The Sightreading of the Parenting World

When I was a band director, it was always expected that I took the bands to “Festival,” which is a nicey-nice term for what it really was – competition.  Ideally, the judges would rate each band according to an ideal, a standard, but in reality, they were comparing your group to the other groups they’d just heard, and would hear after yours, and indeed the phantom college band they had playing in their head at all times, being conducted by some very famous college band director.  And when you were done they would post your scores in the cafeteria, right under the group that had performed before you, and right above the group after you, so everyone could compare…  Yep, it was a competition through and through.

My favorite part as an educator, and my own gauge of my effectiveness as a teacher, though, was sightreading.  This involved taking your group of stage-frightened, stressed-out kids into an unfamiliar band room, and handing them manila envelopes with explicit rules not to touch the envelopes until directed to.  Then, after reading an interminably long page of more rules, the kids and I were able to see the music, and then had seven minutes in which to discuss two pieces of music.  We were not allowed to play a note, just review it together as quickly as possible, and try to catch all of the notes, rhythms, dynamic markings, and other nuances that normally take several months of rehearsal to bring to the stage.  Sometimes we ran out of time and didn’t get through it all.  Sometimes we had time left over.  But when time was up, we played, and were scored on how well we played by the judge.

I often feel like parenting is a lot like being a band director, preparing, rehearsing, going over details until they “get-it,” and then moving on to the next thing.  But that being an autism parent is more like sightreading.  Using all of your knowledge and skills, sometimes in what seems like a very condensed amount of time (because it usually just takes our kids a longer amount of time to do everything), on a stressed-out and overwhelmed kid, and hoping that you’ve done enough for them to be able to apply what you’ve taught them.  There’s a lot of adrenaline and anxiety, and at the end of the day, if you did the best you could do, you take what you’re given, reflect on what could have gone better, and get ready to do it again.

Except band directors (and students) do it once a year.  Autism parents do it every day.

Cheers to all the maestros out there.

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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.

Enjoying Work

I have to say that I am really enjoying my new job.  And it’s been since about 2007 since I could say that.

It’s a great feeling.

I Need You on the Job Every Day - NARA - 534704

For many, many reasons, teaching became less and less enjoyable over the years to the point that I would cry on the way to work in the mornings because I really just didn’t want to go.  Might sound juvenile, but it’s a pretty desparate feeling, especially when you are a single mom and have to provide for your son.  There is no opt out, there is no quitting to try to find something more enjoyable.  And teachers really don’t have that luxury like some other professionals do.  They don’t have the possibility of quitting and making the same pay in a lateral move, which is absolutely ridiculous, but I digress.

And it hasn’t been easy being unemployed for half a year, either.  I wouldn’t recommend it for the weak of heart.  Your self esteem takes quite a few dings.

But opportunity arose when The Man bought this house outright, and I had to take it.  I didn’t want to be miserable anymore.  Today, I’m so glad I did, and I’m so thankful for my new job that I enjoy.  I feel capable and trusted, appreciated and challenged.  I’ve been waiting a long time to feel like this again.

Have a great day, People! 😀

On Being Busy

English: bocce courtA friend posted a link to this opinion piece, “The ‘Busy Trap'” by Tim Krieder of the New York Times.  Go ahead and click it.   Read it and then come back.  I’ll wait…

Did you really read it or are you cheating?  No, it’s a thought-provoking read, and will give you some context for what I’m about to write.  Go ahead.  Just be sure to come back.

I have to say that as I read it, I recognized my old life, to some extent.  When I was a teacher, there were always committees and leadership opportunities, and I rarely said no.  This resulted in sometimes three meetings after an already long workday, and barely any time or energy left for my son.  From the time I was in college, I was a do-er and you would often find me on the board of some group, or chairing some committee, and my planner was my lifeline.  I always had rehearsals and meetings scheduled, often into the wee hours of the morning.

And I also recognized my old students.  The kids who were at the dance studio every day after school until well past a normal dinner time, and when they weren’t taking classes, they were teaching them.  The kids whose hockey schedules ruled their lives instead of school and friends.

And the kids of friends.  Those friends who find it hard to say no.  The friends who made a conscious decision to sign their kids up for competitive activities (big parenting hint: “Competitive” anything will rule your life, and leave no bones).  And who say this “saying no stuff” is easier said than done.

It is.  I was there once.  And I get it.  We want our kids to succeed, we want them to be involved.  We don’t want them to be loners or losers.

My kid isn’t involved in much of anything, which is actually a blessing of his disorder.  Team sports are not and will never be our thing, thank goodness (I know his dad has always felt otherwise, but not me).  He loves to just ride his bike around the small neighborhood we live in.  Or mess around on his computers.  If I had the money, he might take swimming or Tae Kwon Do, but only if he wanted to.

I wasn’t either.  I was a brownie for awhile until our troop leader quit.  And I was in band, but it wasn’t like competitive marching band of today’s standards, with rehearsals 2-3 times a week not ending until 9pm.  I was on parks and rec basketball once.  And softball one other time.  And I took flute lessons once a week.

The rest of the week, I was free to play with my friends in the neighborhood.  Sometimes we played school (can you guess who instigated that?), but often it was tag (remember tag?), and around dusk it was Ghost in the Graveyard.  Guess what?  Our kids don’t even know how to play those games anymore.  Because they don’t have the time.  Between piles of homework from schools trying to jam more curriculum into a 9 month school year, and all of these scheduled activities they are in, no wonder there are so many young people growing up depressed.

We need to make ourselves a priority in our own lives.  If you (and/or your kids) are so busy and stressed that you don’t have any time in your week to just sit and think, there is something seriously wrong.

We need to take a page from our parents, and their parents, and all the generations who came before.  When people age they generally downsize to a smaller house or apartment (less maintenance and upkeep = more time with your family), get rid of the belongings (see George Carlin on “stuff”), and spend their time doing what they wish, or even nothing at all.  They may sign up for a low-impact Zumba class, or head over to the senior center for a round of Bocce Ball with the boys.

But it’s not Competitive Bocce Ball.

5 Tips to Being the Best Mom Ever

I don’t claim to be the best mom ever, but I did have the best mom ever, so I have some familiarity with the subject.  This list is from the perspective of a mom of a tween, so bear that in mind.  I still think it applies at many levels of development (both yours and his):

  1. Never stop showing them how much you love them.  I’m lucky that The Boy still allows me to hug him, kiss his face, and cuddle him from time to time.  He even holds my hand sometimes!  I tell him I love him when I wake him up, when I say goodnight, and any other time I feel like it.  To me, it never loses its meaning.
  2. Try to remember what it’s like.  The Boy is in middle school, and unfortunately, I remember middle school.  No one wants to re-live it because it’s not a fun time for anyone.  When I can remember this, I am much more compassionate towards him.
  3. Put down the phone.  Step away from the TV.  I still struggle with this, and truthfully, he does, too.  But we have so much more fun, and make so many more memories when we spend time together, often outside, doing stuff.  And that’s what builds relationships.
  4. Make him a priority.  Notice I didn’t say the highest priority.  But moms need to be involved and know what’s going on in a child’s life.  If you don’t know every teacher’s name, and who he gets along with best, you’re behind.  You don’t need to be a nuisance (like I am becoming, albeit for very good reasons), but you need to show through your actions that you are present, to both your child, and the school.  Education works so much better that way.  Trust me.
  5. Try not to take it personally.  When he gets snippy or disrespectful, doesn’t want to hold your hand, or seems aloof, it isn’t you.  He’s figuring it all out, so give him the space to do so, while realizing that every kid does this.  He still loves you, and may even like you 😉  Conversely, when his behavior needs to be corrected, take the personal out of it.  Pretend you are the teacher (you know — the one that can’t scream back at a kid or curse) calmly trying to teach him a lesson about life… Because that’s exactly what you are.

As I said, I don’t claim to be the best mom ever, but I’m the best one The Boy’s ever had 😉  I’ve seen a lot of good moms during my time in the classroom, and I had the best mom ever growing up.  The biggest thing to remember is this:

No one is the best every day.  Just keep trying.

Your kids will love you for it.

Winter at the Beach

Mama Bear, You’re Not Always Right

Mother Bear with Her CubsI’ve had my share of trials over the past week or so.  Not more stress than I can handle, but more stress dealing with The Boy’s schooling than I’ve had to deal with since he was in preschool.  I’m not sure I handled every day and every communication in the best way possible, but I try to remain respectful, even when I am pretty sure the person with whom I’m conversing wouldn’t know an autistic trait if it hit them in the face.  I don’t mind being the pain-in-the-ass mom who emails daily, because I wouldn’t have to if my son had more verbal communication skills, but he doesn’t.  And if school personnel are not going to offer information, I obviously have to ask for it, respectfully.

I posted the other day on my personal facebook page: “Seriously. Between dealing with the ex and (The Boy’s) school this week, my big-ass Mama Bear is showing – watch out!!”  In my world, “Mama Bear” is this walking-a-fine-line-between-angry-and-composed-mother side of me that rises up, out of protection of The Boy when someone or something is repeatedly threatening his happiness and well-being.

Mama Bear does not come out when someone looks at me funny.

Mama Bear does not come out when the teacher “forgets” to tell me that The Boy left his classroom without permission twice in one day.

Mama Bear does not come out when the ex forgets to call, again.

Because I am not Mama Bear.  And Mama Bear is less effective if it is the face you wear with the people you deal with on a daily basis.  If you ARE Mama Bear, you are being written off as crazy, I guarantee it.  “That crazy mom emailed me again, today…”  “Crazy Mom is in the main office, watch out!”  “Take everything That Crazy Mom says with a grain of salt…”

I follow another autism mom blogger’s facebook page, and she posted about her son’s first day riding the bus today.  A little later, there had apparently been a snafu, because her son had been found “wandering the halls”.  She said she was livid, and the great majority of the commenters were calling “Off with their heads!”  I would never take a situation like this lightly, but I put in my two cents, calling for calm, pointing out that everyone makes mistakes, and got called out for my response by another commenter: “Things should NEVER go wrong with our children.”

Listen, people will make mistakes with our kidsI make mistakes with my kid!  That’s how I learn, that’s how he learns.  Yes, it’s scary when a little one is wandering the halls of school, not knowing where to go because someone screwed up the procedure for drop-off.  And a phone call and/or even a meeting would be in order here to straighten out the situation ASAP.  But do you think that little one might be less scared in a similar situation later on because it has already happened to him and everything turned out OK?  If this happened two or three times, why yes, I would be livid.  But living your life in a constant mode of battle-readiness, expecting perfection from school staff, and wearing that Mama Bear mask whenever you come across someone who looks at you the wrong way is no way to live, and it’s not a good model for our kids.

Don’t Live in Fear of the Meltdown

I write this with the disclaimer that it is addressed to myself, as well as everyone else living with autism in their household.  I am painfully aware that this is an area of challenge for me, and I write this post with the hope that I will refer to it often to remind myself not to succumb…

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We bristle when people tell us that our children are “just spoiled,” and rightfully so.  The ex was convinced that my “coddling” of The Boy was his true diagnosis, not autism, and that if we just spanked disciplined him more, he would behave “better”.  This post is not to suggest that any of us are too lenient on our children.  No one knows our children better than we do, with the exception of the team of people that most of us have, the therapists, teachers and caregivers that help us raise our special, special children.

However…

We also pick our battles.  And you have to.  If he chooses a pink shirt and orange shorts that are way too small, we may just have to go with it because at least it’s not the pajamas he has worn for the past six days.  Refuses to eat vegetables?  That’s OK for now, because pizza is better than a diet of ice cubes…

But…

Especially as a single mom, I fell into a bit of complacency.  The anticipation of a meltdown would influence my decisions too much to the point that I was bending farther than I should.  And it wasn’t until I started dating The Man that this was pointed out to me.  At first I was furious, thinking he was telling me how to raise my son.  But he wasn’t.  He was just pointing out that The Boy really didn’t need to sneak that giant sucker into his room to eat right before dinner, and that it really was my job to call him on it.

Oh…  Yeah…  I’m the adult.  (Duh!)

And I have found that if I am consistent about calling him out on little stuff, he is less likely to get really agitated by it.  Last night, The Boy’s iPad time limit (instituted until he “pays back” his half of the repair bill) ran out, and he started to raise his voice when I insisted on taking it from the room.  It looked like he was going to blow it, but after some (albeit loud) whining, he accepted it without much further ado.

My suggestions are to avoid complacency and shoot for consistency.  All kids crave some structure.  The more consistently we provide it, I think the fewer big meltdowns occur from being called on what is actually poor behavior.  That’s my theory, anyway.

Now if I can just remember this 24-7…

Wedding Day

Well, today is the day.  Today I marry The Man (does that make me “The Woman”?), in a short, simple, civil ceremony under a gazebo, in a park across the street from where his great-grandmother (and grandmother, and mother) lived.  Today I become a wife again, and cease to be a single mom.  Today, we become  family.  Today, it all becomes official.

There was a time when I never thought this would happen again, indeed there was a time I never wanted it to happen again.  But this isn’t “again”.  This is the first and only time with the right man.

We didn’t hire a photographer, so as soon as people at this shindig start sending me pics, I will share.  Until then, it might be a few days.

I’ll get back to you real soon. ❤

More Liebster Answers…

Awhile ago, I was nominated for the Liebster Award and decided to take my time answering the 11 questions, because you’ve all heard plenty about me, and I didn’t want to be all in-your-face, yet again…  So here is another gripping installment of Liebster Answers…

tombstone4.  What would you like written on your tombstone?

When I graduated high school, our principal, who was a rather small, forgettable man in most ways said something that I have never forgotten: “Live your life so that no one has to lie at your funeral”.  I have always remembered this and tried to live up to it.  Along those same lines, I would be proud of a tombstone that quoted my grandma (in a way): “She did her best, and that’s all she could do”.

5.  If someone is reading your blog for the first time… which post do you want to make sure they read?

It really depends on their perspective – are they a single mom, a special needs parent?  Both?  Just looking for crafty ideas?  What I usually do is read the latest post.  If I like the style, I read back a few, and then really dig into the archives.  Some of my personal favorites are this one, this one, and this one.

6. “Hypothetically speaking, If my kids have allergies but they are not really affecting them right now, is it still okay to give them Benedryl so I can take a nap?”

Ummm.  I’m not a doctor, but in your situation, I would make absolutely sure their allergies were not affecting them…

Hope you are all well, and looking forward to summer!

 

Progress That Doesn’t Look Like Progress

Wow, what a mess we have here.  Four days left until we pick up the truck and begin to vacate this house!  And the place is messa wreck – no visible counter space, the contents of our medicine cabinet on the floor in the living room, boxes obscuring every view in the house… But I’m keeping my panic at bay, because as a special needs mom, I know that progress doesn’t always look like progress!

The Boy is holding up well, being a real trooper.  I have shared our “moving book” with him, and he seems to be doing pretty well, even with the house in so much upheaval, even with the end of the school year upon us.  Today we talked about the lady with the son who also loves Cars who will be coming to pick up his Cars bed this week, and he was OK.  We talked about how he could sleep on his mattress on the floor until we head south, and he was accepting and conversational… he was fine!

My parents have been here for four days already, helping me in numerous ways, as they always do when life throws me big change.  And together, we’re chipping away at what needs to be done.

So, while I can’t exactly walk across the floor without impediment, and while I’m sleeping on a crash pad in the basement, and even though there is much yet to be done, we’re making progress.  And that’s more than OK!