About Desiree A.

Mom. Wife. Fighter for a happy life

For One Single Yesterday…

This is the time of the year when we are meant to show gratitude for all that we have. And I am grateful. So, so grateful for every wild and fantastic turn my life has taken that has led me to this point. But I am also indescribably sad. This is one of the hardest nights I’ve ever had.

I am a lucky person. My life could have gone in a million directions – any of our lives could – but mine went the way that it did in many respects because of my grandmother. She was fierce and smart, loving and loyal, and fucking vicious when the time called for it. She refused to accept anything but the best of everyone, and I have spent my life trying to live up to the expectation of who she thought I was, and who she thought I could be.

Some of my best memories take place in her kitchen, and that’s why I’m writing this now.

I can remember being young and sitting cross-legged in the middle of the kitchen counter as she rolled out dough. She’d pass me scraps of dough, and I’d pile them up. She would call for ingredients, and I’d have them ready. Sometimes.

Sometimes I would sit with my book and forget that I was helping. Yeah, okay, maybe more than sometimes. But she never made me feel bad for not paying attention. She’d remind me of what we were doing, and then ask me about what I was reading.

I can remember the way she helped me, with my little rolling pin, on the section of the counter I’d claimed for myself – space I know now she likely needed (to say nothing of the space I was taking up myself as I perched on the counter) to help me roll out my own dough. I remember eating the apple slices out of the bowl every single time she turned around and feeling so very proud of my sneakiness.

I remember Janis coming through the speakers and all the times she sliced her fingers with that silver paring knife. I remember learning to put foil around the edges of a pie, and to sprinkle a bit of sugar on the top. I remember being so damn proud when my little tiny pie came out next to her great big ones and being so happy when it was every bit as delicious.

She didn’t just put on a dinner. She put on an event. One I looked forward to every year. She made everything a production, and I got to participate. It wasn’t just passing out plates or moving chairs, I got to create with her. I got to flour my hands and mold my own dough. Even then, she encouraged me to create my own space in the world.

As I got older, she’d read what I was reading, and talk to me about authors and stories and fictional worlds that I found so much easier to navigate than my own. And then I’d read what she was reading, and we would talk about those authors and those worlds. I never got too big to sit on the counter, and she never made me feel silly for doing it.

When Kaleb was born, she sent me my pie pans. My little tiny pans, that she helped me use every year while I grew up. She even sent me the tiny rolling pin for him. She made jokes about little feet getting in the way of pie crusts and told me to carry on the tradition.

And I have. I’ve made pies with my kids every year, without fail. Even in the midst of depression. Even when the last thing I wanted was to be all the things you need to be in a kitchen with kids. Calm and compassionate and patient and fun. I could point to two years of the last ten that were bad ones for me, and I forced myself to do it because I knew she would ask me if I had. And I couldn’t lie to her. So I did it. Even when all I wanted was to hide.

I ended up loving those moments far more than I could probably ever make anyone understand. They were bright spots in dark times.

I carry on the tradition.

But that makes this year by far the hardest.

Because this is the first year I can’t tell her about it.

This is the first year I can’t call her and tell her how I added extra apples so the kids could sneak them behind my back like she used to let me do.

This is the first year I can’t call her so we can share complaints about how miserable it is to core apples, and how weird the dough feels when your fingers get all pruney after you’ve spent far too much time peeling and slicing fruit.

This is the first year I can’t send her pictures, or videos, or ask her questions. This is the first year I can’t watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with her on the phone.

This is also the first year I’m hosting Thanksgiving.

I can’t call her to freak out. Or to complain. Or to laugh. Because this is my first year without her. And I don’t know how to do that.

I know she’d laugh at me if she was here. She’d laugh at me for forgetting some basic key ingredient (sugar), meaning I have to go back to the store tomorrow at the crack of dawn. She’d laugh at me for stressing out. She’d call me a worrier and tell me to relax because everything will work out.

Okay, that last one was a lie. She’d probably be freaking out with me. But she’d also make room on the counter for me to sit while I panicked.

She’d also know exactly when to pour the wine.

I am incredibly grateful. Because she gave me a gift that can never be taken. She taught me about love and life and laughter and how to put all those things into food, and I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t had her.

My boys and my nieces have a tradition that will hopefully stay with them for years to come, because of her. Tomorrow, they’ll sit on my counter. And they’ll probably be silly, or not pay attention, and messes will be made.

I like to think she’d love every moment of it.

I am grateful. I’m also sad.

Savor not just the food this week, but the people. Because life is too short.

I love you, Nana. And I miss you desperately.

Thank you for… everything.

Home Now…

NEWS ALERT:  I AM A HOMESCHOOL MOM NOW.

Let me repeat that, just in case it didn’t sink in the first time.  I am a homeschool mom now. We are homeschool people.  We were never going to be homeschool people. I mean, never-ever-ever-ever-no-freaking-way-over-my-dead-body-ever.

And yet…

One of the most commonly heard phrases right now (at least in my neck of the woods) is “the struggle is real”.  I thought I got it.  Seriously.  Two parents with jobs and two kids and the daily crap that goes with that is enough.  Add in all the struggles and the emotional stuff and the autism stuff and my school schedule and the house that just won’t quit (breaking)… it was already way more real than was probably healthy. And now we’re homeschool people. I’d love to be able to tell you I’m having all the feelings, but I promised honesty.

I’m almost to the point of being afraid to feel my feelings.  My needle is swinging from numb to “Danger Will Robinson!” faster than Mason can say “can I have my tablet?”… actually.  No, that’s about the right speed, now that I’m thinking about it. I am frustrated beyond belief.  I am angry and disappointed and heartbroken and floating in a mist of uncertainty.  To put it bluntly, I’m terrified.

Kaleb has been riding an emotional rollercoaster his whole life.  But he was stable two years ago.  He was doing well and on a clear path. This is where we introduce the mommy guilt.  So many things have probably built up to contribute to this.  Our moving, my course load, our jobs and so much more. But really, the last 16 months have just been a downward slide of rejection, disappointment, heartache, and regression because he hasn’t been able to get joy out of the one thing he’s always found joy – learning. He hasn’t felt safe and secure in school, and that’s the one place that he’s always seen as his constant outside of home.

I’m not going into why we pulled him, not yet.  It’s too raw and I’m too damn tired to dredge it all up.  In the end, what it came down to was Kaleb’s mental and emotional wellbeing. And that’s always going to make even the most terrifying decision an easy one.  That comes first. So, we’re homeschool people now.

He’s emotionally regressed years. It’s going to take serious work to get him back to where he was, and then some. I’m talking about almost having to drag my nearly-12-year-old out of the grocery store today for behaviors he hasn’t displayed since 3rd grade.

This is scary as hell for us. How do we integrate socialization from home?  The truth is though, right now, we don’t.  We help him focus on his mental and emotional health.  And we support him as he remembers why he has a love of learning. I know this will be hard, and some serious sacrifices are going to have to be made.  But there are bright sides too.

For a start, Kaleb began virtual classes today.  In the last 90 minutes, he’s completed over 12% of his entire math course with all A’s (man, you should have seen how pissed he was when he realized he had to start with the number line).  He’s happy and shiny and pleased as punch with himself. He’s bouncing in his seat – not the erratic, anxious, picking-his-skin-until-it-bleeds kind of bouncing either.  What I’ve got here is the bonafide light, happy, “I’m doing something that makes me happy” bouncing.

Not that it was easy to get him there.  First, we had an hour-long argument over why there was an estimated completion time at the top of his list of assignments that he felt was way off the mark because he could do it in less than that time easily, and it didn’t make any sense…. we wasted an hour on this. Something I ended up coloring over with a sharpie while practically vibrating with frustration. We then had a 40 minute struggle over the set-up of the course.  It went like this:  Me: “click this button, do the lesson, then click that button to do the assignment.”  Kaleb: “WHY ISN’T THE ASSIGNMENT RIGHT AFTER THE LESSON THAT’S STUPID AND IT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE AND WHY WOULD ANY LOGICAL PERSON DO THAT AND…

Do you feel my pain yet? It took everything I had not to shriek that I didn’t know because I didn’t design the damn thing. Only, louder. And more “mommy’s on the verge of a panic attack so just why do we have to fight about this innane bullshit?!” But I didn’t. Shriek. Or have a panic attack.

This is the point where I pause and remind myself that this is exactly why we are homeschool people now.  Because all of a sudden he needs an answer to every single thing, every single time even when there are no answers to be had. This isn’t new.  In fact, it’s old. Very, very old.  This is kindergarten Kaleb peeking through the curtains. And it’s got me completely off balance.

That is really the biggest benefit of this.  The idea that we can help to get him back to a good place. Without having to worry about school, we can tweak (and hopefully remove) some of his medications. We can adjust our expectations based on what we are seeing, not the snippets we are hearing. There are good points, they’re just hard to see through the fog.

The truth, as I’ve promised, is that I’m drained. This is just one of a dozen different things that have gone so unexpectedly sideways lately I feel like I’m never going to get a proper grip on anything again. The emotional temperature of these kids is all over the place and it’s got me running in circles with no clear direction. There are so many more unanswered questions than there are answers and so much is unknown. But we’re doing it. We’re homeschool people now.

Send wine.

SarahRichterArt Pixabay

Human Behavior…

I am supposed to be doing so much homework right now,  it makes total sense that I’m on here instead, right?  Okay, maybe not.  But I can’t concentrate.  Well, I can’t concentrate on coming up with a reasonable thesis about the necessities of a reader understanding the social and political climate in order to fully appreciate a satiric novel.

Instead, I am completely consumed with the ideas of behavioral reinforcement and/or punishment.  More to the point, how in the hell am I supposed to help my kid change unwanted behaviors when said child could not give a shit less about consequences?

That wasn’t rhetorical.  I’m open to suggestions.  Only, don’t suggest building a giant velcro wall using the trampoline base and sticking my kids in velcro suits so I can launch them Ninja Warrier style onto said velcro wall, where I can watch them like flies on fly-paper until they’ve agreed to stop doing really absurd shit.  Todd already said no to that idea, the spoilsport.

Last time I was on here I did a mini-dive into the anxieties my kids face.  But now I want to look at a whole different monster.  Because anxious or not, actions still have consequences, and I have hit a wall when it comes to effective measures of dealing with unwanted behaviors. As usual for me, I have done far too much research on this, hoping to find some kind of method or idea that we haven’t already tried (and watched fail), but I’m at a loss.

So, let’s start with the basics.  In psychology there are 4 main methods of either reinforcing or punishing behaviors:

  1. Positive Reinforcement – Adding something positive to increase a response.  Think about offering dessert for eating all of dinner.
  2. Negative Reinforcement – Taking away something negative to increase a response. Such as, my constant badgering to brush teeth stops when the kid brushes his damn teeth.
  3. Positive Punishment – Adding something negative to cut out a response. Such as having a child do an additional 30 minutes of reading at home when he refuses to do his work in school.
  4. Negative Punishment – Taking away something positive to cut out a response.  Like taking away electronics time when a major rule is broken.

So, the basic idea is that any time you want to reinforce a behavioral change, one of these four methods is implemented.  But how do you know which one to use?  Or, in our case, what the hell do you do when you’ve used all of them in various ways over the years and it doesn’t make any difference?

This, friends, is one of the most frustrating things about life with autism I have come across yet.  Meltdowns can be next level, but I can usually see them coming.  A need for routine and a constant desire for fully understanding the ins and outs of everything from the logical to the downright absurd (think going from reading stereo instructions to asking why cows need four feet), okay, fine.  I can work with that, even if it is frustrating.  But this?  Figuring out how to curb unwanted behaviors in kids who don’t really give a rats ass about consequences? This is a bitch.

Allow me to lay this out for you.  We’ll start with the littlest first.

Broadly speaking, Mason does pretty well with a combination of positive reinforcement and negative punishment.  Here’s what that looks like right now:  We have a points system we use in the house.  Points are like currency.  He earns points by doing well in school, maintaining basic hygiene, and managing a couple of small household responsibilities (making his bed, putting his laundry away, etc).  He then gets to spend those points on things he wants, such as time on electronics.  Until recently, this was a fairly lax system for Mase, as he was able to earn enough points each day to get his tv or his tablet or whatever.  However, when his behavior at school started sliding downhill, along with his grades, we changed it up.

Now, I’ve taken away the access to all electronic devices on weeknights (negative punishment), and he has to earn enough points throughout the week to have them back for the weekend (positive reinforcement). In addition to this, there are weeknight privileges he can earn as well, and a bonus point system.  For example, if he earns a minimum of 7 points today, we play a game of his choosing for family game night. If he earns 60 points throughout the week, he can have his tablet on the weekend after his chores and 30 minutes of reading are done.  If he earns more than that 60 points, the left-over points are saved, and over time he can earn things like a day at the zoo, etc.

Strict?  Yes.  Has he done better in school?  Yes.  He also sleeps better because he doesn’t have his face crammed into a screen for two hours a day.  He’s more engaged, and pleasant, and is forced to spend more time interacting with the rest of the living creatures in this house. Of course, he hates being unplugged all week – but he’ll live.

Then, here comes Kaleb.  This kid.  Without going into too much detail, let’s say that he has absolutely zero compunction when it comes to other people’s personal spaces or stuff.  And yet, if his personal space is invaded you bet your ass there is a war on the horizon.

Okay, once again, I get that this is par for the course, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.  Nor does that mean I have to be content with raising a hypocrite. So, moving on.

In the span of a week, Kaleb has had his hands in lots of pies – and none of them were his.  Devices that were not his to mess with have been altered or reset.  Rooms and workspaces that were not his to enter were violated without hesitation.  So, what do we do here?

Let me point out, Kaleb runs on a points system much like Mason’s, since they were both doing poorly in school.  Which means, he only has his devices on weekends.  So, when he does what he did this past week, our immediate inclination is to take away the ability to have the electronics at all for a certain amount of time and try come up with a different positive reinforcement goal.  He cares about this… for about 10 minutes.  Then he’s reading a book or running back and forth through the house humming Windows 98 tunes or whatever at the top of his lungs with the sole purpose of driving all of us completely mad.

Here’s where the problem lies – none of the reinforcement/punishment strategies do shit with this kid.  Positive reinforcement – okay, first of all, how do you positively reinforce someone to not take shit that isn’t theirs?  Here kid, have a cupcake every time you don’t go into my room and riffle through my stuff and take my tablet without my permission?  How does that work?

I’m not being sarcastic here, or at least, not intentionally.  I’m dead serious.  If someone has a strategy for positive reinforcement in this instance I am all ears. And before it gets suggested, we have gone so far as to lock all the stuff up in a cabinet with an actual lock. But that isn’t the point.  The point is, I should not have to do that.  I should not have to hide my tablet from my 12-year-old.

Now we look at negative reinforcement.  Look, I don’t know how many of the people who read this have met me in real life, so I’ll explain something real quick.  I do not have a deep voice.  And when I get worked up, I really get pitchy.  You wanna talk negative reinforcement?  How about not having to listen to me lecture your ass?  Again, I’m not joking.  One of the things Kaleb hates the most in the world is having to have “conversations” with me when he’s done something foolish.  He thinks it is torture to have to sit out here and discuss what has happened and what should be done about it.

So, where were we?  Oh, right.  Positive punishment – add something negative to stop a behavior.  Once again, I’m at a loss.  I can add chores, or essays, or jumping jacks or a dissertation on nuclear physics (probably not a punishment for him but it sounds like hell to me), but how do I make him do it?  He’s not 3, I cannot have him clean the bathroom hand over hand like a toddler who needs to pick up his blocks.  How do you make that stick?  As far as negative punishment – I’m pretty sure I already mentioned the removal of the electronics…

Where we are at right now is this:  Kaleb did a lot of big no-no’s over the last week.  Impulse control is an issue – always has been, and will likely be something he struggles with for the rest of his life. Impulse control in Kaleb’s world isn’t like it is for the rest of us.  When I talk about it,  I don’t mean choosing not to buy that Snickers bar while you’re standing in the checkout lane.  I mean actively making the decision not to rob a bank because your paycheck was crappy.  It’s a whole new level.  And, to make matters worse, this is not a simple matter of impulse control.  This is a matter of knowing right from wrong and choosing wrong anyway because it suits what you want at the moment.  This is hiding the stuff he’s gotten into because he knows he’s not supposed to have it, which shows he is not only aware of what he is doing but that he intends to continue doing it.

What the hell do we do?

He wants all these freedoms – and yet time and again we are unable to give them to him because he is constantly pushing his boundaries too far.  He wants to be able to be on a computer unsupervised (he screwed the desktop up so badly we had to completely reinstall the operating system and start from scratch – a fact he acts almost proud of).  He wants to have unrestricted access to YouTube (don’t even get me started).  He wants a laptop. He wants, he wants he wants.  But each and every time we get to a point where he starts to show a bit of restraint and we start to think he’s ready to take on the responsibility that comes with a new privilege, he turns around and pulls some shit like this. Which leaves me at a total loss.

How do you trust him to make wise choices, when he’s completely ruled by impulse?

We’re trying a new system this week – one that largely entails that he spends every waking minute in the presence of an adult until he is so damn sick of us both that by the time he gets his freedom back he might think twice before repeating the same mistake.  Except… we’ve thought that before, and we’ve been wrong. I am entirely open to suggestions here.  Because now I’m back to feeling more like a prison warden than a mom.

Once more for good measure, I’ll ask it again, what do you do?  How do you get through to a kid nearing teenage years who has a stubborn streak that could cross half the continent? A kid who will dig in his heels and starve rather than eat something he finds unpleasant?  How do you help him curb the behaviors?  How do you get him to see the seriousness of what he is doing and how it impacts other people?

I’m fresh out of ideas, and it’s beyond frustrating.

Much of a Muchness…

Did I say I was going to post on here once a week last time I wrote?  Gotcha!  No, seriously, I’m trying.  This was supposed to be the slow month of the fall, and instead, it’s been a whirlwind of disasters.  I know I mentioned that we had made some changes, and I was feeling more than a little optimistic about them, but.

We’re working on things, one week, one day, one hour at a time.  One meltdown over homework at a time.  One refusal to cooperate at a time.  One follicle of grey hair randomly sprouting from Todd’s beard at a time. One glass of wine at a time… you get the idea.  It’s a process, as is everything in life, especially with kids, especially with kids who are so far off the normal chessboard you aren’t even sure what game you’re playing anymore.

Having said all of that, I want to take the time I have right now to talk about a word that gets thrown around like f*@#ing confetti, but rarely given the consideration it deserves – especially when it comes to kids: ANXIETY

Did you here the dum-dum-duhhhhhh music in your head just then?  That melodramatic forboding beat that practically screams at you to run or take cover? Well, pretend you did anyway. Okay, here goes.

I have mentioned in the past, here and there, my own struggles with anxiety.  When I say I struggle with anxiety, I don’t mean I get a little hyped up before a big test, or I get a knot in my chest every now and then when thinking about certain things – for some people, that is their level and that is completely okay.  Me?  Not so much.  I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder years ago.  I tried meds, I didn’t like them.  I deal.  If that means every now and again I sneak out of bed to have a 2-hour panic attack on my back porch at 3am, so be it.  This shit crosses into every corner of my life.

Take school for example: I freak out over every. single. little. thing. in my head.  All day, every day, without stop.  1 page paper due tomorrow that Kaleb could write in his sleep?  I revise and proof read 87 times and then have nightmares about it.  Huge final project that is due in December?  I’ve spent so much time worrying over this thing since August, Todd is about ready to wrap a roll of duct tape around my head.

So, there’s that.  That’s school, for me.  And school for me is a big deal.  I work hard, I stress out, but I do well, and even with the stress, I largely enjoy the entire process.  You know what I don’t enjoy?

Watching my kids struggle with this shit every day.

The big word is a baseline for me.  I worry about my crap, Todd’s crap, the dogs, the dragon, even the hamster hits the radar on the regular.  But the biggest thing?  The thing that completely unties me?  Those boys.  Those wild, intelligent, funny, absurd human beings that I am supposed to somehow help turn into respectable (whatever that means), responsible, thoughtful, caring men.  It seems like a pretty daunting freaking task when I can’t even get the little hellions to brush their teeth without turning into some B-level horror film character with all the screaming and the flying hair.

And yet.  That’s the job.  That’s the goal.  And it’s doable.  I mean, it must be, right?  People do it every day.  But it’s hard.

The thing is, in our case anyway, it’s made about a million times harder by the little monsters that live inside the heads of my monsters.  The ones that tell them they aren’t good enough.  They aren’t smart enough, kind enough, social enough.  The ones that tell them they’re too loud, they talk too much, they have too much energy.  The ones that tell them people don’t like them because of who they are and they must change.

FUCK THAT NOISE.

This isn’t a joke.  This isn’t a drill.  This is a real-life thing that is happening inside the minds of my kids – and other kids just like them – every single day.  The constant struggle to meet the expectations of people who don’t even know them.  The weight of judgment and laughter and name-calling and just downright shittiness is more than they can take.

I’m going to be super candid here.  The last 12 months in our house has been nothing short of hell.  Confidence has plummeted.  Self-esteem has been flushed down the drain.  The light has dimmed in those big beautiful eyes.  There’s a sadness and an anger that is rooted so deeply in my children’s souls you can see it. 

They’re miserable, and we don’t know what the hell to do about it.  Where does it come from?  All the negative self talk?  Did they hear it from us?  Eh, maybe, sometimes.  Consistently, not really.  Honestly, Todd and I both have a bit of egomaniacal streak, and neither of us is big on putting ourselves down.  Am I critical of myself?  Yes… didn’t I just admit to that?  But do I say negative things about myself out loud?  No, not really.  So, what then?  Where does it come from?

YouTube videos?  Just too much technology access?  Okay, cut it all out.  Surgically remove the damn problem and lock everything with a screen up.  Well, now they’re negative and they’re furious.  That’s fun.  Do I think that there is too much of a dependency on screentime?  Yes.  Without a question.  We use it as a reward system.  They use it to have “downtime”.  The schools use it to teach and train and reward – it’s everywhere, and it’s becoming toxic.  But watching too many episodes of Skylanders is not going to make my kid hate himself.

But being told consistently by other people that he isn’t good enough, sure as hell will.

Allowing other kids to call him names because he’s different, or new, or too abrasive and doesn’t know how to be any other way sure as hell will.

Not working to reinforce the knowledge that they are smart and kind, and funny, and wonderful people every single day sure as hell will.

My kids have both been diagnosed with anxiety disorders.  They both struggle every single day with not feeling like they are enough and it is driving me to the brink of my own sanity.

Mason didn’t want to go to a birthday party of a friend he’s known for literally his entire life last month because he was convinced everyone there was going to hate him.  He’s known these people all of his life!  They’ve never been anything but kind, considerate and generous to him, and he was in such a state of affairs on the way to the party that I had to pull over out of fear he was going to hyperventilate.  Did he have a good time at the party?  Not at first, no.  He sat outside the party room on the floor, and twice I had to take him outside because his heart was racing so bad I thought he was going to have a panic attack.  In the end, after I pushed, and pulled, and coddled, and coerced, he joined the fray and had an absolute blast.  But it wasn’t as natural for him as it used to be, not by a long shot. Exactly one week later we had his 9th birthday party.  Instead of baking the cupcakes or cleaning my house, I spent that morning locked in his room with him while he ran through all of the reasons why nobody was going to show up to his party.

thumbnail

This is what Anxiety looks like

There were 23 kids at my house that night, I kid you not (a pun! Ha!). He had kids from schools he doesn’t go to anymore, new kids from the new school, neighborhood kids and the same kid whose birthday party he’d gone to the weekend before.  And out of all that, the chaos and the noise and the sheer madness of it all here’s what I learned about my kid:  He chose the outcasts this year.  He’s the new kid on campus, new school and all that.  He was terrified he wasn’t going to make any friends.  One kid who came to his party had never been invited to a friend’s birthday party before.  Another one had never been brave enough to attend.  Another one told me that Mason was the first friend he’s had in his whole life.  I had to lock myself in the bathroom to cry that night because the kids he picked as his friends were kids who he thought needed friends.  He picked other kids like him.

Kaleb has had the worst year imaginable.  It’s been one issue after another, and to watch the self-confidence slide out of him so easily is heartbreaking. Here’s the thing:  Kaleb is a smart kid.  I know, Newsflash! right?  But seriously.  I don’t just mean he spent the summer reading college textbooks on physics and calculus for fun (which he did much to my bewilderment).  He’s a lot smarter when it comes to people than people themselves give him credit for.  If he doesn’t like you, there’s a reason for it.  If he doesn’t respond to or respect you, you’ve given him cause.  He is a tough nut to crack, but he doesn’t walk into situations expecting not to like people.  Actually, he doesn’t walk into situations thinking about people beyond what random and fascinating stuff is floating through his head that he can possibly share with someone he hasn’t already shared it with.

Kaleb reads situations better than he’s ever been given due credit by, with the exception of a handful of well-loved and deeply missed teachers at his elementary school, and his family. But he’s also, well… he can also be a jerk.  The key distinction here is this:  He doesn’t mean to be mean.  He isn’t trying to make people feel bad.  He isn’t intentionally judgemental.  That doesn’t mean he isn’t sometimes mean, or make people feel bad, or come off as judgy, because he can – especially to people who don’t know him. And the thing is, he can’t help it.  I mean he legitimately cannot help the words flying out of his mouth.  The ability isn’t there.  NO mouth filter.  There’s never been one – not since he started talking – the thoughts come into his head, and the words go flying out of his mouth.

That means when his Dad says something about well, basically anything these days, and Kaleb’s pubescent, hormone, filterless brain has feelings about this, his mouth lets those feelings fly.  It’s hard.  It’s hard to deal with, for him, for us, for teachers, for peers – it’s a problem.  But there’s no clear-cut solution to the problem because it’s a part of of his basic make-up and the only way to help him grow a mouth filter is to address the problem directly, and positively.  That kid, hell both kids, eat up negativity like I used to munch on Flintstone vitamins.  Don’t actually know what the hell it’s doing to you, but damn is it tasty.

My kids are getting messages daily that they aren’t enough and I am absolutely sick of it.  Their grades aren’t good enough.  Their behavior isn’t spotless.  They’re too mouthy, too loud, too much.

It’s a never-ending loop, and I’m hitting the panic button.  I’m hitting the desperate point.  Because I cannot, I will not allow the expectations of the world to break their spirit.  Does Mason need to do his school work?  Of course he does!  And preferably with enough care that someone can actually read what he’s written.  Does Kaleb need to learn appropriate behavior when it comes to interacting with others – especially those on a different academic level than himself?  Hell yes!  Does he need to understand the necessity of following directions by people in positions of authority?  Aboslutely.  Does he need to learn to follow orders without asking questions?  Absol-fucking-lutely NOT.

Asking questions is how you learn.  Asking questions can help keep you safe in unfamiliar situations. And asking questions is a staple of not just children with autism, not just children with anxiety, but children in general. If a kid asks you why he has to do something and you cannot provide him with an adequate explanation, perhaps you should reevaluate why you’re having the kid do it. Is that easy when an almost-12-year-old is shouting “But just tell me why!” at the top of his damn lungs when you’ve got about 100 other damn things to be doing and this is just so not what you need right now?  No.  Actually, it’s hard as hell.  And completely necessary – because if he’s that upset, there’s a reason for it.  A reason that should be explored.  Not ignored.

My kids suffer from anxiety on a level that I have exactly zero personal experience with.  Their little minds and hearts and spirits are in pain and I don’t know how to fix it, but I’m damn sure going to try.  Because holy shit if I’m going to stand by and let the world suck the muchness out of those boys.  I’d like them to keep their muchness, thank you very much.

This was supposed to be a brief touch on some shit that’s been bothering me lately and turned into a full-blown rant, so if you’re still with me, thanks for sticking through. If you have had any experience with kids and anxiety, or have struggled with it in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out.  Whether to commiserate, laugh, cry, or offer advice, my door is open.  This is becoming increasingly more common, yet the conversations aren’t happening that should be. I’d like to change that.

We’re Baaaaack…

Maybe.  Look, let’s just be super honest for a second here.  Every time over the last few years that I’ve managed to get my butt back in the driver’s seat of this page, I’ve somehow managed to run myself right off the road within weeks, if not days.  Life is busy.  My kids are (not so) little tiny tornados of chaos and terror, and most days I’m lucky if I’ve been able to eke out so much as five minutes to pull my sh*t together.  But I am going to try.  There’s been a lot going on in the last year, and I want to share.  But more than that, Kaleb wants to share.  He’s finding his voice, and he wants you to know it. I’m not sure whether to tell you to run or celebrate this – the kid is just as long-winded as his mom!

So, here’s the deal.  From here on out, I solemnly swear that I will attempt to get a post out once a week, and if it isn’t from me, it’ll be from the kid.  You might even hear from Mason, though at this point if it doesn’t walk on four legs or have a jump scare he likely doesn’t give any sort of crap about it, so I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one.

My posts will likely be pretty short compared to those of the past – this is because the kids in this house won’t stop harassing me for better food (I’m never going to win MasterChef, okay?  Just be happy you even have food), more screen time, and fewer chores, which basically just means everyone is yelling, I’m on an eternal hunt for a glass of wine, and nothing is getting done. Also, the dogs won’t stop trying to eat the lizard and the hamster (why doesn’t hamster have a ‘P’ in it??), which is a daily struggle – more for the lizard and hamster than for me, but still.

The last year has seen a lot of changes in our little corner of the world.  We’ve added pets, changed schools multiple times, shed many tears – both of laugher and of the not so happy variety – and we’re walking a new path.  Again.  I don’t know how frequently the road has been traveled before we arrived to it, but it’s new to us. We’ve been asked where we’ve been.  We’ve been asked how we’re doing.  We’re here!  Again.  So stay tuned, as we try to grease the gears and get our engines running again.  Kaleb has informed me that I have way overdone the traveling metaphors.  Oh well.

Anyway, like I said, I’m going to keep this short and sweet.  We’re back people.  And not just here – we’re coming back in a BIG way everywhere.  We’re bringing back Monster Marchers!  There’s even going to be a walk coming up, so get ready for me to harass the hell out of everyone about that.  Basically, just get ready.  Because…

Image result for we're baaaack

Old Habits Die Hard…

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m an avid reader.  I know, big shock, right? My husband refers to reading as my “habit” – saying it in a way that clearly implies he feels I could benefit from a 5-step program and a sponsor.  I found this amusing as hell, images of me locking myself in the bathroom so I could just get a quick fix… well, okay, he may have a small point.

Anyway, moving on.  I read a lot, and I’m not all that picky about what I will read.  I have my favorites, and I’ve got some preconceived notions about certain genres you’d be hard pressed to change my mind about.  But overall, I’m a pretty open-minded reader.

Usually, I’ll have four or five books going at a time so I can flip back and forth depending on my mood.  Take right now, for example. I’m in the middle of three different books on my Kindle, two hard copies from the library, one I bought from the used bookstore Tuesday, and two audiobooks.  And not one of them is the same genre.  For the sake of honesty, two of them are Stephen King books, but one is nonfiction, so they don’t count.  Which is irrelevant anyway. The pile of books I'm currently reading that dominates my nightstand.

The point of me telling you this is so you don’t roll your eyes when I tell you that I’ve become kind of a self-help book junkie.

Don’t get me wrong.  If the first chapter of a book tells me that my road to inner peace is paved with affirmations, I’m out.

I don’t need to waste my time reading books that are going to tell me all about the power of positive thinking.  We all know, on some basic level, that negative self-talk can be a buzzkill at best, and deadly at worst.  But we also know, or at least, I  know, that people who walk around all day shitting sunshine and happiness without fail are creepy and unsettling.  There has to be some bad in there to balance it all out.  Otherwise, how could you genuinely appreciate all of the good?

Over the last couple of years, I have become somewhat of a connoisseur of self-help books.  From the ones that don’t really seem to have any intention of actually helping the reader, to the ones that scream “You are amazing and your imperfections are amazing, and you eat that second brownie because all of that amazingness deserves to be rewarded!” at you.  Actually, I’m convinced some of these books are actually designed to give you new, different problems, so you have to go buy new, different books.

See, it goes something like this:

I am going to love myself for who I am, warts and all.  I do deserve that brownie because I am amazing.  I am my best friend, and I don’t judge myself!

Then, two months later, after your doctor has told you that you’ve gained 17lbs, and you are putting yourself at risk of diabetes if you don’t stop eating brownies every time you feel the need to remind yourself how much you love yourself, you re-evaluate, and pick a different book.

God, I need to stop eating my feelings!  I’m going to start confronting my problems, and being the stronger, more assertive me!  I will no longer suppress my feelings with food, I am going to say it like it is from this moment forward!

Then, two months later, you may have lost a few pounds because you are no longer eating your feelings, but you’ve probably also lost some relationships along the way too.  Because nobody likes it when they’re merrily going about their own lives, and you suddenly show up with the most dominating opinion in the room.  About them.   Without any acknowledgment of your own issues.  Because you are too busy telling them what their issues are.  So, another book gets picked up.

Why am I so determined to self-sabotage?  Why do I drive everyone away?  I need to look at what motivates me!  Forget feelings, I need to focus on my actions!  It’s time to start doing more things for me! 

So.  First, you filled yourself with love in the form of brownies. Then, you swallowed your feelings in order to tell everyone else what their feelings were. Then, you decided the best way to prevent yourself from sabotaging yourself was to only focus on yourself.  Annnd you’re likely back to square one.  It’s baffling!  The cycle just goes around and around. A million variations of the same damn dance.

It’s like one of those walking escalators they have at Disney World and overcrowded airports. You get on it, and you’re going and it’s all good, and then you step off and the whole world feels disorienting for a second because your brain forgot what it’s like to stand still and just be there.

That’s what depression feels like, to me, anyway.  Like I forgot to show up and exist.  I could see all of the people moving around, going about their lives, but they were all too separate from me for me to reach.  And once I finally caught up to them all, nothing would come into focus.  It’s a bizarre and unsettling feeling, especially in the context of my life.  Which brings me back to all the self-help books.

Sometimes, I’ll read one, and think to myself Holy shit!  That’s amazing!  It’s so simple, why didn’t I think of that?  And other times, I’ll read something and think to myself Do people really buy into this BS?  Because really, it’s all about what connects to your life, and your experiences.  The things that feel relevant to me could very well seem trite and ridiculous to you.  Which left me to wonder about a lot.  Is there a point to reading these books?  Yes, I think there definitely can be.

Honestly, sometimes it’s just to know that someone else’s head may be a bit more screwed up than my own.  But more than that, they serve as a reminder that there is no solution.  There’s no big answer.  No giant computer is going to tell me that 42 is what I’m looking for so I should just sit down, shut up, and be happy with it.

I want to explore the ideas more.  The main, consistent themes that pop up in these books.  I’d like to play a few games of comparison with them.  What is the difference between self-care and self-preservation, and at what point does it make you selfish?  When is it perfectly reasonable to be angry?  How angry is considered reasonable?  Where is the line between working on myself, and focusing on other people?  Does the hamster really need a second ball to run around in?  Oops.  Not that last one.  Bit of a slip up there.  We’ll talk about Jerry on another day.

The point is, there’s no universal system here.  No one-size-fits-all psychobabble found in a pretty package.  Hell, maybe you’re a perfectly adjusted person with no reason to feel anything but complete contentment and satisfaction with your life.  If that’s true, well… honestly, though, that’s just a bit weird.

For the most part, we all have our hang-ups.  We all have the things about ourselves that we’d like to fix, or change, or maybe just dust off and bring out to show around a bit.  And why isn’t that okay?

My husband and I got into an argument the other night about something inane, and in a moment of genuine frustration, he said “God!  You’re just so self-destructive!”  I sat there for a minute and just blinked at that.  Because, well, he’s not wrong.  I mean, he was wrong right then.  At that point, I was being self-righteous, which is totally a different thing.  But in my life, I have been known to be self-destructive.  And I sat there thinking, why?  I mean, what the hell is the point of it?

If you’re hanging on here for the answer, you’re going to be disappointed.  Because the truth is, I have no freaking idea why I do some of the stupid shit I do.  But I am becoming more aware of it as it’s happening.  And that counts for something in my book, because it’s a hell of a lot more than it used to be.

All these books have gotten my head circling around a lot lately, about the contradictory messages we are all fed by the world about ourselves.  Love yourself, but be skinny!  Don’t compare yourself, but be better than that kid!  Be frugal, but make sure you’ve got the latest phone with all the newest tricks!  It’s a joke.  Well, actually, it’s not.  It’s a terrifying reality.  We are living in a world full of push and pull, and there’s no resting time given.  There’s no time allotted to make up our own minds about our own feelings and that’s not okay.

Every day when I lay down for bed, I run through a list of all the things I didn’t do that day but wanted to, and I discard every excuse I gave myself for why I didn’t do those things.  Because in retrospect, in my mind, no excuse is good enough.   It doesn’t matter that I had severe cramps and wanted to crawl out of my skin and hide somewhere dark and quiet with a bottle of wine and a bowl of chocolate.  I should have taken a few extra minutes to talk to Mason about the story I was 99% certain he had completely made up.  Or, who cares that I only got a solid three hours of sleep and felt like my eyes were going to fall out of my head, I should have made a real meal for my family.  Not. Good. Enough.  That’s what it always boils down to.

When does this shit stop?

Probably never.  I don’t know that I’ll ever fully be rid of the running dialogue in my mind, the one that gets so much worse when the world is quiet.  But the only way to find out is to keep trying.  So, that’s what I’ll do.  And in the meantime, I’m going to start tearing these books apart so I can find the candy centers.

Or is that Tootsie Pops?  Damn, I could use a brownie.

thumbnail 3

 

Living In The Moment…

Today marks the beginning of the end of summer in our house.  School starts in exactly four weeks.  Which means we only have four weeks left to do all the things we want to do.  It also means I slowly start to adjust and tighten the schedule a bit, so it feels like less of a shock when the school days roll back around.  This summer has been pretty laid back so far.  I don’t think either of my children has gone to bed before 11pm, and they’re both sleeping in every morning – a massive and unprecedented feat for Kaleb, who typically wakes up with bad hair and a worse attitude around 5am whenever we have nothing to do.

There has, however, been one major upheaval this summer, and it’s making everyone crazy.  I took away the electronics during the weekdays.  Maybe this isn’t a big deal in your house, but in my house, it’s currently the leading cause of madness. Why would I do this?  When my husband and I both work from home?  When the boys only get along if there’s candy or money involved?  It’s like primitive torture.

I like it.

Here’s how this happened…

The first week of summer vacation was declared a universal “do whatever the hell you want just don’t fight about it” week.  They spent hours upon hours plugged in.  Mason simultaneously was watching documentaries about the tree frogs in the rainforest on his television while playing Bad Piggies on his tablet.  Kaleb had Minecraft tutorials running on his tablet while he worked on building and modifying whatever the hell they were doing on the video, on his Xbox.  It was quiet.  It was peaceful.  I sat outside and worked, got a bit of writing done, and occasionally snuck into the pool when no one was paying attention.

And then one day, I came home from yoga, all clear-headed and zen (and super gross because it was a hot Vinyasa class and I had actually spent 75 minutes convinced I was going to die), and I started making dinner while talking to my children.  I listened, as they sat at the kitchen counter and regaled me with stories.  I listened as they talked to each other excitedly, to the point where they started talking over each other, then yelling at each other, then…. Take a deep breath.

In.  Out.  Repeat.

I listened to my children talk for a week.  They talked while I cooked.  They talked while we walked through the grocery store.  They talked while we drove to doctor’s appointments.  They talked in the waiting room of the dentist’s office.  Because really, my kids don’t actually ever stop talking, even when they are alone.  Regardless, a pattern had begun to emerge, and it was starting to disturb me.  My kids had spent all of this time talking.  Every moment that we were together, they were gabbing and yammering on and on.  And not one time, in that whole week, did either one of them say anything about anything that was real.

They spent the entire week talking about videos, games, Minecraft, Skylanders, Youtube, and Portal.  No mention of chemistry (Kaleb’s current science love).  No mention of the bugs in the backyard or the frog on the mailbox.  No mention of going to the beach, or riding bikes. No harassing me about going back to the zoo, or the science center. Just virtual reality. Fake life.  I sat there, and all I could think was “Jesus.  Ready Player One really was a freaking cautionary tale.  What have I done?”  This is not the first time I have looked at my kids and wondered what I had done to them.  Nor, I’m sure, will it be the last.  But that doesn’t make the feeling any less jarring.

I sat there, half listening as Kaleb made Portal Gun noises and Mason talked about Granny (still not 100% clear on that), and I felt very, very sad for my kids.  Why isn’t Mason outside making mud pies?  Why does Kaleb have three chemistry sets that have never even been opened?  Here again, is another glaring example of how I have let things go the easy way, because I didn’t have it in me to fight through to the better way.

So.  I decided to put a stop to it.  I sat them down and calmly explained that we were officially banning electronics Monday through Friday from this point forward.  Even at night.  Even at bedtime.  Kaleb handled this like a champ.  He shrugged, said “Okay” and walked away.  Which was simply stunning in some ways, but also kind of expected.

Kaleb doesn’t tend to lose his shit over things like that, unless he’s actively engaged in something and I take it away right that moment.  If that is going to happen, I need to spend five minutes pumping myself up in the hallway like I’m in the locker room right before the Superbowl.  Bouncing on my toes, going all King Kong on my chest and telling myself “You’ve got this!  You’re going to go in there and kick ass!  Yeah!”  It usually ends with us both in tears.  Kind of like Tom Brady after facing The Eagles.  Only a lot less enjoyable for me.

Anyway.  Kaleb handled this concept well.  Mason, on the other hand, did not.  He was flabbergasted.  Boggled.  Disbelieving.  Shocked and downright angry.  It has been over a month of this, and still, Mason doesn’t believe I’m really doing this to him.  Every day we have a slightly varied version of the same conversation.  That conversation goes like this:

Me: “Good morning Mase-face!”

Mason: “Hi Momma!”

“How’d you sleep?”

“Good.  Can I have my Roku remote?”

“No.  Did you have any dreams?”

“I don’t know.  Why can’t I have my remote?”

“Because it’s (insert day of the week here), and we don’t do electronics on week days, remember?”

“No it isn’t! It’s Sunday!”

“No lovey, it’s not.”

“But why can’t I have it?  Why can’t we have electronics on weekdays?  That’s stupid!  I want my remote!”

“Sorry kid, there are plenty of other things to do.”

“No there isn’t!  I’m not coloring! Coloring is stupid!  And I’m not swimming alone!  I can’t go outside, I’ll get bit by the bugs!  The LEGOS always break and I have nothing to do!”

“Cool it, Mase.  You’re not going to die of boredom.”

“You just hate me!”

“Huh.  That was certainly very dramatic.  I like the little foot stomp you threw in at the end.”

“Please, Mom?  Please?  I have an idea! Why don’t we do this instead?  Why don’t I get my Roku on Mondays, and then I can have my tablet on Tuesdays, and I can have the Xbox on Wednesdays and the PlayStation on Thursdays, and on Friday I’ll have nothing.  Won’t that be good?”

“First of all, we don’t own a PlayStation, so I’m not sure where that even came from.  And no, that will not be good.  That defeats the purpose of no electronics on weekdays.  Having a different electronic on corresponding days of the week is not how this works.  Go find something to do.”

*Sobbing loudly*

“Why don’t you ever want me to have anything I want?  You don’t want me to be happy!”

“Seriously Mason.  You’re riding on my nerves now.  Go find something to do.”  He huffs.  He puffs.  He crosses his arms, slams his little body in the chair next to me, and audibly pouts.

**Fast Forward Five Minutes**

Husband: “Where’s Mase?”

“Outside.  With his bug kit.  Torturing the local wildlife.”

Mason: “Mom!  You have to come see this!  I caught a lizard!  He doesn’t have a tail!  This is SO cool!”

Me: “Looks like he didn’t die from electronic deprivation.”

Husband:  Snorts a laugh and walks away.

Guys.  This happens every day.  My child goes through the stages of grief every single morning when I tell him he cannot turn on the television set.  It’s insane.  And a bit frightening.

Every morning, as Mason goes through his grief stages, that scared, damaged girl in the back of my mind pops her head out of the fog and whispers “Just let him have the damn thing so you can be left alone”.  And every morning, I have to Whack-A-Mole her ass back where she belongs, because I don’t want to be left alone.  That’s not the person I want to be.  It’s the person I was, and I’ll carry her, and her shitty baggage around with me.  But she doesn’t win.  Not as long as I remember to keep knocking her back down when she springs up.

On the upside, the Legos have been dusted off.  The books on snakes and reptiles Mason found in the Reference section of the library are well read.  We’ve done science experiments. Mason has gone from barely swimming to the king of the pool.  Kaleb has made a pretty sizable dent in his summer reading list.  We finished Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire.  Now, he’s reading me a book titled Willpower, and we are researching the failure stories of successful people for life-goal inspiration.  We spent more than five hours on the fourth of July playing catch and doing crossword puzzles.  No phones.  No tablets.  And no complaining.

As I said earlier, this has been a lazy summer so far.  It’s also been loud, and messy, and dramatic.  Yet somehow, my kids are happier than they were that first week of summer.  The conversations that float to me while I’m making dinner now are about the similarities between crocodiles and dinosaurs.  About the origin stories of the elements on the periodic table (for real, that’s really a thing that has been happening.  I didn’t know the elements even had origin stories, but they do now).  There’s been more laughter, more silliness, and less irritability.  Also, less Portal Gun noises, and that is always a win in my book.

Fourth Of July

Watching the fireworks

 

*End Note #1*

I thought I should add a list here of ways in which Mason has actively tried to earn his electronics back in the last week.  Just for fun.

  • Mason: “Mom!  Come see my room!”  So I do.  I stand there, having no idea what I’m supposed to be looking for.  It looks pretty much like it always does.  “Look!  You didn’t even have to ask me!  It’s clean!  Look at my bed!  I made it!”  I nod approvingly.  He did make his bed.  Kind of.  In the sense that there is now a small space not occupied with stuffed animals that he may or may not be able to fit in.  I congratulate him on this achievement.  He beams at me.  “So….?”  I look at him questioningly.  “Well?  Can I have a reward?  Like my Roku stick?”  I left the room.
  • “I am NEVER going outside again if you don’t give me my electronics!  I will stay inside forever!”  I shrug.  This has no bearing on me.  I work from the porch.
  • “If you give me my tablet, I promise I’ll never pee on the toilet seat again.”  Even Kaleb rolled his eyes at that one.  Let me just apologize in advance to whoever ends up marrying my kid.  He will likely pee on the toilet seat for the rest of his life.  I am sorry about this.  On the plus side, he’s an excellent toilet scrubber.
  • “Mom!  Kaleb is making Portal Gun noises!  It’s really annoying!  You have to give me my remote so I don’t have to listen to him!”
  • “Mom, want me to read to you about these snakes?”  I say sure.  He proceeds to spend twenty minutes making up insane and utterly impossible facts about the photos of snakes in his current library book. Snaps the book shut with a triumphant grin.  “Aren’t you proud?  You learned so much about snakes!  I deserve a reward.”  I inform him that practicing reading is its own reward.  I am given a death glare that would certainly make Vader proud.
  • “Fine!  I guess I’ll just lay here and be bored until I die!”  This lasted approximately four seconds, because the dog licked him in the face.
  • He asked his father at least a dozen times to intervene on his behalf.  Thankfully, I married a very smart man, who promptly shut Mason down, saying “Oh no, leave me out of this.”

 

*End Note #2*

My intention last week was to have this post be about self-care, something I will be writing about.  However, Mason’s epic grief tantrum this morning was more inspirational than usual.  So, next time.  Probably.