differentI was always a shy child, eager to please and never one for getting into trouble. I was a good girl, and I behaved myself because I never wanted to disappoint my parents. I did well in school. I was too shy to do otherwise. The worst thing I ever did was talk too much. Once I got to know someone, I usually couldn’t be shut up.

I particularly remember the first time I got in trouble for talking and my first grade teacher made me stand out in the hall for talking to a classmate while she was teaching. I was mortified and fearful that the Principal would suddenly walk by and see me there. I also remember being scolded in High School, again for talking to a close friend while a Math teacher was teaching. I also remember a High School business teacher telling another close friend that she knew the back of her head better than the front since she was always turned around in her seat talking to me. The teacher told us that she could never catch my lips moving, though.

I was good in small social situations, but I never really liked being the center of attention. High School was rough. I went to a tough school, and I spent most of my days trying to hide and not be noticed. I stood out because I was tall so I tried hard to minimize most everything else about me. If I inadvertently attracted a bully’s attention, I went out of my way to avoid it happening again. I would walk a longer, more circuitous route to avoid the place where the bullying had occurred. I even went so far as to change classes to escape that sort of interaction. I got real good at being invisible.

Once I graduated and I got out into the working world, I was told I was too shy. My first long-term job was life changing. I recall a boss telling me she enjoyed watching me come out of my shell. I certainly was never the life of the party, and some social situations remained difficult for me. It was the 1980’s, and I remember acting out with hair dye, nail polish, big earrings, shoes to go with each outfit, metal music and fast sports cars. I dyed my normal brown hair Nice ‘N’ Easy blue-black. I listened to heavy metal music (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue). I drove Pontiac Firebirds – all brand new. I had a 1980 copper-colored Firebird, a 1982 black Firebird and a 1986 red Firebird. I was young, and I was having fun.

Then things changed. When I was 26, my cohort and partner-in-crime, my cousin moved to Texas to be closer to her branch of the family (her mother, my mother’s sister, had moved there to be near her grandchildren). I no longer had anyone to do things with. I went to a few concerts with my brother (Ozzy Osbourne) and even my mother (Phil Collins), but it wasn’t the same. Then my father died when I was 28. My world changed overnight.

As I struggled with the grief and sadness, I found myself having to suppress much of what I was feeling because my mother withdrew into herself. She didn’t want me crying in front of her so I would cry at night when I went to bed. I watched helplessly as my mother stripped every sign and piece of my father out of the house. His clothes, his pictures, and his things – they all got packed away or given away. She didn’t want any reminders. I guess it was just too hard for her. I couldn’t understand it then, and I still don’t today (29 years later). She would eventually get a few pictures back out, but it was hard on me to see him suddenly disappear from everything and everywhere.

My father’s death was the impetus that got me out of the house. I looked around and realized I was 28 and still single. I had no life. I worked, and I went home to my mother to a house that was full of love but still empty in so many ways. She actually pushed me to answer a newspaper ad, and I met my Hubby.

My husband is like me in many ways, but he’s also very different. He’s an ex-radio disc jockey so there is an outgoing side to his personality that I don’t share. He can talk to strangers. I have a harder time with that. He’d also been hurt in love many more times than I had. I had one serious relationship before him. He liked music, and he will tell you that he’ll listen to everything. He doesn’t like the hard stuff like I do, though. When we got together, I may have toned down some of the crazy in me. Who doesn’t want to put their best foot forward?

When we got serious about each other and realized that we were going to spend the rest of our lives together, I really thought I wanted what my mother had always had. I wanted to be a housewife. That was all I’d ever aspired to. I wanted to be home baking cookies. I look back now, and I wonder what the hell I was thinking. Why did I think I ever wanted to be my mother? I got pregnant fairly quickly, and I had two wonderful sons. I continued working, and I spent my days trying to fit it all in like so many working mothers. I also suppressed parts of myself, trying to fit in and trying to be the perfect wife and mother.

As a mother, I would have my struggles. I was gifted with two outstanding young men, but they would both have their problems getting through school. Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Autism, and Diabetes – all would become words that I would know very well. Having to steer two young men through the school system and life is hard enough when they don’t have disabilities. Having to do it when they do have issues and need more help and advocating is damned hard. I learned so much over their school years. I also learned that I had to play nice, play by the rules of the various committees, administrators and departments. I often wanted to unleash strings of profanity, but I was forced to behave and do what was required of me. I grew in many ways having to advocate for my sons. No one else was going to speak up for them and be solidly in their corner. I had to do it.

Along the way I would also lose my mother. She died when I was 46 and that would be a hard blow. I always thought of my mother as a best friend and not just a mother. I can look back now and realize that she wasn’t perfect. None of us are. Two years after I lost her, I lost one of the best friends I ever had in this life, my cat, Raymond. Losing the two of them had me reeling. There was such a major disconnect in my life. I continued to work and did my best to put my efforts into the screwed-up start-up firm where I worked. I didn’t want anyone to know how badly messed up I was. I continued to get my boys through school. I had to. The part I came dangerously close to destroying was my relationship with my husband.

We had always been close and all of a sudden, he didn’t have me. I withdrew. I was probably suffering from clinical depression of some sort at the time, and I might have benefited from talking to someone, but I wouldn’t admit for the longest time that there was a problem. Thank God my Hubby hung in there and kept trying. He finally got through, and when I reached 50 I had an epiphany of sorts. I’d lost track of who I really wanted to be.

Losses in life, new relationships, changes in status, and dealing with disabilities and illness had forced me to grow up, get quieter, and strive to be something I’m not – a normal, mousey housewife. Working in conservative environments certainly didn’t allow the creative side of me to shine through. They squashed the fun on a daily basis.

youselfTurning 50, I suddenly looked around and realized the years of walking into a room or a social situation and trying to hide were over. I was so sure that everyone was staring at me and judging me. I was acting the way my socially anxious mother always had (hiding), and that’s not really me. I had grown so far past that. I began to realize it didn’t matter what others thought. I had to be comfortable with myself, and I wasn’t.

So I changed. It took me a long time to reach this point. I am ecstatic that I did. I am finally happy and comfortable enough to be different and let my rough edges show and not just go along and fit in where I think people want me to fit in.

Being different is what makes us all unique and valuable. I see that now.

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Can You Hear Me Now?

Communication is a funny thing. We all want to be heard even though we really don’t have anything to say.

“I thank you for your interest but it really wasn’t worth listening,” I heard son #1 say to son #2 last evening. He had been making some off the wall comment mainly to himself when his younger brother took his headphones off of one ear to say, “huh?” At least they were being polite to each other and trying to communicate.

heardI feel the same way son #1 did often in life. I will say something and it’s not profound. It’s nice to be acknowledged but it’s usually not worth repeating if someone doesn’t hear me the first time. I am often not heard. I think that’s from too many years of being shy and not speaking loudly enough. I mumble and my comments get overlooked. It’s odd because I can be plenty loud at home.

I also use far less classy language at home. I’m not proud to admit that I swear more than my trucker husband does. It’s a bad habit that I developed as a teenager. I was a shy kid and a nauseatingly good girl. I always behaved out in public and never wanted to disappoint my parents. I started swearing in high school because it was a secret way of defying my mother. My mother would’ve been horrified at some of the things that came out of my mouth when I was talking to friends. That’s why I did it and now that I’ve been doing it for 40 years, I don’t think it’s going to go away any time soon. I try not to do it at work because I know better than that. I try to say things like “oh, crap” or “oh for heaven’s sake” when things go wrong and I feel the need to curse. It’s not quite the same, though.

I’ve had issues recently with a new person at work. I can be socially awkward but I’m usually never intentionally rude. When someone talks to me, I answer him or her. This individual doesn’t respond in social situations – ever. If you say “hi” or “hello”, this person looks you in the eye, says nothing and walks away. Someone else suggested that possibly this person is autistic. I took offense to that. I know autism. My son has it. He answers people when they address him. I taught him how to behave in public. The rude person at work walked away from me without speaking again yesterday. I ended up sticking my tongue out at the back of this person’s head. Yes, I’m real mature. I’ve been told that before.

My work day started yesterday with a shower of stones and pebbles coming off the rooftop of a building I was passing. I thought it was hail until I realized it was concrete. They were working on the roof of the building. You’d think they could’ve blocked the walkway off, huh? Talk about wanting to curse out loud. Then I came out onto our city’s main street to find a raving street person coming towards me. There are quite a few disturbed (drunk, high or whacked) people wandering around downtown. I could hear this one coming from blocks away. I started to move to the edge of the sidewalk closer to the street (to his left) and I did not make eye contact. As he approached me, he yelled, “Get your ass to the left!”  He yelled the same thing at someone behind me, too. Okay, at least I’ve never yelled that at anyone. Maybe I should try it out at work sometime. Can you imagine the reaction?

I suppose in this guy’s mind he was just communicating. He wanted to be heard so he made sure that he used his outdoor voice. While I didn’t appreciate his choice of words, it had the desired effect. No one got in his way.

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The Advocate

I used to be extremely shy. I’d run away from conflict. Confrontations scared me, and I was good at avoiding them. Most social situations left me tongue-tied and nervously sick to my stomach.

Having children changed me. Let’s face it, the whole pregnancy and childbirth process does much to erase shyness and embarrassment. You get over yourself fast. Having two little boys who had “issues” also made a big difference. ADHD, Autism, Asperger’s syndrome, PDD-NOS, Executive Dysfunction, Celiac disease and Type 1 Diabetes (not once but twice). Having to deal with this boatload of issues at times seemed unfair and absolutely insurmountable.

But I learned, and I became an advocate. The most important thing I heard one of the Doctors (or was it a teacher?) say in the early days was that I had to advocate for my sons because they couldn’t do it for themselves. I had to be their voice. I took that advice to heart. So I listened, I researched, I read, and I asked questions. I went on instinct on more than one occasion. I asked for help and clarification when I needed to.

There would be hundreds of meetings over the years, and I started out attending those meetings feeling scared and uncertain. While I couldn’t speak up for myself, I could do it for my sons, however. At first, I hated when it was my turn to speak. All the eyes around the table would turn to me, and I’d stumble red-faced over what I had to say. I usually got out what I wanted to convey, but it was hard. I met with Doctors, behavioral specialists, social workers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, autism specialists, nurses, nurse practitioners, teachers, aides, administrators, Principals, school district representatives, and many other specialists whose titles and purpose I’ve forgotten. Most along the way were helpful, a few were awful, and a few were truly outstanding. All taught me something.

From the good experiences, I learned skills to help my sons adapt and adjust in their daily lives. From the bad experiences, I learned how to be stronger and fight even harder. Both boys made it through school, and I proudly watched them both graduate. Seeing them both wear their caps and gowns and walk across the stage with their classmates to receive their diplomas made me cry both times.

According to Merriam-Webster, an advocate is one who pleads the case of another, and a mother is a female parent who cares for and protects her children. Having two handsome and wonderful young men to parent and advocate for has made me a better and stronger person in the long run. I am still shy and awkward in some social situations, but I stopped running away. Inside I might still be shaking like a leaf, but I learned how to hide that. As I gained experience and grew older, I got more comfortable in my own skin. Forced to be outgoing and proactive instead of reactive, I grew to do things I never thought I’d do.

duckImage courtesy of Pinterest

Therapeutic Rant

This is my third post today. No, I never posted the other two. They were therapeutic rants. Those types of blog posts are kind-of like those letters or emails you write but (hopefully) never send. You either tear the letter up, or you delete the email.

My first post was another slam at Facebook or at least the Facebook type of people who post pictures or articles about animal cruelty. Those types of posts distress me so much I can’t sleep after seeing them. I have quit Facebook before over those types of horrific postings. Facebook is on my “don’t visit” list again today because of something I saw last night. Some things you see by accident, and once you see them, you can’t “un-see” them. Thanks for posting that one, idiot. I no longer follow your comments or posts.

My second post was two rants in one post (it was a long post). I started out talking about stress and being sick with a GI bug. I’ve been under a great deal of stress lately. My stress level is so high that I decided something had to “give”. I actually checked into dropping out of school (again)! Here I am hip-deep in a Civil Litigation course and I’m enjoying the heck out of the class. The only way I could think of to reduce stress was to drop something, and school seemed the logical choice. After I finish the two classes this semester, I only have seven classes to go before I have my second degree. Why was I thinking of quitting? It makes no sense. Stress made me stupid (not logical).

stressThe second part of the post was about my autistic son, his transition program and the nightmare week we had dealing with incompetent administrators. I decided not to post that one in all its full (bitchy) detail because we still have to work with these people (for now). We had a horrific week where they required us to attend a mandatory session with a representative from a local agency for disabled folks who should have known better but proceeded to talk for two hours non-stop while the disabled kids in the audience melted down. We got up and left. Need I say more? The very next day I received an email where said administrators decided what was “best” for my son regarding a co-op job placement despite what he had decided and despite what I had already told them. This lead to a screaming session on the phone (yes, I was the one screaming, and I don’t like conflict and I don’t yell at people outside my family – ever). Two days later said administrators let us down again when I fell ill and I couldn’t reach anyone to tell them we would not be part of a planned tour of a local facility. I had hoped my son could attend alone. No one took him, and no one ever contacted us. Is it any wonder we want “out”? My son has never been severely disabled. For all I know, maybe he should never have been classed as a special education student. This is something that haunts me, and it’s something that I am really questioning this week.

Yes, I was yelling this week. Yes, I was VERY angry.

Therapeutic rants are great. In fact, this post ended up turning into a milder version of what I originally wrote. Sorry, it had to come out somewhere. I think everyone should try ranting at least once or twice. If you really let yourself go, you can be profane, you can tell people off, and you can say all sorts of clever things you’d never say to someone’s face. Just don’t post them.

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