Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why Anna is Better Than Elsa

Uh, hi.

I feel like I should explain, I got on the Frozen bandwagon rather late.  That is, I wanted to see it in theaters, but it seems like there's never really time to go.  And then it took me a long time to buy it on DVD, and even then I still didn't watch it for, oh, maybe two months or so.  (Part of the reason was that a neighboring teenage boy borrowed my copy until he could buy his own.)

And yes, I bought it for myself.  Not for my children, or for nieces or friends.  I bought Frozen because I wanted to watch it.  And I liked it.  And yes, I'm planning to train my voice to sing "Let It Go" in all its glory, although it's really not the best song.

Anyway, that's not the point of this post.  I have noticed that the primary character obsession for those who like Frozen is Elsa.  Elsa dresses, Elsa posters, Elsa stickers, etc.  Elsa, Elsa, Elsa!  This bothers me, because Elsa has some serious characters flaws, whereas Anna, who is generally overlooked, is actually pretty badass.  Elsa is primarily self-centered and gives up easily; Anna is loving and devoted and determined.

Starting from just after Anna's memory was altered (which was completely unnecessary, BTW), we see the first hints of her devotion.  For reasons unknown to her, Elsa suddenly shuts the door and won't play with her anymore.  It appears that no explanation is given, not even, "Elsa is ill and can't come out."  This must have felt like complete rejection to the little girl, especially since Elsa won't even speak through the door to her.  And yet, through all the years that follow, she still loves her sister and wants to be close to her.

Do you want to build a snowman?
It's been so long since we last played.
You don't talk to me anymore,
You've slammed the door,
I love you anyway.
 I don't know why you shun me; what did I do?
Is this how our lives should be?
I know I love you, Sister;
Do you love me?

 Even after their parents die, Elsa still offers no explanation for her seclusion.  Anna reaches out and offers comfort while feeling bereft herself, and Elsa refuses to acknowledge her.  Instead of telling Anna what the hell is going on, Elsa allows her to continue feeling rejected and unwanted.  I mean, really, how hard would it be to tell grown-up Anna, "Hey, Sis, I'm freaking out because I'm freezing everything in sight, and I'm really scared that I'll freeze you, too, so that's why I can't hang out with you but maybe we can wave at each other across the hall"?

Nope.  Elsa has to wallow in her own misery.

And then the ball.  Ah, yes, the ball.  Elsa does try to make polite conversation here, but still refuses to explain their seclusion.  Anna, who has been starved for love, basically decides that she is alive and happy, and by golly she is going to act on it!  No more wallowing around the palace for her!  Unfortunately she makes a rather poor choice in fiances, but she's making an effort to get her life moving, unlike her sister.  And when she presents her fiance to the Queen, she is told she can't marry him still without further explanation.

 When Elsa's power is revealed to all, she very naturally runs away.  It's understandable.  She's scared.  But then there's her lovely little song on the mountaintop in which she declares, "No right or wrong; no rules for me!"

Ah.  There's where she shows her true colors.  There is always right and wrong.  Those two things are inescapable.  One cannot justly live with complete disregard for all others--others including her own sister (whom she abandons without a further thought) and her subjects, for whom she is responsible.

Anna, meanwhile, has thoughts only for her sister.  At last she understands the seclusion.  She sets off immediately to find Elsa and tell her, "I love you, I need you, your kingdom needs you, I understand, you didn't do anything wrong."  She delegates the responsibility of running the kingdom to her fiance--a terrible choice, yes, but at least she doesn't run off and leave nobody in authority.  Even in her rush, she takes time to put someone in charge.

Anna loses her horse.  She keeps going.  She finds a trader, gets what she needs, and commandeers a guide and transportation.  She keeps moving, bound by duty and love.  She is making things happen.  She doesn't waste her time sitting around moping.  She finds a snowman and directs him to take her to Elsa.

At the palace, although hesitant, she goes in.  Elsa reverts to her tired old lines:  "What are you doing here?  Go away, Anna."  Anna tries desperately to explain what's happened to the kingdom, but Elsa is so accustomed to ignoring her sister that she talks right over her.  She doesn't ask how Anna will handle running a kingdom when she's had no training for it; she doesn't even consider that maybe her sister really, truly loves her despite everything and wants to be with her.  She spouts again, "I'm fine and happy without you; go away."

Anna still tries.  She says, "Let's work on this together.  We can figure it out."  Elsa replies, "There's no point; I'll just stay by myself."

Anna:  For the first time in forever,
I know what you're going through;
And I know it's hard to deal with,
But I'll always stand by you.

Elsa:  I've been living for this day.
I no longer have to wait.
You're not worth the effort I would have to make.

Oh, Elsa.  You're so sweet and charming.  Think how differently things could have gone if she'd simply said, "Anna, let's sit down and talk about this." Instead, she argues and commands until she loses her grip and once again strikes Anna.  She doesn't even check to see if Anna is okay; she just conjures up a creature to chase them out.

Anna does not give up that easily.  When Kristoff points out that her hair is changing, she does have to make a brief detour, but she has every intention of going back to Elsa.  When Hans betrays her, she barely even thinks of herself--she says, "You're no match for Elsa."  All of her concern is still for her sister.

Elsa, on the other hand, finally takes a little action and blasts her way out of prison, only to run away again.  She doesn't stop to see how Anna is doing; her mind is so wrapped up with her own issues that she doesn't have room to think of anyone else.

Anna staggers along looking for Kristoff, in the hopes he can cure her with a kiss, but she sees him at the same time she sees Hans about to behead Elsa.  Such a sweetie, that Hans.  With no thought for her own safety, Anna flings herself between Elsa and the sword.

Let's stop and take a look at that again.  Anna does not know that she will turn into solid ice in time, and Hans's sword will break on her.  As far as she knows, she'll have a sword plunged into her chest and be leaking partially-frozen blood all over the place.  Even if she anticipates turning into an ice sculpture, she has no idea that she can turn back into a living, breathing girl.  She completely sacrifices herself for a sister who, for most of her life, has ignored her, belittled her choices, rejected her, and told her to go away.

She loves her sister that much.

Elsa does finally notice that, hey, someone besides her has problems.  Oh, look at you, Sister!  I didn't notice you were even here!  Awfully nice of you to get in the way of that sword for me!  Instead of doing something constructive, like freezing Prince Hans, she reverts to her usual emotional state and starts weeping.

Okay, I can forgive her for that.  I'd be weeping, too.

Then Anna revives and Elsa finally says, "Wow, I guess it really is nice to have you around.  I guess you can stay."  It only took her sister literally giving up her life for her for Elsa to accept that maybe she should listen once in a while.

So then the populace, being wonderful sheep, say, "We hated you when you made it snow before, but this time we like it when you make it snow.  Same stuff, but this time we like you and are going to cheer." Elsa struts around and feels fantastic.

Anna, having learned a valuable lesson from Prince Hans but refusing to let one mistake rule the rest of her life, opens herself to the possibility of a relationship with Kristoff but takes it a lot slower this time.  She remains happy and giddy and full of life, and, as far as we can tell, harbors no ill will toward Elsa for her wretched behavior.

Yeah, Elsa can freeze stuff, but Anna is the real heroine of this story.  She has no huge musical number, is made to look like a clumsy and bumbling idiot, and is generally overlooked, and she still manages to be an absolutely amazing, tolerant, kind, loving, and forgiving badass.  That's my kind of girl.

P.S. In case you didn't figure it out, the conversations are paraphrased and I rewrote the songs.

Monday, January 12, 2015


One of my friends is turning 30 tomorrow.  She is terrified by the aging process, dyeing her hair to hide the hereditary gray creeping in and turning more to natural solutions for everything.  She is convinced that she is somehow lacking in adulthood, since she doesn't have the "standard" mortgage-marriage-two-children she thinks is necessary by age 30.

To all of that, I say, "Bah."  Here I am, thirty-one.  Yes, I'm married, for almost seven years now.  Two step-children, two biological children.  But as for mortgage...we live with my husband's parents.  We share a minivan between the two of us.  We frequently struggle to make ends meet.  There is no way we have it all together.

And you know what?  That's okay.  Maybe most people's lives do wind up somewhat together by age 30.  That's great for them.  I really am happy for them, truly.  That's just not the way ours has gone.  Not the way hers has gone.  For us, we got tied in to a third share of a mortgage prior to our marriage, and then a house that never sold.  It's not ideal, but it's where we are, and there are so many blessings associated with it, not least of which is having two loving grandparents in the home with our children.

For my friend, two grandparents and her mother started having mental issues at the same time.  Someone needed to care for them, and she made the choice--yes, the choice--to be that Someone.  She could have left.  She could have packed up and gone, and carried on with her life.  She could have enlisted an uncaring state worker to check in on her loved ones while she got her career, family, and house.

She could have done that.

Instead, she sacrificed her dreams one by one, as her mother's health problems increased and her grandparents' minds slowly slipped away.  She took on the incredible responsibility of regulating medications, arranging doctor visits and providing transportation, and ensuring safety in the home.  Her social life all but vanished so she could be home in the evenings with those she cared for.  For this, she was reviled by family and "friends."  She was accused of "seeking attention" when she reported behavior changes and anger outbreaks from her charges.  She was called a liar.  She was refused help.

Still she kept on, until finally there was no option other than to put her grandparents in a care facility.  This brought some relief, but also overwhelming guilt, because she felt like she should have been able to do it all--and she still had her mother to care for.  They moved far from friends.  They moved closer.  She is still her mother's primary caregiver, unpaid, managing groceries and medicine and doctor visits and long, boring phone calls with insurance.  She stays because there is a need, and she is willing to stand in the gap there.  She stays because she loves.

So, Friend-Who's-Turning-30, here are some things for you to think about:

1) You are strong.  You are brave.  You are competent.  You could have crumbled under the weight of the burdens you've borne, but you have stood firm as a rock, unmoved by what life throws at you.

2) You are loving and compassionate.  You love and are broken by what you see happening in those you love, and yet still you choose to love, and love, and keep on loving.  You choose to love any who are willing to receive it, you love when it's hard and heartbreaking, you love even when you want to scream in frustration.

3) You are patient beyond belief.  I know it doesn't feel like it.  I know.  The reality is, you have been forced to be patient for So Many Years.  Many other people would take a lifetime to build up the store of patience you possess.

4) You have a quick wit and keep humor ready on your tongue in all situations.

5) You are fabulous with small children, even though you don't think so.

6) Think back on your attitudes and opinions from when you were 20.  Think back to even just two years ago.  Is that where you would rather be?  Do you like the changes time has brought to your convictions and opinions, or do you want to change them back?  Personally, I think you have worked well with time to make yourself an even better version of who you were ten years ago.

7) You really do like hanging out with teenagers.  I could mention Fletcher, Robin, and Barak.  That's okay; teenagers are fun.

8) There's nothing wrong with having gray hairs.  They are a wonderful excuse to dye your hair every color of the rainbow, and any time some young upstart wants to challenge something you say, you can point to your gray hairs and call it wisdom.

9) You are enough.  YOU are enough.  You are enough.  You are enough.  Yes, I mean you.  You are sufficient to be the woman God created you to be.  You have been put through trials--you were enough.  You have suffered loss and heartbreak--you were enough.  You have been asked to give more of yourself than you thought possible--you were enough.  You have been, you are, and you will be enough.

When thinking of your life up to this point, I am inevitably reminded of Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken.  I'm sure you've read it before, but here it is to remind you:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 You have traveled well.  Keep on traveling, and don't forget--I'm right here with you.  Happy birthday!

Friday, January 9, 2015


Edited February 7, 2015 to add content.

Rowan walked up to me in the kitchen this evening and said, "Mommy, did you know that ten plus ten equals twenty?"

"That's right, it does," I replied.

He continued almost without pausing.  "And twenty plus twenty equals forty, and forty plus twenty equals sixty, and sixty plus twenty equals eighty, and eighty plus twenty equals one hundred."  He then went to his little whiteboard that hangs on the refrigerator and proceeded to write them out.

I was a bit taken aback by all this, but not as much as you might think.  Rowan surprises me with his knowledge almost every day.

Rowan is officially diagnosed as autistic.  He is funny, loves to make jokes, loves to "help" anyone who needs assistance (as long as it doesn't involve picking up toys), requests salad for dinner, reads The Chronicles of Narnia and the Oz books, reads Frog and Toad, is teaching himself Spanish via YouTube videos, regularly begs me for a cat, loves to wrestle with his elder brothers, plays "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the piano, and, apparently, has progressed to two-digit addition.  He will be six on Saturday.

None of that has anything to do with his autism.

I strongly suspect that Henry is also autistic, although we haven't yet had him checked.  Henry adores his elder brothers, knows his alphabet, can count to one hundred (and backward from twenty), can recognize by sight several words, recognizes patterns, knows most of his basic colors, plays "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the piano, refuses most food except peanut butter and blueberries, and is enthusiastically teaching himself addition via his place mat.  He turned three in November.

None of that has anything to do with his autism.

I suppose it's petty, but I get rather annoyed when people equate intelligence with autism, and vice versa.  I hear it frequently, usually right after I mention autism.  "Oh, those kids are so smart."  "Wow, autism really makes them smart!"  "Wow, he's sure smart.  What else would you expect when he's autistic?"

I want to smack them.  Things that really, really vex me about the above statements:  1) They assume that anyone with autism must therefore have above average intelligence; 2) they are (albeit unintentionally) disregarding natural intelligence without autism; 3) they are implying (again, unintentionally) that I couldn't have smart children without them being autistic, and, 4) the separation.  Those kids.  They.  The different ones.  That lot over there.  The ones who act kinda funny.

It stings.

Yes, my children are autistic.  Yes, that means I have to modify my behavior to prevent meltdowns, to the point that I hardly think of it anymore because it's so ingrained in me.  Yes, my nearly-6-year-old still pees his pants.  We haven't even started potty training for Henry yet.  I've been waiting for reasoned communication to start with him before attempting it, but I might go ahead and try anyway.

Autism is about so much more than "smart kids who act strange."  I know we're supposed to celebrate their differences, and most days I do.  Most hours I do.  Some days, some hours I wonder how I'll go on.  Autism is so very exhausting to deal with.  Do you want to know what autism means to me?

It means potty training that goes on for years, because Mom, I HATE using the bathroom!  It just wastes so much time!

It means a three-year-old whose brain doesn't know how to answer a question posed to him, and instead just repeats the question back to the asker.

It means thirty minutes of anguished sobbing from a six-year-old who has to return a lightsaber to its owner.  

It means a child sneaking plastic forks or measuring cups out of the kitchen drawers and standing for several long minutes passing them before his eyes, tapping his feet to a rhythm only he can hear.

It means a child who, when told what negative consequence will happen if he continues his unacceptable behavior, considers carefully whether it will be worth it to continue the unacceptable behavior anyway.

It means a child who sobs uncontrollably if I sing, whistle, play the piano, or make any kind of music.  (Playing recorded music is okay.)

It means a child who cannot--not will not, but cannot--recognize that anyone has the right to authority over him.

It means carefully crumpled packets of tea being dropped one by one onto the floor.

It means compulsive, purposeful coughing and throat-clearing that goes on for hours, happening every thirty seconds or so, not due to illness but just because "something in my throat feels funny."

It means I am trying to speak a language I do not understand, using words and ideas my children cannot grasp.  It is not a matter of diction, but of whole patterns of thinking which cannot be explained.

So yes, my precious little boys are Those Children.  The strange ones.  The ones who don't quite fit in.  Henry is more so than Rowan.  They have many odd characteristics; intelligence is not one of them.  Yes, they are undoubtedly intelligent, but that does not spring from the autism.  It is a combination of genetics, being exposed to learning opportunities, and being given the freedom to learn.  It drives me batty that "intelligence" is offered by oblivious onlookers as compensation for everything my children are, and are not.  Intelligence should not ever be listed as "compensation" for anything.

I hate autism.  I hate, hate, hate it.  I do not hate my children's autistic traits, although those traits are undoubtedly inconvenient and frequently bothersome.  What I hate is not being able to translate the thoughts in my head into phrases my children can actually comprehend.  I hate not having a clue what messages they are trying to get through to me.

And yet, even with as much as autism is a part of our lives, that is not who they are.  Many of their actions are defined by autism, but it does not control their natures.  They are sunshine.  They are joy.  They are lively, energetic, boisterous young masters of destruction.  They are laughter and hugs.

My boys have autism.  It has not swallowed up their identities, and it neither causes nor detracts from their intelligence.  Please try not to equate the two.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Cautious Dancer

I am shy and withdrawn.

I am gregarious and outgoing.

I walk up to complete strangers and compliment them on their hair, chat about children and the weather, laugh and smile and talk about fun things.

At parties, I hide in the corner and hope no one will notice me (except maybe one good friend who will hide and chat with me).

I speak my mind.

I hold my tongue.

I am very direct when I think something needs be addressed.

I try to be tactful.

I am a very private person, but I don't like to keep secrets.

My life is a complicated dance, but one where few understand the steps.  I've only recently begun to work out for myself what they are.  Here's what usually happens when I'm trying to make friends:

I meet someone.  He or she is awesome and fun, probably loves books, might be passionate about book-to-movie transitions.  He goes for miles-long walks late at night.  She dresses up in funny clothes and leaves cookies on the doorsteps of friends.  I think to myself, I like this person, and I want to spend lots of time with him or her.

And then there's the Information Blurt:  I say something that makes the other person profoundly uncomfortable, and suddenly they are gone and I am kicking myself for saying too much again.  The funny thing is, it's often nice things that make them so uncomfortable.  Maybe it's because when I give compliments, I do so seriously.  Oh, I can give flippant (though sincere) compliments about clothes and hair, but when I really like an aspect of someone's personality, I like to make sure they know.  What if they've never been told how special they are?  What if no one has ever recognized their kindness to children?

I like things to be logical.  I like things to be orderly and precise.  Those who know me will find this hilarious, since my house is a Clutter Zone and organization is not my forte.  I think it's because I have too much stuff.  I would love to have a set number of possessions, everything numbered and accounted for; a place for everything, and everything in its place.  I don't like needing to find places for new things.

The point is, with any relationship I like to have clearly defined lines.  I am 37% invested in our friendship.  I will invite you to barbeques that you probably won't attend, maybe go see a movie if I ever have the time, and send you a Christmas card if I have your address, but don't expect me to call.  How invested are you in this friendship?

I would honestly love it if relationships worked this way.  I don't want to invest my time and heart in people who aren't equally invested in me.  Unfortunately, most people would probably find it offensive if I stated my 10% interest factor and asked for theirs.  Instead, I blurt and retreat--sometimes literally.  I try to state exactly what my feelings are ("You are a great friend, and I want to hang out with you every day and read books and giggle at strange things, and by the way you're gorgeous and I love your hair") and then emotionally retreat to prepare myself for the inevitable creeped-out running away.

It's the Dance of Friendship, done cautiously and heedlessly, leaping forward with abandon before sidestepping to avoid the knives of rejection.  My hand is stretched out, but tentatively and awkwardly, so if it's rejected I can pretend I only had it out for balance.  Sometimes the other person will reach out and take my hand and we'll take a few cautious steps together.  I usually remain cautious, even while dancing; only with a very few do I lose myself in the steps.

It feels like most would rather run.

Sometimes I spew information and then immediately regret it.  No, this person is too precious to risk losing.  Shut up, shut up, shut UP!  That's when I fall all over myself apologizing.  Sometimes I am forgiven; sometimes not.  The dance begins again, with greater trepidation.

So now here I am, reaching out while panicking inside.  Will you accept me, with all my quirks and oddities?  Will you accept sincerity while understanding that my aloofness is my armor?  Can you accept that I will blunder again and again, make horrible mistakes and try to amend them, and then blunder again?  Are you willing to lift me up when I'm feeling wretched about my behavior, put a cup of tea in my hand, and tell me to try again?  Are you willing to let me do the same for you?

Will you dance with me?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year, Same Old Me

It's a new year, folks.  A new year, and resolutions are flying faster than a speeding train.  I'm sure many have already derailed.  I would like to make resolutions--I really would--but I can't remember from one minute to the next what I've resolved to do.  Therefore, I'm going to make it really, really easy for myself and write it all down.

1) I will kiss my husband every day.  Preferably several times a day.  (<<<<<<TOP PRIORITY!!  I get grumpy without kisses!)

2) I will hug and kiss my children daily.  Except the teenagers, because, well, they're teenagers.  And one is currently out of reach.

3) I will be the best me I can be, which is not always the same.  Some days have better "me" potential than others.

In reality, I'm not resolving any of those things, because I've discovered that when I resolve to do something, my mind automatically turns it into an Obligation and a Chore.  I do much better when I take each day as it comes and go with it.  And the thing is, we're beginning a new year, yes, but it's only one day later than yesterday.  One day at a time, all we're allotted here.

What that means is, I'm still me.  I was Me yesterday, and I'm Me today, and I will be Me tomorrow, if all goes to plan.  I'm not magically going to change into some perfect rendition of myself just because the date changed.  All I can do is continue on, learning and making mistakes and making an utter fool of myself and apologizing and forgiving myself and occasionally begging forgiveness from others.  And trying each day to be a little better than the previous day, because Mama Needs Patience and Mama Needs To Be Understanding and Mama Needs To Spend More Time With Children, and it doesn't happen all at once.

Truth is, some days I'd happily move to Siberia in the winter, if it just meant I could have some peace and quiet and time to myself.  Why, yes, I'll give you all my Cassandra Clare books and a pretty dress if you'll just keep my children for a week.  I'll even throw in several pairs of earrings that I can't wear because piercing my ears didn't work.

The point is, if every day I'm doing the best I can--even if the "best" some days is sitting huddled on a couch, trying to keep my eyes open--then there's no need to make new resolutions.  I'll just keep doing the best I can every day.

Oh, and apart from half my household being ill, I had a fabulous New Year's Eve.  I managed to eat most of my dinner (over the course of 1 1/2 hours), I had lively conversation with Savanna and Fletcher (not Renn), Savanna and I toasted each other at 8:30 with Martinelli's in pint jars, the littles were asleep by ten o'clock, and I actually made time to sit down and write.  Here's to a lovely new year!