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Category Archives: Moms

How Does Your Garden Grow

Hello there.  It’s again been about 2 weeks since I last wrote, what with Connor’s schedule, home remodeling, a million other distractions and delights.  I was going to write about any number of these, especially the things that have me pulling my hair out.  But instead, I felt like I could use a little positivity on my blog today.  So I’m going to write about my garden.

My garden is my happy place.  Or perhaps I should say it’s my therapy space.  (My happy place is and always will be in a book somewhere).  My garden allows me to work at something and see a “fruitful” result.

It gives me the time and opportunity to work through my stress.  Weeding, pruning, seeding, fertilizing, watering, harvesting, it’s all a lot of work and a lot of time.  And it is absolutely worth it.

We work at so many things in our lives which don’t produce results for years, if at all.  There’s no medal for potty training your child, no award for taking good care of your animals, and if you’re very lucky the prize for being a good parent will be having a healthy, successful adult.

Gardening allows you to work hard and see the fruit of your labor within months.  During the time from seed to salad, you are able to watch your garden grow, each day, getting a little bigger, a little brighter, a little more full.

Last year I began with two potted tomato plants and one jalapeno potted plant.  I got a few fruit off of each plant and then watched the winter cold kill them.  Not the most auspicious beginning to my gardening.

This past spring I decided to go a little bigger.  I began with one raised bed and two small potted tomato plants.  I also dedicated myself to gardening, giving it my time and attention every day.  My garden flourished.

So I expanded.

My garden

My garden

This was my garden on July 2nd.  Since then things have changed, as gardens do, as life does.  My pumpkin plant had to be trimmed back, my tomatoes have grown larger and bigger, and much of my work has been harvested.

 

Squash, beans, peas, strawberries, tomatoes

bounty2 bounty3

You can see by these pictures that my garden likes to grow things plentifully and extra-large.  The jewel of my garden this year was my giant zucchini.

Connor with Big Baby

Connor with Big Baby

We named him Big Baby.  He weighed 10.8 lbs and  was 25 inches long.  We took him to the fair.

safety first

safety first

We entered Big Baby into the biggest zucchini contest at the OC Fair.

zucchini3

And we won!

The life of a garden is never over.  It’s cyclical, so maybe I have a new gem growing in my garden right now.  Maybe I won’t have another giant prize winner for years.  Either way, I plant, I grow, I harvest, I feed my family and I feed my soul.

A New Experiment

As I’ve noted before, I often feel like I’m conducting experiments in  how I raise my child.  Connor is not typical, nor is there any clear way to treat autism.  Thus much of how I parent is based on trial and error, collecting data, and performing experiments.

The new experiment for this summer is trying out a typical preschool.

Observation: Connor has entered a stage in his development in which he is mimicking classmates and other children he comes into contact with.

Problem: Given that Connor spends the majority of his time with other special needs children, he has begun to mimic symptoms and problematic behaviors of these other children.  His language also stopped developing, keeping it on par with classmates.  Connor has displayed frustration and displeasure in attending his regular special day class.

Hypothesis: Being around neurotypical children will encourage Connor to use more language and develop typical social skills, while reducing problematic behaviors.

Proposed Method of Research: Connor will attend a typical preschool, with a developmental program, two days per week.  Connor will also engage in extra curricular activities with typical peers, such as swimming lessons, play dates, and unstructured social environments (ie playing with unknown children at parks, beaches, etc.).  Connor will continue to attend special day class two days per week, as well as participate in a reduced ABA schedule, regular speech therapy, therapeutic horseback riding, and physical therapy/gymnastics.

Findings: TBA

Obviously when I was mulling over the problems and possible solutions in my head, my reasoning was not so clear and scientific.  In fact, I distinctly remember telling Connor’s psychologist that a large part of why I wanted to conduct this experiment during the summer was that I had “a gut feeling” that this was the right thing to do for him.  I’m hoping the science will back me up!

For the most part, at least in the most current research, the benefits of inclusion seem to outweigh the possible problems, but there are still causes for concern, still reasons to worry.  The recent research encourages me that this is right move for Connor, who is on the high functioning end of the spectrum.  And so far, Connor seems to be loving his new school! In class he isn’t speaking to much, and he has had a few frustrations, but at home I can already see some positive effects.  Just in the week since he’s started, Connor is using full sentences and spontaneous language more often than before.

Now maybe this is just a conincidence, and maybe it’s not.  Only time will tell.

Here are some articles on the benefits of inclusion:

Why Inclusion Benefits all Kids:

http://www.parents.com/blogs/to-the-max/2012/11/06/uncategorized/why-inclusion-in-classrooms-benefits-all-kids/

Benefits of Inclusion:

http://www.ehow.com/info_8656410_benefits-inclusion-preschool-children.html

Maryland Department of Education list of Inclusion Benefits:

http://olms.cte.jhu.edu/olms2/3841

 

Summertime Schedule

Ah, summer! A time for fun! A time for relaxing! A time for chaos!

When you are autistic, the unorganized, seemingly endless days of summer can appear as a nightmare!  Sure, the first few days of sleeping in are great.  Then the trips to the beach, the park, the theme parks all seem nice on the outside, but something deep inside starts to go a little haywire.  By the two-week mark, circuits are as fried as all the yummy summer food you’ve been eating!

Or at least that’s how life appears to be for my son.

Connor fights school.  He whines about the appointments.  He complains about having to do all the non-recreational stuff he has to do for his ASD diagnosis.  “No school today!” is a common refrain at our house in the mornings.  He usually follows it up with “maybe tomorrow”, as if he’ll be more prepared by then to buckle down.

What he may not consciously realize is that every time we have a prolonged break from school (and thus a break from routine), his world starts to spin out of control.

There are too many options, too many fun things to choose from that he eventually suffers from choice paralysis.  When his days are structured and ordered, we have a clear, limited number of choices because our “free choice” time is limited.

To a child this may sound like torture! Only having an hour or two of free time each day! During the summer!!! This woman is a fascist!  But for the child with autism, the structured day is the mental equivalent of eating your vegetables.  You may not always like them, and I can dress them up to taste better, but they will in the long run make you healthier and stronger.

Since school let out two weeks ago, I’ve watched my son’s behavior slowly devolve from happy, compliant and self-contained to needy, angry, and defiant!  Tantrums went from 1 or 2 every other day to 2 to 3 every day.  Time outs tripled.  Bad behavior, we had happily curtailed, reemerged.  Anger was always near the surface.  Hitting, kicking, throwing things, all behaviors we had worked on diligently for the past year and had successfully disappeared from his repertoire began to take shape again.  Perhaps worst of all, his language began to disappear.  Words were replaced by screams and grunts.

The de-evolution culminated on Saturday when we were driving home from my sister’s house.  Connor was in the back pretending to be The Amazing Mumford.  When I chimed in with his magic words “A la peanut butter sandwiches” something in Connor snapped.  He took his seatbelt off and lunged at me.  Thankfully we were close to home but for those few minutes in the car there was a violent struggle as I tried to fend of the little demon that had replaced my child and drive at the same time.

That night I cried, Connor cried.  I drank wine while Connor drank juice and was put to bed by my husband.

The next day my precious child had no recollection of the event, but I still felt scarred by it.  I avoided him all day, leaving the parenting to my husband.  I busied myself with groceries, cooking, gardening.  That night we left Connor with my parents so I could have time out of the house and away from my child.

By the time I returned I felt better, more centered and ready to face the daily struggles of parenting an autistic child.  When I picked up my son, he was so happy to see me, so happy to hug me and kiss me; I wondered at the seemingly dramatic change in him.

But when summer school began Monday morning, and we began our routine, my happy child reemerged.  Sure, he didn’t want to go to school that morning, but by the time I picked him up, he was happy, compliant, and eager to get on with his schedule.

While all children benefit from consistency, children with autism seem to need it to function.  And though Connor enjoyed his first few days of freedom, I have a feeling, he’s secretly happy to be back in school

If you’re interested, here is some more information on why consistent schedules are important for both typical developing children and for ASD children:

Autistic Children Need a Consistent Schedule

Norrin’s Story of Schedules

The Importance of Schedules

Ready, Set, Routine!

Hope

In the history of mankind there is only one emotion that I can think of that is both equally uplifting and equally cruel: hope.

Hope keeps you holding on to bad situations, wishing for things to improve.

Hope wakes you up in the morning, puts your feet on the ground, and makes your eyes stay open, when all you want is the sweet, obliterating, deep sleep of sadness.

Hope keeps you afloat when everything else tells you to give up and sink.

Hope teases a light at the end of the tunnel that may be escape, or it may be the train.

Hope puts one foot in front of the other, when all you want is to turn back.

For me hope can be an especially cruel companion. My vivid imagination allows me to see my dream played out, as if it was already happening.  My dream becomes so real, so tangible, that my hope is an after-thought, because the conclusion has already been reached.

I can envision the child in my arms. I can clearly see Connor in mainstream classroom.  I look around my home and I see what could be, not what is.  And it all fills me with joy.

I am a hopeful person.  I can’t help it.

So when life disappoints me, when it falls short of my visions, I feel betrayed by my own heart.  My hope pushes me to such heights of belief that when reality steps in I am shocked.

I don’t despair for long though, it’s truly not in my nature.

I see the good, I look for the bright side, and I always have hope.

The Conception Game

Similar to the dating game, the conception game appears to take a lot of preparation, but in the end, it’s just a guess.

Or at least it is for me.

My cycle is not what anyone would call regular.  It never has been.  That’s why I was on birth control for 14 years!  The only other time I’ve willingly gone off birth control was with Connor’s surprise conception….while I was on birth control.

Also like the dating game, this conception game feels very awkward.  I spent so many years trying to avoid getting pregnant that it seems now counter-intuitive to attempt conception!  Sure it’s what we want and what we’ve planned for and our lives are in a very good state right now to have a baby, but there’s this little voice inside me that keeps screaming “NO! Think of all the things you’ll be missing for the next 10 months!!! Think of all that wine waiting for you!”

I do love wine.

But the bigger part of me wants a baby.  The louder, larger voice sends up dozens of prayers each day asking for a baby, any kind of baby, just one for me.  I bargain, I plead, I try humbleness, but really it’s all just prayers for the same thing: a baby.

So I’m charting.  I monitor my cycle with the intensity of micro-biology engineers.  I also run through various symptoms every day: are my boobs bigger? is there any cramping? any food aversions? nausea? unnatural tiredness? overly frequent urination?

But on any given day I seem to have all of these! My boobs appear to be larger, but then they seem larger every month when I near the end of my cycle.  And yes there is cramping, but I also have cramping during PMS.  I am tired, nauseous and peeing frequently on any given day, pregnant or not! I have a 4-year-old who drags home every disease known to man on a regular basis.  So I could be pregnant or I could have the flu.  I could be pregnant or it could be PMS.  I could be pregnant or I just worked out after getting 4 hours of sleep due to my tossing and turning preschooler.

All that amounts to is that the symptoms don’t tell me anything.  I have to test.  So I start testing 10 days out, then 7, now 5, and still nothing.  With every test my hope rises to an apex, only to crash back to earth.  I have wasted more tests in the last two weeks than in the rest of my life combined!  Hope keeps me going, fear keeps me from testing today.  I’m afraid of being disappointed again, despite the fact that my rational mind knows that it’s still a little early to test, that I might not know for certain until the day my cycle is actually set to end.

But screw my rational mind! Seriously, I hate being rational.  I just want to have a positive test today.  Stupid game!!!

Le sigh….

Ok, I’ll try rational again now.  Here are the facts I remind myself of when I feel like marching into the Doctor’s office and demanding daily blood tests:

1. I’ve only been trying to conceive for two months.  Two months! That’ s nothing.  That’s just peanuts to the universe.

2. I already conceived once without even trying, so the chances of a second conception are good.

3. I haven’t reached the end of my menstrual cycle yet so I need to cool it.

4. It’s summer and if I wasn’t pregnant that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing what with 4th of July and BBQs and baseball games, etc.  Not a bad thing at all.  In fact it would be nice to enjoy some sushi and Kirin on a warm night, something I couldn’t do if pregnant.

5. I have my hands full with my ASD son.  Adding a possibly difficult pregnancy (if my last one was anything to go on) and a baby to the mix will be a challenge.   So there’s really no rush.

But like the dating game, I can choose to ignore the good candidates, the ones with reasonable answers and polite tones, and go for the bad boy with the attitude who makes no rational sense whatsoever.  I’ll try to pick one of those nice guys and stay on the stress-free side for a while, but we’ll see how long that lasts.

An ending and a beginning

Weddings are often put at the end of movies, at the end of plays, at the end of books, as if this single event was the culmination of a lifetime.  There’s always a feeling of “ta da!” like some magician was pulling back the curtain to reveal a happily married couple and end scene.

But we know better, don’t we.  Or at least we learned this lesson along the way.

With my first marriage and it’s wedding, so much time, effort, and emotion was built into the wedding that there was a feeling after it ended of “now what?”  Every little girl dreams of her big fairytale wedding and I’d had mine.  And what was I supposed to do now?  We hadn’t talked too much about the marriage part.  It was just assumed that things would go on as before.  But that never really works, does it?  Things change, people change, and we weren’t really prepared for that as a couple.

The second time around the wedding was so much more about putting a stamp on a paper and celebrating our relationship, than it was about some giant event.  Our wedding was extremely personal.  It was exactly how we wanted it to be.  My flu-ridden son slept between us both on our wedding night and the night of our reception.  We walked our three dogs before dropping them off at my parent’s house.  We rushed to get them as soon as the party was over.  The day after the reception we did laundry, cleaned, and went to a family birthday party.

It felt as if our wedding had just been some huge family party that everyone came to, like a confirmation or high school graduation.  And then life resumed.

Perhaps it was because there was no fairy tale this time.

Fairy tales are typically about single, starry-eyed young men and women looking for an epic love.  They’re typically not about divorcees with a child looking for a stable committed relationship, drama free.  Most of the single parents in fairy tales are tragically widowed fathers who end up  marrying a beautiful but cruel woman.

There really aren’t any fairy tales to describe the situation I was in.  Single working mother of autistic child seeks understanding, patient, practical man.  Not exactly the plot of a romance novel.

All this made it easier to see the wedding as just a stamp on a paper, as not an ending but a beginning.

There’s no epic-ness about our relationship.  No hills and valleys.  No drama.  No vase throwing, no screaming.  Our love is a simple country song.  We watch tv together, we take turns making lunches, we talk in embarrassing voices to our three dogs.  And I love him.  And I know that I love my husband more when he’s carrying my sleeping son up the stairs than when we’re sipping wine over a candle-lit dinner.  And I think that really says it all.

Chores and Procrastination

Well my wedding is less than two weeks away now and there is a list a mile long of things that still need to be done.  I am, of course, not doing them.

The thing about getting married for the second time is that it is a lot more difficult to plan, prepare, complete the millions of tasks when you have a child.  Though there are many supposed moral reasons why people should wait to have kids until after marriage, I think the real reason is that it’s damn hard to get anything done when you have kids!

Seriously!  I can barely get the dishes done on daily basis because of Connor!

So when Connor was sick for three weeks straight and missed 10 days of school, my wedding planning got derailed.  Thankfully I have my faithful minions (aka my family and friends) who are kindly helping in whatever capacity they can.  Or that I will let them.  (I do feel strangely reluctant to burden anyone with work when I know how impossible it is to get things done with little ones clinging to you as you try to move the wet clothes from the washing machine to the dryer…or maybe that’s just my house?)

Now that Connor is back at school I should be tackling the dozen or so items left to get done in the next 10 days.

Instead, I’ve spent my morning researching and creating a picture chore chart for Connor.  Yay!…?

The other thing about getting married for the second time is that you don’t get to stop being a parent, your child still needs all of your attention (and your special needs child needs all of your attention and then some).  Since I’ve set the tentative goal of mainstreaming Connor one or two days per week for next fall, we are really focusing on doing whatever we can to prepare him for a mainstream preschool classroom.  That means he’s socializing more with typical developing peers, we’re making him use more and more of his language at home, and we’re trying to create an environment of responsibility.  Part of that means Connor has to complete certain tasks each day (mostly without complaining).

To get him used to the idea of responsibility and having to do things he doesn’t necessarily enjoy, we instituted a chore chart.  I made a worksheet of chores with bubbles next to it to be checked off.  And while Connor enjoyed getting check marks, it didn’t really appear to be making an impact.  So I’m taking another approach.

Choice boards worked really well for us in the past when we were developing Connor’s language skills.  He was able to look at the pictures and either point or pick them up to communicate his needs, while still focusing on developing the words these pictures represented.  I’m hoping that using a pictorial chore chart will have a similar effect.

With a little research I was able to find these from Over the Big Moon:

Picture Chore Charts for Preschoolers

The author provides blank versions so you can add your own clipart/images and text.  Obviously I’m not going to have Connor read 15 minutes every day (since he can’t sit still for 15 minutes) but I am going to have him brush his teeth!

To customize your own charts visit here: http://www.overthebigmoon.com/pre-k-chore-charts-free-printable/

I’ll post an update once I get the charts on the wall and we can see how Connor is progressing!

Until then, I guess I’ll get to some wedding chores before my actual wedding is here…maybe.