Category Archives: Parenthood

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.

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?

 

hodgepodge

It’s been over a month of silence here and for that I apologize.  There’s been a lot going on, but not the kind of stuff that merits a whole post – so perhaps one post with a lot of little things will have to do – hence the title “hodgepodge.”

My 13 year old autistic daughter had her yearly IEP (Individual Education Plan) meeting a few weeks ago and she’s doing brilliantly.  She started in a new program back in September and has really flourished. She’s doing so well, in fact, that she’s going to “graduate” from occupational therapy this coming September.  It  was kind of a shock when her occupational therapist suggested it, but it seems the right thing to do.  The tasks she struggles with are not the kind that they help with at school (like maneuvering her bra clasp).  Most of O.T. in the school setting is focused on handwriting, and she has become a pro.  Her O.T. has known her for years and we had the chance to reminisce about the days when we wondered if she would EVER write.  The breakthrough for her came with cursive.  When her teachers introduced that she took to it like a fish to water.  She no longer had to struggle with lifting up and putting down the pencil with each letter – it’s like cursive was made just for her.  Anyway… in September her twice-weekly O.T. sessions will end, and the O.T. will do monthly check-ins with her teacher just to make sure she isn’t regressing in any way.  Great job!

Sweet sixteen is continuing her dream of wanting to be a professional wrestler.  I had hoped this was a passing phase, but it doesn’t look like it.  How I, as a peace-loving and generally gentle soul, ended up with a daughter who loves to fight and punch and throw people around I don’t know (ok, maybe I have a clue or two, but that’s for another post).  Our children are their own people, that’s for sure.  I spend a lot of time taking her to training (wrestling, jiu jitsu & MMA) and trying to understand her need for violence (albeit controlled, “acceptable” violence).

My nine year old son is getting into Minecraft.  I’ve written that he likes to play with dolls and that this makes him feel very insecure since he doesn’t want his friends to know.  Even at nine he’s aware of gender pressures, which is sad.  But Minecraft is generally a boy thing, so at least now he’ll have something in common with some of the other boys at school, since he also isn’t very athletic.

I don’t generally write about my husband since he’s a really private person, but I will share that pressure at work has been exceptionally high lately and money has been a huge concern, so he’s been EXTREMELY stressed and unhappy.  That’s about all I can write, although I wish I could share more because it would be therapeutic for me – but out of respect for him I need to just stop here.

As for me?  My husband’s stress has been rubbing off.  I mean, how can you see someone you love struggle and not be stressed about it?  I’ve also continued to have problems with my fibroids (I have two whoppers in my uterus) – almost constant discomfort, although not what I would call “pain.”  About six years ago I had lost all my baby weight and ran almost everyday and felt really great about my body. Since this fibroid/menopause junk started about three years ago running is uncomfortable – even sitting still can be uncomfortable – and I’ve gained all that weight back.  I’m tired of it and I’ve had enough.  I had my yearly check-up with the gynecologist last week and go for a pelvic ultrasound next week to check on the fibroids.  I also have my yearly check up with my primary doctor coming up and will discuss things with her too.  I’m trying to formulate a course of treatment since it seems like my body is taking its bloody time with menopause (pun intended).   I’ll fill you in when I develop a plan.

With all that’s going on I’m surprised I’m in a generally good place psychologically, even with the stress of my husband’s situation and my physical health.  I’ve been off my psychiatric medication for a year now, and other than the bad day or bad week which is part of LIFE, I’ve been steady.  I am VIGILANT in monitoring myself though – how I’m eating, how I’m sleeping, how much I laugh, how much I cry, my attitude towards the tasks of daily living etc…

Can’t take care of anyone else if I’m not taking care of myself.  That’s true for all of us.  I hope you all are taking care of yourselves.

What have you been up to?

push and pull

I’ve been pretty silent here on the blog lately because I’m having problems deciding what is appropriate to share.  Quite honestly, right now, I’m having more issues navigating life with my 16 year old “typical” daughter than I am with my 13 year old autistic daughter or 9 year old son.  And because my oldest is 16, the issues I’m dealing with are a lot more complicated than potty training or sleeping through the night.  I would have no problems sharing that kind of information here.  But the issues I’m trying to cope with are more interpersonal – my relationship with my daughter, her relationship with me – issues of independence and control.

It’s not that I haven’t wanted to write.  Believe me, there have been moments recently where I’ve wanted to lay down a blazing rant, but even in my anger and frustration I still want to protect my daughter’s privacy.  She didn’t ask to have her life chronicled in a blog.  I’m also fully aware that even as I stand tall in self-righteous indignation, I am only seeing my side of the story – or there are times when I can see her side, but think it’s completely ridiculous, or see her side and feel badly for her as a teenager wanting to be older.  I know what it’s like to want to be free from parental control and rules.

One of the HUGE differences between my daughter and me is that I grew up in an abusive home, and actual rebelling was NOT a realistic option for me.  I was brought up not able to openly question or disagree with my parents, especially my father.  Indeed, I grew up with a lot of fear.  I didn’t want that for my children.  The result?  My daughter feels perfectly comfortable disagreeing with and questioning me to my face (and my husband’s face too while we’re at it).  I love that and am SO uncomfortable with it at the same time.

She has always been this way, but since she turned sixteen back in October, there has been a more dramatic shift.  She somehow thinks that sixteen is a license to absolute freedom and autonomy.  Well, not in my house.  I never (to my knowledge) gave her any impression that once she turned sixteen she would be free to do whatever she pleased with whomever she pleased.  So there has been considerable pulling and pushing in the past few months as she has tested the limits.  For example, she can be angry, argue and even yell at me, but on New Year’s Eve she started hurling personal attacks at me, and THAT was unacceptable.  She got grounded for the first time in her life.

I recognize the need to give her more freedom as she shows us that she can handle it.  She gets very good grades and overall has a good head on her shoulders.  But like any normal teenager, her capacity to sense danger is limited if non-existent.  I’m afraid every time she goes out the door and gets in a car with friends (many of her friends are in the next grade up and have their driver’s licenses already – she is still learning).  Isn’t the fact I let her drive in a car with friends to the mall (or so she says) proof that I’m not an overbearing mother?

But the fear is almost overwhelming.  I’m afraid every time she goes to a friend’s house, every time she gets in a car and drives off…  I have set certain rules for those things that I think are reasonable.  But kids will sometimes be kids and work around those rules or lie outright.  I know she doesn’t tell me everything, and I don’t expect that she will.  I can only hope the lies she tells me (or the things she doesn’t tell me) aren’t ones that will endanger her safety.  Perhaps that is my biggest fear.  And there’s not a whole lot I can do about it.

I think my job is to balance my fear with her freedom.  There are times when I have to “suck it up” and let her go, to stifle that voice inside of me that’s screaming “NO!  Don’t you leave this house!”  But there are also times when I need to pay attention to that voice, trust it, and let that voice come out.  But dang it, there’s no rhyme or reason for when to listen to that voice and when stifle it.  Flying by the seat of your pants IS NOT EASY OR FUN.

I had high blood pressure before this.  I think I may need to “up” the dosage on my medication.  I’ve got two and a half years before she graduates from high school.  Then, when she’s living on her own, I’m sure I’ll enter a new kind of hell.  Pray for me please!