Posted in family life

little autistic moments

Sitting together at the library, in two separate armchairs, Rondel and I examine the book in my hands. It is hardcover, with no plastic library jacket – smooth and pleasing to touch. The colors are soft and cool. It is thick; Rondel is full of anticipation and I am a bit apprehensive about how long it might be. When I open it, he looks up at me excitedly and says, “I can smell the pages!” More and more often he is noticing the smells of his environment, drawing out for himself an extra level of enjoyment (or disgust, sometimes, unfortunately) by way of his extra-sensitive senses.


Making toast for my three kids and a visiting friend, I fill up our small toaster oven with four slices. Rondel has asked for two pieces of toast at once, since he is hungry and we normally make two at once for him. I explain that the toaster is full so he will have to start with one and have a second piece later, and he seems unable to accept the change: wailing, threatening, screaming, sobbing. He even says that he wishes our friend (a toddler Aubade’s age who I occasionally babysit, and who Rondel loves) were not present if it means that he cannot have two pieces of toast at once. Limerick, 16 months younger, turns to him and says, “Dude, Rondel, the toaster is full! You can have another one later!” But it is always two pieces, and it is not alright that now this time it is only one.


After swimming at my parents’ house, I tell the kids that we will need to go home soon because Grandma isn’t feeling great and we don’t want to wear her out by staying too long. Rondel instantly begins telling me how he doesn’t want to leave, how he wants to stay at Grandma’s house forever, and so on. But when I ask him what he wants to do at Grandma’s house, he doesn’t know. He ends up suggesting, halfheartedly, that he could watch a movie, his go-to answer when faced with a transition he isn’t sure how to handle (it comes up in angry meltdown-inducing transitions as well as the more frequent “stuck” moments in between activities).


Getting up in the morning, sleepy-eyed and hungry, trying to figure out the day’s schedule, I am immediately bombarded with requests from Rondel to play board games. They continue for the whole day: after Aubade nurses, while she naps, as soon as one board game is finished, as a response when I ask if he is hungry for breakfast or lunch, and so on. If I say no, he keeps asking; he doesn’t usually get angry or demand that I play, but he tries to persuade me by making it more convenient and breaking the process down into smaller steps, persistently wearing me down. For example, he’ll bring the board into the kitchen if I’m making dinner, or he’ll offer to roll the die for me if my hands are occupied. It is his passion, his obsession right now, and he cannot let it go.


It is easy to see the ways that being autistic affects how he perceives and behaves in the world, in all these little moments. Some ways are positive; some are neutral; some are challenging for him and potentially also for the people around him. But they are undeniably there, pervasively present in his being in the world, making him distinctly different from most of his peers. And so we work together to make the world he lives in more supportive, so he can develop and mature and learn without the pressure of trying to continually mask. We establish routines and give him advance notice of upcoming changes; we give him extra space to process the unexpected; we coach him through transitions by helping him visualize what is coming next; we help him find creative ways to pursue his current passion when other people aren’t available to engage in it with him at the moment. With each day, he learns and grows and finds ways to be himself and cope with the expectations and realities of the world around him; with each day, we learn and grow and find ways to love, accept, and encourage him in his journey. The larger world adheres to a neurotypical standard, and we’re not going to be able to change that – but in our home we can give him a haven to be himself, to recharge and calm down, to be unconditionally loved.

Posted in family life, musings

getting through a bad day

Sometimes motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever set out to do. Sometimes I wake up already tired, already touched out from a night of nursing a sick baby, already talked out from a friend’s birthday party the day before, wanting to do nothing but bury my head in a pillow (or maybe a book) and isolate myself from the world around me until my equilibrium has sufficiently recovered. As everyone knows, of course, parenting doesn’t typically allow for such unplanned luxuries.

Sometimes every interaction is a battle not to yell or speak harshly. Sometimes the worst part of me wants to scream until everyone feels as awful as I do. Sometimes I can’t even handle the baby sitting on my lap with a book because I’m so sensorily overloaded that my skin crawls at the touch. Sometimes I pray for peace and gentleness and stumble again into anger the next minute.

Sometimes I look at my child and the tears in my own eyes – at my own imperfection, at the horrible way I’m acting – are mirrored in theirs.

Somehow we make it through the day anyway, with lots of apologies along the way. We get outside, if we can, and the calming influence of the outdoors leads to laughter and connection and positive strength. We read our bedtime books and the kids still ask for their “Pookie kisses” of Sandra Boynton inspiration. I tell them what I saw in them that made me proud, and apologize again, and we snuggle to sleep. And at last, the closeness of their bodies to mine can be felt as love by even my chaotic mental processor.

And I remind myself that these bad days are few, and that tomorrow is another opportunity to be compassionate, gentle, self-controlled, loving, present, and joyful with my children – to put in again the hard work of cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, and hopefully do a better job of it. I will fail, and the kids will fail, and I pray that we will in our failures learn both to be humble and to forgive, both to self-advocate when we are overwhelmed and to serve unthanked when we see others overwhelmed, both to grow closer to God who is alone perfect and who gives unending grace and to grow closer to each other even as our sin threatens to tear us apart.

Posted in sqt

{sqt} – reclaiming joy

I noticed this week that my children never want to go to bed, because they are just having so much fun and don’t want the day to end, and they wake up each morning full of excitement about the day ahead.

My husband and I, on the other hand, have entered that exhausted parent state where we spend all day waiting for night to come so we can have some quiet space and rest. It makes sense that we end up there, but constantly looking forward to the evening has a tendency to rob the day of its joy.

How can I reclaim some of that joy I had as a child about the new day ahead of me, full of potential for discovery and adventure, for beauty and love?

I’m not entirely sure, but today’s seven quick takes are going to be some ideas I want to implement in my own life this upcoming week. Head over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of the {sqt} link-up!

  1. Reframe the moment: when something is irritating or inconveniencing me, is there a way to look at the situation through different eyes? For example, when one of my children is whining and flopping around about something, I tend to be instantly triggered into frustration. I want to yell at them to pick themselves up and show some independence! At the very least I want to ignore them until they stop whining. But though that is my automatic response, a change in perspective can help me build a more compassionate and helpful response. If I can hear the whining and think, “here is an opportunity for me to love and serve this child like God loves and serves me,” then I can help them with their needs and wants with more gentleness and joy (although I will still ask them to try using a different tone of voice!)
  2. Pause: this goes along with the first point, since a pause can be a good time to try to reframe a situation. But it is good and useful all on its own, also. Instead of coasting through my day on autopilot, pausing for all sorts of reasons can help me see the beauty and feel the joy of everyday life. I can pause to watch with pride as my children take turns with their favorite water bottle; I can pause and count to ten when I hear angry voices coming from the play room to prepare my heart before they come running out to me; I can pause; I can pause when the baby has made yet another awful mess and make the cleanup something we can do together rather than something to make her feel ashamed about. I can pause to breathe out a prayer and breathe in grace when life is overwhelming.
  3. Put the phone away: except for when I’m reading a good book or listening to a good podcast (things I can mostly only do when I’m alone anyways), phone time tends to be an escape from reality and as such hinders any attempt to find joy in my current reality. It distracts me from the good and happy moments of the day especially, since those are the times when the kids are least demanding of my attention – and so it blinds me to the everyday beauty of their growing relationships and maturing character.
  4. Have a plan: if I know at the start of the day something fun that we’re going to do later, the anticipation and enjoyment of that event can easily spread throughout the rest of the day. And if we don’t follow through with the plan because we’re having too much fun doing other things, that is also a source of joy 🙂 It also eliminates some of the tension of looking forward through 12 empty hours not knowing what to expect and thus how to mentally prepare, and it breaks up the cabin fever the kids sometimes get when we’ve been in the house hiding from the heat all day. This could be some sort of outing (like the park or the library or even the grocery store), but it could also just be an activity or craft that we don’t do as often because it requires more set-up (like water balloons or finger-painting).
  5. Go to bed on time: because if I’m tired, it’s going to be a lot harder to feel happy. It’s going to be a lot harder to make the mental effort to reframe each moment. It’s going to be a lot harder to pause instead of reacting emotionally. And it’s going to be a lot harder to be present and engaged instead of sinking away into the virtual reality of my phone.
  6. Play with the kids: play is where they are finding their happiness, joy, and intellectual fulfillment right now, at this age. And they still want me to play with them a lot of the time! Essentially, they are inviting me into their happiness. All too often, being a boring (and tired) adult, I turn them down and find other “more important” tasks I need to do. But if I could let myself go – relax my body, forget the to-do list, ignore the “should’s”, suspend my disbelief – and play with them, even for a little while, I could in those moments have the presence and the joy that they have, and connect with them through it.
  7. Sing!: and dance! Move my body, stretch out of my comfortable shell, and make music! Music is so good for all emotional states – it expresses sorrow and anger, passion and despair, joy and silliness, peace and contentment, and in the expression elicits and draws out those same feelings in us, helping us experience them more deeply and process them more fully. So going back to point 4, I’m planning on having a dance party to silly kids’ songs at least one day this week, and I’m not going to care if my kids think I’m crazy!

What about you? How do you find joy when life is monotonous or stressful?

Posted in family life, musings

overcoming the fear of differences

Difference doesn’t need to be a reason for separation, distrust, or conflict.

This morning I watched as kids from 18 months to 10 years old played together. Everyone waited patiently without pushing or complaining when one of the toddlers wanted to climb up the ladder to the water slide, and the big girls helped her slide down when she was scared at the top. Four year olds and 8 year olds batted balloons across the house together; 3 year olds and 9 year olds danced to music videos together. The difference in their ages – a very significant difference, honestly, in both physical and mental development – was not an impediment to enjoying their time together.

This morning I watched as children with multiple developmental disorders and disabilities played together. A girl with Down syndrome held hands with two “normal” girls as they careened down the water slide together laughing. Four boys with varying levels of autism and speech and language delays and two neurotypical boys took turns on the slide, crashing into each other, trying new ways of going down, splashing themselves and each other, without any comments on the different abilities or behaviors represented. The point was to enjoy the water, and they all enjoyed it in each other’s presence without being held back by the very noticeable differences between them.

This morning I watched as people gathered together to celebrate the life of a boy who is different in multiple ways, who faces unique challenges, and who is very much loved. I am sure that it was this love, spilling over from everyone present, that smoothed out all the potential conflict that could have been caused by the myriad of differences there this morning. By learning to love at least one other person unconditionally, with complete acceptance, with eyes to see them for who they are, with ears ready to hear them however they are able to communicate, we begin to learn how to extend that love to others as well. We look for the bright shining highlights in each other, instead of the behavioral challenges or the confusing differences. We strive for connection and communication even in the most difficult moments, instead of letting those difficulties drive us away. We begin to learn to say, and think, and live, with this perspective: that I am made in the image and likeness of God, and so are you, no matter how different we are from one another; let us meet in the heart and center of that image; let it bind us together in love.

This morning I watched a small microcosm of the kingdom of God play out before me, and my heart was filled to see it.

Differences are so often a cause of fear and suspicion. This person acts and looks and speaks differently than me, so I don’t know how to predict their actions, so I am afraid and want to stay away from them, or I speak more harshly to them because of my unease and discomfort. These people are not like me, so maybe they don’t deserve the same freedoms that I have. An older couple may ask their neighbors why they don’t just keep their children inside, as if because of their age the children have less of a right to access public outdoor space. A concerned citizen may call the police if they see a developmentally delayed adult acting strangely and defend their actions by protesting that the individual should just stay inside their group home if they can’t behave “normally” in public. A group of fairly enlightened founding fathers may preserve slavery and oppress native people because they see them as less capable or even less human. White southerners may institute separate facilities for themselves and legislate others out because they are afraid of being “contaminated” by people of other races. And normally compassionate Americans may applaud strict and trauma-inducing policies of family separation because they are afraid that these immigrants may be lawless criminals and traffickers.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And we who are parents have the chance to shape the future world into a more understanding and loving place by giving our children the chance, here and now, to experience difference and to see how little it really matter when it comes to living and enjoying life together.

Posted in family life

an oasis in the desert

I took my children to the lake last Thursday.

Yes, even here in the desert we have lakes! They are mostly manmade and act as water reservoirs… but they also serve as beautiful oases, especially when temperatures start rising.

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My sister-in-law joined us for a couple hours with her four kids, which was especially good when Limerick got in too deep and started panicking and needed me – that extra pair of adult eyes and hands makes a big difference sometimes. It was also fun for us just to spend time with them! But we stayed after they needed to leave and it was equally wonderful in different ways.

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I mentioned our day trip to someone and they instantly reacted with the words, “what a chore!”

I still haven’t been able to figure it out.

It isn’t a chore to spend time outside, in the natural unbuilt environment, enjoying the beauty of creation. In fact, it’s something I’m constantly striving to do more often! I want my children to love and respect the natural world, to feel connected to it and desire to protect and preserve it; they won’t if they are never exposed to it. And we were so lucky on this particular day to be visited by a herd of wild horses. I mean, how often do you get to see large wild animals like that? We were all in awe – even Aubade kept pointing and exclaiming in wonder as they moved through the water.

It isn’t a chore to take my children out on an excursion – at least not this type of outing. Rondel and I both struggle in crowded indoor environments, or in highly structured populated activities, because of the constant sensory bombardment and social expectations. Limerick and Aubade are both still noisy constantly-moving little people (as they should be!). So when we’re outside, away from the artificial stimuli and the obscure social norms of the city, free to make the sounds we want to make and move our bodies in comfortable ways without bothering anyone, it is incredibly relaxing and refreshing.

It isn’t a chore to be with my children, to let go of my own pursuits and just focus on them for an afternoon, enjoying the small details of life with them. They remind me how exciting a lake bed scattered with shells can be; they delight my heart with their surprised laughter at things that are now old and familiar to me. After you’ve been to the beach a few times, you anticipate the way the waves knock into you; when you’re only 1 or 3 or 4, each new wave comes as a surprise and a gift.

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And it certainly wasn’t a chore to watch Rondel and Limerick playing together for hours, intent on their exploration of this new world, sharing it with each other as best friends do. On the contrary, it was a gift for me as a parent to see my children growing and deepening in their relationship with each other in such a natural and unforced way.

I know these days are fleeting. For only these few years will I have such a strong influence on their lives, and such a deep connection; I don’t want them to stay little forever, but I do want to live these years with intentionality. Of course it takes a bit of planning and organization to take three small children to the lake for the afternoon. But the riches all of us reap as a result far more than outweigh that work of preparation. For us, places like this are more than just real and physical oases in the desert: they are also oases of renewal for our souls.

Posted in book lists, family life

literary explorations – traveling the world with picture books!

Inspired by the great resource Give Your Child The World, a globally-inspired picture book anthology by Jamie C. Martin, as well as by Rondel’s fascination with animals from around the world, we had a sort of Africa focus in our home a couple weeks ago. Martin is actually hosting a virtual book club spending one week on each world region over the summer, which I’m attempting to keep up with, but I’m woefully unprepared for Asia this week…

Anyway, Africa was a great place to start since most of Rondel’s favorite animals live there, and it was a natural connection to then begin reading stories involving those animals and the people who live near them. We also experimented with some African recipes (there is a huge variety of cuisines across the continent, so we were barely able to explore any of it and it still felt like a lot!) and crafts (but my kids don’t do so well with directed crafts). Of the books we could find from Martin’s recommendations at our library, two really stood out as our favorites: Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, a Nandi folktale retold by Verna Aardema; and Wangari’s Trees of Peace, a brief pictorial biography of Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate who helped restore land degraded by irresponsible logging (and in the process helped maintain peace and prevent poverty in her home country), by Jeanette Winter.

The biography of Wangari is written at a level that even Limerick, at 3.5, can understand and follow along with, so many of the details of her life have obviously been omitted – this is just the general arc of her story. But those spare elements have been woven together, with the help of beautiful images, to create a compelling narrative. Every time we read it (which was often, since Limerick kept requesting it), Rondel would be devastated when Wangari returns to Kenya after studying abroad to find the forests cut down, the village women walking miles for firewood and food, and desert encroaching upon the arable land. The boys’ eyes would widen, riveted on the book, when Wangari stands “tall as an oak” to protect the remaining forests, when the government officials beat her and jail her for protesting their course of action. And at the end, when millions of trees spread across Kenya again, the boys would be all smiles and laughter, imagining the birdsong in the forest. So I would highly recommend it as a brief introduction to Wangari and modern Africa for young children.

In addition, it has given me a point of comparison when talking with the boys about current events in our own country. When Wangari is jailed, the book tells us that “Right is right, even if you’re alone,” and the whole story demonstrates how the right thing to do can sometimes be the opposite of what the government or people in authority want to do. So when the boys heard our president talking for a few minutes before I changed the radio station (I usually only listen to talk radio when I’m alone in the car), and asked questions about what he was saying, I could explain his position and then also explain how I thought it was wrong, morally wrong if not legally wrong, and how his power and authority didn’t make all of his beliefs or actions morally right and good. And I was able to tell them that unlike Wangari, people like us would be able to peacefully protest those wrong things without fear of imprisonment, because our nation makes space for differing opinions and protests (ideally, of course, but since they’re 3 and 4 they get the idealized version on some things still).

Wangari cared deeply about her country – she loved it – and that’s why she was able to work for its improvement with such persistence, devotion, and passion. She started with small things she knew she could do (like physically planting new trees to replace the harvested ones), and let her love guide her into bigger and bigger forms of activism. And when I look around me and see people cynically apathetic about this country, it makes me want to instill in my children a love for their country and a passion to make it better, in small personal ways and perhaps even in big political ways. It is only with the love and dedication of people like Wangari that we can heal our culture, our environment, and our world; I’d much rather my children be like her than like the enforcers of government authority who beat and imprisoned her.

At this point I’m doubtful that any other picture book we find for this book club will influence our family quite as much as this one has! But every one we’ve managed to find so far from Martin’s anthology has been worth a second read at least; we’ve learned a lot, and we’ve laughed a lot, and we’ve filled our home with beautiful pictures and stories, and there isn’t much more to ask for from a picture book 🙂

At the time of posting, Amazon has Give Your Child the World available on Kindle for only $0.99! It is a resource worth far more than that.

Posted in giveaway, sqt

{sqt} – differently wired

As we’ve navigated Rondel’s diagnostic process, one of the most helpful resources has been Deborah Reber’s podcast Tilt Parenting – and as a dedicated bibliophile, I have found her book Differently Wired to be equally if not more encouraging and challenging. It is currently the bestselling book in Amazon’s Disability Parenting category, and #18 in their overall Parenting list, and in my opinion (having read an early release copy) it deserves that top spot.

In fact, I think this book is important enough that I purchased an extra copy to giveaway, and that giveaway is live now! Head over to the official post to comment for an entry… I think my publicizing of it hasn’t been very effective so you have a good chance of winning 😛

Continue reading “{sqt} – differently wired”

Posted in family life, musings, quotes

presence

“Asher picked out a rocket Popsicle while I parked the bike and looked for a spot in the sun, eventually setting on a rainbow-colored, oversized hammock. We climbed in and lay next to each other, his head cradled in the nook of my arm, and we swung slowly, gazing up at the giant sycamore trees, new green leaves silhouetted against the blue sky. It was the first time in recent memory that I’d stopped moving, thinking, planning, working, or teaching and done nothing but be in that moment. A moment, I might add, in which Asher stopped talking about Minecraft and Plants Versus Zombies. Instead, as we lay there gently swaying, we talked about spring. And homeschooling. And beauty. And peace and contentedness. And how nature can be a kind of religion. And how important it is to notice and appreciate. And about how sticky hands get when Popsicle juice drips on them.

“[…] When we’re not living in presence, we miss the little things – the bright spots that are there, even when we have to search hard to find them. The tiny growth spurts. The moments of brilliance. The sparks of joy. To experience these things we have to fully be here, open and present.” – Debbie Reber, Differently Wired

It’s tempting for me to be always immersed in my phone, or a book, or a coloring sheet, or even just my to-do list for the day. But I’ve noticed that when I actively engage with my children, when I am present in their games and conversation (even if I am just observing while making dinner or cleaning), their imagination is sparked, their reactions are more positive, their responses are more mature, and their smiles are brighter.

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(Also, they tend to be much more accepting of time apart if our time together is truly a time of connection and presence, which allows me to have more space for deeper renewal and refreshment when I need it.)

It isn’t just me, the parent, who benefits when I choose to be present – my children benefit as well. My presence assures them of my love. It demonstrates that they are worthy of authentic attention and connection. It gives them confidence in the value of their ideas. It gives them the opportunity to learn from any experience and wisdom I may have.

And it is in all the moments, silly and stressful, happy and hard, that a deep and lasting relationship can grow between us. If I choose to be mentally elsewhere for those moments, I choose to stunt rather than nurture that relationship. But if I choose to be present, I am choosing to water and fertilize that relationship, and to weed out all the other trivial things that compete with my children for my attention, emotional energy, and time.

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Being present means playing peek-a-boo with Aubade when she hides her face in her hands.

Being present means talking in a baby voice for hours because the mommy animals in the house want me to be their baby elephant.

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Being present means getting to cheer Limerick on when he chases a ball around the pool and finally manages to grab it, instead of staying oblivious to his persistence and success.

Being present means laughing when Rondel jumps into the pool and totally soaks me with the splash, instead of perceiving it as an interruption of my more important business.

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Being present means noticing how Limerick observes and investigates the world around him, constantly soaking up knowledge with his thirsty pattern-loving mind.

And most of all, being present means mutual openness, a sharing of happiness, and a fostering of love. Yes, I need space and time alone – but when I am with my kids, I am going to try to be fully present as much as possible.


If you liked the quote from Differently Wired, read my brief review of the book here and check back in June for the giveaway!

Also, check here for a list of some awesome pre-order bonuses you can receive for no additional cost if you order the book before June 12th!

“So far we’ve talked about getting out of our limited thinking and envisioning how we’d design our ideal day if we knew we would be successful. We explored letting go of our own emotional baggage, recognizing them our personal triggers have been provoked, and committing to parenting our children from a place of possibility instead of fear. But for this last Tilt, I want to talk explicitly about fully leaning in to the power of our personal choice and using it as a foundation for creating what our child needs. Because the truth is, what our child needs may not exist yet. But why should that stop us?” – Debbie Reber, Differently Wired


If you liked the quote from Differently Wired, read my brief review of the book here and check back in June for the giveaway!

why should that stop us?

Posted in family life, musings

love

Love is such a difficult thing to describe; it is impossible to quantify. Rondel and Limerick have been attempting to articulate how much they appreciate or enjoy something by telling me they love it “even more” than they love something very special to them, including people (so one would say he loved Grandma more than Mommy, and the other one would state the opposite, or they would say they loved a new type of popsicle even more than swimming). They have also asked me a few times who I loved the most – talk about a question with no right answer!

What I’ve been explaining to them, and how I answered their question, was that I love all of them in different ways, because they are different people and our relationships are likewise different. I love them all just the same amount, but it looks different; in a sense, my love for each of them is a different color, but each color blazes with the same intensity, beauty, and brightness.

If they asked me which color represented my love for each of them, this is how I would respond…

Continue reading “love”