In Loving Gratitude
I like holidays and parties and lights and libations. I like travel. I like family. But some midwinters just don't have that feeling for me. I think instead that I would like to spend the year's longest nights all alone in silent contemplation beneath big brassy wintertime stars. Alone. With nobody bothering me. Bah! and Humbug!
Let's admit something. It isn't always easy to express our love to our families. Sometimes we're just worn out. Sometimes we simply don't feel particularly loving.
Sometimes our sons are inflexible, cantankerous, demanding. Sometimes, as caregivers especially, our families may tend to treat us as extensions of their wishes, the means by which their thoughts become reality. They may not recognize each of us a distinct and unique person with her own thoughts, feelings, and agenda. Our daily sacrifices may pass by unacknowledged. Sometimes our sons' requests come out sounding like demands. "Mom, I'm thirsty," rather than, "Mom, could you please get me a drink of water when you have a minute?" "Dad, I need to use the bathroom," rather than, "Dad, could you please help me in the bathroom? Thanks!"
Our other children may not notice the work we do to support them each day. Sometimes they resent the attention we must pay to their brothers. Sometimes their demands and desires and tantrums take us by surprise.
Our spouses may be distant. Maybe they are just as drained by the daily grind as we are. Maybe they are working extra hours to keep the family able to afford that estimated "extra" $50k per year that Duchenne costs us. Maybe they are succumbing to the undertow of drinking too much, grief, depression, frustration, and worse things. Maybe they are withdrawing. Maybe we are. Maybe our relationship collapsed under the stress a long time ago.
Our families are made out of complete, whole people. People with quirks. People with problems. People with coping mechanisms, defenses, blind spots, habits. Loving the whole person, exactly as he or she is, today, right now, is hard work. It is a practice, a discipline. It is something to strive for, to build toward. Sometimes it is what keeps us going. Sometimes it is more than we can manage.
Our sons may not always be able to show us their love in ways we understand. Some of our sons may have cognitive components to their Duchenne manifestation which prevent them from expressing their love for us in conventional ways. Some of our sons have autism. Some of our sons have ADHD. These neuro-alternative patterns may feel unfamiliar. People with ADHD may forget to say "please," "thank you," "I love you." People with autism may not be able say those things. As parents, we may have to spend many years of frustration trying to teach these actions. The parent of the boy who only says "I love you" to his OT may have to grow a thick skin. We all may have to use our imaginations to fill in the gaps. Because of the opacity (to us) of a neuro-atypical mind, it may be unclear (to us) exactly where those gaps lie.
Love, of course, is in part, an emotion, a feeling. And feelings exist beyond our control, moving in and out of our beings as tides of the ocean move toward and away from our shores. That feeling of love may seem to rise and set like a star passing across the expanse of the ecliptic. Yet like a star, however distant from us today, our love for our families continues to exist somewhere, even as its light fails to reach us when it has set below the horizon. It's still there, particularly if we reach for it, although it may not be visible exactly right now.
But like a star, there may be times when our feelings of love are simply too far away for us to rely on them. Perhaps when love feels scarce on the ground, and without judgment let's admit that there are times when that scarcity is a fact, our families can benefit from having us plant the seeds of kindness and gratitude in its stead. Kindness and gratitude can be actions. You can make them happen by conscious striving. They depend upon a person's will rather than a person's emotions. Will is like the earth beneath our feet-- we may take it for granted and forget that it is there. But it is there. We can tap into its strength whenever we need to.
It seems to me that turning my heart toward love might be like building a ziggurat toward heaven. As I reach into my earth for quotidian acts of kindness, as I build that umpteenth peanut butter sandwich, crusts cut off just the way he likes it, I am scooping up the clay of my will and firing it into the solid bricks of a stable family. And a stable family, built on consideration, generates an environment of greater richness, security, and peace. Richness, security, peace build up the layers of fertile humus in which my hanging garden of gratitude can grow toward the stars. And as my gratitude for my unique, whole, quirky, dear family members waxes, so another level of humble mud bricks brings me closer to the sky. And as I build and climb on the actions of love, Lo! and Behold! I can see that my star is rising.
And isn't that what the winter holiday season is really all about? Bright stars in the darkness. Richness and gratitude. Goodwill and love and peace to all.