Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Thoughts on Forgotten Places

Last night I was in the car driving with Anna as the rain kept coming down. The sky was trying to brighten and the clouds were ambitious and a purply-blue. Sunset storm clouds -- and it was all so beautiful, even driving on bland 1-91 north towards Enfield. Something got us on the topic of another town named Enfield, and places near my childhood in Massachusetts that no longer exist. For the first time, I told Anna the story of the Quabbin Reservoir.

I grew up with the Quabbin but didn't understand its story until I was a little older and had moved away from central Mass. The Quabbin I knew was a beautiful body of water we'd drive 20 minutes to get to, and then picnic near its shores. There are various entrances (set apart as numbered "gates") scattered throughout the Hardwick, Ware and Petersham area. Most often we'd visit the Ware entrances, where there was a stone tower that overlooked the water and a huge slanting grassy hill (one side of a dam) that we kids loved to take cardboard boxes and slide down. At some point I began to understand the Quabbin was there to provide drinking water for the Boston area. And later, I learned that in order to create the reservoir back in the 1930s, they had to flood four towns.

Enfield, Prescott, Greenwich and Dana. Maybe that's what got me thinking about the Quabbin -- as we were driving to the other Enfield, the Connecticut Enfield which is very much still here, of course. They call them the Lost Towns of the Quabbin, those rural towns that lay at the bottom of a valley that needed to be filled, and every once in awhile when I lived in Mass. I'd read about a reunion of former town residents or come across a book chronicling the towns' demise.

I've often tried to imagine what it would be like to watch your history dissipate before your eyes. As the story goes, the state took the land and told the people they had to go. Of course there were some that hung on until the very end; until they had no choice. And so they watched men come in and destroy homes, schools, shops. Some of the more noteworthy or historical buildings were picked up and painstakingly moved to towns across New England. The cemetaries were dug up and bodies moved. Then the land was completely stripped bare...and the waters began to rise. It took seven years to completely fill the reservoir.

One of the towns, Dana, is not completely underwater. The town green remains not far from the water's edge and you can park at one of the gates in Hardwick and walk several miles down through the woods to see. You can peer into the cellar holes and see the faint traces of former roads. There is something that hangs in the air, as you walk and try to imagine. It's a peaceful yet haunting place.

There is a well-known story about the town of Enfield putting on a Farewell Dance as the town reached the final night of its existence. Everyone left gathered at the town hall and danced the night away...until midnight, when many tears were shed. Every time I think of the story, I want to cry myself. I'm not sure why. I don't know why the Quabbin haunts and inspires me. I've often dreamed about writing some sort of fictional book about the Lost Towns, maybe a young adult novel. I don't know.

Maybe it's something about history and memory and the solace and connection we sometimes take in the familiar. Maybe it's that there are always stories behind the story, or in this case, literally below the surface. I'm amazed that the Quabbin Reservoir was my childhood --I have warm memories of skipping stones into the water, picnics, tumbles down the mighty hill, and leaping along ancient stone walls. The Quabbin was a constant, a familiar friend. Yet so many others' childhood memories from long ago lay lost under those waters. Something about that seems almost wrong.

Maybe: in every progression there is pain and loss, but some kind of beauty that remains or is formed in the process. Someone else is helped, or changed.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Egg Hunt

This weekend some of the cousins were in town. Everyone was over on Friday night and the playroom was ripped apart, tornado-style. At one point I looked around, thanked God I didn't have to clean up a mess like that every day, but also longed to clean up a mess like that, too. In part, toy boxes dumped upside down, blocks and animals and toy food strewn about every which way would mean Ethan is exploring. Again and again I'm reminded how much kids learn through play...and sometimes, wonder what Ethan isn't learning.

The weekend was rough, in some ways. I will be honest. There's something I've been dreading for awhile and the time has come. You see, Ethan has two cousins who are nine months younger than he is. Haddie (Dan's sister's daughter) and Matthew (Nate's son) are 19 months old now, and they are catching up to Ethan. Soon in some ways they will surpass him. This hurts.

Dan's parents wanted to do an Easter egg hunt on Saturday, inside because it was kind of raw out. So they hid eggs one at a time for each kid, starting with Haddie, who didn't quite get it at first but obligingly walked around and found some eggs, then picked up on the concept and started to have a little fun with the whole experience, taking a moment to look at the prize she was handed each time she found another egg. She wasn't wowed by the whole experience, but it was fun enough. Then came Ethan.

First -- the house was messy and the kids were loud. Every time we go over there, if Ethan is stressed or doesn't quite know what to do with himself, he heads over to the sliding door and plays with it...again and again. So he headed over there while the grandparents announced, "Time for egg hunt!" I was thinking, he needs time to adjust, then wondering how to balance his needs with other kids' needs who'd been waiting anxiously to start (or at least, the two older ones who'd been waiting anxiously, Anna and Haddie's brother, Isaac).

So after Haddie was done it was Ethan's turn, and I knew what he was thinking. He hates doing things for the sake of doing them. He needs them demonstrated first. He has to see the reason and the reward, and see it slowly. But we shoved an Easter basket into his hands (which he hadn't seen since last year) and said "go find the eggs!" The eggs were colored and again, he hasn't seen Easter eggs since last year, if he even remembers. So he started to go and follow where we pointed and put them in the basket, but then he saw a toy he liked and always plays with. He wanted to play with the toy of course. And then he got angry when we told him no, he needed to keep looking for eggs. And then Dan's mom started handing him prizes, which he promptly threw into the basket, too.

I could see the troubled wheels turning in his mind. Why am I doing this? What is this for? and with the prizes, I guess I just throw whatever they hand me into the basket. I felt my heart welling with compassion and longing.

Why is it so hard for him? I wondered, almost scientifically. And more philosophically, Why does this have to be so hard? By that I meant: watching him struggle. Watching him struggle with something that comes so easily to a typical child. Balancing when to cater to his fears and when to push him.

At first, I had dreaded the idea of Haddie and Matthew catching up to and surpassing Ethan because I was lost in a horribly unproductive comparison game I'd grown up doing. You see, at one time in the past I had been the evil mom secretly congratulating herself because her child was ahead on milestones (that was with Anna, and that was strictly because I was so insecure I was using it as a way to feel better about myself). But as time has gone by, that dread, when I experience it, is different. Now it's tinged not so much with resentment or bitterness as much as with a mom's full and sometimes heavy heart. I hate to see Ethan stressed and not understand... to have to work harder at the little things, like play...and to maybe someday, realize that he has to work harder. He has no choice.

We got home that night exhausted. Even Anna admitted she was stressed from the messy and crazy house, so I can't imagine how Ethan felt. Except that in some ways I can. When I had had a little time to think over the day and shed a few tears, I felt something solidify in me. I could let myself feel a bit down or discouraged, but I could also extract the emotion and think ahead. What could we do differently next time? Yes, he has these challenges, so how can we help him? How can we find a way to make things work?

I have to say this is so unlike me. I am not a natural go-getter or an optimist. In very many ways I am more like George McFly's character in Back to the Future, slinking away at the slightest hint of opposition, ready to crawl back under a rock somewhere. But my son deserves better. Truthfully, I've deserved better all of these years. I've lacked greatly in the ability to perserve and problem-solve rather than throw up my hands and throw in the towel.

And so, we had a fun but tiring weekend. A new week is here, and this morning I dumped out a toy box just to get Ethan to poke around a little. You know what? It worked. This week we're going to pratice Easter egg hunting until the process is not so menacing. And if that doesn't work? Then I'm going to remember that it's not the end of the world. Because really, in the grand scheme of things, it's not.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tears and Bathrooms

Last week I was having my usual adventure fighting my thoughts (I'm doing better with this -- really -- in both combating negativity and staying joyful in the first place). But last Wednesday was one of those days when I felt myself getting slogged down, even when I was trying...even when I was relying on God...even when I was doing all that I could do. I was attempting to do some shopping at Kohl's while I had a babysitter and I just couldn't find anything, so I stopped in the bathrooom before I left.

While I was in the stall, I heard a mom and a little boy come in and start chatting together. The conversation reminded me so much of times I used to have with Anna when she was little. The girl was such a riot and was always saying things that cracked me up. I forgot everything these two were saying, but I remember at one point the little guy chirped up something like, "You buy me things just because you wuv me, right mamma?" and I could hear in her response that she was smiling. He kept talking as they walked out and I could hear him walking down the hall gabbing.

Next thing I knew my eyes were welling with tears. I don't know what it is with me when it comes to tears and bathrooms. If I were to admit how many times I've cried in public bathrooms...well, it wouldn't be pretty. I'm better than I used to be, and let's just say I have a system down that involves waiting, deep breaths, and wiping the red from around my eyes with wet paper towels.

I'm not sure why I was crying, but I know a couple of the thoughts that were rolling around up there. Will I ever get to talk like that with Ethan? was one, but that really wasn't the big one. I guess the looming thought was If only. If only I'd known I might not have another opportunity for such adorable conversations with my child, after Anna. If only I'd stopped and cherished them even more than I had attempted to cherish them.

As a side note: Ethan is starting to talk. I used to worry if he'd ever talk. I know that we are beyond that. He's talking! He's working on putting words together! It's at his pace, and sometimes his style is rather quirky, but he is making progress. Thank God! But of course my tendency is to always want more.

I walked out into Kohl's a few minutes later and already I could feel whatever I'd been feeling start to subside. First of all, I saw the kid and he was probably 3 or even 4. There I was, comparing Ethan to a preschooler. And as for being like Anna, well...Anna was Anna. Ethan was Ethan. Wouldn't it be just fine to enjoy him and the wonderful things about him?

That evening after dinner Ethan started asking for the nativity set again. To explain: we got the cheesiest nativity set for Christmas from Dan's great aunt (who loves Good Will bargains!). It lights up and plays music, the whole nine yards. Ethan loved the thing and I had just called it "Jesus" because nativity set seemed to be a mouthful. Every once in awhile Ethan thinks about our Christmas stuff (like the tree) and starts looking for it. So Ethan went over to where the manger had been, put his hands out on either side, questioning, and said in his Ethan way, "Where's Jesus?"

"Jesus is in the basement," I said, immediately realizing how crazy the words sounded, and Ethan ran over to the basement door and waved. "Bye Jesus!"

I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe and the tears were running out of my eyes. Jesus. In the basement. And even as I laughed I was able to relish how incredibly thankful I was.

My little boy, who I feared would never talk, was asking questions and making connections. No, he wasn't the boy in Kohl's or his precocious big sister. But he was making me laugh. He is bringing me joy.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


So, Anna had been begging me to have a playdate. I kept procrastinating about it but over the last few weeks as I caught her outside having detailed conversations with her imaginary friend I thought, "This is crazy! This girl NEEDS to have someone over." So the other day a friend from school got off the bus with her, and I led them inside and helped them put down their backpacks --

and started to feel my heart pounding.

We were in the living room, which is also Anna's makeshift playroom until we put together her new room in our current office, and I suddenly found myself explaining to Ainsley. "This is Anna's playroom right now, because she shares a room with her brother and there's not enough room for her toys up there, and we're going to..."

Meanwhile, Ainsley and Anna had pulled out a ton of My Little Ponies and were screeching about their little amusement park. What are you doing?? I chided myself. The girl is not listening. She doesn't care about that! Within a few minutes, the kids were in the backyard out on the swings, having the time of their lives.

I didn't start thinking about it all until I just woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't sleep. Something had made me remember Gilbertville, my childhood, and our subsequent move to a tiny apartment in Springfield.

Until I was 10 I lived in a dying mill town, full of apartment houses (four families, built across, not up). Ours was the shabbiest, with weathered rough gray shingles. I'm not sure if I always knew that, but I remember the day I heard my best friend Ryan say to another kid, "Her house is really ugly outside, but her mom made it real nice inside." He meant well. The thing is, the inside wasn't all that great, either. There was the creepy hole in the wall in the downstairs bathroom (I wondered: would a spider crawl out of there?). And the upstairs bathroom that contained a toilet. That's it. No sink. And our shabby furniture that my mom did her best with. At that time, my dad worked at one of the mills still running, over in Ware, a neighboring town. At lunchtime they all used to go sit on the roof and eat their lunches. Sometimes we'd drive by and see them.

The house was not so great, but when I was younger I still had people over. I'm not quite sure when it all began to change. I wonder sometimes when I began to close in on myself. I can't seem to quite pick an exact moment, or even a year. I just know that by the time we moved to Springfield when I was 10, I had decided that no one was coming over my house to play, if I could help it.

I'm sure my brother Andy had something to do with it. When we moved to Spring Meadow Apartments in Springfield, he was three and in the midst of what we all remember as an extremely destructive phase. I wish I knew why this happens with autism, specifically severe autism. Is it sensory seeking behavior? Did a part of Andy feel so frustrated with his condition that he needed to lash out? Was it the only way he felt he could communicate? Maybe all of the above.

Whatever it was, something, everything, drove Andy to destroy things. He threw my parents' wedding rings down the toilet. He'd go into the refrigerator, grab things, and dump it all out. Grated cheese, everywhere. Worse, much worse -- he'd poop and smear it all over the walls of his room. I remember my mom crying (sometimes) and cleaning. Always cleaning. Sometimes he'd get it all over toys and games. Or he'd just tear games apart until most of the pieces were lost. "Andy wrecked it," was a common theme in our house. Even our furniture (anything wooden) was all nicked up because of his need to tap on it with spoons or other objects.

Despite all this, at first I didn't want to keep people away. I remember a day at a friend's house when I was about 12. I'd just slept over and was getting ready to leave. I'd been over to Mia's several times and really liked her. I wanted to have her over my house. I wanted to open up my world to her and stop living with what I felt was almost an awful secret...there was school, and then there was my crazy world at home with a brother running around making messes and unintelligable noises. Mia was sweet and kind. I sat on her stairs while she ran up to her room and her dad was getting ready to take her home.

Tell her, my thoughts were screaming. Just tell her about your house and Andy. Make her understand, and then it will be okay to invite her over. I could hear Mia coming back down the stairs.

Tell her.

Mia came down and I opened my mouth. Nothing came out. My heart was pounding. I opened my mouth again. I just couldn't do it.

When I got home that day, Andy was sitting in his underwear right in front of the window, hands over his ears, making strange sounds. I remember looking out the window and seeing the neighborhood kids laughing. "He's in his underwear!" they were saying. I would have laughed, too, if it hadn't been my family. If I hadn't understood.

After that moment, there was no longer any debate in my mind. My family was just off limits, unless they already knew us from somewhere else, and this all wouldn't be so shocking. And so for the next five years I didn't have a birthday party at home. I didn't have a sleepover. I had two friends from church over and that was rare. I didn't learn to open up my home and my life and to be social and hospitable, but rather to hide within myself and my family's pain.

And so when Anna arrived home with her little friend I started to look around and think about everything that was wrong with my house. And when Ethan woke up from his nap I imagined her saying to Anna, "Why doesn't he really talk?" I imagined him doing something and Anna having to explain about him and thought about her having to say, "My brother's different." Maybe that will happen some day. But on this day, Ethan walked down the stairs and gave Anna and Ainsley a big smile, and Ainsley said, "Wow, he's tall" and they ran away to play dress up.

There's something I've been thinking about lately, every time I go back and think of the horrid times, growing up, and especially those years in the little apartment. I had forgotten for awhile. I can't seem to remember all of Andy's antics, and the tears and yelling and all of that, without thinking of my mom's flute.

My mom has always played the flute and at that time played on the church worship team. She's always played beautifully and in fact at one time wanted to go to music school. Some days in the midst of all of the craziness, after cleaning up Andy's messes, lugging laundry over to the laundromat or throwing out more broken toys, she'd sit down and play. The sweetness filled the house and my heart. It calmed everyone. Andy would stop and listen and a part of him would drink it all in. One of my favorite songs was from church, and is taken from one of the psalms. I used to hum along the words as she played. The first part goes:

At all times I will bless Him
His praise will be in my mouth
My soul makes its boast in the Lord
The humble man will hear of Him
The afflicted will be glad
And join with me to magnify the Lord

Let us exalt His name together, forever
I sought the Lord, He heard me
and delivered me from my fears
Let us exalt His name together, forever

O sing His praises, magnify the Lord

I sit writing in the darkest and quietest hours before dawn and can hear the song echoing in my head, can see the sheet music on the floor and my mom sitting on the bed near Andy and playing, just playing and getting lost in the melody and the meaning.

I know now that yes, things were bad, but that even then, I could have made better choices. I am convinced God would have been faithful. If I had opened up my home and my heart, who knows what I would have discovered? I may have been hurt but I also may have seen my friends develop a love for someone different from them, and learn that all of it didn't make me so different after all. Who knows?

There is no need to beat myself up over what any of us did or didn't do. I have now, and I have the same trustworthy and loving God, who looks at all of us, yes, all of us, and sees our faults and shortcomings and yet desperately loves us and gives us the strength to face the seemingly impossible.

Yup. I think it's time to schedule another playdate.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Hour I First Believed

I just read this new book by Wally Lamb. He only writes a book about once every 10 years, but each one I've read has been fantastic. Lamb is from Connecticut and I once heard him speak at a writer's conference in Hartford.

I often feel conflicted when it comes to reading fiction. I have such a hard time finding something that is both well-written and uplifting. My experience has been that the well-written (usually secular) stuff is so utterly depressing that I can't make it through the book. I used to be able to, but as I've changed and progressed through life I've realized I can't spend an excessive amount of time reading a story in which there is no hero, no one grows or learns anything, and the main character ends up with a more bleak outlook at the book's conclusion than when it began. This isn't always the case, but in my experience, has happened often.

On the other hand, I am desperate to find well-written Christian fiction. I'll read Christian novels and love that I feel uplifted and as if my mind is in a good place at the conclusion -- if I can see beyond my frustration with the formulaic plot, plastic characters and sometimes just plain weak writing. I never thought of myself as a fiction snob (yes, I was an English major in college, but never even read half the classics I should have and hated those analytical, academic approaches people take to literature), but maybe I am in some ways. And so I bounce between the Christian stuff and everything else, trying to glean the best parts from whatever I read.

Okay, enough rambling and back to Wally Lamb. The book is called "The Hour I First Believed" and is rather complicated to explain. Let's just say the plot centers around a husband and wife who worked at Columbine High School during the 1999 massacre of (was it 13?) students and one teacher, and the after effects on this couple...there's much discussion of anxiety, post-traumatic stress, our faith in a higher power or lack thereof, and about the forces that drive people to the type of evil that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold carried out that April day. It's a disturbing and exhausting book in some ways, but the conclusion resonated with me. Lamb takes the title of course, from the one hymn everyone knows, "Amazing Grace:"

T'was grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Grace, and fear, they go hand in hand, although one might not think so. That is amazing. The fears grace relieves are the fears associated with control, with having to know everything. The fear grace teaches is the fear of God.

"The question you gotta ask isn't Why? or If?," says a wise old man to the questioning protagnist, somewhere in the middle of the book. "The question is How?"

That line runs again and again through my mind. How much energy do we waste asking "Why?" or wondering "If only..."? When I stop asking, I'm acknowledging there is much in this world beyond my understanding. I don't need to know why nearly as much as I need to know how I'm going to face, work with, even take joy in the challenges facing me.

The hour I first believed. In something beyond my feeble ability. In trusting in what I cannot see. In opening my arms and letting the grace fall like rain.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Two Good Days

When it comes to parenting a child on the autism spectrum, there's an internal question that pops up again and again.

How much can Ethan handle? How much can we handle?

Sometimes that relates to therapy. His providers technically want to bump him up to about 15 hours a week, although they haven't really pushed it (he's at close to 10 now). I wonder how much he can handle without being pushed too much, and how much our family can handle before we reach a tipping point where our lives revolve around autism and autism alone. Other times it's about play time -- how much I can handle spending one-on-one with Ethan, how much pushing he needs vs. downtime, how far I can spread myself thin before I have not enough left for Dan, Anna, friends, my spiritual life, and just time for me. These are tough questions. There aren't always easy answers.

The other big "How much can he handle" issue sprouts up around outings, vacations, visits, exursions. I find myself wanting to push him, wanting to take the risk, but sometimes fearing if there's a meltdown, not only will he be upset but so will everyone else...upset and discouraged. And often, exhausted.

The museum in Middletown, Kid City, is a good example. It's a great place. We've taken Anna there in the past. I've had friends set up dates to go together with other friends and their kids. When I think about going, the first thing that come to mind is: it's a big place that doesn't allow strollers. Ethan is prone to have a mind of his own in these places and has trouble just staying with you and going where you want to go. There are times I wonder if we should get one of those leashes...the cute ones they have now that look like a little backpack on the child. I never much cared for them, but now I can understand the need, in certain situations. So unless it's me and Dan taking the kids, it's really hard to go. If I went with friends, I'd have not that much of an opportunity to actually spend any time with them. And if I took the kids alone, I'd have to leave Anna to practically fend for herself while I chased Ethan around. But again, those are assumptions. And assumptions aren't always correct, of course. Sometimes you just have to test the waters.

Last Saturday I knew Dan was going to be working all day and that we had free tickets to a traveling petting zoo-type event up on the Big E fairgrounds. I waffled back and forth about taking them but decided since Ethan would be in the stroller things might turn out fine. When we walked in, I wasn't so sure. Sometimes I try to stop and see the world through Ethan's eyes, or even more so, his ears. The entire Better Living Center was awash with blinking lights from carnvival rides, the sounds and screeches of those rides, the echoes of kids shouting, and various animals bellowing. I was a little overwhelmed, never mind Ethan. But we kept going, and of course Anna was bouncing from one thing to another, unphased. Most of the time we had to raise our voices to hear ourselves.

At first, it was difficult. I felt sad for my little guy. He'd look at an animal but then be distracted by the spinning Merry Go Round, or crazy lights on the cotton candy stand. It was as if everywhere, sights and sounds were calling out to him, "Over here!" "Over here!" and he either didn't know which way to turn, or he'd get overwhelmed and just focus, staring at one.

But I noticed something, and I've noticed it before. If I watch carefully, I can almost see Ethan take some time to attempt to tune things out. It's what most of us do naturally when we go somewhere like this...some of us more easily than others, but the typical person most certainly does not have to work quite so hard. After awhile, Ethan could focus on the animals. Was he laughing, calling out, running to each one and trying to pet them? Not exactly. I could tell he was fighting the distraction and didn't quite like all of the noise. I'd call it more of a quiet delight. He especially liked feeding the animals (with my help -- he didn't quite get the concept of holding his hand out flat). I could see the joy in his eyes, and the smile.

We decided to go on the train ride. One of his therapists had suggested singing the little songs we've made up that Ethan likes about different objects or animals. Since I thought he might be nervous, I started singing quietly in his ear, "The train goes on the tracks, the train goes on the tracks, hi-ho the dairy-o the train goes on the tracks." We do this about a lot of things. It started with a Baby Einstein DVD and went from there ("cars go on the road," "cows give us milk," "rain falls from the clouds"). Then we squeezed ourselves into a tiny little seat (Anna rushed up front). Ethan didn't want to get in at first; I thought a disaster would ensue. But then the train started, rattling and rumbling. It was LOUD. I made a few whistle noises, we looked down at the tracks, and Ethan got it. A big grin spread across his face. There were flashing, irritating lights everywhere, even on this lever in our train seat, the train was crazy loud (so loud they had to stop it and let another kid off who was crying), but Ethan did it and enjoyed the ride. Now I was the one grinning, at this small victory. Or maybe not so small.

The next day we were off for an overnight to Lake George, Six Flags Great Escape Lodge, which has an indoor waterpark. This has become a tradition for us; sort of our way cheap alternative to Disney in the late winter. Last year we tried Coco Keyes, a nearby and very small park, and it was a disaster! Ethan (and Anna) were terrified of the big bucket that dropped water right down on the kiddie play area. Neither of them played much. After last year I wondered if we dared try again. We'd been to the Lake George park as well as Great Wolf Lodge out in PA...I remembered this particular one to be very loud and echo-y inside. And of course the bucket was there, too, albeit separated from the little ones. So we planned it anyway, and I kind of steeled myself for whatever might happen.

We walked in, and it was mobbed. Through the doors, and the noise hit us. Ethan's eyes went right to the bucket, and started bugging out of his head. I held him for a bit, speaking softly, letting him take it all in, showing him the water wasn't going to attack him. Then we all went and got changed, and...

JOY!!! The kids loved it!! I knew Anna would, but was so pleased she overcame her fear of dark tunnels and went on the "grown up" slide with dad. Her eyes were huge...I could see the pride on her face. I started with Ethan in the kiddie area, which just has a few little fountains bubbling up (he's still not a huge fan of those), a few swings, and some little slides. I thought we'd stick to the really little slide because I wasn't sure how Ethan would do on the bigger one -- but when I went over with Anna to the bigger kid area with the infamous bucket, I looked down from up high and saw Dan bringing Ethan over to the bigger slide. Beyond that, when I took Anna on the lazy river ride, we discovered Dan and Ethan over at the the big bucket zone.

"I wasn't going to bring him over here -- I didn't want to traumatize him," I kind of yelled to Dan over the noise.

"He's fine," Dan assured me, and he was right. The bucket dumped the water and Ethan stopped, looked momentarily scared, and then continued with what he was doing -- going down an even bigger slide, one I thought he was too little to manage. Once he realized he liked that, he kept doing it. Would I have loved for him explore a little bit more, and maybe not have been quite so repetitive? Sure. But the kid was in a huge, echoing, splashing, screaming, water-filled room, conquering his past fears, and expressing sheer delight. As I watched him, I kept thinking of what someone (or maybe even more than one person) once told me: Ethan is Ethan. Ethan is not autism; he's not less than anyone else just because he may be different.

I didn't end up having much time to myself while we were there. In fact, I didn't even make it onto a water slide. That would have annoyed me in the past, but this time around, I was basking in my own joy -- of all of us facing different fears, and finding them unfounded.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Parenting: An Antidote for Hypocrisy

I've been talking a lot about emotions lately and how I'm learning I cannot let them get the best of me. I'm always amused when I am learning something and then am faced with teaching my child at the same time. This time I'm talking about Anna.

Today is a great example. My mom was over to watch Ethan for awhile and I was supposed to be at Anna's school to help take part in a video shoot for a promotional video the school is doing. But before that could happen, my mom and I got in a knock-down, drag-out fight, one of the worst we've gotten in, ever. There's no need to go into why. And the good news is that we did make up later in the day. But earlier, as this was happening, I realized I had to get over to the school, even though we were in the middle of our argument. And I knew I had to clear up my tears and focus. So I left the house, drove down the street to the school, and parked, taking deep breaths, praying, commanding myself to stop thinking about it. There I was, needing to be in the school so they could film me in the role of smiling mommy leading my child to class, and I was fuming, stressed, and choking back tears.

Thank God, I did it. I managed. I got myself back on track and went in there so we could get started. The two videographers wanted to film Anna and I walking up the steps to the school and through the doors. I needed to give her a hug and wave goodbye. Then we needed to do it again, and again. Only thing is, Anna wasn't having any of this. Although I had warned her they'd need to shoot again and again, she hadn't realized the shooting would take her away from class, and ultimately lunch. She wanted to be back with the kids. She didn't get why we had to keep doing it. Next thing I knew, she was bawling.

Uh, this is not good, I was thinking. Here we were, helping to make the video about what a wonderful place Trinity Christian School is, and there was my five-year-old with tears rolling down her cheeks, acting as if I were dragging her to prison.

The camera guys discreetly stepped aside and let me talk to Anna. "You can do this," I said. "You have to get yourself under control."

"I can't!!" she shrieked.

"You can," I said softly. "Take a deep breath. Just focus. We'll be done soon. You can do it." I felt like smiling, knowing I was talking to myself, thinking, If only she knew...

Somehow, we made it through. And after crying in the car for awhile and thinking about how to get my emotions and words in check, I went back to my mom and worked it out.

This parenting thing really works a lot better when you've had some firsthand experience with the advice you're attempting to dole out. For me, it was rather fresh experience -- try about five minutes. Somehow, I always seem to learn the lesson just in time to be able to share it with my own kids.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Just a Few Little Snippets

Just a few little things to make note of today, as I'm supposed to be cleaning (yea!) and exercising (yea!). I figured blogging was at least a bit more productive than playing Geo Challenge on Facebook (although the game is considerably increasing my world geography skills).

Anyway, last night was bad. Bleck. I won't go into it. Let's just say that I am learning more than ever that I am an emotional being who has let emotions rule for too long. Emotions are not bad in and of themselves, and there are times they are meant to be expressed. But I befriend my emotions; idolize them; entertain them; let them drive and rule much of what I do. The time for that needs to draw to a close. I need my energy! I need my joy! I can't be sapped of my strength because of my thoughts.

So, we were in the car today and having fun, Ethan and I. I've invented a little game, thanks in part to the suggestions on my wonderful autismgames.org site that I've mentioned (with kids on the autism spectrum, include some repetition and make it fairly predictable, and you're golden!). So in the car I made up a little I Spy Game. Basically I say, "Mama, Mama, what do you see? I see a _____ looking at me" (mentioning something right in our line of sight). Then do the same thing with Ethan. The great thing is that he gets it! This means a lot when I long to have a conversation with my little guy. A game can be a conversation. So I'll say, "Mama, mama, what do you see? I see a truck staring at me?" It has to be something right in front of us. Then I'll ask "Ethan, Ethan what do you see?" Right now his answers are rather limited (car/light/cloud, maybe a few more), but he's playing! We're doing a back and forth. When we drove past Anna's school, he filled in school, and when I told him Anna was in there, he said "Bye Nana."

I have been blessed with a gift of never again taking a skill my child learns for granted. I know that now. I didn't even realize how much I've learned to just talk to Ethan and assume he won't answer me. Oh, I've always HOPED he will answer, but after awhile, I stopped literally waiting for it. I usually just keep talking, knowing that there's a part of him that's taking it all in, even if he doesn't answer. I can't wait for the day when I ask him: "Did you have a good time outside? (Or at Gramma's? Or in the church nursery?) and he says "Yes!" Or "No!" I just want him to talk to me...and for now, I'll take something like a little game in the car.

That and the "mama." You know, when Anna was little I thought she'd taken forever to say "mama." She was a huge talker (had about 20 words at 1 year and 75 or more by 18 months) but for some reason would not call for mama until she was 16 months old. Well, Ethan is 27 months old now and just started calling me mom. It's true music to my ears. I could hear him say mom forever. I honestly think I could hear him whine it again and again. Maybe I wrote about this before, I don't know. I'm just still relishing it. And while there is a part of me that wishes these things weren't so slow in coming, there is another part that is just so grateful that they are coming bit by bit. Sometimes with Anna (even now, like with reading) it's like she learns so quickly that it happened with no effort, with almost no notice. Suddenly she could just talk, and it was as if she'd always been that way. With Ethan, I learn to appreciate more as things slowly unfold. It reminds me of an old song by Sara Groves that I love, called "Painting Pictures of Egypt" that parallels her own path in life to the Israelites struggling in their journey through the desert to the promised land. It ends with this:

If it comes too quick, I may not recognize it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?
If it comes too quick, I may not appreciate it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?