You can’t leave home without it

My bestie and her kids were here for a visit a couple of weeks ago. One of her daughters truly speaks Little Man’s language. They live on the same autism planet. They get each other, which is awesome. It also means we spread all kinds of autism awareness when we’re all out together.

We were out at lunch one day. The two of them sat at one end of the table, lost in their own combined world. BFF and I maneuvered them through food and drink choices, ordering, keeping them calm at the table, and getting through the meal. At one point, BFF looked at me and said, “There’s no vacation from it.” Yep, there’s no vacation from autism.

These babies of ours take it with them every day, all day. When we go out, when we shop, when we vacation, when we sit around the pool, when we go anywhere, autism comes with us. We can’t leave home without it. We can’t take a day off. We can’t simply forget to put it in the suitcase like that bottle of sunscreen that was left behind. Some days, some hours, that sucks more than others. Some moments, it’s perfectly fine.

We had highs and lows over the course of the week. It comes with the territory. I think my favorite part was their simple excitement of seeing each other, talking about their shared interests, and when he pulled out his sketch pad and pencils after she brought hers to the kitchen table. I feel blessed to watch them together, their particular bond.

We took them to a baseball game their last night here. They both rocked it, their way, which was completely fine. iPads, headphones, and phones in hand, they were fairly oblivious to the game, but they were there with the rest of us. Baseball the autism way.

We can’t leave home without autism, but we can see something people who don’t live it can’t see…we can see the purity of their wins, their strengths, their particular abilities.

Once Again

I’m once again faced with the situation of Little Man having  new friend – one who has invited him over to hang out, and to go to the zoo at some point this summer. He went to this friend’s house for a birthday party yesterday, and even over an extended afternoon, seemed fine. But I find myself faced with the dilemma/decision/choice of telling this friend’s mom about Little Man’s autism.

Maybe she knows, or at least senses something. She didn’t say anything yesterday when I picked him up, but she has to wonder why a 13 year old chooses to hang out with a 10 year old. She said my guy waits for her son by the gate at school each morning too, and I know they spend hours facetiming, talking all things video game.

I haven’t had to struggle with this issue in a few years. What do I tell the parent of a new friend, when do I tell that parent? What’s best? What’s right for all involved?

If you didn’t know he’s autistic, you may just guess he’s either a lot younger than his chronological age, or just very immature, unless you have the pure pleasure of seeing him in meltdown or tantrum mode. Then you know for sure something is different. I don’t even know if his friend realizes he’s autistic.

I think part of me just wants him to be able to engage with friends without having Autism hanging over his head, part of me wants his life experience to be “normal” and me not have to consider this decision. But then am I being fair to that parent by not giving them fair warning, especially when they are going to be in charge of my child for a few hours? Sigh…….

What would you want to know about your child’s new friend, and when would you want to know it?

Clean-up on Aisle Five, or What It Takes to Parent Teens

I kind of interrogated and then lectured Big Man this morning, and then I came back and apologized for being a little over the top. I told him we’re trying to figure out this parenting-of-teens thing, and sometimes we’re going to mess up. I reminded him we trust them until they give us a reason not to, but give us a reason not to trust, and they’ll go back to being treated like five year olds on lockdown. This stuff ain’t easy.

The morning conversation had me thinking during a.m. carpool what it takes to survive parenting teens. First off, God hears from me a lot, even if it’s just something like, “Sweet Jesus, get me through the next two minutes without totally screwing this up!” and “Good Lord, what  now?” There’s a LOT of head shaking involved, and frequent banging of that same head against the proverbial wall. They will insist upon messing up – often repeating the same mistakes, doing the same exact thing you’ve already had five conversations about with them. And as Little Man would say, there’s a lot of face palm too. I almost need a neck brace at this point, and my youngest JUST turned 13, which means I have a ways to go.

You definitely need your tribe. There are days the frantic texts fly – “Hey, have you been through this?”, “Hey, have you heard of this thing?”, “OMG!!!! WTF??!!”. “Would you believe he/she?”, “Do you know anything about such-n-such kid?” It’s not just bad stuff. It’s sharing the really good stuff too, along with the commiserating. There are the sanity-saving, wine-fueled pow-wows where we remind each other not to put our own crazy on our kids, and where we can actually  hash out whatever situation has come up, knowing we need to keep our mouths shut around said teens, and that they wouldn’t listen to us anyways.

Which brings me to another thing….There’s a lot of tongue-biting and teeth clenching. I think I might be rolling my eyes a bunch too. Spouse and I are having more conversations about the kids than we’ve had since they were little and we were just trying to survive baths and bedtimes. We keep checking in to make sure we’re on the same page. He checks my crazy, and I give him lessons on life with teenage girls (remember, he has no sisters and went to an all-boys high school).

I frequently remind myself to just shush – that whole “check yoself before you wreck yoself”. That. They have stuff they need to figure out on their own, without my interference or advice. Unless it’s a safety/legal issue, or will have really big-picture repercussions, I try to leave them to it. Not that I don’t ever try to help, give some direction, or at least offer my opinion, but they’re working on becoming independent young adults. You can’t stop that process by running their lives for them.

You have to take care of yourself. I run, I spend time with my friends, Spouse and I have our date nights. I remind my children I am not here at their beck-and-call, not here to serve them 24/7.  I work hard to maintain an identity that isn’t just “mom”.

It’s hard, but I admit to them – or try to – when I’ve messed up, and apologize. While as parents we need to maintain our authority, we also need to acknowledge the fact we aren’t perfect, and we are learning too. I read something the other day that to us, our kids will always be babies – baby preschoolers, baby big kids, baby teenagers, baby college students, baby adults. Every first is still a first. That means to my parents I’m a baby mom-to-teens. This is a first for me. I’m sure my parents are giggling while they’re watching this – the difference being a baby-parent-to-teens will ask her parents for advice, and will also actually listen to that advice.

If they should happen to read this post – I love you guys so much and I’m so proud of who you are, who you’re becoming. I truly don’t think this stage is the worst thing ever. It’s amazing to watch you face all these firsts, to see you experience high school and all the memories you’re creating.  I’d do anything to make the process easier, to keep you from pain or  hurt, but this is your life, your experience. Go live it. Go be great. Become.

I have good kids.   They do give me great joy. They also frustrate the hell out of me. (Why can’t people just do what I think they should do??!!). I am still figuring this whole thing out. I’m adding tools to my toolbox. By the time Little Man is a Senior, I just may have it together.

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.

Find your Squad

I got back Monday night from a weekend with my squad….well, most of my squad….well, most of one of my squads. This crew I met through the March of Dimes. We spread across the nation with two on the East Coast, two in the relative Midwest, and me on the West Coast. We talk/text pretty much every day. They know me better than most – we’ve shared our worst stories, heartbreaks, fears, mom-moments. We’ve all suffered the fate of the NICU either through prematurity or birth defect. When I talk about things from the NICU, they know exactly what I mean. Ditto when one of them shares something. We all have similar battle scars. We all come from different backgrounds, but our shared experiences have brought us amazingly close. We tell each other we love each other all the time. There are always long, awkward hugs when we get together.

I spent the weekend laughing those laughs that make your abs sore. We have our shared inside jokes. We have our shared story. Conversations pick up right where they left off the last time. Even though most of us haven’t seen each other in over a year, it’s as if not a day  has passed. We laugh together, we laugh at ourselves, we laugh at each other. We know each other’s faults and fears. We celebrate our own and our children’s’ triumphs. Our kids know us as their Share Aunties. When one of us falls, we’re all there. When one of us needs to cry, we usually cry together, then we pick ourselves us, dust ourselves off, and move onward. When one struggles with a child, with life, even with death, we come together.

My point behind all of this is that we all need to find our squad(s). I’m lucky to have a local squad, and my Share squad. I foundered for quite awhile after we moved to Southern California. I’d left my squad behind. Without the confidence of knowing you have your friends’ support and encouragement, that they’ll be there when you need them, it’s easy to lose confidence. I had nothing and no one to fall back on, outside of my family and my in-laws. I mean I knew my family was there if I needed them, but they were all far away, and we didn’t have the social media base and texting as we do now.

I found my initial squad in middle school. They carried me all the way through high school. I don’t know what I would have done without them. They gave me courage to step outside my comfort zone. They gave me confidence, just knowing someone who wasn’t family, who didn’t have to, cared about me as a person. Being able to trust in my group, know they would be there when I needed them, enabled me to step up and out beyond what I would have done on my own.

The Princess is just finding her squad. Every  year since second or third grade, her bestie would move away, or move on. It’s not been easy for her. In the last few months, though, she seems to have found her group. She’s learning to trust they’ll be there, but she hasn’t reached the point of having enough trust in that relationship to step out. That takes time, and building a shared history. She will know when she’s ready.

We all need to find our people….the people with whom we can truly be our whole selves, our true selves, and find comfort knowing they won’t leave, even when they see the dark parts of us. We need the people who will love us, laugh with us, cry with us, pick us up, give us courage and confidence, encourage us to stretch outside our comfort zones and grow. Find your squad.

You don’t know her

I was downloading performance pictures from Nutcracker this week, and, like any good dance mom, posting them to my social media. It hit me that most of the Princess’ friends have never seen her dance. She lives in two separate worlds….her school world, and her dance world. They don’t overlap at all. There’s an entire side to her that her school peeps have never even glimpsed. I don’t hold it against them  at all. I just find it interesting.

I looked at those pictures of her dancing, knowing exactly what faults she would find and point out, which she would like, which she would tell me to not download. She sees herself critically in the photos. I just see her when I look at them, and I realized, you don’t really know her if you’ve never seen her dance. She bares herself when she’s dancing – her passion, her drive, her emotions, her intent,  her strength, her vulnerability. Every time she performs, I learn something about her, and I think that’s what makes me cry when I watch her. I see her, and I know all the work she’s put into it.

I hope someday her friends get to see her dance. They’ll see a side of her they’ve never known, they’ll maybe understand why she frequently has to say, “I can’t, I have dance”, and they’ll know her better, because you don’t really know her, all of her, unless you’ve seen her dance.

Invisible

I’m learning that when you are the parent of teens, you must become invisible in their presence, especially if any of their friends are around. This is really hard, as I spent years figuring out how to stop making myself invisible. I feel like I’m becoming smaller, disappearing from their lives, that I’m not really allowed to be part of their day-to-day stuff.

When your kids are in the car, you are to be a silent chauffeur. Don’t say a word, don’t ask any unnecessary questions, don’t comment on their conversation, don’t greet their friends, don’t even let them know you’re there. Above all, don’t even consider singing along to the music as you normally do. Just drive, wherever they need you to drive. You are an “old person” and not the least bit cool, so just keep anything you have to say to yourself. You can tell your spouse about it later, and whine over wine with your friends.

Pretend you don’t notice your kid is on her phone. Don’t ask who’s texting her, or what her friends are up to. You aren’t even supposed to know their friends’ names most of the time. Don’t acknowledge you’re aware who’s on what team at school, or who is dating whom. They seem to forget my friends – whose kids are in the same school – post status updates and photos all the time, and that sometimes, I actually have MORE information than they do. So there!

I have learned if you’re a silent observer, and can become invisible in their world, you hear more and see more. I’ve learned that sometimes, if you play your cards right and their friends aren’t around to witness it, they will actually talk to you. They might even talk about their day during dinner. If all the stars align in just the right way, they might – SHOCKER! – sit on the couch and watch a game or movie with  you. Very, very occasionally, they might allow you to hug them (just don’t even dream of that happening in the school parking lot when, “SOMEONE MIGHT SEE!”)

I keep finding myself struggling against these restraints. I know – we complain for years how needy our kids are, then suddenly they want us to essentially disappear, and we complain all over again. I don’t like having to be invisible. I’m used to being smack in the middle of their lives. I like knowing everything that’s going on. But now, I find myself telling myself, multiple times a day, to keep my mouth closed, and to become invisible.

They come back from this stage, right? At some point, I’ll be able to be a real, talking person around them? Tell me I won’t have to be invisible forever……