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Once a Cheater

I am a cheater.  There!  I said it out loud!  It is both shameful and liberating to say it.  I am not proud of it, but there’s no denying that it happened.
The worst part of it all is that I’m a librarian.  We’re supposed to be above such things!  But I couldn’t help it, I was just so frustrated, so confused.  I suppose that’s what all cheaters say though, isn’t it?

I’m afraid now that it’s happened once, I’ll do it again.

I’m hoping my confession will keep me from cheating again.

Yes, I am a cheater.  I….I…I read the end of my book before I was finished!

SHAMEFUL!

Had you watched me during that episode it would have appeared that I was actually committing some type of mortal sin.  I looked around the bedroom, checked to make sure my fiance was actually asleep, and hurriedly, haphazardly flipped to a page at the end of the book.  I scanned quickly and read only a paragraph before guilt overwhelmed me and I turned back to my place in the seventh chapter.

I’m sure my cheeks were as much aflame as my conscience.

Let me explain why though (as if there is ever a good enough reason for such a break with morality).  I was reading the extremely popular Gone Girl and I was not enjoying it.  In fact I was beginning to hate all of the characters in the book.  I was confused by the obvious problems in narration.  I had no idea where it was going.  My frustration was quickly mounting to a crisis level.  I put the book down for a time to try to regain some composure.  I tried!  But when I came back to it I was quickly overcome by frustration and desperation, forcing my hand.  It’s almost as if I had no choice.  If I hadn’t read that page in the back I might never have finished what was otherwise an interesting piece of literature.  So you see, my cheating was a good thing.  Yes???

Gone Girl

Still, the guilt eats at me.  I have never before read the end of the book prior to the natural progression.  I was one of those who shook my head disappointedly at people who were confessed last page readers.  Why?  Why would they do such a thing?  They were ruining the suspense, even the whole story arc of a book by doing that!

In my case I absolutely spoiled the story line.  I did it willfully and purposefully!  Perhaps it’s a credit to the author that her suspenseful novel drove me to such drastic measures as to break my own reading moral code.  Perhaps it’s just a flaw in my character.  I prefer to give the credit to Gillian Flynn.

If you’d like to read a great book about some interesting and awful people, read Gone Girl.  Don’t read the end before you’re done.  You’ll either regret it or be like me and sleep a little easier.  As always, I advise you not to be like me…don’t be a cheater.

Sickness

Nothing quite says back to school like getting sick.  For whatever reason, Connor seems especially susceptible to the various germs flying rapidly around the preschool.  I’ve been told that preschool is the worst because it’s their first time in school, surrounded by other children, essentially changing the classroom into a cesspool.

And I don’t know about any other mothers out there but I feel especially guilty (I saw especially because I seem to have a pretty consistent level of guilt running through me at all times) when the school nurse calls me to pick Connor up from school.  This has happened three or four times since he entered school last April.  The call always starts with whatever is wrong with Connor, which immediately terrifies me, and then manages to somehow imply that perhaps this illness/rash/horrible diarrhea was happening before I sent Connor to school that morning.  I am then racked by self-doubt.  WAS IT??  Did I simply miss the signs????  Or even worse, did I ignore them????  AM I THE WORLD’S WORST MOTHER?!?!

(Granted Connor’s autism makes it impossible for him to tell me if he’s feeling sick, but that never factors into my guilt level.)

I always end up driving like a bat out of hell to get to school, plagued by the belief that I purposefully sent my sick child to school and therefore imparted a miserable day on everyone involved with him.  I curse any red lights or pedestrians that get in my way! I silently stew over the injustice of traffic laws!  I wonder if the nurse is timing me in my trip to school…Am I being judged on the amount of time that passes between phone call and pick up?  And before you say anything, just because it’s paranoid, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

I usually jog across the parking lot, trying not to look like the hot mess that I feel.  Bursting into the office, the school secretary has to remind me every single time to sign Connor out of school.  Every time!  I’m sure this makes me look even crazier.  The signing in process is also time stamped, just one more reminder that it took me eons to get there.

By the time I get back to the nurses office, I’m frantic.  But every time I find him there, Connor is sitting placidly in a tiny blue chair, playing with trains, and waiting for me.  Sweeping him up into my arms, the nurse begins to tell me what is wrong, what happened, etc.  I usually only hear about a third of what she says as I’m too busy looking over my boy to pay attention.  I nod me head, mutter uh huh a couple of times, and make a bee line for the door.

My raging guilt provides Connor with whatever entertainment he desires.  My poor child is sick and I, his monstrous mother, forced him to go to school.  I’ll make it up to him with endless episodes of My Little Pony and popsicles.

The aftermath of these sick from school days is always a lingering self-doubt.  He seems fine, do I send him to school?  Am I capable of judging at this point?  To assuage my guilt-doubt combo and please my little boy, I keep him home.  Sure, he’s tired and cranky, and maybe there are some lingering symptoms, or maybe they’re all in my head.  I just don’t know.  I JUST DON’T KNOW!!!

At this point if the fiance hadn’t stepped in and announced that Connor needed to go back to school, I think I may have just kept him home indefinitely.  Finally someone with a clear head and an even emotional keel made a decision.  I was only too happy to abide by it.

And wouldn’t you know it, when I dropped Connor off at school this morning, there were no tears, no whining, no trembling lip.  He simply walked up to his classroom aid, took her hand, and waved goodbye.

I’m pretty sure that if motherhood doesn’t drive my crazy in the next few years, nothing ever will.

Turning a Corner

Connor seems to have turned a corner in his life.  Or perhaps we’ve turned a corner in OUR lives.

After constantly battling my son over nearly everything since he was old enough to move on his own, I find myself with a mostly compliant child.  I ask him to clean up his messes and he does.  I ask him to sit in his seat, and he does.  I ask him to stay inside and he does!  Sometimes he even does things without me asking, like cleaning up spills, or getting in bed.  And honestly it freaks me out!

Where has my angry, defiant child gone?

Connor happily leaves me to accompany the various adults that rule his life: teachers, coaches, therapists, instructors.  He suddenly loves them all!

Obviously Connor is still a 3-year-old pain in the butt, sometimes.  He still wants his own way, on his own terms, in his own time.  He still wants to sleep in.  He still torments the dogs by pulling their tails.  He refuses fruits in favor of bread.  He loves Cars 2 to the point of obsession.  And though I’ve never been the parent to an average child, I feel like this is pretty average behavior for a precocious preschooler.  (Yes?  No?)

Sure Connor still tantrums in public.  Sure he threw my tomato plant into the hydrangea just yesterday.  And yes, sure he’s resisting potty training with all his might.  But if taken in the context of an average childhood, instead of an autistic childhood, I feel like I could safely label my son as a stinker, rather than worrying about whether each incident indicated some underlying behavioral issue.

We are absolutely a long way from mainstreaming.  We have miles to go on the communication issues, eye contact, and peer interaction. We have setbacks.  We have days of bad behavior.  We have regression when Connor is sick or extremely tired.  We have power struggles and I still want to pull my hair out nearly every day (but what mother of a preschooler doesn’t?).  We still have challenges ahead.

But it makes my heart glad to see the progress we’ve made.  And I can confidently say that for the first time in his short life, I have a happy child.

A Game

One of the hardest things about being a parent of an only and  autistic child is that I am constantly wondering if a certain behavior is typical of toddler or autism.  It’s a game I play everyday.  Sometimes the constant wondering drives me a little crazy.

Since Connor is an only child I don’t have anything to compare him to.  I don’t have a baseline for “normal” behavior.  I can read an endless number of expert articles, parenting books, mommy message boards and come away with only a vague sense of what is typical for his age.  But the problem is that “normal” varies so wildly that even that is an imperfect measurement.

The flip side of this is that autistic behavior can also vary wildly within its parameters.  What’s true for some children, is not always true for others.  This is why most autistic children are given the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  There are so many variables in diagnosing ASD that one cannot simply point to a test or a specific behavior and say, aha! He’s autistic! Instead it’s diagnosed by gathering information and seeing if a child meets a minimum number of symptoms within the larger spectrum of symptoms.

For example, Connor doesn’t display many of the physical manifestations of autism.  There’s no arm flapping or “happy” feet.  There’s no self-injurious hitting when upset or head banging.  But the fact that these things don’t exist for Connor in no way signifies that he doesn’t meet the autistic standard.  He displays typical autistic behaviors of eye-contact avoidance, speech delays, inability to regulate his emotions, etc.

Sometimes autism seems like a grab bag of symptoms, each child sprinkled with a few from the spectrum, different from everyone else, dealing with their own unique set of issues.

In that way though autistic children aren’t too different from average children; it’s just ASD issues are easier to identify.  An average child might struggle with math or have performance anxiety on tests or lack the upper body strength to climb a gym class rope.  She might hate dolls and dresses and long to shoot baskets but feels pressure to be “girly”. He might hate car racing and football, desiring time alone to draw or paint instead, but feels the pressure to fit in. Each child comes with their own set of idiosyncrasies, and must learn to navigate the world within their scope.  In this way, all children are alike.

So as I try to decide if Connor’s delay in potty training is typical of many toddler boys or ASD, I decide I’m not going to worry about it.  It’ll happen when it happens.  There’s not much I can do to change it whether it’s typical toddler-hood or ASD! It is what it is.

I can’t always do this, of course, there are some issues that are glaringly ASD (ex. throwing himself on the ground every time he tantrums) and others that are typical of toddlers everywhere (ex. demanding a cookie before dinner).  In those examples it doesn’t really matter which one is an example of which since they are both unacceptable!

Well, I guess at the end of the day, I just have to identify what is acceptable and what isn’t, rather than worrying about categorizing things as one thing or another.  What really matters is whether my child is healthy, happy, and thriving.

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And whether Connor’s desire to dress up as Max and have frozen yogurt is ASD or typical toddler, I really don’t care ’cause it’s just really freaking cute!