Perspective – Stories Told By Trees in a Giant Forest

Published August 22, 2016 by Jen from MyAlternateUniv

As the saying goes, sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees – you concentrate so hard on the details that you miss the big picture. By the same token, it’s possible to notice the whole while ignoring it’s individual parts – seeing the forest but neglecting to acknowledge the trees.

Then there are those moments when you see both at the same time. It’s all about perspective.

I remember it clearly. I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, sitting on the floor of my bedroom, deeply engrossed in my activity, carefully cutting pieces of cardboard and taping them together to make horses and farmers to go with the cardboard barn I had made.

I could play like this for hours in my quiet, safe cocoon, fully content to be alone with my creativity.

Carefully I drew a face and clothes on the farmer with a black magic marker then folded his legs so that he could ride his cardboard horse. My world consisted of just this activity at that moment – the farmer, the horse, the barn – a little cardboard world of my own creation.

As I began cutting out the next addition to my farm, my concentration was interrupted by music floating through the wall that separated my bedroom from my brothers’ bedroom, and with the music came a mind-altering realization: While I sat playing on the floor of my room, thinking my thoughts, doing my thing, my brothers were in the next room listening to music, thinking their thoughts, and doing whatever it was they were doing.

It was a weird, out-of-body moment, a new awareness that this was not my world with all the people around me playing a specific role in it – “brother”, “Mom”, “Dad”, “teacher”. Indeed, all those people had their own world, their own thoughts and likes and dislikes. Some had been alive and thinking thoughts and doing things before I was even born!

At that moment, my egocentric understanding of life expanded. This realization didn’t diminish my feelings of self-worth – it instead made me more open to understanding others and seeing different points of view.

I have had several of these “shifts in perspective” throughout my life, moments when I understand something on a cognitive level that on its surface seems completely obvious but for a lack of recognition – like suddenly seeing both the forest and the trees.

I remember being in elementary school, my teacher quietly asking if my parents could afford to pay for the field trip to the circus, the different colored ticket I carried to the cafeteria every day for reduced-cost lunch, the food stamps and government surplus food my family qualified for – all this fed into my perception that I must be poor. By the time I was a young adult I had built a mythology on the idea that I had worked hard to overcome humble beginnings to achieve my goals.

In my mid-twenties, I interned in an urban school in a section of the city known for socioeconomic challenges.

A moment of clarity came as I tutored a third grader who was reading at a first grade level. He was struggling more than usual this particular day, and he finally looked up at me and said, “Miss, my dad is in the hospital. He OD’d last night. The ambulance came and everything. I’m really worried about him.”

That was the moment I stopped congratulating myself for pulling myself up by my bootstraps.

Because I hadn’t.

Comparatively speaking, my upbringing had been idyllic, charmed even, with the opportunity to play, and be a kid, and create farms out of cardboard – without the burden of grown-up stresses.

Admitting this fact did not diminish the pride I had in my accomplishments – it instead made me more aware of disparity and how vastly different life experiences can be.

And here again, my son and his diagnosis of autism have pushed me out of my zone of comfort into this alternate universe and an entire community I previously never knew existed, a community familiar with struggle and need.

Autism does not discriminate. The workshops, seminars, and support groups I’ve attended are a mix of people of all races, ethnicities, religions, and social classes. We share. We listen. We empathize. Our commonality is that we are all parents of children with special needs, however each of us brings our own history, our own unique personalities, talents, and challenges.

Beyond statistics and numbers, beyond stereotypes – Each of us is a story.

A few months after our son was diagnosed with autism, my husband was laid off from his job. It was 2011 and “The Great Recession” was in full swing, so our story was not unique. But then again – our story WAS unique. The emotions, the fears, and the complications that enhanced them were very much our own.

After my husband found another job and the intense stress and uncertainty subsided, I became active in social media again, only to be confronted by a barrage of memes and comments aimed at shaming the poor, the unemployed, and anyone receiving assistance from the government, despite it being a time of great need. I pushed back, not just in defense of myself but in defense of all those nameless, faceless people comprising the statistics and stereotypes.

Because the people posting these memes were my friends, they responded apologetically – of course they didn’t mean me. But I understood – they didn’t mean me only because they knew me.

To anyone who didn’t know me I was part of those statistics, recently but also when I was a child.  So, too, was the father suffering from addiction and his son who loved him, the struggling parents in my support groups, and even my son with his special needs – all trees in this giant forest.

It seemed on the surface to be so obvious but for the lack of recognition: To have the complexities of each human life reduced to a number or assigned a stereotype, was to deny each unique history, each individual story.

Understanding this on a more global level does not solve the problems of the world nor deny their existence – but it has given me the perspective to view social issues through compassionate eyes, to dig deeper even when my first reaction is anger or judgment.

I’ll admit, I sometimes find this level of awareness overwhelming. So much suffering and need; so much inequity and injustice. It would be easier to retreat to a place of safety, ignoring the complexities of problems by dismissing them with sweeping statements of condemnation.

In an increasingly cynical age, when compassion is seen as naivety and pithy clichés seem to have lost their pith, it takes a surprising amount of courage to listen to the stories told by trees in a giant forest.

But I will listen, and I will continue to challenge perceptions with those stories in the hope that others might catch a glimpse of the world from another perspective… and maybe even be convinced to stay and share some stories of their own.


photo courtesy of Pixabay

photo courtesy of Pixabay


Behavior – When “Totally About To Lose Your Sh*t” Becomes a State of Being

Published June 6, 2016 by Jen from MyAlternateUniv

I’m being completely honest when I say that for all the “how to raise a healthy baby books” I read when I was pregnant, I did not read one single book on child behavior, discipline, and parenting. First of all, my parents kept 6 of us in line when we were growing up, so I figured I’d just follow their example. Secondly, I was an elementary school teacher and had read many books on child psychology and classroom management. As a teacher I was strict and structured, but loving and fair, and once my class understood my expectations we were able to do fun things.

Strict, loving, fair, and fun.

If I could control classrooms full of 9 and 10 year olds and get them to learn stuff and actually enjoy it, then parenting ONE kid? Pffft! How hard could it be?

Yup, when it came to the behavior of my future child, I was bursting with the self-assured confidence of one who knows they have set sail on a ship that is absolutely unsinkable.

From my vantage point on the deck of my absolutely unsinkable ship, I could glance askance at the red-faced, “totally about to lose her shit”, grocery store mom with two screaming kids in tow and vow with certitude that that would never be me.

Now I’ve mentioned in previous posts about how Fate delights in serving up a healthy helping of humble pie in response to statements of unabashed overconfidence. I’ve also warned against passing judgment on those who find themselves stuck on a dinosaur-filled island, lest a T-Rex or a few velociraptors be released in your general direction. I’ve also suggested being pragmatic when planning for a zombie apocalypse, because the grasshopper that sings instead of making preparations is destined to be eaten alive.

These are all topics I’ve explored since arriving in my alternate universe. Keep in mind that at the time of self-assuredness described above, my son had yet to be born. So although I had battled anxiety demons my whole life up to that point, I was (comparatively speaking) still but a singing grasshopper in a dino-free, unsinkable universe.

The reality of just how ill-prepared I was for my son’s behavior became apparent when he was around five years old. For now, let’s abandon the zombies and dinosaurs and stick with just the Titanic metaphor, which actually makes sense since an iceberg is quite analogous to the challenging behaviors that accompany my son’s autism.

The “challenging behaviors” to which I’m referring are aggressive behaviors like scratching, hitting, pinching, and biting that some (not all) autistic individuals engage in. If you’ve heard the statement “just the tip of the iceberg”, you know it means that you are seeing only a small part of a much larger whole. So it is with my son’s behavior – it is the tip of the iceberg, the visible part above the surface. The much larger part, the causes or “antecedents”, are below the surface.

My son is non-verbal, and he sometimes uses these behaviors to show his frustration at not being able to communicate basic needs and feelings. Because of his sensory issues, he might act out aggressively as a means of defense from over-stimulation in an overwhelming environment. He might also lash out to escape or avoid a task that is confusing, difficult, frustrating, or simply something he doesn’t want to do. It could be a combination of all of these things…or none of them. Sometimes with his “icebergs” we can only guess at the causes that lie beneath the surface.

If this was the maiden voyage of an average ship in average seas, I would be hanging out on the poop deck, having a drink with “angry, red-faced grocery store mom”, commiserating about how much our kids are driving us nuts.

But my story has icebergs. My ship of confidence is going down, and we’re sending up flares and distress signals, hoping help will arrive in the form of a behavior therapist or autism expert, someone to lead us to calmer waters.

Let me tell you – to fall from such lofty heights and plunge into the icy waters of reality below has been shocking and painful, the most chilling part being the guilt that accompanies the recognition that I am far from being the perfect parent my son deserves.

I, more than anyone else in my son’s life, should be patient and understanding about his behaviors. But the truth is when he is pinching and punching and biting and scratching me…I’m angry. And those red-faced, “totally about to lose my shit” moments I swore I’d never have? Some days that is my entire state of being.

And therein lies my glacial guilt, that icy realization that I’m not kind enough, not patient enough, not understanding enough…that despite the fact that I love my son more than anything else in this world, I’m still failing miserably as a parent.

I’m inclined to believe that sometimes when Fate sets you adrift in frigid waters, the Universe aligns to throw you a life preserver.   Because in one of my lowest, most guilt-ridden moments, I happened across this quote from Fred Rogers:

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

Well, that’s just it, isn’t it? Love is an active noun. It’s not static, exact, or definable.   It has no limits or boundaries to mark its presence or outline its shape. It grows, moves, evolves, transforms. And in love, as in nature, such processes require struggling and striving and enduring.

Even when your love for someone is as deep and wide as all the world’s oceans, it isn’t like you’re floating in the tropical Caribbean Sea every day, basking in the warm, blissful state of “perfect caring”. Yes, even with a love so deep and wide, you may still end up spending some time treading water in the iceberg-filled Arctic. Those days can be a mental, physical, and emotional struggle.

And so we struggle and we strive, my boy and I.

I wake up every day and strive to better understand and accept my boy’s icebergs. My boy wakes up with smiles and hugs – his way of letting me know he’s striving to accept my mistakes and failures, too.

We are doing the very best we can just as we are, right here and now. It’s not perfect, but it is love.

*     *     *

It’s been a challenging day, and I’m rocking my son to sleep like so many countless nights since the day he was born. He is 6 years old now and 50 pounds, his head resting on my shoulder, his body stretching down past my knees. My arms are wrapped around him, my cheek resting on his head.

His chest rises and falls – his breathing, slow and rhythmic, like waves on a beach.

Coming in.

Going out.

I smell the familiar scent of his hair and feel the comforting weight of his body, his heart beating right next to mine.

The waters are calm. Not an iceberg in sight. We gently rock in the warm glow of his musical projector.

We drift and float,

lulled to sleep in this moment of perfect caring.


Image courtesy of Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Works Cited:

Rogers, Fred. “The World According to Mister Rogers – Important Things to Remember”. New York: MFJ Books/Family Communications, Inc., 2003.

Identity – Missing the Bells and Whistles

Published April 25, 2016 by Jen from MyAlternateUniv

My husband and I both drive gray Honda Civics – one is fully loaded and the other is a strip-down model. Because I drive our son to school and therapy, my husband has graciously left me the car with all the amenities, taking the car with only the factory basics for his long commute to work every day.

On occasions when my car needs service, I have driven the strip-down car. And although there is stuff I can live without, I realize how much it really sucks when certain things are missing.

My husband’s car has an AM/FM radio, but no CD player…not even a cassette player. There is no “auto-lock”, so each door must be manually locked, with the driver’s side requiring you to hold up the handle while locking it. It is not equipped with AC, and the windows are the old fashioned, hand-crank variety. To add insult to injury, the hand-crank on the driver’s side sticks and requires two hands to wrestle the window open and closed as it screeches and groans loudly in protest.

The car’s interior has seen better days. The ceiling material has detached itself from the insulating foam and would hang so low as to obscure the view through the rear window if my husband hadn’t clipped it back up in several places. Likewise, the glue holding the upholstery fabric to both back doors lost its adhesive power years ago, and now the fabric hangs loosely, attached only in the upper corner where it is trapped under the plastic casing surrounding the door handles.

When I get the car up to speed on the highway, the engine roars and the steering column shudders. I half expect to look in my rearview mirror and see a trail of debris made up of bits of fuselage that has peeled itself off the exterior of the car. On warm days when the windows are down, material on the doors and ceiling balloon and flutter and snap in the wind, frayed and threadbare in some places like the sails of a ghost ship adrift on the high seas.

But for all it lacks and for all its flaws and oddities, it’s a good little car that gets us from point A to point B. Usually that’s all that matters.

Before my son was born, I remember dreaming of what it would be like to be a stay-at-home mom. Even if we could only afford for me to leave my career for a year or two, I was excited to throw myself into the role full-time. I would be the same person with all the same interests and hobbies and dreams – all those things that made me “ME”… and I would ALSO be a fabulously amazing mother.

It’s all about balance, you see. I had read that somewhere.

But my experience as a parent has not been about balance at all. It’s been about sacrifice.

From the moment my son was born, I’ve shed little bits of me. I’ve watched in my rearview mirror as those parts bounce and clatter and roll away behind me, retreating into the distance, memories of a person I once was. And with each new bump in our autism journey I shed more of me.

In my old universe, I was a teacher, a dancer, a runner, a reader. I traveled and climbed mountains and took photographs with a camera that required actual film. By no means was my life a “luxury car”, and I had no desire for a turbo-charged life in the fast lane. Mine was a practical, comfortable life with enough “bells and whistles” to keep things fun and interesting. Music playing and moon-roof open, I felt free to explore the world and discover my place in it – my interests, my passions, my identity.

I’ve spent some time mourning the loss of these pieces of my identity as if they were, indeed, lying by the side of the road somewhere, decomposing and forgotten like so much carelessly discarded litter. I’ll admit, I’ve felt sad and angry and resentful, even bitter about the loss of those pieces. I miss the “bells and whistles”.   I miss my freedom.

Sacrifice is often painted as noble and honorable, a necessary step on the path toward deeper meaning and personal growth. But sacrifice worthy of honor should be a gift given willingly with a full heart, not grudgingly with exaggerated sighs and muttered curses…right?

And so I’ve worried – Am I a selfish, horrible person?

I realize now that I am not a selfish, horrible person, because if I gave up or lost something and didn’t miss it, it wasn’t all that important to me in the first place. Missing it is what makes it a sacrifice. That struggle is where deeper meaning and growth is found, not in some blissful acceptance of things lost.

And when life circumstances force you to sacrifice things that are important to you, when you are stripped down to the factory basic model of yourself, it can make you reconsider the very idea of identity.

It’s true that I am no longer a professional teacher, and I have little time for pleasure reading. It’s true that my dreams of traveling and exploring the world may no longer be possible in my present circumstance. And it’s true that although I’m the same make and model, same year, I’m not in such great shape anymore. My best dancing and running days may be behind me, as some of my parts have taken to creaking and groaning, and now I wheeze and cough when I reach speeds at which I once cruised with ease.

But who I am at the core remains the same when I define myself not with nouns like teacher, dancer, and explorer, but with adjectives like passionate, curious, idealistic, and creative. These traits are the engine that moves me forward, the engine that has ALWAYS moved me forward.

No matter the condition of my exterior. No matter how tattered and threadbare my interior may become from the storms that whip through me. No matter the bits and pieces and parts that fall away. No matter my flaws and oddities, my engine still somehow gets me from Point A to Point B. It gives me the power to reimagine, redefine, reinvent myself.

There are many ways to be a teacher.

There are many ways to be an explorer.

There are many ways to dance.

I need to spend less time looking in the rearview mirror lamenting what is lost and focus instead on the road ahead. My engine is driving me in a different direction now, on a road less traveled – one with twists and bends and mountains to navigate and few road signs to guide the way. The uncertainty is both terrifying and exhilarating.

So now with my music playing and moon-roof open, with a full tank and my engine strong, it’s time to explore my new world and discover my place in it, and maybe, just maybe, “find myself”.

My unexpected detour might make all the difference.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Nature – Surprising Instincts of a Praying Mantis and a Six Year-Old Boy

Published March 27, 2016 by Jen from MyAlternateUniv

About three miles from our house there is a white Congregational Church with a tall steeple, giant pillars, and huge, rectangular windows. And behind this church is a shady playground with swings and climbers and plastic houses and a sandbox and seesaws and those bouncy horses attached to giant metal springs in the ground. And around this playground there is a chain-link fence. And on this fence, on this particular summer afternoon, there sat a praying mantis.

I imagine this praying mantis was feeling pretty confident that day, sitting atop that fence, maybe hoping for a yummy insect meal to come her way. Sure there were predators about, in the skies and on the ground. But she didn’t feel overly concerned because her great mantis ancestors had passed on a clever adaptation that offered her protection – the camouflage of a leaf-like body shape.

She knew she wasn’t the foremost predator on the food chain, but in the insect world she was pretty hot shit. After all, praying mantises sometimes ate their prey alive. The females of her species had the reputation for cannibalizing their mates. Some large mantises could eat birds – BIRDS! Not that SHE was capable of that, but still… those are the instincts that demand respect in the world of nature.

She stretched her forearms, rotated her head to take in her surroundings, rocked forward and back a few times on her long, spindly legs, and sighed, settling in for a lazy, relaxing day in the sunshine atop the fence that surrounded the playground behind the church about three miles from our house.

* * *

My son has non-verbal autism.  He LOVES to be outside. He loves nature. He runs with his face to the sky. He smiles and laughs at the wind in the trees. He lies back in the grass or mud or snow, just lies there – listening, feeling, being.

One of my son’s little quirks is that he likes to carry objects around in his hands. These objects can be small toys, or pieces of ribbon, cellophane, or fabric – anything that has an interesting texture. Outside he might carry a twig or a leaf or a long, dry stalk from one of the hundreds of tiger lilies that have taken over our yard.

I can’t say exactly why he carries objects; it’s just something he has done since he had chubby, saliva-covered, toddler fists. Maybe the objects are comforting to him, helping him transition from one space to another. Maybe they distract him from an overwhelming world, giving his hands something with which to “fidget”. Or maybe they just fascinate him. Who knows?

He carried an object out to the car on that warm, summer afternoon – a crinkly straw wrapper from a Capri Sun juice pouch. He dropped it as soon as he climbed into his car seat, trading it for a green, satin ribbon he found on the back seat. I buckled him in as my husband started the car, and soon the three of us were on our way to the playground behind the Congregational Church in town.

This playground had become a favorite of mine since the first time we visited it with one of my son’s therapists. For one thing, a gigantic maple tree shades a good portion of it, which is unusual for playgrounds in our area. It has a wide variety of equipment for children to play on. Although popular on the weekends, it is often empty during the week. And best of all, it is completely fenced in, meaning I can actually relax when I bring my son there instead of hovering close by and chasing him every time he bolts. Here, he’s free to roam and run as he pleases, without Mom cramping his style.

He sprinted through the gate, dropping his green ribbon as he stopped to examine the bouncy horses with their huge metal springs. Then he took off again, heading for the swings. I stooped to pick up his ribbon, sliding it into my pocket for the car ride home. My husband and I slowly followed our boy, with no particular desire to move too quickly in the heat. We watched as he flitted from one area to another, making happy, excited sounds, occasionally finding a new treasure to hold – a small scrap of paper, a sandbox toy, a blade of grass.

A few minutes later, he slowed his pace and drifted toward the perimeter fence. Even though there were no other children around, he was still drawn to this place of safety. He made his way along the fence, keeping his eyes open for anything of interest on the ground or in the skies.

Near the back corner of the playground, I saw him reach out and pluck a leaf from the top rung of the fence. He walked a few steps then opened his hand to examine his leaf with a look of surprise. After a quick glance, he gently placed his other hand over the leaf, walked back to the fence, and put the leaf back on the exact spot he had taken it from. He scrunched his nose a little, brushed his hands on his pants, and hurried away to find a new activity.

Suspicious, I strode over to see what had prompted my boy to return the leaf from whence it came. And there it was, teetering unsteadily on the top rung of the chain link fence – a large praying mantis.

My voice shot up an octave as I half-breathed, half yelled to my husband, “Holy crap! Praying mantis! Honey, he picked up a praying mantis! Did it bite him?! Do they bite?! Check his hands!”

The mantis appeared to be in shock, and although my son had been very considerate in placing her back on the fence, he hadn’t quite gotten her completely balanced before letting go. Now she was slipping off the side, her legs desperately clinging to the wire links.

Not wanting to freak her out even more, I grabbed a stick and used it to push her body onto the bar at the top of the fence where she could position herself better. And there she stayed, posing as I snapped a few photos with my cell phone.


My son was fine. The praying mantis was fine.

And an interaction that had amounted to no more than a few brief moments had left me with a feeling of great respect for my son. Because I know what I would have done if I had accidentally picked up an insect instead of a leaf – I would have made a high-pitched yelping sound, dropped it on the ground, and backed away whilst shuddering and carrying on in a ridiculously embarrassing manner. I’ll admit it. I’m not proud.

Besides those like me who would react with fear, consider the fate of that praying mantis in the hands of a more thoughtless, more reckless human.

With all his anxiety and impulsiveness, meltdowns and outbursts, my son’s instinct was to be gentle, to protect, to correct his mistake. He exhibited amazing self-control in that moment, given that he had no idea what he held in his hands and if it posed a threat to him.

Praying mantises are so bizarre, so alien in appearance. I wonder what flashed through my son’s mind as he beheld this strange creature, with its triangle shaped head, bulbous eyes, elongated thorax, and long, serrated, multi-jointed forearms. He had no way to ask; he could only search his own memory for a category in which it might belong and, in a split second, decide what he should do with it.

I admire his decision. I admire his instincts.

How sad it is that kindness, gentleness, and compassion are often viewed as weaknesses. In the natural world, the predator is feared and respected. In the human world, it’s the biggest show of force that is respected, the loudest voice in the room that is acknowledged. Power and dominance are associated with strength.

However, I will argue there is a different kind of strength, a deep, sometimes quiet strength, required to resist those predatory instincts,

to do the right thing in spite of fear,

to be kind and compassionate in an unkind world,

to listen and feel and be, without the desire to dominate.

* * *

On a fence surrounding a playground behind a church about three miles from our house sat a praying mantis recovering from a harrowing day. As the sun retreated leaving a warm, damp dusk in its wake, the introspective, humbled insect put her forearms together and thanked her mantis god that she had survived her ordeal. Her leaf-like appearance had been a disadvantage that day, but she had gotten lucky. She was a changed mantis and promised to pay it forward, vowing to never again bite the heads off her mates in the future. She swiveled her head, sensing night’s arrival, as the skies turned pink, then purple, then a deep, deep blue above the chirping playground behind the sleepy church about three miles from our house.


photo courtesy of Pixabay

Magic – The Power of a Superhero Cape

Published February 29, 2016 by Jen from MyAlternateUniv

The transformation was immediate. As soon as I fastened it around his neck, my boy was running at lightning speed around the house with the electric blue cape whipping out behind him in his wake. He stopped to climb up on a step stool, paused for a moment to let out a whoop of joy, then leaped into the air. He hit the ground running again, around his circuit, into the living room, down the hall, back through the kitchen.

There is something magical about a cape, something that my son can sense even though he has never seen a superhero movie and has little or no background knowledge to understand its significance. What’s more, my son is like many other children with autism who view the world in a very literal way and have difficulty playing imagination games and pretending.

But there was definitely something about that cape.

A few days later I was packing a bag to take to my son’s allergist appointment. It was a survival bag filled with toys, his Ipod, and other distractions to keep him occupied (and hopefully calm) in the waiting room. Because of his egg allergy, every year I needed to take my son to the allergist to get his flu shot. Since egg albumin is used in the process for making the immunization, he had to be observed for a reaction for a half hour after he received his shot.

As one can imagine, it was usually a really long half hour with a very unhappy boy. I had been dreading “flu shot day” for weeks.

On a whim, I shoved the cape into his bag at the last second and bustled him out to the car.

The shot itself was blissfully quick, but now I had to keep my wailing child in the crowded waiting room until the nurse gave us the OK to leave. My son pulled me to the door, crying and indicating he wanted to leave. I sat down on the floor and pulled him onto my lap, trying to comfort him with hugs and soft words, fishing out a few little toys from the bag to distract him.

Other patients glanced at us as he shrieked and struggled to break free.

Grabbing his iPod, I started the movie, “The Pirates: Band of Misfits”. He usually loved the first 15 minutes or so, but not today.   He bided his time… waited for his moment… and as a family walked in the door, my son made a break for it.

After I had chased him down and dragged him back into the waiting room, I remembered the cape. I pulled it out of the bag and fastened it ceremoniously around his neck, a reward for his bravery on “flu shot day”.

He instantly calmed down, and his body visibly relaxed. Sliding his fingers down the satin material and pulling it so it covered his shoulders, he looked up and smiled the biggest superhero smile.

There was no room to run in that crowded waiting room, but my boy bounced and jumped so his cape would catch the air, whooping happily.

Yes, there is indeed something magical, something empowering about a superhero cape.


Wisdom – A Party, A Lightning Bolt, and A Cosmic Kick in the Pants

Published January 15, 2016 by Jen from MyAlternateUniv

In the course of writing what I hope to be my masterful memoir, filled with wise, spiritual epiphanies and clever, somewhat off-beat observations of life, I have made an important yet unsettling discovery: It appears that the transformative lessons bequeathed to me by what I have deemed my “cosmic kick in the pants” have actually all been written and philosophized and quoted about ad nauseam throughout human history already.

Here I am considering and pondering and putting things together in my mind to arrive at that moment when a lightning bolt strikes my brain, sending electricity through my gray matter, neuron to neuron, until the circuit is complete and my proverbial “light bulb” lights up. Excitedly, I jot notes and phrases, determined to properly capture and convey one of life’s truths by weaving it into an entertaining story.

But now I find myself wondering… Could it be I’m late to this party?

Did I awaken into this Universe to view life with new eyes and an altered perspective in order to learn what everyone else already knows, having learned it somewhere on their own journey?

It certainly feels that way when I go in search of quotes to include in my various chapters. It’s all been discovered, explored, analyzed, and summarized in succinct yet profound statements and prose, some paired with ethereal pictures in shareable, social media-ready e-cards.

Initiating a quote search on any given topic is like entering a room full of writers and philosophers, artists and musicians, comedians, actors, and less than famous folk to boot, all standing around sipping wine, martinis, lattes, or tea (depending on the crowds they run with), discussing in somber tones about “empathy” and how they “found light in the darkness”, or talking with animated excitement about “enlightenment” and “finding bliss”, or stroking their chins and nodding thoughtfully at the idea that “every person has a story” and, by that virtue, “every person is the hero of their story”.

Truth is, I feel as though I’ve been wandering amongst these fellow searchers and dreamers my whole life, listening in on conversations that were fascinating, tantalizing, yet frustratingly beyond my level of understanding. Their knowledge, shared in poetic verses and allegorical tales, were simply words and ideas to me. I was a “wannabe” at this party, smiling and nodding politely, laughing self-consciously at jokes I didn’t get, while making mental “notes to self” to read up on certain names and concepts later, wanting desperately to taste the peace and happiness their knowledge would surely bring by revealing to me the clues to the mysteries of life.

So I suppose I’m really not late to the party, just the conversation. At this point in my life I feel a bit more like an actual guest, though underdressed and far less refined than the others mingling and murmuring thoughtfully, engaged in deep discussions of philosophy, religion, spirituality, and mythology.

As I listen and learn and reflect on their words I’m struck by a new epiphany: The reason I did not understand before was because it was knowledge that was handed to me by someone else with no effort on my part. I hadn’t earned it. I could not fully appreciate the meaning in their teachings, not on the same level as discovering those truths by being and doing and struggling and sacrificing. By living.

And when learning comes through experience, it’s no longer just knowledge – it’s wisdom. The lessons I’m learning in this Universe may not be new to the rest of humanity. But my story is my own. The wisdom is my own.

Yet any wisdom I may have gained only leaves me with the uncomfortable and humbling awareness of just how flawed and unfinished I am. I still have so much to learn.

So now I raise my glass to my fellow partygoers. Maybe someday one of my quotes will be shared as a Facebook e-card, most likely with tongue planted firmly in cheek and inappropriately paired with some dramatic, inspirational scene of a tranquil forest glen or powerful ocean wave or mysterious less-traveled path.

Until then, I will read and listen, live and learn, jot notes and await lightning bolts.

Still searching. Still dreaming.

* Addendum*

For the sake of curiosity, following the completion of this post I did a Google search for quotes about wisdom. I present a small sampling:

“Sometimes when learning comes before experience it doesn’t make sense right away.” -Richard David Bach

“Wisdom is the daughter of experience.” – Leonardo da Vinci

AND… Seriously, I kid you not:

“Knowledge comes from learning. Wisdom comes from living.” – Anthony Douglas Williams


Liebster Award – A Post-Thanksgiving Word Workout

Published December 3, 2015 by Jen from MyAlternateUniv


I haven’t published a post in a while. Honestly, the past couple months have been personally challenging, and on top of that I’ve had writer’s block. Oh, I’ve had plenty of stuff to say, even jotted down notes and mapped out chapters. But when I sat down to write, the words didn’t dance lithely from my fingertips to the computer screen. Instead they plodded and slogged and stumbled onto the page, collapsing into a clumsy, discordant lines, and no amount of poking and prodding on my part convinced them to rouse and arrange themselves in a more suitable, artistically engaging fashion.

So I took a little break. Rearranged my office. Cleaned my house. Reconnected with some old favorites from my CD collection.

Naturally, my words felt neglected and ignored, and they petulantly reminded me that I HAD been nominated for a Liebster Award over the summer and couldn’t I at LEAST put them to work fulfilling my requirements as a nominee?

It’s true. What better way to whip my lazy, bloated, uninspiring words back into shape than to answer a few questions? It’s a bit like a long, refreshing hike the day after Thanksgiving.

Before I begin giving my words a workout, I’d like to thank Brandi at Destination Enlightenment for nominating me for this Liebster Award and for providing an inspiration to kick-start my writing again. Brandi is a fellow curious traveler on the journey of life, and her blog is thought provoking and meaningful. I highly recommend checking it out!

The Liebster Award rules:

  • Make a post thanking and linking the person who nominated you.
  • Include the Liebster Award sticker in the post too.
  • Nominate 5 -10 other bloggers who you feel are worthy of this award. Let them know they have been nominated by commenting on one of their posts. You can also nominate the person who nominated you.
  • Ensure all of these bloggers have less than 200 followers.
  • Answer the eleven questions asked to you by the person who nominated you, and make eleven questions of your own for your nominees or you may use the same questions.
  • Lastly, COPY these rules in your post.

(OK. You probably noticed the third rule about nominating other bloggers. Because I have not been actively blogging the past few months, I have yet to complete this task. I will be on the look out for bloggers who meet the above criteria and announce my nominations at a later time. My apologies!)

  1. If you could meet one famous person, who would it be?

I’d be lying if I said there were no celebrities I would be interested in meeting. I can think of lots of actors, musicians, and dancers with whom I’d love to sit down and have a cup of coffee. However, when I imagine such a meeting, I can’t help but think of the initial breathless, starry-eyed handshake, me stammering something about being a REALLY BIG FAN, then the inevitable awkward silence followed by the painful small talk one might expect when two complete strangers meet but one just happens to know, admire, and hold the other in high esteem while the other one…doesn’t. The days and months following such a meeting would be filled with worry and embarrassment about the stupid things I said and why I asked that question and what their tone of voice meant when they answered the question and so on. I would never be able to see their movies, hear their music, or watch their dancing again without being reminded of my self-consciously awkward social inadequacies. No sense creating unnecessary angst.

But the question doesn’t say “celebrity”; it just says “famous person”. And the famous person I immediately thought of that I’d love to meet is Pope Francis. I very much admire him because he is someone who leads by example, with wisdom, kindness, and humility. Although I’m not a church going, religious person anymore, I’m in the midst of a spiritual journey of self-discovery. So it would be pretty amazing to meet the Pope, benefit from his wisdom, and get all deep and philosophical talking theology over a cup of coffee (or tea, as the case may be). Besides, being the Pope I’m sure he’d be forgiving of my social foibles.

  1. What is the simplest thing that makes you smile?

This one’s easy: My son’s smile. He has the most beautiful, infectious smile…seriously, I’m not just saying that because I’m his mom.

  1. What is your favorite season and why?

Autumn is definitely my favorites season. The colors, the smells, the fantastic weather, the free admission to beaches and parks, the far more flattering and comfortable fashions (at least for some of us), and pumpkin flavored everything. Most of all – it’s “back to school” time!  Woo-hoo!

  1. What is your all time favorite food?

I love pretty much any food I do not have to prepare myself. My mom has said that I was born too late because of my love for Big Band era music and movies, but I’ll argue I was born too early because the food replicator from Star Trek’s Enterprise has not been invented yet.

I guess if I were to pick one specific food I would say “taco pie”. It’s a dish my husband invented to use up leftovers from taco night. Layer all the leftovers – rice, corn, meat, sauces, avocado, cheese, shells, etc. – in a pie plate, and heat it in the microwave. So yummy and easy! (Almost as easy as saying, “Computer! Chicken taco pie with low-fat cheese, please.” Almost.)

  1. What song gets you pumped?

I notice this question says “pumped” – not a song that inspires you or gives you chills or you can’t help but dance to or makes you cry every single frickin’ time you hear it – I can name oh, so many of those songs. This is a song that gets you “pumped”. If I want a song that makes me feel strong and powerful and loaded with adrenaline for an ass-kicking workout, I dive into my collection of old, heavy metal CDs and pull out Prodigy “The Fat of the Land” album, the song “Mindfields”.

  1. What was the most inspiring book you have ever read?

Being an elementary teacher in my previous universe, I had the pleasure of reading fabulous literature by children’s authors. One of my favorite books is “Morning Girl” by Michael Dorris. I read it to my 5th graders every year. It’s simple in its story lines, yet exquisitely written in such a way that it elicits empathy in the reader without hitting you over the head with sentimentality. I have also read other stories by Michael Dorris, and he has inspired my writing by painting beautiful images with figurative language and by allowing his characters to work through their emotions to discover deeper meaning.

  1. Any other interests other than writing/blogging?

Swing dancing! That’s how my husband and I met. We danced several times a week, belonged to two performance groups, and although we are horribly out of shape now, we can still break out the Lindy Hop and Charleston moves at weddings. (However, our days of lifts and aerials are over, I’m afraid.)

  1. Do you believe in love at first sight?

No. But I do believe in the idea of being on the same wavelength as someone. It’s kind of like the sound waves produced by music notes. Each note alone is beautiful. When combined with another note it can produce harmonic resonance or jarring dissonance. My husband is easy on the eyes, for sure, but I could sense an immediate connection when we actually talked for the first time. Our notes “blend” well.

  1. Are you multi lingual or do you know parts of another language?

Je parle juste un peu le francais. I learned a little French in high school. I remember enough to order food and to ask where the bathroom is.  Right now I’m learning sign language with my son.

  1. Who do you look up to or who inspires you?

My husband and son inspire me. They are the source of my writing material, the brightest stars in my galaxy, the light shining through my dark matter, the pull for my gravity, the action for my inertia, the chocolate center for my Lindt ball, the wind beneath my wings, and all that. They’re pretty awesome.

  1. What do you enjoy most about blogging?

I love connecting with interesting and amazingly talented bloggers from all around the world!!


So now my words are feeling useful and reinvigorated, all stretched out and ready for blogging again.  Thank you to my readers for not completely giving up on me!



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