If you can’t Find a Solution, Change the Rules

CHANGE THE RULES

My Dan has sleep issues. It has gotten better, but he still occasionally wakes at 3 AM craving food, sensory play or just wanting to be next to me.

At one point in time I was EXTREMELY sleep deprived. Not just one night, not a couple of months, but two years worth or more of sleep deprivation. I am never going to get those years back and my wrinkled, saggy eyes are paying big time for it. So, at that time,  I got to do things that might seem unconventional to some. Let me explain…

It was hard to find a solution to Daniel’s sleep issues. He didn’t respond to anything for a long time. Young mothers are always taught this rule: when the baby sleeps, you sleep. However, when Dan’s waking hours consumed me, his sleeping hours had to feed my soul. I was/am an artist mom and I need to create! So what this meant for me was that while he napped, I wrote, sewed, or screen-printed. This got hard to sustain long term, though, and I eventually crashed with him during his nap, but you know what I mean. I had to change the sleeping rule to fit who I was.

Same thing happened with his birthday a couple years ago. Dan had been waking up everyday two weeks prior to his birthday that year. I had previously told the teacher that I would come and celebrate in the classroom like I have been doing years past. The night before his birthday, Daniel finally gave me a full nights sleep. It was his birthday but I got the gift! It was the first time that I had felt alert and ready to work on my blog, my website, my sewing projects. I was still planning on going to the classroom but with much hesitation. I didn’t want to give up this valuable time! I felt I was giving up my day of productivity to go into the classroom for 45 minutes all because it is something I do every single year. The teacher ended up e-mailing me and said that she was not going in that day because she did not feel well. This gave me permission to call out too! So I called the school and told them I wasn’t going to celebrate Dan’s birthday in school, but at home instead. I did feel guilty and thought “how horrible everyone will think that I am for not bringing in a cake to school.” I went on beating myself up when I thought; what people don’t see is that I have been patiently up with my child for two weeks straight, loving him, singing to him, rocking him, hugging him, hoping that any minute now, he will dose off to lala land. During this time I did not beat him nor yell at him. God sees that, I see that, my family sees that. I deserve a productive day to myself where I am alert and ready to work. This has to be enough for a rule change.

So sometimes there are rules that simply do not apply to you and who you are. Now, I don’t mean rules concerning moral behavior or that you are exempt from the law. By all means, follow those rules! But sometimes the rules typically given to moms (of neuro-typical or special-needs children alike) do not make sense to your particular situation.

This is a lesson I continue to learn.

*Much of this post was written six years ago and modified recently.

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Remember Who You Were On This Special-Needs Motherhood Journey

REMEMBER WHO YOU WERE

I am currently working on a book on self-care, a series of lessons I have learned (and continue to learn) on my special-needs motherhood journey. I’ll be offering some of them here, on this blog. Feel free to let me know your thoughts here, or on my Facebook/Instagram pages.   Here’s the first one…

Remember Who you Were

Any type of motherhood, special needs or typical, causes women to feel like they’re losing themselves. It’s the perennial question of balance that women face between identity (work) and family. The constant work of caring, and ultimately being responsible for another human being, leads us to question, and then adjust our identity to this new life. This takes on a whole different meaning when you have special needs children. The care can be daunting. I feel like I am still adjusting, my GPS constantly on recalculating … I once wondered if I even wanted children at all and what I got was children that required more care than I would ever imagine.

What helped me in daunting and overwhelming moments was to remember who I was. My circumstances had changed drastically but I was still me at the core and I needed to reaffirm that. In the midst of such drastic change, I needed consistency.

I went to things that reminded me of myself, pre-kids. I got out my old cassettes of Sting, my all time favorite musician, and started listening again. I also started reading his autobiography and it really helped me to reconnect with Nellie pre-kids. It also reminded me of the time I went to see him in concert with my friend Maxine back in the 90s.

After my oldest was diagnosed, I went back to museum work. I needed a semblance of normal life again. I was coming to terms with the diagnosis and needed to tap into the part of me that was untouched by it. My life before the diagnosis… museum work. Other opportunities that fed into the pre-kids Nellie also began to surge. I taught a class on Puerto Rican art and lectured on Latin American art in various libraries in the New York Public Library system. All of this helped me reconnect with what I still continue to love: art and art history. I felt like my old self again and this fed my soul and helped me be a better mother to my oldest.

After Dan was diagnosed, I went further back and started screen printing and sewing again, passions from high school and college. I even opened my own shop online and started selling my screen-printed and reconstructed clothing. This further solidified my identity and in turn helped me be a better, more at peace, happy mom. I was drawing from my past and taking inventory of the things that made me really happy.

In the midst of the loss I was feeling, this reconnection to my old self, offered me joy.

What can you tap into from your “old self”, your “pre-kids self”, that can positively ignite you as you live in your present circumstances?

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How Dan Incarnates Me as I Tend to His Body

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How to Put on a Shirt

This constant tending to my son’s body can be overwhelming and draining.

The other day I came home from a curatorial walkthrough at one of the museums I work with. The art and the curator were absolutely fascinating. I work in cultural spaces where I consistently having conversations about art and ideas, my intellect quite engaged… and then I come home to this…to this repetition, the constant training of putting on a shirt, or the brushing of the teeth. Still, at 11 years old, I’m still teaching Dan how to wipe his butt! I would imagine that my life will be a continuous series of teaching Dan how to tend to his body.

I have been reading Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. In chapter 2 she talks about the body and says:

“We Christians believe in a God who, by becoming human, embraced human embodiment in fullness, right down to the toenails. Because of Christ’s embodiment, the ways we care for our bodies are not meaningless necessities that keep us well enough to do the real work of worship and discipleship. Instead, these small tasks of caring for our bodies, as quotidian as they are, act as an embodied confession that our Creator, who mysteriously became flesh, has made our bodies well and deserves worship in and through our very cells, muscles, tissues, and teeth.”

Truth be told, I rather look for ways that God is made evident in the museum though art, to uncover amazing “God in the gallery” moments. But God is also seeing fit to challenge me to find these awe inspiring God-moments in these daily, seemingly base, ordinary tasks of tending to my son’s body.

This is why Christianity is so appealing to me, because it posits a God that is incarnational. I like the fact that I can worship a God that came as a human body and knows exactly what it is to feel what we feel. Don’t get me wrong, I love the divine and the lofty, I get lost in the concepts and I crave intellectual stimulation and conversation. I need that in my life! But I also need to empathize , I need to feel and understand other people’s pain. Dan does this for me. He incarnates me, he makes me less snobby, more human and relatable. And when I can connect with someone over a vulnerability, that precise moment is instantaneously transformed into a divine one.

So I’ll continue to care for Dan’s body in hopes that he will eventually care for it himself. I don’t know how independent he will be but I do know that God is forming me into a caring human being through this special needs motherhood experience.

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How Mark Rothko Made it all Better at the Psychologist’s Office

Rothko and Dan

Dan and Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Yellow and Blue), 1954

Dan had a psychological evaluation the other day.

I used to leave these feeling defeated, concentrating on everything he couldn’t do, milestones he should have met years ago, still un-met. But I didn’t feel that way today. I know what he can do, I know what I can continue doing, and I know what God has done and will do. And when I have this “can do ” attitude, my emotions are protected, my spirit remains intact, I am held together.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that Dan ran,and sat underneath this Mark Rothko reproduction as we arrived in the psychologist’s office. I have learned to really appreciate his work in recent years, his paintings held together by color and light. He says about his own work, “the people who weep before my paintings are having the same religious experience as when I painted them.” Upon seeing this work, I didn’t cry but I felt a calm presence. Rothko also says that he “paints the finite and the infinite.” Where my finite, futile efforts end, God’s infinite power, in Dan’s life,  continues.

 

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Autism Acceptance/Awareness Starts with Me

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The other day I looked at my To Do list and thought to myself, “look at my world’s blending so nicely.” A little sewing, a little fashion, a little autism, a little working on my shop. I like this list.

In the past, I felt like I used to compartmentalize my life. Especially with this blog where, for a while, I decided that I would only talk about my sewing/fashion endeavors. Now, not so much. I enjoy giving people a glimpse into my life as a mother of a special needs kids who also runs a blog, an online shop, who likes fashion, etc. Sometimes my worlds collide and sometimes they blend nicely. This is Autism Acceptance and Awareness. As I accept my life and what it has become (the good and the bad), I can make others aware.

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*Vintage post from April 2013

Tips on Navigating a Museum/Gallery Space with a Special Needs Child

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As a museum educator with a special needs child (SNC), it is no surprise that I am interested in museum access. During winter break I usually take my boys to at least one museum; a children’s museum or an art museum with programs for special needs children. This week, however, I veered off script.

For weeks I have been wanting to catch an art show at a nearby gallery. Although this art space was not ideal for my youngest son who is on the autism spectrum, I felt that my older son would benefit from this display as it was in line with what he was learning in school. But again, this was a regular gallery, a college art gallery, a gallery that has no provisions for a special needs child so do I dare take my sensory needy, touchy feely, restless child to this kind of gallery?

I bit the bullet and did it. But not without some planning. Here are my tips on how to to enjoy a “typical museum gallery” with a special needs child like mine:

1. Keep it local

It just so happened that the exhibit I wanted to view was in my borough, this worked out great for us. If you want to spend the day looking at art with your SNC, check out local galleries and museums. The commute is shorter, and should things go south, at least you will be close to home.

2. Call ahead of time

I was already aware of this particular gallery’s space and knew it would be a good choice for us. Calling ahead and inquiring about the gallery/museum’s physical layout and what they have to offer, cuts anxiety and helps you be prepared.

3. Choose a small gallery or museum

A smaller space might provide a sense of calm for your child and help you navigate the area better with him/her. It also gives you a sense of completion. This helped us this week during our visit. I got to see every single art work which made me feel quite accomplished.

4. Early is best

Arriving at your destination earlier in the day also provides a sense of calm as there will be less people, less distractions, and less sensory overload.

5. Put something in your child’s hands

My son loves to touch EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. That’s who he is. So if I take him to a place where there are objects begging to be touched, I better offer something that is as equally enticing. My son loves strings so I usually give him a string when we go out to keep his hands busy and keep him from biting himself, which is another issue. But you might also consider something textured, one of his own paintings, a sensory toy, anything that will keep his hands off the art work.

6. Plan to eat afterwards

If you managed to pull this off, it’s time to celebrate! I knew there was a pizza place located right across the street from the gallery so the plan was to eat there afterwards. Unfortunately I didn’t follow rule number three and by the time we left the gallery, it was well into lunch time and no seats available in the restaurant. If I would have followed my own advice, and left a little earlier, this would have worked, and been the icing on the cake. Instead, we ate at a place closer to home which turned out okay, thank God!

I hope some of these tips can help you enjoy art with your SNC even if the museum/gallery is not as accessible as you would hope. In less than ideal situations it’s always about finding a solution and enjoying time together with the ones you love.

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*Vintage post from 2016

On Having Nice Things When you Have a Special Needs Child

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I love it! Looks like Kandinsky’s color studies – sorry for the dark photo

The other day, after having a blank wall for months, Jon came home with this beautiful work of art and said “we will try again.”

The last couple of paintings displayed in our living room were destroyed by Dan. He either broke the frames or peeled paper or paint (depending on the work’s medium) off of them. As a person who works in a museum, I felt physical pain when I saw this happen and resigned to not having any art work in the house. “I work in a museum, I can see art there”, I told myself.

The other day, a friend told me, “you must be someone who loves beautiful things.” Well, I do, but I know it’s difficult to keep them in tact in the house with Dan running and jumping everywhere. My house is pretty plain. I have no grand displays of art, picture frames, or beautiful objects.

When hubby brought this work to the house, it was like he was bringing a new baby home and I was hoping and praying my older child did not hurt it. Art IS my baby! Don’t hurt my baby! Dan needs to be taught.

I love my husband because he refuses to give up on us having a house filled with the things we love. For me it’s paintings and for him, fish tanks. He constantly asserts that we will not play down to his autism. “Autism shmautism”, he says, “he has to learn.” I have to learn too. With Dan, repetition is key, and I tend to give up too fast.

I’m grateful for his persistence. If art is my baby, I need it close to me. I don’t want to settle for visitation rights.

Now hubby wants us to get a dog…hold up man! One beautiful thing at a time.

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*This is a vintage post from 2016

 

Don’t Run Away from the Runway

DON'T RUNAWAY FROM THE RUNWAY

Normally, people are pretty cool with my Dan’s flapping and loud noises but I caught a couple of weird looks from people when we went out the other day.

I have to admit, I don’t always feel comfortable being on display this way. I want to share my creations, new items in my shop, my museum talks…my frailties, not so much. But because of Dan’s unique mannerisms, he has become my agent, so to speak. He draws people to me giving me opportunities to tell my story and point people to God, the source of my joy.

You are out on display for a reason, a deeper purpose. You just have to trust, show up, and strut your stuff, vulnerabilities and all. Don’t shy away from the attention. Tell your story. Don’t run away from the runway.

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