Posted in Self-Care

Zelda: My Furry Burnout-Avoiding Cat

We have three cats.  Tommy is older, grey, and was supposed to be a feral, but apparently developed a love for people since some nice person fed him a bit during his first year.  We’ve had him the longest and he’s going to be 10 this year.  Zelda, a former stray, came next.  She will be four this year, and we’ve had her also since she was about one.  Then there’s Baxter, who is our messy cat.  Someone else had him at first, then he got an infection of the sort that is more typical in unneutered male cats and they couldn’t afford to fix him, so the humane society did and he’s ours now.  He’s neutered now, but he’s got some odd habits that came from a life when he used to make baby kitties with other cats.  He’s sort of dog-like in that he’s messier, clumsier, and a bit too interested in my fuzzy blanket if you know what I mean.  Baxter will be six this year and he’s a black-and-white cat.   Tommy and Baxter are both tuxedo cats with white tummies, but Tommy is greyscale and Baxter is black-and-white.

Even though Baxter is our most dog-like cat, Zelda is really our odd duck.  A cat with medium-length hair, she spends a lot of time grooming and “posing” since she knows how adorable she is. She’s highly sensitive, and she’s the reason we keep what we call “happy cat smell” going on in the house.  It’s this pheromone that supposedly mimics mama cat rubbing baby kittens and is on a plug-in diffuser.  Because the house is large, we have three or four of them going and also she gets weird litterbox spaces with newspaper on top because she really has to have her own smell around her to feel completely happy.  She’s getting better as she’s lived with us for nearly three years, but it was a rough go for a while.  She’s the kind of cat that will pee on clothes left on the floor, but she won’t go out of her way to do this anymore, like she did when we first got her; she gives us a brief window in which to pick up our stuff or she figures she’s good to go.  She’s our anxiety cat.  We’ve altered our space a lot to accommodate her, and I know few people would do this, but she needs it to feel safe, so we just sort of carry on and do what she needs.  She’s quite happy now.

Continue reading “Zelda: My Furry Burnout-Avoiding Cat”

Posted in School governance, School Leadership

Snow Day

We live in the upper Midwest.  That means snow, sooner or later.

When you’re a large school district, you get advisers to tell you what to do.  You also have district boundaries and general expectations.  Our bigger districts have a rule that if you can’t get there (teacher, student, whoever), the absence is excused, so then they can have school for those who need it.  It’s not a horrible rule, but it also makes some parents worry if they can’t get their kids to school that some attendance boogeyman is going to get them.

I grew up in a rural district.  That means I have been stuck on busses and been on busses going into ditches.  It’s not fun.  It’s also not un-fun, since you kind of joke around until the replacement bus comes and you then go off on your jolly way.  But I am also Autistic, so I recognize if I, myself, am driving the car, it’s going to set me up for a bad day since I’ll worry about what happens if the car goes into the ditch or flips or whatever.  It’s not like a school bus that has a “system” and procedure for what to do and replacement busses at the ready (and no, there’s no system for a flipped bus…just damage control at the district since they had school on a day that bad).

The small schools like ours usually wait.  And wait and wait.  We look to see what everyone else is doing.  The trouble is, I think the big school districts do that, too, since there’s peer pressure associated with school closing.  You are a wuss if you close school and the weather is fine.

Today is a little weird, too, being MLK day.  Some schools are in session, and others aren’t, so “checking out the neighbors” is a bit tricky on a day like this.

The thing is, though, leadership is knowing that it’s always better if kids are safe and knowing your kids and your families.  For some places, this will mean having school in a blizzard since that means someone will be able to watch the kids and it’s best if they’re not home alone.  For other places, it’s better to close since the kids are old enough to watch themselves/have siblings/have parents at home, or some other supervision nearby.

I have some kids who walk to school and the sidewalks will not be shoveled yet.  I have some who come from great distances (45 minutes or so on a good day, which this is not).

And the rest of us just want to stay home sometimes.  We work hard.  What’s a bonus day off going to hurt?

I closed before anyone else in my area today.  I’m okay with this because it’s best for my kids.  I’m the only Catholic school that closed.

But I’m also at the school that doesn’t take chances with people’s lives (we run with scissors when it comes to ignoring what schools are “supposed” to do, but so often THOSE things are more dangerous than what we actually do).  We’re the school that knows sometimes a snow day is good for us and beats the heck out of anxiety and worry.

Sometimes leadership is being the only one who does what is likely the right thing to do, regardless of the local peer pressure.

Good school leaders realize that good students will learn anywhere.  There’s a good chance my kids will read today, play some Lego today, and/or login to an online game where they can play with their friends in cyberspace.  Some will definitely help shovel, too and probably play a little in the fresh snow.

All these things are learning, too.

And a bonus day off?  Almost everyone loves that…in small doses.  While my kids do like order and routine, they do also like a day off the routine here and there.  We are currently debating the merits of year-round school since long breaks like summer are too hard on everyone.  But these unexpected days off to do whatever we’d like?  Fantastic!

Sometimes one of the most frustrating parts of education is having the whole summer off, but being very stingy with the snow days.  I’m not sure who that works for, but it’s not my kids.

If you’ve got icky weather and get a day off, enjoy it!  I know we will!

Posted in Books, intersectionality

Read this Book: Kat and Meg Conquer the World

For your reading consideration, I have another great YA title.

[Image: Cover of the book. Kat and Meg Conquer the World is in bubble letters with “Kat,” “Meg” and “World” in very big letters, “conquer” in slightly smaller bubble letters and “and” and “the” in the smallest letters. “Kat” and “Conquer” are in white, “Meg” in yellow and “World” in orange while “and” and “the” are in shades of blue. They are on a blue pixelated background (tiny squares of various shades of blue) with tiny golden coins dropping on the title. There’s a puffy red pixelated heart to the side of the title and a sword next to Meg’s name. At the bottom is a large orange skateboard. In the upper right corner, it says “Separately, they’re a mess. Together, they just might be awesome.” There are what look to be test tubes with lightning in them on the sides of the title, coming up from the bottom of the book. A LOT is clearly going on here. At the bottom is the author’s name, in blue bubble-type letters: Anna Priemaza.]

Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza, is about two girls who meet and have a remarkable friendship.  Kat is new in town since they have moved to help grandpa downsize.  She’s got to start high school all over again since in her last province (yup, Canadian book) they start high school in grade 9, but in this place, it’s grade 10 so she feels like she has to do an unnecessary stint as freshman all over again.  Kat is very intelligent and her grades typically reflect this.  She also has anxiety, and it’s pretty intense.  Her therapist has never been much help except when she taught her how to count to slow her breathing to calm down to prevent a panic attack.  She’ll be counting a lot in this book.  Where she does feel pretty good is the world of her online game, and watching videos from her favorite YouTuber.

Meanwhile, Meg is local, but can’t seem to keep any friends.  Though every bit as intelligent as Kat, she struggles in school grade-wise. She’s bubbly and energetic, always running everywhere.  She’s between friends when she and Kat get partnered by default for a long-term science project.  Meg has ADHD with hyperactivity and therefore she struggles to focus on things she doesn’t have interest in, and she also struggles to make and keep friends since she’s missing some social cues.  She’s always swapping friendship groups, though people do seem to like her in general.  She is intensely in love with the same YouTuber Kat is.  She is also very annoyed with her stepdad, who she called dad since her own dad died when she was little.  He attempted to get custody of her younger siblings (his natural children), but not her, and she’s brooding over the whole thing.  Meg is also Black, and much is made of her hair style, her little sister’s hairstyle, skin tone is mentioned and the occasional racial sensitivity nod, but I’m not sure how much she “feels” Black and hope Black reviewers will help here to see if this depiction rings true.  More on that later.

Continue reading “Read this Book: Kat and Meg Conquer the World”

Posted in leadership, School governance, School Leadership

Leadership as Vocation

Last night, I found myself in the sub-basement of the school with our new maintenance volunteer head and, later, his wife.  He wanted to walk through again and look for building plans, and I’d sworn I’d seen them downstairs, but alas, we couldn’t find them there.

Regardless, we were actually there for the fish fry, so it was somewhat comical to be crawling around the basement when the place was full of people, but everything was covered and calm, so we could “talk shop.”

When he continued to prowl and she joined us, she and I chatted about the school and its future.

And yes, it has one, thank you very much (you all know that…but sheesh, I had to tell people who had heard that we were closing that no, that wasn’t the case).

Anyway, while we were chatting, I think she saw how overwhelmed I had gotten by all the junk still scattered all over the school.  10+ years of neglect will do that to a building as large as ours, where you can hide everything in some room or another.  She then switched to talking about vocation and how it was clear I was in the vocation I was called to be in and how lucky I was that it was the case.

Continue reading “Leadership as Vocation”

Posted in Advocacy, Parenting

From the Archives: Why Parents Shouldn’t Be Activists…Unless…

In the Neurodiversity community, we do take some flak about yelling at parents.  We tell them not to do this or not to do that.  When they say their lives are hard, we invite them to suck it up.  We’re kinda mean that way, I guess.

But there’s a reason behind our “meanness.”

Here, I unpack why parents of Disabled children suck (and also present the alternative: the “Warrior parents” we totally want in our activist movement):

Continue reading “From the Archives: Why Parents Shouldn’t Be Activists…Unless…”

Posted in Advocacy, Identity

From the Archives: When Doctors and Psychologists Hold Women Hostage

I wrote this piece to give women in particular practical steps on what to do when they know they are Autistic, but can’t get a diagnosis.  The good news is, the general consensus in the Autistic community is that self-dx is completely valid, and this is true more so now than when I realized I was Autistic 2 years ago.

The interesting thing is that if you tell people that you “realized you were Autistic” in an interview, they will, in fact, print that you were “diagnosed as Autistic” anyway since it’s hard for neurotypicals to believe that anyone would self-dx anything and tell people about it.  I get that.  Web MD tells a lot of people they have conditions they do not in fact have.  However, this is different. This is something we do in the Autism community not because we looked up “symptoms” and decided we had them.  Instead, we realized we didn’t fit into society and wondered why that was.  We started talking to others who were like us, and realized we had more in common with those “others” than we did with people we’d known our whole lives.

We pieced together that if many of them had formal diagnoses of Autism and we were so very like those people (and yes, our “symptoms” might be a little different from each other, but we know them in such a way that it was impossible to shake the idea that we were, in fact, like them), we simply had to be Autistic, too.

We had to be.

And some of us went to doctors or psychologists who said we weren’t Autistic.  And some of THOSE doctors had never seen an adult female presenting, so they didn’t know what one looked like when one did, and others knew that we were Autistic and hid it from us because they believed it wouldn’t help us to know.

Instead, we learned, over time, that we were Autistic by being accepted by the people with-and-without formal diagnoses as being part of the group.

We shared our common stories and realized that even if what, specifically can “set us off,” we all had meltdown variants and/or had learned how to avoid them, over time.

And we all took refuge in rules, so sometimes we fight amongst ourselves because the rules we, ourselves, internalized, do not allow us to be open to other perspectives.  As a Catholic Autistic, I get a LOT of flak from people because of my beliefs about abortion, contraception, and marriage.  They believe it’s because I’m rigid, however, I am open to their perspectives being different than mine and want to chat and learn because even if we disagree, I care about them as people and want to learn about what they find important to them.  They, however, rarely are interested in hearing my perspective, so we just don’t talk about those things and sometimes they blow up at me and block me because I said something I believe they disagree with.  We can be a touchy bunch.

Regardless, we are a community and we are very alike in the ways that matter, even if we don’t like each other all that much sometimes.  It’s like when you get a bunch of people together at church and they gossip and fight with each other constantly, but if you add a new person into the mix, they’ll keep gossiping and fighting, and yet all come together to “get” the new person.

That’s family.

So, here’s what I wrote about what to do when you can’t get that diagnosis.

Continue reading “From the Archives: When Doctors and Psychologists Hold Women Hostage”

Posted in Advocacy, Catholic education, Catholic leadership, School governance, School Leadership, Teaching

That Principle is a Bitch: What I Believe About Education

So we’ve recently had some “scandal” in my school regarding how my priest and I colluded to ruin the school.

Keep in mind, we only had between 60 to 70 students in the last decade or better except for one spike at which we briefly went up to 90 and went right back down.

Also, Catholic schools that close almost always have over 100 students in them at the time.

Also that we have to run the school as the parish hall regardless so fewer students means fewer staff members so the difference between running the school with and without kids is financially negligible.  Because there are few of us.  If I have to hire more people, we get into the danger zone.  So we’re fine now, and actually BETTER on paper than when we had 60 kids.

But somehow Father and I destroyed everything.

One Protestant who pulled all her kids out is getting all her gossip from someone who is making things up in her head about what is happening.  It’s somewhat hilarious to see her calling me a bitch all over the place when we have never once spoken.

Ever.

Oh, and she spells my job as principle, which is amusing to me.

So, in her honor, and in honor of all my naysayers, I figured I’d write about my beliefs of education, which are also, not surprisingly, the underlying principles of my school. Continue reading “That Principle is a Bitch: What I Believe About Education”

Posted in Books, writing

Painful Reality: When Fiction is Just a Construct

You never really think about your relationship with books being anything too unusual.  I mean, it’s painfully clear if you’re a reader that not everyone is a reader, and that you’re a bit different if you’re a book lover.  That’s made obvious early and often by the popular people over the years.

[Image: A white woman’s arms (the body is in shadow), open an large old book. Dust flies out of the book in the shape of a heart.]
What I’m talking about is that deeper relationship with books that is a lot closer to obsession.

In my case, I began reading before I was speaking all that much, and was the kind of baby who would escape my crib to go find the books (or toys; I woke up at night a lot and would get myself out of bed to where the action was).  One time, I threw all the books I could find into my crib and cried because, while I had mastered getting out of the crib, getting back in wasn’t possible.  I needed those books.

My mother doesn’t per-se remember teaching me to read.  I just figured it out.

Side note: reading early has nothing to do with reading ability or intelligence, and late readers catch up.  The teacher in me needs to tell you that.

But I digress.

The point I am making is that my relationship with books was different from my relationship with people.  At night, books and the odd toy could comfort me, but people were unnecessary.

Continue reading “Painful Reality: When Fiction is Just a Construct”

Posted in Autistic Identity, Identity

But What if I HAVE to Remember: Random Thoughts From Aphantastic Autistic

I’ve written before how I can’t see pictures in my head.  It’s called Aphantasia, and some of us Autistics have it.  Others, think in pictures, and some of us think ONLY in words or ONLY in pictures.  It seems like the average person (thus, a neurotypical) can both visualize pictures and words, I guess?

At any rate, this break to relax I watched a lot of crime shows.  I like them a lot, and no, I don’t know why.  It probably has to do with trying to learn human nature, and my need to understand how the world of people works.

So, I was watching old Unsolved Mysteries shows and they were showing police working with a psychic.  It dawned on me then that I imagine part of why I don’t believe in that stuff is because I am incapable of picturing anything in my head, so the idea that someone can, is already foreign to me.  When I was a child, I assumed if I believed hard enough, I’d unlock my psychic abilities.  As I got older and more religious, I assumed they were all sinful.  Of course, there’s a middle path on this because the Bible does point out some ghosts and is full of prophecies so there’s room for some level of belief.

But heck, I couldn’t even be helpful if I were the victim of a crime.

Think of it!  The police always want to know what the perp or perps look like, and I’ve heard many a crime victim go, “I can’t ever forget that face!”  I do know, from law school, that false identification is common and it’s very common across racial lines, but people do have some idea of what someone looks like.

I can’t even describe people I know.

I don’t per-se know how I feel about this and in terms of disabilities one could have, not seeing pictures seems relatively minor.  But I envision situations when THINGS HAPPEN and it isn’t really that minor at all.

That reminded me how situationally-based disability really is, and for the most part, it doesn’t much matter whether I think in pictures or not.

But what if something happens?

Most people don’t even know not thinking in pictures is a “thing,” but increasingly, as we get to know the brain and what it can and can’t do it does trickle down sometimes into education.  We have these volunteers who come to read with the kids who had some training where they learned that not all kids make pictures in their heads when they read, so they shouldn’t assume it.  This gives me hope that other kids will figure out sooner than I did that teachers aren’t speaking metaphorically when they say “picture a sunny day.”  They literally do mean you should, in your head, make a picture of such a day because you can do that.

I can’t do that, and I guess the advantage of knowing that is that I can explain this to a police officer if I’m involved in a crime.

I just hope that he or she can understand that I’m not making this up.

Posted in Identity

From the Archives: Doctors Hiding Diagnoses? This is a Thing?

There’s one way to easily annoy a lot of Disabled people: infantilize us.

The pro-Neurodiversity blogosphere has taken to decrying bits of this article https://spectrumnews.org/features/deep-dive/the-lost-girls/ which talks about how hard it is to diagnose women and girls and anyway.  We fully agree with that, because we know we’re social chameleons, and is it EXHAUSTING.  But there was a “throwaway” comment and that’s the one that we’re fighting about.  The gist of it is that if we’re successful at navigating society, then maybe we shouldn’t be diagnosed as Autistic.  Here’s the most popular example right now: https://visualvox.wordpress.com/2016/07/29/protecting-us-from-the-hazards-of-autism-diagnosis/

In other words, we should be denied “medical access” to our “people” because we’re “passing” for neurotypicals.  Let that sink in.  Now, let’s change it up.  A Deaf person goes in for a diagnosis and is never told he is Deaf so his Deafness is irrelevant and might hurt his feelings if he knew.  After all, he’s successful at navigating in a society not made for him.  Or worse: a Black person is denied that she is Black because she does just fine in the dominant, white society and to be told she is Black might make her feel sad.

This is ridiculous, right?

Earlier, I posted how diagnosis should be a choice and I believe that still, however, it is probably good to unpack a few things here.

Continue reading “From the Archives: Doctors Hiding Diagnoses? This is a Thing?”