Monthly Archives: August 2018

Not the Most Pleasant Post

I wrote an “inspirational” Instagram post yesterday after Truman had a day of roaring success at school, following 6 previous nightmare days wherein he struggled to acclimate to first grade. Yay us! Victory was ours. Faith overcomes all things.

And then today, Truman reverted back to panic mode over the prospect of returning to school. He feels it’s too long and there are too many factors out of his control, such as when he gets to have a snack. He fought me at every juncture this morning. I swallowed the bilious panic rising from my gut when I thought of engaging in this impossible, negative battle day after day, all year long.

I had to forcibly remove him from the car. We were late. He kept taking off his shoes to impede our progress. When he saw the other students already in the classroom, he melted down. At this point, the Assistant Principal sidled over and let me know there was going to be a lock down drill in a few minutes, and if I wanted to take T on a little drive and return after, he was down with that. Lock downs (even practice ones) are one of my son’s fears. Which I get.

So we left and got fries. We came back post-drill and had the same lovely fight scene featuring me dragging/cajoling/carrying Truman into school.

Not that anybody asked for a play by play of the fresh morning hell I’ve been encountering since school commenced. So why am I writing about it? I don’t know. Because it’s on my mind, I guess.

I drove to Costco after leaving him at school and had nothing good to say about anything. Just swears. That’s all my lips were capable of uttering for a good hour. I called Jeff and he and possibly a couple people on the bulk grain aisle got a bit of an earful.

Anxiety and autism? I am so over them. Special needs parenting? It seems like a cruel joke invented to make every single aspect of life so especially difficult. Having children? Sorry, folks of neurotypical offspring. I am utterly jaded. If anyone asked my opinion right now on whether they should have kids, I don’t know that I could honestly recommend it to them.

So that’s my stormy frame of mind.

I came home, unloaded the Costco groceries, ate the Costa Vida salad I treated myself to since the day was a clustercuss, and spent an hour cleaning the neglected and uber dirty kitchen. While I cleaned, I listened to the next General Conference talk in my queue, which was “He That Shall Endure to the End, the Same Shall Be Saved” by Claudio D. Zivic. Do you ever find that the thing that you happen to stumble on naturally on an ugly day is the exact right thing? And the exact right thing at the exact right time? Because that’s what happened here.

This talk, while mainly directed at people who are at odds with the Church and evaluating whether or not to continue in the Gospel, was kind of a conduit of reassurance and hope that I was grasping for.

There’s a lot of good stuff in this talk, and I basically let the tears and the stress flow from me as I listened. I’m feeling rather inadequate once again on the parenting front. I’m feeling my weakness and my desperation for change. The words, “The Lord will make ‘weak things become strong'” gave me a hand to grasp and pull myself from my pit of misery.

Zivik also said this: “Life is difficult for each of us. We all have a time of trials, a time of happiness, a time for making decisions, a time for overcoming obstacles, and a time for taking advantage of opportunities.”

I needed to hear that life isn’t a perpetual misery cycle, though it sometimes feels that way. It’s punctuated by periods of great difficulty and moderate difficulty, but also has stretches of relative peace. There will always be variation, which is good, because it gives me hope when I am in the trough of a wild sea.

I hung some toddler pictures of Jack and happy hunting pictures of my dad on the bulletin board as the talk ended and I felt that my Heavenly Parents were calming me with a promise that the awful days and the extended periods of awful days a) serve a purpose in changing me into a better person and b) won’t last. There will be respite.

Then I drank a Diet Coke and graded student essays. And the bitterness ran out of me.

Today’s not so bad, I’ve determined. It’s looking up.

Let’s Talk About Anxiety and Autism

Dear Reader,

Allow me to share with you a couple of recent experiences relating to the identical twins of Autism and Anxiety.

First, a few weeks ago, I took my two younger boys, along with a couple of young cousins, to a new park by our house. It’s an enormous and exciting place, with massive climbing structures and a giant splashpad section devoted to water play.

The morning we were there was pretty hot. My littlest boy hadn’t eaten a whole lot for breakfast (Hi, sensory food aversions, thanks for being a thing), and he was hot and grumpy. All of this added to his feeling of being overwhelmed. It was too much. Too much sun, too much noise, too many people. He started wailing. I mean, really screaming and moaning and sobbing. I had other kids spread throughout the park and didn’t want to pack them up after just arriving, so I texted Jeff, who was working from home and who could come pick him up and take Littlest home.

It took Jeff 25 minutes to get there once he extricated himself from a conference call. In that 25 minutes, my littlest boy never stopped wailing. In fact, he got louder. And wailier. I spoke calmly to him and reassured him Dad was on his way, but he was beyond reason at that point. He was inconsolable. We got a few looks, like “Why is that big tall kid freaking out and sobbing?” or perhaps “What’s with that mom? Why doesn’t she take that kid away and leave us in peace?”

This experience back in my early mothering days would have scorched the self-confidence right out of me. It would have done me in for the whole day. But now, post-Jack, I felt okay. I almost felt like saying to the other moms around me, “You guys, this is NOTHING. He’s not even attacking or hurting anyone. Really, this is straight up no big deal.”

That probably would’ve made things even weirder though.

Anyway, Jeff arrived and took the screamer away. The day continued. The park returned to regular kid bedlam.

The second story happened yesterday, on the first day of school. My littlest boy went to first grade and got confused about where he was meant to line up after recess. The chalk marker that had indicated his teacher’s name at the school open house was gone. At this point, anxiety and the rigid thinking of autism immobilized him. He curled up in a ball and refused to go into class, even when the Assistant Principal helped him know where his classroom was.

Jeff and I went to the school, where Littlest was digging in his heels and refusing to do first grade. We were ultimately saved by lunch. I stayed and helped the boy know where to go in the lunch room. I helped him find his lunchbox in the bin with his teacher’s name on it. I helped him find the table with his teacher’s name on it. I sat by him while he ate his peanut butter sandwich. And I helped him clean up and file back to class after his teacher.

Incidentally, I also helped half the class open their chocolate milk cartons and tie their shoes. First graders basically need a personal assistant. Any old grown up will do.

I looked around at the 10 million elementary school kids around us who WEREN’T struggling, and I felt that creeping, icky feeling of being an outlier. “We are so freaking not the same as other families,” I thought.

Reader, it didn’t do me in, but it was a bit of a face slap.

“Wake up and stop thinking you can do things like everyone else!” It screamed at me.

Once we returned to his classroom, Littlest sat at his desk and was calm. He agreed to stay through the rest of the day without me.

This morning, I am at my first day back at class too, teaching university writing. So Jeff took Littlest to school and helped him get situated. Apparently, it was a little bit of a teary goodbye, but not too bad. I’m super proud of my first grader. He is struggling to cope with not only the rigors of a full school day as a first grader, but also the anxiety and literal/rigid thinking of autism which makes new, loud, chaotic, big things super scary.

When these types of things happen, dear Reader, I note that MY stress response also spikes. I may not lose the ability to interface with the world for the rest of the day as in years past, but I find myself incredibly anxious. It’s anxiety by association. And parentage. Which is okay, and possibly more than okay in that it allows me to see a glimpse of what it’s like for my boys.

Empathy leads to understanding. Compassion fosters love.

Here’s to a decent second day of school.

Cheers,

Megan

 

 

 

The Word “Miracle” is Cliched but Indicative of My Life

This week, I cleaned out Jack’s old room, which is now a storage room. The good news is, the camping gear, Halloween costumes, snow pants and boots, my dad’s old golf clubs, and my wedding dress are now organized and easily accessible (side note: I do not need easy access to my wedding dress). The part that took me by surprise was the wave of emotion I experienced in going through remnants of Jack’s early childhood. Baby blankets, photographs, his PECS binder, ABA therapy file folders–there was just so much that brought the most difficult years of my life back, and it was amplified by my separation from Jack in space and time.

Who weeps when cleaning out an explosively disorganized room? Me, apparently.

Jeff and I went to Costco later that day and I told him on the way home how profoundly affected I felt going through items reminiscent of Jack’s toddler and elementary school years. “I didn’t miss Jack at that moment,” I told him. “I am confident and happy in where Jack is right now. I’m not sad as much as I am traumatized remembering how brutally hard those years were.”

And then Jeff said exactly the right thing, which was this: “You did that. You went through it.”

Validation. It’s pretty powerful.

Those days were brutal, and are, fortunately, in the past.

I also drove to southern Utah this week and spent much of the drive contemplating Jack. He lives far away. We don’t get to see him much. When we do see him, he can’t talk to me. The good parts are that Jack’s needs are being met by excellent caregivers who love him. The hard parts are that we miss out on the moments of sweetness that come from being with Jack all the time.

Its a weird trade off and I don’t know that it will ever feel normal to me.

Because of this separation, I have acutely felt the need to have a family photo in Jack’s town so he can be there. I need to have an updated image of all of us together, not from bygone days when Jack lived at home, but current and reflective of our present life as a family. So that’s happening this trip, too. Someone asked me if Jack will cooperate with the photo shoot, and I told them that all he has to do is exist in our general vicinity and it will work out great. No posing or smiling at the camera necessary, just lots of candid togetherness.

Even though I’m waxing a bit glum (or at least conflicted) about The Way Things Are For Us, the reality is that Jack’s life is a miracle.

Our ability to function as a family has been restored, which is a miracle.

Jack’s perfect placement and lovely home and amazing caregivers are a miracle.

The fact that our lives changed so dramatically and so quickly and so positively are miracles.

My life felt like wall-to-wall failure Before, and Now it is straight up a testament to God’s ability to intervene and change the worst circumstances to something remarkable and beautiful.

And feeling comfort in knowing Jack’s life is charmed and blessed? Miraculous.

A Garden of Tiny Book Reviews

I have been reading a metric ton this summer–fiction plus memoir, my two favorite genres, in hardbacks and paperbacks exclusively. I haven’t liked looking at screens to read, of late. Not that anybody asked, but I clearly like to overshare when it comes to my reading habits.

I don’t have the mental bandwidth what with the all-kids-all-the-time tableau at my house this summer, so these really are going to be little/possibly not very thorough reviews of:

Books I Have Enjoyed to Varying Degrees. Beginning with…

Classics

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

I no longer have to hide my face in shame over not having read The Great American Read or whatever. I read it. I found it pretty avant garde for the time in which it was written. I do not feel about it the way much of the world seems to feel, which is that it is the one book that most deeply touched them. Holden Caulfield as a character has a big, memorable voice. His narration is the best part of this funny, yet essentially sad story. I value this book and what it has to offer. It is an important book. But I’m not in love with it. There. I said it.

Historical Fiction

The Summer Before War by Helen Simonsen

I found this book delightful. It felt like Downton Abbey set in Sussex solely before and during The Great War. Beatrice and Hugh as central characters are lovely and real and just what I always want in a good book, which are people I can really SEE and believe in. There is a lot of humor in this story of a small English town and its quirky residents as they come up against the brutality of a war. Because it’s also a war story, it’s not all garden parties and happy endings. I loved it.

Magical Realism

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Hoffman is a prolific (seriously so prolific) and excellent writer who favors magic, witchery, and dark themes in her stories about people who have a different set of gifts, yet who still must cope with the vicissitudes of life. This book follows the three teenage Owens siblings in New York City, who have been forbidden by their mother from dabbling in anything relating to magic, yet who seemingly can’t keep the development of their proclivity for these powers away. They are schooled in becoming who they are by their aunt Isabelle, who lives in the family’s ancestral home in Massachusetts, of Salem Witch Trials fame. I did not expect this book to follow the sibs through their entire lives, but it does and I found that it was more than a fantasy with lush imagery. It was a solidly written, tender story of a family, which does tend toward dark outcomes.

Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

This book reminded me a bit of Station Eleven, which scared me to death, yet which I enjoyed nonetheless. But The Dog Stars was much better imho. So much better. The narrator, Hig, is one of few people left after a flu decimates the world’s population. He is a gentle soul, yet somehow manages to survive in the brutal aftermath, where people will kill each other to take each others’ supplies, even if it’s just a bunch of cans of soda. There is also so much beauty–so much awareness for what life is and what makes it worthwhile. I don’t even know how to summarize this story in order to do it justice. It is sad, hopeful, inventive, human, and beautiful. I loved this book and felt that it changed me.

Women’s Fiction

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

I have liked everything I’ve read by Moriarty, whose stories are set in Australia. This is one of her earlier books and it felt a little less polished to me than What Alice Forgot and The Hypnotist’s Love Story. I still enjoyed it, but felt that the story had some pretty implausibly big gaps. It’s about a mystery surrounding a family living on Scribbly Gum island near Sydney, involving a baby, a possible double murder, and multiple story lines which eventually do find resolution. It’s light-hearted chick lit. A beach read, basically.

Young Adult Lit

Thief of Happy Endings by Kristen Chandler

Chandler is a Utah writer (yay locals!) whose story follows a teen girl whose parents are divorcing. Cassidy spends the summer away from her family on a troubled youth horse ranch in Wyoming, where she struggles not only with getting on a horse and being constantly dirty, but with understanding who she is. This book could have felt really predictable, but it wasn’t. There’s a bit of romance and a hefty dose of coming to terms with difficult family situations in this introspective coming-of-age tale.

The Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson

Pearson’s three books in this fantasy series have really sappy titles (The Kiss of Deception, The Heart of Betrayal, and The Beauty of Darkness), but that didn’t stop me from diving in and immersing myself happily in the story of a runaway princess avoiding an arranged marriage. Lia, the protagonist, has a firecracker personality and spends the trilogy realizing she is destined to save a country far to the east, but historically connected with her own land. Because this is kind of epic, world-building stuff, there is A LOT that happens. So much. I can’t do it justice here. I read all three books in a matter of days. They were a delightful escape, as books in summer should be.

I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall

The blurb on the cover of this book describes it as “Hatchet meet The Revenant” with a big dose of fierce female resilience, which is pretty spot on. It’s the story of a young woman who ends up stranded, injured, and alone in the remote Canadian wilderness for six months. She writes the book in the first person, in a journal form, which skips between her life before and the stark reality of survival which comes after the events which placed her in this situation. It is scary, raw, and exciting, but would benefit from more exploration of Jess’s emotional journey.

Reader, what are you reading? Or better yet, what are the three best books you’ve read in the past year? Comment and give me and each other some good recommendations xoxo.