Reflections of and on a probably Asperger's parent parenting an Asperger's kid (or 2)!

dragon pups

dragon pups

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Letter to My Son...

Son, we've been arguing a lot lately. I know you are growing into a young man, that you are learning about how your body and mind is changing *as* you change. And change is hard.
I understand deeply that it is just as hard to find out who you are as it is for the world around you to let you find out who you are. There are lots of people here to help you, to show you a version of "adult", so that you can compare notes and see what fits with your personality, your skills, your being. We, the adults who love you, will ask things of you, even demand things of you, that we have learned to be Essential to Adulthood. We are doing our best to equip you with the tools to help you be who you are meant to be.
And you are not any of us, you are YOU. The only you that is just like you. You have been created singularly to do some awesome thing that God has created you to do. You probably have not done that Awesome Thing yet, even though you've done some awesome things. You will probably be in an information collecting phase for a long time yet. That may sound daunting, but know that every step,, leads you to a skill, an experience, a person who is supposed to be part of your road, a building stone for your Awesome Thing.
I know that change is hard. Growth usually comes with struggle, even for plants and rocks. There are times when you will feel like you NEED to hold on, to keep what you had. I feel that way too - that's why I look for the little boy in the man you are becoming. But when we refuse to let go, we put up road blocks on our way to our Awesome Thing.
I want to walk your road with you as long as you'd like me to. Some parts I won't be able to go on, and some times I have to walk toward my own Awesome Thing, a road you won't be able to go on. I'll hold you hand, or I'll hear you out, or I'll give advise, or I'll out right shove you. Some roads I will block you from out of my own fears.
I know beyond doubting that God created you just the way you are for a Divine Purpose, for an Awesome Thing. I also know that God planted you conspicuously in my path, so you must need some of my wisdom.
I am asking, requesting, that you please see me as a Gift to you just as I see you as a Gift to me. I am reminding you that all the people around you are here to be your arrows, your pathway lights. And I am knowing that the Incredible You that you are will follow Your Road to your Awesome Thing. I am respecting that your life is your own, even if we have to share space and the consequences of your decisions.
There is nothing you will ever do that will make me stop loving you, even as we both struggle with change.
And that is all true whether you have autism, or not.
- inspired from a post by Diary of a Mom.

Monday, December 15, 2014

More on this Parenting Guilt Thing...

I know I have belabored this point...
I have over thunk it, torn it apart, put it back together, and tried to refocus around it or through it, or something..
It may not show up in this forum that way, but all my friends have heard it, and my head has heard it too much..

Sometimes I am appalled at how much our parenting is compelled by fear... by guilt...

I was able to see my Mom's guilt, and determined to not pass it on to my kids, though I do not think I succeeded...

I was able to see how my father's fear defined our lives, and determined not to pass that on to my kids, but I didn't really succeed at that either...

The Autism is a driving Fear Factor in our household.  We have inadvertently used it to try to motivate our son into meeting the new responsibilities and challenges he faces as he grows up.  We are afraid.  Afraid he will not be able to use a pubic bathroom independently (still.. at age 10).  Afraid he will not put enough effort into studies to use his intellectual potential. Afraid he will not be able to eat at a table of people without disgusting them.  Afraid he will make someone angry enough to hit back, verbally or physically.  Afraid he will lock himself up emotionally with fear and not let us love him and help him.  Afraid that he hates himself.  Afraid he will hurt himself.  Afraid he will hurt others.

Desperately, unspeakably afraid that someone will take him away from us, that someone will decide we just don't love him enough...

There is just so much fear.

We know he is a caring person.  He keeps the secret of the Tooth Fairy and Santa for his younger sister and children everywhere (even though he argues with her that fairies are not real).  He includes us in his daily story-telling as characters and in tat dialogue tells us that he loves us and understands our perspectives.  As always, he tries very hard to engage us in play.

While Autism looms largest, it is not the only fear.  Dyslexia is looming pretty large in our horizon.

We have allowed our fear that she will be taken advantage of to let us fall into that trap of saying the non-reader is lazy.  Our daughter is a loving person, aware of people's feelings, trying to figure out the universe in this skewed version she's landed in.  She loves movement, and struggles to hear and see like the rest of us.  She is teaching her brother invaluable lessons in bending to others, sharing space and time, and being family.  But we have hit a place where she is afraid she doesn't have what it takes, where she fear of the comparison that finds her lacking stifles her effort.  She copes with her people skills - she asks for help.  She acts helpless so that others will help her.

I am so very very tired of the fear.  My heart is starting to tell me that we have NOTHING FEAR EXCEPT FEAR ITSELF.  If we just play, if we just love them, won;t they know how fabulous they are? Won't they grow into the beauty we expect of them? Won't that really be all they really need?

It is easier for me on sunny days, but I am going to try REALLY, REALLY hard to just love them! to just PLAY with them! to just ENJOY MY CHILDREN.

I am going to set aside the workbooks and pressure.  I am going to LOVE them!

And I need your help reminding me of all this as we move forward.  I need you to remind me that loving people is more important than testing them, or molding them, or even teaching them.

And kudos to my parenting partner, to my husband, to their father, for helping me to rediscover the love in this journey on a constant basis.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Kids with Autism ARE hard

I have read a lot in the past year or so about how autism parents should not ever complain about autistic kids because it perpetuates this social expectation that autism is a burden and that diminished self esteem that autistic adults carry.

I cal Bull$h!t.

A family is ALL the people in it, trying to live together.  It is not and CAN not be about the whole family bending to accommodate one member.  It is NOT selfish of parents to expect to have some enjoyment out of life, or to ask children to adjust to them in some ways.  The argument that only the adults have to change because they are the ones old enough to have coping skills is ludicrous.  If we are going to point out that kids are allowed to have bad days, then we have to make space for adults to have bad days too.  And truthfully, the autism contributes to those bad days - both mine and my child's.

The latest 'fight" around here is staying involved in an organization.  My son is fighting being in cub scouts, and there is a fair share of unpleasant politics amongst both the boys and the parents.  Changing will be difficult, but seems pretty necessary... so we started a conversation to facilitate that change.

Reacting with inflexible black-and-white thinking, my son starts to scream and cry that he does not like people, that I am intentionally trying to cause him upset.  I remind him that he needs to have the opportunity to practice being with people, but more importantly he needs to give himself the opportunity to have friends.

But the rigidity takes hold, and he moves to that instinctive place where he wants to hurt back - so he does.  That rigidity combined with perfectionism (all parts of the OCD nature of Autism) to drive him to find as many hurtful things as he could say about me.  Now maybe all kids get mean and hurtful (certainly we have heard that excuse for the bullying done to my son) - but the extremity and thoroughness with which he finds the meanest thing to say is Autism.  He told me that I try to upset him on purpose (no I am trying to help you grow); he told me that I am ignoring how I hurt him (as a matter of fact, 90% of my waking day everyday is invested in managing your ability to deal with change).

Maybe it was my fault for returning the argument with specifics, but I tried to demonstrate to him in concrete ways that I HAVE cared for him - specifically pulling him out of a dangerous school situation, and removing those toxic people from his life.

His response was that I have removed every person except myself.

THAT is a low blow, my son.

I was hurt, and I reacted that way.  He deserves to know that he hurts others. Am I supposed to lie and pretend that he is allowed to say whatever the hell he wants, no matter how hurtful, because he can use his autism as an excuse?  In a job setting that would get him fired.  In a public place that could get him beat up or killed.  In a legal setting it could get him slander.  There ARE very real limits on how mean you can be.

So I asked him if he wanted a new mom.  I told him that if that's really what he wants, I can make that happen.  I am not rich enough to buy him a new mom, or even a nanny, but I can report to the state that I can't help him.  he could make statements in public about how I am out to get him and the CPS would take him to live in a home.  If he needs out of this house, there are options.

I started to cry, I reminded him that it was incredibly mean, I was working hard to control my voice, but I am sure that he heard my ... vigor.

SO then he tries to correct himself, and says he wants me as his mom, but that I am just not good enough.

THAT is low, low blow.

And here we are.  I am now supposed to suddenly and instantly ignore every ounce of parenting guilt that is built into this job, that is multiplied by the judgmental dirty looks in public, by the therapists who make it clear that success is built on your follow through at home, by the school system & sitters who have told me over and over that he only behaves badly for me.

That horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach starts, the nausea and disgust.  This is the feeling I had when I was fighting for my dignity in emotional abuse from my husband.  This is the sense of worthlessness, the place that took me to the brink of suicide on more than one occasion.  I am back to trying to convince the people around me and myself that I am worthy of sharing their air.

My son carries that kind of despair too. He threatens suicide on a weekly basis at this point, every time he gets corrected, or we ask him to learn to control himself, or i remind him that he is capable and responsible for thinking of how his actions affect others.

So is the answer REALLY that since I am the adult I am supposed to just live with and accept this type of emotional abuse?  Is it really that as the mom, as the woman, I am just supposed to allow him to be as mean as he wants - because he is disabled and can't control it?  This is the same type of bull$h!t that keeps women in relationships that get them killed.  This is why so many parents are pushed to idea that death is the only viable option.

If the child truthfully has absolutely no control over how much they hurt others, then putting them into that resident situation where people who are paid minimum wage and have no emotional charge to put up with that crap are responsible for his well-being is setting him up for a lifetime of physical abuse.

Somehow, we have to move forward from here.  Somehow we have to reach that place where he knows his needs, understands how to meet them, and takes responsibility for how he touches the lives of others.

If he can't take that responsibility, then he really can't ever live as an adult.

And if he is never an adult, at what point am I "allowed" to emotionally protect myself from that kind of abuse?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

giving up

I need to remember this day.
I am DONE.
I am so very very angry & dissappointed in my self, in life...

Son will NOT do his written work, tears and screaming every time I even mention the workbook, writing is illegible, stories make no sense, mistakes not corrected

I am so very tired of asking nicely, I'm asking not nicely.. demanding that the WRITE SO IT CAN BE READ. I am so MAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Other child lost her ONE workbook - no evidence of her learning... of course, she "looked"  - she never finds ANYTHING she looks for.  we have though maybe it was a visual processing issue 'cuz she NEVER NEVER NEVER finds stuff in clutter.  But I can't get her eyes checked anyhow - not covered by insurance, I ain't got no money for that shit.

And why, to provide her one more excuse? I have spent over a year trying to get testing done to figure out why reading is so hard - they found nothing wrong, of course.  And then she started reading before we've even been able to get the final follow up appt. all THAT money wasted.

f*ck this shit.

I am ready to give up. I am DONE. I hate this business of trying to live 3 people's lives at one time.

These kids don't care if they are homeschooled. They don't care if they go back and get broken like everybody else.

I can't really protect them, right?  I mean, the world is a tough place and they are gonna be broken down by life around them any how, right?

What the hell could possibly make me think I am whole enough to do this?

Like every other time in my life I have All the tools I need and still can't get the job done.  Where are the successes I am supposed to have built on?


there is nothing.

I need to remember this day 'cuz someday this will be a far memory. Some day it will all be ok, better than ok, and I will be able to look at that list of successes, and I will know that I have made the world a better place, that it is not just that I need to take f*cking medication so I feel like I did better, but I will ACTUALLY do better.

Someday autism will not be an excuse.
Someday these children will thrive, someday I will not feel like I am passing on my own fear and insecurities to them,

Someday they will be in a healthy place and I will NOT feel like it is all my fault...

And someday I will feel safe enough to actually post this, to actually share this - because I won't feel like people are watching &  judging me, looking for ways that I have failed and trying to find reasons to take my children from me.

I am so very very tired of hurting feelings.

All I can hear is every criticism ever offered me.

I am not patient enough.
i am too passionate
I am too loud.
I am not calm enough.
I am not organized enough.
I am not determined enough.

I am just not enough.

How can I be enough to homeschool these kids?
How can I be enough to build them?

Someday I will look at this and know I should not have given up.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

flailing around...

lots of hints from the universe that it is time for me to change directions.
really this is for me, not for you, but maybe you can help...
trying to come up with that inventory list of "things I am good at", but...
I have realized I allowed myself to be taken advantage of for too long, hoping that the evidence of my emotional commitment would translate into long-term pay off...
it's like being in an ugly relationship.
I gave lots of time.
without reimbursement.
was told to finally just write it off and stop working.
they invested in my training, let me learn more and move in new directions.
they were happy with the evidence of what I had accomplished.
I held out, expecting my loyalty to be rewarded.
but I guess people don't do that kind of thing anymore - i am feeling very betrayed.
When I asked to be compensated for what I actually had given, I was told to ask no further and give less.
and when the time came to continue investing in my training, they decided "it would be one more thing on my plate" - I can't hack it.
I said, "a vote of no confidence"?
"oh no!" - they were just being "real".
"Aren't you glad you don't have to handle that problem?"
the last time someone said that to me, they were systematically denying my child the services he had a prescription for, dooming him to a life of physical and emotional recovery by their inaction.
I know what i know.
i know how to teach.
i feel when kids learn.
i know the future of education is NOT in classrooms.
several different job openings have come up in the past week alone.
you have to jump through every open window to see what doors open to you.
they all feel wrong.
i am not living my passion.
i researched.
i attended professional conferences.
I am nearly 1/2 way through my life and I am only now starting to touch on a career, a job, that will make the world a better place...
I understand why moms feel that their investment in the world is their own child - because it is all you have time for.
it is SO UNFAIR that my child has to carry the weight of my success - or lack thereof.
I REFUSE to pass on my dreams of success to my children!  they deserve their OWN dreams, their OWN purposes.
AM I larger than just 2 kids?
there are so many other people already doing what I am just starting...
tons of people offer training and info on sensory practices and autism.
tons of people teach outside the classroom.
tons of people teach swimming.
tons of people raise autistic kids, and homeschool, and get by on not enough money.
every time I do my classes, people leave awe-struck.  they are absolutely in a place where they are seeing things in a new light.
every time.
what is the next step?
again, i am at a place where i need to envision a better future, one in which i can make the world a better place and meet my responsibilities to my family...
i don't even know where to begin.
how can people see me as an effective parent but an ineffective worker?
how can every thing that is my strength be my weakness  too?
creativity, passion, flexibility...
yet people see someone who can't hack it.
i can't blame the kids... i floundered around for years before they were born.  I fought being a teacher for a long time...
i have worked in just about every educational environment imaginable below college.
so where is my list of skills?
i teach.
that's it.
is teaching in and of itself unrespectable?  is that why I feel like I have no skills?
or is it me undeserving of respect?
or am i just not giving it to myself?
i clearly have not been.
i do not want to step into overconfidence.
life kicks me in the a$$ every single time I start to get confident.
am I not religious enough?
not spiritual enough?
not crediting God instead of what He made me to be?
I feel like I am trying to remake me again, to redefine...
but it only works if I am my True Self,
if the puzzle piece stops changing shape to try to fit in the hole.

where do i look to find my True Self?
How do i define that which is unseen?
when do I get to stop second guessing?
why is this so hard?
why is it so much easier to see the strengths in others than it is in yourself?

I am going to collapse on myself, retire into a state of writhing unrest, look too hard for what is too obvious to others.
i will have to be very very careful that I do not hurt anyone else in the process.
I have been on this road before & i do NOT want to go down it again.

how do i avoid that?

i can teach everyone but me, i guess.

so, what is the inventory of strengths?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

AEE conference- Professional Development

About a month ago I ran across a reference to the Association for Experiential Education.  I had heard of it before, but this time was "closer to home".  The international conference was to be held near my parents' home, on a weekend that I was already free from parenting responsibilities.  It just felt like an opportunity that could not be missed.  

So, I didn't miss it.  I was able to go for only one day, not the whole conference, but that's still something.  So, I had new business cards made, cleared the calendar days, changed the oil in my car, and drove down.

Funny thing about professional development - it's more than just professional.  Maybe it has to do with my own sense of connectedness and synchronicity, or maybe it has to do with this "experiential education" industry, or maybe it's that your "professional" self is just an expression of your divinely designated responsibilities to humanity... but I certainly had personal development as well as learning a whole lot about this profession.

So I am going recall, to reflect, to try to process...

The closing event was an award to the "facilitator of the year" - who (naturally) turned out to be an interesting character.  What struck me is how he described that he "trusted the process" of experience, of letting time and experience work together to teach, to let the learning happen.  He told some stories to sum up his experience, and said that while he hadn't figured out why these stories were important yet, he knew that time would show him why...

I trust...
Experience IS the best teacher...

The night before the event, I had an odd dream, about changing jobs, about working in a prison undercover (I had watched Magnum P.I.), and just before I woke, as my body struggled to pull my mind out of that reality into the stretching and bodily awareness of my bed, I literally ran back into the "room" I had been in and yelled, "I have an idea!  We need to establish a Family Adventure Therapy Program!"  My head visualized it as some Big Key, Primary Component.  I woke incredulous.  I am not a therapist.  I am a teacher.  I have no experience, background, or reference for that idea.

I had scoured the website, seeking this details that would allow me to negotiate the space of the event successfully - maps of classroom/ meeting rooms, mention of registration hours, where to park... didn't find it.  So I went over an hour early.  Turns out it was a straight shot, easy to find, clearly marked, and Starbucks was open.

I perused the workshop listings.  I had made the final emotional commitment to coming because one workshop was specifically about working with Autism.  There were 2 other time slots to fill.  I found one about assessment.  I feel like assessment is the key "sticking point" that makes schooling ineffective.  I also feel like we need better vocabulary to describe what we see when we assess.  At the very end of the listing a workshop was listed: "Family Enrichment Adventure Therapy: FEAT".  Was that really relevant to me?

Assessment workshop: VERY useful, very insightful.  Made an immediate link with Sensory Processing language, found a new resource.  Also gained insight into how those decisions to "read" a group and choose a good catalyst for change (the next challenge activity) were made.  The assessment had to do with the facilitator goals (the end objective), but it also was about what classroom teachers call "ongoing assessment" - figuring out where a student is "at".  It also was clear that the language they used to assess is similar to what I do with sensory awareness with swim students.  I speak to my observation/ feeling, suggesting a vocabulary for the learner, and then invite them to share their differences in perception (allow myself to be wrong)... letting the learner own their learned experience. The instructor was specific about not using the word "why", but instead "how would you describe" or "what do you think happened".  He felt "why" was too big, too open-ended... I have always felt like "why" is the elephant in the room - the one thing people won't ask.  I also learned 2 new activities.  I also was called out on being an "autism mom" and trying to facilitate surprise and re-label risk.

ActivatEE session: it was unclear what that would be, but everyone was invited.  It turned out to be EPIC.  5 general members were invited to have their 5 minutes of platform, their 5 minutes to inspire, their 5 minutes to be heard.  It was moving.  Gender equality, authenticity to self, authentic assessment, finding motivation in disaster, inspired insightfulness...  great storytelling, great stories.  It makes me want to be heard too!  I know what I have to say is important, even if I am not sure what needs to be said yet.  I even ran into (by chance?) the organization's CEO while getting directions to lunch, who agreed that my passion for learning outside the classroom would be well met in the ActivatEE format.

Lunch: found a pub in town, got to see a community taking care of itself - playing old country music for a regular customer, watching the dynamic of people caring for people...  and good fried pickles.

Autism workshop: one of the presenters was one of the pediatricians who helped to rewrite the DSM and define what autism is.  He spoke of the spectrum, of outliers, and providing adequate supports without functionality labels.  He has been running a camp for autistic people for 10+ years, and kept his organization at a state level out of the political debates that rage in the Autism Community.  He just helps people.  The co-presenter demonstrated exactly how common challenge activities can be used to facilitate exactly skills and norms that we (neurotypical people) value in behavior (commonly called Social Skills).  I feel so strongly that I want to be a PART of THAT!! I do not understand how, but again, my passion for stopping the pounding of square pegs into round holes, for embracing the infinite diversity of humanity, for inclusion and understanding is loud enough to be recognized, visible to others.  I did feel like the conversation about sensory processing can be approached from different angles that generate more of a sense of identification, of shared experience.  I also think that we are still down-playing the actuality of the "6th sense"/ psychic intuitiveness that people with autism experience.  I can also see that I am not researching or discovering "new" ideas, but I am putting them together is new ways, seeing pictures others don't, and those insights are helpful to others.  After the session I spoke to a participant about "islands of information" and redirecting obsessive concerns to constructive ends.  I am not even sure what I told her, but it resonated with her about a challenge she was facing.

3rd workshop: I had talked myself out of going to the FEAT workshop, but in the Autism workshop I heard someone talking about how great the presenters were.  I followed my intuition.  Valuable lessons. For whatever reason, I was very insecure in this workshop.  I guess I felt very out of my element. I was called on mothering and teaching behaviors that I reverted to instinctively and unconsciously.  I felt ashamed, but grateful to be taught.  I was reminded to let other people keep their struggles. I was reminded that I can lead a horse to water, but I can't make him drink... and that a good facilitator creates thirst.  I learned some new activities with new tools, and was reminded of my own abilities and skills with ropes.  Somehow the presenter recognized that I was drawn there by intuition, and he made a point of connecting with me personally at the end of the session.  I do not know yet why this is important, but I know I was overwhelmed to the point of tears when he spoke with me. He reminded me that he is not a "therapist". There is something I still need to "find".

I am still confident that I needed to BE at that conference.  I know that I was rattled by the observations about my parenting and teaching.  I know that I was overcome with passion to make the world a better place.  I know I met people that will prove to be important connections.  I know that for me, like many there, the organization will be an emotional "home".  

I do not understand yet how.  There are more pieces that need to settle in... 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Not Speaking...

So I had a little epiphany moment today...

What if God creates non-verbal children because he is forcing us to communicate in a different fashion?

As a challenge course facilitator I do that all the time.  

A member of the group knows too much?  They have to play silently so the rest of the team has a chance to figure it out for themselves...

One voice drowns out the others?  Challenge that member to play silently so that new voices are heard...

Some groups don't find success at all until we tell them they all have to be silent - and then the arguing stops and they actually start completing the task...

I start most groups with a partnered hike in which one member is mute and the other blind, so that they are forced to think of novel ways to communicate. They are ALWAYS successful, even in navigating long stairwells...

So maybe that non-verbal child is there to help FORCE us to communicate in new, novel ways that are designed to help us figure it out for ourselves...

I also had another epiphany moment today.

I was thinking about how I look at things that happen around me, and about how I relate to them, give them significance, by finding connections to the stories of my own life.  I was thinking that while it helps me to feel things as real, it also limits me to stories about myself.  I actually was thinking how frustrating it is that I only get this one life, this one way in which to relate to things!  I was thinking that I would love to know even more by being able to see and feel from another person too...  I was both glad to have a life that relates (connects) to things, and frustrated to be limited to just this one.

just thinking...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


The energy around me has changed in the past few weeks.  this is an intense, busy time of year for me as I transition into my summer/ pool routine.  Staff changes, schedule changes, weather changes, clothing changes...

I am feeling positive.  LOTS of positive pointers, synchronicity of positive signs... growth is occurring.  And it is good.

But I also feel like I am holding on to something too hard, like I am reaching backwards instead of reaching forwards.  That is pretty common for me , being a "history buff" and all...

It's like I am looking for something, but I do not know what it is.  I feel like Yoda is telling me "found something you have", but like Luke I keep looking around it...

Monday, March 3, 2014

Why winter is bad...


Well, I guess to be more accurate - COLD is the problem, but that leads to biscuits.  Trust me.

Let me elaborate.

As it has been for many - this 2013/ 2014 winter has been filled with snow, ice & cold.  I do my best, like many, to gamely ignore my creaking joints and keep spirits up through arthritic aches.

But, I get cold.  Miserably cold.  I know this is, in essence, a first world problem.  I am deeply grateful that I have first world solutions for my cold too...

About twice a winter we go to an indoor heated pool to steam out our bodies... but that is not where the biscuits come in.  So here is how that happens:

While on the Emergency Back-Up French Toast Supply Snow Storm Grocery Run (Yes, I know that is a long name - like a bad fantasy novel gnome), I see canned biscuits.

"Gee.  I should get a can of those.  We can do them on the wood burning stove if we loose power.  Especially if I get Smoky Links to go with them." [Naturally this conversation is usually internal... usually.] And so a can of biscuits ends up in my fridge.

This in and of itself is "bad enough", because usually we do not ever actually need those biscuits, so they sit in my fridge until they explode or we fry them up into doughnuts one weekend.  But this is not the depth of Bad that biscuits has brought me to...

We are on the 4th "snowed in" event (in 2 months) this day.  The fire is cranking, I made spaghetti to try to warm up the house. Not sufficient.  Baking warms things up.

Ah... the can of biscuits.

What would I eat with a warm biscuit?  Clearly I must melt some butter.  Honey is an especially good pairing with fresh hot biscuits.  Honey butter?  That's not outside the realm of possible.  Jelly?  Oh, but jelly IS good on biscuits!

What does my fridge & cabinets have to offer today?

I found the can of biscuits. Good.  They are in the oven.

I found the butter.  There is an open 1/2 a stick.  I'll use that.  I really should lay low on the butter.

I found the last jar of jelly.  REALLY?!? We are down to a last jar?! That is practically unheard of.  I must have cleaned out the fridge too well last time.  Oh, despair!  The jar is nearly empty...  There's a just hardly one spoonful...

There is honey in the cabinet.  A Cranberry Honey we found from a local market last year.  I'll just pour some of that in the butter and get that started in the microwave...

The juice is on the table as I turn away from the microwave.  We have worked very hard to have Healthy Juice - we buy cases of V8 Fusion - specifically the Cranberry-Blackberry actually.

Hmm... Cranberry AND Blackberry.  That honey was cranberry flavor... we ONLY have blackberry jelly at our house... I wonder if I can put that spoonful of jelly in the honey butter too?...  It melts, right?

So I add the jelly to the hot honey butter and it all makes this just beautiful sauce like stuff that tastes pretty darn fabulous.  As a matter of fact, it tastes so fabulous that I think I will get a not quite done biscuit out right now and test my sauce...

And so it is that I ate gooey half-baked biscuits in honey-jelly-butter in order to get warm.

And that is just bad.

In an incredibly awesome way!  I have to say that I was warm enough after 4 biscuits to actually offer some to my husband...


Monday, February 3, 2014

On rebooting...

"This day I will dry my wings in the sun like the cormorant, and leave footprints in the sand like the piper, before I too dive back in to the work of living..."

- Facebook post 2/3/2012

And so I began my day.  At 7:45 am I went to the beach and watched world wake up.

I am VERY lucky.  My husband and my mother have both given me emotional permission to take 1 whole day to just be at the beach in Florida after the ACCT conference.  I love people, and I love learning, but I also need to have time to process & reflect.  Don't get me wrong.  I have checked facebook all day, even responded to some emails, spoke warmly with the hotel clerk, talked to many artisans along the pier, and had a conversation about the weather and dogs with a lady from Maryland resting on a bench.  I will never be a social recluse...

But I also just sat and watched and rested.  I saw the cormorants posed along the tops of poles and rocks, drying their wings in the rising sun.  I watched the gulls frantically gather when they thought someone had a tasty morsel, and then nap on one leg until beach goers unconsciously walked over them to set up chairs.  I watched pelicans use their size to bully gulls off the poles, and then sweep their great wings open as they dropped off the pole to the water in search of breakfast.  I watched the sandpipers scurry and search through the crashing surf for tasty yummies, fabulously intent, yet multi-tasking;  it was as if I could here their minds running at ADHD speeds as they tried to be negotiate the delicate task of finding the critters rolled up by the tide but not let the water catch them.  I watched the locals, mostly elderly, take their morning constitutional, occasionally passed by joggers, along the water's edge where the sand is firmer.  I watched several older gentlemen deeply involved in treasure hunting with their metal detectors and sand-sifting baskets.   I watched as all those people along the beach stopped and directed their attention to the water, and followed their gaze to the pod of dolphins galavanting in the surf between the beach and the poles.  I watched the lifeguard come on duty, and set up all his equipment and tidy up the stand area.  I watched a large fish (maybe 6-7 inches) with big sweeping wings come very close to my feet, and then realized he was stalking a much smaller fish who was hiding in my shadow.  I have never in my whole life seen live fish within arms distance in the water of a beach.  I relished the heat of the sun on my skin, the cold the water in my legs, the grit and cool heaviness of the sand on my feet.

And I collected shells.  I did so because as I watched all these people on the beach, they were all collecting shells.  Even those who were clearly locals or were intent on exercising would stop occasionally and collect shells.  The only people I did not see pick up shells were the lifeguard and the metal detector guys.  It occurred to me that it might be a good way for me to find something to take home to my children.  The thought of my children, of course, made me think about what I could teach from a shell collection, so I wandered around for a while trying to find shells that inspired a teachable moment.

I found many with different vibrant colors and shapes (diversity), and others beached white (solar power discussion).   I found some with a pearly sheen and others more like procelian (chemical composition).  I found a chunk with barnacles on it, and one large one that had circles where the barnacles used to be (ecosystems & erosion).  I found some that had holes or grooves where rolling through the surf had started turning them into sand, and others broken into pieces (erosion).

And then I reached a point where I realized that every single shell had a teachable moment in it.  Each one of those shells and shell fragments housed an animal, told the story of a life.

And there were SO MANY of them! So many that even though every body was taking them, the beach was not diminished...

I had a little epiphany... As I looked and looked, and was overwhelmed with the breadth of options that laid on the ground before me, I suddenly realized I couldn't see it anymore.  I realized I could not complete my task (finding shells), because I did not know what to look for.

You have to know what you are looking for in order to find it.  Without knowing what you are looking for, you will not find it, even if it is in your hands, because you will not have a name for it.

In teaching we call this "setting the objective".  That is why the classroom teacher is required to write the objectives on the board each day, and that is why you can't write the lesson until you know what outcome you expect, and that is why you can only assess after you've determined what you have taught.  It is about INTENTION - doing things purposefully.  That is not just "on purpose" but also "with purpose".  It is the difference between wandering and traveling, between industry and productivity...  

This resonates with me because challenge course work has such an emphasis on student driven outcomes, or letting the participant define what a "successful" experience is, because very often the outcome of these intense learning experiences is not what we originally intended.  Very often there is a process of discovery involved, not just of the challenge and the environment, but of the self.  I cannot help facilitate communication skills if the participant does not know that they are communicating, or what they are communicating.  It is one thing to describe for them that the challenge activity involves lifting others and moving them safely, it is another to enable them with the tools to ask one another for help, or provide help that is not judgmental.  They may feel they are asking clearly, but for another that clarity can come across as "not nicely"... I then need to change the focus of our "outcome" to diversity, before I reach a place where we are communicating and can be physically safe.  The power of this work is that the participant has an emotional and galvanizing experience, but we cannot neccesarily predict which aspect of the experience will be pivotal for each particular participant.  There are certainly "rules" and theories of group dynamics that shape how we do what we do, creating shared experiences (forming, storming) before establishing rules (norming), and only then testing their mettle (performing).  But these play out in very different ways, because we are dealing with humans, and people are diverse.

There is a basic conflict between the way I currently teach and "traditional" classroom teaching (the way I used to teach), specifically in this idea of intent/ purpose.  Because of this need to "know what you are looking for", all teaching is considered "outcome specific".  The educational profession spends LOTS of time talking about "measurable and observable" outcomes - meaning that what ever I am "grading" has to be something I can actually observe and that I have some way of telling "how much" of it I have.  This is where the IEP langauge comes from about "Bob will raise his hand to be called upon instead of blurting out 5 out of 7 times".  The idea here is that I can't "give a test" on it if I didn't teach it in the first place, or give a grade based upon some criteria the student knew nothing about.  Of course, that sounds incredibly reasonable, but the application leaves a sense of falseness and artificiality.  Can't a child demonstrate understanding of math by running a register rather than completing a worksheet?  Can't a child demonstrate understanding of language by making a film with dialogue instead of writing an essay?  Can't a child demonstrate an understanding of history by reenacting instead of answering 90% of a multiple choice test "correctly"?  Doesn't the child demonstrate an understand of the process of life science by taking appropriate care of the guinea pig?  How do we find that place where we can let kids learn how their brains work and then demonstrate that understanding (growth) in such a way that we (the adults around them) agree that we "saw" it?

This gap between "measurable outcomes" and meeting neural diversity is at the heart of the experiential education philosophy.  In the Autism community, Neurodiversity and Nuerotypical are charged words, indicating those people that are not diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum - with the connotation being that NT people are in some fashion closer to the mathematical center in a statistical analysis of the function of human brains.  I do, in some ways, mean this definition, but broader.  In my experience, we are each and every one diverse - not only within our selves (our experiences over time and in particular situations), but also from one to another (we each "handle" stresses differently and show evidence that we experience the world in a distinctive manner).  Really, I mean "nuerodiversity" without the use of a mathematical analysis, only with the recognition that the body of data points is VAST, with little to no overlap.  We are each and every one a separate and unique entity, with some variation of the possible outcomes to be had when nurture is combined with nature.  How do we respect that we all have to know what the people around us are talking about (or communicating about) while respecting that each of us is biologically (and, I would argue, divinely) designed to be a singular manifestation of energy?  How do we all "get on the same page" when we are in different books?  In experiential education, our answer is that the learner (participant) gets to decide what they got out of it.  The participant decides that the outcome is in some way measurable to them selves.  "Grade" themselves?  That is pretty blasphemous in a traditional educational setting.  Of course every kid will give themselves an A!  The grades would be meaningless if they were given by the student, right?

Many of the workshops I took this week looked at how to cross these differences.  3 of them were specifically titled with verbiage about getting schools and camps to work together, but a large part of the industry is about how to teach more effectively, and how to help academics see us as teaching more effectively.  Somehow we must breach this chasm between self-assessment and "objective" assessment, between internal motivation and external motivation, between student driven learning and objective based learning, between "I know I got better" and "you can see that I got better".  Many critics of education (myself included) like to point out how articificial the school environment is - that students will not be working with same-aged peers in the workplace, that they will be assessed by performance not written tests.  But ultimately, adults in the workplace still need to achieve tasks (outside assessment) while growing their skills (self assessment).  We, as a society, and educators, as a profession, need to be opening dialogue on these ideas.  I think the simple answer may be "respect diversity - live an let live".  The answer maybe that we need all of us, in all our great variability, to make the world as a whole "work".

The second lesson I took from shell collecting today was about history.  I returned to the beach in the afternoon (I was trying to be smart and avoid a sunburn, for once).  My afternoon excursion was shaped by the fact that a dense fog rolled over the island, obscuring the beach almost completely.  The lifeguard tower was invisible from the pier.  While I was disappointed by the sun's "disappearance", the limited visibility forced me to look at what was right in front of me.  I got to watch a sandpiper almost run into me, and a gull pull a tasty nugget from the surf (I got to see the shell it was in).  And I looked again at the shells rolling in the surf.  I thought again about the great many little lives that are cummulated in that pile of sand - and then scale overtook me again (funny how that happens at the beach).  As I took photos of the shells, I was struck with what you see when you get close versus when you step back.  The grains of sand on the beach are not little pieces of rock, they are little pieces of shells.  As you look at the sand you see shells in various states of decay.  Each life is lived and ended on the bones of its ancestors...  History is written in each grain, and the present is too.  The sand is shaped by the footprints of the birds, the sandcastles of the children, the depth of the waves.  It is as if the past and present are in the same place at the same time...

If past & present can be simultaneous, can the future be too?

My articulation is exhausted for this night.  Revelation and insight chase each other around my thoughts.  I think I'll solve this one another day...  

Hopefully I will reboot again.  I called this post "rebooting" because none of these ideas are novel to me, they have crossed my mind before, but sometimes you need to turn the computer off to get all the systems to reengage again.  Sometimes you just have to rest and reboot.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Day 1 of the ACCT conference

AND so begins my summary and memories of this great professional and personal opportunity....

I am luck enough to be attending the international annual conference for the association for challenge course technology for the second time.  Many of the things I learned last year rocked my world - and I have high hopes for this year as well.  Herein lies my efforts to process and reflect.

Today I attended a course called The Art & Science of Experiential Learning.  The teachers for this class were clearly very well versed and experienced in their field.  They practiced what they preached and provided us (the participants) with windows and resources to better learn by our own experiences.  There will be a long bibliography to come and much research to do.  One of them has my dream job - the experiential education coordinator for her county.

One of the VERY exciting things about experiential education is that "brain-based learning" research continues to "suggest" (it is considered too young a science to "prove") that it is a more effective learning/ teaching model than traditional education.  Specifically we see that the brain accesses information through multiple pathways - meaning that many or all of the senses are involved in getting information to the brain at any given moment - we remember things by their sight, sound, feel, taste, and emotional context all at the same time.  Actually experiencing something will make it more memorable.  Here are the key ideas I picked up from her vast experience:

Formative assessments - checking for understanding.  By asking kids to participate in a game about academic content we can see by their behavior (how well they play the game) if they have understanding.  And by asking them to play a game with the academic content, we make it more memorable.

Primacy recency effect - book-ending.  We have seen the when presented a list, people remember the 1st & last things on the list.  It is important to keep that in mind not only with content, but with format - that by introducing a format (metaphor discussion, pairing to share, etc.) we give the student a higher chance of success & better chance of information retention because we trigger this phenomenon, and we take away (lessen) the stress of dealing with new/ novel activities (allow them to focus on content, not format).

There are LOTS of ways to incorporate academic content in to experiential learning.  While I know that instinctively, and have even put some thought into how that could be done, the instructor's concrete examples have really opened my mind to not only how to do it, but how to convince more traditional educators that it can be done, and is important.

Discussion with other participants also drove home for me that some people still see the educational facet of challenge course activities as less relevant.  It was a worthwhile conversation to me because the gentleman honestly spoke f how they use team building as a money-making venture to draw groups to their facility for other activities.  It made me realize that even though I work for a "non-profit", I am still working for a "break-even" - so I need to be thinking about drawing groups to our facility so that we can grow our audience.

The other instructor spoke about laughter a LOT - particularly about how it effects the brain.  It makes us better receptive to learning.  What is important about his is that you have the choice to laugh - can even make your self laugh.  SO when you choose to laugh, you make the event more memorable by associating an emotional response to it... and you can choose to make a it a positive memory or a negative one.

Then we saw a speaker about 6 word memoirs.  While much of what he had to say was only loosely tied to what the ACCT does, he did make several good points & inspired several good ideas.  The biggest point may be about buy-in - that people WANT to share and this provides a manageable format.  This may be very effective for collecting tangible learning outcomes, and I will probably use it in some way to build community at the pool with our customers.

It is also very relevant to making mission statements.  He asked us "why do you do what you do?"  Here are the statements I came up with:

Daily adventure grows strength of heart.
Growing strength through adventure and play.
Living adventurously is my personal therapy.

Living Adventure Therapy every single day!

I also discovered that I had already used this model to describe our staff relationships at the pool...

Heart felt, with a little feeling up... ;)
(Just to let you know - this was made FACETIOUSLY.  I will NOT tolerate my staff being made to feel demeaned or devalued by inappropriate sexual advances!  There is a *possibility* that we play with those types of verbiage since it is a staff of young adults in a pool, which is generally less dressed than even Walmart...)