There's always a reason: Why you need to know your limits

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Back in 2012, a friend of mine, who happens to be editor of a local magazine, asked me to interview and write a story about a local speech pathologist who's doing some great things in her practice. After talking with her, I realized that a lot of what she does is rooted in one simple phrase:

There's always a reason.

Nearly 5 years later, that's the advice that sticks with me the most out of every little thing I have learned or been told about autism and helping my son learn how to navigate this world. I wish it was so internalized that I never forget it, but I'm not quite there yet. However, I'm starting to plant that seed in Brandon now.

We went to Costco one weekend a while back. My motivation was slightly selfish. I'd been wanting a Costco-sized vat of coconut oil, but Matt kept coming back saying they don't carry it anymore. It didn't seem possible that Costco would drop such a popular product so I made a rare appearance at Costco to check Matt's assertion.

Yes, I totally insisted we go to Costco on a busy Sunday afternoon just because I wanted a vat of coconut oil. Motivation is a funny thing, people.

Turns out I was right about Costco not getting rid of coconut oil. There on the right, just before we entered the gauntlet of people waiting for a cashier to check them out, was the object of my desire. I was tempted to buy two - yanno, just in case Matt's hunt and gather skills weren't the real issue. But I resisted.

With our mission accomplished, Brandon decided he was hungry. I'm pretty sure it's a conditioned response for him. He actually said looking at all the food was making him hungry. But I think at least part of it was knowing that Costco hot dogs are just on the other side of the cash.

Matt braved the line while I took Brandon to get food. 

We sat down after prepping B's hot dog and drink, surrounded by people filling their bellies after the harrowing experience of going through Costco on a Sunday. If they did a study, they'd probably figure out 99% of the people eating at Costco after shopping are stress eating.

It was noisy. However, there was one contributor to the noise that stood out from the rest of the din - a little boy who was around 6 or 7 years old. He was loudly and consistently upset for about 15 minutes. And Brandon noticed. Well, everyone did, but there were no dirty looks at his mother or the little guy that was having a rough time. 

Brandon made a couple of comments about how loud the "baby" was being. (He never actually looked for the source of the noise.) So, I told him that places like Costco and other big stores can be really hard on people - especially kids - because of the fluorescent lights, ambient noise and the sheer volume of people and things to look at. 

I told him about the time several years ago that he himself got tired of walking around and just laid down in the middle of an aisle and refused to move on. He'd had enough and couldn't cope with all the sensory information coming at him anymore. He didn't know how to say he was overwhelmed, so he communicated it in the only way he knew how: He stopped.

As an adult, I still struggle to recognize and stick to my limits. We get caught up in all the things we have to, need to, want to or should do and forget that we also need to stop the constant flow of information and other sensory stimulation in our brains so we can recharge.

Life happens and we keep plugging away because that's what we do. Kids haven't picked up that skill and, in a way, I hope Brandon never does. I'd consider it a great success if I can teach him to respect his own limits. For now, I'm working on teaching him to recognize them.

I've had a lot of extra stress that I've plowed through for months and I'm pretty exhausted. And I know it's impacting me because I have been sick at least once a month this year. But I've done very little to address the real problem. I just keep going.

But there's always a reason.

Whether it's a kid screaming in the middle of a crowded, busy store or an adult experiencing life stress, we all need to be compassionate with each other and ourselves.

I re-learn this lesson pretty regularly the hard way. Don't we all?

Filling days with happy routines

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I recently changed jobs, and the switch means my 5-minute commute is now 30-40 minutes. That's a big jump, but it's kind of awesome. The only thing I didn't like about my 5-minute commute was that it eliminated my best opportunity for me-time with audiobooks. I've always been a voracious reader, but life happens and it's hard to find the time. For me, the commute is the perfect time to get through non-fiction books, particularly on business topics. 

When I was noodling on how to position a product, I listened to Positioning. When I was struggling with how to explain a complex but important concept, I got inspiration from Made to Stick. And one of Jim Collins' stories in Good to Great reaffirmed my choice to leave my last position. Some days I need something fiction to get lost in because my brain needs a break from absorbing information and generating ideas. Occasionally, I switch on my favorite playlists so I can give a concert in my car.

Having a longer commute creates some logistical challenges, but I try to take advantage of every moment of that time to prep for my day and unwind from it when it's over. The routine - provided I'm not rushed - makes me happy and less stressed. 

Life is too busy not to have routines that inject some amount joy into each day. I love getting my first cup of coffee in the morning. That first sip is the best, too. 

Sometime last winter, my colleagues at my previous job started sitting together regularly at lunch and I looked forward to that routine. It made hard days better and gave us all a break from the grind. This one was good for our whole team, especially since we were dealing with so much change.

It's amazing to see the impact of a simple routine when you're going through change.

One routine I practiced when I was younger, but has fallen away was something I learned from my fifth grade teacher. She once told me that she loved to wake up on Saturday mornings, have a cup of tea, a hot bath and read. I still think that sounds divine, but I haven't done it in years. I might have to revive it before it gets too cold. 

I like having happy routines that are also comforting and calming; they're a safe space in each day, week or month. 

What makes me happy right now

Coffee, daisies and a book to read. A beautiful combination, don't you think?

Coffee, daisies and a book to read. A beautiful combination, don't you think?

Happiness is one of those things that we're programmed into thinking is a life goal. Do what makes you happy. Don't worry, be happy. Live happily ever after. Happiness is...you fill in the blank.

I like feeling happy, but I also get how fleeting an emotion it is. I've learned to appreciate the depth and breadth of feeling joy - whether I feel happy or not. But happiness isn't something I'm going to turn away when it comes.

There's never going to be a list of things that make me happy that isn't topped by my family. Matt is the most kind, caring, funny, supportive husband. He's the yin to my yang. I'm messy; he's not. I'm a daydreamer; he's not. I drink wine; he doesn't (more for me). I don't like to vacuum; he does. I meticulously sort, fold and hang clothes (when I get to the laundry); he doesn't. I read and sing; he doesn't. I'm not into video games; he is. We also agree on a lot of things - both trivial and critical. 

When Matt walks through the door at the end of the day and smiles, it lights up my world.

Brandon's so much like Matt, it makes me smile. He's got his dad's quick wit and my tendency to tease. It's a combination that keeps us all laughing. But Brandon's also one of the most genuinely sweet children I've ever known. He's still an affectionate cuddler who isn't afraid to tell anyone how much he cares. I hope he hangs onto that as he gets older.

Every time I get a hug from my little guy, my cup of joy gets filled up.

I've spent the last few years focused on writing and stories, so I get immersed in story practically every day. The medium doesn't matter. I love a good story in a song, a book, a TV show or movie, pictures and more. I even make up stories in my head starring strangers around me. Most of those stories get lost in a vault buried deep in some unknown tunnel in my brain. This isn't a bad thing.

Stories help me see new perspectives, explore new ideas, and occasionally escape from the monotony of life.

When I was a kid, I used to think once you finished school there was no more learning. Back then I didn't think this would bother me in the least. "No more pencils. No more books. No more teachers' dirty looks," sounded awfully nice. But somewhere along the way, I realized how much I liked learning and I just kept doing it. There's so much interesting stuff in the world to learn. I want to soak as much of it up as I can.

Learning makes me a better writer and a better human.

I'm also blessed to have so many truly wonderful people in my life, from my family to friends to colleagues. Life is rich in unmeasurable ways when you're surrounded by so much good. Also, coffee. And daisies. Daisies are such a happy flower. :)

It's time for a mindset reset

This week was an anniversary for me, though it's certainly not a big deal. I almost forgot about it, but then something happened. But before I get to that, back to the anniversary.

One year ago this week I started a new job. It's been an experience I'll never forget. And the best part about this experience?

The people. They're talented, intelligent, and willing to try new things. They're also a diverse crew of fun, funky, lovely, loud, and truly likeable humans. I've had a lot of jobs and it's rarer than it should be to find this. 

Life over the past year - at work and outside of work - has been one big transition period (i.e., things is changin'). And change can be hard. It's uncomfortable. But we all have to figure out how to adjust when change happens. Of course, sometimes the feelings around change need to come out and be acknowledged before we can reset and move on.

It can be tempting to wallow in the muck of wishing this or that had never happened and rail at the world for not being fair. Personally, I don't like muck and I would rather spend my time reading than wallowing.

Victim mindset? No thank you.

Back to what happened. 

I picked up Brandon from his summer program yesterday and when our conversation about dinner didn't go quite the way he wanted (he was craving steak and I wasn't going to make any), it led to a tearful monologue about how bad his day was. Translation: He was tired.

But I was tired, too. My kid is sweet, sensitive, trusting and good-natured, but he has a negative streak that makes me a little nuts. I do not want to raise someone who enjoys being a victim. I actually have a rule that I pull out of my annoying-mom toolbox every now and then when his negativity gets to me: For every single negative incident he shares, he has to tell me two positive things.

I told him it breaks my heart that he defaults to thinking about the negative parts of his day. And you know what he did? He hugged me. He didn't want my heart to be broken. 

That's how I know he's gonna be okay. He actually cares. He'll get it.

My ugly truth

Today I picked Brandon up again and when I asked him about his day, he immediately deflated and I knew what was coming. I got a couple words out of him - not negative, but not particularly positive. 

When he didn't expand on his day, I changed my tactic: Tell me something good that happened! 

He thought about it and he told a story about a kid who wouldn't let him pretend to be a Nintendo character when they were playing a Lego Movie game they made up. He said he snickered at the irony that the kid wouldn't let him choose a creative character.

You know what this means, right? My kid totally gets the point of The Lego Movie AND he gets irony. He's brilliant and you can't convince me otherwise. 

As we were driving home after a trip to pick up some more books for the wee genius, I had some quiet thinking time, remembered the anniversary and began reflecting on everything that's happened in the past year. It's been a doozy for the world, right? As I thought through it, I realized I have been taking on the mantle of victimhood a little bit myself and it's time to let it go. 

Choosing joy 

Someone I know recently started blogging about joy and she's apparently had a good influence on my subconscious. I was at the bookstore and picked up a list journal.

I have a lot of these journals. I use them to get inspiration for my writing. And since I can't seem to stay away from the journals in the bookstore, I doubt there are many I haven't picked up.

As I was driving home, after I picked up the journal, I decided to challenge myself to blog one of the lists each week. 

But check out the cover and note what the inspiration is for:

I can't expect my son to look for the positive if I'm not setting the example - intentionally and consistently. It doesn't mean ignoring the negative because that's not healthy either. But dwelling on the negative is toxic and not productive. I'd much rather be good to myself and bring good things into the world around me.

For the boy who made me a mother

You know those journals that ask you questions or give you writing prompts to tell your life story? I love them.

I got my mom one over twenty years ago and I think she filled out some of it. Then almost 13 years ago, I got a book that we were both supposed to fill out - it was a mother-daughter combo. It wasn't overly long, but it was a Christmas present for her in 2004 when she had just finished over 6 months of copious time spent in the hospital. After I gave it to her, she told me to take it back home and fill out my part first. So, I did. 

That trip was the last time I ever saw her. She died a year and a half later and the still-blank pages of that book make me sad.

Lately, Brandon has been asking me lots of questions about my childhood, so this Mother's Day, I thought I'd answer these as a gift to him. That, and I'll keep working through this book so he doesn't have to stare at blank pages when he's older.

What are your favorite memories of times you spent with your grandparents?

I never knew my grandfather on my dad's side; he died when I was only 8 months old.  And though I was 10 when my grandfather on my mom's side died, I really didn't know him well. He was a very nice man, but for various reasons, I hadn't spent a lot of time with him. However, I spent lots of time with both my grandmothers - they both even lived with my family (at different times). 

My grandmother on my mom's side is responsible for introducing me to Anne of Green Gables. She shared the movies with me and, when I saw they were based on books, I found and devoured them. That series is one of my all-time I-can-read-them-a-thousand-times-and-never-get-bored favorites. And, given that L.M. Montgomery is such a beloved Canadian author, it's interesting that I latched onto her books long before I ever even had a reason to think about moving to Canada.

My grandmother on my dad's side was a storyteller. My younger brother and I used to beg her to tell one particular story about her childhood over and over because it was so funny. And, since you are loving Captain Underpants so much these days, Brandon, you'll like this story, too.

My great-grandfather (my grandma's father) owned a drugstore in south Florida. One day when my grandma was about three or four, my great-grandmother (my grandma's mother) made Grandma a new pair of underwear and she loved them. She was so proud of them, in fact, that she went to her father's drugstore to tell him about it. When she got there, her father was in a meeting with a group of businessmen. But that didn't stop her. She yelled out to her father, "Daddy, daddy! Look at my new panties!" And she lifted up her dress to show him. In front of everyone.

What was your grade school like? What do you remember about your favorite teacher?

My memories of grade school are fading fast these days, but I would say that grade school was mostly uneventful. I attended two different elementary schools because we moved from a small town in central Florida to Tallahassee when I was eight, just before I started third grade. Up until that time, I attended the school where my mom was the special education teacher. Being in the same school as my mom was fine. I was a bit of a goody-two-shoes so the threat of teachers talking to my mom wasn't a big deal since I didn't get in trouble anyway. 

When we moved to Tallahassee, someone decided I should be tested for the gifted program and my mom agreed. I got tested and was put in the program, which meant going to "special" classes that most of my classmates didn't attend. This kept up until I graduated high school.

I have mixed feelings about being in the gifted program. I got a lot out of it, but it had some downsides too. That's a story for another day, though.

Who was your best friend? And what did the two of you like to do?

When I lived in central Florida, I had a best friend, but we lost touch when I moved. From 8 to 13 I didn't really have a best friend. Then Angie moved to town and started attending my school. We became friendly in 8th grade and got really close in ninth grade. We were tight all through high school and a bit of college - distance was hard to overcome back then. We go years now without talking, but she's one of a handful of people that time spent apart doesn't impact our ability to pick right up where we left off.

Angie and I liked to watch sappy movies and write sappy stories. There may be notebooks still in existence that we'd never give up because the memories are important. But we wouldn't want anyone else's eyes on those things.

Angie also happens to be one of the kindest, most amazing women I've ever known. I hope you choose your friends wisely and find good people who try to be as kind as you are, Brandon.

What did you do as a kid that got you into trouble at home or school?

When I was in third grade, I experimented with swearing for the first time. My first big, bad words were "shut up." Those two words seem pretty tame, but we didn't use them in my family. They were as forbidden as any curse word you could name. But one day at daycare, a little boy just would not leave me alone. I was really upset by whatever he was doing.

I remember shaking which means there were probably tears. I finally screamed at him to shut up. And he actually did. But I was terrified. I was sure the teacher was going to tell my mom what I'd said. She didn't, but I did. After hearing what happened, my mom wasn't even mad. She just talked to me about how I could handle the situation a bit differently if it happened again.

Sometime after that - the same year - a girl in my class did something (I don't remember what) that I felt warranted a scathing note from me. In this note, I decided to use every single real curse word I'd learned. Anyone reading that note could see it was my first time using them.

I don't remember what I wrote, but I remember my teacher talking to me about it and she knew I hadn't ever cussed before. I didn't get into major trouble because (once again) there was understanding that I had been provoked. 

However, I did learn very early that writing things down isn't a good idea. I don't know if the teacher told my parents about this, but now my dad will definitely know about it along with a couple of other people who still read my blog.

Growing up, what did you want to be?

For a really brief time, Christa McAuliffe inspired me to want to be an astronaut. And Whitney Houston made me want to be a singer. In truth, I didn't really have a clear idea of what I wanted to do until I was in high school. Up until then, I didn't really think about long-term plans. In high school, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Fortunately, I figured out before I went down that path that it wasn't the right career for me.

Outside of the family, what was the very first job you had that you got paid for?

Because I wanted to be a lawyer, my dad helped me get an unpaid internship at a law office as part of a program I was in at school. When school ended, the firm hired me part-time for the summer.

How did you meet Dad? How did he ask you to marry him?

I met your dad online and I've written about it before. As for the proposal, that's kind of a funny story. I was living in Florida until the week of Thanksgiving in 2000. I received my permanent resident visa from the Canadian consulate about three weeks before and I immediately gave notice at work.

Matt and I had planned for him to drive down in a minivan, we'd pack all my stuff into it, and head back to Ottawa. I still had to work two more days at the beginning of that week and I was filling all my free time with saying goodbye to family and friends - and packing, since I didn't get that finished before Matt arrived. 

On my last day at my job, Matt spent the morning running around to every building on the campus to grab empty boxes from the kitchens where the photocopiers were. After he'd collected as many boxes as he could, he came back to my desk to see if I would just leave already.

Of course, I hate leaving anything undone, so I said I couldn't and kept pushing through. Matt was frustrated - rightfully so - that he couldn't seem to get me alone and I was 100% oblivious to his frustration. At one point while I was working, he got down on one knee and asked right there in my cubicle. As he was about to ask, one of my co-workers was walking by and stopped to talk to me, but she saw what was going on and quickly detoured.

After that, Matt finally got my full attention. He asked. I said yes. Then I went around the office showing my ring to all my friends.

I think about that proposal and it's kinda perfect. It was such a stress-filled time and I love that Matt decided not to wait a second longer. He just pushed forward and did it. Because there's no perfect time and place, nor does there need to be.

What is the hardest thing that you ever had to do in your life?

Definitely moving to Canada. I knew I was leaving behind my family and my mom was living with chronic illness. I was going where I would be way too far away to ever help. I was going way too far away for us to be part of each other's day-to-day lives. I don't regret coming to Canada and my mom and family 100% supported my move, but that didn't make it any less difficult.

What is the greatest compliment that you have ever received?

When I auditioned to attend Florida State University's School of Music, I did so with four hurried weeks of vocal coaching on the two songs that I was singing in my audition. I had sung in choir at church all my life, but I'd never been in choir at school or had any real vocal training. My 18-year-old self had the audacity to believe that I was good enough without training. When I got in, no one was more surprised than I was. After my audition was over, it finally hit me that it was an extremely long shot. But I got in. Then I got an A from the faculty in my first jury. That was an amazing moment.

What is one thing you still want to do that you've never done?

Ever since I learned about Holland from my neighbor when I was a kid (he was from Holland), I've always wanted to go and see all the things in person that he shared with me in pictures and stories. When I finally get around to making that trip, I'm sure you and your dad will be with me. :)

Brandon, I hope you've enjoyed reading a little more about me this Mother's Day. You're the best kid a mom could ask for and I love you so much.


This list of questions came from here and I have to give a hat tip and thanks to my bloggy friend/fellow Spin Sucks Crazies buddy, Paula, for sharing it with me.