Back Then

I remember feeling amazed and nervously excited when I descended the stairs in our tiny 2-bedroom apartment to tell my husband of 8 years I was pregnant. He looked up at me, “Really?!” Nodding, I confirmed what we’d been planning for about a year. We were thrilled.

I devoured all the books, the guided meditations that were supposed to help with birth, ate all the ginger things and was sad when I had to quit my job because of severe morning all-day-and-night sickness. Eventually I felt better with the aid of medication and tracked all the changes in my body and read details about the growing baby.

Over a decade ago, Jenny McCarthy could be seen all over spouting her doctor’s erroneous findings that vaccines cause autism. Back then, this was my worst fear; (and likely a fear of many parents-to-be) that something could be “wrong” with the life growing inside of me. I remember telling my friend at the time, “I pray that nothing like that happens to my baby.”

Jacob was born 4 days after our due date and was a hefty 9lb 11oz. He hit all the physical developmental milestones, had the most adorable smile, and was the center of our world. I struggled with breastfeeding and postpartum depression, but felt our “new normal” of life with a baby around 3-5 months.

As he grew, we noticed little things that, at the time, gave us no cause for concern. Things like his inability to be laid down on his back while asleep. He would startle awake and scream. We carried him and let him fall asleep in our Ergo baby carrier. We co-slept because as long as we were all getting sleep, the location didn’t really matter to us. He nursed and didn’t desire solid foods. Getting messy and exploring foods with fingers seemed not to be his thing but for just a handful of times. He wasn’t verbal until almost 3 after speech therapy interventions. We had taught him sign language and had developed our own unique way of communicating. We discovered his right eye blindness as we prepared for preschool and kindergarten. Jacob struggled at the dentist and doctor visits. We prepped him well in advance for changes in routine, as well as transitions from one activity to another. We adapted. We learned. We read and researched and asked questions.

Jacob was evaluated at 2, 5, and diagnosed with ADHD-inattattentive type (with Autism Spectrum Discorder verbiage in the paperwork, but not formally ASD diagnosed) at 8, and now at 10 we are looking forward to another comprehensive evaluation. His IQ is 133. He’s crazy smart, and loves to learn about things that interest him. He as a 504 plan in place at school for accommodations as needed. We are working with an occupational therapist who has taught us both.

Sitting in the car before an appointment, we were chatting before heading into “food school”.

“Mom. I want to work at Microsoft,” Jacob told me, veering off of whatever topic we were currently discussing.

“Really? Why is that?” I asked.

“Bill Gates is thought to be on the spectrum. Maybe I could work with him and help other people like us. Plus, I like computers.”

“I think you would be great at that.”

As he walked into the appointment it hit me how far we’ve traveled on this autism journey. How scared I was for him, and frustrated at times because life with someone on the spectrum isn’t always easy. I struggled (and sometimes still do) when people are judgmental or unkind, knowingly or not. He makes me laugh out loud at his literal way of thinking, his interpretations of figures of speech and his other little quirks. I love the protectiveness he feels for his sister. He has taught me compassion, patience, and to slow down and see things from another perspective, that different isn’t wrong, it’s just different.

Back then, I just didn’t know.

I didn’t know how much I could love another human. I didn’t know that autism spectrum disorder really sucks as a label because it doesn’t feel like “disorder”. I stopped asking the futile “Why?” and “What is the cause?” questions years ago. It doesn’t do any good and there are no satisfying answers. It just is. I didn’t know that I would one day be thankful for resources and knowledge and tools to help him navigate and understand the world.

I never thought that I would be thankful for autism.

That was then.


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Reading Stories

“Mama,” Hannah looked up at me.

“Yes?” I asked, distractedly.

“I hate the part of reading when you are almost done and you know the book is almost over. Especially if it’s a really really good one!”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I told her. She now had my full attention. One thing I have always loved is reading with the minions. I couldn’t wait until they were finally old enough to enjoy Harry Potter. Hannah loves Amelia Bedelia, as well as Ramona Quimby- one of my absolute favorites. Jacob is also a voracious reader, inhaling any books about subjects that interest him (currently WWII). On the fiction side he reads any James Patterson book he can get his hands on and we’ve read all of the Magic Treehouse series.

Novels, movies, blogs, music, television series – form is not important. Getting lost in a great story is one of my favorite ways to spend my time. My hope was that my kids would enjoy stories – reading specifically – just as much. We read some Minecraft books a few year a ago, a not-so-scary Stephen King novella, and some Judy Blume. Sometimes we take turns each reading a chapter, other times I’m just tired and they read to me. Most of the time I read aloud.

We start reading just a chapter of a book and then I’ll say, “Ehhh…that one’s no good. We probably shouldn’t keep reading it…”

“NO NO NO! Mama please keep reading!!!!” They both plead. “Pleeease!”

“If you’re sure…” I continue to drag out the drama of my reluctance, silently cheering in my mind that they are excited (finally) about a selection I have chosen.

Tonight we started one of the first books I remember reading as a class in Mr. Ziegler’s 5th grade; Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. It’s a classic and most of the time when I pull an old book off the shelf, the kids groan and won’t give it a chance; hence my new ‘give it one chapter and then decide’ tactic. It worked like a charm.

“Just one more chapter????”

“Sure. Just one more…,”

…as they have to convince me to keep reading.

Lemons, Lemonade, Lillies, and Other Luxurious Little Things

There are lemons that grow over our fence! REAL lemons! In February!

I showed a picture to the hubby of a planter contraption on Pinterest one evening. He replied, “Hmm. That’s doable.” I didn’t give it much thought, until the next day he brought home supplies and made this! I love it! Yay container gardening!

The fruits that grow locally are delicious! I’m still dreaming of the sweetness of the mandarins a neighbor gave me a few weeks ago. The lemons just hang over my fence waiting for me to devour their juiciness! We were encouraged to take as many as we want!

I raked the leaves and mowed the lawn last week and desired the hard-earned post-yardwork reward. While I no longer drink, there is something very nostalgic about a cold beer on a warm afternoon commingling with the scent of freshly cut grass. I don’t let my thoughts linger there too long because it can be a slippery slope. In lieu of said adult beverage, I opted for plucking a few of those lemons and making the best lemonade I’ve ever had.

Happy Fruit!
Little Man even likes it! Working with an Occupational Therapist has been wonderful in helping him be more open to trying new things.
Little miss helps me make it. Then promptly asks if she can have mine!

Later my sweet husband brought home a calla lily plant to add to our planter garden! They are my favorite. Little things are big things. Truly.

In keeping with the alliteration, the other “luxurious things” include a fabulous new hair cut which makes one feel great after months of feeling not so, including the never-long-enough shampoo/scalp massage/conditioning treatment. I seriously love having my head massaged. If we ever get money tree seeds, I’m hiring a professional to massage my head daily.

These little things like setting up a garden, little happy turquoise chairs, good coffee, a great book to read, a dog on the mend from surgery and simply making lemonade with my kids are just that – little things. I’m feeling particularly grateful, for no other reason than it just feels good to feel good, if that makes sense.

I love the little things.

Just Be

Post inspired by Storyshucker

Swaying in the cooling afternoon air, I mused once again how much I loved that the sky never appears the same way twice. “Oh mama, I just love you,” she said, extra lovey since I let her stay home from school. Sometimes we all need a mental health recharge day I reasoned when she had asked. “One time – this is not a habit,” I emphasized.

We sat swinging in silence for just a bit on the hammocks I had just moments before wrestled out of their sheaths, brushing off the sawdust from their garage hideaway.

“Oh! Look!” Pointing at a group of streaked clouds, “It’s a duck with little ducklings following her,” she asserted.

“Oh I see that,” I replied, looking where she was pointing. “It also kind of looks like the mama duck is a genie bottle and the little cloud above her is the genie coming right out.”

“Huh?!”

“See? Right at the top of the mama duck’s head…”

“Ohhhhhh, I do see that now,” she replied, eyes gazing across to a new group of clouds. “I just love these hammocks – and being with you.”

I love these quiet not-doing-anything moments. Just being. I pointed out a humming bird floating just above us over the neighbor’s tree. “Look!” I whispered so as not to scare it away like our barking dogs enjoyed doing.

“YES! I saw a hummingbird just like that before you came out!”

Before I came out I was happily vacuuming, checking off a to do list of randoms that always need tending. Laundry, dishes and general afternoon pick up that included getting ready for a furry family member’s return from the vet. I can always find something to do. It’s an ingrained trait that extends before my years as a waitress when I’d first heard a similar phrase. Shedding the impulse to “earn” some free time, I mentally filed the list away and decided to join my daughter reading peacefully in the sun that had hid itself over the past few rainy days. Looking at her, it was simply too enticing to stay inside doing things that could wait.

We chatted some more and enjoyed comparing cloud shapes and images that popped out to us, giggling every so often at the imagery she projected. I reflected on the idea that kids will far more often do as we do, not as we say. If I want them to appreciate nature, or slow down, or read, they need to see me doing so as well. It’s more than okay to be bored. It’s necessary for creativity, for inner thought, for time to just be.




Changes

We have recently moved for the 9th time in about 12 years.

It’s been a chaotic few weeks with packing and unpacking, and then for good measure we threw in a dog CCL surgery!

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He leads a rough life. Obviously.

We are loving the new digs and the ocean of cardboard boxes is slowly diminishing.  San Diego doesn’t get winter weather, although you’d not know it based on the winter jackets and Ugg boots in abundance any day that is below 70 degrees. There have been a few overcast and even rainy days that have induced me to make some yummy soups in my fabulous new kitchen. I actually have room for all of my kitchen gadgets and I missed my coffee mug selection more than I had realized!

Internal things have been changing  in addition to our physical location. This post has been sitting in my mind, and the drafts folder, for a couple of months. A few years ago, I  arrogantly posted a meme about exercise being equal to medication for the treatment of mild depression. It was a platitude photo with little concrete research behind it. I regret posting it because I now know better. For years I’ve used exercise as a way to combat depression. And it kind of works – for a while. But it’s not the only way or even the best way to combat depression for many people; myself included. (I’ve also used retail “therapy”, and of course alcohol. What I’ve come to learn is that drinking with depression/anxiety is like pouring kerosene on a fire. It makes everything significantly worse.)

There’s definitely a stigma around the subject of mental health and seeking help – but it shouldn’t be. Knowing this intellectually for other people is one thing. Getting my head around it for myself is another thing all together. My psychiatrist explained a couple of things. “We use what works, until it no longer works.” For as long as I can remember I’ve been a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of person. “We can often point to life circumstances as reasons as to why we feel what we feel, which is why the average span from onset of symptoms to getting help is 10 years.” Oddly enough, this blew my mind when really it shouldn’t have because I should’ve sought help years ago. When you see a therapist or psychiatrist, they take in your history – a sort of timeline of your life snapshot. I don’t think most people look at life like that, but it was enlightening because patterns emerged of depression, low moods, unexplained or irrational thoughts and behaviors, etc. Laid out in that way, it was not only surprising I didn’t recognize the pattern before, but confirmed the statistic that people just don’t get help – for many reasons.

Depression is more than just being sad. We all get sad. It’s part of the ebb and flow of feelings. But actual clinical depression is much more and can have different causes. It also presents in more ways than simply low mood. Depression can come out as anger and irritability, irrationality, physical aches and pains, fatigue, and restlessness to name a few.

  • Biological differences. People with depression appear to have physical changes in their brains. The significance of these changes is still uncertain, but may eventually help pinpoint causes.
  • Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that likely play a role in depression. Recent research indicates that changes in the function and effect of these neurotransmitters and how they interact with neurocircuits involved in maintaining mood stability may play a significant role in depression and its treatment.
  • Hormones. Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression. Hormone changes can result with pregnancy and during the weeks or months after delivery (postpartum) and from thyroid problems, menopause or a number of other conditions.
  • Inherited traits. Depression is more common in people whose blood relatives also have this condition. Researchers are trying to find genes that may be involved in causing depression.

– Courtesy of Mayo Clinic

As part of my treatment, I now take an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication. It was like seeing in black and white and then after a few weeks, the color came back. Technically speaking, more neurotransmitters are firing and working properly in the brain. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. In other words, I didn’t know how bad I felt because it was normal. That’s what depression does – it’s a slow creeper that you don’t see coming. I was no longer jumping at every little noise. I didn’t feel panicky at the irrational thought spirals about awful things happening to the kids. I wasn’t having panic attacks in a store and feeling like I couldn’t breathe walking with a group of people picking up our kids from school. I wasn’t irrationally irritated by the sound of my kids saying, “Mom…” Having depression and anxiety is exhausting.

I *may* have told my doctor that he would have to pry my medication out of my cold dead hands – I feel like myself for the first time in a long time. He laughed and shared that I wasn’t the first patient to have that reaction. “Medication helps a person with depression let more of their personality shine through.”

I’ve returned to exercising, although not at my previous “running marathons” pace. I’ve missed the endorphins and the mind-clearing adrenaline of a great workout. I will get there again, but there’s less frenzy and anxiety about it now. I’m doing it because moving feels good. I’m walking the dogs because I love them and spending time with them makes me happy. I’m running on the beach because I can and the sand helps cushion my injured ankle/tendons. I’m riding bikes with the kids up insane hills because we can do hard things, it feels amazing, and as Hannah says, “the steep downhills are FUN!”

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I hesitated in sharing this part of my life because it’s not comfortable to need help. Who doesn’t like to feel like they have all their shit together?  Growth and change are rarely easy and often uncomfortable but to not do so would be worse. My hope is that sharing my experience might encourage someone who needs it to seek help. I’m grateful for a handful of friends that were open and brave enough to share their own struggles, which in turn gave me the courage to get help for myself.

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Sleep Overs and Stuff

“Nothing good happens after midnight,” a friend said to me one time. We were discussing kids having sleep overs and what that does to the kids the next day. They come home grumpy, tired and irritable. They likely had lots of fun the day before and plenty of junk food. And it makes for a very long next day for their entire family. I remember having sleepovers with friends. Lots of them. In high school it was like every other weekend. Seems innocuous enough. A rite of passage even; a part of growing up.

My sweet 8 year old daughter was recently invited to a sleepover birthday party of a classmate and it gave me pause. She desperately wanted to stay overnight. The family is perfectly fine, but I still can’t erase the fact that at 11 or 12, I woke up at a friend’s house in the middle of the night to a man staring at us while we were sleeping, slowly smoking a cigarette. I don’t remember if it was her father, a step-father or a brother. Nothing happened, but it made me uncomfortable enough that I never again stayed overnight at that friend’s house.

Dropping her off for the day, and a “late-over”, I knew she’d have a great time.  I knew she would likely be irritated that she had to come home and the other girls didn’t. Sometimes A lot of times, parenting is just hard. Am I too helicopter-y? Am I overreacting to an isolated non-incident years ago? Will my kids be too sheltered? Maybe. But, it only takes one time. One time to let my guard down and her innocence is gone. I thought of her often through the day, and prayed for some small sign – anything – to just let me know that I did the right thing in not letting her stay overnight.

The climate of #metoo, Supreme Court nominees being accused of sexual assault, and even the President of the United States boasting himself on tape about sexual assault, I feel that vigilance is the order of the day. Perhaps it always has been, but we are just talking about it more. In 2018, it’s in our face 24/7 and makes watching the news with the kids risky. When arguments like “oh, that happened 35 years ago” in reference to an alleged assault, “that it doesn’t matter because they were teenagers at the time,” and that’s “just how drunk teenagers act”, it really isn’t surprising that assault victims do not come forward. Why would they? They are not believed. They are railroaded. Their lives are turned upside down, they get death threats. Why would anyone willingly sign up for that? I have not been raped. Thank God.

I was flashed by an older man at a playground at 4 years old.

I was groomed at camp in the 3rd grade. The camp counselor was fired mid week for inappropriate conduct with another girl.

At 11, my breasts were touched at a modeling agency by a man who was making decisions of who would be included in their next event.

I was repeatedly hugged and tickled a little too often and a little too long at a daycare facility.

While no irreparable damage was done to me, I was very early on aware of sex, aware of a need to protect myself, even if I couldn’t articulate it. It’s the way I walk to my car to this day with my key poised like a weapon, should the need arise. The way I replay the Oprah Show episode where the detective implores the audience to “never let them take you to a second location!” It’s also the reason I say a hard no to sleep overs. Over protective? Maybe. But my experience tells me that listening to my intuition rarely steers me wrong.

Tucking her into her own bed, freshly made with clean sheets and listening to her exuberantly describe how much fun she had I got quiet and just listened. (Something I need to do so much more of, honestly.) As she settled in and snuggled close, she whispered in her small voice, “Mom, I’m glad I’m in my own bed. It would have been fun, but I missed you today.” I told her I missed her too, and hugged her tight.

“Thank you,” I thought. That’s exactly what I needed to hear.

It’s Fall, Y’all!

Fall is here and with the change of season, for our family, comes football. My husband has umpired high school and college level games for years and loves it. With our move to the city with no yard for the dogs, it has become necessary to walk them more frequently and that job falls to me in the evenings when he is at a game. (See what I did there?!)

The change of season not only brings football, but the change in temperatures (from 85 all the way down to 79!), the little bit of crispness at dusk and dawn, pumpkin spice all the things, school in session, and of course Halloween on the horizon. The last dog walk of the evening is my favorite. There are very few people out, it’s quiet and calm and it gives us a chance to relax and settle in for the night. All the townhouses in our community have automated porch lights so it’s actually bright enough to see festive decorations trimming doorways along our route. Fall is here.

As I matched Hippo’s pace on our evening jaunt, my eyes scanned the sidewalks for possible hazards – the dog will eat all kinds of gross findings. I took a deep breath and as I rounded the corner under the large maple trees that line the walk, I saw something that looked out of place. It was a leaf, but oddly suspended mid-air. I stopped suddenly and Hippo looked up at me expectantly. I followed the line up from the leaf, and at eye level, about 5 inches from my face, is a spider the size of a quarter nestled in his ginormous web. (For the record, I’ve NEVER seen a web this huge before in real life. At least 6 feet high). His fat juicy body was the size of the coin, and his legs spread out from there, daring me to come just a little bit closer. I swallowed the bile threatening to exit and I abruptly stumbled back and turned the other way. Hippo glanced at me again, convinced I’m nuts because, let’s face it – I am certifiable when it comes to bugs. Scorpions, roaches and rattlesnakes were 3 things I was very happy to say “adios!” to as we drove out of south Texas. Spiders have never been my favorite, and after our stint in Hawaii and coming face to face with a cane spider, my hatred has far from waned.

When I say “stumbled back and turned the other way”, what that really means is this: you know when someone startles you and you freak out? Like when your kid stands at the top of the stairs, just out of sight waiting to nail you? You get to the stairs, they yell, “BOO!” or “Gotchya!” and you react by jumping straight up, hair standing out on end, and yell something super intelligible like, “HAWOGHGHHGHHHHH!” while your heart races and you marvel at the fact that you just almost died and why would your dear, sweet offspring want to give you a heart attack like that?! No?! Just me? I digress… But that’s basically how I reacted to a spider 5 inches from my nose. In the dark. In the fall. When it’s almost Halloween.

I consider myself a rational person. Intellectually, I comprehend the fact that arachnids have their place in the food chain and if we didn’t have them, other insects would flourish blah, blah, blah. I love trees. I don’t love that they are spider houses. If you are a spider, and I see you – I will murder you or hire someone to murder you. If you have more than 4 legs, I want no part of you. Do not come to my house. I don’t need roommates and I do not want to be your friend.

Picking up dog poo and taking deep breaths to calm down (not necessarily in that order), I collected myself and vowed to never ever under any circumstances ever go on that side of the road again. I also vowed that now my husband shall be the chief evening dog walker. I brought Hippo in and grabbed a drink of water to calm down. After leashing up the other two, we head back into battle. It’s the littles and me against all the creepy crawlies. I’ve just about talked myself back to a normal functioning adult when what do I see? A RED ROACH SCURRYING PAST MY FEET. I should mention that my feet are exposed – bare and in flip flops adding to the heebee-jeebee creepy feeling. As if that wasn’t enough, the universe decided that I must be tested further when it’s mate joined him from one patch of grass, across the sidewalk and under a bush, followed by what appeared to be a baby. Awe! How sweet. Mr. and Mrs. Roach and family crossed the sidewalk right in front of me. And on the same night that I almost died from a a spider on my face!

Just give me the dang straight jacket now. If it comes with a padded room, great. As long as the door seals tight and no bugs get in, I think I’ll be good. Happy Fall!