Thursday, June 30, 2011


One of the best things about being a mother is watching your children overcome their fears.

Squirrel used to be scared of everything.  That's not an exaggeration.  Every new thing scared her as an infant--new sounds, new people, new places.  As she grew, she attached herself to me whenever we left the house, and spent much of her early years buried in my shoulder, peeking out at the world from the safety of my arms.

By the time she was two, her fears were pretty well-defined and deeply ingrained, despite all my efforts to assure her that the world was not actually a scary place.  Separation anxiety, which leaves most kids by then, was intense.  She cried every time I left her at day care or in the nursery or even at home with her daddy.  She was terrified of all animals--big, small, even minuscule.  A tiny gnat around her head could send her into a full panic.  Even the animals at the zoo, locked safely behind glass and bars, sent her into a tizzy.  Storms, wind, fire trucks outside, semi trucks passing our car, strangers talking to her in the grocery store...all causes for full-on panic.  She hated the water.  Baths were given with only a few inches in the tub until she was about four--at which point a few inches wasn't enough to sufficiently clean her anymore, and I had to insist on more water!  She wouldn't even go in the pool.  She was quite comfortable just putting her feet in the water from the safety of the steps.

It was hard for me to be patient with some of these fears.  I didn't understand them.  My rational adult mind knew they were just plain ridiculous, but how could I convince her of that?  Believe me, I tried to reason with her.  I tried to show her there was nothing scary about each situation.  She didn't believe me.  And her fear was very real to her, and heartbreaking for me.

Some of her fears made no sense to me. She was scared of the snow.  She cried when it fell outside the window.  She panicked if I took her out in it.  She refused to put her feet in the snow, even with her big snow boots on. The winter she was almost three, I put my foot down and told her I would not carry her outside anymore.  I carried her to the middle of the yard, set her feet in the snow, and walked back to the house.  She began to hyperventilate and cried until her face was a slobbery mess.  I waited for her ten feet away on the porch, sure she would give up and walk to me.  But she didn't.  Agonizingly long minutes passed until my mommy heartstrings were pulled back to her.  But I didn't give in.  She clung to my leg and tried desperately to get on me, but together we walked one step at a time through the snow.  And by the time we got to the porch, she had stopped crying and was silently walking carefully with me.  However, it was another winter before she would play in the snow!
When Squirrel turned seven, she decided on her own that she was not going to be afraid of everything any more.  Over the past two years, she has conquered many of her most intense fears.  And she did it in her own time, and in her own way.  The first one she addressed was animals.  She told me one day, "I don't want to be afraid of dogs anymore.  I want to try to pet one."  So we went to my best friend's house and played outside for awhile with the dog running free in the yard (instead of put in the house like we usually had to do.) I sat back and watched as she eyed the dog running around for awhile.  Then she began to reach a hand out as it ran by and touch it.  By the end of the day, Squirrel was throwing the frisbee for the dog, and running after it, and petting it, and letting it lick her hands!  I was proud of her, but you know what?  She was immensely proud of herself!  She had showed herself that she could control her own fears and overcome them.  What an amazing feat for a little girl!  I know many adults that can't do that!

She's conquered many other fears the same way.  Only a few remain, and I see her trying to overcome them too.  She's still scared of strangers, but she musters her courage to at least respond when spoken to in public. She won't make eye contact or carry on a conversation, but it's a start!  Her biggest fear remains storms.  I can't help her with that one--I'm still terrified of storms!  Maybe SHE can help ME overcome that one.

This week we're on vacation at my Aunt's house.  We've spent hours each day in her pool.  Over the course of this short week, I've watched Squirrel go from "swimming" in the shallow end--and by swimming, I mean slowly putting her whole body in the water and doggy-paddling a few strokes before standing up again. She's gone from this to cannon-balling into the deep end of the pool and swimming from one end to the other.  She is glowing with pride in her accomplishment.  I am fighting back my own tears of pride watching her blossom in front of me.  I am so amazed at this girl!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Breakdowns and Repairs

Have you ever had one of those moments where you just KNEW something wasn't right?  Several months ago I was driving home from work.  I'd been experiencing a few little glitches with my van, but nothing major.  Sometimes it would stall at red lights.  Sometimes it seemed to kind of sputter a little when we drove along.  The engine light was on and the mechanic couldn't figure out why.  All things considered, on this day the van was sailing along fine when it suddenly made a horrible, awful CLUNK.  Then quit accelerating for a second.  Then every warning light on the dashboard seemed to light up as it clunked along for half a mile more before just stopping.  Right in the middle of a huge intersection.
Turns out it was my transmission.  A tow truck, two weeks without a vehicle, and an entire income tax return later, and we were back on the road with a new knowledge of how things can go horribly wrong, and how to make sure it doesn't happen again.

It was kind of like that with my little Munchkin too.  There was never a major issue with him.  There were some little things...he tantrumed a lot.  He didn't make transitions well.  He had occasional meltdowns over small things.  And he was certainly a little quirky.  But overall, he was a happy, intelligent, charming kid who was pretty easy to handle.  Just like with my van, we could continue "driving" him in spite of the little things that weren't quite right.  Just like I knew to give the car a little gas at a red light so it didn't stall, we knew what to do to keep Munchkin running too.

Then we had that "Oh no, something is majorly wrong here" moment with him.  The moment when we got stranded in the middle of a major intersection and had to call in the big guns.

It happened on our first-ever family vacation.  On the first day of our family vacation.  At one of the very first stops on our family vacation.  (Nothing like setting the tone for the whole vacation, right?)  We went to Disney World with the extended family.  After arriving and spending our first night in Florida, we got up at the crack of dawn to have breakfast with Winnie the Pooh, and Tigger too.  We were absolutely sure that 3-year-old Munchkin, a Disney channel junkie, would love meeting his favorite friends.  No--he was scared to death of all of them.  Clung to mommy and hid his head when they tried to talk to him.  But he did enjoy watching them talk to the other guests (from a distance) and joining his sister and cousin in the parade around the restaurant after breakfast.  (Small warning light, still running ok, keep going.)
Then we entered the park and got on our first ride.  Ah, the joy of sailing up in the air with Dumbo!  Lots of smiles and giggles.  (Running good again, smooth sailing down the road.)

Next stop was a 3D Mickey Mouse movie.  At this time in his life, Munchkin had been to one movie.  It was not a successful event, but neither was it a total disaster, so we had no reason to expect the total breakdown that was about to occur.  I had never been to Disney before myself.  I was not prepared for the full-on sensory assault that is everything Disney, so I could not prepare my son for what was about to take place either.  I had also never seen a 3D movie before (I know, I'm so sheltered!) so I didn't quite know what we were getting into.

From the moment the lights went down, he started panicking.  ("It's too dark Mommy!")  When the music started, the hands covered his ears and he started crying.   ("I wanna go!")  When Donald Duck leaned into his face to talk to him, the 3D glasses flew across the theater and the screaming began, "(No! NO! Let's go out!")  And when water splashed on screen and we got misted at the same time, we had a breakdown.  Full out, in the middle of a major intersection, car won't move and everyone is honking and yelling at you, kind of breakdown.

Of course, since Disney herds you in to every show like cattle, and warns you that "For your own safety and the safety of those around you" you may not get out of your seat during the show, we were trapped in the middle of a long row of people and couldn't get out.    So I wrapped myself around my little guy the best I could--hugged him tight, covered his ears with my hands, buried his face into my shoulder, and assured him over and over and over that I knew he wanted to leave and it would be over soon and we could leave in a minute.  It was like sitting in that broken-down car in the middle of that busy intersection with everyone wanting you to do something (get out of the way!) and being completely helpless and at the mercy of someone else to fix the problem.

Except the "problem" was my petrified little Munchkin, and my mommy heartstrings were breaking in that theater.  Because there was no denying, at that moment, that we had a major problem.  This was not just fear of a new experience.  This was a major sensory overload that had pushed my little guy over the brink, and there was no bringing him back.  It hung over and around us for the rest of the vacation.  Every time we walked into a building, Munchkin started to panic--"I don't want to see a show!  I want to get out of here!"  Every ride--"I don't want to do it!"  Every restaurant--"It's scary!"  Not that he didn't have fun: we just had to convince him that it would be ok every step of the way for the rest of the week.  And stay the heck out of the shows!

Fast forward to present day.  My van is still running a little weird.  It still stalls from time to time.  And now I have the knowledge of what can go so horribly (and expensively) wrong hanging over and around me, so I panic a little every time it happens.

My Munchkin is still a little quirky too.  And now we have the knowledge of what else is going on with him (ASD, SPD).  But I don't panic anymore.  He still hates shows of any kind--Disney may have scarred him for life in that regard.  But the other day we went to the Planetarium.  I bought tickets for the IMAX theater and told him in no uncertain terms that we were going to see a show.  I told him it would be a little dark in there, and that the movie might be too loud, so he could cover his ears.  I told him if he didn't want to watch, I would hold him and cover him with my jacket so he didn't have to see.  But I told him he had to come in with us, because this is what we were going to do.  You see, just like I can't stop driving out of fear of maybe breaking down again, he can't stop living out of fear of the unknown.  There are things in life that you just have to do!  We're learning how to help him cope with his sensory overloads, and he's learning what he needs as well.

So we went in to see the movie.  And it was a success, at least by our standards!  He sat on my lap and pressed my hands over his ears.  Then he put his own hands on mine and applied steady pressure throughout the whole movie.  His body tensed up a few times--he would push his head into my chest really hard when this happened.  By the time the movie ended, my hands were asleep and my arms were shaking from being in that position and being pressed on for 20 minutes.  The back of his head was sweaty and his hair was matted from pushing on me.  My shirt was wrinkled and wet.  He was exhausted and ready to go home.  But we made it.

No breakdown this time--keep driving along.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Two Sides of the Journey

I write a lot about our journey with special needs from my perspective, which only makes sense...since I'm the one perceiving and recording this journey!  I often forget that I'm not the only parent on this journey.  Sometimes it's a lonely road, and I feel like I'm trying to be SuperMom--able to leap over couches to grab the child off the tipping bookshelf, to block all noises with the power of my hands over a child's ears, and to fend off all moodiness, melancholy and mayhem while simultaneously fixing dinner, listening to a train monologue, and motivating children to pick up their toys.  Sometimes I forget that I'm not on this journey alone. 

I often joke in the summer months about being a "single parent."  My hubby works LONG days in the summer.  He's up and gone before I even wake up, and doesn't get home until the kids are ready for bed.  He works six days a week, and on the seventh, he rests.  With loud snores and grunts thrown in so we all know that daddy's resting--do not disturb.  I choose to laugh at our situation, because, well, it puts the food on our table and pays the bills.  So it is what it is!  I joke about his long hours and I sometimes do resent the fact that I do it all where the kids are concerned.  But I greatly appreciate my husband's commitment to his job and supporting his family, and hey--he's off all winter and sees us all the time, so it balances out in the long run.

So, yeah, I forget sometimes that I'm not alone.  That this journey is not just mine to take, but his as well.  The crazy thing is that we will both end up in the same place when the journey ends, and we're travelling the same road, but we both view that journey a different way.  I'm more focused on the road...I see the bumps, the potholes, the hills, the valleys.  I keep an eye on the map, making sure we turn at the right places and don't go off down a dead-end road.  I look ahead to see where we can turn in to rest, where we can fuel up and recharge, where we can take cover from the storms.  My hubby, though?  He's more focused on the people who journey with us...those little kids who are the whole reason we're on this journey in the first place.  And because we view the journey from different perspectives, we see things in different lights.

I want to fix everything.  I want to plan it all out.  I over think what every strange thing might mean.  He is the one to calm me down and focus me on the big picture, instead of the little details.  He hears me out and then tells me to just enjoy the ride.  And I need that.  Because when you are the one (and let's face it--it's usually the moms in this role) who handles every day to day need, you tend to forget the joy.  When you're bogged down in the pits of IEPs and therapies and insurance calls and meltdowns and mood swings and all the little idiosyncrasies that are your kids, you forget that it's ok to take your eyes off the road once in awhile and look around at the scenery.  It's ok to pull over and just enjoy the view--to run through the grass and wade in the streams and scale the mountains for the pure joy of seeing what's at the top, not what's on the other side.

I am ever so thankful for my hubby.  I don't think I'd make it through this journey without him by my side.  I'd be too stressed out to even enjoy my kids if he didn't balance out my craziness every day.  If I wasn't able to let him take the driver's seat once in awhile and just sit back and relax, I don't think I could accept our journey in life with as much grace as I do.  I am so glad our children can call him Daddy.  I don't tell him this enough, but I would be lost on this journey without him.