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Thursday, November 30, 2017

As time goes by...thoughts, concerns and moments of connection

I haven't written as much lately as I used to.  There are a lot of reasons for that, and some of them are beyond the scope of this blog.  But some of it is that Janey is steadier than she used to be.  She is more settled into routines, and mostly happier.  For the most part, that's wonderful.  I would never want to relive some of the past years, especially what I think of as the Hospital Years, or the Changing Schools Years, or the Non-Stop Screaming and Arm-Biting Years.

There are still challenges, to be sure.  One is sleep.  For weeks, Janey fell into a pattern of going to bed around 5 pm.  Nothing anyone could do would keep her up.  When someone is determined to sleep, they sleep.  Of course, the other side was that Janey would wake extremely early---often at 1 or 2 in the morning.  And she would stay awake.  When she's awake, one of us has to be at least sort of awake.  We are at the point now where we can cap-nap in the same room as her, but never fully sleep, as we need to be alert to what she's doing, and she often makes sure we are not fully asleep by suddenly thrusting a TV remote or bottle of soda or stick of cheese in our faces and making demands.  After a few weeks of that, we fall into sort of a half-life.  You never feel fully awake or fully asleep.  Knock on wood, she's back in a better cycle---bed about 7, up about 4:30 or 5, which works with her bus arriving at 6:15.

Another challenge, or concern, is as always Janey's speech.  Her speech is highly cyclical, like everything else about her.  Sometimes she talks much more than others.  But overall, her talking has settled into a fairly low point.  She says only a limited amount of things, and even the things she does say are often said in mumbles, hard to understand, or in a very rushed recitation of a phrase.  She has a great speech therapist right now, and a teacher who seems terrific, but these cycles of speech don't seem very affected or changed by anything external.  Lately, her default answer to almost all questions is something like "That one!"  We ask "What show do you want?"---"That one!"  "What do you want to eat?"  "That one!"  I think she truly thinks we can read her mind.  Or she's mentally using a choice board and pointing to what "that one" is.  Whatever it is, it's frustrating.

There was a presentation at Janey's school today about the various high school choices in Boston.  Janey's in 7th grade, so there's another year before I have to choose, but I want to stay well on top of it and do a lot of school visits.  The presentations varied widely, and I think only actually seeing the programs will answer some of the questions I have.  But I'm clarifying my vision of the kind of program I want.  I want one where the challenges are appropriate, where Janey is accepted as who she is.  I think of a video game analogy.  I don't want a program where the sole goal is leveling up.  Janey isn't going to get a high school diploma.  She isn't going to hold a non-sheltered job.  She isn't going to live on her own, or even be able to be alone at home ever.  I want a program where she can be a success by being who she is, not by others striving to make her what she isn't going to be.

It's interesting how as Janey gets older, I think a lot less about how she is disabled and a lot more about just how she IS.  If she is happy, and she makes life so Tony and I can also be happy, and she is cared for and loved, that is wonderful.  The most wonderful times of all are times of shared happiness with her.  I had a moment like that the other day.  Janey, as I've written about often, loves Christmas music.  This year, she is very taken with "O Holy Night".  Not every version, as she let us know firmly when I played through a lot of versions on Slacker Radio with her, but when she hears a version she  I played such a version the other night, Nat King Cole.  Janey and I lay together on her bed listening to it, and our eyes locked.  The look in her eyes---I can't even think about it without crying.  We were both completely overwhelmed by the song, and we had one of those rare moments of pure connection.  They are the moments I live for.  In some ways, Janey lives in a different world than I do, but at moments like that, we are completely together.  It's hard to explain, but I'd guess others have had such experiences with their children like Janey.

I'm thinking of all of you this Christmas season.  I'm having a hard time this year, troubles and worries that are nothing to do with Janey occupying my mind often.  I wish so often I could spend time in person with so many of you I've met throughout this journey.  What I wouldn't give for a bunch of us to sit down and talk and eat and laugh and cry....  I hope December is a happy month for you all.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sneakers with a skirt

This morning, I put Janey in a skirt.  As I put on her sneakers with the skirt, I had one of those crystal clear flashbacks.  I was in 7th grade, like Janey, and I had worn a dress to school.  With it, I wore sneakers, Keds kind of sneakers that were floral.  At recess, a bunch of girls snickered, and one said to me in the classic "I'll going to tell you the truth even if it hurts" type way, "You really aren't supposed to wear sneakers with a dress or skirt.  I think they look fine, but other people think it looks really dumb"  I hadn't thought of that for many years.  It wasn't any huge deal---it was the 7th grade type of girl stuff, which I am sure I dished out as well as took---but it stopped me short for a minute as I recalled it.

In many ways, Janey's world and the one I lived at her age don't have many interacting points.  She doesn't live a life which is in any way at all like most 13 year olds in 7th grade.  That makes me sad, often, but I don't think it makes her sad.  The last year or so, most of the time she's seemed pretty happy with her life.  We've fallen into a routine that works for her.  She knows the steps to get ready in the morning for school, she gets eagerly on the bus, she comes home and we go to get a snack at the store, she watches some TV, Daddy gets home, we eat supper, Janey and Daddy go for a car ride, they get home, we get ready for bed, she goes to sleep.  That's her days.  On the weekend, more TV, more car rides, more watching Daddy cook, more of the same.

Janey doesn't know you aren't supposed to wear sneakers with a dress.  I guess I didn't either, but she's not going to be schooled in it.  She doesn't care.  She's not going to have many of the small moments of hurt and sadness that the teenage years bring.  She's not going to hear the news and fear from it, not going to have the arching pain of a first crush, not going to have papers or reports or projects due on a deadline, not going to worry about test grades, not going to suffer the lingering sadness of broken friendships.  There is much she's not going to feel, and I have to say---that's not all bad.  When I say I wish she could feel those things, there is part of me that is glad she won't.  Life, typical life, everyday life, has a lot of pain.  

Is it okay that I sometimes rejoice in Janey exactly how she is, that I rejoice in the parts of her that are deeply connected with the autism?  Am I supposed to only feel happy when she is able to simulate normal?  Can I feel happy that she jumps up and down and screams with joy that we say yes to McDonalds?  Can I get teary-eyed at her beauty as she wears the clothes I picked for her, clothes that might not be the style for her age, clothes that are a mother's vision of how I want her to look?  Can I be glad she will always love Tony and me with an innocence that is non-critical, that never tackles the complicated tensions that arise as a child's relationship with parents changes as the child becomes an adult?  Can I look at her, waiting eagerly for the bus, in her skirt and sneakers, with her hair done inexpertly by me, and feel joy in exactly who she is?

I hope I can.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Will she enjoy it? Will it benefit her?

Yesterday, on Halloween, I found myself desperately wanting to take Janey trick-or-treating.  I loved Halloween as a kid.  It was a day where everything was turned on its side, where you could go to people's houses and knock and get candy.  I loved the whole process, especially coming home with a big bag of candy and sorting it out and looking it over.  When the boys were younger, I adored taking them out on Halloween.  I read a few days ago about a local college having something called "truck or treat", where a lot of cars park and you can go from car to car trick-or-treating, and I made plans in my head to take Janey.

Yours truly, with my sister and father, on a long ago Halloween
However, we didn't go.  Janey is a very early to bed girl, and she was very tired by the time it was dark.  She was also very engaged in watching "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse", as we recently got new channels on the TV.  I struggled with myself---should I push for it?  Should I take her?

When trying to decide, I used a few questions that I've recently started to apply when deciding what activities to do with Janey.  Will she enjoy it?  Will it benefit her?

Well, she might enjoy trick-or-treating a little, but at that particular time, no.  She really doesn't get the point of it, she was tired, and when I asked her (probably over and over) she showed no interest.  She's very capable to letting us know when she wants to do something, and she just didn't want to.

As for a benefit, well, no. Chocolate is the one food we don't give her, and going someplace to get a bag of candy that most certainly would include chocolate, which we'd have to fight to keep her from eating---no.  It could be argued that she might pick up some social skills, but it's a hugely isolated set.  Most of the time, you can't go around to people's houses or cars and say "trick or treat" and then get candy.  So any argument that it would benefit her was pretty weak.

When I started applying the questions to activities, it opened my eyes.  There's a lot I'd like to do with Janey, or like to have her get to do, which frankly are things that I want her to do, not things that will give her enjoyment or benefit her.  This past spring, we tried Special Olympics for a bit.  It might be great for some kids, but for Janey?  No.  She had no interest in it.  She is not competitive, she didn't interact with other people there, she didn't get exercise from it as she wouldn't readily participate.  It was nice to get outdoors, but we could do that any time and place.  I realized it was ME who wanted her to be in it, for reasons that had little to do with Janey. 

Janey very happy, headed to the store.
I'll contrast that with an activity Janey very much enjoys and benefits from---the daily walk to the store.  The store is a convenience store near us, which changes names constantly but is currently a 7-11.  The after-school walk there is Janey's favorite ritual.  She asks for it every day.  When we get out to the driveway to start the walk, she is literally dancing with excitement.  I hold her hand and we walk the short way to the store.  She goes in and looks over the chips for a long time.  She only ever picks out the same two or three kinds in rotation, but I know how just looking over a shelf of choices can be a thrill.  When she picks her chips, I then switch the big bag she picks for an identical small bag, and we talk about how they are the same.  She takes the chips to the counter, waiting in line if she needs to, she is patient while I pay, sometimes she'll say thank you to the cashier, she gets a lot of smiles, and then we walk home.  She eats the chips in the driveway while the colony cats of the neighborhood circle her legs to get dropped chips.  She is happy and engaged.  She is also learning---learning the rules of walking along a busy street, how we exchange money for products, how we act in stores, how we treat animals---lots of things.

There are other activities Janey enjoys and benefits from---car rides with music, cooking with Daddy, picking out and putting on videos, going to the library to pick up the books I've ordered online and of course going to school, the big one. 

I wish that Janey could participate in more activities.  But the truth of it is, when I think about it, I wish that for ME.  Not for her.  Her life, when I allow myself to broaden my view of what an activity is, is pretty full already.  In this age of Facebook, I've realized that sometimes what I've wished for are Facebook photo opportunities, a little.  I'd like her to do more of the "normal" childhood things.  But she is 13.  She's growing up.  By that age, she knows what she likes and doesn't like.  I think about myself.  If I had been made to participate, at that age, in sports, or in an art class, or in a dancing class, all things I have little interest in or talent for, I would have hated it.  So they would have failed the enjoyment question.  But would they have benefited?  Truthfully, by that age, no.  I am much the same person now I was then.  I don't like sports.  I am not artistic.  I don't like to dance.  And I knew my mind by that age.  I knew my limits.  Some might argue this point, but from what I've learned from my sons, kids by that age know what drives them, and Janey is not different from other kids that way.  It's very, very easy to tell what she loves and what she doesn't.

As Janey gets older, as her own path in life starts to become more defined, I need to give her the same respect we all deserve, the same right to find her own passions.  It's even more important for me to follow her leads, because it is far too easy when a child doesn't communicate in traditional ways to impose our own will on them.  I'm going to try to often stop and ask---will she enjoy this?  Will it benefit her?---and use those answers as my guide.