Wait, whaaa?

Sometimes I leave therapy and wonder, “What the hell did we just talk about for 50 minutes?” This was definitely one of those nights. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with some nervous – but excited! – energy I’m channeling with regard to some recent events, and the roller-coaster of confidence and doubt I love to ride on repeat.

So, tonight I’m going to do relaxing things and let myself even out and breathe in some good calm vibes and prepare to meet tomorrow as my best self. Which, of course, means a bath and a book. And some kick-ass new tunes I downloaded from Dispatch Magazine. Cuz I do my homework.

My Main Man.

So here’s the post I meant to write the other night but didn’t. Except even in thinking about how to start trying to explain to you the awesomeness that is Joshua, I realize that one of the first things I feel compelled to tell you about are his diagnoses. And then I realize that I haven’t talked much about them here at all, which is why I think I need to incorporate them, but I’m glad I haven’t defined him that way to you. That means that I don’t define him that way… except when I need to. Which was what spurred my almost-rant about my struggles with his school counselor last week.

I sure do get ahead of myself and talk all around, don’t I? This is what it’s like inside my brain, folks. If I don’t put the words down in some kind of order, they just stay in constant motion, sometimes forming complete trains of thought but more often just rattling around like a bunch of bumper cars at an amusement park.

So, as of right now, Joshua’s diagnoses are ADHD, with which most people seem to be at least marginally familiar these days, and also PDD-NOS: Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified, which is an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). My layperson’s understanding of this diagnosis is that it’s most often used for young children who exhibit signs of autism and/or Asperger’s syndrome, but who either do not categorically fit one or the other, or who have not yet reached an age where a psychologist feels comfortable assigning a more specific diagnosis on the spectrum. As his last evaluation was over five years ago, I recently brought him to a local professional for a full neuropsych eval and will meet with her in the next couple of weeks to hear her report out on the results of the testing she conducted along with reports his teachers and I completed to assist with the assessment.

The ways Josh’s ASD and ADHD impact his behavior are sometimes quite apparent, and other times – at least to me – practically non-existent. He’s hard to understand for someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time with him because he speaks really quickly and sometimes drops words, but hell, I do that sometimes, too. He struggles with the “th” sound and says “f” instead, which is, in all honesty, a bit worrisome for me at his age, because while I know adults with lisps, I don’t know any with an impediment of that nature. I’m hopeful that it can be corrected through continued speech therapy, but it’s not life-threatening, and it doesn’t seem to bother him much right now. If and when it does, he’ll do something about it if he can, and if he can’t, he’ll work with it like we all work with our stuff.

Aside from his speech, he has involuntary vocal tics, though he’s abandoned the one he had for the first almost-year he lived with me and has replaced it (subconsciously) with a new one that is somewhat less potentially alienating to peers. I feel bad for being grateful for that, but I gotta admit, the fewer things that set him apart from the other kids, the less I worry about him.

He is weird about food. He’ll go on a bender and want the same thing for dinner for four weeks straight, and won’t eat any vegetables besides raw carrots and cucumbers. I’ve snuck shredded zucchini into pasta sauce and broccoli into cheese sauce and he’s scarfed them along with whatever I put them on, but don’t tell him that.

He’s a little clumsy and his dexterity varies wildly from task to task – his handwriting is abysmal, but he’s a damned fast typist. He struggles with knowing the right amount of pressure to use: he’ll overcompensate and knock something over instead of just picking it up, but doesn’t press hard enough with a sponge to wash a plate unless I use hand-over-hand guidance. Though this may just be his way to avoid dish duty – he’s self-admittedly lazy as hell.

He latches onto words and phrases for no apparent reason. I can’t remember one once the next has taken over, but the one that has stuck around since at least late August is “taco.” I have no idea why. HE has no idea why. But it’s his thing. I ask him why his plate is still on the table in the living room instead of in the kitchen sink. “Taco?” I tell him I couldn’t hear what he just said. “Taco!” I ask what movie he’s just put in for us to watch. “Taco.” I’ve started replying with various foods on a theme: Burrito. Quesadilla. Gordita. Taquito. It cracks him up, which cracks me up.

He obsesses over video games, musicians, and movies: he will play Call Of Duty for twelve straight hours if permitted, hunger and weariness and calls of nature be damned. He’ll put a single song on repeat until I lose my mind and make him change it up. He’ll watch the same film back to back to back. His memory for facts around his areas of interest is vast – he can tell you the production companies, ratings, and even voice actors for every video game he loves, years games and movies and albums came out, samples and featured artists on tracks he loves, and more – it’s astounding, really. His ability to be redirected away from his hyper-focus on these things has increased substantially since he’s been in an environment where he isn’t permitted to spend unlimited time on his preferred activities; he’s even gotten into a couple of books I’ve shared with him (print and audio) and is branching out in his food selection. We don’t have meltdowns if a video game won’t load, and he barely whined at all when I called XBox customer support and told him his busted console would cost too much to repair, and that I wasn’t going to replace it anytime soon. This, folks, was a true test.

Joshua has introduced me to The IT Crowd. Hot Fuzz. Super Mario Bros Wii. The Lonely Island. He’s a master of comedic timing and inflection, and can produce a movie quote for damned near every occasion. His negotiation skills when he really wants something rival those of any politician – dirty, slippery, and occasionally compelling. He laughs more than anyone I’ve ever known, and it’s contagious – since birth, this kid has just been happy happy happy, and seeing him flash his signature grin and a thumbs-up when he’s done something typically obnoxious and 14-year-old-boy-ish gets through my irritation every time.

We definitely have our rough moments. Times when I have to be the adult authority figure, and he the rebellious teen. Times when I have to say the same thing every day for two weeks and I am quite literally tearing at my hair. We have moments when one or the other or both of us has to walk away and take deep breaths before we come back to talk again. But we do. We apologize, we revisit, we conclude, and then we give each other a Gibbs-slap and he farts at me and I roll my eyes and we’re back to good.

Life with Joshua is full of both painfully routine and absurdly unpredictable. Moments in which I wonder, “Why the hell did I think I was cut out for this?” and moments in which I think, “What would I do without him?” We’re both learning. We’re both growing. And we have kind of a lot of fun while we’re at it.

Taco.

Break time.

Perhaps not surprisingly, last night’s post stirred up a lot of emotion and I’ve been grappling with the hard bits today, but also holding close all of the responses I’ve gotten from people who were moved to comment in one place or another or to reach out to me directly. I’m taking tonight off to bask in the love I’ve felt from so many, to enjoy the time spent goofing with my little man, and to relax with a movie and exceptional company to bid the weekend goodbye. Thank you all for your presence in my life; I am grateful for each one of you.

Sister-mom-hood.

Edited after the fact: Whoa, y’all. This became quite the childhood manifesto. I knew it was all in there, but I wasn’t planning to share it tonight. But I guess that’s what happens when I tap into a lil bit of family history. And maybe I needed to share it. And maybe you need to read it. At any rate, I’m not editing it down or splitting it up. It is what it is. It’s mine. My truth. My life. My purpose, past, present, and future. So…. Yeah.

I’ve been thinking about that fact that some of you have no idea who Joshua is. I mean, you get that he’s a 14 year old boy who lives with me and eats all the food. But maybe you think he’s my son. Which isn’t the case. So I thought I would talk a bit about that.

Joshua is my brother. I was 17 when he was born, and in the delivery room with our mom and his father. I had and have never experienced anything so beautiful as Joshua’s birth; if you’ve never been present for a natural delivery, I honestly don’t have any words to convey to you the depth and intensity of emotion involved. Of course, there was also pain – my mother’s, sure, but she also dislocated my shoulder while pushing, and to this day, I’m not really sure how or at what point that was remedied. But I digress.

I was 16 years old and about to graduate from high school. I did not live with a parent; I lived with my schoolteacher, who had been a close friend of my mother’s… Until I chose to live with her instead of mom. Mom called to tell me she was pregnant. With Joshua.

Maybe some back story would be helpful here.

See, when I was 13 and around that age (chronology is really difficult for me), our family was more than a bit dysfunctional. Mom had worked really hard to pull it together after being blindsided by a divorce request from “Dad,” father to my brother A and my sister K (who was two weeks old when good ol’ Dad gave mom the heave-ho for my mother’s “best friend”). Mom, A, K, and I left Puerto Rico and the military family life in Decmber of 1990 and came back to New England to stay with family; what else were we to do? Mom was 28, had three kids ages 10, 7, and two months, no education beyond her GED, and hadn’t had to work a full-time job since she was 18 with a small baby child (yep, me) to support. Life was starting over, and she was in over her head to say the least.

She worked hard. SO hard. She immediately enrolled at Andover College to get her associate’s in medical assisting. She worked three part-time jobs while attending school full-time. She got a babysitter when she could, and I took care of stuff when she couldn’t. We lived in poverty, but so did most of the kids in my neighborhood. Maybe they weren’t living in the dead lady’s house, free in exchange for feeding the ancient cat who wouldn’t budge because he’d lived there for 20-odd years and if Grace had died there, by golly, so would he, but still. The kids in my hood didn’t have Shawnee Peak ski tags hanging on the zipper pulls of their North Face puffy down winter coats, and they didn’t have two parents either, and they thought fishing in the ravine with a stick and a worm on a piece of string was a great way to pass the time until it was dark enough to play flashlight tag.

Mom got her degree, and a job – a decent one – working in another small town closer to the New Hampshire border. But she wasn’t happy with the schools in Bridgton, and wanted us to go to the private school her friend Selby was starting. It was in Portland, which was a strange and wonderful universe I had only visited once (that I remembered) on a band field trip where we played a couple of songs in the middle of the mall and then Becky Danis and I bought “Best Friends” necklaces at Claire’s (which were subsequently treated much like Facebook statuses today – used to passive-aggressively express disdain for one another by wearing them under our collars or, for the worst offenses, taken off entirely).

So, we moved to Portland. My brother “A” didn’t adjust well, and maybe his stuff had been building up over the couple of years we’d been in Maine already, or maybe taking him away from everything that had started to become familiar and making him start all over again broke him – I’m not sure, and don’t know if he is, either. At any rate, he became very volatile. I was older, and we were new to the city, and mom was commuting three or four hours a day to work, gone before school started and home after dinner was over. So I got us off to school, I cooked, I did dishes with my Bible quizzing index cards wedged into the gap between the cabinet and the knob so I wouldn’t lose my “rookie of the year” prestige just because we moved to the Big City. Bible quizzing was a church youth group activity at which I’d excelled in our small-town church, and also across New England. I’d been sent to the annual international competition in Florida my first year and it was the one thing I felt good about since we’d landed in Maine.

But no matter how hard I studied those verses, I couldn’t predict or prevent what happened – Mom tried to make sure I still made every quiz meet, and we went to one in Providence, RI. I don’t know what triggered him, but A had a meltdown. He had been aggressive and violent with us at home on plenty of occasions, but this small angry boy perched atop a family minivan, threatening harm to himself and others, cursing a blue streak… he was mine. My brother. My family. And I was embarrassed. I hated him for it. I didn’t know then what I know now; I was 14, 15? and my social circle was more important to me than blood. I know K was there, too, but I couldn’t tell you where she was or who was looking after her while mom tried to talk A down. Maybe I was – it was the role I was accustomed to taking, so I imagine that’s what was. But I don’t remember. I only remember the shame.

My brother was admitted to a hospital, for the first of several stays. It wore mom down, it wore me down, and I imagine it had an effect on K, too, regardless of her age. The violence continued and became a cycle, until one night when mom wasn’t around and A went beyond threats and caused me harm. I know he was as scared as I was when he saw what he’d done, because he retreated to his room – but it was a turning point. I couldn’t protect K anymore, because I could no longer effectively even protect myself. He was getting too big, too strong, too adept at evading my usual tactics. My teacher and her partner came over until mom got home to bring A to the hospital. K and I then went to stay with another family friend, with whom we’d often stayed when these things happened. But this time, when mom came back to say that everything was going to be okay, really, I couldn’t believe her. I told her I wasn’t going back. I was a junior in high school, I had been an adult for nearly five years, and I was ready to be a teenager for the first time. I stayed with those friends for a few months until a more permanent arrangement was made with my teacher’s family for me to stay with them until I graduated.

That was not the end of my contact with mom, A, and K during my high school years, but it was the beginning of boundary-setting. There were many difficult encounters. There were many scary times. There were many heart-wrenching choices. But in the end, mom and I were on good enough terms for her to call me and tell me, “I’m going to have a baby.”

The following several months were full of changes for me; I graduated from high school, signed my first lease as an almost-legal adult, and began working full time. I slowly began attempting to repair family ties that had been clawed to bits two years prior. I established enough of a connection with my mother that, when the time came, I was at the hospital for the first attempt to induce labor with Joshua. I walked mom to and from the hot tub and up and down the halls. I drank enough ginger ale to last a lifetime. I’m pretty sure I watched one of those part cartoon, part live action movies that were all the rage in the early-mid-90s in the waiting room. Then he came.

My connection with Joshua was established in those first seconds he was a breathing being. I saw very little of him for most of his youth. I lived with mom and her husband and the kids for a short while, but then I left, then they moved away, then I moved away again… It wasn’t until I was living in San Francisco and had separated myself from it all enough to see things clearly that I realized that Joshua needed me.

Along with this came the realization (and the accompanying guilt) that K and A had needed me, too. But with the help of loved ones with more perspective than I could have around it all, I also realized that I had not been capable of doing more for them than I did. With Joshua, though, I would be doing us all a disservice if I didn’t step up. I was in a better place – emotionally, mentally, financially – to provide what we all needed. Mom needed the respite to focus on her self-care. K needed to know that someone would take care of Joshua as she had when mom wasn’t able to. And Joshua needed – deserved – an opportunity to thrive in an environment that catered to him. Where his needs came first.

And I needed someone to give myself to. Someone on whom my energy and love wouldn’t be wasted. I’d done a lot of that in the years since I’d given myself to A and K and mom. Always trying to find an outlet for all this giving I wanted to do, but never feeling like there was much of a return.

I found it in Joshua.

I moved home from San Francisco over 4th of July weekend in 2010. I had a lot of settling to do – Portland had been my home as an adult once, but a very different adult than the one I’d become in my time away. Some things felt so different, and others felt only too much the same. I had talked to mom before I moved back about the ways Joshua might benefit from living in Portland, and we had discussed many options – her moving here with him, him moving here first and her coming later, etc. As fall settled in, mom’s cyclical depression came around, and I began taking Joshua on weekends while mom took care of herself. Thanksgiving was the first of several weekends in a row Joshua spent with me, through the holidays. New Year’s Eve, he and I downloaded an app on my iPhone so we could watch the ball drop together – one of the first real bonding experiences we’d had since I returned. And three weeks later, he was enrolled in school in Portland and came to live with me for good. A month later, mom, Joshua’s father, and I sat before a judge and he awarded me sole legal custody. Joshua has lived with me for a year now, and the young man he is today is light years ahead of the monosyllabic boy who wouldn’t look me in the eye for anything. He visits mom, hangs with K, often talks about A with reverence (A gave him his first real computer, with killer specs for creating video). He’s part of a family now, despite what some might see as having been torn from it.

Holy shit I need to take a deep breath or five.

Since I started writing this, three hours have passed. I’ve made Josh cheeseburgers, texted with K, and IMed with A; I wanted to let them know I was airing this shit, because I didn’t know I was going to, and I know it’s not just mine to share.

But what it all comes down to is, FUCK we must all love each other something fierce, to have been through all we have and still be in touch. To still care about each other the way we do. To still actively seek each other out and support one another as we can.

This post really hasn’t told you much about Joshua at all. And that deserves its own post, because damn, that boy is a freaking riot and I love the SHIT out of him. But I guess it told you a little about me. And maybe a little about you, whether because you relate, or because you don’t.

………Okay, I’m done.

Bad influence.

There are many awesome things about having dinner with friends who are parents of a small baby child, a preacher, and a seminarian. I think my favorite is the number of ways I can deliberately misinterpret innocuous phrases that come from the iPod app that teaches animal recognition, or directions on how to feed a fussy baby. Lil G, my chosen-family niece, is gonna learn all kinds of fun things from her Auntie K – if Mamas J don’t disown me before she’s able to pick up on my subtleties.

I am all kinds of sleepy from a day that has involved many things that encourage full-body exhaustion, and also so full of love from so many sources. It has been a pretty fan-freaking-tastic Friday, and the weekend has only just begun. It’s gonna be a good one, I think.

Okay, okay.

Back to not being a mental lazy ass.

So, moderation. Not my favorite word.

Perfectionism. Okay, maybe this won’t be so hard after all. Because perfectionism is, by definition, a need for excess. So I’m kind of already giving myself permission to find a reasonable – moderate – place with all of the things I want to do perfectly or not at all. Hell, that practically wrote itself.

Expectations. This is an interesting one to think about because when it comes to expectations of myself, it ties in closely to perfectionism, but for expectations of others, I have often had high expectations but settled for, well, absolute shit. So maybe it’s about moderating how much I’m willing to let go of – moderation in an upswing as opposed to a decline from excess.

That is a completely half-formed thought, but I kinda like it.

I was reminded earlier tonight, and again just now, of an interview I conducted when I was hiring for an opening at Stormy. The guy was twenty minutes late without letting me know that he would be, so I’d already written him off, but I didn’t want to turn him away at the door. One of the questions about his work ethic prompted the response, “Well I don’t like to do anything half-assed, you know? When I’m given something to work on, I really wanna put my whole ass into it.” …..*crickets*…..

So, I will put my whole ass into developing the aforementioned musing. And in the meantime, cheers, cuz it’s thirsty Thursday and I’m working a half day tomorrow, if Bessie can slip-slide me into work for the first part in the “wintry mix” we’re expecting during the morning commute. Hope y’all are enjoying your evening; I’m off to make delightfully unproductive use of the rest of mine :)

Just kidding.

My brain is taking the night off, so I will conclude yesterday’s post tomorrow. In the meantime, I am going to be in my bed by 10:30pm again, and hopefully asleep by 11:30pm again. The multiple wakeups throughout the night aren’t my favorite, but at least they’re not the anxiety-dream-prompted high alert bolts out of bed of a few months back.

Actually, I’m pretty rarely on high alert these days. None of the people in my day-to-day life create in me that hyper awareness, that need to be ready for crisis out of the blue, that has often been present. It’s kind of awesome not to always be in self-protection mode.

Since otherwise this will feel hugely unproductive, I am going to leave you with my to-do list for the next few days. Or at least part of it. Just the fun parts, really; you don’t care that I need to do laundry. Though one of the stories associated with that is fun. But I digress. The list :)

  • Follow up on the almost-vom-inducing email of Sunday night. From the correct email address this time, dammit.
  • Buy a zillion groceries because the boy has, once again, eaten everything not nailed down in the kitchen. And maybe a few things that were. But I do love payday grocery shopping; it makes for lots of awesome cooking over the weekend.
  • Repot my jungle plant wannabe. She is a beast and is taking over the living room; I went in to water her today and I swear she had wrapped a dime I’d left on the table in one of her little tendrils all nonchalant-like. Thieving lil plant.
  • Make an appointment with USM Admissions. My CCSF stuff is nearly all fixed, and I need to wheedle them into some reasonable exception to the HS transcript thing. I wonder if the admissions officer I’ve been emailing with is into cleavage. I will consider this carefully when planning my outfit.
  • Be excited for a visit from my lovely Femme friend Heidi! We have been online friends through her partner for a bit over a year, and are finally meeting face-to-face. No hurricane or winter storm this time, pleaseandthankyou universe!
  • PAY ALL THE BILLS.

Okay, so that last one wasn’t fun, but one can never pass up an opportunity to give a hat-tip to Hyperbole and a Half. Because that shit is just plain awesome.

Moderation.

Here we are again, Tuesday evening. My therapy session was actually really invigorating and went far better than I expected, and gave me some concrete things to consider and strive for in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Sometimes being a seeker and and a Gemini and codependent and a proud member of the anti-depressant-prescribed community and having a genius IQ means that most of my goals are intangible or, at best, not easily measured for success. I sure do like a change from that now and again.

Our main topic tonight was that of moderation. Richard suggested that the pursuit of moderation, or in keeping with the theme, letting go of excess, might be a good addition to my list of things to focus on in the new year. I thought I would see how I could tie it into the four I’ve chosen, because an overarching theme seems a good way to think about it all each day without necessarily needing to drill down to each particular. So, tonight I’ll muse on two of them, and tomorrow we’ll tackle the other two, shall we?

Fear. This is a pretty easy one, really; the kind of moderation we discussed is something I often don’t allow myself because I am afraid that the good feelings I am experiencing will become unavailable to me. I need to recognize that, by enjoying certain of life’s offerings in moderation, they are far more likely to remain than if I overindulge and cannot maintain balance. I have many responsibilities, to myself, to Joshua, to my friends, to my employer, to my community – if I allow myself to become engulfed by any one facet of my life, the others suffer, and that threatens far greater loss than my irrational fear of a source of happiness disappearing on me.

Resentment. Another easy one (and I didn’t even do that on purpose!). If I am giving most of myself  in one direction, the people who are shortchanged will grow resentful of me and my overwhelmingly primary focus, and I resentful toward them for wanting more of me than I have allowed myself to have left to give. If I do not maintain the balance that is healthy and giving in the correct amounts to each part of my life that need my time and attention, including my own self-care, then I become resentful toward the object of my excess, poisoning the relationship.

So, here’s to moderation, and the ways it supports sustainable happiness and well-being. Now I think I’m going to go sleep for 12 hours.

Kidding.

Sorta.

Overcoming Worry

My organization offers Dale Carnegie training sessions every quarter. I attended “Interpersonal Competence for Career Growth” in June, and one of the takeaways was Dale Carnegie’s “Golden Book,” a pocket guide to the fundamental principles these courses and Carnegie’s books address.

As I was setting up shop in my new workspace, I decided to give the golden book a more prominent focus, and to fold it open to a new page after really taking some time to think about and incorporate the principles on the page I’m on. The first page I chose contains principles from How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.

Fundamental Principles for Overcoming Worry

1. Live in “day-tight compartments.”

2. How to face trouble:

     a. Ask yourself, “What is the worst that can possibly happen?”

     b. Prepare to accept the worst.

     c. Try to improve on the worst.

3. Remind yourself of the exorbitant price you can pay for worry in terms of your health.

The last one in particular reminded me of my earlier post about neglecting and abusing our emotional selves, and the physical manifestations of the workings of our mind alone. At an impromptu meeting this morning, we received some data – just information, no concrete plan for change, but still, the atmosphere was thick with worry and anticipation. “What ifs” began flying, and with them, heart rates and anxiety levels and muscle tension.

If we keep these few simple principles in mind when faced with information that causes worry, if we can bring the focus in to the “day-tight” view, consider the worst and turn it over in our heads with logic rather than fear, and breathe deeply to keep our bodies from running away with our worry, then we can move forward with some confidence that we are prepared for the next piece of data.

Take it all in stride, baby. That’s what we gotta do.

Eep.

…Do you ever hit “send” on an email, and immediately feel like you’re going to vom? …yeah, me neither. *gulp*

In other news, I don’t really have a whole lot of other news. I filed my taxes today, and am pre-spending the return in my head. It doesn’t take long.

I’m also pretty much over this snow thing. And this cold thing. They are cramping my style in a very serious way – it is damned near impossible to find sexy shoes that are not also lethal on Portland’s brick sidewalks, which are slippery enough when they’re just wet, let alone covered in patchy packed snow and puddles of slush.

I think it is bath time, and then bed time. Goodnight, weekend. I sure did love you. Can’t wait to see you again.