“Some Memories” Read Aloud

It’s been a while, since I’ve blogged. According to my last post, I have not blogged in seven months.  There are some reasons for that.

Son. Daughter. Husband. Students. Testing.

Writing is still at the center of my heart, but in my first year of teaching, I found that literacy became more important, simply because when you urge kids toread, it gets them thinking. They get ideas. And, who knows what they will do with their lives?

Instead of sounding completely like an old-school, the-world-is-beautiful Disney princess, I have been writing. I am still working on two book projects:  Adventures of Elliot McSwean and my memoir-in-verse, Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror. I’ve continued working on poems for Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror and editing them. Some are seven-years-old, the same age as my son, while others are newer.

This summer, and fingers crossed, later in the fall, I’d like to continue poetry read alouds. Just like when I do flipped classroom for my students, I  am not a fan of filming myself. I don’t even like to work out at the gym in front of people anymore. I created a picture video to go with my read aloud (see video) to go with the poem, “Some Memories.” I may post it later, but I haven’t decided.

If you’re not sure what a memoir-in-verse is, it is simply a memoir told in the form of poetry.  A few years ago, a high school student introduced me to Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey.  

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

c. June 2016, Some Memories, R.T. Dickinson

The Journey with Autism

Time flies by, as the cliché says, and your child transforms from a toddler to a little boy.

Being a mom of a child diagnosed with autism is a journey unlike any other because you never know if you’re going to be embarrassed, have your mind blown because your child thinks so much outside the box, or deal with a fit because he’s not ready to leave a place.

I remember calling my best friend when my son, who I call Hayes in my writing, was two. A doctor told me that he might have autism.  Socially my son was not where he needed to be, the doctor had said.

My husband and my journey with autism went from dealing with the quick rise and fall of any circle of friends Hayes might have due to some of his social behaviors to balancing our parenting with my school and our work. It felt like I went into a battle this time last year when it looked like I might not graduate on time or get kicked out of my program because I was required by my college to attend a mandatory meeting about requirements of teacher candidates on the same day as meeting with our son’s four teachers (including occupational therapists) to determine whether he would stay in the traditional classroom or go to a special setting classroom.

I fell on the sword and sent a heated email to one of the professors in charge who had demanded that I be there. It led to a Come to Jesus meeting, four teachers and an administrator having to move their schedules around, and putting the most important priorities first. The disconnect between this particular professor and I dealt specifically with the inability fully understand the priority.

I will never forget her saying, “We only give a degree to the best people. That is something we take pride in.”

My grades are straight A’s. I’ve given everything to this program, including the time needed for my son, I thought. What more do you want?

The answer was everything.

My priority always was my son from the time I entered grad school until the time I graduated, and slammed—not shut—the door on that part of my life.

Many parents battle professional vs. time for family.  And, there is a different type of challenge being a professional parent of a child with autism.   I constantly feel guilty being away from my son from the time I leave for work 40 minutes away until the time I get off work.

It never ends.

You never know what will happen.

I took my children to a children’s indoor play museum this past summer.  Hayes experienced one of his best days when a mom insisted he had hit her daughter. By no means am I saying my son is perfect. Far from it, but I know when he is truly guilty, and hold him accountable. In this moment, I said, “I will take care of it.”

Hayes would say to the girl, “Liar,” as she passed him in play not understanding the social skill of how to let go.

The woman approached me a second time demanding an apology from him or me.  Holding in the need to punch someone, I took a deep breath and said, “He’s not going to apologize if he thinks he didn’t do anything.”

I paused. “If you think he did something, then I’m sorry.”

I was ready to leave it at that, and she said, “My friend has a child with autism, and I always hate the way she uses autism as an excuse.”

It was time then to end the conversation before I was arrested for mom-on-mom crime.

Anger.  Since my daughter was born, I’ve dealt with it a lot, but I am learning to manage it. It is always there, but I try not to let it control me.  I have to accept that I cannot predict, as a mom, what will or won’t happen with my son, whether he causes events or not.

A six-year-old this year, he kicked and cried not wanting to go home with us when my cousin was home for a little while.  It’s embarrassing enough when strangers stare. I’m actually more comfortable with the stares of strangers by now than my own family members because I feel like I’m constantly being judged, and I know that there are certain moods of Hayes over which I have no control.

I turned bright red just yesterday when he said to a strange man, “Hey, big guy.” My husband said, “I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it.” He told my husband’s father yesterday to “move it,” and my dad, “What are you looking at?”

We took away TV.

We took away dinosaurs.

Now he is at peace with his sister playing with trains.

Peace. I’ve never been one to openly discuss faith that much.  I think maybe God chooses special people to become parents of children with autism.  I have accepted through my son’s life that God does exist, and that there are a lot of bad things going on in the world, but there is something so unique in mine and my husband’s hands.

I write some prayers. Sometimes I just think or meditate when I am working out by myself. I remember the great moments like when Hayes held my hands up with my husband’s and said, “Look our arms make a W.”

I remember a conversation with another parent of a child with autism knowing I’m not alone.

And, I know my heart isn’t red …

but painted blue.

More Reading:

“The Truth about Being an Autism Mom” 

The Not So Mundane

Take a look at what you write.

What is it that influences you the most?

I find I am inspired by the day-to-day actions of other people.  When I worked in a coffee/ sandwich shop inside a bank, I would analyze people by the sandwiches they ordered. You had the case of any number of stories.  Some people had to have the cheese melted on the meat, and others wanted meat, tomatoes, and then cheese. What made them chose that way?

In the midst of raising two children–one with autism–graduating with a Master of Arts in Teaching, being married, and beginning a teaching career; I still write. While I am not as active here and on social media, my writing still grows. I have worked on two projects: Elliot McSwean, my middle grades’ book, and my poetry memoir, now called I Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror.

While they are different genres, they share something in common. There are characters who have something interesting in the everyday world that becomes a part of the person in the book.  For example, Elliot’s parents are old school. He has to share a lap top with at least one of his three sisters. Here, I’m constantly inspired by kids.

Now, I’ve been reading Famous Last Words by Katie Alender as I prepare for teaching seventh graders.  She does two things I admire. She gets in touch with paranormal world–something I’ve never been comfortable with as a writer. She also writes some of the best, least repeatable comparisons to everyday life.  When the parents go out of town,  the character, Willa, has a cupcake for breakfast. I know teens who would do this.

In I Never Saw Jesus in the Mirror–the new title and the joining together of all the weird pieces of my family’s journey over the last few years–I touch on Mommy Wars. In fact, the poem I’m currently working on is called just that. I look at the question: How do we go from every day people to all of the sudden ready to take on another mom?  This is something that, while not every day, has become a new experience for my husband and I raising our son.

Luckily, those wars end with writing. Not someone getting arrested.

Look at your writing. What is something intriguing from your everyday experiences that finds its way into your writing?

When Dolphins Bite: 5 Things to 2015

I look forward to a new year.

As I told my son, it’s a new start in more ways than one.

  1. I’m almost finished with graduate school.

The end is in sight. It feels like I’ve been in college again for more than a decade, which makes me wonder how people go to school straight from earning a BA to a Master’s degree. (I had five years between my degrees.) But, the greatest lesson I’ve learned from what my husband calls “your semester from hell” is you will have reinvent and prove yourself again and again.

For the first two years of graduate school, I had no doubt my particular college had my back in all matters because I worked so hard and well with them. But, I learned with the other half of a different college on campus, my professional relationships were not as well-formed. I would have to prove myself – after I lost control of my anger and depression – to the one person who controls a signature on my degree, who lacks faith in me, and provides the certification to make me better at what I love doing

I had one picture that brought me back down to Earth for this degree.

My children, husband, and I homeless …

2. Postpartum depression is no joke.

So, why be honest about all of this information?

Because, as Elsa sings in “Frozen,” “Let it go.” Overall, I’ve learned to control and temper my depression and anger. I’ve written and worked out, but after the birth of my daughter, my body changed completely. Only recently with the gradual weaning of breastfeeding has my energy returned.

I experienced extreme exhaustion and health issues with breastfeeding and postpartum, but I was fortunate by the middle of the year to find a doctor who discovered the problems at hand. She got me back on antidepressants and special vitamins, so I could continue breastfeeding.

(And, then she moved away.)

But, I could not shake off the feeling in the fall semester of graduate school that I was wrestling with sharks. My husband says, “They’re really dolphins, but people forget that even dolphins bite.” I said, “One in particular is a shark. This one smells blood.”

3. Autism needs to be understood.

When I realized I had a chance to publish my memoir-in-verse, I split the project in two, so I could focus on the issues my family has recently endured, such as raising a family in graduate school while dealing with postpartum depression and a child recently diagnosed with autism.

Because I love what I do for a living, I will never write about kids I teach. But, I can say working with children who have autism is one thing, but it is a new journey when your child is diagnosed with autism. I have constantly battled trying to be there for my son during this past semester while meeting my commitments for school. When I wanted to attend his diagnosis, some were not happy about the look of even one absence, although it was made up.

Children with autism deserve the dedication of parents, teachers, and those in the community. They deserve for their voices to be heard. They deserve for their parents to make meetings, and for expectations to be set.

What do I have to do?

Let it go. Let go of anger. Learn to live; not survive with sharks, or dolphins that bite.

4. My children make me a better person and writer

I fell in love the moment when I first held both of my children, but when my daughter was born, I wanted to hang back. I wanted to stay with them a little longer. I wanted to hold her to my chest and stroke her black hair longer before it turned to reddish brown.  I wanted to dry my son’s tears because I had another night class. I could not explain to him that other people demanded time; time I  wanted to give back to him and his sister.

5. So, at the end of 2015, I got what I wanted … for a short time at least.

Admit weakness. Admit fear. These are the only ways to move forward from my experience. Then blow and let them go.

I didn’t realize how much I had changed. With the infrequent schedule of an internship, classes, and this due and that due along with commitments to the loves of my life, I transformed.  Since the semester ended, I have been regaining my strength. My husband has said, “I see my wife again.” My parents see their daughter again.

But, I also got to just be a mom, wife and writer.

 

Take Your Time: Reasons Why

I don’t blog much these days.

In fact, A Word or More has changed over the past four years from blogging twice a week to once a week to whenever I can.

Sometimes, I post a poem – written with raw emotion – like my post the other day about the new struggles in raising a child with autism and sometimes I share what I know about writing.

The truth is I’m not worried about the amount of posts I write, the amount of likes I receive, or the attention because blogging should be something we – as writers – enjoy. It should be fun just like our work.  I realize, in getting away from blogging on a schedule and checking every other day, that it is easy to get into the “how to dos” of blogging and miss out on what is most natural for authors.

Maybe I will go two to three months before I post again, but I’m still writing.

  • I met my goal of being published once this year. Another story from Adventures of Elliot McSwean was published by Alfie Dog in the UK in January/ February 2015.

 

  • I always set a goal of one story per year. I got lucky in previous years because I was published at rate of three stories per year, but I also submitted more and had more time to write different stories  and poems. I am content with one story per year right now.

 

  • When I write, I’m putting serious time into three poetic memoirs, or memoirs in verse, because I found the opportunity to improve the original one, Frozen Snowflakes, for possible publication. As I began, I turned a another short memoir into poems instead of essays resembling a prose poetry style.

 

  • When I write fiction, Adventures of Elliot McSwean remains the main focus because I plan on going from a middle grades story collection to writing a middle grades novel with Elliot McSwean.

 

  • I’m not a patient person except with writing and children. It seems I pour all of my patience into my professions and passions. I’m okay that it takes me years to write or perfect pieces of work. I spent seven and a half years on my manuscript, Sons of the Edisto. Frozen Snowflakes has been around for four years, but it has changed a lot and nearly had some poems published from the collection. And, I will take my anger poem from the other day, and edit it into something more.

 

  • Health issues after the birth of my daughter, my son’s diagnosis, family commitments, and the last year of graduate school have all  played a role in when I’m able to write.  I still do.

 

  • And, I’m grateful to already meet my goal for 2016. That is, I will be published in February 2016.  An academic work, which I co-wrote and researched, will be published under my regular name: Rebecca D. Bridges.

Don’t worry about being in hurry. It’s okay to write like a turtle and edit like a fox (my personal motto). In other words, it’s okay to write slow, and then edit carefully in a manner of hunting for the weaknesses in your writing.

Take your time.

Rebecca T. Dickinson

Together: The Diagnosis

Autism.

We are learning together.

By we, I mean my husband, Ben, our son, Hayes, and me. Our daughter will learn one day, too, but, for now; the baby is Hayes’s best audience.

Free from it all: from crowds, from being a part of the conveyor belt taking belt buckles for future khaki pants, and from stockings, closed toe heels, and black blazers. From the perfect criss-cross applesauce …

I’m tired of grad school. I just want to stop. It’s like a high speed train going off the rails into mud, flipping over, and cars sliding all around. I’m tired of closing up and holding back because I just want to scream at everyone to “Fuck off.” 

“I don’t know why Hayes would say ‘I hate Ms. _______________,'” a voice said to me. Do I need to explain again? “He thinks in a different way. We have to try to understand his way of thinking and figure out why he is taking some of these actions,” I said.

My grandmother said years ago, “You need to teach in the public school system. You will have more security that way.”  My favorite professor said, “I’ve heard the horror stories coming out of the public schools with special needs children.” 

Breathe.

Years ago, as a journalist, I took up a story about a mother with two sons with ASD.  The school board had shifted around teacher assistants to different school trying to hide the fact that it was cutting teacher assistants’ hours when the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder was on the rise.

The school board gave its assistant district superintendents a raise.

Breathe.

“As future teachers, you will need to watch what you say.” I don’t speak of my profession, but as a mom, I feel like yelling at the top of my lungs.

Why?

You might as well ask Why God – if you believe in Him – made us differently.

When my professor took ten points off my assignment making it a B because it was late, and I had taken my son to receive his diagnosis; I wanted to scream.

Ben, Hayes, and I will get through this together.

Yes, I wanted to scream when the professor said, “Everyone has a busy schedule.” Are you fucking kidding me? Did you really just say that, professor of the year?

Ben, Hayes, and I will get though this together because it’s been us since the beginning – since I decided not to get an abortion and leave journalism, five glasses of wine a day, and my ex. Since his family was cool with sweeping shit under the carpet.

Because I know from being a teacher in the field of special education everyday with my game face, with standards, professionalism to brim, and a smile is different than –

being told, “Your son falls on the autism spectrum                                               scale. He sees the world in a different way.”

Angry. No, I’m not angry. I just need to get some lesson plans done, a few projects, and get over the feeling like it’s my son’s fault because instructional time is lost in the classroom, and other people are helping him when it is not their jobs.

“Mommy, why are you crying?” he said to me. 

 

for my son

Rebecca T. Bridges 

Through Tornadoes

One of the first poems from my memoir in verse currently untitled about raising a child with autism with the man I love.

Through Tornadoes

Let’s sit down on a park bench away from the house, watch the sun set, and Hayes run around. Look at that tree with the big knot in it. Did you know that he has run circles around that same tree since he was two.  I like this part of the park with the peach trees and open space. I bring Hayes here when he’s had a bad day, so he still gets outside, but he doesn’t have the playground and other children to play with. We also come to the Peach Tree park just to walk. I’ve wanted you to come, too, Ben.

Ben, hold my hand because I know the news isn’t easy to hear. You’ve questioned yourself as a father over and over again. Don’t think back to the day when you told the older boys about me, about Hayes, and how you thought they’d never speak to you again. Don’t think: How am I going to do this?  The way we raise Hayes will be different. No, I don’t know what will happen now.

Elevator music on the phone line. Wait five more minutes until someone can           talk. Someone answers and says, “Our office hasn’t yet received your son’s             papers from the doctor.”          

I don’t know all of the answers. What does it mean to raise a child with autism? The doctor said, “He just sees the world differently.” I think, Ben, if your mother was here, she’d tell you, “It will be okay.” Just hold my hand, sweetheart. You overthink like me, and it only makes you depressed. See Hayes run to the tree with a knothole. He picks up a branch. He says, “It’s my walking stick.” Honey, remember only two years ago, he would’ve hit the tree with the branch.

“I guess I just had higher expectations,” you said. “What higher expectations        are you talking about?” I said. “Just because my parents didn’t raise me the          same as yours: to do every chore right then.” “Why are you yelling?” you said.

Carl Sanburg. Yes, you know him. My favorite poet once wrote, “I wish to God I never saw you, Mag./ I wish you never quit your job and came along with me./… I wish the kids had never come/ And rent and coal and clothes to pay for/ And a grocery man calling for cash.” But, there are always groceries, and one day we’ll have a rent or a mortgage to pay for when we get out of my parents’ house.

“Hello, Mrs. Dickinson, this is a call. You are aware you owe back rent at this      time. We’ll move forward to see what we can take.”

You said just the other day, “No one has ever loved me the way you do.” I told you the same. There is no one like you, Ben. Damn, I hate those dreamy-eyed love poems about romance, but you know, Carl Sanburg got something wrong. I’m glad you came, Ben. I’m glad the kids came, too.

Hayes sees the world a different way, and we’ll help him. He has both of us. Honey, look over your shoulder, and see all that has passed. We got through tornadoes holding hands and kissing lips. We’ll go through it again.

Rebecca T. Dickinson