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.

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.

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.

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.

He’s Yelling

Oh, doesn’t everyone love getting emails from their child’s specialized academic instructor (SAI)? Some of them are good. Some of them aren’t so good. Some are half and half. But I always, always flinch when I see them come in.

I got an email from Little Man’s SAI yesterday. There was some good stuff first. I think she likes to soften the blow. She’s nice that way. But then the hammer comes down (with her, it’s a stuffed hammer, she’s just so darned nice, but a hammer nonetheless). Yesterday’s hammer was her letting me know he’s been yelling at other students at school. Typically, he yells when he’s frustrated, when someone won’t be quiet or leave him alone, or when someone is being annoying. Let’s just say, he yells a lot. I sighed heavily, as I’m doing now. I didn’t respond yesterday.

I made myself get back to her this morning. I cc’d his teacher. His yelling is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s good. In his world, it means he’s comfortable in his environment. He wouldn’t be letting ALL his true colors show if he were still feeling uncomfortable with the newness of the school and the people.  So the yelling is actually a good sign that he’s settled in. It also tells me he’s advocating for himself, granted letting someone know they’re annoying you could and should be handled in a much better manner than yelling at them. But still, he’s letting his emotions be known.  So, yay Little Man!

Booo, hissss that he’s yelling. We’re working on it. He yells a lot at home. We know it isn’t a good way to make friends or keep friends.  Not many people are going to want to hang out with someone who yells all the time. You aren’t going to win many popularity contests if you yell constantly. And, as I said, there are much better, more acceptable ways of getting your point across.  We stop him when he’s yelling at home, remind him how his tone is being interpreted by the other person in the conversation, ask him to lower it, remind him to use his calm words to get what he wants or needs. Trust me, this goes on a lot.

I hope they (at school) don’t believe we just shake our heads at him when the yelling starts. It’s a battle we’ve been waging for a few years. I will never excuse it, but I do understand it. We just need to funnel all that self-advocating down a more acceptable path.

A New Friend

Little Man has a new friend in his class at school. They’ve bonded over video games, and their favorite Gaming YouTube-ers. Last week, they started Face Timing on their iPods. Cute, right? They’re 10. This led to Little Man asking his  new friend to come with him to the movies yesterday (Spouse was taking the boys to see  the new Hobbit movie). We were very excited. Little Man doesn’t have many friends, and doesn’t make friends easily. He is a bit prickly after all. Most kids won’t put up with his outbursts, his lashing out, his meltdowns, or quirks. When A was dropped off, I went out to meet his mom, chat for a minute, and exchange phone numbers.

The day went well.  A  hung out for a couple hours after the movie. He was polite. The boys got along really well. Little Man was happy all day. When A’s mom picked him up, we talked about getting the boys together, possibly at their house, later this week. I hit pause in my brain for a minute…Does she know he has issues? Does she know he’s autistic? Can she see he’s different? I let it go for the moment. But it’s been rolling around my brain ever since. How much do I share, or do I share? Do I let him go hang out at their house and just see what happens without telling her anything? Is that fair to her? Is that fair to my son? Should I prepare her? He was perfectly fine, if a bit energetic yesterday. But will that hold if he goes to A’s house? What happens if he has a meltdown?  What happens if he loses it? Is it fair to unload that potential on someone without giving them warning?

I think part of my worry is letting go control. I can manage things when I’m there. I can’t manage things if I’m  not there. And because he has so few friends, we like to keep the ones he does  have. But I don’t want to make an issue out of something that may not even happen. He may go there and be perfectly fine. I could, right now, kind of go either way. I could let it play out, and only discuss it if he has any issues. Or I could just say hey, he’s autistic and this is what you might see. It’s just one of those things that don’t immediately come to mind when your kid is diagnosed….how are you going to handle “normal” social situations as your kid grows up.

When or where do I feel most like myself?

NaBloPoMo day three….

(Are you already tired of reading about me? Because I’m getting tired of writing about me. These are getting more difficult!)There are many places I feel most like myself. I love being at the beach. It just calms me. Listening to the waves crash, watching the water move in and out, breathing the salty air. When I am calm, I can think and feel, rather than just react. The fast pace of our family life can be put aside. If I have a good book, it’s even better. 

I have never minded taking long road trips alone. There is something to be said about driving a good distance by yourself, music on (or off, whatever your preference), insulated inside the capsule of your vehicle. Long road trips for me usually include my road trip playlist, to which I sing along with, loudly, my big Starbucks cup with straw full of ice water, a stop at a fast food place along the way (this is just about the only time I ever eat fast food anymore), and some check-ins with family to let them know all is going well. I’ve done some of my best praying on long solo road trips. I’ve had some serious a-ha moments while cruising along the I-5 or I-8.  I like to invent stories for the drivers or families in the cars around me. And of course there’s always the game of Slug Bug which is so awesome when you’re playing it solo.

I feel most like myself sitting at this computer reading and writing.

I have a good core group of friends once again. Funny how life moves in seasons. You  never think you’re going to be in your forties still working out friends. But physical moves, and just plain old life draws people in and out. I actually have two groups…one in which all the girls live far away. We keep in touch on a daily basis via group text. They know me oh so well, good and bad. And yet they love me anyways, as I do them. I can truly be myself around them because I am secure in their acceptance. It’s mutual. My geographically-close group of friends has become that as well. Even when I disappear into my “cave” for a few days or weeks, I know they will be there when I’m ready to come back.

Where or when do you feel most like yourself?