You’ve already done that, but you can’t think of anything else to do. So you get up and drag the stuck skate so you can keep inching forward.

But there’s something interesting about that. In order to keep moving forward, you have to push off using the stuck skate. You go forward a ways and then you have to position yourself so that the stuck skate can provide the leverage to propel you forward again. Yes. The stuck skate can actually help you move farther (and in a different direction) than you would have otherwise gone.

So accept that your stuck skate is the way it is. For however long it will remain in your life, learn to work with it. You are stronger because of it. And without it you wouldn’t be the person you are today.


The Limit Switch

Industrial furnace from 1907

It’s almost funny that this year my air conditioner went out during the summer, and now, after moving to an entirely different housing complex, I’ve been having extended problems with my heater. The latest in a still-not-resolved saga, in which it won’t work properly even after installing a whole new board, is that the determined HVAC guy has contacted the manufacturer, and they advised him to check something called the “limit switch.” He did, and of course it needs to be replaced, so he has ordered the part.

That day he came to me, since I happened to be home one of the six times he has been here to try to fix this accursed thing, and simply said, “Well, your limit switch is broken.”

And the next day I told my employers, two amazing, wonderful Tibetan lamas, about the exchange, and they laughed with me, saying, We all need a limit switch. On my way home from work that day (one of my jobs is as the Office Coordinator of a Buddhist center, which I love), I thought of a bunch of things in my life that really need to have a limit switch:

  • How many Jalapeno Jack Kettle Chips I can eat in one sitting (a whole bag at a time is probably not in the best interest of my complexion)
  • How many hours a day the neighbor’s dog, a little Pekingese-looking thing, barks unceasingly (really, I would think he would have lost his voice by now)
  • How many episodes in a day I can watch of Game of Thrones
    (I think 4 back-to-back was a bit much)
  • How many times Nigel growls at me or argues when I have to remind him to take his medication, like it’s some new thing
  • How many days in a row of gray skies we have to suffer through here in southern Oregon for the next several months (I’m fine with the rain, and I can usually deal with the cold, but several weeks of all-gray, all-day, every day gets to me)
  • Speaking of gray, how much gray hair continues to sprout out of my head, like there’s a contest going on
  • How much food two teenage boys can consume, another thing that must involve a contest
  • And last but not least, how long before the central air system in my home is working properly

What’s your number one thing that needs a limit switch?

(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Unprodigal Son

IMG_0962bI was told once, many years ago, that someday he would break my heart. And two years ago, when he moved 700 miles away to live with his father, it was assumed that the person who’d said that was right. Of course I missed him unceasingly, had this relentless longing for my sweet, easy boy (even though he was the most difficult child to feed), but instead of letting fear get in the way, I let him go with love and unending support to do what he needed to do. And that boy, the one who was predicted to break my heart, has done nothing all his life but mend it.


Aidan is seventeen today, and we are going out to dinner to celebrate. He moved back to southern Oregon two months ago, said “the city” (what he calls Los Angeles) was fun for visits, but he was tired of living there. Next week we register him at the local high school where all of his friends from middle school have gone. They, along with Aidan, have two years left. It’s been so enjoyable to watch him get back in touch with everyone, social person that he is. He’s reestablishing his identity here.

And he has been reestablishing his relationship with me as well. He’s never been more open with me as he is now. There is an ease about him, a level of confidence, of generosity. He healed one wound and now that we, for once in our lives, have some one-on-one time, he is perhaps healing another. I can’t imagine how it was for him, all his life, living in Nigel’s shadow, getting only a fraction, a sliver, of time that other siblings could reasonably expect from other single parents. And now, he has me. Like the Biblical father, I couldn’t be happier about his return.


I sit at my desk, slumped over spreadsheets, and sigh. Aidan walks in behind me, talking about his video game du jour, sees the state I’m in, and immediately puts his arms around me and kisses my head. “You okay, Mom?” It’s all I can do not to cry as I realize what a gift Aidan is to me. I had grown so used to Nigel never soliciting hugs and stiffly tolerating them when I, desperate for contact, would reach out to him. And I know he couldn’t help it and he did the best he could, and still does. I love my boys equally, always have. But the inescapable truth is that whether Aidan has anything to heal in himself or not, whether he knows it or not, he is healing me.

Showering in the Dark

I remember the first time it happened. I had lived in my new apartment for a couple of weeks and went in to take a shower at the end of a typical busy day. I like to shower in the evenings; I can take my time, and it affords me the mental and physical luxury of washing off the day. I got in, wet my hair, and began lathering shampoo, feeling myself winding down, thinking about the evening ahead. I would do some yoga, check my email, and then watch a movie with Nigel. Suddenly, without flickering, the bathroom light went out. It was completely dark in the windowless room. I panicked, thought of both Psycho and Silence of the Lambs, and gathered my courage to step out and turn on the heat lamp that I had not yet used but figured would be bright enough for me to finish showering with. Naked, dripping everywhere, I fumbled my way around the still-new bathroom, found the switch for the heat lamp, turned it on, and got back in the shower to rinse my hair.

Later, I would discover that the bulb in the regular light had not burned out. I had decided to change it the next day, and that night while reading in bed, it suddenly illuminated the bathroom of its own volition. Glad that I didn’t have to change the bulb, I chalked it up to faulty wiring (since, upon inspection, I could jiggle the wall switch to turn it back on) and went about my life with a temperamental bathroom light.

No activity was exempt from its sudden desire to go out. I would discover this while sitting on the toilet and find myself yet again in total darkness, having to get up and hobble over to turn on the heat lamp. I would be washing my face, with soap in my eyes and water running down my arms. Shaving my legs. Dying my hair. It got to the point where if I were going to be doing something that made it difficult to stop and turn the light back on, I would just turn the heat lamp on at the beginning instead of the regular bathroom light.

This worked fine until summer. I absolutely could not take a shower with the heat lamp on. So of course as soon as I lathered up my hair, the light went out. I stood there in the dark, water pelting me, shampoo beginning to drip down my forehead. I stood there and thought maybe this is what it’s like taking a shower when you’re blind. I have no idea; I certainly don’t want to be ignorant in conjecturing about something I have no experience with.  But I wanted to try it. So I finished lathering and rinsing my hair in total darkness. I applied what seemed to be an appropriate amount of conditioner. And as I stood there, feeling my temporary deprivation of sight, feeling the water spray my body, listening to the sound of it, smelling it, trying to get in touch with my other senses, I realized something.

It was not profound. But for some reason I had not thought of it before, and I think that relaxing and learning what there was to learn from that experience is what caused me to try reaching my arm out of the shower to turn the light back on. Instead of panicking and leaping out of the shower to turn on the heat lamp, I enjoyed being in the dark for a minute, reached my arm out to the side of the shower curtain and around the wall. And I easily reached the light switch for the regular bathroom light. I turned it back on and started shaving (wasn’t brave enough to do that “blind”).

Of course, as I am wont to do, I tried to apply this experience to life metaphorically. I guess it’s just a reminder not to panic when something unexpected happens. Don’t freak out when you don’t know what to do. Relax, and clarity will come to you. I learned this with Nigel’s seizures. After he’d been having them a while, I realized that I needed to force myself to remain calm. I somehow thought that it wasn’t doing him any good if I freaked out, that he was picking up on my energy. And when I kept calm, I became clear. I wondered if I talked soothingly to him if that would help him. I told him, as he violently convulsed, that I was there with him, that he was okay. Even though he was not conscious, I gently told him to relax, relax. And immediately he began unclenching his feet and his hands, even as he still convulsed. Then his convulsions subsided, much sooner than usual. To my knowledge, it was his shortest and least violent seizure ever. And his recovery time was 10-15 minutes, instead of the hour or two that it used to be.

A year and a half later, my bathroom light still goes out on a regular basis. I’m still spending time every week in complete darkness. But also in total clarity.

image courtesy of Wikipedia

Holding the Hand of a Stranger

IMG_0852I step gingerly into the cold, clear water of a narrow branch of the Applegate River. Boulders and trees surround the area, filtering the glaring sun. I can see my river sandals under two feet of water, balancing on a rock. I hold a bag of towels and food above the water. As I cross the side of a rocky pool, the water rushes by my legs and spills over a few feet before continuing on. There is a shirtless man in his sixties standing in the pool, the cool water swirling around him as if he were a boulder. He offers to help those in our party who need assistance to get to the other side, where there is a small beach area for spreading out our towels. I begin crossing, and the water level hits the top of my thighs. I hold my bag up higher and without hesitation grasp the man’s extended hand. It is familiar, this hand of a stranger, steady and somehow warm as I ford the cold water. I reach the other side and thank him, this stranger who was there right when we needed him.


How often do we hold the hand of a stranger? We hold doors open for them, we pick things up if they drop them, and we tell them if we know where something is that they’re looking for. But the last time I remember holding a stranger’s hand was when I was climbing out of the Jungle Cruise boat at Disneyland and the employee helped me. And I don’t think that really counts (although I suppose it could).

The quote “A stranger is a friend we haven’t met yet” has been attributed to several people in different variations, and it’s one that I try to keep in the forefront of my mind as we get rapidly closer to Nigel’s transition to a supported living home. I am putting my son’s care and well-being in the hands of strangers. We are crossing a cold, rushing river with only strangers’ hands to help us. Fortunately, I have met them, and they are truly lovely people. Theirs is the kind of home that just feels right, even though the situation isn’t optimal (Nigel will be sharing a room). But every positive point in the world doesn’t take away from the fact that my son will be living with people I had dinner with for an hour and a half. Why, then, do I feel okay with it?

Well-placed trust. These are highly regarded career caregivers, and we were blessed that they had an opening. The wife of the team told me that the best part of what they do is going to bed every night knowing that they helped someone, made a difference in their life. I felt it – her truth. It wasn’t a staged comment. It just came out in conversation, as she was preparing an organic salad, dicing red bell peppers. It was then that I knew – this was where my son would live. This was the extended hand we would grasp and hold onto.


I sit on my towel in the gravely beach area, eating some cheese and crackers. I look across the narrow river to the rocky area on the other side where the helpful stranger is sitting in a beach chair, reading a book. He is facing the hot sun, his tan skin soaking up more of it, like my father used to do. I am reminded of the Bible verse about “entertaining angels unaware,” although I am the one who had a kindness shown to me. Still, it brings me comfort, the thought that his memory is with me even in small ways. And it brings me comfort to remember the fact that all of my closest friends, the people I’ve come to rely on the most, were at one point strangers. They were the smiling faces I chose to trust, the extended hands I reached out to take.

Between Grief and High Delight

“I can’t be running back and forth forever between grief and high delight.” – J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey

I’ve been doing an overhaul of, which has been in existence for five years as of this month. Cleaning up broken links, installing a new theme, replacing missing photos (still have a long way to go with that), and completely redoing the Recommended Posts page. Every original post listed there was from the first six months I had written. And while there were a few good posts during that time period, I knew that there were plenty of even better ones after it. But because it had been two years since I had posted anything to the site, I had to read through all of the 436 posts to find them.

So I spent last week rereading some pretty emotional stuff. I read all of the heart-wrenching posts about my son’s bullying experiences. I read the mostly frustrating posts about dealing with the school district and having to homeschool him. I read posts like “The A-Files” –

By the time I got to the last file, the general autism file, I didn’t realize how fragile I was… I felt like I did all right with it. I thought that I’d kept my emotions at bay. But I had barely begun to sort through that last file when my face suddenly twisted into a grimace of pain and sorrow. A hideous sob racked my chest. The jig was up.

– and felt the grief again, familiar and unwelcome. That website is like a journal, a documentation of my life as a parent, autism sitting on my kitchen table, epilepsy and bipolar banging on the front door. They were there too, even before their names were typed into posts. The signs were there, and I could see them as I reread those posts last week. Strangely enough, from reading the old posts I could identify the signs of bipolar not only in Nigel, but also in myself. It was all there.

Of course, the good posts were there too (thank God). The milestones, the triumphs, the successes, the beauty of words uttered. Like an unprompted “Thank you.” A moment of self-advocacy. A goal achieved. Finally, at age 15, being able to enjoy an entire meal in a restaurant:

Last week, we went out to dinner at a restaurant that we’d gone to periodically over the years, once my son had gotten to a point where he no longer wailed and writhed on the floor. In the past, he’d crawled under the table many times, he’d gotten up and walked all around, he’d had to go outside for sensory breaks. He’d never acknowledged the waiters. But this time was different. This time it was like autism took the evening off.

So, I cried, I laughed, and, to put it in Salinger’s words, I went “back and forth forever between grief and high delight.” I’ve always loved that phrase, probably for 25 years now. But I never fully understood its meaning until now, until realizing that life with Nigel has been exactly that. And that’s not a bad thing – that’s just how it’s been, how it continues to be. As you can well imagine, the moments of high delight trump the grief.

Over the course of several days I compiled The Best of Teen Autism on one page. And I’ll leave you with that as optional reading material for the next two weeks – Nigel and I are going to L.A. to visit Aidan and some other family members! Disneyland and wine tasting head the activities list. And I will be back here in April with the unveiling of a special autism-related project I’ve been working on. Happy Spring!

Special thanks to Paulene Angela Nissen for the new Teen Autism header design!