Category Archives: Lives in the Different Lane

5 Questions for a Grief and Abuse Survivor

So much about life is about perspective, and that is just one of the many things I learned while reading Laura McHale Holland’s enlightening memoir, Reversible Skirt. In it, Holland writes from her child-self perspective as she tells the story of growing up in the shadow of her mother’s suicide, her father’s rapid remarriage to a woman who becomes abusive to Holland and her two sisters, and, a few years later, their father’s death.

I asked her 5 questions about how these experiences affected her relationships throughout her life, anything positive that she learned, and what is the most important thing to know about how grief and/or abuse can affect family dynamics.

1) You experienced a double-blow of losing both of your parents during childhood and being raised by an abusive stepparent. What fears did both of these factors cause for you?

As a child, even when my father was still alive, I was afraid if I didn’t do exactly what I was told I would be sent to the orphanage where my sisters spent some time right after our mother died. Later, as a teen, I was terrified most of the time. I didn’t have something specific on my mind; it was an ever-present, general feeling of dread. Looking back, I think I was afraid to grow up because in my not-yet-mature mind, to accept how much I was changing, would have meant I was moving on without my father, and I didn’t want to do that. For several years after his death, I think I was suspended emotionally and in denial deep in my heart even though I knew, obviously, that he was never coming back. I think I thought I could hold onto him in some way if I remained the same; however, I was also rebellious and dissatisfied. I wanted everything about my life, including me, to change. So I was seriously conflicted. Later, as an adult, I was afraid I would commit suicide, as my mother had done, because I was suicidal as a teen, and depression haunted me for years afterward. I was also afraid to have children because I thought I might be an abusive parent like my stepmother was, so I didn’t settle down and become a stepmom and a mom until I was 35, at which time I felt I could trust myself to be level headed under pressure. This all sounds like I was a walking basket of fears, but I’m just focusing on that aspect of my experience because that’s where the question led me.

2) Was there anything positive you were able to learn from the experience?

From the way my father and other relatives mismanaged the aftermath of my mother’s suicide, I learned how very important is to keep the lines of communication open with those you love after a tragedy. Had my father been able gather my sisters and me close to him, even just for a few minutes, the day our mother died and tell us she was gone but he would always love us that would have made a world of difference. He wasn’t able to do that, though. He got us out of the house immediately and probably didn’t realize how harsh he was in the way he did it. He then had a brief breakdown in the days following her death. When we reunited with him months later, he pretended like our mother had never existed, which robbed us of being able to own whatever love we had felt for her, especially since he remarried and brought in a new “mother” right away. That loss remains an empty hole in my life. My father could have helped fill it just by talking about my mother from time to time, sharing memories and anecdotes, what he loved about her, how they met, what she liked to eat, what her favorite movie was, silly or tender things she might have done, etc. So, when something truly painful happens, and children are involved, it’s important for the adults to be willing to face their feelings so they can be present for the children, because otherwise, you’re just making a traumatic situation far worse instead of moving toward healing.

From my father’s early death, I learned at a young age how essential it is to openly appreciate the people you love because it really is true that you never know how much time you will have with the people you cherish. This is something I have never forgotten, and I think it has been a good thing.

From my stepmother’s abuse, I learned how important it is to respect young people in your care. I also learned how vile it is when someone abuses a position of power. I vowed I would never abuse authority if I had it, and I think I’ve done a good job of carrying through on that. There are many times, especially in families behind closed doors, when a parent or sibling clips a child’s wings in large and small ways that nobody but the perpetrator and victim will ever see. That is when someone’s true character comes out, and I think it’s an area many of us could stand to look at in our own relationships.

Also, living through trauma in my formative years made me less fearful later on of difficulties that might come my way because I had lost much already and was, in time, basically OK. Another positive thing, probably the most positive thing I learned actually, is how very much my sisters and I could do for each other. Realizing that we could make a huge difference in each other’s lives, even though we bumbled a lot, was a powerful experience.

3) What would you say to your childhood or teenage self?

To my childhood self, I just want to say thank you. It feels like the girl inside of me pestered me to write her story, but I didn’t take her seriously and put the project off for years. But I finally listened to that little voice inside, and once I committed to the project, the voice just flowed through me and onto the page. It seems it was my duty to write Reversible Skirt to release that child into the world so she could touch the hearts of people who have had similar experiences, children who are suffering now, and others who want to help families that are putting their lives together after a tragedy. It’s like she has work to do that is connected to me, but also separate from me and much bigger than just telling my story. To my teenage self, I’d like to say, you are forgiven completely; please come out and play. I’m working on a sequel to Reversible Skirt, and the teen I used to be is the opposite of the child who was always knocking on my door. My teenage self is resistant, sulking and quiet. It’s slow going.

4) What advice would you give to someone in a relationship with a person who had grown up in a situation similar to yours?

That’s a tough question because we all respond differently to the traumas we experience, and I can probably only speak with any real authority about myself. Some folks might lash out; others might withdraw; still others might be reckless. Each of these coping mechanisms would probably need a different sort of response. Some folks are more resilient than others, too. I think about my two sisters, Kathy and Mary Ruth. I went through just about everything in childhood with them, but the specifics of how we act in relationships and what we expect and need are very different. I guess some things that could apply to many relationships would be to spend time doing things together that are enjoyable for both of you, figure out through trial and error ways to express love for that person in ways the person can accept, and not give up or take it personally if the person you love withdraws or acts in other ways that seem out of touch with what’s really going on in the present, and to be encouraging in the areas where you see that the person struggles. I think it’s also common for people who were orphaned when young to feel like we don’t really belong anywhere, that we’re outsiders looking in, and that unconditional love is not our birthright. If we are highly functional, that isn’t something people would ever guess. And if a parent commits suicide, that adds another whammy to the mix because there’s no way around the fact that when parents, for whatever reasons, choose to end their lives, they are also choosing to abandon the precious babies they brought into the world, and this is deeply damaging to the children immediately, as well as later on when they realize that for so many parents, their children give them reason to fight to keep living during their darkest hours. So TLC and kindness are always in order. Always.

5) What in your opinion is the most important thing to know about how grief and/or abuse can affect family dynamics?

If grief is not faced and dealt with in a compassionate way, it stunts people’s ability to be connected and truly present with each other. This causes misunderstandings, rifts and resentments that can continue for years. And abuse makes for families in which nobody is happy, nobody thrives. Children live in fear, biding their time until they can get out, but given the lack of proper guidance and love provided in the formative years, often when the children grow up and get away, they don’t have the skills to thrive. Many become abusers themselves, and the cycle continues. Anything we can do to bring love and resources to children in these kinds of families is helpful.

Laura, thank you so much for your generous, honest, and empowering responses to my questions.

Everyone, thank you for reading this interview, and please be sure to check out Reversible Skirt, available as an ebook or in paperback.

How We Do Spring Break

It started out that we were going to take the train – Amtrak – to Los Angeles. Nigel had always wanted to take a train trip, and I thought it would be less expensive than flying. But, probably because we would be traveling during Spring Break, the cost exceeded my budget, and that is how Nigel and I ended up in the last-resort territory of taking the Greyhound – 16 hours on a bus – to visit Aidan and our other family members.

My father had taken the Greyhound from L.A. to southern Oregon twice a month for nine years so that he could spend two weekends a month with his family in Oregon while he completed his 30-year pension plan with the City of Los Angeles. So this trip of Nigel’s and mine was sort of in homage to him, a toast to his dedication, if not his tunnel vision. And I don’t know how he did it.

The way down was pretty terrible; on the first bus Nigel and I couldn’t sit together and he had a crying baby in front of him. Nigel stuck in his ear plugs and stuck it out like a pro. So proud (and relieved). Meanwhile, after about the half-way point and on the second bus (which was babyless), I thought I might be able to catch more than ninety consecutive minutes of sleep, and two hours later I woke up with a horrendous headache due to the angle at which my neck had been tilted in the seat. We made a few more stops and then, as we entered the city I pointed out to Nigel the building his grandfather had worked in for so many years (City Hall East). We had made it.

Nigel spent the first few days with his dad, and I took Aidan with me to stay at my sister’s apartment. We visited with my brother, his wife, and her sister and went to our dad’s gravesite, which we hadn’t been to since the funeral almost two years ago. My brother had brought Dad’s favorite imported Belgian beer and we shared the bottle, including the last few drops with Dad, because he would have liked that. Then we went back to my brother’s place and watched Sideways for at least the tenth time, and the next day Aidan, my sister, brother and I did the Santa Ynez wine tour, eating lunch in Solvang (that’s the Solvang windmill in the above pic), stopping at some of the spots in the movie, and checking in at our dad’s favorite winery (Andrew Murray). If you would like to have a good laugh over the whole adventure, I highly encourage you to read my sister’s blog post. Trust me, she’s way funnier than I am, and it’s totally worth it.

family reunion at Beckman Winery

The next day it was time to switch out the boys and head for Disneyland. Originally I had assumed I would be taking both of my sons, but a few weeks ago Aidan reminded me of his vestibular issues and how not-fun amusements parks are for him. (Hence, the day trip to Solvang and wine country. I know – every 16-year-old’s dream. But he actually enjoyed it, because he’s 16-going-on-30, and here’s something that only people who’ve gone wine tasting know – unlike bars, kids are allowed inside the tasting rooms, they’re just not served any wine.) Moving on.

Big shout-out to my cousin Debbie (thanks, Debbie!) who hooked us up hugely with comped tickets and a massive discount at the Disneyland Hotel, which I’ve always wanted to stay at. We checked in at the hotel first, knowing that we’d be at the park all day and would be ready to fall into bed at night. Then the three of us – Nigel, my sister, and I – headed to the park.

As the parent of an autistic child, one who previously suffered from severe sensory issues and a lack of understanding, much less ability, to wait in line, we had opted for the special pass on a few occasions when Nigel was younger. It was a godsend, and it’s just one of the many things I love about Disney. But I firmly believe in only using it when necessary, and since Nigel’s sensory issues have abated immensely in recent years and he is able to wait in line (to a point), we decided to get Fast Passes for the ultra-long lines and see how he did with the standard ones. For some of the Fantasyland rides, like the Matterhorn, Fast Passes were not available, and, it being the first official day of Spring Break for some people, we were in line for over an hour (plus extra time for repairs!). I can describe what happened in three words:

Nigel rocked Disneyland.

Yeah, totally rocked it. Waited patiently in line! No special pass!! Never got lost!!! That last one is pretty huge, too. The three of us moved rather quickly to get from ride to ride (and some of them we did twice, even without Fast Passes), and I was concerned that Nigel would be distracted and get separated. I kept looking back and he was always with us – this from the guy who has a rap sheet for wandering. Rocked it.

But he loves all things Disney, always has. Walt is probably his biggest hero. Nigel wrote a letter to the Disney corp about a movie idea of his and keeps the framed response above his desk. His unwavering dream is to go to film school and work for Disney. And so I think that being at Disneyland is not only fun for him, it’s sort of his Mecca.

Nigel hanging with his guru

After a lovely night in the Disneyland Hotel (unfortunately with no time for the waterslides), we set off for California Adventure. My cousin met us at the front gate to comp us in again (so grateful), but due to some delays we were too late to get a Fast Pass for the still-new Cars ride, some of the other “e-ticket” rides had Fast Pass times of 5:30 or later, and we were supposed to be meeting my aunt, uncle, and cousins for dinner around 6:00.

I looked at Nigel, assessed the situation. Yesterday he might have been able to handle 80 minutes in line for a single ride, but not today. His reserves were fairly depleted, he was more sensitive to flying insects and noises than he had been yesterday (he has a pretty bad case of apiphobia – I won’t make you look it up, it’s bees), and without the help of Fast Passes, I didn’t want to push his functioning level. For that day, I decided to wave the autism flag (high and proud, I tell you) and get the special pass. And you know what? Nigel still rocked Disneyland. For the second day in a row, he didn’t wander or get separated, he followed directions, and he helped our day to go super smoothly. Near the end of the day, finally getting on the Cars ride, I said to him, “Nigel, thank you for being you.” And I meant it on so many different levels.

Moral of the story? If you think you need the special pass, get it. And Disney is awesome. So is my cousin. In fact, my whole family is awesome. (Okay, sorry for all the shout-outs.) But seriously, one more moral: avoid Greyhound whenever possible.

5 Questions for a Parent of a Special Needs Child

There are special needs kids, and then there are special special needs kids, the ones whose ethereal qualities make them like no one you’ve ever met. My friend Carrie Wilson Link has written and published a memoir titled Wil of God, which tells the story of parenting her son, Wil, what he teaches her in the process, and what she learns about herself along the way. It’s truly a beautiful read.

I asked Carrie 5 questions about how special needs children can affect family relationships, and what we can learn from them.

1) Being a special needs parent myself, I know that above all our children teach us unconditional love and patience. What other gifts do special needs children bring to their families?

I can’t speak for all special needs children, but mine brings to our family his gift of spirituality. Wil has a deep connection to God. He is completely ego-less and pure, which is one reason I wrote the book – to share this gift with others.

2) Beyond the day-to-day business of extra doctor appointments, therapy sessions, and IEP meetings, in what ways is family life challenged by having a child with special needs?

It’s challenged in every way imaginable. Meals, going out into the world, doing things with friends and other families, trying to take vacations, spending time with the typical child(ren), every aspect of life is challenged. The challenges, and blessings, are part of every breath, part of every minute, part of every thought, part of every plan, part of every thing.

3) What fears do you have as a special needs parent, and how do you address them?

My biggest fear is what will happen to Wil when my husband and I are too old to take care of him, and when we are gone for good. I don’t want the burden to fall all to my daughter. We are hoping to have housing figured out well before then, but still, who can love and look after a child like a mother does? With a special needs child like mine, there is no, “When he grows up and moves away” to look towards, there will never be a time he’s fully independent.

4) What advice would you give for nurturing a marriage when you have a special needs child?

This is important, and possibly the biggest challenge of all! We have been blessed to have our parents live in town, and be able to use them for respite, even still. We now have a wonderful family friend that comes and stays with Wil a week each year so that my husband and I can go away together and know that he is 100% happy and safe (and she even cleans my house while I’m gone). It’s critical that parents get away together, dinners out, weekends away, whatever is manageable. You have to remember why you got married in the first place! It’s too easy to fall into roles and ruts and just be co-parents of the special needs child, and not husband and wife.

5) What in your opinion is the most important thing to know about how a child with special needs affects family dynamics?

It’s important to know, and accept, that your family’s dynamics will be very different from most of your friend’s. That can be hard, particularly when your friends with kids your child’s age are hitting big milestones, and your child isn’t. By the same token, your family dynamics are not “worse,” they are just different. Attitude is everything!

Carrie, thank you so much for your insight and wisdom, and for your time in doing this interview.

Everyone, thank you for reading, and be sure to check out Wil of God, available in both paperback and ebook.

5 Questions for an Adult Child of an Alcoholic

With this post, I’m starting a new series called “5 Questions for” to highlight authors who write about disorders, addictions, abuse, or any topic that would affect family relationships. There is much wisdom to be gained from each other and our experiences.

First up, I am honored to introduce my friend Michelle O’Neil, who writes the blog Full Soul Ahead and has published a memoir, Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar. Michelle’s book, an engaging, coming-of-age story, reads like a novel as it takes us through a first-person account of what it’s like growing up in a home with alcoholism and coping with a family member who drinks too much.  I asked Michelle a few questions about how this experience has affected her both positively and negatively, and what she would recommend to any adults who know or suspect that a child is in a similar situation.

1) What strengths or positive character traits are there to be gained from growing up in a home with an alcoholic parent?

Growing up with an alcoholic parent, I learned young to question authority. This has helped me immensely as a parent of children with special needs. I am their advocate, and I have often had to go against the advice of medical professionals, educators, and even family when it comes to rearing them. Had I not been raised by an alcoholic, and realized early that authority figures are fallible, I might not have made the best choices regarding my kids. I’m not looking for approval.

2) What sorts of fears might an adult child of an alcoholic take with them into their adult relationships?

For a long time, I didn’t feel worthy of speaking up in relationships, because I didn’t feel like I deserved anything. I would swallow a lot of my feelings and then when I couldn’t take it anymore get what appeared to be “irrationally” angry at the person I was with, or just leave. When I met my husband I had a lot of fear of relying on someone else. The thought of needing someone and being vulnerable was hard at first. It took me a long time to really let my guard down all the way.

3) What would you say to your childhood or teenage self?

I would say, “It’s not your fault, and you don’t deserve the shame that goes along with your parent’s alcoholism.” I would say, “Your destiny is a good destiny and you are going to have a good life.” I would say, “Hang on sweet girl. You are going to be okay.”

4) What advice would you give to the other parent in a home with alcoholism?

Many “other parents” think they are staying with the addict for the sake of the child. I call bullshit. My mother didn’t think she could make it financially without my father, but she actually did much better after he left, because he was spending all our money at the bar. I think her excuse was a weak one by the way, and that she was addicted to him, and afraid of being alone. Her only option at the time was moving back in with her mother. The thought of crawling back home and being under the thumb of her own controlling mother was unbearable to her, but we would have been much better off had she done that. She chose the alcoholic over the well being of her children. Of course she was a teen when she got married, and had the weight of the world on her shoulders having three kids by the time she was 23, (and living with an emotionally abusive addict, who constantly wore her down). I have not walked a mile in her shoes and can’t say I’d have made better choices under the same circumstances.

5) What can/should people – teachers, other relatives, parents of friends – do or say if they know or suspect a child is living in a neglectful, abusive family situation, to help or support that child?

One thing my mother did right, was this: Whenever my father was raging or abusive, or neglectful or nasty, she’s take us aside and say, “Remember how this feels. Remember it, and don’t ever do this to your own child.” She was too scared to stand up to him, but she knew abuse ran in families, and she was intent on us breaking the chain. There are five of us kids in the family and none are abusive to our own children or partners. I credit her with that.

If I were wanting to help a child living in a home dealing with addiction, I would just keep reminding them of their goodness, and their potential. Let them know it isn’t their fault and that they have God given value. They may have come through their parents, but they come from the Divine. Tell them their childhood isn’t forever, and their life is up to them. Tell them you see their strength, and if you love them, tell them that too.

Of course if you suspect physical abuse or sexual abuse I would suggest reporting it to the proper authorities.

Michelle, thank you again for your openness and generosity in answering these questions.

Everyone, thank you for reading this interview, and please be sure to check out Daughter of the Drunk at the Bar, available as an ebook or paperback.

Representative Elements of My Life

[Warning: Unlike the manuscript pictured above, this post is a bit on the unstructured side. It is mostly grammatically correct, but that’s about it. The editor apologizes for any inconvenience.]

I had a ton of errands to run yesterday. I try to consolidate errands anyway, but this was ridiculous. I had six places to be, and a seventh that was put off for another day (it was in the opposite direction after all).  I planned my route before I left and made sure I had everything I needed – lists, forms, grocery bags, broken watch. Made a note to self not to put anything on the bottom rack of the cart.

First stop – bank, the quickest one of the day. Second – the Employment Department office. I quit my job in October and have been participating in the state’s self-employment assistance program while I build my publishing company. More on that later…

Third – the DEQ station to do the smog test and renew registration on my car since it expired last week. Quite a line for a Tuesday, and then I remembered that Monday was a holiday. Here I am thinking I’m ahead of the game, waiting until Tuesday. Fortunately my 16-year-old car passed the test, probably because in the past three months I have dumped invested $1400 dollars into it.

Fourth – the grocery store, where they love me because I have a teenage son who eats without ceasing. Starting to wonder if he has worms. Starting to notice other patrons who also shop here late morning on Tuesday – most of the retirees have finished by now, but the SAHs are out in full force, including some dads, which is very cool to see.  I never used to shop at this time because, of course, I was at work. So it’s been interesting to see these past few months what it’s like to be out running errands late morning instead of late afternoon or evening. Same with writing – I know a lot of writers who have day jobs write in the early morning (or even those who don’t have day jobs), but I am firmly entrenched in the non-morning-person camp, and so I’ve always written in the evenings (and sometimes, when I’m hypomanic, well into the night). I’ve been blessed that I qualified for the self-employment program (for six months) and I’ve been able to write during the day, which I far prefer to writing in the evening or night. I still have to get up at 7:00 Monday through Friday to get Nigel off to school, since he is unable to manage that himself. But once he is out the door, I can focus on my writing and marketing. I even took a seven-week, at-home marketing class that was very enjoyable, and I could not have done it if I had to juggle a day job. I will, however, need to go back to doing that very soon.

I just finished the third draft of my book, and this one had major structural changes. It’s getting close! But I’m not quite there yet. I tend to get discouraged because in my marketing research I read about other indie authors who finish writing their novels in eight weeks! And then they move onto the next one! And I think, they must not be single parents. But one of them is – I couldn’t believe it! She’s a single parent with a day job and she’s writing far faster than I am.  This could be why my publishing income is still remarkably low, and the assistance program runs out soon, so I must reenter the day job realm.

Fifth stop – the pharmacy, where Nigel’s taper-down script for one of his anticonvulsants has been sitting there for two weeks waiting for the neurologist’s office to call back and clarify the dosage. I don’t think it’s prudent that he should go from his current daily dose of 400 mg down to 150 mg all at once. That’s got to be a huge, flaming error. The pharmacy advised that since no one was calling them back that I call the neuro office, which I did. Guess who’s waiting for the call back now – me.

Sixth – the jeweler section of Fred Meyer to see if they can fix Nigel’s favorite watch. It was working fine, but the band had come off. We probably could have sent it to Time Timer to have them put a new band on it, because they’re a great company and sent us the watch for free in the first place, but I figured it would be easier to take it to the store. I came back in 10 minutes after I had checked out my groceries and voila – service with a smile and no charge! I was just as happy as Nigel!

It may not be one of my typical days, but this is a day in my life, with all of the representative elements that make it so. It’s also probably why I’m not churning out a new novel every eight weeks. But I tell myself “quality over quantity” and keep plugging along.

Another Different Stop Along the Way

Nigel’s 17th Birthday, Oct. 2011

June – graduation – is four months away, along with Nigel’s transition to a supported living home. Most days I feel that it can’t come soon enough. And I don’t know if I would have thought that way ten years ago, so those of you with younger kids, I don’t expect you to understand. Those of you with older kids who don’t feel that way, I applaud you. And I wish I hadn’t been a single parent for fourteen years. (While we’re wishing, I wish certain disorders – including my own! – hadn’t been a part of that package.)

But there are the days when I feel like June’s coming on me like a truck, that I have too much to do to prepare in addition to the daily, weekly grind. So many damned doctor appointments and prescription problems. And guardianship! He’s been 18 for over three months and I’m still deciding if I should pursue it. There are some cons to it when your child is moderately functioning that I have to weigh. But if I’m going to do it, I need to start the process soon.

In addition to all of that, we are still touring supported living homes, and just saw our third one last week. So far, the last two have not been as much of a fit as the first one. The second one was a family home that had a toddler (random screeching, even if it’s playful, is not going to work) and no internet (for a YouTube junkie, really not going to work). The third one was also a family home with a baby (crying? Yeah, no). Fortunately there are a few others in our vicinity, and we will continue to tour them. In May, we begin the application process.

It’s not lost on me that this is sort of like college touring for special needs parents. Instead of colleges, it’s supported living homes. But it’s the same thing. You take your teenager to look at places where they’re going to be living. I’m not sad that it’s different. I mean, I may still get to tour colleges with Aidan. But even if that doesn’t happen, it’s okay. We’ve always walked a different path, and this is just another different stop along the way. Nigel still wants to go to film school, and maybe in a few years, if he continues to evolve as he always has, that will be possible. And then, by God, we’ll go and tour film schools.

Here’s the thing: I wish I had the strength to let him stay with me until then. Four years ago, I said that he could. I believed that he would, believed that I could do that for him, assumed that that’s how it would be. Like most special needs parents plan to do – until they no longer can. I guess I just reached the “no longer can” part sooner than others. And I need to make peace with that. I need to remind myself that we can only do the best we can with the information we have at the time. I know I did, but I need to have that be enough, to believe it, to feel it in my core. And I’m not there yet.

Extreme Parenting Video

If you haven’t seen this beautiful video yet, and almost 14,000 people already have, I ask you to take a moment and watch. My talented and inspiring friend Elizabeth Aquino put this lovely project together by posing a question on her blog: As the parent of a child with a disability, what might you have told yourself on the day of your child’s diagnosis? Not surprisingly, there are some recurring themes among the responses, similar expressions, and wisdom. But there is also the strength. More than anything else, I am uplifted by seeing my fellow parents, with their heartfelt words and emotion, standing tall with strength and pride and love. I am privileged to be among them.

On a side note, when Elizabeth sent the emails out to let the parents who participated in the project know that it was complete and live, she kept and responded to the original email I had sent to her with my photos. It had a date of October 3, 2010 (all good things are worth waiting for). And on that day, almost two years ago, I had written the following:

“Ironically (or not?), I asked Nigel to be my photographer for these. The energy between us at that moment was phenomenal. I know he felt it too. So powerful and full-circle-like. I loved doing this.”

Thank you, Elizabeth. For everything.

How We Do Summer

Aidan surfaces from the clear, slow-moving river he has just jumped into. He sputters and gasps, invokes Divine intervention. “It’s so COLD!” he cries, as if emerging from glacial runoff. Quickly he attempts to pull himself up onto the large surrounding rocks, slipping on the algae-covered ones beneath the surface. He slides to another area, squawking that he is still in the water. He finally heaves his brown, southern California-beach-going body out of the pristine southern Oregon river and onto one of the large rocks that line its banks. It’s his first summer in Oregon in ten years.

*

Summer means different things to different people. Many special needs families experience considerable difficulty in the summer because their children’s all-important routines are disrupted. Parents who are at home with them have to deal with the fallout. And working-outside-the-home parents whose children finally reach a point where they can stay home alone during the day return to a thrashed living room and an empty refrigerator, at best.

Summer for us, for the past ten years, meant that Nigel and Aidan would go to Los Angeles to visit their dad for several weeks. They often went to the beach (the same beaches I would frequent while growing up there) and checked out various museums and other cultural or entertaining attractions in the area. Meanwhile, my summer weekends in southern Oregon have been filled with day trips to any of the glorious rivers we are bestowed with here, driving up to breathtaking Crater Lake National Park, hiking the small but interesting peaks surrounding our valley, wine tasting at our award-winning vineyards, and going to concerts at an outdoor venue where you can picnic under the stars and listen to beautiful live music. There’s nothing else like it.

But this year, summer is different. Aidan had been in L.A. with his dad for the school year while Nigel had still been in Oregon with me. We wanted the boys to have some brother time as well as alone-time with both parents, so Aidan came up to Oregon as soon as he was out of school, and Nigel, instead of going straight to L.A. as usual, remained with us for almost three weeks before flying down. I did not enjoy coming home from work to a frat party (minus girls, at least) in my living room: dirty dishes, food trash, and countless DVDs strewn everywhere, but the boys had fun, and last week I got to light Fourth of July fireworks with them! Nigel left for L.A. the next day, and Aidan and I have been enjoying time together watching X-Files episodes, having some pretty deep discussions, and going out to the river. Next week I’m planning on taking him to an outdoor concert (Earth, Wind & Fire), and the following week we’ll go up to Crater Lake to enjoy a boat tour led by my mom, who is an Interpretive Ranger there. I can say without a doubt that this is my favorite summer ever.

*

Back at the river, Aidan sits near me on a towel, complaining mildly about the water but not shivering because the air temperature is in the mid-90s. We eat chicken for lunch and walk up along the rocky sides of this small branch of the Applegate River, where the ten other people (and their dogs) who happened to drive here this afternoon are either sunning themselves or jumping into the pure, crystalline water below us. There is also a gorge area where the water surges over small boulders, a natural water slide several yards long. People take turns going down the chute, and some boys younger than Aidan take off down it. He decides to try it, and by the time he gets to a point where he can climb out of the river, he has gotten used to the water and elects to stay in it for quite some time. I join him, feeling the cool water surrounding my skin, welcoming me as I glide through it.

Surfacing

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In 2008, when I was a new blogger, I would find a few blogs that I liked and read them for a few months, and then the blogger would stop blogging. Their last post would be a fairly typical post for them, with no indication that they were going to stop blogging or needed to take a break from it. So I would keep checking back and wonder where they were. And after a few months I remember thinking, if they were going to stop blogging, whether for a while or permanently, why didn’t they write a post to that effect? Why leave us hanging? What gives?

Of course, since last year I did that very thing, I now know the reason. It isn’t because they wanted to leave anybody hanging. It isn’t because they were trying to encourage anticipation or garner attention. It’s simply because they didn’t expect to stop blogging. And probably because of a lot of other things they didn’t expect.

For instance, they might not have expected their site to have been hacked, as mine was shortly after my last post (I must have garnered some attention). Nobody expects that. Neither did I expect my feed to be invalidated (and as bloggers know, having your feed invalidated is a bad thing – cost me $150 to have it fixed). But the upside was getting to rebuild my site and deciding to add some new features, including a page for my Editing Services and a revised About page (less about events, more about what I believe in). It’s been time consuming to rebuild, but also therapeutic.

And boy, did I need therapy. I suppose that was something I did expect. But I didn’t expect that it wouldn’t make everything all better. (Does that make sense?) I somehow thought that with all the time (and expense) I put into psychiatric care and therapy that by now I could go on my merry, well-adjusted way. I didn’t expect that my medication would make me feel dull, uncreative, and sluggish. I didn’t expect that I wouldn’t be able to write for over six months.

I didn’t expect that when I would try to sell my house again, after owning it for nine years, that it would not only be worth less than when I bought it, but less than what I still owed on it. And so, one stress-filled short sale later, I downsized to an apartment less than half the size of my house. I had thought my year of letting go was over, but I found out that I had a lot more letting go to do! My Goodwill tax deduction is going to be pretty substantial, for one thing. But we are settled in our new place, and Nigel can still ride his bike to school, which is important for him.

Nigel. I did not expect Nigel to continue to have seizures. I also didn’t expect that increasing his medication would cause severe aggression, necessitating police involvement. I didn’t expect that my sweet, funny, gentle son would be replaced by an angry, volatile, downright mean stranger. Thank God the worst of it subsided after about a month. But it was a month of stress-filled phone calls and appointments with doctors and counselors, visits to police stations, and being on pins and needles in my own home. Now that Nigel has adjusted to his medication increase, I would like to say that since doubling it he has not had any seizures, but unfortunately he has. And I don’t know what to do. As much as I hate saying this, it feels like epilepsy has the upper hand. I didn’t expect that.

It’s not so much what we don’t expect in itself; the hard part is learning to accept it, to acknowledge that it’s now part of our identity, and ultimately deal with it. Constantly kicking our ribs to move forward, to not crawl into bed and cry (and when you’re wrestling with bipolar, that’s a tall order). But ultimately, curling up on the couch to watch a movie every night – escape – became a greater risk than turning the computer back on and doing what I believe I was put on this earth to do.

It got to a point where something in me couldn’t stay down any longer. I am surfacing. For one thing, I have a book to finish. It’s always been in the forefront of my mind, waiting for me to dive back in. And blogging, well, what can I say? I might need to take an unexpected break now and again, but for me it’s definitely a case of once a blogger, always a blogger. I’m a bit rusty, but I’m back.

An Interview with Kate

What a treat! I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Kate of Aspie from Maine yesterday to do an interview regarding my book, Slip. We had a lovely conversation, and Kate asked some thought-provoking questions. She also wrote an insightful and thoughtful review of the book in addition to discussing my responses to her questions. Thank you, Kate!

Click here to read the review and interview!