Me-Time (Fantastic Babysitters are a Necessity)

Babysitting

Babysitting (Photo credit: Daquella manera)

Today, our babysitter picked up The Boy and took him for the day, leaving me with a whole chunk of Me-Time.

There are plenty of single moms out there who will tell you that they feel guilty leaving their kids with a babysitter so that they can pursue selfish interests.  I would not be one of those single moms.  I also don’t feel guilty being a working mom, because being a career woman is part of my identity.  If I stay too long at home, I go stir-crazy, and so does The Boy.  To him, there IS such a thing as too much vacation (this is where I think he’s a little nuts, but different strokes, right?).

Me-Time is essential to me, for my sanity.  You may think I am using that term loosely, but if you have a kid with special needs, you know that your brain works similarly to that of a battle medic – always alert for a major disaster, and ready to solve problems at a moment’s notice.  Me-Time is a break from that, and it is blissful.  It recharges me, and helps me come back to my child, appreciating him for the amazing kid that he is.

In my Singlemomdom, I am an only child, meaning I do not have siblings ready and willing to provide free babysitting.  And my parents live 900 miles away.  Therefore, I rely heavily on babysitters.  This is not a foolproof system, and there are times when I just can’t do what I’d need or like to do.  I have had to take days off of work, often at inopportune times, but that’s just part of it.  There isn’t any more I can do about it, so stressing about it isn’t going to help anyone.

But how do I find Fantastic Babysitters? It isn’t easy, and I will give you my disclaimer now that, as a teacher, I kind of have an advantage.  I have a bevy of former students whom I know I can trust with my only offspring.  But not even this has always worked out well.

I found our best and most fantastic babysitter on Craigslist (remember when I told you about Craigslist??).  It was shortly after the divorce was final, and I realized that I would need someone pretty regularly, as my job requires me to attend several evening functions every month.  I looked on Craigslist, and narrowed my choices down to three.  I contacted them, asked for resumes and references, and scheduled interviews.  I found excellent questions to ask online, and also asked about their experiences with kids with special needs.  From those interviews, it was a no-brainer which one I would hire, and four years later, she is like one of the family.

There are other resources out there as well, if you just aren’t in a financial place to be able to afford babysitters.  Think about swapping time with a friend who has kids, or contacting your local National Honor Society chapter to see if any of their members need service hours.  College students may also need service hours, or observation hours if they are entering the education or child development fields.  If you have kids who have special needs, contact some of your local special needs groups to see if they offer respite care, or know of any organizations that do.

I think we single moms can fall easily into the martyr role, and truthfully, some of us revel in that.  I work hard, and truthfully, I’m a better mom because I’ve had to do it on my own, but I am also a better mom because I take time for myself.  I have not put my interests and hobbies on the back burner until my son turns 18.  Maybe that’s because unlike moms of neurotypical kids, I may not have an empty nest at that point, and my nest may never be empty, but that’s for another post.  I still need to be me, and I still need alone time to pursue those interests.  If I don’t I will grow to resent this precious boy of mine.  It helps to have a Fantastic Babysitter, so if you don’t have one yet, go get one!  You won’t know what you ever did without him/her!!

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After the Divorce: Money

Image representing LearnVest as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

I don’t know about you, but it wasn’t just my emotional life that was in a shambles after my divorce.  I think my finances were in even worse shape.  In my own case, this was because I had done the hands-down, stupidest thing a woman can ever do with her money — gave control of it to someone else.  If there was one thing, ONE THING, I could go back and change, it would be that.  That’s not to say that I didn’t see the light before the end.  For years, I tried to get the ex to even let me share in the bill-paying responsibilities, but that offended his masculine sensibilities, so therefore I wasn’t allowed to touch my own money.  He didn’t prohibit me from using the ATM or anything, I just never had any idea if there was any money in there, so I didn’t even try.  He “kept track” of the bills on the backs of random envelopes, using his own chicken-scratch that even he couldn’t understand, and eventually, we had a house foreclosure, a car re-poed (from my work… at my SCHOOL… how embarrassing), and thousands in debt to hospitals, doctors, utility companies…  What a mess.

He even took his name off of the car insurance before the divorce was final, and stopped paying on it, so I owed the car insurance company for two cars that weren’t even in my name, and I wasn’t even driving them.

And then I went to buy a car…  Because I had cosigned for his work van (which he GAVE to a friend before leaving the state), and payments had not been made on it for several months, I almost couldn’t get a vehicle at all.

But I did (paying almost 25% interest), and I knew I would never miss a payment.

Does this sound familiar? Are you asking yourself, “What do I do NOW??”

Step One:  Order a copy of your credit report from all 3 credit companies: Equifax, Transunion, and Experian.  You are entitled to one free copy per year, so do these three all at once the first year, and then in future years, order one from one company every 4 months.  They will all have similar if not the same information, and that way you can keep track of your progress, and dispute anything that should not be there.  DO NOT pay for your credit score anywhere!  You can get it for free at Credit Karma. Your score is handy to know if you are going to the bank or credit union to try to get a loan.  They can crunch some better numbers if you have an idea of what your score is.  Don’t freak out if it’s low.  Mine was in the basement, and in 4 years, It has gone up over 200 points.

Step Two:  Take care of as many outstanding debts on your credit report as you can.  And as soon as you can.  Always request that they remember to make a note on your credit report that the account has been resolved.  Sometimes you can even negotiate a settlement amount less than what you owe.  Make sure to dispute any claims that are incorrect, as well.  This takes phone calls, something I abhorred doing, but have gotten much better about, primarily through this process.  This report is YOU, and you want to look your best to the world.  You want it to reflect you, your values, and your work ethic accurately, and it may take a little work to get it back to where it needs to be.  Nobody can do that but yourself!

Step Three:  Take a hard look at what is coming in every month (and don’t count on the child support — Only depend on yourself), and what is going out.  You may have to cut back on some things while you are paying all off this debt.  You would be surprised what alternatives there are out there to the things we think we have to have.  The library became my best friend, as well as a little group called Freecycle, and Craigslist.  I became a bit of a bargain hunter, which is a great skill to have, regardless of your income.  Notice that I said “bargain hunter” and not “couponer”…

Step Four:  Pay every bill on time.

Step Five:  Once you are out of the woods, which may take a few months (or even a few years), you need to start some long-range planning.  Check out some trusted sites to help you with both your day-to-day budgeting and your long-term plans: Mint.com, and Learnvest.com.  I have tried both, and personally like Learnvest’s whole-person approach, as they give you articles and training based on your interests, but it is woman-centered, which may or may not appeal to you.  Lots of people (and I mean LOTS) use Mint, as well.

Finally, if you are not already a member, I highly recommend using a credit union.  They have fewer fees, and are more likely to reward somebody like you, working hard to take control of their finances, with better interest rates, and needed loans.

As you start digging yourself out of the hole, make sure to take care of yourself, and to even pamper yourself every once in awhile.  We are human, and we need some creature comforts to remain that way.

You can do this.  You will find sources of strength you never knew you had.  And you will have the power over your own money, which is a fantastic feeling.

A Lesson

Today was my first opportunity to really teach my son.  Not the things that every parent teaches their kids, like manners, humility, and putting both the lid and the seat up to pee.  Nope. Today I gave my son his first real baritone lesson.  And it was eye-opening.

I think every parent has some understanding of the cognitive abilities of their own children.  I should say every parent who is involved in their child’s life to the point where they have regular conversations, and enjoy doing things together.  Let’s face it — that statement just disqualified a lot of parents.  But intelligence is harder to gauge for us special needs parents.  Our kids don’t often test well, and we have to take the word of the people who spend their days with them at school, and hope we can trust they know what they are doing.  We do some homework during the regular school year, but his teachers send home assignments on which he will have success, to lessen the negative connotation of “homework”, a BRILLIANT idea, I might add.  So even homework does not give me a clear picture of what we’re dealing with inside that big noggin of his.

This afternoon, I got a better understanding.  As his teacher, I saw a talented kid who picked concepts up amazingly quickly, but needed almost constant redirection to focus on the lesson.  It seemed that once he learned a concept, it was pretty much solid, too.  We worked for about 20-30 minutes, and then he was done, but he had learned the concepts so quickly, and so well, that there was no reason to extend the lesson.  Ideally, every kid would have this type individualization, and they would achieve amazing things.

I know that many of us in the special needs community have this nagging concern that is always in the backs of our minds, and oft repeated to us by well-meaning friends and family members: “But what will you/he do when he is done with school?”

To others, I say, “I can’t dwell too much on the future.  I really have to take it day by day.”

To myself, I often say, “I have no freakin’ clue, and that scares the crap out of me.”

But today, after that lesson, I started seeing some answers to that question.  Hopeful ones.

My teacher taught me well today.

Raising the village

The Boy and I walked down to the park a few days ago, which is about 3 blocks away.  It was evening, and there was a multitude of baseball games being played on the diamonds.  We were headed for the playground, because team sports aren’t really our thing.

Often, at this park, parents are attending their children’s games, and will send their younger children to the playground area to have something to do while their big brother plays baseball.  Not usually a problem, but not much adult supervision in the playground as a result.

Tonight, I noticed there were some older kids hanging out on the periphery of the playground — a small group of boys on one bench, a slightly larger group of girls on the swings nearby, and another group of boys sitting in the slide, preventing the kids from using it, throwing things, and being a general nuisance.  I watched this group for a bit, giving them my best, meanest, evilest teacher eye, which had absolutely no effect.  A dad of one of these boys came over, spoke to one of the boys, and this group gave up their perch and moved behind the other two groups of kids.  Now, as this was happening, I could overhear the first group of boys swearing, but I didn’t say anything because it was in their private conversation, and I didn’t think any of the nearby kids could hear it.

As soon as Group Of Boys 2 moved behind these other two groups, the whole mating ritual began with the trash talk between the groups, and the swearing, getting louder.

My son, bless his heart, watched an episode of Spongebob a month or two ago, and has been fascinated with the concept of “bad words” ever since.  As you may or may not know, kids with autism will often have these little obsessions over weeks, months, and even years (God, I hope this one doesn’t last that long!).

I believe The Boy heard one of the girls swearing, and went up to her and told her she shouldn’t be using words like that (because that’s how he rolls).  She proceeded to swear directly at him (or so I gather), because he laughed and ran to me saying that she owed him a quarter.  Yes, this is a recent addition to our conversations, when the adults in his life let one slip.

As the swearing continued at a higher volume level, my inner teacher/assistant principal came out of nowhere and yelled across to them, “Hey!  Do you think you could stop swearing?  I mean you ARE at a playground.  There’s little kids around!”

And do you think they said “Yes, Ma’am.  Sorry, Ma’am”?  No, I am sad to say, they did not.  They got even louder, sprinkled their speech with even more foul language, and started yelling about their First Amendment Rights.  I told them that it is indeed against the law to swear in front of children in our state, and that they should look that up.

Luckily, The Boy’s timer was about to go off, and when it did, we left.  But not before I looked up the Police Department’s non-emergency number.  Dialed it as we were leaving and informed them of the group of swearing belligerent youth in the playground.  If they won’t respect a random adult, maybe they’d respect one in uniform.

Kids of any age, shape, color or size need to be called out on their bad behavior in public.  And I say that thinking of the old biddy on our train who shook her head and made loud disapproving noises when The Boy and I were riding to Chicago when he was a toddler, obviously aimed at his rambunctious (little-did-we-know-it-then-autistic) behavior.  So to qualify, in the absence of a parent or other adult figure, when children are trying to get away with poor behavior, we citizens of society need to stand in the place of those parents and guardians who would no doubt disapprove, and call them out.

I know we hesitate because it feels like we’re meddling in someone else’s business, or judging someone else’s parenting.  It’s NOT that.  It’s creating an immediate consequence for a negative behavior.  That’s how they learn to be human beings.

What say you?  Would you stand up and call out a kid that’s not yours?  Have you done this?  Share your story below.

Bedtime (Social) Story Update

Last night we wrote the story, and The Boy went to bed after that fairly easily.

Tonight, we had another flare up, but it has been about 20 minutes, and he is still in his room, and not threatening to leave the state.  I hear things being thrown, and some angry muttering, but all in all, a much calmer reaction to “lights out” tonight.  I’m probably jinxing myself as I write this, so I am going to delay the post…  Nope.  He finally settled. *Whew!*

Later this week, I will be receiving a book that I learned about on Learnvest (which is a fantastic financial site aimed at women — if you are recently divorced, or even if you’re not, they have a wealth of very valuable and trusted information — see what I did there?  “Wealth”? snort).  It is called “Earn It, Learn It” by Alisa Weinstein, and contains the “Earn My Keep” program, which is a re-design of how we do allowance, and how to help our kids actually, really, truly understand that money doesn’t grow on trees.  More to come…

A Bedtime (Social) Story

Evidence of The Boy’s rebellion from the night before.

As I was writing my post last night, a storm was brewing.  Not outside.  Inside my son’s head.  See, we just returned from three weeks in North Carolina, where he gets to spend some nights at Grammy’s house, and get ridiculously spoiled.  She is very proud of herself that she has instituted “bedtime”, and “lights out” at her house when he is there (as well she should be), but I’m pretty sure he is faking her out on the “lights out” part of it.  Sneaky little…

At our house, The Boy has to relinquish his iPad (and yes, it’s his, and yes, that’s a completely ‘nother post) for “lights out”, so that I can put it in my room “to charge” (wink, wink).  Because if he has it, he will be on it until he passes out, which results in a not-so-conducive morning routine, to say the least.  The boy needs sleep, and he has had problems getting to sleep for the past few years.

Needless to say, after returning from vacation, and getting away with all and sundry at Grammy’s house, he is having a bit of a, um, “transition” back to our house rules (translated: he’s being a holy terror on this point).

Last night, he screamed and cried (“But I’ll be BORED!!”), wouldn’t get into bed, and even went so far as to zip up his suitcase (which still has unpacked clothes in it from trip – so sue me), take it out to the side door entry, and announce that he was moving, and not living here anymore.  In the past, he has gotten as far as sitting on the step outside of the side door, at which point I think he realized that he didn’t have anywhere to go.  Actually leaving the house makes me nervous, as he used to be a bolter – one who would take off at a moment’s notice, and just RUN.  I cannot run (without huffing and puffing and showing the world how insanely out of shape I am), and so I have that fear.  That he will walk out the door and be gone.  So while I do my best to ignore the behavior that he is employing to get my attention, I can only ignore it so far.

Luckily, last night, he did not actually go outside.  Did I mention that this is all occurring at like midnight?  OK, more like 10:30pm, but it FELT like midnight.

At some point, I asked him if we needed a social story.  This is something that I have used with him to a pretty amazing degree of success.  It amazes me because he is such a logical kid, that a social story seems as if I am dumbing concepts down for him, but it works!  It helps that he has a love affair with PowerPoint, which is the program we use to write them quickly (he saved the 88 PowerPoints he made at school this year on a flash drive…), and it also helps to have him help write it (or at least pick out the pictures).  As we wrote this one on bedtime together, I could feel his breathing slowing next to me, and almost hear his brain working.

When we were finished, we read it together, and he went to bed.  Notice I didn’t say “went to sleep”, but I’m always OK with babysteps.

Have you used social stories?  Have you written your own?  How did it work out?

Forethought

Merriam-Webster defines forethought as: “1 : a thinking or planning out in advance 2 : consideration for the future”.

One of my favorite things to do is plan.  Ask my boyfriend, Mr. We-don’t-need-a-reservation.  I plan events at work, thinking through every detail about traffic flow, announcements, seating arrangements, and clean-up.  And I love to plan vacations, although I now have to reign it in a bit, coming up with “possibilities” for us to do (and calendaring them all, just so we know where and when we could do them.  If we wanted…).

It doesn’t ALWAYS work out so well, though.  I’ve tried that plan for housecleaning, (you know the one) that entails doing a different chore everyday for a month.  I like it in principal, but in my house, with one person doing all the cleaning… Let’s just say it got as far as the calendar, and then it was toast.

And what happens when the plan doesn’t work, or you just can’t get to it ahead of time?  Consider being on the other end.  How many times have I been in a staff meeting, or watched some new program being implemented, and thought, “Well, that could have gone better with a little forethought!”  I’ve also been able to look back after a major meltdown and realize that it was ALL MY FAULT, because I didn’t think about what would happen if I forgot the wipes, if the ex bailed on his kid again, or if I got stuck at work .

I’m pointing my finger at myself as I write this:  MAYBE, if I don’t have time to put forethought into it, MAYBE I shouldn’t do it.  Maybe I need to create some time in my schedule to think about stuff before it happens, so I can envision all outcomes, and be better prepared.  And if I can’t find time to do that, maybe I’m too busy, and some things on my agenda need to be delegated, shelved, or deleted.

I know I need to do this more.  I know that my son and I can preempt some meltdowns this way.

How about you?