Wednesday, October 5, 2016

10 Thoughts on Starting School - Autism Edition

1. I am always learning something new about my 16 year old.  We typically begin our school prep about 2 weeks before the first day, so the transition from summer to school runs as smoothly as possible.  For the first time, this included TJ wanting all of his school supplies put together and organized way ahead of time!  Such a difference from last year’s night-before-first-day-of-classes madness!  So not only am I learning what works best for TJ from year to year, TJ is learning what he prefers, communicating his needs clearly, and not waiting until the last minute.  Win-win! 

2. Being a Junior has perks!  Our high school uses a schedule of alternating days (A day, then B day, then A day….).  If you are a Junior and you don’t have a scheduled class, you can leave campus.  On A days, TJ has no first period classes or last period classes.  And nothing beats the grin on that kid’s face when I drop him off on A days, after everyone else has already been there for over and hour.  “See you in 4 hours mom!”  Huge grin, every time.  We are 5 weeks in and the novelty has yet to wear off on him.  It’s a really good grin.

3. At the start of every year I am reminded that his new teachers have yet to know the true TJ. He is a fantastic and funny kid, he is good natured and eager to please, and he loves to make people laugh.  On his first day of school, TJ had Geometry when he thought he had lunch.  His special educator found him in the cafeteria and told him calmly of his mistake - emphasizing that it’s such an easy mistake to make and he is not in trouble at all.  At this point I was told 2 things: (1) TJ walks really fast when he wants to, and (2) he isn’t shy in front of people he doesn’t know.  Apparently, when he got to his classroom late, he announced (loudly) “Sorry I’m late - my schedule screwed me over!”  The kids laughed, which made TJ happy.  I was told that his geometry teacher looked a little puzzled but smiled, and welcomed him immediately.  She doesn’t know TJ yet, or his sense of humor.  But she will.

4. TJ will never not want snack.  He will need his goldfish in a ziplock bag every day until he is old and grey.  That’s just the way it is.

5. TJ showing his little brother, and incoming freshman, Peter around the high school this summer was a great idea that they both benefitted from:  Peter has a leg up in knowing his way around, and TJ is so proud of helping his brother out.  He doesn’t get a lot of those opportunities, so grabbing this one is important.

6. TJ hates homework.  This hasn’t changed.  It’s all about our attitude regarding homework as parents, and following a homework routine.  A calm Mom makes for a calm TJ.  Breathe.

7. Save math homework help for Dad.  See number 6.

8. As TJ’s Mom, it is so important for me to remember to check my email multiple times throughout his day.  TJ’s special educator will send me questions and/or issues throughout his day, some which require a prompt response.  For example, TJ’s best buddy Colby was going to take TJ out for ice cream after school - Colby has his license and it’s their first outing without any parents.  I got an email from his special educator, SM, saying that TJ was upset that I had forgotten to give him his ice cream money.  My quick reply stopped TJ’s worry - Colby was to pick up TJ at home after school, and I will pick up TJ at the regular time.  Immediately SM replied, “Great - all cleared up.  TJ feels much better - he will see you at the regular pick-up time.”  Crisis averted!  And TJ and Colby, plus another friend, had a great time getting ice cream on their own.  

9. TJ’s classmates really love him.  We live in a very supportive community with a fantastic school system - I am so grateful for this.  Everyday.

10. Hard work pays off.  TJ has worked so hard every day since his autism diagnosis, and I worried so much about his future and what it would look like.  Now that he is 16, I see a strong, smart, independent, thoughtful, confident young man standing before me, who can make any future for himself that he chooses.  I still worry, of course, but he advocates for himself so well every day, that I am letting go of so much of that worry.  He knows what is good for him and what isn’t.  He speaks his mind.  He stands up for himself.  He works hard.  He communicates his needs clearly (for the most part - this one is a huge work in progress).  He is proud of who he is.

To say that I am proud of him doesn’t even come close. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Take Your Time

My son TJ is 16.  He has autism.

He is going to be a Junior in high school.  He is so excited to be half way done with high school - a thought that, as his mother, makes me a little panicky.  But I digress.

On Monday we got his schedule for the new school year in the mail.  He was so excited to open it!  And the first class on his first day was Driver’s Ed.

Driver’s Ed.  Did I mention I get a little panicky?

No matter, because I studied theatre in college, so whenever I have that parent panic, I go instantly into actress mode, and do my best “I am so easy breezy it’s not even funny” type of mother acting.

It usually works quite well.

It worked well this time, too, which is good, because when big things come up for TJ that we need to work through, I don’t want him to be influenced by me in any way.

So when I saw “Driver’s Ed” on his schedule, I smiled, and said “TJ, you got Driver’s Ed!  That’s great!  So many kids want that class and don’t get it!”

This is true.  It’s a hot commodity, this class.  You can register for it after you’re 15 years old and you can’t get your license without it, unless you wait until you’re over 18.  And if memory serves, not many kids want to wait until they are 18 to start driving.

Now TJ’s first reaction was to smile and say, “Great!”  And then I said to him, “TJ, in order to take this class, you have to have your learner’s permit.  We can sign you up to take the test in about a week or two, but you’ll have to study for it.  How does that make you feel?”

TJ scrunched his nose a little and said, “I don’t know.”

I know that “I don’t know”.  It’s usually a sign of nerves.  So I told him to just look through the rest of his schedule and we can talk about it the next day.

So the next day, I asked TJ how he was feeling about the whole Driver’s Ed thing.  Again, I got an “I don’t know.”  So I suggested we go to the DMV web page and check out their informational videos about driving.

He sat through about half of the video when he said, “Can I stop now?”

Now inside, I’m thinking that our planning time is running out.  If he is going to take the class in 3 weeks, he needs to take his permit exam in 2 weeks, which means he has got to start studying.

But not today.  I gave him one more day to think things through.

So yesterday, I sat down with TJ.  Time to get serious.

“TJ, I know you’re feeling a little nervous about driving.  Are you feeling rushed to get your permit?”


“Would you like to drop the class this semester, and take your time getting your permit?  We can try to get the class another time.  Even next year, if you’re not ready yet.  It’s ok.  And it’s up to you.”

With that, he seemed instantly lighter.  He thought for a second, then said to me, “I think I’d like to wait.”

And as soon as I said OK, he breathed out deeply and said, “Boy do I feel better!”  And then, that smile.

My sweet TJ is on his own schedule.  He always has been.  He learned to ride his bike long after his little brother did.  He didn’t feel comfortable walking home from school alone until late in his Freshman year.  And the first time he went back into the Dentist Office without me with him was yesterday.  

So even though he is already 16, and many of his peers have their driver’s license, my TJ will wait.  He will take his sweet time until it feels right for him.

And that’s a-ok by me.

And now, he can’t wait for school to start.  

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Talk Less....Smile More

I have been obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack lately.  If you haven't listened to it yet, go do that.  Right now.  I'll wait.

OK - see why?  It's innovative and electric and performed by such huge talent that I am in awe of these skilled people who wrote it and performed it.  It's the musical geek in me - she lives, and she is always hankering for more.

Last night we went to a local bar where a friend's band was performing.  Some of my favorite people were there, and I am always happy to lay my eyes on these people who I adore and hardly ever get to see with our busy lives.  And the band was just fantastic.

Obviously, since it's a bar, the fact that I'm sipping seltzer while my friends have beers and cocktails is always tucked in my back pocket.  I'm aware it's there, but it's not a big deal.  It certainly won't get in the way of my enjoying these wonderful folks, and I'm happy to report that I did just that.

On the way home, it hit me.  As it sometimes does.  Not so much the drinking itself, but more of what has changed in my life because of it.

There is a repeated theme in the show Hamilton: "Talk less, smile more.  Don't let them know what you're against or what you're for."  If you talk less, you make less waves, upset less people, and keep things lighter and happier.

For me, I can't do that.  Not anymore.  This, I believe, is the huge difference between newly sober Lauren and today Lauren.

I have heard that it takes at least three years of sobriety to feel "normal" again after you quit.  For me, it took a bit more.

When I was drinking I was much better at "talk less, smile more."  But during those first three years of sobriety, I slowly began to feel like something was wrong with me.  I felt like I was slowly getting squeezed, and I shouldn't complain about it, as to not rock the boat.  I couldn't figure it out, but I slowly knew that something wasn't right.

Finally I realized my version of "talk less, smile more" was what was making me feel so badly.  I had to make some changes in how I lived my everyday life.  Not to hurt anyone, but to finally take care of myself.  It wasn't pretty - basically I was like a bottle of an extra carbonated seltzer that finally blew (notice I said "seltzer" instead of "champagne" - healthy choices!).  It was a bumpy transition, to say the least, and acceptance of this new me took a long time for me to digest.  But hearing the phrase "talk less, smile more" finally put into context the biggest transition I have ever made in my life.

Some of the losses I experienced are natural as a result of changing my entire being.  I know that it doesn't matter who understands this and who doesn't, even though knowing that some don't understand it still hurts a bit.  Loss sucks, yes, but what huge gains I have made!  Those who do understand me really know the true me, who I can honestly say is better than any me I have lived before (not including my time at boarding school - that was my complete authentic 100% rockin' self, if I do say so).  I don't say everything that pops into my head, and do filter myself, as that's just common courtesy.  And wisdom.  But for the big important stuff, I talk more.  I do it with a smile, but that's just who I am.

I know that "talk less, smile more" really works for some people, and for them, that's the way to go.  I say, do whatever you need to do to live your true, authentic self, whatever that looks like.  Aside from blatantly hurting people for fun, don't do that.  That's just crappy.  But finding out how to live honestly day to day is a gift that I never would have given myself if I hadn't made the decision to stop drinking.

Anyway, that's the latest Lauren realization.  That, and any sentence with the word "pants" in it is funny.  It just is.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sibling Day

On Facebook, there is a day for everything.  A "national pet day", or a "national penguin appreciation day".  Facebook lets you know.  Everyday it's something.

Well, according to good ole' FB, today is National Sibling Day.

My sibling story is kinda cool.

First, there is my sister.  She and I have shared so much, and she is the only one who knows my entire story from the beginning of time.  Well, the beginning of Lauren time, anyway.  She is amazing and my right arm and I adore her.  

After my parents divorced, my dad remarried pretty soon after.  He married this wonderful lady, Kathy, who is one of my favorite people on the planet.  The first time I introduced her as my "step mom" she scoonched up her nose and said it sounded weird.  I think visions of Cinderella's wicked step mother danced in her head.  I get it.  So from then on she was introduced as "my dad's wife".

Over time, she has gone from "my dad's wife" to my wonderful friend.  And I treasure my time with her.  She is, quite simply, faboo.

Anyway, at the end of my junior year in college, dad and Kathy had a baby - Chris.  Two and a half years later, Steve was born.

For me it was love at first sight(s).  I lived in Boston after school, so seeing these boys became a regular event.  

As a sister, I am so lucky that I have been able to experience these boys at all their phases in life.  There is something cool about being an adult and watching your little brothers grow up.

When Steve was two and Chris was 5, I was spending an afternoon with them while they had friends over.  I remember I was standing next to Chris, who was standing next to his friend H, also 5, who was standing next to his sister, A.  She was 2. 

H looked at me and asked Chris, "Who is that?"

Chris looked at me and answered simply, "That's my sister."

H looked stunned.  He looked at me, then looked at his own sister, then said to Chris, "Your sister's ginormous."

Later, after I was married and moved to Vermont, Dad, Kathy and the boys would come up for visits. On one of these visits, we were taking the boys to see farm animals.  Chris and Steve were in my car with my husband Sean and I.

As we drove by wide open fields, we saw one that was dotted with giant hay bails, wrapped in white plastic.  They looked like huge marshmallows.

The boys asked what they were and I answered, "That's a marshmallow field.  Huge marshmallow grow there, and the farmers cut them up and put them in little bags, and send them to the store.  Haven't you guys ever seen a marshmallow field before?"

Wide eyed, and drooling a little, they bought it, hook, line and sinker.

I was very proud of myself as they excitedly asked Dad, "Did you guys see the marshmallow field???"  This taught me that there is no age gap wide enough that you can't mess with your little siblings.  It's like my right to do so.

I have watched these boys through middle school awkwardness, high school growth, and college maturity.  My youngest brother, Steve, is a senior at a college 10 minutes away from my house.  These past four years he has truly become a part of life around here - we see him every week (laundry) and I can't imagine a Sunday around here without him after he graduates.  There will be some adjustments to be made on my part.  To say simply "he will be missed" is a huge understatement.

But I can't wait to see what happens next, for both of them.

This past Thanksgiving, we were the hosts.  When my brothers arrived with Dad and Kathy, Chris yelled, "Hey!  It's your brother from another mother!"

HE'S RIGHT!!!  Literally!  How had we never said this before?!?

So, to both my brothers from another mother, happy sibling day.  I'm so glad we have each other.

And to my sister, too.  Of course.  But I think Chris and Steve kinda deserve their own post.  Susan I could write about for hours and hours, but then she would have to kill me.  Sister secrets and all.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Four Years

I realized earlier today that this is my 4 year anniversary of blogging!  My friend called it a "Bloggaversary" which I like, so there you go.

Anyway, it seemed like I should write something today, this being my bloggaversary and all.

Something profound.

Well, "Lauren" profound.

I was thinking how different things were for me 4 years ago.

I wasn't even one year sober yet.  That's a big one.

I had never dreamed of being published anywhere, much less being published in The Washington Post.  And The Mighty.  And the Organization for Autism Research.

I wasn't a "writer" yet.  I still giggle at that one - calling myself a "writer".

The writer friends I have made since I started writing were strangers to me.  I'm so happy to have them now.

I had a healthy and fully functioning hamstring.  This one has nothing to do with my bloggaversary, but today I have really missed exercising for some reason so it's been a hammy-centered day, somewhat.

My boys didn't have that proud feeling of contribution and of helping the people that they have, after they have allowed me to share their stories.  That's a big one too.

Anyway, thank you all for helping me to start this.  And to continue this.  And to really love doing this.  I never would have started if I hadn't been encouraged by friends and family, and wonderful readers.

So thank you guys.  A lot.

Keep laughing!!!  Like it's your job!  XOXO

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Make New Friends

My family and I recently went on a wonderful vacation.  Our first real one - one that didn't piggy back on a business trip of Sean's.  TJ and Peter are both at ages where a trip is, finally, not only do-able, but really wonderful.

On the first morning of the first day of our trip, in true Lauren style, I slipped on the concrete just outside of a pool.  I never knew I could do a split!  Oh wait, I can't.

Long story short, I pulled my hamstring.  I could walk, which means it wasn't completely torn.  I saw the doctor at the resort who put me on Ibuprofen.  I was able to enjoy the rest of my trip very much - limping and sore, but otherwise fully engaged with the family.  No waterslides for me, but let's face it, that's probably for the best.

This morning I started physical therapy - PT - to strengthen that hammie because I still can't zumba or walk with any sort of impressive pace whatsoever.  And it aches if I'm sitting for too long.

My physical therapist, K, is really nice.  She seemed to appreciate my random sense of humor, which one really needs in PT.

Because basically, her hand was almost up my ass.

Seriously.  Not to be crass, but that's where my hammie is sore - way up there where it connects to the pelvic bone.  K and I are now really close friends.

That's all.  Just wanted you guys to know I've made a new friend.  Have a great day, everyone!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Wave Machine

I used to love puzzles.

What a nice way to spend a lazy Sunday, going to and from a really tough puzzle, and loving that feeling of satisfaction when it's finally done.  Then leaving it on the table to be admired, at least for a little bit.

Now that I'm an autism mom, puzzles don't really do it for me.  I find that I just don't have the patience anymore - my patience is otherwise used up on my kids.

Which brings me to that dang puzzle piece symbol for autism.

It never really bothered me before, until I really started thinking about it.

One autism organization uses the puzzle piece symbol for autism awareness, with the tag line "Until all the pieces fit."  Well, tag line creators, I've got some news for you....

Those pieces?  They will never all fit.  That dang puzzle will never be completed.  You never get that feeling of satisfaction upon completion.

Now before you all get riled up in an uproar, hear me out.

Parenting, no matter if you parent a neurotypical kid (us folks in the biz call those "normal" kids "NT kids".  It's much better than "normal", don't you think?  That way, there is no "not normal" on the other side.  But I digress.) or a kid like my TJ who has autism, is a journey.  There is no ending.

"Until all the pieces fit" contains the hope that eventually, all those pieces, even the toughest ones, will fit into a nice neat puzzle that you can stand back and admire.

For us, just as soon as we have figured out one tricky part of the puzzle, another one pops up.  Or maybe a year after we thought we had solved a problem, it re-presents itself in a new form, maybe a little distorted from its original presentation, but needs to be addressed all over again.

Parenting, no matter what kind of brain your kiddo has, is fluid.

Wouldn't it be nice if it wasn't?  Can you imagine, finally finding how that last little bugger of a puzzle piece fits into the whole picture, and you have laid before you a beautiful portrait that you have been waiting to see in its completion?

Yeah - not gonna happen.

Please don't get me wrong - there are plenty of amazing moments in parenting.  Moments of celebrating successes, solving problems, connecting to your child's journey and life in a real and meaningful way.  Joys.  Sorrows.  Ups and downs.

See?  Fluid.

Instead of that puzzle piece, I like to picture something more like one of those desktop wave machines.  Rocking back and forth, beautiful blues and greens, ebbing and flowing.  And always in motion.

Without an end.

So in theory, that puzzle piece works for many, I get it.  And I'm all for ANYTHING that increases autism awareness and acceptance in the world.

But for me, for my family, for my boys with very different brains and very different ways of living in this world, give me a wave machine any day.