A Monday, Changes – An excerpt from my next book “3 Pairs of Shoes”

First, the three shoes

Red shoes – the teacher.  Red Shoes are slick, and shiny, with slim, wax covered laces.  Her red shoes make a sharp heel sound when she walks down the hallways, followed by a clicking noise, as the tips of the laces tap the sides of her shoes.  When she walks, she means business.  She has much compassion for her students, but she must spread her compassion around to all her students equally.  Close to her students for only one year of their life, she must lead with love, but then let them go as she finds energy to usher in the next group.  She has done this for 20 years now.

Blue shoes – the parent.  Blue Shoes are well worn, way past their prime, and full of deep scratches.  Not having time for lacing, these shoes are open in the back, so she can slide her feet into them at a moments notice.  She loves both her kids equally, but sometimes one takes up more energy than the other, simply because one of her children walks the world in disability shoes.  Her energy is focused on both the short term school year, and the life long projection.  Everything falls down to her, eventually.

Black Shoes – the student with autism.  They are lace-ups with thick gum soles.  They are spotless, and laced neatly, since Black Shoes cannot stand for her shoes to get dirty.  Black Shoes is silent on the outside, but filled with poetry on the inside.  Her shoes may carry her to the places she visits, but her typing fingers take her far beyond the confines of the moment.  She just wants to be happy, healthy, and heard.

A Monday, Changes

Red Shoes

Today, Black Shoes was good in class.  She didn’t have her homework done, again, and said she forgot.  The school has provided each student with an agenda for writing down assignments, and I know I keep my webpage updated.  I simply do not understand why her mother cannot follow up at home.  I never see her mother at school and only met her during registration day.  She has failed to attend other school events where she might see how I do things at school.  I really want Black Shoes to succeed, and I do care for her, but I have 90 other kids I have to pay attention to as well.  Black Shoes does get some help from a special helper, but I think she is capable of much more if she would just focus more.

Today, her mother emailed me saying Black Shoes was having a hard time at school.  Apparently, mom is seeing all kinds of worrisome behavior at home.  We haven’t seen Black Shoes act out or show us any reason for concern.  Maybe mom is just overwhelmed.  All I know is Black Shoes could be doing better.  I am doing all I can.

Blue Shoes

This morning marks the 12th night in a row that Black Shoes screamed in her sleep.  The melatonin is not working.  I have also lost sleep, just making sure she is in bed and staying in bed.  Changes at school have her stressed.  The changes, overall, seem minor, but she just cannot grasp what is happening.  I have tried talking with her, but she just cannot give me any ideas on how to help her.  I have tried contacting the school, but they say she acts fine at school.  It makes me so angry to see a kid doing well, making all A’s, and then suddenly slip into depression and not turning in homework.  I’ve tried getting the teacher to sign the agenda, so I have an idea of what homework she has, and so I can help her, but the agenda is most often empty.  It’s in the IEP, but that seems to make no difference.  Often times the online posting of assignments it posted too late, or not specific enough for me to know what is happening.  Did Black Shoes do her work at school? Does she need her text book?  I check online every night, but I am still finding out weeks later that she has zeros.

On top of changes at school, Black Shoes has a project that is due.  She struggles so much with long term projects because of her troubles with executive functioning.  Despite my work schedule, I have had to find time to do a project with her too.  Why can’t these projects be made to only require of her what she can do alone?  Why can’t she get help at school from special education teachers?  I can’t remember the last time I could just sit with Black Shoes and play a game, or take her out for fun, we know how much I am told by professionals that family bonding time is important.  We are always working, when can we bond?  If things don’t get done, I am the one who is blamed, and so is Black Shoes.  I tried to attend some school functions, but my work schedule clashed with the open house the school had a few weeks ago.  Since I am paid by the hour, missing work means less pay.  Her needs are too expensive for me to not work.

I have tried communicating with leaders and teachers at school.  Some of the teachers respond, and I am grateful for that.  But I can’t write emails asking questions I don’t know to ask.  I can see Black Shoes needs help, but I have no idea what is wrong.  The meltdowns this week are many and I am simply exhausted.  I have another kid that needs my attention too.  But all I hear is, “You should have thought about that before having children.”  I didn’t plan for autism, no one does.  I am doing all I can.

Black Shoes

My stomach hurts again today.  I can’t eat anything but  a few bites of pizza pockets.  Sometimes I can eat my sandwich at lunch.  I do not know why I feel bad.  I like my teachers, but I do not understand what they want of me.  I am quiet in class, even when I feel like screaming, because when I screamed before, I got in trouble and had my favorite free time taken away from me.  I want to ask for help, but I do not know how, or what I really need help with.  I understand everything they teach me, I just can’t always prove it.  So, I get distracted, and I forget what the homework is.  I want to write it down, but I can’t write fast enough when the teacher is speaking.  I am not allowed to have my iPod at school to type my assignments on my calendar.  I am told I have something called an IEP that helps me.  No one asked me to be a part of the conversation.  I may not know what to ask for, but maybe if I hear what the teachers want, I can try to talk to them.  I want to be good at school.

My helper comes in to help me, and I think she is nice, but I am feeling too much pressure.  My brain doesn’t want to work at the speed everyone else wants me to.  I used to get time to cool down in a special room, but that was taken away.  Now I am asked to do more work.  Does no one see how much work it takes for me to sit here and be quiet instead of screaming because my stomach hurts, I am tired, I am confused, and I can’t ask for help?  Why can’t anyone here see my pain?  I have to learn to read when others are hurting, why can’t others read me when I am hurting?  They teach me to express emotion, and when I do I get in trouble because it wasn’t the right time, the right place, the right proportion, or making sense to them.  I just want to scream!  But I can’t, so I hide in quiet places and play games that calm me.  I am in pain all day.  I can’t take it anymore.

When I get home, I can see my mother is tired.  She wants to help me.  She sees I am in pain and tries to tell my school.  They do not see my pain so they think my mom is the problem.  I don’t have to tell my mom I am in pain, but I still can’t tell her what I need.  If I knew what I needed, I would be like the other kids, right?  It is kind of like swimming.  If you know how to swim when someone throws you in the water, then you will swim to the side.  If you don’t know how to swim, you will flap your arms, and kick your legs, and look as if you want to swim, but you still won’t know how to swim.  Having someone on the side screaming, “try harder” doesn’t help.  Someone asking, “what do you need” doesn’t help because you need to swim and you can’t.  It’s too late for a swimming lesson when you are trying to stop drowning.  Save me from the water, then we can learn to swim together.  Don’t just tell me to try harder.  Don’t ask me what I need while I am drowning.

I have feelings I do not understand.  I know they are sad feelings.  All I can do now is block the world out.  I have tried hard to live in their world, but no one is happy with me.  They want me to be like normal kids, but I am not a normal kid, no matter how much they teach me to be normal, and no matter how much I “act” normal.  I am me.  I am a not normal me, but a valid me.  I can be very good at being me, but I need help, not punishment.  Why can’t anyone hear me?  Why can’t anyone see me?  Why is it always my moms fault, or my fault, when I fall?  Can’t it be the systems fault?  Can’t it just be that this is the wrong path for me?  I am tired of hearing about all the other students and being fair.  No one tries to see the world from my eyes.  I have to go to classes and learn to see the world through normal eyes.  Why don’t the normal kids have to see things through my eyes?  Why are they called normal?  Can’t I just be me?  I am doing all I can.

3 Pairs of Shoes is scheduled for release in August of 2014.

The Way of the Bonsai

There had been great anticipation inside the hearts of the couple who, one day, gave birth to twin girls.  Their efforts to continue in love, the image of themselves, perhaps embodied in the personality of another, rejoiced in their gift, multiplied by two.

As the girls grew, the parents became suspicious of the twins.  They had been taught how twins are alike; how they look the same, feel the same, act the same, and engage in the same practices of play and preference.  These twins, their precious double gift, were not alike.

The first girl was just like her parents.  Even at the youthful age of 11, she reflected her father’s talent in the fine art of baking.  In school, she outshone her peers in mathematics, just like her studious mother.  This child was talkative, outgoing, and loved to be the center of attention.  She was the best of both her parents.

The second girl was different from her twin.  She did not reflect her parent’s talents, and, in fact, struggled to find her own talents.  She was not a Baker, or a Mathematician, but was fascinated with trees.  Every day, she would return home covered in dirt from digging up saplings, and planting them in small pots on the back porch.  Afterwards, she would spend hours talking to them, singing to them, and pruning them.  This child hardly ever spoke to others, but loved to talk to her trees, and about her trees.

Frustrated that the twins were not alike, the parents took the children to town to seek help.  They wanted to know what was wrong with the second girl.  First, they visited the town Physician. The doctor checked the girls from top to bottom.  Brilliant, but limited only to the teachings of medicine, the doctor said,

“I see your second child is different than your first child, but I cannot find anything wrong with her health.  Perhaps she should be on a different diet.”

And with that, the parents were given instructions on a new diet for the second child.

Weeks passed, and the second child remained unlike the first.  So, the parent’s took the children to the town Psychologist.  The Psychologist checked the girls from hemisphere to neuron.  Brilliant, but limited only to the teachings of the mind, the Psychologist said,

“I see your second child is different than your first child, but I cannot find anything wrong with her mind.  Perhaps she should be in a different class, for people who are different, where she can learn to fit in.”

And with that, the parents sent the second child to a different class.

Weeks passed, and the second child remained unlike the first.  Frustrated, and out of places to take the child, the parent’s returned to town, looking for answers in anyone they could find.  As they walked through town, asking the towns people questions, the second child pulls at her mother’s hand.  Reluctant to go, but wanting to avoid a scene, the parent’s follow the second child into a small, secluded shop of the town flower shop.

The shop was filled with hundreds of tiny trees in pots, just like the second child enjoyed.  The parent’s had never seen this before and were truly awestruck by the tiny forest before them.  Miniature Maples, Pines, and fruit trees were organized neatly into little gatherings, and accented with tiny buildings.  A small model train weaved in and out of the little landscape.  This was unlike most miniature villages, made of synthetic materials.  This was a landscape of living trees, real wood houses, and miniature flowering bushes.  It was as if the town were awaiting real, miniature people.

As they rounded to the back of the store, a man sit trimming one of his little trees.  He was calm, happy, and welcoming.  He looked up from his work, and smiled.  The parents, doused in shock, muttered out their question.

“What is it that you are doing?”  The mother asks.

“I am pruning my tree using the art of Bonsai.”

“Bonsai?”

“Yes.  It is an ancient art form of growing and pruning real trees to grow in containers.”

“You mean, you train the trees to grow how you want?  Well, then, maybe you can help.  My second child is supposed to be a twin.  But she is different from the first.  I have been searching for the way to make her the same as the first, but no one has been able to give us a way that works.” the mother explained.

“Which one is different?”

“The one unlike her parents.  The one unlike her twin.  The one who obsesses over tiny trees, like you.”

“Ahh, I see.  So you have come here, seen my obsession of tiny trees and hope that I have the answer.  Hoping, I have the way to make your second child not seem different.”

“Yes, exactly.”

Without warning, the Bonsai Master steps behind a wooden louvered door.  Minutes roll by, and the parent’s begin to fear that they have offended the man.  Just as they are ready to give up and leave, the Bonsai master returns with a pair of scissors, and lays them on the counter in front of the parents.

“This will solve your problem.  These are special scissors designed for trimming Bonsai Trees.”

“Oh, I see.  You want me to give these to my second child so she can learn, through the art of Bonsai, how to train herself to be like us.”

“No,”  answers the Bonsai Master, “the scissors are for you.”

“For me?”

“I prune the trees to realize their full potential, even when their space is limited.  The tree trains me.  I learn from the tree, and the tree benefits from my hard work.  But, not all Bonsai are the same, and this is good.  It makes for a more interesting forest.  You must learn from the tree.  You must see the tree as the child.  You must prune the child to realize her full potential, even when her world is limited.  The child trains you.  You learn from the child, and the child benefits from your hard work.  But, not all children are the same, and this is good.  It makes for a more interesting world.”

“And this will fix my child?”

“This will fix your view of your child, and she will no longer seem broken.”

-LN

Farewell Catarina, Farewell to Love

As I am a creature of patterns, though there is a vast difference between patterns and repetitious outcomes that slap me in the face. Despite my prodigious optimism, to see past persistant repetitious outcomes, I am mourning the reality that one particular area of my life may be settled into a pattern opposite of what I desire. The area of romantic love.

Despite my best efforts, it occurs to me that the universe has somehow thrust into me a desire to fall in love, but had been too busy to put me in love’s reach. The passion in me feels effervescent, pushing through to the surface, and translated into tender movements that none desire of me, at least not for any reason past their own selfish sensations. It’s as if I am a flower that some desire to watch bloom, but do not wish to wallow in the scent.

I am doused with confusion. Why is the world from which I hear such sweet melodies, filled with such paltry moments? When it comes to love, are people purposefully disguised as mirages?

I fear that my writings of my youth are all too insightful. Perhaps it was insight, not naivety, that led my pen to create Catarina, a girl who thought that her love for music was so great, she would never feel the arms of romantic love.

As I write this, I realize I have no clever quotes to give, or stories to tell. The pain is just to great. So, tonight I play the sounds of love’s departure from me. I suppose I was not built to share romantic love, I was built only to bottle it in song. Should you ever see a melody from me called Farewell Catarina, you will know it is my farewell to love.

The Wasp and the Wind

There is this little spot where the wind always whispers to me when I am in most need of wisdom.  Not far from my home, on the southwest summit of Stone Mountain, I find comfort in sitting upon a rock under a gathering of strangely dwarfed pine trees.  The view is spectacular, especially at sunset when the warm orange hughes dust over the clouds leaving the Atlanta city skyline as nothing more than a gray silhouette. It is no wonder I am so inspired by the wind there.
 
One afternoon I ventured to my little spot to enjoy the warmth of the midday sun.  Tired from the climb, I placed my backpack upon the ground, sat facing into the wind and sipped water from my travel bottle.  I thought it odd when my eye caught a wasp walking towards my bag.  He delicately trembled when he walked stopping every few steps as if to catch his breath.  As he crawled onto my bag, I began to panic.  I did not want to be stung by this wasp especially since I was allergic to his sting.  My seemingly rational fear swarmed through my mind, causing me to jump up and pace around my bag.  How was I to get this wasp off my bag so I could concentrate on the wind?
 
My fear turned to vigilance as I cooked up little schemes for getting the wasp off of my bag.  I tried tipping the bag over so he was forced to fly away but he did not respond to my initial light tap.  So, I increased the intensity of each bag tipping incrementally until I was finally forced to pick up the bag and shake it with short violent thrusts .  My boldness was alarming, especially since I was so afraid of the wasp.  Yet this wasp was unfazed.
 
I sat back down, nearer the bag than before, puzzled and perturbed.  Why won’t this annoying wasp leave me be?  Why would he not respond to my nearly violent bag shoving and pacing about?  A moment passed and I was then struck by the thought, what if he could no longer fly?  I had never thought that a wasp could become ill or lose the ability to fly even though it is an inescapable truth that all things die.  My fear of this little creature had not only made wasps angry and aggressive, but also immortal.  
 
A calm warmed over neck and shoulders like being wrapped in a fleece blanket.  I was no longer afraid of the wasp.  I sat quietly and watched as this little wasp, never wavering in his courage, wobbled up to the southwest summit of my backpack.  Upon reaching the top, he reared up and lifted his arms into the wind.  A tremor ran through his body as he struggled to move his wings.  Strain after strain, tremor after tremor; for nearly twenty minutes, this little wasp struggled to take flight.  Breathless, he wilted, only to give himself up to ultimate failure.  How was it that something with such an angry sting now garnered every ounce of my empathy? 
 
This day on my sitting rock beneath the tress I did not hear the wind whisper.  Instead, with a roar, the wind screamed into my mind that despite it’s ugly sting, life offers us these unexpected little moments to be courageous, empathetic and free all at once.  Sometimes, we are so disturbed by what we are taught is beauty that we wither into to a blindness by fear and a deafness by our selfish internal murmurs.  Although I cannot promise that I won’t continue to panic when I am confronted by a wasp, at least now I know I am only afraid of the pain of the sting and not the stinger.  Maybe this is why no matter how deeply we are pained by the sting of loss, disappointment and failure, we cannot fear moments to be courageous, empathetic and free.
 
Laura Nadine