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So, I’ve been in a creative funk for a while now, and I’m just starting to come out of it. One of the first things I notice when I start feeling creative again is that I’m hungry for color and starved for texture. I found myself taking pictures of colors and textures, and these are the most interesting in my opinion:

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One of my local Starbuck's...great place to think and write!

A page from my journal, after writing at Starbuck's

All I have to say is, “Aaaaaahhhhh…” 🙂 Thanks Matt for making it possible! 🙂

Looking into the heart of the daisy

I can't wait for Spring and flowers again!

The little people got me flowers for V-day, and they’ve lasted a long time! Daisies make me really happy, and these came from a loving family. 🙂 Hurry up spring!!

"The Road to Greeley" with power poles and cars

My little boy has autism. He is fascinated by power poles and curves in roads. Driving to Greeley is a treat, because of the curves and power poles – I’d never notice these if it weren’t for him!

Aidan the artist!

The Pink Bag

My beautiful pink tote - I carry this with me pretty much wherever I go

Time to work and write has been a scarce commodity in the last year…I went from teaching and being busy with grading, lecturing and meeting with students to a small private practice that I run about 5-9 hours a week. (I’d love to be open more often, but there’s this slight problem of getting clients in the door!) I’ve been keeping myself busy with working with my clients and applying for full-time work, along with caring for my munchkins – and to be completely honest, taking morning naps. 

 I’d like to say that I’m ending hunger, curing cancer, or creating world peace…but really all I’m doing is living an ordinary, middle-class, financially stressful life.  I don’t have a job that takes me to “Interesting Places,” and I don’t meet “Very Important People.” I don’t travel to ashrams or out-of-the-mainstream cultures looking for enlightenment. I don’t run fascinating self-help seminars attended by hundreds of people, and I don’t have my name on posters or webinars. Although I wish I could do all of these – and write a book full of WISDOM, I’m not the woman who does these or writes these.

I raise my children, live in a suburban townhouse messy with life, and do my work to the best of my ability – I’m about as ordinary as they come. However, I take pleasure in small things, like a new book, or a “can’t-deny-my-color-or-hide-me” pink bag that I found on clearance at Staples, of all places.

My pink bag kind of stands out. It’s a light shade, but intense saturation of pink that’s hard not to notice. Now, I know the “rule” about wearing pastels – ideally you wear them in the spring, maybe in summer. But fall or winter? Never – no way. That’s the time time for dark, muted colors…burgundy, navy, hunter green, rich browns and dark yellows. And yet…Here I am in a season of falling leaves and colder, darker days carrying an “in-your-face-pink” tote. It doesn’t even have the decency to be a a small pink bag. No, it’s a large tote in which I carry my journal, my books and my current research, currently putting together a seminar on size acceptance and positive body image.  (A side note: I DO have a small pink bag, which I use when I just need to throw my wallet and keys in, for short errands. I love my pink bags!)

So, why do I this? Believe it or not, it’s not for attention or simply to get noticed. I do get odd looks on occasion, but I let them slide right off like an egg off a teflon pan. Rather, it’s simply that I love the color pink, in all its many glorious possibilities. I love the salmon, the peachy pink, bright fluorescent pink, fuschia – all the shades I can name, and even some I can’t. (Does anyone know a name for that beautiful shell-pink shade that appears when the sun just crests over the horizon on a breathtakingly wondrous sunrise?)

Simply put, pink makes me feel happy, and that’s a feeling that’s been in short supply lately, with dealing with unemployment and other stresses. (For the record? Depression sucks BIG TIME.) So, when I saw the pink bag on clearance, I bought it. Anyone who knows me knows that my bags go with me wherever I go…so my pink bag is kind of a signature for me. I don’t always carry it, but more often than not I do have it or the smaller pink bag with me, even when it clearly doesn’t match the season or my outfit.

I actually have a lot of pink around me – it’s my favorite color. I have shirts, paper, pens (I just found a fantastic pink Minnie Mouse pen that lights up in different colors!), skirts, and even a pair of pink ballet flats. They make me feel happy. And despite what the “rules” say, THAT makes the difference.

My Little Pink Bag

My little pink bag, used when I don't need my big pink tote

From my journal, written today at the park where my kids and I like to play:

It’s a beautiful day, after nearly a week of clouds and rain, which I really loved. It’s nice to have the variety, and I love it when the weather and the seasons are in flux. Today is sunny and about 70 degrees, and I have the kidlets at the park where they are having fun being outdoors after spending most of the week cooped up inside. It’s wonderful to see them run and jump and play.

Fall has definitely arrived – the days are shorter and cooler, and the leaves are changing. It’s my favorite season for all these reasons, but also because the poignancy and beauty of life shines even as the days darken, the leaves die, and the world around me begins to go into that long, cold sleep of winter.

The promise of spring blooms even in the dying embers of fall, bearing hope for renewed life each time around, in an eternal cycle. The leaves may age and die, but the tree remains. And even when the tree dies, the promise of the seeds that have fallen and their new lives remain and flourish. So it is with us. As I sit here under the trees with their still-green leaves, I notice that only a few have begun to show their colors. I also notice how each one, although they look similar, is different from every other leaf. And it occurs to me, that each year the leaves are different as well – the leaves that will arrive in spring are completely, wholly different and yet the same as the leaves that are here, now, in the beginning of autumn.

Perhaps one form of eternal life is that the divine spark of who we are – the lives we lived and the love we made – lives on in and through our children. Maybe not even just our genetic offspring, but also in the lives of the children of our hearts – the lives of all we touch through the simple acts of living and loving.

The leaves may die each year, but the tree remains. Each one of us is as a leaf on the tree of humanity, and the tree is changed and made new by every leaf that has ever appeared. Without the leaves, the tree is barren and dies – the leaves along with the roots provide nourishment that keeps the tree alive. Each one of us – through our hopes, dreams, lives and loves – keeps the tree of humanity alive and growing. It doesn’t matter that the leaves eventually fall and new ones replace them – the tree remains, and has grown and matured by the simple fact that the leaves were there.

Do you ever have moments when it seems like nothing you do is good enough, or right? I’m kind of stuck in one of those periods now…it seems like everything is blah and gray, that nothing good is happening, and that nothing will ever change. On one level, I know this isn’t true, but on the emotional side it sure feels that way.

Take teaching my class for example…I started off out the gate slow – I lectured (god forbid), and then made the mistake of lecturing again. If you’d asked me after my second class period about how the class was going, I would have told you, “awful.” Things have improved some – I’m bringing in discussion and we did a movie today along with some lecture on APA format. The hard thing is, I still feel like I’m an imposter and that I completely, totally suck at this. I know it’s been a while since I’ve been teaching, but I honestly don’t ever remember feeling this unsure of myself in the classroom. Still, I’m muddling through. We did “early alert” evaluations for new faculty today – I’m scared spitless about how they’re going to come out, and whether or not I’ll have a job next semester. Am I catastrophizing? Probably – but it’s also where I’m at emotionally here.

My work on the private practice is another area of angst – I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and that I’m trying to ride with one wheel missing – I don’t have an “advertising budget” and I’m working the resources I have as much as I can, but still – nothing is happening and it’s very frustrating. No clients, no group…nothing. I keep wondering if I’m just not meant to succeed…but then I think, “Dang it girl – hard work and keeping this going is what will pay off!” So…I keep on keepin’ on here. I call people, I send out flyers, I leave messages on voicemail, and I keep praying and hoping something will happen. In my dreams, the phone rings and I get a therapist on the other end saying, “Hey, is your group still open? I have three people I’d like to refer to you…” Ok, I admit it probably won’t happen like that. The bottom line is that I have to “do my homework” to make this work…and realize that it WILL take time. Great on the “brain” level, but still hard on the “heart” level – emotionally I feel like I’m a failure again.

And then there’s finances…oh heck…I’m worried if I’m going to be able to pay my bills, given that nothing is happening with the practice and that my teaching job pays very little. It’s a good thing I generally love what I do in the classroom – I’m certainly not doing it for the wonderful paycheck. I think that’s what has been hardest for me with the teaching – I LOVE teaching psychology, and I’m very frustrated that I don’t seem to be communicating that or the material very well. Instead, I feel pressured, anxious, and incompetent. And I’m NOT used to feeling that way in my classroom!

So where do I go from here? I really don’t know. I’m frustrated, feeling down, and more than a little nervous about the student evaluations and upcoming faculty evaluation. I’m scared about what’s not happening with my practice and am wondering if I can make it work. I’m overwhelmed about the finances as a result, and feel like if I think too much about it, my head will explode. I just hope it gets better – that I find my footing again in the classroom, and that something “clicks” with the practice end of things. If not, that I can find work that will help me pay my bills – no small undertaking in this economy. As you can see, I’m great at judging myself – so one of the things I’m trying to do is be gentle with myself and not judge myself so harshly. Chances are, I’m judging myself much harder than anyone else is. So…I try to be nicer to myself and keep on keepin’ on. I keep hoping, praying, and working to see if I can make any of this happen.

If anyone had told me 6 years ago that I’d still be changing diapers on a nearly 6-year old, I have to admit I would have been scared spitless and wondering what the hades I’d gotten myself into. And yet, here we are with Aidan in kindergarten and still wearing pull-ups because he either can’t or won’t use the toilet.

I remember when he was 3 and 4, people would say to me, “Don’t worry. He won’t go to school in diapers.” Well…again, here we are. Now, I’m just hoping he won’t go to high school in pullups.

The thing with Aidan is that, in terms of the autism, he’s pretty high functioning. He talks, expresses emotion, interacts socially (to some extent), and is generally a sweet little kid. Here’s where the other side, the ODD, comes in though. ODD is short for Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and it roughly boils down to where a child will say no and be oppositional simply for the sake of being oppostional. If you say the sky is blue, this child will say it’s purple with yellow polka-dots until he’s screaming bloody murder and insisting it’s purple with yellow polka-dots. This all occurs without me arguing with him. With some things, like the color of the sky, it’s really no big deal. But, with some things, it IS a big deal – like with potty training.

When I said “can’t or won’t” I was referring to the ODD. Aidan CAN use the potty to urinate, and generally does except when he’s in an ornery mood. Then, he’ll go in his pullup purposefully if I ask him to use the potty. Using the potty is a battle, no matter what I try, because of the autism-ODD combination.

Now let me explain that I have a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. I KNOW what to do, and we have a very behavioral household. There are rewards for trying, and better rewards for doing. For oppositional behavior, there are set consequences – losing privileges and time-outs along with losing whatever activity he was engaging in during the oppositional period. (Losing it for a time period, not permanently depending on what it is – I don’t want to punish my daughter for her brother’s behavior.) The long and short of it is that I know what to do – and it’s *still* frustrating.

ODD is a frustrating disorder to say the least. Sometimes he’ll just say no and/or refuse to do something for reasons I can’t begin to understand. Sometimes, it’s even for things he enjoys and wants to do. I don’t think even HE understands it sometimes. Stubborn is an understatement – this kid sometimes gets in his own way. Adding the autism into the mix complicates things because he has trouble relating to people anyway. I’ve been asked how much is ODD and how much is autism, and I honestly don’t know except to say I’ve seen both. ODD doesn’t account for his fascination with automatic doors, elevators, transformers (the ones on the power poles, not the toys), and lights or his language and physical delays. Autism doesn’t account for the oppositional behavior and the purposeful defiance that I see.

In the end, I think it burns us both out. I see him get so frustrated and upset and I WANT to help him. My love for this child, in spite of the ODD, is unending and I wish I could do more to help make things a little easier for him. And yet, I get burned out and frustrated. When I’ve changed the disgusting, feces-laden pullup for the 8th or 9th time in a day, there are times when I just want to scream. When I have to deal with “no” and “I won’t” and “You can’t tell me what to do” or him ignoring requests repeatedly, I want to run away. I get angry, frustrated and exhausted.

And yet, we muddle on. Although to some extent it’s a battle of wills, it’s also the story of a son who loves his mother and family and a mother who loves her son with all her heart. Will he get out of pullups? I sincerely hope so. I’m not going to say “by high school” or by anything anymore – my sense is that it just puts pressure on both of us. We already try to make potty training less a matter of control and more a matter of pride for him, and I work hard NOT to get into fights with him over it. The pressure of “by high school” or by anything is more on me – and I have to let go and let him do this on Aidan-time. I’m hoping the peer pressure of being in school will help and so far it seems to have had a positive effect

So where do I go from here? I keep loving this special child that tests my patience every day. I enjoy and appreciate the smiles and the happiness that I’m so lucky to have, given his autism. I love the hugs and imagination, and even the lights, elevators, escalators, and “button doors.” I see things I wouldn’t ordinarily pay attention to, like the color and shape of the transformers on the power poles and the shape of the lights and buttons in elevators.

And, I keep trying. And trying. And trying, and trying. I have faith that he can eventually do this, and that I will survive it. And I never, never, ever give up.

Lately, I’ve been taking many leaps of faith. I quit my job as the nursery coordinator at my church, and have started teaching again at the local community college. That alone was a leap of faith because I’m worried about being able to pay my bills (as we all are, I’m sure). Community colleges aren’t known for paying well – and this one is no different. It’s a great place to work though, and I really enjoy being around people who care about learning. So, my leap of faith here is that I’ll somehow be able to make enough to pay my bills.

But wait…there’s more! That’s right, folks – more leaps of faith. I’ve been blogging on and off about starting my own private practice for psychotherapy and groups. I’ve set a date and time for my first group – without anyone in the group yet. I’m taking that leap and trusting that the people who need it will be there. Now, I’m not just sitting on my tush and waiting – I strongly believe also that God helps those who help themselves. So, I”m talking to therapists in town including my training program, and will make and drop off flyers with the local behavioral hospital as well. So hopefully, between word of mouth and active marketing, something will happen. It’s still a leap of faith though, and I’ll fully admit to being nervous about falling flat on my face.

Sometimes, the leap of faith can involve letting go. As an undergraduate student I learned in nearly exclusively lecture-style classes until I went to Whitman College. While there I also had lecture classes, but also had classes and experiences that stretched my mind as well as my conception of what a “class” should be. Today, as a teacher, I have trouble letting go of the lecture style, and it’s a leap of faith to me that i can do this, and it will be all right. I can let go of stuffing information and allow the learning process to happen in its own right and natural way. This leap of faith is a process for me, but my faith is in the process and in the fact that others have done this and that it’s turned out all right.

It’s a leap of faith to leave the secure (whether in the classroom or in my life) to follow my dreams…and will continue to be a leap of faith when I move beyond where I’m at now to another dream or goal. Every step, every breath, every interaction is a leap of faith that the safety net will be there, and that even if I do fall on my face, I can stand up, dust myself off, and begin again.

So what is the “net”? In this case, leaps of faith can be literal as well, though…every day, I say a prayer that is a literal leap of faith – faith that God is there, that God listens, and ultimately, that there is a God. This faith guides my life – based on experiences I’ve had where I’ve known God not just as “ultimate cosmic power” but as a Friend. This sense of God as Friend is my litmus test for all things religious and spiritual – if it feels like something my Friend would say or do, then I trust it. It’s a true leap of faith, and requires my attention to my spiritual development on a daily, sometimes minute-to-minute basis. As a result, though, I continue to feel and have this friendship, something I value as strongly as I value life itself.

My dreams, my goals….my voice and my acts – doing these involves taking the leap as much as listening for the guidance as to when and where to do them. The listening is a much if not more of a leap of faith than the doing – I’m trust that what I “hear” is valid and reliable and trustworthy. So far, it hasn’t let me down.

Laura - 1 year old - 1966

Laura - 1 year old - 1966

I know most people in my field say that you don’t really remember things until you’re much older than I was in this picture. But I say they’re wrong.

I remember this picture being taken, not in the way we typically remember things, but in a more tactile, textural way. My memories from this age are all sensory – tactile, specifically. I remember the color and feel of the mesh screen that covered the fireplace (I’ve checked this out with my mom – she doesn’t know how I’d remember that!). On the day in question, I remember the rough, warm feeling of the rock planter that was on the side of the house…the texture was rough, and the rockes were like sandstone. I remember the feel of the breeze, and that the rocks were warm to the touch, and the smell of the daffodil. I remember feeling lifted and then set down into the grass (don’t ask me who did it – I don’t remember that!)…the point of all this reminiscing is that I do remember some things from that time period, all of them sensory.

One other thing I remember is a deep sense of contentment. The adult Laura would say that I trusted the world around me, and myself and felt my place in the world. This sense would become shaken to its core in the next few years, and would continue on throughout much of my life. Living with a depressed mother, an alcoholic father, and then having two sisters added to my life was a lot for this little person to handle, and the next thing I remember is spending a lot of time crying. Interestingly enough, my first clear memory of my mother is of her standing in front of the windows in the living room and crying – because my dad had stayed out drinking all night again and she didn’t know when or if he’d be home. There was a lot of sadness in my family.

Through some pretty dysfunctional family dynamics, I learned that my needs came last, and that I was selfish to even consider myself before everyone else. I had the “selfish” label thrown at me more times than I care to remember, as I’m sure many other little girls have…and I learned quickly that if I trusted my gut feeling on what was right or wrong, I’d end up hurt. Abusive family dynamics work that way –  you learn that what the abusers say is truth IS truth if you want to remain intact. In my family, the abuse was mainly psychological and emotional…but it still left its scars, scars I am still dealing with today. The trust I had in myself was worn away by day after day of denying my own valid needs in favor of catering to others’ – this is what you do to survive.

I’ve struggled with the effects of this pattern for decades now. I really struggle with needing to please people and feeling like I need their approval. I struggle with developing and maintaining healthy boundaries, and I struggle with being myself AND being in healthy relationships. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression. That’s a lot of baggage – and I’m proud to say I’m making progress. I am not the same person I was even two years ago – and I like myself a lot more now. I’m lucky enough to be able to share this process with others, and to help them on their journeys as well.

These days, I’m trying to get back to the little girl in the picture – back to the days when I felt content in myself, trusted the world around me, and trusted myself. It’s hard work, too. There are things I can trust, though – I can trust that the spring warmth on frozen ground will bring flowers and sweet smelling grass. I can trust that the daffodils will still bloom every year. I can trust that my little girl will have the chance to trust herself, and recognize that her needs and wants are valid (even if she doesn’t get everything she wants!) I can trust myself that, as a mother, my daughter and my sons will be raised differently and in a world where their needs are honored and their selves are valued. I can trust that I won’t always be perfect, but that the love I have for my children is enough, and that if I honor them as unique, amazing little people, my love will shine through and guide them on their ways.

And finally, I can trust that if I learn to trust myself, I can be a good example for them, in their journeys.

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror