Chicago

One of the stations on my Pandora is summer hits from the 80’s. Oh yes, I am a child of the 80’s – and I’m both embarrassed and proud of it. Those songs just take me back, full of memories of hot summer days in the pool, road trips, talking with my brother in his room, high school dances, bus rides to basketball games, and hanging out with my bestie.

The bestie – we had our favorites, but our go-to was Chicago (think Hard to Say I’m Sorry, Love Me Tomorrow, Hard Habit to Break, You’re the Inspiration), particularly when one of us had had her heartbroken, or was going through yet another unrequited crush. I can see her bedroom where we would study while cassette tapes played in the background. When Chicago songs came on, we’d stop what we were doing, and sing along as loudly as possible.  I’m sure her mom LOVED that. We had the use of her neighbor’s pool one summer. I remember laying on the hot concrete, talking about whatever teenage girls talk about, and Chicago music playing.

I’ve had the chance to see Chicago in concert twice – once with Peter Cetera still at the lead, and once after he’d left. They were fabulous, although my boyfriend at the time of that second concert just didn’t get the attraction. But that music is part of me, entangled in the memories of my becoming years.

Anyways, when Chicago comes on, I see my bestie’s face, and I hear her voice. All the memories come floating up – the walks home from school, the homework sessions, youth group, summer and winter camp, driving to and from youth symphony, Asilomar Leadership conferences, the long talks about boys, life, family, God, future, past. I don’t know if she knows just how much she helped shaped me, my high school career, where I went to college, who I became. But when I hear Chicago songs, I think of her, I smile, and I sing along, as loudly as possible.

Your Guess

It’s been pretty quiet on the autism front in the Herd household this year, thank the good Lord. I said it earlier this year, but it’s worth saying again….we desperately needed a quiet, drama-free year for our Little Man. Last year was dreadful, draining, overwhelming, awful. But you know in the wonderful world of autism, there are lots and lots of roadblocks, speed bumps, dips, turns, and storms. They’re not unexpected, but still disappointing when they happen.

Little Man has almost five weeks left of school. Good golly – that just sucks, especially as the bigs are out in two weeks. He knows the end is near. They’re in the middle of the standardized testing. He wants it over with quickly. Routine has been busted a bit at school because of the testing, but he’s also aware the end of the year is coming,  which means an even bigger routine bust. He does not do well with changes in, nor lack of, routine. I see his anxiety levels rising. I see some old behaviors returning. I see less tolerance and patience from him.

I’ve had a couple emails from his SAI at school letting me know he’s pushing back on work, he’s spending more time out of the classroom again, he’s pacing, his breathing is elevated. She wanted to know if I had any clue why this  might be happening. Uh, nope. Your guess is as good as mine. I could point to any number of things, but there doesn’t seem to be one thing we can say, “Yes, that’s what’s making him behave this way right now.”

We keep reminding him of his tools. We keep reminding him what he’s capable of. We keep reminding him the many successes he’s had this year. None of that changes whatever’s going on in his head, nor how he deals with life. So we do what we can at home. They do what they can at school. We pray this is just a blip and not a sign of long-term struggles.

I know better than to borrow trouble, but next year is his last year of middle school. There’s a new building with classrooms for the 8th graders. They will do things a bit differently for 8th grade than he has in sixth and seventh. He will have to participate in his IEP meetings. And the transition to high school will start. He knows it’s coming. I can’t help but think that may be hanging over him a bit, even though it’s in the distance. I know it’s hanging over me.

So we hang on for the ride the remainder of this school year, hoping this is just a temporary dip. But as for what the root cause is of this particular dip, your guess is as good as mine. And thus goes life on autism street.

It didn’t feel right

I remember distinctly the first, and the second time, someone called me “Mom”. It was hours after Big Man’s birth, and I was being wheeled to his bedside just before he was transferred to his NICU. A nurse said, “Here comes Mom.” I looked around. I didn’t feel the least bit like a mom. I certainly didn’t feel like this baby’s mom – I’d failed him in every way in my mind, my body booting him out well before it was time, not protecting him the way I should have. There was so much guilt wrapped up in that word, “Mom.”

The second time I was called “Mom” was five days later, when I finally got to see him again. I walked up to Big Man’s isolette, and his  nurse whispered to him, “Your mom’s here.” I still didn’t feel an ounce his mom. I had been pumping every three hours faithfully since his birth days earlier. Spouse had brought video of him for me to watch every day. I’d signed the form for his birth certificate. But I still didn’t believe I was a mom. Everything about the process was wrong at that moment in time.

I was afraid of my child. He was so tiny. He was connected to so many tubes and wires. His face was covered in tape, his eyes covered by goggles to guard them from the bili lights he was under for jaundice. In my heart, it was my fault he was laying there, when he still should have been inside of me. I held him that night. He was too small for me to hold in my arms, so I held him on a pillow. One of my biggest heartaches is that they could have put any baby boy before me and told me he was mine, and I wouldn’t have known the difference. I’ve never said that out loud before.

Days passed. I spent hours every day next to his isolette. One day, I saw him kick out one leg, stretching beyond the boundaries of his cuddler, and I realized that was the exact same leg, the exact same motion he’d made while still inside of me. I connected the baby in front of me with the baby that had been in me. Suddenly, the name, “Mom” didn’t seem so wrong. His primary nurse encouraged me to take an active part in his daily care, even if it were just to take his temperature a couple of times a day before diaper changes. I gained faith in myself, and started to not flinch when someone would call me “Mom.” Eventually, I was the one changing his diapers, flipping him from side to side, watching his color instead of the machines so much, even occasionally pushing his feeds through his feeding tube. Once he graduated to an open crib, and was off the vent and CPAP, and able to be dressed in more than a diaper or hospital t-shirt, I changed his clothes as well, and then gave him baths. I read to him. I talked to him. I held him. I grew into my Mom name. By the time he came home, three months after his birth, I knew him, I knew me as his mom.

The guilt never leaves…the guilt over his birth, the guilt over being afraid of him, the guilt over not knowing him, the guilt of not being there for him his first five days of life. The first time I was known as Mom, it didn’t feel right. It took me awhile to get there. I don’t know if that hurt ever quite goes away.

The Ending

*Something of a spoiler alert – if you haven’t seen LaLa Land yet (holy wow, who hasn’t seen LaLa Land yet?) But if you haven’t seen it yet, you may want to skip this post, cuz I tell you the ending…….*

 

I bought the LaLa Land DVD when it came out recently. I haven’t watched it though. The Princess and I did see it when it was in theaters, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it again. Here’s why – the ending still haunts me. I still haven’t been able to decide if I liked it or not. And since we’ve kind of been in an emotional place in recent months, neither P nor I felt ourselves in a place to be able to handle it. Heck, the music is enough to make me cry.

I did really love the movie, but that ending…..Did you like it, if you saw it? I get it – it’s more real life than most movies. We don’t always end up getting forever with that one person who was with us during a time we’re becoming, we’re discovering, we’re learning about ourselves. I had one of those – a boy I dated right out of college. I was starting my career, really figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, and I was making plans. Turns out he wasn’t supposed to be Mr. Forever, he was just Mr. Right Then. It took me a few years to figure that out, and I don’t regret that one minute. He encouraged me in so many ways, helped me grow and learn. And we had some amazing adventures together. He was there for me at a pivotal point in my life. But we both ended up married to other people, and that’s as it should be. Spouse is my Mr. Forever, and has stood by my side through things I don’t know that other boy would have been able.

My deal is this – when I go to a movie, I don’t tend to want reality. Hello! I’m there to escape reality. That means the boy gets the girl, and the girl gets the boy, and it’s forever. Amen, and pass the popcorn. I had NO CLUE I was going to get a dose of reality at the end of this movie. For real – who puts real life at the end of a magical musical? It was like a punch to the gut at the end. It took me weeks to recover. I think that’s a big part of why the music still gets to me.

P and I talked about it. We both kind of go back on forth on whether we liked it or not. What’s your take?  Should it have had a happy ending? Or did you consider this a happy ending after all? I mean, she is married with a beautiful child, and is a successful actress, but she’s not married to the guy who helped her get there, the guy who stood by her side as she worked towards her dreams and began to see them realized. There still seemed a certain sadness, a what if, to her at the end. And he definitely seemed sad, even if he did fulfill his dream of having his own jazz club. I didn’t walk away with an “everyone is fine” feeling. I’m leaning towards it not being a happy ending, and it making me sad.

Just when I thought I was done with all that

I quit working full-time just before Big Man started Kindergarten. I wanted to be involved at my kids’ school….working in classrooms, being part of PTA, going on field trips, dropping off and picking up….It was important to me. And so I was. I helped in all three classrooms, almost weekly. I was on the PTA. I ran three book fairs, assisted one, and worked the rest. I went on more field trips than I can count. We went to art festivals, performances, band concerts, Back to School nights, and Open Houses. I felt like we lived there, but it mattered that we were involved. I knew the kids my kids were with every day. I knew a lot of those kids’ parents. I  knew the teachers, the staff.

As my kids entered middle school, I began backing away. They needed some space to become independent. I needed to not be quite as involved. I did volunteer for some things, and we still went to all the awards, concerts, and presentations. But I wasn’t in classrooms every week. I went on one field trip. I helped with one book fair. Even with Little Man’s school being more of an extended elementary, I’ve still held back from being involved. I’ve been burnt out (although that doesn’t mean I regret for one second all we did when the kids were in elementary school). Plus, my kids don’t need me hovering, constantly in their space.

I’ve always been one who struggled to say no, though. So I’ve recently felt myself being sucked back in. It started innocently enough – hosting a team building dinner for cheer last Fall. But then you start talking to this coach, or that parent, and suddenly you’re a team mom, and on the board of the Athletics Boosters Club (true story). Yeah. That. At the high school no less. Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to help, and be involved. I just thought I was done with all of that.

I’m not quite sure how my kids feel about it. I haven’t invaded their space much, yet. But I’m starting to know people, things that are going on at their school, coaches, teachers.  I’m hoping to not be on campus while they’re on campus, and trust me, I won’t be chaperoning any dances, or field trips.

I think it’s important for our kids to see us involved, taking an active role in their education, including extra-curriculars. I think it’s more important now than an  in elementary to know the all the key players, to remain aware. They might be pushing to become independent, which they of course need to do, but that doesn’t mean I get to check out. So I’ll be a team mom, and I’ll be an Athletics Booster board member. I’ll jump back in to being an actively involved parent. And they’ll like it, darn it.

The Late, Quiet Moments

The Princess’ dance studio is twenty minutes away from our home. Well, it’s usually 17 minutes each way, but I’ve done it in 12 minutes when there weren’t any slow people in front of me, no traffic on the freeway, it wasn’t raining, and I needed to get there very quickly, but I digress. Let’s just call it twenty minutes away. It’s not a hardship to make the drive, most of the time. Some nights, I’m just tired, but for the most part, it’s just an accepted part of the deal. The family we’ve become part of there, including her directors, studio manager(s), and teachers, are worth it. And we can usually get her a ride back to a closer-to-home meeting spot when needed.

Tuesdays are her late nights at the studio these days. She finishes class at 8:45pm, which means I leave the house around 8:20 to go pick her up. I was making the drive last night, and realized I don’t mind those later-night drives. I appreciate the quiet. On the way there, I appreciate the time to quiet my mind, the opportunity to just breath. It’s dark, there aren’t many cars on the road. I enjoy the drive on the curvy road between the freeway and the village the studio calls home. I also appreciate the drive home with the Princess in the car.  Some nights, she’s full of chatter. Some nights, she’s lost in her own thoughts. Some nights, she falls asleep, exhausted from a full day of cheer, school, homework, and nearly three hours of dancing. Some nights, we sing our hearts out all the way home. I love them all.

The drives at night, those late, quiet moments, remind me of when my babies were babies, and we had those nightly 3am feedings. At the same time you’re wiped out and just want to sleep, you know those quiet moments with your baby are fleeting, they’re special. There’s just something different about them. Some of my friends think I’m insane when I say I miss those 3am feedings, but I do miss them. I miss that quiet time, holding my loves closely in the dark, the rest of the household sleeping, the world outside dark, the busyness of the day  held at bay.

Here’s the thing – I’m so very aware how short my time with my babies home is. In two weeks, the Princess will take her permit test. This time next year, I won’t be driving to and from the studio because she will be driving herself. Our quiet, late night drives will be done. In two years, Big Man will graduate high school, the Princess in three. They are growing up, too fast. Maybe I’m overly-sentimental, overly-emotional, but those things that used to be irritating, annoying, disturbances to my sleep and my schedule are now cherished, because they are fleeting. So I make those drives late on Tuesday nights, or after dress-rehearsals, or after shows, or after football and basketball games, and I don’t mind.

 

Enough

I’ve said it before, but seriously, you couldn’t pay me enough to re-live high school. Oh, there were great things that happened to me, so many amazing experiences. But holy wow, the stress, the pressure, the hormones, the emotions, the jerks and queen b’s. It was really hard – trying to live up to expectations, real or imagined, while trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be, while trying to  make sure I did what I had to do to get into college, while dealing with friends and classmates going through the exact same process. I remember crying a lot. I remember dealing with ulcers and other stress-induced illness by the time I was fifteen. I remember pushing myself harder than anyone else – the drive to be “perfect”.  And this was all in the time where rumors were spread via those folded up notes a-la 80’s, and during lunch or at post-game dances.

I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for teenage girls these days. It was hard enough to get through each day before there were phones and cameras around 24/7. Social media has been around most of my kids’ lives. They live their lives on blast. Remember when you had a bad hair day in high school? There weren’t any cameras around to capture it. Or if you fell walking across Senior Court, people would talk about it, but there wouldn’t be video evidence to spread the humiliation even further.  You would likely have to see that boy you really liked walk his newest girlfriend down the hallway, but you didn’t have photos of everything else they did in your face every day. I can’t imagine the pressure girls (and likely boys too) these days have to always look perfect, be perfect, not let things get to them in public. I think they’ve had to grow up much more quickly than we did.

With that all in mind, I want my babies to know they are enough for me. Just them, just as they are.

You are enough…

You are not what you wear. You are not what uniform you might put on for whatever sport you choose. You are not your success on the field. You are not how many honors or AP classes you take. You are not even the grades you get or the test scores you earn. You are not how many friends you have. You are not whether you date anyone before you’re sixteen. You are not whether you ever date. You are not whether you take someone or get asked to Homecoming or the Prom. You are not how many pictures there are of you in the yearbook. You are not what college you might get into. You are not how clean your room is, or if you finish all your chores without being told. You are not whether you finish that half marathon at a faster pace than last year. You are not your golf ranking. You are not whatever role you get for recital or Nutcracker. You are not the IEP meetings we go to annually. You are not the papers you write, the projects you finish, the number of books you read, the car you drive. You are not the money you earn, the house you live in, the career you decide upon. You are not the Facebook posts, the Snapchats, the Instagram photos, the re-tweets.

You, just you, you are enough. You are loved, you are cherished, you are wanted, just as you are. Remember that……There’s going to be so much pressure in your life to do, to be, to look everything “perfect”. But none of that makes you more. They are just what you do, how you look. They are accessories. You – you are enough.