All Quiet on the Northern Front

On Father’s Day, we were up north, but I made sure The Boy called his dad. He spoke with him briefly, spoke to both of his uncles briefly, and spoke to his grandpa briefly. The call lasted 7 minutes.

I tried to think back to the last time they had spoken, and couldn’t think of a time since he had dropped The Boy off with us in January, at the end of his winter break. I checked my phone bill and I was wrong.  He did call once in March, and they spoke for 9 minutes.

For those of you keeping score, that’s 16 minutes in 6 months.

There hasn’t been any attempt to get any time with The Boy for the summer break, and there has been no discussion of when the next visitation might occur. Maybe it’s because I told him unequivocally in January that The Boy flying alone on a plane wasn’t going to happen any time soon. “It’s not a good idea,” were my exact words.

Is this the beginning of the end? One initiated contact in the past 6 months?

I don’t have any words. Just sadness.

when the school calls...

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How I Know

The Boy is what I call not-quite-verbal. He can speak, had years of speech therapy which started with teaching him basic words like “running” and “ball” with flash cards. He enjoys words a great deal, and finds puns and double entendres highly entertaining. One of his obsessions is “ugly sounds” in the band class, and when I remind him that reading The Hunger Games is on our schedule for the evening, he says, “Reed!” back to me, with a perfect imitation of the sound of a reed instrument squeaking. He then explains the joke, that “reed” r-e-e-d is not the same as “read” r-e-a-d, and which one did I mean? Haha.

But ask him what he did in school today? Crickets. Not a peep. Ask him where his field trip is on Friday? Not a word. It’s not as if he doesn’t know. He just cannot form the words. And due to his verbosity at school about his favorite topics, those who know little about him or about autism assume a lot.

Sometimes, they can't tell us what hurts. We just have to notice.He also will never tell me he is experiencing pain, which worries this mama. In fourteen years, The Boy has never once complained of a headache, but he’s probably had one. And he definitely will not tell me if his dad’s absence and lack of communication is causing him pain, either. I have always told The Boy that he can call his dad anytime he likes. He has never taken me up on the offer. He has difficulty talking to him on the phone on the rare occasions that his dad calls him because he has difficulty creating conversation, and his dad doesn’t understand the types of questions to ask.

But I can still tell. When getting dressed, he will switch from the t-shirt I chose to the Steelers t-shirt for the day (his dad is a Steelers fan and got him the shirt one Christmas). He will ask me random questions about what his dad’s cats are doing. Little things that let me know that he’s thinking about and missing his dad.

It’s a different type of listening. More of a “noticing,” but it’s a huge skill set we autism parents develop. We use it to notice the ways our kiddos self-advocate and self-calm, so we can help them replicate the strategy if it works. We use it to notice a budding new interest that we can encourage.We use it, as in this case, to notice when they might be feeling a bit low or lonely and need some extra cuddles and attention. Basic parenting, sure, but supercharged.

The Angry Ex, 8 Years Later

numbers-time-watch-whiteIt’s been just about eight years since The Boy’s dad walked out and I filed for divorce. It’s been so long since The Boy’s dad lived with him, I wonder just how much he remembers from those years. He was only six, after all, when his dad first decided to live downstairs, and then decided to move four states away.

For a time, we were both angry. Then I lost interest, and he remained angry. But even if time doesn’t heal all wounds, it does mellow you out, a bit. I’m not going to say he still doesn’t have flashes of angry – it was only a couple of years ago that he cancelled the night before a visitation because he suddenly didn’t like our drop-off arrangements. And I wonder what will happen this spring when he realizes I really mean it that The Boy will not be flying by himself. I saw a flash of the old fire in his eyes when I told him that at drop-off a few weeks ago.

The truth is, probably nothing will happen. He may get annoyed, he may even get angry. But he probably won’t shout at me on the phone or send me a nasty text – both of which he loved to employ in previous years. Maybe he has reached a stage where he is indifferent, as well.

In any case, most of our dealings are what you could call “cordial”. Of course I wish he would make more of an effort with his son, but I realized a long time ago that I have no control over that, and it isn’t worth my energy. As long as it stays that way, “cordial” is just fine by me.

At His Dad’s

The Boy is at his dad’s after a semi-successful hand-off this past Sunday. The ex was only an hour and half late, and The Man and I only got into one argument about directions…

He seems to be happy enough, which is about all I can ask for. I will tell you that with the rocky patches we’ve had lately, I am still holding my breath. I was pretty anxious about handing him off this time, and am missing him quite a bit.

Once a year is tough. Of course the ex is already making promises about Spring Break, but we’ll cross that bridge if and when we get to it. For now, The Man and I are having a quiet week to ourselves.

I hope you are enjoying any holidays you may be celebrating, and your families most of all. All will be right again in our world in a few days.

Not on a Plane, Sorry

The ex called last week, talked about putting The Boy on a plane with an assistance program, and promptly promised The Boy that he would see him around New Years, and that he would be flying on a plane.

*sigh*

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He presented this idea as basically the only way he could see his son. He intimated that this program was free (which it’s so totally not). Not that I would be paying for it, but this is evidence of his lack of research. He admitted that the people probably have no knowledge about autism, “but who knows, we might get lucky! Sometimes they are former teachers!” Not the thing to say to me when I have a tentative meeting scheduled with the school principal and counselor who not only know nothing about autism, but didn’t even know who the county autism specialist was.

I started to think about actually allowing him to put The Boy on a plane. I tried to imagine him going through security. Sitting in the gate area and waiting. Getting on the plane. The possibility of delays. The timing of medication. The certainty that the flight attendant would tell him to turn off his electronics. The possibility that he might want to videotape the toilet on the plane with his iPad…

Um. No. The answer is still no. And by the way, if you can afford a plane ticket, you can afford to pay down your overdue balance on child support.

An Open Letter to the Ex

Our son is thirteen now. I wonder if you are shocked by how much he has grown every time you see him. The last time it had been over a year. This time, eight months. I know he’s grown because I have to buy him new pants for every band concert. The size 18’s from last spring were way too short last week so we bought some 29/30’s. I wonder if headlines with autism catch your eye, or if you’ve ever read anything about it. I wonder if you remember anything from the year and a half between the diagnosis and when you left. I wonder how you spend time with him when he’s with you – do you try to connect or do you just coexist? Feeling a little schadenfreude as I hope you experience some of the pubescent rage we have witnessed this fall. But not too much because I wonder if you could handle it, and know I’d rather not find out. In a few years we will have been divorced longer than we were married and the boy will have lived longer without you than with you. That should scare the bejesus out of you, but it doesn’t seem to even register on your radar. Shocking to realize his speech teacher at his school last year who saw him once a week spent more time with him than you have in the last year, and knows him infinitely more than you do.

I wonder a lot, but it isn’t my place to know. That’s between you and him. The question I will never get an answer to is how. How do you live without him?

So I shake my head, sigh, give him to you for Christmas and cross my fingers. This never gets easier.

On-Again, Off-Again Dad

The ex has called a couple of times over the past month or so, after a couple of months of not calling. He said, “I get him for Christmas this year, right?” Ummm, ok. So after making use of your liberal visitation schedule for two weeks out of the last 104, you want to stake your claim? Sure. Yes, you actually are supposed to have him starting on Christmas Eve, as it is an odd year. “I’ll try to get some time off, then,” he said. Sure, I thought.  Like last Christmas.

He called once more, spoke to The Boy only for a little while, and that was the last we heard anything about Christmas.  The Boy’s birthday was Wednesday, and his mom had sent gifts, one from her, and one from his dad. Her card said they were looking forward to seeing him at Christmas.  But the ex didn’t even call his son on his birthday.

What?

My mom told me that recently, she and The Boy were at Walmart and he said he really hoped he’d get to see his dad at Christmas, because he hadn’t seen him since April.  Yes, it hurts him more than he’ll admit to me, and yes, he does keep track.

As The Man says, kids are only young once. He’s going to miss it completely.

Angry for The Boy and pity for the ex. And partly angry for me too, really, because I have my own life and family that will be affected by his inadequacy. But mostly angry for The Boy.

He’s Baaaack…

I have a sneaking suspicion that the ex and his girlfriend broke up, because he’s decided to remember he has a son of his own.  He texted me in the middle of the week, saying he was sorry he was behind on child support, but that he’s been laid off, and would make a payment by the end of the week, oh, and he’s definitely a go for Easter, and could he call Thursday?

Sure, I replied.

Thursday evening rolled around, and another text that said he was still at work, and could he call Friday instead.

Sure, I replied.

He called while we were out to dinner, and I missed it, so I called him back before he could get to The Boy and start making promises that I would have to deal with when they were broken.

He laid out his plans for picking up The Boy for Easter Break, and didn’t ask for too much travel on our end.  He went on to talk about us bringing The Boy to Florida in May, because he has a friend who works at Discovery Cove, and could get us in free to every park in Orlando.  He suggested The Man and I come, too, and hang out with them for a couple of days if we wanted…

I told him I’d check the school calendar.

When he finally called to talk to The Boy on Saturday, I told him he could talk about Easter Break, but not to mention the other plans until they were more firm.

The unfortunate reality is that even positive contact with his dad has an impact on The Boy.  We are now bracing ourselves and warning his teachers, who have never experienced The Boy post-visit-to-dad’s.

And it has already begun. The slightest up-tick in defiance and rigidity, the constant fear of being left behind… All of the old emotions (and negative behaviors) return with a phone call and a promise.

The ex will never understand his own power.

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Instruction Manual

By Mestigoit

Whenever the ex re-enters The Boy’s life, I feel like he needs a new instruction manual. He doesn’t communicate all that regularly with him, and even then asks open-ended questions, which are difficult for those in the spectrum. I had to interrupt, get on the phone and remind him that yes or no questions work better and to keep trying when he spoke to The Boy this weekend, because I could hear the frustration in his voice, and could tell he was getting ready to quit trying to engage him in conversation.

When he goes to visit him in April, what will they talk about? He has no idea what The Boy’s interests are, or his friend’s names, or how he likes to spend his time.

Does he remember that he needs time for transitions? Does he remember that raising your voice is risky? Does he have any idea what he likes to eat?

No, he doesn’t. Because that’s what happens when you don’t see your kid for an entire year, and only attempt to talk to him every six weeks or so. That is what happens when you don’t have a relationship with someone on the spectrum.

I worry, but there’s not much I can do. There’s no instruction manual for any of us. Much of parenting is figuring it all out as you go along. Some of us have figured out that building a strong relationship with our kiddos makes things so much easier. Others of us haven’t figured that out yet.