Thursday, February 23, 2012


Compassion has always been an important fabric woven into the quilt of our family.   Some of my, the daughter of a social worker and nurse, earliest memories are of helping others.  My children know that this is part of being a sustaining and functioning community and society.  In their earliest years, as an Ordained Deacon, I was in charge of coordinating the caring responses to parishioners at our small Protestant church.   If someone could use a visit, at home or in the hospital, I visited.  I organized meals, or given my culinary skill-set, brought over hot, take-out.  If there was a death, we coordinated the fellowship time after the service.  We helped with childcare, sometimes laundry and rides.  Some pretty crappy things happened, including a beautiful young woman from a loving and close family losing a very long battle with leukemia after her first year of college, during that time.  Closely witnessing the struggles of people who were part of my extended church family helped strengthen my capacity for empathy.

Yesterday chaos erupted down the street; a man threatened to jump off a roof.  I didn't know anything about him.  But, he was scared and obviously felt suicide was his "out".  There was enormous stress for him and all the first responders trying to help him.  The way my fellow citizens piled on the nastiness ("he should jump, too stupid to live, the city should bill him for this, what a loser") illustrates that we humans are often unnecessarily hard on each other.  Parents, who are, like me, home with their kids this school vacation week, were weighing in, watching the scene unfold with their children.  Folks, this is not entertainment.

I prayed to the God I don't really believe in anymore that no one would get hurt and that the man will get the help he needs.  It turns out he was being served with an arrest warrant for a probation violation; he was scared.  He may have not been a "good guy".   He is, however,  a human being in pain desperately in need of help.

We're put here on Earth to be a part of a village.  To do anything but care is perplexing.  I know everyone shows that differently, some more loudly than others.  If your neighbor, or a friend, needs helps, help them.  Sometimes, it's by "doing something" caring.  A phone call, an email, or how about the long-lost tradition of a letter or a card sent in the mail?  Friends have shown my family the above, in addition to unexpected visits, meals, and sometimes just dropping by for visits.  Sometimes, good friends offer to take my kids out (roller-skating being a nice example this vacation).  Friends also have cared by telling me to get out of a relationship (not only a romantic one, although that happened, too) which was not good for me or my kids.  Caring isn't always telling someone what they want to hear.

Caring is what we've always practiced as a family.  Anytime friends need help, we help.  Whether it be with watching their kids, driving someone to a medical appointment, or sitting with them when they felt the weight of the world on them, we do it without much thought.  My kids, especially Miss Em, have kindness and compassion, running through their veins.  It matters to me that in the moment, if there is a need here in our family, our neighborhood, or community, they want to help.   It fills me with pride to see them care so much and want to help people in the world who don't have what they do.

Watching the nightly news together is a tradition I grew up with in my family that we've continued in my home.  At my parents, there was a small TV in the kitchen and we shared dinners with Chet and Nat and ABC Nightly News.  Here, we eat earlier hence watch the news in the living room and we're NBC fans, but the discussions which flow are the same.

Likewise, my kids love hearing about my work, much as I loved hearing about my dad's work as a medical social worker and how he helped his patients.  He went above and beyond; occasionally a wayward patient showed up at our family's Thanksgiving or Easter table.  I know what a difference he made to those folks.  He's the reason I spent my teenager years volunteering at Malden Hospital (what was then a bustling community hospital), getting a "paycheck" in the form of thank yous from the patients and their families.  It's never far from my mind that I was born into poverty and spent my infancy in Mother Theresa's orphanage in India.

Doing justice, loving kindness, and practicing compassion makes the world a better place.  Judging, criticizing, and gossiping (ie: being the town busy-body) make the world a sadder one.   May compassion, if someone needs it, be yours to give, starting today.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The grip

We mothers do a very good job worrying.  Because we nurture and love, we worry about our kids and our families.

Just like everyone else, there are things I would have done differently in the past.  Although I can't quite define how either scenario which could have been played out six years ago would yield a truly happy mom and family.  For there are two things, autism and domestic violence, which have not lessened their grip on my life.  The first will always be present.  The second has been physically removed for five years, yet its control has seemingly only tightened.

my favorite guy
Every good thing, every positive, every joy and celebration falls under an umbrella of fear.  For everything I do, in every context which is not 100% safe and contained, the truth is that words have to be chosen carefully.  If he can hurt or humiliate me, he will.  Not because I don't matter to him, but because, for some reason I can not understand, I do matter to him. 

DV is a term that gets thrown around too loosely and too often by some.  I define it as control.  I've moved far along my journey.  I'm a single working mom, meaningfully involved in my community, with a small circle of truly exceptional friends.  My life is simple and routine: I get my kids up in the morning, get them off to school, work hard to provide for them, and spend every afternoon and evening with them. Once a month, I take a single night for dinner with friends, which is also a pseudo-support group for parents of kids with autism and similar challenges.  Once a month, I meet with other women, all smart, educated, and successful suburban moms, who have lived through similar domestic circumstances. Hence, the two regular social obligations in my life revolve around autism and DV. 

More often than not, we go to church on Sunday mornings and my daughter goes to youth group.  The kids spend time with friends.  We run errands, rent cheap RedBox DVD's for fun when its cold, and go for long walks around the Pond when its not.  In actuality, we barely leave our house and the security it provides for the child with autism much to my daughters' chagrin.  I like being home, experiencing the whiff of whatever scent the always-burning candle gives off, spending time with my family, talking to a friend on the phone, or, most recently, cooking.  I delight in the structure and practicality of doing laundry and scrubbing bathroom sinks.

Yet, late in the night, I often can't sleep.  During the day, sometimes I get so anxious about "him", I can not catch a breath and I sob.  I put on a brave face for my kids have already been through more than children should because of him.  They need to sheltered from this and enjoy the relative innocence of childhood.  Telling people is hard.  Deep down, I imagine people close to us do already know why there is sometimes sadness in my voice, and hear the complete frustration of being in a situation that never seems to end.  Yet some people offer comfort and some ignore.  Truly, I appreciate both as I don't want to become a bitter old woman who is loved by, and can only love, her cats.  I don't want anyone's pity, I simply hope that kindness and respect will always be offered.

Withdrawing from the world for an extended period of time and purposefully not writing didn't help.  This is coming from someone who has a book contract to honor.  One of the reasons I am blessed enough to have been granted this opportunity is to share my own story of what is supposed to be triumph over depression and domestic violence, while walking the path of autism and serious medical complications. 

Parents of kids with special needs suffer from debilitating depression at higher rates than most.  Farther along the road of acceptance than many, I stopped trying to cure Andrew long ago if I ever had to begin with.  Now, I work as a true single parent to him, to support the development of skills which will allow him to have a happy and functional existence in the world.

Over the past six years, I've learned to slow down, to stop and smell the roses, and not always strive for immediate gratification.  I enjoy my kids more than before, we have fun and don't look at the clock. Reading a book with my youngest, chatting about boys and pimples with my daughter, or playing a killer game of Scrabble are sights you might see if you were a fly on the wall.  There's no relationship drama, and with it accompanying people in and out of my kids' lives who bring more baggage in.

Spring will be here soon.  Flowers will bloom and the world around us will seem more alive and the dark, dreary and cold days of winter will melt away.  It might be easier to wake up and the smiles and laughter may come quicker and with less effort.