November 2010


My brother says I have mild anticipatory anxiety.

It’s ok, he’s a psychologist so he’s allowed to say that.  Mostly because it’s true.

I found many random websites with definitions of anticipatory anxiety, but the most straightforward one was this one : anxiety that one experiences before starting a challenging activity.  Most often, anticipatory anxiety is a lot higher than what you actually end up experiencing.

I’m sure my brother has a better definition, but this one sums it up for me perfectly.

I was definitely in high anxiety mode before our Thanksgiving trip last Thursday.  I usually starting panicking about two days before the trip as I start to plan to pack (note I didn’t say actually start packing, because I can’t seem to get to that point until the night before we leave).  I start making lists of how many shirts for each person, mapping out our route and departure time, and I start shopping for all the food we’ll need for the trip.

Now remember, it’s only a 250 mile trip to my mother’s house.  And we’re only going to be gone two days.

But in my head I start working through what I need to do to make the trip successful – there and back.  Extra clothes.  Snacks.  DVDs, books, games.  Heck, I even wrote a post about everything we have to bring with us.

I’m not sure why I get this way.  Well, actually I do.  Over the past two years I’ve become quite a control freak.  I know it’s all tied to my son’s sensory issues and his spectrum diagnosis.  In our house, I can attempt to control how he behaves and I have all my “tools” at my disposal.  Timers, schedules, sensory breaks, quiet time for Lewis’ nap – I can do all that in the house.  In the car with all five of us, it gets harder to manage.

Plus, I have past experiences to pull from.  On one car ride, Howie asked for a hug for one hour straight.  On another, his car seat was uncomfortable so he yelled for a good portion of the trip, just as the baby had fallen asleep for his nap.  Then Gerry will chime in that Howie’s being too noisy, and a five hour car ride ends up feeling like ten.  Or more.

Add in that we were traveling for Thanksgiving – my favorite holiday but not the easiest one for the rest of my family.  I’m the only turkey/gravy/sweet potato eater of the bunch.  Past Thanksgivings, I’ve spent the whole time either convincing my kids to try the turkey or chasing them out from under the table after 5 minutes of sitting.  My vegan husband would eat the rolls and carrots. For the last eight years, my favorite meal of the year was inhaled in 3 minutes so I could retreat to another room with my kids.

So yes, I was panicking about this trip.  All parts of it.  In my head I got so worked up about the trip that I thought we shouldn’t go.  Or couldn’t go.  My anticipatory anxiety was leading me to think we should just cancel the whole thing and stay at home.  In other words, go back to the definition above.

But I couldn’t listen to it.  This time, I was determined to make things different.  So we made some minor adjustments to our travel plan.

Instead of our usual departure day on Wednesday, we decided to drive up on Thanksgiving morning.  The weather was perfect and the roads were empty.  There was no eight mile backup on the Massachusetts Turnpike like the day before.  And because we left on Thanksgiving when nothing would be open for lunch, I packed us each a picnic for the car ride instead of our usual hour long stop along the way.  We had a total of three bathroom breaks and one 15 minute stop to eat our lunch in a parking lot.  What was usually a five and a half hour car trip ended up being four and a half.  Perfect.

I did have a few moments of panic on the way there.  Howie’s headphones didn’t fit just right and he got frustrated immediately.  Thanks for some maneuvering, I got them to sit properly on his head so he could listen to “Soak Up The Sun”  by Sheryl Crow 30 times in a row.  I was afraid that Lewis wouldn’t nap on the ride because he woke up  later than usual that morning, but he slept for an hour.  And because of some advance planning with a new DVD and a organic lollipop, Howie stayed quiet long enough for Lewis to sleep.  Gerry had a pile of Star Wars books to read for the ride, so we didn’t hear from him at all.  We arrived at my mother’s house around 2pm, just in time to unpack and get ready for dinner.

As we sat down for “feastThanksgiving” (as Howie called it), that anxiety set in again.  But there were fewer guests at dinner this year (13 instead of the usual 30) so that helped with the noise level in the room.  We had turkey from Panera Bread for the kids to eat, since it’s the only turkey Howie likes.  My mom’s friends are vegetarians, so they made several vegan dishes that Tim could eat.   And suddenly…we were all sitting down quietly and eating.

Let me say that again.  ALL FIVE OF US WERE QUIETLY EATING.  For more than 5 minutes.  And I enjoyed not one, but two helpings of stuffing, turkey and sweet potatoes.  And it was all hot.

Howie said it was the “best feastThanksgiving ever!”.  Tim said it was the most he had ever eaten…ever.

Our ride home on Saturday was the same as our ride up – no traffic, no long lunch stops, no meltdowns.  Just a regular road trip.  Dare I say, a “typical” family road trip?

Clearly, my anticipatory anxiety worked to my advantage this time.  By panicking ahead of time about all the things that could go wrong, I worked out a plan to make sure things would go right.  I’m not sure that my brother would agree that this is the best treatment plan for my anxiety issues, but when you’re not paying for the therapy you go with what you got.

Maybe next year, my anxiety level won’t be so high.  But if it is, I’ll be calling my brother for more free advice.

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I’m really with you now
Or just chasing after some finer day.
Anticipation, Anticipation
Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting” – Anticipation by Carly Simon

Happy Thanksgiving!

Another thing I am thankful for is that my post “Motherless Child” is on Mamapedia today!  I know many of you have left me comments on this one before, and it was your encouragement that led me to submit it for others to read.

If you get a chance today between eating turkey and watching football, click over here and leave me a comment!

Click here for Mamapedia – Feeling Like A Motherless Child

Every year at Thanksgiving, we go around the table at my mother’s house and say what we are grateful for.

My usual answer is, of course, my family.  This year is no exception.

Except this time,  my family has expanded quite a bit.  It hasn’t been an easy year.  But in the 11 months since my son’s autism diagnosis my family has grown to include this wonderful and welcoming community of fellow parents with children on the spectrum.  I truly feel like they are all part of my inner circle now, because without them to lean on, I’m not sure I would have made it.

So forgive me if I forget a few names in this list – know that if you are out there and I’ve “met” you, you’ve helped me.

This year, I am thankful for:

- My friends from Spectrummy Mummy, Welcome to the Mad House, and I Should Have Called Him Calvin, who dropped everything when I was having a crisis of confidence to help me through it via e-mail exchanges, even in different time zones across the globe;

- My SibShop mom friends, who have shown me a path to being a better mother through their grace and humor and tireless dedication to our amazing community (I won’t “out” you here but you know who you are);

- The three moms who welcomed me immediately at my son’s school after his diagnosis, and who instantly invited me for playdates without hesitation;

- My support group, who without even knowing it have changed my life;

- My fellow writers Hartley, Caitlin, Patty and Michelle, whose amazing talents have pushed me to be a better writer;

- The writers in the SPD Blogger Network, who were the first people online to show me that I wasn’t alone;

-  The high school and college friends that I have “rediscovered” here through this blog, who have encouraged me to write my story and who have been brave enough to share their parenting struggles with me;

- The moms of my kids’ best friends, who have become my best friends as well;

- My friend N., who while constantly crushing me at Facebook Scrabble still manages to make coffee squirt out of my nose with her hysterical instant messages; and

- The unbelievably honest and warm community of parent bloggers that I have grown to love and trust.  There are too many to mention, but click on any name on any of the comments on any post in this blog and you’ll meet an amazing person doing heroic things every day.

Of course, I am also eternally thankful for my actual family this year too.  My extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins chose the path less traveled by opening their arms and hearts to us to embrace our family, when they could have very easily turned away.  My brother and sister-in-law have continued to be beyond supportive and helpful, even from across the country.  My sister, of whom I am so proud, has asked me for a blue puzzle piece on her coat this winter.  My mom, a special educator herself, has gone above and beyond what is expected of a grandmother.  And she gets a huge thank you for staying with Tim and the boys when I went to see the Glee tour in New York City.

And just like every year, I am most grateful for my boys and for my husband Tim.  Every day they make me thankful that I am a part of this family.

Howie came home yesterday from school with a drawing of me.  His teacher asked him what he was thankful  for and he said “my mom”.

Right back at you, little man.  Right back at you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up ev’rybody and sing

Ev’ryone can see we’re together
As we walk on by
(FLY!) and we fly just like birds of a feather
I won’t tell no lie
(ALL!) all of the people around us they say
Can they be that close
Just let me state for the record
We’re giving love in a family dose” – We Are Family by Sister Sledge

Dear Dr. D-

I could just hug you.

If you knew me better, you’d know that hugging isn’t my thing.  But leaving your office today after our first follow up visit since Howie’s diagnosis, I felt like I could fly.

Why?

Because you called me “Super Mom”.

It’s clear I fooled you, but it doesn’t matter.  You said it and you can’t take it back.

You called me “Super Mom”.

You were impressed by how far we’ve come in just a year.  You told me Howie’s IEP was one of the most comprehensive IEP’s you’d seen in a while.  When we talked about all the supports and services he was receiving, you were excited because you could tell it was helping.

You told me I clearly had a great team put together.  Your eyes widened when you saw Howie write his name – not just because it was legible, but because his grip on the crayon was so much better.  We talked about his OT supports and the fact that we’ve worked sensory breaks into his daily log sheet.  You asked about speech, and when I told you he didn’t qualify for direct services you weren’t surprised, but reminded me to keep an eye on his pragmatics.  I told you his one-on-one aide is always with him to help facilitate social interactions in the classroom, and at playdates at home I’m there to help.  I said he was starting to pretend play, and interact better with peers.  I told you it was getting easier.  You said you could tell.

And that’s when you called me “Super Mom”.

You told me to push for a social speech group for him.  Maybe not in preschool, but definitely for kindergarten next year.

When you asked about home supports, you were clearly asking to see if I was getting help myself.  I told you that we used our home services during the spring, but this fall I have kind of let it slide.  I said I just didn’t know how to translate our home issues into a concrete problem to be solved.  When you suggested that the teacher just come in and simply observe – Supernanny style – it made sense.  You said it might be something as simple as listening to our interactions, and tweaking our language.  Even in our small amount of time together, you heard me ask Howie to do things, instead of telling him it was time to do things.  You reminded me that if he doesn’t have a choice in the situation, don’t give him one.  It creates a climate for non-compliance. I didn’t even know I was doing it.

I said the hardest thing at home right now were sibling issues.  It was difficult keeping Gerry from getting frustrated and angry when Howie can’t control his behaviors.  I said that with Lewis I couldn’t tell what were actual behavior issues, or just mimicking Howie’s stimming.  And I shared that it was getting harder to help Lewis understand the difference between right and wrong, because with every wrong choice, Howie is there laughing and egging him on.  You reminded me that this is exactly what the home services are for.

Then, seemingly from left field, you asked me more about Lewis.  Nonchalantly, like it was part of the conversation.  I forgot that you didn’t know about all the EI testing we’ve been through, so I quickly filled you in.  Long story short, he has speech delays but didn’t qualify for services, but we weren’t really concerned about any other areas.  You took it all in, and suggested we do a full developmental assessment anyway through your 0-3 clinic, just to make sure.  The only reason not to, you said, was to keep from raising my anxiety level.  We laughed together when I said that it was too late.  I realized later you were concerned about the younger sibling link to increased risk of spectrum disorders.  You care.  And I’m so grateful.

Your next steps were clear and concise.  In a year or two, we’ll talk about neuropsych evaluations, but you didn’t see it necessary now.  You also mentioned we should start looking into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy methods, because high functioning kids like Howie respond really well to that around age six or seven.  You thought he was too young now at age four, but we should keep it on the back of our minds.

I mentioned that our annual IEP review meeting was coming up in January.  “Don’t let them change a thing”, you said.

Finally, I asked the big question.  Considering all the progress we’ve made in such a short period of time, considering where we are now…was he misdiagnosed?

No.  You were clear.  Howie meets the criteria for high functioning autism.  His successes, you said, were because of the excellent services we’ve received.  And again, you told me “don’t let them change a thing.”

I won’t.  I’ve never been so happy to keep the status quo.

You called me “Super Mom”.  And after this appointment, I feel like I could save the world.

I am I am I am Superman and I know what’s happening.
I am I am I am Superman and I can do anything.” – Superman by REM

I’m over at Hartley’s Life With 3 Boys today getting ready for Thanksgiving.  Come read my packing list and see how it compares to yours!

813 Mile Car Trip

On Thursday, I made my triumphant return to storytime at the library.

There was no parade, no confetti, no shouts of “You Go Girl!!”.  But there should have been.

It was the first activity that Lewis and I had ever done together.  Yes, we’ve been to the supermarket, Target, and many other shopping adventures.  But never an actual “activity”.  Never something just for him.  And for me.

It wasn’t always like this.  When Gerry was a baby, we did everything.   We did all those gymnastics classes, music classes, and puppet shows.  I’d take him to the park to play and we’d stay all morning.  And we went to story time at our local library before he was old enough to walk.  Gerry would stay close to me, right in my lap, and while the other kids got up to explore, he always stayed put until the librarian was finished.  We’d spend hours at the library, sitting at the table, reading books, choosing our favorites and taking them home.

When Howie was a baby, we tried all those things again.  Before Howie was old enough for his own story time, I’d try to take Gerry to different activities at the library so he wasn’t missing out.  We had just moved to town and I thought it was a good way to meet other kids and parents.  Inevitably, I’d spend the whole time in the hallway with Howie.  He was either screaming, crying, or running away.  Following close behind would be Gerry, because he didn’t want to be in there alone.  After several attempts, we just stopped going.  I tried a few times when Howie was older (with baby Lewis in tow) and he still couldn’t sit there…for anything.  It was embarrassing.  I felt like the only one there chasing after her kid, covering his ears so the music wasn’t so loud or pulling him away from the crayons because it wasn’t craft time yet.  So after getting yelled at by the librarian for signing up for events and not showing up, we stopped even trying.

When Lewis was finally old enough for his own story time, I was a bit reluctant.  Ok, VERY reluctant.  Once bitten, twice shy.  I thought it was better for us to just do our own thing.  I can read to him.  I can color with him.  I didn’t want to go through the same embarrassment again.

But both my pediatrician and speech therapist told me Lewis needed be around kids his own age.  He needed to hear other 2 year olds talking and he needed to learn how to play and interact with them.  My friend has a 2 1/2 yr old, so we started searching around for activities that we could try – gymnastics, music classes – to get ourselves back out there.  I turned them all down.  It cost too much, it was 25 minutes away, the time of day was bad.  But really, I was just too afraid.

Then, the flyer for story time at the library came home.  A time just for 18 month olds – 3 yr olds.  Free.  Five minutes away. 10:45am.

It was like the library wrote the flyer just for us.  So my friend and I signed up.  Thursday was the first class.

I’d like to say it all went smoothly.  That Lewis sat in my lap and listened to the story and danced to the music and did the craft.  He didn’t.  The crayons were out when we first got there and all he wanted to do was color.  Of course, that was last on the agenda, and I had to keep pulling him away from the craft table.  He stood on my lap during the first story, left the room during the second one, and refused to give up his bean bag during the “pass the bean bag” game.

But you know what?  I didn’t care.

This time, I didn’t care what the librarian or the other parents thought.  We did our best to conform with the story time flow, but if we couldn’t, we didn’t.  When he screamed because he couldn’t color, I gave him his pacifier.  When he couldn’t sit, I let him stand, and when he couldn’t stand anymore, we left the room until he could come back again.  I didn’t force him to give up his bean bag for the game.  And looking around at the other kids?  They weren’t playing by the “rules” either.

When it was time to color, Lewis sat very nicely at the table.  He picked out the green crayon to match his shirt, and colored his little cut out person with scribbles and dots.  And when he was done, we were done.  I didn’t wait for some goodbye cue from the librarian.  I followed my own kid’s cues.  We left the library with my friend and her son.  No meltdowns.  No tantrums.  No screaming and yelling.  Lewis held my hand as we walked down the path to our car and we went home.  Just like that.

To say that my kids are different would be ridiculous and obvious.  Of course they are different – every kid is.  They have different strengths and challenges.  Howie is very articulate, yet struggles with sensory overload, auditory processing and behavior control.  Lewis is the opposite.  Certain activities will work for one child and won’t work for another.  There’s nothing wrong or shameful about that.

What I have to remember is that I am different now too.  I am a different parent than I was four years ago or even two years ago.  I understand my kids’ limits better and when it’s ok to push them and when it’s ok to pull back.  I am more focused on their needs and not conforming to what the librarian wants or thinks.  I attempt to work with in the parameters of the activity, and if my kids can’t do it, we leave and return when and if we can.  I’m not going to make the experience miserable for my child, the librarian or the other families in the room.

No more embarrassment, no more shame.  It’s not worth it.  Because the alternative is to never leave the house.  That can’t be an option.

So when the next Thursday story time comes around, we’ll be there again.  I’m actually looking forward to it this time.

You remind me I live in a shell
safe from the past, and doing’ okay
but not very well
No jolts, no surprises
No crisis arises
My life goes along as it should
It’s all very nice but not very good
And I’m ready to take
a chance again” – Ready to Take a Chance Again by Barry Manilow

It’s the 17th, so I’m writing at Hopeful Parents today.  I learned some valuable lessons about parenting from my dad, and I thought I’d share them this morning.

Click Here for Oh Very Young

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