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.

Milestones and Mermaids

Hannah eyeing the pregnant lady in the lounge chair, we made our way over to a shaded table to plunk down our towels and kick off flip flops for an afternoon poolside. The kids love the pool. Without fail they inquire the precise time we will be going to swim each morning. Kids off and splashing I sit down and smile at the lady and preemptively apologize for my daughter’s obsessive staring. She laughed and we chatted for a bit.

Of course hindsight is always 20/20, but time has a way of warp-speeding when viewed through a rear view mirror. It sure doesn’t seem like it’s been a decade since I was first pregnant myself. But here I sit with an almost 8 and 10 year old, chatting with a young mom.

There have been some big milestones in our world. These self-proclaimed big kids are riding bikes to the nearby playground, exploring our new place – stepping into their first bits of independence. I remember wondering about my then-infant and toddler when my sister and her daughters came to visit us in Hawaii. It seemed like so long until I would be able to just enjoy our time swimming instead of worrying and being on patrol, ensuring safety. I remember marveling at moms who sat poolside looking at their phones while their kids played and swam, part of me loving playing in the water, part of me longing for the day when they would find friends and play on their own.

That’s motherhood in a nutshell, I suppose – being divided. Not only daily working ourselves out of a job to grow independent and hopefully productive adult humans, but also wondering what the next step will look like, while simultaneously reminiscing about previous phases.

Flash forward to our time in Texas where they both had swim lessons and became comfortable in the water. Playing in the waves on South Padre Island still made me nervous, yet they had no fear, jumping and giggling as waves crashed and tried to knock them over.

Here I sit today, book in hand, sipping on an iced coffee (because I have waded through cardboard seas to rescue my coffeemaker from an ocean of chaos) .

Yet another little step, them in the pool making friends, practicing tricks and flips and jumps. My mermaid and merman happy to swim and soak in all of summer in our new home.

“Mom?” Hannah asks, as we gather up our stuff to leave when the need for food overpowers the need to be submerged.

“Yeah, baby?”

“Will you swim with us tomorrow? I love swimming and meeting friends, but tomorrow I’d like to swim with you, like we did in Texas.”

“Sure thing Hannah,” I say smiling.

I think we’re going to like it here.

Resilience

We always say it’s not going to happen. We’ll be there for each other, even after they move. Or we move. Or we both are flung to opposite sides of the world.

And we swear, “This time. This time will be different. This time we’ll really stay in touch.”

Military friends are a special breed.

Ever so slowly, life happens. New friends slip in to our lives, boots on the ground, in the current duty station, in your every day life friends. While they open our hearts again, it becomes more challenging to keep up with kids and day-to-day stuff and maintain all those long distance friendships. They seem to get lost somewhere in the everydayness of our new home, among new friends. And we get lost in the memories of their new place.

The calls are replaced with texts. Texts start out frequent, but slowly fade to weekly occurrences, check-ins. More and more of the detail of their daily lives are missed and so it goes. Then it’s merely pictures on social media. Those pictures of their new life without you in it, those are so bittersweet.

They sting just a little. And once again you remind yourself that it’s all part of the process. This breaking of hearts. Sometimes it’s a wonder that we do this not only once, but many times over and over, risking, grieving, and being open again.

As we got up this morning from air mattresses on the empty floor, the moving truck having left the day prior, Hannah quietly asked, “Mom, can we do the ‘Why I love moving, by Hannah’ thing?”

We do this ritual in our family where I say, ‘I love Hannah because, by Mommy’ and then list out all the reasons and things I love about her. Eric and I even did this practice before the kids were born. Items on the list include big things, but also very specific things, and current milestones etc. It’s a tangible way to say “I love you. I see you. Just as you are.”

As she asked to do this and apply it to moving, I was struck by how resilient and strong she really is. This has been a tough week for the little emotional heartbeat of our family. She loves fiercely, and her heart breaks with the same passion. She listed her positives of moving – we all did. Hannah reminded us that while the sky may be overcast – the sun still shines, regardless of whether we can see it or not.

Kids are so dang resilient.

Hearts are resilient.

Tender hearts that are open enough to get broken, repeatedly, are among the strongest ones.

Fair winds and following seas, Corpus Christi!

Inspiration

Feeling a little blah after the holidays I’ve been not so inspired to write lately, about food, fitness or anything else. I have officially stopped working at the gym (my choice, all good) and have been getting into the new routine working out and doing the mom thing.

A friend of mine started a blog Fiftytwoin2017 in which she posts recipes she makes for her family – but adds her take with humor and practicality! I thought it was a great idea, but still not enough to get me off of Netflix to put some ideas down.

Last week our son had a multi-cultural lunch where each student brought a native dish from their country of origin, wrapping up a 6 week unit studying their heritage. I made Irish soda bread and brought it to the party, and of course Jacob tried one bite and said nope, and refused to try any of the the other dishes, not so shockingly. I picked the bread for it’s plain flavor and relative ease, but also knowing that there was no way my son would ever get near corned beef and cabbage. (For the record, anyone who has no taste/texture issues – the bread was delicious!)

At lunch with my husband today, we tried out a new restaurant. He is not a huge fan of Mexican food, but can usually find something he likes, mainly enchiladas. While he likes many foods I do not care for, he is often hesitant to try new things. (It’s really a miracle that our family ever eats at the same time as we are all food incompatible with each other!) Chuy’s, based out of Austin, was our lunch spot and it was delicious! His enchiladas came and had a tomatillo sauce on top. The look on his face was one of apprehension and worry. (Gah! Green! The horror!) Reluctantly he tried it – and liked it, even saying he would order it again! Win win!

Looking at the Facebook “On this day” feed, I saw that a friend had posted a recipe that I simply HAD to try – 2 years ago. It was a recipe for borscht, the Russian beet stew stuff. Hmm. I suppose after razzing Eric about trying new things, I should probably buck up and do the same. I scanned the ingredients and had most of them…all this cooking and different cultures swirling in my mind I decided to give it a go! Better late than never, right!?

Here is the recipe:

Ingredients:

454 g ground pork (optional)

I used the pork. Delish. Bonus – Protein!

3 medium beets, peeled and shredded

Shredding was a pain. But worth it. You could also dice them, but cooking time would need to be extended.

3 carrots, peeled and shredded

3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1-6 ounce can tomato paste

¾ c water

½ head of cabbage, shredded

1-8 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

3 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste I recommend more than you might think, approximately 1 1/2 tsp each. I ended up wanting a tad more on my serving. 

Raw sugar to taste, approximately 1 tsp

I skipped this ingredient. Don’t need more sugar, but for as much as this recipe yields, it seemed insignificant. 

Sour cream and fresh parsley for garnish

This would have been nice, but I’m not a huge sour cream fan. I would make these optional.

Directions:

Brown ground pork over medium heat until no longer pink, drain and set aside. In a large soup pot, bring 2 litres of water to a boil. Add sausage and beets – cook until the beets have lost their colour. Add carrots and potatoes, cook until tender. Add cabbage and canned tomatoes.

2 liters = about 8 cups.

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Pretty beets. Pain in the butt to peel, but worth it!
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Looks like I slaughtered something – oh! It’s beets. (Notice that the last one is diced instead of shredded? Yeah, I’m not into shredding and neither are my knuckles!)
In a skillet, heat oil and cook onion until tender. Stir in tomato paste and ¾ c water until smooth. Add to soup. Add garlic, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes then season with salt, pepper and sugar. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and parsley if desired.

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Regular white potatoes about to turn red!
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Getting there!
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And kid approved!
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Delicious!
We ate it with mini saltine crackers (classy, I know). This would be amazing with some toasted french bread. (Of course, french bread is always good, I’ve never met a loaf I didn’t like.)

Tex-Mex for lunch and Ukraine for dinner! How’s that for around the world cuisine?!

A Peek Behind the Curtain

Not just because of an election season that has left most of us feeling like we’ve been sitting in the spin cycle of a washing machine all wrung out, and not because of another public shooting, or other tragic event.  Just the d-word in general. Depression.

I started writing about my own experiences with depression a couple of years ago and it’s been sitting off to the side ever since:

As I’ve gotten older, I have noticed seasons come and go where I was more myself, light-hearted and easy going. There were dips when I made poor choices in relationships, knowing it wasn’t going to lead anywhere good. Job changes, promotions and other events gave cause for the usual ups and downs of life. Overall, I had a hopeful outlook  – and that things would always work out even if I didn’t love the crap out of every single day.

I got married when I was 23. 8 years later I felt the weight of postpartum depression come crashing down on me in the shower as the water rushed over my now-foreign body, the sound of my hollow sobs echoing against the bathroom walls. Would he ever stop crying? Would my nipples ever stop aching? Bleeding? How was I ever going to be a functional person again? It was all so very overwhelming and completely unexpected. No one tells you about this part of bringing a baby home. No one told me there would be a “new normal”. I thought my new normal was insanity and a deep, dark hole that seemed insurmountable.

A few years and another child later, my husband left for what would be in total a 15 month deployment with a couple of weeks off during the holidays. That was a rough couple of years. We didn’t know then that our son would later be diagnosed with HFA (High Functioning Autism) or Asperger’s. We thought he was defiant and strong willed. I felt like a total failure at this parenting thing.

And now, here I sit. In the middle of it again. Our oldest is now 6 and our daughter is 4. Every day seems like such a struggle. They are bigger kids, but they aren’t quite big kids yet, so they are pushing every boundary and testing every limit. They don’t listen like we think they should. Our expectations are often more than they are capable.They fight with each other. Both my husband and I were the youngest of our own families and were much younger than our siblings – so we were basically raised as only children. It seems we don’t know what we are doing, daily. I have a book on my bedside table called Stop Arguing and Start Understanding…but it seems so exhausting to put forth the effort to read it. I’m so tired. I’ve been exercising daily, as I know that it is my tether to sanity. But I’m lonely here. I don’t have many friends yet, and I don’t have the gumption to really put myself out there to meet people. At the end of the day, I often feel like I can barely give enough to my kids and myself I just don’t have anything left over to offer in terms of friendships. I would be a taker and it just would be so much effort.

Yes, I know, I’m worth it, and I matter, and all that. My hope is that this is just a season. I really do. And I want it over. I don’t usually like to rush the time with my kids, but there are a few phases that I would love to just skip over entirely. This would definitely be one of them.

I wrote this in a draft 2 years ago. The kids are older and some things are easier with them. They are more independent and we are moving forward with evaluations for our son. I have peace about the things I was unsettled about before, but there are other things that seem so much the same. I feel it coming again. The heavy blanket that I know is not good, but feels so comforting. It’s deceptive in the way it makes me think I want it. I want the heavy blanket to wrap itself around me. “Sleep…” it whispers. “Don’t fight it…relax…” And rest is what I crave. It always knows what to say.

In my work as a trainer, I often fill the role of encourager, cheerleader, or simply the friendly instructor who is quick to smile and offer a friendly good morning. Exercise and physical activity has, and will continue to be, my method to maintaining mental health. “We leave all the stuff of life outside those doors,” I tell participants in my group classes. “Turn off the phones. Whatever is needed of us will still be there in 1 hour. Take this time – it’s yours. If you are anything like me, we need this time,” I say. Lately it’s been a struggle to be the encourager. How am I supposed to help others when some days it feels like I can’t even help myself?

Part of it is the season. Part of it is less sunlight. Part of it is – I just don’t know.

And I don’t care.

That’s what scares me.

Depression is the not caring that you don’t even care. I just want to sleep. I want to numb out. I want to drink and stay in that perfect buzzed state where you know you won’t get sick, but have enough that you just don’t give a shit or have to think to deeply about anything.

Sometimes I think those of us that feel things deeply have to go through periods where we numb out for a while to turn it all off. The feeling of everything just gets to be too much.

For me, I wait this out. It passes. I let go of what I can. I take a deep breath and try again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

Inevitable

I entered the school cafeteria with my brave I’m-not-really-a-volunteer-type-person-but-I-want-to-be face on. PTA? Ugh. Being one of “those” moms? Please. Not for me. Always put together with makeup and hair completely in place? Not hardly – even if I wanted to be!

Exhibit A:

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I do not have the hair to pull off being one of those moms. Think Christina Applegate’s character in the film Bad Moms. Plus – I’m just not that good at pretending. I’ll take real and authentic any day.

I was shown how to ring up purchases at the school book fair, where things were and we were off and running. A couple of the volunteers were chatting about their kids, life, and some family dynamics. Then they came to the subject of one of their son-in-laws.

“But is he a good person? Does he love your daughter?” the one volunteer asked the other.

“Yes, but…” the other hesitated, then continued, “Basically – we think he’s autistic,” she said laughing. “He’s so abnormal. Just weird…and awkward…”

And that’s where I stopped listening. I figured it would happen eventually. Heck, if a presidential candidate thinks it’s okay to mock people…why would it be a big deal? I guess I just wasn’t prepared for someone to say it like that, in a school setting where there are likely far more spectrum kids than just mine. Never mind the fact that I had only met these women 30 minutes prior.

I had visions of being snarky and speaking up, but I didn’t. Should I have? Perhaps. I still had 90 minutes of a shift left so selfishly I chose to be quiet and remove myself from the conversation.

We sold books to kids, we straightened and organized. I volunteered and got out of my comfort zone. My retail and banking skills came right back. I came back the next day and volunteered some more.

It is inevitable. People are going to speak without thinking – myself very much included. Sometimes if just kind of sucks.