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

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

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?

Quiet Maker: gift making for gift giving

Well, it's here. That lovely antsy, whiney, over-scheduled, anticipatory, wound-up pre-Christmas season. One year, I said to my mom, "Christmas was always so FUN when I was a kid. You were always so calm and happy, and you made it so magical for us." She said, "I'm glad you remember it that way, Hollie." ;) So, the joys of Christmas come to pass and morph into a new kind of joy...not one from Christmastime itself but from seeing your kids enjoy themselves.

Or so that's what I've heard. Things are a little different here because of autism, but we'll chat about that in a later post.

Being mommy at Christmastime requires Herculean levels of patience, creativity, and booze. You've gotta keep the kids occupied so that you can manage your to-do list and keep your wits. Trying to keep the kids' gifts even makes me just about insane. Anyone feeling merry yet?!?

For many, MANY families this year, gift-giving is going to be super hard. Wanting to give gifts may not be possible. If you're having to worry about whether or not you'll be in your house at Christmas or how you're going to feed your family for the week, gifts probably aren't a part of the picture. But, kids and grownups alike want to make merry. And, gifting is part of the merriness. The best part, remember?

So, I'm bringing you a super cheap, super easy, super sanity-saving Quiet Maker. (Although a friend thinks I should call it "shit to do to shut your kids up;" in fact, she's the one who specially requested this post.)

QUIET MAKER: Gift making to maximize gift giving and general merriment
We have a tradition in our family where each of the kids makes a gift for everyone else in the family. MAKES a gift. Not buys it at the $1 store. Not saves money for it. Not asks mom to buy it. MAKES it. Even the littlest ones can do this; you just have to be creative. 4C started making gifts on her 2nd Christmas. Two words: glitter and glue. Invest, my friend.

We also love to recycle/upcycle around here, and saving money never hurts anyone.

All of these ideas are what we use to keep kids quiet, use up what we have, and save some pennies. Enjoy!

Embellish a composition book or spiral-notebook or sketch pad. We've used foamies, cut out magazine pictures to make a collage, used our own drawings. We try to stock up on composition books and notebooks during the summer/fall back-to-school sales when they're dirt cheap. Come mid-November when I need a quick shutter-upper, we whip them out and start blinging. 4B made this one for 4A last year.

I have also sewn super easy covers for composition books, like the one below that I made for 4A two years ago. You can learn how here.

Recycle drawings and schoolwork into a calendar. All Aspies have a "thing," and 4A's is sketching/doodling. We have COPIOUS amounts of artwork. Volumes. Plus with one in 1st grade and one in preschool, we get a LOT of worksheets and crafts home from school. Throughout the year, when school work comes home or doodles are left strewn around the house, I gather them and keep a running file of useable material. Then, in November, I start dividing them into monthly "themes."

As an aside, sometimes, when the kiddos are super little or super disinclined to draw, you have nothing but scribble. You can still make that work. You can cut shapes out of the scribble to go with your monthly theme: hearts, shamrocks, snowmen, stars, flowers, etc. I usually freehand it, but you could trace cookie cutters for your shapes, if you like.

I like to use a 12x12 wall calendar, and I can usually find a "create-your-own" kind at my local craft store for $1. But, you could also save the freebie ones that you get throughout the year and just glue your darling's drawings over top of whatever's been printed on there.

So, each month is a little collage or montage of drawings and doodles, which I label with the applicable darling's name and age. If I'm particularly ambitious, I'll also mark important dates (birthdays, anniversaries, etc) for the recipient.

I've also done this on a big desk calendar for 4Daddy. The kids and I wrote little notes on some of the days and then filled some with drawings or doodles from the kids' schoolwork and artwork. Where we had big chunks of blank spots, we traced our hands and drew smiley faces and our names in them.

Recycle drawings into notecards. Same principle as above, but you cut out the doodles (either cutting around the image itself or cutting a square to frame the doodle). I also use schoolwork. You know those thousands of worksheets where they have to label/stretch spell the words under a drawing? BINGO! Cut out the pic with the stretch-spelled word underneath, and you've got an instant notecard.

I stalk my craft store with my 40% coupon and buy packs of blank 4x6 notecards. But, I've also hit the jackpot at garage sales and found stacks of notecard-sized envelopes for dirt cheap. For those, I cut an 8.5x11 piece of cardstock in half and fold it, making 2 cards per piece that will fit into notecard envelopes.

After I glue the doodle on (and again, we stock up on glue sticks during the summer and fall back-to-school bonanzas when they're 20 cents apiece), we bling it out with stickers, strips of paper, and rubber-stamped images.

My kids could make these things for HOURS!

We stamp the back with a little "handmade by _____" stamp, kiddo signs his/her name, and then we bundle 'em in stacks of 4 (with envelopes) and tie them up with yarn. Super cute. Super cheap. Super quiet. Super easy.

Decorate a box for markers, Hot Wheels, makeup, or other "junk." We stock up on pencil boxes during those aforementioned back-to-school bonanzas, and then we bling them out with foamies, jewels, sharpies, and stickers. We then fill with a little bit of content towards the recipient's collection. Here's one 4B made for 4C to store her beloved markers.

Make t-shirts with your iron or sewing machine. We do this a LOT with a lot of different mediums. And, we don't just use t-shirts. We use towels and reuseable shopping bags. Pillowcases. Canvas bags. Endless possibilities.

I stalk the iron-on paper that goes through the printer with my 40% off coupon at my local craft store. I used to also stalk the plain t-shirts and buy them new, but now I stalk Goodwill for plain/used ones or ones that have designs that I can easily cover up. Cherub creates appropriate doodle. Scan. Print. Iron-on. When the kids are old enough, they dig the ironing on. Last year, 4A did an online Spongebob coloring page for 4B; we printed it out on the iron-on paper, she drew on his name with fabric paint, she ironed it on, and that is STILL his favorite t-shirt.

We also do a lot of sewing machine embroidery onto shirts and towels. Often times, I have an image in mind for the recipient (sailboat, number of years old, pirate, butterfly, whatever). I google a clip art image, print and cut it out, trace it onto fabric that I've ironed with fusible interfacing, cut the image out of the fabric, sew on. Super cheap and easy. Again, I stalk all my embellishable items and fabric at garage sales and Goodwill and clearance racks. Don't just look for fabric either. I often buy shirts or skirts or sheets in way cool designs and cut those babies up. Think outside of the box. And, for goodness sake, let the KIDS do the work. They know how to cut. They can iron. They can trace. So what if it's all crooked and lopsided? You'll have your elder years to deal with perfection when there aren't little, impatient "helpers" in your midst.

Here are a few shirts that I embellished for my younger girls.


And, of course, there's fabric paint. Fabric paint and I have a love/hate relationship. I once made a super cute set of handtowels for my parents with the kids' handprints on them. OY! You have to REALLY be willing to make a mess. The Crayola fabric markers are a bit easier, but they fade after several washings.

Kitchen gifts. This is another one that's fun and easy. You can find millions of "recipe in a jar or can" type sites if you Google, but we also make trail mixes with fun stuff (Kashi Heart to Heart cereal, dried cherries, and dark chocolate chips for Valentine's Day; popcorn, pretzels, Quaker Oatmeal Squares, and candy corn for Halloween; popcorn, pretzels, and red and green M&Ms for Christmas). Here's some trail mix that we made for Valentine's Day one year.

We've also made a snack-in-a-bottle. Take a clean water bottle and dump out the water (or pour it into a glass and drink it) Cut the bottom two inches off with a serrated knife. Dry COMPLETELY (letting it sit overnight is the best way). Pack it with a cool snack. We usually fill little fold-top sandwich baggies with small amounts of our faves and tie with yarn and then sandwich them all in there. You could use the individually bagged snacks. Put the bottom back on, and seal with packing tape. Bling out the bottle with ribbons, foamies, and a cool tag. I once made these for my Girl Scout troop with lunch: a 4oz can of apple juice, a packet of chicken noodle cup-o-soup, a small baggie of Goldfish crackers, and two Oreos. That was 3 years ago, I think, and the girls STILL talk about them. And, if you can't bear to screw around with the bottle presentation, slap that baby in a baggie or lunch sack (see below).

We've also made kits; the kind where you layer the ingredients, and the recipient later makes the goodie with the recipe that you've included. Anything you can make with a cake mix works great. We use cellophane baggies rather than jars (you can buy clear ones in the cake-decorating aisle at your craft store). These baggies are cheaper and easier to decorate. We usually print the recipe and put it in a small envelope. We tape that to the bottom. Fold and seal the bag with packing tape. Tie with yarn. We make a label or add stickers. The kids LOVE blinging out the bag. And, if you use jars, do NOT buy them. Are you kidding? Wash out jars of spaghetti sauce, applesauce, jelly...whatever. We don't reuse any nut butter jars because of 4C's allergy, but anything else is fair game. And, if the ingredients leave extra space in the jar, fill that leftover space with wadded-up waxed paper and then tape a strip of paper or ribbon around the outside of the jar to cover/hide that waxed paper ball.

We've also made these kits into "cones" (using a disposable decorating bag, which you can find in the cake-decorating aisle also). I once made pancake mix (cinnamon in the point of the cone, mini chocolate chips, and Bisquick).

Make chocolate covered pretzels. So super easy. We buy the Wilton chocolate melts and make chocolate covered pretzels. Nuke the melts, dip the pretzels in, then dip in sprinkles, dry on waxed paper. We package them in muffin wrappers inside little chinese-food style boxes. You can also buy candy-specific packaging in the cake-decorating aisle of your craft store.

Make a scarf. 4A did this for 4C last year. We bought an 1/8 of a yard piece of fleece, she cut flowers out of felt, and then SHE sewed (with a needle and thread) the flowers and buttons onto the fleece to decorate. She was SO proud. And 4C wears it with LOTS of pride.

Make a picture frame for your own drawing. We buy the wooden ones for $1 at the craft store, but we also stalk garage sales for dinged up ones that are super cheap and easy to cover. We bling them out with all kinds of junk: buttons, sequins, foamies, etc. Last year, 4C made this one for 4A.

Make a book. One year, 4A made an alphabet book for 4B. She used her little digital camera and went around the house, taking pictures of different items for each letter of the alphabet. I printed them out. She cut them out, drew the appropriate letter on the page, and we stuffed them into a cheapy plastic brag-book-type photo album.

Make packaging. We use lunch-sized brown paper sacks for anything and everything we can. Christmas wrap, birthday party treat bags, teacher gift packaging. EVERYTHING! We've traced cookie cutters on them and colored in, we've cut Christmas trees out of green paper and decorated with sequins, we've cut shapes out so that tissue paper can peek through, we've doodled, we've stickered, we've doilied. Anything they can make out of paper can be stuck onto a bag for decoration. Animals out of shapes. Finger-painting cut into hearts. Pictures out of fingers dipped on stamp pads. You name it. Here are a few that we've made over the years.


Commission a piece of art work.I buy blank canvases when they're on sale, and I give the kids acrylic paint to use on them. Buy or recycle a frame, and you have an instant masterpiece. Here's one 4B made when he was 3 for 4Daddy for Christmas. (And, 4B, proud artist that he was, took this picture of his piece hanging on the wall.)


Make a cookie platter for the neighbors.Of course we all make the cookies together. But, I often assign the selection of cookies and decoration of said platter to the cherubs. We use Chinet paper plates for our platters, writing a merry message around the rim with a Sharpie. The, I pile the darlings at the table with a heap of stick-on bows, sparkly stickers, and some gems. That, my friend, will earn you 30 minutes of quiet, a completed gift that you can check off of your to-do list, and, if you play your cards right, a deliverer of said gift. Look how proud 4A (age 5) was of her masterpiece!

These are just some of the things that we do around here to keep ourselves busy and quiet this time of year. If figure if they're busy, maybe they won't notice how hagged-out I am. If they're making gifts and wrapping, I won't have so much to buy or do. If they're quiet, maybe I won't get so hagged out. Win-win-win.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lessons (annoying!) learned (begrudgingly)

This month, I have learned a LOT of lessons. All needed, of course, but few that I wanted.

Lesson 1: Slow down or someone's gonna get hurt.
This slowly lesson happened in the literal and figurative sense.

Literal: Got pulled over for speeding. Here's how the day started. Took 4B to school early for chess club. Dropped 4A to school. Dropped 4C to gymnastics camp. Took 4D grocery shopping. Back to camp to pick up 4C. Dropped 4C at preschool. Threw 4D back in the car and started the 20 minutes home for her nap, which can never be more than 1.5 hours because we have to make the 20 minute drive back to preschool to pick up 4C so that we can make it back in time to get 4A and 4B off of the bus. So, I'm driving home to get 4D down for a nap, racing through my to-do list in my head. Wasn't enough for the cop to use his lights. Oh no. He had to blow the siren so that I'd notice that he was trying to pull me over. He asks for license and registration, which I dig out from under 2 crayon-drawn pumpkins, a dyed macaroni necklace, an empty bottle, several diapers, and strewn snacks and sippy cups. Cop gave me a warning, FAST, and sent me away. The guy wasn't crazy enough to deal with my harried ass.

So, literal lesson learned. SLOW DOWN while shlepping kids to and fro lest I, them, or someone else get hurt. Check.

Figurative: I dropped the ball on a volunteer job that I do. Nothing major. I actually had things covered, realized that I hadn't sent a letter out about what we needed to more folks, scrambled at the last minute to pick up my slack. Solved problem quickly and without trouble. However, some kind soul figured I'd forgotten, went out and purchased items with money that really wasn't available for it, and we ended up with WAY TOO much and a shit-load of drama. No biggie, of course, because no one actually did get hurt.

But, this led me to question my plate. You know, the one that's WAY too full of shit that I volunteer to do. This question, then, leads me to the whole "supermom" misnomer and the SAHM v. working mom debate. I consciously chose not to address either.

Except to say this..."supermom" is, I think, a shitty word. It's loaded with judgment. Every mom is super. As in super-human, super-tired, super-cried out, super-busy, super-overwhelmed. You get the idea. To say that one mom is "supermom" does two damaging things. (1) It makes her feel bad; this mommyhood business isn't a contest, friends. (2) It puts other moms in the position of comparing themselves to one another. EXTREMELY dangerous.

So, this leads me to the SAHM v. working mom debate. OY! I HATE this one. You know the propaganda. Stay-at-home-moms love their kids more because they chose to be with them. Working moms don't love their kids enough to prioritize their kids at the top of the heap. Stay-at-home-moms are lazy and spoiled and un-smart. Working moms are powerful and smart and self-reliant. It's all bullshit, friends. Grow up. Get real. EVERY mom loves her baby (save the ones that are too drug-addicted or self-destructive to do anything other than their own mess). EVERY mom works hard. ALL moms are smart. ALL moms put their kids first. ALL moms are self-reliant. We all just go about it a bit differently. And, this avoids the entire obvious issue of all of us being spoiled enough to have the choice, for goodness sake. It's a choice to work or stay home. Every single one of us (save, perhaps, the single mom) really, truly can afford to do either or be brave enough to do either. Let's stop this polarized debate, please. It's demeaning, dehumanizing, and disaster-izing our relationship with ourselves, our children, and society. I don't know about you, but I've got enough shit going on over here in my house and family that I can't figure out, so I really don't have time to worry about what someone else is doin' in theirs. Right? Right.

Okay. So I volunteer to do these things at my children's school, in my children's activities, in my community, for friends because I actually very, VERY much enjoy doing them. Not because I can't say no. Not because I want people to like me. Not because I'm out for ______ of the year (fill that blank in how you like: citizen, mom, parent, maniac). Instead, my downfall is that I DRASTICALLY overestimate the amount of time that I have available to do them, I really enjoy doing them, and I forget to put my sanity first.

I feel like this lesson has been presented to me a MILLION times, and I can't, for some reason, swallow it such that it stops happening. But, then my dear, dear, dear amazingly strong, wonderful friend emailed me this: "for the record – you are allowed, encouraged in fact, to be human and forget things. I do think you should clean off your plate some though. Meat (4Daddy), Potatoes (Kids), Vegetable (Yourself), and Dessert (Others). Keep it simple."

Holy shit! That's it! Good mom of an Aspie that I am, OF COURSE I needed a visual to get it through my thick head. And, that plate, my dear MB, is getting cleaned of right quick, starting now. I do really, REALLY love dessert (both literally and figuratively), but too much just isn't good for me (both literally and figuratively).

Lesson 2: Ask for help.
I tend to try to do too much (see above) and forget that there are people in the world who love me and want to help me. It's okay for me to ask them. I don't think it's really that I don't feel that I can; I think it's just more, again, that I overestimate my ability and the time that I have available and that I just forget to ask.

Case in point: Why the shit did I think I had to do that big project by myself, when I have a COMMITTEE of folks who signed up to help? HELLO!?!?!?! And, when I texted and FBed and emailed FRANTICALLY for reinforcements, those wonderful people who love me helped me. Immediately. No problem. That, my friends, is a wonderful thing.

Lesson 3: Stop trying to do it all yourself, dumb ass.
This is a little bit different than #2, but it's the same principle. For almost 7.5 years now, I have been the chief cook and bottle washer on 4A's team. I schedule her appointments. I keep all of the docs and teachers on her team up to speed on her progress, what the other docs are working on with her, and what's happening at school and at home. I write the social stories. I ask Dr. Steve for solutions to problems at school and at home. I voluntarily draft checklists, curriculum modifications, and behavioral systems. I plan the bake sale for Autism Speaks. I explain what Asperger's is, what supports help, and her history to everyone. Frequently. Repeatedly. HELLO?!?!? Why am I doing all of this?

Of course, I'm doing it because I want 4A to succeed. I also know her "file" or "case history" better than anyone because I have lived every breath and moment and joy and battle of it. I am her primary advocate, a role that I both cherish and adore and loathe. I know her. I know her docs. I know what they want for her. I know what she needs. I know who she is. I know.

But, do I? I'm very clear that I have NO idea what I'm doing and where we're going. This jump to third grade has been SUPER hard...for her, her teachers, and me. She's doing the usual behavioral testing of limits that she always does, but the complexity of skills and level of abstraction involved in those skills has increased exponentially. And, that, for her Aspie mind, is creating a whole host of new problems. Social demands have increased and gotten more complex and abstract. That, again, for her Aspie mind, is confusing as all hell. Frustrated at school and with peer interaction, of course she's struggling at home.

But, I really don't have to do this alone. Dr. Steve recommended that I rely a little heavier on the Special Ed staff at school. Historically, they've reduced 4A's hours because she's doing so well and, I think, because I do so much. I don't say this in a brag-y or "woe is me" kinda way, but in a DUH?! sort of way.

I need to let go. Not of my role as primary advocate, not in my role as case manager, but in my role of performer of all things autism and all things 4A. This is going to help a LOT. With my sanity. With my ability to enjoy my other children. But, I think it's going to help 4A, too. She has a teacher on her team this year who doesn't quite understand the nature of her or what exactly she needs. That's making it difficult for all involved: 4A, me, and the teacher. Everybody's frustrated. Allowing Special Ed to come in and do the autism education piece, the modification piece, and the case management piece for that subject is going to smooth and ease and help. That's a good thing. And, 4A does need more special ed hours and support. And, it's okay for me to ask. Ask and you shall receive, right?

Up until now, every ounce of that child's treatment and life has been described by and filtered through me. Up until now, everyone's always taken that at face value or very quickly figured out that my description and 4A's reality exactly matched. Things are shifting as 4A grows. She is her OWN person. While she's going to still be unable to describe what she needs for awhile, I think her needs will be more readily received (by some) through someone other than her mother. Up until now, I've been able to successfully make sure that she stays around adults who understand her and support her and know what she needs because of her autism. I'm starting to loose the ability to have such control. Wonderful but terrifying.

Terrifying for all moms, I think, as their children age because we worry. But, this is a bit different. There seems to be a lot more at stake here. For my other children, while I'll let go, I know that they'll be okay to navigate what comes. Or, at the very least, they'll understand and know, intuitively, what's going on around them, and the typical things that peers and teachers do won't be lost on them. Because 4A has Asperger's, it's harder for her navigate, and the typical things that teachers and peers do are lost on her.

I recently described it this way. I like my two eldest children to be dressed to socks and shoes by 8 am. For 4B, I say, "Please get dressed by 8 am if you'd like to watch TV." He's dressed by 8 am. If he's not (and it's never happened), he won't watch TV. That happens one time, and I promise you that kid will ALWAYS be dressed by 8 am. For 4A, I have a picture schedule of each step, I use a visual timer to show her how much time she has left, and I reinforce her compliance (with a reinforcer and by withholding TV is she's noncompliant). Same result: Everyone's dressed by 8am. But, we went about it in two VERY different ways.

A babysitter or stranger happens by around 7:45am and for some wierd reason wants my kids to get dressed, she's probably gonna say something like, "Get dressed, please." 4B is going to do just that. 4A ain't. Unless, I have described, in advance, the picture schedule, the visual timer, and the reinforcer and why she needs those things, what Asperger's Syndrome is, and the whole shebang.

That makes it harder for me to step back. But, I have confidence in this amazing team of 4A's. I have confidence in Dr. Steve. I have confidence in 4A's teacher and special educator. I have confidence in myself. It's all gonna shake out just groovy. And, when it does, I'll be able to chalk up a few more lessons learned.