Find Out What Jen Finds

My journey on the spectrum of life … and the lessons I learn along the way …
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about Early Retirement: Bring on those dirty dishes

  • August 2, 2011 6:05 pm

It is known that discipline, structure, and self-motivation have the potential to propel young ambitious ones to afford early retirement. But I have discovered the opposite is true…but with the early retirement of our dishwasher. Yes! Call me crazy. Demoting our dishwasher to a glorified dish rack has somehow brought out the discipline, structure, and self-motivation in my family. I might even dare say, it has brought order to our chaos. Well, at least for the kitchen.

It all began when I decided to “spring clean” our dishwasher. The door panel had stains (I’m hoping from coffee and tea) and crusties (displaced rice and grits, I pray) and really gross floaties swum around the bottom (don’t really wanna guess). I was able to do a really great job of scrubbing and making it shine and glisten… until I got to the floaties.  I delegated that to The Hub as I suspected that the standing water was probably a sign of a clog and I wasn’t quite brave enough to venture there. It’s not as much OCD or germ-a-phobia than it is a tactile aversion. I was wearing heavy duty gloves but there are some tasks where only the imagination suffices to make me avoid it. In the meantime, I was not onboard with putting another dish in it for its intended use, not convinced it could fulfill its purpose. I’m sure I would’ve had nightmares about dishwasher floaties coming after me every evening until The Hub remedied the issue.

No dishwasher?!? Oh no! Not sure which nightmare was worse…

I reminded myself that washing dishes by hand is not a big deal. The Brothers and I had spent most of the summer at the beach in a small condo that had a dishwasher, but with just the three of us, we used so little dishes that it rarely got filled up to justify running it. It was actually more irritating to try to fill it up than it was to just go ahead and wash them. Besides, when I was growing up, my mom only used our dishwasher to blanch ears of corn. Washing the dishes by hand was just something that we did, often together. And when The Hub and I first got married and moved into our first apartment, we stored our plastic shopping bags in our dishwasher. I remember actually baking his birthday cake and hiding it in the dishwasher because I knew he would never look in there and accidentally find it before its debut. So a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, washing dishes by hand was my way of life.

So I decided I wouldn’t just succumb to washing the dishes myself…I decided to commit to washing the dishes myself.

It’s a scary commitment. It’s not like at the condo where I took the path of less irritation. On a baking day at the condo, it sure was nice to have the option of tossing them in the dishwasher and let it take care of the greasy or caked on mess. But once we were a family of four again and in non-vacay mode, the daily dishes and pans consumption had increased. And once we had returned to our 2 story home, corralling the dishes is more difficult. It was not uncommon to load a kitchen full of dishes, only to find another sinkful-worth of dishes scattered throughout the house. How would I ever keep up without the dishwasher?!? I think I had a mini panic attack as I faced my dilemma. This decision may have started out as necessity, but turned into an opportunity.

Changes which have occurred since the early retirement of our dishwasher:

  • Discipline = Cleaner Kitchen Counter = Happy Mom = Happy Family

Before: Because we make our own bread, it seemed as if our counter was constantly littered with crumbs. But it also had its fair share of coffee/tea rings and other unidentified objects.

After: My mom taught me that after every dish-washing exercise I must wipe up the excess water in the surrounding area and the table and seats. Well, since I got the rag in my hand already, I might as well take care of all the counters and the stove to boot. It really doesn’t expend that much more time or energy especially since its 2-3x a day.

  • Structure = Less Kitchen Counter Clutter = Happy Mom = Happy Family

Before: Dishes would pile up beginning at breakfast until right before bed when dishes got loaded into the dishwasher. Just looking at our inventory all day long was enervating.

After: Breakfast dishes get washed and are dry by the time lunch comes, when they just get reused. Ditto for dinner. I’m thinking about a serious inventory clearance sale in our future.

  • Self-Motivation = Cleaner Kitchen Floor = Happy Mom = Happy Family

Before: We relied on The Skipper Dog to do the daily heavy lifting. But sometime the crumbs and the homemade gluten-free flour experiments got too entangled with his shed hair for him to successfully lap up.

After: The Hub has been bringing out the broom at night while I’m washing the dishes! On his own accord!

Honorable Mentions:
  • The kids are bringing me their snack plates and clearing the table on their own now because they see I’m busy washing the dishes (and because there is less clutter they have a place to safely put them).
  • I cook more. Even though it produces more dishes to wash. Maybe it’s the clutter-freeness of the counter that brings out the Rachel Ray in me. I do find myself being more efficient while cooking so as to minimize the number of dishes I wash.
  • I’m hoping this will possibly reduce our energy bill and water bill.

There is no more standing water in the dishwasher from the clog. I’m not sure if The Hub fixed it, or just sucked it all up with the wet-vac, and I’m not sure if I want to know the truth because I don’t want to be tempted to cave.

about Mourning: The Grief Cycle

  • January 22, 2010 1:10 pm

In the last 3 weeks, I’ve had 2 friends pass away tragically. In one case, my friend is actually the widow, and in the other, my friend and I were once in a small group together. Both are very dear to me. Not because we were best buddies and told each other our deepest secrets. Not even that we went out for brunches or coffee. No regular text messages or emails were ever sent between us. I love them because during the time we spent together, they both made an impression on me of love, positivity, humor, and beauty. Not just in general, but like it was for me.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou

That imprint on my heart they made is why I find myself mourning so much, especially for their families. Out of respect for their families, this article is not about them, but about the lesson I found about dealing with grief.

Grief stinks.

“Grief is a journey, often perilous and without clear direction. The experience of grieving cannot be ordered or categorized, hurried or controlled, pushed aside or ignored indefinitely. It is inevitable as breathing, as change, as love. It may be postponed, but it will not be denied.” Fumia, Molly. (2003) Safe Passages.

I’ve been fortunate to still have my immediate family here on Earth. Yes, I’ve had family members and like-family members pass away. I can remember the heartache at the time that it happened. But now my memories of them are of joy and happiness I shared with them while they were alive. I have completed my grieving process and enough time has passed that it no longer negatively affects the quality of my life.

Last night, immediately after the memorial service I became extremely overwhelmed.  Not only for the obvious reasons, but I had been “relocated” back in time to a place in my life where “normal” was nowhere close to what my new normal has become since then. I was in a building and surrounded by people and memories of that past life that, comparatively, was much simpler, more flexible, more prosperous, and made me more available to be of service to others. I was reminded of the personal struggle of being on the fence of deciding to leave a life I wanted to keep but couldn’t have my cake and eat it too.

It was at the end of the service when the “losses” that I have had to face since then all came rushing back to me. Right there. In the most inappropriate place to be thinking about yourself.

**It is important to note that this is NOT location-specific or person-specific, but refers to a specific time in my life when I was dealing with these emotions. No hate mail please. lol

I found myself feeling like a stranger, an outsider watching people mourn and comforting each other. I didn’t know what to do. It was like I didn’t belong. **
Like I didn’t deserve to be there, to be among the hurting, to be hurting.

I became dizzy with feelings I have already once mourned – the rejection, the isolation, the loss of friendships, the loss of trust, the judgment of being a bad parent despite the constant effort I put into it, the judgment that my child has special needs despite his high IQ, that my child is not accepted, that his sibling is not accepted, no birthday party invitations, no one coming to birthday parties, the loss of social engagements and adult interactions, the loss of freedom, the lack of support, the lack of help, the lack of time/money to hire enough help,  the ten-fold increase of responsibility, the finality that it really is all up to me and accepting that this is not going to go away, the loss of simplicity, the fact that “Catch 22″ is the way of life, that even the best of friends don’t know how to help so they don’t, that even the best of friends think they know how to help so they do- but they don’t, the loss of confidence, self-esteem, and ultimately mourning the feeling that I had to hide all of these emotions and fears because of the feeling that no one would understand, no one would care, no one should have to endure my drama, and I didn’t want to be pitied.

Why was this happening right now? I’ve been through this already. I’ve forgiven myself, I’ve forgiven people. And fortunately, I have a failing memory so I’m pretty good at the forgetting part too. I know it had to be evident on my face, but I also knew that I was the only one focused on me.

I felt horrible.

I felt insensitive.

I felt guilty.

So I left. I left, again.

The original model of the stages of grief have been expanded in this article I found.

I, like many others with children/spouse on the autism spectrum, know this process of mourning, especially the first 5 stages, oh-too-well. It often presents itself as a CYCLE. Not necessarily because of an avoidance of accepting the deck of cards I got or of developing realistic expectations (though sometimes it is!), but because sometimes new things present themselves – things I maybe didn’t know that I was unrealistic, or things where I wasn’t quite realistic enough – that can blindside me and send me all the way back to square Shock. Other times, it might be a former issue that I thought was long gone that rears it’s ugly head again, or a y response that I could go to the bank on getting every single time I presented an x stimulus goes haywire, leaving me looking and feeling like an idiot or liar or both. (Although admittedly, sometimes that unpredictable ‘if x, then y’ outcome is favorable and provokes a different kind of shock!) Because of the constant unpredictability of extreme behaviors and the lack of communication skills, this cycle gets set off daily, and often. A meltdown doesn’t even have to ensue. But the constant effort of preventing a meltdown, or the constant reminder to stop taking literal comments personally, fuels the roller coaster’s engine.  I feel like a mouse in its wheel running so hard, but getting nowhere. I dismount, just to remount on the same wheel in the same place and run again.

At the peak of “This Stinks” mode, I hear the voice of our family counselor repeating in my ear “this is the life you’re signed up for and you can’t get stuck here. You have 2 kids that are depending on you. It’s time to move forward.” Cheap shot for motivating me…but sometimes perspective is all I need and I’ve heard her say it enough that I don’t have to call her to hear it anymore (though sometimes I forget and I still call her and then she says it again and I’m like, shoot, I knew that already! Never mind, carry on, have a nice day). Over time, this grief cycle may not necessarily approach zero, but I can see the circle shrinking, stages being skipped, and soon I’ll learn to zip around the bend quicker with each new shock that comes along.  I’ve already mastered with the whole peeing on the floor thing…once I learn it has happened, I can go from Zero to Acceptance in less than 30 seconds! There’s no shock or denial, anger and bargaining is more from the owners or cleaners of the floor, depression looks more like embarrassment for whomever had to witness it.

As I sat in the parking lot after a good weep and a prayer, I took a moment to acknowledge and thank my friend in Heaven. Then I collected myself and made another list of what I’ve gained and have been able to overcome, parenting skills I’ve developed, learning to appreciate the smallest of milestones, massive spiritual growth, appreciating and loving people – all people – the way God loves me, the gift of amazing teachers and therapists leading to marked improvements in The Elder’s development, and all the many blessings I have received  on this side of the fence where who cares if the grass isn’t greener….I’ve got the whole spectrum!

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about Commitment: What’s a resolution anyway?

  • January 3, 2010 11:46 pm

…the number of pixels per square inch on my monitor? …finding a solution to a problem? …the pretty chords you hear following the dissonant chords that sometimes make my skin crawl (that song from Phantom of the Opera comes to mind at the moment)?

Every year at this time you hear this phrase floating about: New Year’s Resolution. In this context:

res-o-lu-tion [rez-uh-loo-shuhn] noun
a decision to do something or to behave in a certain manner

There’s a debate that exists on whether one should or should not declare a New Year’s Resolution. I heard (being a geek statistician and all) that roughly 97% of New Year’s Resolutions are not kept. (This doesn’t surprise me since I also know that about 3% of folks are natural-born leaders – the rest of us have to get trained.) So why bother if odds point to fail?

“A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.”
– Oscar Wilde

This is the #1 debate that goes on in my head every January 1ish. Upon reflection, here are some points that I argue (with myself).

  • A resolution is goal-setting which is always a good thing. Throwing the dart when there’s not even a target will always be a miss. I feel like I’m moving forward when I finally make a decision about something. Ever heard “Indecision is the Devil’s playground” or “Sitting on the fence hurts”? When I’m stuck, I actually feel like I’m going backwards.
  • A decision isn’t a strategy. Too often I set a goal with absolutely no idea of how to do it. Without strategy, its hit or miss. If you’ve never been to the destination before, a map would come in handy. This is when I have to make sure I set a realistic start date and deadline. January 1st ought to be my first planning day instead of the first day I’m expected to do a 180. Hmmm…maybe the END of the year should be the deadline.
  • The goal means nothing without the effort. Perhaps my resolutions were broken because I never actually believed that I would accomplish them. Therefore I never committed to them. ‘Nuff sed.
  • Efforting is hard. I have a bad habit of keeping goals to myself and then forgetting about them trying to accomplish them. The more people I tell the more I get excited about my goals. Those endorphins kick in and I don’t seem nearly as fatigued. But the best help is asking someone to hold me accountable which is usually the missing ingredient for me and then I get burned out.
  • Staying motivated is key for commitment. If I’ve learned anything in the last 3 years, I’ve learned that motivation does NOT come from accomplishing a goal. Motivation comes via the REASON the goal was set in the first place, whether it be for joy, health, spirit, or [insert core value here].

So do I have a New Year’s Resolution? I do. And a New Year’s Strategy too! I resolve to make time to write, beginning with my blog. I unexpectedly announced it to myself in a reply to Lori @spinningyellow‘s tweet about HER resolution. My goal is to post at least once a week, however seeing that once a month is rare, I’m going to start with at least once a month. (January…check! Guess I can move up to biweekly now!) I am motivated by feedback because I learn about people, I learn about myself (usually that I’m too hard on myself or too full of myself), and the more I can learn the more open-minded I become and the better I can teach my kids how to navigate through this world. After all, they are the REASON I do about 98% of the things I do. From ‘Gotta eat so I don’t snap and throw one out the window’ to ‘Gotta hug and kiss The Hub so they don’t think they are the center of my universe all the time.’ (Yeah…I haven’t figured out how sudoku or bubble shooter benefits them yet. Guess that falls under the 2%.)

Now I’m asking my readers and ex-readers who thought I fell off the edge of the planet, to help hold me accountable. How? Comment often? Subscribe to my blog? Tweet/FB this post? Send me chocolate? Your resolution to share however and whenever will be most appreciated by me and will likely have a greater impact than you probably think.