Vietnam Post #8: Learning How to to Change — Diary of a Baba
Posted on December 19, 2019
As our family sabbatical and year closes, I thought I’d write about how I’ve learned to change the last 6 months. It was humbling to have a beginners mind on many aspects of life but I didn’t realize we would learn so much from Collin every day. He adapted so well to the new conditions around him. Little humans are so powerful!
For many children, especial autistics like Collin, many (including us) focus on the challenges of their rigidity and inflexibility. A transition like this would be unthinkable. In actuality, it was not. It did. however, require each of us to grow and change in new ways together.
For more context, this sabbatical is the most time we have spent together as a family unit with little or no support from family or community. (It’s a total privilege to be out here so no tears here, just sayin’.) We did not know how it was going to pan out, to be honest.
This is not to say there were not challenging moments. There were plenty of difficult social interactions and high sensory moments. It is more to say that given the circumstances of uprooting our lives for a temporary stay (in another country) and then right when things started to feel a little “normal” again, we are preparing for our return. I give us gold stars all around!
Collin also did not have many of this touch stones. He didn’t have major things like his friends and family, grandmother (who is his main caretaker), therapist and little things like not having his skuut bike, fav snacks and sliced bread (He had plenty of pizza and fries here, so no worries there).
This was all new for us and we learned at every moment. In our hearts, we believed that if we did our very best with love and care, we would make this a memorable (and possibly a transformative) time for all of us.
What some of us neurotypicals (NT) would call rigidity or inflexibility is actually an incredible level of focus and intention. It is a superpower indeed.
Focus meaning he can get totally engrossed into a play activity, a drawing and a story that if you disrupt this, it can feel like a complete violation to him.
Intention meaning that if there was going to be a planned or even unplanned change, building in some time (or a practice, I should say) to explain what is happening makes a BIG difference. Most of the time this intention is met with acceptance but we tend to rush and plow through things which make things worse 🙁
On this sabbatical, we learned new ways of channeling this. Since he’s really laser focused on his drawings, one day, we decided to have a family meeting via drawings. He loved it! Also, to decompress from his days, he spent hours after school drawing what he saw during the day (mostly cars and other vehicles).
Images of Collin drawing at home, at the playground on a wooden table. Basically he would draw anywhere!
To prepare for difficult social interactions at the playground (people call it “free play” but it is like “free market” play but that is another blog) we set our intentions and did A LOT of scenario planning and protocols. If X kid does Y what is the first thing we do; if X kid does Y again, what do we do. If X kid does Y to another kid what do you do. etc.
We also practiced things that seem very simple. Adults would like to smile or wave to Collin in the elevator. Collin would immediately hide behind our legs or on some days scream “I’m shy!!”, which scared off the adult. This is not new per se.
Image of a sign I made Collin for an event that says: “Collin is happy t be at the party. Today he is a bit shy. Please do not: Clap for him; Wave to him; Say Hello and Please do not ignore me. Thank you. (From this post)
So we practiced. When he was feeling “shy,” he would just get my attention and whisper into my ear. After a while it just turned into silly giggles but it helped to defuse things. We did this for months!
One day out of the blue I saw a lady walk up close to him and started to wave and say hello. I was waiting for the blow up … but nothing happened!
Suddenly, he ran up to me so proud screaming, “Baba I’m not shy anymore. I let that lady wave to me!!!”
Truly amazing to see this.
There is a lot of head heart work at play and change can take days or months if not years. It takes ongoing stretching and encouragement. But at the core, it takes a belief in personal agency and personal change on their own terms. This, as frustrating as it was at certain times, ultimately transformed our entire dynamic. It taught us to be like water and trust our intentions.
So as the year and our sabbatical comes to a close, here are a few things I’m taking away. These are more like reminders than anything “new” —
Doing your best. Our threshold for satisfaction is often way too big — we strive to be 150%, 100% or perfect. But doing our very best in any situation is all we can ask of each other.
Deep and compassionate listening. This one is a little new for me. Many time what we hear may not be the actual feeling. Many of us still have a lot of head and heart work. For Collin being “shy” might be a proxy for something else we don’t yet know. But for now it works for me! This means listening beyond just words but with intention and compassion.
Practice toward purpose: To be honest, I often question decisions I’ve made as a parent but since parenting is so real-time I don’t have time to debrief everything and do strategic planning, etc. I’ve learned to be nimble, practice, fail and reassess and try again! So instead of relying on a “plan” we rely on our instincts, which sharpen over time the more we practice.
And in case it wasn’t clear, I’m not talking about random changes and not just changes against but change towards a more liberatory society. Change is always happening in some fashion, change is the only constant as the saying goes.
Learning in your own context: Everyone has their own context. Not everyone is a parent and not every parent learns the same way. But one thing is for sure, having a beginners mind and being open to change is critical. This is how I learned to change the last 6 months and I had the best (little) teacher <3
Sabbatical Update! We’re currently in our final 2 weeks and we’re soaking it up on the beaches of Phu Quoc and then will be going to Thailand next week. See you all very soon!