Friday, May 20, 2016

The Art of Conversation

Simple conversations can be agonizing in my house. In fact, I am becoming less and less of a fan of talking. I would rather write or just be -alone, in silence or listening to the birds sing, or the sound of the waves crashing on a beach, where I am alone. Did I say, alone?

Lately, trying to have a conversation with my 17-year-old feels like a trip to the gynecologist. You just don't want to go there.

Whoever said "third time is a charm" is a mother sucking liar. I am going through the age of seventeen for the third time raising my boys, and it is anything but -charming.  There are layers and layers of suckiness, emotions, and anxiety that comes from all of the stressors for Blue right now. The worst is how much he thinks he doesn't need his parents anymore. In fact, having us around is a major inconvenience. The only problem with this is IT's OUR HOUSE!

I realize that seventeen is not the only sucky age, especially for those on the autism spectrum. This is not my first time at the rodeo. I've been through all of the ages with my boys, including my atypical son who is now 27 or is he 28? I can't keep up.  He was not much easier as know-it-all teen.  He is just starting to get the fact that we are and always have been, one hundred percent in his corner.  He is becoming a much more responsible adult. In fact, I must congratulate him for finally earning his degree in Computer Science a few weeks ago.  I didn't believe it until I saw the degree in writing!

So I get it. It's only natural to go through this right of passage. Seventeen was when I told my mom that I would longer go along with her religion of choice for us. I would not answer to a congregation of people and the elders about how I was going to live my life.  It's almost like a teen's job to want to be nothing like their parents during this time in their lives. Of course they resent the control parents have over them.

By seventeen, you want to break away and be your own person -an individual, with thoughts and feelings, that are separate from your family. You don't want guidance or opinions from your parents. After all, we're completely clueless, right?

As much as they can't stand us (parents) being around, they can't completely breakaway because they still need a roof over their heads, and rides, and money. Subsequently, they resent our authority.
They want to be adults. They think they know more than we parents could ever know. After all, they didn't even teach us the kind of things that they're learning now in school, way back in the day -you know in ancient times.

There is an easy solution to not being around us.  GET OUT! And I left out the expletive. 

I get it; you're practically an adult, and yet there is fear all of the responsibility that comes along adulthood. There is a ton of social pressure from peers. It may be the first time you're experiencing love, and no one in the history of the world has felt the kind of love that you're feeling right now the 11th grade.

Do I dare even mention those sexual desires and all of the complications that are helluva confusing? Everyone is talking about sex at school, all.the.time. You think everyone has done it except you. ( Except you know most of them are lying, right?)

Today's kids have easy access to media and anything they ever wanted to know about anything via the internet. Only, they don't realize there are nuances to relationships and sex that media can NEVER teach.

Now, let's add Aspergers to the mix, which produces a whole other series of social deficits that are too intricate and complicated to wrap your head around. They have this unique way of seeing the world and sometimes it's hard to figure out why everyone else doesn't see things the exact way they do. People just don't get it and parents, the people who should get it, are the worst offenders.

There is a ton of pressure with school. Grades are beginning to get serious as they can affect what college you're accepted. They have to start thinking about college; possibly going away. There are AP exams, SAT's and college applications. The list of pressures is infinite.

As a parent of a seventeen-year-old, I have to face once again, that I am no longer the mom; the teacher of lessons; the preventer of falling over a cliff. I have now become The Consulting Parent. I wrote about this two years ago, so you think by now I would get it by now.

So now more than ever, when we try to help our son or teach him something, he takes it as a personal affront; like what we are telling him is that he is all wrong, and we are right.  Or as he puts it, "you're treating me like I'm stupid." We are just trying to help him. We would like to give him the benefit of our life experience. We are parenting. We would like to spare him some grief, maybe prevent him from making some of the mistakes that we made. Unfortunately, it feels like the teaching window of time for this kid has expired. Any guiding that we do for now is met with disdain and anger.

In recent weeks, I've been told in every which way but loose, that I have no idea what I'm doing anymore.  He is different than his brothers, and we're treating him like he doesn't know anything. He doesn't need our help.  And then in the next breath I am told,"You should know what I need by now! You should know what I'm thinking! Everyone understands me better than you!" He doesn't need our advice and our teaching moments! "I just need for you to listen to me! I need your understanding!"

I am eternally grateful for the adult mentors and friends in his life, who he believes do understand him. He can talk to them so much easier than me or his father. I am especially thankful for the special friend who he believes has given him a sense of humor and sarcasm. I mean, there's no way he got that from me. 

I ran into some old friends a few weeks ago. This family has a daughter Blue's age. She and Blue were friends in Elementary school. In fact, she would sometimes be the only girl at his birthday parties. I was kind of staring at them from across the room in the restaurant, mesmerized by how beautiful and poised this young lady is now. When they finished eating, her mom popped over to our table to say hello. She told me that her gorgeous daughter just told her that apparently, she "knows nothing about anything anymore." She said this with a forced smile on her face, which I read as she was about ready to strangle her lovely child.

In recent weeks, simple conversations turn into anger-filled rages so fast it gives me whiplash. Anxiety is a big part of it. However, I leave these conversations with hurt feelings and sometimes even tears. That brutal honesty that those with Aspergers have can sometimes leave you with bruises.

When a person with anxiety, stress, and anger is feeling out of control, they can sometimes project their emotions to whoever happens to be in the line of fire. Especially, a mother who they know loves them unconditionally. They can make us feel like we are the problem. I've been there done that with Red and I still feel the sting of PTSD from years of it. I feel myself tensing up, stomach turning in knots when I think that Blue is getting ready to get started.

When you're being attacked by words and barraged with yelling, sometimes you start to believe that you actually are indeed the one with the problem or at least a contributor. The truth is that I am usually just trying to survive with a little bit of sanity intact. As mothers, we are usually trying to help however we can, even when we can't.

I know that I'm not perfect and I often find myself engaging in an argument that I had no intention of being a part of, but I can easily get sucked in.   So, I did some research and even talked to some adults that I know with Aspergers to help me process what I have been experiencing with Blue and our conversations. I wanted to see what if anything, I could do differently.

As a result of my research and examining some of our recent conversations, I came up with  some guidelines and strategies to help me communicate with my Aspie:
  • Ask in the beginning of the conversation, "What would you like from me?  Do you want me to just listen or do you want my advice? More than likely they don't want your advice. Ask, do you even want a response from me? 
  • If what he wants to just have a monolog (to information dump, on a topic of interest, or he just wants me to listen) where he is the only one talking  -I will give a time limit in the beginning. The amount of time depends on how close I think I am to snapping.  
  • When monolog turns into a personal attack where he is blaming me, shaming or making me feel bad -I have the right to *walk away or ask him to go take a *walk until he can calm down and speak to me with basic human decency.
*Walking brings down cortisol levels almost instantly. You will feel better.
  • Criteria for ending the conversation 
-Do I feel bullied?
-How would I feel if this were a friend talking to me like this?
-Do I feel uncomfortable?
-Would I accept this coming from anyone else?
-Would one of his friends or colleagues accept his talking to them in this manner? -If the answer is no. I am not doing him any favors by allowing him to speak that way to me. Lord knows, I'm not doing myself any favors.
  • I realize that sometimes, I feel compelled to teach him something. Even though he's made it pointed clear that he does not want to be "taught" by us anymore. I often find myself caught up in this trap especially...
-when he starts making assertions that I know are not factual as if they are indeed fact. I
-when he starts using words or language that I consider offensive or unacceptable. I want to stop him right then and there and correct him.
-This never works when he is already on a roll but as his mother, I get caught up in the fact that he will go out into the world and people will think he was raised by a pack of wolves.
  • What may work better is if I could just wait and listen when he is talking. Perhaps, I can take notes while I continue listening and give him feedback later when he's in a more calm, accepting  mood. As if that ever happens. This will give me something to do with that nervous energy with which may otherwise lead me to whack him in the mouth or wring his neck.
  • I have to remind myself that I am probably more in control than he is; keyword -probably and I should try to be patient. I'm trying so hard, I hope it doesn't kill me. 
I will be attempting to implement these strategies in the coming weeks. Lord knows, summer is almost here, which means a lot more togetherness. I hope we will both make it out alive.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Dear Prince

Sitting alone in my room on that Thursday morning, April 21st, I read the news...
How can people be so cruel to perpetuate such a rumor? 
That's ridiculous! 
Nope. I don't believe it. Just No.
I am a hopeless optimist. 
I never want to believe the worst case scenario. 
I don't jump onto every bandwagon on social media, especially when it's something negative.  
I don't believe it until you prove it. 

Moments later on CNN there is confirmation:
The fatality at Paisley Park was indeed the artist who played the soundtrack of my youth. 
At the age of fifty-seven-
Just six years older than me-
Prince is gone.
I sit there on the couch in shock, 
trying to process what feels like bad dream.  
I can not move.
I can not carry on with my day. 
I am numb. 

It's not the first time that I've been alone in my room with Prince, but this time eerily different.
Photo lifted from ABC
That time when you were a teenage girl - sneaking around to do everything that your mother didn't want you to do. She didn't approve of much. As a single mother, she was trying to the best of her ability to keep you on the right path, close to God and all of that.

Your loving mother decided that your religion was Jehovah's Witness when you were in the second grade, not long after your father left, and before you were old enough to have any choice in the matter.  You think that part of her reason was that she needed the support system of the "Witnesses" being a newly single mother in L.A. without any family. You did meet friends who became like family.  They were the nicest people ever.

It was cool until you realized that you had to go to those freaking meetings three times a week and field service on Saturdays. You would miss all of your favorite t.v. shows on Tuesday and Thursday nights. There were no VCRs at the time.

On Saturday mornings, when you wanted to sleep in and watch cartoons, you had to get up to knock on people's doors to pass out "Watchtower" and "Awake" magazines for a ten cent donation.  Excuse me I'm knocking on your door, disturbing your peace to bring you the word of God for the bargain price of ten cents. It was torture! You hated it, but you were a good girl and did as you were told.

When you were hitting adolescence and started having those feelings about boys, like an average teenage girl; only you weren't allowed to date. It was against the rules. You were drilled with, dating leads to making out, heavy petting and pre-marital sex. You weren't allowed to do a lot of things; no birthday celebrations; no Halloween; no freakin Christmas.  However, your strong will would find a way to do whatever it was that you wanted to do.

Somehow you listened to all of that Prince music and learned the words by heart, even if you didn't completely understand what they meant. Who cares really? The music was a funky, hot combination of soul, punk, and rock, with a side order of naughtiness.

That time when the album, "Dirty Mind" came out. It was unlike anything you had ever heard before. It was R & B with a splash of New Wave. You were seriously into New Wave at the time; the Go-Go's, The Cars, Soft Cell, Devo, the B-52's.  It was your first year of high school. You finally had the first boyfriend that you were NOT allowed to have. The "Witnesses" were right. It did lead to a little bit of making out, but that's about as far as you allowed it to go.

All of the boys in high school were talking about that song, "Head." You thought the idea of "Head" was OMG gross! After all, you were only 15 and still a virgin. The fact that you were grossed out by the sexual act did not stop you from singing every single lyric and shaking your ass to every single beat. I mean could you not? From "When you were Mine" to "Party Up" there was no reprieve. You simply had to dance.

I don't know how you managed to listen to the entire album over and over again, especially in your mother's house, but there you were alone in your room, with Prince. 

You learned every song, in order of play and there was no other way to listen to it. You listened to the entire album over and over again, loving every song more than the last. You particularly loved the transition between "Head" and "Sister;" how it almost seemed like a continuation of the same song, but it was indeed, another song altogether. It would be years before you realized the meaning behind "Sister."

OMG and then there was that time when Purple Rain the movie came out! It was 1984. By that time, you were seventeen, almost eighteen. You pretty much told your mother you were done with the whole, judgmental, controlling, Jehovah's Witness religion. You were done with sneaking around to do all of the things you wanted to do. You were just being honest with her.  She was a bit shocked at first. She gave you that look like, I don't know who you think you are, but she ultimately accepted your truth.

You had friends who were boys and one that one boy who was more than a friend.  You were knee deep in rebellion and -I'm gonna do whatever the hell I want to do. So of course, you went to see "Purple Rain" the movie more than once. In time, you knew all of the lines and of course all of the songs. You wanted to be Vanity, the girl who got the sexy boy. Of course, you weren't even close to being the sexiness that oozed from every pore of Vanity's body, while Prince was drinking it up.

Then there was that time when you got to see your boy live at the "Purple Rain" concert!  You had a special friend; he was like a brother to you, only nicer.  He took you to that concert at the Long Beach Arena. It was like living a dream, getting to see Prince dance and sing live on stage. You were taken aback by how loud everything was. There was no adjusting the volume to Prince's screams. It was an experience you would never forget. That dude who was like your brother would remain a part of your life thirty-something years later even though you would come to live miles apart.

Let's not forget all of those times when you were hitting house parties and the clubs in L.A., dancing to songs like "Erotic City," "Housequake," "D.M.S.R."  "Sexy MF."  There were so many songs, so many parties, and so many clubs where you danced into the night.  Your favorite spots? The Red Onion on Wilshire Boulevared and the Bitten Apple, further west on Wilshire. There was always somebody there who knew your name, and if they didn't know your name when you got there, they would by the time you left.

There were many times and many people that each of those Prince songs would always remind you of, even all these years later.  Until this day, when you hear "Adore" and "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," it brings back the kind of memories that a married woman is not supposed to talk about.

It's afternoon now. I've been dancing all day to all of the songs. When I'm dancing somehow, I'm not sad. I am celebrating his life. I am celebrating my life in all of its different stages. Each Prince song carries with it a memory of someone --of happy, carefree times before I grew up and had to start taking life seriously. On this day, when my sweet Prince said his final goodbye, I took a much-needed break from my reality.

Hours go by. I can't shake it off. I can not let it go.  I can't quite figure out why this is hitting me so hard. I'm like a love sick teenager, except I'm a 51 year-old-woman, a mother, a wife. 

My son comes home from school and into my room. He begins talking about his day; politics and everything that's wrong in the world. He jars me back to reality. Hey, wake up girl! You have a son with autism who loves to hear himself talk. It's his way of processing his thoughts. He has no idea that you are currently living in another space and time. 

After a few minutes, I stop him because he wants a response to the question, "Who will you vote for in the upcoming election? I mean, how can you trust Hillary?"

I start my automated response, "How can we trust anyone in politics? Obama is probably the last President I will ever trust, and he wasn't perfect. Close, but not perfect."

That was not good enough. He starts going on about the candidates on the other side. I could not give less of a flying f*#% at the moment.  Suddenly, I interrupt, "I'm sorry. I can't process anything that you're saying right now. You know who Prince is, right? Well, he died today, and I'm having kind of a hard time with it."

He apologizes, but then he keeps talking. I turn the music up and start cleaning out my closet. After all, I am not entitled to completely lose a day of productivity. I am an adult! 

My son says "Are you trying to tell me that you want me to leave your room?" I think to myself, Hallelujah! Great reading my social cues! Yes. Would you please leave me in my Prince world?

Days go by. I am still sad. It feels like I've lost a close, friend unexpectedly. I can't quite grasp why I'm so sad and lack of ability to just move on with life.

I listen to his music every chance I get. I'm furiously looking up lyrics and reading articles about him, trying to find the deeper meaning behind his body of work.

I'm stunned when I start reading an article and find out that "Sister" is actually about incest. How did I not know that when I was 15? Oh yeah.  I was pretty clueless. I thought it was just about his sister who was "loose" and liked to sleep around. Duh! 

I start mapping through his life -looking at every video I can find; reading everything I can about him. I read about him becoming a Jehovah's Witness, which I always thought was strange. As I examine his life, I find so much irony and paradox in this choice. How is it possible, that the man who was a key part of my rebellious youth, actually came to believe and follow the very controlling, extremely conservative religion that I rebelled from?

I wonder, How could they have accepted his travel around the world, hanging out with other celebrities and even becoming heavily involved in social causes? Maybe because he was Prince and probably giving them a crapload of money in donations, they let him do whatever he wanted to do.

"Prince often vanished from the congregation for long periods, apparently while he was traveling, and his fellow congregants didn't seem to begrudge him, acknowledging the effect his musical gifts had on the broader world. They also said he apparently visited other Kingdom Halls when he was on the road." Los Angeles Times,  April 24, 2016

My memory of Jehovah's witnesses was that they attempted to restrict who their members were allowed to associate with. It's one of the reasons I left. I had friends from all walks of life, and I no longer wanted to have to answer to The Elders about who my friends were and what I was or was not doing with them. There was a judgmental overtone about "people in the world -with their worldly ways" that I hated. Prince would have been one of them at the time.

In "The Truth" (which is what witnesses call their belief system) they only wanted you to associate with others who shared the same belief system.  I found it to be cultish. They wanted you all in. So much so, that I wanted nothing more than all out.

Perhaps the paradox of Prince's decision to become a Jehovah's witness is not for those of us outisde of his world to understand. His sprirituality, his relationship with God is really none of our business. 

Whatever the case may be, the world was better off because of Prince and his rebellious days making his special genre of music. He made us stop whatever we were doing and dance. He opened our eyes to acceptance and difference, of being whoever you choose to be, without asking the world for permission. 

I felt compelled to write this story. At first, it wasn't coming out right. I wasn't really making any sense. It wasn't cohesive. I went through all of the typical artist/writer feelings. Who cares what you think or feel. No one will read this. Your blog is not about music or celebrity. As I kept reading about Prince, how hard he worked and he NEVER gave up on his art. He created every single day, not thinking about the outcome or who would approve of his work. That was his final gift to me. 

Thank you, sweet Prince.  
You  live in my heart always. 
Thank you for the inspiration. 
Thank you for the music. 
I love you. 

Another Artist...