Halloween is right around the corner…here’s some of my top tips and tricks to make Halloween fun and to hand off to any of the indignant PTO moms who have forgotten that ALL kids want to have a good time…..
Though Halloween parties have turned into “Harvest Parties” at school, the anticipation and sentiment of Halloween is still timeless. As a parent I find myself still caught up in Halloween and creating spooky Pinterest fails and contemplating what candy I can pilfer from my child’s treat bag without him noticing. Some costumes are so realistically scary that I am not certain that my red meat consumption hasn’t finally caught up with me and am opening my door to the actual Grim Reaper himself. There is a revolving door of Elsas and Ninja Turtles who could just very likely just be the same child over and over again capitalizing on those homes who everyone knows passes out full sized candy bars.
A couple of years ago I was coordinating a party for my child’s 4th grade classroom. 20% of that classroom had food allergies. I gently reminded parents that the goal…
One night as I was plugging in my son’s iPad, I noticed he got a text. Many parents lose sleep over whether or not to invade their preadolescent’s privacy by looking at personal messages, but not me. My child at 11 years old is completely illiterate and he had never gotten a text before.
I glanced around as if nervously waiting to get busted for reading it, but the truth was my stomach was in butterflies out of joy and excitement.
Hi A2. This is Ryder
Are you in bed?????
If you aren’t what time do you go to bed???
Maybe I have been wrong! Maybe school has been helping him truly cultivate and explore friendships after all! Real ones! A2’s class picture was on the refrigerator and I ran to it to ask him which one was Ryder. I recognized several of the boys in his class but didn’t know anyone named Ryder. Unfortunately, my son has a severe language disorder called Childhood Apraxia of Speech in addition to Autism so I had no way of knowing for certain which one Ryder was because A2 enthusiastically would answer “yeh!” to every child I pointed to.
Could he be a child from the resource room? I could not know that either because the school will not tell me the names of any of the children in that room due to “privacy”. The kids with whom he spends the majority of the day. The kids who also probably never get or send texts or receive invites to play. The kids who can’t just ask each other and then come home and tell their moms.
My husband and I were feeling almost hypervigilant over where we would know this child from since the area code was from a city we lived in many years ago. A2’s real name is an unusual one, so clearly this is meant for him.
How did he get A2’s number since A2 doesn’t even know it? Does this child comprehend that A2 can’t read? Could this be an adult? A teacher?A predator?!
My joy was quickly turning to irrationality as my husband texted back to give this Ryder person a piece of our mind!
As it turns out, Ryder was trying to get in touch with A2. Just not MY A2.
Ryder was in 6th grade and had just moved and had met a new friend at his new school (not ours) that day, exchanged numbers and did what every 12 year old does when making new friends.
A2 was contacted by a ghost. An illusion of a promise of the world to come.
The coincidence lacked the sparkle of serendipity and sent a gut punch that made the butterflies swirling in my tummy fly out of my mouth and away into the sky out of reach. One three lined text of 19 words, 57 characters, 6 question marks and 2 happy face emojis sent me into a 10 minute emotional tailspin ending in a disappointment.
While my reaction may seem dramatic and my sweet boy was oblivious, man alive, I know he would have LOVED for that text to be his if he knew. You see, that would mean someone wanted to tell him that they got a new skin in Minecraft, or ask him if he wanted to ride bikes to the park or see if he’s allowed to see that Jason Bourne movie. It would mean that someone might be sneaking him a You Tube video he isn’t allowed to watch at home or asking him if he thought the new girl was cute.
It would mean that someone was thinking of him right at that very moment. It would mean he had value to people other than me and his dad. It would mean he was growing up.
Before this whole parent thing came along and made me loopy with worry, I used to help families move their loved ones into nursing homes. One particular instance, I helped take inventory of a man’s belongings and I asked him to give me his wallet so I could start a resident account for him to keep his $10 bill safe. He refused and his wife asked to speak privately with me in the hall.
“I know he has no need for money here, but is there any way you can make an exception to let him keep it with him?”
I’m certain I did not handle the situation with sensitivity or understanding because she replied, ” We were never wealthy people but he was proud of the fact he always put food on the table or could hand his sons money when they needed something. That money in his pocket makes him feel like a man. And that, child, is all he has left to feel like one.”.
I let him keep the money and have contemplated since then what the last material thing I would hold on to would be and why.
I just didn’t realize that it would come earlier in life and be a random text message that was not meant for my child.
These things. These little things that give us a perceived sense of value–that we anchor to other things and make them into something more. Ultimately, the text itself was probably meaningless to A2. He however does very much care about all those things that receiving a text implies.
Having a way to communicate with the world makes you a part of it and a rolling digital scroll of blue and white messages are like the receipt to prove it nowadays. My friend’s daughter left her phone at home while she was at overnight camp and powered up when she returned home to 1022 unread text messages. I never did ask if she read them all.
I do know that A2 will never experience the betrayal that can come with adolescent friendships and are exacerbated by text messages. No girlfriend break up text. No secret texts between friends who are standing right there with him, exploiting his trust. No anxiety over the three dots or “read” receipt.
No. None of that.
While I am disappointed that Ryder misdialed and reached out to the wrong A2, just for a moment I thought about grounding A2 from his device because he knows he shouldn’t be texting so late.
Many years ago when A2 entered the public school system, we moved him from a private school with a peer program and an ABA focus. He is so influenced by his peers we thought maybe it would be a good time to bring him back to our school district while he was so young. It was no small decision and perhaps ultimately made under the haze of Xanax.
I waltzed into school on curriculum night, notebook in hand, mascara and lipstick reapplied. I waved and smiled at other parents I recognized from the neighborhood. We chatted about the end of summer homeowners association picnic and how nice the tennis court was looking now that they repainted it and we absolutely should get together for tapas sometime (how has that not even happened yet?!)
The desks were so small and facing each other. Tidy containers of crayons divided by color, posters on every square inch of wall space, shelves that housed bin after bin of books. Mobiles hung from the ceiling. Not at all what his ABA classroom looked like…way too much to distract..but it was all good. He will learn to adapt to this no problem. The neighborhood kids are all here! Someone took the time to take all the crayons out of the boxes!
I found A2’s desk and it had a paper name plate with cartoon pictures of pencils and school buses just like everyone else.
There was an envelope on his desk with all the “getting to know your child” papers like everyone else.
There was a tidy blue folder with the agenda for the evening waiting for us just like everyone else.
Sure, my mother hips were hanging over both sides of the tiny chair. And sure, the middle aged teacher greeted us and held her gaze with my husband much longer than she did with me, but that’s what we do here in public school!
Normal, regular people stuff.
Then the teacher started talking. And talking. And asking us to turn pages in our packets. And telling us what our kids can already do walking in the door on the first day and where we could expect them to be when they walk out on the last.
The road map to get there sure as hell was not the road map to get to Italy or even Holland for A2. Nope. Flyby right over Europe to the heart of Syria (which I hear is really, really nice this time of year….really nice. Hot. But it’s a dry heat.).
I did not see the person who punched me in the stomach. I didn’t even know that a sucker punch was possible in a mainstream classroom. Before I could find out if a bitchslap was next, I gathered my things and walked out. That teacher never did follow up with me to find out why I left, or if I was ok or if my husband liked her new back-to-school-sleeveless-blouse.
A2’s intervention specialist saw me in the hall and gently said “..come with me to the resource room where he is a rock star. I’ll show you around.” She meant well, but he could be a rock star at his other school.
I decided right then that the only way I would ever cope in another curriculum night was if I could sit at one of those tiny desks with a Big Mac and a bottle of Stoli while listening to other parents ask questions like, “What if my child is above the standard for reading?” or complaining at the lack of computers in a room he won’t actually get to be in. I might be able to get away with the Big Mac, but the vodka would probably be frowned upon at the administrative level.
Don’t misunderstand…my boy is perfect in most ways to me (sometimes he is a bit of an asshole…no one is 100%) I don’t fit a mold and when I realized I was going to be a mom 13 years ago, I had no expectations my kids would either. I embrace the weird and inappropriate and many days it takes all of my will to push my monkey brain back into it’s cage before it starts flinging poo.
I’m ok with all that.
What is hard is that the rest of the world generally is not.
While he gets the desk and cubby just like everyone else, he doesn’t get to have sleep overs, or bathroom privacy or even a way to ask other kids if they will Facetime or text him later.
Due to “confidentiality” the helpers assigned to him are not allowed to tell me the names of the kids he would probably want to ask anyway.
He doesn’t get detention for talking out of turn or showing up to class late.
He doesn’t trade carrots for cookies with the kids at lunch.
The bins of books must still be read to him and doesn’t get excited when he hears about the release of the newest Harry Potter book.
And curriculum night? Well…all those things are written in the blank spaces between the lines on the syllabus. The syllabus that is only visible to certain parents. Not just like everyone else.
The tiny desk is like a mirage. Those things don’t happen because those are not the things that are important to the people who spend 7 hours a day with him. Goals are set to reflect the things A2 CAN’T do rather than what he CAN, whereas the curriculum for the rest of his peers are focused on what they WILL do. And not just at 80% accuracy in 4 out of 5 observed opportunities. I spend my life cherishing the tiny accomplishments inching along unseen by the naked eye or letting hurtful comments roll of my back like water off goosefeather by people who meant no harm. I can sit through all of that, but it reminds me my child is lonely.
And I won’t sit through that.
So tonite, the very last curriculum night of elementary school for me ever….like a pro, I went in, signed my name on the volunteer list, eyeballed the room of parents , took 2 tums to settle my stomach in anticipation of the Big Mac in my mom-bag and walked out.
The bottom line is I would rather have heartburn and a hangover than go to curriculum night. What would you rather do?
There are some days that my heart breaks selfishly a bit.
Days like today.
As A2 gets older there really are no more play dates. While kids are generally kind, there are limits to their patience. It’s hard to figure out how to play with another kid who wants to stand at the bottom of the water slide flapping rather than going down. His peers are now preteens and the adults that are close by interpreting for him, ensuring safety and cuing socially reciprocal behavior are going to inhibit his peers age appropriate wing stretching.
Today, as I sat entering in my second hour in direct sun making sure my guy didn’t keep going past the “do not pass” sign at the base of the water slide, I couldn’t help but notice the world around us. I had nothing else to do but try to clear my mind of things that poke at my side and wake me breathless in the middle of the night that were now tugging at the straps of my mom-suit on sunburned shoulders. I see the young women in their bikinis, laughing and hanging off of tattooed boyfriends and remembered a time where wondering if my thighs were firm enough or if my mascara was running were my biggest concerns. And at the time they really did feel like big concerns.
There are days….just like every other chubby middle aged mom, I just miss my youth.
I watch other moms read their books and drink stealthy mojitos next to the pool as their kids run to them at rest time asking for a hot pretzel. The lifeguards are there to protect theirs while I stand knee deep in freezing water wondering what would happen if I tried to do the same.
There are days….like every other mom of little ones, I wish I could lounge near a pool instead of being on high alert waiting to save my kid from drowning.
I see the moms with wee-ones on changing tables and laugh as I remember being in the same predicament with a wet, slippery cherub in a soaking wet swimmy full of poop and trying to carefully slide it down over a squirmy tushy, not realizing the sides rip off for easy disposal. Today I am trying to find a dry floor free of clumpy toilet paper wads since my guy is now too old to place on a changing table.
There are days….like every mom of little ones, I just wish we were out of the diaper stage.
Once I shook the delirium of the midday sun and made my own mojito at home I felt less like I was crawling toward a mirage in the desert only to be disappointed by more sand.
I feel conflicted by my own selfishness.
I know the bottom line is if he is still oblivious to his differences and is still filled with joy doing what he likes to do whether it suits me or not, then we are still golden. And yet I can feel like I have received a sucker punch to the gut when I watch pubescent girls walk quickly in cliques past him whispering and giggling. I don’t know if my child worries about the same things I do or if he has crushes on girls or if he sometimes grieves his differences. I hope not. That way I can keep my selfishness where it belongs…to myself.
But here’s the thing.
Don’t ALL moms go through this?
We have a sacred ground that feels like it is being broken if we say it out loud or admit to having a bad mom day. Special Needs bad mom days and Typical bad mom days have a different script but definitely the same plot.
No. I will never worry about my kid having a psycho girlfriend.
I will never worry about my child’s heartbreak of being socially brushed off because he is wearing the wrong logo on his sneakers.
I will never worry that I did not raise him with morals or respect for adults.
I will never worry about whether or not weed will be his gateway drug to heroin.
Those things are equally as important even though there are days I would rather worry about those things. Somehow it became not OK to admit to worry or heartbreak or disappointment for fear of being seen that we somehow don’t appreciate our children. I hesitate to share on these days I must sit quietly for a little too long and think about things a little too much. I am weary of feeling somehow missing our old lives or having a twinge of disappointment over “what could have been” cannot possibly coexist with loving our children with all our souls or appreciating their uniqueness in all their flappy, pool water drinking ways.
See…because you know what I miss too some days? My flat stomach with a belly ring that didn’t look like it was a way to deflate my abdomen. I miss not checking moles and worrying about skin cancer. I miss not having to hire a crane to hoist my chest up in a bathing suit. I miss drinking beer all afternoon in the sun and flirting. I miss working full time and then actually being bored in the evening when I couldn’t find someone to go to the coffeehouse to see some local guy playing acoustic. And I dare anyone reading this to NOT feel like they miss those things too sometimes and that they too would consider trading their situation in to go back for just one day only to realize there would be no way in hell. Because we will never be the same and for that the world will never be the same. This is the backward legacy that our kids give to us….as we gave to our parents.
I often wonder what kind of mom I would be in an alternate universe….and feel very selfish on the sad days. But ultimately, autism or not, I really don’t think I’m so much different from any other mom.
These wildflowers grow on a narrow strip of grass between someone’s property up against a century old stone wall and a city sidewalk near my home. There is a handwritten sign on a stake stating simply PLEASE DO NOT MOW OR SPRAY WILDFLOWERS. THANK YOU. While seeing them in full bloom one might wonder why someone would do that even when instructed to.
Today we were shaken again to our core. Today we were reminded again that nothing should be taken for granted. I am angry that again I feel afraid for my children when they leave the comforts of home. I am conflicted because A2 is sick and at a time I should be saddened for 50 families and frightened at the fact that laws continue to exist that allow for permits for individuals to decide the fate of 50 people in one rain shower of shots. People who were given the right to exist with equal love are gone and we are all reminded there is still an opposing view. But A2 is the kind of sick that makes his father talk in circles and makes me stone faced and logical. The kind of sick that sinks our instinctual fears as parents until the wind kicks up again and fills our sails to let us know it’s smooth waters soon. I can’t fear all things at the same time.
So I can stop to show you these flowers I saw today. And you can stop to see them. And we can all appreciate that someone stepped up to make sure that they bloomed to their full beauty for all of us. Please see them. Just for this moment. #onepulse
Your brother saw the ocean for the first time about a month before we knew you. The expanse stopped him in his tracks leaving him silent and still. The moment you were born 11 years ago today you cried and screamed and when they held you up for me to see I instinctively whispered your name. You stopped crying, found my eyes and you were silent and still and you took my breath away. Your presence in our lives has been like seeing the ocean for the first time–beautiful and tumultuous and every day is like seeing the world in a way no one else gets to. I feel lucky I get to be your mom. Happy Birthday sweet A2…….
There have been so many news stories, articles and commentary on social media about the tragic situation over the weekend that at this point I am fairly sure you would have to live in a cave to not have at least heard about it. In case you do live in a cave, here is what I know about the situation with the little boy who fell in the Gorilla exhibit in Cincinnati:
He fell 10 feet into the moat
He fell 12 feet into the moat
He fell 15 feet into the moat
He was seriously injured but with non-life threatening injuries
He came out without a scratch
The gorilla rushed him but did not hit him
The gorilla approached him cautiously only after hearing him splash in the water
The gorilla did not intend harm, he almost seemed to be protecting the boy
The gorilla violently was dragging and throwing the boy in the water
It took 10 minutes before anything was done by rescue team
It took 15 minutes before anything was done by the rescue team
The boy had his hand in his mother’s back pocket to stay close and in a flash he was gone
The boy’s father crawled out onto the ledge to jump down into the moat
The person who filmed the footage crawled out onto the ledge to jump down into the moat
Eyewitnesses say she was on her phone and not paying attention until they saw him in the water
Eyewitnesses say the boy was gone in an instant and he was seen crawling out onto the ledge and was pursued immediately by family and spectators alike
From reading up….here is what else I know:
Jungle Jack Hanna supported the zoo’s choice to kill the gorilla because there was no other realistic option
A large part of the community did not support the choice to kill the gorilla and sees the tragedy of killing an innocent endangered animal because there were other options
A large part of the community ponders how in the world the zoo could have such an unsecured area that a child could breach it that quickly
PETA did not support the choice to kill the gorilla OR have him in captivity in the first place for our entertainment
A child slipping away from a parent can happen to anyone in an instant
The mother is completely responsible for the death of that gorilla, is a neglectful parent and clearly was not watching her child and should have him removed from her care to be raised in foster care.
The mother has received several death threats
A gorilla is dead and a boy is alive
And lastly….here is what else I know:
A 4 year old boy is alive
NOTHING. ULTIMATELY, I KNOW NOTHING. AND NEITHER DO YOU.
97. A2 has had a total of 97 teachers and therapists in his short 9 years. Some were hand- picked….some chosen by fate and luck of the draw. Some were published…lauded recognizable names….some were quiet presences of whom I cannot remember their names. Some have been with us for the majority of his life. Some have only jumped in for a blip of time in his almost 80,000 hours on this planet. Some were stellar….life alterers….some just showed up because they had to. Some interpreted my coolness or seeming indifference to them as being non-caring. Some recognized that I always had my child’s best interest in mind all the time and understood it was important for me not to be too attached for fear of losing perspective and not holding them accountable should his learning derail. All have had a permanent impact…
“Are you sure he has Autism? He’s so friendly…”. While there are more nuanced aspects now to the criteria, failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level is one of the defining and most obvious diagnostic identification for children with autism. Interest in people in general, desire for friendships and loving behavior can muddy the diagnostic waters and confuse people about what autism is and what autism isn’t. Disconnectedness, aloofness and lack of desire to be touched does not always translate as a lack of desire for relationships. The desire is there, the understanding for how that happens is not. It can just be easier to be by yourself. A1 can tell you that. Indiscriminate friendliness, hugs and kisses to those he loves and the compulsive desire to be around a lot of people doesn’t always coexist with developmentally appropriate social skills. A2 probably would tell you that part…if…
I get asked often what I think caused my child’s Autism. I believe it is completely counterproductive to even consider it until such a time that there is solid evidence. They are here now. I love my kids fiercely. Our struggles would be the same whether or not we knew the ‘why’ part.
Infection in mother during pregnancy, vaccine accidents, overweight in mother during pregnancy, gestational diabetes, inadequate iodine, diagnostic ultrasounds, prenatal stress, advanced paternal age at time of conception, pesticides both before and after gestation…I’ve read those all. And they all have the same message: “Dad….Mom (but more likely Mom)…you did something…IT’S YOUR FAULT.” These theories are also part of what drives the Neurodiversity movement. That is, that individual differences and biological diversity are a normal and natural part of evolution and Autism is no different, so it is not something to be treated. Behavioral disruption is misunderstood communication and all the comorbid conditions such as GI/bowel issues, intellectual impairments, mental health issues are just that. Something not related directly to Autism (a whole other can of worms within our community….).
Regardless of your belief system…there is only one thing we know for absolutely certain: NO ONE KNOWS WHAT CAUSES AUTISM.
To demonize parents who make decisions you would not necessarily make is also counterproductive.
As parents we have an instinct to protect our children. When a parent watches the baby she knows slip away into a world of of silence or pain in front of her very eyes and no one can tell her why or really what to do..well….just take a moment to let that sink in regardless of your parenting/political/medical stance. I don’t have to agree, I just have to have empathy.
Here is what we do know. There is a genetic component to Autism and it is likely paired with an environmental trigger. Just like Type 2 Diabetes. You can’t develop this unless you have the genes. You make it far less likely to get it if you get your butt up off the couch, exercise regularly and do not eat like a regular American.
We just are not 100% certain what that common genetic component or the environmental one in Autism. I am not going to even pretend to know anything about genetics. The best I can do is tell you:
Picture a city with 20,000 streets.
Now lets figure out which streets have public mailboxes, one way traffic, standard poodles and single mothers living on them.
Only some people who travel down those streets buy mandarin oranges (not regular naval) and we need to find those people.
(But what about the naval orange buying people!? Those are a lot like mandarins!)
That is what it is like trying to figure out the common genetic factor and environmental trigger together. When I had a discussion about this with a pediatrician 12 years ago she said to me: “Autism is caused by a genetics. Period. To consider anything else is ridiculous.”
I sat for a moment and thought about that. I then I wondered out loud, “Can you tell me another genetic epidemic in history that unfolded like Autism?” Crickets. I’m a pretty moderate parent…however it is no wonder that many parents are suspect of the medical system with that kind of definitive statement when the bottom line is WE DON’T KNOW.
Does it mean my husband and I have Autism? No, not necessarily…but who knows? If we do carry that genetic material and we combined it….we no more caused the autism than we “caused” their big gorgeous brown eyes or fact that they may need to wear glasses one day. Their eyes could have almost just as easily been blue instead all things considered. And if environment did play a role and all the Fruity Pebbles I ate during pregnancy kicked those genes into overdrive as the environmental trigger, there is not a damn thing I can do about that now.
I have never felt the “shame of blame”…and I don’t think any parent should.
We are wired to procreate and continue population. We can just hope that this kind of information will one day find the link that allows children who suffer in silence or physical or emotional pain to grow to be independent and happy…just like all parents want their kids to do.