I’m going to be upfront with you – I’m feeling a bit sassy today. Oddly enough, when this crazy, scattered and somewhat ridiculous story is done, if I’ve set out to accomplish even partially what I’m envisioning, this little story will weave around a bit, and hopefully end with a message of compassion. But that’s not going to happen right away because I feel like it’s important to focus initially on asshats. Let’s just do this, shall we?
Let me own here and now that asshat is currently one of my favorite words. While not necessarily appropriate in front of my offspring (they remain critical of my use of “jerk” so asshat would really get me in trouble) I just like it. It works in a fair number of situations, and while it does have a slight edge to it, it is far less edgy than a lot of words – for instance, almost anything spoken on the middle school bus.
While jerk and asshat feel like synonyms to me, I did look up asshat in Urban Dictionary, and here’s what I learned:
A person, of either gender, whose behavior displays such ignorance/obnoxiousness that you would like to make them wear their own ass as a hat.
Usage: “Can you believe that my boss is making me stay until 9 pm on a Friday!?” “What an asshat.”
Here are just a few instances where asshat has come in handy during the last week (note: this is a very small sample).
- Whoa – it’s not cool to act like a total asshat even when the Packers are dorks!
- Elliott changed my ringtone again, and I felt like a complete asshat when “Noir” went off in the middle of a meeting.
- Donald Trump made fun of a reporter with special needs? What an asshat move!
- The administrators of that Facebook group lack compassion, have rigidity issues and are complete asshats!
If you know me at all, you will likely be able to decipher 1-3 with ease, and if we are connected by Facebook, then #4 will not be a giant leap to figure out either.
Granted, I don’t believe I even spoke #4 out loud, but it was very prominently in my thinking bubble last week, and to some extent is still there today which is why I think it’s time to chat about it here on the red couch.
In short, I got kicked to the curb by a private Facebook group for Parents of Special Needs that live in Minnesota. This was a first for me. Believe me, I have my fair share of asshat moments, but as a general rule, I’m not known as a controversial Facebook poster. True, I’ve taken some heat from my extended family about too many cat photos – which is fair. I own that I straddle the crazy cat woman line frequently, whatever. Gosh darn it, my cats are attractive! But I’m mostly about kid pics, funny kid quotes and stories, and puberty drama (i.e. Henry scowling).
For those who may not be a part of the special needs community, there are a lot of private groups that specialize in just about everything you can imagine and they can be awesome. It’s terrific to have a place to exchange ideas, joys, accomplishments, ugliness, and humor. Humor is vital.
One of the biggest challenges I felt when our journey with autism began in 2003 was isolation. It was such a difficult time in a myriad of ways to process a crazy array of feelings, figure out what acceptance meant to me, and build connections with others who were on a similar journey. The pain and ugliness from that time in my life is still too difficult to look back at with any clarity even now. I made so many mistakes that asshat doesn’t even come close to encompassing the wrongs I have yet to right. Yet, in the midst of all that craziness, raw pain, anger, and above all – desire to do everything in my power to help my child(ren), I received the kindest and most unexpected gift I could ever have imagined – the gift of compassion.
Slowly but surely, I crossed paths with others who followed similar journeys – some were much farther along than me and kindly shared their wisdom and experiences with me. Some were going through similar joys and challenges, and we were able to celebrate small victories and help one another through the ugly stuff. When I couldn’t bear the pain of being around my friends with typically developing kids – one of my biggest regrets/most astonishing asshat moments – I found peace and acceptance for taking whatever small steps I could – i.e. occasionally washing my hair, or getting through a mountain of paperwork. To be blunt – when I was the least deserving of kindness and compassion, I was shown an abundance of both from those who knew my struggle in a way few others ever could.
This was old school of course, so I’m talking about support groups, Mom’s Night outs, phone calls and emails. Had Facebook existed then, I wouldn’t have felt the need to run a marathon, but then again, I would certainly have publicly made even bigger and more public asshat mistakes – best to have left all of that ugliness out on the mean streets of Eagan I think.
Now that my path to acceptance for all things autism ebbs and flows a bit more, I try very hard to remember the kindness and compassion that was shown to me, and whenever possible, I pay it forward. Whether helping someone through challenge, sharing my own cocktail to surviving diagnosis (Prozac, really strong coffee and the occasional margarita), or just listening and letting them know they are not alone, I consider it a privilege to show compassion and build a sense of community.
That’s what was so discouraging about my oust from this special needs support group last week. For whatever reason, lots of people I know are going through some really tough times – autism and way beyond. I felt genuinely sad to have so many people in my life having a tough time of it, and it reminded me so vividly what a bit of compassion and kindness can do during difficult times.
On top of all that, a friend had emailed me that morning to share that she learned she had been booted out of the same group when she tried to post something, and realized she was no longer a member – no notice of “violation”, no note explaining what had happened, or why the decision had been made – she was left to reach out herself to find those answers. As it happened, something she had shared the day before was a rule violation in this particular group. It was news of the death of someone in the special needs community with details about funeral arrangements that were of interest to many. However, at the very bottom of this article was a link to a “Go Fund Me” site, which was obscured and not at all the main thrust of the article. Frankly, you had to dig to find it (which I did), and because fundraising was a rule violation, she got the boot. Granted, she didn’t even realize the article had this link, and unless someone was searching for it, few others did either. But, according to these administrators (there are 6 but 2 seem to be the outspoken majority), a rule is a rule, and that was that.
This particular group has an abundance of rules – more than most if I’m being honest. It’s not a group I posted much in because it was obvious that those who administer were a bit prickly about what they felt was appropriate for the group. Plus, I had heard through the grapevine from many others who had run-ins with these administrators resulting in oust or firm warnings, and while I had not experienced any run-ins with these folks, I did feel they lacked a sense of humor. That said, the group is composed of over 1,000 members and includes parents of children with a variety of challenges – not just autism. I liked learning about things outside of autism, and enjoyed the information the group posted. But, on this particular day, I was sad that they had so heartlessly kicked out a friend going through a really challenging time, and thinking about so many others I knew experiencing their own struggles. I felt it was a great time for a compassion reminder – here is how this went down for those who are not already done hearing about this saga:
I wrote the following on the group wall:
And here was a response that I received from a group administrator:
While our correspondence became private following my “warning”, they shared with me that they believed my intent was to “stir up drama”, and ended with my being ceremoniously booted. Word on the street is that my comments regarding compassion were all immediately deleted, and all that remained was my response to one of those dorky “what are you thankful for” things that I responded to after they were privately attacking me and in a semi-jerky reply, I answered “booze”. I’m told booze is all that remains of me in that group, and to be fair, maybe that is for the best.
At the end of the day, I don’t regret that I chose to make a statement about forgiveness and compassion. They were wrong when they wrote of my post “It was about guilting us admins for our actions.” The group is private, and they reserve the right to axe people and statements they don’t agree with, but they don’t get to tell me what my intensions were. Frankly, I can’t “make” anyone feel anything – they have to do that on their own – and clearly they have.
It’s unfortunate that rigidity is preventing these group administrators from exercising the kind of compassion that was shown to me all those years ago when I needed it most. But you see, I happen to know a little something about extreme rigidity, and the need to have very black and white rules when so much of life falls in the gray. It’s not easy to learn gray stuff – and I’m hardly exempt from that (apple doesn’t fall far and all). After all, my original message about remembering to show one another a little extra kindness and compassion was as much for me as anyone – I have plenty of asshat moments, and I own that.
Let’s spin this positive shall we? This time of year can be really tough for many of us. Many of our kiddos struggle with holiday stuff. Heck, I only have 1 kiddo left in my house who genuinely believes in the “S” man, and here’s a clue – it’s not Ada. That’s just another reminder of how far away from typical our family will always be – sometimes that hurts.
Here’s my hope – I hope you’ll join me in being kind to someone who doesn’t always deserve it or someone who has made a mistake – whether they know it or not. Heck – I’ll take it a step further and ask that you show a pinch of compassion to someone who may be acting like an asshat. If it would help, we can declare a “Be Kind to Asshats” day. Take it from this asshat – it made a world of difference to me when it would have been easier for people to look the other way and go about their business.
You know what else? It wasn’t just my autism pals who gave me a pass when I didn’t deserve it – but so many of those “typical” friends I had turned away from when it was just too hard have become part of my crazy life again. And even better, they’ve taught me a valuable lesson- typical kids are not all lollypops and roses – who knew?
All of this has taught me compassion for the various struggles we all face, autism and beyond. And for that, I am truly grateful. From my red couch to you, wherever you may be, I wish you peace – yes, even you asshats . . .