July 29, 2011
I noisily slurp my deceptively delicious frozen strawberry lemonade, a new concoction from McDonald’s (who knew the golden arches could corner the market on this summer’s most fabulous non-alcoholic beverage?), and take in the scene before me. It’s a familiar seasonal tableau, as my family of four often comes here to “dine” when on a Great Adventure outing, and I think the familiarity of the routine keeps everyone peaceful and calm. Zach is ignoring the ham we brought with us in deference to his GF/CF diet, and is playing seriously with Justin’s happy meal toy. My husband is scarfing down what actually looks like a fairly edible chicken sandwich, and Justin is contentedly watching Cars on his CD player while eating the fries I’m surreptitiously stealing from him. All is right, and “normal” for us, in the kingdom.
And then, my oldest boy points.
There was a time when my heart would have leapt into my throat with joy, along with the alluring thread of hope that this common way to communicate needs was leading up to a “breakthrough” for my son, a transition from his world, to mine. When he was diagnosed with autism at seventeen months, and had barely made the switch from infancy to the realm of toddlerhood, the necessity of teaching him how to point was drummed into me over and over by the vast majority of the professionals comprising Justin’s therapy team. Again and again I would hold his tiny hand, elongate his sweet pointer finger, carefully fold the remaining four into a gentle fist, and aim. He was supposed to be demonstrating this integral skill not only to convey his needs, but in order to share something of interest to his parents, his grandma, or just his babysitter.
The latter concept was called “joint attention”, a pivotal requirement for typical development in early childhood. I shaped those five digits frequently during those first years in the hope the desire to show us anything would “catch on”, but honestly, it rarely did. I do have one such encounter relegated forever to the digital world. It is a slightly shaky few minutes of film in which I recorded Justin sitting on Jeff’s lap pointing to the vibrantly portrayed animals in Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, my son laughing gleefully as my husband recited each mammal’s name no matter how many times Justin referred to said animal in a row. Soon, even the desire to engage in that game dissipated too, and my son began to rectify his needs through PECS, his Springboard, and ultimately, his iPad. He found a way to engage us in his joy as well by simply using his eyes, not his finger, to showcase his discoveries. All in all, these methods have worked for him, and for us.
But today, he is pointing. It is a gesture preceded by a downward glance of disgust at his chicken nuggets, followed by a look of undeniable longing toward my husband’s poultry selection, and capped off with a “finger chaser” in case there are any doubts as to his desires. His emotions are so unusually readable on his face that Jeff and I have to laugh, as there is no confusion as to what he desires, and I know my spouse will be heading back to that frenzied food counter momentarily to repurchase his own lunch. In good father form he breaks off a bite-size piece, and my son is eager in his acquisition, almost inhaling the slice before Jeff can change his mind. He swallows, and we watch the mere hint of a smile cross his face as he imperiously extends that pointer finger again.
And I have to laugh once more, because this interchange is just so damn “normal”.
There have been a number of these moments in the last few weeks as I’ve entertained the two kids on their summer school/camp hiatus, and they are wonderful to see. One morning, well before my other two boys surfaced from slumber, me and my eldest constructed an Elmo fire station from Legos, mommy pointing at the photo on the box, and son locating the plastic piece and constructing the building from scratch. Two evenings later, Justin grabbed my youngest as he enacted his nightly bedtime ritual of hugging his big brother goodnight, pulled both boy and book into his bed, and regarded me with a look that left no doubt they’d be receiving their bedtime story together.
Fortunately, Velveteen Rabbit was a crowd-pleaser.
To tell you the truth, I’m pretty exhausted on this “time-out” from routine, and I’m only two-thirds of the way through. But I’m glad I’m witness to these fleeting moments, happy to participate in this minute foray into typical. Justin’s truly beginning to interact more with the world, his teachers, his sibling, even strangers who grace his path. It’s not earth-shattering progress, but it makes life so much easier for us all.
And that’s a concept I’ll take with me until that glorious first day of summer school.
July 27, 2011
This week’s Gratitude Attitude goes out to Aunt Jen and her wonderful sons for hosting a fabulous playdate for Zach. Watching my son bask in the attentions of his three lovely (and incredibly patient!) older cousins, for several consecutive hours, was a beautiful thing. Allowing the mommies to have uninterrupted conversations (well, at least moments of uninterrupted conversations) over the course of an afternoon was an equally beautiful thing! We will return (Zach would have preferred playdate #2 to have been Monday).
July 25, 2011
Why reinvent the wheel? That’s a question I posed to myself too many times to count when I was teaching, and one that’s resurfaced often as I’ve been raising my children. Apparently, a woman named Sharon Esch thought so as well while she was struggling to create a “super-team” to help her son Adam, who had been recently diagnosed with autism. In an effort to streamline the odious process of procuring that occupational therapist who “gets it”, or the psychiatrist actually willing to listen to parental concerns, she went ahead and created a web site to assist parents in creating their own “dream teams” for their autistic progeny. The site, myautismteam, is free, and has been launched in partnership with Autism Speaks. It is available to all autism parents and providers in the United States.
It appears to be the “Craig’s List” of autism, and it is a damn fine idea.
Perhaps it’s just me, but with the vast array of social media available to us now, at times I feel a wee bit overwhelmed by all the “great new ideas” available to us these days. Since there are times I honestly find it difficult to recall my children’s names, I also find it somewhat difficult to remember some of the suggestions that come my way, either ones from well-meaning friends, or ones broadcast to me over the internet. Lately, the only ones I’ve managed to recall for more than thirty seconds have been in the entertainment industry. There is that brilliant soul, Adam Mansbach, who wrote the Go the F*** to Sleep Book (a statement I admit to muttering under my breath frequently over the years, leaving me in greater despair that I didn’t think of turning it into a literary experience), and the equally Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel, who came up the idea for Celebrity Autobiography, a play in which celebrities read other celebrities’ diaries.
Truly, some people just suck up all the available genius in the world.
But I have to say as I read today’s Autism Speaks Blog that their featured article will stay in my mind even without writing it down on the sticky notes that seem to proliferate throughout my home, and horrify my husband with their random, and to him, indecipherable themes (“no underpants”, which was a reference to needing to replenish my youngest son’s diaper bag, readily comes to mind). Access to this site enables a parent to discover other parents in close proximity, read their stories, and locate the providers they use and recommend. It also permits parents to do searches on a directory of over 30,000 autism providers across our nation. Among other wonderful features, it even allows moms and dads to make their own personal recommendations of providers and autism-friendly businesses to the directory, so they can spread the wealth of finding that perfect professional who simply fits their child’s needs. The entire premise behind the site is that “it should be easy for parents of children with autism to find the best providers around to help them”.
And really, isn’t it about time that something related to autism was easy?
This site I’ve actually bookmarked (yes, I still remember how to do that even with “summer brain”). I’ve even tested it out a few times, and was happy to see a few of the providers we use actually come up as suggested professionals. I may even get brave and try to recommend a few of my own.
That will probably require at least two sticky notes to remind me to do it.
Anyway, here is the site again (myautismteam), and I hope you find it helpful. Frankly, I don’t think the efficacy of this site is limited to those of us with offspring on the autism spectrum either, which makes it a boon for all of us with differently-abled children, or even some whose children are just struggling, and need a little help.
It’s usefulness will be widespread, and I believe it will truly assist our community, one in which time, and resources, are particularly precious.
July 21, 2011
“Mom, will my friends be here today?” my smallest son inquires from the back seat of my SUV, straining forward in an attempt to escape the clutches of his shoulder strap so he can begin his morning. My failing eyes stare ahead to his camp’s playground where the “starfish” convene as the program commences, and I can see at least three or four little figures in the distance as I reassure him he won’t be alone. Zachary has summer school four mornings a week in July, and I like to send him to camp on Fridays in part to give me a break (let’s be perfectly honest here), and in part to keep him familiar with their routine until he returns several mornings a week in August. The only issue with Fridays in the past has been that often kids are absent, and at times Zach’s practically been the only camper in residence. He does have an aide with him, but as fun as playing with a twenty-year-old adult can be, it can’t compare to a pre-schooler.
Or so I’ve been told.
I slide out of my seat and walk around the back of the car to free him, and he bounds out of the vehicle even with my death grip on his shoulder, the one I employ to keep him safe from the proximity of an extremely busy road. His hand seeks mine as we stumble slightly onto what seems like moving tarmac on this unusually hot summer day, and as we cross the parking lot, I hear it in the distance. Through the sounds of a hundred other campers sampling the delights of the outdoors I hear a chorus of cries, and look up in time to see three little girls pumping their swings to the heavens, screaming in complete unity, “ZACHARY IS HERE! ZACHARY IS HERE!”
Trust me, they were yelling in capitals.
I look down in time to see that irrepressible broad grin dominate my child’s face, and Zach squeezes my hand tighter as he looks up at me and says, “Mommy, my friends ARE here today. Those girls are my FRIENDS!”. It’s all I can do to keep hold of him as we reach the latched gate, and as the criss-crossed steel door swings shut behind him, he makes a dash for the swingset, his aide close behind him to prevent him from being kicked in the head. We’ve learned the hard way that when Zach is in the thrall of enthusiasm, common sense leaves the building.
I’ve also been told that’s not necessarily autism, that’s just being four.
I sign my boy in, joke briefly with the camp’s director about what a rock star he apparently is, then head back to my car. After making certain one of my Jersey brethren is not heading toward my trunk I slow my SUV as I round the corner to the exit, and Zach abandons his loves momentarily to “chase me” along the fence, blow me kisses, and gobble the ones I unceremoniously toss back to him. At this moment in time, he’s still very much his momma’s boy.
And the joy of this is, I can say with absolute certainty, it won’t be this way forever.
I know with this child, the “mom and dad are the world perspective” won’t dominate his thinking for many more years, perhaps four or five at best. This reality was driven home to me harshly when I taught in Virginia, and sometimes ate lunch with several of “my girls” at their request. I can recall one such meal where we somehow started talking about parents, and I remember asking these amazing ten-year-olds, girls-you-longed-to-adopt/would have been friends with if they were twenty years older ten-year-olds, if they still enjoyed their time with their caretakers. A moment of silence followed in which one child reinvoked the “circle of trust” we employed during these meals, and I can remember her looking at me straight in the eyes, and sweetly saying, “We love our parents. But we’d rather be online or hanging with our friends. We do it to make them feel good”.
I recall being a bit taken aback (after all, some of their moms were really cool, at least in my book), and inquiring as to when the girls began to feel this way. They regarded me a bit sheepishly and responded, “Nine. Eight. Eight. Seven.”
Seven? Really? Seven?
There were many such experiences I mentally “bookmarked” for parenthood over the course of my dozen year career in teaching, and this one has remained forefront in my mind. In general, we aren’t sun, moon and stars for our kids for that long, and that’s as it should be. I’m aware Jeff and I will probably play that role eternally for Justin, and that fact fills me with a sadness I doubt I’ll ever shake.
Also, there’s a huge possibility he’ll eventually grow bored with us. I wouldn’t rule it out.
This won’t be the case for Zach however. I admit, my mother’s heart is both thrilled he’s found friendship, and thrilled he’ll still forego these relationships to blow his mommy a goodbye kiss.
Happy Friday, Zachy.
July 19, 2011
This week’s Gratitude Attitude goes out to my mom, Susan Preston, for helping me out with a very important presentation this morning (more to follow soon, can you stand the suspense?). Thank you Mom, and as always, it’s great to spend time with you!
July 17, 2011
Yesterday, I went to the shoe store with Zachary, and bought him new sneakers. It’s something mothers across America are required to do on a fairly frequent basis, nothing miraculous about it at all.
Except, it was.
We pulled into the parking lot, my youngest thrilled beyond all expectation to be acquiring new footwear. With only the slightest of hesitations, he held my hand as we crossed the busy parking lot, avoiding puddles and oil spills in equal measure. Amidst the cramped aisles of the store, Zach waited patiently (!) while the sales clerk concluded a business call. There were no protestations, no complaints when he was told to place his foot in the cold, metallic clutches of the measuring instrument, was excited to see he would indeed merit a half-size upgrade. Together, we looked for shoes which would “represent” his style, nothing too flashy, just simple canvas devoid of pink. He sat calmly while I shimmied several different shoes onto his tiny feet. Although he wandered away once, he returned immediately upon my summons. Greetings were exchanged with our helpful shopkeeper, as were names. The entire errand was nothing short of delightful.
Trust me, my shoe-shopping expeditions have not always been so peaceful. The one that readily comes to mind is a fairly recent trip to our local mall, an excursion in which I took my oldest child. Zach needed new shoes then too, and at that point in his life due to his busy schedule with Early Intervention, it was simpler just to measure his feet, and convince the employees that we could figure out his shoe size and purchase them in his absence. I’d conducted this errand many times in the past with Justin, with my boy happily ensconsced in his souped-up stroller, playing a succession of DVDs, unconcerned about my purchases.
Unfortunately, he took an interest that day.
After quickly locating my prize but subsequently waiting on a line at the register remininscent of the DMV on the last day of the month, I thought we were home free, and began to carefully maneuver Justin toward the exit. Halfway there, I felt the familiar resistance that signifies my son had planted his feet on the ground in protest. I looked down at his angst-ridden face for clues, prepared to offer him juice, snacks, or just about any legal bribe to get him to leave the premises, when he grabbed my hand and shoved it toward the underseat compartment of the stroller. I felt my heart clench, and a mild sweat envelop me.
Crap. He wants to wear his little brother’s shoes.
For years I’d been taking this child to purchase sneakers for his sibling, and never once had he protested when I hadn’t done the same for him. I (foolishly) tried to reason with my moderately autistic child, telling Justin we were on the way to get a treat, that the shoes were for Zach, and would barely encompass his toes. He regarded me with utter annoyance, and again shoved my hand, less gently this time.
I was in for it now.
I briefly contemplated returning to the cluttered shelves and placating him with a new pair, but I’d just bought him new duds mere weeks before, and I neither wanted to spend the money, nor give in to his demands. Instead, I propelled that stroller toward the main corridor of the mall, and pushed for dear life. There were several stops and starts, accompanied by the ever-escalating protests of my royally pissed-off son, but eventually I was able to angle his ride back so that it rested on two wheels, my purse and hard-won prize dangling precariously off the handles, praying I’d make it to Sears and our car without dropping him.
I had to stop at least three times, because my boy is big now, and he literally wasn’t taking this boycott of his demands lying down. We eventually made it to our SUV, surviving the surprised stares of the mall patrons and the semi-glare of a mall cop, whom I was certain was going to detain me. I was drenched in sweat and tears, but once I maneuvered my son into his seat and gave him a new DVD, he simply smiled at me, all woes vanquished, the salty tracks of his own tears lying forgotten on his flushed cheeks.
It took me a little longer to forget that episode.
Thankfully, this errand with one of my children is devoid of angst. There is just the simple balance of request and demand, greetings exchanged, instructions followed. Since Zach has progressed so far with his therapy, some of my times with Justin have been put into sharp contrast. My encounters with him have made me ache that life couldn’t be simpler for my oldest, but grateful for the ease in which most transactions are completed with my youngest. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to reconcile the yin and yang of my respective experiences with my sons.
But today, I ran an errand with my youngest child that was actually fun. And in my world, that constitutes a miracle.
July 14, 2011
I close the door of my eldest son’s room gently behind me, secure in the knowledge we’ve completed our nightly ritual of singing, hugs, and one last dramatic run across his bedroom by me to assure him he is loved. Justin seemed absolutely exhausted tonight, which I’m sure is due in part to his unfortunate rejection of slumber at 5:15 this morning, and also due to the fact I purposely wore this child out in our pool today so he would sleep tonight. Both his father and I can make it through one fifteen hour day with him, but two in a row is torture.
His parents know their limits.
I hear the click of the doorknob settling into its groove as I walk over to my youngest son’s room, and find him performing “transformer moves” as my fatigued spouse tries desperately to sheathe him in his summer pajamas. I selfishly want no part of this scene, so I turn and walk into the bathroom to prepare his toothbrush so we can wash away the day’s detritus. I step into the hallway, and then I hear it.
My oldest son is sobbing. Abject, soul-stripping sobs.
I yell to Jeff that Justin is crying, which isn’t exactly the most apt description of what he’s doing but it will have to suffice, and rush back into his room. He picks his head up for a few inches, then lets it fall to the pillow in despair, and I slide into the bed next to him as he sidles up to me for comfort. In an effort to console him I quickly release him from the layers in which we ensconce him for comfort, the fishy throw, the under-the-sea sheet, and the sleeping bag which serves both as cocoon and conductor of warmth in the house we keep frigid, so his mother can conquer her hormones and sleep.
My eyes adjust to the feral darkness we’ve created to elongate his slumber, and I see his tears, those salty microcosms of sadness sliding gracefully down his face. Generally when he cries, which thankfully isn’t often anymore, he buries his face into the nearest trusted adult for comfort, seeking the murmurs and sounds of solace that accompany any embrace. Tonight however, he simply stares at me, eyes locking with mine, imploring.
And I know in my heart if he could talk, he’d say “Mommy, fix it.”
Justin and I have always had a special connection, a conduit into each other’s minds that has allowed us to understand one another even without the ease of the spoken word. I can clearly remember panicking a week or so after his diagnosis when it finally hit me that he might never talk, might not even manage a form of communication intelligible to most individuals in the “typical” world. I recall wondering not only how he would ever get his needs met, but worrying that at some point the facility with which I’ve been able to understand what he requires might disappear, leaving an angry, frustrated boy in its wake. Fortunately, this scenario has never taken place. When his PECS photos, his Springboard, and even his iPad have not sufficed, in general I’ve simply known what he needed. It is a gift for which I remain eternally grateful.
Except, tonight this gift has failed him, for I have no idea why my son is heart-broken, and no idea how to make the demons disappear.
If I have to take a stab at the origin of these plaintive cries I’m guessing it’s due to the fact that we’re hovering in hiatus. He’s taken to staring at that photo of his teacher gracing his nightstand a little longer that usual these days, and perhaps he’s missing her. I show him pictures of his school frequently and perform a daily calendar countdown to reassure him of his return, but I’m never certain of how much information gets through to him, and I still can’t ask him. He could be getting ill, but I can’t question him about his tummy or his head, can only brush his skin to search for fever. I realize his despair may be linked to something as simple as the complete disruption of his coveted routine, but I can’t query him about his possible lack-of-ritual angst, can only reassure him that life will return to normal soon.
My son is eight years old, and I still can’t ask him how Mommy can make it better.
I know this will be one of those moments that rips away my elation of how much progress he’s made, and slams me mercilessly against the big picture, the truth of how vulnerable he’ll always be in our world. It’s not an orphan moment. I dwell there any time an innocent comment is made about his future, his appearance, his intellect, or his attraction to pretty girls. There will be limits to this child’s life. I’ve discovered that since he dwells predominantly in a joyous landscape that I sometimes forget these barriers, am enmeshed safely in our “new normal”, able to forget autism’s confines.
But right now, the silence that surfaces when the sobbing’s concluded is a giant hand on my shoulder spinning me around, mercilessly forcing me to face reality.
And tonight I hate it, loathe that I can’t discuss my son’s sadness, construct a plan, pinpoint his fears, and banish them. Instead, all I can present him with is the solid weight of my arms wrapped around him. I can give him the tip of my forefinger, which will trace his forehead and the bridge of his nose in a tradition that has always elicited the sanctuary of slumber, even in his most agitated form. I can offer him these things, and I will.
But tonight, for me, it’s simply not enough.
July 13, 2011
This week’s Gratitude Attitude goes out to my mom, Aunt Jennifer, and Aunt Lorie, for taking care of my boys so their parents could make it down to DC for a dear friend’s nuptials. It was a wonderful wedding, and a special set of thanks goes out to the bride and groom and their families for such a great weekend. Thanks so much!
July 11, 2011
Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Just kidding.
This past weekend I had the honor of being chosen to participate in the wedding of a dear friend from DC, a friendship neither diminished by our five years apart since my relocation to Jersey, nor the two hundred miles of interstate that now geographically separates us. I was thrilled to be asked, and since it’s pretty clear my life is complicated, this says a great deal about the woman requesting my presence. I began six months ago to pull off the seventy-two hours of coverage required to keep both kids alive and happy, and due to the generosity of friends and family, we accomplished our goal. All went well, and my boys were thrilled to revel in the constant attention usually paid to them when their parents are out of the house. Jeff and I were equally ecstatic about the opportunity to sleep past 5:00, as well as the opportunity to string two consecutive sentences together without interruption.
Clearly, the weekend was a win-win for all.
I admit, on Sunday, when the cobwebs cleared a little and we were headed once again toward the duties of parenthood, I felt this post clamoring violently for attention in my brain on the long ride home. I took some notes as Jeff thankfully drove, and I struggled to retain my thoughts long enough to set them irreparably in ink. I find my little vignettes sometimes have a theme to them, and I also find that frequently the one I conclude with is not the one I had in my head when I began. To be honest, that could be in part because by the time I’ve finished I’ve often forgotten what I had in mind when I started. More often however, it’s just that my writing frequently takes uncharted twists and turns, and is yet one more thing I seem to have very little control over.
Much like everything else in my life.
I could tell you this post is going to be about unions and families, and in part that would be true. Despite our closeness, the first time I met the future husband of my friend was at the church prior to the rehearsal. We had a moment of rushed introduction where it was clear we knew a great deal about one another, a meeting of the minds which resulted in all of my hopes for my friend’s future being completely validated. Witnessing the strength of the connection between these two individuals, coupled with the way they complement one another in every aspect of their existence, was bounty enough. Watching the way two families blended together until they appeared one seamless stream of relations was an even further unexpected, and welcome, blessing as well.
Trust me, the proof is in the reception footage.
I could share with you that this post is about teachers (shouldn’t every post be about teachers), for I was fortunate enough to reconnect with a group of professionals who once comprised what my co-worker aptly describes as the “dream team”. This compilation of educators was ever-changing, never static, but came together during what we think of as the “Camelot years”, which took place under the direction of two different but dynamic principals who in their own unique ways pushed us to their limits. For the most part we were young, as yet unencumbered by our own progeny, and simply fueled by a singular passion to create the greatest educational clime ever. At our facility there were operas created from scratch by ten-to-twelve-year-olds, productions eventually performed on the stage of a local university. We held a school-wide museum that covered every square space of the massive second floor designed to accommodate half of the twelve hundred students who went there, complete with live exhibits and docents. Creativity simply had no limits.
And yes, we’re talking public education here.
I could inform you this post is about acceptance, as I realized that eight years have indeed transpired since I gave birth on that benevolent and prophetic spring day so many years ago. While I was attempting to convince my children that the world was indeed a fun place to reside I’ve put my career on hold, and in the process been eclipsed by many of the professionals I worked with “back in the day”. I was seated with the young woman brave enough to take over my classroom for those last seven weeks of school while I took maternity leave, a lovely individual who is now an assistant principal helping to command an entire school and every classroom within it. The bride herself was my mentee many eons ago, and has recently conquered yet another step in the steep ladder of educational administration herself. Bossing around big people was once my dream too. For a variety of complicated reasons, in all honesty, I can say it is unreachable for me now.
And finally, I can also say I’m at completely at peace with this truth.
Obviously, today’s post is about all of these things, but in the end, it will really be about friendship, about a hard-won and enduring bond. It’s about finding those people in your life who will remain with you no matter how infrequently you call or visit, or how tired you seem when contact is finally made. It’s about a woman without her own children, who nevertheless comprehends the complications and disconnects of this often chaotic life as much as it’s possible to do so. It’s about a foundation built so solidly on shared experience that new friends, careers, and even husbands will never take it down.
Finally, it’s about her generosity of spirit and a limitless compassion I’ve come to depend upon over the years, and know without reservation will thrive with resilience in the years to come.
I’ll close this now with the tag line from my mother’s wedding toast (I’m sure she won’t mind I’ve stolen from my own words), as well as heartfelt wishes for a wonderful honeymoon to be spent in the redolent beauty of Hawaii (good luck in that shark cage).
Karen and Mark, may you live long, love well, and laugh often.
I am completely confident you will.
July 7, 2011
It’s been three weeks since school concluded for my boys. With said finale came one excited child, namely my eldest who understands that this hiatus means trips to our local beach, boardwalks, and playing in our pool. It also brings one bereaved child, who is already mourning the loss of friends having the audacity to move on to kindergarten and leave him behind. There have been twenty-one days of sand and sea, moments such as when Zach declared he was “happy to be me”, joy, despair, and multiple trips to Starbucks by mom. I won’t say their mother enjoyed every minute of it, but it was lovely to have them home, and it will be equally lovely to see them return to their respective classrooms, which gives mommy an opportunity to wend her way back to sanity.
As I mentioned on Facebook the other day, I’m referring to my new best friend, summer school.
I happen to be a “balance girl”. I am grateful for the chance to be home with my kids all these years, but have never felt compelled to spend every minute of their consciousness with them. These particular children crave structure, and I find we all do better, mommy included, when our days are broken up into pieces. For Justin, this means attending the school, (and seeing the teacher), he loves so much. As for Zach, his education is an important part of the schedule, but so is down time with his toys, and an immersion into that coveted world of imaginative play. As far as I’m concerned, a little dark chocolate and at least seventeen consecutive minutes to read a good book are a definite requirement to a fulfilling day, even if those goals are carried out while sitting on a sidewalk waiting for a bus to return.
Yes, I’m still easily pleased.
While none of these crucial “components of happiness” were in evidence over hiatus, I will say I came to two very important realizations. Even though my “me time” had clearly gone on vacation without me, it became evident just a few days into having both kids around the house just how far they’ve come, both in terms of their behaviors, and their emotional states. Justin has displayed great taste in deciding to sleep past 4:00 AM again, and with a full night’s rest his OCD antics have dissipated, and his normally joyful soul has returned in full force.
Once Zach stopped waking up at night sobbing that he missed his friends (it had been only twenty-four hours since the last day of school, his is an exceptionally sensitive soul), he too became excited by the promise of what those empty, schedule-free days had to offer. Once their mom accepted that putting away six folded mounds of laundry and running errands would comprise the entirety of my personal satisfaction for the month, I got into the groove as well. For the most part, things ran smoothly with few hiccups. Our entire household was generally happy. It was as good as it gets here.
I realized it was the very first time I could honestly say summer hiatus was fun.
The second realization I’ve come to is that the years have begun to take their toll, and I am no longer as my dear friend so aptly puts it as “zippy” as I used to be. My kids require a singularity of focus, and at the end of a fifteen hour day in the company of small children, I found myself completely devoid of energy. I used to be able to grab seven hours of sleep and conquer the world, but at the end of these particular days, I found brushing my teeth to be a struggle. I’ve discovered I had to let things go for a while, like abandoning my cuticles and postponing the reading of a number of bloggers I admire. At least with the latter I tried, often propping myself up at the computer after the kids were tucked in, wondering if attempting to read these writers’ work was such a great idea as my vision blurred.
For a short time, I was a very bad, bad, bloggy friend.
It seems my body is telling me to slow down a bit, which isn’t the greatest of timing since I have a four-year-old, but I’m going to give it a try. I live in the moment more (particularly now that the moments are more pleasant), and I’m figuring out how to say “no” to people, which hasn’t been easy for me. I’m attempting to read more, a staple component of my happiness, and perhaps only multi-task three things simultaneously instead of a dozen. Finally, I know that I’m only able to contemplate this shift now because my kids are in a really good place.
Scratch that. Let’s say, in general, they’re in a great place.
I tell people constantly to take care of themselves. Now that the chaos of autism has quieted a bit in our household, it’s time for me to take heed of my own advice. And as my beautiful boys board their buses, I think I hear a lounge chair calling. I’d like it to know I hear it’s siren song, and at least for a short time, I will obey.
And I hope in your own way, you can join me too.