Anxiety and fear

I’m on vacation now.  At my happy place – the beach.  I’ve been here for five days with another seven to go.  Usually by now I’ve relaxed into beach life, feeling free and mellow, but not this year.  In the weeks leading up to this vacation I was a bundle of anxiety – the last month of the school year was hectic for all three of my kids, but especially for my oldest who graduated from high school.  I saw my coming vacation as a time when the worst of balancing all our lives would be over and I would be able to breathe again, not worrying about forgetting something important.  But the anxiety of the last month hasn’t dissipated with the completion of the school year, and I think I’m starting to figure out why.

First of all, as director of christian education at a large congregation, the end of the Sunday school year, confirmation program, Bible studies and book groups brings a shift from execution to planning.  In truth, planning is always ongoing, and what we’re doing in the fall has been in the works already for months.  But the building is a bit quieter and my nights are much more open.  HOWEVER, our congregation runs a Vacation Bible School – VBS – which will start at the end of July.  This is my second year running VBS and this year I’m having problems finding enough adults to cover all the kids we’re expecting – and I’m quite anxious about this.  It’s hovering over me.  Ideally we would take our vacation after VBS, but we don’t have control over when we get our beach house (it belongs to a friend and we use it when they’re not).  So here I sit, worrying about something that may (or may not) hit the fan when I get home.  I definitely have my work cut out for me when I get back.  Not really conducive to a mellow beach vacation.

But the biggest looming reason for my anxiety has to do with that daughter who graduated high school two weeks ago.  I’m not sad or weepy about my little girl growing up and leaving the nest.  Unlike the moms who cried when their children started kindergarten I was glad to see mine go.  It’s always been a joy of mine to see my kids reach new levels of independence from me.   What I’m feeling now it not grief, at least not a part of grief I recognize.

I’m AFRAID.  I’m afraid for her for a hundred different reasons, some of which make sense, and some of which I’m sure are demons of my own making.  Problem is, until she gets to school I’m not sure which are which.  I just don’t know.

This girl is the very definition of hard work.  Her work ethic puts me to shame.  Her senior year of high school she took two AP classes AND worked 20-30 hours a week to save money for college.  She’ll get the school/fun/life management stuff figured out I’m sure.  It may be a little bumpy.  I’m in my 50’s and there are times when it’s still a little bumpy for me!

Maybe it’s got to do with the fact she’s so incredibly stubborn and so sure she knows it all.  The past few months (years really!), I’ve said to myself on SO many occasions, “I’ll be SO glad when she’s off to school!”  But now that stubbornness scares me.  She’s so convinced her transition will be seamless, so sure of herself, and yet at the same time I still see her as so dependent on me that it’s concerning.  For example, here at the beach, she found out her friends got their AP exam scores and she wanted to look up hers.  Since turning in her school laptop (yes, we were lucky, and yes in the next month we have to buy her a computer), she’s shared mine, and threw a fit when I didn’t know her college board username and password.  “Hello?  We’re on vacation and I have my little book of usernames and passwords AT HOME.  Plus, it’s not MY fault YOU can’t remember YOUR username and password dear.”  I’m her fallback, and she’s going to have to figure out a new fallback plan, at least for some things.  I mean, she can still call me on the phone for some stuff, but I won’t be there in person.  She hates asking others for help but she’s going to have to learn, and that lesson might be hard.

And… she’s going to school in a city – a BIG city.  We live in the suburbs.  My husband and I are not city people.  Our daughter has never had to figure out public transportation in her life.  Even when driving she uses the gps to get her where she’s going and is not very good at paying attention to her surroundings to find her way.  She’s going to have to learn that’s for sure.  The trial and error of figuring her way around the outside of the campus and being safe has me tied a bit in knots.  So she’s not just her leaving home and having to learn to manage school/life, she’s also moving to a completely different kind of world.

She’s excited, and slightly ignorant of the challenges in front of her.  That ignorance can definitely work to her advantage.  It can help her be bold to move forward, but it can also set her up for failure.  She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know.  I have an inkling of what she doesn’t know and that’s what has me a bundle of nerves and fear.  And when I try to tell her (just a little), she doesn’t want to hear it.  What do I know?  I’m just her mother.

In the end each of our children has to forge their own path – celebrate their own successes and survive and hopefully thrive from their failures.  My “outsiders” view of this side of parenthood was a weepy grieving over our lost little children, going off into the great world without us.  Now that I’m approaching an “insiders” view – at least for me – it’s about anxiety and fear – wanting desperately for them to be okay and knowing there is little we can really do to prevent the hard times they will face.  It’s like the first time she took the car out solo, except this time it’s not just for a few hours.  This is her LIFE.

The stakes are the highest they could possibly be.  The rewards may be great, or maybe not.  I guess my job right now is to manage my anxiety and fear without having them affect her.  It’s my job to let her fly, hoping I’ve given her all the skills she needs to maneuver the flight.  But what do I do with my anxiety and fear?  I suppose after the first few months away it won’t be as consuming as it feels now.  At least I hope not!

In the meantime, I really needed this vacation, and the beach isn’t the medicine it’s always been.  The first step is recognizing where this impending sense of doom has been coming from.  Now that I’m getting some clarity maybe that will help.  All I know is I need to relax a bit because in a month I’ve got VBS and then my daughter’s moving day!

For those of you sending kids off to college – or off to live on their own – any helpful hints for me on managing the letting go?

 

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“Almost” college

We’re almost there!  My oldest child graduates from high school next month and will be off to college in August.  Part of me can’t believe it’s happening, but another part of me is right there, ready to help her pack.  She has had SO many ups and downs over the past 5 years or so that in some ways it feels like it’s taken us forever to get here.  But here we are.

The college process was rough.  My daughter only ever wanted to go to one place.  My husband and I made her apply to a few colleges to be safe, but for her there was no real competition.  Her heart and mind were set.  It was not a school we would have chosen for her, that’s for sure.  It’s a campus in a city, which puts it completely out of our suburban comfort zone.  She and my husband were at odds the whole time, sometimes loudly.  There were many many tears, most of them were mine to be honest.  She dug in her heels and he dug in his, and I was feeling really stuck in the middle.   (I will honestly say that the last two years, with her starting to drive and “go out,” and deciding on college, have been the hardest on my marriage – but that’s another post – maybe.)

In the end, money was the biggest issue.  The financial aid process is truly awful.  We got some financial aid from the expensive schools, but not enough, and we got NO financial aid from the cheaper state schools.  Awful.  We knew what we could afford, and what she wanted was more than we could afford.  So she worked.  And worked.  And worked.  For the past year she has held down a more than part-time job – some weeks working 13 days straight, some weeks working up to 30 hours in addition to school.  Whenever her bosses text to ask if she can fill in for someone who is sick, she is there.  Whenever they ask if she can stay late, she does.  She hardly ever goes out with friends, and when she does it’s not to shop or go to concerts – they hang out at each other’s houses or go to a diner.  The end result is that my daughter saved up enough money this year to pay the difference between what we could afford and what it was going to cost, all the while taking two AP classes and making honor roll twice (once she missed it by getting a C+, and last marking period we don’t know yet).  Her work ethic puts me to shame, and I’m in awe, and so proud.

So she’s going to her dream school.  Next year we hope and pray she can be a Resident Assistant so her room will be paid for.  Then we can breathe easier.  But for now, I’m just trying to ride her wave of happiness, and praying this school is everything she hopes it will be.

So, it’s been a while…

It’s amazing to me that it’s been more than a year since I posted anything here.  It’s not for lack of material believe me, but it’s mostly because 1) I started working full-time, and 2) as my kids are getting older and their issues more complex I feel less free to share their personal stuff online.

There are a few things I want to share though, and I should probably take them one at a time, so I think I’ll start with my 15 year old daughter’s transition to high school.

It’s hard to even type “15” – partly because of the normal parental feelings of time flying by so quickly (I definitely feel that way about my other two children), but also because developmentally her age is a little more ambiguous.  In some ways she’s very 15, into clothes and shopping, doing her nails, wanting to grow her hair long, shaving her legs etc…  but in other ways, mostly regarding social awareness/cues, including sex (thank God! although I know that’s coming), she’s much younger.

I was so nervous about her going to the high school.  Our high school has kids from four different towns, so not only was she going to go to a new building, but she was going to be thrown in with a large population 75% of whom she would not know, and who would not know her.  I was nervous about the size of the building and her getting lost (since she has inclusion for gym and art, and she does not have a 1-on-1 aide).

Luckily, thanks to the support of her teachers and class aides, a program she was a part of that paired special ed kids with typical kids, and her own incredible hard work, the transition was practically seamless.

This has been a year of real social growth for her, not that confidence has ever really been a problem (if anything, she’s over-confident because she doesn’t realize her deficits, but that’s a post for another time).  She’s joined the Spanish Club (despite knowing almost NO Spanish!), the Sign Language Club, the Gay-Straight Alliance (of which her older sister is president, so we’ve had a few rough moments), and is part of the program I mentioned above which pairs special ed & typical kids for activities.  A social butterfly!

We’ve only hit a few bumps.  The most concerning one was about a month into the school year she got confused and thought the school day was over.   She called me from her cell phone, wondering where I was and why I wasn’t picking her up.  We went over her schedule on the phone so she could figure out where she was supposed to be then I called the guidance office so they could double check with the teacher to make sure she had gotten there.

All in all it’s been a great first year of high school for her!

World Autism Awareness Day, 2017

April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day.  I announced it to my fourteen year old autistic daughter this morning as I woke her up for church.  In the past we have embraced this day as a day to ask questions about her autism and for us to celebrate the wonderful young woman she is.

Today was different.  Today she proclaims that she only has a “little problem” with autism and doesn’t want to talk about it or acknowledge it in any way.

I get it.  She is fourteen now, and although she is clearly emotionally younger than her chronological age, she IS starting to exhibit some pretty normal teenage behaviors – one of them being a desire to blend in, to not be seen as different.  Sometimes she can do this.  Any stranger looking at her in the store or on the street may not even know anything about her is different.  The “classic” autism behaviors that marked her out as a young child – the flapping, stimming, spinning, poor eye contact – are mostly gone from us even though at times her eye contact is still not the best.  The biggest issue she faces is her speech, but you wouldn’t know that unless you were trying to have a conversation with her.  And to meet her casually you wouldn’t know, unless you have a conversation, that academically she is well below her peers.

The struggle we face now is her believing that she can do things that we know she CANNOT do.  When she tried out for the lead in her middle school play, we KNEW she wasn’t capable of handling the role, but in consultation with the drama teacher, we let her try out so she could experience failure.  When she wanted to be on the volleyball team, despite being very uncoordinated and unathletic, we let her try out (in consultation with the volleyball coach), again so she could experience failure.  Wonderfully, the volleyball coach made her a team “manager” so that she could attend the games as a helper, and she loved it.

Last month she wanted to try out for the softball team, which again, seemed ridiculous since she is uncoordinated, unathletic, and hasn’t picked up a ball or bat since she played t-ball in her special ed program as a 1st or 2nd grader.  I was actually afraid she’d get hurt.  Girls at the 7th and 8th grade level throw and hit hard and when the ball comes at you, you need quick reflexes.  I explained to her as gently but as honestly as I could that I didn’t think trying out would be a good idea because she could get hurt, and that she would be competing against girls who had been playing for years.  She was NOT happy.

I am so grateful that she has come so far.  I am thankful that she is able to be in a special education classroom in a typical school, and for her many interactions with her typical peers.  I am thankful that she has a wonderful self-image.  I know from my older daughter (and from my own experience) that many adolescents suffer from a very low opinion of themselves, believing they’re ugly, stupid, fat, etc… and she has little to none of this.  But I AM concerned that this normal desire to “fit in,” indeed her BELIEF that she DOES fit in – even though she clearly has problems – will cause her pain.

Every mom wants to spare their kids pain if possible.  I feel the same about my other two children.  But my protectiveness of her is greater because her innocence is greater.  She is vulnerable and she doesn’t know it.  She may not want to remember World Autism Awareness Day, but I do, because I still see it in her even if she doesn’t.  And I still see the world as a scary place for her, and want the world to be “aware” of how far we still have to go until it isn’t.

The Santa thing

I remember when I “found out” about Santa.  I must have been about 9 or 10 years old.  My 17 year old daughter figured it out at around the same age as I did, and my 10 year old son has made some “remarks” about Santa, but hasn’t come right out and asked or made any declarations.  I think he wants to play along, thinking maybe he’ll get more stuff as long as he pretends (he’s smart like that, although it would NOT be a factor in our gift giving).  Anyway…

My middle child, my daughter with autism, will be 14 years old in a few days, is in 8th grade, and still (until tonight) believed in Santa.  Wholeheartedly.  Most people with autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD), are very literal thinkers, and my daughter is no exception.  But in certain areas, like Santa (and the Easter Bunny, tooth fairy etc…) she has been able to suspend that literal thinking.  Perhaps it’s because she is also cognitively delayed (very low IQ). I don’t know.

If she were in a special education school, surrounded by like minded peers, I would not have been concerned.  But while she is indeed in a special education class, that class is in a TYPICAL school, and she has homeroom, gym, art and music with typical peers. The closer we have gotten to Christmas, the more she’s been wondering aloud what Santa is going to bring her, and what she wants from Santa.  I know talking like this in groups of typical 8th graders is stigmatizing for her without her even knowing or understanding.  She’s “different” enough, I don’t want this to impact on her ability to socialize and be accepted by her peers.  So I resolved I would talk with her about it.  And I was nervous as hell.  I wanted to tell her the truth, but I wanted to tell her in such a way that she wouldn’t feel bad about basically being lied to all her life (and I know one autistic child in particular who had this very reaction). I wanted her to feel “grown up” in learning something special.  That’s the approach I took.

I told her I was going to share a special grown up secret with her now that she was going to be fourteen.  I talked about the historical figure of St. Nicholas (which our kids know about since we’re “churchy” people) and how after he died, people wanted to continue in his example of generosity, and even up to today parents enjoy being St. Nicholas for their children.  I then explained that her father and I were being Santa for her and her siblings in the spirit of St. Nicholas.  I infused this whole talk with excitement for her that she not only knew a special secret, but could be a part of “knowing” with all the other grown ups, but I also told her that knowing the secret was a serious thing.  I explained that now she was a part of keeping the magic and memory of St. Nicholas and Santa alive for little children, and that she must never tell the secret to little ones. She could even help be Santa now!

It seems to have gone over fine.  She didn’t cry.  She didn’t even frown.  I told her it was okay to be sad if that’s how she felt, and she said she felt “tiny tiny” sad, but mostly happy that she knew a grown up secret.  Then she asked about her little brother.  I told her I wasn’t sure about him, so that until I was sure, she should not say anything to him.  She seemed REALLY pleased about maybe knowing something that he didn’t!  (typical sibling stuff there!)

I never thought I would have to sit down and have this kind of conversation with one of my kids.  I always assumed they’d figure it out eventually.  But with autism, you can never assume anything.

co-parenting

My husband and I have been married for almost 22 years.  In this time we have known great highs and devastating lows.  We have known times of peace and times of anxiety and tension.  I think, by far, the greatest time of tension that we have experienced as a couple have been the past few years parenting our now 17 year old daughter.

Parenting an older adolescent is a whole different universe than parenting an infant, or toddler or young child.  The issues then are very much centered around physical safety:  baby-proofing, making sure they don’t run out in the street, or wander away from you at the mall.  Parenting an older teenager is about safety too, but the game is utterly different.  Instead of baby-proofing, you wonder if the group they’re with will be drinking or doing drugs.  Instead of keeping them from running in the street, you’re praying they don’t get an accident while they’re out with the car.  Instead of wandering away in a crowd, you’re terrified they (or someone they’re with) will do something incredibly stupid or dangerous (or both).

And instead of tucking them in at night, you’re worried about them picking the kind of major in college that will enable them to get a decent job.  Instead of tucking them in at night, you’re trying to prepare them to be without you.  To fly solo.  It’s about finding the balance between holding on too tight so that they’re unprepared, and letting go too quickly or at the “wrong” time so they crash.

I’m spending a lot of time feeling afraid.  But I think I’m coping better than my husband, who is just plain terrified.  Because of my childhood, I tend to err on the side of freedom, while he errs on the side of control.  As a result, we’ve had some pretty interesting disagreements and discussions over the past year or so.  As I said, there are times when the tension is THICK – times when I think he’s suffocating her, and he thinks I’m irresponsible.

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I never expected to be fighting over differing parenting styles.  It’s been a bit of a shock and very disconcerting.  And of course the “truth,” the “right” way to go, is somewhere in between.  But there’s no formula for figuring out where that happy middle is.  It all feels like such a roll of the dice – which only adds to my fear and his terror.

I find myself sometimes wishing I didn’t have to co-parent.  It would be so much easier if I didn’t need to consult my husband or compromise or admit when I’m wrong.  But I know that’s just fantasizing to relieve the tension.  I know single parents.  And I know single parenting has its own tensions and fears and is HARD.   I knew parenting would be hard, but I had no idea HOW hard, and no idea the toll it could take on a relationship.  When divorce statistics are thrown around, you always hear about money being a source of stress, but I wonder how much having an adolescent figures into divorce rates?  Not that we’re going that route BELIEVE ME – I LOVE my husband, and like I said, my fantasy of being a solo parent is just that – a fantasy to escape the hard work of dialogue, understanding, and compromise. “Opposites attract” sounds nice, but the reality of it can be… complicated.

I never thought about parenting styles when I had children.  And I guess you cannot possibly know what kind of parent you will be to your adolescents until you get there.  It’s not something I think people generally talk about when they’re falling in love and think about having children together.  I know my husband and I certainly didn’t talk about how we would handle our hypothetical teenage daughter wanting to drive an hour to a hypothetical concert with her friends.  And I know that how I act in the reality is often different than I ever imagined it.

My daughter has been in therapy since the spring, and I think her therapist is excellent.  One of the reasons I feel this way is because she’s spending time with all three of us: my daughter alone, my daughter and I, my daughter and my husband, and my husband and myself.  She’s guiding us through some of our confusion and fear and tension in parenting.  I don’t think we’ll be able to work our fears away (I don’t think that’s possible for anyone who takes parenting seriously), but hopefully we’ll cope with them a little better, and also be able to work through some of the tension in our parenting styles. Less tension between the two of us around the last years our daughter is home would be a good thing.

Anyone else out there go through this?

 

facing the monster

This week I finally faced down the big bad monster.

A few months ago I wrote this post about my experience getting my first ever ticket for anything.  Two days after my 50th birthday, riding a wave of good self-esteem, it was as if I’d gotten into a headlong collision with a tractor trailer.  Really.

I know it sounds very over dramatic, and compared to everything in my life that HAS or COULD go wrong, getting a ticket should not have been a big deal.  But it was. A HUGE deal.  Not the ticket in and of itself, but the experience of it, which I described in the earlier post.

I had some decisions to make.  I was so tempted to just pay it and move on with my life.  That would’ve been the easiest thing to do even though it would have meant points on my license and the possibility of my insurance premium rising.  Finances are tight, and my sense of guilt at being “bad” and getting “caught” led me to want to throw myself on the mercy of the court.  But – even more than that, I was so shaken by my encounter with the officer, I felt like I needed to face him again and not feel so weak or afraid.  My hands and body literally shook as I signed the form that declared my plea “not guilty.” And then I waited to hear about my court date.

anxiety_0Overall I’ve been doing ok processing the experience, although I must say that I have had waves of anxiety about it at times.  It’s been a kind of free-floating anxiety because I didn’t know when it would be resolved, so I was living with this question mark over my head and on my shoulders.  It’s been taking up a lot of space in my thoughts and worries.  Fighting off the bad girl feelings.  I have had moments thinking about it that I have felt very weak and vulnerable – two feelings I despise.  When you grow up in an abusive/alcoholic home the two things you do NOT want to feel are weak and vulnerable.  You want to disappear from view, or be a strong superhero.

Well, a few weeks ago I got a letter from the court telling me my appearance would be on May 4th – so I had weeks to psych myself up for it.  I was tempted once more to just drop it, and go with whatever the court decided, saving myself from having to face the police officer who wouldn’t even look me in the eye when he handed me the ticket.  (Really, he never made direct eye contact with me.  If he were in a line-up I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out.)  Also, because of the authority issues I described when I got the ticket, he had become larger than life.  I didn’t want to face him.  But I knew it was important.  I needed to face the monster.

It was much different than I expected.  I’ve never been to court before except when I was picked for jury duty and when I divorced my first husband.  As I drove to the courthouse my heart was racing and I had to do a lot of positive self-talk.  “It will be alright.  You’ll be fine.”  I repeated Jesus’ words from a few weeks ago in worship reading:  “Peace be with you.”  “Peace.”  I continued this as I walked through the town hall and courthouse and went through the metal detector and was directed by the court’s officer to the corner of the courtroom where THE officer was standing.  There he was, the monster that wreaked havoc with my mental stability and self-esteem.  THERE HE WAS.

As I walked over to the officer – as I went to face the man who became a bully to me – I felt a wave of panic, and had to do a lot more self-talk to present myself in a respectful but strong manner.  This was the reality…  He didn’t look as tall as I remembered (which is logical since in my only other encounter with him I was sitting down and he was standing up).  He still didn’t look at me straight on, more like a side-glance, but his features didn’t seem as harsh (perhaps because I was seeing him in a fully lighted room and not outside in the dark).  He actually looked kind of SHY.  He also had a bit of a slouch to his shoulders.  Even with his uniform he didn’t seem threatening at all.  It was all a quite pleasant let-down.

He quickly asked me what he gave me the ticket for, I told him, and he responded with a lesser charge, which would NOT include points on my license.  And I quickly agreed.  After this I had time to sit and watch those ahead of me go before the judge, so I knew how to respond when it was my turn to walk up to the podium.  The sitting and waiting my turn was the longest part.  My brief conversation with the officer and my time before the judge?  Maybe five minutes.

When I walked out of the court my legs were shaky and I felt like I could’ve cried – FROM RELIEF.  All the build-up of five months was now gone.  I felt tired and spent.  I went home, took off my dressy court clothes, put my pajamas back on, and went to bed for a much needed nap.

I faced the monster – who really wasn’t a monster at all.  And I never would have known that if I ran away from the situation and taken the easy way out.  I’m glad I did it.  I just wish I didn’t need to.  I wish I didn’t have such issues with vulnerability and authority and power and control and anxiety.  But I do.  I’m working on them though – and facing a monster is a big step.  A big deal.