Friday 31 July 2015

Confessions of a Child-Free Madwoman, Part 4 (Final)

It's been a fun week of enjoying myself. Yesterday I went to see Magic Mike XXL with a friend. As I expected, it was a poignant character-driven story with historical and literary allusions... nah, mostly hot guys dancing around in various states of undress. It was still a lot of fun and I enjoyed it. And it had Twitch from So You Think You Can Dance. Me and one other girl in the theatre did a round of mini-applause when he showed up. It was a bonding moment.

I've resisted the urge to do something practical and necessary with my free time and I'm glad I did. I think I needed a vacation from responsibility and practicality as much as anything else.

I am looking forward to seeing the kids again. I miss them a lot. Life isn't the same without singing "Compass" and the "Soft Kitty Song" every night. I hope they've had fun with their grandparents. Certainly the weather has been beautiful so they've probably been doing lots of swimming and boating on the lake.

I don't miss cleaning up toileting accidents or having to do the "it's too quiet" dash to see what's being destroyed. But I miss Nathan's odd and funny commentary on life and I even miss Alex calling out the bus ID numbers in front of our house. I miss seeing their smiles and hearing them laugh. I don't miss hearing them fight or aggressively negotiate for screentime. I don't miss having tons of Lego scattered underfoot or needing to keep the bedroom doors locked. I do miss hearing them breathe and move around at night. The house is too quiet with them gone and while I've enjoyed it, I'm ready to go back to how things were. It's how they should be.

Thursday 30 July 2015

Confessions of a Child-Free Madwoman, Part 3

Today I actually left the house and went to visit a friend.  We hung out, laughed and talked for hours with her and her little boy.  Again, I didn't have my own child responsibilities to deal with and take into account.  No texts asking where something is or asking advice on how to deal with a tantrum.  No guilt on my part knowing that someone else is having a hard time dealing with my kids while I have fun.

My friend's son is neurotypical and it is fascinating to me to see the differences.  He is constantly looking for her attention, bringing her toys, telling her stories, asking her questions.  I think it would end up exhausting me.  They're working on toileting and he was quite proud of his big boy potty and wanted to show me.  He's probably going to do quite well in life.

I always feel a little sad and jealous when I deal with my friends' kids.  Mostly happy for them but there's a little selfish kernel inside which I've learned to accept and (mostly) not judge myself for.

They have wonderful dreams for their children.  Who will they fall in love with?  What will be their favourite subject in school?  What dreams will they have for themselves?  Will they be sporty or artsy?  They're proud of their children's accomplishments, as they should be.

Those are the moments when I feel the pinch of my own lost dreams.  I've had to switch to new dreams: will Alex be able to live independently?  Will he be toilet-trained?  Will Nathan find someone who can understand and accept his autism?  Will Alex?

I've learned to accept the pinch as one of the occupational hazards of raising kids with autism.  It's not easy and it doesn't diminish the pain, but feeling it doesn't make me a bad person and I can't try to arrange my life to avoid it. 

After my visit I still had time to get some quality Fringe binge watching done.  And I even allowed myself to be mildly productive and went through the boxes of collectibles while watching.

Wednesday 29 July 2015

Confessions of a Child-Free Madwoman, Part 2

Today, for a change of pace, I binge-watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead of Fringe, another series I enjoy which isn't child appropriate.  And I did it after sleeping for almost 10 hours, uninterrupted.

I got out my cross-stitch and my writing and enjoyed a quiet day to myself. 

I admit I did take some responsibility (and breaks) to deal with laundry and grocery shopping.  I find I don't have the stamina for marathon TV anymore.  A little alarm goes off somewhere around the 3rd hour, anxiously asking me if I should be doing something else. 

To be fair, I've always multitasked with TV.  I'll work on crafts or something else which occupies my hands.  I once watched the entire 12 hours of the extended Lord of the Rings trilogy in one sitting while sewing Halloween costumes for the boys.  I find it helps keep me focused and on task for things which aren't quite enough to occupy all of my attention.

After two days of doing nothing, I'm starting to guiltily look around and wonder if I should be being productive.  I've got several holes in the wall (courtesy of Alex) which need to be patched and plastered.  I could paint my bathrooms so that I don't have to stare at the nasty white primer which the builder used (yes, 12 years later, I haven't painted them).  I could sort through the boxes of trinkets and collectibles which Dave and I have decided to display rather than continue to store where no one can see them.

Lots of tasks I could take on.  I promised myself that I wasn't going to get locked up in goals this year.  Usually I have a big project in mind while the boys are at the cottage: organizing the storage area in the basement so we can find things, painting different rooms in the house, sewing projects, etc.  This year, I wanted to relax and give myself real time to recharge.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Confessions of a Child-Free Madwoman, Part 1

Yesterday I embarked on a great adventure, I went shopping to find myself some new jeans, new shorts and a new swimsuit.

When I came home, I remembered why I hate shopping in general.  As a full-figured gal, finding clothes which look good and aren't bank-breakingly expensive is a challenge.  Trying on dozens of different items and not finding anything starts to erode my confidence.  I was also deeply annoyed with two of the salespeople I encountered.  One implied I was being overly sensitive and picky because I insisted on getting a changeroom door which latched.  (Not locked, just latched.)  Another clearly has no idea what the plus sizes actually are and kept handing me things which were circus-tent sized and telling me doubtfully that I might be able to squeeze into it.  (Even though I'd told her my size at least twice.)

Nevertheless, it was refreshing to be able to spontaneously stop at different stores in the mall and browse.  Usually with the kids, shopping is more like a missile target.  In, acquire, out.  They won't tolerate checking "just one more place" to look for things.  I could (and did) even decide to stop and sit down for a snack for a few minutes.  I was entirely on my own agenda, which hasn't happened for quite awhile.  No need to rush back before the end of therapy or because the sitter needed to be somewhere else.  No concern about what was happening at home and what messes I was going to have to clean up when I returned.  The actual shopping may not have been as pleasant as I might have hoped, but the freedom from responsibility was still great.

I came home and put away my new jeans and new swimsuit (no luck on the shorts, apparently skirts are the fashion this year) and still had several glorious hours stretching out in front of me before it would be time to cook supper.  I got on Netflix and binge-watched about five episodes of Fringe, which is definitely not child-friendly but is ever so good!  (We watched the entire series when it was first broadcast and own the DVD set but I like not having to restart each episode or get up to switch DVDs.)

That was my day.  Not everyone's cup of tea for a vacation, but definitely mine.

Monday 27 July 2015

Vacation Time

Today marks the start of my vacation.  The kids are with their grandparents at the cottage and I have time to myself.

I don't count family trips as a vacation.  Those are off-site work events, since there is still a ton of management and logistics to deal with.  Last year's Disney was about making sure that Alex had a good time and this year's will be about making sure Nathan has a good time.

But for the next week, I can go to a museum and actually look at the exhibits.  I can stay up until midnight and get up at 10, if I want.  I can spontaneously go to a restaurant to eat.  I can watch adult TV in the middle of the day.

As you can tell by my list of possibilities, I am a wild woman, living on the edge. 

Friday 24 July 2015

Tantrums over Summer Homework

Yes, I am that horrible, mean mom who makes her kids do homework over the summer.

Alex is still working on his academics through therapy but Nathan needed to keep up his skills in writing composition and language comprehension for math.  He has an IEP for both of them at school and his teacher asked if we could work on it during the summer so that he doesn't slip back.

We agreed on one journal entry a week (at least six sentences) and a worksheet of word problems.  I found a website which did worksheets for Ontario grade 2 math and we were in business.

Nathan is okay with the math.  He actually seems to enjoy it.  But it has been like pulling teeth to get him to do the journal entry.  Perhaps the vagueness of it unsettles him.  With the math there are clear boundaries and a predictable series of steps.  But the journal entry could be about anything.

Or maybe he just doesn't like it because it is more difficult for him to come up with ideas to share.  He does tend to suffer from "universal knowledge" where he assumes that everyone knows what he knows and so he gets frustrated with having to explain things to other people.

Usually he does his journal entry on Wednesday, which lets us talk about something we did on the weekend.  This Wednesday, he refused.  I told him that he would not get his screentime until his journal entry was done.  (This is usually a good consequence and lets me back off rather than having to stand over him and try to force him to do it.)  It is Friday morning and he has not done his journal entry or had screentime since Wednesday morning.

This reminds me of when my mother tried the old "you're not leaving the table until you finish your meal" technique and I sat at the table for 8 hours rather than eat the broccoli soup.  Eventually, she had to let me go so that I could go to bed and she never tried that technique again.

I'll have to think of some new options for getting the homework done.

Thursday 23 July 2015

Final Countdown for Disney

Yesterday, Nathan and I picked out our Fastpass selections for the Disney trip in September.  For those new to the blog, we wanted to take the kids to Disneyworld but decided to do it in two visits: one last year with Alex and one this year with Nathan.  That way, we could minimize the number of meltdowns over conflicting desires and agendas.

It's been a very different experience planning for Disney with Nathan.  For one, he's more involved.  He has definite ideas about the things he wants to do (and the ones he doesn't want to do).  Alex wanted to meet princesses and ride the Monorail.  Nathan is excited about going on the rides.  (I had to explain that Fastpass didn't mean we couldn't go on other rides, just that we might have to wait longer.)

I expect we'll probably have fewer visits to the pool this time around, but probably more fuss about eating.  (Alex was fine as long as we could get him a cheeseburger.)  We'll have more waiting in line and thus, probably more waiting in line related tantrums.  But somehow, I think Nathan will grasp what's going on better than Alex did.

One disappointment, the Padawan (Jedi training) experience wasn't being offered in the Fastpass options.  I'm hoping it's still around because I know Nathan would really enjoy it.

We're still planning to get the disability pass for Nathan, although I'm not sure how much we'll use it.  The way it's organized, kids actually end up waiting more even if it's not in line.  Hopefully the waittimes will be reasonable again this year (the longest time we saw was 45 minutes). 

I'm looking forward to this trip and I know Nathan is excited about it.  I just hope it can live up to expectations.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

A Smile From Alex but No Laughing For Mom

Alex likes A&W.  It's the only fast food he'll tolerate.

Yesterday, as we were driving down the main road near our house, he announced: "Building the A&W."

Me: "There's no A&W here."

Alex: (very insistently) "A&W coming soon."

I look and sure enough, there is a sign in front of a construction site which announces that we are soon to have our very own A&W across from the grocery store.

I began to laugh.  I may think Alex isn't paying attention but when he cares about something, nothing slips by him.  Since he started obsessing about Bell pay phones a month or so ago, I've discovered there are still tons of them out there.

Alex was not impressed with my laughing: "Stop laughing, Mommy."

Me: "I want to laugh, honey.  Isn't it good that there will be an A&W nearby soon?"

Alex: (grumbling) "No laughing."

I zippered my mirth with some difficulty (since I didn't want him to think I was laughing at him, though I'm not sure he understands that concept).  I don't know how long it will take them to finish construction, but I know at least one little boy who will follow every step religiously.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Dealing With Loss

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to Isa, our seventeen year old cat.  It was expected, she was old and had been having increasing health problems over the last six months.

This is the first time the boys have had to deal with a death.  We tried to prepare them for it, explaining that Isa was very sick and in a lot of pain.  We gave them a chance to say goodbye.
Nathan goes back and forth between forgetting that she's gone and being upset.  I'm not sure how much Alex truly understands about what I told him.  This morning he's been edgy with lots of whining and complaining, which I suspect may be signs of stress.
We did a candlelight vigil for her last night, going through photos and telling stories about her.  When we get her ashes back, we will have a funeral.
Perhaps this is a little elaborate for a family pet, but she was a big part of our lives and I wanted to reassure the boys that she isn't being forgotten.  Often we don't want to talk about death or those who have passed, because it hurts.  But to a child, it can seem even more scary that the person disappears and then no one wants to talk about it.
Part of it is selfish.  I miss her.  I've been with her for her entire life since she was born to a roommate's cat when I was in university.  I was there when she was born and I was there when she took her last breath.  I'm glad I was able to do that although it was very hard for me.  She was a good friend and though I'm sad that she's not here, I'm glad that she's not in pain any more.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Have to shut down for a break

There hasn't been a disaster or a crisis or anything else huge, just a lot of little things piling up.  The biggest one is that I've been working on the draft for my second novel, trying to get it ready for the editing process.  It was supposed to be ready for the editors on July 1st and I'm still another 2 weeks from completing it.

As much as I enjoy this blog and getting to share my thoughts and frustrations, I need to focus on getting that done for now.  I hope everyone understands.

I'm going to take the rest of this week off and I should be back for Monday.

Friday 10 July 2015

If You Go Out In the Woods Today

Forget teddy bears.  Bring bug repellent.  Although that did not help Alex and I during our trek yesterday.

I've been trying to do daily walks in the community.  Yesterday Alex asked to go hiking in the wooded trails near our house.  I know he's been there many times with my father, so I agreed.  I sprayed us both and we ventured off.

Alex definitely knew which way he wanted to go and set off at a brisk walk.  He was very confident with his "right" and "left" at the various turnings.  I am directionally challenged at the best of times, so I was relying on him to guide us through the trails.

After two hours, I began to have doubts about this approach.

Alex was still confidently moving ahead, so I continued to trust him.  But I was starting to have visions of me having to call the therapist to let her know we were lost in the woods.  (I'm reasonably sure I could have still gotten us out as I could hear traffic sounds from nearby but I didn't want to leave the marked trails if we could avoid it.)

Luckily, about 10 minutes later, we came to the exit.  This is the real challenge of not knowing where you are.  We were literally almost there and I had no idea.

Alex enjoyed the walk immensely, even though his little arms now look like he has chicken pox.  (Mine look worse ... mosquitoes love me.)  I think we'll give ourselves a day or two of indoor walks until we heal up a little.

Thursday 9 July 2015

Improvement At Camp

Yesterday, Nathan finally had a good day at camp.  On Tuesday, the head of Special Services Support for the City of Ottawa was waiting for me with a delicate suggestion that Nathan might benefit from going to the special needs camps rather than the ordinary one.  I pointed out that he'd been going to CoO camps since he was 3 years old and that we'd always been told he was too high functioning to even qualify for extra assistance with the counselors.  She was quite taken aback and then we were actually able to sit down and brainstorm some solutions.

First, he felt asleep on Tuesday at lunch, which suggested he was tired.  I put him to bed early Tuesday night and last night, which should help.

Second, he was complaining about the noise.  Now, usually he's good to get his headphones himself, but I talked to him and suggested that he wear them for the afternoon free-for-all (over a hundred kids in an echoing gym, I'd find that overwhelmingly noisy, too). 

Third, the staff will give him specific transition warnings.  Not general ones shouted to the entire group.  I think this is really the key point.  Every time we've had trouble, it's because he hasn't been given transition warnings.

Three simple steps and it resulted in a good day.  It's actually a little frightening to realize how thin the margin is between success and failure. 

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Review: Inside Out

Inside Out is Pixar's latest big screen adventure, featuring the little voices inside the head of Riley, an 11 year old girl who is uprooted from her home and friends in Minnesota to move with her family to San Francisco.

There's Fear (purple) who keeps Riley safe by obsessing over all the possible dangers and outcomes, Disgust (green) who keeps Riley from being poisoned or socially ostracized, Sadness (blue) who shows when Riley needs help, Joy (yellow) who helps her to enjoy things in life and Anger (red) whose purpose isn't explicitly stated, but helps Riley to identify when things are wrong.

The movie itself is enjoyable and full of great laughs, but I'm much more excited about the messages and teaching opportunities.  Emotional awareness is one of those challenges for kids with autism.  We've been working with Nathan on getting him to understand that his reactions come from him, not from the people outside him (he made me angry, no, you're angry because you lost your toy and he irritated you).

One of the core messages in the movie is that all the emotions are valuable.  Although we start out with a focus on Joy, who wants to be the only one in the driver's seat, we learn that Sadness has her place, along with everyone else.  It even has a wonderful depiction of depression as an absence of feeling, rather than just feeling sad.

Inside Out manages to tread the fine line between showing that the emotions are valuable and useful but that acting out on them without thinking can get you into trouble.  I'm sure there will be the usual merchandizing options, which should provide some excellent tools for families with autism, or anyone struggling with emotional awareness.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

And We Stumble

The last few days have been a reminder that life never goes smoothly and just when I think I've got it figured out, life throws some rocks onto the path.

Alex has greatly improved in his ability to follow instructions, so it hit us as a surprise when he threw a head-banging and screeching tantrum over going to his music therapy on Saturday.    It was even more of a surprise when he did the same thing on Sunday over going to a classmate's birthday party.

These kinds of situations are always tricky for me.  Once the tantrum has begun, it's too late to offer inducements or find alternatives.  It's frustrating but tantrums can't be enforced, not even mildly.  Alex has been getting better about using words instead of self-injury and screeching.  Granted, the words are usually "no <blank>" which is not the most useful option, since he tends to use them reflexively for almost every situation.

One of the parents at music suggested it might be the lights in the room (since we were in a different room than usual) or the echoes.  It may have been and I certainly don't have any theories other than wondering if he might be ill or have a tummy ache.

Then to add to the challenges, when I went to pick Nathan up at camp, the counselor pulled me aside to tell me of "an incident".  A child had been yelling at Nathan, he tried to put his hand over the child's mouth, the child slapped him and Nathan slapped back.  The counselor implied that if Nathan couldn't control himself then he wouldn't be allowed back at camp.

This has been a concern of mine since he moved this year from the 5-7 groups to the 8-10 groups.  More maturity is expected.  However, I don't think it's entirely fair to expect an 8 year old to exert a level of self-control that most adults would have a problem with.  (If someone slapped you, wouldn't you at least want to slap back?)  I wanted to ask if the other child was also getting a warning but I knew from experience they wouldn't tell me.

It's been a discouraging start to the week, but hopefully it gets better.

Friday 3 July 2015

Fundraising from Pure Antics and Coco Jarry's Update

Pure Antics and Coco Jarry's raised over $ 1000 for Alex's service dog, putting our total at over $ 11 000!

The  young ladies of Pure Antics were a delight to listen to with their close harmonies and acoustic guitar work.  This was one of their first public performances together as a group and I think they did marvelously well, especially in their second set where they relaxed and began to have some fun.

The staff at Coco Jarry's were all wonderfully helpful and pleasant and the food was delicious. 

I can't thank everyone enough.  We're getting closer and closer to our $ 30 000 goal and I couldn't have done it alone.

Thursday 2 July 2015

Our Canada Day

A bit of an up and down Canada Day for us, mainly because I decided to try something new, which was a challenge for both the kids and Dave.  Traditionally, we've watched the fireworks from a spot near Canadian Tire Centre, which allowed us to return home quickly.  This year, I wanted to try finding a place closer to Walter Baker, where they are actually setting off the fireworks.

Aside from me, everyone else in my family believes change is evil.  There's a great deal of resistance to even minor changes like new sheets or rearranging furniture.  Even when we have clearly outgrown or outworn the current arrangements, fear of the unknown keeps the voting for the status quo.  So sometimes I have to pull the "you all have autism and so I'm overriding your vote" veto.

Nathan and I hit the local fair in the afternoon and managed a few rides before the rain shut things down.  One advantage about riding in the rain?  Almost zero lineups for the popular rides (assuming they're running).  We had a lot of fun even though we got soaked.

Alex went with my parents to see the downtown festivities, something they've been pushing to do since he was quite little.  My concern has always been the noise and crowds (which I find overwhelming myself) but we decided to go with it this year, since the Wednesday timing would leave things quieter than usual.  My other concern is the late return.  I've never made it back from downtown sooner than 1 am after staying for fireworks.  Going to the local show means that we are usually home and in bed before 11, which is important for therapy and work the next day.  Alex stayed over at my parents so that we didn't have to wait up for them.

Nathan, Dave and I returned to the fair before the fireworks and let Nathan run through the rest of our tickets.  He had a lot of fun going on the different rides and was even gracious when we discovered he was too tall for some favourites (like the bouncy castle and a couple of exploring displays).  Then we picked up some popcorn and cotton candy and found ourselves an acceptable location.

We needed something close by, without a lot of people in it and still relatively close to an exit point so that we could depart quickly if we needed to.  I think we found a very good spot although it was clear that both Dave and Nathan were anxious about the departure from tradition.  (Nathan kept insisting we needed to leave and go back to where we usually watch the fireworks.)  We got a great view and were still home by our usual time.

It will have been a short night's sleep for everyone, so I'm expecting cranky children and husband through the day.  That's always the price we pay for a little fun, but once a year, it's worth it.