Why I Love Being an Openly Gay Autism Parent

When I was asked to contribute a piece to Lesbian Family on what it’s like to parent a child on the autism spectrum as an out lesbian, I was so honored I actually giggled.  To be able to be in a place in my life where I can be open and out and tell the truth about my family, and to share all that with such a supportive community…. well, that just makes me wanna sing!

… Which I won’t do here, but if you were standing in my kitchen, you’d get an earful of show tunes from the woman my future sister-in-law calls “the happiest gay person ever!” …

four of us 2

For me, parenting a child on the autism spectrum feels not so different from my coming out experiences.  The lessons I learned on each side seemed to be all about truth-telling and living life authentically.  The more aware I became as an autism parent, the more I began to live in that space of being ready for anything, open to life, comfortable in my own skin.  Not because I initially wanted to learn about myself or change necessarily, but because I had to.  My son challenged me to connect with him exactly where he was and use whatever resources I had to stay in the moment and accept whatever came next.  It was the only way to parent him.  I had to tap into my intuition and my heart, and throw away all the “what to expect when you’re parenting” books.

The more time I spent living in that open space, the more I wanted all the parts of myself to align, for everything to feel right in every aspect of my life.  I had to find my own “truth” and go from there.

Coming out as a lesbian later-in-life was so easy because I’d already had my preconceived notions about the way my life “should” or “would” be shattered during the early years of being a special needs parent.  I no longer needed to try to create an image of love based on what society-at-large had to say about it, I could recognize love where it existed naturally.  I didn’t need to do anything– relationships, work, parenting, art– the way anyone else thought it should be done.  Nothing anyone else touted was necessarily “truth” for me and once again I had to find my own and live as honestly as I could.

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My son, like many kids on the spectrum, cannot really lie.  And now thanks in large part to him, neither can I.  So in the spirit of celebrating our truth and our families and our relationships, I present to you the…

TOP TEN REASONS I LOVE BEING AN OPENLY GAY AUTISM PARENT

10.  Acceptance where it counts, baby!  I didn’t have to come out to my autistic son.  He understands what it means to love someone exactly as they are.

9.  Hearing my 7 year old daughter tell everyone at our polling place:

“I’m voting for Obama because my brother who has autism watches Elmo.  And also because I want my Mom to be able to marry the woman she loves!”

8.  RAINBOWS— one of nature’s greatest light displays!  Eternally captivating, shiny and colorful.  An awesome sensory experience.  And they always seem to come *after* the much-too-loud thunder-booms.

7.  I can relate to all the coolest autism professionals.  Of course I’m not saying all the cool therapists and teachers and autism staff are gay, but you gotta admit that in order to be effective in working with kids on the autism spectrum, you have to have a pretty open heart, a flexible mind and an awesome, inclusive, curious attitude.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Which brings me to the next reason….

6. An ever-expanding network of creative connections!  The bigger the village, the stronger the community, the more sanity for autism parents, the brighter the future for our kids.  And once again I’m back to big beautiful gay rainbows all around!

(… here come the show tunes dancing through my head in a huge street-scene coordinated dance number …)

5.  Plenty of practice forging my own path.  How did I come to be marrying the woman of my dreams?  The same way I came to accept myself as the parent of my utterly unique children– through a lot of hard work.  Even though it didn’t feel comfortable at first, everything in my life was by my choice.  It was tough to be at the beginning, and the journey is constant, but I love, love, love the place I’ve come to now.

4.  Twice the MOM love!  Last year my son officially changed my name from “Mom” to “Mom-Aubrey.”  That said it all.  Plus, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.  We’re expanding the family unit.  Not just Mom, not just Dad.  “Lesbian Dad” and “Second Mom” and “Mama Cat” too.  Kids need more, not less– more love, more hugs, more positive experiences.  So do autism parents.  (Refer to the village comment in reason #6.)

3.  The chance to SHOW my children– especially my autistic son who is a visual-experiential learner– that true love comes to those who believe in love and follow their hearts.  The chance to be a living example for them of what partnership, respect, acceptance and cooperation really are.

2.  Inner Peace!  You’ve heard the expression “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” at special needs conferences and IEP meetings, right?  Well honey, let me tell you– this Mama is happy.  In every way.  In ways I couldn’t even have imagined ten years ago.  And much to my surprise, the happiness just keeps on expanding to everyone in the family.  Can you say “trickle down effect?”

And the number one reason I love being an openly gay autism parent…

1.  Because I’m convinced I was put on this earth to do something.  Many days I’m still confused about how exactly to do whatever it is I’m supposed to do…

But when I look at the back of my car with the “Coexist” sticker, the Autism ribbon, the Rainbow peace sign and the Human Rights Campaign logo, I have to smile and breathe a little easier because it all just goes together and somehow I know I must be on the right track.

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bigger, better, even more wonderful!

abundance of purple flowers

I am bursting with gratitude today and I have some exciting news to share!  Autism Home Rescue is expanding and we’ve connected with some awesomely inspiring writers who’ll be sharing their thoughts and insights right here on this very page.  Pretty nifty, eh?

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Stay tuned for our first-ever guest post on Tuesday 

by Caroline McGraw from A Wish Come Clear

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One of the greatest joys I’ve experienced since beginning this blog is the opportunity to connect and dialogue with other parents, professionals, caregivers and new friends.  This online community has not only given me hope when I’ve most needed it, but your stories, insights, support, humor and encouragement have sent good karma ripples out into the world and have helped countless other families like mine.  And as always, I am oh-so-grateful to you!

Caroline McGraw has a unique perspective on special needs and autism, and a gift for bringing the truth to light in her work.  Please stop back next week to read her very special post.

All best wishes for a peaceful weekend!

manifesting

… important things i do remember …

Happy Birthday Mom Mom!

“Beauty is a heart that generates love and a mind that is open.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Today is my mother’s 67th birthday.  Happy Birthday Mom!  My apologies for plastering your age all over the internet.  But the thing is, I think 67 is pretty darn young.  Be proud of it, you are beautiful.

This morning as I trekked to the train station in a foot of snow, the wind rushing through the trees sounded just like the ocean.  Each step forward, my boots sank into slushy snow and my ears heard another wave crash onto the beach as “ocean spray” stung my face.  It seemed fitting considering we had all spent Christmas together at my mother’s house at the Jersey shore.  Midday on Christmas day we took a drive along the boardwalk and watched the ocean.  My daughter and I played a game of “which do you like better?” and concluded snow and sand are equal in her book.  …..

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hope owlWhen I logged onto WordPress this morning to write a new post for my mother’s birthday, I found the above already written from last year.  Begun, but never published.  Isn’t that the way life goes so often?  Projects started, plans made, but we’re all ultimately following our noses from one moment to the next.  That doesn’t make me feel sad, I think it’s actually the way things are supposed to be.
 
This year there is no snow.  Christmas was very different.  I feel optimistic about my family’s future.  And I know 2012 will bring wonderful things.  So to honor my mother on what would have been her 68th birthday, a list of the important things I do remember:
 
faith
  • God is always present.
  • Love never dies.
  • No matter what happens in relationships, the connections we feel & the memories we have are ours to keep forever.
  • Cats are companions, and they are not as aloof as dog-lovers would have you believe.
  • There’s a way to dice onions into perfectly square pieces & this is how they should be cut for Grandpa’s turkey stuffing recipe.
  • If you love it, buy it– it will work.  Trust that the colors & patterns you love will work together as long as you are following your instincts & the finished creation makes you smile.
  • Scents carry memories.  Cinnamon candles & Obsession perfume bring you back to me, Mom.
  • Everything has its place, and you can always make room for the important things you want to keep.
  • If it makes you feel better to be a little obsessive about keeping track of things, go ahead & do it, no one’s gonna mind.
  • Most everything can go in the dishwasher.
  • People who don’t like to sit on the porch & enjoy the weather with a cup of tea or a glass of wine just haven’t done it enough to really appreciate this simple pleasure.  Try Tension Tamer tea or Woodbridge Merlot.
  • Take every opportunity to travel the world & meet new people!
  • Take lots of pictures, keep your notes about trips– your friends will appreciate these reminders of happy times.
  • Laugh often.
  • Love much.
  • trust-your-heart-sampleThere is a plan for every one of us.  Trust.
  • Be respectful of your neighbors.
  • A couch in the kitchen is the best place for an afternoon nap.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt.
  • Women are just as capable as men.  If someone thinks otherwise, prove them wrong.
  • No matter what you remembered or forgot to buy to *cook-decorate-fix-or-update*  a  *meal-home-thing-or-outfit* you can always improvise and make something beautiful with what you already have.
  • Keep a spare key just in case.
  • Share.
  • Take a deep breath when people drive you nuts, and try your best to hear where they are coming from.  It doesn’t mean they are right, but it will make you feel better.
  • There’s always a Plan B.  Trust that truth, and don’t panic.
  • Be proud of your family traditions & the good things about your own culture & background– celebrating diversity means celebrating *everybody*
  • If you have hard day or you get stuck in a bad habit, destructive pattern or depression, forgive yourself & start over.
  • It’s okay to use cuteness to your advantage.  A sweet smile goes a long way.
  • You will remember everything that is important.  It will be okay.

Today’s Gratitude List

gratitude-rainbowspiral1

Today I am grateful for:

  • Enthusiastic people.  The kind of folks who see something happy & smile, who celebrate the big & small triumphs of others, who derive as much– if not more– joy from helping other people win than from winning themselves.  Kudos to all of you!
  • Gluten-free pizza from our local pizza parlor.  Yummy thin crust, tomato-basil with super fresh mozzarella… mmmm… ’nuff said.
  • Soy mochas.  My new favorite.  Served, as always, with a smile by my favorite coffee shop buddies.  I think I mention coffee often on here. … But then again, I’m not sure… Could you go check the archives for me please? 😉
  • A day where nothing particularly extraordinary happens.  Just a basic get through work, get through life, one-thing-at-a-time kinda day.  How grateful I am that I’ve nothing particularly extraordinary to write about!

manifesting

 

What are you grateful for today? 

Did you remember to remember it?

 

 

..*~ abundance of appreciation ~*..

The WordPress question this week is Have you ever considered writing a book?”  The short answer is “Yes.”  The longer answer is “Already have a children’s book, just need an illustrator.”  And the funny coincidence is that what I was originally going to post today fits right into that theme.  Yay for cosmic timing, hehe.

While cleaning out my mom’s house this week, I came across a small journal on her bookshelf.  To my surprise, it was a book which I actually wrote for her as a Mother’s Day gift several years ago.  A small, handwritten gratitude journal to record the “abundance of appreciation” I felt for all the small gifts my mother had shared with me over the years.  Today I’m sharing them with you.

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For Mom, On Mother’s Day, May 10, 1998

Dear Mom,

I’ve been thinking a lot about what my life has been like over the past 30 years since I passed that milestone birthday.  I decided that for mother’s day I wanted to write you a book.  A book that lists some of my favorite memories of my childhood.  A book that remembers the little moments.  A book that puts in writing some small part of the abundance of appreciation I feel for you.  I’ve heard it suggested that people should keep gratitude journals to write down those things they’re thankful for everyday.  Mom, every day I am grateful for you.

Love,  Cathy

  • Making my baby clothes (age 1)
  • Adopting our dog Scottie (age 1 1/2)
  • Your dress with all the letters & numbers, the skirt was all I could see. (age 2)
  • Being more concerned about me than about the V8 can I spilled when I tried to get it from the fridge (age 3)
  • Buying me “Chipper” and not “Barbie” (age 3)
  • Making doll clothes to match my clothes (age 3)
  • Staying home with me when I was too sick to visit Baltimore.  We all piled onto the pull-out couch bed. (age 4)
  • Teaching me the best way to lick an ice cream cone– you have to keep turning it so it doesn’t drip. (age 4)
  • Letting me name my baby brother (age 5)
  • Understanding that mud pies are important; giving me pie tins to put them in (age 5)
  • Teaching me to bake bread (age 6)
  • Taking me to Linvilla Orchards.  And introducing me to Dutch Apple pie. (age 6)
  • Signing me up for dance classes with Hedy Tower and not some fru fru tutu lady (age 7)
  • Helping my second grade class in having a party for Miss Semless when she got married (age 7)
  • Becoming a girl scout leader (age 8 )
  • Learning to cook food from all over the world; giving me the International Cookbooks for Kids (age 8 )
  • Making my dollhouse (age 9)
  • Changing my desk into a dressing table just like you have (age 9)
  • Taking me to piano lessons (age 10)
  • Organizing the best birthday parties any kid could have– chocolate fondue & treasure hunts, sleepovers in grand style, the surprise party at Girl Scout camp (age 10)
  • Putting the pink chair in my room (age 10)
  • Using onion powder instead of (yucky) onions in many meals (age 12)
  • Giving me the canopy bed as a surprise when I came home from play auditions (age 12)
  • Teaching me to paint my nails before bed (age 13)
  • Teaching me to apply lipstick just right (age 15)
  • Taking pictures at my Sweet 16 party– especially the one of me on the couch afterwards (age 16)
  • Bringing me tea & cookies on a tray when I had to read all night for school (age 17)
  • Sewing an extra band of elastic in my prom dress and being concerned enough to yell at me for being too thin (age 18)
  • Letting me rummage through your jewelry (all ages!)
  • Encouraging me to go to Barnard (age 18)
  • Feeding me saltine crackers when I said I could not eat (age 19)
  • Becoming a seminary student and a minister (age 20)
  • Driving back & forth to New York City to pick me up from college (age 20)
  • Asking me if Dan was “the one” right after we met and believing me when I said yes. (age 21)
  • Buying me my first Acura Integra because that’s what Grandpa would have done (age 22)
  • Talking to cats.  Training me for cat psychology and then consulting me later (age 23)
  • Helping me decorate my apartment and figure out where all the furniture fits (age 24)
  • Always keeping rooms in your house for Christopher and me (age 25)
  • Teaching me to cook rice pilaf, chicken tarragon and cheesy scallop potatoes when I was very stressed and needed comfort food (age 26)
  • Buying presents for your “grand cats” (age 27)
  • Liking Clinique as much as I do (age 28)
  • Helping me through every step of making my first quilt– and then insisting that I did all the work myself (age 28)
  • Officiating at my wedding and being “the wind beneath my wings” (age 29)
  • Being a role model for me all my life (age 30)

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After I read this, I started to cry.  (Come on, people, you know me– what else would I do?)  I asked Mom out loud why she had to die.  I told her I missed her and that I wanted her to give me a sign *that very minute* that she was okay, she was still with me and that she was listening.  The doorbell rang.  It was my Mom’s friend, the pastor from her local church, who had dropped by on an impulse to help me clean.  (Thanks, Mom.)

After we were finished for the day, before I drove home, I went back to the bookshelf.  Right there, next in line for packing up, was a small bright green book of Hazelden Daily Meditations for Women called “Each Day a New Beginning.”  Mom had left only one bookmark in it, on this page:

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September 18

“The future is made of the same stuff as the present.”  ~ Simone Weil

The moment is eternal.  It is unending.  When we move with the moment, we experience all that life can offer.  Being fully awake to right now guarantees rapture even when there’s pain, because we know we are evolving, and we thrill with the knowledge.  We are one with all that’s going on around us.  Our existence is purposeful and part of the whole of creation, and we can sense our purpose.

Nothing is– but now.  And when we dwell on what was, or what may be, we are cut off from life– essentially dead.  The only reality is the present, and it’s only in the present that we are invited to make our special contribution to life; perhaps at this moment our special contribution is to reach out to another person, an act that will change two lives, ours and hers.

We must cling to the present, or we’ll miss its invitation to grow, to help a friend perhaps, to be part of the only reality there is.  The present holds all we need and all we’ll ever need to fulfill our lives.  It provides every opportunity for our happiness– the only happiness there is.

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So there you have it.  There were some people in my life who died before I had the chance to tell them all they meant to me, or to ask the tough questions, or to have the honest discussions.  I feel so blessed to know that my mother and I left nothing unsaid, nothing unresolved.  And apparently, the conversation continues.

Today’s Gratitude List

mom hannah baby

Today I am grateful for:

  • The fact that I am writing again.  Even though I’ve got a single-track mind which always seems to drift back to my mother.
  • Family lineage.  The picture above is of my mother and Hannah the day she was born.  Can you see the resemblance?  Can you see the determination & patience & persistence they share?  Can you see the beginnings of the fine-tuned sense of humor in my daughter?  The laughter & pride in my mother’s eyes?  Good lord, I am *so* grateful for all of that.  All that I know of being a mother, my mother taught me through the way she lived her life.  All that Hannah will know of how to grow into a woman began with a seed of inspiration going back through generations of women in my family.  Grateful, grateful, grateful for that lineage & all the strong women who came before us.

 

What are you grateful for today?  Write it down & share it!