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.

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Turning it Around

Sometimes what makes me most proud of The Boy is when he is able to turn it around. Heading for a meltdown, but able to stop, relax a bit, refocus, and get back to work.

when the school calls...A couple of weeks ago, I was at my desk at home, preparing to go to work. I got a phone call from the school, and it was the counselor (not a usual person to call). She explained that The Boy was in her office because he had gotten upset in Language Arts, and had become destructive, throwing things, and sweeping things off of desks.  This is not typical for The Boy unless he is very upset.  The counselor said, “He thought maybe he should call you,” and I replied, “Ok…” I was sure he was going to ask me to come pick him up, which I don’t often do, as that would teach him that he can escape the tough stuff. Besides, I have to work, and don’t get paid unless I do, so there’s that.

“What’s up, Bub?”

“Today is the same as yesterday,” he said.

“Does that mean that Friend-Who-Is-A-Girl is not at school today?”

“Yeah. She moved,” he said, whining.

“I don’t think so, Bub. I think she’s just on vacation or has a cold or something.  But here’s the thing.  I know you’re upset, but throwing things and knocking things off of desks is not a good way to handle your anger, right?”

“Right.”

“And going to school is your job, and you need to be in class, right?”

“Right.”

“So what’s the plan? Are you going to take a breath and go back to class?”

“Yeah, I think I can do that,” he said, and handed the phone back to the counselor.  She didn’t sound at all sure that this was a good idea, but I know my son.  Once he has decided upon a course of action, he does it.  And he did.

The TA emailed me later that day to explain that there had been a substitute teacher in language arts, and she had been called away, so she didn’t want to leave him in class with someone who didn’t know him, and that after we talked on the phone, he had an excellent rest of the day.

I think many of us have a hard time “turning it around”.  It’s hard for me to focus on the positives of a situation that is making me tear my hair out, or to switch gears right in the middle of something.  But I am so proud of this young man being able to do this.  Proud and hopeful.

Managing My Own Anger

Yesterday was a doozy of a Monday.  I felt like Alexander in the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (a favorite when I was growing up).  There was an ant in The Boy’s juice, the cable box went wonky again, a co-worker lied to our boss and threw me under the bus for a mistake that was very clearly hers and hers alone.

And mid-afternoon I get an email from The Boy’s principal saying perhaps he could start on trumpet this week because he doesn’t meet the “criteria” to play the tuba.  Yeah, that just happened.

There were no “criteria” to play the tuba even mentioned at our last meeting.  That band director is discriminating against my child.

boy with tubaLuckily, I didn’t get the email until about 3 or so, because truthfully, I couldn’t concentrate on work after that.  I was extremely preoccupied, and downright pissed off.  Heart beating rapidly, I left work right at 5, and drove to pick up The Boy, planning my evening around the big, long response I was going to write.

The Boy was in a great mood, and I faked a good mood for him, as well.  I shared the happenings with my parents and strategized about next steps with them.

When we got home, I began to type all of the phrases that had been rolling around in my head for three hours, constructing my three-page response.  And I began to shake uncontrollably.  Not with rage, but with anxiety.  I also made several trips to the bathroom, which I have had to do when stressed since my mid-thirties.  When The Man came home an hour later, we talked, and strategized some more, and I continued to write.  I spoke with The Boy’s autism teacher on the phone to gain some insight, and then I continued to write.  The Man knows that getting all of my thoughts down just right in my response was the key to my calm.  Until it was a finished draft ready to send, it would be on my mind.

And of course, I couldn’t sleep last night.  I knew it would happen, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I just roll with it, going over things yet again in my head for several hours.

My draft is now complete, and it is a killer letter.  I have a plan in place, no matter the response.  He will play the tuba, and will not be switching to anything else.  I’m still angry and anxious, but I’m managing it, thanks to my outlets: writing and planning.  The key is knowing yourself enough to know how you are going to respond to anger, both physically and mentally, and to have something accessible which calms you… A bit like our kiddos, huh?

iPads and Lessons

English: The logo for Apple Computer, now Appl...

We delivered the iPad to the repair place yesterday, and I think part of the lesson, why-we-shouldn’t-throw-iPads-when-we’re-angry, was the length of the drive to the repair shop, easily an hour and a half.  The Boy was not happy with the time involved, and I’m sure would not relish having to make that trip again, yet another thing to think about the next time he has an urge to take his anger out on his electronics.

I believe he also had a consequence for some behavior at camp yesterday (I say, “I believe” because no one from the camp mentioned it to me, but The Boy self-reported.  This could be encouraging, except that he sometimes makes these things up, and grossly exaggerates his offense, as well as the resulting consequence.  We really need communication logs…).  He explained that he was building a tower, and someone else kept knocking it down, so he said some not-nice things and had to sit out for parachute time, one of his favorite activities at camp.  When discussing this in the car, I brought up our old friend B.E.A.R. (Breath, Exhale, And Relax), a technique taught to The Boy in early elementary for diffusing his own anger.  I’m not sure how effective it has been over the years, but for whatever reason, it makes him giggle, and it also reminds him that there are other actions that he can take besides the obvious choices of throwing things, using not-nice words, etc.

The neat thing was, he made his own connection between the two incidents, and said that the next time he would Breathe, Exhale, And Relax instead of using not-nice words, and instead of throwing his iPad if he couldn’t reach Grammy on facetime.  Whoa.  Made his own connection, and used independent thought to find an alternative to venting his anger in a negative way.  To me, this is huge.  Way to go, little man!

The Fight

Last week, The Man and I had a moment, a disagreement, shall we say.  And I wasn’t sure if I was gonna go there, if I was going to share with you about this experience, because, well, some things are private, and dirty laundry and all that.  But I decided that sharing the essence of what happened is important because the whole point of this blog is sharing my true experiences as a single mom, now remarried mom raising a boy with autism, and possibly showing others in the same or similar boat that they aren’t alone.

So we had a moment.  We were getting ready to leave the house to visit some friends for dinner, all three of us.  The Man and The Boy had a disagreement in the kitchen about which lunchable to take with us in case he didn’t like the food being served.  The Man got angry and stomped off.  I assisted The Boy with his lunchable, got his things together and we went to wait in the car.  After waiting in the car for a bit, it was clear The Man wasn’t coming right out, so I went in.

And we argued.  And neither one of us was completely rational — I know I was defensive (naturally).  The argument petered out enough so that we could go be social with our friends, and over the course of dinner, everything got turned right again.  Afterwards, we apologized to each other and talked a bit about what happened, and it was all good.

BreatheBut I continued to think about the argument, because I had rarely been so angry with The Man.  And I wondered at my reaction, and then it dawned on me.  The previous day, I had reacted to The Boy much the same way when he refused to leave Grammy’s house at the appointed time, even with the help of multiple timers.  I was frustrated and handled it badly — I had stomped off in anger.  And that’s OK.  Everyone who lives with autism has those moments, where we rebel against this thing that runs our life sometimes, because it’s not fair.  We react, lightning-quick, with anger because just for that second our resources of patience have run thin from over-use.  We are human.

I had gotten so angry at The Man for being human, for having a moment of weakness, for not being perfect when I clearly wasn’t the day before.

The point is, if you live with autism, and never “lose it”, you need to be recommended for sainthood.  I know I’m not a saint, and I know I didn’t marry a saint.  And recognizing that, and seeing myself in my husband was a much needed paradigm shift.

The Blame Game

Uncle_Sam_(pointing_finger)Apparently, being a tween with autism means everything is your mom’s fault.  No really.  I think it’s a thing.  That’s what someone told me.  And in our house, it is certainly bearing true.

This week it all started with my gleeful purging of the broken, un-played with junk in The Boy’s room.  You see, a little voice told me to either take the trash bags out of the house, or at the very least, tie them up.  But no, I don’t need to listen to no stinkin’ little voices…  And The Boy promptly raged at me when he figured out I had thrown away some unopened McDonald’s toys from like, eight years ago.  So much for my glee.  Everything was my fault.  I am the meanest mom ever.  He wants to move away and not live with me anymore.

He was angry, and I could understand it.  But I had reason on my side (fat lot of good that does you when you are arguing with someone on the spectrum).  I ended up having to sacrifice three McD’s toys from my plunder, and all was well.

Until today when I picked him up from kids club after school.  And he was missing another salvaged dollar store toy, a fake blackberry.  And it was all my FAULT.  I LOST IT.  I am so mean. Why would I throw out his TOY??  Except he had salvaged it and brought it to school, so it clearly wasn’t my fault that it was missing again.  There I go with the logic again…

Wouldn’t get into the car.  Wouldn’t get out of the car when we got home. Raged some more about how awful I am.

But I don’t just sit there and take it.  He loses screen time if he can’t be respectful with me.  Therefore he lost screen time both days.  Once he was able to calm down, I thought of some chore he could do to earn it back, and again all was well.  Until something else will be ALL MY FAULT again.

Sigh.

I hope everything won’t be my fault forever.

Feelings… Nothing More than Feelings

Angry Talk (Comic Style)

You know what I don’t understand? When people say things like,

“Don’t worry about it!”, or “Don’t feel guilty, sad, angry, etc.”

Newsflash: We cannot control what we feel.  And you cannot change your emotions.

For instance, when we have a rough morning, and something has triggered anxiety in The Boy to the level that he is refusing to leave the house, I get angry.  I am not angry with The Boy, and as long as I don’t aim my anger at him, it is perfectly OK for me to feel that way.  I am angry because I fear I will not get to work on time, and I fear he will have a rough day at school. Reasonable, given the circumstances.

For instance, when I feel guilty that The Boy has no pets, but clearly has a love for animals, it’s OK for me to feel that way.  I can’t control it.  I feel guilty because I fear that I am not providing him with opportunities to develop his interest in animals.  As long as the guilt doesn’t overpower me, as long as I use it to spur thought about how I could help him more in this area, the guilt I feel is OK, and can even be a positive force.

The challenge is having the self-awareness to understand the basis of the emotion: where is it coming from? Can I do anything about that right now?

The other challenge in my life experience is to make sure that my emotions are not escalating The Boy’s emotions.  If he is anxious, and I am angry (and I express that anger), he will only get more anxious.  Therefore I need to (quickly) figure out my own emotions, so that I can avoid negatively affecting him.

Rather than telling somebody, “Don’t feel that way!”, try expressing your own emotions.  “It makes me sad when you feel sad,” is a  much more open, accepting, and constructive way to show how much you care about the other person, and sounds much less flippant and judgmental than “Don’t worry about it!” or “Don’t feel sad.”

Forgiveness

I'm okay, you're... well, maybe not

I’m okay, you’re… well, maybe not (Photo credit: pdxjmorris)

Therapists are big on forgiveness, aren’t they?  The books I read post-divorce include forgiveness as a necessary step to healing.  In my own case, it’s been hard.

I had so much anger before, during, and after the divorce.  I placed all of the blame on the ex’s shoulders.  I had so many stories to tell, and people listening would shake their heads, amazed that I had put up with it for so long.  The day after my divorce was final, I remember sharing the news at work, and having others look at me funny because I wasn’t supposed to be so happy.

I reveled in my singlemomdom.  There was so much freedom.  Take a weekend trip with The Boy?  Why, I could, couldn’t I?  Buy a duvet cover with flowers on it?  Yes, please.  Fall asleep in a quiet house?  Heaven.  I also reveled in my anger and my indignation.  The ex was clearly the spawn of Satan, and I had been a saint to last as long as I had.

As time passed, and upon more reflection, I began to realize my part in the downfall of our marriage.  I realized that I had stopped communicating, that I had belittled him, that I had not been strong enough to fight him more on the big issues.  And that maybe he wasn’t the spawn of Satan.  Maybe.

Four years later, I am to the lovely point at which I am mostly indifferent.  The thought of this person that I was married to for ten years rarely even crosses my mind, if at all.  If it does, the thought is apathetic, with no real malice or anger.  He can live his life as he pleases, and it has nothing to do with me.

Except when it does.  When our little link is affected.  When his actions hurt our little boy, I get angry, I blame, I shake with emotion.  And this is why I am not, and don’t think I will ever be to the point of forgiveness.  Lots of moms have this fierce emotion, this snarling-mama-bear-oh-no-you-di’nt reaction, that I think is even ferocious in those of us with kids with special needs.  Because in many cases, our kids can’t express or process their emotions as well as the rest of us.  Because our kids already go through enough. Because we go through enough.  ENOUGH.

I can forgive strangers, because you can dismiss strangers as not knowing any better, being ignorant, or hateful, or stupid. But the ex is not a stranger, and he cannot be written off as ignorant.

It’s really hard to forgive someone who should be protecting his son as fiercely as I am.

And I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do it.

And I’m OK with that.