Boys will be Boys…or is it More than That?

boy jumping kid-enjoy-sun-set-157878

{As I share about our journey with our son and autism, I’ll share where I was, where I am now, and where I hope to be. Today, I’m starting from the beginning before I knew what I know now.}

I don’t remember anything obviously different about my son’s infancy – he sat up, crawled and walked at all the “right” ages. That said, I remember when he was born, I did have a deep-down feeling there was something…different about him. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but it was there, whatever it was. If I could go back with the knowledge I have now maybe I would see things I didn’t see before. Or maybe others noticed but didn’t say anything.

When our son was about three we noticed subtle changes in his behavior, a regression of sorts. Where before he was a generally mild-tempered baby, now he became agitated easier and walked around with a semi-permanent scowl.

His little brother, our third child, was born around this time so we figured he was just having a hard time getting used to another little person in the house taking up mama’s and daddy’s attention.

Since he’s our second child, the first boy after a girl, whenever I mentioned how different he seemed compared to his calmer, obedient, imaginative and precocious older sister, the same clichéd responses bounced back to me.

He’s just being a boy.

Or

Boys are so different from girls! 

If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard those words…

He acted impulsively, easily angered, and had the.worst.tantrums! Oh, those tantrums! I’m sure I earned more than a few years off purgatory for those hellish, hellish days.

Though his behavior drained the heck out of me in those early years, I still clung to hoping this was all still within the boundaries of “normal”.  Though I grew up with three brothers, I didn’t feel like I had much to compare to since he was my first son and it seemed like all little boys acted impulsively, lost focus easily and seemed oblivious to other people’s feelings.

Well, boys will be boys, right?

Or will they? Over time, his erratic behaviors intensified at home and I grew more and more confused and frustrated.

He behaved his worst when he was with me and at home. We never had anyone outside of family “complain” about him or bring up any serious concerns. In school, his teachers described him as a sweet and kind boy who was just kind of “shy”, struggled with following directions, and often seemed like he wasn’t paying attention – unless it was about something he was super interested in or excited about. Then it was hard to get him away from that. He had friends, looked people in the eye and, from what I could tell, interacted well socially.

Since he only acted “badly” with me, my next “logical” conclusion was that it was just me. I was the problem.

{If I were talking right now, I’d probably start choking up.}

Was I doing something wrong as a mother? I was told I shouldn’t take things so personally, but when he acted like an “angel” for everyone else all day but then turned into a growly-faced-green-eyed monster as soon as he was with me, it was hard not to feel hurt and confused by that.

Don’t get me wrong, I was so thankful he behaved well at school and with his friends. But I started feeling like it would make things easier if he didn’t so I knew for sure it wasn’t just me.

I know that was so selfish and vain but that’s how I felt. I tried prodding teachers and his friends’ parents to see if they might say anything, but no one really did. Or maybe they were afraid of offending me?

My mind tortured me with a swirl of questions, doubts and fears.

I went ahead and checked out some books from the library on Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism, ADHD, and other “spectrum” conditions. As I read and went through the checklists in these books, I noticed his behaviors lined up with some of the listed characteristics but then not with other more commonly known ones and his behaviors weren’t consistent in every environment.

{Note: Most of the books I read were from the library and written years before our current understanding and terms for Asperger’s and Autism.}

I hated those books! I banned myself from reading blog posts about it to prevent even more confusion and frustration.

I over-analyzed everything he did, hyper-observed him and constantly compared him to other boys his age desperately wondering – is my son normal…or not?

I looked and looked for where he fit but he was his own unique shape with no matching hole. 

If I noticed him doing something like walking around on his tiptoes while flapping his arms around like a bird, I’d freeze in fear – he has autism.

But then, I’d see another friend of his do the same thing and let out a sigh of relief.

Nevermind, he’s just a normal boy. Calm the heck down, brain!

Then, during one of his hours-long meltdowns, I’d sob as I held his door shut so he’d stay in “time out” and completely tear myself apart.

This is all my fault. I should have played with him more or read more books with him, I didn’t give him enough attention after the baby was born…I’m a terrible mother…

Then, I’d read something about autism or ADHD and it would start all over again.

I felt like I had become a crazy paranoid mother looking for an excuse to make me feel like less of a failure who couldn’t handle her own child. I felt isolated, confused, and weary.

Finally, when he was about seven and after the absolute WORST summer ever with him at home, I broke. I could not do it anymore. The day-long tantrums. The hellish meltdowns. The brain-rattling screaming. The disobedience. The constant bothering and not listening. No. more.

I sent a message to our family doctor – whom I had shared my concerns with but hadn’t taken much action yet since he didn’t notice any other major red flags – and he sent us a referral for a family therapist who specialized in behavioral therapy.

I will say right now – going to a family therapist was the scariest, most humiliating, best thing we did.  

Our son was very quiet in the first few sessions and seemed aloof and disengaged. This led the therapist to at first admit he suspected Asperger’s as a possible explanation. {Remember this was pre-DSM-5 when it was still called that.}

Though I didn’t like hearing this, it at least made me feel less alone in my own suspicions. However, after a few more sessions, our son opened up more and the therapist seemed to change his initial insight and suggested our son only had a bad case of anxiety.

The therapist gave us practical ideas (which I’ll share later) we could use at home to help ease his anxieties and handle his meltdowns better. Life improved in some ways but worsened in others.

At first I felt relieved he “only had anxiety”. I forced myself to stop reading anything about Asperger’s, Autism or ADHD because it was making me crazy.  But deep down, I wasn’t satisfied, I knew there was still something else going on…

To be continued or this blog post will turn into a book chapter. 😊

(See all posts about our son and autism here)


The Great American Total Solar Eclipse! {With Pictures} 1

Alrighty, now for number three on my list of 7 Things I Want to Write and Share. (What?I never said I’d go in order.)

Wayyy back in 2012, my husband, his parents, I and our kids stood in wheat field observing a partial solar eclipse.  On our way home, my husband told us we’d get a chance to see a total solar eclipse in about five years.  It seemed so long away at the time and then suddenly five years went by and on August 21st, 2017 we really did!

A few months before the great event, he scouted out a viewing spot in Nebraska close to a place he travels to work sometimes right along the center of the path of totality.  The morning of August 21st we woke up at 5 a.m., packed up his scope and photography tools, some food and water, the kids of course, and headed north.

Since we started early the roads weren’t overwhelmingly crowded. It was only when we stopped to fuel-up that we noticed how unusually busy the small-town gas station was for a Monday morning. Other than that, there weren’t any obvious signs that something spectacular was about to occur.

Well, except for this one –
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However, once we entered into Fairmont, NE, we started seeing more cars parked on the side of the road and small gatherings of people here and there with campers and tents set up.

We pulled off the main highway onto a dirt road and things started feeling a little strange. We passed by a few other people parked on sides of the road, sitting on their lawn chairs sipping beverages. They waved to us as we drove by – as if  it was just another usual day in Fairmont. (Who knows, maybe that is what they do there every day?)

I felt like I was part of something…odd…and potentially exciting. But mostly odd…and slightly like the part in a movie where everything is going along normally right before an alien invasion descends upon the earth.

We arrived to the spot around 9:30 a.m. and, to our dismay, someone else was already there! How could they?! Didn’t they know we had already claimed that patch of dirt lonngggg before they even knew there would be a solar eclipse. I bet they just found out that morning. Sheesh.

Oh well, we drove down a bit further and ended up finding an even better spot by the corn field, so there.

My husband started setting up his equipment and the rest of us made ourselves comfortable. We forbade the use of the word, “boring”, I mean what could be so boring about hanging out by a cornfield on a dirt road in the middle of “nowhere”?

Setup for the Total Eclipse

Thankfully our daughter brought Uno and the boys’ light sabers were in the trunk so that kept them “entertained”.  We also packed food that I threw at them to fend off any whining.

One might wonder, what happens when you’re hanging out in a cornfield for a few hours with kids who inevitably will have to “go to the bathroom”.

I looked up portable toilet ideas on pinterest the night before and came up with this –

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I was pretty proud of this portable toilet idea and thankful we brought it.

Around 11:35 a.m. the moon began its transit over the sun but clouds had come in making us nervous about what the view might be like for totality.

Total Solar Eclipse 2017

It remained cloudy and we prepared ourselves for disappointment.

Then, about 30 minutes before totality, we sighted a blue clearing moving in our direction and remained cautiously hopeful, hoping it would make its way over us just in time.

Ten or so minutes before totality,  the blue patch made its way over us and  the clouds opened up at just the right time!

Total Solar Eclipse 2017

As the moon closed in, the temperature dropped from a muggy 85F with a hot breeze down to what felt like a cool 65F breeze. We looked up into the sky and saw stars and planets and the horizon in every direction looked like a sunrise/sunset.

The picture on the left is 7 minutes prior to totality, and the one on the right is about half way through totality.

Eclipse Darkness

It felt like evening…and morning, but it was one o’clock in the afternoon! By now we were all standing in the middle of the dirt road, looking around at this surreal sight, crying out in excitement and shock at what we were seeing!

I just kept turning and taking it in, my heart pumping faster and I felt excited and slightly terrified…this was so bizarre!

My husband excitedly announced totality and we all took our solar glasses off and looked up and saw this –

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It’s a terrible picture but you can kind of see the black dot in the middle of the sun. It doesn’t look all that impressive in this picture but when I stood there and looked up and saw it, I…I just can’t explain in words the feeling of seeing such a terrific sight. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

I can see how people got so freaked out about this before they understood what an eclipse was – or even that the moon and the sun were objects in outer space and not gods.

For my husband and me, our kids, and his parents, it was two and a half minutes of the greatest celestial events we’ve ever witnessed.  I can still close my eyes and see it.

It was amazing enough to view and experience this event in person, I’m so thankful and proud of my husband for capturing a photographic record of the Great American Total Solar Eclipse.

Below are some of my favorites, check out his Total Solar Eclipse album for more.

Totality with the corona shining brightly around the moon.

Total Solar Eclipse 2017

Total Solar Eclipse 2017

These “solar prominences” (not to be confused with “solar flares”) are awe-some.

Prominence Closeup

…and the chromosphere of the sun peaking around the lunar limb, about 26 seconds after totality was done. (His words, not mine.)

The show’s finale came just after totality ended, the sun’s light peeked around the edge of the moon creating the spectacular “Baily’s Beads” effect. 

Total Solar Eclipse 2017

Closeup of Baily's Beads

For me, seeing the Baily’s Beads is what I’ll remember the most from that day. So brilliant!

As annoying and distressing the clouds were that day, they really added a different dimension for some of the pictures. We were fortunate that a clearing of the clouds happened just minutes before totality, then they came back right as totality was ending as shown here.

Total Solar Eclipse 2017

Before that day, I really didn’t know what to expect and honestly had no idea how cool it would be.  As we drove home and in the days that followed, I’ve tried to come up with the right words to describe it all.

Amazing, awesome, terrific and magnificent!

Simply put, it was “out of this world.”

 


My Son Wants You to Know He has Autism. 5

puzzle piece

Last week I shared Seven Things I’d like to Write About. I’m working on the great Eclipse post – it takes a time to get pictures downloaded and embedded! Until then, I’ll jump ahead to the last one on that list.

My son, he’s ten, has high-functioning autism. Yup, betcha didn’t know that. I didn’t either until about a year ago. I’m ready to start sharing about it.

I’m sure that one may have come as a shock for some and maybe as an “Ohhh, that explains it all!” for others. 😉

It’s been a long journey and I wasn’t really ready to write about it or share too much since it’s very personal.  I’m also a protective Mama Bear who wants to shield my son’s reputation. Plus, it was only a year ago that we received the official “high-functioning autism” diagnosis after years of scratching our heads and wondering what the heck was going on with our son.

Now, a year later, I feel like I still have sooo much more to learn yet I’ve also come so far in my understanding – and most importantly in my accepting – of  the autism spectrum and how it relates to my son in particular.

That said, I still hesitate to share for a few reasons that I hope you’ll keep in mind as you read and comment (I love comments!!):

~ I hope no one suddenly avoids my son or treats him differently now that they know. He’s still the same sweet, wonderful, energetic “normal” kid.

~ At the same time I do want people to approach him differently now that they know he is different.

~ I seek and welcome support and encouragement and resources but I’m not looking for a “cure” or a “magic pill”…or any “second opinions”.

~ There are many families who have children on “the spectrum” but all children are still unique.  My child and another’s child may both “have autism” but our situations can still be drastically different.

~ Since I’m still “new” to this autism world and have a hard time keeping up with always-changing politically correct terms, I hope I don’t say anything that may offend others.

That all said, my son keeps telling me that he wants people to know.  One day last year, shortly after we’d told him about his autism, he came home from school and asked me,

Does the whole wide world know yet?

About what?

That I have autism!

Oh…no, not the whole world…do you want them to?

YES!!!

Well, I guess if he’s not shy about it, why should I be?

I’m ready. Ready to share our journey.

For my son – so others will understand him better.

For me – because my therapist (yes, I have a therapist, doesn’t everyone?) suggested writing about it might help me process it all and let others “in” on what we’ve been going through.

For YOU – so that by sharing some of our challenges I might somehow help you in whatever struggles you face within your own families. (And so you’ll know you’re NOT the only one with challenging children.)

I’ll end there for now – it’s past my bedtime! I plan on sharing bits and pieces of our journey and struggles as I can in between other unrelated blog posts so stick with me, this will be a crazy-wacky ride!


7 Things I Want to Write and Share 3

Ok, so in my last post I asked what I should write about.

Thank you Deanna for your comment here and for your ideas!  Since then, I now have a few exciting events and interesting subjects to write about and share.

I’m sharing the 7 things here so that, just in case I don’t get to them soon, you’ll at least know what’s been on my mind lately – because you’ve probably been wondering, right?

One: Hiking and Summiting a 14’er 

Yes, I did!

Two: Recharging in Colorado’s Beauty

Took an kind of impromptu family vacation before summer ended to visit good friends and bask in Colorado’s beauty.

Three: Total Solar Eclipse Amazingness!

It was…I still can’t come up with a word to adequately describe how amazing it was. Amazing pictures to come!

Four: School Resumes and Life Adjustments

Summer ends, school begins, and routines change – again.

Five: Exercise Plans

I love staying active and find it helpful if I share what I’m doing/going to do keep myself accountable.

Six: Simple Cooking

Life’s easier when cookin’s simpler.

Seven: Autism

My son, he’s ten, has high-functioning autism. Yup, betcha didn’t know that. I didn’t either until about a year ago. I’m ready to start sharing about it.


Help me Write 2

pencil and blank paper

The first thing I think about doing when I get up – well aside from going back to bed – is writing.

My eyes open, the dam breaks  – a torrent of thoughts releases and gushes through my brain. I want to write, I yearn to write. I need to write.

But what do I write about?

I scroll through writing prompt ideas, they’re all either too much bite than I can chew in 30 minutes – about all the time I have these days – or they’re just too…meh.

So help me! I have a soul full of writing but don’t know where to start since it’s been so long. What should I write about?

Books? Movies? Who I want to be when I grow up? What’s inside my van right now?

I feel like I’m learning how to walk or run again. My heart says yes, my body says – what the heck are you trying to do?! I’ll start slow, 30 minutes a day or less…more if I can. Maybe pictures, or not, but probably because I heart Pexels and Canva.

So, send me your “writing prompt” ideas and hold my hand while I get my writing mind and fingers back in shape again.

Ok, ready, set….go!

……

Ouch! My hands are cramping up, I need to rest.

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