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Letting Kids Fail:When to Let Go?

I don’t know about you guys, but the only thing harder than being in middle school myself is watching my kids go through it. It’s painful enough watching my sweet Martha Stewart daughter deal with kids in the hall throwing curse words. Her Victorian sensibilities are under attack on a daily basis and she’s ready to throw up her parasol in despair.

“It’s just too much, Mom!” she cried the other day, fanning herself with yet another tween novel about pioneers and progress. “This is why I refused to go on the nature trip. Why would I deal with the insanity of boy crazy girls and bad food when I could be at home with a book and a cup of tea in front of a warm cozy fire?”

I wish I were joking.

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Then there’s my son. He’s about as far a cry from Jane Eyre as Snickers is to junk food. Bring on the hump day tee shirts. Bring on the Pokemon hats with the bright yellow balls and the Pikachu-themed Nintendo DS’s. No skateboards and skinny jeans for this kid. Add in some tics and you’ve got yourself about as far out of the social circle as one can get.

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A friend of mine, whose son has Asperger’s, told me that her son really began to shine when she put him in an alternative school.

“My kid was a duck trying to fit into a swan pond,” she told me, with nary a hint of frustration or defeat. (Apparently going through cancer can cure you of a lot of things that once would bring you down. But I digress.) “Now he goes to a school that’s only full of ducks. He can waddle to his heart’s content.”

This thinking seems completely reasonable. Why should a kid suffer for being who he is? I 100% applaud her decision.

But for my kids and my situation, here’s the real sticky mess – the Oreo filling in the center of two very logical crackers: “What if a little bit of suffering is what my kids need to grow and become strong?”

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In her book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, Jessica Lahey talks about how we, as parents, can let our kids fight their own battles to become self-sufficient adults who don’t crumble at the first sign of adversity.

The Amazon description reads:

“In the tradition of Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed and Wendy Mogel’s The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, this groundbreaking manifesto focuses on the critical school years when parents must learn to allow their children to experience the disappointment and frustration that occur from life’s inevitable problems so that they can grow up to be successful, resilient, and self-reliant adults.

Modern parenting is defined by an unprecedented level of overprotectiveness: parents who rush to school at the whim of a phone call to deliver forgotten assignments, who challenge teachers on report card disappointments, mastermind children’s friendships, and interfere on the playing field. As teacher and writer Jessica Lahey explains, even though these parents see themselves as being highly responsive to their children’s well being, they aren’t giving them the chance to experience failure—or the opportunity to learn to solve their own problems.

Overparenting has the potential to ruin a child’s confidence and undermine their education.”

It’s tough. On one hand, I don’t want to hover. But where is that fine line between letting a kid learn his part to avoid feeling like a victim, and when is a kid truly a victim? If you’re like me, you know only too well your child’s short comings. “I can tell my kid that his new hair do makes him look like a candidate for the short bus, but if that punk with the flat top makes fun of his bowl cut he’s going to hear it from mama’s best side!”

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Bottom line, like this picture of me (taken by said wacky son), life can sometimes feel sideways. It’s tough to stand back and watch my kids get hurt. But when I’m truly being honest – who is getting hurt more? Them or me?

Trying to keep mean children and sadness away from them is like trying to stop the ocean. On good days I surf those choppy waves like a pro. On bad days I go under. But most days, I aim to sit on the beach and remember that my kids have had their swim lessons. It’s time to let them go a bit deeper into the water. And when they need a breath, I’ll be right on the shore – warm towel in hand.

(But not for that mean kid in seventh grade whose name will go unnamed. That kid can be freezing and suck it.)

My book is available on Amazon. Follow me on Twitter@AndreaFrazerWrites or on FB

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From “That Sucked” to “Miracle”

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Tonight at my kid’s tennis lesson I had a long conversation with a dad who happens to have an auto-immune disorder. This dad has a kid at my kid’s school who inherited his disease. As fate would have it, another friend of mine’s kid, from the same school, just had her kid diagnosed with the same auto-immune disorder as this dad from tennis. (It was kind of a six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon and wonky diagnoses moment. So fun! Grab the insulin shot and a slice of gluten free bread pronto!)

This just brought up a whole slew of conversation back and forth like, “Would we, if we had known about our wonky genetics, have gone into parenting so readily?”

For both of us, it was an astounding “Yes, of course!” Neither of us could imagine not having the children that we do. It’s not about auto immune disorders but the soul that matters. (Even if that soul happens to be my son who was getting me so darn mad moments before the tennis lesson that I’m surprised I didn’t lose my mind or at least my keys. Oh, wait! I did! But that comes later on in the story.)

Instead, let me tell you the next thing that happened. In between talking about medication and personality and genetic pre-disposition with cute dad, another mom sat down. I looked at her face. If Ellen Degeneres were Indian, this short-haired, brown-skinned soul would be her. I just loved her spirit. And, turns out, I knew her!

PJ!” I said, shaking her hand in greeting.

“Andrea!” she said, shaking it back in unabashed delight.

The one-word greeting spoke volumes about our reunited connection. It seemed to triumphantly whisper, “Yay! We can talk for thirty minutes and have an adult conversation while our kids try not to bash each other’s brains in with tennis balls!”

Except this unspoken thought didn’t stay in our brains. It bled right out of our mouths all over the gum encrusted park bench. Within moments we both blurted out how happy we were to see each other again. Which, well, was a bit odd, given we had only met once before… two months ago… but we remembered each other for whatever reason. (Well, okay, the reason was that in a few minutes I completely analyzed her personality, her wife’s role in parenting, the disposition of her kids and why she likes her job. She thought I was a bleepin’ psychic. I was sad to report that I was just a wacky writer. But somehow I didn’t scare her off.)

Um…can you see men doing that on the football field? “Oh, Jerry, it’s so awesome to see you again. You know, the moment I heard you turn over that motor in your rotary engine, I knew we’d be fast friends. Let me read your palm and afterwards let’s make bmf bracelets!”

Well, silly or not, there it was…this bond between PJ and I that I can’t explain. And there was this bond between this dad and I that I am grateful for, too… two parents of two kids that require a bit more attention than “Suck down these Pop Tarts for dinner, we’re just done with cooking tonight.”

Let me now go on record that, as a Christian woman who has been married for 15 years, it might seem odd that a straight wife like me finds connection between an Indian lesbian and a happily married Italian father, but it is what it is.

Note to my Christian readers, Mom and Farmer Stacey: Do not be alarmed. I’m not starting an emotional affair with my Bollywood princess or blue-eyed auto immune cute dad friend. But I cannot lie. I find them both fabulous spirits and I’d be kidding you, and my very own self, if I didn’t admit that signing my kid up for tennis was the greatest lift to my spirits this month since Costco’s sale on dark Starbuck’s coffee ($15.95/bag – a deal!). When I start shaving my head or wearing a mini-skirt with a tight John Mackenro tee over my Double D’s, you can call out the Jesus squad.)

To add more cherries to the topping of this fun park bench banter (think of me as the peanut butter in between two slices of wonderful, talkative bread) we found out that PJ knows my sister through their kids’ middle school. Fun!

And then I lost my keys.

Boo.

But I didn’t freak out.

Yay!

Because what would be the point? The day up until that moment had been so crazy. (Wonky news from a writing client. No Ebay sales. Wondering if perhaps I should just throw in the towel and get a real job after all or run away with the circus and sell GMO infested popcorn to parents who have more money to entertain their kids than I do these days.)

But Stink made me sit on a parking slab and pray. Which I did. Which was no small feat for this six foot 1 mama.

“Jesus isn’t a magic genie,” I told him, adjusting my 2-foot wide butt to the diameter of the six inch cement chair.

“I know,” he said. “But He’s a miracle maker.”

Which, well, turns out He was. I did not find the keys right away. But I did stay calm which helped me retain my sanity. Each step I took I just remembered that I’m not in charge. I’d figure it out.

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Since my own phone was dead, I used the tennis instructor’s phone. (Old old phone… crack in the glass… thank God… a fellow tribe member of the ‘We’re Doing the Best We Can Club’.)

I called every person on his roster. “Did you take my keys by accident?”

“No… good luck…” was all I got.

So I called my husband.

And he showed up….

…At the exact same time as cute dad who pulled up in his car, keys dangling from his finger. “I took them with mine by accident!” he said.

So then I came home and ate a beet salad that my sweet husband (and even cuter) had made. And we talked about my work options and his business. And how sometimes, even if things don’t go the way we want them to, they go where they need to go. And that’s the kind of peace that makes all the nuttiness worth it.

If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.

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Until next time, remember to accept the tics you can’t change, change the tics you can, and have the wisdom to know the difference.

More of my writing can be found at AndreaFrazerWrites, on Facebook at Happily Ticked Off or on Twitter @AndreaFrazerWrites. 

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David Finch’s The Journal of Best Practices – An Asperger Marriage Review

As I sit down to type this post, five children are running wild in my back yard. Two are throwing dozens of colorful plastic balls over the net enclosure, while the other three bat them right back out. A few balls will likely land over the cement brick wall, resulting in tears, anger, and ultimately laughter as stories are made about Crazy Ed pulling “magic circles” out of his pool filter.

As the coffee hums, the cell phone rings, the house phone follows in suit, and dinner sits uncooked on top of my kitchen counter, I think of my husband: My very organized, methodical, practical husband.

For starters, there would be no children over on school night (my son still has a bit of homework to do.)

For seconds, how much longer am I going to trade services – taking Miss L home a few days a week in exchange for acupuncture? Wouldn’t less chaos be equally as effective in calming down Stink’s tics?

For thirds, why are two of the neighborhood boys here and why are two more kids playing basketball in our driveway? “Don’t they have a home?” he might wonder aloud, to which I’d respond, “Yes, but it’s nice having life in our home. We have to be flexible.”

Depending on my mood, I might be furious with my logical mate. While he means no harm by his comment, I might view it as insensitive. When he married me, I was a vintage wearing/cat eyed sporting/card-carrying WGA TV comedy writer. He wasn’t saying, “I Do” to Ms. Homemaker U.S.A.. These days, the only thing funny is my sense of domesticity – and believe me – we’re not always laughing.

On some days, I might blow his comments off. “That’s just Rex,” I might chide, too happy with my writing gigs or $12.75 Ebay windfall to really ruminate on his remark.

On other days, perhaps after nights of 5 hours sleep and dealing with Stink’s tic upswing, I might feel sad. “Why can’t he just get that life isn’t as easy to compartmentalize as the file folders on his work computer?”

But these days, I often think something else. What if he’s not being a selfish male? What if he just can’t help it?

David Finch’s wife knows a bit about this question. She was fed up with her rigid husband who threw baby tantrums over anything from dishes not being done correctly to having to deal with any change in their schedule that came with children. After five years of marriage, they were no longer friends and teetering on divorce.

Kristen, who Finch describes with endearing affection and admiration throughout his novel, sat him down one night and had him answer questions via an online diagnostic test. “Do people think you are aloof and distant?” (check) “Do you have certain routines you must follow… Do you tend to shut down or have a meltdown when stressed or overwhelmed?” (check and check again, and later, check check check….)

Finch scored 155 out of 200, and then responded with what can only be seen as outrageous aplomb. “I have Aspbergers? I have autism?! I mean… holy shit, right?”

Unlike a lot of folk who might ignore these results, Finch got an official diagnosis from a doctor. Instead of freaking out, he felt relief. He finally realized that his need for control was not entirely his fault: he was wired that way. But perhaps even more astounding than his acceptance of this irreversible condition was his determination to transform his marriage in spite of it.

The result? A New York Times bestselling book. He titled it, The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband.

Published by Simon and Schuster, Finch spares no details in walking us through his transformation. Using a detailed list of observations he’d written to himself, Finch came up with a set of best practices to elevate him from the dog house to beloved man of the house.

Some such rules included taking over kid chores without complaining, taking everyone’s clothes out of the dryer (not just the socks he needed) and not ruining he and his wife’s vacation because of a forgotten dental syringe. (He did eventually find one, but only because his wife was kind enough to stop at a supply store with him. He won brownie points for making due until then.)

Aspergers can take on many functions, but the hallmark of this disorder is monumental self-focus. Another way of saying this is that the person does not, inherently, possess empathy.

As a creative person who feels everything from a wacky gleam in my mom’s eye to the way a dissected frog might feel before being diced in two by a seventh grader, I used to think lack of empathy meant lack of feelings. But when I look at some of my own husband’s responses to life situations (sobbing in the driveway when my daughter was being whisked off to emergency for a chest cough, or breaking down over the birth Stink) I realize now how wrong I was. It’s not that folk with Aspergers don’t feel – they just can’t always put themselves in someone else’s shoes and sense how they feel.

On a logical level (and Aspies are nothing but logical) how can one get mad at someone if they aren’t being anal retentive on purpose? What if they are just wired that way, like our kids, who can’t help but tic? They are genetically built to do so. (Not to brag, but a long time friend once commented that I did, indeed, get that stick half pulled out my husband’s ass. I’m a rock star, I know.)

Understanding on a cerebral level is a far cry from acceptance on a soulful one. Marriage to someone like this can be taxing to say the least. One wouldn’t be human if they didn’t find it maddening. A spouse can feel cheated. “Isn’t a relationship about give and take?” many neurotypical mates might balk. Finch’s response is yes, and so is mine.

What Finch succeeded out so brilliantly, both in real life as well as on the written page, is realizing while he might not be able to understand his wife’s needs on an intuitive level, he can respond in a practiced way that honors her because he loves her.

It’s the same with my marriage, and perhaps yours. Aspbergers or not, all relationships have issues that can’t be wrapped up in a shiny happy bow.  Like a tic, you never know what’s going to pop up out of the blue. We simply need to respond well – and sometimes that takes practice.

“Rex does not have Aspergers!” some friends or family might say. “He’s just being an extreme male!” That is quite possible. But like my son’s Tourettes, I can’t change what is. Either my mate is just very very very set (we’re talking “footprints that have dried for ten years in cement” set) in doing things a certain way or he has Aspergers. Unless he’s diagnosed, I’ll never know. I can only change how I respond to it. Like Finch’s wife, I hope I’m doing so with love, honor, humor, gentle pushings toward change and a whole lot of grace. I can only hope my husband continues to work toward understanding me the way Finch did his wife. I might not get a best selling book out of Rex, but it would be a lovely new chapter for us.

Until then, for those of you who are also dealing with Aspergers with your spouses or perhaps your sons or daughters (it’s often a co-morbid condition with T.S.) please take hope from Finch’s book. It is not the end of the world. It’s simply a different way of thinking. Life isn’t always easy, but it can be challenging, interesting and, as Finch’s writing attests to, hilarious.

As I wait for my husband to return from a 12 hour work day, my son is complaining about leaky liquid coming from his arse. I have seven children waiting to eat tacos. I have 2 articles due and I’m PMSing like a crazy person. If my hubby can come home to all that, I can accept some of his quirks. He loves me. I love him. Like Kristen, I’m in this marriage for the long haul. With Finch’s book, I’m joyful to know that it’s possible to have less survival and more thriving. I wish the same for all of you, both in T.S., marriage and all of life’s challenges.

More on Finch’s book can be found at his websitehttp://www.davidfinchwriter.com/

Also, special thanks to Simon and Schuster for sending me this book and allowing me to sing its praises. Here’s a fun promo of what turned out to be one of the most insightful books I’ve read this year.