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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Pre-Christmas thoughts

"Does Janey look forward to Christmas?"  A friend asked me that a little while back, and the question has been occupying my mind quite a bit.  At the time, I said something like "I'm really not sure", but as I think about it more, I am pretty sure the answer is no.  Janey doesn't look forward to Christmas, because I don't think she really knows what Christmas is.  

Our tiny tree
I'm sure here a lot of people would disagree with me, and maybe I'm wrong.  Janey knows what Christmas MUSIC is, at least a little, and she would probably be able to say who Santa Claus is, and she could identify a Christmas tree, or a wrapped present, when given the choice of 4 pictures.  But in terms of it being a special day, one with rituals and expectations---no.

I've dealt with this various ways over the years.  Some years, I just went ahead and sort of pretended that she did get Christmas.  I got her presents, I had her hang a stocking, I talked up Santa Claus.  Other years, I didn't do as much, and concentrated more on the boys, or on just enjoying the season in general.  I don't think it made a lot of difference what I did, except in that Janey picks up a lot of her emotional cues from us, and probably she was happier in general when I was more relaxed and cheerful, whatever worked for that in a particular year.

This year, I'm not feeling Christmas a lot.  We got a tiny, tiny tree---a tabletop baby one.  No stocking are going to be hung with care---the boys are old enough for Santa to skip our house, and Janey---well, she's never once actually taken anything out of her stocking on her own, or shown any interest in what was in it, so I don't think she'll mind a bit. The same is true of presents---she's never opened one on her own or cared what was in one once opened.  She's have a couple under the tree, from other people, but I'm not buying anything for her myself.  Instead, we'll do as we have done for a while---her present will be to buy videos to stream on Amazon TV throughout the year, when one of the streaming services decides to drop something she's gotten addicted to.

I don't think giving Janey a typical Christmas, when I tried to, was ever for her.  It was for me.  It didn't hurt anything, but it wasn't something she cared a bit about.  I wonder how many other times I've done things "for" Janey that weren't for her.  As long as those things are benign, as long as she's neutral about them, it's not really an issue, but sometimes, it's harder to tell than it is with this Christmas issue.

Christmas is something different for all of us.  A week ago, Janey sang most of "O Holy Night" to me.  I cried---of course I cried.  That was Christmas for me, and from her happiness while singing it, maybe for her too.  I hope all of you and all your girls and indeed all of your family finds your own Merry Christmas this year.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

It has gotten easier, but it never ends

When things were toughest with Janey, when it seemed almost impossible to go on, I hung onto the words of friends I'd met through this blog, mothers with older girls with autism, who told me it would get easier.  I had my doubts, but I trusted them to tell me the truth, and they did.  It does get easier.  If I could go back about 4 years in time and tell myself how things are now, I'd hardly believe myself.

It gets easier, but I have to admit something.  Even easier, it's tough.  
It's tough because it's forever.  

Of course, everyone's children are their children forever, no matter how old they get or where they go or what they do.  My boys are home from college as of last night, and they are still my babies.  But in so many ways, my relationship with them is very different than my relationship with Janey.

Janey requires full time care.  She must be supervised, always.  It is not safe to ever have her alone.  That will not change, ever.

Every day of Janey's life, even the smoothest days, we are on alert for her to melt down, to scream, to bite herself, to possibly lash out, to fall apart.  We are never fully relaxed.

Janey needs help with all aspects of self care---dressing, feeding, cleaning herself, toileting---everything.  Large parts of every day are spent taking care of her, at about the level you'd spend taking care of a typical toddler.

Janey's need for routine and for control makes it so when she's home, which is most any time she's not at school, we are not able to listen to music that isn't hers, watch TV that's not what she wants to watch, even just sit casually if we are not sitting the way she wants (without any crossed legs or any crossed body parts at all).  Our acceptance of her needs in this way is a huge part of why life today is easier than it was in the past.  It's a worthy bargain, but it's also a huge limitations on daily life.

Janey's limited speech makes it so we often are guessing what she wants.  We struggle all the time to find a way to let her tell us her needs and to communicate to her what we need from her.  Something as simple as picking a TV show to watch is a minefield of potential misunderstandings and resulting tantrums.

For those reasons and many more, it's tough.  And it's forever.

I've been having a hard time emotionally lately.  I think I'm at the point in my life where I'm thinking "What about me?"  That feels selfish.  And being a mother is absolutely the most important and meaningful thing I've ever done and will ever do.  But sometimes, I think about being at or past the middle of my life,  and how restricted my life sometimes feels.  That isn't all because of Janey, of course.  I'm not exactly a go-getter.  I don't like to drive, I'm a bit of a loner, I have low energy partly by nature and partly as a result of several fairly severe medical conditions I have.  But when I try to think of ways to expand my life, well, there is a large roadblock to almost anything I might try to do.

In the early years of having a child with autism, there is a drive to figure out the child's potential, a possibility of great changes to come.  As the years go by, there comes a point when things slow down, when we realize that there is no miracle cure coming.  It's a good point, in many ways.  It's a point where we can do what Tony and I did a few years back---change our ways of thinking and operating to give Janey the best and most stress-free life we could, so that life was and is easier for all of us.  But it's also a point of realization that this is for good, this is our life and her life.

I have tried over the years to end every blog entry with some kind of hope or positive message.  That is still what I want to do.  I want everyone to know the value of a life like Janey's, how she is important and amazing just the way she is.  But I also want to be honest, because we as mothers are important and valuable and amazing too.  And we get tired.  We get discouraged.  We feel alone.  We sometimes feel hopeless.  We need to keep on going, and by being honest with each other about the challenges as well as the joys of raising our autistic daughters, we can help each other get to the next day and month and year.