Solstice. Light.

Every year, I write about loving the Winter Solstice. How I love the concept. The idea that on this day, we turn toward the light. All of us. No matter what’s going on internally. No matter what we are sad about, anxious about. No matter what external events may have happened that make us lose sight of the light. Even if we are struggling to stay positive, or focus on the good. Regardless of all of that? We are turning toward the light. Moving in the direction. Minute by minute – literally, minute by minute. I find it so powerful, so comforting, that no matter what, we can trust the earth, trust the sun, trust the seasons, trust the light. The light is coming. We move toward it.

As always – the poem that I read, and re-read, on this day:

Towards the Light (author unknown)

By moonlight,
or starlight,
or in the sun’s bright rays,
I journey,
guiding my way
by keeping to the light
as best I can.
Sometimes all seems dark,
then I remember
how the poppy turns its head,
following the sun’s passage across the sky,
then rests in night’s cool shadows,
bowing in thanks
to whatever power
makes the stalk
stand straight and strong,
drawing deep from its roots
a wine dark love.
In moonlight,
the garden glows,
silvering the poppies.
And even by starlight
you can tell shades of darkness
if you try.
So do not lose heart
when vision dims.
Journey forth
as best you can—
bloom when you are able,
rest when you must,
keep your faith,
keep always
towards the light.

I believe you.

The news is making me sick. Bill Cosby, UVA, Ann Coulter. I’m nauseous. It’s hard enough reading about the horrors that individuals endured. It’s even worse reading about the people who shame them, doubt them, blame them.

So I just needed to say:

I believe you.

To those of you who have bravely spoken up and weren’t believed, and those of you who haven’t spoken up for fear of blame and doubt: I believe you.

To those of you who don’t perfectly remember all of the details: I believe you.

To the ones who were drinking: I believe you.

To the ones who wore a dress or a skirt: I believe you.

To the ones who knew your attacker: I believe you.

To the ones who are men: I believe you.

I believe you that it was a man. And I believe you that it was a woman.

I believe those of you for whom it was a family member. And those of you for whom it was a doctor. Or a religious official. Or a famous figure.

I believe those of you who changed your mind partway through.

I believe those of you who were children.

I believe those of you who were adults.

I believe none of you were “asking for it.” and I don’t believe in that expression. I believe that saying someone was “asking for it” is as ridiculous as saying someone was “asking to be murdered”.

I believe that staying silent while it happened doesn’t equal consent.

I believe that every single person has someone who will believe them. And I believe in continuing to be brave and sharing until you find that person. And I believe that person might be a good friend or relative, but it might be a distant coworker or fellow blogger or somewhat of a stranger. But I believe that person is out there.

I believe that nothing you could say would make me believe you less.

I believe you’ve been doing the best you can do with what you have.

I believe it can get better.

I believe you.

Trees

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It’s no secret that I adore looking at, and taking pictures of, skies and trees. This season, though, as winter approaches, I’ve found the trees just as mesmerizing bare and without leaves as they were when vibrant and bright at the peak of the fall foliage. I’ve been thinking about it, and the words that keep coming into my brain are, Trees are so brave.

It used to break my heart to see the leaves fall off the trees. To watch the blindingly beautiful colors drop to the ground, to see the world change from bright and full of life to gray, brown, white, and black. I used to count the days until I saw green on the trees. I felt so sad, seeing the bare trees.

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But something shifted this year. And I find myself looking up, at the trees, day after day after day. Trees are so brave. They bloom in the spring and summer, allowing themselves to fill with life and hope. In the fall, they simply shine. They don’t compete with each other, they don’t compare against each other. They go all out, being what they are, not judging, not caring what anyone thinks. They are beautiful and they shine. And then, in what is possibly their bravest move yet, they bare their soul. They drop their leaves, reminding me of what is often heard in my yoga classes: “Let go of what no longer serves you.” And the trees just…are. They show themselves to the world. They allow us to see every imperfection, every bump and bruise, every line and wrinkle. And possibly even more stunning than that, is how, through this bareness, we see the sky.

It just makes me feel a bit at peace in my soul, which has been much needed lately. To look up at the tree, and think, Trees are so brave. I can be brave, too. And I can be who I am, and I can be where I am, and I can feel what I feel and think what I think, and I can open myself to the world. And I can stand there, day after day, trusting that I can just be.

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“That’s private!”

The concept of “privacy” is a hard one to teach. It’s a very abstract concept, that has many exceptions, and no one hard-and-fast rule. Most of our special needs cherubs, especially those on the spectrum, thrive on hard-and-fast rules, and exceptions are tricky. Abstract concepts, like privacy, are hard for our kids to understand and generalize. They may act in ways that seem disrespectful or rude, but really, they just don’t understand. This may look like a kid who picks his nose in front of his classmates; a kid who scratches himself in private areas in the middle of the lunchroom; a kid who shares exactly what he did in the bathroom; a teenager who announces to the class that she has her period. This is a kid who might have heard, many times, from many adults: “That’s rude,” “Don’t say that,” “That’s inappropriate.” The problem is – those terms are equally as abstract and confusing, and have just as many exceptions to the rule. If a child is picking his nose during class, and hears, “Don’t do that,” it may be unclear to the child exactly what you’re saying. Should he not pick his nose in this specific class? Should he not pick his nose right now but he could in a few minutes? Is nose-picking in its entirety something he should never do? These are answers that you or I might have figured out on our own when we were kids, but neurologically, his brain doesn’t make those conclusions. Can you imagine how stressful and anxiety-provoking that would be, to just not understand?

Sometimes, when we start to really teach and explain the concept of privacy, the pendulum swings to the other extreme. Instead of sharing every single bodily function, nothing gets shared. Everything is overgeneralized to being “private.” This is when you ask the kid what he had for dinner last night and he said, “I don’t want to talk about it, that’s private.” Or when a parent asks his son what he has for homework, and the response is, “That’s personal.” It’s when the student tells you, multiple times throughout the week, “I need to talk to you in the hall” and what he needed to say was either, “Max is absent today,” or “I have P.E. next,” – none of which are actually private. But the drastic shift shows that he’s working on it, trying to get his brain to understand.

As with so many of the concepts that we try to teach our kids, perspective-taking is an underlying necessity. If you think about how you act in your own day-to-day life, the reason you don’t walk into a meeting and announce your bathroom habits is because it’s rude and inappropriate, sure, but ultimately it’s because others would have weird thoughts about you. And those weird thoughts may lead to a short-term and/or long-term consequence about how your colleagues view you. Without even realizing it, in a split second you evaluate what you want to say, then evaluate the situation, realize that in this specific situation, saying what you want to say would result in others having weird thoughts, and you decide not to say it. And you do this automatically.

But our kids don’t. So we talk them through it. We say to them, “Hey Noelle? When you keep tapping Sam on the shoulder, he might have a frustrated thought. He is trying to work, and it is very distracting to him to keep being tapped.” We say, “Noah, when you pick your nose at the lunch table it makes the other kids have grossed-out thoughts. They might feel they don’t want to sit with you if you’re picking your nose.” We label various settings. We say, “Sarah – this is an unexpected time to be making people laugh, because we are trying to work. You can save your joke for lunch time; that would be a more expected time to make people laugh.”

We teach our kids that actually, everything is expected and unexpected at one point, which is why curricula like Social Thinking® are so helpful, because they don’t tie our kids down to a set of rules that in reality have a million exceptions. Instead of teaching them what to do, we teach them how to think so that they can figure out what to do. We teach our kiddo that if he runs into my therapy room and announces to the group that he just had an accident in the bathroom, the other students will have uncomfortable thoughts, because having an accident is private, since it’s about his own body and bathroom-related issues, and other kids don’t want or need to hear about that. And we don’t teach him that punitively, we teach it factually, in a calm voice. We then give him the flip side, which is to label what he could do, and how he could think about it. We explain that announcing that he had an accident to a teacher, after she is in the hall away from other people, is completely expected in that situation, and would not make the teacher have any uncomfortable thoughts; the teacher would have happy thoughts and proud thoughts and the teacher would help him solve this problem (i.e., call the nurse). So it is not as though telling someone he had an accident is always unexpected or never “okay”. It just depends on where, with whom, etc. And that’s what we teach. And our kids need help, and they need to be talked through it time and time again. But they get it. They can get it. And they learn how to think and consequently how to act and then they are more independent, and more successful. And that’s, well, just awesome.

Untitled. Because how do I possibly know what to call this?

I am grieving.

I hate that word, “grieving.”

My grief is acute. It’s the pain when you first break your leg. The sharp pain that makes you gasp and you can’t breathe because it hurts so much and consumes you. Maybe if the situation had been different I would have more chronic grief. The dull, constant ache that comes later, after you’ve worn the cast on your leg but the pain doesn’t fully go away.

I know I need to write, I know I want to write. But there is absolutely, not a chance in the world, that I can write anything coherent. So I will just….write.

—-

I wasn’t supposed to lose my grandpa.

There is no hierarchy of grief, no rule book. Grief varies situation to situation. My grief in this situation is different than that of someone who lost a loved one after a year-long illness, and that’s different than that of someone who lost someone immediately in an accident or stroke or heart attack. This is my own, personal grief. I don’t have to justify it or defend it. I get to just feel it.

Four weeks ago, my grandpa was healthy. In my head, I knew he would live many, many more years. He laughed and talked and walked and drove. He was healthy. Four weeks ago, he had some trouble breathing. He went into the hospital. Three weeks ago, they found a mass. Two weeks ago, he came home and hospice moved in. Yesterday, cancer killed him.

It wasn’t supposed to happen.

—-

People say things. People try to say words to make a situation better. A situation that really, has no words. People mean well. But some of the things people say, don’t help. That doesn’t mean I’m selfish and don’t appreciate their intent. It only means just that: that it doesn’t help. That’s okay. The thing is, I don’t believe there’s a “better place” that he’s in. Because truly, he wasn’t in pain, he wasn’t suffering. It doesn’t give me comfort. It doesn’t give me comfort that he had a long, healthy life. Because that doesn’t change the fact that now, he’s gone. And that shouldn’t have happened. The fact that he had a long, healthy life does not, in any way, make this easier.

I am not selfish or ungrateful. I appreciate every single person trying to provide comfort. But I have to be allowed to feel how I feel.

—-

I call my Gram. “Jeremy and I are coming,” I tell her. “I know,” she replies. “I know it’s a non-option for you. I am so glad you’re coming. Grandpa and I will be so happy to see you.”

—-

Jeremy and I drive to their house, from the airport, upon landing in Florida. This is the last time I’ll land in Florida knowing Grandpa is waiting for me. This is the last time I’ll drive on this road knowing Grandpa is there. This is the last time I’ll drive into their complex, knowing they are both there. Each thought makes me cry again, but I have to keep saying it to myself. I have to focus on the reality of it.

—-

We are down in Florida. Jeremy and I manage to get Gram outside for ten minutes to walk. She hasn’t left his side. We go for a walk and run into Gram and Grandpa’s friends. They start tearing up immediately, seeing Gram. The gentleman looks at me, and shakes his head, bewildered. “He was fine,” he says to me. “We just went out to dinner with your grandparents a few weeks ago. He was joking and talking. He was fine.”

—-

I had hoped for maybe a few minutes with Grandpa. But he wanted us around him the whole time. Each time we tiptoed out of the room when he started dozing off, he asked us to come sit near him. He asked us questions, when he had enough energy to talk. He wanted to hear about things. About our apartment, about work, movies we had seen. He joked with us, the hilarious sense of humor he always had, still there with him.

—-

Grandpa didn’t treat me like I was too fragile to be real with. He was real with me and so I could be real right back. He looked at me and said, with a defeated sigh, “Man, this is a terrible way to go out.” And yeah. That ripped my heart into a million pieces. But it also gave me permission to feel it and cry and agree. I really appreciated that. No sugarcoating.

—-

Gram was so lovey with him. In a way I don’t think I have ever seen. Kissing him, holding his hand, rubbing his back. “People keep asking what I need,” she told us. “But what I need is for my husband to be well. And that isn’t going to happen.” Heart ripped open again. But oh, how I preferred that. Preferred to feel it and live it in the moment for what it was, other than pretending we were all okay with it.

—-

Gram is now alone. And that’s the piece that unbearably pains my heart.

—-

This wasn’t supposed to happen. I wasn’t supposed to lose him. She wasn’t supposed to lose him.

This was not supposed to happen. And I’m allowed to say that.

—-

There are moments when I am factual. Okay. This is happening. This happened. I am living this and going through this. Grandpa is gone. Gram lost her husband. My mom lost her father. Grandpa will not be at my wedding. He will not meet my children some day. Okay. And then there are other moments where the pain of it all hits me so hard and raw that I can’t breathe and I forget how to inhale without gasping.

So I take it moment by moment. Because what else can I do?

—-

And that’s all I can say for now.

Thankful

Obviously I’m thankful for my health, happiness, and loved ones. But those are such big, abstract things. And in moments of darkness or despair or sadness, those things are often impossible to channel, to comprehend, to use as an anchor. So the little things, the concrete, the every day things that give me a quick burst of gratitude and happiness, need to be highlighted, too. Like the perfect cup of coffee. The sun on my face. My sky-blue Snuggie. The feeling I get every time I’m brave enough to press “publish” on a blog post. Coloring books. Books in general, captivating and taking me away in them. The bursting, filling-up-my-soul feeling that certain songs give me. One of my kids who runs into my office, smiling and squealing, genuinely thrilled to see me every single day. Stuffed animals and how they still give me comfort and connection to my inner child. My brightly-colored, mismatched socks. Dressing up for theme-days at work. Sunsets. Sunrises. The endless wonder the sky brings me. The list goes on and on and even writing this makes me think of more. So. Today, I am thankful for all of the big things. But I am consciously taking  note of the small things, too.

What are the small, every day things that you’re thankful for?

I can’t write

I have sat down and tried to write a blog post countless times in the last two weeks.

I get bits and pieces down and then I get stuck. I can’t get more out. And then I get frustrated and put more pressure on myself which makes me more stuck and it’s a cycle (although isn’t everything?).

But I want to write, desperately. So I thought maybe I’d just say those bits and pieces and allow myself to leave it at that. Because it doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to make sense. I don’t have to be perfect. don’t have to make sense. Maybe there’s something empowering, powerful, about just being, in my rawest, truest, form. Maybe I will write and maybe it’ll be another two weeks before I can. Maybe it’ll make sense and maybe it won’t. Maybe I’ll lose readers. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the only thing that matters is that I write when I want to. Even if it’s to say….well, nothing, really. So I’ll keep trying. When I can, and when I want to. And it will….well, it will just be. Whatever it is.