ode to self-care.

self care, a term i tend to be turned off by for its buzz-word-y-ness. a term lifted from the medical world and used in articles about sheet masks and bone broth cleanses and mini-meditations, by and for the luxury wellness/perfectly curated instagram mom legions that spawned from or shot up around shiny haired gwenyth and her solid gold juicer. a term that elicits eye rolls from most men, my husband included. a term that makes me cringe a bit when spoken out loud, but one that i find myself saying in my head, despite all of this.

technically, self-care is how one takes care of their own health, from how they manage chronic illnesses or physical maladies to their diet and exercise routines. over the last couple of years it’s been applied more to the latest wellness trends such as infrared saunas and sound baths and jade vagina eggs, but really it’s about how you keep yourself healthy. how you manage stress and hormonal fluctuations and balancing the million things you have to do each day for other people with the things you need to do to keep yourself afloat.

i remember back in the early aughts when the episode of sex & the city came out where carrie had let aidan move in with her, and she was complaining to her friends about having to share her space with him. she lamented over the lack of privacy and time to engage in what she called, “secret single behavior” or “SSB” if you’re nasty. carrie’s included eating jelly on saltine crackers while standing in her kitchen. for charlotte it was examining her pores in a mirror. i think about this when i think about self-care, because to me it’s really the same thing. things we do to decompress, to take a damn minute for ourselves. sometimes they are things we were not allowed to do for some reason, sometimes they are things we do to numb ourselves, but mostly they are things that just feel comforting. i call that self-care.

for me, i get a lot of satisfaction and comfort from cleaning. particularly a clean refrigerator makes me feel like i have accomplished great things. tidiness is very soothing to me. creating order in a chaotic life feels so good. i have been known to clean out closets in times of stress, clearing out kitchen cabinets and laundry room drawers and my son’s toy baskets and hauling all of that stuff to the thrift store feels like a big relief. but i also enjoy eating peanut butter from the jar, putting on lady gaga really loud and trying on outfits, cutting out pictures from old fashion magazines and making collages, bedazzling old pairs of jeans and shoes, putting on a full face of all the makeups i can’t afford at sephora and then coming home to pull weeds (you can call me the fancy gardener). also weird gross stuff like peeling nail polish off of my toenails and trying on the trashiest body-con/slutty teenager clothes i can find at h&m with absolutely no intention of buying any of it.

these are all things that must be done in solitude. the presence of another person would take their power away, render them ridiculous and embarrassing and often impossible (where unruly toddlers are concerned). perhaps having such a limited amount of time to myself has made me more appreciative of these things, has made me recognize their value in a sometimes chaotic life. the world no longer revolves around me, but it’s lovely to take those moments where for a brief time, it does.

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the wisdom of no escape.

at the beginning of the summer i felt pretty heavy with worry. i knew a big routine shift was coming with the end of the school year and transition to summer school, and i spent about a month frantically trying to schedule everything to make sure our days would be full. i fought like hell to re-schedule my son’s aba therapy to accommodate his schedule and not lose his favorite therapist, i planned out each day so that things would move seamlessly in the least disruptive way for my son, but of course it didn’t move seamlessly. there were seams. there were rips and tears and holes and finally everything just sort of fell apart. phantom illnesses and reactions i never anticipated happened, and in the middle of all of it my son’s favorite therapist up and moved to southern california (news which the company that she works for failed to tell me until her last day).

when things fall apart i usually find it pretty impossible not to see the lesson in it. i feel like when things hit crisis level, it’s typically the universe shouting at me to pay attention to something. like, now. pretty early into the summer i sensed that something needed to give.

i had a conversation with my oldest friend this summer about walking on eggshells. both children of alcoholics, we spent our childhoods tip toeing around our parents’ moods, doing out best to not make any false moves and set them off. in turn, we both grew up and had babies that had colic. we both spent the first 4-5 months of our babies lives scrambling to keep them from flying into a crying rage (that often lasted for hours on end). we were talking about the cycle of our lives, how we spent out childhoods walking on eggshells and then had babies that made us keep walking on eggshells. and we both wondered how we break that cycle for our children. for ourselves.

my son having colic, and then being on the autism spectrum has left me feeling like i am walking on eggshells for most of his life. it also keeps me feeling like i constantly must do everything perfectly or things will fall apart, and inevitably they ALWAYS DO because there is no perfect anything. there’s no way to keep the world from hurling random snowballs at your head and no way to always duck just in time. and i cannot blame my son for this, because this is the way that i have lived my life for as long as i can recall. this has been my experience of life: you must struggle and sweat and agonize and strive for perfection, and when someone is not impressed or criticizes you or just doesn’t give a rip, it feels like utter and complete failure. and reaffirms all of the beliefs about how flawed i am that are in there mighty friggin’ deep.

so this summer i drove myself nuts trying to line it all up perfectly and it all went down in flames. and what happened is that i was left all alone with my son every day. just the two of us, as it was before all of the therapies and school started. and to my surprise i knew exactly what to do. i just had to be with him and love him more than anything in the world (because i do). and i found that once little things fell through over and over, i finally got to the point where i realized that none of it really mattered. not really. what matters is that i love my son no matter what happens. not much else matters.

what has continually astounded me about motherhood is here is this person who holds this mirror up to all of my deepest flaws and ISSUES and yet, the inclination to bolt isn’t there, not physically. you have to make the choice whether or not you are going to bolt emotionally. it forces me to be present in times where i would normally check out. and no matter how much he pushes my buttons, i still wake up every day honestly stoked and overjoyed to see his face. every day. and i love being the person that he looks at with shock when something hurts him or amazement and joy when something excites him.

what motherhood has taught me is that there’s nothing to do but be here. stepping back and letting things happen and being open to all of it: good and bad and pain in the ass, has made life so much sweeter. sometimes shit goes haywire, and my son has meltdowns, and sometimes he just has good old fashioned tantrums like a 3 year old does, and sometimes i can’t fix whatever is not going the way he wants. but lately i’ve been trying to let those moments happen without adding the stress of my shit on top of it. i’ve been trying to “pause” in those moments where i feel like a failure or like people are looking at me and judging me or whatever, and trying to connect with my son in those moments instead of shut down. i have been looking at my son in those moments and just loving him and wanting to help him get through it. and more than anything, i’ve been having faith that we will get through it. that the storm will pass. and we’re going to be ok.

diary.

four days in the desert staying at the entirely gorgeous and v v swanky parker hotel, where we somehow scored the loveliest and most fancy suite ever. we spent our days sipping champagne lemon drops by the “family” pool (aka the not sexy pool), where my son tried to flirt with european tweens and little redheaded girls and i dug through the september issues of elle and vogue while (strangely) pauly shore paced around the pool talking on his cell phone. we also had one too many pina coladas at the ace while chatting with the staff about renegade desert parking lot minutemen shows and my high school crush on mike watt. we did our best to get through a plate of cheese fries at pappy and harriets and wound up hanging out in the back of a truck filled with punk rock t-shirts where the extremely kind proprietor gifted my son a set of rocky & clubber lang dolls which he has not let go of since. we also partook in bottomless champagne brunches and hung out at iconic atomic vintage digging through bags of 1960’s bikinis and costume jewelry and bar cloth shirts. all in all it was a dream trip, one which my liver and metabolism will likely need months to recover from.

diary.

putting make-up on space.

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the other day i said to my oldest friend that i feel as if i’ve lost my faith. i am a person who has always subscribed to a lot of woo-woo stuff, from astrology to cosmic force and all of the “everything happens for a reason” dogma that goes along with it. but there i was, spilling my guts to a most trusted confidant over a glass of rose, saying, “lately i just think…shit happens.”

i came to this conclusion after hearing myself saying, once again, that the past week or month or months have been “some of the hardest” or toughest or roughest or most difficult. after hearing myself say this for the umpteenth time i realized that i am no longer in a “tough phase,” this is my life. it is hard. there are a lot of days where i feel like i’m struggling just to make it through the day.  where i feel like i’m not strong enough or good enough or compassionate enough or nurturing enough to be the mother my child needs. like things are just worsening with time. part of the process of having a child on the autism spectrum, for me, has been walking through the levels of acceptance. levels that go deeper and further and take different directions. facing the fact that this is not going away. facing the fact that my life is always going to be difficult. that i might never be able to work again. that my son might never talk. that he might never become independent. facing those possibilities is terrifying. but necessary. and doing that, lately, has caused a sort of unraveling for me.

lately the struggle has been about routines. my son has to have things a certain way, and when something doesn’t fit what he expects or wants, crisis usually ensues. i make myself sick trying to anticipate what he might want or need out of every minute, and of course i fail because life cannot be just the way anyone wants it all the time. i realize that i’ve been just as uptight and rigid about his routines as he has. i realized this when all of my carefully laid plans started to fall apart, and the falling apart got larger and larger until i had to pay attention. and realize that i can’t control my son and his reactions to life. all that i can do is be here for him. i can’t make the world go away.

when i told my friend that i felt as if there was no universe or star map or reason behind things anymore, that i no longer believed in magic, something funny happened. i started seeing things that gave me a certain kind of flutter, the kind that comes from synchronicity. i overheard conversations that felt like they were speaking to me. my plans fell apart so much that they left me alone with my son, and i realized that no amount of therapy or school or play groups can compare to me being with and connecting to him. i love him unconditionally, and i was so caught up in doing all of the right things, of making sure he got all of this therapy and intervention and just the right people and places and things to avoid some big scary dark unknown future. grinding through each day until i could get some time to myself, or my husband got home, or some vacation or future perfect. and in that i was missing the moment. the moments in the day where he wants to snuggle with me, or sing to me, or show me how incredibly smart he is. it’s not that i didn’t live those moments, it’s that i let them slip by. in my quest for something else, something that i can’t even define.

so i think that yes, shit happens. but it’s kind of magic when it does. because it’s the shit that makes you pay attention and look at where you are and who you’re with and what is going on in the present moment.

 

tonglen.

the lack of writing that i do on the subject of parenting a child on the autism spectrum is odd, considering, but it’s a subject that i’m hesitant to broach most days. the truth is that my feelings about it fluctuate a lot. my son is rapidly approaching four years old and sometimes i still catch myself wondering how i got here. at the same time i realize that i’ve gotten past the merky denial that comes with an early diagnosis, where the term “autism” is formless, undefined and hangs over you like a warning. where you tell yourself things like early intervention will solve it like a problem. where you think if you try hard enough you can make it go away. my son was diagnosed on his second birthday, and at the time i had no idea what to expect or to feel. but as he gets older i see more clearly those behaviors, the ones that seemed abstract when he was still just a baby.

what i’ve learned over the last year and a half is that the rules that apply to parenting apply to autism: there is no simple solution or answer. no two children are exactly the same, period. what works for my son might not work for another child, and just because it works today it might not work tomorrow. during the diagnostic period of filling out endless surveys and questionnaires and hearing theories by different therapists and doctors and seeing how they contradicted each other made it clear to me that my son did not fit any one profile. oddly enough it was his (hmo) pediatrician who said to me upon hearing his diagnosis, “don’t put henry in a box.” i have refused to do that, even when it’s meant that i come off like a pushy complainer. i’ve accepted my role as “high maintenance mom” in the eyes of his therapists & teachers. it’s more important to me that my son is taught the way that he learns, not forced to perform the way that others want him to.

my son has been going through a lot of transitions lately. the school year ending means lots of schedule changes, not seeing familiar people anymore and new people showing up. for my son, repetition is everything. it is how he functions, assimilates, relates, and stays on the ground instead of floating away (this is my interpretation, anyway). any change to his schedule is extremely upsetting to him. navigating changes can feel devastating, to him and to my husband & i by association. couple this with the fact that he is 3 1/2 and naturally in a temerarious, defiant period of his life. i feel like i’m walking on eggshells in a way that i haven’t since he was a colicky newborn. i am constantly worried about setting him off. the frequent tantrums are looking more bratty, but lately i’ve been trying to muster a little more compassion. public humiliation sucks(!). but i realize that getting some negative attention from strangers is not the end of the world. lately i’ve been trying to understand my son better. even though he can’t tell me what is wrong, he is telling me through his tantrums. lately i’ve been trying to listen more. and let those tantrums happen. and not let it feel like something that is happening to me, but something that is happening to HIM. and how can i help him to get through that?

i often say that parenthood is a crash course in life. all of the little things that you turn a blind eye to or regularly deny or suppress come right up to meet you. our children are our biggest mirrors. i think that if parenthood is a crash course in life, parenting a child on the autism spectrum is a master class. i confront my biggest blind spots daily. i’m forced to fight on days when i just want to hide under the covers. i am forced to be confrontational when it’s my nature to be passive (or passive aggressive). i am forced to be nurturing & affectionate when it’s my nature to shut down & withdraw. i am forced to show up when it is my nature to run away. one of the things that has surprised me most about motherhood is that somehow the love never runs out. after the most challenging, exhausting days, i still wake up (sometimes after being up all night with him) happy to see his face. i still constantly look for new ways to try to help him, new ways to make it better for him, new ways to make him smile.

 

diary.