Category Archives: Parenthood

A Life Well Lived

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“Her life was not an easy life.  She experienced heartache and hardship, but it was a life well lived.” This is a phrase I found myself repeating to mourners who came to pay their final respects at my mother’s funeral this week.

I’ve penned more than one post in the past (As is the mother, so is her daughter. Ez. 16:44, Happy Special Birthday, A Very Special Mother’s Day) that offered a glimpse into my mother’s 86 years on this earth.

The Great Depression.  The deaths of two husbands and one infant daughter.  Life as a widow raising four children—two of whom gave her more than her deserved share of trouble (yours truly among them). The deaths of both parents and five siblings—three sisters and two brothers. Decades plagued by the effects of emphysema (chief among them—a susceptibility for pneumonia).  Cancer.  These are a sampling of challenges my mother faced in her 86 years and seven months this side of heaven.

 

Love.  Laughter.  Family.  True, genuine, nurturing and caring friendships.  Travel.  A 25-year career working for folks who weren’t only employers but dear friends as well. Secure knowledge in her place in heaven upon departing this earth. These are the things that made for a life well lived.

Ruth Ann Cassella;  born January 6, 1931 – died August 4, 2017, following a life well lived

Unless…

This.  This photo right here.  You have no idea what this photo represents to G and me.  

Unless you have a child who has difficulties interpreting and comprehending the subtle nuances of social interaction, you more than likely don’t understand the magnitude of this photo.  Unless you have a child who doesn’t “get” the give and take of social interaction, this photo probably seems mundane.  Unless you have a child who doesn’t have a single real and true friend, you most likely don’t grasp the overall import of the seemingly simple interaction depicted in this photo.  Unless you have a child who comes home from school in tears, sobbing that his classmates think he’s the dumbest kid in his class and ostracize him from much of the day’s classroom and playground interactions, you can’t possibly comprehend the joy this photo brings to two concerned parents.   Unless your child pleads with you to “find a friend” for him, you can’t possibly understand how this photo shatters two parents’ hearts into a million tiny shards. 

A friend is something most of us take for granted, yet is so very vital to our complete wellbeing.  We were created to be social creatures.  When that simple, yet necessary component is lacking in our lives we are incomplete.  It’s a vacancy we feel in our soul.  And when you try your very best, oftentimes forcing the situation, the rejection can be gut wrenchingly debilitating.  

This weekend we had the pleasure of spending Friday evening in the company of a family we’ve been promising to have over for dinner for years.  They’re a family we instantly connected with at the skatepark years ago–G with the father, J-man with the son, and I with the mom.  Yet, as life oftentimes does, it got in the way of the six of us getting together.  Yes, G and I had a wonderful time conversing and laughing with “N’s” parents Friday night, but the highlight of the evening was how J-man and “N” related and interacted.  It was a beautiful sight to behold, stopping G and me in our tracks time and again throughout the evening.

Sunday, while out on our 52-mile pedalabout, I received a text from “N’s” mom stating he wouldn’t stop asking when he could see J-man again.  I replied, telling her we’d be back by one o’clock and he was welcome to come over.  The two boys again connected instantly.  They picked up where they left off, engaging in NERF wars, sword fights and playing Minecraft.  Even the video game had serious interaction–communication, teamwork, instructing and encouraging one another and trash talking.  I was in HEAVEN! 

I’m a firm believer in the adage it’s the little things in life that make life so very rich.  This photo is proof of that belief.  Thank you, God, for answered prayers. 

The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love. ~Hubert H. Humphrey 

Motherhood–a cause for celebration

Motherhood. It’s the most underpaid, yet rewarding job on the planet.   It’s the most difficult task a woman can ever hope to undertake, yet the most innately intuitive undertaking a woman will ever face. Today, we mothers are fêted.

I know young moms, older moms, single moms, two-parent family moms, adoptive moms, foster moms, stepmoms, IVF moms and moms who’ve had their kiddos the “old-fashioned” way. I know moms who parent idyllic, storybook families and moms deeply ensconced in dysfunction accompanied by estrangement.   Motherhood is a tough job and oftentimes a messy business, but we mamas get it done.

I’m blessed to know mothers who, in addition to parenting and running a household, are also nurses, educators, entrepreneurs and business owners, administrative professionals, sales professionals, missionaries, mental health professionals, editors, writers, designers, media moguls, restaurant staff, technology gurus, managers, yoga instructors, athletes, humanitarians, philanthropists, heads of nonprofits, lawyers and accountants. Many of you are not only acquaintances but also dear friends who have taught me much about life and how to live it. Many of you have parented children despite extreme adversity and suffering unimaginable tragedies. You, my friends, have unwittingly taught me so much. You’ve taught me how to remain strong when the odds appear to be stacked against me. You’ve shown me how to walk with hope, faith and grace when times are tough. Through example you’ve illustrated how to love and give unconditionally, when truth be told, I want to stomp my feet and scream in frustration at the top of my lungs. A few of you have rescued me in my darkest hour, throwing me a life preserver just before I went under for the final time. Above all, you’ve taught me how to love and laugh and enjoy each day to the FULLEST. I am grateful for the mothers I’ve met along the way and even more grateful for those I call friend. I celebrate you every day, but today is your day. You celebrate you—in whatever manner you see fit for the queen you are. xo

No language can express the power, and beauty, and heroism, and majesty of a mother’s love. It shrinks not where man cowers, and grows stronger where man faints, and over wastes of worldly fortunes sends the radiance of its quenchless fidelity like a star. ~Edwin Hubbell Chapin

Seven Years

He defends the cause of the fatherless… ~Deuteronomy 10:18

Jackson Hall 3

It will be seven years tomorrow since Greg and I took Jackson into our arms and hearts as our son. It stands to reason that April is an emotional month for me. I do a lot of soul searching and reminiscing in the weeks preceding and following April 13th. This morning, in the shower, I was having an imaginary conversation with God. I was imagining how our lives would’ve turned out if God would’ve come to me seven years ago and said something to the following effect. Meeting Jax

My daughter, I know you and Greg are on board with the adoption seed I’ve planted in your hearts, but let’s talk a little bit about what it’s going to be like for you. What if becoming parents to this very special little boy I have for you, costs you relationships with friends and family members, as well as costing a lot of time and money—not only up front, but down the road because of medical care and therapies. Will you be okay with this? What if becoming this little one’s parents causes you to wring your hands and lay awake at night with a heart full of worry for the day ahead as well as for his future. Will you be okay with this?

I can’t speak for my husband, but I can tell you a conversation like this with God prior to boarding a plane to Ethiopia would’ve given me great pause. I’m pretty darn certain I was far too full of myself, far too wrapped up in life, and far too uncertain of my capabilities to have yielded to such a plan. And this is precisely why God does not make us privy to the details of all He has in store for our lives. He knows what we’re capable of, despite our being so uncertain of ourselves. And He knows we may turn tail and run if He were to paint the whole picture for us ahead of time.

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I can promise you from experience, however, your life will be so very rich if you step out in faith and let God have his way with your heart and your life. God knows you. Just as He knew us, our hearts, our inmost being, He knows you and your heart and the great things you’re capable of. I perish the thought of a life without Jackson. He enriches our lives in so many ways. And you can rest assured; God has equally wonderful plans in store for you. Trust Him!

Jax Halpat

Thank you, God, for knowing us so much better than we know ourselves. Thank you for this beautiful life you’ve blessed us with.   Thank you, for allowing us to be mom and dad to this precious boy of yours.

There is no friendship, no love, like that of the parent for the child. ~Henry Ward Beecher

Unfettered

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This post is somewhat of a follow up to my most recent post, “Untrammeled,” in which I spoke of the ways off-road biking has impacted our family. In this post, I’m writing to express just how much the people we’ve met along the way have impacted our family.

If you’ve read more than a few Sing. Dream. Hope. Pray. posts, you’re well aware of my thoughts and experiences regarding autism and the challenges and complexities of life as it relates to parenting a child on the autism spectrum. I’ve also written as to isolation (for both the child and parent(s)) as a high-ranking by-product of autism. The past seven years have run the gamut of these experiences—from good to bad and all points in between. Some groups and activities I thought would be beneficial have turned out to be detrimental. Conversely, there have been other endeavors we’ve undertaken with more than an ounce of guarded ambivalence and have been pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Without a doubt, mountain biking falls into this latter category.

I can’t speak for my husband, but for the first time in seven years, I feel like I’m part of a community, or village, if you will. For once, I feel like we’re not alone in this phase of life. Over the past seven years, I’ve witnessed Jackson being berated by adults for his behavior. We’ve been ostracized and literally turned away from places and events, going so far as to have doors closed in our faces. Unless you have a child with developmental challenges that, on occasion, manifest themselves in “undesirable” behavioral quirks and actions (sensory overload=flight response), you simply have no idea as to the stress a family can experience. A “thanks, but no thanks” mentality has been a prevalent theme in our lives. Until now, that is.

Our local biking community unwittingly and unintentionally provides a sense of belonging and inclusion. It’s a “safe” space and place, for not only Jackson but for our family. We’re accepted just as we are—warts and all. In typical Jackson fashion, he has the rule of the roost at our local bike trails. He’s the proverbial mayor of Club Scrub. He knows everyone and everyone knows him. When he’s at the trails, it is his domain. And the folks who share his domain couldn’t be more gracious. If you know Jackson, then you know he is all up in your business. People on the autism spectrum have difficulty realizing and navigating social boundaries, and Jackson is no different. It’s part and parcel of who he is. Blessedly, the folks we meet and spend time with, aren’t offended by this. Hallelujah! For the first time in seven years I’m not making excuses and apologies. I don’t leave the trails with tears of embarrassment, humiliation or indignation.

The grace doesn’t stop there, however. In addition to welcoming and embracing this little trio of merry makers, folks have literally taken it upon themselves to free Greg and me up to ride and participate in events singularly and as a couple by watching over Jackson at the trails. For the first time in years I’ve been afforded opportunities to socialize, participate in conversation and dare I say, make friends. Unless you’ve been marginalized by a life event, you simply cannot comprehend the overwhelming impact this gift has on a person’s quality of life.

For this acceptance and grace I offer my profound gratitude. Thank you, fellow MTBers. You are a blessing.

 

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A Pencil Box and a Broken Mold

The Tell Tale Pencil Box

I knew what was in munchkin’s backpack as soon as I picked it up. The sound of something rattling around in hard plastic painted a clear auditory picture. I knew it was going to be munchkin’s pencil box. And my breath caught in my throat. It was a bittersweet realization that the school year officially ends tomorrow.

Star StudentI could not be more pleased with how this year turned out.   Jackson’s teacher has far surpassed any hopes or dreams I had for a teacher.   Heading into kindergarten, my teacher characteristic wish list read like this:

  • Kind
  • Understanding
  • Nurturing
  • Passionate about teaching children
  • Committed to bringing out the best in kids
  • Tenacious (won’t throw in the towel when the going gets tough)
  • Creative
  • Energetic
  • Experienced
  • Seasoned, but not old
  • Young, but not too young
  • Well-versed in the land of IEPs
  • Fun
  • And most of all KIND

Yep. If asked, those were the qualities I was seeking in a kindergarten teacher. (And yes, I realize that list sounds a bit like a Match.com ad.)  And you know what? We got that and a whole lot more. Jackson’s teacher was AH-mazing. She brought out all the best in him over the past ten months. By the end of the first week of school, she calmed many of my fears and assuaged most of my anxiety. And with the exception of one little hiccup over “seat work” early in the term, Jackson positively flourished. And here we are at the end of the school year, and I don’t want to see her go.

He adores her.

This past Monday made me revisit my past anxieties. Jackson had a substitute teacher. As always, his actual teacher was very diligent in writing copious notes to the substitute, explaining Jackson’s tendencies and what to expect and how to be effective in reaching/dealing with him. En route to school, I informed Jackson of the situation and gave him reminders of what to do in the classroom. I knew the kind of day he had, however, the second I laid eyes on him at the end of the school day. “Mom, I have to tell you something,” he said. “Did you have a bad day?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. And the tears just started flowing from his big brown eyes. Apparently he had blurted out an (or possibly more than that) answer in class. According to Jackson, the teacher raised his voice at him and told him he was being rude. And, yes. I’m sure that’s how it appeared. But it wasn’t intentional. It never is. Most often, Jackson simply cannot help himself. He is effervescent. (Think of a soda shaken and opened and you’ll have a pretty accurate illustration of Jackson. All day. Every day.)

Classroom birthday celebration

All this to say, what happened to Jackson Monday brought it all home for me. It made the end of the school year a realization, as opposed to an impending happening. The desperate hope I experienced last summer resurfaced just like that. I was again face to face with the fraught, all-consuming desire for Jackson’s next teacher—his first grade teacher— to “get” him, to understand him, to see his potential, and perhaps above all else, to be a tenacious soul who will never give up on him. In other words—a desire for Jackson’s next teacher to be a carbon copy of this year’s teacher. But I know that’s not possible. It’s just not. There is only ONE Mrs. Peterson.   The good Lord broke the mold when he made her. She’s just that special.
Trivia

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child. ~Carl Jung

There was no time and half in the contract for this gig.

There was no time and half in the contract for this gig.

As is the mother, so is her daughter. Ez. 16:44

My mother was born deep in the mountains of West Virginia, early in The Great Depression. Her father–my grandfather–eked out a living in the coal mines while my grandmother stayed home, caring for my mom and her six brothers and sisters, and toiling to put food (usually beans, salt pork and fresh or canned homegrown vegetables) on the table. It’s fair to say, Appalachian life did not afford an easy existence for the family.

My grandfather lost a leg and literally broke his back in mining accidents. Eventually, stricken with black lung, the family relocated to Western Pennsylvania, where my grandfather took a job as a farmhand. World War II was coming to an end, and my mom entered the workforce as a junior in high school. She was fourteen years old and worked after school tending the sundae counter at the Elite Restaurant in Rochester, Pennsylvania.

Within a year, my mom returned to Grantsville, West Virginia, where she lived with her Uncle Clay and his family. She graduated from Calhoun County High School at age fifteen. After graduation, my mom returned to her parents’ home in Pennsylvania. She then began working at a five and dime counter making $8 a week, selling razor blades and shave cream. Eventually, my mom became a waitress at Prior’s Restaurant in Portersville—a place I’ve heard her speak of many times. My mom seldom cashed her own paycheck, instead giving her earnings to her mother. In addition to contributing to the overall support of the family, my mom bought my grandparents their first refrigerator (used) for $10. She also bought my grandmother her first washer—a wringer washer. Prior to that, my grandmother washed the entire family’s clothing, my mom’s cotton uniforms included, utilizing a washboard. It was during this time that my mom met my father, who had just returned from serving overseas in the United States Army. My mom worked at Prior’s from 1946 until 1949, at which time she married my father.

My mother and father lived in two homes before settling into the family homestead where I grew up.   My father worked as a machinist at Mesta Machine until his untimely death in November 1970. He was 49 years young when he passed away of a massive stroke, leaving my mother to raise four children, ages three, six, 12 and 15, alone. I cannot imagine what it was like to be widowed at the age of 39, with four mouths to feed. Despite the family’s meager social security benefits, we were well cared for. We had food to eat and clean clothes to wear. My mother made certain we had health insurance coverage and went to the dentist regularly. As I became older, I did wish we were better off financially than we were. Looking back, however, I wonder if I would have felt we were lacking had my mother not routinely told us how hard it was for her to make ends meet. Ignorance, after all, is bliss.

Shortly after my father’s death, my mom returned to work, working nights as a waitress at the Castle Inn. A don’t recall seeing my mother very much during this time period. My younger brother and I were virtually reared by my 15-year-old sister. She ruled with an iron fist and was vehemently intolerant to even the slightest question of her authority. In retrospect, I believe this to be attributed to the fact that she was suddenly forced to become our pseudo mother at such a young age. As a child, I didn’t grasp the magnitude of the responsibility thrust upon my sister. I simply came to resent her greatly. To this day, our relationship remains irretrievably fractured.

My mom eventually remarried and our home life improved. She was once again afforded the “luxury” of being a housewife, maintaining a household, caring for the kids, watching soap operas and putting dinner on the table, promptly at 5PM. As someone who’s a product of the 70s, I’d love to tell you we lived out our own version of the Brady Bunch but alas, that’s not the case. We all simply coexisted as best we could.   Our paths crossed at dinnertime and occasionally in the evening if we watched a television show or two together. But outside of those instances, everyone was pretty much left to his or her own devices. I got in a lot of trouble as a kid, especially as a teenager. I’m proof that if your kids aren’t nurtured and loved at home, they’re going to seek it elsewhere. I had plenty of discipline—usually physical (belts, switches and the most dreaded, disgusting flyswatter)—but it wasn’t balanced with love. Mind you, my mom did the best she could. She had a lot on her plate. But discipline without love, or vice versa, creates a very lopsided dynamic. I spent my entire teenage existence angry, lost and seeking. Simply put, I was my mother’s worst nightmare come to call.  Bless her heart.

Oscar Wilde is credited with saying, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” Thankfully, age has indeed brought me wisdom—at least in relation to family. Over the years, I’ve developed a deep affection for my mom. I love her to pieces. She is 84 years old and I want nothing more than to protect and shelter my mom as she ages. She asks for nothing. She never has. My mom is a woman of very simple means. I envy that about her. She doesn’t have the restless nature that often overtakes my soul. She is content. Content in life. Content with life. Content despite life. One of my deepest regrets is that it took me so long to appreciate my mother—who she is and where she came from. She hasn’t had an easy life. But I don’t ever recall hearing her complain about her circumstances. She worked hard and made the best of what came her way (or didn’t come her way). I am truly honored to be this incredible woman’s daughter.

Basking in the sun on a Florida visit.  She wears it well.

Basking in the sun on a Florida visit. She wears it well.

Mothers are the people who love us for no good reason. And those of us who are mothers know it’s the most exquisite love of all. ~Maggie Gallagher