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Kick. Step. Stomp. (chapter 14)

The bar was empty excpt for a few couples scattered about. Most were partaking in a meal at a table. I scanned the room. My eyes landed on an empty row of stools at the long curved bar.

Sitting meant I was committing to stay and I hadn't quite decided I wanted to yet. Maybe I'll leave, I considered even though I had a babysitter, I had put effort into getting my hair and makeup done just right, and I wanted to do something for myself, all things I hadn't done in a while. I had made and intention to just try one lesson, but standing in that bar, I still wasn't sure I was willing to get past this discomfort. I felt my heart start to race.

The flier said the lesson started at 8:30, it was 8:33 and the place seemed desolate.

I started to think I had made a terrible mistake. What am I doing here? What am I thinking? I feel so uncomfortable, I want to scream except I that would bring way more attention to myself. Maybe I can still walk walk out and no one will notice. . .  I consider all the options. Maybe I can slip out and just sit in my car for an hour or so, then go home. But what would that do for me? I thought. 

Just then the bartender asked, "What can I get you?"

"Blue Moon" I reply before realizing what I have just done. Sheepishly I take the nearest seat and wait for my beer and think "Well, I'm here now". I take a deep breath and exhale slowly.

I notice a woman, who also seems to be alone sitting two seats down. She has long dark waves that frame her attractive face. She looks to be a few years older than me. I strike up a conversation to occupy my mind.

"Have you been here before?" I ask her.

"Yeah, A few times" she replies kindly. "The food's alright, but the tequila is better." I laugh, I notice it feels good in my chest when I laugh. I feel freer already. "How about you?" she inquires.

"Oh, this is my first time. I haven't been out in a long time. I thought I'd give this a try." I reply honestly.

I loved to dance as a child. I took lessons for years. I remember my dance recitals as a little girl, the getting all dressed up, wearing makeup and performing on stage. I had even taken an African dance elective in college, which my uncle still teases me about. "You know African dance, how about you show me some moves." he jokes. "trust me African dance is quite useful!" I always assert.

The truth is, I love to dance. It makes me feel good to move my body to the rhythm of music. Dance has always been my happy place a place to feel freedom and joy in my body. Right now there is some wisdom inside of me that just knows that after losing my marriage and my relationship with Ed, that I need to feel joy and is drawn to dance.

"So you are here for the lesson?" the dark haired woman asks me.

"Yeah, but I've never tried line dancing before." I tell her. "Are more people going to be here?" I ask, not wanting us to be the only two on display in the restaurant.

"Oh yeah, the lesson never starts on time." She reassures me, "More people willl show up. Not everyone comes for the lesson."

I begin thinking, maybe this is how you make friends as an adult. Just sit awkwardly next to someone and spark up a conversation.

I hadn't had a good friend in a long time. Being a mom had isolated me. After Jacob was born my life became more about diapers and snacks than it did about calling friends. I wasn't into drinking, concerts or clubs like most of my single friends seems to be up to according to their Facebook feeds which is the only way I knew what anyone was up to. I had friends, well acquaintences, but no one called, and I didn't call anyone.

Being with my Husband had isolated me before I became a mom. I isolated from friends early on because I didn't feel good about myself or my relationship and I didn't want to lie about how well life was going. I choose instead to avoid meeting up with people. it was easy to not show up to the gathering and not ago to the event. My world became very small, and nearly every interaction in my life revolved around my mom, my son or my husband.

I sometimes lost connections with people because of my choice to be with my ex. I remember the day a childhood girlfriend took me to coffee after a double date with her husband and mine. We chatted and laughed for a bit, then her demeanor changed. Suddenly she got really quiet. I noticed her body stiffen. She looked across the table at me, down at her latte then slowly she look back into my eyes. She told me that she didn't like the way my husband talked to me. She said it was hard for her to witness. She told me she loved me and wanted to get together still, and although I was welcome anytime, but my husband was not. I have not seen her much since that day.

I looked at the woman sitting next to me and wondered, is this a friendship budding at the bar? Maybe she will be my new girlfriend. Maybe I'll have someone to go dancing with? Maybe even a friend to go to a movie with. The possibilities were wide open. I felt so optimistic and I really loved that. I felt a bit more energetic too.

Just then the dark haired woman pointed out the dance teacher. "That's Sara." she told me, "She is the line dance instructor. The lesson will be starting soon."

She checked her phone and told me her friends were on the way. Sara took  the mic and encouraged everyone to the center of the dance floor. "Let's get started," she said with enthusiasm. 

The young teacher was confident and straightforward as she began to count off the steps. One, two, kick three, four, step five, six and seven, stomp eight. I recalled the language of dance from my youth. Everything happens in eight counts. There is a pattern, a method. There are moves, and names for those moves. The dance choreography is these small moves put together in different ways to make a longer dance.

Dancing has become my favorite a metaphor for life. With dancing you show up and move to the rhythm of the music. Its not about getting anywhere, its about enjoying the moment. Sometimes you miss a step and that is ok because no one gets it right all the time. The key in line dancing is to keep going after you mess up. Just pick up as soon as you can and try not to run into anyone. Sometimes you go forward, sometimes back, sometimes side to side its all part of the dance. Sometimes you have a partner and they lead and you follow, kinda like my relationship with 18 Source, whom I want to guide me. Sometimes you just dance all by yourself. And the point is not to get to the end as quickly as possible, the point is to just to enjoy yourself wile you are on the dance floor.

I looked up and saw a small crowd had formed. I felt relieved to be one of a group attempting this new endeavor. At least I'm alone. Awkwardly, we all follow the steps as Sara counts. I notice how good it feels to be off the bench, at least now I am moving. I slowly begin picking up the moves, many of which I remember from all those dance classes as a child. 

Sara shows us the whole dance and then we all cheer. "Let's do it to music." she motions to the DJ booth, "Taavit, Play it a bit slow. Here we go." And as we all begin to dance to the music, I notice something strange and unfamiliar. I finally feel at home in my body. I recognize it. It is the feeling of joy.

Love, Country Music & Autism

Every night before dinner we say a version of this prayer:
"Thank you god, for this lovely meal, for my family,
for peace in the world and for country music." 

Jacob shows his "22" fingers, inspired by Taylor Swift's hit song!

Jacob shows his "22" fingers, inspired by Taylor Swift's hit song!

I have overwhelming gratitude to all of Country Music. You play a very special role in my son's life. The gift of your music is healing both of us in ways I could never have imagined.

Country music has become the bridge between a brilliant and often misunderstood child, to the world.

The unique combination of one special kid diagnosed with autism and his love of country music is magical to witness.

To say my son loves counrty music does not convey the depth to which he loves country music, not when you can use the word LOVE to describe your affection for tacos and your affection for your dearly beloved family member. How can I describe it?

Jacob loves country music like rain loves to fall.
Jacob loves country music like stars love the night.
Jacob loves country music like Toby Keith loves red solo cups. 

"I am Jason Aldean," Jacob said one fine February afternoon. Jacob was 6 years old at the time. This was his first attempt at pretending to be someone else. Little did I know this was the beginning of an era.

For the next 18 months my son was a different country music artist EVERY SINGLE DAY. He demanded to be called by his country singer name. He often wouldn't even respond to his birth name. He was adamant that he WAS the artist of the day.

School supplies with both my son's names!

School supplies with both my son's names!

Jacob wasn't pretending he was "for-realsing". At school or church I had to give him name tags with both names on it, his country name and his forever name. Teachers began to get the jist and would ask him before class "Jacob, who are you today?" knowing that was the only way to get him to respond.

Jacob knows that names of hundreds of country artists and thousands of country songs.
He knows and which albums the songs are on. 
He knows what the cover art looks like for each album. 
He knows the track numbers for each of the songs and which songs can be found on multiple albums.
He knows the lengths (time) of hundreds and hundreds of songs.
He knows whose new albums are being released and on what date.
He is now learning what year the older albums were released.

"This is my Greatest Hits album cover." -Jacob

"This is my Greatest Hits album cover." -Jacob

Some people might call his passion for country music an autistic obsession, but I see it as a true passion. I am so glad he has a positive outlet for his incredible memory. He is learning stories about love and joy and pain, and he is learning all about life through country music.

The miracle I see so vividly is how his love of music has become a bridge to the world. Jacob was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old and at that time he did not respond to any questions. If someone would ask him, "whats your name?" he would stand and stare blankly ahead in silence, even though he knew his name.

He avoided eye contact and interaction with both adults and children. He didn't answer any questions at school and did not seem interested in anyone other than very close family members.

Social interaction was not easy for my son. Jacob has had to learn how to play, and how to pretend. He has had to have direct instruction to learn social cues others seems to pick up effortlessly, like shaking your head yes and no. He has met and exceeded every goal I've set for him. One step at a time, he is accessing the world.

Now, with country music, his world has become limitless. 

Jacob's favorite place in the world is Dimple Records, our local used CD store. When Jacob arrives, he announces himself, making sure the employees know he is there. "Hello" he says effortlessly, "I'm going to go look at the CD's." he tells them. Many of the employees know him by name now. "Hi Jacob!" they reply. I guess there are not too many 8 year olds obsessed with CD's around these days.

My son talks with anyone about country music. Jacob also loves babies. Jacob will now approach someone with a baby, and introduce one of his (pretend) "babies". "I have babies", he says with excitement as he shows off his invisible infants. "This is baby Trisha Yearwood and this is baby Brad Paisley." Most people then ask Jacob if he likes country music, to which he responds, "I like all that country stuff!" and a conversation grows quite naturally. It's excellent social skills practice. 

In the past year and a half Jacob has been just about every country music icon you can think of, from old country artists like George Jones and Jonny Cash to new artists like Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett. He started with the current popular male artists, like Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney, eventually he added in the women, such as Carrie Underwood, Reba, Martina McBride, Lee Ann Womack. He has been bands like Little Big Town, Rascal Flatts and Alabama. He recently has a thing for George Strait, Toby Keith and Buck Owens. I could go on and on.

Miley Cyrus & Taylor Swift, Halloween 2016!

Miley Cyrus & Taylor Swift, Halloween 2016!

Last fall Jacob hit a phase where he was Taylor Swift for about 6 weeks. Halloween day my son dressed up as Taylor Swift, complete with a long blonde wig and sparkly guitar. I backed him up as Miley Cyrus. The wig was a bit of a miracle because of his sensitive sensory system. He hated hats and having things on his head yet, he wore the wig for about an hour while we were trick or treating with no complaints!!!

Hey look Chewbacca playing guitar. . .  nope. Jacob will tell you his wookie costume is "Just a pajama. I'm Terri Clark!"

Hey look Chewbacca playing guitar. . .  nope. Jacob will tell you his wookie costume is "Just a pajama. I'm Terri Clark!"

This all started with one little playlist on my phone. In 2012, I was creating a new life after my divorce and I started country line dancing as a way to express joy and make some friends. One day my son found that playlist and something clicked.

My boy learned to read by looking at the song titles on the phone. I knew If I let him continue he would soon learn to sight read both "whiskey" and "beer", but I knew would learn to read everything else, so I let him continue. Within a month he had memoized all the artists, songs, and albums that were on that playlist of about 50 tunes. Next Jacob memorized the track numbers and which songs could be found on multiple albums. After that I found out he knew the song times (length).

We counted down to Jacob's first BIG concert, Brad Paisley, June 16, 2017 in Wheatland, CA. 

We counted down to Jacob's first BIG concert, Brad Paisley, June 16, 2017 in Wheatland, CA. 

We were counting how much money a few iTunes songs would cost and came up with a total of $5.19. My son looked at me and said. "5:19 just like the Eric Church song". I was confused and intrigued. "Show me", I prompted. He proceeded to show me the proof on iTunes. The song he was referring to, Mr. Misunderstood, was 5 minutes 18 seconds. I questioned him. "This says 5:18 not 5:19?" He said "It's 5:19 on Grandpa's Kindle." He was right.

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At this is the point I realized I could not keep up with his memory, the best I could do was to help harness his powers for good!

Together my son and I have turned Country Music into a game and we are always playing. Here are some games we play:

Guess the cover art!
"Who am I?" he poses just so, a mirror of the Shania Twain, Come On Over album cover art, with his hand to his forehead and head tipped back. "Shania!!" I reply with enthusiasm. He poses with his right shoulder leaning on the wall, "Who am I now?" I reply, "Blake Shelton!!" Next, I put my feet to Jacobs tummy and fly him above me like superman. This is how we practice Brad Paisley's Wheelhouse cover. 

Playlists and Playlists and Playlists:
"Song number two is off Garth Brooks' third album. It was released in 1991", my son tells me as I write the name of the song, Shameless, on the paper. This is how he practices writing, making our own CD covers and playlists. We take turns writing. Sometimes he writes out the entire album, and sometimes he writes just the r's and o's. Sometimes he lists all the times for a certain album, sometimes he changes the times of each song 10 seconds. 

This Jason Alden album has 35 songs!

This Jason Alden album has 35 songs!

Jacob's Uniques Beatboxing Singing:
"Boom chicka boom ticka pphta, cat ticka uhhh uhhh", the noises come effortlessly from his mouth in a percussive fashion. It sounds odd if you don't  know what he's doing. It probably looks like nonsense to most, like some kind of obsessive autistic ism (stim). This noise it has a distinct purpose, this is how he plays. He pretends to push the song on the playlist as if it's a button. Immediately Jacob begins a percussive cover of the song at hand. Surprisingly accurate, sometimes I can guess what song he is "beatboxing" without any hints.

Lets Go Scootering:
Jacob had never shown much interest in physical activity such as scootering or bicycling. The cross body coordination of activities like this had been challenging for him, even at 7 years old. Yet, all it took was my son finding a song with an album cover depicting Brett Eldredge riding a scooter on one foot, and suddenly Jacob wanted to give it a try.

I followed Jacob's lead and we began scootering a three days a week before his social group therapy. We had a great time riding to the nearby church and playing. A quick note here, my son is better at scootering then he is at hiding! We are still working on the fine art of hide-and -go-seek. 

"Mama, I'm Hiding." Jacob "hides" on a scooter ride!

"Mama, I'm Hiding." Jacob "hides" on a scooter ride!

Geography, Cities and States:
"There's ocean front property in Minnesota." I sing to Jacob. "No there's not!" he laughs. "Where is the Florida Georgia Line?" I ask as we look at a map and finds cities like Little Rock, Austin and Baton Rouge, thanks to Reba, Blake Shelton and Garth Brooks. He know where to find himself a Mississippi Girl with the help of Faith Hill and if he ever wants to walk the streets of Bakersfield he knows its about 5 hours away in his home state of California. 

Folsom, CA and the Jonny Cash Art Trail:
Jacob and I live in Folsom, CA, yep that Folsom, where the prison is. Actually we live quite close to the prison. I grew up here and I knew of Jonny Cash and heard the song Folsom Prison Blues a few times. When I was in elementary student the school bus actually stopped just outside the prison gates, to pick up kids and a prison guard walked the bus before we were able to leave the property. Like Joe Diffie says Life is Funny

October 2017 marked the grand opening of the Johnny Cash Trail, a bike trail in town dedicated to the legend. The art installations will be installed soon in tribute to the Ring of Fire, Walk the Line and a park is planned with a huge guitar and statue of the Man In Black. All of this is within walking distance to our house! Soon we will be adding in country themed modern art into our routine. It's amazing how life give you blessing right outside your door.

There are so many more examples. So many more amazing creative, fun and interesting ways we have been able to incorporate country music into our life and into Jacobs autism recovery & therapy. We come up with new games all the time.

If you keep sharing your music, we will keep sharing our joy with you! 

So with a great full heart of love, I say thank you to "All That Country Stuff"!! 
For the Music, the Joy and the Miracles.
Love Y'all~

Lindsey and my son "George Strait" (aka. Jacob)

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