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.

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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.

 

Walking Back to Happiness

Earlier this morning, as I was sitting on my porch working, Mason (my 7-year-old wildlife lover), made an exhilarating discovery.   I was startled to the point of nearly falling out of my chair when he started bellowing for me to “Come here!  Right now!  Bring your phone!  Hurry!”  Now, I figured this had something to do with some form of backyard wonder, since already today he had captured and studied a snail, a roly-poly, a few ants and a slug.   I was not, however, expecting his enthusiasm to be over a pair of mating lizards, furiously going at it on the screen enclosure.  He frantically waved me over as I got closer, like some manic supporter at the finish line of a marathon.   “Look!” he practically screamed at me, finger outstretched and pointing to the lizards.  “Look mom!  He’s smiling!  Take a picture!”  As I attempted to open my camera app while holding back my laughter,   he said one more thing that would bounce around in my head for hours.

“He’s just so happy!”

Lizard Love

Well isn’t that just the damn truth.  From the looks of it, the little guy had plenty of reasons for the big smile on his face.  But it got me thinking.  What is happy?  What does that mean?  The answer is likely different for everyone.  Theoretical physics makes Kaleb (my 10-year-old going on 20-year-old going on 5-year-old science nerd) happy.  It does not make me happy.  Instead, it makes my head hurt and my eyes feel like they’ve just gone for a run through the clothes drier.

Seriously though, what defines happiness?  How do you measure it?  Can it even be measured?

A couple years ago, after the reality awakening experience I wrote about the other day, I picked up a couple of self-helpy type books that focused on habits and happiness.  One of them was Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project”.  It was a good read.  Insightful, funny, and full of ideas about how to perceive and improve your own happiness.  I enjoyed it immensely and vowed to work on my own happiness.  But I did so with a narrow focus, and no real inner rumination past the point of one goal.

I had decided that my key to happiness was paved with college courses.  That if I could just go back and finish school, I could finally be what I was supposed to be, and that new level of self-sufficiency would make me happy.  I wasn’t entirely wrong.  But I was nowhere near right either.  I looked at one tiny corner of my great big life, and decided it was going to be the thing that saved me.

Nevermind that I wasn’t happy with my health, especially after having quit smoking, thus eating my cravings and steadily putting on weight in all the wrong places.  Nevermind that I felt like I was juggling the kids and the house on my own with little to no support.  Not that I ever said these things to my husband, for a variety of ill-conceived bullshit excuses.  I don’t want to start a fight.  Maybe I’m the problem.  This is how relationships are supposed to be.  I’m not holding up my end of the deal.  So on and on the cycle continued.

I figured I would go back to school, and everyone else would have to step up to help me.  They wouldn’t have a choice, because I’d be too busy to do it all on my own.

Let me just tell you, it did not work out that way.  Shocker!  I know.   Instead, I ended up juggling a full-time school schedule, a 30 hour a week job, and coaching Kaleb’s tennis team so I could adjust the schedule to fit around Mason’s baseball practice.  All while doing the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, and the resentment building.  Man, I mastered the art of that last one.  I may never be America’s Next Top Masterchef, but I could win some pretty intense awards for hanging on to anger and resentment.

So, the whole time I’m doing this thing for me, and in the long term, my family, I’m secretly getting more and more angry.  It doesn’t take a genius to realize that is probably not the most effective path to happiness.  In the meantime, my husband was sitting on the other side of this grand new endeavor I had taken on, stewing in his own resentment.  Because I had no time.  I don’t have time to talk about your day, I’m sorry.  But I’ve still got two hours of work to do, a ten page research paper due in two days, I have to leave in fifteen minutes to take one kid to one sport or another, and I can’t remember the last time I ate.

In short, I did not find my happiness, or improve my life.

Do not get me wrong. that doesn’t mean I gave up.  Instead, I plowed forward with all of the stubbornness I could muster.  I put my head down and I worked my ass off through three semesters of school, all while dealing with the boys’ school stuff, work, birthday parties, holidays, and the chaos that came with buying our first house.  And then I took a break.  I took the spring semester off, so I could work on taking our new disaster, oh, um, I mean house, and making it our home.

And still, all of this time slipped by.  All of these warning signs, meltdowns, problems, and cries for help slipped right past me.  Because I was doing what I said I would do with a single-minded focus.  And tunnel vision.  See, I still hadn’t broken out of my fog.  I’d just… expanded it a bit.  Until the fateful yoga class (thank you leaking-firehose-breather for keeping my mind present and helping me to find my moment of clarity).

I still don’t know how to define happiness.  Is it writing this right now?  I can’t say that dissecting all of my flaws and past mistakes is an exercise that makes me happy.  But it makes me feel better.  And isn’t that kind of the same thing?  Does working on a manuscript or reading my book make me feel happy?  Yes.  But they’re also distractions, and habits I fall into very easily when I don’t want to focus on what’s going on right in front of me in the present moment.  So I have to be careful there.  Yoga makes me happy.  When it’s done.  Not typically in the moment unless it’s aerial.  Usually, I’m too busy thinking Would you just please shut up and tell us to get out of this pose from hell? to be happy in the actual moment.

All of these things, and many others, make me happy in the temporary, and all of them help to make up parts of the whole of who and what I want to be.  And probably, that’s the key to happiness.  Finding all of the small things that work together to form a big, messy, complex picture.  I’ve decided that like Mrs. Rubin, I’m going to start my own happiness project – as I mentioned before.  But mine’s going to look a lot different than hers.  As it should, considering we are wildly different people.

First, I’m going to focus on the things I feel I fail at the most.  Self-care.  Real, honest and open communication with my kids and my husband.  Being present, even when it’s painful.  Those, I believe, will be the next three post topics.  Because each one is worthy of a deeper look.  And because I spent seven years -missing out on all of the great my life has to offer because I couldn’t see past the bad.  I couldn’t see past my own failures, even when those closest to me looked and saw only success.

Because that’s what depression is.  A constant state of steaming failure.  And that’s what is going to help me walk away from it  Because that’s what success is.  A constant state of accepting your perceived failures and trying again anyway.

Today, we are celebrating our country’s independence.  And today, I will celebrate my own independence from a miserable existence of only doing what is necessary to get by.  I will sit on a picnic blanket in a park with my family, and I will enjoy every moment.  Even the miserable ones.  Because I can.  Because being present, even in the miserable moments, is true freedom.

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Okay, over the last two years I’ve struggled… not so much that you’ve seen because I’ve basically written four posts in two years.  I have had a million excuses why I haven’t been writing – some I’ve given to you, all I’ve fed to myself.  But I need to get back into the habit.  I need to get writing again.  I need to get back to a point where I can take some time every day and be honest with myself, without feeling guilty for doing so.

Speaking of guilt – I’m full of it lately.  I’m especially guilty of being ridiculously impatient and short tempered.  As I sit here right now, It’s 6:24am.  The boys and I leave for the bus stop in exactly 21 minutes.  They’re playing together in Kaleb’s room – which means they are three feet away from me, separated only by a glass french door, a poorly made one at that.  And they’re loud.  Which is the name of the game when they actually get together (which is basically only when they think they’re supposed to be doing anything else), and that’s okay, as long as it’s good yelling.  But I’m still in “seeking coffee” mode, and hearing that entire container of LEGOs just spill out onto the floor as they run around with the world’s most obnoxious Christmas stuffed animals ever made… It’s all I can do to sit here and tell myself to shut the hell up.

They’re playing together.  That’s progress.  They’re playing together in Kaleb’s room and he’s not screaming at his brother to get out while Mason cries and sobs dramatically over some stupid toy he wants to look at (with his hands).  So what if there are now 4,562,847 LEGO pieces all over the carpet?  So what if it’s December 2nd and I’m officially over the “Let It Snow” song the ridiculous Polar Bear and Penguin are singing?  They’re playing.  And I’m drinking this cup of coffee so fast I may end up burning my esophagus in the process, in an effort to not care so damn much.

I need to get off my horse and look at my kids for who and what they are – tiny people with big voices, big imaginations, and apparently access to the world’s most annoying sounds locked in their little brains.  But they are just that – kids.  So why is it so damn hard for me to let them be?  Why is it so hard to sit here right now and keep myself from scolding them on their volume; their mess; their “backing up sounds” (which genuinely make you feel like someone is scratching your tombstone after about thirty seconds)?  Where did all of my patience go?  Where did the humor in the situation go?  Because that’s the honest problem here.  I stopped writing, because I stopped being able to find the situations funny.  It wasn’t funny when Kaleb continuously urinated all over his bedroom for six months straight.  It wasn’t funny when he suddenly lost 20lbs over two months, and there wasn’t a damn cause any doctor could find.  It wasn’t funny when Mason started peeing on his carpet, because he loves to emulate Kaleb.  It wasn’t funny when the dog started following suit, because, well, he’s a damn dog – if there’s pee, he’s gonna cover it up with his own.  Sometimes my life isn’t funny.  More so than not lately.

So I’m going to shake things up.  This is my space.  This is my place, my soapbox, and I’m going to use it.  But it won’t always be funny.  Sometimes it’ll be ugly.  Sometimes it’ll be heart-wrenching, and sometimes it’ll be gross, and maybe it’ll be funny on occasion.  But that’s my life – in true form – that’s what my world is.  I can’t sit here and pretend that there aren’t days I wake up and want to just scream.  That there aren’t times I lock myself in the bathroom just to cry for a few minutes – sometimes happy tears, sometimes tears that stem from frustration, anger, or fear.  Life is messy.  Life with autism is even more so.

I’m going to try.  I’m going to try to get back to a point where I can write on here and really let go of some of the impatience and frustration.  And I’m going to do it honestly.  Because I need this, and maybe some of you out there need it too.

Today though, I’d like to share a big moment.

Monday afternoon I was putting my empty Christmas bins back in the attic, while the boys were… just being themselves.  Kaleb was waiting for me to finish picking up because he wanted to do an ornament craft that required supplies I had to fish out of my closet.  Mason was… well I don’t really even know what Mase was doing, biding his time until I couldn’t see him, I suppose.  All of a sudden, as I’m coming down off the ladder the both of them start shrieking and screaming.  Mason is crying, Kaleb is shouting, pandemonium had broken out in the kitchen.

I ran in from the garage to figure out what was going on.  Turns out, Mason took the box of candy canes off the counter (thus, biding his time), which he was not supposed to do.  Kaleb then took the candy canes from Mase, which he is not supposed to do (if your brother does something wrong – come get mom – it’s not your job to police him, it’s mine).  Which started the shouting, which lead to smacking and hitting.  Lately, I’ve been in a “Welcome To Thunder-dome” mood – I’m not stepping in when you two go at it anymore.  Learn how to resolve your problems.  By the time I had reached the kitchen and Kaleb told me what happened, Mason had locked himself in his room and was sobbing dramatically (I’m going to make millions off this kid when Hollywood gets ahold of him).  Kaleb wanted me to get the craft supplies and I said no, sorry kid, but you don’t get rewarded for hitting your brother.  He told me he was sorry, and was promptly informed that I’m not the one who needed the apology, I’m not the one he hurt.

*Side note* I’ve been struggling a lot lately to explain to Kaleb the meaning behind a genuine apology.  He’ll do something wrong, and apologize only because he believes it will get him what he wants.  Suggestions on how to rectify this are greatly appreciated.

So, he goes to Mason’s door, and tries to talk to Mase, who yells at him (through a slew of dramatic sobs) to go away.  Kaleb comes back to me and says “Well, he’s never going to accept my apology.”  To which I reply, “Then I guess you’d better figure out a way to make things right.”  So for five minutes Kaleb just stands in the kitchen, thinking.

I’m out on the porch when Mason finally decides to leave his room, all hiccups and stifled sobs (seriously, when did my kid start manifesting Sarah Bernhardt?).  He walks out to the kitchen and Kaleb looks at him and says “Mason, I’m really sorry.  I shouldn’t have taken the candy canes and it was wrong to hit you”

*Whoa.  Back the truck up.  Did that just leave his mouth?  For real?!

Mase then says (again, he’s still doing the can’t catch my breath from crying so hard thing) “It wasn’t your fault.  It was my fault.  I shouldn’t have taken the candy canes.”

*WHAT?!  What is going on here?  Did I fall into an alternate universe?

Kaleb says “No, it was both of our fault.  You shouldn’t have taken the candy canes, but I shouldn’t have taken them from you, and we shouldn’t have hit each other.”

*That’s it.  Who are you and what have you done with my children?

After basically a repeat of the whole conversation when Mase once again tried to take all the blame and Kaleb once again took responsibility for his part in it, they both apologized and forgave each other.  Meanwhile I’m convinced I’m having a stroke, or maybe the stress has finally gotten to me and I’m hallucinating.

They came to me together and said they accepted each other’s apologies and asked if we could make ornaments.  Um.  Yeah.  Yep.  You can make all the ornaments you want after that little display.  And they did.

IMG_3824I was humbled, and flabbergasted, and astonished, and so very proud.  They might actually turn out to be okay humans one day.

It just reminds me, once more, that kids are full of surprises – and sometimes those surprises don’t even make you want to throw up in your mouth a little.

Happy Wednesday people, thanks for tuning in.

The Munsters…

I’m baaaaaaack…

Though why I felt the need to make that sound like an ominous thing I have no idea.  Clearly, I’ve been gone for a while – and for that I apologize.  It’s been a simply insane 6 months.  So, today I’ll play catch up, and I swear I’ll do my best to get back on track with the Monster reports!

Let’s see, where should we start?

Oh!  I actually got married (those of you that know me are probably still pondering such a miraculous event, and those of you who were directly involved with the sanity *AKA Miss Lisa* are probably still sending thanks to the universe that it’s over)!  Growing up I never figured myself for the marrying kind.  I mean, let’s be honest here – I am a giant pain in the ass.  I’m stubborn, have an issue keeping my thoughts to myself, I absolutely loathe dishes and laundry (the two things that just never seem to go away), oh and then there’s the whole ‘crazy as a loon’ thing I’ve got going on too.  Somehow or another I managed to wind up with a man crazy and brave enough to want to marry me – and the fact that he still wanted to marry me in the midst of all of my fanatically insane wedding planning is a testament to either his own brand of lunacy, or the size of his you-know-whats!  So, anyway, here we are, married.  Eventually I’ll throw some pictures up for your viewing pleasure – after I finally pin the silly man down long enough to go through them.

So, now onto the more important things – the Monsters.

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Let’s start with the main man, Kaleb.

Oh, Kaleb.  My budding thief, word connoisseurfood snob *ahem, I mean critic*, scream king, master builder, tree house dreamer, beverage expert, and all around living breathing proof that insanity is hereditary.  First things first – it was time for a medication change.  After three years, we’d hit the limit with his current medication, and after his latest growth spurt (seriously, how freaking big is he going to get?!) it was no longer doing the job.  Allow me to explain that statement.  Kaleb went from a wily, crazy, creative, loud, messy monster to… well… the truth?  A total nightmare.  We couldn’t contain him.  And I don’t mean to sound like we didn’t try – because oh good golly did we ever.  But it so wasn’t happening.  He was completely out of control.  The violent mood swings and meltdowns increased 50 fold.  The ability to stop and listen long enough for words to sink in – completely vanished.  Grocery shopping turned into a marathon game of “get in, get out, quick quick quick before the screaming causes someone to kick us out”.  Dresser drawers destroyed, toys dismantled, books shredded, ear drums pierced.

Basically, it was time for a change.  Unfortunately, our family is more like the Musters than the Cleavers, and nothing ever goes right.  For starters, the boys’ insurance plans got changed in May (can we say pain in the ass?).  Which in turn, meant we changed pediatricians – something I’d been wanting to do for a while.  However, I clearly didn’t think through the consequences of changing doctors in the middle of a state-wide game of musical chairs.  Within days I had a call from Kaleb’s neurologist informing me that due to the new pediatrician, we needed an updated referral in order to go to our appointment the following week.  So, I immediately call the new doc, requesting the very simple act of faxing over a referral so we can go to his neuro to discuss the medication change.  And I was promptly informed that they wouldn’t do it without seeing him.  Which, due to the previously referenced game, they couldn’t do until October.  Ummmmm what?!  No.  Unacceptable.  Danger Will Robinison.  I cannot wait until October.  He needs his meds changed, and he needs it now.

He needs time to adjust before school starts.  We need time to decide the correct dosage, make sure there are no negative side effects (you know, like how he rabidly devoured anything with a hint of sugar within a five mile radius when he changed his ADHD meds last summer?), and you know – chill him the hell out!  So, now I had to play a new game.  Ring around the freaking rosy with the insurance company and every pediatrician’s office in the damn county.  After a week of frustrating phone calls, I threw in the towel and requested to be sent back to pediatric hell (AKA his previous doctor’s office).  Once done – quite quickly at that, I’m pretty sure the poor lady at the insurance company has started making signs to ward off evil every time she discovered it was me on the other end of her phone – I then had the delightful task of wrangling a referral out of the world’s worst doctor’s office.  Now, don’t get me wrong – it was never the doctor I had an issue with.  It was just everything else.  The fact that I’d show up fifteen minutes early for every appointment, yet never actually see anyone until two hours past my appointment time.  The fact that nobody ever calls you back – ever.  The fact that the dragon lady receptionist wouldn’t give you a straight answer if her life depended on it.

Regardless, there I was, making a very simple request – please send an updated referral to my son’s neurologist.  The very same one you have been sending once a year since he was 18 months old.  Not so difficult.  Or so one would think.  A full month went by with me calling the neurologist every three days only to confirm that they had not yet received the referral, then calling the pediatrician to once again request that it be sent.  Finally, the lady on the phone confirmed the doctor she was sending it to – who just so happened to be the sleep specialist Kaleb hasn’t seen in years – not the neurologist.  The next day we finally got to reschedule Kaleb’s appointment, wham bam thank you ma’am!  Of course, it was for three weeks away, pushing us ever closer to the start of school.  Now, we’ve got him on new meds – but of course we’re on the lowest dose possible to start, and have to wait six weeks to go back to increase the dose if necessary (which, it most certainly is).  In the meantime, Kaleb has been a busy boy – but more on that later!

Now, on to the Mini Monster…

Ah, Mason.  Little devil.  Seriously.  Yes, he’s cute.  He’s freaking adorable.  He’s melt-in-your-mouth-sweet when he wants something from you.  He’s inquisitive as all get-out, to an excessive degree.  I mean, how many times can one person hear “what’s that?” in a fifteen minute time span without starting the slide to complete madness?  He’s also stubborn, aggressive, picky, obsessed with cars (still) and deceptively manipulative.  Oh, have I also mentioned that the kid has an arm reminiscent of a child-version of Cy Young?  I’m not joking.  If you had any idea how many times I’ve been pegged in the head by that dead-on aim you’d end up with sympathy headaches.

Not too much has changed in the world of Mase in the past few months.  His vocab is better – strangers can almost understand him more often than not!  His fine motor skills… well, we’re working on that.  He still refuses to use utensils – not that he can’t, he’s just stubborn and lazy, and prefers the easy way (can you really blame him?).  He’s still obsessed with vehicles of all mode and make.  Trucks, cars, buses, emergency vehicles, trains, boats, planes, helicopters, you name it – if it has an engine and moves, we likely have a miniature version sitting somewhere in the house suspiciously positioned for maximum foot injury.  I have to get him a new copy of his “Things That Go!” Tag book for his birthday because he reads it so often it’s hanging on by a wing and a prayer.

Mason started full-day Pre-K this year.  Cue mom getting caught fist pumping and yelling “I’m Free!” in an elementary school parking lot.

All summer long we counted the days.  7 precious hours to actually accomplish something without having to drop everything every five seconds to prevent Monster 1 from strangling Monster 2.  Or Monster 2 from throwing a giant dump truck at Monster 1’s head.  Or the destruction of the house (massive fail on that one)… 7 chaos free hours, five days a week – imagine the possibilities!  Just imagine!  We certainly did.  Dreams of solo grocery store trips and actually eating my own lunch floated through my head like relentless torture.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love my kids to death, and I’d do anything for them.  But holy crap.  Between Kaleb’s constant meltdowns and the two of them constantly at each other’s throats, it was just about impossible to even leave the house with them, let alone actually go do something fun.  Add in the cabin fever we were all experiencing by the end, and can you blame me?  I’m just proud I didn’t spend the entire first day of school curled up on the couch in my snuggy watching the freakin’ Vampire Diaries.

Anyway, back to Mase.  He’s officially a big kid now.  No, that does not mean he’s potty trained.  I swear the kid fluctuates between being convinced the toilet contains the devil, or determining the sole purpose of the device is to wash his favorite dinosaurs and matchbox cars.  But he is going to school full time now.  Now, originally, I was seriously skeptical.  Like considering getting a variance and driving him to and fro every day for the next two years to keep him in the school he was in instead of the new one.  Why, you ask?  Because he was being transferred to the school Kaleb was at 2 years ago.  The one that suspended him 17 times in a span of 3 months because the teacher quite simply (and this is a direct quote from her) “didn’t want to deal with him”.

Yeah, remember that?  Fun times.

However, I’ve got a whole lot more confidence this time around.  The reason?  There are actually a couple.  First, Mase isn’t Kaleb.  Was I worried about his brother’s reputation preceding him and making the road a bit bumpy?  Are you kidding?  I was terrified.  However, we finally got a lucky break.  When I went to the IEP meeting to discuss this upcoming year, I couldn’t have been more thrilled – he was getting a teacher I actually knew (not well, but well enough to have faith that things were going in a good direction), and liked.  I’d met her on multiple occasions while Kaleb attended the school, and I have a great deal of admiration for her – in much the same manner I do for Kaleb’s current teacher, who has turned into no less than a walking talking miracle for him.  So, that right there was a great big chunk of balm on my nerves.

The icing on the cake?  The administration has changed.  I don’t know where the old principal went, and quite frankly, I don’t care.  I don’t hate the woman, I’m sure she’s probably a generally nice lady who did her best.  However, I don’t take well to my child being treated like nothing more than a pest that won’t stop circling your head.  As much as I’d like to say she went out of her way to help him – it just isn’t true.  The VP at the school he’s at now?  I could, would, have, and will continue to say that he’s gone above and beyond.  It’s an insane comfort to know the people in charge of my child’s school actually care about the children – because I’ve met plenty that don’t in my short lifetime.  So, new administration, new teacher, new beginning.

So far Mase seems to be loving it – though I do feel bad – nobody sees the Mase-train coming until it’s steamrolled over them a couple dozen times.

So, there we have it.  New school year, new meds, oh and we finally got a golf cart!  We then promptly destroyed one of the batteries.  Yep.  We’re definitely more of the Munster type of family on this block.

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A Moment SUSPENDED in Time…

Just a few days ago I was thinking to myself… Holy Crap!  Kaleb might actually go an entire school year without getting suspended!  

Want to know what happened 24 hours later?  I realized I jinxed myself.  I came to this realization right about the same time his teacher was informing me that he’d been suspended.

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Yep.  Two days before the pinnacle IEP meeting to remove the harness (after working for months to prove that he could maintain control of himself), he goes and gets himself suspended.  And he earned it – big time.  Honestly, I’m a bit surprised it didn’t happen Monday.  I guess on the positive side of things, I can definitely say the school didn’t want to suspend him – but he really didn’t give them a choice.  So, unlike the catastrophe of last year, this was fully merited on Kaleb’s part.  Not just because someone didn’t want to deal with him.

Then again, my 6 year old got suspended again.  Any upside is a moot point anyway.

Monday he got mad because there was no ketchup at lunch – so he threw his tray and punched another kid in the back.  Then at P.E. he didn’t want to jump rope the way he was being instructed to jump rope, and he punched another kid.  Terrific.  Then came yesterday.  Once again he got mad at lunch because he thought a kid was cutting line in front of him (which was not the case btw – he just wasn’t paying attention before) and once again threw his tray and punched a kid in the back.  Then comes the real kicker – literally.  He gets mad during P.E. again and walks up to a girl who for her own special needs (I wasn’t informed what kind) had to sit out of class that day.  He then rears back, and kicks her as hard as he can.  He then continues to do so until a crowd of other kids comes over to see what is going on, and he starts screaming “violent and unpleasant” things at everyone around him.  They end up having to pull him away.

What the hell?!

I’ll be the first to admit that he’s been devolving for the last couple weeks.  It’s been day after day of highly emotional, overwhelmed, over-reactive Kaleb for going on three weeks.  But what we haven’t seen at home is increased violence.  We’ve seen more screaming, more crying, more crawling under furniture and refusing to listen.  We’ve seen him meltdown at the drop of a hat, drop to the floor like a sack of flour, and get hysterical over the most seemingly insignificant things.  But he hasn’t physically lashed out.  Actually, that’s been more of Mason’s gig lately.  Mason’s the one using his ridiculously well aimed arm to throw, whack, and swat.  Kaleb hasn’t been an angel on that end – but he certainly hasn’t had any real change.  9 times out of 10 Mason is the one hitting Kaleb first – and Kaleb’s been just upset enough to come tattle-  rather than retaliate – most of the time.

At first I just thought it was the growth spurt he was going through.  The kid’s size 7 jeans when from resting on the top of his sneakers, to sitting three inches above his ankles in a matter of days.  And during this time he also started sleepwalking again, and looked extremely tired each morning.  So, I attributed the emotionally heightened state to that.  And it might still have something to do with it.  We might need to adjust his medication, or hell, at this point, I wouldn’t be completely against trying something new.  And the increased violence could also have something to do with a few new students being added to his class – which has definitely been known to trigger behavior issues in the past.

He’s been on his current medication for years.  As much as we didn’t want to go the medication route, his escalating violence made it almost impossible to even send him to school, and he really had no control over himself.  When Kaleb hits that meltdown mode, it’s like a switch is flipped and all cognitive thought goes out the window.  He’s 100% primal impulse.  There are many times when he genuinely can’t even remember what he did after the fact.  The medication helped with that – he obviously still has meltdowns, but he was able to stay in at least enough control of himself to minimize the damage, and he rarely sought to harm another person.  We’ve had to make some adjustments over the years, to accommodate his growth, as well as the tolerance levels building in his system.  But now we’re concerned about what we do when he hits the point where we can’t make any more adjustments – or when we hit a dosage level we are uncomfortable with.

Enter problem number 2 – Tuesday’s incident likely would have been worse – much worse – if he hadn’t been on his medication.  Because even with his escalating violent behavior, at least he still retained a small bit of control.  He didn’t completely check out while it was happening – which is when the real damage starts (you can asked my pre-medicated-Kaleb self about the concusions and severe bruises from head to toe), this I know for certain.

So, what do we do?  Do we try and increase again?  Do we try to switch things up?

I don’t know.  But I did make an emergency appointment with his neurologist for yesterday after Mason got on the bus (Shout-out to Aunt Brittany for saving my skin and getting Mason off the bus, and sitting with Kaleb for the IEP today), and re-confirmed his with his developmental pediatrician for his yearly appointment.  It’s time to gather the troops and nip this now before it gets worse.

Now, unlike 99% of the times he got suspended last year, Kaleb was seriously in the wrong this time – and I’m determined to make sure he understands why he’s in trouble.  This isn’t going to be two days of fun and mini-vacation.  We’re talking serious restriction this time around.  No TV, no Legos, no games, puzzles, or electronics.  The only things he is allowed to do are:  read, homework, clean, sleep, and eat.  This is the anti-fun time, and every single time he asks why I’m going to remind him of his suspension, and I’m going to explain again, why what he did was wrong.  Maybe it will sink in, maybe it won’t.  But it’s better than just doing nothing and blaming it on autism.  Kaleb was aware of what he was doing when he walked up and kicked that little girl, and he needs to understand why that is so very wrong.

And of course there’s the IEP meeting today.  Which is probably partly a waste of time – because I just don’t see them saying “Yep, lets get rid of the harness even though he clearly can’t control himself in school, and is therefore a potential danger to the other children around him.  Letting him loose on the bus sounds like the perfect solution for out of control behavior and violence.”  I can’t get mad if they want to keep the harness.  Honestly, I would be shocked if they said anything else.  The variables are too great.  He has tried so very hard over the past few months to prove that he was ready, and I’m so very proud of him for that.  And then he wrecked all of that hard work in minutes.  And that just sucks.  It sucks to know that he’s going to be set back by what he did.  But maybe he needs to be.  Maybe he needs to really understand how much one action can impact his life.

At the same time, I do want his Gifted testing redone, and since there’s obviously a problem with him right now, an already planned meeting is the best time to try and address it.  So, hopefully it’s only partly a waste of everyone’s time.  

Anyway, we drove to Orlando and we saw his “kid doctor” that he “loves because he is super nice and fun and listens” (this is why the drive is worth it). We decided that a change may be in the air, but some of that change is going to be determined by tomorrow’s meeting.  Which is hopefully not a waste of anyone’s time. Kaleb is brilliant, beautiful, creative, excited, enthusiastic, and his imagination is far beyond my own.  I just want to see him excel and grow, both emotionally and academically.  Which I have every confidence he will… as soon as he learns the value of self-control.

I so cannot wait until Friday.

Stronger…

I’ve noticed a reoccurring thread among a great deal of the other autism moms I know lately – it seems a lot of us are having a harder than normal time lately with our kids, and the “I hate Autism” bug is definitely going around.  For all of us, the journey into this world is different – but that doesn’t make it any less difficult.  In fact, honestly, I think those differences make it all the more difficult.  It’s tough to be able to relate in such an ever-changing world.  Some of us wish more than anything to be able to communicate with our children, while some of us would give anything to be able to take our kids out into the world without having to pack a Rambo style bag of sensory reinforcements.  Some of us want nothing more than to go an entire day without our child harming himself, or berating himself, or hating the life he has been given.

In the face of all this, it’s so easy to fall in step and get angry, which then turns around and only makes us feel more lost because we don’t really have anywhere we can direct the anger.  It isn’t our children’s fault they can’t stop spinning, or have complete meltdowns when something doesn’t work just right.  So who do we blame when we get mad?  Ourselves.  WE aren’t doing enough.  WE aren’t paying enough attention, listening hard enough, teaching the right way.  From there, it’s just as easy to start to hate ourselves, and to question every single thing we do as parents.  Mommy (and Daddy) guilt is hard enough with a neuro-typical child – but oh man, is it ever a beast when you have a kid with special needs.

So, I thought I’d focus in the other direction today.  I sat here this morning, thinking what good things have I learned from this?  In the 2,274 days that I have been a mother – I’ve learned a lot.  in the 3 1/2 years that I have “officially” been raising a child with autism, I’ve learned a hell of a lot more.  So, in the hopes that maybe some of us can be reminded of how lucky we are – despite the pain, the uncertainty, the constant battles waging inside ourselves, in our homes, and in our children’s lives – here is my list of good things autism has done for me:

1.Autism opened my mind, and my heart.

As some of you already know, I’m living a life far, far different than I had ever expected.  I didn’t grow up dreaming of big white weddings, picket fences, or any of the other things many little girls dreamed of.  Instead, my dreams were filled with packed courtrooms (yeah, I really did want to be a lawyer) and libraries the size of my house.  I had tall order dreams, and the attitude to match.  I didn’t have the time or patience for things like kids and family.  Did that ever change.  Kaleb was a surprise – and he flipped my world on its axis quicker than you can say “diaper”.  But it wasn’t until the real struggles started to kick in – the night terrors, the seizures, the sensory issues, the parade of therapists marching through our doors – it was then that I really, really realized just how strong I was going to have to be.  It was then that I started to look around me, at the other families I knew, and really appreciated each one of their individual struggles.  That was when I looked back at my past and saw just how foolish I was not to have taken the time for kids and family.

I stopped rolling my eyes at the mom struggling with the screaming child in the grocery store.  I stopped grumbling under my breath when it took someone ten minutes to vacate a parking spot because they couldn’t get their kid buckled in.  I started seeing, really seeing, what was going on around me.  And instead of being impatient, or irritated, I was sympathetic.  I was understanding.  It didn’t matter if the scene I was witnessing was with a special needs child or not – that parent was struggling in that moment, and I finally understood what that meant.  Because of this, because autism taught me to see with more than just my eyes, I am better.  I am a better friend, I am a better daughter, sister, spouse, and mother.  I no longer listen with just my ears, our touch with just my hands.  Being a mom to kids on the spectrum opened up an entire world I never knew I was missing.

2.  Autism has given me patience.

Loads, and loads of it.  Okay, this isn’t always true.  I will still yell at you if you cut me off on I-4, and I still want to scream inside when I get stuck in the checkout lane manned by the world’s slowest grocer.  However, it’s nothing compared to life pre-autism.  I can watch the same movie over and over and over again without becoming a babbling mess of crazy.  I will watch Planes with Mason ten times a day if he wants – just because I get to hear him repeat the movie, and his words get a little bit clearer each time.  To be able to hear him go from saying some incongruous babble to actually clearly repeating Dusty is a small miracle in my world.  I will sit and wait while Kaleb takes ten minutes to say something so completely odd, I spend half the day trying to figure out what it means.  But even knowing it’s coming, even with him starting off with “Mommy, almost because every time I told you once…” I’ll sit.  And I’ll wait.  Because it’s obviously important to him, or he wouldn’t push on and continue to try and get it out.  Because four years ago the kid couldn’t even say Mommy.

Do I suffer fools more gladly?  No.  I don’t think that will ever really change, it’s just who I am.  Do I stop, and take the time to help a stranger, even when I’m in a hurry?  Yes.  Because I’ve learned what it’s like to struggle with even the most mundane tasks.  I’ve come to understand how sometimes just having someone take the time to hold the door open for me can make my entire day.  When a friend calls me and puts their child on the phone, I don’t roll my eyes, silently frustrated because we were having a conversation.  Instead, I sit, and I listen, and I smile.  Because that kid is special to me, but that kid is the world to my friend, and I want to share in that joy.  I have learned to be patient – the conversation can wait, but the kid on the other end of this phone is going to grow up so very fast.

3.  The big moments in life are nothing compared to the small ones.

In this world – the world of autism – therapists, doctors, specialists, particular diets, particular fabric requirements and noise levels reign on high.  It’s a world where you find yourself with a contingency bag in the backseat of your car, and you panic if you don’t have it.  Where you only go to certain restaurants, certain grocery stores, certain parks, and you’re willing to pay out of pocket for a million different things a million other families will never need.  This world is full of battles.  Large scale battles with schools, doctors, insurance, therapists… they’re huge.  They happen every day, and they will drain you.  The stress of these battles will suck the life right out of you if you let them.  But we don’t – because we also have the little battles to wage day in and day out.  Brushing teeth, getting dressed, tying shoes, eating, drinking, sleeping – these are things no parent with a special needs child will ever take for granted.  They are just as important, and just as draining as the big ones – but the victories are oh so sweeter.  Kaleb actually brushed his teeth – with toothpaste – last week for the first time in history.  It took everything I had not to squeal out loud and jump up and down like a teenage girl at a One Direction concert.  But I was doing it inside – because we just had a major victory in our world.

This has translated into the rest of my life, this celebration of the small things.  Taking the time to appreciate at the end of the day all of the little things that are right in my world.  Sure, there are still big battles happening.  We still have to pay bills and be adults.  We still get stressed out, tired, overwhelmed and frustrated.  But we survived another day, and that is better than good.  That’s brilliant.  There is no instruction manual for life, or for parenting (though plenty of people try to write them), you do your best, and you celebrate the small stuff.  Because it’s the little things that are biggest.  Those are the memories your kids will carry with them as they grow into adults.  Those are the days they will look back upon, remembering how proud you were of something so small.  Those are the things that will reinforce your love when teen years and hormones hit.  They won’t remember you going to bat for them in elementary school – they won’t remember you parading to one IEP meeting, one doctor’s office, one therapy session after another.  They will remember you cheering like a fool when they finally learn how to tie a shoelace, or use a fork the right way.  So, I’ll say it once again for good measure:  It’s the little things that are biggest.

4. No matter how ugly the world can be, the future is still bright.

Sure, raising a kid in the 50’s sounds like a great idea.  You could let your kids out to play, and not worry about them until the sun went down.  You wouldn’t have to worry about things like STDs, pedophiles, cancer, preservatives and pesticides.  Kids weren’t attached to electronic devices, rude to their elders, oh, and gumdrops fell from the sky.  For some reason when something scary happens now, we romanticize the past – the 1950’s more than most.  But let’s be real for a minute – things were not any better back then than they are now, not really.  Polio ran rampant, racism was everywhere, there were no civil rights, and for crying out loud, there wasn’t even air conditioning!  You want to point out the violence in our society, or even point a finger at the war in Afghanistan – fine.  But here’s a fact people seem to forget often enough – 36,516 Americans were killed in the Korean War (1950-1953), while to date, 2,229 Americans have been killed in the war in Afghanistan (2001-present).  The grass isn’t always greener.  Yes, these are scary times – but could you imagine raising a special needs child back then?  When doctors were still doing adverts for cigarettes and there was no such thing as Behavioral Therapy?  How much better do you really think your child would be without the technology and science of today?  Without widespread social media allowing us to advocate for our children?

Our kids have real hope.  They’ve got all the potential in the world to become the most influential people of the next generation.  They have access to therapists and doctors who understand them – they aren’t being written off as a lost cause.  And if they are – you have the right to fight for them, and fight hard.  There’s a meme that’s been circulating for a while now in social media, showing quite a few influential people who were believed (or known) to have autism – and they struggled.  Not just a little bit, but a lot.  Nobody understood them, they were weird, outcasts who were just this side of being considered crazy.  Every time I see a news report a tragedy of some sort, after wanting to rail at the injustice of it all – I realize my kids are still better off.  As insane as the world has gotten, there are some really bright lights in the future, and I’m glad my kids will get to be a part of them.

5. Autism has shown me just how strong I really am.

When I was pregnant with Kaleb my biggest fear was that he was going to be a girl.  Don’t laugh, I’m serious!  I had nightmares about it for months.  I was a tomboy and a bookworm growing up, I didn’t know the first thing about hair or makeup – I’m almost 30 and I still can’t match my clothes.  I look back at it now and I can’t help but think how little faith I had in my own ability to adapt.  That’s certainly changed.  Look at yourself before your children were born.  Now look at what you’ve accomplished.  Look at all the battles you’ve fought, big and small alike.  Look at how hard you’ve persevered, how strong and tall you stand for your kid.  Look at the walls you’ve knocked down and look at the mountains you’ve climbed.  Look at how far you have come.  Take a second and think about every single change you’ve experienced, every challenge you’ve overcome.  What were your priorities before?  I’m willing to bet they’re a whole lot different now.

Every day you face life head on – there may be days you want to crawl under the covers and refuse – but you don’t.  You stand up, and you fight.  You fight doctors, teachers, school boards and other parents.  You fight coaches, hell, you fight your own kids.  But the one thing you should never have to do is fight yourself.  We aren’t perfect – we’re parents.  We screw up, we’re uncertain, we get just as lost and confused as the best of them.  Nobody is 100% certain 100% of the time.  And if there is such a person – He or She is a fool.  Life is about adapting.  Making small changes here and there to make things work for you.  Life with autism is constantly adapting.  It’s almost always moving, reforming, regrouping, and attacking.  And you are there – adapting right along with it, making room for the changes, fighting on the front lines with the rest of us.  Every single day we are a little bit stronger.  Every day we straighten our spine, square our shoulders, and say “bring it on, world.”

Your kids are better for it, but perhaps more importantly, you are better for it.  Look at you then, and look at you now.

Now try and tell me you aren’t strong.

Autism is a lot of things.  It’s a long, rough, sticky, and emotional road.

Nobody said it would be easy.

But it sure is worth it.

aut strong