4C, 4 Momma, 4D, 4A, and 4B

4C, 4 Momma, 4D, 4A, and 4B
Most of the Four me (and you) fam

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

Phew! What a whirlwind the past few weeks has been. I am happy to report that Christmas was stellar for my Aspie girl. We finally got things right for her this year. She was calm and peaceful and happy. It was a joy to see! Our boy, on the other hand, was a MESS! So excited, so impatient, and such a handful.

We've decided that it must suck to be the only boy in a family of girls. 4Daddy remembers being the lone boy with two sisters (until his younger brothers were born many years later) and being a young boy very well. His insight has helped me immeasurably; meaning that I'm able to refrain from strangling 4B because I have a window into his world and because I know this, too, shall pass. We're trying a few new things with him that seem to be working. More on that later.

I'm cooking up a few posts for the new year, but progress has been slow with all the kids home, 4B's neediness, and a sick 4D. I'll get to them; I promise.

In years' past, I've rattled off lists of resolutions as long as my arm. Sticking to some but not most. So, I've decided to enter this year of 2012 with just one: take care of myself.

Taking care of myself includes the following things:
  • getting healthy (e.g., cutting out artificial and going natural again, exercising, drinking my water, tackling my anemia),
  • having more fun with my babies (taking time to love being with them and not just caring for them),
  • saying NO a LOT more (I absolutely love, love, LOVE to help and volunteer; that, however, comes at a cost to my family, my nerves, and my sanity; less is going to have to be more, or just less, but less it will be)
  • spending more time with 4Daddy (meaning that we can no longer tolerate being ships passing in the night, nothing but child-wranglers, and just co-parent roommates; we are real autonomous adults, and it's okay for us to act like it!),
  • working harder and smarter at making my children independent so that I'm not so needed and harried and maid-y and waitress-y and grumpy,
  • saying yes to and accepting more help (there are others out there, believe it or not, who know how and are willing to write social stories and create behavioral supports for 4A, to help 4B be a boy and burn off his boy energy, to listen to and enjoy 4C's constant enthusiasm, and to wrangle and wipe 4D; imagine that!; I can say yes when they offer, and I can even....gasp!....ask for it when I need it!), and
  • increasing my spiritual life (this is a subject for a later post).

Taking care of myself does not include the following things:

  • trying to make people happy (my children, my friends, my parents, my spouse, those I volunteer with),
  • taking care of others when they could do it themselves (honestly, it is easier and less of a hassle for me to shake up and hang the damn wet towel that's on the bedroom floor, but all four of my children have working arms and legs; I AM NOT A MAID!),
  • giving up what I need for the sake of someone else's happiness (now, this doesn't mean that I can't put others before myself; I still intend on doing that, BUT I have needs, too, and if they aren't met, I don't have anything left to give anybody else. As my dear friend, Ms. Paula told me, "Everyone's making withdrawals, Hollie. Who's making deposits?"), and
  • saying yes when I really mean no (no, actually, I don't feel like wiping your ass because you're 8 and you have to do it yourself; no, I don't feel like going to that PTA meeting because I'd rather watch a movie with my husband; no, I don't want to help you find the DSi stylus because it's not mine and I didn't use it last; no, I really don't want to put together another event or craft or activity because I'm tapped out--more on this in the new year, I promise!.)

2011 has been a wonderful year, full of all the things life should be about: love, loss, illness, health, fun, drudgery, family togetherness, sadness, bliss, and TIME! 2012 will hold, I pray, even more of that, for me and you, I hope. I determine to get better at being me and enjoying the time that I have, using it more wisely and being more grateful for it in each moment of my days.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas present

In the past four weeks, we have had two bouts of strep (both in the same child), two sinus infections, three allergy-induced sinus messes from what will sadly be our last live tree, and four bouts of a nasty GI bug (and something tells me there will shortly be two more).

4A, while she's fared better this December than in years' past, has struggled. While the move to her new reading group was necessary (even though she was entitled via her IEP to the supports she is now getting, but that's a long, telling post for the new year) and has been smooth, it was a change...in her hardest month of the year. These things together have amounted to lots of behavioral tickets, a blue slip in special (the equivalent of several behavior tickets in one class period), LOTS of missed or forgotten assignments, and several half-assed projects. This, consequently, has meant lots of over-corrections and negative reinforcements at home.

And, whilst all this, we've baked and made and bought and wrapped and sang and delivered and performed and decorated and cooked and made merry.

Phew!

But, this has positively been the best Christmas season I have had in my almost 9 years as a mom. Hands-down the most enjoyable, easy, calmest, and FUN season ever!

I'm not being sarcastic (for once, right?). Lest you think I'm crazy, allow me to explain.

4A has weathered the holiday storm the best she ever has. Here's why. First, she has the SAME teacher ALL day. The behavioral plan is solidly consistent across her entire day at school and at home. How an Aspie thrives on consistency!

Second, we have been adding lots of extra reinforcement when she does things the "right" way because doing so this time of year is even harder than usual for her. We've been HEAPING on the pebbles for good behavior and solid effort. In fact, while it often takes her months to fill her jar (she has the chance to earn three every day: one for no tickets at school, one for recording her assignments, one for bringing materials home), she has overflowed that thing twice this month. TWICE! The movie date with her bestie and the ice cream sundaes we had for supper were SOOO worth the calm she's showing. She is positively basking in the glow of her hard work and good choices.


Finally, I also had the stroke of genius to pay $3.99 to send myself (her) a custom text message from Santa last weekend to put her mind at ease: she is, in fact, on his good list. With that question answered, she's been much calmer and even. She knows. She doesn't have to wonder or worry. She has her black and white answer. Shades of grey she can not do. In her letter to Santa earlier this month, she asked, "I just need to know...am I on the good list?"

So 4A and autism aside, remember how I told you that I had been busting my ass since Halloween to get the to-dos done so that I could ENJOY? I made a firm pact with myself to be done shopping by 12/25 and done with EVERYTHING by 12/22. You thought I was insane. Be honest. It's okay.

Well, illness notwithstanding (both theirs and mine), I am happy to report that I am officially done with all shopping, wrapping, baking, project-ing, gifting, donating, EVERYTHING as of 12/14. Anything from here on in is just gravy. While it was a lot of work over a long time, it was sooooo worth it. This week alone, I have, even in my fever and barf induced state, played not one but three games of Candyland, 1 game of Trouble, and made a batch of cookies just because 4C felt like it. It feels wonderful. So wonderful!

I also had the wonderful gift of having my eyes opened to an unbearable, unspeakable, unconscionable secret. I have learned that certain babies, primarily those born with Down's Syndrome, in Eastern Europe, are so culturally shameful that they are disposable. Not in the "get rid of them before they're born" way but in the "tie them to a crib and feed them only twice a day so they don't grow or thrive, change their diaper only once a day, don't touch them" way. I think I probably always knew that this was happening, but I honestly either didn't really grasp it or really realize the shocking depth of the practice. If you didn't know this was happening or if you did and it hasn't kept you up at night, you need to learn about Katie's amazing journey to love.

My edification in this regard has drastically changed my life. Two-fold. First, my family and I will never, ever stop helping to bring these amazing babies to homes of LOVE. Stay tuned for more on this. Second, Katie and her brethren have opened my eyes to a big shortcoming in my life.

I am a good mom. And, by good, I mean that I meet my children's needs each day a best as I'm capable. I am the only mother that my children have, and I'm doing the best I can in each moment.

But, the Katies of the world have led me to realize that I'm not really loving my children. Please don't misunderstand. I care for them...immeasurably.

I feed them, cook for them, shop for them, and try to balance their diets. I take them to the doctors and dentist. I clothe and shoe them. I reinforce their good behaviors and stay consistent in reducing their poor behavior choices. I live for them by example. I ground them when they need it. I read to them. I hold their hands when they cross the street. I hug them. I participate in their beloved activities.

I clean: them, their house, their clothes.

I mend: clothes, toys, boo-boos, hearts.

I apply: band-aids, lotion, medicines.

I shuttle: them, their friends, their stuff.

I help: with homework, with arguments, with turning on the faucet, with getting on boots and coats.

I teach....Good Lord do I teach: how to be a good friend, clean up after oneself, solve one's own problems, be a good listener, how the world outside our house works, how fortunate we are, how good it feels to help someone else, that life is hard, who God is.

I remind...a LOT...use good manners, honor what your sibling says, pick up your coat, brush the back of your teeth too, remember to only use swear words in your room, don't eat your boogers (or at least not while someone's watching), turn off the light when you leave the room, put the toilet seat down when you're done, do what your teacher says even if you dont feel like it, gossip hurts, tell the truth, take your vitamin, everyone gets to make his/her own choices, your body is yours and you don't have to share it, write a thank you note, throw your garbage in the trash and not on the floor, I am not a waitress or a maid, be the kind of person you want to be, you can do anything you set your mind to, say you're sorry, always ask first.

I encourage: be tolerant of others differences; even better, accept others differences and love them any way; ask the new kid to play; save up for what you really want; relationships with siblings and cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles are the gold of life; good friends matter most; your time is more important than your money; if you see a hurt in the world, you can fix it; if you can't figure out how to fix it, help any way.

I wipe: noses, mouths, and asses (Good Lord! I wipe a LOT of asses).

And, I don't have to tell you that this list never ends. You know because you're out there toiling in the trenches, too.

But, what Katie helped me realize is that I don't necessarily remember to love them just for the sake of loving them. I suppose this is an inverse corollary of that ANNOYING, constantly-repeated-by-every-old-lady-in-the-grocery-store adage that it really does go by in the blink of an eye. People keep assuring me that I really will miss the incessant neediness; I suppose I ought to start listening.

It's not that I don't know that, but I admit to very real and vivid longings for time to myself. Time to do what I want when I want to do it. Time to eat what I want to eat because I feel like it (and, in this dream, of course, there's no bitching about what's on my plate, and I actually sit down while I eat it and I enjoy it). Time to poop and wipe my own ass without someone sitting on the stool next to me and trying to wipe my butt...always the helper, that wonderful 4D.

I love them, of course. But, I'm tired. I chose it. I wanted it. I love it. I'm happy. But, it's a lot of work, and it makes me tired. Sometimes, to be really honest, it even makes me resentful. I am an autonomous being, damnit!

Katie reminded me how obnoxious and selfish I am. I have been given the amazing gift of these beautifully whole babies, whom I received on my own without help, at a time in my life when I had a partner and family to support me in their care, in a country full of resources and wealth, into a relationship that allows me the luxury of caring for them on my own without hired help.

It's really not about me. It's about them. I can get so caught up in caring and tending and mending and reminding and encouraging and wiping and feeding that I forget to love. Not that I forget to love them because I do...I really do. But, I forget to love being with them. To stop what I'm doing and play that game of Candyland. To take my mind off my to-do list and listen (again) to how cool that Lego kit on page 26 of the catalog is. To put aside how badly I want/need quiet and spell, letter by letter, for the 761st time, "You are invited to my slumber birthday party." To be happy that I have someone to pull me off toilet paper a sheet at a time when I'm trying to finish in the bathroom.

This is, without a doubt, the best time of my life. I feel it. All the old ladies in the grocery store remind me of it. It's time to start enjoying it.

I have one new year's resolution. That's it. Enjoy this needy, busy, loud, constant, wonderful craziness that is my life now. Today really is the PRESENT.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday helpers, an addendum

Aaaaaahhhhhhh! Christmas season with an Aspie. It looks like this.

Behavior tickets daily for a straight eight days, two missed homework assignments (with corresponding loss of pebbles and overcorrections), and a blue slip in music.

Why, you ask?

A few reasons. First, she feels the excitement and anticipation that every one else feels and doesn't know how to manage it. Second, she has terrible anxiety about whether or not she's been "good," despite my constant reassurances that she is always "good" even if she sometimes makes poor choices. I just scheduled a custom text message for Saturday so that Santa can assure her directly that she actually is on his good list this year. Third, school makes her nuts this time of year. Everyone's wound up or worn out. Teachers allow a certain level of frenzy that is somewhat greater than the average off-season frenzy because the know the children are SO excited. That was my FAVORITE thing about school at Christmastime as a kid; yours, too, I bet. Watch a filmstrip instead of do a worksheet? You bet! (Did I just date myself?) The teachers let the frenzy go for awhile and then rein it in with a class "I know we're all excited, but we still have work to do" "chat." That settles neurotypical kids down. Not an Aspie. An Aspie knows that s/he got away with the frenzy before said "chat" so s/he believes that frenzy is still permissible as it was prior-"chat" and is now confused as to why frenzy is no longer permissible.

Such fun!

This year, I am actually having fun, I must say. I did a LOT of planning and work months ago to allow myself the freedom to enjoy the season this year. Moreover, now that she's with a teacher for the ENTIRE day who gets autism and all things 4A, I can relax and know that we're on behaviorally solid and consistent ground. So, firm at school, firm here, I know we aren't making a mess that we will have to clean up post-holiday. Instead, we can just keep toeing the line and know that this will calm come January.

And, I think she will do much better on Christmas day itself this year. She's been handling the advent countdown activity each day beautifully, even though it's unpredictable, with a new fun to-do each day (how the neurotypicals in this house love that surprise each day!). I have worked really hard, following the lessons that I learned last year, to make Christmas morning drama and tear free. So, we've been hangin' tough over here.

Not going so smooth over there for you? Here are a few more holiday helpers to the rescue, both for those living with and without autism.

Holiday helpers for those of you living with ASD or other differences/challenges

(1) A list of helpful hints to get through the holidays from the Autism Society

(2) A social story about handling the holiday break that you can purchase and customize from Sandbox Learning

(3) Holiday tips for families living with different/special needs

Holiday helpers for everyone

(a) Take a lights tour and picnic around town
This makes a weekly appearance in our advent activity countdown; we've been doing it for years. The kids LOVE it! We do an around-town lights tour in our jammies. Sometimes we get drive-thru supper to eat while we gander. Sometimes we just take popcorn. Sometimes we get a drive-thru ice cream cone. On nights that we do this, we do showers and baths right off the bus, getting right into jammies. We wrap up homework and supper (if we aren't getting drive-thru) by 5pm with an ETD of 5:30 pm. We pick a different neighborhood or two each time, and we always vote for our favorite, doing one last drive-by of the best of the night before heading home around 6:30. This makes for a super fun night for them and a super easy evening for me. That, friends, is what we call in the mommy biz a "win-win."

(b) Have a tree-side picnic
We always have a picnic by tree-light on the evening of the day that we've decorated our tree. They love this so much that it's now a weekly December activity. We usually order in pizza or make our own brown bag lunches. Showers, homework, and jammies are accomplished before supper, and we then dine tree-side with only the light from the tree to guide us. 4Daddy and I have been known to ship them in there and have a date night by ourselves in the kitchen while they're dining in the living room. To eat a meal in relative peace and quiet; it's delicious in more ways than one--try it and see.

(c) More homemade gift ideas
Here are a few more that we've done this year, in case you still need ideas. Can't post pics, sorry, because they're hidden, awaiting wrapping paper on 12/22, which is the day in our advent activity countdown that the kids are scheduled to wrap their gifts to each other.

Make a sock puppet for a sibling. This was entirely 4B's idea. He picked the sock out of the lost pile, picked the buttons and felt and yarn, and he even helped with the hand sewing. 4C is going to squeal with delight at this one!

Make and bling a figurine. 4C was desperate to make a snowman for 4A this year, for some reason. I think it really came down to her intense yearning to pillage the yard for sticks in her jammies and slippers, actually. Model Magic works a million times better for little hands than Sculpey or clay. You can paint the dried product (after two or three days of drying) with poster paint or acrylics; we've even used Sharpies. You can make air-dry clay, too; just Google.

Bling her/his initial. We stalked a paper mache over-sized first letter of 4D's name. 4C painted it with acrylic paint and doused with glitter. A LOT of glitter. Glitter makes everything cooler for that kidl

(d) Write letters to Santa on custom-made stationery
Another one of our advent countdown activities is writing a letter to Santa. The kids design custom writing paper here. Free and fun.

(e) Make a holiday trail mix
Yet another advent countdown activity fav is the making of a weekly holiday trail mix to use in our bagged lunches or for happy hour (aka off-the-bus snack; sans booze, unfortunately). A popcorn/pretzel/cereal combo always makes the best trail mix base, but I buy holiday marshmallows, crap cereal that I would never otherwise bring into this house, red and green M&Ms, etc. Each kid adds one cup of her/his fav to the underlying popcorn/pretzel/Crispix base, and we've got Easy Street snacks and lunches for the week. I scheduled this one for our busiest night of the week because it's fast and easy.

(f) Still shopping? Link up through Autism Speaks portal and give the gift of autism advocacy while you shop.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Update on reading

This is gonna be quick and dirty, friends. Sorry! Short on time and sleep, long on sick kids and to-dos...more is coming in this regard, so please stay tuned.

In the meantime, I didn't want to leave you hanging out there in cyberspace.

4A, as I last reported, moved from the highest level reading group to the lowest. She has been in her new group for one solid week. She is doing BEAUTIFULLY!! She is responding wonderfully to the explicit scaffolding and framing of inferential thinking that takes place there. She is interacting appropriately with her peers.

The most importantly glorious part is that she's HAPPY!!! She comes home much happier each day and rarely shows opposition about homework. We have more compliance and less drama.

It's a great, great thing. The brilliant Dr. Steve, OF COURSE, was absolutely right. 4A will always, ALWAYS do best when she has strong behavioral support from a teacher who "gets" her.

I promise to chat with you later about this in more detail, but for now, just know that she's doing great!

And, of course, 'tis the season. I'm thinking of rewriting the ever-popular 12 Days to go something like this..."In the first week of December, my Aspie gave to me: 10 overcorrected lost pebbles, 5 behavioral tickets, 2 missed homework assignments, 2 notes home from teachers, and a blue slip in her folder." AAHHH! The joys of an Aspie in this anticipatory season of mayhem.

More soon....

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday helpers

Two words. Rum. Wine.

Just kidding! (Not entirely.)

So I was chatting all things merry last night with a fellow mom while 4C practiced for her choir Christmas pageant. She's the camel in the play, by the way, and she is outright ADORABLE in the role. Her elder sister told her that camels don't make noises like other animals but that they do spit. 4C's eyes got as big as saucers. So, you know my ass is gonna be frantically Googling to figure out what noises camels do actually make lest we have a spitting camel in our pageant.

In any event, this mom was asking about shopping for cherubs, keeping items hidden, keeping piles even. In sharing with her, I happened to say something about my shopping and it's completeness. She says, "You're done? Before Christmas? And you have four kids to buy for? I AM impressed!"

Oh my. Please don't be impressed. Please do pray for me and my children that we all make it to the jolly day breathing and that my local liquor store doesn't run out of the aforementioned holiday helpers.

But, this exchange got me to thinking. In many conversations with other moms this year and in year's past and in what I read on the loved/hated FB, I realize how intense this time of year is for my brethren in mommy land.

Whatever are we to do about it? As I've said before, you're already trying to cram 90 pounds of shit into a 10 pound day, and now you have to add all this holiday prep into that somewhere AND be calm and happy and cheerful? Right.

I feel like that crazy '80s "Stop the Insanity!!" lady with the ultra white, ultra short hair. I have put my foot down this year, damn it.

The key, really, is prioritizing. Not the propaganda holiday prioritizing that all of the "helpful" magazines and websites recommend, but the real and honest one that you do for yourself that is separate from what you think your family, in-laws, or society expects of you as a mother. This is about YOU, not them. This is about what YOU want, like, and need for your family. So, if the perfectly matching holiday sweater photo is something you can't live without, then you'll have that. Who cares what anyone else says you should or shouldn't have? They don't have to live with you. You do.

(Pssst! I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Ssssh! Don't tell. Christmas is fun for NT kids no matter what you bake or make or buy or do. They really don't care. They just want you to enjoy it with them.)

Priorities

I sat down with my harried ass in July and pondered the years' prior. Taking the time to figure out what I liked, what I hated, what I wanted, and what I didn't need really helped me set my priorities. Need help with that? Click here.

So, here's what I came up with. I patently refuse to be a bitch this year. Refuse. I am going to enjoy this holiday season. My poor mother has invited me to a holiday home tour for FOUR years in a row. And, damn it, I will go this year. I have wanted to do a big 500 count puzzle over the month of December with my besties for two years. And, this year, damn it, I will. I have burnt the midnight oil each year and ended up sick on Christmas. This year, damn it, I will not. I hate to shop. HATE to shop (unless I have a list of less than 3 items, know exactly where they are in the store I'm visiting, go when there is no crowd, and go sans cherubs--right. In what universe does that happen?!). I need sleep to stay happy. I hate missing out on all the cuddling and "lamping" and fun with my family on 12/23 and 12/24.

That was my list. Yours, of course, will look different because you, thankfully, are you, wonderful YOU! Remember when you make this list that is about YOU and what YOU want. Never ever entertain what someone else wants when you make yourself this list. Those things aren't relevant.

Reality
Okay. So there's all those things you want to do. We've eliminated the shit that you should do or the shit that so-and-so thinks you should do. We've got left, if we did it right, just exactly what YOU want to do. Now, how do you make that happen?

My priority list up there sounds dreamy, huh? How in the hell can I make that happen with MIA 4Daddy, strep in 4B that won't relent, only 24 hours in my day, and all the other myriad of things going on in my life?

Now, I've got that killer list of holiday bliss on MY terms for ME. But, I also have the following realistic limitations: autism and 4Daddy's job. The first requires a Herculean amount of patience and planning on my part to keep the days leading up to the holiday and the holiday itself the same as any other day. It's a backwards and bizarre feat, but it's the most important part of our family's holiday prep. The latter goes like this. November and December, God help us, are the busiest of 4Daddy's work year. Every year, 4Daddy says he'll be home more during the season. Every year, he says he wants to help. Guess what, friends? Every year, every single solitary merry year, I'm disappointed.

I gave myself an early gift this year. I factored 4Daddy and his "help" entirely out of my holiday prep equation. Gone. Soy solamente (if I have my Spanglish correct). That, in and of itself, has made my life MUCH more manageable.

Having set those priorities that I did above and having been really honest about the level of help available, I next set a few non-negotiable deadlines that reflect my priorities. I have made the following binding agreements with myself. They are non-negotiable. (a) I will not step foot in a store (save grocery runs for bread and milk) after 12/15. (b) I will be in bed every single night this month at 9:30. No exceptions. (c) Christmas deadline set at 12/22. Thereafter, I will do nothing but be still and enjoy my family. Nothing.

To make that shopping deadline a reality, here's what I did. I broke my ASS between Halloween and Thanksgiving. I made two big trips...one to Target and one to TRU. If they didn't have it and I needed it, I didn't drive my ass all over town to find it; I ordered that shit online. Done. Now, I've dabbled in Black Friday before. I've stalked flyers to get the best deal. Here's what happened when I did those things. I was a stressed out MANIAC! I was harried and overwhelmed and tired. I do not like to shop, and I usually have one or more cherubs in my presence when I do have to shop. Why am I going to make myself nuts to save $20? My sanity is worth every penny of that $20, friend. So is yours. But, again, this is MY Christmas. Yours will look different.

Anything that wasn't available at Target, my fav grocery, TRU, or online with free shipping is simply not being gifted by me this year. Serious. I will not run my ass all over town; I will make do with something else that is easier for me to find.

The latter two deadlines (non-negoitable bedtime for myself and non-negoitiable holiday prep finale) were trickier. To make those a reality, I made myself a time budget. I'm dead serious.

I figured out exactly how much time the single need (gifts for the kiddos) and major "wants" on my priority list were gonna take. To the minute. So, if it takes about 5 minutes to wrap a gift (find it, wrap it, rehide it), then I multiplied 5 x the number of gifts I need to wrap, and came up with the amount of time needed. You laugh. Go ahead. It's MY Christmas, remember?! Having figured that out, I plugged those hours into my calendar. An hour here, another there. Filled all of that in.

That being done, I now know how much time is left over for the "wants" on my list. To figure out how much time that actually is, I figured out how much child-free, non-chore time I have available in a week. It's a measily 8 hours, but those are MY 8 hours. So, I started plugging things in to those 8 hours. When I ran out of time on my calendar, I went back and reassessed, dropping stuff off (even though I REALLY wanted to do it) and plugging back in until it all fit.

More helpers
There were a few other GENIUS things I came up with this year, and I list them here in case they help you.

(1) Figure out how much fits in the stockings BEFORE Christmas Eve
Here's a novel idea....instead of waiting until Christmas Eve to see what fits in the stockings, I filled those babies up as I shopped! Hid them in an opaque Rubbermaid tub, plopped items in as I bought them, stopped when it was full. Then, I removed all the gifts, packed the stocking back away for decorating day, and now I know I know that I have enough to fill each one.

(2) Don't cook dinner
Eeeewwww. I hate doing it. I have to do it. Those damn kids keep asking for food! I very much dis-enjoy making a meal with a toddler attached to my leg while a preschooler screams that she needs me to wipe her butt while a third grader keeps trying to bail on homework while a first grader runs his trains at max volume. Not fun. So, I have taken to cooking not when they want me to but when it is convenient for me to do so.

How? Consolidating prep. Making more than I need for right now and freezing the rest for later. If you need specific ideas or inspiration, click here.

I spent most of October and early November stocking my freezer for the month of December. I look at it like this. It is easier for me to cook when kids aren't around. If I'm going to go through the effort of making waffles for supper, why on earth would I do that four different times if I could just do it once? So, on the first night that waffles were scheduled for supper, I made a quadruple batch and froze the extra. Now, I can pull those bad boys out and pop them in the toaster for supper on 12/20 when I'm starting to come unglued about wrapping the remaining gifts and keeping 4B from bouncing off the walls with excitement.

So, now, in the month of December, I have very little cooking to actually do. I can use that time I otherwise would've spent cooking doing more fun stuff with the cherubs.

(3) Ship early
I set a goal of 12/1 for getting out-of-town gifts out the door. I wrapped them as I bought them. I set an hour on my calendar on 11/27 for packing, printing postage labels, and scheduling carrier pick up. Dumped those bad boys on my porch on 11/29, along with the mail carrier's card and holiday gift of chocolates, and crossed both things off my list, thank you very much.

For perishables that are being delivered, I ordered those things in early November and set delivery for mid-December. DUH?! Why the shit was I waiting until December to order that stuff?

(4) Cards
Ixnay on the ardscay. No way. A few years back, I figured out that someone paid for power to manufacture those cards and oil to ship them to my local store. I used gas to go to my local store and buy them. Mailman used gas to deliver my stamps for those cards and then pick them up from me and drive them back to my post office. Then, a bunch of gas and fuel was expended to drive, boat, and fly those cards to your post office. Then, even more gas was spent to deliver them to your mailboxes. You opened it, said "Look how big the kids have gotten!," and filed it in your recycling bin. What an enormous waste of resources, wouldn't you say?

So, we started doing a Smilebox card. I love doing it, and folks seem to really enjoy hearing more about the kids and seeing more pictures. I schedule an hour on my calendar in early November to gather photos for it and pick a template. I schedule another hour or two in mid-November to make a draft, and then I schedule another hour of time in mid-Decemeber to send. The first year was the biggest time sucker because I had to add in all of the email addresses, but now it's a piece of cake.

And, no non-renewable resources are harmed in its production! ;)

(5) Baking
I only make two kinds of cookies at the holidays while the kids are little. 4Daddy's favorite from childhood and mine. Would I like to make more? Absolutely. And, some day I will, but for now, I want more down time to enjoy my babies. Both kinds are easy for the kids to help with, too.

I do this in thirds. Step one, blocked out on my calendar in early November, is measuring and bagging all dry ingredients. So, dry ingredients for cookie A go in one gallon ziplock bag, and dry ingredients for cookie B go in another. (I also, this year, had about SIXTY dozen cookies, yes, you read that correctly, to make to fill orders from our autism bake sale, so I did the same with these; and, yes, I am insane, and no, I will not be taking Christmas cookie orders at next year's sale, thank you.)

Next step is making the dough. Block that in the calendar, too. Put wet ingredients in bowl. Open ziplock of dry ingredients. Dump. Mix.

Another block is made later in that week for baking them. I do this in the last week of November, and I freeze the cookies, pulling out a couple of dozen each week for snacks and lunches. Three words. Deli. Waxed. Paper. Invest in it, my friend. It'll change your life.

4A also really enjoys decorating some cut out cookies, so I measure, mix, bake, and freeze those ahead, too, so that on decorating day, we just have to sit down and have fun. No hagged out momma on that day=happier momma, happier 4A, happier household.

(6) Streamline and simplify gifts
The kids, between them this year, have a ridiculous 20+ teachers (classroom, reading, Sunday school, and extra-cirriculars). In our family, teachers are the most important group of folks that we gift (save those in need). The kids, learning as they are to get into the practice of giving 'fore receiving, want to give to these most important folks in their lives. In year's past, I did a lot of customizing for each teacher. Now that three of them are in school of some sort, that has become a headache of epic proportions.

Going with the theory that it's the thought that counts, we have elected this year to make a gargantuan batch of one of our fav goodies, assembly-line package said goody uniformly, and customize thoughtful tags and a gift card to a fav store. It's gonna be a one-and-done for us, which will allow us more time for togetherness and fun! And, of course, the packaging has already been purchased, we've blocked the goody making on our calendar, and we've scheduled delivery on our calendar, too. And, since we're already buying the supplies for this goody, we'll make some for ourselves and that's also what our neighbors and my Girl Scout troop will receive. Why reinvent the wheel?

(6) Intentional fun/traditions
I use an advent calendar each year to make sure that I get to the things that we actually want to do. This year, I did little envelopes with slips of paper. Because it is a drag for me to referree endless bickering about who's turn it is to open which envelope, I have marked the envelopes with the cherubs' names. No fights, no drama, just fun.

To schedule these out, I made my wish list of activities in early November, sat down with our weekly activity calendar and the local activities calendar and the school calendar, and mapped everything put. I kept a list so that if we get to a day where the activity planned just won't work, I can swap it out the night before. Oh yes, I have spare envelopes, and I'm not afraid to use them. Ask me how I know that I need them.

Unfortunately, I had made mine before I found this easy and free one online. Click here.

(7) Less is more, flex on the fly
This is the biggie. Suppose I have goody A in mind to make for a neighbor. Suppose I have gift X in mind to by for a recipient. Suppose I have meal 3 planned for next week. Someone gets sick. I'm tired. Something comes up. I run out of time. I will not stay up all hours to get it done. I will not drive to three stores to find it or waste two hours of my time hunting for it online. I will, however, come up with something else. May not be as great as what I planned, but it'll do. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will come at the price of my sanity this year. Nothing. So, if that means that I planned to make gingerbread to deliver to my neighbor, but on the night I was scheduled to make it I decide that it'd be more fun to play an extra game of Trouble with 4B and lay in bed cuddling and reading Christmas books with 4C after lights out, then that neighbor is getting a dozen donuts, which were purchased at the drive thru twenty minutes prior to delivery by one of my cherubs the next morning. Oh, I'll put a bow on the box with a nice card, but that's where my crazy ends, friends.

(8) Decorations
Three lifesavers here. Package away your ornaments this year by child. In our house, each kid has a collection of ornaments that s/he has received as gifts over the years. I pack away each child's collection in a shoebox with her/his name on it. I also divide up the non-breakable family ornaments amongst their boxes. So, when we go to decorate the tree the next year, we have not an ounce of drama over who puts which ornaments on. There's no waiting for Mom to tell them which belong to whom. We are ready to roll from moment one.

Decorate only a spot or two. I think this one was born of necessity since we live with an Aspie, but we only decorate 4 spots in our house: our mantle, our bathroom counter and mirror, the shelf behind our sink, and our front door. That's it. If it doesn't fit in one of those four spots, it ain't gettin' put out. Period. Some day, I'll have a fabulously decorated and clean house. Certainly not now with 4 cherubs in my mist. And, then again, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll grow to love it this way, all simple and easy.

Organize your junk before the kids help. This was a LIFESAVER for me this year. We schedule a 1/2 day for decorating our four spots. When that morning comes, it's usually a chaotic frenzy of "I want to _____," hands digging into bins before I'm ready, and general mayhem. There's a lot of waiting, a lot of complaining, and a lot of stress (for me). So, this year, I blocked an hour on my calendar in early November to go through the decorations and group them for the big 3 to put out. I assigned each kid their items to put out, and I made a list so that I can change it up next year. When I put the stuff away last year, I packed it as it fit and NOT as it would be put out. So, each of the three tubs is a jumble of stuff. This year, thanks to that GENIUS power hour, I had three bags, one for each of the eldest cherubs. They knew what was theirs to put out, it was ready for them when they were, and I got to sit back and watch them enjoy. I'll be damned if it wasn't quieter, more fun, and less time-consuming.

What this really all boils down to, I hope, is that YOU get to put YOUrself in control of what YOU want this year. Don't let someone else decide for you. Don't let your time get away from you. It's YOUR time. YOU know how much YOU have. YOU get to decide how YOU want to spend it.

And, I wish YOU quiet and peace as YOU make merry for YOUR family, in whatever form that merriness has meaning for YOU.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful

This Thanksgiving is like a bucket list for me, except that my bucket list (save one item, really, maybe two) is complete. On the eve of Thanksgiving, I am humbled at the peace and happiness in my life.

Without further ado, I give you the following, divinely inspired, list.

I am thankful for my health, 4Daddy's health, and the health of my children. Because we are healthy, we are able to live (and hopefully enjoy) what life brings us. How I LOVE Ronald McDonald House and the service they provide to care and comfort families who aren't so lucky. While no such service exists for families of sick parents, I am gratefully privileged to have the place in my life to support and care for a sick friend and her family. I am thankful that my children, this past year and for a few years prior, had the great privilege of knowing, praying for, and caring for by mail, a brave soul who fought cancer with umph and grace.

I am thankful for 4Daddy and his willingness to let me be me. I am thankful for his support and patience and love, even when I'm not confident that I'm entitled to it. He puts up with a LOT of shit, that guy, and I'm grateful. I am wonderfully lucky to have someone by my side as I duke it out with this life. I have a dear law school friend who is not so lucky; her husband died suddenly and unexpectedly a few years back, and I have had the great privilege of helping her move through her grief to parenting solo. I have learned strength and courage from her, and I am grateful to her for sharing her journey with me. And, plenty of folks out there have partners who are absent because of service, by choice, or by illness or addiction. Some suffer at the hands of intimate violence. I am thankful that my marriage is one of safety, support, and collaboration. I am thankful that society has selected to honor my choice in a mate, but I am prayerful that some day everyone's choice will be accepted.

I am thankful for 4Daddy's job and his willingness to do it, considering the cost for him in terms of sleep, commute, and sanity. It not only feeds and clothes and houses and keeps us, but it allows my besties and I to have the amazing gift of spending their early years together. We have enough for all of our needs and some of our wants. We don't have to worry about our next meal, our next night's sleep, or staying warm. Instead, we have the privilege of helping others find and have those things.

I am thankful for my beautiful, healthy babies. They are smart and kind and loving. It is an unspeakable pleasure to spend each day in their presence (even when they're irritating me with incessant neediness or squabbles or deaf ears).

My 4D, happy and cuddly and hot shot soul that she is, has completed our family and brought such love and empathy into my children's lives. How I love her "ughs" (hugs), belly-out walk, and desire to model all that the biggers in her life do.

Everyone should be as enthusiastic each day and for each task as my bubbly, sparkly, squeaky 4C. How I love to hear her say "yes" and "you're right, Mom!"

4B lives his life with a level of earnestness and kindness and empathy I admire; if only I could be like him when I grow up! ;) How I love his cuddles, good talks, and helping hands.

4A works so hard to listen and love others on their terms; it doesn't come easy for her, and I appreciate how hard she tries. How she has taught me to mean what I say, love no matter how difficult that may be to do, and appreciate (and, consequently, not sweat) the small stuff.

While on the topic of babies, I must mention how grateful I am to have been able to have my own without help. How I have watched friends struggle and spend (money and tears) in their quests for babies. I am also thankful to know, firsthand, that birth control is not fail-proof, that not everything can (thankfully) be planned. I am awestruck by birth mothers; knowing what I know about having a baby of my own, their gift is overpoweringly amazing. I absolutely know for sure that I would not have had the courage to make such a gift had I been in their shoes in my life before children.

How thankful I am for my parents! I honestly try not to take them for granted. I thank them INCESSANTLY for my life and their help in my children's lives. But, it's really only in a week like this one, full of sick kids and traveling daddy and emergency school meetings and way too much to do and be, when I really realize how much they help. They swoop in at a moment's notice to shuttle a bestie, run to the store, unload the dishwasher, or give a hug. Because of the support they give me, I am able to actually enjoy being a (rather than existing as a) mother to four young children AND be there for them outside of this house when they need or want me. (And, let me apologize to them AGAIN, for each time I didn't listen, lied, talked back, or complained about what they made for supper.)

While on the subject of family, I am again reminded of my beloved Grammy. How I loved her! By the accident of birth, I got to call her mine. She taught me powerful things about this life and about when it ends. She lived a life of quiet service with grace and humility, quiet yet profound faith, and a lot of love. She, too, is what I want to be when I grow up.

I am thankful for autism. It has single-handedly changed my life and led me to be a person worthy of my wonderful life. It has mellowed my ass out, vanquished my anxiety, and taught me what truly matters in my life.

In this vein, I am humbly thankful for the amazing docs in our life. Dr. P, our AMAZING pediatrican, has given me such confidence as a parent, and she takes really good care of my babies, like they were her own. Dr. G; to whom I will be eternally grateful for the introduction of Zoloft, the wonder drug, into our lives. My beloved obstetrican; in a practice of 4-5 docs, having had 4 babies, it was amazing that we were able to be together all four times. He took great care of me and helped me get them here safely.

And, Dr. Steve. I have tried to explain to him MANY times how grateful we are to him. It's a very hard feeling to quantity, the gratefulness one feels for the receipt of a child's presence in that child's life. His care of 4A and our entire family gave us hope, such that we could move forward to a place of peace and functionality. He's taught me so very much about 4A and her mind and her world, but he's also given me courage to trust myself as her mom. He made my house quiet. He helped us release our baby from her autism such that she can be present in her life. His help saved our marriage. He's made me a strong and confident mom of a kid on the spectrum. I'll be forever in his debt.

There are a LOT of teachers in our life. How thankful we are for them! The support and care and love that they bestow on our besties is humbling. And, they do this out of passion because Lord knows they aren't paid what they're worth. They do this, I'm confident, at the cost of hot meals for their families, sleep, and R&R. They spend time and money and care on our children and our family. The ability to outsource some of the child-rearing to such wonderfully competent and loving people is a Godsend. We are especially thankful for our beloved Ms. Patty and all of 4A's teachers. Their burden is doubly great, being both a teacher and a spectrum problem-solver. They have loved her and supported her and encouraged her even when it was difficult to do so.

We are thankful for Autism Speaks. They advocate and educate TIRELESSLY to improve life for families like ours. Imagine a world where we won't have to pay out-of-pocket for the treatments 4A needs, explain her diagnosis to EVERYONE, insulate ourselves from judgment and misunderstanding! Autism Speaks makes that world an eventual reality for families like ours, and we are thankful for that work.

I was not always such a nice person. I did a LOT of stupid shit in my younger years. Didn't we all, I suppose, but it's still not something I'm thrilled about. I've forgiven that person that I was and made amends where I was able, and I've been able to move forward in a life that I confidentally believe feels the same on the inside as it appears on the outside. That's been a LONG, hard journey. I have had a very few friends in my life who loved me right through that. I am thankful for Big Boss, my high school bestie, and Roomie, my college bestie, who loved me even when I hurt them, ignored them, or mistreated them.

As I've aged, two "friends" from my childhood have provided unbelievable support for me as a mom. My dear friend, SWS, and my cousin, MPE. They have known me and loved me my whole life. While life ebbs and flows, of course, they are always, ALWAYS there for me, providing unconditional love and support.

As a mommy, I've made amazingly strong and wonderful friends. These women have tended to my besties, run errands for us, prayed for us, supported us, and fed us. While there are too many to list (especially using acronyms, for goodness sake!), suffice it to say there are MANY, and I would not have survived this ride called "mommyhood" without them.

I have also had the wonderful gift of having MB in my life. She was my amazing doula, who helped me find courage after a less-than-stellar delivery such that I was able to birth my last 3 babies in peace (and one intentionally without drugs, if you can imagine). What started out as a professional relationship has become one of the best friendships of my life. She is my kindred spirit. She gave me the gift of being a confidant after her beloved healthy, kind, sweet, 7 y/o child passed away a few years ago. How much that enriched and informed my life! And, watching her family's joy as they've welcomed a new sweet boy has been amazing, to say the least. I have learned from her strength and courage and grace and love that is very hard to describe. I am thankful for her.

And, my sweet, wonderful Clarabelle. My very first (canine) baby! What a joy it was to rescue and care for her, even and especially at the end of her long life. We should all be so willing as her to put our pasts behind us.

So on this Thanksgiving Eve, as I play and tend and cook and bake and make, I am prayerful for another amazing year of peace and support and courage and intentional joy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What a week. Sigh.

The great news, of course, is that we're all still breathing. Nothing of the rest of the story really matters at all.

The traveling 4Daddy, the strep throat, the 103 fever, the trying to barf to get out of going to school because a sibling didn't have to go (just guess which one pulled that?!), the weekend travel to visit family....that will all fade by middle of next week.

That really just leaves me with autism. Mostly these days, autism really doesn't cause me too much grief. I'm square and content with its presence in my life, 4A and 4Daddy and I are well-supported in all things autism, and 4A's symptoms are largely managed and treated with the supports we have in place for her. Autism always adds a layer of complexity and "work" to our days, but those are largely unnoticeable; "it's our lot in life. It's not a lot, but it's our life," to quote Phyllis Diller in "Bugs Life."

I've shared with you some the struggle we're having this year as 4A adjusts to third grade. Adjusts, you asks? As in still currently adjusting? How can that be, you ask? Because we're a good three months into the school year. Yep. It takes her awhile, generally, to get everything down, test all the kinks out of her teachers' systems and styles, and get down to business. This year, the adjustment has been lengthened by the difficulty she's been having in reading.

By way of background to give this latest struggle meaning, 4A is a voracious and gifted reader. As a second grader, she read the first Harry Potter book in two days. There is not a word she can't decipher and very few that she can't spell. She understands what she reads, and she often scripts (ad nauseum) what she reads.

That being said, reading is the subject in which she struggles the most. Our children's school groups its readers by level, according to how they do on benchmark assessments, from what I gather. In kindergarten, she was in the second level reading group. 4A walked into that year unable to read even one word. She left reading Junie B. Jones volumes at a rapid clip.

In first, second, and third grade, accordingly, 4A was grouped in the first level group. That first level group has a plug-in a few days a week for enrichment. The enrichment consists of establishing higher-level thinking skills, working on word roots, inferring from texts, and responding to Socratic dialogue. In these years, 4A has traveled to reading, meaning that she has had a different teacher for reading then she has had for the rest of her day.

Here's where it starts to get tricky, my friends. ("It's time to rock around to rock around its right on time, its tricky. Tricky tricky tricky"--big ups to Run DMC.) What causes the trouble...the switch to a different teacher who has a different style, system, and set of expectations OR the nature of skills required in the level one group?

4A has taught her school team and I a lot in reading these past three years to help us flesh out the answer to this conundrum. First, we've learned that she's more compliant behaviorally when the behavioral systems in both her homeroom and reading class are the same and tied into one another. This allows better reinforcement via her overall behavioral system at home. Second, we've learned that while 4A may appear "reluctant," she, in fact, just needs more support. Those supports have included everything from assigning the order of her work to using a timer to checking for completion.

Fially, we've learned that we have to be exactingly descriptive and explicit in our requests and instructions. This one is super crucial. If we really want to know what a reader would learn from an article, then we need to ask that and not "why would someone read" said article. Well, if you're okay with "to get smarter" for an answer, then go ahead and use the first formulation. (And, yes, that really was her answer to the question.) And, if you want her to do more, you won't get more _______ (description, support, information, fill that blank in how you like) if you just say "give me more" because she'll just writhe and complain. But, if you tell her she must keep writing until she gets to the back of the page, she'll give you more. Only one word more on the back of the page. Only one word. On the back. Just one. Always just one. But, she does what you ask.

Aspies are literal beings; inference isn't preferred or sometime even tolerated. Inferences aren't there in the black and white of the text. For an Aspie, this means there is no right answer. There may be a "best" answer for us neurotypicals and our teachers, but this "best" rather than right-or-wrong business confuses an Aspie. But, the Aspie looks very bright (especially mine), reading and writing and spelling at an abnormally/amazingly high level.

Now, Dr. Steve has been letting us know for years that the level of inference and abstraction required in third grade reading is a LOT. Friends of older children had prepared us for how different third grade is for children, in terms of the level of work, the need for self-management of materials, and the starts of increased complexity of social demands. We knew this year was going to be hard...for her and us. I honestly think I was prepared. I don't know if I hit the ground running hard enough. But, that's really irrelevant in terms of NOW (it informs the future for me but doesn't bear weight on the now of the situation).

This year in reading, as in years' past, 4A has struggled. She has been inflexible, both in her thinking and in taking direction from peers and teachers even when her own answers are off-track. Her answers have appeared half-assed and off base at times (and, from best I can gather, most times). She has been oppositional, tries to escape uncomfortable or new situations, and zones out frequently.

Dr. Steve went in to observe 4A in reading shared his observations with reading teacher and me, and then recommended that I rely a little heavier on SPED for in-class modifications for 4A in reading. From there on, things got confused and circular and s.l.o.w.

There's been a circular and slow discussion between myself and SPED with reading teacher about whether supports are necessary, how long they're necessary, and in what form they're necessary. Dr. Steve was clear about what was needed, but we couldn't all get on the same page as to how best to implement his vision. There was a lot of concern by some that the use of supports would limit 4A's thinking and would make state-mandated assessments in the spring difficult.

As a footnote, experience in special educaton shows that supports are usually temporary, weaned out as the student masters the skill. Moreover, 4A has specifically shown her team that she weans quickly. It is also law that modifications or adjustments can be made for disabled students who are required to take state-mandated assessments. If a child is entitled to supports under his/her IEP, those supports can (and should) be made or added during the state-mandated assessments.


But confusion, friends, is confusion, and the clock is ticking on this school year. Third grade, for all students, is a pivotal time in a student's education; skills that s/he learns in this third grade year are foundational for later years, more so than any year up until third grade.

We decided, then, with Dr. Steve and Dr. G's guidance and support and recommendation, that we needed to change something. What we are doing in reading this year isn't working. Could we have modified things so that they could work? Maybe. And by maybe I mean yes in the isolated/idealistic sense but maybe in the realistic/ pragmatic sense.

At a recent IEP meeting, I raised my concerns about reading, both this year's struggles and what we've learned in past years. 4A's AMAZING classroom teacher was able to give super great data on 4A's capabilities with supports in place versus with them not in place. This amazing teacher "gets" 4A on a very organic level, is extremely willing to support or modify as Dr. Steve deems necessary, and is able to flex on the fly with 4A because she "gets" her so well.

What we were able to come up with is absolutely the best for 4A and her chance of success this year. She is being moved from the highest level group to the lowest. Not because it's the lowest, per se. But because her classroom teacher runs it, a lot of explicit scaffolding for skill acquisition is used there, and 4A needs more support. She'll use a parallel text there, and modifications can be made to texts and exercises to more meet her academic needs. And support there she will get, both from her amazing classroom teacher, who will now also be reading teacher, and her SPED who plugs into that reading group each day. 4A will get more independent reading time in this group, more structure, and more real-life application exercises. All of these things are wonderful for her, and everyone thinks she will blossom there, acquiring skills quickly and perhaps, dare we dream, moving beyond just what's required and maybe getting closer to that potential that's been so oft discussed this year.

Wonderful for her. Yes. Sad for 4daddy and I. I liken the feelings we have about this to those we've had at all of her other autism crossroads...following the most stringent behavioral plan Dr. Steve could create even though it was hard and felt backwards, starting medicine, and pulling her out of that first ill-fated preschool. It's always proven to be best for her, but it's always hurt a lot for us. Are we making the right decision? Did we fight hard enough for her? Are we contributing to greater understanding about high-functioning autism?

So, while our hearts are hurting, here's what we're trying to remember...

(1) 4A was struggling in that reading class. She was frustrated, and her classmates and teacher were frustrated with her apparent half-assed-ness. 4A certainly does not need more social difficulty. Dr. Steve believes that the half-assed-ness comes from a place of lack of support. Getting support will cure half-assed-ness, which will cure not fully participating, which will go a long way towards curing the social piece in her life.

(2) The classroom teacher totally "gets" 4A on a very organic level. It's intuitive for classroom teacher to support 4A: classroom teacher is able to think on the fly for 4A much like we do or Dr. Steve does. That can only be a good thing. Being with a teacher who genuinely understands what she needs has to help on all fronts: frustration, self-esteem, social, happiness (both hers and our family's).

(3) The students don't know the rating of the various groups. So 4A doesn't really know that she's moving down, and to be clear, she isn't going down. Her texts and tasks will stay at her level, but she'll have more explicit directions for answering questions and doing work. 4A needs that. Dr. Steve is clear about that (and that guy is NEVER wrong where 4A is concerned). We couldn't figure out a way to get the supports in her other reading group, and this move lets us get that for her quickly and easily.

(4) 4A's bestie is in the group to which she's moving. 4A loves her classroom teacher. 4A's SPED, who plugs into the lower group every day, "gets" 4A, SPED herself has a child on the spectrum and has a lot of experience with and respect for Dr. Steve. In this lower group, 4A will get 30 minutes of self selected reading (SSR) time, rather than the 10 minutes she was getting in her other group. She loves to read, and she's always motivated best when she gets to do more of what she feels like doing or likes to do. As her classroom teacher says, 4A loves to read; why should we ruin that? Maybe more SSR time and more fun in reading will make reading class less of a chore for her; theoretically, she may feel less pressured and more motivated. That would be a great thing.

(5) Nothing changed for 4A in terms of who she is and how we feel about her. She's still smart and amazing and a great kid. She's just going to spend more time with a teacher who really understands her and a method of instruction that better fits the way her brain works. Shouldn't we all be so lucky every day?

(6) Dr. Steve thinks this is the right thing to do. That, for us, really ends the entire conversation or debate.

Only time will tell, of course, if this was the right move. And who's to ever say, really, which action in one's childhood causes which result, right? For now, we know that we don't truly know what's best for her, so we very humbly and thankfully put our trust in those we've surrounded her with who actually DO know what she needs. Trusting is something we've learned to do well, so we easily do it again.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A day in the life

Folks often ask me what it's like to be the mom of a child on the spectrum. I've answered it a MILLION times. What it feels like emotionally, what it feels like as a mother, what it feels like as a human being with feelings and needs all my own. But, I'm not confident that I've ever accurately described the physical logistics of a "day in the life."

So, here, my friends, you have it.

Take today for example. Now, you're going to get my crazy mom shit thrown in there because that's part of my day, too.

I got 4A and 4B on the bus. Shlepped 4C and 4D to my mother's, who gives me the amazingly generous gift of free babysitting on Wednesdays. Run an errand (my dear friend is battling stage 3 pancreatic cancer, and I cook and clean for her on Wednesdays). Today, I had only a moment to throw her food in the fridge and freezer, partake in a quick chat, and haul ass home. Cleaned up the mountain of dirty dishes. Ran to the basement, setting my timer for 30 minutes, to measure out the kids' gifts into their stockings so that I could finalize my shopping list (more about the crazy Christmas prep in a future post). Grab my stuff, head out the door to the kids' school. Volunteer for their teachers, observe 4A in writing, take care of sundry school responsibilities.

I happen to run into one of 4A's teachers while I'm there. We've been struggling a lot in this particular subject this year. I first found out about the struggling in late September when I asked an unrelated question. Got back a laundry list of examples of 4A's inflexibility. 4A is unwilling to take other students' perspectives or direction on her work. An Aspie? Unwilling to take others' perspectives or direction? Imagine that.

Shortly thereafter, we start to have a LOT of trouble with remembering homework materials and recording assignments. Earlier in the year, a classmate had forgotten his spelling words but called a friend. Classroom teacher applauded the classmate's efforts to the class as good problem solving. I fully agree! My dear Aspie heard, "I don't have to take my stuff home; I can just call a friend." Next night, 4A forgets spelling and wants to call a friend. I let her because I didn't know about this classmate example-making business. A few days later, she forgets her math book. It so happened that I had to be to school early the next morning for a PTA obligation, so I let her tag along, grab her math book, and do the homework before school. Bad idea; she heard, "I don't have to take my homework home because mom will take me in early the next morning to do it." Next night, she forgets her materials again and has a first-rate tantrum because I won't take her to school early to do the work the next morning. It's my fault, don't you know, that she can't do her homework. Am I in third grade? Was I assigned math journal page 42? I think not.

So, new bright-line rule for 4A. You forget your materials, you may not phone a friend, you may not go to school early. No way. You forget to write the shit down or bring that book home, you miss the assignment. No problem. Except there's no consequence, in her terms, for a missed assignment. At school, she gets a "missed assignment" stamp on her paper, I have to sign it, and she returns it to school. That's it. Oh, and of course, it affects her grade, but she could give two shits about that. (a) She has no idea what a "grade" is, and (b) a grade deduction isn't immediate and doesn't "hurt." It hurts typical kids because they don't want to disappoint their parents or their teachers. That "hurt" is a social construct. 4A has social deficits because of her autism. So, no hurt. At home, I make her do the missed assignment the next night, of course, through flailing and whining and X charts and loss of privileges. Fun! You think that'd be enough to disincentivize her ass to STOP FORGETTING TO WRITE THE SHIT DOWN AND BRING THE SHIT HOME!! Nope.

The brilliant Dr. Steve solved the problem. His plan is working well...until she finds the next loophole. But, he'll fix that loophole, too.

Okay. So back to reading. Admist this difficulty self-managing materials and assignments, come to find out that we're having what appears to be substantive difficulty also. After some observation and digging, I realize that we're actually having difficulty being an Aspie in a typical classroom, but we've stymied there. 4A is half-assing her assignments: picking character traits that are only marginally on point; picking textual supports that don't actually support the idea; getting stuck on a minute, unimportant detail in a story and clinging to it, no matter how off-base. There seems to be some debate between the parties involved as to the cause of this. I'm clear. Dr. Steve is clear. SPED is clear. Clarity then ends.

Trying to figure out how best to support 4A in this subject has been a struggle. There's a confusion about terms, whether or not support is necessary, and how to draft supports. SPED is helping, Dr. Steve is helping, reading teacher is trying. We are not progressing. We are far from fully attacking the problem, but it seems our feet our stuck in concrete. Too many cooks in the kitchen, not enough face-to-face meetings with all parties involved, and lots of days off in between.

We'll get there, of course, but progress is S.L.O.W.

So, I have this chance run-in with the teacher. Grab 4A 45 minutes early of dismissal and shlep 45 minutes in the rain to her regular checkup with her pediatric neuropsychiatrist, the amazing Dr. G and the wonderful prescriber of Zoloft, the miracle drug! While there, she asks about school, I relay a detailed version of the trouble, and she makes her recommendation, which isn't my first choice. We're there for NINETY minutes. Meanwhile, I had to wrangle my mom into picking 4C up from preschool, making the 20 minute drive back to my house make sure she'd be home in time to get 4B off the bus, and feeding the little 3 dinner while I was gone because shortly after 4A and I returned, we had to run out the door for 4C's choir practice.

While at choir, I text 4Daddy, who is conveniently out-of-town on business, to schedule a call to discuss all this school stuff before our triennial review IEP meeting tomorrow (which is at 9:45am on a day when I don't have a sitter, so my DAD is taking 4C to ballet and jazz and wrangling 4D so that I can attend; how I would love to be a mouse in that corner). At choir, I settle a HUGE skirmish between 4A and 4B over a DSi game. Yes, a DSi game.

Leave choir, throw little 2 in the tub while wrangling the older 2 in and out of the shower, using a visual timer for 4A so that she's not in there for 20 minutes and then using that visual timer again to manage the skirmish over the fucking DSi game that I'm now dying to throw in the trash after bedtime.

Get everyone to bed. May I toot my own horn to mention that they were all in bed only 40 minutes after we got home from choir?! Toot! Toot!

Run downstairs to clean up supper dishes, pack lunches for tomorrow, and take out the trash. 4Daddy calls at 8:15 as scheduled. Hash through it all with him for a half hour.

Saddle up to the computer for two hours to dig through all emails between myself, teacher, and SPED to gather pertinent details. Scan recent classwork. Draft email to Dr. Steve for input on this issue, including Dr. G's viewpoint b/c Dr. Steve will only know Dr. G's viewpoint if I share it with him. An autism parent is the case manager. Docs and teachers and others stay in the loop only because the parent makes said loop and keeps it vibrant and healthy. Attach classwork, scaffolding assignments that I attempted on my own with 4A a few weeks ago when this issue first seemed to arise, checklists written by SPED and teacher and myself, feedback SPED gathered from teachers on the issue. Send it off.

Print out copies of Dr. Steve and Dr. G's recommendations for the triennial IEP review tomorrow, making sure that I have copies of recent classwork and documentation of prior testing and diagnosis.

Tomorrow, I will meet for what I hope is only an hour to tackle the issue of triennial review and raise the recent struggle so that we can set another meeting to better tackle that.

And, I, praise be to God, do not have a paying job. I have the highest respect for those autism parents who wrangle work, family, and autism. I don't know if I'd have the strength, courage, or stamina.

The upside of this day? My babies are happy and healthy and breathing. We have our house and a steady paycheck. We have Dr. Steve and Dr. G. We attend an amazing school. We get a lot of support from my parents. 4D is starting to say three-word phrases and will likely end speech therapy in a few weeks. It's almost Thanksgiving. I don't have cancer. I have a partner. That partner loves and supports me even from afar. I'm an American. I was able to have my babies all on my own without help. I know who my parents are, and they love me. I have supportive friends. I can read and see and breathe and walk and cry and take other people's perspectives. I have an education (and I ain't afraid to use it!). We made it through this crazy day and no one got hurt. I'm breathing. It all goes up from there, friends. It all goes up from there.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's different, but it gets me every time!

It's American Education Week, so I've had the glorious gift of seeing my eldest two in action in their classrooms. What a treat it is to see a glimpse of their life, the part that I'm not really supposed to be a part of. The part of it that all them, where they can be who they want to be and be independent of me and us. How thankful I am to our wonderful teachers and administration for letting us be there to be a "fly on the wall."

On Monday, I got to see 4B in his first grade reading and homeroom classes. Having been through this with him once before when he was in kindergarten, having had 2 grade school conferences for him under my belt, and having seen him in his preschool classroom many times when I fulfilled co-op hours, I was prepared for how different it is to be his momma. Different from what it is to be 4A's momma.

So, I knew what I was gonna get, what it would feel like, what I would see.

It's always a joy to watch him in school or hear about what he does there. He wants to please his teachers, he wants to do well, he wants to earn those golden tickets and awards from the prize box and "good jobs." He is driven socially to think those things are worth having. He comes by this naturally; it's not something I "did" or taught him. He wants to do well there because he likes the social feeling of "a job well done" or being the "good kid."

With him, I simply plopped his ass on the bus that first day. He showed up, they told him what to do, he did it, he came home. Period. It's been like that from the first day. Two extremely mild instances of needing a little nudge or guidance from home, but he's done this all on is own.

I've talked with you before about what an amazing difference there is between the treatment you receive as the parent of a good kid versus the parent of the "difficult" kid. Most notably, people treat you differently. They're nicer to you or more respectful of you. They praise your child and your parenting. They enjoy your child. They want to do right by your child. When you have the "difficult" kid, people intentionally offer you unsolicited advice on how to stop the difficulty. I know that they mean well, but in that assumption that I need advice, there's the collateral assumption that her person is something I did or didn't do. And, here's the real deal, friends, if a team of reknowned PhDs and MDs can't figure her shit out, no amount of your well-intentioned advice is gonna solve it either.

And, I've told you before that I find this absurd. I no more caused 4A's difficulty than I caused 4B's goodness. In fact, I have done MORE to support and help and encourage and teach and mold 4A than I ever have for 4B (and that's something that I worked for years in therapy to be okay with). There's nothing organic or exciting about 4A's schooling. Everything 4A does is worked on, analyzed, or supported by me. I field the complaints and concerns from school, relay them to the docs, listen to the docs, ship that info back to school, support between school and home, and repeat that process when the next bump hits. I tell school what she needs and who she is. I communicate CONSTANTLY with them about tweaking things or making better supports or ignoring certain behaviors. I know every single thing that goes on in 4A's school life before I ever step foot into her conference. There are no surprises (except the ones 4A generously bestows upon her team and I every few days). There is nothing spontaneous about it.

I just put 4B's ass on the bus. That's it. He lets them know who he is and what he needs. They get to know him without me. He does what he does there because of his connection to them (and, somewhat, here). It is unmitigated and un-orchestrated by me.

It's very weird.

But, it's weirdly amazing and organic and surprisingly wonderful. Even though I know what I'm gonna see when I go in to see him this week each year, I'm still blown away by him. By his earnestness. By his ability to follow directions. By his organic desire to please. By his willingness to take direction. By his kindness. By his ability to sit still and listen and absorb and do.

This kid sat on the rug for a 7 minute lesson on writing a story. The teacher told the children one time what to do. ONE TIME. This kid got up and followed her instructions without a moment's hesitation. Not only did he do that, but he sat his ass at his table, quietly, without talking to ANYONE, and did his work until he was finished. And, he did it in the way that she asked. On the first try. Simply because she told him to do it.

And, damn my crazy ass, I cried. I bawled like a baby when I got out to my car.

Then, I saw a friend later that day who had been in the same classroom to see her own daughter. Out of the blue, she mentioned what an amazing kid my 4B is, how he listens, how he follows directions, and what a good student he is. Taken aback, I assured her that that is just the kid he is, and I thanked her for noticing and sharing it with me. I walked her to the door, shut the door behind her, and bawled my eyes out again.

I thank God for this sweet 4B of mine every day. While I know I (at times) short-shift him on the support and attention and love and encouragement that he needs, he has healed a hole in my heart that I didn't think could ever close. He has shown me that kids, one of mine, no less, can and will do stuff just because they want to. Just because they want to make someone happy.

And made me happy (and proud!) he has. I love him so very much for that. Thank you, my sweet boy. And, I love you for who you've decided to be, and I'm proud of you for all of the earnest, kind, and thoughtful work and listening that you do, even though it comes easy to you. I notice. I appreciate. I'm proud. I love you.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Preparing for Christmas with an Aspie

As I've told you before, I LOVED Christmas as a child. It was so very magical and homey and family-centered and delicious. I dreamed about recreating that with my own family some day.

Then, I actually had a family.

I had NO idea what it is to be a mother at Christmastime. It's really a wonder that all these little cherubs are still alive and breathing on Christmas morning, let alone having any gifts to open. Trying to do the 90 pounds of shit in the 10 pound day that you're already trying to do all year long as Mommy and then adding into that buying, wrapping, mailing, baking, decorating, whilst keeping the stuff that's supposed to be secret a secret, the mood light and festive, the kids from burning the house down or killing each other or you killing them, and the bedtime decent so that you can function, it's enough to make you GGGGGRRRR!!!! Every Mommy has just a smidge of Scrouge in her this time of year. Some of us have more.

Can I get an amen?

Right, so all mommies are a bit, shall we kindly say, intense at Christmastime.

But, as most parents know, there is nothing like the anticipatory joy of a child leading up to Christmas. Yeah, they're overtired, over-sugared, and over-hyped, but they exist during the "season" on a plane of amazement and joy that is unparalleled. They're excited...SO excited. And, the joy of Christmas morning makes all the work worth the stress and hassle and money. Seeing the pure joy on the cherubs' faces, seeing them show thankfulness, seeing them BELIEVE in something magical. It's amazing.

4A, good Aspie that she is, doesn't get that. Christmas makes her nuts. She craves/needs/has to have consistency and order and predictability and sameness. Christmastime offers her none of those things. All of that anticipation and excitement that the rest of us feel makes her crazy. Our house smells and looks different. The stores smell and look and sound and feel different; they're more crowded and loud.

She doesn't know what her gifts will be, and that makes her a little crazy and super prone to meltdown on the actual day. It's a surprise, after all. "Kids LOVE that; that's the whole fun of Christmas," you say. 4A didn't get that memo.

School is CRAZY because everyone else is excited and things lax somewhat in every classroom as the big day approaches. As the big day gets nearer, the kids are crazier, the teachers more tired from dealing with our crazy kids all day AND then their OWN in the evening, so lessons loosen or lessen in favor of FUN! As they should, I say. 4A doesn't agree.

Then, there's the whole grey concept of "being good" so that the Big Guy will visit. That one REALLY stresses her out. Her mind doesn't work in shades of grey. She makes one poor choice (hitting her sister, yelling at her brother, forgetting to bring home a book from school, goofs up on a test), and she's a mess, wondering if she really is "good." Never you mind that we do NOT use the word "good" to describe children in this house ever (or bad, for that matter). All children are good; they sometimes make bad choices, but they are all always good. Doesn't matter. That whole "good list/naughty list" Santa invention to keep kids' asses in line so their parents don't kill them during the holidays is EVERYWHERE! On every TV special, in every book, and on the lips of every stranger in the grocery store.

Sounds SO fun, huh?

This is a majorly intense time of year for 4A, so she has a greater-than-regular need for calm and consistency (and please remember how intense her version of regular need for support and calm and consistency is).

Here are the supports that we use to help 4A through the season.

Routines
We don't budge on bedtime or routine. No matter how fun or cool the activity. No matter how much we have to do. No matter how bad I want to throw in the towel and head for Mickey Ds. Bedtime stays inflexibly consistent. In fact, we try to get her to bed a little early with a longer "wind-down" period to read and just chill. We don't do many community or school activities; we don't do holiday parties. We do get together with extended family but in advance of the big day and for SHORT periods of time. We attend a few meaningful activities (and by few, I think I actually mean 2) on weekends, allowing an extra buffer for bedtime.

Avoiding the hustle and bustle
We don't Christmas shop with the kids. We do some online and take turns doing it while the other wrangles the kids. We do it super early in (or actually ahead of) the season. When she decides what she wants to make for her siblings, I bring the supplies home. The other kids LOVE to go out on a Mommy or Daddy date to shop, but 4A just can't take all the craziness. I must say that I can't blame her. Have you been out there? EGADS!

4Daddy also takes the middle two out for holiday merriment during 4D's nap so that 4A can stay home and chill while I bustle about with baking or wrapping or whatever. She's so happy to have that alone and quiet time in the house to read and be left alone. It helps her recharge for when they come bounding back into the house full of holiday glee.

Reinforcers
We beef up the reinforcers. It's harder for her to stay calm and toe the line when the world around her is so crazy. We use reinforcers to motivate compliance even when the season makes compliance so hard for her. Her behavioral plan doesn't change. Our enforcement of it doesn't change. Same-same. But, we do more readily reinforce, especially for the holiday stuff that we do that isn't negotiable (going as a family to get our tree, visiting with family, going to church in the middle of the day on Christmas Eve)

Social stories and checklists
We use social stories and checklist, both for seasonal preparations that we do (like getting our tree, going to Christmas Eve service, visiting with family) and for the actual day of Christmas itself. There are also a lot of social demands around Christmas, like book exchanges or presentations at school or dressing up to go to church with Grandma because she wants to show you off in your holiday best.


Here is a social story that I used for a book exchange when 4A was in kindergarten. Worked beautifully. And, she did hate the book, by the way, but she waited until she got home to throw it away. :)


Here is a checklist that I used for Thanksgiving a few years ago (and I use a similar one on Christmas morning). How that girl LOVES to check stuff off.

Here is a social story that we used for 4A two years ago about Christmas. We used these "gimme a break" cards for her to let us know that she was overwhelmed. Those cards (I just scribbled "gimme a break" on read and green construction paper) staved off a LOT of tantrums.


Here's a social story that I used to curb her from asking everyone that we saw in the month of December for a present. Worked like magic!


Gifts that aren't new
One of the things that has always stressed her out the MOST on Christmas morning is her gifts. She has absolutely zero tolerance for "practice" or "learning how" to use something. She wants/needs to be able to do or use it exactly right from the first try. It seems like every toy requires assembly or learning new directions or whatever. Never mind that we always unwrap and assemble everything before wrapping. Never mind that we read directions and learn how to use or play the damn thing before she opens it. There are 3 other children in this house. It's hard to accurately describe the mayhem of glee that is Christmas morning.

Last year, my aunt sent 4A a friendship bracelet making kit. It was pure genius! She had used one before and learned how to make the EXACT same bracelets at summer camp. We open out-of-town gifts on Christmas Eve, so she had already opened that thing that SHE KNEW HOW TO USE and had it available to her all day on Christmas. It was the calmest Christmas that we have ever had. When the stress of the new things got to be too much for her, she kept going back to that bracelet kit. Heavenly! Thank you Aunt L! ;)

I also gave her a "pen pal kit," filled with note paper and envelopes, a pen, and address labels for her cousins. She wrote letters almost all day.

So, this year, Santa is bringing her a heap-load of art supplies and sketch pads. That's her main gift. All things that she knows how to use. That package will be the VERY first thing that she opens. The second thing that she's opening is a big stack of books, two of which she's already read from the library but will be her own copies. We can resort back to those sketch pads and books all day long when she gets overwhelmed.

It requires a bit more elbow grease to have "fun" with an Aspie at Christmastime, but it's totally doable. And, everything with an Aspie requires more elbow grease and everything at Christmastime requires more elbow grease, so what's the big deal, right?