Families can be green concrete

That’s a weird title, I know. It looks like email spam nonsense.

The house in which I grew up had a backyard covered in – I kid you not – green concrete. It was some post WWII housing boom idea. You got the green color without the yard work.

We had this strange non-biosphere because my dad grew up subsistence farming. He wanted nothing more to do with “working the land.” It was the harsh labor of his orphan childhood, and even mowing the curbside grass bugged him. As soon as I was tall enough to push a mower (remember push mowers?), the job was mine.

My mom grew up in an immigrant community in Providence, Rhode Island. She had a bricks and concrete childhood, so she actually liked the idea of earth and plants. The parts of the yard not buried in green concrete became her gardens, and she did quite well with a variety of plants and flowering bushes.

The thought hit me today (I’m fighting a virus and that means a head full of strange and muddled thoughts) that my childhood backyard symbolizes what I hear from other caregivers about family and friends.

In so many cases, caregivers lament that family and friends back away from them. They won’t come help out with the house stuff; they won’t provide some respite time for the caregiver; they just won’t, won’t, won’t. The only thing they seem motivated to do is stay away.

Those folks are like the green concrete. They exist as family and friends in some inert way, their names sitting on Christmas card lists and their faces fixed flat in photo albums and such. But they cease to form a living connection to the caregiver and the people who need the care.

I get it, I think. There’s a fear factor, like my dad’s about lawns. You let it get started just a little, and you’re sucked in for good. Family and friends see the stinkiness of care giving, and they want to keep safe distance. And the safe distance gets safer and more distant over time. The connections of dirt and water and roots and grass give way to green concrete.

I hear a few examples – and they are the minority – of family and friends who are more like my mom in her garden. These folks are drawn to dig in. Helping out with care giving enlivens them. They feel a sense of satisfaction from helping out, like planting seeds and watching flowers bloom over time.

OK, so that thought came and went. Think I’ll hit the DayQuil again and take a break.

Before I go, I’ll note that I was back in L.A. a couple of years ago and went by the house where I grew up. The green concrete was gone – in fact, it had just been broken up and the backyard was naked dirt, ready for real grass or a swimming pool or something, anything else to arrive. I didn’t feel any sense of loss – more of a chuckle and a “God bless you” on the new owners.

Oh, and one more thought. Families, I guess, are less about blood than about valuing and sharing important stuff, like Jesus says here:

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

ANGER

Ladies and gentlemen, I need to get angry.  No, that’s not right.  I am angry.

I’ve accustomed myself to turning the anger inward.  It is making me sick.  Physically sick, emotionally unstable, spiritually troubled.

Caregiving plays a part in this.  With autism, the normal parental puffs of anger must be sucked back in.  You can’t do the normal, “Hey, knock it off!” stuff.  It might result in the autistic person melting down, harming himself or others.

So, if the kid is running with scissors, you have to swallow the perfectly normal blast of “Put that down right now” and come up with some weak, whispery little substitute like, “How about we play with pillows instead.”  It is unnatural.

Caregiving in general is about putting your stuff on hold to deal with other peoples’ stuff, even when they are pushing all of your anger buttons.  So caregivers are prime candidates for depression, among other maladies:

Often depressed people report having great difficulties expressing any kind of anger. Instead of becoming angry with someone who has provoked them, the anger is turned inward against some part of the self. They don’t even kick the cat; they kick themselves. These people have a way of making everything their own fault so that no matter what happens, they can blame themselves. Others talk about anger as a useless emotion, i.e., “What good does getting angry do anyway?” Intellectually, they attempt to convince themselves and others that anger accomplishes nothing so why bother. What they don’t realize is that this style drives anger beneath the surface and forces it to find a more indirect avenue for expression.

 

While the repression of anger is a tactical necessity in some caregiving situations, it need not become the prime directive of our lives.  It is deadly to suppress anger in other interactions where it is perfectly appropriate, or to deny ourselves the opportunity to find supportive folks to whom we can vent.

Spiritual wisdom reminds us that swallowed anger doesn’t dissolve.  It festers and sets up terrible outcomes:

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV)

 

As the late Mr. Hendrix reminds us, all of our emotions have a place, even the big, scary guy in the shiny metallic purple armor. We are made in the image of God, and all that we are has the potential to reflect that glory.  So we have to watch out for the inner stuff we try to deny…

Not so fast on that “Out with the old”

“Out with the old, in with the new.”

Flipping a calendar from 2014-2015 and expecting change is, on the one hand, realistic, since little to nothing of this world is permanent.

On the other hand, there’s a superstitious dimension to our thinking.  “Ah-HAH!  A new digit is showing on the calendar, therefore stuff has to get better.”  I had to laugh – actually, I had to switch stations – as a news broadcast on my car radio gave time to an astrologer to opine on what the stars were telling her about 2015.

Life is like a game of hot potato, with our own choices, actions, external events and forces beyond our control all flipping our reality around.  We certainly shape a big chunk of our own circumstances, but after a couple of decades of dealing with autism  I’m not one of those people like mass murderer Timothy McVeigh, who before his execution invoked that creepy pagan “I am the captain of my soul” poem.

The truth?  Some stuff – plenty of stuff – is securely in my hands, and plenty more is hurtling toward me from a blind spot.

The ambiguity of life is palpable right now.  2015 brings Joey’s 21st birthday, which sets up his move into a group home.  Melissa and I have looked toward this – sometimes with “Are we there, yet?” desperation – for years.  But we also imagine looking across the hall from our bedroom to his and seeing it empty.  That’s going to be “different,” to use an empty word for some emotion we’d rather not feel at the moment.

We just had our last in-home meeting with a wonderful case worker from the community agency that serves Joey so well.  A cast of supportive characters in whom we are confident and with whom we are comfortable will be changing with Joey’s next steps in life.  I’m sure the new team will be great, too.  But the change doesn’t inspire “out with the old, in with the new” noisemakers and party hats.

Our older son and his wife (Tim and Carly – I never seem to name them in these blog things) have been in for Christmas and New Year’s.  We’ve delighted in the time with them.  Tomorrow they fly back to their home and near-future in Charleston, SC, and we won’t see them again for months – maybe not until this time a year away – depending upon the hot potato match between what we do and what life throws at us. The new intervals between visits stand to lengthen now that they are married, graduated and working.  So some of “the old” was a plus sign and “the new” might be dangling a minus at us.  Flipping a calendar page is symbolic of that, but not decisive to how the equation works out.

Anyway, enough New Year’s Day musings.  We pray that the One who holds past, present and future together brings you blessings, most of all the inner peace that comes from knowing Him as the undefeated champion of hot potato:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39 ESV)