Several times in the last few months, our boy has mentioned that he seems different from other kids his age. He feels they think in a different way than he does.
He isn’t wrong, since he’s on the Autism spectrum. If the DSM-V hadn’t changed everything (okay, not everything), he would be diagnosed as having Asperger’s. In fact, his earliest diagnosis listed him as an Aspie.
We have never told him, concerned that it might make him feel different, or that he might use it as an excuse. “Well, I just act that way because I have Autism.”
However, since he already feels “different,” we’ve been thinking that maybe we should tell him.
A couple weeks ago, the kids and I were watching Girl Meets World, a spinoff/sequel to my childhood favorite, Boy Meets World. In this particular episode, one of the characters had testing because the adults in his life suspected he might be on the spectrum. He was agitated and concerned over the idea that he might be Autistic. I didn’t really like the way they portrayed that part because the tone made a diagnosis sound a little scary. Test results showed the young man does not have Asperger’s and he seemed relieved. However, one of his close friends was disappointed because she is an Aspie and was hoping his diagnosis would make her feel less different. The show ended as the kids assured the girl that they all love her just the way she is.
Overall, the episode does a pretty good job of showing kids how to be inclusive. The portrayal of nervous tension about the testing, both for the parents and for the child, seems fairly accurate.
I wouldn’t really know, because we didn’t tell our boy we were getting him tested (yearly psychs are run of the mill here, so he didn’t even notice) and I was ECSTATIC to receive the diagnosis.
Still, I felt they could have done a better job of portraying the diagnosis as something less scary—or even cool, because truly, Spectrum Kids are gifted.
As the show closed, our boy stared me square in the eye and asked,
What do I have?
Not quite ready to have the conversation, I hedged. “What do you think you have?”
He thought for a minute, then said, “I think I have the illness of aaaaaaaaaaaa(thought he was going to say it)aaaaawesome!”
Today, I opened our son’s door to find a winter wonderland.
He’s been more impulsive of late; we aren’t sure yet what’s going on.
Last night at Boy Scouts, his sometimes-nemesis-sometimes-partner-in-crime asked for water. Our boy complied with the request by dumping water on the kid’s head.
When Hubby asked him why he thought it was a good idea, he shrugged.
I didn’t think it was a good idea. I just thought of it, so I did it.
Reasons for his choices remain elusive, apparently even to him.
“I wanted to do it at the time but now I see it was a bad choice,” or “I don’t know why I did it,” are frequent answers when we question him after the fact.
His befuddlement appears legitimate.
Since Dad passed away, wild swings of his behavior have become the norm. One moment, he’s explaining detailed reasons for the failure of a World War II campaign. The next, he’s walking from the kitchen to the living room to deposit orange peels behind the couch because the trash can (in the kitchen) was too far away.
After he gets in trouble, he’s almost perfect for hours and incredibly logical about accepting consequences for his behavior. He’ll work with diligent focus on math, chores, apology notes or other remedial requirements.
If only he’d act as though he’d been in trouble BEFORE getting in trouble, he’d almost never be in trouble.
Back to the beautiful snowy landscape.
In his room.
I opened the bedroom door to deposit some of his belongings and stopped, sniffing in amazement.
My young man’s bedroom actually smelled…not like his bedroom usually
Then I turned on the light.
The pictures don’t even begin to accurately portray the amount of powder on EVERY SURFACE of his room.
This summer, before Scout camp, I bought him a container of Anti Monkey Butt powder (yes, it’s really a thing) as recommended by the troop leaders. It resided in the top drawer of his dresser for almost an entire year.
This morning, it called his name.
He said he just wanted to see what everything would look like with powder all over it.
Thought it might be pretty.
Turns out, it definitely smelled pretty.
It was EVERYwhere.
I can imagine his delight as the plastic can puffed white flakes into the air. He probably danced through the clouds as they fell (a theory supported by the powder Hubby brushed off the kid’s shirt this morning).
As usual, he attempted no argument when I handed down the sentence: vacuum and wipe every surface, shake bedding over the porch rail, put all belongings in their proper places.
He even put the sheets back on his bed without asking me for help—and I didn’t even tell him to do that.
Tomorrow, his in-home counselor will help us try to work with him through his thought process. I’m just hoping we can find a solution, because right now it feels like every time we turn around it’s “something else.”
So far, most of his urges have led to largely harmless actions, but we just never know what he’s going to do next.
It’s like he’s suddenly five. Or maybe three.
He carries chunks of concrete into the bathroom, hides yogurt wrappers and banana peels in his room (doubly odd since we reinforce that he can have healthy food any time he wants it), climbs things, wanders off, misbehaves at school hoping for a suspension (because then he can come home) and basically does whatever pops into his head.
A friend told me that when his spectrum son edged into puberty, his Autism went from minor inconvenience to a full-blown life-alteration. We’re not sure if this regression is due to the Autism, due to the grief, due to a need for a change in medication, or…
We just don’t know. And it’s frustrating.
But, on the bright side—the side to which I cling in desperation—the pattern of the powder was very pretty.
And even better: his room no longer smells like a baboon’s derriere.
Love this. I’m not supermum either.
If you haven’t read Grit by Angela Duckworth, be forewarned and encouraged: the book is long AND it is worth your time. The information is enthralling. Listening to the audio (read by the author) is even more fascinating.
One of my colleagues suggested I read it after I related the latest escapades in our quest to find the best care for our children’s special needs. Grit, according to Angela, is “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”
When it comes to our adopted kiddos, any social worker, community service board member, child services team contributor, school administrator, teacher or member of the mental health community with whom I’ve interacted would agree that I tend toward dogged advocacy. Our first social worker told Hubby I’m “hypervigilant” (hence the blog name).
Their well-being is my Quest, if you will.
Our kids had such a traumatic start; Hubby and I are determined—as much as is within our power—to make the rest of their growing-up years decidedly un-traumatic. I have to tell you: spending almost every moment of my wake time (and sometimes my dreams as well) finding ways to sow seeds of future success is exhausting.
At my friend’s recommendation, I read Grit thinking it might give me some encouragement.
Perhaps some validation.
Maybe even a little focus.
What I didn’t expect: Angela talks about ways to develop Grit in our children.
Her explanation of Grit indicators enthralled me. Among other things, a huge predictor of future success is a child’s commitment to a challenging activity for a certain amount of time.
At the high school level, two years of involvement in the same activity (whether sport, club or organization) is a solid predictor of future success.
Chess club, lacrosse, football, student government, school newspaper: as long as the activity creates growth and challenges the child to learn more, improve or think more creatively, it counts. (One year of involvement predicted nothing, by the way. That second year matters.)
To grow Grit in their children (and themselves), Angela, her husband and her children all “Do Hard Things.” (As a nerd partial to ancient myth, I prefer the term”Grit Quest.” My paraphrase of quest: an adventurous search or pursuit to secure or achieve something. GQ for short. Gives more of a sense of the “bulldog determination to scale the highest limit of this mountain” ideology our family tends to embrace.)
1. Everyone does SOMEthing that requires practice (pursuit) to improve. Each family member must embrace a GQ.
“Everyone” includes parents—how can we expect the kids to do something difficult while we potato on the couch?
If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know that Hubby and I do fun things like teaching ourselves how to knock out and rebuild walls, replace the bathroom ceiling and restore cars. The kids’ counselor actually told us we needed to take time to relax, to show the kids that adulting isn’t all work. #1 will be no trouble.
2. Everyone chooses his or her own GQ. No one wants to work hard because someone else is making them.
We have a child who would prefer to do nothing at all, so #2 will be more difficult.. If we don’t choose something for her, she will sit in her room and converse with herself. We’ve come to a compromise: there will be a GQ and it will involve music; the kids can choose from the instruments we already have on hand (piano and guitar). They’ve each asked for music lessons (unwitting of the work required), so this technically follows Angela’s guideline.
Other GQ considerations are transportation and impact on family time. For instance, we’ve ruled out football (American) for now because practices every night and games on weekends would effectively preclude any other activities…for anyone, player or not. We’re open to any sports which enable the kids to play together without taking over the family schedule.
3. No quitting. At least, not on a difficult day nor due to bad attitude. Predetermine a timeline or stopping point.
Once they’ve fulfilled the terms of the agreement (e.g., eight weeks,”when you reach x level” or a sport season) they can pick a new instrument or try something else.
Angela Duckworth says, “if I’ve paid the tuition for your set of piano lessons, you’re going to take all those lessons and you are, as you promised your teacher, going to practice for those lessons.”
Sounds great, but #3 is a bit more tricky for us, as we’re still working on motivation.
For over a year, the kids took Karate (THEIR CHOICE). We told them they could quit once they received a green belt. Most of the class attained the first belt within the first three months. Over a year later, our little darlings finally managed to pass the first belt assessment. They simply refused to practice.
No consequences mattered. Rewards, consequences, the teacher calling them out in front of the entire class…nothing mattered to them.
This lack of response to negative consequence or positive reward has been an ongoing burr under my saddle. It’s a “normal” response from trauma kids.
I literally had to stand there and watch them, directing every move. Right, it’s only fifteen minutes a day…but when it took an hour to complete thirty minutes of homework and we had Scouts (one for each) twice a week and counseling twice a week and…and…and…it just became too much.
What I learned from that experience? Pick a shorter term goal. The idea of allowing them to quit when they hit green was this: by the time they got to green, they’d be so good, they wouldn’t want to quit. Both of them have athletic physiques and our boy has flexibility any ballerina would kill for. We knew if they found success, they’d want to continue.
Problem is, they fought so hard to be complacent, they missed out. Toward the end, they both started realizing goals in karate. Unfortunately, it was too late, because they were both approved for in-home counseling (7-10 hours per week). With school, there’s currently no time for karate.
But hey, once the summer starts, we will have all kinds of time to practice an instrument. (Yep, I plan to practice as well.)
In the meantime, I’m going to go listen to Grit one more time. There was a section about the Seattle Seahawks I didn’t fully catch the first time around, and I want to listen again.
If you take time to read it (or already have), weigh in below.
What do you think? Do you have grit? How do you know?
I have been PRAYING for time to write during the last few weeks. We’ve got a lot going on.
We decided to buy out the rest of the siblings and move to Dad’s place. This means
- We need to downsize, as the house is smaller (although we plan to add on)
- We must quickly finish all home improvement projects
- We have to have our current house market-ready ASAP before the Spring House Rush begins
Our Boy had the flu for four days. The expelling-a-demonic-force-from-your-gut version. This means
- He called me to his room every fifteen minutes to ask if he were dying
- He called me to his room every thirty minutes to confirm his time of death
- I got nothing done for a week (spent Friday recovering from no sleep)
Hubby and I spent an entire day rolling around in the crawl space under the house (looking like Mars explorers in Tyvek suits and respirators) to replace the insulation and vapor barrier. This means
- We did not walk upright for almost 8 hours
- I spent three days walking around like an old lady
- I finally realized I am no longer seventeen
Hubby got laid off after almost 20 year with the same firm. This means
- We have to figure out insurance
- We found out his insane work ethic and sense of humor have won him a ton of friends and supporters; he received literally hundreds of supportive texts, email messages and phone calls
- He suddenly has time to work on the house
I was sick three days ago, then had a fever relapse today. This means
- Hubby has been Mr. Mom (and he’s done a fabulous job)
- The kids have had to take more responsibility (and have done a fabulous job)
- I completely lost my voice and spent the entire day in a chair writing and looking at the river at my aunt’s house (voice loss: not so fabulous; river: fabulous)
So, here’s the good news: my prayer was answered and I had time to write today, because with a fever and the inability to talk, I can’t do much else. (Post scheduled for tomorrow.)
This is what you call “Forced Write-irement.”
More good news: Our Boy is fully recovered and is up to most of his old shenanigans, but he also got it in his head that the flu might have been punishment for his behavior the last few months, so he’s been watching himself.
This may be my fault. Every time he asked if he might be dying, he also asked, “WHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYY is this happening? What have I EVER DONE to DESERVE this????” At some point, running on three hours’ sleep, I maaaaaay have responded, “Well, think through the last eight weeks. How much of that was spent on good behavior?” He didn’t ask me about it again…
Even more good news: if all goes as planned, Hubby already has another job lined up, and they’re willing to wait a couple weeks on the start date, so he’ll have time to work on the house.
It’s been busy and I’m exhausted…but God is good.
ALL the time.
Oh, and did I mention I’m thinking about writing a non-fiction bit about working with trauma kids? In case I get bored.
So, I found the following poem in some of my scribbles from about three years ago:
Dirge of the Mama
Am I a horrible mother?
Tonight, my son—he lied.
I blew my top and I’ll admit
I gave him quite a fright.
Am I a horrible mother?
Tonight I lost my cool;
I did not hit—
I did not spank—
But by God, I wanted to.
I’m not a horrible mother
I want the best for you
One day, my son,
When your child lies to you.
I still feel this. Sooooooooooooooo often.
Tonight, I lost my cr*p.
Monday is Cub Scout night. Every single week, I hear gravel crunching under Hubby’s tires.
And I wait.
Unless he is 100% supervised, our boy always finds trouble. And every week, they burst through the back door in the middle of a reprimand.
Since Dad passed away, our guy has regressed to the impulsive equivalent of a five year old.
I understand from the many, many articles and books about childhood grief that this is normal, but seven weeks of the behavioral equivalent of Chinese Water Torture has chipped away my resolve to stay calm.
He almost made it through the evening this time.
But then, some pestering little kid he can’t stand ran by and hit him (probably explains the “can’t stand”).
Instead of coming to tell Hubby (which is what we tell him to do, every…stinking…time…), he ran after the kid, knocking people out of the way as he tracked his prey.
Hubby happened upon the scene in time to collar him.
We are exhausted.
We can’t leave him alone for five minutes unless he’s asleep.
It’s like we’re back to year one, minus the screaming (THANK GOD at least he’s not screaming. Yep, I can find a blessing anywhere. I’m pretty sure this means I’m mental).
I have another meeting tomorrow about whether the school will allow a one-to-one behavioral aide. I’m trying to get approval for an in-home counselor to help him cope. I am doing EVERYthing I can think of.
I know being at the end of the rope is not an excuse, but tonight, I’d just had it. I went all
It was either that or have an aneurysm, and I just don’t have time for that.
In less-than-quiet decibels, I explained to our boy that although I spend hours and hours and HOURS every week in meetings and filling out paperwork and researching and reading and trying to find solutions that will help them, he and his sister are NOT my top priority.
And I am
watching the kids disrespect, ignore and disobey my husband.
I went nose-to-nose with the kid.
Imagine this, but with longer hair (probably the spit is accurate):
YOU WILL OBEY, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME SOLDIER?!
Not kidding. I went there.
By the time I was done, he was yelling, “SIR, YES, SIR! I MEAN—MA’AM!”
I don’t really know if it will make any difference.
I know the kid is grieving; we all are. Military Mama is probably not what he needs right now.
Why am I telling you this? Mostly because I’m still pretty upset, both about his behavior and about my reaction. Writing keeps me sane.
I’m telling you this because I think I come across as got-my-stuff-together a little too often, and that’s just not real life. I’m totally winging this.
Also, I want you to know that if you’re in the middle of
Joshua 1:9 is one of my favorite promises: Be Strong. Be Brave. You are NEVER ALONE.
Even in the moments we fail, God is still there.
Even when Military Mama takes over.
Stand strong. Be brave.
You can do this.
As a camp counselor and lifeguard, I was in the best shape of my life. Lithe and brown and sporting long, dark braids, I lived up to the nickname from campers: Aunt Pocahontas.
This was twenty years ago, mind you.
(Sometimes, this thought freaks me out. Twenty years is a lifetime, yet it seems like yesterday. Will the next twenty years go so fast?
Also, side note, twenty years ago, mothers and fathers trusted me to keep their tweens alive for an entire week. What were they thinking?)
Anyway, in spite of walking, running and swimming, I thought my derriere was still way too big.
Words from a much older lifeguard impacted my self-image more than I’m sure he ever knew. Looking back, I’m not really sure why I didn’t tell him to shut up, or even mention it to my supervisor. I guess I knew he meant no harm (and I still believe this).
Unfortunately, though, his words shaped my self image. Every time I ran by, he raised a hand in greeting.
Hey! Bubble Butt!
He had a mildly insulting nickname for everyone, much like Gilbert calling Anne “Carrots.”
And here I am, twenty years later, still remembering.
So I must remember, in the moments when my children are annoying, or aggravating, or do something downright stupid:
We all think words that cross the line. Right?
I’ll admit it.
I think words I should not say every time the boy decides he’d like to experiment (for instance, when I discovered his attempt to determine whether he could emulsify a huge, open container of oil and vinegar…in his BEDROOM).
Or when the girl pretends a comprehension disability much greater than the difficulty she actually has.
HOW could you be so STUPID?
DON’T be such an IDIOT.
These are the things I must not say. Because honestly, they’re not BEING these things.
I mean, yeah, if you want to get down to brass tacks, I do think it’s a dunce move for a kid with known motor-skills-issues to transport a liter and a half of stinky, sticky fluid into his room. But he’s not BEing stupid; his actions are simply unwise.
And I still have to watch my tongue.
Today, I listened to a new acquaintance talk about her mother, who evidently has nothing nice to say about her choices, her lifestyle. her clothes, her hair and her choice in men.
This acquaintance is in the midst of surgeries (two shoulder surgeries down, one neck surgery to go). She is effectively disabled for weeks after surgery and her insurance won’t pay for rehabilitative care. Instead of staying with her lone local family member, she talked the doctor into putting her into a rehab facility that serves homeless persons.
Because her mother’s words hurt so deeply, she would rather stay in that facility than with the one person in the world who should love her unconditionally.
One other thing: this woman is in her fifties, and her mother’s words still have this power.
I pray that I will never be that mother.
My frustration has, more than once, allowed unkind words to slip out.
Today, I renewed my vow to watch my tongue. To think better, kinder thoughts. To focus on the behavior rather than the personality.
Because what I say to them will exist forever in their minds.
In twenty years.
In forty years.
After I am dead, my words will live.
When they remember my words, I want them to feel encouraged. Uplifted. Inspired. Motivated to do better—without feeling belittled. Loved.
Twenty years from now, I don’t want them to look in the mirror and glare at what follows them. If they hear my voice in their heads, these are the messages I hope they hear:
I love you more than the sun and the moon.
I will love you—no matter WHAT you do.
I will never stop believing in you.
I hope Hubby hears those things, too.
I read these wise words about the power of what we say (and thought you might like to see them, too):
Ephesians 4:29 ESV
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Proverbs 12:18 ESV
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Matthew 15:18 ESV
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.
Matthew 12:36 ESV
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,
Proverbs 16:24 ESV
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
James 1:26 ESV
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.