musings

All posts in the musings category

Perspective – Stories Told By Trees in a Giant Forest

Published August 22, 2016 by Jen Rosado 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

 

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

Published March 27, 2016 by Jen Rosado 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.

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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.

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photo courtesy of Pixabay

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

Published January 15, 2016 by Jen Rosado 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

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Liebster Award – A Post-Thanksgiving Word Workout

Published December 3, 2015 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

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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!

 

 

Luck – The Humbling Unpredictability of the Dinosaur-Filled Island of Life

Published August 4, 2015 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

I’ve written about fate and destiny and cosmic conspiracies, but luck? Luck was something to which I hadn’t given much consideration.

In fact, I used to bristle if someone said I was lucky. Saying “you’re lucky” makes it sound like you’re undeserving, like good things had come your way by chance rather than through hard work and perseverance.

Of course, when “bad luck” struck and things didn’t go as planned, I used to comfort myself with the belief that everything happens for a reason, and there was a significance I might not understand for years or even a lifetime. The comfort was in the knowledge of a larger purpose – everything would work out in the end.

But I understand now that some things just…happen. There is no reason.

Whether you want to call it luck or chance or happenstance, some things in life are random and unpredictable. The very thought of this makes a wild-eyed, breathless, hand-wringing control freak like me break out in a cold sweat.

Honestly, in the grand scheme of life I still believe in a higher purpose – the gifts we were born with that, with hard work and perseverance, lead to what could be considered our “destiny”. But I’m struck by the reality of just how many things in life are determined by mere chance:

At birth: your genetics, innate talents and intelligence, who your parents are, and where you are born – all beyond your control. As a child: your health and nutrition, socio-economic status, and the opportunities available to you to learn and develop skills – again, beyond your control.

It is not until we reach adolescence and young adulthood that we begin to realize some semblance of control. At that point in our lives it’s easy to attribute our achievements only to things that are within our power (like good-old hard work and perseverance). Although luck is all around us in different forms – from fabulous blessings to miserable misfortunes, it’s easy for this fact to be lost in a youthful sense of destiny.

Through experience, I’ve lost a bit of that self-assuredness. There are times when life is less like a box of chocolates and more like a dinosaur-filled island after a tropical storm has knocked out the electricity to the T-Rex and velociraptor paddocks with the supply ship having already departed for the mainland leaving you at the mercy of genetically engineered, carnivorous beasts.

It is, indeed, humbling when there’s a humungous T-Rex eyeball staring in through your window in the form of a pink slip or medical diagnosis or any of a million unforeseen challenges life may throw at you.

It might be mental and emotional fortitude, a soaring intellect, an amazing talent, athletic ability, or quick-wittedness that saves you from being devoured by life’s monsters…if you were indeed lucky enough to be born with such attributes and lucky enough to have had the opportunity to hone such skills.

But even then, you might need help.

I’ve written about my son being on the autism spectrum. The truth is we’re all on a spectrum of sorts, with different levels of abilities and assets to utilize and disadvantages and deficits to overcome.   It’s how we take advantage of the good luck and how we adapt to the bad that sets the course of our lives. It helps shape our character – a character that is ultimately defined by our words, our actions, and how we treat our fellow human beings.

Looking back I realize there have been times in my life when victories came from battles long fought. And, yes, there were times when good things happened seemingly by chance. But it strikes me that, especially in my most anxiety-provoking, dinosaur-filled moments, my good luck came from the kindness of others.

You can’t always be airlifted off your island, but a much-needed supply-drop, the guidance and advice of experts, or even just some words of support and encouragement can make a world of difference.

So I guess you could say I’ve been lucky. I’m grateful for the talents I possess and for the opportunities that have presented themselves along the way, but mostly I’m grateful for family and friends and people in my community I’ve never even met who have helped and supported me when I needed it most.

I truly have an amazing village helping to raise my son.

Whether life is a Whitman Sampler or Jurassic Park, the significance of our struggles and sorrows is their ability to connect us to others, to build understanding and empathy.

And the beauty in this colorful spectrum of humanity is our ability to use our gifts as a positive force in the lives of others – to be a source of someone else’s good luck.

 

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Symbolism – Penguins and the Quest for Enlightenment

Published August 29, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

A few blogs back, I was looking up the meaning of “spiders” in dreams. I remembered reading about animal spirit guides of Native American cultures, and I thought, “Hmm… maybe the spider is my animal guide. Then again, maybe the penguin is my guide, because I’ve always loved penguins.” (Seriously, I own more penguin tchotchkes and memorabilia than you can shake a stick at. Even my son’s nursery was penguin themed.) Chuckling to myself, I did a Google search for “penguin animal spirit guide”.

What started as a lark turned out to be something much more interesting. According to Presley Love at http://www.universeofsymbolism.com, the penguin brings the gifts of elegance and epiphanies, shares the energies of duty, survival, and an epic journey, and teaches the magic of intuition and imagination. The penguin guides us to see things in new ways: They cannot fly in the air, so they fly in water. They leap from icebergs. They share the work of raising their young chick with their mate, surviving and thriving in extreme conditions.

Damn! Penguins kick ass! And every word seemed to speak to the very place I found myself in my life. The idea of my husband and I, leaping from icebergs into scary waters, raising our son in the “extreme conditions” of autism, and finding new ways to help him “fly” with his wings that worked a little differently from those of other children. It was weird. Weird, and really cool!

And unlike the spiders in my dreams that represent negative things – feelings of being trapped and unable to move, penguins represent positive and hopeful things. They symbolize endurance and resilience. They persevere through tough times. And they’re cute and silly, too.

Now some might think that all of this is, indeed, silly. But I have to disagree! The search for meaning in visions and dreams, in animals and nature, have been a part of what makes us human since our ancient ancestors first began telling stories. We, as humans, are always on a quest for deeper meaning. We look for shapes in the clouds and patterns of stars in the night sky. It’s comforting to recognize our interconnectedness with nature, the world, and the Universe.

So, yes, it may seem silly in these modern times to find magic in the mundane or look for truth in the trivial. But if enlightenment wants to present itself to me in the form of a penguin, I’m OK with that!

Now if I could only get penguins to visit me in my dreams instead of spiders…

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* Copyright info: Presley Love, Universe of Symbolism, http://www.universeofsymbolism.com, 2013.

Parents – An Appreciation of “Starving Artists” and Their Masterpieces

Published May 11, 2014 by Jen Rosado from MyAlternateUniv

Imagine, if you will, an artist painting a masterpiece, adding a line here, a dab of color there – the outlines and textures and depth of a portrait emerging over many years. Now imagine, after about fifteen years of tireless, painstaking work, the artist sits back to admire the masterpiece only to be disturbed by the fact that the eyes of their subject appear to be rolling skyward, the upper lip is curled ever-so-slightly in a look of disdain, and the middle finger of one hand appears to be extended. The artist leans forward, squinting in dismay, and cries, “I do believe my greatest work of art is flipping me off! I didn’t paint it that way! Where, oh where, did I go wrong?”

My son is not yet a teenager, but I already dread the age when the little boy that I tickle and snuggle and smooch will grow up and suddenly not want to be seen in the same room with me and will rebel against the life we’ve created. There will likely be some doors slammed. Maybe a loud announcement that I’m “totally ruining his life.”

It’s the typical teenage refrain, “It’s not fair! You guys just don’t get it!” Really, it should be the other way around, with the parents saying, “No, YOU just don’t get it!”

In honor of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I just wanted to say to my mom and dad…

I get it now.

When I was a kid, I didn’t think of my mom and dad as real people with real identities other than “Mom” and “Dad”. They were the big people who knew everything and loved and took care of me. Then I become a teenager and realized they weren’t really that big, and they didn’t really know everything. They made mistakes. They were human. In the wisdom and enlightenment of my teens, I decided that I would do everything differently.

It’s true – my path HAS been different from the path my parents chose. My parents married young and had six children over the span of twelve years. Me? I went to college straight out of high school, found a job, and moved out on my own. I eventually went back to school for my Master’s and changed careers before meeting my husband in my thirties.

Now I have a child, much later in life than my parents did, and it has given me a level of understanding of my mother and father that I may never have reached had I not become a parent myself. I understand the love, of course, but more importantly I understand the sacrifice.

Growing up, we were a working class family. My mother gave up her career as a nurse to stay home with us while our father worked at the local factory making jet engines. There was enough money to pay the bills and put food on the table but not much left over for anything else. No trips to Disneyland, or a cabin in the mountains, or a beach house. Our clothes were often hand-me-downs, mismatched in comical ways, judging by family photos (or maybe that WAS the style at the time?). Food was carefully rationed to make it go farther – no second helpings until you had a slice of bread and butter, cereal and milk were measured before pouring into the breakfast bowl, and sandwiches were always ONE slice of cheese and ONE slice of lunchmeat. (I still deconstruct deli sandwiches. Seriously, you can build five sandwiches with the amount of stuff they put in one sandwich.)

Despite the size of our family, we lived in a small house that had once been an old barn. The creepy cement basement was home to salamanders and snakes, and bats sometimes took up residence in the attic. We didn’t have the latest electronics (which isn’t saying much when you’re talking about the late 70’s, early 80’s). The giant television encased in a wooden frame looked expensive, but the tube had blown in it years before and it actually served as a stand for a second TV. This other TV was smaller, with rabbit-ear antennas adorned with tin-foil bow ties for better reception. A wooden spoon was always kept handy for those times when the picture would turn a greenish tint and start to roll – sometimes all it needed was a good whack on the side with the spoon for the picture to pop back on the screen. While watching the “green TV”, we squished onto a couch that had boards underneath the cushions to help with its sagging infrastructure. A garishly bright, multi-colored afghan covered juice stains and places where the stuffing was showing through the couch cushions.

As a teenager, I felt embarrassed that we didn’t have nicer looking things and felt I had been cheated of the cool things some of my friends had experienced. I would look back on my childhood and see all the sacrifices I had made. Woe is me! No Disneyland! How terrible that I didn’t have lots of fancy outfits, or gourmet meals, or live in a big, beautiful farmhouse with luxurious furniture. Think of all the awesome TV shows I had missed because of that stupid green-tinted TV and lack of cable. Man, it was SO NOT FAIR!

But now? Now I see all the sacrifices my PARENTS made.

In choosing to raise us the way they did, they gave up all those things too. No trips to far-off places for them. They wore the same outfits year after year, no matter the changes in fashion. Their idea of “eating out” was occasionally ordering pizza or Chinese food. And I’m pretty sure that a renovated barn was not their idea of a dream home either.

They didn’t focus on all of those things. What they did focus on was raising us – keeping a roof over our heads, clothes on our bodies, and food in our mouths. They dedicated their time to painting each of their little masterpieces by teaching us kindness and compassion, shaping our behavior with rules and structure, and instilling in us a sense of right and wrong. Inadvertently, they also gave us the ability to see what’s really important in life and to recognize the difference between “wanting” and “needing”.

Ironically, after pledging in my teenage years to do everything different from my parents, I now look to my childhood and my parents for guidance in raising my son. My teenage self would be surprised at the way I now almost idealize some of those childhood memories. It didn’t matter what we were eating; we ate dinner together every night. That creepy basement made a perfect “haunted house” and a fantastic hideout for “cops and robbers” games with my siblings. And our clothes? The TV? The couch? They’re all just things, material items that served their purposes. We may have WANTED nicer things, but we really didn’t NEED them.

By circumstance, my husband and I find ourselves living paycheck to paycheck on a single income. We both still have flip phones. We cancelled cable, and we do not have a plasma or flat-screen TV (much to my husband’s dismay). Our couch (no joke!) has a board supporting the cushions and throw-blankets covering the stains and holes. My husband deserves a medal for driving a car with no AC and old-fashioned hand-crank windows. No vacations, gourmet meals, or trendy clothes. But, really – the things we have perform their functions…and they are very much appreciated. After all, there are so many people in the world with so much less.

So now I hope my parents can look upon their “work of art” and see that the hands are respectfully folded, the mouth has relaxed into a bittersweet smile, and the eyes have softened with age, wisdom, and love. Our focus, just like my parent’s focus so many years ago, is on raising our child to be a happy, healthy person, who tries to do what’s “right”, gives his best effort in all he does, and treats others with kindness. You know…the important stuff.

I don’t need to look any further than my own parents for inspiration.
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