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Monday, January 28, 2019

Assorted Janey Anecdotes

Sometimes the little stories and thoughts involving Janey that I have stored up don't come together into a whole that makes for a good blog entry.  That's been happening lately, so I thought I'd just put them together into an assortment of little tidbits!

#1.  The other day, we were visiting a friend of mine who is in the hospital.  As we waited by the elevator, a doctor walked by.  After he was out of sight, Janey said in a happy tone "A doctor!"  It was a kind of utterance I've rarely heard from her, just an observation, not a request.  I was surprised at that, and that she knew the man was a doctor based on the clues of his clothing and setting.

#2.  We went to the Savers thrift shop yesterday, my favorite shopping place.  While Tony looked around, I had Janey with me as I looked at sweaters.  She was excellent, as long as I kept up what I think of as my patter, a non-stop monologue on what I was doing, remarking on the clothes, asking for her opinions (which were not forthcoming) and generally just rambling.  A woman close to us kept looking at me in a way that seemed to say "Okay, that lady is kind of odd and I will just keep on eye on her" until I saw her looking at Janey and suddenly getting another look I'm very familiar with, the look that says "Oh, I see.  The daughter is not quite right"  I don't like that look at all, but I'm sure I've used it myself.  She followed it by a bright and fake toned "Oh, you are having fun looking at clothes with your mother, aren't you?"  I am not sure what I would have rather had her do.  I am being petty in my mind, but the whole thing bugged me.

#3.  Tomorrow is Janey's IEP meeting.  Since she is 14 now, she has the option of attending the meeting.  Her teacher is going to bring her to the end of it.  I am glad there is a push to include people of Janey's age and up in their own planning, but quite honestly, although it will be fun to have Janey there for a part of the meeting, I am not sure how much Janey will understand of what is happening.  It's one of those cases I run into a lot, where something is in theory the right thing to do but in practice often doesn't play out to help Janey.  But we'll see how it goes.

#4.  I put in the high school choice form.  We put first on the list the school I wrote about that I most liked.  You had to put at least 3 schools down.  I put 6, and listed last the school very close to our house.  I don't know if it was really my last choice, but I don't want it assigned to us just because it's close.  I hope Janey gets into our first choice.  I am telling myself I'm ready for a fight if she doesn't, but I hate a fight.  So I'm just going to keep hoping push doesn't come to shove.

#5.  The other day, it was very, very rainy and windy when it was time for Janey's bus to come home, and the bus tracker app showed that the bus had gone to the bus yard without dropping her off.  We were pretty sure they were really using a sub bus, and that she was fine, but she was about 15 minutes late coming home.  And Tony and I both were starting to feel panic, even though it was not a panic situation.  There is just something unspeakably scary about the thought of not knowing exactly where Janey is.

#6.  Janey loves to watch Tony play video pinball.  His favorite game is one called Funhouse, and the game often speaks the lines "Stop playing with the clock!  You are making me very unhappy!".  Janey's teacher emailed us last week that Janey kept saying those exact lines at school.  The teacher didn't know where they were from.  Tony was very, very happy to think of Janey quoting the game!

#7.  Tony was NOT very happy when Janey started singing along at the Savers to Billy Joel's "Piano Man"  He is not a Billy Joel fan.  I loved it, though.  The background music in stores is something Janey always notices. 

#8.  The pre-IEP reports from Janey's school said she will give her name and address and phone number most of the time when asked.  I know she can do this, but I've rarely heard it.  I was determined to, and kept asking Janey for her address, over and over.  She obviously didn't want to tell me, but I didn't give up for quite a while, until she got upset.  I don't know why I do this.  Partly I guess it's because she talks so little at home, less each year, I'd say.  I want to hear what she can say.  I am not satisfied just knowing she CAN say things.  I want to hear them myself.  I need to stop with that.

#9.  Janey's most common phrase at home is, as it has been for many years "Cuddle on Mama's bed?", meaning she wants Mama to cuddle on Janey's bed.  Cuddling isn't really cuddling, either.  It's laying next to each other as Janey stares into my eyes, looking at me as if I hold some secret she hopes she can figure out if she looks long enough.  She will do this, if I will stay still and let her, for hours. In the past, she usually got bored of me and went for her ipad after a minute or two, but now, she often doesn't.  It's almost always me who loses the staring contest, who gets restless.  I feel guilty about that.  I wish I knew what she was thinking, why the looking at each other is so important to her.  Eye contact certainly isn't an issue for her.

#10.  Life with Janey is absolutely calmer than it was in the past, especially during the tough years from 5 to about 11.  But sometimes, it also feels like there is less of Janey's personality showing through, that she is retreating into herself more, or at least making her needs less known.  As I said, she talks less, but also watches less TV, asks for less car rides, less food, less everything.  Sometimes I despair a bit over this, other times, I try to tell myself she is just a teenager, more self-contained than she was.  I think about this a lot.

#11.  I am glad there seems to be a growing awareness of the need to better understand those with severe autism, those who cannot always self-advocate, those who will not live alone or support themselves, but those who are just as deserving of a voice.  If we are not speaking out for our loved ones, if we are silenced in speaking for them, if we are made to feel that if we don't find a way to give them their own voice, we are not entitled to advocate for them...well, it's a complicated issue, with much caring and love for those with autism in all the differing ideas and voices, but I will keep forever doing both---working to give Janey her own voice while speaking out as best I can for her when she is not speaking for herself.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Mood Mirroring

Things have been stressful lately.  I won't get into all the ins and outs, but will just say this one source without getting political---if your retirement paperwork is not totally done and then the government shuts down, you don't get any retirement money.  Or any money at all.  We are fine for now, but it's not exactly fun. Add in literally about twenty other issues, and that's us lately.  But we are trying very hard to stay positive, and not just because we are Pollyannas.  It's because our moods so very much influence Janey's moods.

There are strangely many happy eggplant pictures out there.
I woke up this morning, nice and late as Tony let me sleep in, to a happy Janey.  A happy Janey is the most wonderful thing on earth---truly.  I wish you could all see her when she's happy.  Her smile is just plain amazing.  She smiles without any reserve.  When she is happy, any sadness of the past or future seems totally gone from her face.  She looks like you would look if someone told you you had both won the lottery and were going to live forever.  One of our favorite things to do is see her reactions to the little things she loves when she's happy.  One day, Tony told her he was making her some eggplant, in the middle of a happy day.  She replied "EGGPLANT?" in a voice of pure, pure joy and excitement, jumped up, started jumping up and down and hugged him over and over.  Over eggplant.

When Janey is that happy, you'd do almost anything to preserve it.  It's been harder lately to keep the stress out of our faces and voices.  Tony and I started talking just a little, about one of the myriad of things that are worrying us, and Janey saw and heard, and the look came across her face, the tensing up look, the look that is almost fear.  We quickly adjusted ourselves, said what we needed to say in happy voices.  She relaxed.

I can hear my own rebuttal to this all.  Life isn't all happy.  Stress and anger and fear are part of life.  That is true.  But the things that are worrying us are not anything Janey can understand.  They aren't anything she can do anything about.  And, to be honest, her happiness helps us.  It reminds us that life isn't all about our worries.  We need her happy as much as she needs to be happy.  So we do what we can to keep our own cares from her.

The inverse to Janey's happy moods, of course, are her sad moods.  Like the happy moods, not a single hint of past or future happiness remains when she is sad.  She screams and cries like it's the end of the world, because I think for her it feels that way.  She is overcome by her own sadness.  And we are overcome by it too.  It's impossible to feel happy when Janey is sad.  Over Christmas vacation, she was sad a lot.  She doesn't like times without school, or changes in routine.  We loved having her brothers home, and I know she loved seeing them too, but they changed the routine, changed the feel of the house, and that was hard on her.

The mood mirroring works two ways.  It's a feedback loop. We strive to keep Janey happy so we can be happy, we avoid making her sad so we aren't sad.  There's of course much more to it than that, but that's a part of it.  But unlike her, we can control to some extent our outward show of emotions, and we try to do so.  I believe in assuming competence.  But I barely understand the political back and forths, the state health agency constantly making us reprove we are eligible for the insurance supplement we get for Janey, the health complications of diabetes affecting Tony's brother, the school choice system which is complex and scary, the mental health issues that affect family members besides Janey, the need to eat and heat the house while we wait for the shutdown to end...I could literally go on a long time, but I'll stop.  I can't explain to Janey why it's harder for us to stay positive lately.  We can only try to keep her happy.

And in doing so, we can be reminded that when it all comes down to the nuts and bolts, we have a lot to be happy about. I'm not into unicorns and glitter and magic when it comes to autism.  Autism is autism.  You don't need to make it magical or better than the rest of us.  It's what it is---every one of us lives with challenges and strength, and Janey's autism provides some of hers.  But when we see her dancing in joy over eggplant, or a car ride, or a silly dance---we are reminded that the sources of happiness are all around us, if we let them in.  Aren't we all trying to ward off the sadness, to let in the happiness?  So we'll keep smiling, for Janey and for ourselves.