Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The biggest success in my life? Thoughts on my birthday...

My dear friend's kids have threatened to call me at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow and sing "Happy Birthday".  It's not an important birthday by any means, but it has been an incredible year.

What am I most proud of accomplishing? Being a mom to these four amazing kids.

I have done really good work for clients and helped a lot of kids and feel fortunate to have such a great job.

I lost God, but found happiness and peace elsewhere.

My extended family is gone, but the family I get to choose, my wonderful friends, are the greatest support system ever.
 
 I love Andrew's big smile, especially when holding his very special bear, Tucker. Tucker went to college with Andrew's best big friend Chip. Tucker arrived back at our house the other day having graduated from Elon, just like Chip.  Chip, a kid who I used to babysit, who then did the same for my son, is now in grad school.  I just read the college recommendation I wrote for him.   I feel old.  Kind of like the world's oldest thirty-something.
My oldest is a teenager, which makes me officially ancient. What a bright, beautiful smile she has. 

Life isn't perfect, or healthy. There's a lot of being alone and I am not an alone person. But I am a survivor and I am grateful for making it through the year a lot wiser, a bit stronger, and markedly more at peace than before.  I miss my "old life", my birthday dinners with my girlfriends (especially the one they took me to when my preemie was still in the hospital), but I've accepted this new chapter and am a lucky girl.

Somebody asked me my birthday wishes. Except for the most important "happy and healthy kids and happy and healthy me":
1) Someone to scrub the bathrooms and kitchen in my house (boys are messy!)
2) A facial
3) A massage (preferably by a cute guy by candlelight, but I'll settle for a great massage therapist)
4) An amazing cut and color
5) A bunch of kick-ass personal training sessions
6) An Edible Arrangement with chocolate covered anything
7)  Flowers (since no one buys them for me but, well, me).

World peace, or at least peace in my family, is high on the list, too.

Strange but true fact... No one has any idea when my real birthday, or age,  is.  I was left at Mother Teresa's orphanage, where the nuns randomly select birthdays for their orphans.  

"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless."
~ Mother Theresa

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sleep

Ever have a day which for a multitude of reasons just started great and went downhill to the point that bed was a welcome, inviting place and the only place you could cope with being? That was me last night. Every bit of emotional energy and strength (not to mention physical energy after 1.5 hours at the gym earlier in the day and a long walk in the evening) was used and I just wanted to sleep.  Someone forgot to tell my brain that because 3 hours of sleep later, I was awake and half-watching Parenthood on the DVR.  Conveniently, this episode was about the break-up of the marriage of a set of autism parents, where dad is complaining mom is so involved with getting the kid to therapies and dealing with school and IEP's, etc., she doesn't pay attention to him or their marriage. Hmmm-- smacks of some reality.

I love fall, the milder weather, the pretty leaves, the fact it is easy to get out and exercise and take long walks without sweating... I hate the heat and humidity of summer. Yet summer is returning for a few days and that makes me nuts.  My kid is thrilled about the weather, the budding meteorologist loves the sun and warmth of summer weather :-)

Perhaps a shower and a whole lot of  coffee will make the day better. I have to  break the news to A that his beloved baby-sitter completely bailed on us after getting a better paying gig. With no notice.  Poor kid. I think he and mom are going on a work around the Pond before school...

Monday, September 20, 2010

4 pounds to 10 years

It's hard to believe 10 years ago, I was 32.5 weeks pregnant, getting dinner ready and putting kids to bed, having made plans to drop off Andrew with my mom in the morning so I could go in for a routine non-stress test. The baby flunked...

A day of tests, an expectation of a week or two hospital stay to let baby cook more, and then the specialized ultrasound which babies are supposed to score 6/8, she got a 1/8, which led to an emergency c-section... 

We welcomed Emily Elizabeth (no, not named after Clifford's friend). A bit loopy from the drugs and the surgery, looking at this little 4 pound baby in an incubator in the special care nursery, I could hardly believe this tiny being was here. After all, she wasn't due until November and there were no problems with my pregnancy except for the expectation of pre-eclampsia setting in somewhere around week 36/37 as it had before.

Emily was beautiful, her skin was dark (like mine- one came out looking like they had an Indian mom!), but she had "no meat on her bones".  Just don't tell her she looked like an under-nourished chicken as she takes great offense.  She had a hard time eating (and pumping was a disaster), gaining weight, and keeping her body temperature up.  She was the size of a doll.  So many friends sent flowers, quite a few came to visit her (have the pictures of everyone suited up in gowns to come into the NICU), and more than I know were saying prayers.  



That tiny preemie is going to be "double digits" tomorrow.  She is the kindest kid you will ever meet and brings so much joy into our family.  She truly is everyone's "best friend".

Happy 10th Birthday, Emily! I love you very much.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Joy

Everyone deserves to have JOY in their life.  Something that is not under-stated, that makes you smile inside and out, and gives you a reason to feel hope.  Today brought the unadulterated joy of seeing my son happy, going to his new school, and coming home grinning from ear-to-ear..

To provide the counter-balance, I also saw someone I love in a whole lot of pain. Pain I can't take away, seeing her process things no one should have to, more or less someone her age should ever see.  I could feel the sorrow inside her, and tried to help soothe it.

Finally, I realized that people move on. The only adult relationship which is supposed to be permanent is marriage, and that one doesn't always work out.  Seeing someone has moved on without you is indescribable agony, even if all you wish for is peace for them.  I wonder why hearts don't heal.

Joy is subjective, it shows up when we least expect it, and fails us in times we really need it.  Yet, sometimes, the day redeems itself and I find peace curling up with my cat, watching mindless TV (tonight's choice: Parenthood), or snuggling with a little boy whose spirit has been renewed.  Joy came back, in small ways, but I am grateful it made its presence known.

In fact, today autism didn't suck. I'll take that for once.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A September 11th blessing

At 10:42 p.m on 9/11/97, I gave birth to a beautiful 6 pound, 15 ounce baby girl.  Three months later, she almost died after her heart stopped working.  She has faced so many challenges in her life.  Today, we celebrated her entrance to teenage-dom with a small party with her friends, teachers, and those who love her.

On her 4th birthday, our country was attacked. That evening,  we muddled through a birthday celebration with our close friends J and J and K and J and their baby. Once the kids were settled, we adults all sat down, in shock,  and watched a Presidential Address "from a secure location"  in my living room.  J, soon thereafter, drew a picture of what she described as a "plane crashing into a building".  I still have that picture.  The comments people made to her which followed in the days and years were not fair.  She's just a kid.  What happened on that day is awful and evil, but it doesn't define her or her birthday.

It is my prayer and biggest hope that she is happy and thrives and accomplishes all she wants in life.  I love you, J.  May you have a very Happy Birthday and a year filled with many blessings and much joy.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Life is good, no GREAT

The TEAM meeting I was so anxious about, and scared of, was pleasant and agreeable.  Deep down, I had a feeling the special ed director (who I have gone toe- to- toe with on many occasions as a parent and advocate) was going to do the right thing. And she did.  Not only will Andrew be attending a great school program at a collaborative (25 kids total, he'll be in a classroom of 3), the new school really wants him there and has some wonderful ideas.  There was an air of cooperation in the room- very peaceful.

It was very touching to see the sped director lead Andrew over to a computer in the room and help him get started looking up weather, or one of the other quirky things he does. This woman has known him since he was 3 and I really believe she cares about him.  It's not my place to put words in anyone's mouth, but there was a certain under-lying air of "what happened to this kid?".

One amusing moment was when I relayed that Andrew's old (AWFUL) school on a few occasions sent him home for behaviors. (Basically, THE worst thing to do to a kid with autism because their behavior is reinforced--- they get what they want, escape from the demand).  The BCBA from the new school joked "We make the kids sign a contract that no matter what they do, they won't get sent home, they are stuck with us all day, maybe all night, too".  Love her.

I came home to a barrage of cards and gifts for Miss J, who turns 13 tomorrow.  So many people love her and wanted to celebrate her milestone.  My friends, her classmates, teachers, even my clients.  The child could put a serious dent in the Apple Store after her birthday party at the mall (pizza and cake!).  Then, she could go across the street to Barnes and Noble and do some damage there.  What is really sweet are the messages in the cards.  A bouquet of balloons came from friends we barely know, a flower cake is being delivered by a friend and client of mine.  This "13" is going to be the best birthday ever.  The moms who called me from her class were all so sweet, their kids, similar to her, never get invited to birthday parties, so everyone is coming.  How many pizzas does it take to feed 9 hungry middle-schoolers and a bunch of adult friends?

We ended the day with a visit from a new respite person for Andrew. My friend's son is a perfect match for Andrew.  Yay for connections with men who have "been there". Welcome to our fun-loving, chaotic family, Sam.

Life is indeed really good.  We are crazy-blessed to have such a village of community and love and care.  My faith in humanity has been restored and I am so happy to have found such joy in my kids and all they are accomplishing.

One question: How again did I get old enough to be the mother of a teenager?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Friends

I have been blessed to have made some amazing friends. From those who were there when my child was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, when we had to learn how to welcome autism into our family, to being there after our daughter was born nearly two months premature, to what seems like the small task of being willing to come to the hospital and help me walk post c-section, I am forever indebted.  

Someone who has been a steadfast friend for five years, starting while working with my daughter, is my rock and the one person I know I can always count on no matter what. She has a no-BS meter which keeps me in check.   There is someone who I have reconnected after 5 years with who loves me and my kids, who thought nothing of spending an ER visit with after a winter night, who has opened her family's homes to my family.  To my friends who spent numerous mornings and afternoons in very unhappy places supporting me during a crappy few years, who made sure I had a place to live and to be with my children, I am grateful.  My old church in many ways taught me what friendship was--- I cherish the years of celebrating birthdays and Christmases, and even having cookouts, with people who loved God like I did and who happened to love my kids. There is much photographic evidence of this group of friends- wives, husbands and kids.  How different all our lives have turned out.  I'd be remiss not to mention the prayers of so many which I believe were heard.


There are long-distance friends in Florida, New York,Washington and of course locally here in MA who showed me love and understanding and compassion when my heart and spirit were broken. An invitation to supper, or a walk together, or getting brunch at Soundbites.  Not to be mitigated, the hundreds of playdates with kids at parks and our homes, hikes in the Fells, time spent with people who I really enjoyed being with.

I always thought (pre-2007, that is) that the biggest obstacle I would face would be my kids' challenges: mitochondrial disease and autism (prematurity seemed easy compared to those).  My daughter almost died in 1997 and in 2001, a diagnosis was assumed that meant my son would never do the things other kids did. Thanks to my friends, we live each day to the fullest and consider every day a victory.  

Three things stand out in my memory as particularly touching....

When Julia was critically ill, there was a prayer circle/service at my church which dozens of people participated in, praying for her strength. It worked, she left the ICU soon after.


When Andrew was diagnosed with autism, so many people provided love and support. Love for Andrew was felt from Colorado ( a friend's family)  to California (our dear friends P&T whose daughter had been diagnosed two years before with the same thing).  For 5 years, our friends and family walked as "Andrew's Team" to raise money for autism research for Autism Speaks  Everyone walked for their own reasons, many had been affected by autism in other parts of their lives, but dozens of people can together in the name of Andrew.  I was so proud to see so many people wear his face on their green and blue t-shirts. Raising upwards of $35,000 was a bonus!

Finally, when Emily was born, so tiny and so unexpectedly, there were more visitors to Mount Auburn than I could count.  Many friends donned plastic aprons and and came into the NICU to meet this tiny 4 pound (by this time, 3.5 pound) miracle.  There were flowers covering one side of my hospital room.  Perhaps most special, while Emily was still in the hospital, my girlfriends took me out for my birthday (how unimportant that seemed), I think that normalcy meant so much (birthdays out were a tradition).  My dear friend took me back to visit Emily, still in the NICU, after our dinner together. People really became a village to help us through such a traumatic time.  At some point afterwards, friends from church gave us a $500 giftcard for food so we wouldn't have to worry about meals. To this day, I don't know who coordinated that.

Last year, my girlfriends were amazing.   From accompanying me to appointments, to making meals for the kids and their friends., to just listening, they were my rock. After a summer spent dealing with so much stress, my heart was spitting out weird EKG's, I had syncope spells, I was breaking out in hives for no reason.   After two years of hell, I thought I had paid my dues to the penance club.  Fall 2009 didn't bring much of a break.  Something as simple as being invited to share a meal, or cup of coffee, meant a lot.  Then, there are the ladies from my special moms group who aren't touchy-feely, but are amazingly supportive and always kind. Love you E, J, T, J,. M, C, S, and everyone.


I am forever indebted to all the women who have played such special roles in my life.  I hope I have been able to give back even 1/2 of what they have given to me.  I would, and did, do anything for a friend. Frankly, I never could understand how a good friend would do anything but.  It takes a village to raise a child and I am indeed very blessed there is a large village enveloping my family.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Red tape that goes on and on and on

After 5 days of trying to pull rabbits out of hats and access everything my little guy needs, we've got little to show for it.  A perhaps bitter former school system blatantly refuses to turn over his records to the new district. This is a big pain-in-the-neck.  After numerous faxed consents and sending them the testing and paperwork I do have, the new town won't even schedule a team meeting.  School starts mid next week.  They, W for the purpose of this blog,  are understandably annoyed with the old district which we'll call A.  I don't really care how A and W work things out, either with financial or programmatic responsibility. They need to play nicely with each other in the sandbox.  I do care about my son and the fact that each day that passes brings an increase in his  anxiety.  He just wants to know where he is going to school. Kids with autism thrive on routine and structure. Unknowns tend to produce stress and increase behaviors. (Does me crying count?)

With no school program, there is "School of Mom" 24/7 .  It is run with love and a good deal of care and planning, but I am not a behaviorist.  The interactive book pictured about worrying is one of Andrew's favorites. He first filled it out when he was 5 or 6.  I have Boardmaker and lots of PECS, but I have no idea how to devise an entire behavioral program by myself. I am trying to keep things structured and expectations clear, quiet voice (ie :no screaming), good hands and good feet (ie: no hitting or kicking).  I use rewards when indicated and he responds to them.  I even have deigned to call the old pediatrician who acted so badly for so long when my kids needed support from him, maybe he'll now feel moved to help Andrew.

I am desperately trying to keep my own sped practice off of life-support so I can feed my family and keep a roof over our heads.  Some work for clients has gotten done, but I am too busy worrying about whether Andrew's face is going to "freeze" again, if his muscles will cause him agonizing pain, or if he will hit his sister again, that I am not 100% focused on work.  It is nearly impossible to get to team meetings for clients in these all-important first few weeks of school.

I adore my son and am so thankful he is with me.  I am a nice person.  However, I have had it with the school and respite/behavioral domains which are still "works in progress" to try to get services in place for him.  Thank God for the DDS and the small amount of flexible funding we've been able to use for respite.  I respect the folks who are trying to help us, am wary of some services provided by agencies which don't know much about autism however nice the providers. (Look up the Children's Behavioral Health Initiative and try to understand it- I can't).  I just want to get back to where we were.  I want Andrew to regain the skills he once had, I want him to smile, and I want him to learn. I don't have any money for pricey independent evals and I can't even pay an advocate.  It sucks to be poor, but I won't complain about it since we have shelter, food to eat, and are safe in our home.

Am I really asking for too much?  This happiness stuff gets interrupted by reality pretty often, doesn't it?  In case I haven't said it, I am so touched by all the love and support from so many friends, co-workers, and clients, even.  This is one of those moments I wish I could get into a time machine and go back to 2006, and have two married parents dealing with this stuff together.  Despite that fantasy, I am glad Andrew's dad has partnered with me to try to get this stuff fixed.  We do appear to be getting along better than we have in years. Can two parents get stubborn systems working? To be continued...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Technology and connections

Running into old friends, either in person or online, has become a regular occurrence in what was my incredibly boring and predictable life.  Last week, thanks to LinkedIn, I reconnected with my friend Linda, mom of two boys Julia and Em's ages, who was for a short time part of the social circle we had at our small church.  She and her husband lived close to us and our kids played together.  I found some pictures from two baby showers, one thrown for me by a friend, the next thrown by that friend for me, that L was in holding her then-little one (who turned 10 today!).

As it is every time I run into an old friend from church, there are some *interesting* discussions about what has transpired since people knew me as a boring, married mom.  In this case, there was no surprise, and L has an equally *interesting* life story over the past few years. (Nothing equals the shock value of another old friend from church who was having an affair with her hubby's best childhood friend when their daughter was a baby, left the husband, and proceeded to have a baby with the boyfriend...).   Heather, another old friend from church is a nurse-midwife (a very cool job), with 4 kids of her own (like me),  one of whom has autism like Andrew.  It was great to open my inbox and read a note from her.

Last month, Karen, my former editor at the Burlington Union found me on LinkedIn. Karen gave me my first break writing. I love reading my portfolio of columns (25 of them in total).  A successful lawyer now, she is a special part of my past.

In a perhaps overzealous effort to spend a gift certificate a friend gave me, I brought Andrew with me to the local nail salon. What a champ he was while I got my toes and fingers pampered. A voice called "Laurel" from behind me as the polish was drying. I couldn't place the face for a few seconds, and was surprised to find a friend from middle and high school I hadn't seen in 17 years.  She is a ski instructor up at Waterville Valley (lucky her!) and happened to be down in Burlington visiting family.  We had a nice conversation (Andrew was good company) and the experience made my day. Of course, we both had our Blackberries and friended each other on Facebook right away.

Whether it be running into someone at a local haunt, or seeing a familiar name in my inbox, the connections that are being renewed are certainly fun.  It almost makes up for the fact that there are others I'd like to re-kindle friendships with who I am not running into online or in person.  The world is small indeed and, for once, friends and connections and family seem to overshadow autism. Maybe that balance is coming back because this sure seems like what it feels like to be happy.