Monday, April 18, 2016

Life Happens, So Stop It

If you want something badly enough, you can change your course

When I was a kid we got an above-ground pool. We learned that if we got everyone walking in a circle the same way, we could make our own current. After a few rounds the game was just trying to stay on our feet because once the current got started it would sweep us along with it. Every once in a while we dared each other to turn around and try to change the current to flow the other way. Usually we gave up in giggles but once or twice we succeeded.

In spite of what the wonderful wisdom of internet memes will tell you, life isn’t 100% our own design. More often our personal currents are started at birth, and events and others in our life circle have it flowing along in a certain direction. Life can become something that just sort of happens to you, even if you make an occasional attempt to push it in another direction.

It can happen though. If you want something badly enough, you can change the course.

Life used to be something that just happened to me. I had choices that basically consisted of jumping blindly, but it was the same current. Then it was discovered that my son has special needs, and that his natural course was heading towards boulder-filled rapids. My daily motto became “failure is not an option” and I had to learn quickly how to take control of our lives.

No, life isn’t a meme or a pithy blog post, and changing the current isn’t easy. You have to decide something different, then you have to figure out how to do that something different, and then you have to get up and do it every single day. Sometimes you have to distance yourself from the people in your circle who want to keep pulling you in the same old direction. It’s hard. It’s not impossible.

It took years of fight and hard work – and I learned what my grandma meant when she’d say “I’m tired to the bone” – before we got to a place where we could breathe and let my son’s newly-formed current sweep us along. Once I got his course straight, I knew that it was time to come back to college and change my own.

Sometimes you have to dig in and stop letting life happen, and make life happen. It’s hard, but it’s worth the fight. Maybe I can make a meme out of that.

Gaynell Buffinet Payne is a writer, single mother, and student at Volunteer State Community College.

Friday, April 1, 2016

WHY are you doing this?

"I miss you," he said as I was driving him to school. I looked over at my 9-year-old who was looking out of the car window wistfully. I knew what he meant. We've both been always rushing somewhere: school, work, swim team, theater class, meetings. Get groceries, make tomorrow's lunches, repeat. We both miss the times when life was slower, simpler.

Going back to college has meant some sacrifice and a lot of change. For a child with autism even small changes can be difficult transitions, and I had gone and changed everything. Any child would have issues with that. There have been several deep talks about why I'm doing this, and what it could mean for both of us in the future. The future seems a very abstract concept when you're a child. Slowly, though, things begin to shift. Life fits back together again with all of its new pieces.

I could spout off the rhetoric and list the usual reasons for coming back to college, and they're all true. The most important reason wasn't as obvious, however. As our lives changed I began to teach him one more big lesson: how to succeed. As he reads my work and I read him my homework, through all the times he's heard "Sorry baby, Mom has to study now," he's been learning this lesson in ways that I didn't even realize until he started repeating them back to me. He knows now that Mom works hard and isn't giving up, even when it's tough. And because I can do it, he can do it too.

We all want better for our children. I know my parents did and still do. Lead by example and teach them how. When it gets tough is the time to dig your heels in. Study hard, ask for help, finish the semester the best you can, then register for the next semester. Repeat until you're wearing that graduation cap.

The day he said he missed me I dropped him off at school with a kiss then continued on to Vol State campus. In between two classes and a bit of homework I grabbed coffee, drove to his school, and asked to speak to him. We sat in a private corner for a few minutes, together, just breathing in, before we both had to go back to class. And we both learn balance.

Gaynell Buffinet Payne 
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