It Just Seems to Happen

I was talking with my sister (mom of two girls, age 19 and 17) last night about our beautiful teenage daughters, and our own high school/teenage years. I’ve not hidden the fact my beauty has been going through it in recent months. My sister and I compared our high school, and pre-high school, experiences, which were very different as far as friendships were concerned. Even though we had those different experiences – I had a bff from 7th grade all the way through high school, while my sister did not, but rather bounced each year from group to group, never quite finding her tribe – we both suffered massively from horribly low self-esteem and very poor self-image. We both had issues with food. We both struggled severely with our own sense of worth and value.  Now I know the source we both point to, but I found it interesting that even with those different friend experiences from an early age, we both ended up in the same insecure boat.

When I found out I was going to have a baby girl, I was immediately determined she would never, ever for one minute question her worth, her value, how much she’s loved. I didn’t want her to ever suffer insecurity, self-doubt, or unhealthy self-esteem/self-image. I for sure never wanted her to deal with an eating/exercise disorder, or any of a host of  stress-induced illnesses. I’ve tried to tell her every day (sometimes I wondered if it wasn’t too much) how very loved she is, how much she’s needed, how proud of her we are, reinforcing all her strengths, encouraging her. I saw her, until a couple years ago, as a strong, independent, courageous, brave, outgoing girl who always stood up for others as well as herself. She’s incredibly smart, goofily funny, amazingly talented, and also happens to be beautiful.

But it just seems to happen to teenage girls, no matter how they’re brought up, no matter who they’re friends with, no matter what activities they’re engaged in. Teenage girls all seem to suffer insecurity – often debilitating – they doubt their worth and value, particularly amongst their peers. If there are any struggles with friendships, they find the fault within themselves all too often. They are struggling to figure out who they are, and where they fit  in, at the same time hormones are ruling their bodies and minds. Add to that anyone who may be threatened by them, and boom, perfect storm.

I thought I could keep her from going through this – I well and truly did. I’m finding you really can’t shield them entirely. Each girl has to face it – find her worth within herself, learn to accept herself, learn to be okay with who she is, find a peace with herself within herself, learn to be happy with herself. We just have to love them through it, and pray the effects aren’t long-lasting. Lord knows it took me YEARS to recover, same for my sister. I wish I could minimize and fast-forward the process, because when your child struggles in any way, you struggle.


Little Man has one more year in middle school, but we are already thinking ahead to high school. The biggest decision will be where he goes.  I’ve been trying to live in the land of denial with this one. I’d rather not consider a) three kids in high school; b) his actual transition to high school (because we know how well the transition to middle school went); c) my baby in high school; d) getting to know a whole new IEP team; and e) his last tri-ennual evaluation, set for his Freshman year. All. Of. That.

He will, of course, have a voice in the decision-making process. What brought it all to mind today is that he brought it up in the car this morning. He and his buddies were talking about high school, where they each wanted to go, and – of all things – the possibility of getting community service hours by volunteering at their old elementary school when they’re in high school. Nothing like planning ahead! Anyways, he firmly stated he wants to go to the same school as his siblings. Okay, well, wow.

There is a math and science high school in town, which is much like the middle school he attends. It’s project-based, heavily utilizes technology, collaborative work, and it’s much smaller than the nearby high school. It’s a lottery process to get into the math and science high school, so it would be luck of the draw to get him in. It’s also across town – at least 20 minutes each way with traffic. So while I think it would be a really good environment for him, I’m unsure he will get in, and unsure of the logistics.

I like the idea of him at school with his brother and sister. I haven’t had all three in the same place in nearly five years. And if he does go there, that will give us that many more years of blessing those hallowed halls with our particular brand of crazy. I’m sure the Principal, VP’s, counselor, and school nurse are already cringing at the thought of three extra years with us around.

Knowing he would have his brother and sister on campus to look out for him and help him gives me small peace. I know how frequently Big Man and P see each other at school (hardly ever) during the day. It’s a big school with 2500 students, give or take. I do panic though…..the more students, the more opportunity for some jerk to give him a hard time. And don’t get me started on the PE situation with locker rooms, etc. I can’t even…..

He’s in a good place now. High school will be a new story. He’s hardly had to change classrooms, is used to not having homework, and has plenty of kids similar to him at his school. The kids know him, accept him, know his quirks and how he is. I can’t entirely picture how that’s going to go in high school. We do have other options besides these two. There is a charter high school, Classical, and other semi-homeschool options (although the thought of him being home more during the school day, well, that’s a whole other discussion). He seems bent on going to school where his brother and sister go.

It’s going to be a transition no matter where he goes. Those transitions are never easy with him. Yes, we have another year where we are, but the process has begun.

The place we’re in

I came across an autism parenting meme on Pinterest the other day, and I had to save it, because it perfectly describes exactly where we are right now with Little Man. The meme said, “If things are going right, don’t touch anything, don’t change anything, in fact maybe don’t even breath. Celebrate it for as long as it lasts.” Amen, and pass the weighted blanket. This is where we are. This is where we’ve been for a few months now. I’m afraid to even type that out loud, for fear it will all come crashing down, and we’ll head back into the storm once again.

Most of his life, I’ve felt I didn’t have even the slightest handle on Little Man. Every time I’d get hold of one straw, everything would change again. He’d have new triggers, new sensitivities, new food aversions, new behaviors. When that baseball memory came up in my Timehop the other day, I read all the “rules” we’d given him before sending him out onto the field…..Don’t make dirt angels behind second base, don’t fill your hat with dirt and put it on your head, don’t throw your gatorade bottle at any of your teammates in the dugout, don’t pick the grass, don’t look for bugs. So. Many. Don’ts. I was a nervous wreck every game, every practice. We never knew quite how it was going to go. That was much of life with him.

The summer before he was diagnosed autistic, I spent every minute of every day micromanaging his life, trying to keep him from melting down or having a tantrum. I was exhausted. I believe he was too. I spent a few years on high alert 100% of the time. Third grade was relatively calm, but in fourth grade, we went right back to that hell. Fifth grade was good. Sixth grade was a nightmare. Sensing a theme here? This time last year, I started counting down the days left until summer. I was beat down. The beginning of this year was much better, and since Christmas, he’s been amazing.  I’m not on high alert all the time.

Sure, we have our routines and tools in place. But it mostly runs like a smooth machine. We just know what to do and how to do it. Am I feeling safe and secure here? Um, no. I’m like that meme….don’t change a dang thing, don’t touch anything, don’t even breath for fear of upsetting this precarious balance. That’s life with autism.

A friend told me long ago – and I’ve written of it too – that life with autism is like living in Seattle. It rains….a lot….but then you get those sunny days, and you just revel in them. The rain will come again, and it’ll be dark, but the sun will come again, for however long. The older he gets, the more tools we’ve given him, the more he learns and develops, the more sunny days we have.

The place we’re in now, it’s still that Seattle, but the sun in shining brightly. If I’m honest, though, I’m not really breathing, definitely trying to keep everything exactly status quo, and I’m seriously not touching any part  of his routine. I am enjoying every second of the sunshine. IMG_0560

He doesn’t do anything

I pulled up  my Timehop the other day, and there were photos and video of Little Man on Opening Day of his rookie year of baseball. That was prior to him being diagnosed on the spectrum. He played soccer and baseball back then. All three kids were in multiple activities. He was challenging to say the least, but he did whatever we put him in, although often begrudgingly.

He gave up baseball first, saying it was boring and he was actually afraid of getting hit by the ball. He would have reached the level of kids pitching that next year, and the thought of it freaked him out. We pulled him out of soccer when it became evident he could actually get hurt as the skill of the kids he was playing continued to improve while his stagnated. He wasn’t exactly one of the bigger boys out there either, nor quite the fastest, which would have helped. We talked about other activities for a couple of years, but nothing seemed to interest him at all, and, quite honestly, I was hauling the other two all over town and beyond for their stuff. Having one kid not involved in anything was something of a relief.

So, he doesn’t do anything….no football, no baseball, no soccer, no music…nothing. He comes home from school, and goes to his computer. He isn’t alone – he has friends over all the time. And he does get outside frequently. But he has no extra-curricular activities. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but most of the time, I’m totally okay with it.

It isn’t worth putting him in something he doesn’t want to do. That wouldn’t be fair to his teammates or coaches, because he would push back. So yes, we did kind of take the easy way out on this part of his childhood. Will he regret it, or hold it against us someday? I highly doubt it – he’s perfectly content with his lack of extra-curriculars.

We have sent him to camp during the summer. This past summer, he went to coding camp and he loved it. We’ll be sending him back to that program again this summer. He’s lately indicated an interest in learning to play the guitar. We’re working on that.  Big Man will have his driver’s license soon, and that will free up time for me to manage lessons and such for Little Man.

Spouse has started to take him running on Saturday or  Sunday mornings. He doesn’t seem to mind the running and it’s his preferred choice, given the option, during PE at school. We will put him on the cross country team when he starts high school in a year and a half.

For now, he’s not involved in any extra activities, and that’s okay. Do I miss seeing him in his uniform, out on the field? Sometimes, yes. But I certainly don’t miss the drama of making him get out there.

Giving Up

I grew up in a Lutheran home, and had a lot of Catholic friends in high school, so I’m used to giving  up stuff for Lent. It’s just a thing for me. Some years, I decide to do something in particular – ie daily devotions, intentional prayer, daily kindnesses, etc – but most years it’s about letting go of something that plays a big role in my daily life.

Lent has never been a thing for my kids, but this year, the older two have become aware. P and I were talking about it on the way home from the studio last night. I told her it was supposed to be something difficult to do without. Then she announced what she’s decided to give up for the next 40 (well, 38 now) days. She’s giving up caring what people think about her. I was silent for a moment after she said that. Then I told her that’s probably a good thing for her to think about right now.

It’s not easy to not care what people think about you, especially when you’re a girl in high school.  It’s hard for me to not care what people think about me, and I’m a LOT of  years removed from high school. She’s reached a place in the last few months that gives too much credit to what other people think, and what she believes other people think of her. From my point of view, she’s let it hold her back, let it influence her daily life and her decisions. She’s fearful and insecure. I long for my brave, bold, confident girl to return. I see glimpses of her every once in awhile.

Why do we care so much what others think of us? Well, we are social beings. We want to be accepted, we need to find our people. But we shouldn’t do that at the sacrifice of ourselves. We shouldn’t change to fit someone else’s idea of what is good and acceptable. We should be proud of who we are, what we are.

I’ve learned it is easier for others to accept us if we first accept ourselves and are happy with ourselves. It took me entirely too long to find that place. If I’d focused on me, rather than other’s perceptions of me, I would have found that self-acceptance much earlier in life. I don’t know how to convey that to her without it sounding cliche or like something stupid your mom would say.

It will be an interesting six weeks to say the least, and a good life lesson if she’s able to let go at least a little bit of that caring so much what others think. Live YOUR life, my sweet girl. Lead, don’t be led. Be your beautiful you. Be brave, be bold. Rise up, rise above. If someone doesn’t like you just the way you are, that truly is their problem. You aren’t going to please everyone. Not everyone in this world is going to be your friend. That’s okay, really. Don’t let fear hold you back. Don’t give up who you are to fit someone else’s mold. Go be great.

Interesting and somewhat entertaining

Spouse doesn’t have any sisters – it’s just he and his brother. He went to an all-boys high school. Guess what he doesn’t have experience with? Yep – high school/teenage girls. It’s interesting, and often a whole lot entertaining, watching him trying to process his daughter.

If you have a teenage girl, or ever were a teenage girl, you know this is a process, right? First off, you NEVER laugh when a girl is in the midst of a PMS tantrum. And whatever you do, don’t point out she’s in the middle of a PMS tantrum. I tried to tell him, but he did laugh, once. I gave him the staredown/headshake but it was too late. It took a couple of days for them to recover from that episode. He knows now the best thing is to not make eye contact, hand over the chocolate, and calmly back away until informed it’s safe.

He had no clue the drama involved with teenage girls. Oh lordy, the DRAMA! He gives a simple (read: male) answer to a situation. You can almost hear her eyeballs roll back in her head, mine too for that matter. He doesn’t get the social complexities of the drama, the potential fallout, the long-term ramifications (at least for the four years of high school). I know – for men, it is much more simple.

And don’t get me started on the boys. He’d just rather crawl under a rock than see high school boys look at, much less talk to or want to date, his daughter. He had all these high ideals and ideas and rules which aren’t practical in reality. I’ve had to talk him down, twice. He has perfected the dad glare, and I think he secretly takes great pleasure at the thought of terrifying some poor boy just because he can with that glare.

He is much easier on her than I these days. He can keep an emotional distance. I’m a girl, and I get what this time is all about, which means I can’t disengage. I’ve felt all she’s feeling (whether she believes that or not is an entirely different story). It is very interesting though to watch him – this man with only vague experience with teenage girls. There is something to be said about one-gender high schools, and growing up without sisters. It’s definitely making it somewhat entertaining to watch him navigate having a daughter in high school.

No, I don’t always have their backs

My oldest two are at a stage they’re really figuring out who they are, what they are, how they want to go about life. It’s an interesting, frustrating, gut-wrenching, beautiful time. Some days are amazing. Some days completely suck.  I’ve said it a lot lately – I equate the difficulty level of parenting teens to that of parenting three toddlers at the same time. Yes, I’m still wearing that dazed/glazed look of a mother overwhelmed and disoriented.

Here’s the deal – because they are figuring out who they are, because much of their days are outside our realm of control, because we want them to learn about life and how to do life as much as they can while still under our roof and under our guidance/protection, we let them make as many decisions and choices as possible. There are times we make decisions for them – when we have to, when the choice has more long-lasting repercussions, or when it’s a safety issue. They aren’t always popular decisions. We just hope and pray they appreciate our intervention somewhere down the road.

But yes, we do allow them a bit of leeway. But no, I don’t always have their backs. I think that’s an important distinction. I don’t think we do our kids any favors if we calmly turn our heads the other direction when we don’t agree with their choices. My children are not perfect. I know their faults as well as I know their strengths. I feel a responsibility to offer my opinion when I don’t agree, and make them come up with arguments to support their choices. I don’t always have to agree with their decisions. I don’t always have to have their backs, particularly when decisions might hurt them, hurt someone else, or have results they aren’t considering. I let them know I love them no matter what, and support them always, but that I don’t have to roll with their flow at all times. I’ve gotten some backlash for that, which I totally don’t get.

We do our kids a disservice when we blindly back them in all things, at all times. I am their safety net. It’s my responsibility to help them learn to be compassionate, caring, productive, happy adults. That’s a fraught journey. If we don’t help them understand other perspectives, if we never make them think deep enough to be able to defend their decisions, if we always tell them they’re right but not telling them when they’re wrong, we are failing them. We have to allow them to make choices that matter, because they need to learn how to win gracefully, and how to recover from mistakes and missteps. I need them to learn how to fail, and how to get back up from failing while I’m close by to keep an eye on the process.

I don’t presume to be a perfect mom. I don’t always know the best, right answer. Lord knows I’ve made plenty of parental mistakes in the last 16.5 years. But I come at life with quite a few spins around the sun. My perspective is broader, I can see the bigger picture as opposed to just the decision at hand. I can see the gray, where they tend to see black and white. I realize one of the last things teens want to do is listen to their dumb parents, but hey, we kinda know what we’re doing most of the time.

I happen to love my precious children – I love them enough to not always agree with them, and still come out the other side with an intact familial relationship. I don’t just show them approval. I don’t just show them disapproval. I show them love, constantly. I show them the pride I have in them. I encourage and support, but no, I don’t always have their backs. Hopefully in the end that results in well-rounded, thoughtful, successful adults.