The Plan

God has a plan. Pick your god, they all seem to have a plan. Or at least that’s what people tell me. The message comes in many flavors. Some of them I have expressed a personal belief in myself. Right now, I am struggling with reconciling all these messages of planning, safety, and purpose with my life right now. I don’t think I would call this a crisis of faith, necessarily, although the phrase has come to mind. It’s more of trying to wrap my mind around the way things are at the moment, and relocating that inner sense of peace and purpose that tells me my beliefs and my reality are aligned, and I am moving again in the right direction.

I’ve been quiet on my blog for a while, but as usual life continues at breakneck speed around here. As of today, I am finishing up my junior year at Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary (with homework that needs doing), working towards my second-degree priesthood for the second time (new tradition), running an online and festival-based business selling the full variety of handmade things I can create, homeschooling my two youngest children, trying to keep my four teens on track with their own schoolwork and life planning, and coordinating and managing medical care and therapies for blindness, autism, allergies, and hypermobility for myself and the other seven people in the family. A couple of months ago, I felt like I’d managed to find a balance for all of this and was feeling that sense of alignment and purpose, moving forward and getting things done.

Then we found out about my husband’s Little Alien Visitor, the giant brain tumor. (“Giant” was the neurotologist’s word, I didn’t make that shit up.) And I feel like every kind of “missing floor” scenario happened all at once, and just won’t stop. Missing the top step, falling down the stairs, waking up from a dream of falling, the memory loss you get from head trauma. I feel like my brain is completely scrambled, and I can’t seem to find my footing. The falling never stops.

We’ve been down the path of new and crazy medical things before, certainly. And every time a new diagnosis comes along, there’s people who try to offer advice that comes across as offensive or at least not at all helpful, like the woman who wanted to sell me her company’s special blend of macronutrients to cure the genetic condition causing my baby’s blindness (puh-lease!!).

What’s really getting to me right now is the comments about planning (and the subtexts that I hear inside them). My Baptist mother-in-law tells my husband that God has a plan, so don’t worry (because God plans on disability and pain and suffering, and let me just state right here that I find that idea abhorrent when combined with the idea of only getting one life on this planet). I hear variations on the same theme from various teachers in seminary: The Universe is a safe place (so death, disability, and permanent brain damage shouldn’t be anything to be afraid of). It doesn’t matter how crazy your life is, we all choose our priorities (as if I can just sort of choose not to get therapy and medical treatment for my children or clean the house or be there for my husband during this or something).

And this is where I get into trying to align my perceptions and feelings right now with my beliefs, because I have espoused the planning concept before, in different ways. I have always believed that we choose the lives we expect to live before we are born, that as non-corporeal spirits we have a wider multidimensional view and have some idea of what we are getting into when we choose a body. I believe that we know the genetics of the body we are coming into, and we know the personalities of the parents we are choosing, and we are actively making those choices either to accomplish personal spiritual developmental goals or to place ourselves in a position to help somebody else with their own goals. So yes, I believe that babies who die shortly before or after birth chose that path, that my husband chose a blind body, that I chose a hypermobile body with a neuro-divergent brain. I also believe that I was destined to meet up with the family that I have, blindness and all, that I knew they were coming my way long before I even met my husband. I don’t presume to know or understand why some of these choices have been made. But I believe that I knew before I was born into this body, and that I will know again after I move on from this life.

So I guess that means my struggle right now is to accept all of that, without being able to understand why. And I can’t seem to get there yet, and maybe that’s why I keep feeling like I’m falling and I can’t ever manage to get up. I don’t do the “denial” stage of grief much, because my logical brain doesn’t see the point. But I am smack dab in the middle of the FUCKING ANGRY AS ALL NINE HELLS stage right now, of wanting to scream and cry and ask “Why” at the top of my lungs, because it’s NOT FAIR, it’s NOT FAIR AT ALL, and how dare anybody plan this shit for us.

Ideal Body Weight

I will open this by saying that I’ve been told I was overweight or obese my entire life. My whole life, all the way back to junior high. My mom had me in Weight Watchers and special exercise programs and therapy programs for fat kids as a teenager. I learned all the height and weight charts and everything they had to say.  I’ve known ever since I was 13 that I was supposed to weigh 135 pounds, no more no less, and until I did I would be considered unhealthy and a health catastrophe waiting to happen.

I’ve also known that I don’t have a typical woman’s body.  My bony wrists are so big that I can’t buy bracelets and watches for myself off the women’s jewelry racks.  My bony fingers are so big that I need men’s sizes in rings.  My bony ankles and feet are at the top end of women’s shoe sizing, and so wide that I can’t even buy shoes in the regular stores anymore, especially not with the arthritis in my feet.  I have to make broad back adjustments in any clothing I sew, and jackets and coats never fit me off the rack because of this.

As an adult, my weight has cycled up and down quite a bit, but I have never once been below 170 pounds, not since I was 15 or 16 years old. I think I was around 210 when I got married.

19940205 Elayne and Brian

Mostly I’ve bounced around between 170 and 210.  I think I was around 175 when I took this picture, and I wasn’t very active at all, not doing any real exercise outside of housework and child care:

20070818 Elayne

Here’s one of me when I was probably 210 or so, near the end of my running period.  At this point I was running about 40 miles a week and doing lots of strength training, so the shape of my body and my strength were very, very different from when I was 210 when I got married.

20130319 Elayne

Somehow over the course of the years, I started to lose that belief in the height/weight charts, and the BMI numbers that succeeded them.  I could see that they didn’t work quite right for me.  I spent time researching other ways to measure my health.  I could see that I was a runner who could do 12 miles at a stretch and then drop and give you 20 pushups, and yet my weight wasn’t what the weight fanatics said it should be.  I found alternate ways to measure body composition, using a variety of body measurements, and found that at the peak of my running and strength training, my body was right about at an ideal 26% body fat even though my weight was over 200 lbs.

These days I’ve gotten back up to the large end.  My weight is between 230 and 240, but my clothing size is about the same or smaller as when I got married, about 18/20.  I’ve let myself go, even though I have some residual muscle hanging around from the running days.  I stopped exercising almost entirely when I had to stop running.  My pain levels just kept going up, and I kept thinking a little more rest would do the trick, until I realized this past winter that it had been almost three years, and now I was having trouble getting up when I sat on the floor.

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I saw my blood pressure going up, and I had several nudges from the Goddess to wake up and start taking care of myself again.  So in April I started walking every day, and in June I started up my strength training again.  I don’t feel like I’ve gotten very far.  My shape is the same, and my weight is the same, and my pain is about the same.  But I can feel the functional difference when I get up off the floor, or get the bug to clean the house.  Life is getting just a little bit easier with every week, and that’s good.

Last week, I participated in a medical research study. They paid me $20 to poke and measure me for a couple of hours as part of a study on the long-term effects of chronic illness on overall health. During this, I got the chance to step up onto a very nice high-tech body composition scale.

This wasn’t your ordinary bathroom scale, with the little pads you put your feet on. Those don’t do much better than height/weight charts, really.  I’ve owned a couple, and I’ve been put on them in doctor’s offices and weigh clinics.  The best number I ever got out of one of those was probably a projected ideal weight of 145, which is only a little better than that 135 height/weight number.

This high-tech scale was something else entirely.  It didn’t just have feet pads, it had something for my hands to hold on to as well, and according to the printouts it measured each quadrant of my body as well as the overall total.  Can you guess what it said my current ideal body weight would be, the weight that would bring me back to 26% fat if nothing changed in my muscle mass?

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173 pounds.  That’s with me feeling out of shape, with a lower than ideal amount of muscle on my body.  Still, it says my ideal weight is 173 pounds, and that’s if I did absolutely nothing else to get stronger and more functionally fit, and just starved my body to drop fat.

I feel so vindicated now.  I feel very sad for teenage me, thinking I was fat when I wasn’t, letting that drive me into giving up so many times and letting my body get truly unhealthy because I still had it in my head that the number on the scale was everything.  I feel even more sad for all the other girls and women, and men, out there who think this number on the scale is everything still, who do amazing things for their health and fitness and then eventually throw it all away because of the frakking number on the scale.

But I feel very happy to see that I was right to think that I was healthy at 210 a few years ago, and now I know for sure that it’s okay to let that thinking continue and nurture it and let it grow as my body grows stronger again.  And this time, I will not be ashamed of my clothing size or the number on the scale, dammit!  I have a strong body, a beautiful body, and this is the shape it comes in!

Learning How to Run

I first learned how to run just a few years ago. I have never been an athletic person. I was always the musician, the geek, the bookworm. What got me started on running was seeing an old high school friend take up the challenge via the Couch to 5K (C25K) training method. She also was not somebody I remembered as being athletic, but she was able to take this program and end up running a whole race. So even though I had never run more than a few steps at a time in my entire life (even in school PE classes I managed to avoid it mostly), I took up the challenge to run a 5K.

When I started out, it was a secret. I asked to go shopping at the sporting goods store for my birthday instead of getting presents, but I didn’t even tell my husband why. I was so afraid of failing and looking stupid for trying. I told my oldest son, but only because I asked him to babysit when I went out the first time. That night, I told my mother, who was in the hospital at the time, because I wanted to share how proud I was that I had gone for a run.

I didn’t tell my husband for a few weeks, going out in the mornings after he left for work and before most of the kids were up. I struggled with the running. I felt like I was going to die after every run. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like I was going to fall over. I even pictured myself just falling over at the side of the trail, collapsed until somebody came to save the stupid fat lady who thought she could run.

One day, I was doing my last run interval of the day while running up a hill near the exit to the cemetery I frequented. I kept going and kept going until at last I had to stop, I knew I just couldn’t finish the interval.

The announcement to stop running came less than 5 seconds after I stopped. I had almost made it!

I never quit early again. I always kept going, just a few more steps, just a few more steps, just to that tree, just to the next tree, anything to keep myself moving.

And within just a week or so of that run, I suddenly realized that I knew how to run. I had figured it out. Whatever the trick was to running, whether it was deep breathing or pacing myself or stride technique, I had figured it out. I no longer felt like I was dying. Sure, I was a slow turtle in the grand scheme of things, but I was running.

I had to quit after a couple of years because I pushed too far. I was so excited to be a runner and to realize that I could do this, and I wanted to see just how far I could go. Turns out my limit is probably 8K. And that’s okay. That’s more than I used to do, and pretty soon I’m going to get back out there and kick it again. Because now I know I can do it.

Meltdowns

I’ve been saving up blog posts for a bit, making note of things I want to say but not finding the time to write the posts. This one caught me at just the right time, though.

This video recently came across my feed. It shows an adult woman having a meltdown, and her service dog doing his job of disrupting and calming her.

Normally, we think of meltdowns in terms of children, especially autistic or ADHD children. We think about how they look like tantrums and how to convince bystanders that they are not just the result of bad parenting. We think about what causes them, fatigue and overstimulation and pain and diet, and we work to modify the environment as much as possible. We have our service dogs for calming and disruption, and as parents we are always on the lookout in new places for where we can safely take our child when the next meltdown hits.

How many of parents fully realize that these meltdowns might not be something their children outgrow? I know a few spectrum children personally who show no signs of leaving meltdowns behind even as they approach 21 and beyond. How many of us think about how the world is going to deal with our adult children when they meltdown in public?

How many adults like me, who skated under the radar as children, realize what is going on when they finally hit their breaking point as adults?

It’s not a pretty picture. Autistic adults have been shot, tazed, and otherwise assaulted as if they were dangerous criminals when all they needed was a temporary reprieve from the assault on their senses or emotions. People who are already self-harming in a meltdown can lash out instead of calming if they are approached aggressively, and when you’re talking 250-lb man instead of 50-lb child, things can get out of control in the blink of an eye.

I was lucky. My first adult, “public” meltdown resulted in a security escort and a lifetime ban on entering the medical building where it happened. But I didn’t get arrested, and since then I’ve learned to just shut down when people are around, to wait until I can run and hide before letting it out. I focus on my kids, which gives me something that needs doing, that keeps me from having to look at anybody else, that keeps others from talking to me.

What if that office had arrested me instead of giving me a room to let it out and then letting me leave?

What about those who can’t hold it in until they can hide, who don’t have an understanding companion or an ever-needful set of children?

I know I’ve done my share of railing against phony service dogs. But not every little dog accompanying sighted adults is a phony. Some of them are there do to exactly what this dog is doing, to help calm and protect their owner until they are in control of themselves again. And you may never ever ever see these dogs actually do their job in public. Often just the presence of the dog is enough to help the person hold it together long enough to flee.

And if, one day, that seemingly-normal adult finally reaches their breaking point in public, that dog and its presence could be the difference between an escort and a death.

I Can’t See

I am autistic. To be more specific, I am a very high functioning autistic, which means that I don’t look autistic.  I pass for neurotypical most of the time.  The passing makes it hard to cope with, though.  Sometimes I wish there were some visible symbol I could have so that people would know what I am when they first approach me, but I don’t have a cane, or a wheelchair, or a service dog, or braces, or anything else that indicates that I might be anything other than what people expect.  So people expect their interactions with me to go a certain way, for me to respond a certain way.  Even when they’ve seen more of how I function, they still tend to go back to expecting me to function neurotypically.  And of course I get blamed for it when I don’t.

I struggled to come up with an analogy that might convey how I feel about this.  It’s hard precisely because it doesn’t really happen elsewhere, it’s not something that anybody would consider doing to a person with a visible disability.  The best I’ve been able to do uses blindness, since that is a visible disability that I have the most experience with (without actually being blind myself).

When a blind person walks into a room for the first time, say to join a club or a church, they might run into people they can’t see.  They might have difficulty identifying people when they only have a voice to rely upon.  They might have to use their cane to find their way around the room, to learn the map of the furniture.  If they do physically run into somebody, or knock over a drink while walking, or commit some other faux pas, of course they will apologize.  They certainly don’t intend to run people over, or to break things, or to make a mess.  They just can’t see where they’re going, they can’t see when they’re about to run into something, and bumps and spills and stepping on toes happen to the most mobile and independent blind adults.  It’s a functional aspect of not being able to see the world around them.

What generally happens when a blind person joins a new group is that people are solicitous.  Once they know that the blind person can’t see, they understand why bumps and spills happen.  They may make an effort to move out of the way when the blind person is walking around, they will try to warn them of things that need care such as open glasses on the table before them, or children running about on the floor, or a cat on the chair they’re about to sit in.  If not, that’s okay, too; the competent blind adult tries their best to use care in movement, and when mistakes happen they can apologize and carry on.

What if, instead of watching out for them, everybody in the room continued to pretend the blind person could see?  What if they kept showing pictures without explaining (yes, I know I’ve been guilty, but I do try), saying “Hi!” without attaching a name to the faceless voice, getting upset when the blind person runs into them, getting upset when something gets bumped or spilled?  What if every response was along the lines of “Why can’t you just watch where you’re going?”

As if they could just manage to see everything in the room and comprehend and interact with it visually if they just tried hard enough.

“I need you to see!”

This is how I feel interacting with other people.  Would you blame a blind person for giving up on having a social life, if this is what they always encountered?

In every social group I’m in, in every relationship, eventually I’m going to say and/or do something that royally pisses people off.  It’s inevitable.  It’s going to happen, because in social relationships I can’t always see where I’m going.  (To go back to blindness, a blind person knows they’re going to fall and run into things at some point, because they can’t see where they’re going.)  It’s the hallmark of autism all the way up and down the spectrum, having difficulty with communication and with social interactions, and it applies to the high-functioning Aspie end of the spectrum as much as it applies to the non-verbal, non-functional end.  But those of us on the Aspie end can pass.  We don’t immediately present as autistic, and we can even go a lifetime without ever being formally diagnosed by a doctor.  We’ve learned how to mimic looking folks in the eye or how to acceptably avoid it.  We’ve learned some required social scripts, how to say hello and goodbye, please and thank you.  We’ve (sometimes) figured out when it is not okay to talk about the things that really interest us, and we have a list in our heads of Things Not To Say Or Do (you know, like “don’t stare at her boobies”, “don’t talk first”, “don’t make the first move”, “copy the people around you in any situation”).

Much like a competent blind adult knows how to use their cane to get around, has lots of practice creating mental spatial maps, has learned special tactile and audio skills to help make up for the loss of vision.  They know to turn their head toward the person they’re talking to, that it’s not okay to rock or poke their eyes, how to tell if the pot of water is boiling or the cup is full.  Some, like my husband, do these things well enough that they can pass for being sighted, at least for a little while.  Nobody ever expects that this means a blind person is sighted, though.

That seems to be the expectation most people have for people like me, though.  That because I can pass for neurotypical, then any mistakes that I make are intentional and willful, just a matter of not trying hard enough.

And gods forbid I ask for help.  When it becomes clear that I’ve messed up somewhere, I’ll try to figure out how.  I want to know where I went wrong, so I can add to my list of Things Not To Say Or Do.  I want to know what I should have done, so I can add to my social scripts and perhaps avoid a problem in the future, should that particular situation ever come up again.  I won’t understand why my intention didn’t come across, any more than a non-verbal autistic understands why their caregivers don’t understand that this particular screaming fit means that they have a headache, but I will accept that the communication did fail.  But asking for help always makes it worse.  Asking for help pisses people off even more than the original offense.  They lash out at me, stop talking to me, yell and scream, tell me I don’t belong, ask me to please shut up and go away.

Imagine a blind person, after running into several people in a crowded room, asking for a little help in finding a seat, and being yelled at to just watch where the hell they’re going or get the hell out.

Hard to imagine, isn’t it?  Because nobody would ever do that to a blind person.

Yet it happens to me all the time.

Is it any wonder that I just don’t bother so much anymore?  Is it any wonder that I would rather just stay home than try to deal with people, stay out of online forums instead of trying to find community?  I’ve had trouble in doctor’s offices, in parenting groups, in offices where I work, in schools, in crafting groups, in religious groups, even with neighbors and friends who have known me for years.  No place is safe, I am never safe from that expectation that I should know better, that I should understand what I’ve done, that I should somehow be able to follow along in a dance I can’t see.

Is it any wonder that even high-functioning autism becomes a disability?

Is it any wonder that I treasure my husband so much just for being there for me, for continuing to stay by my side and loving me through every miscommunication and misread glance and gesture, through every misspoken word and misunderstood request between us?

Is it really such a terrible thing for me to ask for help when I can’t see where I’m going?

If Today Was Your Last Day

If I only had one day left to live, I would spend it relaxing with my family.  I would spend some of my savings to buy a maid service to come in and clean my house so I would have a clean, dust- and mold-free place to spend my last day.  I would do something special with each of my kids, sing songs together with Tamara, play a Magic game with Brenden, work on some knitting with Caitlin, play a strategy game with Liam, cuddle with Kender.  I’d even venture out to Chuck E. Cheese for dinner with Jarod if he wanted.  I’d watch a movie or listen to a book with Brian, cuddling with him on the couch.  I’d spend this time with them, but I might also be consumed with the desire to see how much I could make in my last hours, how many things made by my hands I could leave behind.

If I only had one month left to live, I would find a way to die in Texas, warm and dry and surrounded by the desert hill country.  I’d start out by having a big yard sale, snowcover be damned, hauling out every item in my house that I wasn’t going to need anymore.  I’d take every dime I could raise by selling off my things and head out on one last road trip with my family.  We’d wander along the road at our own pace, stopping to see whatever catches our eye.  I’d teach Brenden and Tamara to drive along the way, so they could get the family back home without me.  We’d stop each night as the sun went down in the nearest comfortable hotel, and we’d go swimming together and watch movies until we fell asleep, sleeping in until everybody woke up the next morning to hit the road again.  We’d see the drive-through zoo, eat at Lambert’s and Chuy’s, go for a hike in the Ozarks, visit the church we got married in, take pictures in Texarkana, visit Inner Space caverns, and have a picnic on Lake Georgetown.  If I could truly have my wish, I’d hike up Enchanted Rock with the last of my strength and see that vista spread out before me one last time.  Maybe instead I can be around a big campfire next to a lake or a river there in the hills, listening to the crickets and smelling the cedar and mesquite around me.

If I only had one year left to live, I would be able to see that my kids were taken care of before I left.  I would see Tamara and Brenden through driver’s ed legally, and make sure the girls found apprenticeships.  I would get Liam and Jarod enrolled in Oak Meadow online so they could continue that with my life insurance money and stay out of the schools.  I would finish training my friend Ann to handle A’Kos and ask her to help take care of Kender, so he too could continue to grow at his own pace.  Our last family road trip, still funded by a  fantastic home purge, would hopefully be a little bit longer, heading out toward California to see my family there one more time, yes even my dad along the way.  We could spend a couple of months over the summer in our travels.  When next winter comes, I would bake cookies for Christmas and share my recipe with all my friends.  I would take the kids sledding after the first big snowfall and make snow angels myself, treasuring every moment even in the cold and muck.

If I only had ten years left to live, what could I accomplish?  I could dedicate myself formally to Loki and Hecate, find a way to learn every scrap I could and pass it on to others before I die, to my children, in books and workshops.  I could complete all my clergy studies and set up a church that might survive and be there for my children and grandchildren someday.  I could see all of my children grown or nearly grown, watch them begin to pursue their interests in the world.  I could teach Kender to read and write, to build and make his own things and create his own contribution to the world.  I could pay off our debts and buy a piece of land with enough room to have our own bonfire, our own outdoor space.  I could take so many more trips with my family, visiting so many places all over the Americas, and I wouldn’t even need to drive for all of them.  I would get to see Brian open his brewery, maybe even get to move back to Texas and live there a while before the end.  I would be able to learn many languages so that I could go and visit those places and understand what I see and hear; I could finally become the polylinguist I wanted to be as a child.

If I only have another forty years left to live…what will I do with them?

Mabon Reflections

 

Fall color leavesToday is Mabon, the celebration of the fall equinox in the Northern Hemisphere.  The world sits at the balance between the summer half of the year and the winter.  Now the days begin to grow shorter, the nights longer.  Now we reap the fruits of the harvest, the corn and the wheat, the apples and the pumpkins, all the things that have grown through the summer.  Now we stock up, canning and preserving, preparing for the long, cold winter ahead.

In Wicca, now is the time to take stock of our year.  It is time to look at what our plans for the year were and how they went.  It is time to prepare for a period of rest and rebirth as we head into the death of Samhain and the birth of Yule.  It is a time to look at things in our lives that can be sacrificed, spiritual fetters and garbage that are holding us back from growth and progress.

This year, I had a few goals.  I wanted to do more things with the kids, more of the things they want to do instead of only focusing on the things I think they need to do.  I wanted to work on connecting with and building the Wiccan community in Lansing, building up the numbers that would be attending rituals here.  I was also given a heads-up this year that I should expect a period resembling initiation (or possibly hazing!) in my priesthood and in my relationship with Loki.

This spring, I had the kids draw up “bucket lists” for the year.  I told them to put anything and everything on them, no matter how silly.  I wanted to have things to aim for with them, a direction to follow.  I do not feel that I made as much progress down this goal as I had hoped, but we did a few things.  We took a hike down the old brick factory trail.  I will have at least one and possibly two microscopes by the end of the month.  The girls are taking a thrown pottery class.  We went to Pagan Fest.  I spent a day with the younger three visiting seven playgrounds in a single afternoon (the goal was 10, but they got worn out).  Now that I see that list, I guess the idea worked better than I expected!  We’ll continue working on those lists, and next spring we’ll make new ones and work on those.

I’ve been convinced for years that there were more pagans and witches in Mason and the greater Lansing area than I already knew.  This year, it seemed like every ritual and event brought me into contact with at least one.  I led two rituals in the Lansing area, and participated in a couple more.  I went to Pagan Pride Day, got in touch with a local chat night for a while, and got the word out about Crossroads.  I think the progress on building community was perfectly acceptable given the limitations I work in (namely, very little extra free time to network!).  This goal is now going to be tabled until I get further directions from my high priests, I think.

This year, I was raised to Second Degree Priestess with Crossroads.  I was encouraged to take a more active role in leading the church, both in rituals and elsewhere.  I explored some possibilities for clerical work outside actual rituals, things that might lead me to or become the Great Work I will need for Third Degree.  And then I jumped head-first into seminary training with the goal of finally getting a degree, hoping that having that degree be in something I had already spent most of my life studying would make it easier for me to finish.  This was entirely an impulse decision.  I can’t recall even a few minutes of thinking before taking the plunge.  I say a prompting made me do it, because really, what could be crazier?  Signing up for seminary when the year is half done (assignments must be completed by Yule to move ahead, and I haven’t gotten any passes for being second degree in an ATC church), with everything else I have on my plate?  Crazy or not, I have been enjoying my time there so far, and I hope that continues.  Maybe this is the “initiation” period I was warned of back in February.

Not that the year has been lacking in hazing-type events.  After (let’s be honest) living on credit cards since Kender was born, that well finally dried up this year and we’ve been forced to live within a budget tighter than any I can ever remember.  It feels tighter to me than previous low-money periods partly because of how many of us there are now, making every little expense magnify by a factor of 8 (or more, sometimes).  It doesn’t help that it seems like everything in our house is breaking at once.  All the appliances, our cars, the computers, the furniture, even parts of the house itself, everything is broken, worn out, falling apart, molding, losing its stuffing, leaking, in one case catching on fire (!!).  So at the same time that we have no extra money, we need a ton of it to keep functioning.  Yes, I know where (or who!) this lesson is coming from, but I don’t have to like it.

Every year at this time I am asked to make a sacrifice.  A few years ago, I consciously let go of my breeding status, placed within a corn dolly holding a baby that I burned in a fire.  Another year, I offered up my roots, thinking that if I distanced myself from my Texas family, friends, and background it would help ease my longing to leave this place.

This year, I am letting go of my expectations.  I want to formally release the idea of what my life should look like, all of the “supposed to” and “have to” and “everybody else” that puts boundaries and strictures on my life.  I want to release the idea that I have to know every detail of the path I am about to take before I ever step foot on it.  I don’t mean that I will have no goals, but I do mean that I want to have fewer preconceptions about what achieving those goals will look like along the way.  I want to focus on my destination, and I want to focus on what I see along the way and enjoying the journey.  I don’t want to walk my path worrying about whether the right trees and flowers are growing there.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently feeling like a rat in a cage, scurrying back and forth, back and forth, screaming and seething with rage and tears inside (yes, even when you saw me laughing) because I want to find a way out but I am trapped.  I believe this is my door, to simply have the confidence to walk forward, not just to keep swimming in place but to move forward, regardless of whether I think it will work, regardless of whether I am confident that it is the best path.  I’m tired of standing still, tired of feeling trapped.  Maybe I’ll end up someplace unexpected.  At the very least, I won’t still be where I am now.

Hopefully it won’t mean I’ll end up running off a cliff.

Have a happy fall and harvest and all that goes with it.  Happy apple picking, happy hayrides and corn mazes, happy cider and mead and festivals.  We had our ritual this past Saturday; next weekend we’ll be off to the apple orchard.

Happy Mabon!

Those Daily Devotions

Yesterday my teachers asked me how my daily devotions and my relationship with Loki were going.  I never know how to answer open-ended questions like that on the spot, but they do make me think.

I didn’t have anything resembling a daily devotional practice until last year, when I received my first degree and finally opened my ears to Loki’s call. I would play at it a bit here and there, but it was never regular. It always took second place and it always fell by the wayside.  I even set up an altar once when we first moved into our current house, but keeping the kids out of it and keeping it maintained proved to be too much, and it didn’t last long.

After accepting Loki’s call, I set up an altar.  It’s not really an altar just to Loki, although he is featured on it and his offering glasses are there.  It’s a general altar, my place to leave spells to run and have remembrances.  It’s not very big, just a spot on top of my microwave, but I find that this forces me to be very mindful of what I place there and how long it stays.  Clutter just can’t fit.  It’s been there continuously for more than a year now, the longest I’ve ever had one in place, and it is a big enough part of my day now that I take it with me when I travel.

Last year I worked through T. Thorn Coyle’s Crafting a Daily Practice online course.  The course uses one of her books to try out lots of different ideas for daily practice, including meditation, chanting, journaling, exercise, candles, and more.  For a few months I worked at this, meditating daily, journaling daily, lots of things.  But as before, it grew to be too much and got squeezed away.  What remains is the daily recital of my prayer beads and a Hail to Loki, lighting my candle (and incense if Brian is not home), and placing offerings of food and drink.

A few months ago, I felt that tapping on my shoulder again, that knocking on my mental door from Loki.  Reflection and readings seemed to indicate that it was time for something more from me, more that just an acknowledgement of His attention and a reflection on His role in my life.  I began to compare myself to others around me and find myself lacking, thinking I didn’t spend enough time in worship and prayer.

I realize now that was the wrong way to look at it.

My life is full of chaos.  I have a few anchors in it, like reading and having my drink and a smoke at the end of the day, that help me relax and take stock.  But mostly it’s running around, from waking to sleeping, with constant distractions and emergencies.  Try as I might, regularity and predictability are hard to come by.  Nobody else has my life.  Nobody else has my relationship to the world.

Why should I worry about how my daily practices stack up to someone else’s? My life doesn’t look like anybody else’s. My practice doesn’t have to look like anybody else’s, either.

I said earlier this year that I felt my first year of following Loki was like an appenticeship or a postulancy, a time to reflect and learn and make sure of my path.  This year feels more like taking the first steps down that path.  Rather than sitting quietly, I am working to get out into the world more.  Rather than continuing to beat my head against the goal of routine and ticking off checklists (definition of insanity?), I am working to set life goals and work towards them, to not worry so much about all the little things (because there’s damn sure a lot of them around here).

I find myself smiling and laughing more, finding humor and joy in things a little more and getting frustrated a little less.  I might laugh at something only I think or see.  I switch tasks when I lose flow and focus without worrying about trying to follow a straight line from beginning to end of something.

My role is to set down new paths, to find rules of life and behavior and break them, to find boundaries and cross them.  I am here to break expectations, to shatter molds.

That is my daily devotion, and I don’t find it at an altar or in front of a candle (unless I feel like it).  I find it in everything I do and see, the little extra light in my day, an extra star shining at night.

I Want to Dance

As Tamara moves into her cheer career and I’ve been posting pictures and comments, one of the more frequent sentiments I’ve heard from my friends is along the lines of, “Imagine you involved with cheerleading! That’s so unlike you!”  At first, I laughed along with them and agreed.  And then I realized that was wrong.  Most of my friends have only really known me in adulthood, maybe from high school.  And since the best friend I had before then has been lost to me for more than twenty years, nobody else knows how wrong it is.

I’m a big girl.  I’m not as big as some girls.  I have plenty of friends who are bigger than I am.  I still wear clothes smaller than a size 20.  Although I’m back at my highest non-pregnant weight, I’m not even as big as I was the last time I was at this weight thanks to being in much better athletic condition.  I complain about not being able to buy clothes I like and how much I hate shopping, but I can still trust that a race or event t-shirt will fit me.

I was a big girl growing up, too.  I remember how difficult it was to find jeans that fit when I was a girl, and how one time my mother had me wear my cousin’s hand-me-down jeans to school…which mortified me because they were a boy’s jeans.  Starting in second grade and continuing for years, I dealt with the petty bullying of being the fat girl.  I believed I could never be physically fit and so I never really tried.  I worried about sucking my tummy in constantly.

I took dancing and ice skating lessons when I was a girl.  I dreamed of being a ballerina when I grew up, like most little girls do I guess.  I took lessons at a studio that taught ballet, tap, and jazz all together.  I loved dancing. I loved being able to follow the beat, to move my body with it. Learning choreography was like learning to play piano or learning to knit: it always came easily to me, and I rarely had to work very hard to master any step or sequence.

That all stopped when I was eleven or twelve, when my ballet class graduated to en pointe dancing.  After allowing me to dance with the class for a year or so, the teacher told my mother that I could not do it any longer, that it would permanently damage my feet to dance en pointe at my size.  So I quit dancing.  As I recall, that was about the same time my mother started signing me up for weight loss programs, too.

Shortly after that, as I moved into high school, I discovered the drill team.  This was a group of girls who went out and did dance and marching routines during games, like a cross between the marching band and the cheerleaders.  This sounded like so much fun, so I tried out.  I spent a couple of weeks going to the training sessions.  I bought a shiny unitard to wear (it was pink).  I spent hours at home stretching to try and master the splits.  Shortly before the official try-outs, they handed out a list of rules for drill team members.  Including in that list was a maximum weight.  And that was it.  I tried out, but I was obviously disqualified no matter how well I danced.

One secret that probably only my lost friend Alicia would know is the “How to Be a Cheerleader” books I had when I was little, and how I would practice doing jumps and cartwheels and cheers in my room or my backyard.  Forget about actual cheerleading.  In Georgetown, all the cheerleaders were elected by the student body.  The only thing I would be able to garner votes for would maybe have been “most invisible.”  I tried going back to the dance studio then, but since I couldn’t dance en pointe I was thrown into a class of beginners several years younger than I.  Not much point in staying.  In my sophomore year I discovered show choir, where I got to use my talents at both singing and dancing.  I lettered in show choir, and those were some of my best memories of high school.

The next chance I had only lasted a few weeks.  In between my first and second year at TAMS, there was a couple of months when it looked like I would have to go back to high school.  I spent that time training with the local high school marching band, where I got to be a flag (I played oboe and bassoon, which aren’t allowed to march).  Not only did we have set marching routines that we did along with the band, we worked on special routines where we got to step out from the band and do our own thing, dancing and spinning those giant flags.  I had so much fun, and a bit of me was sad when I got back into TAMS and left that marching band behind without ever having performed.

Once you grow up, the opportunities for dance seem a bit more limited.  I discovered ballroom dancing around the time we got married, but lessons were expensive and Brian can’t dance or follow a beat at all.  (He can’t carry a tune, either, but he has other fantastic talents.) I was good at it, and I would love to do it again if I had a partner, but I don’t.  I tried joining an adult tap class once, but I was only 19 and felt terribly uncomfortable and out of place with a group of women my mother’s age.  Once I was over 21 and discovered the world of topless bars, I thought that sounded like fun, too, but they didn’t want anything to do with girls over a certain (small) size, either…although I got to play at it a bit when Plato’s Playhouse was still open.

Skating is the closest I’ve been able to come to the dancing I want to do.  While I still never get to do couples or trios skating (no partner, no friends), anybody can skate up to a group working on a slide and just join in.  It’s athletic, it takes rhythm and coordination, you follow the beat and show off to the music.  I still tend to feel out of place there, like I’m the wrong color, but it’s one of the most fun things I do these days.

Still think being involved in competitive cheer is out of character for me?

All of that, and we come back around to Tamara, my oldest daughter, my little clone.  She’s built just like I am, strong and stout.  She also shares my love of music and dance, my coordination and ability.  She loves to sing, she loves to show off for a camera or an audience, and she is even better at gymnastics than I ever was, able to do backbends and splits with far greater ease.  She started asking me a couple of years ago if she could sign up for some activity that would involve dance or gymnastics, because she wanted to be a dancer…and my heart sank.  I thought back to all the times I tried to do those things and was knocked right back down, and just as I homeschool in part so my children won’t have to deal with the cruelty of their government-school peers, I didn’t want to throw Tamara into something where she would just be told “no” or put in a box because of her size.

I spent most of a year trying to find something.  I sent messages and emails out to my big girl friends, asking about any outlets they might know that would be size-friendly and welcoming.  I didn’t get much response, and in fact I felt like they thought I shouldn’t even be asking.  I even tried sending an email to Ragen Chastain, since I thought a woman who actually was an adult fat dancer would be able to give me some advice, some direction to look in. (She never responded.)

Finally, in January a post came across my homeschool group from a Young Champions cheerleading coach who was looking for more recruits.  I had seen her post before but had never followed up on it.  This time, I clicked through and took a look at the team and their pictures from past events…and I saw big girls!  I saw big, strong girls, girls who could throw other girls in the air, who could support the base of a pyramid and still do backflips!  And they were smiling and posing with their teammates, appearing to all be good friends despite their size differences!  They did the things the drill team used to do, performing fancy dance routines in between their stunts and shouting.

So here we are.  I felt a little uncomfortable at first, but mostly because I think I was expecting the other parents to act the way I remember cheerleaders acting in high school, all exclusive and special and part of a club I can’t join.  But now I’m a cheer mom, and my daughter is a cheerleader.  And all I can do as I clap from the sidelines is wish I was out there with her, and be grateful that she’s found an opportunity that I never did.

The Little Ways We Lead Ourselves Astray

When I was growing up, I loved reading stories that had anything to do with babies and motherhood.  I remember reading about the coming-of-age ritual of wearing your hair up in the Little House books, and wishing I had something like that to mark a transition for myself.  I remember stories of girls who cared for children, who adopted children, who had children of their own, whatever the ultimate plot point, these are the things that stood out.

When I finally had children of my own, I had somehow concocted this image of the perfect mother and housewife.  My idol was some strange conglomeration of Ma Ingalls, Maureen Johnson Smith Long, and probably some goddess of an Amazon.  I felt guilt over no longer working and bringing in money, so I built up this image of the perfect housewife as the “job” I now had to do in order to earn the living Brian was providing for me and our children.  While the triplets were still in NICU, I stopped painting my nails and cut them short so I wouldn’t accidentally scratch their skin. I started wearing my hair up all the time, ostensibly out of practicality but also with the thought of that prairie rite of passage in the back of my mind. I started making lists for myself of housework, laundry, ironing Brian’s shirts, and I pursued these “job assignments” so industriously that I regret not spending more time in the hospital with the babies. (Although after a few weeks, the NICU became an incredibly boring place with little for me to do except sit in a rocking chair with one baby or another.)

Over the next years, as my babies grew and multiplied, I continued my struggle to become that perfect wife and mother.  I pursued various home organization programs with varying degrees of success but consistent loss of direct time with children.  I went from one modest hairstyle to another, again with the idea of practicality but also with those idols in my mind. Putting my hair up like a Latina Texas housewife was neat and easy, and it made me think about being able to cook everything from scratch, even the most elaborate baby food and tortillas.  Wrapping it in tichels got my hair out of my face while it dried, and it made me feel like a focused, virtuous housewife.  Letting my hair down became more than an expression, it became the reality of resuming my “real” persona when the children were absent or asleep.

In other words, the face I was showing my children (and much of the rest of the world) was a mask.

On a slightly different note, I have realized that I do not learn by instruction, not really.  I can absorb some ancillary instruction, but I primarily learn by diving in and doing.  I can’t learn a programming language in a class, or through a textbook; I have to sit down and start coding, looking up things as I need them, and only after I have done that a few times can I get some benefit from asking for guidance or looking through a book for tips and tricks.  I don’t pick up a language and retain it by studying a book, but I can jump in and start talking and reading and tack on words as I encounter them (which is why DuoLingo seems to be working so well for me, I think). Knitting, cross-stitch, math, even swimming or skiing, I don’t seem to do well with instruction or lessons.  I learn and progress best by jumping in and doing, and asking questions along the way.

I remember how I  learned to ski.  I didn’t ski until I was 15 years old, and it happened to be a first that year for my mother and brother as well.  She signed all three of us up for lessons.  They stayed with their groups all day.  Only a couple hours into my class, though, I became fed up with waiting for everybody and left the class, along with another boy.  We sped down the hill, went back up to the hillside restaurant for lunch, and then skiied on our own for the afternoon, up and down and passing our class.  My mother was furious, feeling like she had wasted her money…but I ended up skiing better by the end of that day than the rest of the people who stayed in that class, and it cost nothing to leave it.  I’ve tried other group skiing classes, but the same thing happens: I get bored or distracted, and either do something stupid or leave.  When I go one-on-one with a teacher, though, we go up and down and the teacher gives me tips.  I spend just an hour or two getting a list of tweaks and tips, and then I can spend a day or two by myself working it out, no class or teacher.  Cheaper, in the long run.

I remember all of my physical skills being the same way, whether learning to swim as a child or learning hardanger embroidery or double-knitting as an adult. I sign up for a class, scan the material, and take off on my own, learning as I go and using the instructor as a springboard for questions.  It’s what I was doing with Kender while we still had access to services from the school system, following his lead and learning with him, while using the teachers for questions and tips and advice.

What brings both of these together? A reading I got recently saying, essentially, to go with the flow.

My patron god is often seen as one of chaos, although I prefer to think of it as not being bound by rules. I do better, I learn and progress and accomplish more, in chaotic environments where I pursue a goal free of the confines of a prescribed plan or somebody else’s pace.  I work better alone, able to move and change directions at a whim (and able to assume full responsibility for any consequences), than I do as part of a team.

Why on earth have I spent so much time trying to fit my home, my motherhood, my life into this neat, clean “homeschooling housewife” box that is defined not by my end-goal but by other women around me and imaginary women in books, by all this external imagery?