Crank it up!

Science question: You’re driving and you have the music on; something good and loud, like the Who, We Don’t Get Fooled Again, what is the decibel level required to drown out the voices in your head? This is not rhetorical people; I need the info. Over the last week so many f-ed up things have occurred that I truly believe only a heartfelt, drug inspired 70’s real rock song could block out the noise. You know something you can crank up and sing because you know all of the words and although you know your voice stinks, it completely doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter that your windows are down and sunroof is open, you need to let it out. Feel free to substitute any song you like; I just happen to love the Who and the righteous, guttural way Roger Daltrey belts them out. I always see him in my mind’s eye as Tommy  in those jeans and shirtless, with the long curls,  singing his heart out(just to me of course) and well, that definitely helps get the adrenaline flowing. tommySo….please feel free to email me, text me, IM, twitter, instagram, snap chat, call or snail mail me the answer. I need it. You see I drove to work this morning and no matter how loud I made it and how loud I sang, no dice. Still couldn’t block out the noise in my head. You know something is pretty messed up when your kid says, “you probably shouldn’t blog about this one if you know what I mean”. I do. The actual event or events are not always the hardest part to fathom, but the processing, the clean up of the carnage, well that’s where the real work gets done. The carnage here was bloody and messy and no amount of mopping seemed to do the trick.

It’s  fair to say that you really can’t control most things that happen in your life. As those of us know who have been through therapy and/or are introspective in any way, you know that you can only control your own responses to what happens in life and choose the way you want to handle the damage control. These things are always easier said than done, and emotions have a way of clouding judgment.  What happens when things are unfolding before you and you think to yourself, um, why is this happening and now what the hell am I going to do? How does this get corrected? When things occur and the boys are impacted, I feel like I want to shout out “cut, let’s try this one again”.  When things are going on right in front of you and you are processing them it is not easy to step outside of yourself and say, “hmm, how am I going to handle this situation so my children are not damaged, hurt or angry.” These questions are rhetorical. I was meeting with some folks from my Leadership Broward group yesterday (#LB35 #highfive) and one of the team members is gay and he was discussing the parenting classes he and his husband have to take to adopt a child. Parenting classes? What is this thing you speak of my friend? My mind wandered to a place where I thought, shouldn’t basic parenting classes be required for everyone? Shouldn’t basic human decency classes exist? I guess those things are left up to your parents if you have kids the old fashioned way. In light of the events of my weekend, I was definitely more focused on this topic than I typically would have been. Maybe my personal sensitivity to the challenges of parenting this weekend cast a brighter light on our conversation.

It is my opinion that success, in any form, is not only the result of hard work and a little luck but overcoming some obstacle or plowing through some roadblock. People who have it too easy have nothing to grind against, nothing to strive for that requires the type of deep soul searching and tenacity that propels a breakthrough. I feel this way about innovation and technology, the problem solving aspect, but also the resolve. If I didn’t have autism in my life, I would not have learned what I am capable of. I love when people tell me how much patience I have. I think, “are you talking about me?” I spent the first half of my life so impatient and wound up. I do have a lot of patience now, but it didn’t come from anything natural, it came from survival and for the sheer need and desire to be the parent Bryan needed me to be. How could I face my beautiful boy if I couldn’t be kind and patient with him? (Believe me I have fallen off that wagon a million times, and many of you out there have witnessed it).  Autism is a disorder not a behavior. Would you lose patience if your kid was puking, well maybe that’s a bad example, but you know what I mean. An invisible disorder is still a disorder and needs to be treated accordingly.  I’m still a work in progress, for sure. So by now you may be wondering, why are we talking about success and overcoming obstacles when we were just talking about cleaning up an emotional mess?  The thing I guess I’m grappling with is how much is ok for our kids to have to deal with? How much shielding is good, how much is overprotective? Where are the lines drawn and who has the damn manual? Can I get it on my kindle? These questions in my head just beg for seriously loud music.

 

Good Feelings Gone

nemoYou know that scene in Finding Nemo where Marlin and Dory are swimming and are feeling happy. On their quest to find Nemo they encounter various sea creatures and obstacles, but at this moment happiness abounds.  They are circling around and gently gliding along, as if all was right with the world. They feel encapsulated with a careless warmth. They are oblivious to the scary big fish luring them in with his magical soft light. The fish goes in for the kill and Dory shouts “good feelings gone!” Just like that they are now swimming for their lives, dodging the scary fish and hoping to escape. I get this feeling sometimes like things are moving along really well, work is going well, boys are doing well and I’m doing well emotionally, physically and spiritually, and then something or someone will crank up the buzzkill and all goodness will collapse into air.

Working at the place I do, which is fabulous, December is over the top. We are rewarded financially and valued beyond comprehension for our efforts. The shot of financial and thankful adrenaline propels us to a great start for the new year. I was able to share with my kids and express to them the ever important lesson of hard work reaps great benefits. I think they are now at an age and a mental capacity to not only understand this literally but feel it in their hearts. Last weekend I went on a super fun excursion to the Bahamas. I had looked forward to going and except for less than stellar weather, it surely didn’t disappoint. I am always trying to find the lesson; for the boys they are obvious, basic growing up lessons, for me, to appreciate what I have, to live life with fun and joy and focus on what are truly the sweetest parts of life.

However, and of course there is always a however or a but, the tough reality of my responsibility load is never too far in the shadows. Of course I never really escape my responsibilities, but a pina colada at a gorgeous resort can somehow stay them for a while. Over the years there have been many reality jolts that have sent me into a downward spiral; a work issue, a Bryan issue, etc. The squeaky floorboard of an issue could not be silenced and essentially my whole house would collapse over it. At this point in my life’s journey I am no longer demolishing the house over a squeaky floorboard or a shorted outlet. My skin is thicker, tougher and experience is the quintessential professor. Last night I got home after a very challenging day at work. I needed to process what had occurred and figure out the best way to remove any emotional feelings from what happened and apply logic and said experience. The only way for me to do this, is to distract myself enough so that my head clears of the problem for re focus at a later time. Clarity for me requires emotional distance and at least at this point in my life, I know it. I decided to have a conversation with the boys about a short vacation over Xmas week. Inasmuch as we had two trips this year, to DC and LA, I am not in the position to do anything crazy, and I do want to take them to Europe next year, so I just was looking for a little getaway. Well, here’s what I learned. Autism is alive and well in my home. We talked about Busch Gardens, Captiva, Marco Island, Vero, etc. We talked about Orlando, the Keys, Miami Beach, Ft. Lauderdale Beach, staycation stuff etc. Bryan flipped out. He is great with transitioning if he knows the plan. This abstract, what if, why, how, discussion that Jason and I were having, including visuals on my open laptop, just stressed him to the max. His anxiety level was so amped up that it was visual and palpable. The power struggle between the boys heated up and a physical skirmish ensued. So as the Mom, who is now way smaller than either of these two testosterone filled teenage boys, I kind of need to get out of the way or I’m going to end up across the room. But since I am the authority, police, dictator (no it’s not a democracy in my house), I had to call to order. A few slammed doors later everyone was in their own corner and I was able to sit down and figure out what the heck just happened. I was grappling between, damn these two spoiled kids can’t agree on a vacation, wah wah wah, and hmm, maybe I allowed for too much speculation, too much input to make this easy. I then had to visit the prisoners to sort out the damage. Bryan is way better now at self soothing and while he couldn’t stop expressing his remorse and his anxiety, the physical control now present is critical to my survival. Jason is trickier to navigate since he gets me more and took the zero and fessed up a fairly heartfelt apology. At this point, I’m done, toast, spent. Went upstairs took a hot bath and crawled into bed. Today is a new day and I’m ready for it.

What does the J stand for?

I go to see my Mom in her new place on the weekends. Yesterday, Bryan and I went on our way to his usual speech therapy and social group. We planned a regular visit which is about 20-30 minutes. I typically like to take her for a walk. She doesn’t talk much and mostly I feel like Shecky Greene doing a monologue (if you are too young to know who that is google it) but I try to get her out in the fresh air and talk about what’s going on in our lives. The bad news is she doesn’t remember what I tell her, the good news I can tell her the same things over and over and she doesn’t get bored. Ok, I know that’s really not funny, but humor is my way of coping and at this point, nothing about this is funny so I have to make a joke out of it. We sat down outside at a table and Bryan was looking at his phone. I wear a “J” initial necklace and my mom said to me, “what does the J stand for?”. I said “Jane” and there was nothing but an “oh, ok” from my Mom. I had to look away. I felt that hot feeling come over me, and no not a hot flash, but that feeling like when you are holding back tears and/or vomit. I thought for sure she might say something like “my daughter’s name is Jane or right”. I don’t care for the expression “the new normal” but somehow it’s fitting. We left not too long after and I didn’t cry when we left. I took Bryan to his speech therapy and sat in the car for a few minutes reflecting. How does the brain  retain so much info and then slowly lose it all. Fortunately, for now she still recognizes me when I come to see her. She doesn’t know that I’m her daughter, but she does know she knows me. She is always excited to see us; at least for now. The strange thing in all of this is even though she does not recall details, like my name or how I am related to her, she does know that I belong to her. Last week when I was there we sat on a bench and we flipped the pages of People magazine.She likes to look at the photos and it does help give me some things to say to her. We notice the fashion and the ads. She looked at me and said “we love each other”. I smiled but again my eyes filled with tears; much happier tears. When I leave her and  I’m alone I always break down. She is doing well, but the reality that she is not ever coming home still gets me each time.

When I go now it reminds of a time when Bryan could not really make a sentence or have true conversation. I remember when we were still living in NY and I took him alone out to dinner. His inability to make an exchange, even in a small sentence, was a big trigger for me to know he was not a typical child. Ironically my mom is now very similar to that small Bryan. I guess the best lesson is that it doesn’t matter whether they can answer back as long as they know they are loved.

 

Go Team!

img_0241The similarities between the approach I’ve taken to Alzheimer’s and my mom to Autism and Bryan are becoming more obvious. It’s interesting to me how much one good methodology can be applied to multiple situations. For years I have been saying that you need to harness the collective when it comes to raising a child with autism. As the mom of one of these kids, you need to realize you are the quarterback of an amazing team of people, family, therapists,friends and other parents. These people each have their individual skills, but getting them to work together, in the way that works best for your kid, you need to have a sense of both the near and far. You need to call the plays because at the end of the day, you know your kid better than anyone. Over the years we have adjusted the playbook, taken on some new players, and retired a few for the best interest of team Bryan.

My mom’s placement in the Alzheimer’s home came as a team effort too. We did our research but in the end the recommendation came from a friend whose father had been there. She is a warm and trustworthy person so we knew we were in good hands. The adjustment has been difficult for all of us; however she seems much better so that is what counts. My dad has been going to the support groups that the home sponsors. He is learning to share with others how he is feeling about my mom’s placement and learning  that by hearing other family’s stories and their pain, he will not only feel a sense of comradeship but will also get some relief. There is a safety, a warmth in belonging to a group. Identifying with those similarly situated is incredibly uplifting. I have noticed when I go to see my mom that  I see the same family members and we have started to know each other. We all say hello and have empathy for our mutual plight. Today I got to the home about 10:30 and two of the family members were in the entry way. They were telling me that they had seen my mom and how sweet and cute she is. I told one lady that yesterday her husband said hello to me and gave me a big smile. I walked in having that familiar feeling of community. While I know my mom will not get better, and that is always lurking in my psyche, I do know she is doing as well as can be expected. The boys feel it too. Last weekend I took the boys to see her after we had breakfast with my dad and sister, our new Sunday morning ritual. My dad is terribly lonesome and the early mornings when he is alone in his house typically sting. Usually when we walk out of my mom’s place I get about two steps from the front door and start to sob. I am ok when I see her, but leaving her in a place that is not her home is quite disturbing. The boys had been very affectionate with her that day and I didn’t feel so sad when we walked out. Jason turned to me and said “Mom, you’re doing so much better with Grandma”. Ok well so much for doing better because his tenderness made me sob in a different way. I knew they were impacted by emotions, but had not felt it so directly. We are experiencing this change all together and learning how to support each other, go team!

He’s got the moves like Jagger!

I’m doing it. You may unfriend me, unfollow me, dislike me, but I’m risking it. No, this is not a political post. It’s something way way way more important. It’s a bragging post, not about me, but about Bryan. Today was the day for parent/teacher conferences at Bryan’s school. He goes to a great private school that serves the neurodiverse community ages 14-22. Bryan is 16.  Last year was his first year and the first year after our divorce. To say he had a rocky start is the ultimate understatement. You know when the headmaster calls you more than 3x a week you are screwed. It was such a reach for him, I really wasn’t sure he could hack it. It took him the whole year but he did a good job and by the end he adjusted.proud

Well, this year, he has completely turned things around. Once a week they go to Florida Atlantic University (FAU) for the day to learn how to behave on a college campus as well as how to interact appropriately. Bryan loves it. He loves to go to the school cafeteria!!! So today, when I met with the teacher who takes him there, she said “Bryan is a rock star at FAU. I am thinking about moving him to the harder class that goes there or sending him twice a week.” Um yay and double yay.  Bryan has always expressed an interest in going to college, and I bet he will. You can never,  ever, ever count out a kid with autism. The surprises, both good and bad, well they never end. Of course I was elated, of course I was proud of him, but more than that, I felt so incredibly hopeful for his future. I met with 3 more teachers, math and language arts,  and then the teacher that does yoga with him and takes him to his part time job at Simply Yoga. This great program at school takes kids into the community for jobs. He is so proud of his job. He folds the mats and blankets, he puts the clothes on display and sweeps. A very typical teenage job!! The teacher told me that Bryan takes on a complete professional persona at the job. I’m kvelling!!! A professional persona!! What? Can you fathom the awesomeness of that? My loud Bryan, who is almost never quiet and has so much trouble modulating his voice, has a professional persona! They also do yoga at school to help stay calm. She told me not only does Bryan do the yoga, and stay quiet, he sometimes leads the class in a few of the poses. If I was not so over the moon,  so completely thrilled, I might have thrown the BS flag at them. Don’t get me wrong, I have been getting reports since school started that he is doing well,  but to go from teacher to teacher to hear in their words how well he is doing with tangible examples, it just fills my heart with so much joy, so much love for him. I came home and told him how excited and happy I was to hear all of his teachers talk so highly of him. Bryan, smart as he is, says, can we get movie tickets? Of course I said yes. I think I would’ve said yes to almost anything.

So by now, if you are still reading, you are either really excited too, or getting a headache from how upbeat I am. Here’s the thing. When your kid has autism, you spend most of your school meetings holding on to the table to brace yourself for the bad news. You brace yourself for the bad school calls and to hear that your 12 year old is reading on a first grade level. You also know that you must enjoy every triumph because things can change at any moment. The lows are very low, but the highs are sweet as sugar.

 

 

The hits just keep on coming

IMG_3302I know I have said before that Autism sucks. Well it doesn’t, at least not really or by comparison to Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s really sucks and takes suckage to a whole new level.  If you know us and/or if you are a regular reader of my blog (thanks by the way) you know that my mom has Alzheimer’s Disease. I was familiar with this joyful disease when my Nana  had it in the 80s. But, she was my grandmother, didn’t take great care of herself, it was in a different era, blah blah blah. My mom has it and we are now making some changes in our family for survival purposes; her survival and my father’s survival.

My parents never told me important things when I was growing up. There was always a lot of shushing and Yiddish when anything went down. You knew something was up but you only found out much later on what occurred. I do not subscribe to that philosophy. I think age appropriate descriptions of what is going on in your life affords your kids the opportunity to grow and learn and deal. On Friday we were able to place my mom into a Memory Care Facility for Alzheimer’s patients aka nursing home for people with the disease. The decision to do this was ultimately my Dad’s since it is his wife, but as a family we are all mindful of what is best for my mom and my dad. I’m proud of the tenderness and understanding we have shown each other during this time.

So I need to tell my boys what is happening. Bryan and Jason are so close to my folks and they have watched the transformation of their highly engaged grandmother to this tiny childlike woman. I feel not only grief-stricken for my dad, my sister and me and our close extended family,  but for my boys. The difference in her is obvious and while they do not cry, since she is still around, they have mentioned many times the change and ultimate deterioration of her mind. I was a little tentative to share with them; we are still WAY grieving the loss of my aunt. The nights are the worst; it seems that the nights have a way of playing with you. I’m sleeping briefly and then waking up to, did this shit really go down? Is my Aunt gone? Where is my mommy? I always get off topic! Ok so I decided to talk to the boys over dinner on Thursday night. I had mentioned to them previously that Grandpa, Aunt Frannie and I were going to take Grandma to a place to live, but that now was the time and it was going to happen the next day. Jason asked the typical questions, where is the place? will we be able to see her? does she know? how is Grandpa doing? (that last one, I am proud to say, is who Jason is, ever concerned about the casualties). Bryan did his typical Bryan giggle which happens when things are awkward.We talked through what I knew and what I would find out. I was very very emotional that night. I literally could not reel it in. I reassured them I was ok but since I don’t  hide things I know they felt bad. I guess on some level they needed to see that I was grieving.

Later in the evening I went to see Bryan in his room. He was just resting and I was teary. It kind of went like this:

Me: Bryan do you understand what I told you about Grandma?

Bryan: Is Grandma sick?

Me: Yes sort of, her brain is sick.

Bryan: Is Grandma going to die?

Me: Everyone eventually dies, but she is not going to die now. She is just going to live in a place that is safer for her, where they can take care of her.

Bryan: Are Grandma and Grandpa getting divorced? (can you say sucker punch to the gut on that one?)

Me: No honey, it’s just that Grandma has  brain disease and Grandpa can’t take care of her anymore with it. She needs special care.

Bryan: She’s going to the hospital? She’ll be home soon.

Me: No, she’s not coming home.

At that point, I had to stop and tell him we will talk more tomorrow. I literally got so overwhelmed with being overwhelmed I knew it was better to take a pause. He was very tired so he went to sleep.

I, of course, was not able to sleep at all after that. How do you explain to your kid with autism something that while intellectually you know but can’t really explain to yourself? What really kept me awake, however, was that I didn’t have the language I needed to give him. Bryan talks to so many people, calls, FaceTimes, etc and I want him to “get it right” so people won’t be worried or confused about what he is telling them. I could not find the words and truthfully still cannot. I was completely dumbfounded. I know this might sound a bit melodramatic, but I wanted him to understand and to represent appropriately. I guess I am my mother’s daughter because she was so proud and private, I want to make sure she is not embarrassed and can retain some sort of atmospheric dignity. So crazy, she will not know, but I guess I will know and that is the point. A few days have passed and we have been getting some typical reports from the facility. I still do not have the words for Bryan nor for me.

 

 

 

 

 

Tempus Fugit

IMG_3295So many things going on in my brain right now that I feel compelled to write. This week has been filled with so many emotions and while I know that it’s normal in many ways it still takes a toll. I started out wanting to address something that I’m so proud of with Bryan. He has really taken an interest in social media and loves to post both silly things, like I just shaved or cut my nails, to really sweet and meaningful things. In March we were visiting LA and we had dinner with some of our cousins. While waiting for the whole group to arrive, I was sitting on the couch with our cousin Dani. Bryan instantly took a photo of us and wrote “I love these two beautiful ladies.” At that point if he wanted soda or dessert or anything else I might have limited, well he had me. This week my beloved, adored Auntie Barbara or as the kids call her Auntie Bubbe passed away. She was quite ill and on some level we knew this was coming, but she miraculously kept surviving trips to the hospital so I know for me I was in complete denial that this would actually happen. As with the  rest of the family, my boys were heartbroken. They loved Auntie Bubbe with her warm and engaging style. She always greeted them with great interest in whatever was going on with them. Jason’s Bar Mitzvah was a  year ago. She loved to needlepoint and she made Bryan a gorgeous Talit cover for his Bar Mitzvah. She wanted to do the same for Jason; but knowing how ill she was she was afraid she would not be able to or be there for the day. About 2.5 years ago she sent Jason and me to a local needlepoint store that had many Judaica patterns. She asked me to take Jason to pick out what he liked and the sales lady, like any store she frequented, would know Barbara Henschel and would get all of the yarn and things needed to complete the project. I am proud to say Jason thought this was the coolest thing. He took his time and picked out an extremely colorful pattern. He was so interested in the fact that she wanted to do this for him and that he got to make a selection. I am truly happy to report that not only did she complete this masterpiece, she was at his Bar Mitzvah to share in our joy. So of course I got off topic a bit. Bryan was unsure of how to express his grief. He kept telling me he was so sad about Auntie Bubbe. You see she just had this way of making you feel good and special, and he felt it too. She talked to him with respect and warmth, and he responded. He wrote a little note to her saying “rest in peace Auntie Bubbe, I’m so sorry you died” and posted it on Facebook. I was a little nervous that my cousins might not like it or feel it was inappropriate. They did not. They love, like and understand Bryan and they found it heartwarming. They laugh with him and they just embrace all that is Bryan.  They can get frustrated and annoyed by him too but they don’t criticize or judge him in any detrimental way. They support me and my life and let him know that he can just be him. Is there anything better? Unconditional love is never to be taken lightly.

While not a new concept, I am luckily constantly reminded that family is everything. For Shabbat dinner we were gathering at my cousin Ben’s house. It felt like a combo of Shabbat dinner and private Shiva. I had recently come across a letter from my grandfather, our beloved Pop, and decided I would bring it. Anything and everything about him always electrifies us as a family and when Bryan and I arrived I shared it with my cousin. In typical sibling/cousin form, we joked about who had more letters or stuff from my Pop and he busted out a couple of beauties and the emotion filled laughter and tears that is and should be Shiva. When the others arrived we continued this laughing and crying and loving. Bryan was right in the mix. While he was a bit irritable and tired from a long week too, my delicious cousins/more like nieces, were all over him making him feel special and appreciated. We stayed until after dinner but with all things Bryan, we left early. He always has an exit strategy and I have learned to comply. I must admit I was exhausted too from the week and wanted to crawl into bed. I got home and while so so so tired, I could not easily fall asleep. Reflecting on the week and the life and love surrounding us I was weirdly happy. Certainly not happy that she is gone, but happy that she had such a huge impact on my life and her love that is here with me each day.