Archive for May 2012
Onwards. Moving on. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? The truth is, moving on gets easier the more you move on. There will always be bumps in the road, hitches along the way, but once you start the momentum, it gets easier. Somehow, bouncing back gets easier the more bounce you have.
A little over a year ago, I wrote this post lamenting that a school wouldn’t accept Pudding. It was the first time she’d been rejected because of her autism, and I was crushed.
We are about two and a half years from the time Pudding was first diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. In the early days, I wouldn’t have been able to move on from such a rejection. I’d have taken one person’s opinion as proof that the world will always be an unwelcoming place for my girl.
Even last year, I took that initial rejection as a defeat. Now…it is a negotiation. If a school can’t accept my child, they need to say why. We can find a way to provide support, if they can provide acceptance. If a school can’t, or if fear of Autism is the only reason for exclusion, it isn’t a place that looks at a child as an individual. It probably isn’t a good place for any child. Certainly not for mine.
I’ve been thinking about this as I talked to a friend about how I was beginning to feel uncomfortable in the direction an online support group had turned. I appreciate that, like the autism community as a whole, this support group is divided. I don’t expect everyone to hold the same opinion as I do, but I find it increasingly hard to read about autism depicted as a disease. Or to hear about expensive and untested treatments as the epitome of being a “warrior mama.”
I’m not a warrior. I don’t need to fight a battle. We are diplomats, finding a way to negotiate the obstacles that we face.
We can’t expect schools, and society as a whole to include and accept our children, if we as parents aren’t ready to do that as well. Like many other parents, in the early stages I found my daughter’s diagnosis was overwhelming. I grieved for the loss of a life I expected to live, and struggled to accept the changes that would come our way. I was stuck.
But all along, right in front of me, was a child who was always developing, just in a different way to what we expected. Once I realized that she was moving on- I could do that too. I didn’t need to hold on to grief. I didn’t need to find radical ways to eliminate autism from my child. She isn’t broken, or diseased. She is human, whole, happy. She is loved.
Pudding has taught me a lifetime of lessons in her 5 years on this planet, but most of all, she teaches me to keep going. To let nothing stop us- to always find another way. Now the very doors of a school that were once locked to us, are wide open in welcome.
There is another way, and we’ll find it together. We just have to keep moving onwards until we get there.
This post is part of my A-Z series. You can find the rest of the entries by clicking >here<.
After our first trip to Pudding’s new school, we looked through the book her teacher had made, and talked about them a little. We were going to return on Monday, so this time I learned from my mistakes. I was more specific about what would happen. Instead of going to see the new school, teachers, playground and friends, I told her we would be going back to play on the playground at the new school with the new friends, and her teachers would be there too.
I don’t think it was just the choice of words, but at least she knew what was expected of her this time. While everything is still new, it wasn’t so overwhelming this time. Instead of parking in the huge car park and walking through the rest of the campus, I parked around the back, so we only had to walk around the elementary part of the school.
Pudding showed none of her reticence this time. She skipped up to her teacher when she saw her, and took her hand to accompany her to meet some of the children in the classroom. Cubby, recovering from illness, had come along too, so he and I busied ourselves on the playground.
It was some time before they returned. Pudding had been playing. She’d immediately taken up with another little girl in pink, and told her that they matched! She ran out with a few other children and they all piled on to the playground.
I caught her teacher’s eye, who smiled back. After the other children left, Pudding moved on to drawing, then we went for a look around her new classroom. Pudding discovered another place to draw, and in no time at all had made herself quite at home. I wasn’t sure she was going to want to leave.
“She’s going to be fine,” said her teacher, and I honestly think that she will.
I think we all will. She belongs here, with teachers who see a child’s strengths as well as weaknesses. And who know that calming a parent goes a long way to easing anxiety in children. We’ll be coming again next week for a final familiarization session. This time we’re both looking forward to it, and the start of the next chapter in Pudding’s education.
On Friday I took Pudding to her New School to meet her New Teachers and play with her New Friends. Did you notice all the New in that sentence? Pudding did. She did pretty well, but she was the most anxious I’d seen her in a long time.
The new school is quite a distance away, so I sipped on a hot chocolate on the drive over. Only when I got out did I realize the drink had been leaking on to my top the whole time. I wasn’t going to make a great first impression.
When Pudding gets anxious, she tends to withdraw and disengage. Some children on the spectrum (and some who aren’t) have other ways of expressing their anxiety. It is obviously hard to see a child who becomes aggressive or tearful, but at least you can see that something is amiss.
I, of course, was feeling anxious too. But seeing Pudding’s new teachers pick up on Pudding’s anxiety made me feel calm. If they can read her, I can relax, and focus on other things, like the amount of hot beverage I spilled on myself without noticing.
Pudding’s new teacher had very thoughtfully made her a new book with pictures of her new school, class, playground and teachers. Pudding hung on to that thing like a life raft as a sea of new people, big and small, came to introduce themselves to her. No, she didn’t want to play. No, she wasn’t going to say ‘hi’.
And that was fine. Pudding needs to be comfortable before she can be herself. First impressions don’t matter much to her. That can be a problem for strangers who don’t allow for anxiety. Who makes judgements from isolated incidents that prove that she is antisocial and withdrawn. It isn’t the whole story. It isn’t even a whole chapter. But it can be enough to make some people but the book down.
Back down to just two teachers and us, Pudding relaxed, and even spent some time alone with them. We all agreed that bringing Pudding back another couple of times before the end of term would be beneficial. While this might be the first impression, it wasn’t going to be the last.
And then the teachers mentioned how they’d found this blog. So it wasn’t exactly first impressions any way, not if you could read about our lives for the last couple of years. I finally got over the fact that my top was stained by the persistent thought that several of these people had probably just read my post about nipples! (But artfully done, right?).
Pudding was willing to come back, and really that was the only thing that mattered. My first impressions were of a welcoming, experienced staff, and a caring community- the kind that I’d be happy to return to. Which is just as well, because we were back there today (more on that tomorrow). With someone as beautifully complex as Pudding, you don’t so much judge the book by the cover, as find that you want to keep reading more and more as her story unfolds.
Did you know there was a hugely divisive edition of Time magazine recently? Oh well of course you did! You read that article and the aftermath so long ago you’ve forgotten about it by now. And I’m still here waiting for my edition of Time come through the diplomatic pouch. We have to wait a little longer to get our mail as we’re in the foreign service. Whatever your thoughts on attached parenting and breastfeeding, don’t you find it interesting that the whole thing blew up around (US) Mother’s Day?
I have boobs, with nipples attached, and they’ve served me well during my time overseas. In fact, I breastfed in eight countries, some of them more accepting than others. That is just another reality of life in the foreign service. I fondly remember a sweet elderly lady in France tenderly stroking my shoulder in support as I nursed my hungry infant. Or the midwives in Luxembourg who marveled at Pudding’s ability to eat and eat from the moment she was born. During one notable incident in Germany- I even got paid for it!
Pudding was a mere two weeks old, and we’d gone to a Christmas Market in Germany with my visiting parents. Recovering from Pudding’s birth took a long time, and she had the biggest appetite, so when she began screaming in the middle of the market, I abandoned my parents and looked for somewhere to nurse.
I found some steps, sat down and used our American stroller (pushchair) to block the view as best I could (not very well). As Pudding screams turned into contented suckling, I noticed that the steps I’d chosen to sit on were actually part of a huge Nativity scene. I was torn between moving so as not to upset anybody’s religious beliefs, and telling myself that Jesus nursed at the breast too. Plus I figured people would be more disturbed by the fury of Pudding if I were to stop her when she hadn’t had her fill. I decided to nurse it out.
A few minutes later, I noticed a man coming towards me. I can’t see my parents anywhere, and I realize how both public and vulnerable I am at this point. If I’ve upset this man’s sensibilities, I’m a sitting target. I want to tell him that I’m not actually a lactivist, but a mother trying to do her best, but I don’t speak enough German for that. He marches determinedly up to me, then puts something in the cupholder of my stroller. When Pudding finally finishes her meal, I discover a shiny new 2 euro coin! Obviously in my bedraggled state, without a fancy European stroller accessory, I looked like I was begging!
I was part of a group of international mothers all living overseas at the time, who all found this story hilarious. Some of us breastfed, others didn’t. Some of us worked, others didn’t. It’s all good in the Motherhood. Rather than judging one another, we offered as much support as we could- all of us sharing the not-so-simple task of raising our children in a foreign country without any family support at hand.
A couple of weeks ago, here in South Africa, I had a breast exam and the doctor described my breasts as ‘lumpy.’ She wasn’t immediately concerned, but she feels that sooner rather than later, I need to have a mammogram, rather than waiting until I’m 40 or 50 or whatever my heath insurance dictates is the optimum time. I immediately thought of my foreign service friend Jen, who bravely navigated the process of discovering a lump to multiple surgeries, and blogged about the process of dealing with that, children, oh, and her husband on an unaccompanied tour in Iraq. Amusing anecdotes aside, I don’t have much to say about my boobs. Jen’s on the other hand, have a very important and relevant story to tell.
This week, Jen and her nipples have been dismissed from the State Department’s foreign service blog roll. When she asked why she had been deleted, she was specifically referred to a post about her nipples which was deemed ‘too personal’ to be seen by other members of the foreign service or potential candidates. Not only does her family have to go through one of the most traumatic experiences, deal with how that affects her husband’s career (and by extension their entire life), but then to be told that is the reason she isn’t a relevant part of the foreign service community is entirely too much.
It came as no surprise to me to find that my blog was never added to the list. This kind of exclusion comes in stark contrast to the supportive and welcoming foreign service community that is my extended family while overseas. One that I’m proud to begin representing soon as Community Liaison Office Co-Ordinator. I’d like to know exactly why our family isn’t considered a relevant part of the foreign service experience.
Being the parent of a special needs child certainly changes your experience of the foreign service. And being part of the foreign service changes your experience of special needs parenting. I’d say, like Jen’s nipples, this is something we should be talking about. Indeed, considered a vital resource for anybody else who finds their life- foreign service or otherwise- is turning out differently than expected. Sooner or later, life will get too personal, and if that happens to be because of cancer or autism, you might just want to read about someone who has been through it too. I believe our stories show that even when your world gets rocked, it keeps on spinning. A lot of spinning, in our case.
I don’t mind being excluded because I chose to write about my money-makers, they aren’t important like my friend’s. Just note that we usually call them galou-galous around here. Please don’t exclude any of us for talking about things that are important, and essential, but not always pleasant. And please don’t try to paint a picture of a homogenic community, because that is a far more distasteful than nipples as an image for the foreign service of today.
Now I’ll return to waiting to collect the diplomatic pouch with my Time magazine. It asks ‘Are You Mom Enough’ and I would reply- absolutely, I just might not be Foreign Service enough to blog.
This post is sort of part of my A-Z series, but not really because people have gone a little crazy over breasts and as well as all my other hats I wear, I’m a female blogger and it makes me mad. Perhaps instead I’ll file it under Foreign Service Life instead. And then begin to fear what google searches will come my way now…
Here are some other very relevant foreign service bloggers talking about what has been descibed as “Nips for Dips”: