Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Unconditional Love and Never Never Land

Over the Christmas holiday we decided to enlist the help of one of our Christmas decorations to promote good behavior with our oldest son.  Very much an Elf on the Shelf tactic, but we didn't spring for one of those this year.  Instead, we have a rustic snow man that holds two little blocks to countdown to Christmas.  It started out simple enough.  Our oldest son was being a little crazy and not listening one day and I told him that he needed to behave or Santa would not bring him any presents.  When we were kids, it was enough for our parents to say, "Santa sees everything you do, so be good!" That was not enough for Brennan, though.  He asked inquisitively, "If I am here and Santa is at the North Pole, how will he know when I am being bad?"

Instead of taking the magical route, I went with the technological approach.  Our children, after all, are pretty up to speed on the latest technology these days.  So I informed him that there was a webcam in the snowman's head and it would Skype a live video feed back to Santa at the North Pole.  This answer was sufficient for him and for the most part we saw drastically improved behavior leading up to Christmas.

Our youngest son did not understand the concept of being good for an upcoming day.  As everything for him is happening right now and he can't even really grasp the idea of tomorrow, much less behaving well for a month in order to have a reward of presents.  Evan absolutely loved all of the Christmas decorations, but the concept was lost on him.  He most loved trying to take every single ornament off the tree and throwing the countdown snowman on the floor a hundred times a day.

This worried our oldest son...A LOT!  "Mom, Santa is not going to bring Evan any presents, he sees him throwing this snowman down over and over again.  He is going to be on the naughty list for sure!" I tried to explain to him that Evan doesn't quite understand consequences yet and really does not even know that throwing the snowman down is a bad thing, he is just very excited by all of the decorations and doesn't quite know how to handle it.  I assured him that Santa would probably understand.

So this had become the normal conversation every time the snowman was tossed to the floor.  Until one day our oldest instead said, "Oh, Evan, I know you don't know why you do that, but Santa knows you have autism, so I hope you get presents anyways."

Just in case Santa did not already know, he then took it upon himself to prop up the snowman and explain Evan's situation to Santa.  It was one of the sweetest big brother moments I have ever seen.  Almost like he was defending his little brother's case.  "Santa, Evan just has autism, he doesn't always know what he does and he does stuff before he thinks most the time."  For a just turned 4 year old I thought this was a rather accurate analysis.

He does not overcomplicate Evan's issues, but he frequently has to overcome boundaries that autism presents to our entire family.  He tries to play with Evan and wants to engage him, but Evan will misinterpret his signals and thinks he is trying to take the toys he is holding.  So Brennan's prompting for play is often met with him getting hit by a dinosaur.  It doesn't stop him from trying though and he rejoices in Evan's successes right along with my husband and myself.

The innocence behind his questions and comments about his brother's autism will melt your heart and for me, they have taught me more than I could ever read in any book.  The other day, Evan said a wonderful sentence and asked outright to watch a very specific movie, even naming the characters.  Brennan jumped up and down and exclaimed "Evan, you know their names, you know about the movie, you're starting to not have autism anymore!"

He sees his brother growing and overcoming challenges, and he hopes it will go away so that he can play with his brother and his brother will always respond when he talks to him.  It's his heart's biggest wish and it comes up very frequently.  He knows his brother is different and he is okay with that, but he wishes it was not so hard for him to understand and communicate.

He asked for power rangers for Christmas and made an extensive list of toys just like every other kid.  But a few days before Christmas he walked up to the snowman and said "All I really want for Christmas is for Santa to take my brother's autism to Never Never Land so he will never have to deal with it again."

All of these comments and with all of the attention we sometimes have to direct to Evan, I know he wishes it was different.  He asked if his sister will have autism when she is three or if she will be able to understand him and play with him.  It moves me that no matter how much he gets ignored or chased away, he will always ask Evan to play with him and there are moments where he breaks through, like only a sibling can.  That little boy lives for those moments.  He tolerates listening to screaming at night and usually just turns over and covers his head.  He tolerates having to give up a toy he had first if his brother desperately wants it and cannot be consoled.  He usually stays very calm when his brother destroys a city he's made out of blocks.  He may not completely understand, but he gets it and has matured a lot because of it.

His little baby sister will get it too.  For right now she loves to watch her brother run in circles or rock and sing.  Her face lights up when he talks to her.  They seem to have their own little special connection.  Evan does not really understand soft touch or that he is bigger than she is.  He is working on it, though.  More than once has he said very sweetly, "Sit on baby's lap," as he tries to sit on her while she is sitting in her bouncer chair.  We have obviously had to watch him very closely, more like you would handle a one year old with a new baby.  But he is learning and will try to kiss her and hold her hand.  He has even shared his beloved dinosaurs with her on a few occasions, but then of course quickly takes them back claiming they are too big for her.

I am so grateful that Evan has siblings that will always watch out for him.  And with all of our moves I know the boys will always have a builtin best friend.  I think his siblings probably understand him better than I ever will.  Even though they may have to grow up a little faster to cope with the challenges our family faces, I know it is building character and shaping them into individuals who will not only accept people's differences, but embrace them.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Giving Up

Well, it's official, I have decided to give up.  What am I giving up?  Everything that seems to matter and everything that has the appearance of importance.  After battling with myself for many months, I have decided to take a break from working on my Master's.  It's a difficult decision when I am so close to the end, but after an incredibly difficult semester, during which I was only getting about 4 hours of sleep a night and constantly running during the day, I have decided to continue when I have a little more energy and time to commit to studying.

It hasn't just been the new baby or even having three kids under 5 that has made this a busy and trying time.  It has been autism and all of the lovely challenges that come with it.  Yes, my son is in preschool and Mom's Morning Out, so I should have time, right?  Maybe if getting him there wasn't such a battle.  On the days I can get him out the door and to go to school (when we have had a night of more than 3 hours of sleep) it still takes an hour of screaming to get him ready and convince him (kicking and screaming) to get dressed and get to the car.  It then takes his teacher carrying him kicking and screaming from our van into the school.  After enduring that every morning, it does not leave much energy for the two hours I get with just the baby and me.

So after many months of this routine and the days home being even worse and more exhausting, I decided to call it quits on school to take one manageable stress out of my life.  To me, this seemed like a wise and almost a simple decision.  You can imagine my shock when someone very familiar with our situation said to me,  "So, you're just giving up?  People who have full time jobs get their Master's all the time.  You don't even have a job.  Why is it so hard for you?"

So, yes, I am giving up.  I am giving up on school, just like I gave up my career and gave up my body for our family.  I've pretty much completely given up sleep and fashion and nearly given up hygiene as well.

Even though we have a different daily battle than some, I don't think my complaints are that much different than other stay at home moms.  Cleaning up the house multiple times a day, and it still looking like shit before we go to bed.  Using our Mom's Morning Out to do the grocery shopping or shower.  Cooking a dinner just for the kids to push around on their plate.  And for my fellow military mamas, not being able to hold down a meaningful job even if we wanted to because we move every two years.  Factor in a kid that completely loses it because there was a detour and you had to go to school a different way or whose entire day is thrown off because he woke up to the wrong sound or wrong lighting and you would probably want to throw your hands up in the air and be done with it all.

Of course there are some things I won't give up.  The less prestigious and the unseen things.  I will not give up fighting every day to make our lives as normal as possible, even if it means having a wonderful outing to the dinosaur museum knowing we will be listening to screaming and crying the rest of the day because we had to leave the museum.  I won't give up on fighting for my son's care and education, even if it means going round and round with Tricare, EFMP and the school district until I am blue in the face.  I won't give up quality time with my children or snuggle time with my baby girl even if it means the house isn't perfect or dinner wasn't made from scratch.  I won't give up my identity even if that identity is ever changing and growing and becoming something more.

I will willingly give up being a Pinterest mom, having a perfect body, having a perfect house, having the perfect look.  I begrudgingly give up completing school, having a career or getting a full night's sleep.  I will never give up on my family and working hard to make sure my three little blessings have everything they need to be taken care of and succeed in life.

I want to tell you a story...

I want to tell you all a story. It’s about a mom who had two babies 12 months apart. And the second baby was different. He was sad or mad...