What made us ask?

The Princess asked awhile back what made us start having Little Man evaluated for autism. It’s all so ingrained in my mind….the horrific summer we had between his first and second grade years….the micro-managing, the meltdowns, the worry that maybe I just wasn’t being a good parent to him/not hard enough. I remember being SO offended when my sister, who is a para, suggested we have him evaluated.

That summer was so miserable. I was exhausted trying to keep him from falling apart and/or lashing out every  minute of every day. We knew to do countdowns before we left for anywhere or changed activities. We knew he didn’t like unexpected loud noises. We knew certain things kept him comforted. But I lived from minute-to-minute, never knowing what disaster would come next. By the time school started, we knew we were dealing with ADHD at the very least. I was in denial about anything else. At his parent/teacher conference six weeks into the school year, I asked his teacher what she thought. She legally couldn’t really say anything, but when I said we were considering having him evaluated, she just nodded her head and said she thought that was a good plan of action. We’d known her for a few years already – I was comfortable enough with her to be honest about my fears and concerns. She’d had enough time to get to know him in the classroom setting. We all knew something wasn’t quite the same as other kids for my Little.

When my sister made the suggestion, I immediately texted my BFF – who happens to have a daughter on the spectrum. She’d spent some time with Little Man over the years of our friendship, and knew the summer we’d experienced. She said to me, “You know, she might be right.” I had an A-Ha moment of epic proportions. Appointment with the pediatrician scheduled the next day, which earned us ADHD eval paperwork and a referral to a child psych specializing in ASD. Within a month,  we knew he was ADHD, hyper type, and autistic.

I cried the day we got his official diagnosis. In so many ways, it felt like a life-sentence. I didn’t know what to do, how we would manage, what life would look like now. Then another friend with a son on the spectrum reminded me that Little Man was still Little Man. A diagnosis hadn’t changed him from one day to the next. That diagnosis would just get him the help he needed, and it helped describe him, but it did not define him, nor us as a family. It is part of who he is, who we are, but it is not all.

There have been some pretty dark days since Diagnosis Day six years ago. Some of those days have left us scarred. And autism does not go away, ever. What started us down that road? Well, it was just a realization that he wasn’t just an immature youngest child who was behaviorally challenging to us…..a realization there was something more, something deeper, and that we all needed help.  It was the complete understanding there was something different about him, that we weren’t just horrible parents and he wasn’t just a horrible, misbehaving child. That “more” was the impetus. And so, here we are, six years later…..he’s still autistic, but he’s still my Little Man. Nothing about that has changed.

On Notice

My dear, sweet family….I love you all like crazy. I love being a mostly-stay-at-home mom. I love doing things to make your lives easier, and getting the things I know you like. BUT,  you are hereby all on notice of the following (frustrated momma rant comin right up):

  • I do not sit around all day waiting for one or more of you to call or text me, asking me to bring you something, get you something, do something for you. I am generally pretty busy all day.
  • If you need something for an assignment, class, project, meal, or sports team, I need a little bit more than 24 hours to get that handled for you.
  • I do have a job. Sometimes, I will not be home, won’t be able to answer my phone, won’t see your text until I’m done working.
  • CLEAN  UP AFTER YOURSELVES!!!!!!! The floor, kitchen counter, family room, and stairs are not your personal dumping grounds. Put your shoes in your bins or in your rooms, put your dirty uniforms and socks in the laundry room, put your books on your desks, your papers in your backpacks or desk files or your stack, put your towels in the laundry or in the buckets by the pool, throw away your food trash, put the milk back in the fridge, don’t get a new cup every single time, don’t leave your dirty cups all over the counter, put your snacks back in the pantry, put your dishes in the dishwasher. You are all FULLY CAPABLE of these simple tasks, trust me.
  • I really hate to nag, but I will nag if I must to get you to clean up after yourselves and do your chores. But please don’t make me nag. It makes me unhappy. Ever heard the phrase “happy wife, happy life?” Same goes with happy mom.
  • If you notice we are running out of something, or have run out of something, don’t wait until just after I’ve gone to the store to tell me. Write it on a sticky and put it on my computer, or put it on the whiteboard. Although the grocery store employees get concerned if they don’t see me at least a few times a week, they also start to look at me like I’m crazy if I’m there every single day. Boys, if you run out of shampoo or soap, please tell me….don’t just keep showering without washing your hair or bodies (yes, this has been known to happen).
  • Because I work, I’m sometimes not home in the evening. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. When it happens, please do not text me asking me what’s for dinner. Kids, this particularly applies if dad is home. But you’re all capable of opening the fridge/pantry and finding something to eat. I know all of you can cook to one extent or another. Part of me having a job is you all working it out when I’m not here. You can do it! Oh, and just make sure you clean up whatever mess you make – that’s part of the deal. If I have to work AND clean up your mess when I get home, I’m going to be a wee bit cranky (read: there might be some heavy sighing and cabinet slamming).
  • There’s a calendar on the wall for a reason. Almost everything is on there. Look at it, remember it, tell me if something changes, or you need something added.
  • I do the best I can, but I do sometimes forget something you’ve told me. I might ask a couple, or even a few times, especially if it’s a busy work week. Please be patient with me. I’m so not perfect, but it really isn’t fun to be reminded I’ve failed. Put a sticky on my computer. Or text me. Or email me.
  • Don’t take, use, or eat anyone else’s stuff without asking. And when you’re done with it, put it back (except for food you’ve eaten – we don’t need to see that again). Candy, charging cables, and headphones are not fair game.
  • I am NOT in charge of knowing where ALL of your stuff is. You can ask me if I’ve seen it, but it’s not my responsibility to keep track of everyone’s stuff. I have enough trouble keeping track of my stuff.
  • Looking for something means actually looking for something which means moving things around in the fridge/pantry,  and actually walking into a room to search

Whew…okay…I think my rant is done. Any of you moms out there ever gone on strike? I’ve considered it a few times, but I’m more worried my need for order would override my need to teach my family a blessing (lesson).

“Empties”

I started watching the Netflix series, “Atypical” last week. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. It’s really good. It’s about a family with two teens, one of whom is high-functioning autistic. Sounds dark, but it gives a great perspective on the reality of life with a high-functioning ASD kid.  It is actually funny, while at the same time, it can be gut-wrenching, particularly as the mom of a high-functioning, ASD teen. It gives me hope for his future as well as makes me aware how long and difficult his struggles will be.

Episode 5 about killed me the other day.  I had to stop it at one point – the neuro-typical daughter was talking about what life was like as the sister to an autistic person. She explained that when she was younger, she would hear her mom talking about her as her “NT” kid (neuro-typical)….She thought her mom was calling her an “Empty” and it made sense to her, because she felt she had to empty herself out in order to make space in their life for her autistic brother, the brother who took up so much space in their family.  I immediately started crying.

Little Man was diagnosed relatively late, at eight years old, but I still feel his diagnosis and subsequent therapies, etc took over our lives to a certain extent. We didn’t stop living, didn’t stop activities for the other two, but Little Man’s autism consumed me, especially emotionally.  One of my biggest fears has been how his autism affects them, what it does to them, how they feel about it.

Big Man and the Princess have not been at the same school with Little Man for years. It’s been five years for Big Man, and four for P since they shared a campus with him. That may change next year, as one of the options on the table for high school for Little Man is their school…..the public, traditional high school just down the street.  We’ve talked extensively about the possibility of him going there…..the worries of him being able to navigate the campus, deal with the number of students, handle the homework load, much less the possibility of being bullied, his differences so obvious. They’ve said they would help him, that they and their friends would look out for him. But what level of that is appropriate to expect of them? At what point do they feel they have to become “empties” so that he might be safe and successful? What is too much to expect?

We may not have to face this issue to the extent I worry about it. Time and his needs may find him at a different school entirely. They are still, however, his siblings. The day-to-day reality of that still weighs heavy on my mind. At what point do they feel they have to become “empties”? I hope I never intentionally lay that expectation on them.

Well that was kind of weird

Today was the first day of school for the Herd. Honestly, it didn’t really feel like we had a real summer. I know everyone says it, but our summer really did fly by. We waited forever for this summer to arrive, and then eight short weeks later, it’s gone.

Today felt weird. Maybe that had something to do with me being gone until Monday. Maybe it was because our summer was abbreviated. But Little Man put my feelings into words when I was taking first day photos of him and Big Man. He said, “It will never be the same again.” Nope, it won’t. The Princess had left an hour before, her first day photo taken inside the house, rather than the traditional courtyard photo, because it was still dark outside when she left for cheer practice. After photos, Big Man drove himself to school. The only thing that was familiar was driving carpool to the middle school. Even that though is a bit different with the addition of some traffic lights due to new neighborhoods going in.

As soon as I had Little Man dropped off, I had to get myself pulled together and go to a work lunch. That threw my game off a bit too. For the last eleven years, I’ve generally spent the first day with my mom friends, or enjoying a quiet day at home after a run or walk. The other weird was not picking any of them up from school.

Things are changing. Big Man has his license. The Princess will have her license in a few months. They’re growing up, and too soon, they will fly off to their adult lives. I’m left feeling a bit off-kilter.

I know by the end of next week, we will have settled into the routine of the school year. I’ll have wrapped my brain around the fact they are back in school. It will be less weird than it feels today.

Not posting a pic of this year’s first day since Little Man was wearing his school shirt, and I’m not tech-savvy enough to blur it out with my photo editing software. But here’s a throwback first day photo for your enjoyment…..

First day of school 2011

The last first day all three were at RC

Hey, they’re still alive, aren’t they?

When the kids were little, I learned it was okay for me to take time for myself. It was necessary to maintaining my sanity – those once-a-month bunco nights, book club, the occasional GNO….When they were older, I started to take weekends – scrapbooking retreats and girls’ getaways. Every time I came home though, I felt I was being punished for having had the nerve to go out/away. The house would be a total disaster – kitchen covered in food and dishes, cups everywhere, everything anyone had worn while I was gone tossed wherever, shoes and blankets all over the floor. I’d cry and yell in frustration. I’d bang things around, making sure everyone was aware I was unhappy with the state of our home. It didn’t make anyone feel any better.

Years passed. I continue to do book club, Girls’ Night Out, weekends away. Sometimes when I come home, they’ve taken the time to clean up, knowing it will ease re-entry for everyone involved.  Sometimes it’s a total disaster. I never really know what I’m going to get, but even if it’s relatively clean, it’s not how I would do it. Counters aren’t wiped down. Blankets aren’t folded on the back of the couch. Shoes aren’t in their baskets. There are likely towels hanging over the chairs in the backyard. The dishwasher isn’t loaded the way I load it (and everyone knows the moms load dishwashers the most effective, efficient way possible to make the most of every inch, right?).  The trash and recycling bins are probably overflowing. Floors likely aren’t swept. I’ve learned to let it go.

Hey, the kids (and pets) are still alive, right? They’ve probably been off-schedule, the boys likely haven’t taken their meds every day. But they’ve been fed. They’ve probably done some fun stuff with dad. They got a break from the way mom does everything. No, it isn’t the way I do things, but everyone is still intact, and the house can be put back to order.

I got home from my weekend in Chicago yesterday. I’d been gone for five days. The house was a DISASTER of the first order. I was so tired, and my luggage had been put on another, much-later plane than mine, so I was dealing with that too. I walked in the door, happy to be home and see my babies. I saw the mess, and sighed. I gave the boys a hug, greeted the fur herd, dropped my bag, and set about putting things in order, my order. But I wasn’t mad. It is what it is. I had an amazing weekend away. My kids had a great time at home (well except for the part both Big Man and the Princess’ phones took a dunking and had to be replaced). And hey, they were still alive, right?

Rollin

Holy wow – After that ridiculously long countdown to real summer, we have just two weeks before the Herd heads back to school. (insert bad words here) Where in the ever lovin where did summer go?

We’ve had an incredibly busy, super fun summer, but it has flown by. We’ve rolled from one thing right into the next, or at least I have. School finally ended for Little Man. The following Monday, he started tech camp. Big Man and the Princess were never really “off” as – I may have mentioned this before – high school sports continue to practice through summer. The last day of tech camp, we went to the showcase presentation, and then hit the road for Palm Springs. We spent four glorious days poolside, hanging out with our friends and neighbors who joined us, eating, drinking, sunbathing, reading, playing games, and golfing.  It was HOT, but we don’t care when we’re there. We’re in or right next to the pool all day long.

I was home for 1.5 days, then left for my summer scrapbooking retreat in  Big Bear. In four days there, I managed to finish my 2015 book, as well as our Spring Break Utah trip book. (pats self on back) It was much-needed momma time with friends. We walked by the lake each morning, talked, ate, laughed, and scrapbooked. The only bummer was our usual massage therapist wasn’t able to be there due to injury. I’d so been looking forward to that 90-minute massage. Sigh….other than that, it was a beautiful weekend.

After Big Bear, I spent three days running around like a crazed person, getting the house ready for a cousin invasion. Nine of them began arriving on Wednesday. They trickled in until Saturday, when we had everyone here. Did I mention that was also recital weekend? Yeah, that. We had five fun-filled, busy days. Oh, I won’t lie – we did take plenty of time to sit in or next to our pool, but we were definitely on the go for much of the time.

The day after cousins left, my bestie and her four teens arrived for a week-long visit. We didn’t really stop from the minute they arrived, but oh my…..so much fun! We forget how awesome our city is until people are here and we’re taking them all over. We hit Mission Beach, they kayaked La Jolla Cove, we went to the movies, spent a day in Coronado (on the beach and at the beach bar at the Hotel Del where there was a Norman Reedus (aka Daryl from Walking Dead) sighting (it was ComiCon weekend in San Diego and a bunch of stars were staying at the Hotel), watched the ponies race in Del Mar, golfed our club (K and I rode along while our spouses golfed), went wine tasting in Ramona (you get premium service when your FIL is the President of the Ramona Valley Vintner Association), and took in a Padres game. Yes, all of that. The day they left, I had a work event. I got home that evening and absolutely crashed.

This is the longest break we’ve had all summer……and I leave tomorrow for five days in Chicago. More fun…..a day a Lollapalooza, some beach time if the weather permits, and a Cubs game, not to mention more time (sans children this visit) with the bestie! Then I’ll be home for two days before we leave for a long weekend at my parents’ in Phoenix. We’re home from that trip for two days and the kids go back to school.

Are you tired? Cuz I’m tired. We’ve blasted through this summer, rollin from one fun thing to the next. I think I need a summer to recover from this summer. We’ve had pool time, bbq’s, baseball games, beach days, and movies. We’ve spent time with family and friends. We’ve soaked it all in, taking full advantage of every minute. I can’t believe it’s ending in two weeks, and we’ll be in for another long haul of a school year. I’ll put the pool towels and basket of sunscreen away, tuck the beach chairs onto their hooks in the garage, stow the cornhole game in its case, and say goodbye to summer 2017.

Too Much

As I’ve said, Little Man has been struggling as of late. We have one more day of school. One. More. Day. He’s battling, but we’re seeing behaviors we haven’t seen in months. His toolbox is completely out the window. It sucks.

Yesterday, for Father’s Day, we went indoor cart racing. I was a little nervous about it, but didn’t really think it would be a big deal. It wasn’t ridiculously loud, and he would have a helmet on anyways. We watched four or five races. He seemed okay for the most part, although he was lashing out and had a bit of temper tantrum – more from being hungry and having to wait than anything else. We fed him, and waited for our turn.

When our race started, I hung back, not going too fast. I’m not much of a speed queen anyways – afraid of crashing or spinning out. I did pass him, and he seemed okay. But then people were passing  and bumping him, and he got stuck in a corner. He worked to get out, but couldn’t manage it. They had to stop the race and help him. He decided he was done, so they guided him off the course. Yes, we are that family that has to shut the place down. I was reminded of our ski trip last year when they had to stop the lift twice for us. He and I decided to ditch our second race.

We should have known. We should have seen it coming. We should have realized it would be too much for him – the speed of the people around him while trying to drive his own cart, his inexperience driving a cart, the noise, the anxiety of racing itself….too much sensory input, too much performance anxiety, too much stress. We should have seen it would happen. But he’s been doing so well, has come so very far.

I have to give him credit – he tried something new, something he wasn’t sure of. He did it, even if for just a brief period of time (I think he made it through three laps). We told him we were very proud of him for trying, because we are so proud of him.   While I felt defeated in a way, it also felt like a win, because he did try. Autism won for a moment, but it didn’t win the day. He may never drive a race cart again, but he did it.