My superwoman cape is a luxurious purple fabric with fuchsia pom poms dangling from the edges. The fabric itself repels stains and it sparkles with the slightest of movements. When I put it on I feel empowered, strong, beautiful. And, it really coordinates well with just about every outfit and any occasion. It is one of those pieces that is cherished by me and admired by others. It is the cape I wear to conquer my days with that unrelenting force that emanates grace in the middle of a shit-storm; the right words to soothe an anxious mind; the listening ear for a sad heart. My cape allows me to jet from spaces to places and also get all the things done. It protects me from the judgement that often resides within this parenting gig.
However, my superwoman cape is nowhere to be found. And, truly I have searched for it through meditation and long walks in the shaded Rocky Mountains. I dig for it when I dance to country music in my kitchen. I pray for it before I turn off the lights each night – hoping that it will appear with the next day’s sunrise. Yet, I still can’t find it.
I know that when something is missing it is always smart to think about the last time and place of its appearance. When I ponder this question, I am presented with moments before our last year that really shook our lives. I remember wearing it one day in March 2020. It was one of those big bucket days with therapy appointments after school, meetings through out my morning, a birthday party to plan for, lunches to pack, and goodnight books to be read. I wore it that day – and I conquered everything. And then I took it off somewhere. But where?
I need it more than ever right now as life attempts to return to normal. I need it to nurture the fearful thoughts of returning to school with all other students. I need my superwoman cape to jet set between meetings and appointments. It would really come in handy on the nights when I get home from a days work to speedily cook a meal for my kids (and me, of course) and then take the dogs on a beautiful, long walk. The cape would offer me crystal clear vision about what tomorrow holds – and that, yes, everything will be okay.
Is anyone else missing their superwoman cape?
I’m afraid that if I don’t find it soon that I’ll forget how to do it all. I might even start to crave moments of nothingness and perfect downtown. I might start to remember what it felt like to be so perfectly displaced from the day-to-day hustle of being everything to so many. If my cape doesn’t appear soon, it may become obvious that I’m not the superwoman some believed me to me.
And, then the big question of “am I okay with NOT living up to this reputable name?”
My answer, in short, is an empathic yes! Why you may ask? Why would I prefer not to be able to do it all and get everything done? Well, I simply miss all the moments in between. I miss the sticky-fingers that squeeze my cheeks and ask for another piece of chocolate cake. I miss the impromptu outings to parks because there are dishes to be scrubbed and floors to be vacuumed. I miss the knock-knock jokes, the early morning snuggle time, the tug-o-war playtime with my dogs. I miss the parts of my life that actually make my life whole.
So, if you do find my luxurious superwoman cape you are welcome to keep it. You can certainly try it on and it may just fit. For me and as nonsensical as this may seem, I prefer the imperfections of motherhood. I like rickey bumps and the occasional unmade bed on any given weekday.
I do caution you, though, if you decide to keep this cape.
For years have I practiced self care: eating nourishing foods; saying no! to tasks and to-dos that pulled me away from family time; carving out sacred time to meditate and write; adding my workouts to my daily schedule rather than just squeezing them into my day; effortlessly scheduling mini-massages; closing my office door for 10 minutes of quiet in the middle of the chaos. In fewer words: I take very good care of MYself.
Recently a phrase started popping into my world. The phrase came in and then I dismissed it, believing it was something I’d already mastered in my journey toward self-awareness. However, when the phrase, “practice self love,” continued to show its presence in conversations with colleagues, listening to podcasts about life balance, and in the multitude of inspirational videos posted on social media, I decided to pause. Wait, self love, is also the same as self care, right? These have to be the same?
Perhaps you are reading this with a slight chuckle in your brain because you clearly see the delineation between the two forms of self nurturing. Or maybe you are like me: reading these words sparks a small curiosity about the words love and care; specifically how these words relate to self. And, you might be the person who sees the beautiful blend between both the love and the care within the self.
So, I explored this new curiosity with great precision. I broached the subject in conversations with colleagues, asserting, “that sounds like self love,” and then watching their reactions. And as soon as I believed I held an understanding of these two beautiful forms of nurture, it would suddenly appear in my life again and tackle all my beliefs like an intricate puzzle sliding off the table and onto the floor. Then, finally, the quintessential light bulb flickered during an afternoon at home with my kids. Like many afternoons during COVID, there is a certain degree of creativity involved in keeping my kiddos off the screens and away from annoying each other. (Note: some days I am very successful at this endeavor – and others are a complete disaster.). On this particular day I created a project for my kids to hang positive, inspirational words and pictures on the walls by their beds. Truly, there is no better way to wake-up then with powerful affirmations and awe-inspiring photographs. Phrases such as, “I’m confident,” “I’m smart,” “Follow my own arrow,” started to fill the empty walls in each of my children’s bedrooms. Fairy lights decorated the images, bringing a touch of sacredness to the walls’ images. These images made my heart sparkle.
And, then, one day I heard: Mom, I’m a good reader. Mom, I am me and I like it!
In this small moment, an entire world of eat-your-snap-peas and growing-bodies-need-sleep took a step to the side (not away or behind). All of sudden, I understood the meaning of self love. Self love, in my own simple terms, is what we tell ourselves. It is the running script that plays in our head as we drive to work each morning; as we anticipate with uncertainty the start of a new school year; when we glance at ourselves in the mirror on one of those days. It is the opposite of self loathing with phrases such as, I’m so unloveable and My life is so hectic and chaotic. Self love is the shift into a mindset that sees possibility, that feels empowerment, that twirls with inspiration. Self love is the one thing, despite all my heart-pounding workouts, that required a huge emotional commitment to myself. It requires daily resets when I feel myself slipping into old patterns of negative talk. It is the required ticket for attracting more positive vibes into my own life.
I also believe that self care and self love feed each other. There is a synergy that connects and empowers the other. When I practice self care then my internal love for myself grows. My capacity to be open to what I have to offer the world expands. My belief that I can conquer this day with grace and ease envelopes me . And, on the days when I indulge a bit too much in those healthy energy bars, go to bed just an hour later, and skip my workout … I notice that my love for myself also expands. Why? Well, even in the moments when I’m not perfect – and when I’m totally vulnerable with ME – is when I invite more love into my life.
In this moment as I post this blog, my thoughts about love and care seem connected. I also know that as a mother, a women, a working professional and an entrepreneur, that my understanding of both self love and care will continue to evolve. I invite you to evolve with your self love and care, too. You are worth it!
Parenting is no joke and I sometimes find myself getting caught up in the emotions of my own kids. When they feel sad, I tend to take on that sadness, too. When they are excited and happy for life, I also carry that energy. Perhaps this is one of those parenting things, or perhaps it is because I’m an empath. Whatever the reason, I do know it is important to shift these daily feelings so that my kids are picking up on my energy every day.
I can make a choice each day to be positive, loving, and filled with heart, or I can choose to sit in the constant turbulence of these times, projecting feelings of uncertainty and anxiety onto my kids. I’m not saying that we need to be happy and joy-filled every moment of the day because that, honestly, sounds exhausting. Instead, when we fill our hearts with the love with have for our kids, the smell of the cinnamon and oatmeal simmering, the beautiful song of the oriole bird from our outside feeder, then we shift the way we show up every day. And, this is very hard work for parents, because life does get tough, there are struggles, and we do feel all of our emotions.
In fact, we do carry the rainbow of emotions with us each day. Whether we choose to show these emotions to our world – or shove them down with a bar of dark chocolate, zone out in front of the TV, or open a bottle of our favorite libation, then we are actually giving ourselves a false sense of our own feelings. And, as you already know, when we do this we are also showing up to our world in an unauthentic way.
Let’s go a little deeper here. From my personal journey as a parent, I know that when I constantly think about my to-do list, which right now consists of getting my grass cut, finishing the trim that frames my bedroom door, nourish my kids with healthy foods (even though they still indulge frequently into sweets) and work, hard, really hard so I can provide the life that my kids and I deserve. And all of this causes stress, which leads to me feeling anxious and overwhelmed. While I’m getting vulnerable with you, I’m also sharing with you the very root of why my own kids pick up feelings of anxiety and overwhelm. My own children learn from me. They learn that when something is done or the list is too big, that I worry about it. They learn this and then apply it to their own daily doings and existence.
It’s easy to find that bar of dark chocolate, again, and indulge in the richness and chase away those feelings. It is hard to admit my own emotional energy is deeply connected to my family’s energy. However, in doing so, I am taking a step into my emotional wellbeing – and also modeling for my kids what this feels like. And, let me tell you, it feels like a vibrant, warm light. It feels like a million small jelly bubbles surrounding your body, cushioning your every movement. It feels like the life I want my own kids to experience as they grow into teens (aghast!) and eventually into adults.
You may be saying, “Okay, Amanda, I get it. Now what?” Here are some of the strategies I use to support my kiddos (and me):
- When I feel something, whether it be sad, happy, or calm, I voice this to my kids. I say something like, “Right now, I am feeling calm because I just finished meditating,” or, “I am feeling sad right now because I miss seeing my friends in Seattle” (ladies, you know who you are!).
- Avoid phrases such as, “You shouldn’t feel angry, jealous, sad, etc. right now.” Emotions are real and part of the rainbow we carry with us each day. Honor what your child is feeling and offer them ways to cope with that feeling. I work really closely with my child’s psychologist to understand what these strategies might be. Some of the things that work for my kiddos are going to their calm corners (small areas in our house that are set up with coloring, books, comfy pillows, low lighting) so they can decompress and work through their emotions.
- Imagine what it might feel like to be a child in today’s world. While their feelings about a broken toy or a missing stuffed animal may seem trite in our big, chaotic worlds, it is your child’s own world and this is what they know to be true. Honor this.
- Don’t compare. Seriously, it isn’t good for you or your children. You are your own beautiful, vibrant vessel. Own it and love it.
And, in reading this blog post, you are also taking your first step into creating more emotional intelligence in your and your child’s own worlds. I thank you for showing up to our world in your own beautiful, vibrant and authentic way. Remember, parenting is one of the most rewarding and scary jobs. You can do this!
Ten weeks ago I started a new adventure: a podcast. This podcasting world is still very new to me. I sometimes stumble when searching for the right words. I embrace technology and I also embrace simplicity; sometimes these two worlds collide without grace. And, getting comfortable in my closet, the only quiet place in my house, is a bit of a challenge still. Yet, I am hungry for more learning; more conversations; and more reflection. Why?
Shared experiences: Through my conversations with autism parents and individuals on the autism spectrum, my learning is that I am not alone. If anything, we collectively have more experiences that bring us together than those that divide us. Take my conversation with Catherine Hughes, the Chief Inspiration Officer of Caffeinated Advocate, for example. Much of her early parenting journey was molded by the cold stares and harsh judgments from people who didn’t even know her. In fact, her journey as an autism mother started when she was arrested because of a snap-judgment made about Catherine’s parenting during her son’s sensory meltdown. I am also aware of sensory meltdowns, and I have also lived in fear of what others will think of me when watching how I respond to and support my son when his world is overtaken by his surroundings. Am I worthy of this mothering gig?
Empathy is the only option: Yes, we are all uniquely different. We are beautiful and different snowflakes: no two are alike. When we assume that our children will respond and react the same way as another child, either with autism or not, then we are telling the world that listening to someone else’s perspective is no longer important. In essence, the question that I continue to hear throughout my conversations is this one: How can I help? This is the question that mothers with kids having a sensory meltdown want to hear from us, rather than steely stare and hushed talked to others. This is the same question that self-advocates want others to ask when we notice someone who is pacing in the grocery aisles because of feelings of overwhelm and frustration. And, this, is the question that our kids deserve to hear. Our kids need to hear that caring humans surround them and are also there to support their parents and friends and neighbors in times of need.
Let go of expectations around desired outcomes: I’ll be the first to raise my hand with a response to this statement. I truly hold so many expectations around my professional life, my fitness goals, my sleep patterns, how my kids SHOULD respond, and even my love life. And, you guessed it. The tighter we hold onto to our desired outcomes, then the more difficult it becomes to just respond in the moment; to be present; to listen to each other. As an autism mom, I know the expectations that I put onto myself and, yes, even my own kids because I am so committed to goals and how goals can help us realize our dreams when they bloom. I am also learning, and practicing more and more, that just because I’m armed with so much knowledge from my twenty-years serving in public education as both a teacher and a school administrator, doesn’t mean that I know what is best in every moment for my own kids. My guests on my podcast have certainly taught me this in more ways than I can even refer to right now.
So, thank you to each of you who has tuned into the Empathy, Joy & Autism podcast. Thank you to my guests who are my teachers of courage and empathy.
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Have the words, “I’m not doing enough,” or “I’m failing my kids,” ever crawled into your mind? Lately, these phrases seem to be sneaking in and surprising me, leaving me feeling a bit anxious about “what more” that I can give. Just recently, my family went into quarantine because of some positive COVID results. (And, yes, we are all recovered and doing okay). The three weeks inside our home working as an assistant principal from my laptop computer, taking temperatures and tracking O2 levels, and negotiating with my own children to engage in online learning were, undoubtedly, some of the most complex moments I’ve recently experienced.
The impact of this pandemic shook me in these recent weeks because I watched my son digress rock his body back-and-forth not just during his online learning, but during our discombobulated dinner time and before falling asleep at night. There were days when my son relearned how to find the right temperature with the shower faucet. And when our online shopping order brought a different brand of chicken nuggets, there was a period of five days when the only thing that was consumed was taco shells with refried beans and bowls of oatmeal. His bi-weekly ABA in-home therapy and center programs extinguished leaving me to fill in the necessary gaps with social skills and idioms.
Please hear me, I do consider my family fortunate because our COVID symptoms made a known presence for about 10 days. We experienced fevers, root-pulling fatigue, sharp body aches, and bouts of nausea. Our nights consisted of my son waking-up numerous nights around 2 AM because his over-the-counter ibuprofen wore off and the only thing he could feel was his body screaming. He told me things like, “Mom, my body has a headache.” and “I can’t feel my legs right now.” And when his fever dropped just ever so slightly, Buddy would find any stored energy to zip through the house, playing and laughing just like normal. However, before long, all his energy was zapped, and he would crawl onto the couch for a nap (something I haven’t seen him do since he was 3 years old). Moments like this prompted me to wonder if my kids were drinking enough fluids and if was I doing enough?
And when my daughter started to doze off in her virtual classes and also ask for a break from school so she could take a nap, I finally realized something had to give for the time being: my job. So, we watched loads of movies and cooking shows. We tried new recipes and then took naps wherever the fatigue took over. Many days, my son snoozed with his beloved Aussie dog on her bed in the middle of our family room. My daughter enjoyed more of the comfort of the couch and snuggly blankets with her three drinks within close reach. There were also new life skills developing: Buddy quickly learned how to monitor his O2 levels and his temperature – and proceeded to check both Sissy and my vitals whenever he could. I watched my son as he learned to take care of himself as witnessed in his comments such as, “I need more to drink because my body is weak right now, ” and “I haven’t had my Vitamin C today, Mom,” nudging me as a reminder. And on these days, I secretly wished my kids could just find a book and read all day. What had I not done to invest in their love of reading?
Somewhere between days 9 and 14, all existing house rules were suddenly null-and-void. Either it was the complete fatigue consuming my body or the sheer-lack of not knowing what to do anymore, that the words, “Yes, you can ride your scooter in the house,” came from my mouth. Suddenly Sissy and Buddy glided from one room to another, giggling because they knew they had “won over” their mom. And after those words came from my mouth, other strange things started to get “mom-approved.” For whatever reason, I confirmed to my kids that they could use the permanent markers on shirts of their choice. My son, being the neat and tidy kid that he is, found his bleach-white polo shirt for this new project. My daughter picked out her favorite pink, sparkly shirt for this creative endeavor. They both created lines and rainbows and doodles on their shirts during one of my Zoom meetings. After wondering why the house sat in silence, I turned off my video and muted myself (because, yes, Zoom allows us to gracefully exit like that) my meeting to find both of my kids quietly creating masterpieces (on cardboard – thank goodness) with permanent markers on the floor. In moments such as these, words such as, “I’ve had enough. I can’t anymore,” trickled through me.
Reminding myself – and you – that it is okay to take a break. It’s okay to bend your rules sometimes to allow for the flood of change happening in our world not to envelop you. I believe that while I want so much to be doing more: more 1:1 time with online learning, more silent reading before bedtime, more dedicated time for creativity in our makeshift makerspace in the garage. When so much of the world we live in today is about shifting and pivoting, I believe we are doing enough. I believe, most days, that I am doing enough. However, I’m a mom and I’m human and there are times when it nice to be reminded that, “yes, I am enough.” And, so are you.