Monthly Archives: January 2013

Retail Therapy

This afternoon we attempted something just a teensy bit revolutionary: we went to the mall.

Just momma and the three youngest (and most wildly unpredictable) boys, shopping and making returns and standing in line at the food court like normal people.

We pretty much rocked it.

The mall has been verboten as a family activity for years because Jack + little brothers in a busy public place was often a recipe for mishap. Big mishaps.

There were too many variables and too much risk for nuclear meltdown, as well as plenty of siblings to distract mom’s attention.

There was also the risk of unpleasantries such as a disastrous public Code Brown (lest we forget about the Walmart shopping trip from June 2010 which is seared into my brain) or a lying-on-the-ground-while-screaming-and-kicking sort of tantrum which has been known to elicit stares and even comments about my parenting shortcomings.

It was yet another activity that typical families probably don’t think twice about. I, however, have thought a lot about it.  We are atypical in the sense that mall excursions are the source of much planning, trepidation, and stress. And avoidance.

But today I needed to go to the mall.  This afternoon I considered my errands and my desire to be able to run them some time other than when I’m paying a sitter. So I loaded the fellas in the car to run those errands, damn the torpedoes! Take that, past negative public outings!

There were a few rocky moments as we navigated the ladies’ restroom (a certain four-year-old couldn’t wait for the family restroom to open up), the stores, and the slow service at Chick Fil A. I found that a) Jack is a pill about eating waffle-cut fries and actual (non-processed) chicken nuggets (am I sympathetic? I am not), b) gum ball machines are a nice mid-mall stopping place, c) one really shouldn’t forget to bring baby’s binky, unless one really enjoys keeping the stroller in perpetual motion and doling out snacks at frequent, regular intervals, and finally:

D) It’s just a mall, and not so scary. For us, it appears, it’s no big deal. Aw yeah.

The Post Where I Kind of Wig Out

I’m going to write about putting my children to bed last night. But first, let me recount my last visit to the dentist.

After our grandfatherly and super chatty dentist inspected my teeth with bright lights and sharp instruments, he asked if I had any questions for him. You bet I did. I asked him if he felt comfortable seeing a four-year-old patient with terrific amounts of anxiety about lots of things, and especially dentistry. As we chatted about how we could create a (sort of) successful dental visit for said child, the dentist began quizzing me with random questions about Charlie.

“Why does he have anxiety?” (Because he was born that way, duh. I have no idea why. But he has it and we’re handling it).

“What types of situations set him off?” (New things, scary things, dental things).

“Does he line up toys?”

This question stopped me cold. My response was to ask Dr. G if he was implying that Charlie is on the spectrum, because he does indeed line things up with predictable frequency, which means he may well be on the spectrum, which is something we are aware is a possibility but about which we are not certain. Nor do we care to find out at this particular moment in time. We are working on anxiety right now, which is the primary issue. One thing at a time, dentist man. And we don’t want to pay two grand out of pocket for the ADOS test, which insurance companies won’t cover, thank you very much.

I vaguely remember the dental hygenist taking a small, awkward step away from me at this point.

After my head stopped spinning around in circles, the dentist said, “I’m pretty stupid and I don’t know what you are talking about when you say ‘the spectrum’. I honestly don’t know what that means. I just asked because lining up toys is normal. It’s something kids do.”

Yep. That just happened.

This strange conversation got me thinking about the fact that I am a) over-informed about all things autism, b) sensitive to “parenting insights” from the likes of  Dr. G, c) confident in my ability to raise a special child since I’ve both been there and done that, and d) not interested in anybody weighing in on my third son’s quirks unless I overtly demand their opinion (child psychologists, the pediatrician, his preschool teacher, and other special-needs parents fit this category).

Back to last night’s bedtime experience: instead of going to sleep, Charlie repeatedly got out of bed and created a hallway-sized tableau of carefully lined up blankets, colored beanbags, and Star Wars Clone Wars character cards. It was an impressive and complex grid system. Was it a normal thing that kids do? According to the dentist, perhaps.

My gut tells me that it is not. But neither does it compel me to freak out, hard core.

It did compel me to crack open a pomegranate soda and dive back into my Jane Austen-inspired book club novel, which contained this perfect little quote:

“She believed now in earnest that fantasy is not practice for what is real—fantasy is the opiate of women.”

I’m pretty sure that I don’t have a clue what “normal” is, anyway. And now that the orderly hallway mural has been disassembled and returned to the closet, this woman was happy to sip her drink and partake of her opium-laced ebook.

Freak Show

This evening, in an attempt to foster flexibility and overcome crippling anxiety, our behavior consultant and I focused with laser-like intensity on car washes.

Jack isn’t afraid of the car wash. He thinks a visit there is pretty cool, particularly if it includes feeding quarters into the high-powered vacuum with the really long hose.

Charlie, on the other hand, if terrified of it.

We discovered this early last December as we finished a Family Night excursion to view Christmas lights, capping the evening with a quick stop at the car wash to rinse away the salt. The next four minutes were like the prom scene from the movie Carrie, minus the pig’s blood, but with equally horrifying vehement screaming from our four-year-old.

Charlie’s shrieking didn’t telepathically slam and lock the doors of our van, but it did compel the baby to join in and scream with gusto, while Jack (ironically) laughed loudly and Henry groaned at the theatrics. When we made it home that dark December night, our car was clean and we were shell-shocked.

Fast-forward a few weeks to tonight, where I prepped my preschooler for our outing by washing a Hot Wheels car in the kitchen sink. Charlie watched and screamed in horror at this tutorial. He tried to run and hide half a dozen times when we told him it was time to go for a ride to the gas station, but ultimately I prevailed.

The first car wash we visited was closed due to the extreme cold temperatures which have settled over the surrounding valleys, but we found another and waited for eight long minutes while an Audi in front of us, and an SUV in front of it finished their washes. All the while, Charlie was the very definition of the word hysterical.

During a few brief moments of calm, I talked him through the mechanics of car washing so he would know what to expect. Lacey talked me through different options for handling his reactions with her cool third-party perspective.

At last, it was our turn. In a strange and kind of wonderful turn of events, when the water and bubbles pelted the windows, Charlie curled up on the floor of the car and quietly, calmly watched.

He coped. He was brave despite being scared. He got to choose a Bug Juice from the gas station (blue, obviously). I chose a nice tall Coca-Cola for myself.

It was an eventful outing–weirdly therapeutic in a shrill sort of way. It wasn’t about washing the car; it was about facing a fear and learning to be flexible and open to something new. And we frigging did it.

January Is The New June

January has traditionally been my old nemesis. It wins for longest, coldest, most depressing, and bleakest month, which means it really isn’t a winner at all.

(Poor January Jones. Does she secretly despise her frigid name, I wonder? I’d rename myself July. Or March. Or December. Or pretty much any other month of the year, except February.)

But I’m giving January a second chance this year. I’m going to stop being all stuck up and snooty about a month that usually makes me want to hibernate beneath my down comforter. With my electric blanket on. And the merino wool socks I stole from my husband, which he cannot ever have back.

Here’s why: this year is different. It’s already better and brighter and less dreary.

I can handle a pleasant January. I’m finding this pleasantly surprising.

Last January, Jack was constantly and surreptitiously smearing his daily constitutionals around various parts of the house.  This January, the Code Browns have become fewer and farther between. They still happen sometimes, but they are nothing like the horrifying poo-casso murals of yesteryear. Giant sigh of relief. ENORMOUS exhale.

During the long month of January eight years ago, I spent a long and stressful day at the university’s genetics department with my baby and my preschooler, where I learned that our seven-month-old had a really rare syndrome with an esoteric name and almost no research that conclusively could tell us what lay in our future. It was sort of like stumbling into a giant pit which sometimes appeared bottomless.

Eight Januarys later, I’ve grown up. I’m less fragile. I’m vastly more patient (but still not patient enough). I appreciate tiny victories and incremental baby steps representing progress.

I don’t spend energy caring about cars and houses and accessorizing on trend. It’s so eight years ago in my autobiography. Seriously, who cares.

I understand now that even when a diagnosis brings unknowns, parents understand a great deal about their special children–both intuitively and because they live in the same house (duh) and see everything.

I’ve learned how to navigate an IEP meeting, and find better school placements. I’ve discovered that date night isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. I’ve found that my support group friends are real-life angels who get it, who inspire me, and who offer compassion even as they each handle their own heavy burden.

I have seen how time, love, and the right therapy has transformed our Jack in seemingly subtle ways. Tonight Jack placidly ate dinner at the table, surrounded by family members. He played independently this evening, using toys appropriately. He carefully carried his iPad to the couch, and navigated half a dozen games, puzzles, and sensory apps. He cleaned up a bowl of crackers he dropped on the floor. He watched the baby have a bath and didn’t demand to get in and commandeer the tub. He tossed his dirty clothes in the hamper. He pooped in the potty! He happily brushed his teeth and quietly folded his arms while I said his bedtime prayer (and Charlie chimed in praising Santa Claus and the reindeer).

Any one of the items on this evening’s list is a complete miracle. The whole list itself shows a miraculous change and amazing progress.

Isn’t January beautiful?

Most & Best

A few things I’ll remember about 2012 as it recedes in the rear-view mirror:

Most apt quote I saw on Facebook: “Having a newborn is easy, said no one ever.”

Best books I read (or reread): Caleb’s Crossing, The Great Gatsby, Great Expectations, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Life of Pi, Angle of Repose, A Christmas Memory.

Best second-tier books I read and still nonetheless enjoyed: Death Comes to Pemberley, A Discovery of Witches, East of the Sun, The Snow Child, The Swan Thieves, The Secret Keeper.

Most conflicted realizations: I am not the kind of mother who posts lamentations on the Internet about how sad she is that her children are returning to school after summer “vacation” and winter “break.” Also, I do not care for Pinterest.

Most spiritually-charged eighth birthday without a baptism: Jack’s.

Most relief-inducing milestone birthday: Baby’s first, as it marked a year during which we survived preterm birth, a month-long NICU stay, innumerable Code Browns thanks to a certain big brother, a long house-bound winter, another big brother whose latent social anxiety and OCD emerged with a snapping sort of vengeance, and something like 15 different strains of stomach flu which ravaged the family, among other things. Truly, it all happened and we survived it.

Most depressing realization: crappy kid food is still food, and sometimes (okay, frequently) it’s dinner because I lack the energy to cook twice or die on the hill of trying to get morbidly picky eaters to eat normal fare.

Best new (to us) eatery: the downtown gem with the house-made pastas, particularly the carbonara and the stroganoff. We pilgrimage there as often as we can for date nights as it is gloriously “anti kid food.”

Best part of the holiday season this year for me: packing up the trimmings and trappings of Christmas and pondering my resolution for the new year. It’s personal so I’m not going to divulge it here, but it’s spiritual in nature and it feels like a path to a fresh perspective. I’ve never been so happy for January to commence so I can work on this inner project.