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.