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.
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.