He just wants to play with him

I’m learning a lot watching the relationship between my boys. Except for a few years, it was just my one brother at home growing up. I know all about the sister relationship, but am figuring out this whole brothers thing.

My boys are at an interesting stage – Big Man is sixteen, a sophomore in high school. Little Man is twelve (he’ll be thirteen in March), a seventh grader, and definitely a lot immature socially and emotionally (thank you autism). Sometimes, they are the best of friends. More frequently, Big Man has better things to do with his time than hang out with his twelve-year-old sibling. It’s in those times Little Man really struggles and often breaks down. He just wants to play with his older brother.

Last night, I watched them lay on the family room floor, watching videos together and laughing like fools for nearly two hours. Little Man was SO happy; the joy evident on his face. He was in the golden circle of his big brother’s attention. Big Man engaged with Little Man on his level. He took interest in what Little Man had to show him. It just made me smile.

There are times these two go at each other. I used to try to stop them, but Spouse insists it’s normal for them to be competitive with each other, to argue with each other to yelling levels, to wrestle and push each other. They are practicing social and relationship skills they will use later in life, within the safety net of family and home. It makes sense when you think about it. And I should have been used to the idea, given I did the same with my sister when we were younger. It just looks a LOT different with girls. I watch Little Man look up to and hero worship his big brother. Sometimes, Big Man revels in that adoration, sometimes it is just an irritant to him.

I love the moments they are hanging out together, but I also try to honor Big Man’s need to be the older brother, have his space, and allow him to say no when he really doesn’t want to be bothered. When they’re adults, I hope they remember how they came to be best friends.

The nights you ask why you do this to yourself

Last night, I had one more indicator that I totally do NOT have it together at all these days – not even close. I don’t know what reminded me as I was crawling into bed at 11pm, but I suddenly thought, “Elf!” and then went on a mad hunt for Scoutie (our Elf on the Shelf). Scoutie was not to be found. He was not where I usually put him every year. He was not where I thought I saw him just a couple of months ago. He was not anywhere I normally hide stuff. Scoutie is completely MIA. Our Lego Star Wars advent calendar and Finding Dory movie were still delivered, despite Scoutie’s disappearance, and a ransom note was left, demanding homemade snickerdoodles. Guess we’re baking this afternoon.

I had to ask why we do this to ourselves. I could have skipped the dang elf tradition when it first became a thing years ago. I was desperate to buy one more year of all three kids believing in Santa. Bringing Scoutie into the picture did buy us that year, and, even though the older two have known for a few years now, they still love the tradition and look forward to Scoutie’s return each year. Last year, they even aided in remembering to move him, as well as actually moving him. We still aren’t sure if Little Man believes. We did tell him about Santa (a post for another day), but didn’t  know if he understood that carried over to Scoutie, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy as well.  That’s another conversation for another day. Even if we knew he knew, Scoutie would still make his December appearance – he’s now a tradition for our family.

If you haven’t guessed, traditions are pretty big for me. Every family has their story. Scoutie is part of ours. But why do we tack things onto our already-loaded to-do lists? Why do we do this to ourselves? For the last seven years, I’ve spent the month of December setting reminders to move the dang elf every night, woken in a panic at 2am and trundled down the stairs to move the elf, made up stories at 7am as to why Scoutie didn’t move (the typical answer being, “Scoutie didn’t want to tell Santa how poorly you behaved yesterday so he stayed and is giving you another chance.”).  And our elf doesn’t get into much mischief – I did draw the line at making messes I would have to clean up (I clean up enough messes already), as well as going all out with Pinterested Elf ideas as it’s hard enough for me to remember to move the dang thing.

But making the magic for my children is important to me. So, yes, I make more work for myself this time of year. And yes, I will be hitting the store at some point today to get a replacement Scoutie. And yes, we will be making snickerdoodles this afternoon to ransom Scoutie. And yes, by December 10th, I will be silently praying for Christmas to get here so I can put our elf away for another year (and make a note in my phone where I put him) and not have to remember every night to move him.

Creativity guest blog

It’s funny how life circles back, especially with the advent of social media. I’ve had the amazing gift of reconnecting with people whom I shared such growing-up experiences. One of those, Siv, a friend from college and fellow blogger, asked me earlier this year to write a guest post for a series she’s doing. I jumped at the chance and then of course asked myself “Well, now what?”  I had time as my date was the end of November, so I put it in the back of my mind. But then it was November and I had to put my mind to it. The subject was wide open – Creativity/Creating. You can read it here: https://milagromama.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/creating-a-written-history

While you’re there, check out the rest of her writing and guest bloggers. It’s been a joy to get to know her again as a seasoned adult as compared to the young college students we knew then. 

The Hand We’ve Been Dealt

Some might say we’ve been handed a less-than-stellar parenting hand. Trust me, before we got pregnant with our oldest, I didn’t intentionally sign up to have a micro-preemie nor an autistic child. And I know well too many parents who live a much more difficult parenting road, some too painful to even think about. So I don’t complain, much. Are our lives easy? Nope, but there’s never a promise of easy when you start down your life path.  You deal with the hand you’re dealt. That’s my take anyways.

I suppose we did have a choice. We could have told the doctors to not take any extraordinary  measures to save Big Man.  We could have quietly let him pass, fears of what his future might  hold taking precedent over his chance of survival. We could have walked away. We could have chosen not to fight. But I knew him – I knew his fight, even before I saw him face-to-face. I’d felt him within me, I’d heard his strong, fast heartbeat. I’d seen his tiny arms and legs on the ultrasound screen so many times. I knew long before he took his first breath we would fight as long as he had fight within him. We didn’t  know, even when we brought him home from the NICU, what his future might hold, but honestly, do you ever know what your child’s life is going to be? Life holds no guarantees. We took him as he came. We loved him, we watched him, we cried, prayed, laughed. We continue to advocate for him, raise him, fight with him and beside him.

The day (and admittedly for a few days afterwards) we found out we were pregnant with the Princess, I cried, so not ready to face pregnancy again so soon after Big Man’s birth. He was 3.5 months old. Our babies would be just a year apart, if I made it to full-term this time. I fretted, I worried, spent days full of anxiety, so sure we were going to end up back in the NICU again. I eventually reached a place of knowing our family was going to look a bit different than I’d planned, but we were blessed. And oh  how I fell in love with that little girl.

I recall so clearly the drive home from the psychiatrist’s office the day Little Man was diagnosed autistic. I called my friends. How would I do this? Why was this happening to him, to our family? What had I done wrong? Why did my baby have to suffer? A wise friend reminded me my baby was still my baby – a diagnosis did not change who he was. I would have to fight for him at times, I would have to find the strength inside to deal with the hard parts. I would go to the deepest depths when my nine-year-old told me this was too hard and he didn’t want to live anymore. I’d have to remind myself all the amazing things he’s capable of when it seemed all I was hearing was what he couldn’t do.

I guess I could have walked away, said this was too hard, too much, could have chosen not to fight for him and his needs. But I  never saw that as an option. I’m not amazing. I’m not extraordinary. We aren’t special because we continue to parent him. We deal with the hand we’re dealt. Our hand  may not look like yours, but you take what you’re given and you deal, or you don’t.  We just never imagined there was a choice for us, never considered any other option than loving our babies.

Sewing Ribbons

It’s Nutcracker week, or as it’s more affectionately known in our household, it’s Nutcracker He** week. The Princess has 3-hour dress rehearsals tonight and tomorrow night, a five-hour rehearsal Wednesday night, then two more hours of orchestra rehearsal Friday afternoon before a show Friday night, a show Saturday afternoon, and then closes the week out with two show on Sunday. I’m tired just writing that, and I’m not the one dancing.

This one snuck up on me. Usually, I’m totally prepared. But I found myself scrambling last week, making calls all over the county – and then the southern part of the state – in an attempt to track down her specific brand and size pointe shoe. We ended up having to go with a shoe with one tiny part of the sizing changed, and I had to drive to a store forty minutes away, but we picked up the new shoes this morning. Now I have the pleasure of sewing on ribbons and elastic. No – pointe shoes don’t come with the pretty ribbons attached. Every ballerina has her own particular crazy when it comes to where and how her ribbons are sewn onto her pointe shoes. No, the Princess doesn’t sew her own ribbons. I know she should, but she’s currently upstairs trying to get four hours of homework finished in two hours so she can get to rehearsal. And I’m faster at it anyways. And I’m kind of a control freak. Someday, she will sew her own ribbons, but not today.

I still have to go back out tomorrow to get tights, eyelashes, and toe pads. This is how unprepared I am for Nutcracker this year. I’m so completely off my game. The worst part is that I’m over here saying, “meh” about being completely unprepared. Here’s the deal – this is our sixth time in this rodeo. We know what we’re doing. We know there’s no need to panic. We know it will come together, even if I don’t buy her new tights until the day of the first show. So I’m unprepared and off my game, but I’m completely not stressed. Ask me again tomorrow when I’m sewing ribbons. You might hear a different answer.

Last year at this time, we were wrapped up in her playing Clara. The whole week revolved around her rehearsals and getting her ready for her rehearsals. This year, she in Corps, and it just seems easy. Don’t get me wrong – I’d do that Clara thing all over again in heartbeat. There is something about watching your daughter make the leap to dancing with the big girls, of which she is  now one. The big girls wear pointe shoes, and so I’m sewing ribbons, smiling proudly with the tears forming in my eyes as my baby girl lives her dreams so beautifully.

Pushing Back

Since Big Man was a toddler and the Princess a newborn, I have taken the kids for studio portraits every Christmas. It’s just what we do. I have a thing about getting pictures done of them – they grow up so quickly and change so much year-to-year. They’ve never argued over it, although we did have those years we all basically ended up in tears, and I walked out of the studio stressed out, covered in sweat, with the much-wanted perfect photo somehow in hand.

We had our session scheduled for yesterday.  I asked them to get changed half an hour before we were supposed to leave. Both olders rolled their eyes at me. THEY ROLLED THEIR EYES!!!! I was taken aback. I mean, really? You’re pushing back on Christmas pictures?

Plan A for their outfits had to be dumped when I discovered the red in the shirts I ordered for the boys was different, shirt-t-shirt. They totally clashed. So we went to Plan B, which definitely had a decidedly Southern-California feel. Anyone else wear shorts and t-shirts for Christmas pictures?

We arrived at the studio and there was a good amount of attitude from all three. I told them the more they cooperated, the more quickly we would be done and out of there. We fought through to get the minimum number of shots, with some grumbling and definitely more eyeball rolling.

I guess this is where we are now. They’re going to push back on this tradition every year from here on out. Really, they only have to endure it a couple more years, then Big Man will be off at college and we will have to come up with something besides studio portraits. They’re going to find I’m not going to let this tradition go until I absolutely have to. Someday, they’ll thank me for it, right?

These are just the last few years…….Someday I’ll scan all the rest of them.

Oh yeah, IEP time

Little Man’s IEP normally falls the first week in December, smack in the middle of Nutcracker hell week, and right around the time of our wedding anniversary. The coordinator called me late in October, and asked if the week before Thanksgiving break would work. Uh, yep….way better than dealing with it/squeezing it in the midst of all the other madness. I somehow put it in the back of my mind, and it snuck up on me. Heck, this whole year has pretty much snuck up on me.

Sooooo….the Friday afternoon leading into the Thanksgiving break, and 1.5 hours before I was supposed to leave for dinner/drinks and the Sound of Music, I was sitting in the small conference room at Little Man’s school, with his team, for his annual IEP meeting. Joy.

We’d had our concerns this year. I believe I wrote about them earlier in the school year. But, as I’ve had happen at pretty much every single one of his IEP meetings, the team addressed any requests/issues we had before I had a chance to raise them. We are all on the same page, that of keeping him on the good, upward path he’s currently on, and getting him ready for high school. That conversation was a huge part of the meeting – what we need to do, what we need to be thinking about, the goals he has and how they’ll translate, what can be done to ease that transition.

He has two subject teachers this year, as well as a PE teacher, and then whomever is teaching the Elements class he chooses. That means he’s seeing at least four teachers a day. He is moving around from classroom to classroom, albeit in a much smaller setting than he’ll see in high school. I’ve met his teachers before – parent/teacher conferences were last month – but I didn’t really get a grasp of anything beyond his academics, and how much improved he is over last year overall, until the IEP meeting. They are both the perfect combination of compassion and understanding and the tough love he needs to show him the boundaries, limits, and push him a little bit. That was the big thing we were going to ask for – that they push him, get him to stay in the classroom as much as possible, keep him engaged in the lesson/group/activity as much as possible. They’ve already started doing that. He’s up to 99% as far as in-class time. Last year, I think he hovered at 65-75%. They don’t let him push the buttons he did last year to get his way. They’ve learned he will cry to escape a situation. They are both handling him brilliantly. I felt immensely relieved after talking with them and hearing from them in the meeting. They are both exactly what he needs this year.

Another big part of the conversation was getting him to participate in the IEP process. In high school, he is expected to be part of the meetings. They want full buy-in from him on his goals and needs. To get that, he needs to give input. Now, Little Man HATES hearing conversations about his differences, deficiencies, needs. He goes into meltdown, or lashes out, or shuts down completely. We’ve made a plan that next year, he has to come to the meeting with one goal for himself, and one question about high school, the IEP process, etc. Once he’s participated in that much of the meeting, he will be allowed to leave the room. We do know his limits.

Here’s my thing: as much as we’ve been thinking about prepping him for high school, his team has been thinking about prepping him for high school. It is a huge part of the conversation. I was SO relieved to understand they are  on the same page in this regard. They care about him, the whole him, not just the academic him. They know him, what makes him tick, what helps motivate him and keep him on track.

Let’s just wrap it by saying the meeting went really well. I feel they are not just HIS team, but my team as well, that we are indeed working together to give Little Man the best education in the best environment for him. Bonus – the IEP meeting is done before Thanksgiving and all the madness December brings around here. AND I was one time to leave for the show.