To Today’s Youth: Stay Loud, Stay Strong!

Yesterday, I went on a 12 hour day trip with my 15 year old. Every so often I plunge myself into this world of his that is so fascinating to me and I come away with a greater sense of what it is like to be young today. I have to say, it’s a little complicated, it’s got it’s difficulties but is it also it’s pretty cool. It is quite different from my time as a teenager but some of the struggles are still the same.  The worst part of being a teenager is being misunderstood by adults who are just teenagers who finally got old enough to have their way and boy do they ever hang on to it for dear life!  My teenagers are going to be adults one day too who will have their way and my only hope is that they remember to listen and approach the younger generation with eyes and mind wide open and be okay with letting go of some of the ways they do things in order to evolve. I hope they approach the young better than we have in generations past because just maybe they would learn something from them, the way I do now.

During the drive with my son, I listened to some very poetic and emotional rap with enlightened ears and learned why my son identified with it. I was taught the difference between talking to a specific girl and dating a girl. I found out that in his high school, it is understood that different groups exist and are accepted. It doesn’t mean you have to hang out with everyone but it certainly means that if you are discovered to be a hater you are considered a loser and pretty much a cave person. I learned that he is ever so gradually making decisions about things in his life that are making little statements about who he is and who is is striving to be and I couldn’t be more proud.  One thing was clear to me in light of my conversations with my son yesterday, good kids are raised by good people but there are still too many negative people and situations that we have to get around, so much archaic nonsense we need to get rid of, that stand in the way of our youth making significant change.

Last weekend I watched American youth march for what they believed in. They marched for change. They were not asking their government for anything unreasonable. They want their government to implement stricter gun control, implement stricter laws surrounding weapons. They were asking their government to help them live. They were asking their government to help them survive at school, a place where they should be safe so that they can learn. The world watched a turn out on March 24th that was massive. The youth had a voice and stayed strong amidst many horrible comments from politicians funded by the NRA as well as the ignorant masses who were solely concerned about their right to own a gun. The positive support these young people received outweighed the crass negativity. The youth stayed loud and strong and they prevailed.

Over the course of history, it was the young who initiated significant change. The young possess and fire and a drive to live life the way they want to – the way life needs to be lived. They want safety, they want justice, they want humanity, they want peace and so did we when we were young. Young David Hogg, Parkland, Florida”s Stoneman Douglas High School  shooting survivor, said in an interview with Anderson Cooper before the event on March 24th, “It’s like when you try to tell an older person how to do something with their phone and you keep trying to explain to them what to do and eventually you just turn to them and say ‘just give it to me’ and you fix it. That’s what we are doing now. We are saying to the government just give it to us. You’re not doing anything to fix this so we are going to fix it”. For many of us, that burning flame inside us that drove us to make a difference was extinguished. Maybe we hit hard times, maybe we were tired of trying and being beaten down but when we looked behind us there was always someone young  who picked up that torch and began walking towards that goal of achieving all the things we all ever wanted as a people on earth. That is what is happening in America now. The young are tired of waiting on adults to fix the problems in their society so they are stepping up to the plate and do what needs to be done to stop 96 Americans from losing their lives to guns daily, because it is possible. Japan, Australia, Canada, Finland and many countries have proven that strict gun control law is the best way to prevent death by firearms. We have all seen the videos on social media and the stats. It is possible, yet America chooses not to amend gun laws because politicians need the funding, the funding comes from the NRA and politicians want to be in power to rule over the people who may not survive a gunshot wound on any given day in America.  Add to that, the ignorant masses who just want to have a gun for the power it gives them as they clutch it tightly in their hands.  No one looking from the outside really understands this twisted concept neither do the young people who are rallying against lax gun ownership laws. No one with half a brain understands why grown men and women are trying to character smear teenagers who just want to see their government make it harder for their peers to walk into a gun shop and buy an automatic rifle so they can return to school and slaughter students and teachers.

I love young people. Young people who possess the qualities of leadership make me proud to know them. They don’t just pop out of thin air either. They come from adults who teach and guide them as they navigate their way around right and wrong and around equality and injustice and good and evil. Good youth come from good people who raise them – parents, teachers, clergy and yes, occasionally good politicians.

I am so tired of the criticism of today’s youth because they happen to have grown up in the biggest and most impacting technological era of our time. I am tired of hearing older people criticize them for not socializing and for having their head down, eyes glued to the screens of their devices. My God, remember when youth were criticized for watching too much TV? Remember when Rock and Roll and Heavy Metal was looked upon as Devil Worship Music? To be young is to be criticized. That will never change because when people grow older and are unable to keep up with the way things evolve around them, they get jealous and grumpy and they say exactly what older people said about them when they were young. If you can’t find a place to be on the planet as it changes around you, don’t be cynical, just be quiet and kind because if you are, maybe that young person will help you turn on your phone.

 

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Human-Kind

My son was not well at school yesterday.  When his teacher called to tell me he was feverish and sleeping in the quiet room, my heart sank.  It sank for him because yesterday was a day of the long awaited fulfillment of plans.  He was waiting for almost a year to go to a concert in Kingston with his support worker and friend, Lindsey, and the rest of the family was heading to Toronto to see a dress rehearsal at the National Ballet for my birthday. But that’s family life. Things are planned and plans change and we chalk it up to bad timing or bad luck or what have you. The James family day of artistic appreciation was taking a big hit.

My husband, eager not to disappoint (Tom is big on birthdays and hates to disappoint us) asked me to call around and see if (a) we could get Adam to a doctor to maybe have him quickly checked out (Adam is autistic so on the rare occasion when he is ill and it seems significant enough we like to get him checked out as he sometimes does not explain his symptoms properly) and (b) see if someone could stay with him while he rests in bed or (c) see if someone would go in his place and he would stay with Adam.  Willing to pull the plug on all of it (I am not big on making a fuss over my birthday and I am okay with disapointment), I compromised and called around to see what I could do.  The doctor said it sounded just like a cold was coming on or a flu and if he was the same the following morning to bring him in. Everyone else I called was going to this concert so I decided to fold and called his teacher to tell her Tom would pick up Adam from school and bring him home.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, Mr. Adam, now 18, insisted on coming home on his bus.  He absolutely did NOT want his father to pick him up from school. He was willing to take an Advil and come home on the bus AND he was going to the concert. I could hear him vehemently stating his case, so to avoid a lengthy argument, we let him come home on the bus. By the time he got home, he had a big speech all planned that involved telling us in every which way he was going to the concert.  He was not burning up, he had a bath and as per the doctor’s suggestion, I gave him a Tylenol to go along with the Advil he’d had a bit earlier. He was perked up. He dressed as per Logan’s style suggestions in a light t-shirt, with a bluish hoodie, a black boxy jacket and his grey joggers that Logan gave him for Christmas. He ate a sandwich as a snack and showed me he’d eaten all his lunch at school and he was listening to the band he was going to see through his headphones.  He was going and THAT WAS THAT.  When a child who has never really been able to decide much for himself looks you in the eye (a thing rarely done by autistic persons) and puts his foot down regarding his own life, you have to respect it.  I had to respect his judgement.  He is 18 and is finally able to do what we have been waiting on for so long which is for him to express himself in a clear and well thought out fashion.  Against all of my maternal instincts, I agreed with his father, brother and teacher and with Adam and he went to the concert and we went to our show. After all, I remember taking the Comtrex back in the day when being at the party was of utmost importance to me. It was not easy to get to go out when I was younger and living at home with John and Angela. It is the same for Adam. It isn’t easy for him to go do a lot of stuff on his own and I can only imagine how frustrating it is for him to be stuck with Tom and Daniella when he knows people his age have so much more freedom. Mind you,Adam has a lot more freedom than most people with autism his age but there is always room for more because he has had a big taste of it , so who am I to stand in his way when I opened this door to his possible freedom for him? I have to respect his needs and decisions even if they are hard for me to do so. Should he have stayed home last night?  Most likely, yes, but I am not him and he REALLY wanted to do this and he got to do it even though it was miserable. He had full control of his life for a night which is after all, the point of growing up, isn’t it?

When Lindsey checked in with me, everything was good. She sent a photo of them smiling. They had eaten and had arrived at the venue. There was nothing to worry about as he was fever free and was smiling and happy. Around 7:30 we were involved in something going on before the performance when Logan noticed the Snapchat on his phone going off. He chose to ignore it at first but the Snaps kept coming. It was his friend from hockey and school whose mother also happens to work with us. Checking out the messages, he smiled and said that his friend just said he saw Adam heading into the concert.  A bit later on, the same friend Snapped again to tell Logan that he wanted him to know that Adam was throwing up in the tunnel of the arena and that he wanted to let him know in case his helper did not tell Tom or me. Of course, Lindsey had her hands full at the time and did text me a short time after and said that all was okay and though she offered, Adam was insisting he stay as long as he could and that she would pull the plug after a few songs.

Here is where the human kindness comes in. We (mostly I) worry what will happen to adult Adam when we are not around to look out for him. Not yet capable of being 100% independent, Adam is probably at around an 80% capability of independence right now and will to my best guess top out at about an 85%.  He may surge to 95% and prove me wrong, which will be fantastic but from what I know now, he will be able to live semi-independently, in that he may need support when it comes to getting to places on time, being mindful of his schedule and with his purchasing ability to a degree. I do not have this worry over Logan. But what this story proves to me, is that I have less to worry about than I thought because some of the people in this little town which I moved to kicking and screaming (I am more comfortable in cities), may not be perfect for me but is is for Adam. I have had neighbours and friends call me to tell me that they had just seen Adam walking over at place X and they wondered if that was okay and if I knew he was out of the house. At the time, Adam was on his way to work or practice and they had not known that he was at that point of independence and it was very reassuring that people (adults) do know him and want to make sure he is safe. What was the icing on the cake for me last night was that it was a soon to be 17 year old youngster who saw Logan’s brother and not only was happy to tell him that he had seen Adam, but was concerned enough to contact Logan again when he saw that Adam was not well. In an age of Millennials who barely speak words, (which is ironic because one of the biggest goals with Adam was to get him to communicate with words)  Tristin, at 17, showed the human kindness and concern I hoped Adam’s peers would show towards him and us. So many people turn a blind eye. So many people keep to themselves. So many people do not make time to connect with good friends, old friends or make new friends, it is nice to see that a teenager – someone who is a part of the most criticized group on the planet – was able to show such basic human kindness and therefore maturity which has been lost on many Millenials. Tristin used the same device teens are criticized for using excessively, to Snap his friend and let him know about his brother because he knew it was the right thing to do. The human kind thing to do.

Lindsey was as usual her wonderful human kind self.  Some of the support persons we had when Adam was younger would have bailed and brought him home and insisted we come home or would not have agreed to take him and give it a try. I already was loaded with guilt and “if only’s” and she did her best to put me at ease. She is also very keen on treating Adam age appropriately and respecting him as a young adult who can make wise decisions and choices. Adam tried to stay for a few songs but he ended up sleeping with his head rested on her shoulder before she woke him and skipped out of the venue and brought him to her home where she put him to bed. She told me how sorry he was that he got sick in the tunnel and that everyone was looking at them (which is an extremely rare thing for an autistic person. Since when does Adam care what people do or think?) Lindsey told him he did nothing wrong and it just happened and he was not to worry about it or worry about the people who were watching because it was none of their business, to which Adam replied “Yeah, $%^% them!” in between hurls. (Well he is 18, he has ears, has internet access, loves you tube and goes to high school – hence the answer, lol)

How fortunate and blessed we are to have put together such an amazing team for Adam in what are the most important years of his life as he launches into adulthood. We had been exposed at times to fantastic people who personally supported Adam as a child and many who were fabulous in the rough teen years, and now on this springboard upon which we stand as we prepare to let the world have our boys and let them fly into this unknown (to them) phase of life called adulthood, I couldn’t ask for a better team.  We have a great young male role model in Sebastian. In Courtney, we have a perfect just -a-year-older peer who teaches Adam how to be and in Lindsey we have a friend who is practically family. She has been with Adam and Logan from the time they were 9 and 7 when she was their teacher, then their tutor and now just a great support worker for Adam and I trust her so much that she is included in much of the decision making when it comes to Adam’s future.

There is so much to still worry over. The world will never be ideal no matter how easy it is for us to make it ideal for everyone by just acting out of love and human kindness. It is reality and we must accept it because we aren’t doing enough to change it. My worry however, is far less than it used to be because in this little town in which I have not found my groove, there is a groove for our Adam. As much as I love the city and Adam enjoys being in the city, a groove would have been much harder to carve out for him there. In fact, it would have been close to impossible and it would have been frightening to think of all that he would be vulnerable to in such a large, busy environment. I know my younger child will fly far from the nest. He has a lot of me in him and he will not settle in one place for a very long time and I understand why. But I am satisfied that my older child will thrive in an environment that is home to kind humans of all ages who are decent and good. The stories about Autism are not always uplifting. Autism is difficult. Autism is puzzling. Autism is isolating to the person and their family. Autism can feel like a life sentence that no one signed up for. Today, my story is one of hope for not just people with autism, but for all people. In spite of my weariness. In spite of my worries. In spite of my frustration. In spite of all the road blocks in this journey with Adam. In spite of my life, I have hope in humankind and this 51st birthday will be one to remember as the birthday when I felt in my heart the kids are going to be just fine.

 

 

A Three Week Illness, a White Ink Tattoo and the Wit of a Second Son.

Just before the news report came out that the “man-flu” and it’s severity is a real thing, the 15 year old man-child was sick – nasty sick to the point of him doing school work at home for 2 weeks and staying home a full 3 weeks going back slowly with a couple of half days before he was able to be there all day once again. No school, no hockey and a ton of nasty, icky, feverish misery. My boys and I rarely get sick and I never had a glimpse of what this guy was like when he’s under the weather until he hit the teen years. Boy does he ever make his brother look like a gem in sickness circumstances.  When the older, almost-man is sick, he declares that he is dying and that he needs to go to a hospital. After a rational conversation, he understands that he is not gravely ill and proceeds to shut himself in his room with juice, water and crackers and he sleeps – sometimes for 24 hours. When he is better, he comes out of his room, declares that he is not dying anymore and congratulates himself and resumes being himself. Not so with the man-child. He is a groaner, a crawler (yes, he has been known to take to all fours when feeling lousy) and he grumpy cries. He is impatient as he expects to heal like Wolverine. He cusses under his breath, uses every blanket in the house and germs it up without a thought and generally is so down and out that he can literally sink you like a ship with a gaping hole in it’s hull.  No two children are alike, which when coming to dealing with sickness, is too bad for me.So in light of his illness and my plight as I come off a long and draining 3 weeks of nursing him back to his old self, I decided to get back to myself  by reflecting on his unique sense of humour.

Logan has had to grow up fairly quickly because being just 2 and bit years younger than a brother with autism, his mom and dad sometimes had their hands full with him and Logan learned to wait and when he did feel like he wanted to wait, he had to learn how to take care of whatever he needed that we could not readily provide. On the one hand it pains me to think of these times but it has made him the great guy he is today. I remember being on the phone with a therapist for Adam and I heard this screeching across the kitchen floor only to find my little tank pushing his high chair to the freezer, climbing up onto the seat and getting himself his frozen milk and making his way to the microwave to warm it. At that point I told the woman on the phone ” I have to go, this is taking too long, my baby is raising himself. It’s not fair,” That day, I made a decision that our family was not going to be autism central but as “normal” a family as possible. I wanted to do all I could to meet Adam halfway and encourage him to do the same and  enjoy the world with us and I also wanted to give Logan a life that did not mean he always would have to take a back seat to Adam’s autism. We are close, the man-child and me and we are so lucky to have him in our family. I remember how he would talk about his life in heaven, before became to us and it would leave Tom and me in tears, we were laughing so hard. One day he told me he was forgetting what heaven was like and I asked him how he came to choose us as his family and he casually said, “Well, it’s not really like that Mamma. You go where they send you, you know?,” He gave me a little sideways glance and raised his eyebrows and went on playing with his toys and I just sat there shaking my head at this little cherub’s comments. In  all the humour, I had a great belief that this guy was really an angel sent to our family.  I remember being at my wit’s end trying to figure out why 4 year old Adam was upset. He had been crying for a long time and he had very little language at this time and I was impatient with him, alone in a house with two little children and I couldn’t take the noise anymore and I raised my voice at him which made him cry more.  Then I felt a tug on my shirt and it was this little white haired thing with these dark green eyes staring at me. “Hey, you scaring him Momma.  Him just want sketti” He rubbed my arm with his soft, little, meaty hand and I proceeded to boil spaghetti, serve them up and Adam stopped crying and all was right in our world. After that strange, eerie and miraculous evening in my kitchen in Calgary, Logan had the remedy more than not for what ailed Adam. “Him want posicle” or “Him want pwetsel” and I was game to always have whatever the food item “Him want” in our pantry.  So yeah maybe Logan had a unique way of using his brother’s mood to get what he wanted but it was always so strange that he always knew what Adam wanted and for a toddler always had the right words for me at the right time…those dark, desperate times of trying to figure out the simplest things that were the most complex things with Adam.

The man-child was also no lacking in humility or confidence when he was little. He was the kid who would say “Um hmm, I know” whenever he was told how cute he was. And if you asked him how come he knew that he would look at you like you were foolish and say “People tell me dat all time and I bleeve em,”

 

He was our dancer, our acrobat, our mischief maker, our shadow, my yoga partner and he went through a phase where I called him my third boob as he clung to me in his swimming classes for dear life. Needless to say, he was no natural swimmer like his older brother – he tended to sink like a stone and we had to trade in the Mom n Tot classes for one on one classes when he was a bit older and even then he was convinced Sandy, his teacher was trying to drown him.

In this home of the bizarre because of Adam’s autism you need to have a sense of humour. I lost the full extent of my humour when Adam was diagnosed. I have lived a life of worry, stress adn not so happy days but fortunately for me and Adam, Tom passed on his sense of absurd to Logan. These two buffer the shit that autism can stir up at times and Tom has made our lives very fun and normal and un-special needs as possible and it has done us all – especially Adam – a world of good.

We have laughs with Adam, too because he operates on the bare bones of everything. He is very black and white, cut and dry and it is what it is on a daily basis for him, so you can just imagine how many moments we just burst out laughing just by the way he approaches life and puts us in our place as he brings a new perspective to the way we”humans” as he calls us, see things. But with Logan, there is such a blend of things at work within him that just comes out of nowhere and chops down a tree of seriousness with a blow from his ax of wit.

Tom likes his Uniqlo undershirts as they keep him cooler under his dress shirts. The material they are made of has a sheen to it and so one morning when he was dressing, unbeknownst to us, Logan was propped up against the bedroom door frame checking out tom’s shiny threads tucked into his dress pants.  All he simply said with a curious tone that also had a hint of warning that the look before him was not good, “That your shirt?”  We started laughing and Tom explained it was a fancy new undershirt with high tech material etc. And Logan put his hand up and said “That’s all good…as long as it’s not a new look,”

It was the same tone he had when we had the card at Disney that allowed us to pass Fast Pass with Adam if a line for an attraction was way too long, or in case Adam was having a hard time.  Logan is a repeatx5 Roller Coaster/ Thrill Ride rider and wanted to go with Tom on the Tower of Terror again and knowing using the card for him was kind of bending the rules he asked us, “So…you want me to jump up and down on the spot or bite my hand? (two of Adam’s stims at the time) I can play the role of Adam if anyone needs proof. I’ve watch Adam a long time; I can do this,” Again the delivery was just too much not to laugh.  When I forget where I park my car and he’s with me he’s calmly but with a stab has said “see this is how you win a ticket from me to Quinte Gardens.

I’m not going to be living here and I might be off somewhere playing hockey when Iget the call that you are walking around here trying to find your car.  Dad will be in the scooter back at the house and then what you will have to call Adam who may or may not take your call….that’s a death sentence. You’re gonna have to go to the home for your own good. You won’t need a car. They have a bus, You have long term care insurance to pay for that. It’ll be  good.

Man-Chi    

 

One of my favourite Logan lines was when he was standing for a guy at the movies. Apparently his buddy was grounded and there was going to be a situation where a girl was really going to feel like a third wheel and that was disastrous in Grade 8 so someone suggested they call Logan James to fill in. It was a movie he wanted to see and he was game to go. When I asked him if he had money to buy the girl something to drink, he looked at me and said “Daniella, I’m just standing in for a guy. This is NOT a date. Yes, yes I hear you telling me you are asking me to be polite and buy her a Starbucks…but I’ll be polite with your 10 dollars, not mine”. And so I had to fork over a ten that afternoon. What a cheapskate!

Recently their father and I celebrated our 20th anniversary and I wanted to get a tattoo with my wedding date and I was asking Logan what he thought. He asked me where I was going to put it and what colour etc., and he thought it was cool and was even helpful in covering for me when I went to get it done so I could surprise Tom.  Days later when it healed, he was already sick like a dog with Mono (no he did not get it from kissing a girl – we did the time line to be sure) he looks at me and said that he really did like it then after a long pause he looked at it and said “Hmm…..can’t wait until the next argument and you start getting all pissed off and you regret getting the tattoo.  You’ll have to get him to tattoo void over it or maybe put a dash and the end date of the marriage…Ohhhh…Just kidding Mom. I’m sick you can’t take me seriously,”  I am glad I don’t have to take him or his father seriously all the time.  We need their humour and their sarcasm. They are our family’s laughter and our joy and the reason we can look at ourselves and our far from ordinary and sometimes maddening lives and have a good chuckle.

                

Stay as witty as you are my man-child. You came to us so that we can be happy and lighthearted and you do your duty everyday.You are an angel sent from Heaven to us. We are lucky and ever so grateful for the gift of you.

 

Don’t Look Me up and Down: Look Me in the Eye – a Fit Woman’s Opinion on Non-Verbal Body Shaming

For some time now, we have been witness to wonderful campaigns directed towards the acceptance of all body types, especially, if not solely, the various body types of women. The Dove campaign is to be applauded for giving every woman a chance to champion themselves and identify with an image much like their own on television, the internet, billboards and in magazines.  In a world where you have to look deep beyond the surface to find what is real, it is important for people to see a reflection of themselves in advertising.

On social media the acceptance of self was such a hit that there were even spin off topics borne by the politically correct righteous that made me hold my tongue until now.  Let me elaborate.  As a woman, I feel strongly that every person (men included) should feel good about themselves.  I believe that everyone must have as many (if not more) attributes that they love about themselves than ones they dislike.  I, and some who share my belief, feel that people must have a sense of self worth that allows them to veer away from behaving and or dressing inappropriately to prove to themselves and possibly others, that they are cool, young, sexy, hot, in control or whatever tier of esteem they are trying to attain.  There is something about showing less to ever so coolly reveal that there is so much more to who you are.  There is something to be said for elegance and grace and quiet confidence at every age, size and shape.  But whenever anyone implores others to really reach for something more substantial within themselves, they are criticized by the politically correct others who feel we are “shaming”.  These people like to say if a person (and let’s use women in this example), a woman in her 40’s feels to dress like her 14 year old daughter, who are we to judge her?  If she wants to let her butt cheeks hang out of her shorts or she wants to wear a tight crop-top with leggings, we should applaud her courage. What then do we say about a scantily clad  teen girl at a dance not walking away from a group of boys until each one of them upon her request, makes out with her and her friends?  Is this group of young teen women empowered? Are they controlling their sexuality?  Dictating to the opposite what they want done, when and how?  Is she empowered when she takes to social media and posts revealing photos of herself?  The “selfie” takes on new meaning then, doesn’t it?

Okay. Sure. Maybe I’m a prude. Maybe I am guilty of “shaming” other women but looking in from the outside, I can’t help but wonder what there is to gain when children disassociate themselves from their mother’s attire or demeanour in embarrassment?  What is there to gain when the persona that accompanies the outfit draws the people who want to be a part of the show for a moment, who then walk away speak insults under their breath?   Why do my sons have to be privy to your exposed self in a public place that is not a beach?  Congratulations, Mom for looking “hawt” and sexy at a Minor Level Sporting event.

In the spirit of championing oneself I am going to take my turn to lash back in defence of women like me – active women whose bodies are perfectly imperfect.  We have muscles and are generally strong and in good health.  We are the women who like our sports, our dance, our yoga and whatnot and we play because it’s fun and relaxing and we are okay with a little sweat and okay with our post partum bellies that could, in the right light look like a deflated beach ball.  We are the women who LOVE to eat but stop when we are full.  We eat junk sometimes only without the excuses and we own the consequences and do something about them. We never criticize anyone’s appearance yet so many people have no problem telling us how we are lucky we are to be skinny (when clearly we are not) and have no problem calling us names in jest (in jest my ass) because you are dissatisfied with yourself. We are the women who don’t dress to flaunt, don’t triple coat our faces with makeup yet look beautiful, comfortably wearing what we love and being who we are. So for those of you who talk to us but deep down dislike us, do us a favour – stop trying to shame us with your quick head to toe glances of jealousy.  I have been exposed to that since I was 6 years old.  I have noticed grown-ass adults  – family friends, 4 specific high school teachers of mine and worse, a couple relatives who would stand right in front of me, talking to me doing the head to toe scan sometimes even telling me what they did not like about me or what I was wearing in the poor guise of a joke. And again, I was a child at the time.  It was evident they were not listening to a word I was saying. I knew it at age 6 and I have always known it.  They did not hear one iota of the conversation because they were busy scrutinizing (or like we say in Trinidad, macoing) every aspect of my body , my face, my clothes, my shoes and my hair.  Hating ALL of what they saw because they truly LOVED what they saw and just could not have it, or develop it because it was MINE.

I remember telling my mother I noticed when some people had conversations with others, myself included, they tended to look not at the face when they spoke to you but did what seemed to be several critical, quick glances at a person’s clothing and body and did so quite frequently as they spoke. I asked her why this happened and my champion mother simply said, “Jealousy, baby”.

But, I was a child and I had nothing.  Nothing at all except my childhood, my imagination and myself.  I had what everyone had and in the case of adults, you could say I had even less so why would they be jealous?  Then my mother said to me ever so calmly, “I am sorry people look at you like that.  I know how it feels because I have had that happen to me too. – I think it is really rude.  Perhaps they don’t realize they are doing it, but I think deep down they do know.  I think they did it once, then twice and then it became a rude habit.  That is their problem, not yours.  In your whole life there will be many people who glance at you up and down repeatedly because their parents did it and they unfortunately learned to do it too. They may be smaller than you, bigger than you, older or younger or the same age, They may be wealthier, poorer or of the same income. They may be a different colour or religion than you; they may not. These  people may never look at you in your eyes when they talk to you.  It is an attempt maybe to make you feel self  conscious. In those moments I want you to feel self assured that you are perfectly fine. Just remember that is their jealousy, their lack of confidence and therefore their problem, not yours, ever. You must always draw confidence from those people and never let their glances get you down. Be your comfortable self.”

My mother may not have gone to a fancy university or held a position of power in the world but she has always been powerful to me.  My mother knew her role as a mother.  There was a friendliness about her without her trying to be our friend.  Lines were never crossed by her or us and she injected into us the power to be quietly confident and when we needed to, be boldly so.  Because of my mother, my sister and I have been able to give our children the confidence they need in what is a tougher, more bullied society and dare I say, I think the confidence she gave to us and indirectly to her grandchildren can be considered life saving.  We all hear the stories of the kids who tragically end their lives because they just couldn’t “shake it off” or “get over it” as some people like to say.  There are so many people who just love to dig and dig at you until you start to doubt yourself.  They are annoying and they make life uncomfortable and the best thing you can do is turn it right around and show them that you are not the problem. They are the problem.  They are the ones spending time trying to figure out how to bring you down and in reality it stems from their self dissatisfaction. They say things to make you feel insecure because they are insecure.  They reject your knowledge because they are ignorant. They scoff at your attempt to lead because they are born followers. They mock your talent because they wish they possessed a fraction of it.  They pick on those who have disabilities because the determination and accomplishments of the disabled scare the shit out of them because they have no courage.  They criticize your clothes because they dare not dress like you because they can’t buy your personal cool.  They like to bare it all when they should be covering it up because to wear something decent is to admit they have shortcomings, I suppose.

So while I agree we should all be happy with ourselves, our varied skin tones and shapes and sizes I do not for a moment think that people who have been made to feel shunned and bullied are not guilty of bullying.  They are often adults who have taken the bitterness of the pain they felt and instead of using it for something positive in their lives, they ever so subtly twist it into other people who have done nothing to them personally…except of course showed up looking healthy or tastefully dressed.   I had yet another one of those up and down glances happen to me today, way before I had my morning coffee. I decided right then and there that I was going to write about it once and for all.  I am going to champion myself because I don’t look anyone up and down and scrutinize them and I am tired of having it done to me.  In fact, I have spent many years teaching my boys, especially my autistic son, to look people in the face when they are speaking to them, yet so many people don’t do that to me.  I remember Adam telling me that looking into people’s eyes is too much. Too much information so he looks away so he can focus on what is being said to him yet he has learned to glance at a face in order to illustrate he is engaged with a person.  That is so much work for him, yet he tries so hard to do it because he has figured the value in it and he knows he needs to embrace some of these traits to function in this world.  Meanwhile, people with no sensory processing disorders, people who don’t have to organize anything at all in order to have a conversation give me the up and down scan when they are speaking with me?  To hell with you and your rudeness.  Here’s a news flash on behalf of women and all people who are fit and healthy who try to take care of themselves.  We have reaped what we have sown and if you don’t like it, or have that little zing of envy or hate when you see us because you feel we don’t understand what it is like to be you with your issues – too bad. Champion who you are and own it. This is called life and everybody’s got something…some shit that grabs us by the gut and we have to deal with it.  God knows I was dealt a hand and a frigging half in my life.  Would you up and down scanners preferred if I looked haggard and worn because my life has not been easy?  Would that have made you feel better?  Would you have looked me in the eye then? Perhaps you would have pitied me.  I have never needed pity thanks to my upbringing and I am glad my retaliation to adversity was strength and wellness – of mind, spirit, soul and body.

If you ever had a conversation with me and you’ve looked me up and down (and you damn well know if you do it because you have control of your eyes) please don’t talk to me again if you are going to do that. It’s rude and you are wasting my time and you are making me waste precious breaths and words. Don’t talk to me if you aren’t going to engage or listen.  I’m really okay with that. I’d rather sit quietly alone with my thoughts  for company because I am comfortable with myself. I was taught and I teach my children to look people in the face when speaking to them and I expect the same from others. So all you head to toe scanners out there, know this – the group of us you love to hate in your head because we chose to work at taking the steps to fell healthy and well – we make no apologies for the way we are so enough with looking us up and down and look us in the eye.  What you are doing is distracting, rude and disrespectful and when you do it to me, it only reveals how insecure and vulnerable you are.  Worry less about me and work more on you because you are just as bad as the cretin bully who spat out hurtful words to you.

Five Months to Fifty: Me, My Mother,Myself.

 

In May, I took  trip to Vancouver with my mother.  Neither of us had been there before and considering she is 76 and retired, she’s healthy and has the time to spare and I could make it happen so off we went.  We did all we could in four rainy days and I am glad she is a trooper because we could have easily been sidetracked and stuck indoors with the constant down-pouring.  Armed with our umbrellas (like everyone in Vancouver) and raincoats, we got to Stanley Park, to Gastown, to the Art Gallery, the Olympic torch at Canada place, the harbour, The Classical Chinese Gardens … we crammed everything we could into our time together including catching up with my cousin, Natasha, whom we don’t get to see very often.

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I live about an hour and 15 minutes away from my mother and sister, so anytime I can spend with them … with her …has to be planned and is very valuable to me.  Like anyone with a family, there are many things about our loved ones that make us sigh, or shake our head and roll our eyes but the love we have for each other is fierce and glues together the fragments of our frustrations with each other to keep us whole.    My mother is a unique character.  She is very much the verbal martyr and tends to be very defensive.  She is stubborn, does not always pay attention and talks while you are talking.  She over-packs because of the “you never know” and “just in case” scenarios she has in her head  and she just does not understand how I travel so light and how nonchalant I am about not having an oversupply of band aids in my purse or sample sizes of Advil, Tylenol, Gravol and Immodium.

“Why put yourself in a situation where you would have to buy these things?”  she would ask, astonished.

“Because on every block there is a pharmacy and all these things are like 2 to 3 bucks”, I would reply, casually, sometimes cheekily.

I hate bulk. I hate having excess shit and as annoyed as she is about my empty handbag, I am annoyed by her incredibly overstuffed one that she has to dig into every five minutes.  Still, she is my mother and I do have a lot of her in me, although to toot my own horn, with help over the years from being married to Tom, I have it under control.  From Lumlin (her Chinese name), I got my sense of organization.  Rare are the occasions when I leave something to the last minute.  When I travel, I am packed about a week ahead of time because a week before that, I made certain everything that needs to come with us was clean and pressed.  I get my need for order from her as well.  I like and have to have a clean kitchen.  If you want me to cook, the kitchen has got to be clean and tidy and I insist on a clean bathroom and made beds.  After a long day at work, or a long day on the road, my eyes need to fall on certain things that are ordered and neat so that my brain does not go into visual overload (hmm…a little Adam-like I suppose).  Unlike my mother, I can leave the dishes for later if I want to leave and go do something fun on a nice day.  I have never let the traits I have, distract me from having a good time and I am okay leaving things for later when I have something else to do.  My mother also passed onto me some very old school lessons in etiquette which I am proud to say I have been able to pass onto my sons.  They know which fork to start with first when we are out for a meal; know when they need to wear a tie and dress shoes, shirt and pants and when to dress down.  They often remember to stand when a woman joins the table and they open and hold the door in public and are polite with their actions and words.  In a world so adamant about not doing things the way our parents did when it comes to raising our children, I am proud to say (while I understand why some people feel their parent’s way is archaic), I raised Adam and Logan pretty much the way my mother and father raised my sister and me and I am not sorry I did.

Like my mother, I adore my children and would kill for them as any parent would but I also believe there is a time and place for them and that they should not always be the centre of attention.  I spend a lot of time with my boys to the point where, as they separate themselves from me as they get older, I am not sad to think that one day they will move on with their own lives, on their own path – I am actually proud that they are moving on and I am happy for Tom and me because it means that our uninterrupted time together is approaching.  Children are wonderful but they can be draining if we let them be.  Like my mother towards us , I have no guilt when it comes to Adam and Logan but respect for the men I am watching them become.  I also have bought into her take on marriage, considering she had 43 great years with my father.  My mother always made time for Dad.  She was his greatest listener, advisor, friend and love.  That time when they were sitting together, was their time and unless we were bleeding or near death, we NEVER interrupted them.  Neither one of them contradicted the other when it came to the rules and expectations of our family and our home and the other thing that has stuck in my mind about their marriage was trust.  When they were together, nothing could phase them – not money, not friends, not mauvais langue, not sickness, not death.  I feel that way about my own marriage.  I feel that with Tom in my corner, there is nothing that can harm me.  We have this saying between us “It’s you and me.  It’s always been you and me and we’re still here”.

From Lumlin, I have inherited a strong sense of loyalty.  When I am your friend, I am a good one, to the point of being taken for granted sometimes and then if it gets past a certain level of tolerance, I end the friendship.   Like her, I may be an ex-pat but I am a “Trini to de bone” because as we say in Trinidad, “one must never damn the bridge they cross”. When you move away from the land of your birth, it is imperative to stay true to your roots to help you meander through the culture you have chosen or rather, have suddenly found yourself.  Like her, I feel one of my biggest obligations to my children is to make them confident in themselves and to teach them that they can do anything if they work hard.  Like her, I am teaching them to dream and to reach and to know that even if they fall, they won’t fall far and like her, I have learned to give them these skills even on the days when I don’t feel 100% confident in myself.  Mom raised me to be accountable for myself and my actions.  She trusted me to do the right things and for the most part I did because I could always hear her voice whenever I was in a tricky situation, guiding me to make the right choices.  She had a confidence in me that I never wanted to betray or let down and I see that in both my sons.  They know that I know I gave them the right tools that they need for society and I know they work very hard to do the right thing.  That being said, I have inherited a not so sweet side from my mother as well.  Mine I think is a little darker than hers, lol, but it is in check. Let’s face it, my mother, like everyone on the planet has her “bad ways” too.  My girl ain’t a perfect angel by any means.  She can sting you with words when she’s ready and because I learned by observation, so can I and so can my sister but one discovers how to rein that shit in and release only when necessary – and in this world we live in where selfishness (most times) trumps selflessness and when people are just downright asinine, you might get a little venom from our direction … oops.

These skills (hopefully only the good ones, right? lol) my mother gave to me, are the skills I am giving to Adam and Logan because they need to be strong to face every single day in this world. They need to be strong to handle the dark times life will throw their way and I know that because I have lived through some dark days and I’m still here, in one piece, dependent on nothing more than my own will power because I was not raised to be weak or give up but rather raised to keep getting up and keep trying and keep moving on to the next day, next thing, next opportunity … just like my mom.

This trip gave me a chance to see Mummy.  To see what makes her, her now and what has changed about her as she has gotten older.  Her tech confidence isn’t what it used to be since she stopped working and she likes to lean on us for the simplest things regarding the computer and her phone, but we remain patient and we teach her and she comes around as we know she can.  I think she has just decided there are some things she does not want to give too much of her attention to anymore and that is okay.  She is still a busy body around the house, always cooking something (you never leave her home without a container of something tasty) or she is always cleaning something and though she does not have to, I understand the need to feel useful, so we let her (within reason – moving things in our house to suit her short stature does not work when the shortest person living here is 5’7″ and the tallest is 6’2″).

Mummy and I are extremely different.  We are not besties.  We are mother and daughter.  I call her to chat and occasionally for advice or just a listening ear (as long as she does not talk over top of me lol) and we go places together.  We cook together when we can, drive around together when we can and it’s nice.  It’s comfortable. There are times I feel sorry that her all time love has passed away and I get frustrated when we talk about things Dad might have done that made me shake my head, and she jumps all over me defending him –   but then I know it is her grief that’s talking.  As an adult, I lost a father but she lost the man she loved and I have no idea how she feels, so now, we only reminisce about good things and that is fine because that is what she needs.  There are things I prefer not to discuss with Mom because a) sometimes I don’t want her to worry about my stuff at her stage in life, and b) there is a strong generational difference of opinion regarding some things but I respect where she is coming from although I don’t think she respects where I’m coming from sometimes – oh well – old dogs, new tricks. She speaks like a 76 year old and is often politically incorrect  – again – old dog, new tricks  – and those are the times when she talks like she knows all about the topic and is right  as right can be – so I take her comments with a pinch of salt, right?   But the bottom line is, she is my mother and she has her moments of wisdom when she speaks to me from her heart.  I admire the strong faith she has that buttresses my wavering one and when I am in doubt, when I need support; a confidence boost; when I worry about something; when I am faced with a tough decision, when I need prayer, she is there.  I can count on her to always be there and I hope when she is gone, I can close my eyes and hear her voice and hear what she would have said to me so that I can right myself.   She gave me the strength that so many admire and some, deep down inside themselves hate about me all at once. She told me from the moment I could understand words, that I was beautiful on the outside and exquisite on the inside. She is the reason I have so much compassion and the reason I have no fear of the stuff of life. There are things that make me scared but nothing that scares me enough to quit. She is me. I am her, I am Dad.  I already see myself  in my children.  I know like me, their mother frustrates the hell out of them and I see them roll their eyes and I notice when my opinions bounce off of them because they are too strong.  I might see myself as a watered down version of my 5 foot maybe 2 inch powerhouse mother but to my children, I am her.

I can do a better job of being a daughter – we can all be better adult children to our adult parents.  If you think you are a perfect adult child, you are a hypocrite.  If your adult parent does not make you sigh and shake your head, you are a hypocrite.  If you think you are drastically different from your parents, you are in denial – wake up.  And if you think you do things better as a parent than your  own parents did because you have read some new age bull-shit parenting books, you’re a damn fool. If you are lucky to have one or both of your folks around, put your arms around them and be thankful for them and in some way show them how much you appreciate them and all they did for you.  If your folks were a disaster and they messed you up royally, find a way to forgive them, if you can, for your own salvation and sanity.  Forgive and free your soul.  Remember, you are going to be an adult parent to adult children before you know it. What treatment would you want from your adult son or daughter?

So … thank you Mom, for irritating me, harping on me from the time I could talk, showing me how to do everything from run a house, mix a drink for your guests from the time I was 4, to holding a job, and being amazing at the best job, in a cynical world that views being a good wife, mother and life partner as an underachievement, even though we all know that the problem with the world is that work takes way too much precedence over family and many people have no choice but to let it.  Thank you, Mom for banning me, for vexing me; punishing me; kissing me and hugging me; thank you for telling me when I was being an ass and telling me when I was wonderful.  Thanks for the confidence and bravery you instilled in me and the pride I see in your eyes when you look at me and mine.  Thank you for what you still are able to do for me. You drive me crazy and you make me laugh. Thanks for coming on this trip with me and being so game to do whatever came up next. That was very cool of you and I will never forget that.  Thank you for still ever so subtly showing me the way.  I am you in so many ways and you know what?  Nothin’ wrong with that at all.

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~ For my mother, Angela  – Thank you. Love you. ~