Austin, Texas- the Silver Bullet

This week I discovered that a phrase that is a conversational silver bullet. No matter what the suggestion is, how many ways I can say I’ve tried it or no thanks, the thing to say is “I grew up in Austin, Texas.”

Anyone with a disability or lasting illness will tell you that suggestions and advice are now a part of life. Flooding your house slowly, like a steady drip-drip-drip or rushing in unwelcome as Hurricane Harvey,  what is meant to be refreshing can feel deadly. How to respond varies based on the person, advice and day, but I have struggled to find a grace-filled way to get people to realize they are hurting, not helping.

Then it happened. After a LONG Monday I went to a workout class with the glorious Lynette (of swim-lesson helper fame from this summer. God bless her and the horse she rode in on!)  The wonderful teacher, whose husband is a cancer survivor, made suggestions and reported of studies of the benefits of cannabis oil. This was the third time it was suggested in 24 hours.

I was sweaty, tired, and had slammed a protein shake that my sick child wouldn’t finish rather than eating dinner with my husband. As she regaled me with stories of how it cured tumors that didn’t respond to treatments and gave advice on how to get the synthetic version (all from genuine care and love), I told her that I was well-informed, talked to our doctors, had researched about the benefits, and  I had heard about the successes, especially with epilepsy– because I’m from Austin, Texas. She laughed and agreed that I must surely know about cannabis, then.

This had to be a fluke, right? But it KEPT WORKING. Stating what we have tried, researched, etc. doesn’t work… but flippantly stating that I am aware of the new holistic-herbal-cannabis-etc. treatments because I grew up in Austin somehow fills people with confidence like an empty stomach filled with organic tofu or a Torchy’s Taco.

Could this be the key? Could I now buy milk without a comment from someone noticing my kid with cancer or Down Syndrome? I dreamed of walking down an aisle toward checkout as easily as a bearded man wears a leather mini-skirt down 6th Street during ACL weekend.

I’ve now realized how well prepared I am for my life, thanks to my frequent moving throughout childhood and finally resting for 10 years in Austin.

I’ve learned to embrace and live in the place that seems weird to everyone else. It’s normal to me; I grew up in Austin, Texas.

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My kids need music to learn, calm down, and find joy during hard circumstances. Thankfully, Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World.  Regardless of the beat of your drum, you can find it in Austin. Music therapy is a way of life.

We sit in waiting rooms with people from all walks of life without getting uncomfortable.  I used to go downtown for college credit courses on the Dillo trolley, often flanked with homeless transvestites in black leather get-ups that would make Cher impressed. You don’t have to endorse every life choice to  see someone’s humanity and be kind.   (Nice stillettos, Steve!)  The years after September 11 sparked lively debates about war, WMD and oil on those rides on the way to Civics 201.  That’s the education one can get in Austin, Texas.

We’ve learned to use our natural gifts to have a good time. Barton Springs isn’t a traditional pool or water park, but it’s a landmark. It’s 68 degrees and endangered salamanders have free reign, but it’s what we’ve got. It may not look like your pools, but  it’s great. barton springs

 

I can stand alone and hold fast to my convictions? I went to Texas A&M, but I grew up in the rival city of Austin, Texas. I learned to keep my thumb up in a world of “Hook ’em Horns”… and to win and lose with grace. LIFE SKILLS.

I’ve learned to adjust my expectations. Watching my favorite small businesses, restaurants, and landmarks being overtaken by trendy commercial shops and “progress” prepared me for raising kids that aren’t at all what I pictured.

I learned to find new routes and ask directions. Most major roads have at least two names, after all.

We learned balance in diet. Yes, natural and organic is healthy and helpful, but there is no shame in a steak, a well-done breakfast taco, or a chicken-friend steak from the Hills Cafe.  Some follow dietary restrictions religiously, but I find it’s okay to loosen our Bible-belt every now and then.

I’m used to what it feels like when people try to move in and mold you into something a little different because they see different potential. I’m looking at you, Californians.

We know broken isn’t necessarily bad. As a family, we have been “broken” in many ways. Our kids may seem broken. Our spirits can feel broken. Brokenness can be a unique and authentic place to gather for a great time, if you come with the intention to have a good time.

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We know that you can be straining to reach a new destination with all your might, but you may have to wait. Those milestones may take much longer to reach and come with great frustration. The roads that were once fun to cruise on in my grandmother’s sweet 1992 Mercury Sable when I was 17 are now jammed with traffic.  We can still reach the destination, but it may need a back road or a lot more patience.

 

Lake Austin, Lake Travis, tubing and boating taught me to have a buddy in case things get hard.

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If you’re sinking, you don’t need someone to yell instructions from the boat or offer suggestions. A good lifeguard gets INTO the water, instructs the struggling person to be still, and pulls the person to safety when they are drowning.  The person in distress rests while the able-bodied buddy gets help, calls for an ambulance, or figures out the next step.  Moving an injured person can do more damage, even if you are trying to save them.

Likewise, any suggestion or instruction offered to a person in distress can be harmful. Instead, ask the person if they need help and ask WHAT they need. Come alongside and listen. That is like offering a life vest for when they are ready to swim again. Any advice given before listening and grieving alongside someone is like throwing a breaststroke instruction manual ( or diet book, or oil, or therapy, or new cure, or research, or video, or faith-healing, or story about someone who had it and died) on a person treading water in a hurricane.

Most of all, I’ve learned that no matter where you are in Austin, there is something that can make it great.  Good can come from disability, but it isn’t good. It isn’t fun.  A childhood filled with therapy, medicines, oncology, and moving isn’t a good place to be but we can ALWAYS find the good. There is something to thank God for, to be grateful for, and someone else to encourage. Our story is unique. There is no place like it, and it will keep people coming back to visit if you give them a great show and a smile.

As KVET said every day before the star spangled banner played at high-noon, “It’s a great day to be alive and living in Austin, Texas.”  Even f it isn’t a great day, we are alive and living. Weird or not, we will be unique and worth returning to. Trust me, I’m from Austin, Texas.

 

 

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Miranda Magic

The long-awaited day is here. The moment I have anticipated and others have cheered for; my home stands quiet, semi-tidy, and occupied by only females. I have taken a leap of faith across the canyon of Good Decisions and Best For Everyone, only to reach the other side with a smack that knocked the wind right out of me.

An hour ago I put William on a plane with one of the women I respect and cherish most in this world. My sister in law, Miranda is a remarkable woman who serves God well. She is also a mother of five and understands the feelings of trusting God but wondering how on EARTH this could be the plan.

She arrived on a Friday evening, descending to the ground like Mary Poppins. A magic fell on the house. I laughed. The baby cooed. WILLIAM SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHT. I say again, WILLIAM SLEPT. I checked repeatedly to see if he was still breathing. He stirred and moved in the night, but he wasn’t snoring or hitting his head. GLORY.

The next day felt like Cinderella and her animated animal friends were helping around the house. She did the laundry and dishes. She snuggled Jonathan. She smooched the baby and changed diapers. SHE GOT WILLIAM TO PEE ON THE POTTY AGAIN. She was even here over her birthday. She spent her BIRTHDAY helping wrangle kids because she loves us.

OH, the Miranda Milestones. While she was here Elizabeth not only continued to say, “Momma”, but added “Dad” and “Anda” to the list. She also rolled over. It was a joy to see her enjoying a chubby baby again.

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This morning Jonathan headed for an in-depth MRI and an overnight chemo treatment. William headed to school while we packed and anxiously prepared for the flight. After trekking across the airport parking lot and using three elevators on an adventure that surely required Sherpas, I watched her skillfully push stroller-strapped William  through security.

ALL THE EMOTIONS hit at once. I prayed for Miranda. I prayed for TSA. I prayed for a miracle. I prayed that there would be no pooping, no sneezing, no meltdowns and no underpants wedgies.

Within an hour she called with a tale of woe. The Family Restroom was out of order, so she went to the handicapped stall, which is the only one that fits the stroller inside while a caregiver… tinkles. It too, was out of order.

At the opposite end of the terminal she waited for yet another bathroom. The door to the family restroom opened, revealing an elderly couple. With the help of a wheelchair and a walker, these two emerged with a cloud of cigarette smoke billowing behind them as if they were opening in a Grateful Dead Reunion Concert.

But wait, there’s more. There always is. The door was being repaired, causing a loud siren to wail and the flight was delayed. Through it all she remained steady and smiling. William became quiet and snuggled in, once again feigning a false sense of security.

Miranda called with a positive report. Several people complimented William’s flight behavior. He was downright exhausted. He did well, aside from being totally unnerved at looking out the window and seeing clouds at eye level. The stroller was only lost for a moment. I was so pleased to hear a great report!

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Then she said something that reminded me of one thing I completely forgot that is necessary for the care of William.

“Maybe it’s that I’m comfortable around people with disabilities, but I didn’t realize that so many people would look at him with pity or a double-take, if they notice him. No one will make eye contact with me. The only woman who looked him over without an expression was a mom who also had a son with Down Syndrome. I know it is human nature, but it’s amazing. ”

HEART. WRENCHED.

I forgot.  On a few occasions others have pushed Will’s stroller for me so I could care for Jonathan and often I received similar comments. These sweet Mommas weren’t used to the visual look-over that we receive, or the looks of pity that often come from older folks.

Perhaps it is that I usually have a brisk double-stroller pushing-pace or a large belly that bids others make way, but I usually wear a fixed smile like armor when we are out in public. In Will’s first year I took it very hard, especially with Jonathan in my other arm. Ages two-three were plagued with delayed speech, communication challenges, and behavior common for children overwhelmed by autism. I took the Snake Mentality. Make them more scared of you than you are of them.

Clearly people look in awe. We’re adorable. (Pay no attention to the child picking his nose, melting down, displaying the crack of his booty as his pants fall down, etc…) However, your people will find you. For example, the flight attendant had a ten year old with Down Syndrome, and made friendly conversation. The teachers, family members, friends– those who have gone to battle alongside those in our tribe will give the nod that Jeep drivers are said to give. “We are your people. You are one of us.”

Over the last 7 years, many friends have lifted burdens from my shoulders. Miranda and her husband Dale have taken William into their home for nearly two weeks. He will have undivided attention from 5 COUSINS and a dog. He will have playdates, he will swim, and he will be away from a crying baby and the Cancer Cloud. It’s the best thing for him.

It took an hour for my teething baby to settle into a nap, but here I now sit. This is the quiet I longed for and secretly feared. I imagined I’d eat chocolate and slide across wood floors in white socks and button down, a la Risky Business. I imagined I’d nap. I piously pictured myself reading scripture in prayerful meditation all while ironing, cleaning, and restoring some order to my chaos.

Instead, here I sit next to a bowl depleted of leftover fried rice, trying to calm a teething baby.  The deep wells of my heart have been stored up for a while now. This month has been searing and sanctifying. There is HARD work to do and to-do lists piled up, but I must do that hardest thing: be still. Listen to the raging waters of my soul. Hear the sacred screaming of give the pain to Christ rather than idolize it or wear in like armor.  If all else fails, I know Miranda will be back in two weeks. I hope she brings her magic.