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If He Only Had a Heart

I have feelings. Lots of feelings. I'm always feeling. Many of my statements begin with "I feel" rather than "I think". My memories of events or conversations are often impressions based on how I felt rather than facts about what was said or was happening. I make decisions based on how I'm feeling, or how I think others are feeling, or will feel. I cry during commercials. I love to hug people. I feel fullest in life when I'm connected to my emotions, and when I can positively express those emotions.

Having a non-neuro-typical kid has been a challenge for me. Of course, it goes without saying, that it has been emotionally challenging for me. Going through the journey of realizing Caroline was different, and looking for answers and help, was taxing for me. I felt sad and angry and frustrated and scared. However, I decided several years ago to try to set the emotions aside and be more pragmatic about parenting her. I go into doctor and teacher meetings with resources. I ask questions. We review data. Ok, it's true. I pretty much cry at every IEP meeting because I am overwhelmed with love for my kid and am inspired by the number of individuals who support her. Yet, I still move between emotion and action.

We work with a behavior specialist to tackle some of Caroline's emotional regulation challenges. Caroline is a very emotional girl. When she was a toddler she would cry when she heard the Hallelujah song. If I cried, she cried. If she trusts someone, she will curl up next to them and rub her head against their shoulder. She loves animals and has a quiet and patient way with them. She also has a spice side and is quick to meltdown. If she's upset, she yells. If she is frustrated she cries but can't explain why she is crying. She often goes from angel to devil in a matter of seconds. Our behavior specialist has helped us to develop a plan to tackle Caroline's emotional ups and downs and find a common language to communicate about her challenges.

We have been using a resource called The Zones of Regulation to assist Caroline is understanding her emotions and to find tools to assist her in regulating her emotion. At home, and at school, we have conversations, not just about how she felt in a certain situation, but how others may feel about her. For example, if she is playing with a friend who takes a doll and Caroline gets mad, throws a pillow, and then herself, on the ground, we later talk about how she was feeling when the situation occurred and also how the friend likely felt about Caroline's actions. Caroline doesn't read others emotions very well and we are working to teach her how to be in touch with her own emotions and to read the emotions of those around her.

For those who don't know Caroline, or know about her disability, you may be thinking that this sounds like something that many people, especially children, struggle with. What kid do you know who isn't laughing one moment and crying the next? What adult isn't screaming on the inside when pissed off? Frankly, how many adults have we met who aren't very good at managing their emotions and we are witness to their emotional outbursts? Like me. My feelings sometimes get in the way and I act irrationally or say nutty things because I get carried away with emotion. There are pros and cons to leading with feeling.

On the flip side, don't we all know someone who lacks emotion? Someone who doesn't seem to feel much, someone who never leads with feeling, someone who rarely shows emotion? Someone who cringes when hugged, or even at the thought of being hugged? Someone who makes decisions, or says things, with what seems like no awareness of the emotional impact of those around them? Someone who never cries at commercials not even the Johnson and Johnson Olympic moms commercials?

I know people like this. I know quite a few. They are kinda afraid of me. Especially when they see me coming in for a hug or when they tell me something factual like, "I ate a hot dog for lunch" and I reply, "Yeah, but how did you feel about it?" I feel bad for these people. Ha! That's funny. I just wrote that without thinking! HA!.

There's hope for people with a reduced affect, for those who lack emotional intelligence. I can feel it! (I'm killing myself right now, by the way.) Being of the entrepreneurial spirit, and given my success in the parental realm, I think I've got a chance to be an Emotions Coach. Before I start charging for my services however, I need some practice with a guppie client. Hmmm.....who do I know that is super emotionally awkward? Who is someone that is so weird in social situations that it makes me cringe? Who out there do I regularly tell how they should have handled a situation by infusing it with a little TLC?....tap, tap....tap...

Oh! I know: Andy.

Andy, my life partner, my bestie, my muse. He is the yin to my yang. He is my Paula Abdul Opposite's Attract. He is my rock. He is the rational to my irrational, the up to my down and the down to my up. In many situations he has brought me back from a feeling frenzy. Yet, there are so many occasions when I think the non-neurotypical apple didn't fall far from the tree.

As I said before, Andy is my rock and most of the time I think he has about as many emotions as a rock. He rarely cries, laughs only when it is insanely funny, and only hugs because he has to. I can't recall a time that he started a sentence with, "I feel" but instead "You should". This is how conversations go between us:

Me: "Andy, it's horrible that dogs that don't get adopted are euthanized."

Andy: "The shelters are full. There's not much you can do."

Me: "It's horrible and unfair."

Andy: "We already have a dog. There's nothing you can do. Come on! I mean, really, who cares?"

Who cares? WHO CARES! Well, you can betcha that I let him know that I care. That's right. Me, Miss Feeling Me. I think what he means is that he doesn't care because he has no heart. His lack of heart in situations has led to me calling him the Tin Man. The difference is that the Tin Man wanted a heart. Andy seems completely comfortable being heartless.

He'd be tender, he'd be gentle- and awfully sentimental if he only had a heart. He could register emotion, jealousy, devotion- if he only had a heart. Sigh. Sometimes, I just picture me. A balcony. Above a voice sings low. The fact that he has two Patagonia shiny, puffy gray coats means he not only acts the part, but he looks the part, too.

Hey, do you think the Tin Man has ASD?

I recently texted Andy a link to a YouTube video/song. He never listened to the song, big shocker, but lucky for me it came on the radio one night. I turned it up and told him to listen to the lyrics. As tears streamed down my face, I looked at Andy, hoping we were making a connection. He was holding his phone awkwardly and longingly. I knew he couldn't wait to get home and go hide in the bathroom and check his fantasy team. When he saw me looking at him he said, "I can't understand the lyrics." Fortunately, Charlotte shouted a summary of the song from the backseat.

I can't wait for him to get home tonight so we can start working on the program! I've got his Big Book of Feelings Journal all ready to go. I wonder what he'll write?!

TODAY THIS HAPPENED: My wife made me write in a journal.

HOW IT MADE ME FEEL: I have to go to the bathroom now. Where's my phone?


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