Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Paralysis

I had big plans this morning to finish painting our great room while the youngest napped. To finally be done with all our big indoor projects and be able to concentrate on the outdoors now that the weather is slightly cooler than hell.

Instead, I can't move. I'm just sitting here, sad, frustrated, angry, paralyzed.

A little over a year ago, my car broke down. It was at a busy intersection. My infant was in the back seat, not napping because apparently none of my children got the genetic memo that cars are restful to infants. I got out of my car and walked to the side of the road. At some point in my life, I remember being told not to stay in a car on the side of the road in case someone plowed into you. Probably there is a hole in that argument somewhere, but I was more concerned with the screaming infant than rational thought.

Shortly after that, a police car pulled past and then pulled over in front of my car. The officer got out, approached me confidently and kindly and said he had received a report of a woman with a car broken down and wanted to make sure everything was ok.

Was everything ok?

Welp, yes, it was. Just a popped tire.

But would it have been ok if I was a black man standing on the side of the road next to my vehicle? Would that officer have exited his vehicle calmly and confidently, weapon holstered?

Or would I have been another Terence Crutcher? An innocent man, a father, a college student whose car got stuck in the middle of the road and who happened to be in the way of some officers heading to a different call. And would they have gotten out of their cars and pointed their weapons at me? And would I have thought rationally? Would I have run? Would I have stayed still? Would I have put my hands in the air?

What would I have done if my car broke down and I was black?

Friends, I am seeing justification up and down on facebook. I am hearing people say "we don't know what happened" or "we don't know what the suspect really said."

Suspect? Really? Was I a "suspect" when my car broke down? Did I look like a "bad dude"?

Nope.

Because I am a white woman.

No fewer than 15 other people stopped that day to see if I was ok. Some people brought me water. Some people asked if they could help with the tire or if I needed a lift.

I was showered with trust and generosity.

Terence was showered with bullets.

And now I, yet again, have to tell my white son that our conversations about the world are going to look a little different than what his brothers will have to hear. I'll have to tell him that he will likely be given the benefit of the doubt. That no one will look at him, dressed in blue jeans and a white t-shirt with a stalled vehicle, and assume he is a bad dude who is probably on drugs.

But they might look at his brothers that way. They might.

My middle child is big for his age. Well, huge, actually. He's muscular and loud and tall. He wears youth small clothes at the age of 2.5 and you can hear him coming from a mile away. And I know from research that he will be perceived as a threat from a much younger age than a big white kid. I know from research that he will be more likely to have the police called for a school infraction. I know from research that his black skin may invoke a feeling of fear in people who see him and don't know that he is sweet and funny and only 2.

So there are other things I know.

I know that he will not wear a hoodie when driving when he's a teenager.

I know that he will not probably call the police if his car breaks down.

I know that he will never play with toy guns.

I know he won't be able to drive slower than the speed limit on a dark road if he is having trouble seeing.

I know that we will have to teach him that very scary line of learning to respect authorities and also knowing that many authorities will not have his best interests at heart.

And you know what?

I know these things because I actually know black people. I have friends who have told me their stories. Who have shared their frustrations. Who have LIVED with these fears and this knowledge their whole lives. Who share about the microaggressions perpetrated on them on a daily basis. Who are tired and frustrated and just about out of hope in our country because black lives clearly do not matter. Who are actual people, not statistics or articles or stereotypes in hollywood.

Who have lived and breathed a culture of hatred toward them their whole lives.

I've only been thinking about it for a little over a decade. And I don't have to live it.

But my sons will.

Today I am sad. So sad. Aching for Terence's family. Aching for all the parents out there who don't know if their children will make it home from the park or the bus stop or the football game on Friday night. Aching for my friends who aren't sure whether it's worth it to drive anywhere anymore. For the ones who have lost loved ones and had guns pulled on them for watering their neighbors flowers. Who worry about coming home after dark to their apartment in case their neighbors call the police on a "suspicious black person."

Aching because too many people in our country are never given the benefit of the doubt. Too many peoples lives don't actually matter.

And so even though I am paralyzed and my wall is definitely not going to be painted today, I continue to write. I continue to shout Black Lives Matter from the top of my lungs. I continue to listen and learn and teach my sons.

I continue to hope that things can change even in the face of overwhelming sadness.

Because if I lose hope, I fear I'll stay paralyzed forever. And that, my friends, won't solve anything.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Those Teachers

"Would it be possible for you to stay for a little while to talk after you drop your son off in the morning some time this week?"

A simple question, right? With my firstborn, any assumptions I might have made when directed this question would have run the lines of how we can give him extra challenges at home or "hey, we need a parent to volunteer for such and such."

With my second? Instant tension.

"Of course. Will tomorrow work?" (Best to get it done fast.)

Those who read my blog regularly already know that my son hadn't had the best first week of preschool ever. Meltdowns, tantrums, throwing toys, special trips to the director's office for "breaks." We went into our first weekend with an overtired toddler, a freshly written social story about how to use our hands in kind ways and the teensiest shred of hope that we might make it to October before being kicked out.

Enter Monday morning's question.

And then 24 more hours of wondering if we were about to be on the preschool hunt again.

This tired mama plodded into school on Tuesday, dropped off her toddler, who promised up and down that he would not be throwing toys today, and headed to the auditorium to meet with the woman who had substituted for his teacher the first week.

T: "First off, let me just say how much fun Nate is. He makes us all laugh.'
Me: "OK..." (She's trying to let me know nicely, right?)
T: "Second, he is just so sweet. He LOVES his little friends. And what a smile!"
Me: "OK..." (Wait, where are we going?)
T: "We just wanted to meet really quickly to see if you have some special strategies you use when he is frustrated that we can reinforce here at school? We can tell that consistency is key with him and just want to do what you are doing so he can have a fantastic year here!"
Me: (Finally breathing) "Oh...Oh, ok...yes, of course. I can tell you what we do at home, no problem! Thanks for asking!"

Friends, let me tell you something. When you have a "typically" developing child, you don't think about a lot of things that other parents might. You don't assume a phone call from school is about a problem that your child has caused. You can maybe go out to dinner or have guests come over without wondering if you will suffer for it for the rest of the week. You can do all sorts of things without assuming it will set your child on a course to meltdown mode.

So when you end up at a school where the teachers say something like they did to me on that Tuesday morning, you want to cry for joy. You might not have to cringe every time the phone rings because it is not you versus them. You might see your son light up when he sees his teachers because he can sense they are ON HIS SIDE. That they are FOR HIS GOOD. That they see the beauty and the sweet and the fun even through the frustrations and the sensory issues and the screaming. They see HIM, a little boy; they don't see a problem.

I have met a lot of teachers in my life. And most of them have been wonderful. I don't know how they would have handled my middle child. I think some would have only seen the challenge. And some would maybe have found it too hard. Some would have reacted like his new teachers. But there is no way to know who you are going to get when you take that preschool tour.

So today I am thankful for all the teachers out there who truly love children. Who don't just see them as problems to be fixed or challenges to be avoided. Who see the image of God in these little people who are so desperately in need of boundaries and love and structure and who maybe have brains wired a little differently from their peers and, therefore, need a little extra patience and creativity. Thankful that they see what these kids can contribute even now when they are challenging and see the potential of their persistent personalities.

Because of you, I know when I arrive to pick up my son, no matter what day he has had, you are working with me, with us, to help him and love him. You aren't waiting to tell me the worst of what you saw. I don't know how to fully explain to you how much of a gift that is to moms like me.

Keep doing what you are doing. You are heroes making a huge difference not just in the lives of those little ones but in their whole families.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Bounce Back

There's this time every night that happens like clockwork.

All of my kids have been asleep for awhile. No noise. The dog is snoring quietly on the couch. I'm finishing up emails or cleaning up from the day. Husband is working on dishes. It's almost time to start winding down for bed but for a few precious minutes, I am just alive.

And no matter what kind of day I have had, no matter how much screaming or how many meltdowns or how many times I've been pinched or kicked or punched, no matter how few minutes of quiet or calm there was in the day, I reset.

I call it the "bounce back."

It's that moment when I remember that tomorrow is new. That there is hope. That my life won't always be this loud, this out of control. That day by day we will figure out the special needs of my middle child and continue to learn how to meet them. That my other two will survive until we do.

It's one moment every day where I take a breath and say "I can do this again. I can."

Last night was different.

I had walked into my toddler's school for pick-up on his first day and could hear him losing his mind even though I was around the corner and his classroom door was shut. I peeked through the window and saw him sobbing on the floor under a table. I sighed. I braced myself, knowing that to get out of there with him and his little brother in tact, I'd need all my wits about me and an extra measure of arm strength. It ain't easy carrying a 40+ pound toddler in one arm and a 30+ toddler in the other, especially when one is totally unhinged.

I walked in, already ashamed. Already embarrassed. Already sure that he had probably treated his new friends poorly. Aware that there were other parents trying to pick up their smiling kids while mine made a scene in the corner. Trying to avoid their gaze, their stares. Hoping he hadn't hit their kids or if he had that no one was hurt.

Tired. Oh so tired of this.

We managed to get home, somehow. And later that day, he was asleep by 6 pm after a short nap and a rough afternoon.

And as I sat on the couch last night after the other two were asleep, the moment didn't come. I just felt defeated. Sad. Exhausted. And fell into bed, to the sweet oblivion of sleep.

People like to say "hey, you know this will pass" or "toddlers are terrorists" or "when they are little it's little problems, when they are bigger it's big problems so savor the little." The thing is, I don't know for sure that it will pass and it doesn't feel like little problems. And I don't like living my life based on a possibility that it will get better. It might not. There are no guarantees. It has been two years. TWO YEARS of screaming and meltdowns and defiance and injuries and isolation.

And let me be clear. I'm not looking for advice. We are still in the midst of lots of dietary changes, we just moved across the country, his teacher ended up NOT being there the first day of school and my son had to roll with a stranger we had not prepped him for. I should have expected the bad day. Especially after a weekend where we had people staying with us and messed up bedtimes. We know better. Sometimes I just can't handle the routine, the regimen, the sheer inability to do anything that might upset or mess his day and I say yes to actually having a life occasionally. But, there's no breathing room when I do. He can't handle it.

There was no bounce back last night. I woke up sad today and wondering if he's going to get kicked out of preschool. And hurting. Feeling so isolated in this. Tired of explaining to new people why he is behaving like he is. Tired of being embarrassed that he peed on the neighbors lawn (the ones we haven't met yet, of course.) Resentful that every day revolves around making sure we have the fewest meltdowns possible so that my other children don't end up with PTSD.

This morning, I walked my son in to school. We have been shamed before in these situations and I could feel myself tense up, waiting for some kind of warning or reprimand about my parenting.

"Nate! Hi! We're so glad you're back."

I looked at them and they smiled. "We've got this. He's a sweetie. We're going to love on your little boy and he's going to have a great time. Don't worry."

They could have said so many other things, but they didn't. They spoke life into my son. Which spoke life into me. They aren't going to give up on him too easily, at least.

As I sit here, he's asleep. My oldest is due back any minute from school and I am trying to muster up enough energy to greet him with a smile. He needs that. He SO needs a mom that looks like she did bounce back last night. And maybe I will tonight.

In the meantime, friends, do something for me.

Remember us the next time you see a mom who looks defeated. She might feel completely done. You don't know her story. Just pray for her. Or offer her a hand. Or a word of encouragement. Try not to stare. Don't say anything trite about it passing soon. She might not have gotten her bounce back last night. She might need a stranger's smile to give her what she needs to get through the rest of her day.

Do it for me, please. For my son. And all the other parents in my life who are going through this same thing for various reasons.

We love our kids but this journey can be so very, very hard.