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Is Parenting a Phase?

I so vividly remember my mother telling me in our early years of parenting, “Enjoy this phase for it really is the Golden Years.”
She was referring to the exhausting years of what seemed like neverending days of getting up, cleaning up, picking up; wiping noses, wiping counters, wiping bottoms; longing for the night to come, longing for sleep to overtake the littlest ones, longing for a shower, a hot meal, and an adult conversation; wondering if life would ever really seem to be how we thought it would be.
Two years into our marriage, we were blessed by the arrival of our first son. He was prayed for, planned for, prepared for. Four years later, we were doubly surprised, first by the knowledge that our family was growing again, and by the way, we’re having twins. Five years later and we were expecting again, this time to be surprised by the sudden loss of our fourth child who waits for us in glory. Another year later found us in growth mode again with what we thought was sure to be our last family expansion and we were gifted our spectrum son. Fast forward 10 months later and we were surprised yet again with the one who truly is our caboose.
It seems life has never really been what we expected or thought we had planned. More than two decades into our marriage and we are still finding ourselves surprised by unexpected twists and turns.
Early on, I thought we’d be on the downhill slide of this parenting thing. After all, we were only going to have two kids and the oldest of them are now in high school and college. I’ve never been so glad to have been wrong as our youngest two are currently in elementary school. We are looking at another ten years of bleacher seats watching our kids do what they love.
There are days I still long for night to come and sleep to overtake me, but I’ve come to realize that while the days are long, the years are short. It seems our oldest was just in early elementary not all that long ago and today, he is finishing another round of college finals.
Having a child on the autism spectrum adds to the challenges of parenthood. Please don’t misread me:  he is not a challenge, but autism offers us challenges that a neurotypical family will never know. I sometimes wonder in the midst of these challenges if this parenting thing really is just a phase or if we will be the primary caregiver to our son for the duration of his life.
Before we go any farther, let me explain that yes, I know once you’re a parent, you’re a parent for life. Some are lucky enough to “graduate” to becoming grandparents. But when you have a child on the spectrum, there is a question as to whether they will be able to live on their own and if they will be able to function as an independent adult. I wonder about his future in terms of family life because I know social interactions are sometimes more difficult for him than his neurotypical peers. I wonder if he will find someone who will accept him completely for who he is, love him through all of his ups and downs, and choose to spend their life with him. I know him and I know that should that ever become the reality, it will take an incredibly patient understanding person and that they will be rewarded with laughter and joy beyond compare. But I also know that for spectrum parents, there is the possibility that their child will always share their home. For them, this isn’t a phase, but rather life.
Thanks to the countless hours of work and effort invested in our son by compassionate teachers, coaches, therapists, doctors, and friends both near and far, I have hope that our son will continue to grow and develop and eventually catch up with his peers’ social abilities. However, I don’t know that that will for sure happen, or that if it does, when it will happen, and that’s okay. So much of our lives isn’t what we expected it to be when we took our vows all those years ago and yet, it has been an incredible ride!
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Is Parenting a Phase of Life?

This is only a phase. Or is it?

I so vividly remember my mother telling me in our early years of parenting, “Enjoy this phase for it really is the Golden Years.”

She was referring to the exhausting years of what seemed like neverending days of getting up, cleaning up, picking up; wiping noses, wiping counters, wiping bottoms; longing for the night to come, longing for sleep to overtake the littlest ones, longing for a shower, a hot meal, and an adult conversation; wondering if life would ever really seem to be how we thought it would be.

Two years into our marriage, we were blessed by the arrival of our first son. He was prayed for, planned for, prepared for. Four years later, we were doubly surprised, first by the knowledge that our family was growing again, and by the way, we’re having twins. Five years later and we were expecting again, this time to be surprised by the sudden loss of our fourth child who waits for us in glory. Another year later found us in growth mode again with what we thought was sure to be our last family expansion and we were gifted our spectrum son. Fast forward 10 months later and we were surprised yet again with the one who truly is our caboose.

It seems life has never really been what we expected or thought we had planned. More than two decades into our marriage and we are still finding ourselves surprised by unexpected twists and turns.

Early on, I thought we’d be on the downhill slide of this parenting thing. After all, we were only going to have two kids and the oldest of them are now in high school and college. I’ve never been so glad to have been wrong as our youngest two are currently in elementary school. We are looking at another ten years of bleacher seats watching our kids do what they love.

There are days I still long for night to come and sleep to overtake me, but I’ve come to realize that while the days are long, the years are short. It seems our oldest was just in early elementary not all that long ago and today, he is finishing another round of college finals.

Having a child on the autism spectrum adds to the challenges of parenthood. Please don’t misread me:  he is not a challenge, but autism offers us challenges that a neurotypical family will never know. I sometimes wonder in the midst of these challenges if this parenting thing really is just a phase or if we will be the primary caregiver to our son for the duration of his life.

Before we go any farther, let me explain that yes, I know once you’re a parent, you’re a parent for life. Some are lucky enough to “graduate” to becoming grandparents. But when you have a child on the spectrum, there is a question as to whether they will be able to live on their own and if they will be able to function as an independent adult. I wonder about his future in terms of family life because I know social interactions are sometimes more difficult for him than his neurotypical peers. I wonder if he will find someone who will accept him completely for who he is, love him through all of his ups and downs, and choose to spend their life with him. I know him and I know that should that ever become the reality, it will take an incredibly patient understanding person and that they will be rewarded with laughter and joy beyond compare. But I also know that for spectrum parents, there is the possibility that their child will always share their home. For them, this isn’t a phase, but rather life.

Thanks to the countless hours of work and effort invested in our son by compassionate teachers, coaches, therapists, doctors, and friends both near and far, I have hope that our son will continue to grow and develop and eventually catch up with his peers’ social abilities. However, I don’t know that that will for sure happen, or that if it does, when it will happen, and that’s okay. So much of our lives isn’t what we expected it to be when we took our vows all those years ago and yet, it has been an incredible ride!

Rule #1 Aabout Autism: Talk About Autism

Rules are all around us. Some are self-imposed (Don’t pick your nose in public.) and others are heavily mandated, (Don’t drive over 55.) but we each make the decision as to how closely we are going to follow any particular set of rules.

There really aren’t any set in stone rules about autism and how to live with it, but there is a widely respected unspoken rule and that is simply to talk. Talk about autism. Sounds pretty easy, right? For the most part it is, but there are times when it isn’t – times like when your spectrum son is the butt of the joke, again; or when he’s having a hard time and other adults are beginning to stare; or when it’s just been a really long, loud, tiring autism day.

Sometimes, talking is absolutely necessary for the safety of the spectrum child; but sometimes, opportunities present themselves for a good conversation which will simply result in better understanding, and that will lead to greater acceptance. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want for our kids – for ourselves – simply to be accepted by our peers for who we are?

A few weeks ago, we had an unseasonably warm spell right smack in the middle of February. We’re talking t-shirts, no jackets, and for the bravest of brave, even shorts. My little people and I took advantage of this early spring and played on the playground after school every chance we got. One day, we were joined by other families enjoying the warm reprieve from winter.

Our little bit was running about playing tag with the other kids while Ben was just running around burning off some pent up energy from the day. I ran with him a bit, playing chase, laughing and giggling all the way. One of the other kids, who I’ll refer to as Z, invited Ben to play tag with them and my anxiety level skyrocketed, knowing that Ben doesn’t like to be touched, yet thankful for the invitation. He answered, “YES!” and again, I needed a deep breath to prepare for the spiral that would surely come with the first “Tag – You’re It!”

I was wrong. Z was so gentle with tagging Ben, it didn’t bother him a bit. Z even took the time to stop and show Ben how the game works, explaining that he needed to chase the other kids, touch one of them, say, “Tag – You’re It!” and then run away. The boys laughed and ran off playing together, and I began to breathe again – relieved, overjoyed by the kindness of Z, and disappointed in my own apprehension.

I watched the kids play for a few minutes until Ben was done. He came over to me and we decided to head to the swings. Much to my surprise, Z came as well. We chit-chatted a bit and out of the blue, Z asked, “How did Ben get autism anyway?”

And there it was, the start of an amazing conversation between two people who care about my son. Z wasn’t being nosy or asking dumb questions, as it seems people fear will be the assumption when they ask about autism. He was genuinely interested in learning more about someone to whom he wants to be a friend and wants to get to know better.

That conversation reinforced everything I’d ever read about this unwritten Rule #1 of Autism: Talk about Autism. The more we talk, the more people understand. It is only with understanding that acceptance can be found and true friendships can be formed.

Time for Hoops!

what you lok for

There was a time we couldn’t go into a gym without headphones because the noise was too much. There was a time we wouldn’t step away from the group of children Ben was a part of because the prospect of being bumped into or touched brought with it the assurance of a meltdown. There was a time we didn’t dare to dream of team sports because smaller children, especially curious smaller children, frightened our boy. It shames me to admit it, but there was a time I didn’t believe. I didn’t hope because the possibility of meltdowns – loud tearful, heartbreaking meltdowns were more a promise than a possibility. I’ve always told our kids to never give up, to always have a couple of goals to work toward and to never stop dreaming, but if I’m honest with myself, the truth is that I have been guilty of all of those to some degree.

Thankfully, I have been proven wrong time and time and time again as our boy continues to blow our minds. A few years ago, he wanted to play baseball, so we signed him up for t-ball and set off on a new adventure. That first year was rough, as in I had to chase him around the bases and stand by him in the outfield. (Read: Hold him up in the outfield because the sun was too hot and it took too long – yes, I felt his pain. It was t-ball after all.) But he was out there playing baseball. Despite the setbacks, it was progress.

He wanted to play again the next year and the next and the next. He’s the tallest kid on the t-ball team, but he also smiles the biggest and stops at home plate after each run to take a bow and say, “Thank you!” to those cheering for him. It’s t-ball and it’s a safe place for him to grow.

About this time last year, we happened to be in the middles school one evening for a meeting regarding one of our middles and the upcoming baseball season. I thought the meeting was in the gym, so imagine my surprise when we walked in to find it also happened to be the night all the Mini Tornado basketball teams were practicing.

Our boy stopped dead in his tracks and I braced myself for the worst. The situation presented all the trademarks for a meltdown: loud noises, lots of small children running around, jackets and bags thrown on the floor – chaos to the nth degree. Much to my surprise there was no meltdown. There was no covering his ears and cowering next to me. There was no screaming, no crying, no opposition at all. What there was was just as amazing as what there was not.

He watched in silent awe, raised his hand, and pointed a finger towards all the activity before us and whispered, “I want to do that.”

Unsure I’d heard him correctly, I asked him what he’d said. This time he laid his hand on my arm, looked me in the eye, pointed back to the kids, and said, “Mommy, I want to do that.”

Time all but stood still in that moment of chaos in the gym, but I knew the task ahead of us would not be easily accomplished as once our boy gets an idea in mind, his resolve is solid in making it happen. Signups done, teams assigned and the season already underway, basketball was not happening in 2016.

I managed to distract him enough to get out of the gym and on to the meeting we were there to attend, but a new passion was brewing in our boy. Whenever we were outside last summer, he always ended up with a ball in hand – didn’t matter if we were in the pool, out back or in the house. If there was a ball around, he grabbed it and began to toss it around, most generally flanked by his ever faithful little sister sidekick. Very few balls went through the hoop last summer, especially early on, but he kept trying. By the end of the summer, he would usually make a basket at least once each time we were out. So when the opportunity came to sign up for basketball, I checked made sure he and his sister could play on the same team and paid the fee, hoping for the best.

The early spring we have enjoyed this month has allowed for more basketball than I ever would have thought possible in February. The cheering out back is getting louder and coming more frequently as the ball is going in the hoop more and more often, but I still wasn’t sure it would be enough to endure all the noise and chaos of actually being in a gym with multiple people, many of them smaller than him, and all the noise that involves. Headphones don’t really seem to be much of an option either as we want him to be able to hear the coach. And the coach? What if the coach isn’t familiar with autism? What if he or she is a yeller or a screamer, or one who physically redirects kids? How was this going to work? My anxiety level was rising beyond compare by the time their first practice came around.

I have learned many lessons over the years as a spectrum mom, but one of the most important to date has to be to learn to trust people, expect the best, and never say never. It would have been so easy for me to say no, the chaos would be too much and we don’t know the coach, so we better just sit it out, but how unfair would that have been to our son?  You see, that first practice was nothing short of a miracle in my eyes as I got to stand on the sidelines of the gym and watch my boy shoot and score and celebrate with his coach and his team – HIS TEAM, of which I am no part. There was a time I wasn’t sure this would ever happen, but especially not at such a young age. I’m not one of his coaches this time, and I have never been happier in my life to not be needed.

When Puke Reveals Progress

Catching up and sharing from the files of my ramblings. This particular set is from January 31, 2017.

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Living life on the autism spectrum presents several different challenges. One of which for many individuals is that of varying gastric woes. Our spectrum son has battled his share of these over the years, but fortunately, and thankfully so, this doesn’t seem to be much of an issue much any more as he continues to grow and develop.

However, there are times his gastric system revolts causing stomach upset and in the worst case scenario, vomiting to expel anything currently in his stomach. This typically only happens after he has either rushed through a meal or has simply eaten too much. Both of these situations are near completely cured once he has cleared his tummy. Completely – as in so much has come up that his stomach certainly must be empty, and completely in that he returns to smiling, laughing and playing as active as ever.

Such was the case at his sister’s basketball game earlier this week. We had joined his dad for dinner that night and he had eaten rather quickly, much faster than the rest of us. We tried to slow him down, but apparently, we had waited too long. It wasn’t far into the game that I heard his muffled, “I’m sorry, Mommy.” and turned to see the classic gastro-troubles-look: pale, glassy eyes, lips slightly parted and labored breathing. The first few times I saw this look, I was frightened as it seems he can’t get the oxygen he needs, but in time, I’ve become accustomed to this precursor and even thankful for the warning it provides.

Quick as ever he moved at my command and we made it to the trash can in time to overt any real crisis such as getting sick in front of or on anyone near us.

I didn’t think much of it as this has become somewhat routine when he eats too fast or too much. It’s one of those things that as a parent, you don’t necessarily like, you just come to accept it as part of the package. You deal with it and move on. And this is exactly what I did that night.

Later in the evening, his sister asked me how he was doing. This struck me as odd because she had been with her team, in the midst of her basketball game when all of this was going on and I had not told her about it. She said she hadn’t seen him, but another player had noticed me over by the trash can in the opposite corner of the gym, and then Ben hanging over the edge of it. Her teammates rallied beside her and hoped the best for her little brother, concerned that he was sick. Sweet, right? After all, that would be the logical conclusion. However, he had simply eaten too quickly that night.
It’s easy for me to laugh it off now, but in those moments, I wasn’t entirely sure that was the case as there have been many people in our communities battling various illnesses, so I can see how that would easily be the assumption made.
While each family handles illness differently, we are prone to keep our kids home pretty quickly simply to stop the spread of germs. Being a larger than normal family, we realize just how easily something as simple as the common cold can seemingly last the entire winter long when it bounces from one person to the next to the next, until it has finally run through all seven of us, only to hit the first one down for round two. The same is the case for things like stomach flu, strep throat, etc., so when one of the kids is ill and the status of being contagious or not is in question, we always err on the side of caution.
Our kids know this, so when Ben was done doing his thing in the trash can, he looked at me with the brightest eyes and biggest smile and said, “I’m all right now, Mommy. I can go to school tomorrow.”
This. This from a child who only last year would beg to stay home from school and plead for just one more play at home day. This. This is quite possibly the most shining example of progress in our boy – to have the opportunity to stay home from school, to laugh and play all day, and yet, share his excitement that he is fine and can go to school.
Progress, no matter how strangely it manifests and presents itself, progress is so very good.

Markers, Mirrors & Motivation

Catching up and sharing from the files of my ramblings. This particular set is from January 25, 2017.

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We have long been fans of motivational quotes, stories, speakers, anything which gets our minds and hearts focused on what we want to accomplish. I think this may have started back in our FFA days, perhaps even earlier for me as I watched my older brother pursue his FFA dreams while I was in elementary and junior high.

Our spectrum son has long been a fan of dry erase markers. I can’t pinpoint the moment we first began letting him use markers, but it has been years. Trust me, YEARS. The number of dry erase markers he has been through in his short life would astound any manufacturer. Investing in Expo would probably be a wise financial move for us given the usage of dry erase markers in our home and beyond as anywhere we go, Ben brings along his markers and marker board.
Along about a year ago, give or take, we began using dry erase markers on our bathroom mirror. I know, I know. My younger self would have had a high-speed come apart at the thought of writing on mirrors, or anything not typically intended for such a purpose, but hear me when I say, I have mellowed.
To be honest, our mirrors haven’t seen much motivation lately and the markers have only been used to record wake up times – yes, it’s come to that with so many people in our home going different directions at different times, sharing rooms and not wanting to wake siblings before they need to be.
Fast forward to last week. Our oldest son had recently returned from Missouri Auction School, which in truth was both the culmination of one dream and a step in pursuing many others. He had an amazing week at the Harvard of Auction Schools, learning from the best in the industry, alongside like-minded individuals also pursuing their dreams. He followed that up with a visit with grandparents, and his first auction as a graduate, which was such a great success that he left with leads for three more benefits within the next year. To say he was fired up may just be the understatement of the year, thusfar.
We woke one morning after his return to see the markers and mirror back in action for motivation. Our youngest wasn’t feeling the best that morning and his handwriting is a little bit of a challenge for her to read, especially from the lower vantage point on the mirror (think reflection from different angles) so she asked me what it said.
“The moment you stop believing in your dreams is the moment they become IMPOSSIBLE.”
To which Ben replied, “You can say that again!”
Amen, Buddy. Amen.
Now, to be honest, I’m not sure if Ben was thinking about the quote or if that was the next line in a script he’d been playing through in his mind, but it was a perfect fit for the situation, and truly that is one of the goals of utilizing scripting for those who struggle with communications: taking a line from a known script and appropriately applying it in any given situation.
We’ve seen Ben successfully implement this tactic before when his younger sister fell one day while they were playing. He ran over and said, “Mousetrap. I wanted to play Mousetrap. You roll your dice. You move your mice. Nobody gets hurt. Ali, are you okay!?”
If you aren’t familiar with the adventures of Bob and Larry in VeggieTales’ production of The Toy that Saved Christmas, you would likely be quite confused by this reference to the game mousetrap. However, if you know the storyline, you know that Larry has asked Bob if he was okay after ending up on his head in a snowbank following a tumble down a hill while sledding. Bob’s response was, “Mousetrap. I wanted to play Mousetrap. You roll your dice. You move your mice. Nobody gets hurt.”
And so it is with our spectrum son that what may seem so completely out of context and confusing, may also be the most appropriate response possible. These are the moments of connection God gives us and I will take them, right along with any confusion they bring, every single time.

Post-Inauguration Patriotism

Catching up and sharing from the files of my ramblings. This particular set is from January 25, 2017.

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Inauguration day has come and gone and President Trump has begun naming his advisers. As with any changing of the helm, there are those who are excited about the future, and those who are less than pleased. I’ve even heard a few die-hard anti-Trumpsters proclaim, “I hope he fails!”

This is beyond the realm of comprehension for me. Why on Earth would any American actually hope our President fails? Why can’t people seem to understand that if he fails, we as a nation fail?

True, we have many issues as a nation: corrupt government, debt, poverty, homelessness, only to name a few, but how would any of that be solved by a President who fails?

I recently read another opinion on this matter, which supports my position: Wishing failure upon our President is the same as hoping the pilot of our flight will crash; we will all burn in the aftermath.

Can any American truly say they wish for the demise of our country as a whole? I certainly hope not. If that is the case, I would think a reality check in terms of where they call home is in order.

Regardless of whether we completely agree or support the choices of our President, the time is now to come together for the good our nation. Our future is riding on it. Our children’s future is riding on it.