So, for those of you who were wondering, A. did actually get the part of Imogene Herdman in the Best Christmas Pageant Ever, the play that will be performed at our church the Sunday before Christmas. A. is beyond excited about the role, and I'm very proud of her. There's also a bit of nostalgia here for me on a personal level I was only a year or two older than A. when I played the role of Imogene Herdman at the same play with the Drama Club at my high school.
I explained to Thomas that there's something really touching about this role; there's something incredibly empowering when you're a misfit playing a misfit on stage, when the whole point of that play is to question people's ideas, stereotypes, and judgments of others. Second only to playing Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, it was one of my favorite dramatic roles, and I am super amounts of excited to see how A. interprets the character, to see how she plays it. A. is very secretive about her roles she wants me to be surprised, which makes sense. She wants me to wait and see the entire play in its context. She was the same way about her play over the summer, as well she really enjoys the element of surprise, and seems to delight in making me wonder over it.
She's also become quite the drama critic of others in their roles. She complains to me when other students aren't reading with a whole lot of emotion, or are just reading lines straight from the script. We had to have a discussion about this, actually, to make sure she understood that she needed to keep such opinions to herself because they might be interpreted as rude. Still, I can't help but rejoice in the fact that she does recognize when a line is being read with emotion, since that's often a difficult concept for autistic people to grasp. I can't help but delight in her inner dramatic critic, that is beginning to develop of recognition of good acting.
Outside of her budding acting career, A. is doing well, preparing for the holidays, and as such being on her best behavior. She always delights in Christmas in the weeks leading up to it, in the preparations for the celebration. She is the kind of teenager who will sing Christmas carols loudly in the parking lot without thinking twice about it whenever we go shopping. I love this about her, her enthusiasm for the holiday, and her enjoyment of the entire season. I think part of the reason I love the winter holiday season as much as I do is because my daughter enjoys it so very much. It's contagious in the best sort of way.
This past weekend, A. enjoyed celebrating the birthday of one of her friends by attending a sleepover at her friend's house. She apparently had no issues and had a wonderful time. Apparently, all the kids did was play Minecraft and watch silly Internet videos all night, so it makes sense that she would really enjoy a party like that. I was struck by the fact that when A. left her friend's house, she wanted to say goodbye to their two cats, too. She'd memorized their names, sought them both out, and the mother told me that A. had made great friends with both of them, even though one of the cats didn't normally warm up to strangers very well. It just reminds me how deep of a bond A. has with animals specifically cats and how comforting that bond is for her.
With two weeks left before Christmas, I feel horribly unprepared, but I guess as long as A. is having a great time and is excited for the next few weeks, I can't really ask more happiness than that.
My daughter has taken up a flair for the dramatic. Those of you who know my daughter personally are probably not surprised by this. Even those of you who just know me through my blog may not be surprised by this, because you were probably reading my entries this past summer when A. was taking her drama class at a local community college and absolutely loving it. Still, I'm a little surprised that she's taken as much initiative as she has in pursuing this hobby.
I should probably clarify something about A. She often describes herself as a "slacker." She isn't interested in taking on tasks that require a lot of extra work or that interfere with her daily routine at all. She will sometimes even turn down fun events if they seem like they would upset the apple cart too much. I understand, of course, that my daughter is not a slacker, and she's not lazy, even if she likes to claim that she is. I understand just how difficult it is for her to do a lot of things the come second-nature to other peers her age getting ready for school in the mornings, eating food, riding a school bus, sitting in classrooms, navigating the social maze of middle school, trying to understand and accommodate the diverse needs of teachers and authority figures, finding appropriate responses to the multitude of social situations that confront her each day, while all the time having to deal with the usual noise and unpredictability of life. Her neurotypical peers can navigate most of these events without giving them a second thought. It doesn't disrupt them, and they don't need to focus so much energy on simply figuring out how to exist in the world. A. does, and I understand how difficult and draining that must be. I get why she needs time to unwind and decompress every evening.
Which is precisely why when she does show initiative in an activity, I'm always so pleasantly surprised.
I had suggested, after she had such a great time with her acting class over the summer, that she may want to consider joining up with the Drama Club this year. I'd reminded her of it a couple of times, but then I let it go, because I didn't want to push her into doing something she wasn't ready to investigate, and also because as I mentioned before I understand how overloaded she already feels at school much of the time.
However, A. let me know she found out who was in charge of the Drama Club. And when they were meeting. And when they were having rehearsals. She wrote these on her school agenda. She made sure she was up and ready to go to school early enough on the mornings she needed to be in order to make the rehearsals. She practiced. And she got a part.
So, in February, A. will be playing the part of the Doorman in the Wizard of Oz at her Middle School.
Even more importantly, she's making sure she's getting to each rehearsal, she's helping out with other tasks whenever she can, and she's having a good time with it. Her part is very, very small by comparison, but she's attending every single rehearsal with a kind of fervor and loyalty that make me think of every single drama geek I had the pleasure of hanging out with in high school. In all of this, she is having an absolute blast.
Because she had been so interested in Drama Club at school, I let her know when a call for auditions went out from our church for the yearly holiday pageant. She wanted to try out for that, too, even though (much like with Drama Club) her initial concerns were not knowing what the play was, and not knowing what part she should try out for. I told her that she could just go and find out, and if she wasn't interested she didn't have to do it. So, she did, this past Sunday, despite the fact that I was sick and was not able to take her, so she went with Thomas which was very much out of the norm and a break in the usual pattern for her. She doesn't know if she has a part yet, but she already knows the rehearsal schedule by heart, and is ready to go to church every Sunday between now and Christmas since that means she might be able to rehearse for this play.
I'm just so very proud of my daughter. Acting isn't easy for anyone. You have to go out on stage, you have to memorize lines, you have to hope you'll make the audience laugh or cry or whatever you hope the reaction will be, and you have to worry that they won't. I'm so proud that she's able to work beyond all of that, to conquer any fears that she may have, and to give it her best on stage in front of everyone. I'm so excited to see her part in the Wizard of Oz. And I'm so glad she's found something she really loves doing in school.
On June 21st, 2014, A.'s new sibling is due to come into the world. A.'s first reaction to this news was a long, quasi-comedic yelp of "Nooooooooo!" at least, it seemed comedic, since she was smiling when she said it. She also desperately wanted to know, right away, if it would be a girl or a boy, and if there was a way I could do anything to make sure it would be a girl. A week or so later, when I checked in with her on how she was feeling, she gave me a "thumbs sideways" with her hand. You know, not a thumbs up or a thumbs down just right there in the middle. I feel that's probably a very accurate description of how she's feeling right about now.
As I'd mentioned in previous entries, I've really been working very diligently to try to make sure A. was prepared for this inevitability. I would check in with her on the topic every couple of weeks or so just to address any nagging concerns she might have. I've also gone out of my way to do a lot of things that include her, that make her feel loved, and that help her understand just how special she is and how special she always will be to us. We've also been talking a lot about possible names, gifts she could give the sibling, what sort of Pokemon the sibling would be if it were a Pokemon things of that nature. Something must have worked, because A.'s initial reaction to the idea of being a sibling was a highly negative one. Now that the sibling has become an imminent reality, she's a lot more interested, engaged, curious, and invested in the idea. And I must confess, I didn't expect her to be so, even at the level she is currently displaying. I am thankful to have a "thumbs sideways" reaction. At least it's not a thumbs down.
When I got the "thumbs sideways," I took the opportunity to play my favorite game asking her was she likes best and what she likes least about certain topics. When I asked her what she liked best about having a sibling, she said that she liked the idea of being a big sister and of having a sibling. There was a time, when A. was much, much younger, when she desperately wanted a sibling, but I just wasn't at a place in my life where that was a possibility. I think her role as an only child has made her feel, well, rather lonely at times, and I think she sees this as an opportunity to have another familial relationship that will add to that sense of belonging and community that we try to foster and create in our household. When I asked her what she liked least, she explained that she was anxious about a loud, unpredictable child in the house. Specifically, she said, "Babies can be loud and annoying." I explained to her that Thomas and I were anxious about that, too, and that hopefully we'd get lucky and the new baby wouldn't cry too much or be too loud, but of course there was no way to know for sure. Honestly, I think the fact that I acknowledged that it was okay for her to feel annoyed by a younger sibling made her feel a lot better about the prospect, and also that she wouldn't be alone in getting annoyed or aggravated when things did get loud. I think it made her feel like we were on her side, if that made sense. I imagine that will be something she will need more of in the coming months.
And even though A. says she feels "thumbs sideways" about a sibling, that's actually a pretty good commendation coming from A. She can be direct and bluntly honest about how she feels about things, and she only gets incredibly excited or happy about REALLY amazing things. If she's even slightly annoyed by something, she tends to say she hates it, and wants nothing to do with it. So, her admittance to a neutral stance on the subject really makes me optimistic for her acceptance of the entire situation.
And that's not the only reason I feel optimistic. I feel optimistic because, a week after I'd found out, A.'s best friend congratulated me when she came over for a sleepover. I realized then that A. must have shared the news with her best friend almost immediately upon finding out. That meant it was important to her. It also meant, I am sure, that she was looking for advice from someone who has younger siblings and could probably help her prepare in a way that only best friends can. But I found that fact comforting. Then, when A. finally made it to her next Group Therapy session, it was one of the first things she told the group when she arrived. She asks me a lot of questions about it wanting to know if I've settled on a name, making her own suggestions, writing off some of my more "normal sounding" or "mainstream" suggestions and she really seems interested in the experience. I think what I take most comfort in is the fact she's doing this in her own interesting and unique way. A. is not your typical 14-year-old girl, and she's processing and dealing with this entire scenario in not your typical 14-year-old girl sort of way. But it's a process that's perfect to her, to the way that she thinks, to the way that she helps understand the world around her. And I think it's beautiful process to watch.
The other morning, A. sat down with me at breakfast, and she wanted to know about how the ultrasound worked. I'd asked her if she wanted to go to the ultrasound when I found out if it was a boy or a girl, and she said, "Why not?" which, again, is a very positive statement in A.-speak. She wanted to know when that would be, what they would do, and how they could tell if it was a boy or a girl. I answered all of her questions, and was amazed that she'd brought them too me out of the blue, just because she was thinking about it, and just because she wanted to know.
The truth is, I think A. is going to be a great big sister. I think she'll go about it the way she does everything awkwardly, honestly, and courageously and her little sibling is going to see that, and is going to learn so much from that. After all, the rest of us have already learned so much from A.'s unique and amazing way of being. It only makes sense that one more little person will learn the same.
In this final entry from the archives, I delight, once again, in my daughter's amazing, creative perspective.
November 18th, 2008:
I'm having one of those Mommy Moments, and since it doesn't translate well on Twitter, I'll try to transcribe here.
A. is sitting on the other side of the couch, reading from Highlights magazine, talking to me about things she wants to do, people she wants to be like. I sit here on the other side of the couch, with the computer. She reads me jokes; she says she wants a post office, an art studio, an animal shelter, and a classroom in her house, and asks me, "Can you see what you can do?"
As she grows older, she reminds me more of myself in many ways. She becomes obsessed with creative projects, and her room has literally exploded from the pages upon pages she's written and illustrated.
It's just amazing to me, sometimes, to see her now, as this complete person, with her unique and individual personality traits, with her own independent ideas about the world. She's no longer just my daughter, or this kid with autism, or any of the other labels she's been given over the years she's growing up into a whole, complete A., and it's just the Most Amazing Thing in the World.
A. just said, "I guess I'm going to have to write stories to everyone in the whole world! The United Kingdom, Canada, Japan even Egypt!"
There are times when I wonder about the feasibility of this blog in the long-term. When I'm sharing fun adventures, good times, and hilarious hijinks, it's no worse for the wear. My daughter enjoys reading about the adventures, she likes to see what posts I share, and she feels empowered by my words and my ongoing pride in her. If every day were a fun adventure, full of good times, then there would be no issue. But, let's face it this is life, and because of that, you can't have a fun, exciting day every day. In fact, sometimes you have downright sucky days when things seem really bad, when there doesn't seem to be any good news, and when you feel worried and frustrated and deeply concerned.
But the thing is I can't really write about the bad days. Not only would I not do so out of respect for my daughter and her privacy, but she also asks me directly, "Please don't write about this in your blog."
So, I find myself stifled. I definitely can't relate the specifics, but I can't even talk about the situations in a more abstract sort of way. My daughter is quickly developing into a young adult, and she has every right to her own life, her own struggles, her own perspectives, and her own individuality without my constant evaluation and commentary.
On the one hand, I feel as if that's a very good thing for her. It shows that I am giving her respect, allowing her to voice her own opinions and concerns, and stepping aside to allow her room to grow in her own way. In my opinion, that's what every young autistic adult really needs someone to acknowledge them, listen to them the best we can, and do our best to accommodate and support without smothering them with our own assumptions about who they are and who they should be.
On the other hand, I feel as if it is a terrible tactic for my blog. I want to write about the good times absolutely. But I also feel that this blog has had some of its greatest strengths when it is outlining some of the struggles and issues we encounter as a family and demonstrating tactics, ideas, and attitudes that maintain positivity while dealing with difficulties. I just feel as if, as time goes on, I have less and less of a right to express those viewpoints, and, if anything, I need to be more focuses on helping A. advocate and speak for herself.
As such, it's a bit of a conundrum. In the meantime, I'll continue to share the good stories when they happen, and try my best to interject ideas and tactics when they relate to the more commonplace, everyday issues. Still, the older A. becomes, the more ambivalent I feel about sharing these stories in a public forum. Eventually, I will probably to discover a different outlet or a different method of relaying the information.
It always amuses me to think that, just a few years ago, A. was absolutely terrified of Halloween, and it was, by far, her least favorite holiday. These days, she relishes the creepy and the grotesque, and she absolutely delights in the holiday as much as (if not more so) she delights in Christmas and Easter.
She's been preparing for the holiday for weeks, now. We went shopping for costumes at the local Halloween stores while she played her Halloween Spotify playlist on the car stereo and she kept talking about how excited she was about the upcoming holiday. She dressed up as a "creepy carnival salesman," and ended up looking very much like something from Something Wicked This Way Comes. Not only did she look awesome and creepy in the costume, but she also enjoyed the "character" of the costume, so it really was a good choice. (And, I should say, a lot easier to put together than the Evil Wizard from Castle Crashers, which was her initial choice.)
We had a couple of spooky movie nights where we watched The Nightmare Before Christmas and the original Nightmare on Elm Street. At first, I was a little nervous about letting A. watch the Elm Street film, but then I remembered that she's 14 years old now, and this was a slasher film from the 1980s, so I doubted it would scare her too badly. We ate pizza and watched the film in all its slasher 80s movie glory. We all had a great time and no one had any trouble sleeping that night.
We also bought some pretty giant pumpkins that we carved into Jack-o-Lanterns. I was really impressed with A. because, this year, she cleaned out her pumpkin all on her own without any help, she designed the claw she wanted to carve into her pumpkin, and she also did all of the carving herself. Generally, one of us has to help her through this process. Part of it is a texture issue because let's face it the guts of a pumpkin are pretty gross to stick your hands in, even if you DON'T have sensory integration issues. Part of it is a patience issue because it takes a LONG TIME to carve a pumpkin, and A. generally doesn't have the stamina for it. This year, however, she did the entire process from start to finish on her own pumpkin, while I diligently worked on mine beside her. Again, we had the Spotify Halloween playlist, which I think helped keep her focus.
We also had the opportunity to go to the Halloween party at our church, which featured a Trunk or Treat, some fun games, and a hayride. It was probably the most festive and interactive I've seen A. at a church activity, and she really did have a blast while we were there. On Halloween itself, I did my usual tradition of inviting family and friends over to the house so that they can go trick-or-treating in my neighborhood. The house was full of people, even little kids, and A. really did a wonderful job interacting with people, guiding them through the neighborhood while they went trick-or-treating, passing out candy to trick-or-treaters who came to the door, and staying downstairs even with crowds of people around. She even played games with one or two of the toddlers, and she showed off her artwork to her uncle.
I think that part of the reason she does so well with the Halloween holiday is because it's a holiday where she can really participate in the dramatic. She gets to thoroughly embody a character, and she gets to interact with others who are embodying characters. I think it provides a social context she really understands, a way for her to be on common ground with those around her. I think it makes it feel more comfortable, more at ease. One of her favorite things to do is to interact with the people who show up at the door in costume. She comments on them, and if it is a character she recognizes, she will do her best to have them interact with her on her terms, converse in a language native to whatever fandom has shown up. The rules and regulations regarding social interaction at Halloween are very clear, and also very fun. I think it helps A. a great deal, which may be one of the reasons she loves the holiday so much.
Well, I mean, it's that, and the spooky, creepy aspects of the holiday, and the fact she gets to eat tons of candy and wander the streets of the neighborhood in the evening. In truth, there's a lot to celebrate about Halloween.
Last weekend, our entire family packed up in the car after work on Friday night and headed to North Carolina to visit my mother. Visits to my mother are always welcome and fun occasions, as A. has developed a very close relationship with her grandmother over the past few years. She spends a couple of weeks each year with her just grandma/granddaughter time and I think that's gone a long way in helping them develop that relationship. A. also really loves her grandmother's house, which is full of cool trinkets & knick-knacks, clean & organized living areas, comfy mattresses, and a large bathtub it's a place where A. feels very comfortable. (And it probably doesn't hurt that she gets lax bedtimes and all the other typical grandparent perks when she goes to visit!)
On this particular weekend, however, we had a mission-- we were going to visit the Carolina Renaissance Festival.
As soon as A. heard that she was going to a Renaissance Festival, she wanted to dress up, but she wasn't sure what she should be. She'd received an awesome Tim the Enchanter hat for Christmas last year, so I'd suggested she wear that and my black cloak, and dress up as Tim the Enchanter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. She thought this was a pretty good idea, so we had her costume set.
We could not have picked a better costume for her. Everywhere she went, people were referring to her by the name "Tim!" They would engage her in bits of dialogue from the movie (which is really the best way to begin an interaction with A., just for the record engage her in a conversation that is simply a quote from one of her favorite things) and they would go along with the "game" for several minutes. It may have been the most comfortable I'd ever seen her in a social situation. (All of this just made me realize how desperately I need to get her to some sort of fantasy or comic book convention these are, after all, her people as much as they are mine.)
A. also enjoyed watching all of the other characters in costume as they paraded throughout the faire. There were faeries, knights, Ents, pirates, lords and ladies of all sorts. A.'s favorite thing, however, were the little sideshows and theatrical stunts that were performed at any of the stage areas. There was a troupe doing dangerous stunts, there was a group doing comedic routines there was even an individual with a skeleton puppet that reminded A. a lot of Jeff Denham. She soaked these in for everything they were worth, full of big-bellied laughter that rang out across the auditorium. She has such a flair for the dramatic. I really hope she ends up finding a creative home with the theatrical students at her school. (More on that story in a later entry...)
A. also enjoyed the jousting, which was a pretty good show. Knights on horseback doing various tricks with swords and jousting sticks. There was a lot of theatre and drama in that, too. While we were watching the jousting, I'd brought a large smoked turkey leg that I'd bought from one of the food vendors, and A. asked if she could have a bite. After the first couple of bites, she proceeded to take it from my hands and make quick work of the turkey leg. This young lady, who has a steady diet of chicken nuggets and little else, was happily munching on a very messy turkey leg. I mean, I can't blame her the leg was delicious but I was still pleasantly surprised not only that she tried something new, but that she also initiated the eating of it!
All in all, a fabulous time. She got to move outside her comfort zone in a comfortable way, and she had an absolute blast. Even Thomas enjoyed himself, and my mom and I have always been suckers for Renaissance festivals, being the hippies we are at heart. We may have started an annual family tradition with this trip!
When I decided to take my daughter to a weekend retreat for church, I really wasn't sure what to expect. The retreat would be in a group camp site in the middle of a state park, where we would sleep in bunkhouses, share showers and bathrooms with the entire camp, eat in a shared dining hall, and be far away from the Internet or even cell phone service. How I ever convinced A. to embark on this crazy adventure in the first place, I really don't know, but I'm pretty sure there was a bribe of a McDonald's dinner involved. At any rate, Friday after school, I left work early, we packed up our things, and we made our way on the two hour drive to the park where the retreat is happening.
I gloss over the process of packing, even though this took several hours. I wanted to make sure A. packed all of her favorite non-electronic things (notebooks and pens, mostly) and I wanted to make sure we were well stocked on the necessary items (clothes, shampoo, condition, toothpaste). However, there was an hour devoted entirely to shopping for and packing up A.'s preferred foods. I was very concerned about getting out into the middle of nowhere and A. not having access to food that she would actually eat (and nothing makes A. grumpier than an empty belly) so I packed pop tarts, her favorite bread, her preferred peanut butter, the only jelly she will eat, Goldfish crackers, snack-sized boxes of the Horizon Organic Chocolate Milk she drinks (the only milk she will drink anymore), snack-sized bottles of the Mott's apple juice that I pack with her lunch, and bubble gum. I figured if there was nothing else that she would eat at the retreat, at least she would have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Funny enough, the food ended up being a lot less of a problem than I initially imagined. The first night, everyone was asked to bring a dish for the potluck, so along with cookies, brownies, chips, salsa, and veggies, I stopped along the way and got a large Domino's pizza, and instantly became the best friend to all of the teenagers who'd come to the retreat, including my daughter. The second night, the evening meal was spaghetti, and A. was able to request plain noodles with no sauce. There was even garlic bread, which another of A.'s favorites. So, between the food I brought special for her and between the easy choices at the dinner lines, food was really no issue on our trip.
Still, there was plenty for A. to struggle with. The bunkhouses were just as they sound-- rows of bunk beds thinly divided up into four sections by partial walls. Needless to say, privacy was not really a luxury on the retreat. The cabins smelled musty, and there were often random crickets or earwigs crawling across the floor, much to A.'s annoyance. During the day, the air outside the cabin was swarming with gnats, and there was also the occasional yellow jacket to worry over, so A. was not a fan of spending much time outside at all during daylight hours. The only activities other than hiding in the cabin involved a certain amount of social activity, which was very difficult for A.
At times, the situation was almost heartbreaking. A lot of the time, A. comes off as this highly cavalier teenager with a sarcastic demeanor. If she's in a situation where she's being forced to do something she doesn't like, she can be extremely dramatic and very vocal about her discomfort and unhappiness. However, at the retreat, this attitude completely dissipated. In it's stead, A. would try to interact with others, and I could actually see her physically recoil at the loudness of someone's voice, or watch her wince at a joke she had a difficult time understanding. It seemed as if she wanted so badly to connect with others, but she just really struggled with how to go about doing so, and when she would try, she had to push through all sorts of discomfort. I was touched that she kept trying so hard, and empathetic for how difficult it was for her at times.
All that said, A. managed to make some amazing connections over the course of the weekend. She made friends with the kids on the playground. She was able to force her way past the sarcasm and loud voices of her peers to open up to conversations with them. On Saturday night, she decided she wanted to stay by the campfire, listening to the young adults play music and sing songs, and she even joined in with them, belting out the tunes so loudly that I could hear her voice across the star-watching field where I'd gone to look for shooting stars. On Sunday, she spent lunch interacting with others, quoting Monty Python, and laughing. While I don't think she'd admit in a million years she had any fun on the trip at all, it was obvious that, at some moments, she really did enjoy herself, and that pushing outside of her comfort zone was really good for her. I think it helped that the agenda for each day was written out on the front table in the dining hall at the beginning of each morning, so after our showers we would check the list and decide what activities we wanted to do. Being able to give A. that preparation and reinforce it with the visuals really helped.
A. and I had some really great bonding time, as well. I'd asked for her to go on one hike with me while we were there, which she did (albeit a bit grudgingly.) We hiked with the group to a beautiful waterfall, and there was a dog that accompanied the group along the way, which, I believe, really helped A. stay a little more engaged in the hike itself. I got to show off the cool slow-motion capabilities of my new iPhone 5s, as well, which A. was very impressed with. We also spent a lot of time in the bunks at the cabin. She would show me her pictures, she would ask me questions about characters from Marvel comics, and we would make jokes and share stories and laugh, too especially whenever we'd both try to fit into the same bunk for a few minutes and quickly discover that there simply was not enough room for the two of us on one of those tiny mattresses.
The weekend was so very full of so, so much. Some of it was funny and embarrassing, but I won't share those stories here. Some of it was beautiful and personal, but I won't share those stories, either. What I will share is that we were able to do something I believed quite impossible. I was able to take my daughter away from the Internet for 48 hours, and she wasn't entirely miserable. I was able to push her gently outside her comfort zone, and I was eventually able to watch her flourish there. It really was an amazing weekend, full of lessons, connections, and love. I'm glad I got the opportunity to share it with my daughter.
In this entry from the archives, I get an interesting look at my daughter's perception of me as a mother.
May 11th, 2008:
A big Happy Mother's Day to all of you Moms out there. Especially to E. and R. who have brand new little baby-faces at home to celebrate Mother's Day with them.\
I know few people read my journal now that its on Gopherspace, but I have two adorable items that demand attention from the masses:
1) On Saturday, A. demanded that Erin, Ely, and myself play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with her.
2) For Mother's Day, my daughter gave me a candy bar with a cute little wrapping that they made at school. On the front, it says "Her-She-is...a truly fabulous mother worth of a chocolate treat!" and on the back it had a place for the kids to write the "ingredients" that make up their mom.
This is what A. put down for me:
Her-She-is Ingredients and Facts:
Basic Ingredients: Nice, happy, wonderful.
Weight: 40 lbs
Hair Color: Brown
Eye Color: Blue
Favorite Color: Blue
Favorite Food: Oatmeal
Favorite TV show/Movie: Aces of Cakes and the Last Unicorn
Favorite Phrase/Saying: I'm Proud of You!
I especially love that she believes my favorite food is oatmeal. It's bizarre to think about, A. growing up to see me as a real, separate person alive in the world with qualities and traits. And, really, I suppose that her perception of me in the only one in the world I ever need to be concerned about. And since she thinks my catch-phrase is "I'm Proud of You!" I suppose that means I'm doing all right. ♥
In 2008, I became a heavy Twitter user. I frequented Twitter so often, in fact, that I met my future husband over that particular social network. In the process, I captured a lot of really awesome and amusing moments about my daughter, and I thought I would share some of those here.
January 30th, 2008:
18:20 I love how A. always sticks the Kroger stickers all over her face and body, like she's activating chakra points.
21:45 A.: "Tomorrow is ice cream day." Me: "Oh, is it?" A.: "Yes. It is. Forever."
January 31st, 2008:
08:59 It really annoys me when the group of teachers and officials have a conversation about my daughter at an IEP meeting before inviting me ...
February 11th, 2008:
13:57 Saddened by the realization that my memories of A. as a baby are distant and fading.
15:32 I delight so much in this kid every single day.
February 25th, 2008:
15:25 Trying to explain war to A. is almost as hard as explaining death.
February 27th, 2008:
21:59 My daughter just drew a random character/creature I made up when I was her age. Are fantasy worlds hereditary?
February 28th, 2008:
21:46 A. just randomly said, "When I was two, I fed Draco a pop tart."
March 5th, 2008:
15:14 My daughter just made up a song about Wikipedia. I have the coolest kid EVER.
March 7th, 2008:
14:54 A.'s started writing books -- illustrated, unique stories stapled together with a cover and everything. I swear she's nothing like me.
March 10th, 2008:
17:12 A. finally asked me what "autistic" means. So I explained it to her. She immediately followed up with "What happens in Kingdom Hearts 3?"
March 19th, 2008:
6:27 A. is learning how to play the William Tell Overture.
I wish I could compile how many times I've started an entry with the statement, "It's funny the things that surprise you." The truth is, my daughter surprises me every single day. After all this time, there are certainly things that should surprise me, but I also feel as if there are many things that shouldn't -- in some respects, I feel as if I should know my daughter better than I do, that I should expect more out of her, that I should push her to do more, to work harder, to try and to fail more. At the same time, I can't help but living in this constant state of gratitude that she's come as far as she has, that she does as much as she has, that she is the amazing woman that she's quickly becoming.
I was watching her walk down the street after getting of the bus with a friend. I was watching her make polite conversation. I was watching them both walking in step, like any pair of teenagers walking away from a bus stop together. When I asked her about it later, she told me that they talked about how their days went, how they were both doing. Such a simple, basic conversation that has nothing to do with Minecraft or Pokemon or random horror movies from the eighties -- just a standard, small-talk conversation. It amazes me that A. can do that, that she knows how, and that she uses that form of conversation appropriately -- that she knows enough about social adaptation to be able to pull that off.
Which, of course, leads me to believe that if I just increased my expectations of her at home -- that she'd occasionally have to engage in conversations on topics she's not interested in, that she'd sometimes need to stop shouting at the top of her lungs when speaking with people -- that she'd be able to do it with little problem. I recognize that this is something I need to start doing, however little I like the idea.
Still, I recognize the pattern. It's an easy one to recognize, after all this time. I push a little, I wait, I let her adjust, I let her get comfortable, and then I push a little more. It's the rhythm I've always used in parenting, the way we've always managed to go a couple of steps forward without taking too many steps back. Still, there's always a bit of hesitation, just because I know how hard those first steps often are to take. Sometimes, I even drag my feet a bit.
But we're moving forward, all the same. We've recently replaced a lot of A.'s preferred name-brand food with cheaper, healthier options. We've started actually putting items on A.'s plate every night that she has to try that are NOT her preferred chicken nuggets/cheese pizza/peanut-butter-and-jelly-but-only-that-special-kind-of-jelly menu. We've added a couple of small things to her daily chore list. She's still going to group therapy and to church despite the fact she really doesn't enjoy either of those activities. We tackle a small piece of homework every day. And we're working on small lessons in accountability, honesty, and consideration along the way.
I know it won't be an easy road. I know there will always be the inevitable bad days. I know that every time I push forward, I always meet with at least a little resistance. What I can do is move forward mindfully, compassionately, with a loving heart, hopefully inspiring and modeling that same kind of mindfulness, compassion, and love for my own daughter. Even if she doesn't understand it now, even if she doesn't quite "get it" now, there are always more steps to take, and there is a long road ahead. One day, I can hope, this will all register, and she will acquire even more lessons in how to navigate this crazy life. And I will say then, as I've been saying all this time, "It's funny the things that surprise you."
In this short entry from the archives, A. expresses her opinion on the great works of literature that her mother, having earned her Master's Degree in English, just happens to have lying around the house.
January 20th, 2008:
A.: (glances as the bookcase while eating breakfast) "To kill our state bird?!"
Me: "Oh! To Kill A Mockingbird! Yes."
A.: "That's terrible!"
Me: "Well, it's not really about killing a mockingbird. It's more about the adventures of these young kids growing up in a southern town..."
A.: "Maybe Bowser would kill a mockingbird! Maybe koopas would kill a mockingbird!"
Sometimes, you can't help but find yourself amazed by the way life happens.
A. has this saying that she uses to describe what it's like to go to school. It's a segment that she co-opted from Jeff Dunham, but she applies it to the way she feels about the school year. She says that going to school is like drinking a slurpee. At first, you're like, "Hey, this isn't bad! I actually kinda like this!" but after a while you're like, "ow, ow, OW, OW! My brain! What was I thinking?!"
I have never seen a metaphor better applied in my life.
So far, however, A. seems to be enjoying her slurpee of a school year. She's actually completing assignments, which makes me very happy. She's attending to schoolwork, and while she doesn't always try as hard as she could or study for things when she needs to do so, she's at least paying attention, following instructions, and is currently making all A's, B's, and C's so far, which is a big improvement from this time last year. I'm guessing that part of it may be because the schedule is much more consistent and easy to follow as far as when the students switch classes and which classes they have on certain days. Last year it was a constant cycle and almost every day was a completely different schedule, but this year the schedule is a lot easier to understand. So, I think that definitely helps her stay organized and focused.
A great deal of it, however, I'm sure I need to credit to the teachers. Her school took a different approach to Open House this year. Instead of wandering aimlessly through the halls in hopes you'd have a few minutes to talk with one of the teachers, we actually had the opportunity to rotate through every single class and touch base with every single teacher individually. They were able to go over course objectives, you got to meet other parents of the students that are in your kid's class -- it was very well organized, extremely informative, and I got a flavor of each teaching style as well as an idea of how A. was going to react to each class. Overall, it made me feel *very* comfortable about the team that is in charge of her eighth grade education. I felt like I could come to them with concerns, and I also felt like I knew how I might be able to better address issues as they come up.
It also doesn't hurt that *all* of A.'s teachers seem to be *incredibly* organized and *very* good at keeping control of a classroom. In actuality, that is mostly what A. needs -- a space where she can follow instructions and a routine without being derailed by distractions.
Interestingly enough, her favorite teacher this year happens to be her math teacher.
Even more interesting -- she's actually making an A so far in that class.
She says the subject matter so far is a lot easier for her to understand. They're working through the basics of geometry and graphing right now, so it's a very visual and hands-on subject at the moment. I'm hoping as they move into more abstract concepts that they will continue to fall back on graphs and visual explanations since I'm guessing that will help her a great deal. However, a large part of A.'s comfort in math has to do with the fact that she really, really likes her teacher. When I ask her way, she explains that Mr. M. is *extremely* helpful, that he does whatever he can to help students understand, and that he likes her, which honestly goes a long way for A. If a teacher is easily frustrated with A., even if they don't really outwardly demonstrate that frustration, she is quick to pick up on it and internalize it. However, if a teacher has a good attitude, is really patient with A., and seems to really delight in teaching in general, A. picks up on that, too, and she *always* does better when she's learning in that environment. (After all, who wouldn't?)
For one of her first Language Arts projects, A. is having to read a novel. Her teacher let her pick out her own novel, which was pretty awesome, and since (true to form) A. neglected to tell me about needing to pick a novel until the morning the proposal sheet was due, we did a quick scan of our bookshelves and I offered A. a few suggestions. A. decided upon The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, which is dear to my heart because it was one of my favorite films when I was a kid, and ended up becoming one of my favorite books, as well. A. has watched the movie several times, because it was one of my childhood staples, and as such I thought it was important that it become one of A.'s childhood staples, as well.
When we got home this evening, A. showed me that she'd read over 100 pages into the book already.
"When did you read all of that?" I asked, skeptical.
I was afraid that since she had seen the movie, she was just skimming through the book quickly and not really reading it or understanding what was going on, hoping she could just lean on the movie for the story of what happens. So, I asked her about the differences between the movie and the book.
"The conversations with the thieves is different," she said. "And there's a lot of poetry."
To be fair, it's been years since I've read the book, and those are the two major differences I remember from reading it so long ago. Still -- over 100 pages in one day, for someone who doesn't even like reading? So I looked at where her bookmark was and asked her where she had stopped reading.
"They're about to meet King Haggard," she said, without missing a beat. I looked, and indeed, that was exactly where she'd left off.
We made some small talk about the book, especially since A. seemed to be enjoying it. A. asked me why it was I loved the book so much, and I told her it was because it was about a unicorn that turned into a woman, and that, as a woman, the unicorn always felt as if she didn't quite belong, that she was not quite human, even though she really wanted to be. I told her that, when I was young, I really identified with that character. But I was quick to say that I also loved Schmendrick. A. agreed that Schmendrick was cool. "Except he wears all black in the book. That's different. In the movie he's dressed in blue." And since I'd completely forgotten he'd dressed all in black in the book version of the story, I figured A. really must be comprehending a lot of what she's reading. Which is incredibly impressive, given was a dense and difficult read the book is in general.
So far, this slurpee of a school year is going pretty smoothly. It's inevitable, of course, that it will lead to the brain freeze and aggravation that A. is so used to dealing with. Hopefully, however, I'll continue to stay as engaged and invested and keep her from falling behind or getting too lost in the shuffle. I'm pretty optimistic about this eighth grade year.
In this very short entry from the archives, I remember exactly what it is that I am thankful for.
November 22nd, 2007:
I am sure there are a thousand things I could list that I am grateful for. But really, this video clip (however old it may be) really says it all.
I hope you all had a wonderful Turkey Day!
In these snippets from the archives, I talk about observing my daughter in the classroom, traveling with my family to the beach, and having a nurse practitioner from Planned Parenthood shake my biological clock around just a little bit.
October 4th, 2007:
In other news, A. is writing Animal Crossing fan fiction. Also, I observed her in the classroom this morning. She looked... incredibly bored, to be honest. Lots of stemming, squirming, and spacing out, but nothing disruptive to the class. Of course, the fact that the classroom activities are designed in such a way that various kids are doing various activities, running around the room, creating noise and visual distractions -- well, I'm sure that doesn't help a child like A. with sensory dysfunction to actually -- oh, I don't know -- concentrate on stuff in front of her. All the same, she didn't seem to be *too* much more distracted than the other kids, so that was somewhat comforting. The overabundance of stemming behavior, though -- sharpening pencils, picking her nose, rigid body posture -- did suggest she felt stressed out or overwhelmed by the environment. I don't think I realized how quiet and non-chaotic our house was by comparison. And, I confess -- when the little girl grimaced just because A. brushed up against her, I wanted to punch that kid in the mouth. Ah well. Another rant for another time. Since time is something I do *not* have much of right now.
October 14th, 2007:
I've been spending almost all of my time lately preparing lessons for classes, grading papers, recording grades, looking over quizzes, answering student emails, and other teaching-related activities. Any time left has been spent helping A. with homework, ushering her to gymnastics or horse riding, or doing that elusive thing called "spending quality time together." I've also had to designate time for cleaning and chores, and I've tried to put aside a few minutes a day to play Animal Crossing on the GameCube just to keep myself sane. However, there have been major Events O' Fun that have occurred recently, and I wanted to quickly record and relate them.
This weekend, I went on a short road trip over fall break with my daughter, my mom, and my grandmother -- four generations of women heading to the beach! We went to a little place called Kure Beach in North Carolina, which happens to be on Pleasure Island in Cape Fear, which amused the hell out of me. It really was a beautiful place. Not Pawley's Island by any stretch of the means, but still nice. A. had a wonderful time. We played on the beach and in the water a lot, and my grandmother and mother walked around and picked up shells and laid out in the sun and talked, and that was nice, too. We also had awesome food, and the usual road trip antics, such as traveling on a stretch of road for nearly 200 miles without any food establishments to be found, and my grandmother threatening to get out of the car and steal peanuts from the neighboring farms along the road. The reason I love traveling is because of my family -- in particular my mom, who really makes driving long distances fun as hell. We also walked along the beach at night drinking Watermelon Smirnoffs and talking about the prophecies of Nostradamus (yes, some things never change!) But we had this wonderful little hotel right off the beach, and it was fun to sit out on the balcony and listen to the waves all night. I got a terrible, terrible sunburn, of course, because I seem to think I am impervious to UV rays and that I am above the need for sunscreen. Alas, I am paying for my arrogance now, oh yes.
In my personal life, I'm contemplating a lot of things, quietly. My dreams are stormy and messy, full of old spooky houses and haints of all sorts. I'm having bizarre emotional experiences, and I'm trying to figure out exactly what I want my life to look like and decide what I need to do to get to that place. All the while being mindful of my pervasive psychological issues, and of course trying to decide what is best for A., too. Like I said -- spending a lot of time thinking, quietly. A new thing for me, to be sure, but I believe it's been pretty effective so far, so am pretty sure I should keep on with it. That, along with the useful advice-to-self of "stay perfectly still" when these moods come over me.
Just, y'know, when I convert to Catholicism and move to Ireland to marry a shipbuilder, don't be too surprised.
October 24th, 2007:
This afternoon I stopped by my local Planned Parenthood for the annual exam of all my womanly bits. Overall, I was feeling pretty good about the exam, because I was basically being told I was doing everything right and I was living pretty healthy, all things considered.
The Nurse Practitioner then asked me if I was interested in having more children.
"Oh, y'know," I said. "Maybe...? I'm really not sure. I think I'd like to have another kid."
"Well," she said, "you just need to be aware that if you do want to have another kid, you need to start thinking about that in the next 5-7 years."
This "countdown" of my biological clock -- plus the fact she wanted me to start using birth control to skip periods all together in order to avoid specific problems that begin affecting women "my age" -- really served as a harsh reminder that, despite the fact I may look fifteen, I am definitely a full grown adult woman.
And to be perfectly honest, I really don't know how I feel about the idea of having more children. Despite the fact I think I'm a pretty good mom and I love the heck out of the whole parenting gig, even if I were to go and get myself knocked up tomorrow, there'd be nearly an entire decade of an age gap between A. and a younger sibling, and I'm not sure how that would manifest in their relationship with each other. Not to mention, one of few real perks of having a child so young is the idea that I myself will still be young enough to go out and do a lot of the things I missed out on the first time around. Assuming that A. will be able to live self-sufficiently, I'll be able to travel, to socialize, to become involved with my community, to write my little heart out, take up dancing -- I will, after all, only be 38 years old when Aisling turns 18. There's something appealing to me about that sort of lifestyle -- like I'll be that crazy, single, middle-aged lady with tons of charm and energy and ideas. If I ended up having another kid, even now, I'd have to wait until my mid-forties to finally have some "time to myself."
On the other hand, I produce kids who come up with stuff like this:
[An awesome picture that A. drew.]
It's sort of a shame I don't make more of them and populate the world with their absolute coolness.
Also -- she and I actually have dinner conversations now. And that's just awesome.