The Ups & Downs of Progress

Let me start by saying that I am honestly thrilled for every step forward my son takes.  Truly thrilled!  However, there are some of his not so “normal” traits that I never want him to lose.

This realization hit me a short while back when yet one more playschool mom informed me that her daughter planned on marrying my son.  I laughed and said that she’d have to get in line as he seems to be amassing quite a group of girlfriends.

I shared this cute little anecdote with my husband that night who commented, “That’s sweet.  I wonder why all these girls are in love with him.”

Aside from the fact that he is the best looking little boy ever, in my humble opinion, “It’s probably because he doesn’t pull hair and tell them they have cooties like the other boys.”, was my response.

It was a simple comment that really got me thinking about what other “normal” little boy things he doesn’t do; and that I don’t want him to do.

He doesn’t reject affection from me

As he nears six years old, my boy still climbs up on my lap to snuggle.  He still asks to be picked up and held.  He still loves lots of kisses and tight hugs.  I realize that this alone doesn’t make him unique from most others his age, but he even allows and welcomes this in public.  There’s no, “MooOOOoomm, my friends are watching!”

He doesn’t tease or bully

He loves to play with other kids and we are working hard at learning how to ask kids to play with him.  He doesn’t discriminate as to who he does and doesn’t want to play with.  He may not pursue a relationship with someone who’s been mean to him in the past, but aren’t we all like that?

This does not mean that he is a perfect boy, he still fights with his sisters over who’s turn it is or who gets that toy, etc., but I’ve never seen or heard him call anyone a bad name or refuse their friendship because they don’t measure up to his standards.  He won’t always accept the invitation from other kids, but he’s not mean about it.

He is genuine

My son will not craft a fake persona to take advantage of a situation.  He won’t act nice to you then badmouth you behind your back.  He is who he is and he likes what he likes.  Perhaps he could be a little more subtle in his declarations of what he doesn’t like, but that is another area that we are working on.

 

As parents of young ones, we long for our children to grow up and get to the next stage (potty training, school, not needing a babysitter, and so on) all the while lamenting the loss of innocence and hard life-lessons which they endure along the way.  I remember my mother telling me a few years ago that the hardest part of having grown children is that you can no longer fix their hurts with a simple kiss and hug.  Those are days that I do not look forward to.

I’ve always said that my biggest problem with autism is that I don’t want my son’s life to be any harder than it needs to be, but somedays I wonder if maybe there aren’t harder times he may be able to avoid?  I realize that the last statement is simply a mother’s hope and not a fact.  He’ll still endure hurt and pain, regardless of autism.  But don’t we all wish we could just keep them in the bubble just a little longer?

 

Wendy

 

No Sibling Left Behind

Raising a special needs child is difficult.  Raising more than one is difficult.  Raising a special needs child while trying to stay “fair” to his neurotypical siblings…almost impossible.

That’s right, we have a slightly more sensitive word to describe the siblings of children on the spectrum.  Neurotypical is preferential to calling them our normal kids.  Naturally, that implies that our ASD child is abnormal and that’s not a path we want to venture down.  So we say neurotypical with a slight awkwardness, but it’s the best phrasing that we have right now.

Whatever special need your child may have consumes significantly more time, financial and emotional commitment than their siblings require.  For those of us with children on the spectrum, it’s often an invisible cost as you don’t see the appointments the same way you would see a wheelchair or other equipment.  Knowing the financial toll this takes on us gives me an extra-large dose of sympathy for the parents that also have to invest in equipment and/or medication for their children.

So what is the cost?

Appointments.  Getting there (especially if you are not right in the city) demands fuel and wear and tear on your vehicle.  It costs us time away from work and/or childcare costs for siblings.  We have been fortunate enough to have friends step in to help us with the childcare, which we are so very thankful for.  Depending on your other children, you may or may not be able to bring them along as all your attention needs to be on the appointment itself.

Therapy.  So far we have been blessed enough to have not had to pay for our son’s therapy.  However, he is quickly aging out of the free stuff and any further therapy will be out of pocket.  It’s expensive and waitlisted, but we will do what we have to do to keep him moving forward.  So the renovations take a back seat.  The old vehicle gets limped along rather than replaced.  When your child is Autistic, his progress is more important than the other stuff.

Home therapy.  We homeschool, so we spend time teaching all of our children, but our son gets extra time because he needs extra time.  We include his sisters when we can.  Especially when it comes to social and life skills.  Some of it, though, just has to be one on one.

Emotional investment.  Naturally, we are emotionally invested in all our children.  But our son needs more.  If we are out and about we have to plan around him (we can’t go anywhere overstimulating or with people in costumes, etc.) and that’s not always fair to the girls.

We’ve talked a lot about how great it would be to take our kids to DisneyWorld; but for the foreseeable future it is not an option.  Our son is TERRIFIED of mascots/people in big costumes.  Spending time with friends on farms or acreages requires a tight leash on the kids because of his propensity to wander.

Then there is the exhaustion that comes with sleepless nights, emotional days, and the overall alertness that we must have to all of his surroundings.  So who gets the short end of the parental stick?

His siblings.

We do our best to balance everyone, but many days our best feels lacking.

Our oldest has many responsibilities that most 7 year olds don’t.  If we’re at the park, she has to help keep an eye out for him.  If she gets a talking toy as a birthday gift, she can generally only play with it when he’s not around (sensory issues).  Lately, he even wants her to fall asleep with him most nights – although that one is her choice.

So, how’s a mom to balance it all?  An awful lot of prayer, for starters.  For God to help the girls to understand their brother’s needs and be sensitive to them.  To not feel jealous or resentful.  And for wisdom for us as parents.

From time to time, I have special trips with our oldest.  We’ve done girls weekends away with family.  We’ve done spa days (haircuts) or lunch dates.  Last year we even saved up to fly to my hometown to attend a friend’s wedding.

These gestures certainly help, but are also easily forgotten when she’s feeling neglected.  She sometimes needs to be reminded of the freedoms that she gets and her brother doesn’t.  I’d love to sit here and tell you that we have it all figured out and are doing a great job of balancing all 3 children, but that’s simply not the case.

As any parent, special needs or not, we are doing the best we know how to at any given moment.  That’s about all that we can do.

Leaps and Bounds

A beautiful thing happened last night.  A dream that I had long given up on came true; my son said, “I love you, mama.” to me completely on his own!

He’s said it before with prompting, or copying his sisters, but never on his own.

I was laying down with him, trying to help him sleep, gave him a kiss on the forehead and he said it.

“I love you, mama.”

His bed may have been cramped, what with sharing it with every stuffy in the room, and crazy hot (he sleeps with a heavy sleeping bag AND a weighted denim blanket) but in that moment, there was no where in the world I would have rather been.

Nowhere!

I can remember the first time my girls uttered the same phrase, and it was heartwarming and special and one of those moments that I treasured in my heart.  I’m not trying to downplay their accomplishments, but I knew the moments would come with them, it was just a matter of “when”.  With my boy, it has always been an “if”.

Two weeks ago was another leap.

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of where my son is on the spectrum, is his inability to communicate pain and sickness.  Again, the girls can tell me if it’s a tummy ache or a scraped knee.  With him, however, if I can’t actually see the incident it’s little more than a guessing game.  This particular day, he was upset about a “boo-boo” – not uncommon.  I asked, as I always do if I can’t see it, where the boo-boo was.  I expected him to simply restate that he was suffering from a boo-boo when he surprised me again.

“On my arm.”

Wait. What?

This ability to explain his pain has just opened up a whole new world to our family.  No more guesses (well, not as many), no more frustration.  He can say it and I can help him!

Your child’s stumbling block may not be words.  Perhaps it’s trying a new food, sitting in a waiting room and NOT needing the iPad, tolerating a public event without headphones on.  Whatever it may be, celebrate each tiny victory as though your child has just won Olympic gold.  Quite likely, he/she has worked harder to reach this milestone than many medalists!

In a month from now, when the memory has faded and this new step is part of everyday life, remember it when your child seems to be reverting.  Those days when you’re exhausted from the fight.  When your already shattered heart sustains more damage because it’s just not fair that someone so wonderful should have to work so very hard to do the things everyone else takes for granted.  On those hard days, remember the good.  Don’t just remember what he achieved that day, remember his smile because he KNEW what a breakthrough he’d made.  Remember that for that moment, your heart was whole and soaring.

Remember that moment and start looking ahead to the next one.  Never stop dreaming big, big dreams for your kids.

Remember that the victories you’ve already had, you probably never expected.  The one you’re not expecting in the future will happen.

It’s coming, mama.

Confessions of a Lazy Mom

I was the perfect wife and mother…until I got married and had kids!

If you read my original post, My Unexpected Journey, you’ll see that I had big plans about how life would go.  I also had plans about my plans and back up plans for all these plans.  Every eventuality was covered.

It must be understood that these plans hinged on the fact that my children would be perfect angels…because I would be the perfect mother.  This I failed to have a back up plan for, since there was just no scenario I could dream up that would include normal kids.

Eight years into marriage and six and a half of those being a mother tell a different story.  It must be understood that much of my current state of being is hinged on the fact that I’m tired!

By the time my first baby started sleeping through the night, I was one month away from baby number two so my nights were constantly being interrupted by third trimester pregnancy stuff.  By the time he started sleeping through the night I was well on my way to baby number three.  Baby number three has only recently started sleeping through the night – just in time for number two to have not infrequent interruptions to his sleep.

I’m not trying to make anyone feel sorry for me, just making excuses,  stating a fact.

So here’s how my standards for perfection have taken an unexpected twist.

  1. Fifteen Minutes per Week

That’s how long my house is clean to the standard that I’d allow my mom in with her white gloves.  In a previous post, Meaningful Minimalism, I mentioned that I have one day set aside for full house cleaning.  I find that on a good week I have roughly a 15 minute window to survey all I see and be impressed with myself.

The ever so important lesson I have learned in this is that for the other 10065 minutes that my house is, uh, less than stellar, it’s okay.  That doesn’t mean that I like the way it looks most days – but that I have come to understand that a messy house doesn’t make me a bad person.

2.  Quiet Time – It’s not just for babies anymore

I am an introvert.  I need time by myself to recharge.  This is not easily accomplished with a husband, 3 children and a part-time job.  Did I mention that I home school?  So said children are never “off at school”.

My older 2 children get some quiet time in the afternoon while the youngest naps.  This is also my quiet time.  I either read, watch a “mommy show” on Netflix or call/message friends – guilt free of any household task.  I have learned that my oldest also benefits from this time on her own and it makes for a much smoother afternoon for all of us.

3. So I Saw This Thing on Pinterest

So many of my organizational ideas have come from Pinterest!  Crafts or activities for the kids, home school ideas, recipes and “Life Hacks” that I use originate here as well.

4. Kids are washable

This is a lesson that my husband has had to teach me, and continues to remind me of.  I don’t need to hover over the children constantly to keep them in pristine condition.  The grime they get on themselves will come off.  Although, my youngest is learning that the grease from daddy’s tractor often takes a harder scrubbing or an extra day or two!

5.  I don’t reinvent the wheel

Many wives and mothers have gone before me and I love to glean from their knowledge and experience!

I adore mentorship and make a point to partake of these types of relationships whenever possible.  I have had official mentors in my life – the kind where I ask her if she is willing to take on a project as complex as me, and I have had relationships with women who I just learn from.

I listen to their stories with intent of learning and applying wisdom to my own situation and admire them for being real with me.

As I struggled to potty train my son, I would think back to a story I was told roughly 15 years ago by a mother who had struggled in a similar way with one of her sons.

As I delve into year 2 of homeschooling, I seek out every homeschooling mother I know (or simply know of) to pepper with questions.  The list could go on and on.

The mentoring relationship isn’t always advice based, however.  There are women whom I trust that I learn all types of life lessons from.  A dear friend and I were having coffee awhile ago and I took the opportunity to invite her to speak into my life.  To offer loving correction when she sees me mess up and to tough love me when I may be feeling a little sorry for myself.

If you have never thought of being mentored, I urge you to consider it!  Find someone who you respect, have similar values to and are able to spend time with on a somewhat regular basis.  Then be really brave and tell this person that they are allowed to point you in the right direction when your compass may be a little off.  I can promise you that you will be better for it!  And perhaps someday you can be that person to someone else.

 

So offering myself grace has made a world of difference to my whole family.  When mama’s relaxed, the whole family is relaxed!  Of course there are times when things just need to get done and fun has to fall by the wayside, but my goal is to make those times the exception rather than the rule.

What has life taught you?

Wendy

How a Puppy Almost Ruined Us

The whole process really started a few years ago when the kids began bugging us for a dog.  Back then the answer was easy… “I’m NOT potty training a dog until all my kids are potty trained.”.  I still had one in diapers and one on the way so this seemed like a safe statement to me.

Unfortunately, what I saw as a good excuse my children took as a promise.  This spring/summer marked a glorious new, diaper free chapter in our lives and I lived in blissful contentment…and then the begging started.

The “NO” came easily enough at first.  I’ve had dogs, I know how much work they are.  I’m not ready to deal with another creature’s poo yet.

Then I’d have days where my heart was a little softer but my husband would give the firm NO.  Or he’d have a soft-hearted day but I was firm.  Then both of our hearts started to soften at the same time.

We’d go into the city and see the pet stores or the pet supply aisles and sigh a little.  Then we’d wander in a little and just look around.

You can imagine what happened next.  Yep – we went to the SPCA and met the sweetest, cutest, cuddliest little pup!  He snuggled up into my neck and I was jelly.  I caught myself rocking and bouncing him like a tiny baby.  We paid the deposit but had to wait two more weeks to take him home as he needed another vaccine and to be neutered.

Those weeks were spent puppy proofing the house, teaching the kids that they couldn’t leave all their tiny toys laying around.  We bought a bed, a kennel, some toys, food and treats.  We told everyone we saw about our exciting news.  We.  Were. Pumped.

As the X’s on the calendar began to consume the blank spaces, moments of “what are we thinking” began to worm their way into my head, though, I gave them no heed.  I simply chalked it up to the fact that I was just being realistic about what my next long while will be like with training and not romanticizing the experience.

Then FINALLY Monday came.  We all woke up excited and happy.  The plan was to pick the kids up at daycare after work, drive to the SPCA and live happily ever after.

I got a call asking me to come two hours later than I had planned and I found myself oddly relieved.

3:00 came and I piled the kids in the van and off we went.  We spent the whole drive trying to agree on a name, to no avail.  We walked into the building and the kids all started calling him Rusty as I filled out the remaining paperwork and paid the balance.

The drive home was bliss as everything that Rusty did brought sheer joy to my children.

Rusty was just as sweet as we expected him to be.  He didn’t bark unless he needed to go outside.  He already knew to do his business outside!  He was well behaved and loved to cuddle and play.

I felt uncomfortable emotions rising up in me and I quickly stuffed them deep, deep down.

My husband came home from work and commented, “Yep, it smells like dog in here.”  and I was instantly upset with him. How dare he disrespect our new little bundle of joy?!

The evening went on and the emotions kept creeping up my spine.  We played, we trained, we oohed and we ahhed.  Then – my oldest daughter said the one sentence that brought me crashing down.

“So, mom, what do we do if Rusty gets sick?”

It was an innocent and thoughtful question – and it sent my emotions spiralling out of control.

“We take him to the vet.” I answered.

My husband looked at me and recognized the fear in my eyes and my inner struggle to hold myself together.  It’s a look he hadn’t seen since I’d been able to get all the depression and anxiety under control.

The worst part was that neither of us knew why.

The evening went on and the kids went to bed.  Rusty continued to be an ideal little pup.  He slept through the night.  I didn’t.

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What little sleep I had was fitful and troubled.  For some reason I was afraid of this puppy.  But more than that, I was terrified of the fear.

Morning came far too quickly and my husband got up for work.  He took Rusty outside, fed him and bonded.  When he left, Rusty gave the slightest of whimpers.  I got out of bed and spent time playing and cuddling with Rusty.

Okay, he’s still a sweet little thing.  Just focus on the positive.

I was determined to keep my self-talk positive and grounded in reality.  I did okay…for a while.  The children awoke and doted on Rusty.  We played outside, we played inside.  We took him for a walk to the town office to get a dog licence.

Rusty continued to be perfect.  I continued to lose my mind.

I was texting with my mom and sisters, who I’m so grateful for!  I love that in these times I can be honest with them without fear of judgement.

I tried all the grounding exercises.  I tried to enjoy watching my kids love on this little mutt.  The anxiety just kept building.

I called my mom.  I think it was about an hour long conversation.  My mom loves me and advised me to take Rusty back to the SPCA for the sake of my sanity.

I called my little sister who has a dog and could understand my feelings.  My sister loves me (and sometimes she likes me, too) and she advised me to just give it a little longer and maybe Rusty would prove to be a great asset to our family.

I called my big sister who can talk me down from pretty much anything.  She loves me too and advised me to put my emotional well-being ahead of my guilt.

I called a very dear friend who always makes time for me and my family and is like family to us.  This friend loves me and advised me to give it a few more days and do my best to restore my bond with Rusty.

 

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Rusty loving my oldest daughter

I texted my husband to ask how his allergies were.  I’ll admit that I was angry that he wasn’t sick from having a dog in the house.  I wanted him to say that it was unbearable and we had to get rid of Rusty.  That’s an easy and logical decision.

Throughout this day and these phone calls I became more and more of a wreck.  I couldn’t hold in the tears any longer.  I found myself trying to hide from Rusty.  Rusty kept finding me and giving me this look that begged me to love him.

I even called my husband at work and I NEVER call him at work.

I had to be on the phone.  I had to be talking to people because left alone with my thoughts was NOT a good place to be.

On top of all this irrational and so very unexpected anxiety was a load of guilt too heavy to bear.  I went from Best Mom Ever to Worst Mom Ever in less than 24 hours.

I did this.  I said yes to getting a dog. And now I knew in my heart of hearts that I had to say no.  I got my kids’ hopes up and now I was going to dash them against some very jagged rocks.  I was being mean and selfish.

In the fog of guilt, however, was the lighthouse of truth.  My kids would get over it.  Both my husband and I had dogs growing up and both dogs met untimely deaths.  We both coped and moved on.  My kids would too.

By the time my husband had come home from work I had resolved in my heart that Rusty needed a better home than I could give him.  I was perking up.  As an added twist to the saga, my eyes began swelling shut and hurting in a way I had never experienced. Apparently now I’m allergic to dogs too.

This story has a happy ending.  Rusty now goes by a new name and has the perfect home with my daughter’s best friend.  He has some four legged friends there too and my kids get to visit him regularly.  There were tears and questions, but within two days my children had basically forgotten that they even had a pet and I have had no anxiety since the new family told me they were keeping him.

I’ve had many theories as to why I reacted the way I did to Rusty, but the truth is that I just don’t know.  God doesn’t always answer the question, “why”, but that’s okay.  I trust Him anyway.

My Child Failed…and I Couldn’t Be Happier

I explained to her that there was no justification in being upset with the instructor as he gave her everything she needed to be successful, it was her choice to not take it.

We live in a world that confuses “young at heart”, with arrested development.  Being young at heart means living life with vitality regardless of how many times your odometer has rolled over.  Enjoying each moment and maintaining an optimistic innocence.  It means to never stop seeing the beauty and possibility in this life we’re given and to keep learning and growing.

Unfortunately, so many have interpreted this happy little mantra to mean, “I don’t  have to grow up.”.

People of all age groups who have chosen to stay young at heart still have responsibilities. They maintain employment, pay their bills on time, have stresses and disappointments.  It’s in how they choose to let these things shape them that determines their “heart age”.

Someone who casts blame for their poor choices on others, lacks follow through on commitments, allows (or demands) others to support them in their frivolity or laziness is not young at heart.  That person is, quite simply, immature.

I know some of those people, and have often thought, “Oh those poor parents who are stuck supporting their adult children.”

“I can’t believe that he has the nerve to buy a brand new vehicle and take extravagant holidays while his parents clean up after him, buy his food and let him live in their house.  He doesn’t even have a job.”

Those poor parents.

Then one day I realized that this adult child is simply living the life he or she was raised to live.

Maybe he failed an important math test so mom badgers the math teacher until he gets a re-write.

She only showed up to 2 volleyball practises and put in minimal effort when she was there.  Dad bullies the coach into putting her in the game and benching the kids who were committed and gave their all.

Forcing the situation until our children get what they want is not preparing them for life.  Twenty, thirty, forty plus years of this kind of parenting only leads to a generation of entitlement and self-centeredness.

I’m not talking about helping out your adult children for a time when life has hit them hard.  A job loss and no way to feed the kids, the death of a spouse, serious illness.  Sacrificing for our kids in circumstances like these is loving them.

Standing up for a true injustice – that’s good parenting.  Maybe your daughter is the committed player benched because the other girl’s dad is louder and angrier.  In those circumstances, we stand against injustice and teach our children to do the same for others.

As a teen, I was a conscientious student.  I generally did well in school and followed the rules.  I may have been a teacher’s pet in a class or two.  So one ill-thought out afternoon a friend and I decided to skip one class.  I’m not sure about her but this was my FIRST skip!  She was an equally well-mannered student.  At the time we felt completely justified in our decision – looking back now we were just being stupid.

Being novices at this type of behaviour, it all blew up in our faces and we each received a 1 day suspension for our efforts.  Meanwhile, chronic offenders walked away without so much as a slap on the wrist.  When we questioned our principal, her response was bluntly, “We are going to make an example of you.”

I still hold this as a mild injustice.

What did our parents do?  Told us each to be productive and clean our respective houses the next day since we wouldn’t be at school.

Yes, our parents were aware of the injustice in this situation, but they also saw the bigger need to teach us to respect the authority of those over us.  Twenty-ish years later, I still thank them for this lesson.

So back to the title of this article…

This summer my oldest 2 children did another round of swimming lessons.  In my son’s first lesson I was going to be helpful and point him continuously back to his teacher when he wandered away from the group.  I had to do this a number of times in that first 30 minutes.

The second lesson the teacher (wisely) took them to a different area of the pool where my son couldn’t see me.  Guess how that lesson went?  Swimmingly (full pun intended)!  My son responded to his teacher far better without my interference and the whole class benefited from the lack of distraction.

I sat in the observation room for the remainder of the lessons and my son did just fine.

My daughter had a great time in her lessons, but halfway through I noticed that she wasn’t jumping into the deep end, but it was more like slipping in at the edge of the pool.  They all had lifejackets on so there was really nothing to be afraid of.   She and I discussed this and she took no heed to my warning.  In fairness, she had never experienced failure before.  We have set up a cushy world that just keeps pushing our kids along regardless of their performance or effort.  In this we have failed them.

So the end of lessons came and my daughter failed her level.  Believe it or not, I was relieved as I expected her to be pushed through to the next level anyway.  The fact was, she hadn’t earned it.  She didn’t even try to jump in.  Not once.

It allowed for a wonderful teachable moment for us.  I explained to her that there was no justification in being upset with the instructor as he gave her everything she needed to be successful, it was her choice to not take it.  The consequence of her lack of effort was that she now had to go through the exact same lessons again, now with little kids.  And if she failed again, her little brother would be ahead of her.  The other consequence was that her father and I now had to pay a second time for her to learn the exact same lessons again.

My prayer is that she will now carry with her the knowledge that life is worth the effort.  A half-hearted  attitude produces a half-hearted life.

What “tough-love” lessons have you carried with you that have shaped you into who you are today?

Wendy

So It Begins…

My mother told me once that you never stop being “mom”, it’s just that when the kids get bigger you can’t fix their problems with a hug and a kiss anymore.

 

As a parent of young children, I love that for the most part I can still kiss away most of their biggest life problems.  Some days, I AM my oldest daughters’ biggest life problem!  Don’t call the authorities on me, but she has to pick up after herself – and she’s the only kid in the whole wide world with such a burden to bear.  Her brother and sister NEVER have to pick up their toys; she has to do ev-er-ee-thing!

Mom – stop laughing!  I was never THAT dramatic…was I?

My magical, healing kiss still cures the worst of the booboos.  A hug can generally stop the tears.  And on the odd occasion when the hurt is more than mom can handle, we call in the specialist.  Dad.  No surgeon matches his skill level when it comes to removing splinters and the like.

I know that these days are fleeting and therefore I cherish them.

My mother told me once that you never stop being “mom”, it’s just that when the kids get bigger you can’t fix their problems with a hug and a kiss anymore.

I pray against the days when my kids suffer their first broken hearts, betrayal by a friend, not getting the award they worked so hard for, etc.  I also pray that they are not the heartbreakers or betrayers.

As the mother of a special needs child, there is another day coming that I dread.

I so clearly remember the day I stood in my front yard with my cousin as he threw rocks at the girl across the road and called her a retard.  I also remember telling him to stop.  She and I were in the same grade throughout school and became friends after that.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of myself for that time because I didn’t participate in his awful behaviour.  The problem is that now I am so afraid of my son being the lone kid across the street having rocks and ugly words hurled at him.

Times have changed, you say.  We’re more educated and less judgemental about special needs now, you think.

Are we?

People blame vaccines, environment, and just about everything else they can for why these babies are the way they are as if they are some kind of punishment or error.  We want a reason for whatever is “wrong” with these people!  It may not be a literal rock, but our words can cause damage that six weeks in a cast just can’t heal.

This summer, I had the privilege of helping out with a fun children’s event as a group leader.  There was quite a bit of activity and excitement and my son got a little overwhelmed.  That’s when the moment I’ve been dreading for 5 years happened.

This boy, a few years older than mine, grimaced and said, in that snooty little voice, “What’s WRONG with him?!”

After taking a second to retract my mama bear claws, I was thankful that another child needed me and I didn’t have to answer that question.  The remainder of the event was tainted with the same attitude.  “Why can’t he talk?”, “What’s his problem?” and so on.  To be clear, these were not the poorly worded inquiries of a genuinely curious little scamp.  These were the snotty, judgemental slurs of a little boy who thought the world revolved around him (as evidenced in his comments to and about everyone else, and his behaviour whenever he didn’t win a game).

So, what’s a mom to do?  I didn’t sit him down and explain that my son’s brain just works differently than his own.  I didn’t have time.  There were 6 other children needing my help at the same time.  None of these other 6 children had a problem with my son’s behaviour.

So we got through that day, but what about the days to come?  I can’t keep my boy in a bubble.  Our goal as parents for him is to do whatever we can to make him as self-sufficient as possible.  To enable him to be an active and contributing member of society.  As much as I detest the thought of it, that also means teaching him to deal with the verbal slings and arrows.  To see himself as a child of God, and not as a diagnosis or blight on society.

From my perspective, I’d rather you ask us the genuine questions than make assumptions.  Don’t walk on eggshells in fear of causing a meltdown.  Not every meltdown is sensory related; sometimes he’s just a brat like any other kid.  And quite frankly, each kid on the spectrum has a different set of triggers which may change day to day.

Use a little common sense, of course.  Don’t blow a whistle as loud as you can right by their ears – but don’t do that to anyone!

Personally, when I take my son for therapy, I am sure not to wear perfume or scented products; but that’s when I know that I’ll be in a building full of people with sensory issues.

And if you’re not comfortable enough to not ask me about my son, then just don’t.  Treat him like a kid and we’ll all get along just fine.

And can you do me one more favour?  Teach your kids that whatever the other kids’ differences are, they’re all still people who just want to be loved.

Wendy

How Did I Get Here???

There were so many days that I was tempted to quit. The only reason I hung in there was because I knew that giving up now only meant that I had to start starting over again.

Hello again – it’s been awhile.

Several of you have been asking where I’ve been these last two months and the short answer to that question is; on another adventure.

Generally, a response like this would conjure up images of travel, education, or some epic and emotional learning curve.  Perhaps building a new house or travelling the lecture circuit or rising to some level of fame.  Discovering some long-lost relative who admires my pluck and has decided to leave us a vast fortune.

Those are all lovely thoughts which, for me, would have to begin with “Once upon a time…”.  The truth behind my absence is this:

Potty Training

Rather anti-climactic, isn’t it?

My son turned 5 in May and previous attempts (and there have been many) to train have led to nothing but frustration and tears.  All mine.  He couldn’t have cared less about it, hence the frustration.

I’ve talked to his therapists, I’ve read every blog and case study I could get my hands on.  I bribed him with everything I could think of and nothing worked.  I put the potty in front of the TV and played an endless loop of YouTube potty training videos.  It never worked.  He just didn’t care.

If one more person told me that “No one ever graduated high school in diapers!” I was going to snap.  The truth was that I didn’t believe that this statement would necessarily hold true for him.

Then, approximately 6 weeks ago, I woke up one morning with the realization that we were out of Pull-Ups and the determination to NOT BUY MORE!

His currency is the iPad, so that’s what I used.  You want the iPad?  You sit on the toilet.  The first couple of weeks we got some incidental successes, but still plenty of accidents.  At this point, my 2-year-old decided that she wanted to play the iPad too so she also wanted to sit on the potty.  I didn’t expect much from her, but hey – who am I to argue???

It was around this 2 week mark that I had my first major breakdown…at church.  Yes, it was embarrassing, but I was just so exhausted by this whole process with seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel.  I believe that my exact words were, “Potty training is kicking my butt!”.  Not my highest point.  However, it was a turning point!

I know that those who witnessed my tantrum prayed for us.  I know my Mom was praying too.  She was my cheerleader through this all.  If you’re reading this, mom, you already trained 3 daughters, and now you had to train one of them to train – thanks for sticking it out with me!

It was around then that the successes became more intentional and frequent.  My son now just goes to the bathroom himself when he needs to and my daughter is able to come tell us when she needs to go!  Two weeks ago, tomorrow, I brought the last diapers from my house to our church nursery.  I may or may not have done a happy dance the whole way!

So what has this whole process taught me?  Besides the fact that I loathe potty training – wait, I already knew that from my first child – that some of the best things in life are hard-fought for.  There were so many days that I was tempted to quit.  The only reason I hung in there was because I knew that giving up now only meant that I had to start starting over again.

I have other mountains in my life to climb; many of them I have started and stopped before.  Some of them more than once.  That second (and subsequent) start is always more difficult and the defeat seems to come faster and more easily each time.

I determine to persevere.  I determine to let God have control over each circumstance.  Yes, God cares about potty training too!  There were times when I felt disrespectful talking to Him about something so, so, uncivilized…but He cares about EVERY detail of our lives.

I will enlist more cheerleaders and I will be a cheerleader to those who need one.

What mountain are you facing?  Have you faced it before?  Don’t be afraid to tell people what you need from them as you climb.

“Honey, I know you love chips but while I’m trying to get healthier, I need you to not bring them into the house for a while.”

“I need you to remind my why I started.”

“I need a hug.”

“I need you to just be positive.”

You’ll be surprised how appreciative people will be of your honesty.  We all want to help each other, but we don’t all know how.  I’d be devastated if my well-intentioned but counter-productive words tripped up someones progress.

Face that mountain and take the first step.  Just one. Don’t worry about the next step until you’re upon it.  You’ve got this!

 

Wendy

Meaningful Minimalism

I don’t like chaos!

I have never been one of those people who thrive on pressure or do their best work on a deadline. If you are one of those people – I admire you, but I don’t understand you. Not even a little bit.

Sure, a deadline can cause me to get things done because they have to be, but I can assure you that it won’t be my best work. I can also assure you that you don’t want to be around me during, or for a while following a time crunch. I get snappy and grumpy and more than a little yelly (it’s a word in my mom vocabulary). Even I don’t want to be around me then.

Just over 3 years ago, my oldest daughter caused me to take a good hard look at myself under pressure and how I affected those around me.

I have a bit of a side business during the Christmas Season where I bake and sell goodies. At this point I had not yet learned how to schedule orders properly and often committed to more orders per day than I should have.

This particular day I was extra snappy, grumpy and yelly and my then 3 year old just wanted my attention. I snapped at her far too harshly. She turned on her heels and headed straight for our bathroom. What I heard out of her mouth next was not only adorable, but wonderfully humbling.

Jesus,” she began, “I’m getting really frustrated with mom. I need some help here!”

She walked directly toward me with a confidence and purpose that I was unaware a 3 year old could possess.

Mom, we need to pray. Now!”

And we did. And I repented to my Saviour and then to my daughter. Both forgave me instantly and I knew that something needed to change.

I would love to tell you that I woke up the next morning a new woman and from that moment on my life was chaos free…nope. It has been slow.  It has backslidden more than once. It is still a work in progress, but progress none the less. One step at a time. No quick fixes or one size fits all solutions.

Here is how it started for me:

  1. Trimming the Excess

The summer following the above mentioned episode my husband and I sat down and took a good hard look at our finances and realized how we were being nickeled and dimed into living paycheque to paycheque. We looked at all the subscriptions we had and how little we really read any of them.

It was fun to get the latest issue of a magazine in the mail or the newspaper delivered daily, but we weren’t getting our money’s worth out of them. We would mindlessly flip through and read less than 10% of the actual publication. We cut out all but one and that one has become one of my husband’s birthday gifts since the renewal time coincides with his birthday.

My husband quit smoking. I don’t need to explain ALL the benefits of that one! I had quit previously when we decided to start a family.

We also took a look at how much he was spending almost daily at the local convenience store. $2 this day and $5 the next was adding up to $300/month! He started taking water with him to work in a giant thermos and cutting back on the other impulse items.

We cut down our cell packages. Huge savings there and we still had all the minutes that we needed.

The most difficult cut for us was our satellite TV. We had so many excuses but eventually came to the conclusion that BECAUSE it was so hard for us to give up was precisely why we needed to. TV had far too tight a grip on us.

We signed up for Netflix and after a bit of an adjustment period, I can honestly say we don’t miss having the dish. We certainly don’t miss commercials!

With this step done, we were saving hundreds of dollars each month. The benefit was not only monetary, but this relieved a great financial strain which relieved an emotional strain between us.

  1. Guarding Our Schedule

    I actually know people who's calendars look like this.  It makes me tired just looking at it!
    I actually know people who’s calendars look like this. It makes me tired just looking at it!

A few years ago I had a couple of girlfriends over for coffee and they looked at the calendar on my fridge and commented how nice it must be to have so much free time. It is not by accident or laziness that our calendar stays clearer than most people’s with young children. We work hard to keep it that way.

There are so many reasons to guard your time, and your reasons will not mirror mine. My husband and I were both blessed to grow up in Christian homes and it is of utmost importance for our children to have the same blessing. God comes first in our house!

That doesn’t mean that we spend every waking minute in bible study and prayer and live perfectly wholesome lives. Not even close. However, Sunday morning worship service is ALWAYS part of our schedule. We only miss church if we are out of town or very, very sick. Going to church doesn’t make us Super Christians, but it recharges us, teaches us, connects us to God and to others. My heart always grieves when I hear of families who have decided to trade church time for family time.

“Sunday morning is our only time to just relax and be together” is a common phrase.

I’ll tell you something – those two things are meant to go hand in hand! Relax together in God’s presence.

We also don’t over schedule our children.

Our oldest 2 attend BG Club twice yearly for 10 weeks at a time and we as parents love it and our children love it. If it conflicts with other activities, the other activities lose. Our oldest also does soccer in the spring. Our son tried it last year and did not have a good experience so he opted out this year.

I know my big girl would love dance, but it is more of a financial and time commitment than my husband and I are willing to give and she is just fine with that. We don’t feel like our children will lose out on their childhood if they don’t have EVERY experience available to them. Our belief is that they will gain more by having parents who are present and happy than they would by being rushed to and fro and having parents who are financially and emotionally drained.

I also have one day a week that I do my house cleaning. Of course I clean every day, but the dusting, floor washing, nooks and crannies cleaning happens every Thursday. My close friends know that if they show up unannounced they will see me in my cleaning dungarees with hair poorly pulled back and my kids probably still in pyjamas. They have been warned.

Again, I don’t like chaos and this ritual helps me conquer that.

  1. A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place…Even Papers

Oh vile paperwork. My nemesis!

Bills that have been paid, but need to be filed. An expense claim sent in to our insurance provider, awaiting payment. Home school marking/corrections.

Papers are so thin, but can create such an overwhelming presence in my home. It was so easy to just close the door.

A few months ago, I saw this thing on Pinterest. I tweaked it slightly but I now have a small hanging file box with folders for each day of the month and each month of the year. If the water bill needs to be paid on the 10th, it goes into the file dated the 10th. If I’m waiting for my expense cheque to come back I will file a note for the expected day to follow up if I haven’t received it yet.

Our mortgage renewal comes due in August so I have a note in the August folder to deal with that.

I go through the folder of the appropriate day and deal only with what is in there. When a new month starts I open that month’s folder and file everything according to the day it requires attention and start all over.

I also use this for my daughter’s lessons. She is in Kindergarten right now so it works. I know I will need something more complex as the years go on, but that’s a job for Future Wendy!

This is working and takes up minimal space!

  1. Meal Planning

I don’t mind cooking, but I have great difficulty coming up with ideas of what to make each day (I call my mother often and apologize for groaning at whatever she made for supper). This usually leads to procrastination which leads to either convenience foods or a quick trip to the grocery store. Impromptu trips to the store also usually lead to unplanned and unnecessary spending. Ugh.

I have admired the meal planners out there for a while now but was intimidated by the idea of it. I had tried before and failed, often because when I looked at what I had planned for the day I didn’t feel like making that. So I wouldn’t.

Four weeks ago I finally committed to not only planning our meals, but also STICKING WITH THE PLAN!

Guess what? I am loving it.

I do NOT get this fancy!
I do NOT get this fancy!

I do NOT post on a fancy chalkboard or other Pinterest inspired piece of art what the meal plan is. That only invites “helpful” suggestions from my family which leads to frustration (see: grumpy, yelly). Nope, she who cooks, plans.

I also do NOT let my feelings take me off course. If meatloaf is on the list, meatloaf shall be on the table even if I’m in the mood for chicken.

One weekend I didn’t get around to planning and for three days I was back into frustration and lack of ideas. I sat down and planned out the remainder of the week and the pressure just melted away.

Another beautiful benefit is that, because I plan with great intentions and before the weariness of the week gets to me, I plan healthier meals. Because I stick to the plan, we eat healthier meals.

  1. Wants vs. Needs

Marketers are just so talented and blurring those lines for us, aren’t they? And I find so many of their lines easy to swallow.

Just recently I was flipping through the Home Hardware flyer and saw a remarkable machine that combines and 12 cup coffee maker with a single cup brewing system that uses K cups.

Gasp. Where has this been my whole life? I. Need. This.

Why do I need this? Because it would take up 2 less inches on my counter than my existing 12 cup coffee maker and Keurig….that I already own. Hmmmm. I want to pay $80 for a machine that replaces 2 machines that I already own. Both of which are in perfect working condition.

But I could sell the other 2 machines for probably $30 so then the new one would really only cost me $50. Well, realistically I’d probably be better off to just put the other 2 in the camper….

Seriously. These thoughts went through my head. More than once!

This mindset shift is a tough one for me. I could come up with so many excuses why my want is justified, or why the purchase is really a need. The truth of the matter is that I just need to think things through more, and take more things to God in prayer. You may think that praying about buying a coffee maker is silly, but God cares about every aspect of our lives. Shopping included.

Saying yes to this purchase would have meant a no to something else either now or further down the line. That something else could be anything from extra grocery money, to clothes for the kids, curriculum or even just extra padding in the savings account.

That is the question I ask myself now before purchases (most times). If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to later?

It’s taken me 3 years to implement these changes and none of them happened simultaneously. Each was a step at a time with enough time between to get used to the changes and let them become our new normal. There are more changes coming, but not until we’re ready for them.

Wendy

 

How do you keep life simple?  I’d love to hear what has worked for you!

The Beauty of Belonging

Have you ever been in a room with total strangers and still felt more relaxed and comfortable than with people you know?

It happened to me on Thursday.  I took my son to his therapy session at the center and as soon as we pulled into the parking lot there was just a peace that came over both of us.

As we entered the building I didn’t have to hastily grab his hand so he couldn’t run back out the door.  He talked to and counted the fishies in the tank as I checked in at reception.  The nice lady told us to follow the green feet to our waiting area and my son took her at her word.  His head was down as he bounced from footprint to footprint, almost crashing into people a few times…but here’s where a good morning turned great.

Those people he almost crashed into?  They smiled at him…and me!

They didn’t frown at him with a “careful there, kid” actually aimed at me.  They didn’t cast judgmental glances at either of us.  They didn’t offer me advice on how to discipline my son.  They just smiled and said, “Good morning.”

In the waiting area were two other mothers with their sons.  We exchanged greetings and smiles and turned our attention back to our boys. It seems pretty normal, maybe even a bit rude to not engage in a bit of small talk; but it was wonderfully freeing.

My son loves to bolt away on me and those who know me well know that if we’re out and about I will maintain a conversation with them to the best of my ability, but I will constantly be scanning to make sure he is still nearby and safe.

The situation was the same on Thursday, but I didn’t have to explain myself.  One of the other moms was sticking very close to her boy to make sure he didn’t end up on top of a toy about to jump off.  Mom number 3 was watching her much younger son pull himself up on the furniture and take a few steps.  Her hands were constantly ready to shield his head from bumps with his very frequent falls.

None of us demanded explanations.  None of us shot the glance that told each other to lighten up.  None of us asked, “So what’s wrong with your kid?” (yes, people do that).

As the littlest boy hung on to the big round coffee table for dear life, my boy walked around it tracing the edge with his finger.  As he got close to the little one his mom looked at me before I could even tell my boy to be careful or go the other way and said, “It’s okay, they can just work around each other.”

And they did.

It was that exact moment that my heart soared as I realized that this is our tribe.  These people with similar circumstances asked nothing of us by way of explanation.  We all just got each other.

If you have a child with special needs, you know how beautiful these moments are.  Moments where they can be themselves and not a label or diagnosis.

I had coffee with a friend this morning.  This particular friend has been one of my son’s favourite people since day one and continues to be so.

She is another one who just allows him to be who he is and she embraces his uniqueness without trying to “fix” him.  She also doesn’t let him get away with bad behaviour on her watch because she knows that he knows better (just like every other kid out there who tests boundaries).

These beautiful moments pop up from time to time and I thank God for each and every one of them!

On Valentine’s Day I dropped all 3 kids off at the free babysitting night that a church in town put on as a gift to parents.  When I went to pick up the kids, I had a brief conversation with one of the supervisors who also knows my kids from daycare.  She mentioned that during the movie my son was walking back and forth under the screen but she made sure that none of the other supervisors tried to pull him down as that was just his way.  He wasn’t being loud or disruptive, he was just doing his own thing.

In our church, basically every Sunday, most of the people will keep a subconscious eye out for my son.  They do this because they know that he is a runner and chances are that at any given moment me or my husband will come looking for him.  Without us saying a word, we often get a, “He went that way.”.

These moments make my heart smile.  These moments sustain me through the more difficult moments.  These moments remind me that God is good and that He cares about us and that my son will be okay.

These moments are a gift and I cherish each and every one.

 

Wendy