13 And Counting

I remember the first time I saw Gracie. She was sitting on her foster mother’s lap, so tiny and delicate, that she looked like a doll. She was a preemie so everything about her seemed fragile and small. I fell in love with her right then and there as I stared at the tiny 3×4 inch photo in my computer screen; engraving her sweet face on my heart forever. Truly, it was love at first sight and I was bound and determined that she would become our daughter. I thank my lucky stars that my dream came true because everyday with Gracie has been a delightful dream with a mixture of happiness, joy, and a pinch of awe thrown in for good measure. She truly is amazing!

Today Gracie turns thirteen. It is hard to believe that I will never again be raising a mere child. Instead, I am guiding young adults towards the time when they leave the nest…hopefully for good.

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Since Gracie is a now an official teenager, it means I have four teens living in my house. Maybe I should say co-existing, as war could erupt any minute when you are stepping through emotional teenage land mines which are scattered, undetected, here and there. Gracie assures me that she will not act like a teen but she is already rolling her eyes and using THAT tone of voice which indicates that somehow I have become the absolute dumbest person ever to live on this planet. Forget the 55+ years of experience, the college degrees and my affable personality…I am soon to be regulated to the status of something below pond scum.

While I am excited about someday becoming an empty nester (finger crossed) I do have to admit I miss those times when my children thought I could do no wrong, when they believed I was smarter than G*D, and when the little things I did brought them such pleasure. Those were simpler times though I didn’t recognize them as such. I often viewed them as chaotic with all the meltdowns that two children with autism could bring. But now… well, even the meltdowns don’t seem quite as bad as when I was in the midst of them and I can look back and be proud of how I handled some situations that would tax the patience of a saint. Not to say I handled them all well but I did GOOD ENOUGH and that is just fine with me at this point in the game.

Today is one of those momentous days. Time and perceptions will shift for both Gracie and I as the label of TEEN is applied like a gooey sticker to her soul. May we each grant the other grace and dignity in the coming years as she grows wiser and my brain cells shrink in number. May we create memories that sustain us and may we see the best in each other instead of the worst. For the teenage years are upon us…may we both survive them with patience and our sense of humor intact! And may Gracie happily survive the impact that autism has on a family and a sibling..she has done a remarkable job thus far.

Happy Birthday My Sweet, Talented, Gracious, Fun-Loving And Hard-Working Baby Girl! You are my Superhero!

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Dance

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Tonight I chaperoned a high school dance. The girls were glitzed and glammed, each out doing one another in the hair, makeup, and dress department.  The boys….well they were typical  teenage boys…nerdy, sweet, and 100 years behind the girls in just about every way imaginable. Most of them sat together and played video games while the girls stood around whispering to each other, laughing, and talking the talk. Meanwhile the boys who weren’t gaming, looked somewhat green around the gills, as if they were in intense pain trying to outdo one another to impress the girls with puffy-chest macho displays. Frankly, it’s a wonder that the two sexes ever come together at all.

After spending the first half of the evening checking the kids in (what do you mean you forgot your parental permission slip) I decided to head over to the dance floor in hopes picking up some new steps. Unfortunately, watching teenage boys move to the grove is like watching an elephant attempt to play the kazoo while dancing the lead in Swan Lake…there is NOTHING that can make it look pretty. Hips go one way while butts go another and I swear I saw a couple of heads do a 360 while sitting squarely on their shoulders. But the worst thing was the fact that not one of them could keep tempo to the music. It was like watching a little old man crossing the street using a walker…one speed only… with head bent and body stooped their bellies almost dragging on the ground. The ones still moving upright were sweating like Trump’s Communication Director when the President is in front of a microphone… never sure what ungodly thing might happen to destroy all their carefully laid plans.

Yet, with all the hormones on high alert things stayed sweaty but calm and everyone was having a good time, chaperones included. Something about the unchanging ways of nervous teens brings you back to your own school dance and you realize just how far you have come!

Of course, there is always some sort of drama. At our school dance this is the End Of The Night Song. It is the one and only slow dance that the deejay plays the entire night. Stomachs tense and butterflies alight and the girls begin to giggle as the time draws near. If the truth be told no one wants to dance the last dance and everyone is crushed if they don’t. As the first notes of Fade Into You began, I was surprised to feel a tap on my shoulder. When I turned around Paul was standing there.

“Would you like to dance, Mom?” he asked strong and sure in his choice.

“Me?” I asked.

“Sure. You’re the prettiest girl here.”

And as I stepped into his arms I knew without a doubt that all those years of hard work raising two children with autism had paid off.  I was obviously doing something right in this life and was finally reeping the rewards.

 

 

Eat Chocolate Cake

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The school called today

Andre didn’t turn in his homework

He said he burned his book

I don’t think so but…

I eat chocolate cake while I contemplate the situation.

The other school called about Paul

The teacher tells me there is a group issue

Paul is missing assignments

I will check and let you know….but first

I eat chocolate cake before digging around in his room

I go to the school to discuss the situation

I let all involved know

That Andre will be staying after school in the tutoring room

Everyday until all the assignments are done

He clings and claws at me

He baby talks and pouts

I escape and walk around campus

And eat that emergency piece…

Of chocolate cake

That I tucked in my purse

Really this is getting too much to manage

Maybe I should turn to booze

And give up the chocolate cake

We get home

Paul is upset because I insist that he does his chore

That he did not do before he went to school

Man, that chocolate cake looks good…tastes better than it looks

Two boys with autism

One deep dark chocolate cake

Almost gone…

Autism makes you fat!

Stilettos

“Mom,” says Gracie. “I have an orchestra competition and I need black shoes with heels.”

Heels? I think. She can’t be old enough for heels, can she? There is no way. Just yesterday I was rocking her to sleep, picking out her clothes and teaching her to ride a bike. Heels? I am not ready for this! Heels means makeup, makeup means proms, and proms mean BOYS. Crap…not boys! Not yet! Not EVER!

An hour later we are headed for the store doing the joint mother/daughter thing to pick out her first pair of heels. As I drive a feel a pull in my gut warning me that I should just turn around and go home.

” I like these,” she says as she holds up a pair of 5-inch stilettos that any good hooker would covet.

OH HELL NO! explodes like white lightning throughout my feeble brain. My mother’s words of “No daughter of mine…” come flooding back to me and trip over my tongue on the way out of my mouth.

I feel compelled right here and now, in the middle of the shoe department, to the have “the talk” about what is appropriate and what is not at her age. As I drone on she grimaces, “oh moms” and rolls her eyes more times than I care to count but I think my point has been well taken until she whines…

“I’m not a little girl”

“You’re not twenty-five either nor do you have a job and you don’t earn your own money to buy the things that you want.”

“Of course I don’t have a job,” she shoots back. “I am only 12! But if I did I would be buying those shoes!” her hands gently caressing the soft black velvet.

I take this as a cue to hold up a pair of ballet flats figuring if I show her THESE, knowing she likes THOSE, perhaps we can find a compromise somewhere in this warehouse of shoes.

Gracie holds up a different pair with four-inch heels that climb up her legs like a vine on a tree.

“How about these?” she says with a smile that looks more like a dare.

“How about not.”

And so it goes until she shows me the 10th pair with heels that shoot you up towards the sky.

“Honey,” I ask. “Why is it that you are drawn to shoes with such high heels?”

“Come on mom, think about it. I am the shortest one in my class and on the diving team. No one sees me. Just once I want to look up at someone instead of them looking down on me.”

Finally, I get it. Her need for height is a need for being seen. For being like everyone else, in a world where Asians are often not seen nor heard. For being “looked at” instead of being invisible.

I give her a squeeze and suggest we find something that will give her lift but not up to the clouds. We finally settle on a two-inch inch wedge that gives her a little extra notice but not in that over-the-top teenage way.

As we drive home we talk about girl things. Things I once understood but don’t quite get now. Things I have forgotten as the years have rolled by. Big feelings that once threatened to overtake me when I was her age.

“Mom,” Gracie says. “I have a confession. I didn’t really want those big heels. I just wanted to see what you would let me get away with.”

“Really? Why would you do that?”

“Geez mom, I’m almost a teen. I have to start pushing the boundaries someday you know.”

I laugh and I know that she does, but I hope she will wait just a little bit longer before the boundaries are pushed all the way to Siberia. For the truth is it isn’t the boundaries that worry me it is the fact that she is my baby and there is a small part of me, in a world that moves too fast, that wants her to remain that way forever.

The First Rose

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As parents we are always doubting ourselves when it comes to our kids. There are no manuals and every child is so completely different from the other especially when they have issues that other children never have to face. I know of what I speak. With six children I have learned much and each one has taught me in a completely different way. Yet, I also know about those deep, dark, slippery wells that you sometimes feel like you cannot climb out of  when things are tough which often seems to be the case when your children have life impacting disabilities. It makes you question yourself and all you are doing to an even greater extent than ever before.

Paul struggles. He has autism and several other medical issues but his social skills are pretty much on track. Until you are around him for awhile you would probably never guess the extent of his issues and how they impact him everyday. But impact him they do. And our family too. Constantly.

Sometimes parents whose children have a disability find it hard to let go. Sending them to the store alone, even though it is just down the block, is terrifying when you know that your child is somewhat gullible and naive. But when the older teen years hit you realize that holding on too tight is a hinderance and not a help so you start loosening the strings. So recently Paul has been walking to the store by himself which gives him a sense of freedom that any 15 yo boy needs.

On Sunday Paul asked to go to the store. He had earned some money and wanted to buy himself a special snack… so off he went, hands deep in his pocket holding on to his hard-earned cash.

About 15 minutes later he returned with a perfect red rose in his hand which he shyly gave to me.

“I know I haven’t been treating you very well lately so I bought you a rose to show you how much I love and appreciate you”

I cried. He smiled and I think he knew that in giving me that beautiful rose he actually gave me so much more than just a flower. He let me know, that despite my mistakes and frailties as a parent, I really am doing something right by my kids. And even more importantly, I see him growing into a lovely young man who is doing good things like every decent and wonderful human being does on his own and without my help.

God, I love that kid!

 

Our Bodies Ourselves

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As women it seems like we have spent a lifetime trying to keep men away from our bodies uninvited. From the little girl who subconsciously realizes that having a man’s hands down her pants is somehow wrong, to teens who fight the pressure to go to “second base”  if you “really love me;” females are always having to fight men who are constantly deciding what “is right for them.”

Many years ago when I was in grad school I interviewed and surveyed over 100 teenage girls in regards to how they viewed feminism. Many didn’t know what feminism was. Even more commented that it was not relevant to them and that there was no need for feminist thinking in this day and age. I was shocked and dismayed.

As a child who grew up in the last 60’s and 70’s, I remember the feminist revolution very well. I remember Phyllis Schaffly condemning women who wanted something more for themselves than a frying pan in their hand. I remember women working hard to try to achieve equal work for equal pay. I remember women waking up to their own sexuality and unique health care/reproductive needs, and realizing that they could and should take those matters into their own hands especially when “those matters” concerned their own bodies.

Lately, the political right wing is getting louder in their demands to further control women’s bodies. In this day and age where access to abortion is harder to obtain than purchasing an assault weapon, and Planned Parenthood, where so many millions of poor women receive their gynecologic health care, is under attack and  being defunded; it amazes me how few women are doing anything about it. Once again men have their hands “all over our bodies” and once again women’s needs and wants are subjugated to men in power-conservative men in power who really want to put women “back in their place” where “they belong.” Yet, what I find really disturbing is that if God did indeed give us each free will that conservatives fail to honor this principle of self governance given by God when it comes to women’s minds and bodies.

When, I wonder, will women finally realize it is ALWAYS in their best interest to control their own reproductive health, their bodies and their souls? And when will these ideas that others should control a woman’s  body for their own political and religious gain ever stop? It’s time we end these outdated practices and let women live in peace without having men’s unwanted hands all over us.

Teens & Alarm Clock Hell…266 Days To Fix This

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Somehow, I have become everyone’s personal alarm clock and I don’t like it one bit. Waking up my children has suddenly become a major chore. I don’t know what it is about teenage-hood but the fact is that everything moves slower on them, their ears stop picking up the decibels emitted from my vocal cords and their bones seem to collapse in upon themselves rendering them unable to hoist their bodies out of bed.

It used to be that I could bellow up the stairs and it would work.

“Kids, it’s a lovely day. Time to get up!”

Three minutes later their shiny smiling faces would be standing next to me, sweet sleep still filling their eyes. Now, I have to climb the stairs to hell to bring them down myself. In short, the trip up the stairs feels like being led to the gallows.

With Paul the first exchange of the morning usually goes something like this:

“Honey, time to get up!”

Nothing moves, nothing stirs. Mom walks over to teens bed and shakes him where he kicks his foot striking me somewhere in the thigh. I am still unable to determine if this is a voluntary or involuntary act.

“Paul, time to get up. Come on baby. Let’s go. Move out!”

GROAN. Slight twitch of left toe.

Shake again.

LOUDER GROAN. Slight twitch of right toe and so it goes until each part of his body has twitched but not yet moved.

“Come on baby. Rise and shine!”

“OKAY I AM GETTING UP NOW LEAVE ME ALONE!”

Fifteen minutes later I am still the only one down in the kitchen, the countdown to the bus has begun and I’m starting to burn like the bagel I put in the toaster 5 minutes ago.

In an attempt to remedy this hell of a routine I take taken many paths of desperation including LOUD alarm clocks that could wake the dead but somehow fail to wake my teens. I have cuddled with each child as they snore on. I have rung bells and I have banged drums. I have even resorted to ice cold water spray bottles which have resulted in nothing but an ugly attitude that manages to last into the wee hours of the next morning.

Is there no way out of this hell?

People tell me that I will miss all this when everyone is gone and out of the house but I doubt it. Because by the time the last one leaves the nest we will be retired and probably very weary of this lack of time management on the part of our teens.  Yet, I do hold out hope that the future will bring with it an uncomplicated way to start out my day. And, if it is true about what the experts say about the aging process, I suspect I will still hear, “OKAY! OKAY! I AM GETTING UP!” as I drift in and out of sleep. Only this time, those words will be uttered by a incredibly horny and somewhat naked 65-year-old man. And frankly this will be fine by me because instead of being the bell ringer it will be nice to once again have someone RING MY BELL to wake ME up in the morning.