Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Art of Nagging

So, you know how I always seem to be here waxing poetic about these milestones Ethan reaches that may seem like no big deal to the parent of a typical kid, that I am profoundly grateful for?

Yeah, not this time.

This summer, Ethan walked effortlessly into the arena of Perfect Nagging. Worst part? I can't even be too frustrated with him -- because he gets it from me.

As a child, apparently I was a champion nagger (read also: whiner). My mom loves to tell the story of one of the times she really lost her temper with me, when we had just returned from a week's vacation in Cape Cod, and as she sat staring at loads of dirty laundry piled halfway to the ceiling, I wandered into the room and relentlessly badgered her with, "But there's nothing to doooooo! I'm booooored!"

Evidently I spent a lot of my childhood grating on my mom's nerves. I was constantly too hot, too hold, too thirsty, too scared of bugs, and so on and so forth.

With Anna, we were blessed with a non-nagger, non-whiner. She may have her quirks but that's not one of them. And for the longest time, Ethan wasn't either. I suppose before you can whine you need to get your basic communications skills down.

It started in Target, at first, in such a typical-kid way.

"Can we go see the toys?" he asked.



"We need to do our other shopping first." Five seconds later:

"How about now?"

I think that right there is the thing that gets me about Ethan's style of nagging. It's not just that he whines and needles at you, it's that he only has second-long intervals before he starts again.

The whining specifically about his tragic lot in life because he has to stand in line or eat a dinner he doesn't like must have something to do with him getting a bit better grasp or understanding of his emotions. And so, also this summer, we've started to hear things like:

"Why did you bring me to this store? I don't LIKE Big Y. This is horrible!" and -

"Why do you always make dinners I don't like? This dinner is yucky. I don't want to eat this" and the classic -

"I don't like you anymore. I don't love you. I am going to get Spider-Man to tie you up. I don't want to go to bed. This is not fun for me."

Often these episodes are shared with the world in a public place, making me look like I have a Grade A Spoiled Brat on my hands. Really, I don't encourage him to speak to me like this! I want to say to my invisible judges. He's just gotten this type of expression down. Now we have to figure out how to help him tweak the way he expresses himself.

Don't get me wrong. I don't walk around in La-La Land, letting my kid whine and nag endlessly so he can "try out" this new form of communication. As I mentioned, this is one milestone that doesn't exactly have me jumping up and down for joy. Especially when I have to hear:

"Can I play on daddy's phone?"

"Not right now."

"Why? I will go find it."

"I said no."

"I really want to find it. Where did he hide it?"

"I said not right now."

"But when? In a little while?"

"Later today."

"Please can I play it?"

"I said no."



"Can I play it now?"

I'm getting tired just writing this.

I don't know how to stop the nagging. My mom was never able to stop me. Talk to Dan, and he might say the same (although over the past few years I've REALLY been trying, I swear!). I can't put a muzzle on the boy. And yeah, there is the tiniest little part of me that is always glad to hear him talk and be conversational, after being afraid that he never might.

But the bigger part of me is sometimes wishing for ear plugs, or more patience, or a way to turn down the volume or somehow turn the nag button squarely to OFF.

Wishful thinking, I know. But a mom can dream.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Not-Quite Typical First Day with my Not-Quite Typical Boy

I knew there would be tears, Ethan's first day of (full day!) kindergarten. No question about it. Not his, mind you. Mine.

No, this wasn't something I'd be able to blame on pregnancy hormones. I am, no doubt about it, a Crier. I cry watching veterans march in parades. I cry when I'm mad, when I'm scared, and yeah, sometimes when I'm happy. I cry at commercials and melancholy melodies.

So of course I was going to get weepy, sending Ethan off to school. I just didn't think it would be other kids, perfect strangers, rather than my own son, who would get the waterworks running.

We were ready to go a little after 8 a.m. Ethan wanted to bring his (foam) sword. The compromise was that he bring it in the car and leave it there. By 8:15 we were driving the long way to school, since Ethan said he wanted to go by the fountain in the center of town.

"I'm nervous," he confided. For a few moments I was thrown by the awesome fact that he understands what the word means. I told him it was okay to be nervous. I told him everyone felt a little scared the first day of school. That's when I started noticing the other kids on the side of the road, waiting with squeaky new backpacks and their moms and dads for the bus to arrive.

"See those kids?" I pointed out. "I bet they are nervous too. And those ones...and this one." As we drove, I looked more closely. The kids were so small. Some of them seemed to wear backpacks nearly half their height. Everywhere I looked, there were kids, parents, savoring the last few moments before goodbye. Summer was truly over.

I could feel that tingly sensation in my nose. My eyes were watering. Don't do it, I told myself. Lose it now and you won't be able to stop.

The classical music station on XM radio was whispering in the background. Lately Ethan has been asking for what he calls "the peaceful music." Whatever sonata was playing sounded like some kind of soundtrack to a depressing movie.

We stopped for a bus that had its flashers going. I saw one mom see her child up the bus stairs, looking to keep her in her line of sight for as long as possible. Another stood across from the bus, blowing kisses to her daughter who was hanging her head halfway out the window.

Full-out tears started. Sniffles. Choked down sobs. You know, I thought when I dropped Ethan off on his first day I'd be living some sort of 80's sitcom flashback montage. You remember? Where his past five years would flash before my eyes, starting with the moment of his birth and various stages of his development? You know, sort of like that episode of Growing Pains (yeah, I know I'm dating myself here) when Mike graduates from high school and his pregnant mom sits there reliving cutsey moments from his early years? I thought it'd be like that...but instead I was crying as I watched other people's children.

Ethan was the one who pulled it together. "I know what will cheer me up. I have my friend E.," he said, speaking of his buddy from last year who is once again in his class.

"You're right buddy. You are right," I replied, driving and sniffling.

At the school there were cars and parents everywhere. About 132 of them were standing outside of the unloading school buses, which they had just chased with their cars so they could snap a picture of their children disembarking. I snickered while simultaneously acknowledging that if Ethan had taken the bus I so would have been there clicking away with them.

Ethan didn't want to get out of the car. A promise of Spiderman episodes on Netflix after school helped fix that.

We pushed our way through the crowds of parents, siblings, teachers and paraprofessionals, and little students with big eyes who were already lost. In the classroom I snapped one last picture, managed to back up and trip over two chairs, and gave Ethan a high-five. Here we were, saying goodbye, and bizarrely, everything felt absolutely fine.

Man, now I feel like singing R.E.M. (it's the end of the world as we know it). Yeah, I'm in a punchy mood tonight.

So we lived out our day, and at sometime past 3:15 Ethan came barreling out of the building and...not straight into my arms, but directly past me to the playground. I begged for details and was relieved to get a few. They read I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Book. He swung on swings next to a boy and a girl. And amazingly, his fear of the raucous cafeteria has been assuaged by something one of his teachers said (they did a "dry run" at snack time in there).

Ethan survived the evils of the lunchroom. I made it through day one without being too much of a helicopter mom. Tomorrow we do it all over again. There's no guarantee that it will be tear free. I am a Crier. This isn't an 80s sitcom. Nothing wraps up this neatly. Especially not a school year.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


The boat just wouldn't come.

We'd been waiting in line for close to a half-hour to take a 20-minute ride down the Quinebaug River after three hours of fighting crowds at Old Sturbridge Village.

Old Sturbridge Village, in case you're unaware, is a recreation of an 1830s New England village complete with historical buildings you can wander in and out of, costumed interpreters, stage coach rides, and nature walks over covered bridges and through the woods. When I found out kids go free in the month of August, I thought we'd spend a day checking it out just before school started again.

What I didn't know is that it was also a $5 Friday, meaning adults got in for just five bucks. Apparently everyone else was aware, which is why there was a line of hundreds of people lined up to get in when we arrived.

I knew taking Ethan would be a risk, of sorts. He's a boy. He's five. He's not exactly a student of history yet. Not even Anna had seemed that interested in the concept until just the last year or so, particularly after getting an American Girl doll from around the same time period.

At first, we fared pretty well. When we're at places like this I've noticed Ethan likes to find a, shall we say, quirky activity to keep his mind occupied. This time around it was to see which buildings had upstairs rooms we could visit, which things we could/could not touch, and to find secret areas other people had missed. We had made it through several settlers' homes, the Quaker Meeting House, the church, the general store, and a few barns without incident. Anna, in the meantime, was completely enthralled. I've never seen a person want to read every.single historical sign on display. The antithesis of Ethan, she wanted to spend longer than the average person in each building.

As a result, we'd been there for three hours and seen less than half of the place. It was lunch time but due to the crowds near the food area I thought we'd try to eek it out a little longer and let things calm down.

Unfortunately, Ethan was not calm. First, there was the little issue with him not wanting to leave the barn with the ceramic cow he could milk and a couple of educational displays that involved a ball rolling game. What do you get when you combine an overtired, stubborn five-year-old with a dash of autism/resistance to change mixed in? One heck of a tantrum. And of course it had to occur in front of 50 people observing some sort of oxen demonstration outside the barn. Nice.

But Ethan recovered and we soldiered on through another home, this one a mansion by 1830s standards. I bit my lip to stop myself from telling Anna to hurry up. The girl was drinking in information left and right, but when we walked back outside and I saw the sign for the boat ride, I knew what we were doing next.

There were a few other wrinkles, we realized as we walked down a path through the woods to catch the boat. One was that there were about 75 people in front of us and each boat only held 15 people. The other was the darned musket demonstration.

If there's anything my kids (and especially Ethan) hate, it's the sound of guns being fired. Every demonstration during a Memorial Day parade ends up in tears. Ethan puts his hands over his ears and is petrified to take them off until he knows there's no threat of it happening again.

Now here we were, waiting for a boat in an endless line, and just past the trees where we couldn't see but certainly could hear, someone kept firing off a musket. Ethan started whimpering and clinging to me. Then he got mad. This is his new thing, truly expressing himself for the world to hear.

"This is terrible! This boat is being very bad. It needs to come now." Then he'd go back to covering his ears, looking panicked through the woods towards the source of the sound. I scanned the river for any sign of the boat. Boom! The shot rumbled again. Ethan got even more vocal.

"This is your fault! You brought us to this place!" My fault? Where had he learned that? I almost wanted to laugh, but it sounded a little too much like me nagging Dan, which gave me room for pause.

The wait and whining continued. I consulted the flyer we'd been handed when we came in and learned the demonstration was supposed to go until 1pm. It was 1:15. When would this end? I wanted to get on the darned boat and have some darned peace and quiet.

Then I saw her. And heard him. In front of us stood a woman about my age and her husband, grandparents, and a boy a little older than Ethan and a girl a little younger.

The boy was whining (so was his sister). Every time the shots fired, he covered his ears. Then he started crying and whining. "I don't want to go on the boat. I won't like it."

"You'll love it," everyone tried to reassure him matter-of-factly.

"No I won't. I'm afraid of it. I want to do something else. I'm hungry!" The whining continued. He wrapped his arms around his mom's waist, burying his head in her.

She looked back at me for a second. We exchanged glances. A look passed between us in a split second that said, I know.

I have no idea if this boy had autism or any other "issues." I don't know if he was just a cranky, uncooperative little kid. I'm not sure if it matters.

All I knew was this: somehow we had ended up in line together. And this woman with the shining black hair and perfectly lip-sticked mouth, the type who would appear so perfect to someone at a quick glance, had been watching my son try to keep it together, and she hadn't been judging. She'd been finding a measure of relief to know she wasn't alone.

Suddenly the tension eased out of the back of my neck like air seeping from a balloon. Suddenly, I could let it go: Ethan's antics and even the tantrum from earlier. I thought of the people who may have been watching. Yes, someone out there probably thought I was a crummy mom who didn't discipline my child. But someone else may have been feeling empathy. Someone else was thinking, I've been there.

I remember reading something in a book once, by a woman who's son has fairly severe autism. There are things that happen to you, she had written (I'm paraphrasing here), and it's obvious what you're supposed to learn from them. And then there are times things happen to you that you don't quite get. And sometimes that's because they are happening to benefit someone else. There is something that will be learned or gleaned from the situation that will help someone, soon or who-knows how much later down the road.

Eventually the family in front of us gave up waiting and went to look for some food. We got on the boat at long last and got a sweet respite from the crowds. After, Anna continued through the buildings at a meticulous pace. Ethan and I spent a lot of time outside. He found rocks to throw, dirt to play in, and a pottery kiln he may or may not have been supposed to climb in. We did our thing, and it wasn't perfect, but it was real, and I was glad to have been reminded that sometimes, it's okay to have those moments we hate. Because maybe someone else needed to see. Maybe it's not all about us. Maybe just by living, we can help encourage someone else.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Questions No One Asks

I can understand why no one would want to broach the subject, but I just want to say, it's okay.

It's okay to ask. Or, even if it's not the kind of question you would ask someone, I'm here to say I don't mind talking about it.

Since we've found out about baby #3, I'm sure someone has wondered: What would you do if you had another child with special needs? Is this something you worry about? How do you deal with the fear? How would you cope?

These are complicated questions, and any parent of a special needs child out there would probably have different answers. I can only speak for myself. And I will be as honest and open as I can be.

Of course I've pondered these questions. Anyone who's had a special needs child would. These are the very issues that stop many parents from having any more children, and I completely understand their concerns. Juggling a baby with the needs of other children, including the additional attention someone with special needs may need...wondering how you would ever have it in you to care for more than one child with challenges...these are weighty issues.

In our case, there's also no denying that there isn't some genetic component to autism. No, unfortunately there is no "autism gene" like cystic fibrosis that would give one a clear percentage chance of having a child with the condition. But as I look at my brother and at Ethan, I know the genetic links are there. Add to that the fact that I definitely fall into the advanced maternal age pregnancy category (hate these terms!), and that introduces a whole host of other possibilities to be concerned about.

Except I'm not. That much.

Something happened to me after wasting a whole pregnancy worrying about something that wouldn't have been detected by a test even if I'd had one. Something happened to me after I realized I could agonize over worst-case scenarios, have one actually happen, and then have it not be at all what I expected it to be.

It's not that I don't experience worry or fear. It's that it doesn't drive me. It's not that I'm naïve enough to say, "there's no way I would have to go through that again." It's more like a still, small voice that whispers in the background It'll be okay. No matter what.

But how can I know that? How can I really feel that? What if I had a child with severe autism, with a host of challenges? No one wants to talk about these things, but these are the things that you HAVE to talk about, you have to entertain before having another.

I'm no saint. I won't hand out platitudes like, "God would only give me what I could handle." I honestly don't know. Of course it would be hard. Of course I'd still want to know why.

But no matter what, I can't stamp out the flame. There's that flicker of hope there that didn't exist before. It's not a reassurance of no troubles. That's how I used to foolishly treat my faith, growing up with wrong thinking, or a wrong interpretation of what I heard at church or in Sunday school. I thought faith was my good luck charm, my rabbit's foot to ward off anything bad. Now I know it's more like a lifeboat in a raging river. It's what I cling to and what keeps my head above water during difficult times. We don't always escape trouble...sometimes we still have go through, not around. But not alone. Never alone.

And so here I am. Not certain of anything except this one thing: It will be okay. Somehow. No matter what happens, life rarely turns out to look the way you thought it would. We have to keep moving ahead, sometimes without being able to see the next steps. Children, special needs or not, are a risk. Life is risk.

I'm not faulting anyone else's decision. But we are moving forward...without expecting the worst or assuming perfection, but with arms wide open, for whatever comes our way.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Waning Summer Days

Mom and Dad take a look at me, on my bike riding both hands free
And I'm all's a good night
Bigger now then I've ever been, training wheels got no need for them
Mom I'm growing - Dad I've got to get going...

- "Mom and Dad" by Jason Upton

I've had this song running through my head lately, in these days when the mornings are cooler and the sun disappears sooner.
It's a season of conflicts.
Part of me wants to be DONE with summer, to shove my kids out the front door and wave goodbye, have a fun time at school! The other wants to grab them close and never let them go.
One of the biggest blessings, in my opportunity to be a stay at home mom, has been summers with the kids. Some admittedly have been harder than others. Trying to figure out how to occupy the two of them when Ethan was little was a definite challenge. I'm sure the next few years will be interesting as well, with a new little one. No summer has been perfect. The kids whine. I marvel at the fact that we can do so much for them, and they can still claim boredom. After 9 or 10 weeks of no structure Ethan in particular starts to "fray around the edges." His behavior these last few days has left me nearly in tears.
But that being said, we always seem to have FUN.
There's less rushing and snapping to hurry up, get ready, wake up, we need to go. We've picked blueberries and strawberries. We climbed a really big mountain. They each conquered the latest level in swimming lessons. They did two VBSs and I loved listening to them bee-bop around the house afterwards, singing songs about God. We looked for shooting stars (in Maine, where there are much fewer lights). They played at the park, swam at the beach, bounced in bounce houses. We baked cookies and played board games and tried out some Pinterest kid crafts that were epic fails.
In the summer, time slows. There's time to lie on the grass and watch the clouds go by. There's time to see my kids growing and changing rather than waking up one day and suddenly wondering where the time went.
We are not the same, the Jason Upton song goes,
We are changing
Another season fades
But that's ok - cause we are changing- anyway

Anna is going into fourth grade. She's decided she likes talking on the phone with a friend now. Lately they've been gabbing about Laloopsies for over an hour each time they speak. I can only wonder how long that will last. I know they won't talk about dolls forever. Every once in awhile they dabble into the tween world. For a few moments they were both singing to a Taylor Swift song her friend put up to the phone. Now Anna wants an iPod or something like it so she can play music, too.
And Ethan, Ethan. He tells me he is scared to go to kindergarten. Specifically, he's scared of the loud cafeteria. His teachers wrote him a social story about this. I can see the fear in his eyes and want to hug him hard, but I know this is what he has to do. With Ethan, I think not only about him growing and changing, but about him maturing at a different rate than those around him. I think about him being at school all day and pray he will be able to articulate what happens to him; if there are issues or worries or troubles. I think of him attempting conversation and having it be off or wrong and kids giggling and not understanding. Then I swallow hard.
As summer ends, it's hard not to re-think and question. Did we do enough? Did we slow down? Did I stop and enjoy my children? Did I balance my freelance work with their needs correctly? What about the times they wanted to play and saw me staring at the computer screen?
Did I give them what they will need to face this new year and new challenges? Are we doing it right? Will they be okay? I realize these are questions most parents ask. I realize now how hard my own parents tried; how much they cared. And somehow I even love their failures, because it shows me it's okay to be human. It shows me you can love and still not do everything right, and someday, your own children will hopefully understand.
Mom and Dad the kids sure grow fast
the more they grow up the more I ask
What am I doing? I hope it doesn't ruin 'em
Ways are worth more then costly gems
I'm diggin up my past to remember them
Mom I love you  - Dad there's nobody like you

As summer draws to a close, I know the way to calm my worries and fears is a common theme. I have to open up my cupped hands and let them go. Not completely. I hold them in my heart. I hold them in my prayers. I hold them each day when they return. But I have to let them spread their wings and lopsidedly fly into the next stage life has for them.
I have to remember they are not mine. They are on loan for a time that seems simultaneously molasses slow and lightning fast. I don't have to be perfect. I just have to do what I can: to love, and protect, and pray, and entrust them to God.

That's all I can do.
We are not the same
We are changing
Another season fades
But that's ok - cause we are changing- anyway
As if you hadn't noticed, I love this song!


Sunday, August 11, 2013


We're headed off to Maine later last hurrah before summer winds down and school begins.

Although it's been a crazy busy summer, we've also had fun.

Memorial Day BBQ

Strawberry picking at Pell Farm

Fun with grandparents and cousins

Hammonasset Beach State Park

CT River: waiting for fireworks in Springfield, MA

Ice cream with family after blueberry picking in South Glastonbury

Flying Pond in Mount Vernon, early morning
I look forward to driving over this later today:

 As a child, I called this the "roller coaster bridge," and I always imagined driving over it rather than through it. Once you cross, you leave New Hampshire behind and enter Maine. And vacation begins! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


My friend tucked her 9-month-old into the highchair at the neighborhood restaurant where we'd stopped to have breakfast together.

"I can't believe she's old enough to be in a highchair already. I'm having a hard time with these little milestones, because she's our last," she confided.

Another friend with an infant recently told me the same thing. "I have trouble leaving her with anyone. I'm trying to savor every moment since this is the last baby I'll have," she told me.

Women like to talk about these things. That and if they are "done" with having kids.

"How do you know?" someone will always ask.

"You just know," someone else always undoubtedly answers.

Only sometimes you don't know, because life gets in the way.

When Ethan was a baby, I was pretty sure he would be our last. Not 100 percent sure, mind you, because to me these decisions shouldn't be made when your child is still in the newborn phase, but I figured, yeah, we're probably done. I had every intention of savoring every moment, every milestone.

But then he had jaundice and smiled late and took a long time to roll over and didn't babble that much and only had a few words. Then he had a diagnosis.

My friends with babies the same age continued their playgroups and mom's gatherings and discussions. Should we try for another? How do we handle toilet training? What do we do about the Terrible Two's? while I was wondering Will my son function as an independent adult?

Sometimes I felt as if I resided in a parallel universe. In the meantime, Ethan's babyhood and toddlerhood slipped away.

One day, I woke up. I woke up and grieved, because I realized my baby was now a boy, and I'd missed most of the transition. I hadn't savored anything, but fretted through the months and years.

I looked at my boy, and I saw that my worst fears had not been realized. No, I didn't know what the future held, but I knew he was incredibly smart, that he'd come a long way, and he was a different version of autism than I had first feared, a milder one.

I also knew that even if that weren't the case, if his autism were more severe, no amount of fear and worry would have changed a thing. And no measure of autism could subtract our love.

There was something else. I knew I'd missed something. I guess Dan had, too. I'd missed that very important moment when you look at your life and your family and say, "I'm content here. My family is complete and is the way it's meant to me."

It was as if autism and worry and anxiety had written the script without us having any say in the matter.

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote an entry on this blog that included this:

What I was thinking, the other night as I mused, was what it would be like to go back with what I know now. I would do my best to do the right things but not torture myself if I ate deli meat or sipped part of a Diet Coke. I'd enjoy the process without fretting so much about how to influence the outcome. I'd live each day of my pregnancy a little freer and lighter just because I'd know that I didn't have control of every nuance of my life and never would. No one does. I would live rather than live in torment.

We can't dance with our arms wrapped around us. We have to open our clenched fists and let go of everything we thought was ours.

I'd resolved then not to hang heavy with regret about how I'd already lived; about the choices I'd made and the moments I'd lost to fear.

What I didn't realize then is that I would indeed have another opportunity. That we would decide to open up our eyes and our arms to let go with abandon; to forgo the what ifs; to release the illusion of control; to most of all, LOVE.

Little one, we can't wait to meet you.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above..."  -- James 1:17

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Common Strains

I pulled into the Big Y parking lot, kids in the back of the car. As often when the XM radio kids station wasn't blaring, I was listening to our other old standby, the 90s channel. A song came on by Dave Matthews ("Too Much") that I used to love. Back in the day, I was quite the DMB fan. No, I wasn't one of the drunken masses partying it up at the shows, but there's something about his melodies I've always liked.

This particular song has a jamming instrumental part they play a couple of times that I've been known to regularly "head-bang" to in the privacy of my bedroom. I love the wailing violins, bass, the sax. I used to love to go back and listen to the song again and again, just to hear that part.

I cranked up the radio. Anna startled and covered her ears, perturbed by our sudden rock concert atmosphere. Dave Matthews wailed:

I eat too much
I drink too much
I want too much
Too much

I blasted the music louder, letting it wash over us. Then I looked in the back. Ethan was head-banging, hands in the air, to my favorite part.

"You like that?" I asked. He nodded. "When is it coming again?"

"Wait," I told him. The music pulsed. Again, the violins soared and somehow in our car, we danced.

Out in the parking lot, I apologized to Anna for making things so loud. Ethan was humming that same strain of music again.

"Is that your favorite part of the song?" I asked him.


"Me too," I answered, as he slipped his little hand in mine so we could cross the busy part of the parking lot.

Once again I thought of the mysteries of autism, of music. I thought of what lay inside me, that would make me want to listen to the same part of a song over and over because it was so hauntingly, joyfully beautiful. I wondered what it was about the notes and chords that the same strain of music struck Ethan in just the same way.

I wondered, while the melody sang in my head, and we went inside to shop.

It was a pretty popular song, but here's a link, in case you don't know or remember the song. Mine and Ethan's part is at 2:05 and 3:00...