Monday, November 29, 2004

I’ve been heartbroken the past couple of days about my kids’ situations. Toby’s behavior was occasionally deplorable over the five days we had him; he would throw things and hit people whenever he wanted something or didn’t get his way. I attribute his behavior to 1) the doctor taking him off of antipsychotic medication and/or 2) his resentment against us for placing him in a residential facility. I will be talking with the people at his school this week to figure out what’s up. The other day at the park, I watched Toby stirring up pinecones and other debris in a large mud-puddle. For some reason, I realized at that moment that we probably will not be bringing Toby home in the next year or two, as we originally had planned.

Meanwhile, Adam totally fell in love with his older brother. He made a point of going on the “big-kid swing” at the park whenever Toby was swinging, and he joined in the fun whenever I was playing my silly little games with Toby. Adam even got interested in computer games Toby and I were playing.

The ride back to Alexandria was painful yesterday. I sat in the back of the van to deal with Toby’s tantrums and to comfort him when he started crying. Last night, after we got back home, Adam pulled out a full set of clothes and brought them to me. I guessed that he wanted to go back up to Alexandria and fetch Toby again. Adam cried briefly when we dressed him in his pajamas instead. I felt battered and worn out last night.

I went to bed feeling about two inches tall, and I had trouble sleeping. My boys can’t be together, and it’s my fault. My heart ached for Toby and Adam. This morning, I told my therapist how I felt, and he said something like, “you know that’s not rational,” which wasn’t what I needed to hear. He also tried to tie my feelings to medication issues; I found that annoying. IMHO, the grief and guilt that I feel are normal, human emotions that I need to work through.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Yesterday morning, A. woke me up around 1:30 when he couldn't get back to sleep. Around 2:00 a.m., we went into the kitchen and ate Froot Loops. Four or five blocks away, a tornado touched down and damaged several dozen houses. I didn't hear a thing! DW went to the store in the morning and saw severe damage to several houses and Sheriff's vehicles swarming into the neighborhood. It took a minute or two for me to realize that a tornado had hit the 'hood. The funnel followed a path in which one row of houses was devastated while the row behind was left untouched. The randomness of the destruction was kinda scary. Our house was totally undamaged, so we feel fortunate. Typical of Louisiana -- by the end of the day, Home Depot and Lowe's had donated thousands of dollars in lumber, visquene, and other materials to help people close up their damaged homes, and a local church put together a Thanksgiving dinner for people who suffered losses. Also, neighbors were out helping neighbors.

A. and I drove up to Alexandria yesterday to fetch T. for the holiday. We had a loud, celebratory ride home. Lots of growling, shouting, clapping, and singing. As I hadn't slept much the previous night and had to drive the whole way, my head was pounding last night. T. was so worked up that I had to drive him around town at 11 p.m. Good times!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

I had a vivid dream last night, one that ended with me actually screaming and DW waking me up. In the dream, I was somewhat like the psychic character on the "Dead Zone," who is able to touch people and see their futures and/or pasts. Last night, my son A. had just turned 18 or 19, and was sent to fight in Iraq. A. currently is 6, but George W. Bush was still President in the dream. Did that two-term limitation in the Constitution bite the dust? I seem to recall protesting that A. is autistic and unable to serve, and A. being shot up or blown up right at the end. I've never been all that upset about the Iraq War, but I am happier today that I voted for John Kerry a couple of weeks ago.

I had another dream last night after the first that was unrelated to it. I don't remember anything about it except that it involved my in-laws somehow. I am really tired today.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

I’ve been thinking some lately about my overall mid-life experience. I don’t like to label it a crisis, as that brings to mind the self-indulgent, hedonistic, yuppie-from-hell phenomenon known as the mid-life crisis. I haven’t left my wife and kids, and I haven’t bought anything more exotic than a used Altima to drive around in, so I’m not experiencing a stereotypical mid-life crisis. I did take up scuba a few years ago, and I recently purchased a Nirvana CD, but that’s about it in the hedonistic pleasure category.

My crisis (there’s that word!) has been an internal, spiritual and mental one. I slid into it not really understanding what was going on, and I seem to be emerging from it much more comfortable in my skin than I ever have been.

As background, I was pretty happy-go-lucky growing up. I took everything and everybody pretty much at face value, and I had little interest in probing any deeper than that. I worked hard in school and made good grades, even without developing particularly sharp critical skills. I was painfully shy and I experienced the death of a parent at age 14, but I thought that I got over that very quickly by simply blocking it out. Otherwise, I had a good childhood, good grades, and a good attitude.

I grew up LDS, which wasn’t that big a deal one way or the other as a kid. Most people in Oklahoma thought we were an oddball church, but they left us alone. I always resented the negative emphasis put on things, but to be fair that was mostly my mother’s doing. My father was not LDS –- I think he was agnostic -- but he left religion up to my mother, so he had no influence on my spirituality. Years later, after law school, I rediscovered my old faith and became very active in it.

From the perspective of an outsider, I suppose Mormonism looks like a mish-mash of puritanism, reimagined Old Testament Judaism, and 19th Century American mythology. From the perspective of an insider, however, none of that matters. What matters is that Joseph Smith restored the Church of the New Testament in its original form following a long apostasy, and that the LDS Church is led by a living prophet, whose inspiration can supersede and even reverse the doctrines and policies of previous prophets.

As I grew older, I noticed a few internal demons that I blocked out just like I had my father’s death – or so I thought. I was always aware of things I considered to be inadequacies, and I always felt somehow inferior to others in my circle of friends and acquaintances. I never consciously thought of that as a big deal, particularly as I gained their respect and affection in other arenas. I realize now that those internal demons and inadequacies gave rise to a searing self-hate, but that realization came only very recently.

A few years ago, the happy-go-lucky kid who took things as they were began to disappear. First came the neurological issues with other family members. DW had a nasty bout with postpartum depression after our first son was born; our first son was diagnosed as autistic/MR in 1999; and our second son was diagnosed as autistic/MR in 2000. As I had done with my feelings about my father’s death and my inner demons, I suppressed my emotions immediately. I was going to fix eveything single-handedly and defeat autism and depression head-on by myself. I ignored anybody who said I would burn out; I figured if I can’t be a husband and father, then what good am I? I have learned from watching my children exhibit self-injurious and outwardly violent behaviors and from their odd learning patterns that I understand very little about the human brain and about what motivates human behavior. That’s not to say that I’ve suspended all judgment about conduct, but I do think that some behaviors I considered deviant or sinful or whatever are brain-based and therefore natural. Also, I have learned from the efforts we have made to cope with our family situation that rigid rules must be thrown aside for the sake of survival.

At the same time all of this was going on, I began to reevaluate my faith. I was teaching a Sunday school class for the first time in ages, and really for the first time I thought about doctrinal and historical issues. I have always disagreed with the hard line the Church has taken on many gay and feminist issues, but for me the bigger problems were spiritual, historical, and theological. I have no problem with mysticism and theology generally, but the Church has a problem with the discipline of history. Perhaps this helps to explain the pronounced anti-intellectualism of some of the current Church leadership. Moreover, the increasing absolutism on nitpicky little things by church leadership really started to bug me. Why should it matter how many earrings people wear or what color shirt men wear to church on Sunday? Finally, I hadn't felt spiritually uplifted inside the Church for several years. I was going throught the motions, with little or no return. All of my mental issues with the Church were going on against a backdrop of my DW finding excuses to dodge church meetings and my children being somewhat unwelcome in the local ward. So I just walked away.

Around the same time I walked, I became clinically depressed. I suppose I pushed myself too hard, stayed up too many nights, etc. Somehow it all changed my brain chemistry. I started in therapy and on antidepressants. I felt better once I was on antidepressants, but there were some underlying issues I needed to work on. And one huge new issue arose early this year, when we decided to place our oldest son in a residential facility. It is a good place for him to be right now, but I was crushed by having to make that decision.

I began to tinker with yoga during 2003, and my therapist suggested I study the moral principals of that practice. I poked around in a couple of books, and for whatever reason I didn’t take to Hinduism. I really enjoyed meditating at the end of yoga workouts, so I picked up a book by the Dalai Lama one night at Target. As I read that book, I thought, "finally! Someone is telling the truth about my life!" I didn’t go with the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan tradition, which struck me as too complicated and church-like. Instead, I ended up at my local Zen center. Zen is radical in its simplicity, and I think that drives some folks away. I noticed after a short time that my zazen practice was opening my subconscious and was popping open the locks on the places where I had stored away all those emotions, feelings, and demons that had been suppressed for so many years. Also, I’ve had a series of bizarre dreams in the past 18 months or so, the gist of which is that I cannot escape from my subsconscious, so all of these things must be addressed.

I suppose a lot of what I’ve experienced is existential in nature. Who am I? What in the hell is going on inside me? Does this happen to everybody after age 40?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

This week I'm part of an experiment at work called Continuity of Ordinary Operarting Procedure, or COOP. In case of a hurricane or a terrorist attack, my employer wants to be able to keep us working and being paid. Thus about 20 of us are spending the week working from home. I'm loving it -- I get up at my usual time, have a bowl of cereal, then sit down at the computer and get to work. I've worked from about 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. until 2:30 or 3:00, with a few short breaks here and there. I'm an early bird, so that's a great schedule for me. Also, I can start work when I'm fresh and not after an hour-long commute. I've written up four cases in two days, and I only brought home six for the entire week.

On the down side, yesterday's respite-care worker felt like a fifth wheel with me around, and today's worker didn't bother to show up. I'm trying to get them started on some behavioral exercises with A., something that has been allowed to slide since the beginning of the school year.

Friday, November 12, 2004

I had another fun little dream last night. I was hiking up a high chasm above Lake Powell, Utah/Arizona, with someone I used to know but who's name I can't remember. Dave and Voodew were standing on a kind of rope bridge spanning the chasm, watching a Canadian Football League game that was going on below, I suppose away from the lake. At the bottom of the lake was a space shuttle that had crashed there. However, the shuttle was completely intact, and could be seen clearly through the pristine water. That's about all I remember.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

From the DZ:

The sage sees how to stop clinging
While all others find this very hard.
If you can see through joy and sorrow,
Then you too will glimpse the great peace.

- Perfection of Wisdom

I have been having a hard time letting my thoughts float in and out during zazen recently. I seem to grasp whatever comes into my head and process it with thought until I consciously expel it and start that process over with something else. The idea of zazen, as I understand it, is to have direct experience with the life force that precedes thought entirely. I may have done this on a few occasions -- I'm not exactly sure -- but it's been difficult to achieve that state of mushotoku mind, where I have no expectation of gain and where I just let thoughts drift like clouds across the sky. However, on those few occasions, I have felt my mind break through its boundaries and become spacious and somehow connected with life, the universe, and everything. Or maybe somebody put something in the water.

Monday, November 08, 2004

This morning A's teacher mentioned that St. Joseph's Catholic Church in the city is holding a monthly mass for disabled children. Yesterday was the second month for that; she hadn't told us previously because we aren't Catholic. I told her to let us know the date of the next mass because A. enjoyed the service at the St. Mary's school and he seems to like sacred music. At yesterday's service, the priest brought out some flowers and told the kids to take one and give it somebody they love. One boy with Down's Syndrome kept coming back; he handed out about eight flowers. It seems like something that's worth a try.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Whew! I'm plum tuckered out at 8:00 p.m. this Sunday evening. DW brought T home for the weekend, and the fireworks started Friday night when saw A taking DW and I to the bedroom for A's bedtime ritual. T started screaming and throwing things, including the toy 18-wheeler DW had purchased for him on the way home. It took an hour or two to get things back under control.

Yesterday, I took T and A to the park in the morning. A stepped in a fire-ant mound as I was placing T on the swing. I had to run over and attend to A, who ran off to play as soon as I brushed off the ants. The boys loved watching me run around screaming like a caveman, but I heard one small boy tell his mother that I scared him. T and I played a game on the teeter-totter in which he would say his name, then I would slam my butt down on the my side, launching T several inches into the air. For some reason, other parents don't play that way with their kids.

Things went well for an hour or so, when T pooped his pants. We went home and changed T's clothes, then drove to the railyard in the city to find a train. We saw the tail end of a big train, so I whipped across the industrial canal to see if there was anything on that side. Nothing. Not a thing. T launched into another huge tantrum, which led to me moving to the back of the van to put him in a therapeutic hold. We were that way until we got home.

Later, it was back to the park, where we played until dark. Again, we played with reckless abandon and me running hard and grunting and growling like a caveman. Both T and A were angry about having to leave, so we drove home with me in the back holding T again. After A went to bed, I took T to the mall for his one-on-one time with me. He enjoyed himself, but I think he would have preferred Target.

This morning, we drove back to Alexandria. T and A both tantrumed when we passed the McDonalds just outside Baton Rouge. We never stop at that one, but they wanted to today. Now here was a challenge: simultaneous tantrums in both the middle seat and the back seat. I managed to get them both calmed down, but I did have to jump back and forth while DW was driving along at 70 mph.

So we drop T back at school and head to the infamous Alexandria McDonalds with A. Great luck, the playland was closed while the staff cleaned up some kid's poop. Savage tantruming as we put A into the car and drove off. It only took about five minutes to get him calmed, and we had smooth sailing from then on.

A few observations about the weekend: First, T is very angry, which isn't the least bit surprising. However, he still loves to be with us. I'm sure the whole situation is terribly confusing to him. Second, A adores T, and does whatever he can to get T to notice him. Yesterday at the park, A swung on the big-kid swing for the first time, and he did it on the swing right next to T. Third, an experience that now seems terribly exhausting is something that used to be a pretty typical weekend. No wonder I've put on so much weight in the past couple of years.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Yesterday Phoebe got me a'thinkin' 'bout anger and the difficulty I have with that emotion. I'm very self-critical and aware of my inadequacies, failures, and inner demons, so I have quite a bit of anger turned inwards. I've been told that depression is anger turned inwards. However, I have real trouble allowing myself to be angry at other people or about events around me. Is that a Randy thing? A guy thing? A Mormon thing? A Mormon guy thing?

Friday, November 05, 2004

The election is over and my inner political junkie is in withdrawal. I don't get all the Bush-hate I've seen on the Internet the past few days. [Edited after Randy got down off of his high horse]. The Libertarians are still a bunch of kooks, however. Just kidding!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Ironic words on a blog:

With one who does not
Speak his every thought
I spend a pleasant evening.

- Hyakuchi (1748-1836)

Monday, November 01, 2004

Today's Daily Zen is hilariously inapposite in the context of the near-90 degree temperatures we've been experiencing around here lately:

In field nor mountain,
Nothing stirs
On this snowy morning.

- Chiyo-Ni (1701-1775)