It’s pretty clear from some of my last posts that I need to take a break from all things autism once again.  It’s time for a B Side.

Some of you know that Tim and I have, um, different political views.  He’s the Mary Matalin to my James Carville.  And yes, I’m not sure which one of us finds that more insulting.  So in honor of my least favorite holiday (Valentine’s Day), I bring you an interview with my most favorite man:

ME:  So, when did you develop such strong political views?

TIM:  I saw that you reworded that questions.  Originally you started with “how did you get so wrong-headed”?

ME:  I’m trying to be kind.

TIM:  My opinions have always been strong.  Comes from the confidence in knowing that I’m right.

ME: Does it bother you that we have different views?

TIM:  No.  I do find yours a bit disturbing at times.  (smiling)

ME:  When I was in the Vermont Legislature before we were married, you were incredibly supportive.  Was that hard?

TIM:  No, we were on the same side of that debate (about civil unions).  I’m a social liberal.  We would have had strenuous debates had you consistently voted to expand government.  But I wasn’t living in Vermont, so it wouldn’t have affected me.

ME:  Speaking of that, would you ever vote for me?

TIM:  Yes, because you’re a good person.  But it would be hard if you were supporting a platform that included the expansion of government.

ME:  What do you think we’re teaching our kids about politics?

TIM:  We’re not teaching them anything political.  Because we don’t talk about it in front of them.

ME:  We don’t?

TIM: No.  Because you tell me not to.

ME:  Would you consider any of my views a dealbreaker?

TIM:  Of course not.  You can have any wrong-headed opinions you want.

(playfully smiles at me again.  The smile that made me fall for him all those years ago.)

ME:  But we agree on the important stuff, right?

TIM:  No.  We agree on stuff that IS important.  But there is a lot of important stuff, like fiscal responsibility, that we don’t agree on.

ME:  Do you know that I end every political conversation with you by saying “Okay, but you’re wrong!” in my head?

TIM:  Clearly you keep it in your head because you can’t defend it out loud.

ME(laughing) Do you derive anything positive from us having opposite views?

TIM:  Other than the general sense that it’s what makes you you? Do you get anything positive from it?

ME:  I do.  You wouldn’t be you.  It would be boring to just have someone agree with you all the time.  Do you frustrate me?  Constantly. Aren’t you glad we’ll always have something to talk about?

TIM:  We could grow old talking about how evil government is, and I’d be okay with that.

(After 15 years he really knows how to push my buttons. I love this man.)

ME:  But you love me, right?

TIM:  Of course.  Always and forever.

——————————————————————————————————————————

There you have it.  I will never change him and he’ll never change me.  I wouldn’t want it any other way.  Just like I wouldn’t want to live anywhere where the weather is the same everyday.  Sometimes it takes a week of 10 degree weather to really appreciate it when it’s 50 degrees and sunny.  I love those moments when Tim and I are on the same page politically.  It isn’t often, but when it happens, it’s pretty special.

I do believe that what we do agree on are the most important things – we want our three boys to live in a safe, caring world that respects people’s differences and differing opinions.  We want them growing up knowing that they are well loved by their parents.  And that their parents love each other too.

Even when the other parent is so clearly wrong.

Love and marriage, love and marriage
They go together like a horse and carriage
This I tell you brother
You can’t have one without the other” – Love and Marriage by Frank Sinatra

The events in Tuscon, Arizona yesterday (January 8th) prompted me to write this B Side memory of my own life in the political world.  I don’t write or talk a lot about the days I spent in the Vermont State Legislature, but yesterday’s shooting brought back a flood of memories from my last year there.

In January 2000, we were getting ready to return to our legislative session after the break.  In Vermont, the legislature is in session from January until late May or early June, and then off again until the following January.  The reason for this is to create a “citizen legislature”, so that the people in charge of making the laws aren’t too far removed from the people affected by those laws.  It was my first (and only) term in the state legislature, having been appointed in 1999 to fill my father’s seat after he died.

Shortly before the session began, the Vermont Supreme Court handed down their landmark ruling of Baker v. Vermont, stating that homosexual couples had the constitutional right to enter into an agreement like marriage – the first such ruling in the country.  They gave the legislature the directive to create laws to rectify this.  With one quick statement, the entire 2000 legislative session was turned on its side, and basically focused only on this one issue.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how emotionally charged this issue was (and of course, still is).  What I will tell you is how quickly the atmosphere in the State House changed.  Our little state suddenly had the attention of people from all over the country and the world.  Every public hearing held on the subject had hundreds of attendees.  Reporters from across the world came to report on the proceedings.  Money poured in from all sides in an attempt to influence us.  Every meeting, every discussion was front page news.

All of us were on edge.  The mood in the State House went from easygoing and laid back to very tense.  Every morning, my mailbox was full of hate mail, condemning me and telling me I was going to hell for my beliefs.  I got followed in the hallways by lobbyists.  My name and telephone number was published in the state’s largest newspaper and broadcast on local radio, with the “encouragement” to call me everyday to say that God hated me.  For the first time in recent history, the security staff was armed.  And as the legislature’s youngest female representative, the police staff checked in on me when I arrived in the morning and when I left for the night.

But for the most part, the members of the legislature remained cordial and collegial.  When public hearings turned heated, the representatives would stand up for each other and demand respect.  Even though the very core of our government was being challenged, we stuck to proper procedure and the Vermont way.

What I saw that year was extreme political courage on both sides.  I saw farmers, teachers, doctors, and lawyers come together.  And when the final bill came to the floor to create the new civil unions, the debate itself remained civil and respectful.  Members stood up and voices trembling, explained why they could not vote for the bill because it went against their beliefs.  Other members, like my seatmate, stood up and talked about her lesbian daughter for the first time ever.  She knew that by voting for the bill, she would lose her re-election in the fall.  But in her heart, she couldn’t vote any other way but in favor of the bill.  When she sat down after her speech, she started to cry.  Members from all over the room (and from both sides of the debate) broke protocol and came to her side.  It was an amazing display of solidarity and support – showing the world that we wouldn’t stand for the outside tyranny that had invaded our beautiful building.

The bill passed and became the model for other laws across the country and the world.  Many members of the legislature lost their re-election bids, including my seatmate.  I chose not to run for election that year, deciding instead to move to start my life with Tim and begin our family.

Yesterday, watching the news, the memories of those months came back like a ton of bricks.  I don’t care what side of the political debate you fall.  None of that mattered to that little nine year old girl Christina Taylor Green.  According to news reports, she was at that grocery store to meet Rep. Giffords because she had just become interested in politics.  The innocence of this is painful and striking.  This young girl, just slightly older than my oldest child, could have found a cure for cancer.  Or been President.  Or a teacher.  Or a mother.

The political left and right will argue for days and months over who is responsible for this tragedy.  But it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that it’s time to change how we treat one another.  It’s time to show the same respect and civility that my colleagues did for each other 11 years ago.  Because what is the purpose of all the anger if the people we say we’re fighting for aren’t alive to hear it?

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one” – Imagine by John Lennon

On my soapbox for one moment.

I read a lot of blogs. I mean A LOT. Probably too many (I think my husband would say scratch the “probably”). But I do it for a reason. In my constant struggle to become a better parent – maybe a more understanding parent – I search out others who are experiencing what I am and try to learn from their successes and lessons learned.

I read all these blogs because the mainstream parenting magazines just don’t fit my family anymore. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked one of them up with the teaser “Tips to help your picky eater!” and just put it down laughing. I need the “tips for helping your kid who will only eat crunchy orange food off of a green plate and has to drink his smoothie through a green straw!” Not surprisingly, that’s not the headline in next month’s Parents magazine.

However, it is the headline in many of the blogs I read. In addition to the amazing live and in person support group I have, these writers have become my guide through my everyday struggles. These mothers and fathers live what I live, and through our blogs and comments we share advice, ideas, and encourage each other to press on another day. Because it’s about our kids. We know that we aren’t medical experts, but we have been through enough to help others try not to reinvent the wheel.

But I’ve noticed lately a weird trend in some of the blog comments I’ve been reading. Things are starting to get nasty. Personal. People attacking the character and background of other bloggers. I’m not going to link to any of the personal attacks here because I don’t want to give them any more attention than they’ve already received. But it’s mean and unnecessary, and in many times there just to incite the other readers. Is that really what we’re all about?

Now I haven’t been writing for very long, so maybe this has been happening for a while and I’m just naive. I know that the autism community is divided on many issues – from causes to treatments to policy issues – and has been for a very long time. There’s nothing wrong with that. But to call someone a bad person or a bad parent because of what he or she believes or does for their child? Seems out of character for a community that wants their kids to be treated with respect and dignity in the outside world.

My father was the ultimate politician and I learned a lot from watching him. He would sit down with someone who was completely opposed to his position on a particular issue, listen to them carefully and thoughtfully, and then quietly explain his perspective and point of view. It was never about him or about pushing his agenda. He made it about the issue (usually about kids) and helped turn the discussion into a civil exchange of ideas. He would change the debate. More often than not, the person walked away with a new way of looking at the problem. And every time they walked away with a favorable impression of my dad.

Maybe it’s time to reshape our debate …again.

I’m joining with the amazing editors at the Autism Blogs Directory and am taking the next step to help create a new community. They challenged their readers to pick a blog they have never seen, read it, and leave a respectful and thoughtful comment. There are so many wonderful writers out there sharing their stories daily and I know I have a lot to learn from everyone.

So here’s my pick. It’s Laura from “Life in the House that Asperger Built“. I picked it because she’s a mom like me with children on the spectrum. But she’s also on the spectrum herself, as is her husband. I’m getting a unique perspective from her that I haven’t read anywhere yet, and I’m so grateful for that. I look forward to learning so much from her.

I’m hoping that others take up the same challenge. On the right side of my home page I have a long list of my favorite special needs blogs – choose any of them and you’ll find a fantastic writer behind that link. Have a child with sensory processing disorder? Click on ANY of my friends who are part of the SPD blogger network. A child on the spectrum? Click on ANY of my friends under “Websites I Like”.

I know that there are people who read this who don’t have kids with special needs (thank you friends and family who are here because I guilted you into signing up!) I hope you take me up on this challenge too. Are you a runner? Check out my friend Charlotte‘s blog. Interested in parenting and social justice issues? Read my friend Gaetane‘s blog. Or go to Google and type in your favorite hobby, click on blogs, and choose the first one that comes up.

Take a moment to read their latest post and leave a comment if you can. It’s the best way to rebuild our communities and support each other. It’s the best way we can tell each other we’re not alone. It’s the best way to start again.

I’m getting off my soapbox to look Spectrummy Mummy’s latest post. Her youngest was just evaluated by early intervention and I want to know how it went. I want to tell her that I’m there for her no matter what, because on Friday I’ll be in the same boat again. And I need her there with me then.

I think you’ve made your point now.
You’ve even gone a bit too far to get the message home.
Before it gets too frightening,
We ought to call a vote,
So could we start again please?
” – Could We Start Again, Please from Jesus Christ Superstar

(a tribute to my dad and my husband for Father’s Day.  While the song title might not fit perfectly, I remember listening to this in my father’s Volvo as he drove us to school)

Dear Dad-

It’s now eleven Father’s Days without you. Some days it feels like you were just here, and some days it feels like you’ve been gone for decades.

I don’t know why it’s taken me all these years to actually sit down and tell you about what I’ve done since you left us.  Maybe I just wasn’t ready.  Maybe in some ways I wondered if you were disappointed that I didn’t run for re-election after completing your term as state representative.   I knew stepping into your shoes then was the right thing to do since it was what you wanted.  But when the time came to run again, it wasn’t right for me anymore.  It wasn’t my life – it was yours – and I had to start my own life, discover who I am, and start my own family.

So let me tell you about this amazing family of mine:

Our oldest son is Gerry, and yes we named him after you.  He actually looks a lot like you, and has my (and your) dimples.  He’s incredibly smart, curious, kind, and thoughtful.  He has already developed a commitment to community and social justice in such a way that it can only be genetic.  Kids want to be his friend, and parents want their kids to be friends with him.  Oh, and he loves baseball.  He’s small and quick and is well suited to play second base or shortstop, just like you.  I think you would be impressed with his skills on the field, and his love of learning off the field.

Howie is our middle little guy.  He has huge brown eyes that light up when he’s excited, and they sparkle when he laughs.  He’s loving and full of energy. I could call him our “spirited” one, but I’m not sure that’s an appropriate characterization.  There’s always been something about him, even as a baby.  He was a late talker and walker and had a difficult time adjusting to, well, life.  He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and sensory processing disorder at age 3 1/2.  Hearing that there’s something a little different about your kid wasn’t easy, but in many ways it was a relief.  So many of his behaviors were finally explained, and it helped to know that there was a neurological reason behind his issues.   I’m lucky to have grown up in a house with you and Mom where you taught understanding and tolerance of different learning styles and abilities.  It doesn’t make the days less challenging, but it gives me the strength to get through the hardest moments.  I know you would be impressed by his knowledge of Hot Wheels cars and his fiercely strong connection to the people he loves and trusts.

Lewis is our baby, although he’s quickly approaching Howie in weight, height and strength.  He has an incredible belly laugh and these terrific curls.  He clearly takes after our side of the family in his love of food and table manners – there’s rarely a meal when I am not picking something off of his shirt or out of his hair (but of course, the same can be said of me).  While he isn’t talking as much as we’d like at this point, he loves music and sings and dances along with everything from “Old McDonald” to “Golddigger”. He’s incredibly curious  and has already developed a great sense of humor.  I think you’d be impressed by his comedic timing, and he’d have you “eye-squishing” with his silly faces and games.

And then of course, there’s my husband Tim.  I will be forever thankful that you met him before you got sick, and I’m so glad that he had a chance to know you.  When Tim and I married 9 years ago, it was a sense of comfort to me that he understood me and and how important my family was.  Over these years he has become an amazing life partner, and an even more incredible father.  His bond with Gerry goes deep – they enjoy the same love of science and thirst for knowledge, and every evening in the spring they are out in the yard having a catch.  With Howie, he shows patience in situations when I can’t and has gone the extra mile to learn whatever he can about ASD so he (and I) can be a better parent.  He has looked for ways to connect with Howie and  have bonded over a love of cars. And he has some strong connection with Lewis : Tim is in charge of his bedtime – reading stories, singing songs, and got him to sleep in his crib earlier than any of our other kids ever had.  There’s is no doubt that you would have been impressed by his commitment to his kids and to me.  While you probably would have disagreed on almost everything else, this dedication to his family would have been your common ground.

So while I had to step out of your shadow in the world of politics, you can see that I really did follow in your footsteps.  I have created an incredible family, and am raising my children to be good to each other and the world around them.  I have learned through necessity to be fierce advocates for them – as you were for us.  My experience with Howie’s issues have taught me to be the voice for those who can’t speak, just as you were in your public political life.  Where that might lead me in the future, I don’t know.  But I do know that I have an incredible path set out for me to follow, thanks to you.

Happy Father’s Day to my amazing husband and all the other fathers, fathers-to-be and fathers-that-should-be.

It’s not time to make a change,
Just relax, take it easy.
You’re still young, that’s your fault,
There’s so much you have to know.
Find a girl, settle down,
If you want you can marry.
Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy.
” – Father and Son by Cat Stevens

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