Hypersensitive much?

I’m an autism mom. I’m also a preemie mom, asthma mom, ADHD mom, mom to teens, mom to a middle schooler, part-time working mom, dance mom, cheer mom, golf mom, and cross country mom….but that’s all beside the point for today’s topic. I see the world through the lenses of an autism mom. Things that may have nothing to do with autism will sometimes still strike me as relating to autism or just special needs in general.

I took the Princess and Little Man to see Finding Dory last week.  We went because Little Man was OBSESSED with Nemo when he was little, and we wanted to come full circle. I loved Nemo too, if I’m being totally honest. Laughed and cried. We’ve watched it a thousand times, no lie. I didn’t read much on it beforehand – just saw a couple of snippets on social media. I saw some mentions of an autism connection,  but I didn’t read the details.

It was with those autism mom lenses I watched the movie. It hit me so hard – those silent tears dripped unwillingly out of my eyes. I cheered Dory as I would my own child when she completed a difficult and challenging task, when she did something she didn’t believe she could do, when she discovered her particular talents were looked  upon with admiration by those she cared about. “What would Dory do?”….the line undid me. It still does.

I cried when Dory’s mom worried to let her play with the “normal” fish, wondering if she would be accepted, or if her disability would cause her to be shunned, much less lost.I cried when Dory’s parents gave her the tools to survive, to find her way home, even though it took years for her to find her way back. I cried when Dory realized she’d used the tools her parents had given her, that they were right there all along. I cried when she believed in herself as much as others believed in her.

I spend my days reinforcing all we’ve taught Little Man, worrying he will be accepted, have friends, not be shunned nor get lost along the way. I try to manage as much as I can so he won’t see how different he is, so he will believe in himself, that he will remember all the tools we’ve given him, that he will find his way in the world and be successful in his own right.

I felt like Dory’s mom. When you have a child with special needs, who’s different, you worry, you fret, you do all you can to make their path easier….you sing songs, you reinforce, you encourage, you help, you hope and you pray. You leave a trail of shells (or goldfish crackers, or Pokemon, or Minecraft and Five Nights at Freddie’s plushies) because you know your beautiful child loves them and will notice them, following the path home. You hold your breath when he steps out on his own, into a new situation, possibly outside of his comfort zone. You wait for the sometimes-inevitable crash. You cry, and laugh, and sing when the wins come his way.

I don’t know if the writer of the script meant for all of that to come through in this movie. As I said, I had my autism mom glasses on, and carried that sensitivity into the theater with me. I will say, it was a beautiful testament to life with a special needs child. Let the tears flow, and the cheers roar.



Summer, Unmedicated

I’ve been asked frequently lately how summer is going for Little Man. My fast response is, “Great!” but then I usually end up qualifying. I decided, about a week into summer, I wasn’t going to fight it. He had a miserable year much of last school year. We’re both exhausted. So he’s pretty much been allowed to do what he wants to do each day, which involves a lot of screen time.  He isn’t just playing video games, nor watching YouTube videos of other gamers playing video games. He’s been making his own videos, and creating a lot on Minecraft and Lego Create.  And he’s not by himself – our house has been boy-central most of the summer, with two particular friends hanging out nearly every day. So he’s engaged, and he’s happy. I do force him out of his comfort zone on a fairly regular basis, but I haven’t rocked the boat much. We’ve spent five days in Palm Springs, gone to the movies to see Dory (more on that later), taken a few beach trips.

He asked to go off his ADHD meds for the summer. I didn’t think too long about that one. His ADHD is completely different from that of his brother, so it’s not a huge deal to leave him unmedicated when he isn’t expected to focus on classroom schedules, rules, and activities. He’s at a critical growth point, too. Taking him off the meds leaves his appetite at that of a normal 12-year-old. He is more outgoing, engages in more conversations, unmedicated. We’ve had multiple comments on it. That kind of hurts. Here’s why – when he has to focus for hours on end on something other than his screens, he is incapable without his medicine. Also, what most people don’t see is his struggle to maintain his emotions without his medicine. Yes,  he’s more outgoing, talking more, but there are also more tearful sessions, more angry outbursts. He goes swings from one end to the other on the emotion scale within seconds. I see it, because I’m with him 24/7.

So his summer has been pretty great, 90% of the time. He’s had lots of sleepovers (all here, though as he still doesn’t like to spend the night at someone else’s house). He’s had a ton of friend time. He’s in his element – and I have computer parts and screens and cables ALL OVER my family room. But  he’s happy, content. I’ll take that. In a few weeks, we will have to start re-focusing and preparing for the new school year. Until then, he eats, he plays, he talks, and he’s unmedicated.

Those hard questions

Yes, the Herd has been on something of a hiatus this summer. Truthfully, I’m still working on fitting all the new pieces of the puzzle together, and have been trying to just be in the moment rather than always thinking about how I’m going to write about the moment. What it comes down to is this: I’m freakin tired! No one ever told me having high schoolers – high schoolers involved in any kind of activity – means you essentially don’t get summer anymore. Bless, between a trip to Palm Springs, two weeks off from cheer practice, and Big Man being at cross country camp for five days, I’ve had a few sleep-in mornings, but we’ve had two (TWO!) beach days all summer, and one of those was over the weekend. I’ll update, at some point, what we’ve been up to. But for now, I give you this….

Remember the Princess likes to ask some of those “holy hell, what now?” questions, usually while we’re driving to or from dance? Yeah, that. She unleashed a few beasts last night. They’ve been twirling around my brain. First, she asked when I knew I didn’t want to be the same kind of mom my mom was. Wait, what? Not even going to touch that one here. Then she comes at me with, “What would you change about yourself as a mom?” Good grief. She doesn’t pull any punches, does she?

What would I change about myself as a mom? In some ways, I wish I were the mom that LOVED to get down on the floor and play board games with my kids. I detest board games. Drove me insane to even attempt them when the kids were little. Zero patience. Nada. Zip. Zero. But you go with what you’ve got, right? So I learned to accept I wasn’t that mom. Not a huge fan of the disaster crafts seem to leave behind either, but we’ve done our share…which accounts for the fabric paint on the kitchen table, family room carpet, and sofa, as well as the stack of contact-paper-laminated Thanksgiving and Christmas placemats taking up space in my buffet, (I actually really love taking those out every year – they make me smile), and who knows how many sheets covered in paint/glue/glitter. I don’t really like forts made out of sheets, pillows, couch cushions, blankets, and everything needed to hold said fort together. Why don’t I like them? Because I’m the one who only ever ends up putting everything away.

Are you sensing a theme here? I wish I cared less about messes. I wish I had more patience. I wish I was less easily frustrated. Those are the things I would change most about myself as a mom. Notice she didn’t ask me what I think I rock as a mom? That just dawned on me. Maybe I’ll bring that up when we’re driving to dress rehearsal tomorrow…equal time, right?

She also asked me what I would change about Big Man’s personality, the one so much like my own. I just see him doing things the same way I did in high school, in life, and I would (and do) push him for more – to do what he’s capable of, at the level he’s capable, to speak up for himself, to advocate for himself, to not give up when things get hard, to not always take the easiest path just because it’s easy.

And then she asked me what I would change about her. I’ve said before, I wish I’d been half what she is when I  was her age. She’s me, to the power of ten. She’s courageous. She’s a fighter. She goes after what she wants. She’s determined and focused. She sticks up for those who need a champion. She’s a perfectionist. She can be fearless. So what did I tell her I would change? It’s something most women probably need to change. I told her, when she compares herself to those around her, she only remarks on the negative. She doesn’t comment or even seem to notice/recognize her own strengths, those skills and traits with which she stands out.

Like I said, these questions have been floating around my mind since our conversation last night. It hit me when we were driving home from Costco this morning…she  never asked what I would change about Little Man. Maybe it’s obvious in her mind – take away  his autism. But when I asked her about that this morning, she said taking that away would change who he is completely, including the awesome and really cool parts of him. We would just make life easier for him.

She really doesn’t let me slide on this mothering thing. She has that tendency to ask me things I’d rather not address even in my own mind,  much less in a conversation with my daughter. But she makes me bring those things out into the light, look at them, analyze them, talk about them. Hopefully someday, I’ll see the results of these talks in the form of a healthy relationship with her, and seeing her as a successful mother to her own inquisitive daughter.

Stumped again

The Princess had her sports physical this morning as she starts cheer camp tomorrow morning (NOT at 6am, praise God!). My baby girl is a healthy child, or as our pediatrician calls her, Mary Poppins, since she’s practically perfect in every way. She dances 10 hours a week, give or take, plus cheer. She eats well. She has my and her dad’s metabolism as well. She’s gonna wreck me for saying this, but she has a gorgeous, trim, athletic body I would kill for. You know teenage girls…..

So you could have knocked me over with that proverbial feather when the pediatrician asked her if she thought she needed to lose weight, this girl who’s weight and BMI is well below that of peers her height, and she said yes, she thought she should be skinnier. What. The. Hell??!!!! The doctor firmly laid out, with all the charts and facts, why my girl is perfect just the way she is. I felt sick, utterly heartbroken. Good golly – the girl has a 24 inch waist, but she told me she has a weird belly that stick out. What. The. Hell.

The guilt poured over me. Did I make her this way by my own actions and attitude? I’ve tried oh so hard the last few years to be really careful what I say about my body, and any other body for that fact. We talk about being healthy, not about numbers and weight. I try desperately to keep my internal struggles with my weight to myself. That’s why I quit doing the 21 Day Fix – because she was very aware of what I was measuring, eating, not eating every single day. What have I done to my precious girl?

Or is this just every single teenage girl? I know I believed I was “fat” when I weighed all of 98 pounds at 16 years old. Is it genetic for teenage girls to compare their bodies to every other body around them, every other body they see? How do I help her see herself the way everyone else does? I’m at a loss here, friends. My heart is aching – I would save her from years of comparing and finding herself lacking in any way. I would save her from food issues. I would save her from having any negative self-speak.

Is this just normal? Are we to accept our daughters seeing someone entirely different in the mirror than we see? How do we turn the tide? How do I make her see herself the way I see her?

I did tell her on the way home she does NOT need to lose any weight at all, and there will be some serious conversations if she even tries. I’m terrified she will go through all I went through in high school and college, and even today. That thought near breaks me.

Walk-Up Song

I love baseball – love watching it, going to games. One of my favorite parts of going to a baseball game is hearing what each home player’s walk-up song is. What’s a walk-up song? It’s the song each player from the home team has chosen to hear as he approaches home plate for his at-bat. It’s a song that pumps him up,  helps him get in the zone, and it’s personal to each player. I can tell who’s coming up to bat for my favorite team just by what walk-up song is playing.

My running playlist is full of my own personal walk-up songs….songs that help me run faster, stay focused, or just keep moving. There are the songs that help me through that last miserable mile of a long run, songs that help me bust it up a hill, songs that make me feel strong, songs that help me cool down. Some of them are angry and full of foul language. Some are inspiring, lifting me up when I think I can’t run one more step. Some of them are those songs that get your fist pumping, head bobbing, nothing-can-stop-me-now songs.

I use walk-up songs in day-to-day life as well. If I’m going into an event, class, or meeting by myself, I’ll play a song in the car before walking in to help boost me up, give me confidence. If I’m giving a speech, or talking to a group, telling  Big Man’s story, or going into an IEP meeting for Little Man, I’ll play a song I know will make me feel strong, confident, focused. The kids have songs they like to hear before games, competitions, presentations. We used to play “Eye of the Tiger” on our way to the soccer fields every Saturday way back when. They still laugh when they hear it now. Princess chose one of her walk-up songs for her contemporary solo last year.

Do you have a walk-up song? What is it?

A Conscious Decision

I went with a couple of girlfriends this past Saturday to see the movie, “Me Before You.” It’s one of my favorite books, and I’d heard they’d done a good job with the movie. Let me tell you – a) Yes, they did do a good job with the movie, although some character development and storylines were left wanting; b) It’s haunting me. If you’ve ever lost someone you love, you know you have those moments where you suddenly remember she’s gone, you can’t call her, you won’t ever get an email from her again telling you how many days left until Christmas, and your breath is stolen all over again, the loss as immediate as it was the very first day. I re-downloaded my copy of the sequel to “Me Before You,” knowing I needed to revisit it.

I also read a book this week by another favorite author, Emily Giffin’s “First Comes Love.” It’s haunting me too. While I was reading it, I didn’t think I really liked it much, and I definitely didn’t think I liked either of the main characters. I had a particular reaction to the sister who was the perfectionist, the one who always did everything right, who made choices based upon what others wanted her to do, rather than where her heart was leading her. She couldn’t seem to believe she was worthy, and that made her angry…with herself, with everyone around her, particularly when they didn’t seem to live by her rules, rules she’d set down for herself. I think I had a such a strong reaction, because in many ways, I could be her. No one really wants to see themselves that clearly laid out. I won’t go into all the details of the book. Suffice it to say, it’s  a good summer/beach read. You won’t regret reading it.

The thing that’s sticking with me is this – she didn’t believe she really loved her husband of seven years, that they’d gotten married because she thought that’s what he wanted her to do, rather than what she really wanted to do. She’d reached a place she felt blah, overwhelmed with the responsibilities of motherhood and career, disenchanted, emotionally disengaged. That’s not at all how I feel about my marriage, but there were things I could totally relate to.

When you’ve been married a long time, you know you’re going to go through ups and downs. Spouse and I have been married almost 18 years. We have our times of living on different pages, of being more roommates than anything else – those months where 99% of our conversations are merely logistical. We get disconnected, easily irritated, or indifferent. I know from experience, when those seasons come around, it’s time for us to get away on our own for a weekend or longer, to re-engage, reconnect. I make a conscious decision to fall in love with him all over again, to really listen to him, to really look at him, to appreciate his love for me, all he does for me as well as our family, to recall all the reasons I fell in love with him to begin with. Sometimes, it takes just a day or two of this conscious decision-making to right the ship. Sometimes, it takes longer to reconnect. But I’d rather do that work than have a relationship that’s just an existence. There’s so much more to marriage than asking what he wants for dinner, if he can grab milk on the way home, who’s picking up which kid, and where to go on the summer vacation.

What do I tell her?

The Princess will be 15 in a few months, starting high school just before. We are entering the world of boys, dating, parties…..high school social life. I’m a bit terrified. Such a minefield. So here’s my question – how much of your life experience do you share with your teens? Does it make a difference or change their behavior? Do they even listen, or just nod their heads while rolling their eyes?

Do I tell her my mistakes? Do I tell her about the time I cheated on my boyfriend because the guy I’d had a crush on years before finally took a moment to notice me? Do I tell her the potentially really bad situations I put myself in? Do I tell her about the relationships I sabotaged or ended before the guy could have a chance to leave me, or prove himself? Do I tell her about the boys I treated badly, using the excuse of recovering from how the last boy treated me? Do I warn her off controlling boyfriends? Do I tell her the things I really regret doing or not doing?

I went from not being noticed at all, to getting a decent amount attention from boys. It was pretty heady, and overwhelming. It took me years to figure out how to handle myself, handle them. I needed, oh how I needed. I made so many mistakes, so many errors in judgement. Sometimes I just shake my head, realizing how lucky I am to be where I am. On the flip side, I had some amazingly wonderful experiences, met some incredible people, and grew because of choices, right and wrong.

I try to think back to when I was her age. Did my mom try to talk to me? Did I just tune her out, unable to imagine her as a teenager facing what I did each day? Would it have made any difference if she did tell me, and I did listen? Do we all just have to walk that path on our own?

We were driving home from the studio last night, and I felt this driving need to tell her everything, really talk to her about boys, dating, sex, relationships. But I didn’t know where to start, what to tell her, what to hold back. So I didn’t say anything. It haunted me through the night – memories dredged up, old hurts revisited, heartbreaks re-lived, some of my darker, most regretful moments brought back to life.

I wasn’t promiscuous, nor considered a “bad girl” by any means, and yet there are still many things I would have changed, avoided. But what, really, does she need to know, if anything at all, of my past? All I’ve told her to date is that I kissed my share of boys, and dated/hung out with more.

What do you tell your kids when you reach this stage?