Of Epic Proportions

Little Man had his last soccer game of the season last night, a playoff game. He was doing as well as he does out there, running and attempting to be a help to his team. But then a ball glanced off his hand and the side of his face towards the end of the first half, and it went to total hell from there.

He dropped like a rock. The ball didn’t hit him that hard. I wasn’t worried at all about concussion or anything. It really had been more of a shave of the ball across the upper side of his head. But he went down, and wouldn’t get back up. I was about ten yards away from him on the sideline. I could see he was starting to cry. Spouse ended up hauling him off the field.

Little Man was crying. I’m sure he was angry and embarrassed, the actual pain minimal. He flopped to the ground when he reached the sideline.  I made him move as he was in the way of the sideline ref. He was pissed. A meltdown of epic proportions ensued.

It’s been a long time since he’s been that bad, in a public place. He screamed at me to not ask him stupid questions like where did the ball hit him and if he was okay. Oh yeah, I got mad right back. He didn’t stop there, moving on to yelling about being useless and worthless (speaking of himself). I just wanted it to stop. The parents around us were trying to not hear, were looking anywhere but at us. It sucked. It was mortifying. I needed him to stop yelling. I could feel my heart racing.

I felt bad for him, but I felt bad for us and everyone around us. If they didn’t know he was different before, they definitely realized it last night. I managed to keep my voice low and calm, but I did tell him he needed to just stop talking right now. It was awful. The yelling mostly stopped, but the tears continued, loudly. While I wanted to take him in my arms and hold him close to help soothe him, I also wanted to run away, wanted to be anywhere but there in that moment.

It felt like forever until he stopped. It was probably five minutes long in total, but time slows in those moments. He did end up going back into the game in the second half, and was laughing and talking with his teammates by games’ end (they lost so playoffs are done for them). I was a little bruised and it took me a bit longer to recover, aided by some wine when we got home.

In times like last night, I really hate what autism and all its accompanying diagnoses, does to my little boy. It sucks to see him hurt so much. It sucks to see the stares, or the attempts of others to avoid staring, like we’re a car accident they’re driving by. I hate how it wraps through his brain, making him think and say the worst things about himself. It makes me fearful, sad, and so angry.

He didn’t look that different

On Saturday morning, I got to see Little Man play soccer for the first time in four years (if not more).  I was a little nervous. He is on an Under 14 team – I could only think of what Big Man’s U14 team looked like a few years ago – big, fast, skilled. I worried how he would manage, if he would be able to keep up, the potential for him to get hurt, how he would act with me there.

It’s been awhile since we were soccer parents. I had to write myself a note just to remember to take the chairs to the fields.  The soccer complex still looks much the same, with even many of the same people roaming around. It was surreal to be back, as I was convinced our years as a soccer family were done when Big Man finished his last game three years ago.  We took our seats on the sideline after chatting with some fellow teammates’ parents. Spouse is helping coach (totally in his element!) so he paced the sideline in front of us. The whistle blew, and the game started.

Our team got destroyed. We are a rec team, yet we played a comp team, which was evident pretty much right out of the gate.  We had one sub the entire game. Our boys were gassed early.  I lost track of all the goals the other team scored. We didn’t score one, although we did have a few shots on.

You know what I noticed more than anything else? Little Man didn’t look much different than his teammates. As in, if you didn’t know he was autistic, you’d never have guessed. He ran, he made a few passes, he moved around the field like he kinda knew what he was doing. He didn’t get taken out by another player. He could totally keep up. He did ask a bit more than his teammates to be taken out, but he played most of the game, and it was warm out there. He wasn’t a rock star, but neither was he just a body out on the field.

I can’t explain the level of relief I felt. He looked like everyone else. He played soccer! He did it.

I have to share this photo of him from in-game. Do you see the smile on his face? Good golly but seeing that did my heart so good. IMG_2030

He Wasn’t There

I went to a baseball game last night with some work associates – no kids, no spouse. This isn’t really something new – I’ve been to three games without my Herd this year. The difference last night was being at the Park here at home without my Herd. That’s never happened before. I had an amazing time, but it also felt a little weird.

Here’s the deal – when I’m at Petco Park, watching a game, I’m used to Little Man being there, and all the attendant stuff that comes with bringing an autistic child to a baseball game. When he’s there, we have his iPad or iPhone, ear buds,  and noise cancelling headphones. We make sure before we leave the house everything is charged up completely.  We feed him. We promise him snacks. We know at some point in the game, he’s likely going to need a break, which, as when we go see a movie in the theater, usually means a trip to the bathroom, a step away from all the stimulation near the field. It means we are paying attention to every pitch as he has a crazy fear of being hit by a foul ball, but not enough so he pays attention himself, his head buried in whatever technology he has, or whatever food he’s partaking. Some might ask why we bring him out into a situation we have to manage so much. There are so many reasons…..1) We selfishly refuse to let his autism keep our family from enjoying the activities we enjoy; 2) It’s kind of a form of therapy to put him in these situations; 3) He’s come an extremely long way since he was diagnosed, and we know we need to prepare him for the adult social world; 4) In his own way, he does enjoy it.

I don’t know about the ballparks where you live, but when the Padres hit a homerun at Petco, there are fireworks, fire/flames, loud music, lights flashing, and LOTS of cheering. Little Man HATES fireworks – hates the noise of them. He particularly hates the surprise of them – when they aren’t expected, as well as not knowing exactly when the “Boom!” is coming. The flashing lights freak him out. The over-the-top crowd noise after a homerun is overwhelming to him. Needless to say,  he really hates when the Padres hit a homerun. I’ve gotten used to needing to grab him and wrap him up, hands holding his headphones even tighter over his ears, trying my best to keep all the stimulation to a minimum, and give him that tight space that seems to comfort him. It’s a gut reaction anymore…homerun = immediate action on my part for him.

The Padres hit two home runs last night. Both times, I jerked, ready to take care of my Little Man as usual. I quickly remembered he wasn’t there, and took a breath, just enjoying the moment, being part of the celebration rather than trying to protect my child from something that was too much for him. I don’t ever, for one single second, regret taking him out to ballgames nor any other experience we help him through. But I do have to say, it was so nice to not have to have that knee-jerk reaction, to relax and have fun along with everyone else.

I’ve realized that being an autism mom is just part of who I am anymore. As his autism doesn’t define him, being an autism mom doesn’t define me, it’s just part of who I am. The  only difference is, sometimes I get to let go of that part of me. He will never have that opportunity. But I know he will learn to manage out in the world.

How we do baseball……

I’ve Forgotten How to do This

We pulled Little Man from organized sports about four years ago. He had zero interest anymore. It had become more of a battle than it was worth at the time. And then, quite honestly, I had begun to fear for his safety as his skill level in baseball and soccer had fallen so far behind that of his peers, and he was much smaller than most of his teammates. Add to that the fact we were beyond busy shuttling the other two to their various activities, and, well, we just let him stop playing.

Last week, the mom of one of his besties in the ‘hood sent me a text. C’s recreational soccer team was looking for players, and would Little Man possibly be interested. Uhhhhhhhhh……….lemme check. This is a rec team, yes, but it’s Under 14 boys (read: some of them have had their growth spurts and are TALL), and it’s a full soccer field, and LM is not the most athletic of children. He regularly balks at participating in PE at school, especially when it’s an organized game with the full class. He’d much prefer to run by himself, or just sit in front of his computer and skip it all together. But I said I’d ask him about it, and so I did. What do you know, he said yes! I made it clear it’s the full field type of soccer, he’d have to run, he’d have to participate, he’d have to listen to the coach, and he would be in it for the entire season – he can’t just quit when he thinks he’s done with it. He said he understood, and still wanted to do it.

Fast forward three hours – I’ve emailed the coach, sent his registration form into the registrar, popped a check into the mail, and added practices and games to our family calendar, all the time wondering what the heck we’d agreed to. We have played in this soccer club – we were part of it from the time Big Man was five, through his eighth grade year. We used to set up camp on those fields every Saturday. But it’s been a few years.

Little Man came home from that first practice with his uniform.  Spouse got him new cleats, shin guards, and a ball on the way to his first game Friday night. I realized as I looked a  his jersey, shorts, long green socks, shin guards, and cleats that I’ve forgotten how to do this. I’ve forgotten how to keep track of uniform parts. I’ve forgotten about post-game snacks. I’ve forgotten how to do hot Saturday afternoons and too-early, cold, rainy Saturday mornings at various soccer fields. I’ve forgotten how to be a soccer mom.

You might be asking if I warned let his coach know what he’s getting. Yes, I did give full-disclosure, after we signed on the dotted line. Here’s the deal – Little Man ASKED to play, agreed to play. We aren’t making him do it, as we did with all our kids when they were younger and hadn’t figured out their interests. Also, Little Man has come an extremely long way with regard to maturity level and confidence since the last time he played an organized sport. He’s on the team with one of his best friends. He understands what’s expected of him. Do I think we will get through the entire season without a meltdown? That’s a huge negatory. It will happen – I just hope it happens on our time, and not his coach’s time.

I wasn’t able to be there for his first game last Friday. We had to divide and conquer as the Princess was cheering her first football game of the season at the same time. I did get reports from Spouse. His words when I asked him how it was going: “Having fun. Enjoyable to watch. Their team sucks.” Little Man was having fun. Spouse was enjoying watching him run around. Catch that – he was having fun. Ahhhhhhhhh goes my autism-momma heart. He was having fun. And there you have it, my friends, there you have it. eye on the ball

How Not To

I’ve been processing this post for weeks, and debated whether to write it or just let it lay in my head and on my heart. But the words keep fighting to get out, so here it goes. I’m going to preface this with a word to my Princess……Please know I am not judging or disagreeing with your decision to try new and different things. Now is the time to explore and experience. Just know these words come from my viewpoint, my experience as a mom, as your mom….

When I found out I was having a baby girl, I was fairly sure I was going to put her in dance and/or gymnastics at some point. Whether it ever stuck or not would be up to her, and I would never force the issue if she straight-up hated it. But I knew we would try it out.  Before she was even born, I imagined her vaulting, swinging on the bars, and in a pink tutu and tights. When she was three, she started a Saturday morning combo class which covered ballet, tap, and a little bit of tumbling. It was adorable. She was adorable. Seriously though, I needed something girlie going on in our lives, outnumbered by men in our house. She made it through one year, and had her first recital when she was four. It was precious, and everything I’d hoped for.

We took the summer away from the studio, and when fall rolled around, I asked her if she wanted to dance again. She gave me a firm yes, so back we went to that Saturday morning class. That year, we met and made friends with another family whose oldest daughter was in class with the Princess. They’re still dancing together. That year, they did a tap routine for recital. I got used to doing the recital hair and makeup, to dress rehearsals, and buying flowers for my budding dancer.

Year-after-year, I would ask the Princess if she wanted to keep dancing. The answer was always yes. Eventually, we added a jazz class. Now, she was also playing competitive soccer. By age ten, she reached a level of dance we were at the studio three or four times a week, and she also had at least two soccer practices a week, plus Saturday (and sometimes Sunday) games. She was a busy little girl. That fall, midway through soccer and Nutcracker season, she told me she was tired. We told her it was probably time to choose between dance and soccer. She couldn’t do both at a competitive level and NOT be exhausted. I fully expected her to choose soccer, as that had been our life for more than three years.  She sat on it for a couple of weeks, and then told me she’d made her choice – she wanted to dance. I made her evaluate that choice for a couple of weeks before we started making any announcements, and she had to finish the season with her soccer team of course. But in February that winter, she became a dancer full time.

I’ve spent twelve years watching her dance, watching her become such a beautifully talented young woman. Every time I see her perform, I’m touched by her strength, her grace, her courage, her ability. I cry more often than not. I can cry just watching her hands moving in class as she works at the barre. This has been our life. I can’t begin to count the hours I’ve spent at the studio, driving to and from the studio, sewing ribbons and elastics on shoes, altering costumes, watching competitions, dress rehearsals and shows. I’ve loved it all. When  your kid does something so intently for so long, it’s not just about her anymore. You develop your own friendships with the other parents at the studio. We definitely have a much-loved dance family. And don’t get me started on her teachers and directors. They’re so much more to my girl than *just* dance teachers.

This past February, the Princess told me she wanted to stop dancing – well, at least stop ballet. I had no words, couldn’t even begin to think when she told me. I told her we were in it until recital as we’d already committed, paid, signed on the dotted line for this year. She’s a sophomore now, almost sixteen years old. She wants to try new things, be more engaged with her school. I understand. But this is hard. She may not believe this, but she is such a beautiful, talented dancer. Her face lights up on that stage. I see her – what’s inside of her – when she dances. And I just can’t imagine not being able to see that ever again.

Here’s the deal – I don’t know how not to be a dance mom. I don’t know how to not be able to watch her do something she’s so good at. I don’t know how not to be part of this dance family.

I watched her dance recital this past weekend. I cried every time she stepped onto that stage, knowing it might be the last time. We’ve spent twelve years doing this. I spent twelve years watching her grow, watching her turn into a real ballerina, a real dancer. At the hour of dress rehearsal I sat through last week, every dance she’s ever performed rolled through my head, from when she was a tiny ballerina in a pink leo and tutu, through her Hairspray jazz number, to being a turtle and lion, and on through her turn as Clara in the Nutcracker, to her solos, duo, and other competition pieces, to her finale as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. I could see them all in my mind. So  many hours, so many years.

Who knows what will happen in the next months and years. I know we have to let her choose, have to let her make these decisions. I will have to come to terms with change. She says she’s going to continue with some dance, but we won’t be here again, in this exact place. No more competitions, no more Nutcracker, definitely not nearly as much time at the studio. I will just have to learn how not to be the dance mom I’ve been for twelve years.

Commit

Since our kids were little, we’ve spoken consistently on commitment – if you say you’re going to do something, you do it; you finish what you start, and you don’t half-ass it. If you can’t or won’t abide those rules, you don’t even start. You can’t tell your kids one thing and do something else, so we do our very best to live this out. This means that even when we’re tired, or overwhelmed, we have to suck it up.

I’m training for two races right now, with the goal of finishing the half marathon in June at or just under two hours. That means work, because I have to take over 8 minutes off my best time. I have a training plan I’m doing my best to stick with. Travel and illness have derailed it a bit, but I’m back in the saddle this week, getting miles in. I’m even doing speed work, which I completely detest. More shocking, I’ve run in the rain. I’ve always been a fair-weather runner. I hate being out in the rain. But I have to put the miles in, so I shove a hat on my head, put on sunglasses to keep the rain out of my eyes, and get out there. I’ve also never run back-to-back days, much less three days in a row, but I’m doing it. I actually feel stronger, and have fewer issues with my hip and IT band than when  I was just running three days a week. It helps to have a friend holding me accountable, but I’ve committed to a goal, and it’s on me to finish it. That means there are nights I don’t go out because I have a long run early the next morning. That means getting up on a Saturday morning when I’d much rather sleep in. That means squeezing in runs even when I have a billion other things to get done. That means taking care of my body so it can carry me through 13.1 miles/

Big Man had some struggles with fully committing earlier this school year. He was out there at practice, but man, talk about phoning it in. Granted, he was struggling with growing pains, but he just would not push through. It came back to haunt him, and he learned a valuable lesson, one that didn’t come from us.

The Princess has been about commitment for years. When she chose dance over competitive soccer, she was mid-way through a soccer season. She knew she had to carry it out, finish the season with her team. Her soccer family was relying on her. They needed her to remain fully engaged until the end. It was rough….she was exhausted, but she fought until the very end of the very last game of her very last tournament. She decided to cheer in high school, so for nearly a year, she’s been at school almost every weekday morning at 6am to practice. That doesn’t begin to cover all the extra hours at camp, cheering at games, making posters and putting together gifts for athletes, working hard on pep rally routines. In the midst of all this, she’s done her best to maintain  her dance schedule.

Here’s the deal – your kids are going to learn to be committed to things if you aren’t showing them how. You can’t tell them to commit if you aren’t committed to whatever you’re doing. Some days it’s much harder than others, but you do it, even when it’s difficult, and you’re tired, and you’d much rather sit on the couch watching baseball movies all day.

The Girls of Fall

Much is said, written, sung about the Boys of Fall……those boys who begin two-a-days a few weeks before school starts, who learn plays, wear their jerseys to school on Fridays, who build a camaraderie with their teammates, who play under the lights on  Friday nights, helping so many high schoolers make life-long memories.  I grew up in a one-high-school town. Friday nights were all about the football game, the football players, the dances after the games. Most home games, it felt like the entire town came out to watch the Varsity  Bulldogs play. Then I became a cheerleader my senior year, and I realized those Fridays were just as much about the cheerleaders as the football players. We were part of the drama, feeling as if our cheering somehow affected the course of the game.

When the Princess made the cheerleading team at the high school this spring, I thought, “Oh lordy – here we go.” And goodness knows, I have whined about getting her to 6am practices. But as the first day of school approached, uniforms were handed out, and the team began prepping for football season, I got so excited for her. She is now, like I was way back when, one of the girls of fall.

She wore her uniform to school today, bow and all, carrying her sparkly cheer duffle, her name embroidered on the front. I had to take her cheer box to her as the team boarded the bus. I just smiled….so happy for her and this adventure she’s on. I’m so excited she gets to experience high school this way.

Fridays in high school are about football players in their jerseys, and cheerleaders in their uniforms, the excitement building for the game ahead, even when your team isn’t amazing. It’s about bus rides to away games. It’s about losing your voice by third quarter. It’s about cheers, first downs, touchdowns, fans, fourth quarters.

Tonight, I’ll mentally pass the torch to my baby girl, and watch her take her place on her cheer box, under the lights. I’ll watch her cheer on her team, represent her high school. I’ll watch her become part of the spirit of her school, and create her own memories. I’ll watch her become one of the Girls of Fall.