5 Quick Questions with Filmmaker Ana Sofia Joanes

Nov 5 2014

5 Quick Questions with Filmmaker Ana Sofia Joanes
to support the Kickstarter campaign for her new documentary about families,
Taking Our Places
 
Question 1: Tell us about yourself. Who are you? How did you become a filmmaker? 
 
Ana: I’m 40, a slight bit neurotic (just enough), not really an extrovert but not an introvert either. I love hiking and dancing. I got pregnant totally unexpectedly when I was 34 and have been laughing and crying ever since. I know it’s such a cliche but for real (for real), it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me (and sometimes I feel that makes me kind of a loser…)
 
I wanted to be a filmmaker as a teen but didn’t think I had anything to say or any talent. So I went to college and law school and a couple years out of law school I started a not-for-profit teaching video production to kids coming out of detention as well as other “at-risk” youth. At some point, someone pointed out to me that I was asking these kids to do something I had not had the courage to do myself: find their own voices. I’m a lot of things, but not a hypocrite so I said, fine, I’ll do it. I reached out to a friend to see if he wanted to work on a project with me — I don’t think I would have had the courage to do it alone — and we made a documentary together entitled Generation Meds about mental illness, and no, it is NOT against medication. (I think you’ll like it, Beth.) I was hooked.
 
As soon as I was done with that movie, I started my second feature documentary, FRESH, about sustainable agriculture. I released FRESH (and toured the country with it) when I was 8 months pregnant with my first child. Since then I’ve had two more kids! All the while working on Taking Our Places, my latest project about parenting. 
 
Question 2: You’re a mother of 3 and a filmmaker. That sounds like a lot of work and like you’re very disciplined and dedicated and like I should probably be intimidated by you. Please share photographic evidence of something you’re not cleaning. Like your bathroom counter. Or your kitchen table. Or that one drawer with all the crap in it. If you show me yours, I’ll show you mine; it’s only fair.
 
Ana: Well, actually Beth, I’m also a black belt in Indo-Japanese Karate-Taekwondo and I lead daily meditation at the women’s prison. I home-school and we have a small homestead where we raise all our food (three years now without a trip to the grocery store yayyy!). And here’s a picture of our playroom. I try to keep it organized but you know how it is! So embarrassing to share it with you. 
 
Playroom
 
Ahem. And here’s a real picture: 
 
photo 3 (54)
 
Question 3: I’ve asked the 5 Kids readers these questions, too, as part of our ongoing 5 Quick Questions series. Ready? Fill in these blanks:
    1. My fridge is the place where _____ goes to die.
      Ana: Leftovers?? And too many veggies I buy full of ambition about cooking … and then end up ignoring in favor of boiling pasta.
    2. Once, in the dark, I stepped on _____.
      Ana:
       Oh, I don’t walk in the dark unless I’m in a masochistic mood. My house is not safe like that. You HAVE to look down at all times before stepping unless you want to step on food thrown by my 1 year old or some sharp toys my girls just leave all over the house. The Winter is MUCH safer as I ware slippers and can walk with more confidence.
    3. The last thing I cleaned up that was wet but not mine was _____.
      Ana: That’s really SO uninteresting. My son makes it his business to let me know he wants to potty, and, as soon as I sit him down, he gets up and finds a good location (usually plural) to pee and poop. So I mean, you know, I clean a lot of wet things that aren’t mine.
Question 4: Tell us about Taking Our Places. What’s it about? Why is it important? How is it different than the myriad (and frankly, super unhelpful) “expert” parenting methods out there? Is Taking Our Places going to make us feel crappy about ourselves? ‘Cause, honestly, we’re already pretty good at that without outside help.
 
Ana: Such a great question, Beth! Taking Our Places is in many ways the antidote to all the guilt-tripping advice out there (just like your wonderful blog!)
 
Taking Our Places is NOT a talking-head movie. Instead I intimately follow three families over the course of several years. One the most powerful aspect of making this movie has been how so much of the loneliness and guilt associated with parenting has lifted for me. In public I’m often on my best behavior, but behind closed doors, that’s when the worse of my parenting happens: yelling, bribing, nagging, guilt-tripping. I used to think that other parents have it more together, do it better, etc.
 
One of the true gift of this documentary is to witness these moments in others and realize how NOT alone I am in my humanity and short-comings. But my experience has also lead me to believe that parenting is a skill that can be learned AND that we CAN experience more joy, trust, and connection with our loved-ones.
 
Taking Our Places is also about that: the participating families learn a new mindfulness and partnership-based approach to parenting and receive coaching. Taking Our Places documents their process and showcase the beautiful possibility of healing and growth that can follow.
 
Question 5: That sounds… GOOD. And like we need MORE of that in our parenting world. How do we support this effort, Ana?
 
Ana: Thank you! I’ve been shooting for two years and am ready to start post-production. We’ve hired a wonderful editor and we’re ready to go. In order to move forward we’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign. Please take a look, watch the trailer, and if you feel moved, please contribute! Every dollar matters! And please share on your social networks. Finally, “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram. This movie is made by a team of moms (produced, directed and edited by moms!) and is meant for all the mom and dad who want to grow the love and connection in their family and in the world. 
 
AnaSofiaJoanes

On the Shame Spiral and Making It Stop

Nov 3 2014

I spent Thursday night and Friday morning in a shame spiral, unsure whether who I am is an OK person to be. 

This isn’t a woe-is-me post. Just sort of a woe-is-me first sentence. I mean, it’s hard to use the words “shame spiral” without admitting it is, in fact, a touch woe-is-me. Although now I think about it, it’s a good thing I added “unsure whether who I am is an OK person to be” to describe “shame spiral” because it occurs to me that a spiral can go in two directions, either up or down, and I could have been talking about an upward shame spiral where I’m spiraling out of shame instead of a downward spiral where I’m plummeting into it, so — WHEW! — good thing we avoided that confusion!

…..

I just took a break from writing this to make myself a hot toddy** and steal some fun-sized Butterfingers from my kids’ Halloween candy because I don’t know where to go with this now that I’ve told you about the shame spiral and promised you this isn’t a woe-is-me post. 

After some grounding whiskey and fortifying processed sugar, I feel like we should agree to put that whole Not Woe-Is-Me thing on temporary hold so we can go a little further with the woe before spiralling back up

OK? 

OK.

Shame spiral. Back to it.

…..

You guys, I don’t participate in shame spiraling very often these days because I’m mostly happy to be me. 

After a long time and a lot of work learning to speak kindly to myself — to be the gentle friend to myself that I am to others — I like me. I’m exactly the kind of weird weirdo I want to hang out with. I like all the right cheeses. I love my neighbor. I adore my family for more minutes than I don’t. I have excellent taste in questionable vampire novels. I only sometimes want to run away to Mexico with its beautiful beaches and cheap tequila. And, although it’s still a daily struggle, I’m learning to be less dogmatic about never ending sentences with prepositions. 

I’m a work in progress, in other words; wonderful and wild, magical and messy, awesome and awful, and generally OK with it all.

But Thursday and Friday were different.

Hard.

Because I let the critical voices in.

I let them pull up a chair.

And I heard them out.

Now, don’t get me wrong. A certain amount of self-evaluation is a good idea. A certain amount of listening to constructive criticism can do a world of good.

But allowing the critical voices free rein? Bad idea, friends. Bad idea. 

My voices unearthed my persistent fear that maybe I am too much, after all. Too loud. Too irreverent. Too ridiculous when the world is serious. Too serious when the world needs levity. Too Jesusy. Not Jesusy enough. Too big. Too sweary. Too unfit for polite society

And it took me hours to pull myself back together. Which is better than the days it used to take. Or the weeks it took before it took days. Or the months it took before it took weeks. But still. Still. I spent hours huddled in on myself before I shook it off. Before I reset my barometer. Before I remembered what the Quakers teach is true — that there is that of God in everyone. That of Love. That of Light. And to be on the lookout. In ourselves and each other. 

I wish that was all there was to it, but shame spirals? They have aftershocks. One hit Saturday afternoon, before the Portland Area ComeUnity Group came over. You know, those groups we formed based on authenticity and vulnerability and being our real, messy selves? Yeah. THAT group was the one coming over, and, I don’t know quite how to tell you this, friends, but I cleaned. CLEANED HOUSE. I washed counters. I badgered kids into picking up clutter. I conscripted Greg into washing the couch. I BAKED so the house would smell good. Abby washed behind the toilet. I did 3 loads of dishes, 4 loads of laundry, and I scrubbed, like, half a window sill before I came to my senses and realized the window sills are a lost cause. IT WAS HORRIBLEand it was because I was sure I wasn’t OK. I was sure I was about to be found out. 

Then a group of self-described misfits arrived at my door. And I let them in. And they let me in. We ate and we drank and we talked about our lives and our fears and what makes us wish for wings that work. For friends. For the freedom to be ourselves. We saw that of Love and Light in each other. Which banished the voices of criticism. Of too much and not enough. And it was GOOD.

And so, friends, I thought I’d take this moment to ask you how you are. To ask you about the voices in your head. To ask you if you’d join us misfits in sharing a piece of yourself. 

What do you LIKE about you and what do you fear? And do you KNOW yet there is that of Love and Light inside you?

………

P.S. In case you need to pull up a hot toddy for this one, here’s….

**The Very Best Hot Toddy Recipe EVER

  1. Heat 3/4 cup (6 ounces / 170 grams) of water to HOT hot. 
  2. To the cup of hot water, add 1/4 cup (2 ounces / 57 grams) of honey bourbon. Or bourbon. Or whiskey. Or rum if you don’t detest rum the way I do. 
  3. Add 1 tablespoon (12 grams) of brown sugar.
  4. Add 1 teaspoon (5 grams) of butter.
  5. Stir until sugar and butter are melted.
  6. Sprinkle with a dash of salt. 

Another Socially Awkward Dish Towel and a Story About My Neighbor the Mermaid

Oct 30 2014

I finished my latest socially awkward dish towel. Doodle embroidery; still adoring it! You can read about the previous projects — May I Sniff You?, Oh Shit Oh Dear, and more — over here. For now, though, I need your help.

I just delivered The Naked Mermaid to my neighbor, Monica.

Monica, you see, is one of my heroes for several reasons.

  1. She hands me wine over the fence. Oh Dear Jesus, THANK YOU for neighbors who hand wine over the fence. Amen
  2. She never, ever, ever complains about our crappy yard. Not ever. For 13 years we’ve given her cause — you guys, the weeds have occasionally grown taller than the 6-foot fence… and stayed that way… for months – and still she’s never complained. It’s like she looks over here and knows we’re barely holding it together some days and decides loving her neighbors is more important than how crappy their yard looks. 
  3. Monica had a mermaid tail made this year. A silicone and neoprene mermaid tail made for swimming. Which she takes to our local pool. For swimming laps. In public. Because it makes her happy. Which is RAD.

20140810_165515

I love her, is what I’m saying.

To the MOON, I love Monica.

She is weird as heck. Weirder than.

And unapologetically herself.

And utterly fierce.

So I made her a dish towel because nothing says I Love You like a socially awkward dish towel. 

It’s a mermaid.

A naked one. 

With a fierce mermaid quote by C. Joybelle C. 

“I am a siren, a mermaid;
I know I am beautiful on the ocean waves
and I know I can eat flesh and bones
at the bottom of the sea.” 

Mermaid2

 

Mermaid

All of which brings me to my cry for help.

I need a new doodle embroidery project, and I can’t imagine better people than you to give me ideas. Here are the parameters:

  1. Must be somehow socially awkward so I can giggle as I sew in church. (I’m secretly a 14-year-old boy. Except this is no longer a secret, right?) Here’s the previous doodle embroidery post for some other examples.
  2. If there are words, there can only be a few of them. The mermaid quote is about as long as my attention span can handle.
  3. It can’t be hard to draw. I mean, I can do line drawings, but that’s about as good as it gets.

I’ve thought about sewing more quotes from my grandfather who coined “Oh shit, oh dear” which I lovingly sewed onto a dish towel for my parents for Christmas last year. “GodDamnSonOfABitchNBastard” in a lovely, scripty font seems like a strong contender. My grandfather was eminently quotable, after all. I’ve also thought about duplicating line drawings from a human anatomy book. Say, a colon? Or an esophagus? But nothing has felt quite right yet.

So, I come to you.

What do you suggest?
What quotes do you like?
What’s just screaming to be made into a socially awkward dish towel?

 

Vote YES on Penises (UPDATED)

Oct 28 2014

Vote YES on Penises:
A Poem for Election Season

“Hey, Mom?” said the 8-year-old.
“Yes?” said I.
“Are you gonna vote?”
“OF COURSE,” I replied.

“How ’bout for penises?”
He looked at me.
I thought and I thought.
“For penises?” said me.

“For penises,” he said. 
And I replied,
“I’m very pro-penis,”
and I didn’t lie.

But I sure was confused,
so I asked him, “Why?”
Then he pointed to the curb
with the pro-penis sign.

We were in the car.
We were going kind of fast.
It was hard to see
as we blew on past.

YesOnPenises3

Blurry and fuzzy,
I could barely make it out.
But it looked like a penis;
there was very little doubt.

So I turned to my son,
and I said, “Look, kid!
See the penis on that sign??”
And he cried, “I DID!”

“I been trying to tell you,”
he indignantly said.
While we passed more signs
with balls and a head.

Election season’s here.
Full of good and the bad.
There are well-intentioned people,
plus WAY TOO MANY ADS.

We are certainly divided,
Which make us sad.
We must find common ground
Wherever it be had.

So let’s look to the penis.
On this we can agree.
Penises are awesome!
They’re a hose for a he.

So here’s our slogan
(It is time to promote),
“YES on PENISES!”
That’s our vote.

P.S. I’m so sorry about the poetry. It accidentally fell out of me. I think we should just take this moment to be grateful this doesn’t happen more often.

YesOnPenises2P.P.S. Here’s the real sign. I suggest you print it out, put it up in your hallway and then run past it REALLY FAST. I am telling you, this drawing is a DEAD RINGER for a penis when you’re zipping on by. 

P.P.P.S. Oregon’s Measure 92 is currently trailing in the polls. Frankly, I think they’d do better if they simply explained they’re pro-penis. 

P.P.P.P.S. This is not an endorsement of Measure 92. 

P.P.P.P.P.S. This is not not an endorsement of Measure 92. I’m sure its organizers are very wonderful people who just like to draw phallic salmons and apples. 

P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Actually, if Measure 92′s organizers are very wonderful people who just like to draw phallic salmons and apples, I’m pretty sure this is an endorsement of Measure 92 because those sound like my kind of people. 

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Regardless, this IS an endorsement of penises. 

 

UPDATE: I thought about including a message with this post to explain that being PRO-penis is not being ANTI-woman. I am PRO-woman. And PRO-man. And PRO-person. But I didn’t include that in the original post because a) if I started giving all the disclaimers and clarifications I probably should, we’d never have time for all the weird stuff, and b) I figured you’re all smart people who understand, logically speaking, that including one thing in a set (i.e. penises) does not imply the exclusion of other things (i.e. vaginas). And you ARE all smart people who understand that, which I know because the people who believe I’m anti-woman and anti-vagina have unliked and unfollowed this site and let me know that they will never read it again and neither will their children or their children’s children or their children’s children’s children, which is really best since this site wasn’t developed with child readers in mind and they apparently had a LOT of children reading it.

Now, normally I don’t care if people unlike and unfollow this site; not because I don’t care about them — I DO care about them; I just happen to think it’s fine to have different opinions, and I don’t have any particular investment in forcing others to believe mine — but, in this case, it’s really too bad they stopped reading because they’re going to miss this next part where I promote boobs.

Now, I’m not personally running a pro-boobs campaign, and, as far as I know, there isn’t a pro-boobs measure on the ballot like the pro-penis measure in Oregon, but — BUT — there is a school district in Georgia that’s teaching children about boobs as part of their formal curriculum. A district that believes so much in pro-boob education, they made it part of their logo. Maybe. I mean, one can only assume that was the point of the logo.

Boobs

In conclusion, lest you think I’m ONLY pro-penis, I’m balancing out this post with boobs. It’s only fair. 

On Robin Hood, His Merry Men, and Why We Celebrate Halloween. Even as Christians.

Oct 27 2014

IMG_4514

My middle schoolers had given up an hour earlier, done with the trick-or-treat march on our brisk Halloween night in 2013, so it was just me, a friend, and my tenacious 7-year-old twins, the mummy and the zombie, who were waylaid on Halloween by Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

We’d been to all the usual houses and met all the usual neighbors — and, let’s be honest, a few unusual ones, too — when there they came, the loud group of exuberant teenage boys, walking boldly down the street, hollering back and forth at each other and anyone else in shouting distance.

Now, every mama of littles knows to be on the lookout for teenagers on Halloween night. Not because we’re suspicious or mean-hearted or opposed to big kids having fun. I, for one, believe we should be allowed to trick-or-treat for forever, even into, say, our 40′s, if only our rigid society would lighten up a little. It’s practically a theological position for me, this idea that everyone gets in. Everyone can play. Everyone is invited to participate in the madness and the mess and the magic. But we mamas are on the lookout for teens on Halloween. We are. Because it’s our Mama Job when we’re sharing the Halloween streets to remind our younger ones that Scream masks aren’t real and to make sure no one’s trampled underfoot or lost in the crowd. So we watch the bigger ones, careful to pay attention to the things they may not.

And there were Robin Hood and his Merry Men, marching down the street exactly like you’d expect Sherwood rabble-rousers to do, with confident feet, a lot of swagger and a gleeful, jostling mob mentality, shouting with deep voices and quite passable British accents. “HELLO!” they said together, and one followed up, “I am Robin of the Hood and these are my Merry Men,” which is how we knew what we were facing. And so we shouted, “HELLO!” back because Halloween is the night for greeting strangers like friends.

We went to move past them, and I smiled, grateful for young men who were so cheerful and able to match my family for volume, which is when they stopped us, knelt down, and offered my boys handfuls of candy and compliments on their costumes.

IMG_4529

It turns out Robin Hood and his Merry Men were out doing what they do best. Giving to the poor. Or, you know, to my kids, who were dressed in rags and so amounted to the same thing on All Hallows Eve.

It was, in truth, Love they were handing out, willy nilly, radically assuming we were all worthy and valuable and deserving of attention and kindness, sweetness and grace. And they made what was supposed to be a fun night into magic.

Someone asked me recently how I can justify participating in Halloween as a Christian. “Don’t you know you’re teaching your children to love what is evil?” he said.

And I’m not opposed to Christians sitting this one out or throwing open the doors of their churches for harvest parties and inviting their neighbors in. To each their own, I say, because we parents must follow our gut, and one answer isn’t right for everyone. It’s really not, and good for you for knowing what’s best for your family.

As for me, though, I don’t want to miss out on the magic because I feel to the marrow of my bones that we find that of Love there. 

You see, I want to spend my night throwing my door open to the surprises that wait beyond it. To the monsters and to the fairies and to the great heroes and heroines of our day.

I want to see the Cat in the Hat walking hand-in-hand with the Queen of Hearts, and to see whole swarms of bumblebees and butterflies tripping over their wings and each other as they buzz and flit from house to house, following exactly the erratic and ridiculous path of their namesakes. I want to giggle as Curious George walks right into my house as though he belongs here while I tell his parents, “It’s fine. It’s fine. I promise. We love this,” and they apologize for his enthusiasm, chasing him down the hall as he moves with super-speed on chubby legs.

I want to greet overwhelming crowds of the gory undead with smiles and treats and to wave at their parents who watch with vigilance from the street while they give their precious littles a chance to know their neighborhood; the kids as the Scare-ers, for once, instead of the Ones Who Need to Learn to Be Afraid. And I want to let my own children out in the community to run from stranger’s door to stranger’s door and to know that these houses around us are filled with more friends than strangers, after all.

I want to see the mean man with the nice dog who lives down the street smile this one time per year at the kids who always walk on his damn lawn.

And I want to see what old Earl will do this year to terrify the kids in his driveway.

I want to stop for a minute at the one house that provides hot cider for cold parents so I can say thank you.

And I want to watch my teens disarm the surly candy-givers who like to hate the kids who are Too Old for This Nonsense as my kids pull out the big guns — Halloween caroling, because my kids are weird weirdos who are weird — and I want to giggle as the disapproval turns, always, into handfuls of candy with “OK, fine, you guys. That was actually really cool.” Because it’s not just the kids who get to learn not to be afraid of others.

The truth is, I love Halloween because there’s just no other community holiday like it, where neighbors celebrate with unknown neighbors and bands of Merry Men turn mischief into magic and spread delight with booming voices and handfuls of candy and kneel down to the level of my littles to make them part of the band, too. I wouldn’t have my family miss it for the world.

Happy Halloween!

……….

I posted the original version of this essay in 2013, but it was after Halloween, and now it’s before Halloween, so I’m posting it again in support of kids of all ages and loving our neighbors.

Special thanks to Micah, Kaed, Josh, Josh, Jojo & Alex, aka Robin Hood and his Merry Men, who I was able to track down via Facebook, for making my boys and many other kids feel like a million bucks on Halloween. You guys are rad. And I hope you follow up again this year!

All y’all are giving teenagers a good name. xo

An Open Letter to You From a Mama of Kids With Special Needs

Oct 22 2014

An Open Letter to You
From a Mama of Kids With Special Needs

 

Dear You,

Dear You, my friend,

Dear You, my neighbor,

Dear You who have kids without special needs… kids with just, you know, the usual slew of bottomless needs,

Dear You who are kids,

Dear You who were once kids,

Dear You,

I want to tell you about my son.

Just for a minute.

And about me and what it’s like for us who live full-time here in this world of kids who are different than normal, whatever normal is. 

I want to tell you about my son.

My son who is beautiful.

My son who is sensitive. 

My son who is compassionate, funny, and kind.

My son who loves Doritos the way some people love the sunrise or the rain on the roof or the majesty of the ocean, with a sense of awe and wonder and bliss.

My son who’s a total butt nugget and says GEEZ, MOM and WHATEVER and FINE and who also says I love you, Mom, and means it as fervently as he does the Geezes.

IanMy son who experiences developmental delay, pronounced anxiety, and expressive and receptive language disorders — meaning he can neither speak nor understand speech as easily as others — and who lives, therefore, every minute of every day trapped inside his own brain, unable to communicate well; at once imprisoned and also more free than we’ll ever be because he hasn’t learned to hide himself the way we so often do. 

Sometimes you ask me how my son is doing. You who know us well, and you who know us just a little. You ask because you care and because you’re curious, and I want you to know both are OK. I appreciate your kindness, and I understand your curiosity. It’s OK to want to know. It’s good to ask.

Sometimes I give you an answer. Sometimes I can’t find the words. When I do respond, it’s usually short. 

How’s school going? you say. How’s Ian and how are you? And I don’t know what to tell you, because, even though you’ll listen to my whole answer — even though I believe you actually, really want to know — I don’t know how to access the complexity of my grief and my longing and my hope in order to find a whole answer to give.

My son is a child who will, on some level, always finish last when measured by the standards of success the worlds gives us. He will always be an outsider. Always be different. Never belong. And so we work to create the safe haven. The place of belonging. The soft place to land. The true meaning of family. Which, it turns out, is hard, because families are made out of humans and we’re fallible. Imperfect. Messed up. And we’re the ones he’s stuck with, poor kid.

It’s hard for my son to be different. He knows. He can tell. And it’s hard for me, too, because I grieve that which cannot be. The same life and opportunities the other kids have. The limitless potential to DO. I must wrestle with myself most days to remember my son has the limitless potential to BE. To be loved. To be valued. To bring joy. To be my son. To be enough as he already is.

Grief and hope make for awkward companions. Awkward lovers, never quite sure where to put their hands. Always bumping teeth. And yet, because the grief abides, I work to make room for hope, for without hope we are lost at sea, adrift and alone.

While I’ve learned to live inside this new reality — while I’ve learned to look for hope and to cheer victories of every size and to regroup when we’re forced to fall back — I have neither “gotten over” nor “come to terms with” my son’s disabilities like I expected I would by now. Instead, I’ve learned there are new phases of grief. New sorrows. New things he can’t now and will never do. New realities that are mine with every new age of his.

So you ask how he is. How I am. And I want to answer you. I do. I want to champion my son. I want to spread awareness. I want to hand you my heart. But I don’t know how.

I stick with facts for my longer answers. School’s going well, I say. Or, He got to play a sport this year! First time he’s played a season. I might even tell you, The counselor is AWESOME — she is, it’s true — or say, The medication is really making a difference, and I mean that, too. Even though medication isn’t right for everyone, I wish we’d given him that relief earlier.

But I more often give you a chipper Fine! or a cheerful Good! or, when I’m overwhelmed and can’t muster my optimism, an Ugh! or a Pfftt! or Well, it’s hard right now, but we’ll figure it out.

And there’s a whole world of things I don’t say.

About what it feels like when it’s dark outside and I wonder about his future.

About how hard it is to tell him again, day after day, sometimes hour by hour, that I don’t understand what he just said and I need him to say it again.

I don’t tell you he didn’t sleep through a single night for the first 11 years we had him.

I don’t tell you about the panic attacks that leave him flailing and breathless.

I don’t tell you what it’s like to hear the sounds of my son crying in his sleep and to revisit what his first 3 years must have been like, abandoned and alone. 

I don’t tell you about the guilt I carry for not being with him, even though there’s nothing I could have done to change his early life.

I don’t tell you about the family vacations, for which we try to be grateful, which are raw and agonizing because he is outside his routine and his safety net and therefore bewildered and afraid.

I don’t tell you about the ways my body tenses when he bursts into our room in the middle of the night and the door bounces off the wall while he yells, “DAD? MOM?” because he needs to make sure we’re still there.

I don’t tell you how fragile he is. Or how fragile I am. Or how much I’m afraid we’ll all break.

Instead, I give you an answer, a Fine! or a Good!, and it’s a true one, but it’s also incomplete because my brain is short-circuiting. Stuttering. Blanking. There’s just too much to say, and I don’t know where to jump in.

guatemala 014When Ian was three (and four and five and six and probably seven), he used to throw himself on the ground and play dead whenever he felt overwhelmed by the world around him. I took this picture of him at age three, in the airport in Guatemala City, just after we adopted him, when we were bringing him home for the first time. 

Frankly, I think it’s a pretty good strategy. Very effective. 

It’s also an excellent visual aid for the route my brain travels when you ask us how we are. How are we? We’re… good… we’re… fine… fizzle, fizzle, kerthunk… PLAY DEAD

And so I take this long route to tell you this: I’m a mama of kids with special needs. I’m hopeful and I grieve. And I need you, my friends, rather desperately, even when I don’t know what to say.

I need you to keep me on the side of hope.

I need you to whisper in the dark that it’s going to be OK.

I need you to keep asking how we are, even though my answers are pathetic.

And I need you to know I remember every kind thing you say to me about my kid. Every compliment. Every ounce of compassion. Every time you try to include him in your games and in your parties. Every time you inconvenience yourself to bring us in. 

For every kindness to my child, to my family and to me, I’m nearly unbearably grateful. And I’ll ask you to please, keep being gentle with us. 

Yours Truly,
A Mama of Kids With Special Needs

 

If I Had Time to Write, This Is What I’d Say…

Oct 21 2014

I have things to write, you guys. Stuff to say. Some of it’s drivel, as usual, but some of it’s important.

I want to write about having a kid with special needs and what it means to live with constant, evolving grief while still looking for the joy.

I want to write about how annoying it is when people say, “You think two is hard? TWO? Just wait ’til your kid turns THREE. THAT’S hard,” because three IS worse than two — it TOTALLY IS — except when two is worse than three. And parenting teenagers is WAY, WAY HARDER than parenting littles, unless, you know, parenting littles is harder than parenting teens. 

I want to write about how our experiences and our feelings about parenting and life are valid and important even when they’re different than someone else’s experiences and feelings.

I want to write about the ways close families have to WORK and WORK to be close and to compromise and to champion and choose each other, because family — even really wonderful family — is hard. Life-giving and hard. Joyful and hard. Beautiful and hard. Because the people closest to us are the people most able to hurt us and the most motivated to help us heal, and that’s a strange, awful, awesome mixed up mess to navigate.

I want to write about farting and why 8 year old boys like to sit on their mommy’s lap and snuggle down and then let a giant one rip. Why? WHY? WHY IS IT THIS WAY?

I want to write about ages 8 and 9 so often being the gateway to preadolescence and how we never see that one coming. Just never. And so, no matter how many children we raise, we’re always blindsided by all the feelings and the oh my gosh, FREAK OUTs, and the ups and the downs… and the downs and the downs. And I want to write about how it’s worth it because these children, even with all the FEELINGS, can get themselves and all their stuff in and out of the car by themselves which is a MIRACLE. A MIRACLE! They get themselves IN AND OUT OF THE CAR, you guys. You don’t have to carry them there! You DON’T HAVE TO HELP WITH SEATBELTS. You can say things like, “Jump in the car. I’ll meet you there in a minute.” AND THEY DO IT. Do you understand what I’m saying? DO YOU?! THERE IS HOPE. Even with all the EMOTIONS and ups and downs downs downs, THESE CHILDREN CAN PUT ON THEIR OWN DARN SEATBELTS. 

Home3I want to write about my front door. How it’s dirty and scratched and stained and how the red paint has faded to a dull, fingerprinted orange. I want to tell you about how happy it makes me to write on it with a chalk pen, even though I know it’ll add another stain like the skull and crossbones you can see etched into the paint from Halloween last year. I want to talk about the joy of welcoming people to our mess this way. To the madness. To the chaos. And I want to talk about the small smile I smile when I walk through the door and remember to look for the magic here.

Home4I want to write about Autumn. About the sunset maples outside my house and the way they’ve turned orange and red.

I want to write about the changing of the seasons and how this one feels so much slower than summer and so much faster all at once with Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas barreling down upon us. I want to write about how unprepared I am for the season that’s coming and about how I don’t care and also about how I do.

I want to write about whether I can stop long enough to enjoy this season of life or whether, like I suspect, it’ll move past me in a blur. I want to write about the ways I wonder whether my writing will be a comfort to me in my later years. Will I know I at least wanted to be present? Will it be a reminder that I wasn’t somehow ignoring this life? Will I know I was just very busy trying to love my people well? To feed them literally and figuratively. To comfort them. To heal the hurts I caused. To heal the ones I didn’t. To fully live, even at the speed that is this season. 

I want to write all these things, but I can’t because I’ve run out of time. 

P.S. The kids keep getting sick. Not real sick. Not pukey sick or up-all-night sick or, heaven forbid, wash-all-the-sheets sick. No; they’re they best kind of sick, really. Snuggly sick. I-can-get-my-own-popsicle sick. Go-to-sleep-early sick. But sick nonetheless. So I don’t have time to write the things I want to write. But I will. Soon. Because sick only lasts a season, too. x’s and o’s, fellow warriors. x’s and o’s.