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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Reflecting on progress at the Whole Foods

At times, progress with Janey can feel glacially slow.  It can stop for long periods, or even go backwards.  However, yesterday morning during a trip to Whole Foods, I realized that Janey has made a lot of progress in the past years, and even just over this summer.

It started with the car ride, and the music in the car.  Earlier this summer, we were going crazy with Janey's constant need to have us switch songs.  We would hear about 10 seconds of a song, and she'd say "Music, please!  Music!" which meant she wanted us to go to the next song.  We decided to gradually stand our ground on a few songs here and there, just calmly saying "I really like this one!  I'm going to listen to it!"  Then after that song was done, we'd switch as much as she wanted to for a while more.  It was surprising how quickly she got used to listening to songs that weren't her total choice, and actually liking some of them.  On this ride, I played a song list of songs from the early 80s, my high school era, and Janey seems to like that era too.  She rocked out a lot and I was very happy!

Janey at the Whole Foods
At the Whole Foods, I realized as we went in that I really don't hold Janey's hand in stores any more.  She's never been much of an eloping threat.  She doesn't run away from us much.  I still always hold her hands on the sidewalk or in parking lots, as she isn't as aware of car danger as I wish she was, but in stores, she does extremely well just walking on her own.  It makes it easier for me, and more fun for her, I think.

I told Janey before we went in that she could pick out some salami.  That's her biggest treat, the extremely expensive salami rack at the Whole Paycheck.  She picked out some very thinly sliced kind that I think if you stuffed it all in, you could eat in one bite, at a cost much closer to ten dollars than five, but a promise is a promise.  And I realized she totally understands now that you have to pay and get out of the store before you eat.  We used to wait until the very end of the trip to get her treat, and then if Tony and I were both shopping, we'd buy hers separately and go right out for her to eat it, but she happily this time dropped it in the cart and didn't mention it while we shopped.

As we walked the aisles, Janey started singing "Oh Susanna"  I love to hear her sing, and she wasn't at all loud, just tuneful.  And we got looks, but not really stares.  Or maybe I'm made progress too, and I don't see things as stares.  We got a lot of smiles, and I felt proud of Janey.  I'm almost always proud of Janey inside, but this was a different kind of proud, a feeling like "Sure, she's different, but she's also so cool, so pretty, so interesting, just a neat kid"  I was on a bit of a high, just thinking how wonderful it was to be walking the store with so few worries about Janey.

We checked out, Janey still being patient, went out to the car, and I asked her if she wanted the salami in the car.  She said no, so I put it with the rest in the trunk.  On the way home, she asked for salami about three times, but each time, when I reminded her we'd have it at home and that it was in the trunk, she accepted the answer calmly.  We got home, and she ate her salami in about two seconds flat.

Janey's reserved look, like at the Five Guys
Today, Freddy and I took Janey to Five Guys for lunch.  Janey looked nervous as we got there, and said as we got out "Whole Foods?"  I said today we were going to a different place, and she didn't fight it.  She said "no" at first as we were at the door, but we coaxed her in, saying "You can have peanuts and french fries!"  She wasn't exactly thrilled to be there, no big smiles or anything, but she sat and eat and behaved.  Thinking about that, it's almost a bigger deal than the Whole Foods, that she would do that well at something she didn't prefer.  She did a whooping kind of scream a few times at the end, not her angry scream but more like a "I just feel like making noise" scream, and we reminded her to be quieter, and she listened and did.  I again noticed looks, but didn't feel they were stares.

It's been a long summer.  And a hugely hot and humid summer, a lot of the time.  But for the first summer in a while without summer school, seeing Janey the last few days, I do think there's been progress, behavioral progress especially.  It's a wonderful feeling, seeing that.

School starts two weeks from today.  I'm still keeping close tabs on that special day.  But I don't feel desperate or close to breaking, as I've felt some summers.  My Janey is growing up, and our journey together, to mutual understanding and compromise and acceptance, is marching on along with the years.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

On Janey being 14, and a day when I was 14.

The birthday girl
Janey is 14 today.  She seems to be having a good birthday.  Both she and her brother Freddy, who shares her birthday (he is turning 21), like best the lowest of low key birthdays, so for once I am totally honoring that.  No parties, no presents, just a little singing of Happy Birthday and later, a candle in a tiny cake.  For Janey, a good day means lots of rides and lots of food she likes, and lots of us honoring her most used phrase lately---"Go away!"---so she can watch her shows without our annoying presence.

As Janey gets older, I seem to do more and more comparing of her teen years to mine.  I mostly enjoyed my teens.  I liked high school, I made some great lifelong friends, I was fairly happy.  That's how it is in my memory, anyway.  I think about Janey's life and feel sad that it's so limited.  She doesn't have friends.  She doesn't do anything with anyone but family.  To her, a big day is one with a car ride and a Happy Meal.  I want more for her.

To get some real world perspective, I decided to dig up an old diary and look at what my life was actually like at Janey's age.  I didn't write anything on my 14th birthday, but I found the next entry after that, about two weeks later.  It was interesting to read.  My life was not exactly a stream of exciting events.  I wrote that in World History, we played "new games" with Jud the Jester.  Who exactly Jud the Jester is is lost to history, although I sort of remember that new games were a thing for a while, non-competitive games, but what that had to do with world history is unclear to me.  I almost fainted in Health.  I do remember that---and I almost fainted again remembering it, how we were learning about compound fractures, complete with a photo.  I watched an After-School Special.  Although I didn't note which one it was, a quick bit of research showed it was "Where Do Teenagers Come From?"  My sister Carrie had her friend Ruthie over.  That was my day.  It sounds about typical for my earlier teens.

The most interesting part was what I wrote after I wrote about the day's events.  Here it is---"There are a lot of things that happen that I don't write in my diary.  Just mostly because I want to forget them, not remember them.  Nothing awful, you know, just not remember-type things."  That hit me.  Not that I remember what those things were, so I guess not writing about them worked, but it hit me that we do edit our memories.  A lot of life is just---living.  And some of life isn't great, not for anyone.  Somehow, realizing that made me feel better about Janey's life.  It's not a typical life, but I think most of the time, she's happy with it.  If she were able to write a diary about today, or about a school day, as I did, I imagine that it wouldn't be that different than mine---what happened in classes, what she watched on TV, a few things that get stored in long term storage memory like the almost fainting, and other things that get purposefully or not kept out of memory.

Janey is not me.  She wouldn't be me, even if she wasn't autistic.  She is her own person.  She doesn't hesitate to let us know what she likes or doesn't like.  I am glad of that.  She's happier today than I remember her being on any other birthday, because she is doing the things she likes.

And so, as Freddy joins his brother William in full adulthood, I'll keep trying to give Janey the best teenage years I can---her own version of good years, not mine.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Still Screaming After All These Years

This afternoon was hellish.  There is no other word for it.  The morning wasn't any piece of cake either, but things really kicked into gear this afternoon.  It's hot as, well, hell, about 98 and humid.  Janey didn't sleep well last night, and although she slept in some this morning, we all are tired.  I left to go to my therapist about 10:45---the one time in the week that is just for me to rant, as I tell him.  As I left, Janey was screaming for a car ride.  Freddy was staying with her.  I told him if it got to be too much he could call me and I'd come right home (it's right around the corner).  He was a trooper and handled her.  When I got home, feeling refreshed from getting out of the house for once and having some time to vent, I was determined to do just what Janey needed to keep her happy.

She was no longer interested in a car ride.  What she wanted, or thought she wanted, was for me to put on shows for her and then get out of the TV room.  So I did that.  In the course of about an hour, I changed shows literally about 30 times.  Most of these times included tears from her when I didn't immediately understand what show she wanted.  As soon as the show was on, she'd say "Go away!" and point to my bedroom.  I'd go in there, and about a minute later, she'd come in with the remote for me to change the show again.  If I said ANYTHING besides a very cheerful, chipper "Of course!", she would scream---the ear-splitting scream.  One of the times I said "Okay" in a neutral kind of voice, just as an experiment, and that earned an especially loud scream.

About every third show, Janey asked me to cuddle on her bed with her.  I did.  The cuddles lasted at most 30 seconds.  And then---back to the shows, the sending me away, the asking for a new show...

You might ask, very reasonable, why I let this go on for an hour.  The answer is...I'm tired.  I tried the more measured approach the last few days, the #3 approach I mentioned in my last post.  I showed her a timer app, told her "just a minute" over and over, used "first" and "then" to explain...and it wasn't going well.  To say the least.  This morning, with my tiredness and hers, was the breaking point. Very often, just doing what Janey wants keeps her happy.  She does ask to change shows, but not at that pace.  She does scream, but not constantly.  But today, whatever haunts her brain at times was in full force.  I think it's OCD.  The changing of shows and the cuddling for a second and the fact I need to leave the room---all rituals, rituals I think she is using to try to ward off the feeling that something is off, something bad is going to happen, something isn't right.

I know those feelings.  I've had those feelings, so many times.  I am on medication for those feelings.  I understand those feelings---I have the tools and cognitive abilities to know they are a glitch, something off in my brain, a chemical mis-read.  But Janey doesn't.  To her, the compulsions, the rituals, are something that, when she's fired up, simply feel like complete necessities.  And often, doing them for a while calms her.  Not today.

After an hour, I was at the end of my rope.  I turned off the TV and suggested a shower.  That often can break the chain.  Not today.  Janey did want a shower, but she screamed all during it.  She threw my iWatch onto the floor, the watch I was given as part of the Framingham Heart Study to track my movements.  If it breaks, there will never be another one.  It didn't break, but it hit the floor hard.  Janey got out of the shower after a few minutes, still screaming.  I was feeling shaken.  I called Tony, to talk me down, which helped, but poor Tony, having to deal with a traumatized wife and a screaming daughter on the phone.  For a long, long, long time, after I hung up, Janey screamed.  I spoke to her as soothingly as I could, while literally praying for calm.  I am fairly agnostic, but you know the saying about foxholes.

And then---Janey calmed down, for now.  I put the TV on computer mode, so she could pick her own videos, which she is doing.  She hasn't asked for anything during the 15 minutes or so it's taken me to write this.  Just now she's come over and asked for a car ride.  Traffic outside is backed up outside our house to the point that getting out of the driveway even would take a while, and I can't drive when Janey is volatile.  It's too dangerous.  So, she has settled for a walk to the store.

Why do I write this?  It's not, as sometimes parents like me are said to be doing, to get sympathy.  Raising Janey is my job, and my privilege.  Sympathy is not something I need or want, not the kind of sympathy that says "Your life is so hard!"  or "I could never do what you are doing!"  Everyone's life is hard, and most everyone, if they happened to have a child like Janey, could raise them.  It's not to try to get help.  I've given up on that.  The kind of help that would actually, you know, help, doesn't exist.  Additionally, I'm pretty good at taking care of Janey, and today was almost more than I could stand.  I would not put Janey or anyone else in the position of having to try to handle this kind of day.

Why do I write about days like this, then?  I write so others living this life know they aren't the only one.  I write because the most helpful thing ever for me is knowing that there are others like Janey, other parents like Tony and me.  There are lots of people living this life.  I write because that's what I do.  I've always written---diaries, reviews, letters, postcards, stories---I'm never not writing.  I write for the same reason others volunteer time or money, or talk to their congressmen, or run for office, or do research---because it's the way I can try to contribute to others living a life with a child with autism.

But I also write for Janey.  I write because she can't.  I write because she is an amazing, wonderful person who is living a very hard life, much, much harder than I am.  She is dealing with many of the same demons I've dealt with my whole life, but without the ability to understand the tricks the mind plays on us.  She's dealing with parents who sometimes get to the end of their ropes and stop doing the things she feels need doing.  She's dealing with a world that doesn't always welcome her kind of diversity.  She's living a life that is not an easy life, and she deserves to have her story honestly told, as best as I can.  And so my title means both that she still screams, but also that I am still screaming out our story, after all these years.