Saturday, February 25, 2017

Living with ambiguity

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. 
Delicious Ambiguity.”

--Gilda Radner

When I worked for a decade at Microsoft, "dealing with ambiguity" was a core competency--a trait that was valued and measured on performance reviews. It meant: How can you deal with the job when when things are not neatly packaged and ready? What do you do with the open questions? Are you paralyzed because all your steps are not yet known, or can you find (or create) a path?

I like to think that I've perfected this core competency in the years since. Parenting in general probably advances your skill at dealing with ambiguity, but parenting Soren makes dealing with ambiguity an everyday task. I've gotten used to the unanswered questions: Why did Soren regress so late, leading to a very late diagnosis of autism? Why did so much language disappear compared to other autistic peers? What is he capable of? Will he ever speak again? What will we do when he's a teen? an adult? Will he always live with us? What will he do after Erik and I have died? You can see that there are layers of open issues at any time. The way I've dealt with this ambiguity is to really embrace the notion of non-attachment.

Some liken non-attachment to detachment, or letting go. I like to think of it as not clinging. And believe me, I've spent so many months or years clinging to, insisting on, demanding answers to the open questions in our lives. But now, when people ask me about Soren's history of speaking and express hope that he may speak again, my response is that--truly--I don't care if he does. Does that sound harsh, uncaring, indifferent? I don't feel that way. I feel like this detachment gives me peace and a way of relating to the world as it is, not the way I want or hope it to be. It's oddly comforting to let life roll right over you like this. And in this way, I often pity those parents of typical kids, who have such regimented "musts" and timelines for their kids--it's not ambiguous at all. I have no idea what my kid can do, and when he will do it, so every little development is a huge victory and a surprise.

I should mention that this blasé way of looking at life hasn't come easily. There were so many months and years that I felt like I was fighting--fate, God, life, Soren. If my will alone could have changed things, I would have had a "cure" in seconds. I have made my share of deals, promising/hoping/demanding so much in exchange for a "healed" child. But my heart hurts less when I'm not yearning. And not yearning means that I'm more accepting and notice more about what's happening in front of my eyes, not what's in the past or in the future.

Try on non-attachment for just a little bit. Let your expectations go, but keep your delight when your child--or your life--surprises and amazes you. Without the cloak of expectation, this delight will be even stronger and more meaningful. I promise.

Delicious ambiguity, indeed.


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