Thursday, December 30, 2010

Schedules, Oasis, Rules and Love


I have received many requests to talk a little bit about just what we did for collegeman that enabled him to move from a self-contained classroom into the mainstream. Honestly, I do not think it was one thing above another. It was the totality of what was being done for him and how everyone around him implemented it. The environment that collegeman found himself in on a daily basis (and HSB for that matter) was a tremendously supportive one. From the district level personnel to the janitorial staff at the school, everyone took pride in the boys' accomplishments and in how successful they became.

There is no guarantee that once your child is placed in a self-contained or a special needs classroom that they will be mainstreamed as collegeman was. Truthfully, the reason he was mainstreamed at first, was because our district went to a fully inclusive school district policy. Only under certain very heart-rendering circumstances are any children placed out of district, in special programs, in our town. But the truth of the matter is that mainstreaming with  para support should be the goals set by your district for your child, and then if possible mainstream with just special education teacher support. There are many configurations of education support for children with disabilities (I link to a past post below) YOU need to figure out which one you think is best for your child. Meanwhile, remember too that the law is on your side and that your child is entitled to a free and appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).


I constantly hear from parents that the professionals either think that their children are not capable of certain activities or are capable of things beyond their ability. When you are faced with a situation like that you do need to pull out the big guns. You may need to have program reviews, bring in doctors, therapists and even hire a lawyer if your child is not getting the support or being held back in some way, or being asked to do too many things too quickly that it results in an emotional shutting down.

Read Wrightslaw about your child’s rights and the rules surrounding reviews, testing and IEPs to get a good head start. (It is important to keep in mind that the rights are your child’s rights and that you as the parent are there for enforcement.) Unfortunately as the law is written it falls to the parent and not some government agency to police the school districts. It is a fault in the law. But at least this does give us, the parents, more leeway in bringing suit if we need to.

Goal Setting.

It is important to remember that proper goals should be set. There may be times that things are very difficult for your child to handle, but, it does not mean that they should not keep trying until they get there. Perseverance is the only way that our children are truly going to learn. However, sometimes even the perseverance needs to be taught. As in the case with HSB, the minute he finds something too difficult or receives a poor grade he shuts down. It has been our constant battle over the years to get him to regroup and to fight the good fight for his own well-being.

No it is not pleasant to watch your child struggle. It is not pleasant to watch your child cry and rage and feel so frustrated that they cannot control their own meltdowns. But you can handle the situation by parceling it out for them. Teaching them to go step by step. Outline for them how everything is to be done. Minimize each step; even break each step down into multiple steps until they learn to handle it on their own.

Schedule their world. Break their days down into hour-by-hour, even minute-by-minute happenings if that is what it takes to get them through the day. Use a white board, or a Velcro board as a visual aide. Have them mark everything when done. If they can’t read, use pictures. Never forget cartooning is a great tool.

Remember too that the goals as written into the IEP should also be challenging in the way that they should not necessarily even be able to attain them in a year. If it is made too easy then the school can say, “oh cured,” and undesignate your child thereby removing their obligation  to support your child. Meet with your child’s teacher, the school psychologist and anyone who has a hand in writing the goals for your child. Makes sure that there are social and emotional goals as well. Many districts will tell you that they only have to concentrate on the educational piece of the puzzle. But they are legally incorrect. Education includes interaction, social goals and emotional regulation. It is acknowledged that it takes the proper development of all of these attributes for a person to be able to learn and glean from their education.

Home

Honestly I found that home is a very big factor in how well your child does. Home needs to be an oasis for your child. School is very hard for them. The academics may not be very challenging for them at the moment, but the interaction, the sensory issues, the sights, the sounds, the smells and the noise can make it very hard for your child to hold it together for the day. When they come home they truly need to collapse in many ways, both physically and mentally.

Don’t be alarmed if the first thing they do is meltdown upon entering the home. Either they will cry over the wrong cup for milk or the wrong snack. They may just break out into tears and not know why. They are just so overwhelmed by their day that they need to let it all out. It’s just fine. Let them, as long as it doesn’t go on for too long and they can stop themselves and regroup. If they can’t you will need to step in and help them pull themselves through it. A hug can go along way in helping calm them down.

Create a calm environment in the home. Give them space to play and just sit. Create a sensory garden for your child or a Zen garden. Where they can have their favorite things without the overload. Let them surround themselves with their little toys and favorite dolls. Allow them to roll themselves up in a cushy comforter (some children do well with weighted vests or we used to put animal beanbags on HSB’s legs when he sat). Provide them with a physical outlet too. We have an exercise bike in the basement and a karate bag. (Don’t forget that that exercise bike has a mommy setting too). Let them get some of the stress out in exercise before they do their homework. If you have a Wii, they have terrific exercise or sports programs that children like too.

Then schedule the homework. Let them help you create the schedule. Put in time and breaks and even use a kitchen timer so they can hear the dings and can relate it back to the schedule. Don’t rely on their being able to pay attention to the clock and do their homework at the same time. Oh and if they want let them listen to music or some form of white noise in the background. Believe it or not it does help them focus.

Also, if you see your child needs help with the homework, by all means help them, don’t do it for them, but be there to answer the questions that they have (here, here, here, here). Help them think through writing assignments and even get them started with topic sentences if need be. Help them find solutions on the Internet and even get them an account with tutor.com if you can’t help them with that pesky new math. (Explain to me what was wrong with the old math…why does every generation of teacher shave to prove themselves by screwing with how we add and subtract?)

The Oasis

 Your child’s oasis I think is part of the larger overall picture of creating comfort for them. When collegeman was little, he used to line up all his toys in a particular order. He would keep books and rocks and videos all together in order of importance. We never knew why and never touched his things. But what we did do is make sure that all his things that he played with constantly were in the center of the house. We did not allow collegeman to lock himself away in a playroom or in his bedroom. Collegeman had a special card table where everything was kept and it was right there with everyone. (Today there is no card table - that ended as collegeman progressed and the table was actually gone within a few years. Today collegeman doesn't organize anything-unfortunately at times. Today collegeman is a total and complete teenage slob.)

It is very essential that no matter what these children do they have social interaction of some kind. Even if that is just you sitting and watching some television while they play with their toys. We turned our main room/dining area/livingroom/ kitchen into collegeman’s oasis.  We did have a couch for us to sit on, and a TV so that the boys could actually watch their videos and their cartoons. We had the Nintendo hooked up to the TV as well. We had the computer in the room so collegeman had easy access to his computer programs and his favorite books were also kept at easy reach.

Everything about the house was geared to keeping collegeman and HSB engaged and interactive. Luckily at this time, HSB did not seem to need a special place for his things. That actually came later for HSB, and there is a special shelf above his desk with all his collections. As I have stated before HSB was never as disabled as his brother, but at the same time, he is also not as determined to persevere as his brother either. (With HSB we are working on that issue, while with collegeman we are trying to calm him down and get him to understanding how things difference in importance.)

So when collegeman came home from his self-contained class, the first thing he did was check his table. Have a snack and go watch his favorite videos. He was allowed to eat on the coach and yes, there was generally a mess. Big deal, it got cleaned up. But one of the best things that happened was that I watched with him. I asked him questions and sang the songs with him and danced dances with him too.

There was a favorite cartoon on the Cartoon Network, called Cow and Chicken. Collegeman just loved that cartoon. We used to sing the intro song and we made up the Cow and Chicken dance to go with it. At times collegeman would even just ask for the song and dance because he liked doing it with me. It wasn’t the song really it was my time and my interaction on his level.


Remember you need to bring yourself into their world. See things as they see it.  Help them to understand their world, on the level and with the view of a child or person with a disability. Figure out the best way to engage your child and they will be glad to engage you back. It is not that they don’t want to be with you. The fact is that they may just not understand how to do it and how to do it well. Use every moment to teach them even how to talk to people, how to ask questions, how to pay a complement and how words have meaning both physically and emotionally. Never take offense at what they do and how they say something. Most times they truly do not understand when they cross a line. It is your job to make sure that they learn to figure out how, why, when and where words and actions are appropriate.

Reality

One very important thing to remember is that you also can’t do everything and be everything to everyone. If it means that that load of laundry gets done another day. You have pizza for dinner or the house isn’t so spotless. Too bad. Our priorities need to change when we have special needs children and our realities need to change as well. Also don’t’ forget to take care of yourself too.

Oh and don’t forget to get the husband involved on the weekends or when they are off from work, in dealing with your children. We tend to think that the hubbies need some kind of break from their work-a-day world so we begin to wait on them when they are home too. Listen there is a big deal difference between making your husband dinner and not having them help with the children. They are their children after all as well, and they should spend time with them. Worried that the husband’s work too hard and need a break. Guess what, so do you. Your job is 24/7 and truthfully with a special needs child it is 26/8. Let them pitch in and let them help. Honestly, in my experience they really want to but don’t know where to begin since they are not generally home. Give them direction and let them be a father to their children. It will do wonders for the child, the husband and your marriage.

Oh and one more very important ingredient in taking care of our children…something we all have an abundance of within ourselves…something we show beyond that which we ever thought possible and that which we ever thought we were capable…our unlimited ability to love.




I hope this gives some of you a general idea about what and how things got done in our house. We still use a lot of these rules when it comes to the boys. I say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.


In the meantime, it is almost New Year’s and I would like to wish each and every one of you a happy and healthy New Year. May your troubles be few and your joys be plenty in the year to come.


Until next time,


Elise

Monday, December 27, 2010

Self-Contained to the Future


Recently many parents have been trying to decide what kind of classroom program in which to place their autistic children. There are so many configurations out there in the world today that sometimes it is hard to know and understand which one is exactly best for your child. Do you put them in a self-contained special education classroom, a self-contained with slight mainstreaming, or a regular nursery with support? These of course are just a few of the types of classrooms that our children can find themselves in. I do not know what will work for your child, but I know what worked for mine.

I am going to tell you the story of collegeman’s early education years once we moved to the town where we live now, the one that was willing to help him. HSB’s education was a lot more settled than collegeman’s. The truth is that by the time HSB entered the school system our district had already figured most of the issues pertaining to the placement of autistic students, what  with all their experimenting on collegeman. But that is fine, you see. It worked out well for HSB. Apart from a few morons as teachers, something we as parents face at times, whether your child is a typical student or one with special needs, HSB did thrive and grow in the collaborative mainstreaming environment. The truth of the matter, however, is that when collegeman entered the system here, they still sent their truly needy students to out of district programs. Honestly it was the best thing that ever happened to my son.

When we first moved to our district they did try to place collegeman in a regular education classroom. Now even though we entered the district with the diagnosis of PDD-NOS I think legally they were obligated to see if he could function in the mainstream (FAPE). Luckily they had placed him in the hands of two very wonderful kindergarten teachers who didn’t resent his existence. They used to regale me with stories about what interesting thing he said or did that day. (The TA that was in the classroom actually went on to work at the town hall and every time I see her she asks after collegeman, even after 15 years.). The main teacher was also HSB’s kindergarten teacher and was wonderful to him. Never as disabled as collegeman, he still needed a tremendous amount of support which was granted over time by the CSE. Truthfully they should have granted it to HSB as soon as he entered kindergarten, but the school district does what it does and sometimes you do have to be patient, as long as you know that it will work out in the end.

Meanwhile, collegeman as a 5-year-old could not truly function in a mainstream environment even with some support. It was decided to place him out of district in a self-contained classroom. The program was just what collegeman needed at the time. He thrived tremendously.

The classroom had only eight students and two teachers, as opposed to a mainstream class, which could have upwards of 25, even though in my district they keep it to 20. Each child had his own desk, which was put, in little cubicles. The walls were to keep the children from being distracted while they did their work. It helped them focus on what was in front of them. In accordance with their IEPs each child was even given work on the level of understanding and academics that suited them. Collegeman being able to read and write and do math was given a different amount and type of work than the child next to him that could not. Collegeman was also one of the few children in the classroom that was verbal.

The teacher, a wonderful woman, who had been at this for most of her adult life, was a pleasant and caring woman who took not only each child under her wing, but was there for the parent as well. She was not afraid to spend time explaining to you what they were doing and how your child was reacting to the classroom situation. She gave pointers for home and made suggestions about your child’s needs.

One of the things that they used to do is have circle time just like any other kindergarten. Now they didn’t use a regular book, but the stories were cartooned with a few words on each block page so the children could see what they were learning. Everything in the class was geared toward making the children understand the world around them and to be able to process the sensory input around them. There was no sensory gym that they have to day in some schools, and no there was not speech every day. But they had a playground and gym and art and music like everyone else, however, geared toward what they could do and not do. Once a week the speech therapist did come in and the OT came for those children who required it. Not everyone got OT. Collegeman never did. The reality is that it was the teacher and her assistants that worked with the children on an almost one-to-one basis. No one else. Now of course there was the gentleman who ran the program, a psychologist who had worked with autistic children for a very long time. His office was down the hall if they needed anything. As I have said time and time again, it is the teacher that makes the difference. No matter what kind of classroom your child is assigned or who your child happens to be. Oh and yes, the classroom was located in a regular elementary school. So the boys in the self-contained class were surrounded by their neurotypical peers coming and going. Self-contained does not mean marginalized from the world.

Another thing that the school did was to take to the boys out into the community once a week. They would put all eight boys onto a little yellow schoolbus and take them to out local supermarket. I always knew when they were going and I tried to avoid it in the beginning. I didn’t want collegeman to see me and want to come home. After a few months of being with the school, I did purposely go to the market to watch what they did. It was wonderful. The boys stayed inline. They had a checklist of foodstuffs that they wanted to buy for their snack that day and everyone cooperated and helped out. Collegeman did see me, said "hi" and then went right back to school with no problem. He was happy in school and felt comfortable in his classroom. No meltdowns, no tears, for him it was a learning environment full of calm and other boys just like himself.

The teacher told me that collegeman added a special moment to the classroom, which seemed to get the other children interested in what was happening a little outside themselves. The class would not go to the cafeteria for lunch, as it really was just too noisy for most of them. Instead, they would have lunch all together at their big round table in the room. Those that did have to buy lunch though were taken to the cafeteria by the aide and helped through the process. Collegeman would then turn to those children and actually ask them how their lunch was. He tried to engage the other boys in conversation during meals. The teacher picked up on that and helped plod the conversations along. Now here comes the amazing part…one of the boys that bought his lunch everyday came back with packets of ketchup for collegeman one day. He knew that my son loved ketchup on his sandwich so he brought him some back from the cafeteria. The teacher couldn’t get over it, that these children were able to do that and to reach out that way. (Remember 15 years ago was not today in understanding what autistics really were capable of thinking and doing). She told me that collegeman brought a new element into their classroom and it was wonderful.

Collegeman stayed in that classroom for one year, and then was brought in district to a self-contained classroom, with partial mainstreaming and finally into the mainstream with support. There were many configurations of the collaborative class that were developed over the years before the district actually finally settled on one for good, and yes as I said earlier collegeman was the guinea pig as he has always been throughout his life. But it worked for him. Truth is my baby is very strong willed. Stronger I think than anyone really gives him credit. He is a determined young man with hopes and dreams and thoughts for himself and his future. He always was a determined person. That stiff necked and stubborn nature has aided him tremendously throughout the years.

But that first self-contained classroom had a lot to do with setting him on the right path. Helping calm his mind and focus his world. I truly don’t know how much harder the road would have been for him without that little step back to the beginning. Sometimes we don’t see that a person does need to regroup and to review their world, before they march ahead. I know that as parents we always strive to get ahead for our children, but sometimes, just sometimes, what we think is a step back is really not. Its not a step back if it enables your child to make leaps forward at a later date. I also know that we fear that once the school district puts our children in a self-contained class that that is where they are going to stay. I can’t speak for everyone but that is not where mine stayed. I don’t think it has to be where yours stays either. But at that moment that they enter their self-contained classroom, at that time in space, try not to worry beyond that moment. Only think of what they can get out of the class that they are in. Will it provide them the ability to organize their mind, calm their sensory input receptors and enable them to learn the way they need to learn. Will it provide them the skills necessary to further their ambitions one day? That is all you need to think about as you drop you baby off for school on any given day, of any given month, of any given year.

Until next time,
Elise

Friday, December 24, 2010

Wonderful Anti-Bullying Program

OHEL is a social services organization that has created a terrific anti-bullying program. Here is a wonderful look at how to combat bullying in your school. One of the important points that is made in the video is something that I have said for along time: It is nonsense that society needs to worry about the bully's self-esteem. It has been proven that the problem that bully's have is a complete lack of empathy. Bully's actually think quite highly of themselves. Listen to that section of the video and try to get your school to watch as well. Remind the school that it is our  bullied children that need protection, self-esteem therapy, support and protection, not the perpetrators of their torment.



Until next time,


Elise

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas

I distinctly remember that one of my most favorite shows growing up was How the Grinch Stole Christmas (cartoon version). Leave it to those geniuses at Glee to create another wonderful adventure for all of us. Coach Sue, once again is the bad guy in the guise of the Grinch, who steals all the presents the Glee Club had collected for orphans. She also made herself the sole receiver of all the Secret Santa gifts. But as in the story by Dr. Suess, Sue/Grinch ends up understanding what Christmas really is all about. (and of course Glee sings my favorite song from the cartoon).



For those who do not get Hulu, here is the song on You Tube. Unfortunately it is just the vocals.)

I know for a fact that so many of us have had a very hard year. Either we have faced the loss of jobs, reduced finances while we still worked our butts off, our children have developed so many more issues, and/or we have spent an inordinate amount of time fighting for the services that our children so richly deserve. But I think, and of course I am speaking as a Jewish person, the message I take away for myself at this time of year is one of hope, renewal and love. Christmas is not about things, but about people. It is our love for our children and the love of our families in general that guides us, and gives us the strength we need to carry on.

So to all my friends, compatriots, fellow travelers on this Earth who celebrate this beautiful season of the year, Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad.



Meanwhile, like our newest member of the Supreme Court, that brilliant Elena Kagan, this is my plan for Christmas Day:







Until next time,


Elise

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Little Dose of Reality


Well those pesky executive functioning skills are rearing their ugly head again. You remember those skills, the ones where your child learns to hang up their coat, put on their shoes before they leave the house (hopefully their pants as well), organize their school binder and their cubby, with increased awareness, as they get older, of necessary life skills, all with the desired intention of having a well ordered successful life. PUT LAUGH TRACK HERE.


Sometimes I do think that no matter what we do and no matter how hard we try, our kids are just not going to get it. Recently collegeman has taken it upon himself to organize our emergency supplies. We do keep food stored away in case we are snowed in and the food did come in handy last year during the snowicane (here). But in the ensuing aftermath of that 5-day forced camping trip, we never went back and reviewed and replenished the stock. Truth be told, I had so much going on this year and so did hubby (aka Wise Old Sage or WOS) that we just didn’t have the mind set for rifling through everything.

So here we are at the advent of another winter and no one had ventured towards the emergency food supply since last winter. WOS in looking for a project for collegeman to do during his 6 week hiatus from school, came up with the idea that collegeman should go through all the emergency supplies. Honestly he half-handedly mentioned it to collegeman, not thinking that he would actually take it to heart right then and there. Normally it takes days of pushing and weeks of leaving the message up on the whiteboard for collegeman to remember to do anything, never mind such a big project. But lo and behold, the other day collegeman sort-of disappeared.

We had thought that he was going to spend time doing laundry (which he gets paid for) and playing World of Warcraft. We had not really thought that he was going to take on any major project especially so soon after finals. Heck the grades haven’t even been posted and he is still sleeping basically round the clock. But no he wasn’t playing on his computer and he wasn’t watching Tivo. Finally it dawned on us to look for him in the basement. Thought that he might be doing laundry or working out on the crosstrainer.

Lo and behold, there he was in the basement with dozens and dozens of canned vegetables, raviolis, and assorted what-nots surrounding him. You see collegeman decided that he had better get the job done, organizing the emergency supplies, now with the winter upon us. I think last year’s adventure had made somewhat of an impression upon him. Camping is not his forte and I suspect that it never will be. He decided that he didn’t want to be caught unprepared so he began to sift through the supplies.

Now what he had not thought about was that the expiration dates of all the food was on the big boxes that all the cans came in. He decided that he had to look at each and every can to make sure that it was not past its expiration date. I heard the commotion in the basement and went down the stairs. WOS turned to me and said go back upstairs. You really don’t want to be here. He doesn’t have to tell me twice that I don’t have to perform any particular chore. If someone else wants to volunteer I am all for it. So up the stairs I went, to watch TV and knit. Meanwhile they were downstairs for the entire day. Going over and over every can and every bar and every bottle of water. I finally saw WOS again right before dinner.

He looked like a man who had just been through the ringer. He was glassy eyed, his hair was disheveled and the look on his face was one of sheer amazement. The process of going through all that food had been made so much harder because collegeman did not use any executive functioning nor organization skills when he first began the process, so WOS had to fix the mess/problem/chaos (balagan) before they had even begun.

In his freshman year of highschool collegeman’s special education teacher kept trying to teach him to “work smart, not hard.” It seems that collegeman has a long way to go in order to figure out the direct route and the easiest route to take to accomplish his goals. Working hard has never been collegeman’s issue. Every experience is new for him and as I have written before it is generalizing those specifics that makes what these children face on a daily basis so much harder than it has to be at times.

Meanwhile the Wise Old Sage, in his wild-eyed state, after having dealt with his first-born’s inability to understand the mechanics of simplicity turned to me frighteningly concerned about his child’s lack of forethought, reason and functionality on even this simple task. He is very worried that at this present time, while collegeman is terrific in school and terrific at learning, he has no common sense and lacks practicality smarts. He adamantly said:


See I knew that without having to be told. But sometimes it’s not bad that they, the spouses who spend most of their days in an office earning the living that keeps everyone fed, clothed and housed, actually end up with that first hand knowledge of what you already knew to be a fact.

Until next time,

Elise

P.S. I am beginning to transform hubby's moniker into Wise Old Sage or WOS. I figure that if that is how his sons see him then he is due the title.

Navigating that Love-Hate Relationship


The other day I walked into my living room and there were my two wonderful offspring discussing what kind of relationship they have with their father and me. Hubby turned out to be the “wise old sage.”  (WOS) I guess when you are gray haired and in your fifties to any teenager you are very very old. Heavens not sure what they think of my poor parents who are in their seventies. Knowing collegeman he probably has their funerals all planned. (He has it figured out that when one of the three dogs passes away that we will need to keep the pack whole and that we should plan on another dog right away. So figuring out a funeral for his "elderly" grandparent is not beyond his rational.) 

I remember when a teacher had lost their grandparent during his senior year in highschool and she had the temerity to be absent for a few days because of it, he was beside himself that she was upset about loosing her grandfather. After all she had a job and that was to be in school to teach him. He actually turned to her and said,

“What is the big deal? You put him in a box, put it in the ground and get on with your life.”

Needless to say, that very very very young teacher did not handle that situation really well, and threw him out of class. Luckily the director of special education met with her later that day to discuss the social issues surrounding aspergers.  It was a hurtful lesson for her, however, one that she will be able to take with her throughout her teaching career. After the incident, I joked that there was no need to worry that my passing would upset the boys. Collegeman would just stick me in a box, shove me in the ground and go on his merry way. I won’t have to worry at all that my passing will upset the balance of his life. (Since we worry so much about their inability to handle transitions you would worry that the death of a person in their lives would rock their boat. But apparently my transitioning out of the world won’t have any affect what so ever on him.)

Things of course have changed over the past few years. Collegeman is much more aware of other's feelings and is finally figuring out some more of the social conventions that are necessary to get along in the world. However, I am still not convinced that he would miss me all that much until he got hungry. Neither one of the boys can cook and truthfully I am loath to let either of them near fire just yet, however, collegeman has showed an interest in taking cooking classes. Though, HSB still has this thing about being waited upon. (I always say that in a past life he was either a Roman Senator or an Egyptian Pharaoh. Not only does he like to be waited upon but he enjoys reclining while he eats.) 

Meanwhile,  while dad is the “wise old sage” collegeman is not shy in telling me that as far as he is concerned we have a “love-hate” relationship. Now what that means for him I am not sure. I know I love him and I am pretty sure that quite often he hates me. But I think when he is not burdened with school and the anxiety it causes him he tends to take a much more kinder view of all that I do. Of course when he is in school, and he gets a poor grade, he begs the classroom coach to not tell me. Interestingly he doesn’t mind if the Wise Old Sage (WOS) knows, but me he doesn’t want to tell. I don’t think its because he needs my approval so much as he doesn’t want to make me mad. I remember a scene in the original Transformers movie, when the Shia LaBoeuf character was telling others about the one thing you don’t want to do is make my mother mad…”She has a really bad temper.” I laughed so hard, because it must be such a typical teenage boy issue when dealing with their mothers that they put that line in a blockbuster movie.

On the other hand, I do not yell at him. I do not scream at him. I try to help him figure out his mistakes and happen to be very supportive. I mean I got him the economics tutor, I send the support personnel, and I interact with the disability director on his behalf. Everything I do, I do so that he could have as smooth an educational experience as possible. Why would I yell? But what I do demand is that he tries his best. Honestly, that’s not even a problem for collegeman; you can’t do more than what collegeman does anyway. You really can’t study more or obsess more about schoolwork than what he does. In fact I would hesitate to say that he overdoes it to the point that the amount of work he puts into his studies becomes irrelevant.

The truth of the matter is that I think your brain, no matter whose brain it is, just stops after awhile and can’t take in anymore information than what it already has. That muscle too needs a break. It’s like when you exercise. Trainers tell us that you shouldn’t exercise the same muscle group every day. You need to switch off between different muscle groups in order to let the muscles rest and restore themselves. I would think the same would be for the brain. You need to do different things with your brain in order to let the different lobes, rest and regroup, so that you are maximizing your brain effort.  I think in many ways, its even more necessary for the autistic brain. Assuming that the autistic brain is compromised in some way in the first place, then the “working” lobes are overtaxed to begin with, with compensating for the imbalance. So their autistic brain will require more periods of rest than in a typical brain. I suppose you can extrapolate that to be one of the reasons our children need to have more and longer breaks, move around much more and have even a shorter attention span at times. Their brain muscle needs to restore more often than a typical student. (So when creating the support program for your child don’t forget to have the school include those breaks…they may not like my reasoning and wherefores for the need, but the need still remains.)

Anyway, so this love-hate relationship that I have with collegeman is very interesting. There are times like now that he is so interested in something new, like his World of Warcraft that he loves to share it with me. He is thrilled, just adores it, the graphics and the gameplay. Then of course there are times that I am told flat out “It’s my life, I will do what I want. I don’t tell you how to live your life.” It depends totally on the day, the moment, and the hour even the minute or second, as to whether it’s the love part of the relationship or the hate. That is just fine with me. Don’t mind it at all. Something’s are what they are at the moment and the dynamics can change just as fast. (It’s not unusual for a typical child to have issues at this age with their parents either).

Now as for HSB, he described our relationship as a respect-hate relationship.  I didn’t push it at the time. Didn’t really think much of it. I paid no attention to what he said and decided to go on my merry way. Of course, within the next few minutes HSB was hungry and wanted something to eat. He decided to ask me to make him tortellini. I suppose he respected me enough at that moment to ask for food, as opposed to hating me when I try to figure out what he is doing instead of his homework.

The interesting thing that I came across is that both boys do not like when I tell them to do anything. I am aware that they need to be independent, but if it wasn’t for me pushing collegeman out of the house every morning he would never get to school and the same with HSB. They don’t like that I make them do a check when they leave the house…wallet, keys, phone, homework, books, gym clothes, etc. But on quite a number of occasions they have had to return home for what they left behind. Wise Old Sage  (WOS) does tell them to stop gripping, that if it weren’t for me pushing them in the morning they would never get a move on. I think at that point he isn’t WOS anymore but PITA (aka, pain in the ass) same as me. But that doesn’t last very long either, meaning the annoyance with their father doesn’t last very long, not their annoyance with me.

In fact when HSB needs to study or needs help with a project or paper it is the WOS to whom he turns. Will not allow me to help, even rejects help from his female teachers at school. Nope, I don’t think it’s a misogyny thing. If you ask HSB about men who think that women are inferior, he will be all over their butt and rightly put a boot right where the sun don’t shine. I think it’s an independence thing. He has been told what to do on a daily basis by women practically for his entire academic career. Only once or twice did he have male teachers and you know what, those were his best years. In fact so far this year, the majority of his teachers are male, and guess what- best year in a long time.  Is it identification with other males? Is it a different style of teaching (men and women after all do everything differently, why not teach differently)? Whatever the reason this has been the pattern for all of HSB’s education. I am hoping that next year in college, he ends up with mostly male professors and a male advisor.

So anyway, this morning as I woke HSB up for school I asked him about this respect-hate relationship that we have.

“Do you mean you don’t love me at all?” I asked.

“Well maybe I love you a little,” he said groggily. Still awakening out of his sleepy stupor.

“Can I have a hug?”

“I’m not a hugging kind of guy.”

“Even a little one.”

“Not a hugging kind of guy.”

OK so you can’t have everything. At least he loves me, maybe a little bit, at least at that very moment, at that very day, at that very hour, at that very minute at that very second. He also really loved me when he had a nose bleed later that morning and needed a new shirt brought to school, even bought him a choice of two shirts so he could choose what to wear. Boy was there no hate in the relationship when I showed up at the nurses then. I even got a big smile in welcome.

Until next time,
Elise

Friday, December 17, 2010

This Time It's your Aspie's Fault: Redux

 This post originally appeared September 2009. I also reposted it October 2010.

I have to tell you that I was struck by a new episode of The Big Bang Theory last night. In its opening teaser they had our four favorite nerds bullying another person because they considered him of lower intellect. Well the hunky character is not the brightest bulb, but he is a nice guy and they had no right to be mean to him. The hunk was just trying to find something in common with our loveable foursome. Now the hunks/alpha males/popular kids wanting to be friends with our children doesn't generally happen to our children. Yes they are the ones actually bullied or ostracized, but in this case, the hot hunky character was really trying to befriend our socially inept foursome. Honestly, because when all was said and done, he respects them. But our four favorite nerds in their mindblindness didn't realize that and were out and out mean. Luckily the character Penny pointed it out to them and after a bit of soul searching they went over to Penny's to apologize. Of course, Sheldon didn't understand what they had done wrong, but he went along anyway and found the saving grace of an apology in a box of Milk Duds.

The reason this episode struck me is that I have noticed my boys' ability to be as mean as anyone else, but not quite really understand that they are being mean. Unfortunately, they have it within them, just like everyone else to hurt the feelings of another human being. So, I think it is important to remember that we need to instill in our children the purpose of kindness. We also need to teach them to not only recognize how to be kind to others but to recognize when someone is kind to them as well (Mindblindness effects our children in many ways). Put simply, they need to understand what to do in fact when someone else is being nice to them. Sometimes even that reciprocity is beyond our children at first, but it is something they can learn and quite frankly learn to enjoy.

So here is a repost of my original story about highschoolboy and his brush with being a bully. It wasn't really that lengthy of an amount of time, we caught it and ended it quickly. However it was enough of an episode for me to remember that after the aspergers, HSB is first and foremost a teenage boy, complete with those missing frontal lobe synapses and the ability to judge consequences and actions. Personally, I reminded myself that after awhile aspergers is not always an excuse for poor behavior and honestly when dealing with others and how our children's words and actions can affect another person, there comes an age when it really shouldn't be.

*********
Well, I have to tell you we entered a new phase of life with highschoolboy today. I actually got a call from the vice-principal of the school on the very first day of classes. Usually we get to wait at least a week before everything hits the fan, but no not this year. I have a feeling this year is going to be special. Now it wasn't a really big deal in the annals of highschool issues, but it was potentially an issue. One that we had to stop dead in its tracks.. Highschoolboy was openly disdainful of a classmate. "Perfect" person has no  patience for someone else's issues. He was loud, rude and if the other child had heard potentially hurtful.

Now lets see if I can explain highschoolboy's personality. At three he fired me because I wouldn't let him fire his nursery school teacher. She had had the temerity to insist he clean up when he wanted to play. Upon finding out that he couldn't fire me he decided to unfriend me (way before Facebook). He found out he couldn't do that either since I was his mother, not his friend. Luckily I could still stay one step ahead of a three-year-old. Then he decided to be his big brother's protector.

Collegeman was very disabled at this point in highschoolboy's life (he was still in nursery) and I think there was this instinct  to take care of his older brother. Well, they happened to be in the same summer camp. At this point collegeman was about seven and highschoolboy was four. Highschoolboy came around a corner and saw collegeman crying and assumed that the counselor who was trying to calm his brother down was the actual culprit in his distress. Well, I happened to catch highschoolboy mid-lung. I believe his goal was to extract an organ from that counselor who had "upset" his brother. Thankfully I have quick reflexes. The counselors, teenagers, were totally at a loss at that point with highschoolboy, so off he went to the director's office where he promised to never try that again. He was also promised that noone would ever hurt his brother under any circumstances.
So highschoolboy is smart, stubborn, opinionated and protective of those he loves. Really not a bad combination when you think of it, but sometimes he needs to understand that everyone is just not as "perfect" as he is.

So the story begins last year after the Presidential election. Our candidate lost and highschoolboy was devastated. Now when your children have OCD and are told that the country's future and their very lives are at stake depending upon how you vote (yes both sides were guilty of that nonsense whether anyone likes it or not)  well, it makes for a really scary scenario. So when our candidate lost, highschoolboy thought the world was going to end. All was going to be over. Several days of crying ensued. Now unfortunately, there were some children who picked up on that and started to taunt highschoolboy. The teacher's aide reported it and the boys were slammed down by the school (complete with calls home) and told to stop.

They really did, however, highschoolboy now had his dander up. He was not going to give his tormentors one inch of leeway. If they got out of line, didn't follow directions, didn't pay attention in class, well he was going to make sure that he put them back on the straight and narrow, by rolling his eyes, making sighing noises whenever they spoke and just shaking his head no matter what these children did. He was very obvious and very loud  about it too. He was told to stop. That if they couldn't torment him, he couldn't torment them. OK, fine. There was an uneasy truce between the boys for the rest of the year. (The vice-principal assured me that this was 15 year old boy interactions and very typical. OK so my aspie son became a typical 15 year old. He could have just remained a typical 15 year old boy who was girl crazy and obsessed with video games, but noooo he had to pick up on the lesser attributes of being a 15 male. Lucky us)

Now this year begins. Holy cow one of those boys was in his English class. The child did not say a word to highschoolboy. Never even came over, totally stayed away from highschoolboy like he was supposed to. But highschoolboy didn't care, he told everyone about the other child's basic lack of humanity and his inability to function  in an appropriate manner. And he kept telling everyone. I got a call from the vice principal. I should say that in-between the call and highschoolboy coming home and telling me that this child was in his class I had already read him the riot act. If he stays away from you, stay away from him. That is the rule.

I told the vice-principal to get him in her office and give him a verbal smackdown. He needs to understand that even if it is hard for him to let things go, its wrong, inappropriate and offensive to rag on someone because of what was. It also is not so good for highschoolboy to obsess over something like this (another email to the therapist). Highschoolboy understands intellectually but I think we are going to have to work hard on the emotional piece. I know it will be difficult for him. He feels the injustice of last year still and the need to find fault with his tormentor. But I told him, its  a new year, new chances and more than that, if you continue it will hurt you in the longrun by making you a lesser person. If he lets you be, you let him be. Simple rule. Simple solution. Lets hope that he can help himself and that the adults around him help him to help himself. That is why they are there.

So off we go into another year of highschool. Stubborn, smart, opinionated, moral, protective and down right sure in his vision of the world. I think highschoolboy has a healthy ego. Maybe one day he will run for a public office where they carve your face into granite. The country should be so lucky, but first we have to make it out of highschool.
*******

Just as an update: HSB stayed away from his arch nemesis for the rest of the year and that child stayed away from him. I never heard word "boo" about another incidence where HSB was mean or rude to another child again. Now HSB still does not suffer fools gladly, but he is also learning how to not show it and how to walk away from the situation without comment. Of course, you had best pronounce "nuclear" appropriately, use proper verbal conjugation and proper word syntax or he is going to correct you vociferously. That's not bullying when he does that, it just makes him seem like a pompous pain in the butt. We're working on that too. You see we have a little more in common with Sheldon and The Big Bang Theory than sometimes we'd like to admit.



Until next time,

Elise

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Values vs. Hype

Read my guest post at Cutest Kid Ever

The national news is full of stories about how people are ready and willing to start spending at holiday time once again. It seems they have confidence in the economy so now while they aren’t going to go crazy at the stores; they are going to make a big dent in that credit card or savings account. You can see the glee in everyone’s eyes and the inundation of buy buy buy…from commercials, to catalogs to online advertisements. We are bombarded minute by minute about all the material things we should have and how we are the worst parents in the world if we don’t buy our children that one extra special or several special toys. It seems the materialism that runs our world has returned and it is once again off to the races. Read more here.

Until next time,

Elise

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wrestling with God


Collegeman is angry. It happens whenever a religious holiday occurs. Having just finished Hanukkah, Collegeman is really annoyed. He rejects the religious reasons for holidays. He rejects the miracles and the wonders of God. He rejects that there is not a scientific reason for the strange happenings and odd occurrences in the Bible. The history he accepts, it’s the unexplainable that he has no use for.

This of course is nothing new. I have written about Collegeman’s rejection of God many times (here. here, here) Friends tell me that I shouldn’t worry, that I shouldn’t be concerned. Everyone at some point, mostly the young and mostly those in college, decide that they are smarter than everyone else, including God, and have no use nor need for religion. These friends reassure me that by the time he is 24 he will return to the fold and God will become important in his life.

Truthfully I don’t think that God is not important in his life. What collegeman is, is angry with God for the Holocaust, for terrorism, for anti-Semitism, racism and hate. Ultimately what collegeman is, is angry with God because God did not make humans better. When lighting the Hanukkah menorah collegeman says the prayers. He knows them quite well. He recites them in both Hebrew and English. This year all three of the men in my home lit their menorahs. By the eighth night the house shown brilliant in the glow as you are commanded to light the way and welcome the joy of the season.

But it is so much more for collegeman. He argues with himself. He fights with himself. He wrestles with his own sense of anger and questions the reality that is his world. I finally turned to him after his nightly diatribe about God and told him:

“You are not an atheist, you are not even an agnostic. You don’t question the existence of God, you are angry with God. These are two different thing,” I told him.

“How could God save the Jews from slavery in Egypt and let 6 million die in the Holocaust? I agree with Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust destroyed my love of God,” he answered.

So there we had it; the reason why collegeman in all his autistic obsessive glory cannot come to terms with God and holidays and the celebrations of the moments of the year. He cannot forgive God because God was not there when the Jewish people needed God the most. I try to tell him; perhaps it is God who gave the allies the ability to win WW2 that that was God’s way.

“No,” he says,” the allies did not save the Jews; they refused to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz. The allies fought but it was not about the Jews.” Well he was right WW2 wasn’t fought about the Jews.

I have a girlfriend who leads groups of teens on The March of the Living through Poland, culminating in Israel, every year. Young Jews from around the world gather in Poland to visit Nazi death camps. To keep the memory of what happened alive. In today’ world of Holocaust denial that is a very necessary happening, but I am not sure that I, or the boys, could ever do it. When I told her that collegeman was going to minor in Holocaust studies she warned me that he was going to get angry. That he was going to reject God. But it is different for collegeman. You can’t reject that which you are angry at. The opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is indifference. You hate someone when they hurt you, when they abandon you, when they leave you in misery. You hate someone when they disappoint you in unfathomable ways.

Collegeman in his own way does not reject God, he rejects that God cares. He rejects that God loves. He rejects that God is God, not that he ever existed. In many ways collegeman’s wrestling with God reminds me of the story of Jacob. Jacob was returning to Canaan to beg his brother Esau to absolve him of his sin of stealing his inheritance. Jacob spent a night alone, just outside his brother’s land, the night before he was to reunite with his brother Esau. When a stranger suddenly confronted him. The Bible does not tell us why there was a challenge. The story does not tell us of what went between the two men when they met. But Jacob ended up challenging the stranger and spent the entire night fighting with the man.

The Bible doesn’t even describe who the man was or was not. Theologians throughout time assume it was an angel of God, but when asked for his name, the man replied it is not for you to know. But we know the names of angels, in fact we are told specifically the name of each important angel that God sends to Earth. What we do not know is the name of God. Rabbis tell us the reason we do not know God’s name is because to know someone’s name is to understand their essence, and it is not for us to understand God’s essence. Not sure that is the real reason, God could just be messing with us humans once again. Or it could be as simple as when Moses asked God his name on Mt. Sinai, God replied, “I am that I am.” Perhaps a name is not as important as we think. Perhaps whom we are inside is not in a name but in our soul. (Only God really knows.) On the other hand, it is the fact that we give ourselves names in order to express our own individuality, which is a huge part of being human. Thus to take from someone their name strips them of their humanity. Considering we are talking about the Holocaust, it is a lesson the Nazis learned well. The first thing they did to those they left alive as slave laborers in the death camps was to strip them of their names and instead tattooed numbers on their arms. They also turned the dead to ash dispersed in a river or threw the dead into unmarked graves. No grave stone, no recognition, no place for society to mourn, thus depriving them of anyone knowing that they once existed. It is why the Memorial to the Holocaust in Jerusalem is called Yad v'Shem, in English it means a Monument and a Name.We give the unnamed dead a place to be remembered and a place to be mourned.

The avenue of the Righteous Gentile at Yad v'Shem. For every gentile that is known to have saved even one Jewish life during the Holocaust, a tree is planted in their name at the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

The story continues that Jacob would not let go of the stranger. He hung on to the stranger with all his might and refused to give in and refused to give up. Until the stranger hobbled him by touching his hip and Jacob was forced to let go. The stranger then turned to Jacob and told him that from then on his name would be Israel. For Jacob wrestled with God, and he did not let go, he did not give in, he continued to fight for what he believed in. Jacob, now Israel, became indicative with the idea that you stand up and question and ask why. You can stand up to even God. (Perhaps that is where the idea of being stiff-necked comes in. If you can question the essence of God’s purpose and never let it go, then stubbornness is part and parcel of your genetic code.)

So, Collegeman and Jacob have a lot in common. We are taught that we are allowed to bargain with God and that we are allowed to question why God does something. We are taught that God has reasons for what and why he does things, but that in and of itself doesn’t have to suffice. The legacy of Israel, nee Jacob, is that he embodied the right to ask why, wherefore, the essence of existence perhaps. We do not have to accept simple answers to complex questions and we do not have to give up our anger, except that it may harm you personally in the end to carry this hurt around in your heart. So for collegeman I am trying to get him to understand his hurt. He does get angry, but I think it’s more of an anger born of a pain that he doesn’t yet truly understand.

So collegeman carries in his genetic code the legacy of Israel. Collegeman continues to wrestle with God because of his anger about the Holocaust (My anger is about the boy’s autism. Personally I dealt with the anger over the Holocaust along time ago.) Collegeman wants answers, real answers and doesn’t accept platitudes and doesn’t accept condescension. What makes collegeman even angrier is that perhaps there are no answers to his questions and that is why, like Jacob, he wrestles so much with God and just won’t, can’t, let any of it go. Collegeman truly is a member of the People of Abraham, a descendant of Isaac, and a true Son of Israel. Of course when I tell him that he just thinks I’m an idiot. But he will learn. Meanwhile, I can’t wait for him to get to age 24, but he has a lot of  questioning and wrestling to do before then.


Until next time,

Elise

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Balance


Sorry I have been gone all week. I hurt my back last Saturday and it just got worse over the week. It finally seems to have calmed down yesterday and I am able to sit and type my heart out. I remember when the boys were young and I would get sick, or something would happen, like when I was in my car accident and the boys were totally not able to function on their own. The world did turn upside down. Now of course they are older, can do some laundry, clean the bathrooms (well sort of) and even pop something in the microwave to heat up and eat. (Haven’t gotten to the cooking stages yet, afraid to let either of them near anything with fire.) But the question came to mind what would I have done in the past when I was sick?

Now without a doubt if I was in that bad a shape hubby would have stayed home from work to help out. But how many days can he do that. While the world is wired today and it is easier to work from home, in fact many employers seem to prefer the home-entrenched-self-wired-contract employee (no benefits to pay out); hubby’s job is not one of those. So in the past I have had to hire help.

It wasn’t hard for me to find someone; in fact we had hired a former aide for collegeman over the years to babysit for us once in awhile. The time that I ended up in the hospital needing surgery she was right there and stayed around for months. I couldn’t drive and I couldn’t even function for weeks after the surgery. Did it destroy our budget? You bet it did. Honestly we are still feeling the effects. Well actually we always feel the effects of the financial side of autism. It is that special needs financial roller-coaster that we all happen to live with.

So we hired the aide. OK she is much more than an “aide.” She is a doll of a young woman, who became part of our family and who has now started her own family. I was told the other day that baby #2 is on the way…woohoo. I love babies. The best part of being a part of her family is seeing her child. Her daughter is now 18 months old and she can give you a look that is so her mother you can fall down laughing. You just know that this child is thinking…”You can’t be serious” when she looks at you through the top of her eyes while she wrinkles her forehead. Attitude, attitude, it appears rather early in life…

In truth, I think that we all live with the knowledge that sometimes you have no choice but to say to heck with it (finances) and do what your child needs. Like now, if we didn’t pay for the classroom coaches for collegeman, he couldn’t attend college no matter how brilliant he is. His emotional ability to handle the anxiety he puts on himself is getting better, we heard that from the professors, but he is still in need of support. So we take out the loans and the credit that we need to get done for him what needs to get done. We make Plans A, B and C, think about Plan D and usually implement Plan E. Being flexible really helps. As far as what will happen for HSB we are planning for that too, but we are just going to go straight to Plan F. No need for pretenses since we have jumped through the college hoops already. While they are two different people, the transition issues and the need for the right amount of support remains the same. Yes each person with aspergers or autism is different, but there are across the board issues that you know will surface, its just how intense and in what combination the issues will rear their heads that needs to be parceled out. At least this time, we do know what to expect and we do know what needs to happen, so no being caught flat footed, no real surprises.

Will there ever be retirement? Highly doubtful. When hubby tells me this I try to put a spin on it for him. “We will fix everything when the boys get older, they won’t need as much as they need today,” I say. But he is right; I just don’t want to admit it. Hopefully our finances will straighten out (Honestly doubt that will really happen. It is something I have come to terms with recently.), and we do need to create a special needs trust for the boys. There are trusts outlined in our Wills where life insurance will go when we die, but the reality is that we need to do more than we have done and we know it. Truthfully the life insurance is only good until we reach 70 and I am hoping that we both live a lot longer than that.

I do want to grow really old with hubby. Be that octogenarian couple with brilliant gray hair on the porch watching the sunset and knowing that we lived our lives as best we could and protected our children as best we could. I try to be upbeat and let him know that I understand what it is like for him; the burden that is on his shoulders. He gets so tired. I see it in his face. I see it in how he holds his body. These last few years, economically, have taken a terrible toll on him, as it has done to most everyone I know. You get so tired. Sometimes you just don’t want to get out of bed. But you do. We get up the next morning because if we don’t who will do for these children?

The truth is that one of us has to still stay home with the boys, run them around, run interference with schools, run interference with doctors, etc.  Not that jobs are so easy to get nowadays anyway, so we are still a one-income family. I apply for jobs and positions occasionally. But then something happens with one of the boys and I know that if I had a job I couldn’t be there, I have to stay home. I even applied for a part-time position at a local college teaching writing.  Hubby got upset because he was concerned how would I juggle the boy’s needing my time and being present at the school teaching? It didn’t pay enough to counterbalance having to hire someone to still be there for the boys, so the idea was dropped. (OK they never called anyway so it became a non issue rather quickly.) I honestly don't know how single parents do it. My admiration knows no bounds.


Meanwhile my back does seem to be getting a little better and I have to go dust and finish the laundry. Collegeman is looking forward to doing chores over his six-week vacation to earn some money for games (he doesn’t get an allowance) and I know that I will at least have a live-in maid for several weeks (him). We try to get him to do some chores while he is in school but he doesn’t seem to be able to coordinate the concepts of school and life skills. I know that when we went to school we did our own laundry at least, but he just doesn’t seem to be able to handle it. This is not something where you can say “do it or you have no clothes to wear”; it would make his anxiety worse and not better. However we do need to figure it out how to get him to do it. A schedule perhaps where he has a specific time and day for laundry and chores. Of course we tried that a little this semester, but he always said he had to study, he seemed overwhelmed by the entire idea. Balance, we need to teach him life’s balance so that one day he will coordinate his own life; just another part of the concept of being able to create your own future. So “balance” is something new we are working on and working on and working on and working on….

I suppose we all need balance of some kind. 
We need to balance guilt that we don't make enough money, 
We need to balance guilt that there is so much more out there that we could be giving the boys,
We need to balance the guilt that we don't spend enough time with them, 
We need to balance the guilt that we don't spend enough time with our spouses, 
We need to balance the guilt that we don't spend enough time at work, at play at family, at life..

OK, so once I get myself balanced, maybe I can be better at helping collegeman (and eventually HSB) balance their lives, in the meantime, maybe better balance will help my back too.

Until next time (time for advil),


Elise


Saturday, December 4, 2010

December Happiness Project-Boot Camp Perfect-WTF


When I started on this adventure called The Happiness Project I really thought it would be a great way to focus my energy and perspectives. (here, here, here, here, here, here) In fact it would bring to mind a lot of different ideas that just one word could engender. If you read my previous posts having to do with the Project you will see that where I generally start off is not where I generally end up. Now December’s word /idea though got me to thinking (Yes, I know, a very dangerous construct if I am left to my own devices.) and reviewing my own emotional growth and development over the years.  The idea for December is –Boot Camp Perfect.

That of course could mean any number of things for any number of people. For someone obsessed with fitness there is the Boot Camp Work Out. I have to admit that I have tried that on occasion. There was a time that I would spend hours upon hours every day at the gym, trying to maintain that perfect body form and perfect physical fitness. But then I had to come to the realization that the women who do that to the exclusion of everything else are, for lack of a better description, morons. So I switched gyms in the hope of finding alternative classes and alternative people to talk to. You see each gym, as with each neighborhood, has its own characteristics and its own personality. If you don’t like the vibe at one place, it is best to move elsewhere where you feel comfortable.

As any parent of a special needs child will tell you, that rare opportunity to interact on an adult level is very precious and you need to pick the people whom you spend it with very carefully. I had realized that I had been spending my free time with some of the shallowest people I had ever come across. The reality is that I know I needed a break from my day-to-day existence of trauma and stress, and I thought that these people gave me the needed relief. However what became very apparent after awhile is that to spend your time with someone just because they have no real problems is to waste your time. Their biggest problem was where to go on vacation and what time to play tennis after their work out.

These gym-women reminded me of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I had watched the Orange County, New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, and even the Washington D.C. Housewives but this by far is the most jaw dropping group of inane human beings I have ever come across in my television world, and that is truly saying something considering what crap is on television. I have never watched a more self-involved self-obsessed group of people than those women. None of them work, which of course if you were married to mult-multi-multi-millionaire you wouldn’t either, but its not as if any of them spent any time doing charity either. They move from one house to the next, one lunch date to the next, one spa to the next, one vacation to the next and one party to the next. One of the women on the show didn’t even want to carry her own children during pregnancy so she hired a surrogate to do it. It’s not that she couldn’t carry her own children; she didn’t want to ruin her figure. (Creep me out totally.) OK, the women at the gym weren’t that bad comparatively, but some of them weren’t too far off.

I had come to the realization that the people I was spending some of my free time with just were not people I would have ever wanted to even acknowledge in the world never mind have conversations with under different circumstances, so I left in search of greener pastures. Honestly, the only thing the other gym offered was more classes and the ability to spend more money. However, the people were more diverse at the new gym and that meant a wider group of people to try to get to know and seek to befriend. But fate intervened. Shortly after joining the new gym I had a car accident, followed by my emergency surgery, followed by my diagnosis with lupus. I ended up not going to the gym for almost a year. No one else from the family went either, so we gave up the membership. (Yes, a horrible waste of money.) We actually ended up buying some gym equipment for the house and have exercised here since then.

Am I boot-camp-perfect right now? No, and truthfully I never was. I was just aiming for the wrong goal. I know that you could say that it was transference. That psychological state when you put your energies into something that you think you can control because so much of your life is out of your control. That is what happens with anorexics/bulimics. They use food as transference. It is not a healthy way to deal with food and it is not healthy when you do it with exercise either. Needless to say that no one need worry about my transference anymore. I have mitigated by boot-camp persona and have a nice big 50-year-old tuchas (as I mentioned in an earlier post, a tuchas that I am trying to whittle away using Kinnect while getting the help of an annoyed teen on how to turn on the darn Xbox.)

I suppose the idea of boot camp perfect can be thought of in any aspect of your life. The truth of the matter is that we can obsess about being perfect about anything. We, the parents of special needs children, know that we can not have those boot camp perfect children that everyone seems to obsess about as accessories in today’s society. You know the child that gets all A’s, is the captain of the soccer team, wins the debate club medal and is a National Merit Scholar. I actually ran into someone in town whose son was a National Merit Scholar, (read about it in the highschool bulletin) and I congratulated her. She actually didn't think it was a big deal, or acted like it. Even acted like she wasn't sure what I was talking about at first. I told her that I thought it was really cool, and she thanked me. Weird so very weird. Heck, if one of my children had been named a national scholar I would have bought a billboard and a megaphone believe you me. Truthfully I remember the days when I just wanted them to say what they wanted to eat (or say anything for that matter) . Followed by the days that I just wished the children would eat a variety of foods so I didn’t have to worry about their vitamin nutrition as much as I had to. (By the way, my pediatrician said that carnation instant breakfast was fine at the time to help out their vitamin intake. They loved it and collegeman still at times drinks the stuff.) Some people really don't understand how lucky they are.

I suppose the issue becomes trying to figure out just what aspect of your life becomes the "transference" when you realize that your child is well…human? Where is that boot camp perfect life that we are all supposed to lead and where do we find it? Oh my God what bullshit. There is no such thing, and I mean no such thing as a perfect life, and I am not saying that just because we have special needs children.  There is just no way that anyone can be everything to everyone. How in the heck is anyone supposed to keep a perfect house, have small children running around, cook, do laundry, volunteer at the schools, make sure that your husband has what he needs for his job, be there if your parents or sibling needs you and as so many of us also do, work outside the home? You need to have a staff on call for all of that if you want it done perfectly. Now of course, these women in Beverly Hills have staffs. That is really nice if you can do it, but I bet that those reading this blog have a staff of one, themselves, with the occasional pitch in from the hubby.

I came to the conclusion along time ago that no way is anything in my life going to be boot camp perfect; not my ass and not my children. Life is what it is, and the only thing I apply to boot camp perfect is my ability to go with the flow and take each moment as it comes. However, you can lay odds that there are times that I begin to obsess and screw up my boot camp perfect attitude of keeping calm no matter what. Even my ability to handle a crisis is a work in progress but its also the only aspect of boot camp perfect I am going to shoot for anymore. 

Until next time,

Elise