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

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

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Save yourself some time; help a child in need

Kill two birds with one stone today, my friend. Hop on over to the Mission: Mikayla auction. There are some way cool items up for grabs, including a few summer sanity savers that I out together (and have either already featured or will feature here on the blog). Bid with reckless abandon. ;) Don't wait! The auction closes on 6/7/12.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Mommy's guide to summer survival," part 5: movie cave

Quick (this post) and dirty (me) today. Gotta grab a shower before 4D wakes up, so I shall dump and run.

During the super hot days of summer, when we've begun to run out of ideas....or....on a day where mommy has not a shred of patience left....we do a MOVIE CAVE!

I'm not really sure how the name came to be, but I suspect it was 4B's doing. They like it super dark like a movie theater...or, you guessed it, like a CAVE. I'm also really not sure why they dig this so bad; I suppose it's the pomp and circumstance of it all. Normally, we just throw a movie in upstairs and grab our own snacks.

Not for movie caves though. Oh no! We go ALL out for movie caves.

Movie caves around here go something like this. I pick a handful of movies and the kids take turns removing one that they don't want to watch until only one is left. Someone complains about what's left? They don't participate. It's happened only one time. ;)

While I fix the snacks, the kids get into jammies, drag their sleeping bags to the basement where it is SUPER cool, and generally get ready. I make a big pot of popcorn, fill up BIG drinks, and create a "tray" for each cherub. The "trays" are just clean, empty bread loaf pans, but they're just the right size, and the kids, even the littles, can carry them down the steps without dumping (most of the time). I fill up their HUGE water bottles with a drink I don't usually serve (e.g., Koolaid or fruit punch or lemonade or the like).
Kids "trays" for movie cave.

The kids then select candy from the candy jar to fill a small bowl. No refills on candy! Each kid also grabs a glowstick from the stash.

Every kid piles his or her items into his or her "tray" and carries it downstairs. While the movie starts, I tape the windows, turn of the lights (so we can enjoy the glowsticks) and make a cuppa. We lounge together and enjoy the cool! Or, I go to the bathroom by myself, eat something while sitting down, or tackle an item or two on my never-ending, ever-growing to-do list.

Monday, May 28, 2012

"Mommy's guide to summer survival," part 4: creating a "bored" bucket

I tried this idea last summer. I scoured the internet and found a list of cute "I'm bored" to-dos for the cherubs. Put them all inside a cute bucket. Stashed bucket on top of fridge. Kids broke into it the very first day. The first one they pulled about did me in; took me FORTY FIVE minutes to track down and set up all supplies. Thereafter, 4B pulled one after another, practically, until they were all gone. Lasted a week.

Needless to say, we learned a LOT about what this family needs out of a "bored" bucket.

This year, I scoured Pinterest and the web for lists of "bored" bucket content, ideas for making the bucket, and instructions for use. Found plenty for all but the latter. Decided to put together my own in a way that actually allows it to serve its purpose, which, so that we're all clear, is to keep them out of my hair! Together-time is something these guys and I have LOTS of; it's alone time that I'm after, frankly.

I also want it to be something that they enjoy. Summer is for fun, not chores! I don't feel the need to punish them when they're bored; I do feel the need to help them (minimally) get back on track to having their OWN fun when they need it. Your goals may be different; you'll tailor this to serve your own family's needs, of course.

So, without further ado, I give you a tutorial and printable list to create your very own BORED BUCKET!

4Family's summer "bored bucket" for 2012.



The bucket itself
The mechanics of actually making the physical bucket are fairly simple. I used a re-purposed Tupperware container I inherited from a friend, printed out this template (from HomeSpun Threads), cut and backed with scrapbooking paper, affixed with packing tape.

You can make yours as fancy or as simple as you like. The bucket itself is not really all that important. In fact, the less cute you make it, hopefully the less often they'll want to use it, right?

I needed mine to be unbreakable. The absolute LAST thing I need is broken glass with a barefoot toddler and another mess to clean up. Right? Right.

Setting guidelines for bucket usage
You'll see that I attached "rules" to the outside of our bucket. You may not want or need rules; rules, if you use them, will set the parameters for what you consider to be acceptable use of said bucket.

Our rules are as follows: "As a family, we may only use this jar two times a day for FREE! If you need to use it again that day, you will have to pay with two punches on your screen card OR a chore of mom's choice. Once you pick a paper out of the bored jar, you may not pick again for at least two hours."

Given 4B's infatuation with last year's attempt, I thought he could use some guidance. My goal for this bucket is to infuse their summer with a bit of fun and creativity, which, ideally, will springboard them into excited working-together fun!

But, you are the mom of your tribe. You are in charge. You throw down the gauntlet however works best for what you need.

Filling your bucket with meaningful to-dos

The real "meat" of the project is the CONTENT. This is where my experience last summer was so helpful. I scoured a few bored jar templates on Pinterest. Nice, super cute containers, but the content was either marginally inspired or stuff we've already tried and done. So, I created our own content list. You can download a copy here.

Here are some helpful (I hope) guidelines for creating your bucket's content.

If you use my list, you'll find little notes/hints in yellow after some entries. These notes will lead you to sites where you can create items needed for the to-do or give you a reminder of what you need to gather supplies-wise.

I learned last summer that anything I'm willing to put in that bucket for them to do better be something that they can instantly find supplies for or I'm going to be running around like a mad woman. 

We do have a craft closet full of crafting goodies (like pipe cleaners, tissue paper, sequins, pom poms, popsicle sticks, googly eyes, jingle bells, acrylic paints, fabric pens, etc.). We do have a bin full of coloring and paper supplies (crayons and markers and colored pencils, white paper and construction paper). We do have a drawer with pencils and pens and tape and other office supplies. I do have a scrapbooking stash with decorative punches and fancy papers.

But, I wanted to make sure that things were EXACTLY where I could get them fast AND I wanted to avoid running out of a "staple" supply directly before a to-do that necessitated such supply was drawn.

As such, I this summer, I put together a bored tub of my own to accompany our bored bucket. In my tub, I have stashed things above-and-beyond what my craft closet and coloring and office and scrapbooking supply stashes contain: such as, empty and dry 20 oz soda bottles with lids, empty toilet paper rolls, cotton balls and Q-tips, dry beans, bingo games already printed out, postage stamps and stationery supplies, addresses for cousins and teachers and grandparents already printed onto labels, outdoor acrylics, tacky glue, masking tape, construction paper, sponges for making sponge balls, supplies for making balloon pong, glow sticks for movie caves (I plan to do a movie cave post this week...stay tuned!), a few bags of candy for "prizes," nature scavenger hunt lists already printed out, clipboards with pencils attached via yarn, plastic lids of all sizes and varieties, graph paper. Some of these things I do have in other parts of the house but was fearful would run out or go AWOL when the time came. Other items, I kept in their usual place but just beefed up the supply.

However you work it out for yourself, I caution you STRONGLY to review each and every to-do you cut and fold and drop into that bucket to assure that they meet the following criteria: are they age appropriate for your brood? are they things you're comfortable with them doing solo? do you have the supplies where the kids can grab them when they need them? Ideally, they will use this bucket without your help; as such, do yourself a favor and do the heavy-lifting up front.

I sat down with my printable list of content and went through each item individually, assessing what supplies I needed, whether I had them on hand, and whether they warranted inclusion in the bored tub in the garage. I made a list of supplies to buy and one of supplies or items to gather around the house. Bought and gathered and dumped in bin. Printed out a list of all items I had stashed in that tub; taped that baby right onto the tub. Stashed tub where I can easily get it in garage.

After that was all done, I printed out my list, cut them down to size, folded them up, and dropped them in my bucket, with a silent prayer that they might just work as intended.



Friday, May 25, 2012

"Mommy's guide to summer survival," part 3: family post office

I am SO excited about this one. And, that excitement pales in comparison to my kids' excitement, especially that of 4B.

4B, being a boy, isn't a huge fan of writing. He also inherited 4Daddy's sloppy handwriting, and 4B hustles through all writing tasks. The result? Work that is sloppy and not quite his full effort. Both his AMAZING K and 1st grade teachers recommend practice, however we can get it.

4B is also the only of my children who seems to need entertainment. Odd because he is, on some level, the easiest of the bunch, but he seems to need the most busy management...as in manage his ass to stay busy so we don't come to blows! ;)

Hence, the creation of our FAMILY POST OFFICE!

It'll probably help make this seem more awesome if you envision artful photos taken with a super nice camera and beautifully done/coordinated product. Our life just doesn't work that way. Plus, the KIDS did the work (as they should, in my opinion).

Here's how our family post office works. Anyone can send mail to anyone at anytime. Mail includes notes, drawings, trinkets, money, candy, you name it! If you can find it and you want to part with it, send away! 4B even put together a helpful list of hints for his sisters about what they could send. (Truthfully, I don't know if I've ever seen this kid so jazzed about one of my ideas!).

Mail MUST include a "to" address, a "from" address, and a "stamp." The five-and-under crowd is excused from this rule. However, I have printed out labels for her with everyone's names before.

Outgoing mail is placed in our family mailbox, which we keep by the front door on the main floor. (Please excuse the mess; four children live and play here.)


Once a day, usually before bed, the postmaster empties that family mail box, checks the mail for to and from addresses and stamps, STAMPS it as received, and delivers it into the individual mailboxes, which we house on a bookshelf in our bedroom.


That's it. Easy peasy, and the kids LOVE this. So much. SOOOO much.

Here are a few recommendations/ideas that we learned along the way. But, of course, you absolutely MUST embellish, elaborate, and redesign as to make it fit for your family.

How to make your family's post office
I wasn't interested in buying a bunch of stuff to make this fly. Sure, it would've made the pictures so much cuter to have it all match-y and uniform. But, cheap and easy and kids working solo were more important to me.

Accordingly, our family mailbox is a shoebox with a hinged lid. 4B really needed it to be "covered in bricks," so one morning over breakfast, he colored the bricks onto white paper, and I trimmed and folded and taped his bricks so as to cover the box. Our flag is card stock with a brad so that it can be raised and lowered (it's non-laminated and flimsy, but we don't care!).


Our individual mailboxes were made from empty milk cartons and granola bar boxes. We covered them with wrapping paper and/or drawings and stickers. Except that 4B used his trinket box that he made at his ill-fated stint at Cub Scout camp last summer. He wanted Mario to sit up top, for some reason. 4C had made a paper mailbox at preschool for Valentine's Day. Some wanted flags and some didn't. 4B wanted to make everyone's name tag for each box. 4A wasn't havin' it (of course), so she made her own.

To make it "official," I made a family post office sign with freebie clip art.

Being postmaster ROCKS!
By far, hands down, the most enticing part for everyone is being postmaster. I bought a date stamp at Walmart, which has a "received" setting and lets us reset the date every day. Oh my goodness! You would have thought I bought them a bar of gold! Best $16 I ever spent, my friend. The bigs are serious as a heart attack about that stamp. If mail doesn't have the requisite to or from address or stamp, it goes back to the sender as undeliverable. Dead serious. Our way cool stamp looks like this one...


I had toyed with buying a super cute "postal cancellation" rubber stamp on Etsy, but the thought of an accessible stamp pad and a super investigatory toddler made me weak in the knees. There are also really cute rubber stamps of a "postage stamp" that the kids would've loved, too. Dig around and find what works for you.

Supplies for your family post office
To start out, we filled our supply bin with index cards and neon notepaper that we bought at the dollar store. Pens and pencils and some stickers. We also save those "send your payment" envelopes that we get in bills after we pay them electronically. When those run out, we use cheapy dollar store envelopes.

For stamps, I downloaded a few free printable stamp coloring pages and then printed them as contact prints. 4C, who is VERY seriously practicing her scissor skills for Kindergarten this fall, cut them all out. We use a glue stick to affix them. I draw my own stamps on mail that I send, but the kids REALLY love sticking on these "official" ones.

You can find ones to adapt to your use here.

Whenever I find junky old note cards at the dollar store or a garage sale or we get free cards from a charity, I throw those into the stash. We also cut the fronts off of greeting cards and birthday cards that we receive and then use those as postcards (on the backs, I draw a "to" line at the top, a "from" line at the bottom, and leave the center blank for drawing or writing).

What to mail

For the bigs, I ask them silly questions, asking them to reply back to me through the mail. They also love a list of items that they can check off as yes or no. 4B and I play tic tac toe through the mail, too.

They draw lots of pictures of LOTS of horses for 4D. ;)

For 4C, who is almost 5, I draw a picture and write the word, and then I leave her a line to copy the word. Her siblings usually read her notes to her, and she LOVES to write the word and send it back to me. She and I also take turns embellishing a scene through the mail. I"ll draw sunshine. Then she sends it back with a tree added. Then I send it back with a flower added. Then she sends it back with a bee added. Ad infinitum.

The kids LOVE to receive pennies and quarters, sticks of gum, temporary tattoos, and band-aids from me. They send each other little trinkets (erasers and silly bands from their own stashes). I've also sent "get out of chores tomorrow free!" cards. BIG hit! I've also mailed them a picture from when they were babies with a little note about the outfit or stage of their life or event. They LOVE those! I've also printed off connect-the-dots pages or mailed pages torn from a workbook or coloring book with a note asking them to complete and mail back for a special treat (a coupon for 15 minutes of extra reading time after lights out, usually).

We make free printable coupons here.

There you have it, my friend. Super fun, super easy, super cheap, and keeps them super busy. Happy mailing!

Friday, May 18, 2012

"Mommy's summer survival guide," part 2: a few printable teasers

OOOOOHHHHH!! I am SO psyched about this little series! Bursting at the seams. You are going to LOVE this!!!

To whet your appetites, I give you these fantabulous linky-doddles.

FREE printable technology punch cards, which I dare to hope will curb 4B's incessant Wii- and DSi-ing.

AND....

FREE printable door hanger that you can use to let neighborhood friends know when your tribe IS and IS NOT free to play.

Do me a favor, will you?

Start your summer sanity-saving work NOW! Do not smile, say "That's a KILLER idea," and bookmark (either electronically or intellectually). NO WAY! That is not how a mommy is going to survive this summer.

Do this instead. Click on the link. See the pretty site? See the great idea? See the freebie? That's a good girl. Now, download. Done? Great. Now print. All set? Super. Grab those two (or more) pieces of paper that you saved and put them in a folder or an envelope or a baggie and mark it "Summer." Stash it in a spot where you won't lose it (you're going to add to it, and you're going to make a better saver-spot, but you'll have to wait for that).

I have been doing a tiny bit of work each day, prepping my survival kit, and I can't tell you the immense joy I positively KNOW I will feel on 6/13...our first real full day of summer.

The next one is a goody, too, and FREE! Stay tuned...

Friday, May 11, 2012

New series: "Mommy's guide to summer survival", part 1

I don't know about you, but the end of this school year seems to be RAPIDLY approaching. I'm excited to have the kids home (no sarcasm...honest!), but I don't know if I'm ready.

Those of you who know me in real life know that I am a planner and an organizer by nature. In my mind, I'm always a few weeks ahead of where I am in real time. Not in a checked-out way, but in an "it's-coming-and-if-I-have-a-shot-at-enjoying-it-I-better-plan-for-it" way. Nothing make life more un-fun than a mommy unprepared.

So, as I prep my own little family towards Summer Break 2012, I thought you may appreciate joining me for the ride.

Here's what I'm planning for our little "Mommy's guide to summer survival" series (aside from numerous trips to the liquor store to restock): a HUGE list of activities to include in a summer "I'm bored" jar and the BEST way to use said jar, links to kick-ass printables to make your summer a breeze, creating summer kits to keep the kids busy (a spy kit, a collage-making kit, and more), building your birthday and Christmas gift stash over the break, and surviving the summer camp rat race with sanity in tact.. I may come up with more ideas along the way, but there's where I'm starting.

Check back (and often) for more in this series. The way I look at it, the more we stick, together the better chance we have at survival.

First up will be the "bored" jar tutorial-ish post. Stay tuned...it's a GOOD one!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Hodge podge

Life over here has been hectic, to say the least. Everything seems to pile up in the spring, doesn't it? Dance recitals, promotion ceremonies, teacher appreciation, planning out summer camps and trips, wrapping up Girl Scouts and sports and classes. It's been a whirlwind.

I've been meaning to post about a few things, and here they are, in no particular order...

Dentist reminder
My littlest one had her 6 month checkup at the dentist. She went, sat in my lap on the chair, opened her mouth wide when asked, and quietly sat there for her exam. Reminded AGAIN of the joys of typical development. It's still remarkable to me, after all these years. If you remember, that was NOT our experience with 4A.

The joys of typical development
4C is getting ready for her dance recital. I had attended the last class to see the routine, and I bawled my eyes out, seeing her following the teacher's directions and participating just because she wanted to...no social story, no reinforcement, no talking with the teacher. Last night, she and I showed up to the strange and HUGE auditorium for the dress rehearsal. She put on her rather scratchy outfit, climbed up onto that stage, stood in the HUGE and BRIGHT and LOUD space, and did exactly what her teacher told her to do. And, she was overjoyed to do it! Damn my crazy ass, but I bawled AGAIN. Seeing that typical development, that enthusiasm, that WANTING to do and be a part of something just because it feels good to do it, still trips me up. Still. Probably always.

Helping rescue amazing kids in need
If you haven't had a chance yet to visit the Hidden Treasures Auction blog, I encourage you to visit in early June. You'll find lovely handmade and other treasures, and 100% of your payment goes to help a family bring an amazing kid home to a loving family. You can learn more about the horrific and inhumane treatment of these beautiful kids here. Some of you have been moved by Katie's story and have asked how you can help. There are so many ways, and I thank you for asking!

  • Make or buy something to donate to the next auction. 
  • Donated a gift card to a national chain (Target, McDonalds, Starbucks). Got one as a gift that you won't use? Great...pass along to this great cause.
  • Purchase two of the next birthday gift that you buy for a child and donate one to HT. 
  • Purge your gently-used book, children's toys, and DVD collections; donate items. 
  • Log on and BID (and bid HIGH) on these great items. 
  • Print out a picture of the next child up to come home, put it on your fridge with a baggie, and encourage your kids to fill that baggie with change; match their contributions and donate to that child's loving family.
  • Post a link to the next auction on your Facebook page; encourage your friends to bid.
  • Share the story of these amazing kids and their families with everyone you meet. Tell them about these auctions. Spread the word and the link.
Recovering from spring break
4A has had a hard time recovering from Spring Break. This happens every year. The week or two before break, the kids are wild and the teachers are tired. Things slack a bit. It's natural and normal and okay. When the kids come back from break, the hammer comes down, and things get back to business. Natural and normal and okay again. Most kids enjoy the heck out of that slack before break and get their shit together quick after break.

4A does not. The slack before break doesn't trip her up too much any more, but the hammer post-break makes her NUTS. In her Aspie mind, the rules changed before break. When she returns from break, she expects the slack version again. Makes her nuts that the slack is no longer the rule. We get her back on track every year with extra reinforcements and hyper-viligant use of the behavioral plan. But, there's the extinguishment burst (meaning that the behavior is worse before it gets better because she's trying her darnedest to make the teacher go back to the slack). We're just about back to normal, and it feels good.

I am reminded this year, though, that I need to be better about reminding the teacher of this pattern in the month before the break. Add to 4A's rule book for fall...check!

I'm also reminded how tricky 4A is. She gets a LOT of support and has for a VERY long time. That's a great thing, and it allows her to be super successful. But, because she is so successful, often times, the folks on the team (myself included) start to forget. She starts to do so well that I seductively think that she's finally "getting it" or turning the corner. Supports disappear, and she's a mess. Ipso facto, the success is support driven. I know she has autism. I'm in complete acceptance (and adoration) of her. But, I think I still hold out some hope that she will "learn" her way out of it. This was another good reminder of the permanancy of her wiring.

Math
So, 4A had been FAILING her timed math fact (multiplication) quizzes. This is despite early intervention math twice a week before school, 5 minutes of flashcards or math fact iPad games each day, and a trial test each evening. She was wearing my (and her teacher's) ass out!

The brilliant Dr. Steve came up with a plan. Revised it when she outsmarted the plan. Revised it yet again. We have now successfully closed ALL loopholes, and she is earning her way out of doing the practice tests by proving to us that she knows the facts. Five days of a correct answer on a given fact means that fact disappears (replaced with a new one that she doesn't know). Once we are confident that she's learned the facts, then we can work on increasing speed.

Sounds silly, I suppose, but she knows that there is only one minute of time. If she takes her time, she doesn't have to do all of the problems. She misses the point, of course, that doing it quickly and doing them all correctly yields a "good" grade. A "good" grade creates a happy or proud feeling; that feeling is a social construct. As such, we have to replicate that "feeling" artificially.

We've successfully learned x0, x1, x2, x3, x4, and x5 such that no finger counting or array drawing is involved in those any more. Even on a test with ONLY those problems that she knows cold, it still takes her 90 seconds to complete 16 problems. So, now, she gets a 75% or so because she can at least complete 3/4 of the 16 problems in the minute given. We're getting there.

Hurting and healing a momma's heart
I was picked on a lot as a kid. My family moved a lot, and being the new kid was hard. In fact, in 4th grade, when I was new to a school, the other kids formed an "I hate Hollie and Jenny" club on the playground to gang up on me and the other new girl. Years of therapy later, it doesn't hurt any more, but I VOWED that my kids would NOT bully. Period. No room for discussion. Intolerance was the only parenting option for me.

Well, 4A called a kid a dork on the bus. Poor, sweet little kindergartener...when she would see him each day, she said, "Hi dork," in her dry, monotone Aspie voice. I heard about it from her teacher. I tried to stay calm and rational. I really did. She has autism, I told myself. She doesn't understand that her perceptions are to stay in her head and not come out of her mouth. But, autism or not, name calling is not acceptable in our family; a broken rule has a behavioral consequence, but more importantly than that, when we make mistakes, we try to fix them.

When I asked her about it, she fessed right up. I told her that she hurt his feelings. She gave me that blank look of non-understanding. I told her that her biggest fear is that people think she's a baby; how would she feel, then, if someone walked up to her and said, "Hi baby." Know what? She cried her eyes out. She realized, then, how bad it must have hurt.

Okay. So, to fix mistakes in this family, we apologize and try harder next time. We worked through her apology. Me: Why are you sorry? Her: Because I shouldn't have said it. Me: Why not? Her: Because it wasn't true. Me: Then why did you say it? Her: Other kids call their brothers dorks all the time. Me: (after explaining the difference between name-calling amongst siblings and amongst children who are not related) If you know that our family rule is no name-calling, then why did you say it? Her: I was trying to look cool in front of my friends. My heart broke.

So, we rehearsed her apology a few times. Little sweet boy gets off the bus, and she apologized, very genuinely. "I'm sorry I called you a dork because it's not true and because I was just trying to be cool in front of my friends." Without missing a beat, she then turns to me and says in her dry, monotone Aspie voice, "Can I go now?" CRINGE! I was SO embarrassed.

She made a genuine, honest, real, thoughtful apology, and she had to go and ruin it. Sigh. I then had to reinforce the apology but disincentivize the editorial comment at the end of said beautiful apology. Bigger sigh.


Being a mom is super hard. As a mom, I try my very, very best to teach these kids right from wrong. Not "Right" from "Wrong," but what we consider, based on our values, to be the rules for living a decent life. We talk about it. We practice it. We reinforce it. And guess what? It doesn't always work.

They are still people. People have autonomy. They have free will. They get to make their own choices. They make mistakes. Sometimes, they know the rule and chose to break it.

I have to remind myself that her choices are a reflection of HER and not me. I know I am doing "right" by her, meaning that I am doing my very best to teach her to be honest and kind and fair and decent. Sure, I screw it up sometimes (we all do; even those of us who won't admit it), but I'm doing a good job. And, my "good," I mean the very best that I can given my circumstances. Whether or not I could do "better" is really not an appropriate question. Sure, YOU might do it differently given what YOU know and who YOUR children are. But, given who I am and what I know and who they are, I feel like I'm doing the "right" thing for them.

There are as many ways to parent children as there are parents. There is not an objectively right or wrong way.

It can be really, really hard to lose sight of that when our children disappoint us. Or, more importantly, when someone else's child does something that would violate one of our rules for our children. It is very, very easy (and dangerous) to jump to conclusions about someone else's parenting. "Well, my child would NEVER do that because I ________ (insert your verbiage of choice: teach her not to, spank her so she knows not to do it, won't allow such behavior, wouldn't tolerate it, etc.)." (And, I'm really not talking about myself and my parenting in this situation here; I'm talking about being a parent generally and rushing to judgment about the parental link between or cause of a particular child's behavior.)

A child's behavior is a reflection of them and their choices, not a reflection of that child's parent. We parents can do our level best to teach them the "right" way to do things, and they still get to make their own choice. Sure, some parents don't give a shit. Some don't try. Some don't care. But, I think most of us DO care and DO try, but our kids still get to make their own choices about who they want to be in the world.

That is a very uncomfortable pill to swallow.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Haitus ends

I suppose you thought that I'd forgotten about you. Not so, my friend.

As you remember, I elected to take a break during Lent. Time to recharge with my family, dig us out of our mess, slow down and reconnect. It worked beautifully. So beautifully, in fact, that for now I'm preferring to continue on that path.

I know the blog serves a very valid purpose, and I've gotten feedback of how much it helps folks. I LOVE that, having once been in a place where I needed that help and had no where to get it. Not to date our spectrum experience, but "nowadays" there are a plethora of blog and parent resources...so many, in fact, that ours seems redundant (to me).

And, the autism blogosphere is really now pretty well codified. I feel/fear that there's not much more for me to contribute. However, there is a dearth of resources out there for families of high-functioning girls. I suppose that's the weight I can add to the now well-oiled machine.

The blog is very easy to write. I love my Aspie. I am blessed by autism. It has improved my life. I love my NT children, too. They have blessed my life. It's easy for me to relay that love to you, explaining our struggles and our joys. That is no problem (although finding time to write can be tough).

But, on some level, the blog is also painstaking to write. It delves up a lot of past history that can, at times, be hard to go back to...times and places and parts of our journey that I'm happy are closed...it hurts to reopen them.

There is also the issue of its public nature. Anyone and everyone can read it...even folks that I wish couldn't. And, while I know it's helpful for you for me to describe what happens at school, we are still living there in real time. There is a very fine line between giving you tools for your own experience and protecting the privacy and amicability of ours. I'm not sure how well I walk that line, frankly.

So, I plan to amble through and continue but on a somewhat different plane than before my hiatus. Before the hiatus, I think I felt like I had something to prove. So much of what I read in the autism blogosphere isn't accurate or fully descriptive as to our experience. I guess I felt somehow like I had to prove that ours, too, was real. Ridiculous but honest. I fear that in the process, I may have inadvertently stomped too hard on some issues that I really have no business trying to prove. I owe an apology, and I will send it post haste.

I think I also was feeling somewhat like a know-it-all. We have lived those early stages of the journey and survived them. I was feeling powerful in that regard. I lost sight of the fact that although I have lived and learned those portions, I have not lived or learned the whole thing. And, most importantly, that journey and the presentation of autism is one's life is always, always different. That is okay. It doesn't make my experience less valid. Even though our experience doesn't seem like it fits when I read descriptions of high-functioning boys, I know that our Aspie has autism and that our experience is real. Talking with moms of other high-functioning girls solidifies that.

I also live and breathe autism every single moment of every single day. There are days, times, moments, weeks when I want a break from autism. The blog (and my feeling of obligation to it) was making that hard. I think that "hard" was because I felt such a burden to PROVE. I have relieved myself of said burden. Officially. (I hope) completely.

I love being a mom, especially the mom of an Aspie. I will do my best to continue to keep it real but, perhaps, on a smaller or less intense field.

I have missed you, my friend. Looking forward to getting back on track with you.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Being a NT in an Aspie's space

I think I've tried to describe how it feels for 4A, being an Aspie living in a NT world. I hope I've also accurately described the profound respect that I have for her, her wiring, and her "world view." As you know by now, I hope, there is nothing "wrong" with her; she is just wired in another way, a way that is different from the NT way.

All of this is okay. It's not sad. It's not upsetting. I'm not heartbroken. I don't feel like we all got the short stick. Quite the opposite, in fact. I feel that we're lucky. Lucky to have the the experience that things aren't always as they seem. Lucky to know that all things are not easy or normal or as expected. Autism has enriched our family, not detracted from it.

But, all that being said, I want to describe for you today what it is to be a NT who lives with or alongside the Aspie world. We aren't in that world or even invited to participate in it, but we are privy to it. We understand what it looks like and how it works, and we've come to respect (and, dare I say, admire) it.

That doesn't mean, though, that it doesn't suck to be so close to it at times. Please know that we are not upset or sad or discouraged or mad. We love it. We love her. She loves us. All is right with the world. But, there are days or times or stretches where we feel battered.

Because of her autism, 4A perceives the world around her, including the social interactions in it, in a factual or literal way. Having no filter, she then reports or describes the thing she sees or experiences in a factual or literal way. Again, this is all "okay." We know that she doesn't mean what she says in the social sense of the word "mean." She means it in a factual way. The factual way, for her, is not rude or offensive or jarring. She's not trying to hurt us; she's simply reporting what she perceives.

But, being the NT in the equation, even a NT who understands and respects the wiring, I sometimes feel beaten down by all her "honesty" and factual observations. 4Daddy and 4B do, too. It's okay. We love her. We know she doesn't "mean" it, but NT as we are, with wiring that makes us social and socially sensitive beings, we can and do feel hurt.

Out of the kids in our family, 4B gets the worst of it. Poor kid. I can see him tense up when she asks him a question about his preferences, what he thinks about a book or a movie, or anything that has a yes/no answer. He knows what's coming. She's going to make him feel bad. Not on purpose. But, she's going to make a factual assessment about his opinion juxtaposed against her (superior) one. She's not intending to hurt him, but she does. Her bluntness stings at times. Add into that that he's a particularly sensitive NT, and it makes for probably more hurt feelings on his end than are actually warranted.

Out of the parents in our family, I get the brunt of it. I'm here more than 4Daddy, and 4A has always selected or identified me as her anchor or touchstone. I am the one person with which she needn't try so hard to get it socially correct. I'm her safety. That's a wonderful privilege, and I am honored to hold it and challenged by it. But it still hurts some times even though I know she doesn't "mean" it. Knowing every single thing she thinks about all of the social relations and requests and interactions in our house combined with my NT social wiring and social sensitivities means that I am, at times, on edge or worn down by all her bluntness.

Those of you who are moms of young children know that "on edge" doesn't work very well for a family. A mommy-on-the-edge has a ripple effect. It trickles down and puts everyone else on edge. This, at times, can translate into yelling, anger, resentment, nagging, expecting someone to know better when s/he is developmentally incapable of doing so.

Knowing all of us, what am I to do about it?

Option A: Teach our Apsie the "right" way

Most NTs, especially NT adults who are parents of NT children, presuppose that the answer lies in "fixing" or "teaching" the Aspie the "right" way to do things socially. How much easier life would be in this house if that were possible or probable.

Ironically, there is no "right" way (although this concept generally and frequently eludes most NTs, myself included at times). NTs understand a "right" way in that they "know" there is a generally acceptable social response to certain groups of social situations. NTs, then, are able to generalize or extrapolate the "right" social response for the myriad social encounters they experience.

Aspies don't work that way. An Aspie, mine in particular, treats all social situations factually. Given that the facts are different every single time, the generally-applicable social principle NTs want me to teach her as the "right" way may not feel like it "fits" to my Aspie. An Aspie can, with lots of support, learn the social principle, but figuring out how to apply it becomes a stumbling block because if she learned it in factual situation A she doesn't know that it applies to factual situation B unless I tell her that it does. It is categorically impossible to teach her the principle that applies to every single factual scenario she may encounter.

Option B: Grow a thicker skin

Adult Aspies will tell you this: not only is there nothing "wrong" with them, but their wiring is, in fact, the preferable neurological prototype because it eliminates the "fluff" of feelings. Life would be SO much easier if the Aspie version prevailed. Imagine a world in which you could say what you meant and actually mean what you say!! Heaven on earth. Utopia!

While that isn't the way the world works, I can/could simulate that by just having a thicker skin, letting her factual assessments roll off. Not giving a shit. I've gotten really good at this, actually. More often than not, I can and do let it roll off. The rolling off is made easier by the fact that I understand the place or world from which she operates.

But, I am, alas, a human, and a NT one at that. I do have feelings. I am wired to socially connect with those around me. I want to feel liked and loved by her. I want her to respect me. I want the golden rule to apply. These wants, despite my best efforts at a thicker skin, sometimes do get the best of me. When that happens, my Aspie seems to me (even though she isn't) just downright mean or rude.

Fair? No. Reality? Yes.

Option 3: Try, cope, deal, let it go

This is the ad-hoc response we've bootstrapped together over here.

We try to teach her (with the help of social stories and reinforcers and doctors and social skills training and therapies and the whole nine (million) yards).

We cope as best we can. We have lots of support, take breaks when we can, and reassure each other, balming and soothing hurt NT feelings where we can and redirecting/anticipating/preempting Aspie factual assessments when we can.

We deal with the commingling of NT and Aspie worlds in this house by explaining everything, excusing nothing. Holding all the social aspects of our lives out in the open and treating each other with respect. We deal with the fact that our Aspie has an uphill battle at school, with friends, and outside of our home and family by allowing her a relative or relaxed social freedom at home. Home is, after all, her safe place; everyone deserves a place where she can be herself. We deal with the fact that this relaxed social freedom at home for the Aspie in our family can make life harder for the NTs in our family by making sure that the NTs get lots of breaks and reassurance. And, the occasional extra dessert, wine after (or during) bedtime, and hookey from responsibilities don't hurt either.

We let it go as much and as often as we can. That translates differently depending on the day, week, or moment. Sometimes it's a messy kitchen or floor. Sometimes its a move-all-the-furniture-and-pick-up-every-shred-or-scrap-of-kid-evidence -type of deep clean. Sometimes it's letting someone slide on a chore or responsibility or foul-up. Sometimes its incessant nagging or reminding to do said chores or meet said responsibility. Sometimes it's talking quietly and sweetly and calmly. Sometimes it's screaming at the top of one's lungs. Sometimes it's meeting up with a friend for distraction. Sometimes it's bailing on a friend because we just need downtime. Sometimes it's a long walk or a hot bath or a second (larger) glass of wine. Sometimes its a movie-on-the-couch-with-four-helpings-of-dessert couch potato/gluttonous kind of day. Sometimes it's super early bedtime so we can have peace and quiet faster. Sometimes it's stay up late to talk and cuddle and reassure.

It is, after all, really just life. Life with all of its splendor and aggravation and joy and stress. We, just like you, do the very best we can in each moment that we're given.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Invisible social dances

While we're on the topic of dancing, I want to chat, for a minute, about invisible social dances.

These invisible social dances exist in NT "nature." You know what they look like b/c your dance card is routinely punched for them. A friend tries on a new outfit and says, "Does this make me look fat?" NO! The answer is always no, regardless of the actual facts. You know that. A friend gets a haircut. You know that you're supposed to say "It looks great!," even if it, in fact, does not. A friend's kid whines and pitches a fit until said friend gives up and gives in. You don't call her on it; you say, "Kids are so exhausting, aren't they?" You know these things because you're NT.

Well, I'm a NT. And, someone, unbeknowst to me and without my permission, has punched my dance card for the following lovely numbers.

Upon seeing me with my four children, folks count them and then ask, "Are they all yours?" or say, "You sure do have your hands full!"

Upon hearing my Aspie quip some socially-inappropriate comment or retort, folks get an embarrassed look and say, "Kids!" *head shaking while thinking "That woman should be ashamed to allow that child talk like that."*

Upon offering us a modification or support at school, someone says, "Well, that's just what we think, but you know her best."

I know what I'm supposed to say. I do. Honest. I'm NT, so I'm wired to know what I'm supposed to say to avoid a scene, and I've been appropriately socially trained by my parents and my teachers and the media to know how to respond.

Problem is...I really, REALLY no longer feel like saying what I'm supposed to say.

I want to slap that asshole in the store who just counted my kids. Or, better yet, I want to dump them on him for an hour or two so I can grab a shower and a cup of coffee.

I wanna say, "Yeah, let me tell you a story, buddy, about kids. The kind that have autism and diagnoses. The kind that need social stories and reinforcement. The kind who's teachers and caregivers and friends don't understand them. And the whole nine yards."

I wanna say "Fuck you."

I really, really, really do.

But, I won't because I can't. NT as I am, I don't want to offend anyone or be rude or make a scene.

So, here's what I really want to know.

What idiot decided that this NT invisible social dancing business was a good idea?

Seriously.

Why is it that we can't say what we mean and mean what we say? Why is it that people think they can say borderline inappropriate things to us when they know we can't respond? Why is it that people are allowed to make social assumptions about us because of what we wear or how we look or what we say without knowing a thing about us?

Who decided that all of this invisible bullshit was okay?

My Aspie has bypassed this invisible bullshit because of her wiring; my heart rejoices for her that she's immune to this transparency and "don't-say-what-you-really-think" social mentality. Because of her wiring, she gets to be exactly who she is, unhampered or uninhibited by social reality. She is SO lucky! Honestly, who wants to deal with this two-faced social reality?

So, why is it, then, that I'm socially required to teach her to navigate a "system" that is so systemically flawed and fake and transparent and ridiculous? Who got to say that this is the way the world is "supposed" to work?

Today, that's what I want to know.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Helping NT friends navigate an Aspie

I received the following question about my "AS, encapsulated" post, and I will share my response here. Partly because I am too long-winded and Goggle rejected my response to the comment itself because it was too long! But, mostly because I feel that it nicely frames and raises questions that others out there in cyberspace may have.

The question
"Hollie, I knew that it was 4A saying that, and I was wondering what you thought of how the other leader "reprimanded" her. I'm guessing she didn't know 4a's background, but just wanted to discourage other girls from chiming in. 

So, what would have been the correct way (for 4a) to explain this to her? I'm just curious? Something along the lines of, "Yes, I noticed that he was using the wrong hands too. But saying this out loud in front of everyone made him feel bad." ?? 

My daughter asked me about the situation at home, and i explained that because of the way 4a's brain works, things go right from her brain to her mouth and we need to understand that about her and love her the way she is. Was that an ok way to put it?"

My response
Ah, Laura. You're a good mom to support your girl when friendship is confusing. 

When encountered with Aspie friends or classmates, NT kids need some extra support. It's hard to be friends with someone who's different when you yourself, as a preadolescent, want so desperately to fit in. NT kids need support to have a thicker skin when being friends with an Aspie (because they often don't mean what they say in the social sense of the word "mean") and to see themselves in the role of helper or teacher.

While what 4A said appears mean-spirited to most folks, her brain actually isn't always capable of letting her know that what she said was mean. To her, she made a simple factual statement when she saw a rule being broken; she wasn't trying to be mean. So, while your NT daughter does need your reassurance that it's okay to love 4A even though she doesn't have that filter, you could also encourage her to help 4A when she hears 4A say something that sounds mean-spirited or embarrassing (to herself or others). She could say something like, "4A, don't say that out loud. People think that stuff like that is rude."

When my NT kids ask questions similar to the one your NT daughter asked, I say something like, "Because she has autism, her brain has a hard time knowing when something is mean or rude, and her brain doesn't always stop her from saying what it thinks. It's okay for you to respectfully tell her when she is being mean or rude; that will help her learn." Most often, 4A's statements are facts (in her mind) that are socially unfiltered. When she spouts off a "fact" to a sibling (most often it's a statement of her skill compared to their own), I add the following to my little diddy above: "It's important to love and forgive even if you are hurt or mad." And, to be clear, there are times when she's just downright mean on purpose; all siblings are.

As for the "right" way for the reprimand by an adult to be given in this particular instance, it's not really a question I can answer. Because all the girls were being disruptive, she was right to call all the girls in the room on their behavior. Because we can never know the abilities or quirks or motives of those around us, I always try to make more blanket statements. Something like "girls, please don't call out during the presentation" will likely do the trick without overstepping.

As for a grownup who would attempt to correct 4A in that situation, I would offer this. Words and explanations and lectures are often hopelessly ineffective on an Aspie. Lectures and explanations are given for the purpose of scolding the recipient, in a "you know that wasn't nice, but you did it anyway and that was wrong" kind of way. Many, many folks make the mistake of thinking that if they just explain to the Aspie that she was rude, as they would to a NT child in a similar situation, she'll get it. This is an inaccurate assumption. The Aspie lacks the social wiring that a NT has to be motivated by such a correction. The NT child won't make that mistake again after the "talking to" because she's embarrassed or doesn't want to upset you again or doesn't want people to think she's mean. Those are all social connections that render the "talking to" effective on the NT child.

The Aspie child doesn't have that social wiring. As such, she's likely not going to be motivated to self-correct after the "talking to." As for teaching her intuition about when to keep her mouth shut, social stories may be helpful, but because she treats all of these things factually, it becomes hard to address every possible situation, setting, and scenario. To motivate her to keep it shut, a good solid, overall behavioral system can often reduce problem behaviors while increasing appropriate ones. This is what we use for 4A.

In this particular situation, the reprimander likely didn't notice but also certainly would have never said, in front of the whole group, "Yes, he is using the wrong hand position, but it's not nice to call him on it." If she said that, she, too, would have run the risk of embarrassing the poor kid. She was right to quiet the girls from disrupting the presentation; as for her addressing or assigning motives to the disruption, I choose not to address or think about or comment. I operate on the plane that all kinds of things happen and are said in life. Rather than worrying about the statements or things, we, in this family, worry about our own choices and behaviors and responses rather than calling others out on theirs.

There is a really super cool book, The Autism Acceptance Book. It's a spiral-bound workbook with exercises to help a NT kid understand autism and how best to be friends with someone on the spectrum. I use snippets from it all the time when I teach about autism at the kids' school.

And, I thank you, my friend, for being willing to learn about autism. Your daughter and mine are better off for it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

AS, encapsulated

I finally have it! The most perfectly encapsulated snippet of time that perfectly illustrates Asperger's Syndrome. So perfect, in fact, that I fear it will come across as contrived. You be the judge.

4A is a Girl Scout, and I am her troop leader. Those of you who have or were GS know about Thinking Day. Thinking Day is the most important day of the year for a GS; on that day, she celebrates herself as part of a worldwide movement of GS and Girl Guides, reflecting on how she can change the world. Cool stuff!

Where we live, the GS in our area get together to celebrate. This year, we all selected different countries, showcasing for the girls the things that GS/GG do all over the world.

One troop represented Russia and asked some dancers to come and give a demonstration. The young man was dressed in traditional garb, and he and his female partner described the garb. Apparently, the garb has some romantic significance, and these two, teenagers that they are, were a little silly about describing said romantic significance. The young man was a wonderful presenter: confident, humorous, and showy. All 135 girls in the room felt at ease, cheering or laughing where socially warranted. The silly mood had been set, and it had worked to enrapture the girls.

Now as this all unfolded, the young man described the differences between the way males and females dance in the culture. He made a big show of how male dancers put their hands in fists at their waists to show off their muscles and strength. He even asked two brothers in the group to come up and demonstrate their manliness. Pretty jokey and overdone but all in good fun. Girls and grownups alike giggled at the silliness, enraptured.

The young man then went on, with the help of his female partner, to explain how females dance with their hands open on their waists to show that they are pretty and feminine. Point demonstrated and belabored again, to the giggling delight of all in the room.

Okay. Now the demonstration officially begins. Those NTs in the room were signaled to the fact that it was time to be serious by the change in the young man's tone and expression, the inclusion of music, and the grown-up inspired hushing around the room. All NTs in the room were very clear that the serious portion of the demonstration was about to begin.

At this point, I saw 4A sitting in the front row. I remember feeling vaguely aware that she may be inappropriate, lacking a social filter between her mind and her mouth, as she does due to her AS. But, no matter. We were within the safety of our fellow GS, folks who, whether they know her or not, are bound to be sisterly towards her.

I knew she was going to do it the moment before it happened. I watched the young man begin his serious dance with his hands in the female position. I noticed it. I figured other NTs noticed it. But, none of us was going to say anything, of course, because to do so would have been socially inappropriate. This was, after all, serious time.

Not my Aspie. Hell no! Why would she do that? This young man had just gone on and on about the requirements of hand placement for male and female dancers, why the placement is important, and announced a perfectly valid rule for all of the world to hear. He then violated that rule. He was a boy, but he used open hands at his waist. HE BROKE THE RULE!!

Lacking a social filter to know that it would be inappropriate to call him on it in front of the group during serious time, 4A blurted out, "You're dancing like a girl" in her monotone Aspie voice. Most of the girls and grownups in the room giggled. Why? 4A said what they knew to be true but wouldn't dare say themselves.

Partly because she liked the laughter, I suspect, and partly because he then continued to break the rule by not only using open female hand placement but also by flailing his arms around which he had previously said male dancers don't do, 4A said, loudly and drily again, "Now you're really dancing like a girly-girl."

Uproarious laughter now ensues amongst nearly every one of the 135 girls in the room. Now, the grownups in the room are uncomfortable. Here this sweet teenaged boy had the gumption to get up in front of a room of 135 girls and their moms and dance and actually talk to these girls about why he was doing it, and now those ungrateful little shits are going to LAUGH AT HIM!?!?!?!?! For shame!

So, one leader, loudly and boldly says, appropriately, "Knock it off, girls. This man has shown a lot of courage by getting up in front of you and doing this demonstration. Let's show him a little respect."

She was right, of course. Except that 4A didn't mean to do anything wrong. She made a very factual assessment of the rule violation that she saw taking place in front of her. She didn't say those things to be rude or hurtful or disrespectful. She said them because they were true.

Now, NT kids who heard her comments laughed because maybe they, too, felt awkward that he had violated his own rule. Maybe they just laughed because they thought she was taunting him and being funny. Maybe they just laughed because they got caught up in the mob mentality. Who knows? Who cares? Kids are kids.

One inappropriate comment was socially forgivable. Two, apparently, was not. Now, this grownup who called 4A out had no idea that the speaker had autism. This grownup just heard two socially inappropriate comments and treated them accordingly because she was one of the grownups in charge of the group. I would have done the exact same thing had I heard another kid say something so brass.

Except, that the kid who said it has a neurological disability that made (or prevented her from) say(ing) it. She honest-to-God has no idea that what she did was wrong. Know how I know? Because I asked her about it on the way home, and she was confused as all hell. Me: "Do you remember getting yelled at during the dance?" Her: "Yes." Me: "Know why?" Her: "I know she yelled at me because I must have been saying all kinds of inappropriate stuff." Me: "Why did you say what you said?" Her: "He's a boy, and he was using girl hands." BINGO! I knew it! I KNEW it!

So, as her mother, what am I to do about it?

Berate the lady who berated her because she has autism and can't help it, damn it? Absolutely not.

Not address it with 4A because she already got hollered at about it? Certainly not. Hollering or explaining never works with an Aspie. They're immune.

Ignore it with 4A because she can't help it? Positively, absolutely no way.

I know, of course, because I have a brain and because I can read, that grown Aspie women (and I mean those who have actually been diagnosed as Aspies and not those who identify as Aspies; the latter hold no stature with me), that Aspies do not want to be changed. There is nothing wrong with them, you see. They are wired the way that they are wired, and the world needs to get down with that and leave them alone. In fact, many of these Aspies find their wiring to be preferrable and more advantageous than the NT wiring because it allows them the advantage of a lack of emotional need.

I know that. I get it. On every single level (except the last), I wholeheartedly agree.

I love that girl of mine. I love her wiring. I understand it. I respect it. I get it. I don't want her to change. She doesn't need to. She's just great just how she is.

But, I know that the world doesn't know that. Specifically, that little encapsulated world in that room last night that she is connected to by gender, age, locale, and membership didn't get it. As her mom, I know that's okay. It doesn't matter if they get it or not. I don't need to educate them. I don't need to change them.

I do, however, need to educate my daughter on when it's appropriate to say things and when it's not. That's my job as her mother.

Why is that my job? No one likes an asshole, even an asshole who has a medical reason for being one. Most folks are going to take her factual assessments of truth as socially inappropriate because most of the world finds them to be just that. She's not doing anything wrong. Please understand. However, she needs skills and tools to know what to do about her factual assessments and statements of truth in social situations.

Giving her the skills and tools is rather difficult. Social stories help, of course, but how can one accurately define and describe every single scenario in which it is either socially appropriate or socially inappropriate to voice a comment and then accurately delineate which comments are inappropriate when? Your head should be spinning; her doctors' and mine are. The better/easier/more effective approach is to make a blanket bright-line rule that she may not comment in large groups unless she runs her comment by a trusted grownup first and then reinforce her when she follows that rule or does comment appropriately. That requires, then, a delineation of which grownups can be trusted when and where for appropriate feedback and requires them to, in fact, reinforce her for doing it the right way. When it's appropriate or inappropriate to comment is largely objective, but there are times when it's subjective. Whether or not one would comment at a given time or place is largely dependent on conceptions of hutzpuh or "balls," if you will. Who decides who can have what size balls in which situations? You catching my drift, here?

So, sure, we could bypass this whole headache of trying to teach and just let her spout off whenever and wherever she felt like it, throwing our hands in the air and crying "autism!" If we allowed her to do that, we would have two very big problems on our hands. (1) We'd be shitty parents. We'd be allowing her to get away with something just because it was too hard for us to fix. Shitty parenting I can honestly live with. It's the next one that is the undoing for me. (2) She's going to get hurt.

Hurt? Yep. Again, I remind you that no one likes an asshole, even one who is only an "asshole" because of a medical condition. If no one likes her, she may be just fine because she may, in fact, prefer to be alone. But, she will be an adolescent. Adolescents, as we all know, are ALL about fitting in and friends. Even if she does have social impairment that allows her to escape some of those feelings, she may not like being alone all the time. And, even if she does like being alone, no one can stand being bullied without some big scars. Sure, I can give her tools to withstand the bullying. But, wouldn't it, in fact, be easier to bypass the entire thing by helping her know when it's okay to say something and when it's not? Whether that's a hard thing to teach or not is irrelevant.

It's my job. Nothing about being a parent is easy. Not one single thing. It's my job. And, I'm going to man up (pun intended) and keep teaching her to navigate the invisible social dance of life.

Hard is easy is hard

Well, I learned (or was reminded of) another important lesson this week. NT and "easy" kids need too. Some, I think, would describe their needs as "easier," and some would describe the needs of ASD kids as "harder."

This whole easy/hard business frankly irritates me. At its core, it is very clearly an issue of judgment or a lack of empathy or a shade of envy. 

Your hard may be someone else's easy. Someone else's hard may be your easy. Circumstances are what they are. Circumstances, in and of themselves, are neither hard nor easy. It is the response of one person to her circumstances, the resources she has to confront them, and the multiplicity of circumstances working in her life at one time that render something hard or easy for her, I think. And, the very same circumstances can, for her, be easy one day or moment and hard the next. There is no definable or articulable category of hard or of easy. They are fluid and subjective, comprised of an infinitum list of variables.

As such, I think it's extremely dangerous to make comparisons. A comparison means that I look at my variables and someone else's and try to weigh them out against each other without the benefit of actual knowledge of the variables on one side of the "v." While I can (theoretically) be very accurate in assessing my own variables, I can never truly know with what variables the person on the other side of the "v." is working. So, in actuality, I am making assumptions about her variables, maybe giving her the benefit of the doubt or maybe not. As such, any assessment that I may make is flawed because it is not based in reality on one side of that "v." Comparisons breed anxiety and contempt and self-doubt. None of that is helpful around here.

That being said, I can tell you some things I'm learning while raising a child with ASD and a few NT ones. 

The kids who are perceived as "easy," those that go with the flow and, thus, make life easier, have very real moments of need. Need that can't be ignored just because that need is easy. Need that can't be put off just because that easy kid can wait. Everyone is needy on some level; there is only so long that someone can go, regardless of temperament, without having needs met. Finding time for that in a multitude of neediness is my hard.

The kid who is perceived by the outside world as being "hard" is actually the easiest of them all at times. It's literal and logical and cut-and-dry. It's quick. Little emotion is involved. Grey area is eradicated. If there's concern about the appropriate course, there are doctors to ask. Those doctors will respond with a "yes, that's right" or a "no, try this." You always know where you stand, with the docs and with that "hard" kid. It's definable and ratable and collectible and objective. There aren't a whole lot of "what ifs?" That is my super easy.

When someone is NT and has a strong temperament or inclination to please others, it is both very easy and very hard at the same time. Easy in that there's not a lot of external work that needs to be done to garner compliance. A "good job" or "the look" will usually keep the course steady. But, not everyone can please all of the time, especially a child who is growing and learning how to be an individual. At some point, that person who has always wanted to please learns that not pleasing may have benefits, too. When emotion is involved, logic can be harder to find. What to do about that is my hard.

All kids are different. Of course, NT ones are different than ASD ones. But NT ones differ from one another, too. And, ASD ones differ along the spectrum. People are people, after all. An ASD one can be super definable. Because the neurological wiring that underlies the disorder is locked up in social traits or responses, the social traits or responses one can expect from an ASD kid are predictable. There is a lot less predictability with NT kids. Trying to figure out who these people are, issues of wiring aside, and anticipate their needs is my hard.

All kids need love, Herculean amounts of it. That love needs to be unconditional and full and honest. It also has to include boundaries and limits. Trying to impose boundaries in boundless love can feel counterintuitive. But, boundaries can be reset and adjusted and moved as needed. The love part in the equation never has to be checked or reigned or reeled in. That is my super easy.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cleaning up, moving on

That "path to diagnosis" post really wasn't sitting well with me. I think my subjective opinion shown through WAY too much. I've redone, and you can view it here.

I'm on a little hiatus from Facebook, trying to dig my family and myself out of months of neglect. Between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day, we had, as a collective group, 4 bouts of strep, 2 rounds of the stomach bug, 3 sets of swollen tonsils with fever that never amounted to anything, 2 ear infections, 3 sinus infections, a bladder infection, a renal ultrasound, a bowel Xray, a horrific drug interaction experience, and a general "living under a black cloud" feeling. The shit started to pileup around here in more ways than one: literal, emotional, temporal, and nutritional.

Add into that whole mess (and there really is no other way to describe it, I think), a HUGE Girl Scout project that I elected to do for my daughter and her cluster, room parent responsibilities for two kids, shuttling 4C all over hither and yon, academic hiccups with 4A, emotional hiccups with 4A, 4Daddy's work travel obligations, a wonderful friend battling her way back from pancreatic cancer with a host of scary setbacks, PTA obligations, and some gentle nudges toward a job for me, and I was stretched WAY too thin.

This is despite my promise to myself (again) not to overdo. To do less better and happier. I am a terribly old dog in this department. Apparently unable to learn new tricks.

All that's behind us now, and we're moving on. To be brutally honest, it sucked. REALLY sucked. We survived it, literally but not gracefully.

What does matter is that we're all still breathing. We all still love each other. We're all still mostly happy. We're digging ourselves out of the clutter and mess and dirt and grime (which never matter in this house, truly, until our feet stick to the floor and we can't walk three feet without stepping on a Lego, shoe, or book and we have fur growing in our toilets--how the kids LOVE to point that one out). I'm moving forward in the job department (but I can't share yet...stay tuned, I promise!).

We've made progress educationally with 4A. We've crossed one big hurdle for her emotional progress, and we're about to add a new component to her treatment and and a new doc to her team. We made HUGE progress on a physical milestone with her (posts on all of these to come, I promise). We're getting there.

I think this horrible winter has reminded me of a couple of things.

Life can be super hard, but that hardness is mitigated (for us) by love and faith and support and kindness. For those reasons, we are immeasurably blessed and thankful.

Autism is tricky. Just when we feel on solid ground, making steady progress, shit hits the fan from left field, rendering us shaky and confused and feeling behind. There really are no answers, in the right and wrong sense, and there are often times no resources (for us, at least, because of our Aspie's gender). What makes that all survivable is our wonderful team of super amazing and supportive docs and teachers and friends and therapists and family. Collectively, we are bigger and stronger than autism.

Stupid shit really doesn't matter. Really. It doesn't matter. I find every single day that the list of "stupid shit" is infinitely longer than the list of stuff that does actually matter.

Typical kids need stuff, too. It's often not as much or not as difficult to obtain or figure out, but they need it nonetheless. Everyone has needs, and everyone is entitled to have those needs met by the people responsible for them. Just because it's super easy for someone to stay on green all day without a single ounce of work on our parts, doesn't mean that he's not entitled to hearing how great of a job he's doing. Just because someone can get dressed all by herself without being told or asked or helped doesn't mean she doesn't need to hear how much we appreciate her. Just because someone doesn't have all of her words yet doesn't mean that she shouldn't get the things she's asking for when she asks nicely. Everybody needs. The needs are different, but that doesn't make them less worthy or valuable or important.

We were here first, 4Daddy and I. We started this whole thing because we loved each other, liked each other, and had fun together. Some days, I wonder where that fun has gone. It's our job to make that fun daily present in our lives and our children's live. We owe it to ourselves, and it's actually super important for them to see it.

This family really is the most important measure of our success. No matter how mean people are or hard life is, no matter how shitty or expensive our insurance, no matter how hard our choice to be a one-working-parent family, no matter how much we eat drive-thru in a week, no matter how high our pile of laundry, no matter how dirty our floor, no matter how behind we are on decluttering or paperwork or yard work, we are a family. A complicated, thoughtful, respectful, smart, uneducated, rude, kind, helpful, obstinate, amazing family. At our very worst, we always have that.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Friends and work

Being the mom of an Aspie and her case manager, if you will, is like living in a parallel universe. Actually, it's more like living in two universes, neither all that parallel to the other, spending part of my time in the neurotypical world and the other part in the Aspie world.

I flex back and forth between the two fairly well, I think. Seamlessly? No. But, sufficiently? Yes. I can have (and did yesterday) an intense conversation with a pediatric neuropyschiatrist about the possibility of introducing a second med, the protocol for doing so, the possible efficacy and risks of the second med, clinical experience and success rates, synapses in the brain, and all things related to neurological and psychological development while holding a fussy toddler at bay with my knew, trying to cram a "ba-ba" of soy milk and get her ass to sit still and "watch horsey" on the TV while I chatted. Fun? No. Doable? Yes. I immediately hung up the phone, swooped my now overtired toddler into my arms, changed her poop, put on her jammies, and cuddled and sang her down for nap while reviewing the aforementioned conversation in my mind. Without missing a beat.

Super woman or super mom I assure you I am not. I have no choice but to live in these two worlds and flex between them. My children need me to be able to do it without losing my mind. Doing it is not the problem. It's the doing it "without losing my mind" part that's the problem.

It dawned on me the other day that the people I consider to be my closest friends are actually not friends at all. Friendly and supportive and wonderfully brilliant people. But, they aren't in my life socially. They are in my life through my Aspie. I love them as I would family members, and I talk to them more than I talk to just about any one else (save 4Daddy), but it's some sort of a weird and crazy feeling to realize that docs and teachers and SPEDs have taken over as the friends in your life.

Oh sure, we joke and chat and talk about our kids for brief moments before and after the meat of our conversations about 4A. But, this business that we do together has taken the place of friendship in my life.

I don't say this in a "woe is me" or "how miserable am I?" kind of way. It's truth. It's necessary. It's okay. It's preferrable. It is even, dare I say, enjoyable.

I think sometimes that this is another reason that God gave me autism in my life. He knew that I needed to be home with my kids for my sanity, but He also knew that I very much like exercising my brain, which I worked so long and hard (and paid out the ass) to develop. My poor brain would have but shriveled up and died in a sea of poopy diapers, sippy cups, Mario, Bubble Guppies, and Harry Potter. Sure, refereeing kids, molding them into decent people, planning and managing their constant neediness to be fed, keeping them in clothes that (arguably) fit and aren't filthy, shuttling them to and fro...it all takes work and brains. Important work. Important brains. Not to be devalued or belittled work and brains.

But, it is for me, sadly, not enough. God knew that. Hilarious bastard that He is at times. He knew I'd be losing my mind if I didn't have some intellectual work. So, He gave me a girl Aspie in a world where there aren't many others. In a world where resources for her kind don't yet exist. In a world where there's still a lot of misunderstanding about her, her needs, and her brain.

I'll be damned in that crazy goof didn't know what He was doing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A hiatus of sorts

Hello friends.

I am embarking on a bit of a hiatus from the blog.

Things with 4A have been a bit rough the past few weeks, and it's left her and I both a little battered and needy. I also am working myself through some minor health issues, but this, too, has left me without much to spare for those outside of myself and my immediate family.

I will be posting here and there, but I am using this Lenten period to really take inventory of who I am and where, what, and who I want to be in the world.

My kids and 4Daddy also need me right now, and I need them. Sometimes, blogging gets in the way of that reciprocity.

I have also created a Four me (and you) Facebook page. Please feel free to "like" and join along.

I also hope to have some publishing news for you in the not-too-distant future.