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.

Huddle

We have two more weeks before our kids are on spring break. It seems an eternity since the holidays, so we are all looking forward to a much-needed break. The Herd will be headed out on an RV trip to some National Parks. We had invited a few other families along, but it didn’t work out for either of them to join us, so it will be just us – just the five of us. While I was super bummed our friends couldn’t come along, I’m now grateful for the time we will have as a family.

I’m feeling we need a family huddle – a time to re-group, reconnect, heal some wounds, help recover from some lessons, push a re-set button. It has been yet another haul this school year. We’ve had some really good things happen, but we’ve also each slugged our way through some pretty heavy stuff. I think we could each use some time to lick our wounds, figure out what we can fix, how we can fix it, what we need to move on from, what lessons have been learned, how we can communicate our needs to each other much better than we have been. We can remind each other all the great stuff about us.

Oh, it won’t all be serious stuff over the whole week we’re gone. There will be adventures – lots of hiking and biking. There will be lots of pictures, because that’s what I do. I’m already planning the scrapbook for this trip in my mind (and on Pinterest). There will be music, food, games, books, late nights, blessed mornings. Someone will say something funny and it will become part of the fabric of our family – another story to tell in years to come. We will see amazing things, go amazing places. There will be meltdowns, arguments, frustrations, but those are all part of building memories, right?

I just feel we need this time to figure out who we are as a family once again. I cannot wait to see the places we’re going to see, but more than that, I cannot wait for the time together, away from tv, friends, distractions, training schedules, classes, homework, practices, computers.  We will be contained in one RV – no separate bedrooms to run off to and close everyone else out. I’m sure that may sound like some form of torture for my three teens, but I think they’re looking forward to this as much as I am. The time with them still under our roof is speeding quickly by. I’m grateful to have the chance to be with them, experience something new for all of us.

Does your family take huddle time sometimes?

And I thought that was hard

Big Man was born 3.5 months too soon, and spent ninety-three days in the NICU. I spent countless hours driving back and forth to spend countless hours sitting by his isolette. I watched him forget to breath, watched his heart rate drop, watched him turn gray, watched him battle his own infections, watched machines keep him alive, watched him fight to survive. And I thought that was hard.

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Big Man on his birth day

Big Man came home from the NICU, and we had a home health nurse out every other week, a developmental specialist out every month, bi-weekly doctor visits for weight checks, monthly doctor visits for synagis shots to keep him from getting RSV. My life, my schedule was not my own. He didn’t want to be put down, ever. I had to learn to let go of my want for routine, schedule, time. And I thought that was hard.

When Big Man was four months old, I discovered I was pregnant with the Princess. I faced a pregnancy certain we were going to be back in the NICU. I was full of fear and anxiety. I saw a specialist OB (perinatologist) every other week, until we got past the gestational age Big Man was born. Then she had to be induced at 41 weeks 1 day. And I thought that was hard.

Big Man was developmentally nine months old when the Princess was born, so I basically had two infants under one roof. They are twelve months and nineteen days apart. Sleep was at a premium. Bottles were everywhere. We all three cried for hours every evening. And I thought that was hard.

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Big Man had high muscle tone on his left side, and a mild speech delay. Enter therapists visits to the weekly routine. And I thought that was hard.

When Big Man was nearly two, and the Princess eight months old, we moved….400 miles away.  I left my career of ten years. I left my family. I left my friends. I left my church. We moved in with spouse’s  (awesomely amazing) parents for eight months while our new home was being built. I found a new job I hated. It took forever to build new relationships. I had two toddlers in a new place, and I wasn’t entirely happy…yet. And I thought that was hard.

I had two toddlers under one roof – two toddlers who were like the wonder twins. I couldn’t keep up with their creative disasters. They finger-painted with baby shampoo in the middle of Big Man’s room. Baby shampoo NEVER comes out of carpet, ever. They unraveled a Costco-sized package of toilet paper up and down the upstairs hallway. They threw another Costco-sized package (out of the plastic wrapping) into my big jacuzzi bathtub. They ran away, down the street and around two corners, while I fed their six-week old baby brother. Big Man cut ALL of the Princess’ hair off, to the scalp, twice. They colored the underside of the pool table. I caught them, frequently, eating frozen waffles underneath the dining room table. Ditto bags of candy they’d climb on top of the fridge to retrieve. And I thought that was hard.

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I had three kids under four. I can’t even list all that drama, but I thought that was hard.

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The Herd in earlier days

There was a time they were all three involved in multiple sports….baseball, soccer, dance, piano lessons, golf. I lived at whatever field it was the season for.  I spent hours and hours in the car getting them each to whatever practice, game, lesson, or recital. And I thought that was hard.

Big Man was diagnosed ADHD, and with a mild visual processing disorder in second grade. We chose to medicate the ADHD. He fought the medication for the first year. I’d find pills hidden in the kitchen drawer, under the lazy susan in the middle of the kitchen island, and pretty much anywhere but in him if I didn’t watch him take it and make sure he actually swallowed it. He got glasses, and we got an every-six-months schedule of appointments with the pediatric opthamologist. And I thought that was hard.

I had three in elementary school. I went on field trips. I taped, glued, cut, copied, read to kindergartners and third graders, ran the book fair, was on the PTA, and basically lived at the school. We lived in nightly homework hell. And I thought that was hard.

Little Man was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and ADHD, in second grade. It nearly broke me, but we finally had an answer, and a plan, and help. We entered the world of IEP’s, special education, accommodations, speech therapy, psychiatrists and therapists. And  I thought that was hard.

We moved on to middle school for the older two – ugh, middle school and middle schoolers. They each got their first phones, and we had to start talking about internet safety, data plans, and had to come up with rules of how we would handle things. And I thought that was hard.

Now here we are…..two days away from having three teenagers under one roof. Two are in high school. I was ill-prepared for the drama, the angst, the emotional rollercoaster, the pushing back against rules we’ve had in place forever, the angry words that instantly bring tears to my eyes, the eyeball rolling, the intense search for independence, the life-lessons they are learning through which I just want to help but know I need to stand back and let them have at it, come whatever the natural consequences will be. I’ve watched my biggest baby boy struggle to find his way academically when it used to come to him so easily I think he took it for granted. I’ve watched P fight to find herself – somehow losing (hopefully temporarily) the brave, bold, confident girl we used to know. Then, recently, came the day Big drove himself and P to school, his driver’s license finally earned. And I think this is hard.

Within the next five years, I will watch as they have all the rest of those “firsts”, as they graduate, and leave for school, only ever to come back for what will essentially be visits between semesters and school years. I know I will look back on all those things I thought were hard and will know that was nothing, because watching them go be their own people, away from us, my heart living outside of me (possibly far away from home), now that, that will be hard.

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I told myself not to get comfortable

If you have any experience with an autistic child, you know it comes with its ups and downs, backwards and forwards, twists and turns. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that we were in, and had been in for awhile, a good place. Well, yeah, I told myself not to get comfortable, and for good reason.

I’ve had two emails from his special ed teacher within the last week. I might be saying some bad words to autism right now. He’s pushing back on work. He doesn’t want to try when it’s hard, or if he thinks he can’t do  it. He’s giving up. Yesterday, he left the classroom for twenty  minutes (we’d had him down to less than five minutes, and usually staying inside the classroom, for months), couldn’t tell the teacher what was wrong nor what he needed. Gah!

Essentially, he’s not using any of the tools he’s been given, and he’s backsliding. It happens, but it’s frustrating and gut-wrenching every single time. I told his spec ed teacher I’m grasping at straws trying to figure out what may be going on. Who knows what’s triggered him this time. It could be he’s had too long without a break from routine (but then we know breaks from routine also set him off). It could be something as simple as his brother getting his driver’s license, thus setting off a change in his “normal”. It could be the cold he’s fighting. It could be the trip we have coming up. Or it could just be a normal autism blip.

I needed him to stay in a groove. I’m dealing with a ton with the other two, and his status quo was helping me stay sane. But such is the way of parenting life. Just when you think you have a handle on one thing, something else comes up. Every week seems to bring something new. difficult, agonizing.

We do have a trip in a few weeks, over Spring Break, and I can’t wait. We need a family huddle break – an insulated, away-from-it-all escape. It will be just the five of us. I’m bummed our friends can’t come with us, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to it just being us, creating new memories, enjoying new experiences, seeing new things, and reconnecting.

We’ll get Little Man back into his happy place. This too shall pass. The sunshine will return, and the rainy day will be a memory again – one more blip, one more hurdle overcome.

Transitions

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.