Sugar, yes please.

There is truly nothing greater in this world than the joy your child brings to you. While the last week or so has brought some of the greatest highs, I have experienced some significant lows too. I try to keep the highs front and center, but I often find myself shaking my head at some of the nonsense in my life and some of the negativity that tries to latch onto me. One of the challenges I face, as do many others, is juggling all of my responsibilities. I get a lot of “you have a lot on your plate” to which I reply, “my plate is a platter!!” but hey it’s my plate so whatever. Everyone does this, so it’s not in any way unique to me, however, I not only want to and have to handle them, I want to do them well and with a good, positive attitude. I function well at a high activity rate, but every now and then one thing pushes way too far and it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. I am reminded of that silly board game that was around when I was a kid where you literally kept piling straws in a plastic camel’s back and then when there was one too many and that damn camel fell, you lost the game. ha! Sometimes I feel like that camel (ok, not a great visual) and I’m daring people to put more on. So what happens when there is one too many…? I don’t have the luxury of hiding out from my responsibilities. I do try to do as many fun things as possible as a way counterbalance many of these difficult or upsetting things. Work hard/play hard may be a cliche but for me, it fits. I just don’t want to miss anything!! straw

So yesterday I was at maximum capacity for BS, nonsense, stress, aggravation, responsibilities, etc. A few things have been brewing and a few things have been tugging at me and I was just feeling a melt down come on. Not exactly a meltdown, more of an implosion where a good cry/sob was imminent. One of those times where I wish I had the ability to go home, get into bed, under the covers, and just get into the fetal position for a few days.  No such luck! I had to take the boys to the orthodontist in the middle of the day. Not the best timing, but what can you do; they were taking them at the same time so that helps but after being out of the office for two days last week, I was feeling very work overwhelmed.  They decided to take Bryan’s braces off and while that is exciting and great, anything with Bryan has to be choreographed properly. To make a long story short, we needed some lasering of his gums and some bonding which were all supposed to happen at that appointment when the braces came off. It was not scheduled properly by the orthodontist and that was about one straw too many for me. You see Bryan’s teeth had shifted previously after the braces came off because he would not wear his retainer and removed the permanent retainers multiple times. He had to get his braces put back on so you see this was sort of big deal. While we were trying to work it out, Bryan was so excited to get his braces off. The orthodontist’s office is an open room with many treatment chairs where lots of assistants are working on kids, in other words, a room full of about 12 people plus the two orthodontists who come in and out. Bryan was so elated, he grabbed Jason and me and the assistant and made us put our hands in the middle (as if we were a sports team getting ready to play) and he said “1, 2,3, braces off,  yay!!” We all lifted our arms up in unison. The whole office erupted in laughter and cheers and then I was struggling to hold back the love cry. He completely leveled me. How could I possibly feel anything but joy?? Get a grip Jane. Jason and I giggled and smiled and the whole thing was met with hugs and high fives. Everyone in the office, including other patients, assistants, office staff, doctors, etc. were laughing and smiling. After that Bryan had to have several injections in his palate for the laser and impressions and bonding. He sat like a champ. No anxiety, no squirming, nothing. If you know autism you know one thing: what is easy is hard, what is hard is easy. He never moved for a minute and sat there for his work for an  hour and a half. The minute he got up the anxiety kicked back in and he wanted to know about when he would get picked up from camp in August.

For me, a great reminder that no matter how bad you feel, no matter what is getting you down, that one drop of sugar can make everything sweeter.

Why do you ask?

Years ago my mother and I laughed about saying “Why do you ask?” to people who asked dopey, nosy questions. If you say this, they get a bit tongue tied because their answer should be “because I’m a nosy person”, but of course no one really says that. My mom was extremely private and never liked the feeling of being interrogated (who does?) and was very defensive when it came to the family, especially Bryan. Over the years I have learned to be more tolerant; trying to put this under the heading of  Isn’t it better for someone to ask a nosy question rather than not asking at all?  I still struggle with this one because people can be very thoughtful or thoughtless, but I try to keep in mind that people don’t know how to handle the unfamiliar.questions2

Case in point-Autism questions like, Is he high-functioning? If you know me, you know that’s a tough one, because it’s not like there is a standard scale. Yep, he’s 4.5 on the high-functioning scale. It’s subjective and no one ever wants to say, my kid is low functioning. It hurts, it stings, blah blah blah.  If I said he was low functioning, what would that do for you? I guess it’s better than people saying “I’m sorry” which they can do when you say your kid has autism. What the hell is that about? The first time I heard that one I have to say, I was completely shell shocked and speechless. I am never speechless. However, people don’t know the right protocol unless they have a kid with autism, so they are trying. Take the good with the bad, I tell myself. For me, some days I am patient and understanding, some days not so much. You get it.

Moving on to what’s in my mind, the impetus to blog. Yesterday was Mother’s day. This was the first Mother’s Day without my Mom being with us and the first one since my beloved Auntie Barbara passed away. A double whammy for our family. Recently a new question has come up that makes me want to say “why do you ask?” Every Sunday we have breakfast at my Dad’s club. It is gorgeous and it’s beyond spoiled and each time I remind myself and the kids of our good fortune. So a few weeks ago some woman who knows my folks came over to talk to my Dad and asked how my Mom was doing. She said to him “Does she know you?” and then points to me (literally points) and says , “Does she know you?”Here are the choices for the answer as they play out in my head:

  • Answer in my head:   She has no fucking clue who I am and it sucks lady.
  • Better answer, but not the one I typically give: Sometimes, it’s very difficult emotionally for all of us.
  • Answer I give: On occasion, but not too often anymore.

Any answer is typically met with no response, which is why you want to say, why do you ask? If I say she doesn’t know me, what info is gleaned from that? Sounds mean, but think about it.

I can’t imagine asking this question. Maybe it’s because of Bryan I have heightened sensitivity to weird, nosy questions, or maybe it’s because my mom taught me not to ask nosy questions. I would say this lady was an anomaly but it’s not the case. I am a pretty tough cookie at this point in my life, but people, take a minute to think about stuff!!! Ok so this blog is more of a rant than a blog, but if my purpose is to get something off of my chest and to raise awareness, I think I may be done. Well almost….

Recently I was shopping with my work BFF in Nordstrom; I was buying a gift in the jewelry dept and there were these mantra bracelets. I’m not big on that stuff but she picked one up and said, you have to get this one, it’s so you: “Be true. Be you. Be kind.” Nothing else really matters.  First of all,  the fact that anyone thinks this mantra represents me is enough to make my year, but it was more of something I aspire to be than something I truly am. Of course I bought it and it is a nice little reminder of how I want to be each time I put it on. I am going to be myself at all times, no apologies.  (probably a little scary for those of you who know me well) Accordingly, I offer some suggestions to people when approaching someone who has a kid with autism/a parent with Alzheimer’s/or anyone going through a difficult time/illness with which you are unfamiliar. How about, “how are things going?” How is so and so doing?” and “Can I do anything to help?” That’s it, just kindness.

You can. End of Story.

endofstoryWhile the focus of this blog entry is on Bryan, the title could apply to Bryan, me and basically anyone facing a goal. Bryan is 17 and is an extremely capable young man. I don’t say this flippantly or casually because there is absolutely nothing casual or inadvertent about where he is today.

About 13 or 14 years ago, when we first learned of speech and language delays, among other delays, before we got the big “A” diagnosis, we went to meet a speech therapist who was considered a guru in dealing with “these kids” and our pediatrician arranged an appointment. Bryan and I went and she was a very business like specialist who asked me a bunch of questions about him and his development. For the next hour, no joke, one hour, she sat on the floor with Bryan and played with him, using Sesame Street character figurines and a playset with slides and activities for the figurines. I sat in the room on the chair holding my breath and and trying not to cry or vomit-again, no joke. What would this woman say after this hour? What was she trying to get at? It was all so unfamiliar to me and terrifying. It was not the first, but it was the beginning for sure, of what would become a long road for Bryan, a long road for our family, and a personal journey for me. After the hour she let me know exactly what she thought. I can remember being in my skin at this appointment as if it was an hour ago. She said here’s what I think: “He’s in there. You will need a tremendous amount of therapy over many years. There is no magic pill; you cannot throw money at this to make it go away. You also need to use his strengths when getting him into schools and programs. You are lucky, he is a very handsome and engaging little boy. If you go to a program, take a photo with you, but don’t take him. You don’t want anyone judging him by his behavior at one meeting.” I listened intently as if the Dalai Lama was imparting the key to life to me. Since this was a long time ago and still very distinct, you know this had a huge impression on me. I feel emotional just typing this and remembering how I felt in the car trying to process all of this info. I won’t take you through the timeline because many of you know it, but it was solid, no bullshit type of advice, including the part about how he looks. It was a crash course in “put your big girl pants on lady, because this journey is not for the weak and you better realize in short order that if you don’t get cracking and face up to reality, you’re screwed”. That’s Janespeak for what went down and for the talk I had and continue to have with myself 14 years later. I am quite fortunate, as is Bryan, that his father was always and is always on board with whatever is best for Bryan, and literally has no ego when it comes to him. Men often shy away from these kids and their issues which can make things worse; but that was never the issue. We were and are still of the same mind when it comes to Bryan: You can. End of Story.

It would be so nice to say that Bryan is now a Phd student at Harvard and has outgrown autism and everything is perfect and rosy. That is certainly not the case, nor the goal. However, the goal has always been and will continue to be that if you work hard and set your mind to something, goals are not only achievable but are inevitable. Kudos are offered up to Bryan and his desire to do well, to learn and to please. What the general public cannot or does not understand is that special needs kids work so damn hard at everything and every moment and task is evaluated. “Gee Bryan was great at lunch last week.” Oh yeah, well how was Jason? I know it’s unfair but imagine your life was one big report card. It’s tough. The one thing I do know is that the most important thing we can give to Bryan is his sense of pride, his sense that he can do and be whatever he wants, without regard to a timeline. And for the record, autism still sucks. Yes, I am grateful for the life lessons, yes I am grateful for Bryan growing up in slow motion and still allowing me to kiss him and hold hands in public, and yes I am grateful for the love and support from some of the most unlikely people. The anxiety that Bryan experiences as “his autism” still thwarts some of his progress and still tests even the most patient of people. His impulse control issues and his language delays still impact him and us regularly. While he feels complex emotions which can be learned from his behavior and some language, his expressive self is still highly challenged. So while I suppose I can and do appreciate the progress, the lesson must always stay in the forefront for both of us. You can. End of Story.