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Showing Livestock – Why?

Catching up and sharing from the files of my ramblings. This particular set is from August 24, 2015.

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Clyde & Jo

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been asked why our kids show livestock. There are many lessons to be learned while working with an animal which will grow to be ten times your own body weight, along with many memories which will be carried well into adulthood. Clyde was my little buddy, raised as a bottle and then bucket calf after being orphaned by his momma. We played chase; he tried to eat my hair; we walked together in the show ring; and then, I loaded him on the trailer to head to market. Memories made, lessons learned and never forgotten.

The annual Avon Fat Steer Show has long served as our end of summer bash. It’s a weekend we can come together with our friends and neighbors to enjoy and celebrate our community’s roots in agriculture while encouraging and celebrating the accomplishments of our young people as they work to exhibit their livestock.

Once the steer show is done, animals are no longer needing to be washed, groomed and walked daily so there is a relief in responsibility for our children. But after all the months of preparation and shows throughout the summer, a bond is formed between animal and owner, so even though the kids don’t necessarily have to go out and spend time with their cattle, I noticed each one of them venturing out to the barn off and on yesterday.

Part of me wonders why now that the kids don’t have to go out, they do, but when it was a necessity for working, prepping, and practicing, they often needed a nudge or two to get them moving. I don’t wonder long. I remember the days of walking my own cattle and the laughter of playing chase with bucket calves. I remember feeling a full heart when my little buddy tossed his head on my lap while we relaxed under a shade tree after an hour or two of grooming and walking. And I remember the lump in my throat as I loaded that same little buddy, then more than 1,000 pounds, onto the trailer for the last time. It’s the circle of life – a lesson well learned early on in a show kid’s career.

While we eagerly anticipate this fair weekend all summer long, simply for the joy of being there, enjoying our community and so many of the aspects which truly make it home for us, there is also somewhat of a let-down when it is done. Perhaps it’s the sheer exhaustion, particularly this year with the first week of school inconveniently falling on the same week as Steer Show.

Our living room was quite the sight yesterday, strewn with bodies young and not-so-young soaking up some much-needed rest. It made me wonder if this is what the hyped “Zombie Apocalypse” may look like, minus the blood and gore. I kind of chuckled as I searched for a spot to sit among the bodies, but my heart was at peace as we were together, tired-but together.

This is our family: we work hard and we play hard. We may not always be physically together because of work demands, but we are always together in spirit. Thanks to such great technology, we can keep in touch up to the minute when one or more is in a different location. We can know what’s going on where, what stops need to be made along the way and who needs to get where and when. We are in this life thing together. And at the end of the day (or the end of the fair as it may be) we can come together and crash together as well.

Special thanks to all the many volunteers who make the fairs happen. None of it would be possible without the hours upon hours of dozens, if not hundreds of individuals who have contributed in planning and executing the many fairs we have attended. Thank you to the sponsors of each and every class. Thank you to the spectators who clap and encourage the exhibitors. Thank you to those “kids” who have come before ours and taken the time to stop and chat with them about their animals, share their insights, and offer a helping hand. Thank you to those who have stopped us personally to tell us something great about our kids, to share a story or two about how they made your day a little brighter. These are the moments I realize that despite the frustrations, yes, this is a very good thing for our kids and for us as a family.

Someone asked me over the weekend why we do this. They had some valid points:  It’s expensive. Aside from the time involved, you have the gas and all the miles driven, you have to feed the animals, you have show equipment and supplies. You have to eat at the fair and most of those fairs have carnivals where I’m sure the younger kids want to ride and ride and ride.

Honestly, it got me thinking. Why do we do this? Because it’s fun? Well yes, it can be, but just ask any of our kids, chasing cattle through a cornfield really isn’t the best of times. Neither is being tossed into the side of a show ring by an animal that has never even so much as swung his head at you. Many mornings, sleep seems like a better idea than heading out to tend to chores and when returning home late at night after school events and play practices, a shower and the couch is much more appealing than heading to the barn.

Teaching responsibility and building confidence and character are among the top of my list as to why we do what we do. We want our children to be confident in whatever they choose to do in life. We want them to believe in themselves enough to take on whatever challenges life can toss at them. If they raise an animal more than 10 times their weight and can lead said animal through a show ring, exhibiting them with confidence, answering questions from judges and spectators alike, not only specifics about their animal, but about the livestock industry in general, they will have the confidence to tackle challenges as they grow into adulthood and raise families of their own. The truth is, any one of those animals could toss it’s owner at any given moment and be gone in a fraction of a second. It happens to everyone at some point that an animal gets spooked and bolts. No one is immune from this. It happens. But that, too, builds character. There is a huge amount of trust and confidence involved in taking this animal by a rope and leading them in front of an arena full of spectators.

Just like any other form of competition, our kids aren’t always finishing at the top of their classes, but this, too, holds important lessons – winning and losing with grace. Acknowledging and congratulating others on their strong performance, even when their hearts are disappointed reinforces grace and strength in character.

Two of our kids were in the champion steer drive this weekend. What this means is that they each won their class and then were judged against other class winners to determine the champion of the show. Our kids’ animals weren’t chosen as grand or reserve champion, but I couldn’t have been more proud of our kids when I saw the smiles on their faces when the winner was announced. They were genuinely excited for the young man whose steer had been named champion as they had seen him struggle in many of the same ways they had struggled throughout the summer, coming close, but never quite coming out on top. And the one who wasn’t in the drive, was right there ringside, watching, silently encouraging his siblings, and proud of the exhibitor who did win.

These are so much more important than any ride at any fair, so much better than even the best funnel cake. Those are all great, too, and were very much enjoyed over the weekend, but these are the moments which have already turned into memories carefully tucked away in my heart.

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Winter Wonderland

Catching up and sharing from the files of my ramblings. This particular set is from

December 5, 2016.

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It’s a wonderful thing to feel a part of a community, a family knit not by biology and DNA but by camaraderie, the spirit of friendship within a group, like soldiers at war who keep each other upbeat despite the difficulty of their circumstances. No, thankfully we aren’t in a war, but this is someone who comes to mind when you hear the phrase, “We’re in this together.

I didn’t grow up in Fulton County, but this is where my family has landed and this is where we call home; the only home our children have ever known; the place we find solace and comfort; the place we recharge, refuel, and rest. Yes, this is home.

There are a few events I have found this feeling especially present at over the years: summer baseball, kid productions, livestock shows, and now, the Avon Christmas Walk. Only in its second year, this has become an event looked forward to be all ages – a time for little ones to snack on goodies while their parents visit with friends at local businesses, patient as they can as they also anxiously await visiting with Santa.

I don’t know who is completely in charge of this event, whose idea it was, or how it even began, but I can attest to its success, even the heavens gave us a beautiful blanket of soft white snow to add to the ambiance of the evening. Christmas carols sung by young scouts filled the air as folks walked up and down Main Street sipping hot cocoa greeting friends and neighbors we don’t often take time to stop and visit with beyond the standard, “Hi, how are you?” Yes, for a couple of hours the first Saturday in December, our little Main Street was transformed into a Winter Wonderland.

The highlight of the evening for adults may have simply been the time together with family and friends, catching up, gathering together in the cool winter air, but for kids, it was most assuredly seeing Santa, sitting upon his lap, and making their greatest Christmas wishes known.

As the mother of five children aged 7 through 18, I’ve been witness to more than a few Santa visits. It’s always fun for me to watch the wonder and see that Christmas magic in the eyes of young children. There have also been a couple of times over the years which I have seen the heartbreak of sadness as children share with Santa that a beloved Grandparent has passed on or favorite pet is no longer with them. The heartbreak is real, not only for the child and their parents, but for Santa as well.

My heart was so full as I knelt to pray with my children last night, full of smiles for their happiness over seeing friends, Mrs. Clause and Santa, too, but also full of thankfulness for those who worked so hard to put on such a great event; for those who attended and truly make this such a wonderful place to live and raise our family; for Santa, who comforted a sad little girl ahead of us in line, spoke softly and patiently with our spectrum son who sometimes struggles with conversation, then belly laughed with our youngest daughter. That Santa, he’s another amazing part of our community for which I am so thankful!

The R Word – AGAIN

Catching up and sharing from the files of my ramblings. This particular set is from
April 26, 2016.

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“There’s a bunch of RETARDS running times today!”

Kicked in the guy and barely catching my breath at the very memory of overhearing this comment at last night’s track meet in Bushnell. Last night. In 2016. Essentially in our own back yard.

Let me clarify, this was not an A-Town or BPC athlete. In fact, his wasn’t a jersey I was familiar with so I can’t say for sure where he was from. What caught me most was his parents never said a thing about his outburst other than to fan the flames of his disgust. Apparently his team’s times weren’t as good as what he thought they should have been and other teams beat his, so of course, he surmised, it was a bunch of “retards” running times.

Rude. Disrespectful. I could go on and on with the adjectives that ran through my mind as I struggled to remain calm. That family moved on to find the rest of their disgruntled team and I breathed a sigh of relief not to have to be around them any longer without leaving our vantage point for our son’s next race.

What broke my heart most was that I didn’t have the fortitude to speak up and share that what was being said was hurtful and actually inaccurate. I doubt it would have made difference, but at least I would have had the peace of knowing I’d done my part in spreading awareness and if not stopping, at least slowing down the hatred.

I just cannot wrap my mind around why so many people find it perfectly acceptable to use the “R” word when referring to someone that has upset them, angered them, or even simply disagreed with them.

I’m ashamed of myself for not speaking up. Despite rationalizing the situation with the reality that I couldn’t catch my breath, how could I speak, I know I should have. I can’t expect others to speak up when I don’t, but I can ask, please, stop and think before you speak. And if you have children, please ask them to do the same.

Labels Don’t Change the Important Stuff

Catching up and sharing from the files of my ramblings. This particular set is from November 30, 2015.

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Our oldest daughter asked me the other day, “What kind of autism does Ben have?”

It was a fair enough question as she knows other kids with specific diagnoses such as Asperger’s Syndrome and PDD-NOS, but these labels aren’t something we’ve necessarily talked all that much about when it comes to her brother.

This could be for a variety of reasons:
a) He’s a person, not a diagnosis.
b) There are so many variances even within the different types of autism that no two kids are alike.
c) Specific types aren’t always diagnosed as young as Ben was when we initially took him to Easter Seals.

But, if I’m honest with myself, it’s probably as much
d) we don’t know
as anything.

Initially, this was a little frustrating at best, but the more I’ve thought about it, I’ve begun to wonder if it really matters what kind of autism it is? Beyond knowing how to best help him learn to help himself, do the labels really matter? Yes, they can help us better understand him and how he deals with things, even help point us in the right direction in terms of research, therapy, and assistance, but they don’t change the important stuff.

The bottom line is that he is a person first. Sure, he has a few little quirks that set him apart from his peers, but in all honesty, don’t we all?

Ben’s official diagnosis was simply “autism” along with a side of expressive/receptive language disorder and a slight motor delay. All that really tells us is that yes, he does in fact have autism, communication is going to be a challenge area for him, and he may have a slightly different gate when walking and running than others.

I find myself returning to one of the most poignant pieces of wisdom a dear friend shared with me the day before our diagnostic clinic: Ben will be the same boy coming home from the clinic that he was going into Easter Seals. He will still be your son. You will still love him to the ends of the earth. No label can change that. Diagnosis can help you know which direction to turn, but it will not change anything about who he is or the fact that he is still your son and you are still his parents.

THANK YOU

We still laugh and cry. He still wins my heart over every single time he looks me in the eye. We still hug and kiss and love, all the same as before our D-day. Yes, labels can help us know where to head for understanding and assistance, but they don’t define him or us.

Normal or Extraordinary?

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Catching up and sharing from the files of my ramblings. This particular set is from October 26, 2015.

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Normal is just a setting on a washing machine.

I’ve read it and heard it a million times over since our son’s autism diagnosis, but when I read that, I often think the truth is, all special needs parents really want is a chance at normalcy. Sometimes I wonder if that isn’t what all parents want: normalcy. I wonder this because I look around and I see people fighting battles of all kinds.

No one is immune to the pressures of this life. Some battle autism, some battle cancer. Others I know press on despite the challenges of dyslexia, ADD and ADHD. Some families live with epilepsy hanging over their heads, and others wonder when the next bout of chest pains will come for their athlete.

Some families wonder where the next job move will take them and how their kids will adjust to the move. Others wonder if they’ll even have a job next month or next week, and if not, how will they provide for their family?

Other families are looking at their growing children and wondering where they will attend college and how, as parents, they will pay the tuition; or if their students will join the military and if so, where will they serve?

We all have challenges of some sort. And I think we all hold on to the glimpses of normal we see in our family life. Perhaps it is those glimpses which get us through the next challenge and the next and the next…knowing that somewhere down in the depths of who we are as a family, there is some sense of normalcy and what that means for our family. Perhaps “normal” is different for each of us.

Perhaps it’s a dad and a son going out to do morning chores together, perhaps it’s that same dad and another son singing happily as they head to the truck to make a Sunday afternoon run to the grocery store. Perhaps it’s a mom and her oldest huddled around old photo albums looking for just the right baby picture to submit for senior honors, or the same mom and her youngest snuggled up as the littlest reads a story for the one who rocks her world.

It’s in these moments of what may seem all too normal to the outside observer, that I realize we are given moments of extraordinary to get us through until the next normal. I hope that I don’t spend all of my moments wishing for the normal, when I could be experiencing the extraordinary.

Necessaries vs. Importants

Catching up and sharing from the files of my ramblings. This particular set is from September 21, 2015.

NECESSARIES vs. IMPORTANTS

So many times in life we get busy with all the “have to’s” that we simply run out of time for the “want to’s”. If we’re not careful, our “necessaries” can begin to push away our “importants”. A friend mentioned “importants” to me one time many years ago and it took me a while to digest it all, but once I could work through what that meant in my heart and mind, I couldn’t ever forget it.
My work is necessary. My deadlines are necessary. There are certain things I have to do with my job every week for me to be able to keep up with things there. These are necessary. But my family – they are important. I won’t get fired as wife and mom if I don’t take the time to snuggle with my family tonight. We will all live to see another day if we don’t share laughter and one-on-one time with each of our kids at some point this week, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be done. I need that snuggle time, laughter and connection with each member of my family.
The varied ages and interests of our children necessitates variety and flexibility. For one child, it may mean sitting down to an intense game of Stratego, for another, a simple though no less intense round of Go Fish! Another child may only need session of roughhouse wrestling, while another just needs a good belly laugh from tickling and bear hugs. The other opens up during shared time in the kitchen. Each child is different. These are not difficult moments, but it takes time. If I’m not careful, I can get wrapped up in my list of necessaries and overlook the ticking of the clock until it’s nearly bedtime. It’s then that I realize what a treasure I’ve missed with my kids. And I promise myself again and again that it won’t happen again, but this is life and we are human. We make mistakes and thankfully, we do grace and forgiveness in our house. We do love and laughter. We do do-overs. We do life.
My challenge this week and every week is to remember to focus on my “importants” at least as much as my “necessaries”.

A Country Baptism

Catching up and sharing from the files of my ramblings. This particular set is from September 14, 2015.

A COUNTRY BAPTISM

Sunday is typically family day for us. We do all we can to keep that as a constant, but as our children grow and are more active in their schools and communities, it becomes more difficult. We’re also finding that as the children grow and mature, they develop close friendships and make plans to spend time with those they don’t see in school (ie: church friends) on the weekends. We’ve begun to joke in our home that we share custody of our oldest son with another family from our church as the two boys are often together over the weekends since they attend different schools.

This past weekend, we were able to enjoy a rural worship service with our church family (ie: all the kids together) at the side of a pond, complete with live music performed from a floating dock, and the testimonies of more than a dozen people who had answered the call to be baptized. This is always such a touching time as we listen to the stories of those who are about to be baptized, ranging in age from elementary up through long since any school days. It’s a time to reflect on our own stories and rejoice with those who are stepping out in faith.
As I sat with my family on the hillside, soaking up the warm September sun and the chill of a morning breeze, our spectrum son snuggled up to me, pointed to those in the lake and said, “Mommy, I like that.”
Truly, I think that he meant “I like to be in the water.” as he absolutely loves to go swimming, but at that moment, no words could have been more perfect. As most Ben comments do, it got me thinking, wondering if he really understood what was happening, why people were going into the lake fully dressed, just to be tipped under water and then brought back up. I wondered if he understood the statement they were making, the commitment to live like they never have before marking the transformation that had taken place in their hearts.
I can’t speak for my son and what his understanding that morning was, but I know that his maker loves him just as much, no, even more than I could ever imagine, and I’m so thankful that we live in a community which will continue to rally around him, teaching, doing, leading and loving him every step of his journey.