Thursday, 28 August 2014

Far From the Tree

I am reading the most fascinating book right now.  It might hurt my wrists to hold it upright (it's that heavy!) but I'm devouring each and every page with a hunger I didn't know was in me.

Far From the Tree (Andrew Solomon) is subtitled "Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity."  With years of meticulous and varied research, Solomon has tracked families that are affected by ten different challenges: deaf, dwarfs, Down Syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, prodigies, rape, crime, transgender.  The book opens with a chapter called "Son" and closes with a chapter called "Father." The nucleus of the book is that the old expression "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" is commonly-known; what happens when your child has a condition so foreign to you that he seems to have fallen "far from the tree?" If you have had the fortune of spending an hour or two with me on a lazy day, I've probably chewed your ear off about his theories on identity.  While I may not agree with anything, my brain cannot help but be pushed by his thoughts.

I'm currently on the third chapter, autism. With the growing number of diagnoses of autism, one can't help but be touched by it.  I corresponded online with a young mother who has three boys and a girl, all exactly the same ages as mine.  We also both miscarried within weeks of each other.  We first became acquainted when she only had a two year old boy and a baby.  I watched as all three of her boys were eventually diagnosed on the autism spectrum.  I also have an old friend from high school who I convinced of the merits of our town and who moved here from the city a few years back.  I vividly recall the mom and baby class we were in together as she tentatively expressed concern about her son's development. I feel a degree of guilt and shame that I brushed it off so casually, as so many people and doctors do.  Her son has since been diagnosed with autism and this mother has become the greatest advocate for her child I have ever seen.

What is most fascinating for me, about autism, is the idea that it is a spectrum disorder, that "fades into normality at one end." In other words, we may not recognize autism until it is a certain way down that road.  There are those of us that function fairly well in society that may have the same genetic mutations (or other cause of autistic tendencies; the cause of autism is completely undetermined as of yet.)

As I have read and heard and seen autism in play, I have often felt an underlying connection, in a very small degree.  One of the key indicators of autism is the inability to function in social relationships or understand social cues.  I often find that I misread or misunderstand tone (it's a common issue that comes up frequently between James and I; he is overly attuned to tone, whereas I rarely hear past the actual words people are using.)  Lately, in the comforts of my own home, I have allowed myself the grace to ask for clarification from James: "Did you mean that or did I miss a level of tone?" The question is genuine, though probably some might find it ridiculous or even condescending.

I also have anxiety in social situations when I am not talking about a subject in depth.  People might say that social anxiety is common enough.  That's fine, but is it perhaps a mild version of what autistic people are experiencing?

I struggle with empathy.  I understand what it is and when it should be felt, but I am often discouraged when I don't find it naturally rising up.  I find myself saying "Here, you should feel sorry about this. This is a time for empathy."  I find myself mimicking the state rather than experiencing it.

My mind tends to process things systematically instead of emotionally. I find it hard to understand when people lash out or let emotions take over when a clear, logical dissection of an issue would likely result in a solution. Again, not uncommon, but perhaps it is the result of a small genetic mutation that, when taken to the extreme, leads to autistic behaviour?

I am no scientist, but I am fascinated with this idea of a spectrum that fades right into normality.  I wonder if the key to unlocking the mysteries of autism lie within those of us whose aberrations are so subtle they would only be thought of as quirks.  Might the comparison of our genetic maps to autistic ones finally reveal some commonality?

These are my ow musings.  If you read non-fiction, I highly recommend this book.  I cannot recall more clear and engaging writing in the genre.  And you might find, like the author did, that diversity is actually what unites us all.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Having positive things in my life

Our wonderful, wonderful "Mommy and Me" camp took place this week - 11 moms and 55 children over three days of camping.  It was glorious.  More to come later, with photos, I hope.  But what has stuck with me more than anything was a nighttime campfire conversation about having positive, uplifting things in our lives that bring joy and happiness into our lives.

The topic began as a discussion on Facebook.  Yay or nay?  Does it connect us to friends or disconnect us from society?  Is it only a waste of time and energy or can it speed up communication?  People fell on both sides.  There were some who had deleted their accounts, others who had deleted and then reinstated them, and others who had used them often and well since signing up.

Personally I use it.  I use it first and foremost to communicate to local friends in a quick and easy way.  "Heading to the park.  Anyone want to join?"  In less than 10 seconds I can send out a mass invite and connect with a couple of friends, without spending long times making phone calls looking for someone both home and free.  Secondly I use it to keep up with the goings on of friends and family who live far away.  I love to rejoice with them in their triumphs and encourage them in their trials.  Beyond that, I just ignore the rest.

But one friend's comment has been sitting with me strongly.  She said that she loves Facebook because her news feed is filled with positive and uplifting messages from people she loves and admires.  When she does log on, she is sure to be greeted with thought-provoking ideas that inspire her.  She explained her method: Facebook allows you to be "friends" with a person (allowing them to contact you, and see what you post) but lets you "unfollow" them which means their posts don't show up in your news feed.  She said that if friends or family members or acquaintances post negative things, or inane videos, or time-wasting quizzes, she "unfollows" that person to remove the posts from her feed.

As soon as she explained all this, I knew in my heart I would go home and do likewise.  While I have friends and people I want to be able to keep in contact with, I don't always love what they post.  I have a weakness for controversy, which never leaves a good taste in my mouth.  Now I can remove the temptation to click on controversial and negative things.

I wonder if someone might think that this is sterilizing my world a little too much.  Do I need to be confronted by things with which I do not agree, so that I don't remove myself too much from the world at large?  Sure, to some extent.  But not on Facebook. I keep up with the real news for that.  From now on, my Facebook will be a lovely place, filled with positive things that inspire and uplift me.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Mothering one

Two weeks until school begins.  I'm excited for the change in our schedule.  I'm excited to have one on one time with Juliette again.  For a long time I thought I was operating at a deficit when I felt overwhelmed by having all four kids at home.  I have good friends I admire very much who homeschool large families (on average about 9 or 10 kids!) and I always felt I was lacking in something that the idea of having all my children home all the time wasn't very appealing.  I have come to realize, however, that we all mother differently.  I mother best when I am one on one.  It's not that I can't handle all four children, it's just that I find it mentally exhausting.  As an introvert, I find the constant barrage of people draining.  I've also come to realize that contrary to most women, I don't multi-task.  Many studies and books talk about how women are multi-taskers and men do one thing at a time.  Well, I'm a one-thing-at-a-time person.  I sit down with one task and work at it until I'm done, or until I come to a reasonable moment to pause.  So four children at my feet, each one speaking a different request all at the same time overwhelms the physiological make up of my brain.

This road of self-discovery is astonishing, and I love that it is a journey that will take a lifetime.  Hopefully the discoveries become less drastic as I age and come to know and accept myself more.  The hard part is really going against the grain out there, be it the general public opinion or the opinion of smaller groups or friends whose lives and values we admire.  That's the one I find hardest.  Being counter-cultural is easy for me, but holding up these ideals of people I see is hard to let go of.  Gradually I'm coming to discover my own strengths and finding the courage to live and mother with those talents instead of mirroring others.

And so I'm starting to get a sense of what September will look like for me: Tuesday mornings I will lead a small women's group, and Thursday morning I participate in a bible study class.  Friday mornings will (hopefully) be volunteering at the child care at a local gym (so that James and I can benefit from free memberships.)  Monday and Wednesday mornings are for Juliette and I to play at parks, swim, wander through forests, visit cousins and friends.  Afternoons will be for bible study and writing.  Now and then will come the welcome interruption of work (bookkeeping and writing.)

The turning of the weather is always inspiring.  In a country where we have distinctive weather changes, it's nice to have a feeling of rejuvenation and recommitment four times a year.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Writing again

It feels good to be putting words on paper again, and in a much more serious way than I have in the past.  Before, I would scribble ideas here and there, feverishly start a project and then abandon it when the initial flow ran dry.  I've always known that serious writing is more, much more, than that.  But to have hours to carve out to immerse myself in a world, in research, in getting into a groove, well, that was just wishful thinking.

In my mind I have a beautiful little space in my home.  There is a window with sunlight pouring in and green leaves framing the glass on the outside.  There is a cute little desk with a hard backed chair.  There are a few decorative items in soft colours.  My computer adorns the centre, but there is room aplenty to spread out my books and notebook as I go back and forth between materials.  Nearby there is  a comfortable plush chair, big enough for me to recline in my favourite position (head against one arm and legs thrown over the other arm) where I can immerse myself in reading.  It's not necessarily a room unto itself, just a quiet space where I can pass a couple of hours working at writing.

I don't have this space yet, but the past week I have spread myself out on my bed.  Juliette's nap runs almost two hors, during which the older boys get to watch a movie, and I have that quiet time to myself.  The afternoon sun pours in through the bedroom window and illuminates the cream walls and white duvet.  The bed is plenty big enough for the laptop, the ipad, two books and notepad that are necessary to my current project.  And after a lovely trip to the beach on Monday with a fellow writer, I have been inspired once more to get serious about a writing project.

So far this project is simply falling out of my head and onto paper.  I read and write furiously for two hours, and feel I could easily go another hour or two if time allowed.  But perhaps the shortened time keeps me fresh and excited for the next day instead of allowing me to grow bored from spending too long in one thing.

The last time I wrote my own projects this seriously was actually almost exactly a year ago.  Autumn weather has rushed in these past few days and I think the shift is re-energizing me.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014


One thought:

So I was thinking the other day about homeschooling, and why I don't do it when I love the idea so much.  I've noted before that my children are not the type to like to sit and learn on their own, constantly demanding 100% of my attention and how frustrated I get that I don't have 400% to give to them.  I've also noticed lately how social they are.  My children literally wake up every day and ask "who's house can we go to?"  Yesterday we spent the day at the beach, and while I was "lifeguarding" from the shore I watched Benjamin go out in the water and come back with no less than 15 different parents and their children.  He made friends with 6 different families on the shore and built in the sand with them.  Juliette was excited to have her friends there and explored all day with them.

Second thought:

James and I always keep our eyes out for properties.  In our plans, we would move in two or three years.  The new house would have one more bedroom, an office for James, and a huge rec room in the basement.  If we dream bigger, our little home is one a huge stretch of acreage within 10 minutes of town.  The problem with this lovely dream is that it comes with a price tag of $600,000 or beyond.

Those two thoughts merging:

I realized that we could get the space we want but not on the large property for $200,000 (plus interest) less.  And then I realized that we could go on a $20,000 vacation every year for 10 years or more with that savings...

And then an idea started forming in my mind...

What if, when Colin hit high school, we started to take those vacations.  Not all-inclusive vacations to a resort for a week or two, but big, long, two month vacations.  Big vacations to foreign countries where we study history and English and literature and photography and geography and art and philosophy and music.  What if we rent a home in one spot and travel around?  What if drive to historical settings and learn about history first hand, and experience new cultures, and read books together in the evenings?  What if the kids attended one semester of high school to do math and science and special interest classes and then we take off for a semester and "homeschool?"  Ten years would take us all the way from Colin's first year of high school through Juliette's final year.

I love dreams like this.  And something in me is really, really, really loving this one.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Adult relationships

I always assumed that once I left the world of childhood and entered adulthood that finally people would understand how to relate to one another.  Relationships would be fulfilling, or if not, then at least civil.  Understanding would be extended, intentions assumed to be good, and communication would be clear.  I am realizing that what I saw as a flaw of childhood was actually a condition of humanity.

Perhaps it is the complex method through which communication happens.  Getting one thought from one person to another involves on behalf of the speaker: assimilating information, condensing it, choosing language, using tone, and then on behalf of the listener: hearing and discerning, expanding that information, and disseminating throughout the brain to understand it.  The pathway is long and complex and there is much room for error.  I picture the warning sign that pops up on computers that simply says "error!" when you try to give a command that doesn't get through properly.  If only we humans could just as easily discern an error and give the appropriate message, perhaps there would not be nearly the amount of conflict that exists.

But it goes beyond communication.  As if that wasn't complicated enough, we all have such different personalities that I think sometimes we can't seem to find a common ground to stand on.  Sadly, many people don't even want to try.  I think of the number of times I've metaphorically scaled a mountain trying to understand someone else's point of view, and find myself blocked by a big "no entry" gate as the other person is unwilling to try and discuss the issue.

My own weakness lies in listening.  To truly understand someone you have to truly listen.  Too many times I find myself waiting for a pause in a sentence so I can jump in with my thought.  Too often I find myself wishing they would see what I was saying, since I was obviously right.  I trust my own mind a little too much, unwilling to admit I might be wrong, or at least that we both might be right in different ways.

I suppose if it was all worked out there would be no growth in relationships.  Certainly when two people learn to have a meaningful discussion their relationship deepens another step or two.  And there is no doubt that we as humans always need another good dose of humility, cultivating the ability to accept the ideas of others and our own fallibility.

Friday, 1 August 2014


I wrote a while back about rep sports, about getting in deep with one thing, about devoting time and money to something.  As I mulled it all over, I came to the conclusion that I wasn't adverse to helping a real talent along, it's just that I had never come into personal contact with that much talent in one area.  Growing up I always succeeded in what I tried my hand at, but I was never the very best in that field.  Jack of all trades, Master of none.  I might have even been a big fish in a small pond, but I was not gifted with a prodigy-like talent that would have made me a big fish in a big pond.  But my personality type is fine with that.  I like doing well at what I try, but I don't feel a hunger to pursue it with such devotion.

It seems, though, that I might be edging on something here with Colin.  He has just finished a week long soccer camp run by a British soccer club.  I chatted casually at the end of practice today, to get a feel for what they thought.  Each coach described his natural ability as "unreal."  He scored off the charts in every single area.  And this is the first training he's ever had.  He played at recess with his friends at school this past year, and this summer has been playing in a very casual league (ie: his parent coach has no real soccer experience to assist in any training.)

I was able to catch a glimpse of it on Wednesday night.  Camera in hand, I was running between three fields, trying to take photos of all three boys playing on separate fields.  As I crouched on the sidelines of Colin's game, I saw him make intuitive decisions about when to dribble and when to pass.  I saw that for him, the game was more important than the glory.  I saw 110% of his passion and effort poured into every second he was on the field.

Then, I saw him battle for the ball at mid-field.  The next thing I knew, he broke free and was heading toward where I sat by the opposing team's net.  15 feet down he came across a defence man and his feet seemed to dance with the ball.  He tapped the ball at a backward angle, stopped it blind, moved it deftly around the players and continued on.  He barrelled down the field in complete control of the ball, and at the next block he brought the ball to a dead stop and reversed directions from left to right in the blink of an eye.  The next blockage he tapped the ball right through an invisible clear pathway between the tangle of legs.  Another quick deke or two and he was at the net.  He glanced up, gauged the goalie's movement and kicked the ball in the other direction.  It sailed clear into the net.

It took my breath away.  I know a parent is always first to laud their own child's accomplishments.  How natural it is to beam with pride at any accomplishment - whether physical, intellectual, spiritual, of character, or any other.  But for me this was different.  It was a moment to recognize what others have been telling me and I have been so reluctant to hear: he's good.  He's really good.

My heart pumps at finding something my son both loves and excels at.  When you can pinpoint that in a child, you can help them focus through the turmoil years of youth.  Sometimes so much is going on in your body and mind and heart that your head can get lost in it all.  Having something to throw yourself into can be therapeutic.  I had music growing up.  I can recall the hours I spent at the piano, picking up the guitar, the clarinet.  Even now when my head swirls I have turned to the flute, the violin, and back to my old favourites also.  Music has given me passion, focus, discipline, release, and love.  It's wonderful to see the same thing in Colin.