Monday, August 29, 2016

New Season

The sun is setting earlier in the evenings now and the mornings have that dewy, cool, earthy smell that reminds me of a hundred early fall mornings when I tramped to school as a kid, metal lunchbox banging against my kneees.

We've gotten the school supplies and I've broken up 3,742 arguments about minutiae ("Anna is blocking the air conditioner vent!" "Ethan is doing that weird things in his throat to irritate me!").

We consumed what had to be more than 30 ice cream cones and jumped off the dock into cool Maine water twice that.

We aaaahed at sunsets and slapped at mosquitoes and licked melted marshmallows from our fingers.

I love, love, LOVE summer. And fall. Spring. And I even have a soft spot for winter, when it doesn't drag on endlessly. The seasons are beautiful. It's one of my favorite things about living in New England. The seasons set the pace of our lives; they clearly delineate times of change. They are especially sweet because they don't last.

Summer ending, school starting, leaves every parent I know with mixed emotions. We can't wait to usher them out the door and still want to hold them tight. I'm no exception. Whoever said, about parenting, that the days are long but the years are short was exceptionally wise. Sometimes the only way to get through a day when the house looks as if it's been bombed and everyone's crying is to remember to see life not always through a microscope but rather a telescope. These "long days" with kids and scrapes and tears and homework papers seem bigger than they really are, but the days that feel so far from our grasp, the college dorms and quieter homes and little people turned actual adults are just in front of us, not galaxies removed.

New is exciting. New is scary. This year Ethan is starting a new school. This is his first year as a child who is not a special education student in the school system. Anna is going into seventh grade. That is two years removed from high school. High school! Chloe just missed the cut-off for preschool this year. But this time a year from now she could be going to school every day, too. There are days, yes, that I wish she was. Then of course, there are moments when that seems frightfully close, and I want to keep her right by my side. The littlest.

Every year at this time I smile when someone on social media talks about how they can't believe their baby is an actual preschooler, or is feeling melancholy and amazed that they have a second grader and kindergartner. And while I'd like to think I'm so wise, smiling to myself that their kids really are still so small and they don't even see it, I know someone is looking at me lamenting that my oldest is in MIDDLE SCHOOL and smiling because they just sent their child off to college, or just watched them get married.

The school year starts and there are times I have to fight the fear that I'm sending my kids off to the wolves. There is so much out there! There are moments I won't see. There are times I can't be there to fight every battle; to clarify; to remind. Thinking about this too much can rip your heart out.

So I remember.

I remember the wonderful teachers they've been blessed to have, and a school system where staff want to move the world for you if you show you care, that you want to be involved in your child's education.

I remember that if I keep talking with my kids, if I keep listening, if I am discerning and wise, I will learn more and more about those moments and interactions I don't always see.

I remember I can fight for them and surround them with my prayers.

I remember that my kids are ultimately NOT mine, and I can give them back to God in those moments when I know I can't do everything right, can't know everything, can't protect them from everything.

It's something -- it's everything.

Then I can flip the calendar and feel that jittery excitement that comes with fresh notebooks and new outfits and crisp mornings. It's a new season. Time to plunge into the adventure.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Ethan's Battles

I know when it's about to begin because I hear the rummaging in one of our toy bins. Then, often, the cardboard block towers going up. There are grunts, groans, and various other guttural sounds. And the music, of course, that sounds a little bit like a movie sound track, during the fight scene.

Even Chloe knows. The other day as she came down the stairs and stopped to listen to what was happening in the playroom, she said matter-of-factly, "Ethan's doing a battle again."

Yes, Ethan and his battles, his epic fights between little superhero figurines or whatever he finds (this includes kitchen utensils like cheese graters or slotted spoons). They are the same almost every single time, and I absolutely love them.

When Ethan was little, he had an extremely difficult time with pretend play. This is no surprise, as it's often a challenge with people on the autism spectrum. But even compared to kids with autism, Ethan had very, very limited pretend play skills. We would try. I did, his therapists did, Anna did. We knew part of this was all about introducing ideas and possibilities. I've written about this before: the way we'd take out the farm and the animals, or build something very simple with Legos and put some people inside, or try to push around cars.

He just.didn' Not in that way. Ethan loved to run and jump and climb through tunnels; he loved music; he enjoyed books and puzzles; he was of course especially fond of anything with buttons or a screen. And over time I realized that while in many ways Ethan showed quite mild symptoms of autism, in these two respects: lack of play skills and an absolute inability to become interested in something that did not interest him, he was very much autistic.

We made our peace with that. We had to, because there is nothing worse than trying to make a child play and making a child miserable. It's just wrong. So while other boys his age built up huge arsenals of those Matchbox cars or trains or superhero guys with the little sets, Ethan did other things. He became interested in sports. He spent a lot of time listening to CDs and memorizing every song he'd sing at VBS (or Transiberian Orchestra!). He learned to read -- well. And of course he became very, very interested in video games.

About a year or two ago I heard some commotion in the other room. Specifically, I heard Ethan talking in other voices. The voices seemed to be threatening each other. When I peeked in I saw him on the floor with two little guys (from our meager selection of superheroes) in each hand. Then, they started killing each other.

Ethan's "battles" had begun. He was actually pretend playing, and none of us had said a word or given him a single suggestion.

Yes, Ethan's battles. They are always set to dramatic music that he sings in the background. They usually are repeating something he's seen in a video game or on TV -- but not always. They used to always involve the cardboard blocks somehow knocking over and killing someone -- but not anymore. It's taken a long time, but the plots are getting a little more elaborate. The battles sometimes take place outside, sometimes in the shower, and yes, they sometimes involve "unconventional" items like potato mashers.

Ethan has mixed emotions about his battle play. On the one hand, when he sees me watching him, he tells me he "needs his privacy" and to stop looking. But then sometimes he'll ask me to take a video of him and put it on Facebook.

I do not have mixed emotions about his battle play. I think it's awesome. I wasn't sure if I'd ever see him play like this. And while it's not exactly the way a typical kid would play, that's okay. I use to build the same Lego house over and over and then have it destroyed by a tornado (don't ask; guess I'm on the quirky side, too).

Kids on the spectrum are always learning. And I believe autistic adults are, too, because we all are. I'm done believing all of that stuff about our brains being more pliable only up to a certain age. You just never know. I'm still going to take piano lessons and I'm yeah, I'll say it, middle-aged. We are all always learning, and have the capacity to start doing something we never thought we'd do.

So battle on, Ethan. We're all excited to see what you discover next.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Remembering in the Storms

Last night seemed very, very long.

We've been plagued by a stretch of oppressively hot, humid weather that's been punctuated by thunderstorms. Last night we got the worst of them so far. At first Chloe and Ethan (who has a robust fear of lightning and particularly power outages that might affect his time on Wii) slept through it. But when a crash shook our house I heard both of them stirring and saw Ethan cowering in bed, shielding his eyes. We're not used to bad storms here. Dan and I have an ongoing joke that thunderstorms seem to purposely miss our part of town, so the kids haven't had much practice coping with them.

This storm was decidedly NOT passing us by. I can't remember the last time I saw so much lightning. For a little while I just sat in the dark and watched night momentarily become day, over and over and over. Then I tried to urge them to go back to sleep.

"Mommy, mommy, mommy!" I heard from the hallway, where Chloe was standing forlornly, clutching a book. Dan caved first.

"Would you like to come in our bed?" he asked. She haphazardly climbed up next to us and sprawled out.

A few minutes later Ethan was standing over us. He in particular had not liked the way thunder had crashed, then the power had gone out for a half-second before surging back on. For a while he just hung out at the foot of the bed, his head half-slumping. I could see how tired he was.

"Do you want to come up?" I asked. I knew he was especially enjoying the coolness of the room, as the kids only had a fan, not an air conditioner and most of the house felt like a sauna.

He climbed to the foot of the bed. Before I knew it, he had managed to stretch out width-wise across the foot of the bed, just below our feet. He was out cold.

Chloe kept twisting and turning and performing near acrobatics. Was this what this girl always did in order to fall asleep? She kept mumbling about last week, and the thunder we'd encountered on top of a mountain in Maine. "The thunder is going to the mountain," she said, as it started to die down.

Somehow as time went by Dan and I were pushed to the far edges of the bed while Chloe took over a large section in the middle. Then the cat decided to hop on the bed and yowl in my ear, then look around for a spot.

My eyelids were drooping. I just wanted to sleep. With all of the feet and arms and elbows in my face an old song I remembered singing in grade school by John Denver started running through my head, over and over:

It'd hold eight kids, four hound dogs
And a piggy we stole from the shed
We didn't get much sleep but we had a lot of fun
On Grandma's feather bed

Yes, John Denver running through my head at midnight...that and I kept plunging in and out of a dream that involved, for some reason, moving to Seattle.

It was a fitful night's sleep, and I wanted to be annoyed. I wanted to be annoyed because of the heat and humidity and the kids bickering all week and about rarely getting a good night's sleep. I wanted to, but I couldn't. I was thinking of Jacob.

Jacob, my friend's son, has been fighting a very aggressive type of brain cancer. His parents have been so strong. His fight seems to be becoming more and more difficult.

His mom has been very diligent about providing many updates about what Jacob is going through on Facebook, these past four months. And I'll always remember -- I can't forget -- something she wrote early on, when all of this had just started.

She talked about how she remembered just a little while before Jacob was diagnosed, they were having a real issue with him climbing into his parents' bed at night. Maybe it was more than one kid; I'm not sure. She said they'd really been cracking down on that, that she had been concerned about it becoming a bad habit.

She was writing and looking back to the time when THAT had been her biggest concern. And she said how much she was longing to have that time back, how much she was looking forward to a time of just snuggling with her kids in bed. She reminded us to hold onto our kids, to enjoy them, to spend time with them, to remember those times that sometimes feel draining are also so precious.

I was thinking of Jacob.

And so I scrunched myself up to avoid falling off the bed and looked at their peaceful little selves as they slept, remembering they are fearfully and wonderfully made.

I remembered that a night of thunderstorms really would be over in just a blink.

And eventually, I fell asleep.

Please, friends...pray for Jacob and his family.