Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mama Bear

As the days go by, Anderson's infatuation with Elsa and Frozen gets stronger and stronger.  There are probably less than 10 minutes a day when Elsa is not in his hands. We are still singing the soundtrack ALL. DAY. LONG (which is honestly driving me a bit crazy because EARWORM!!!).  We've even gone so far as to use their building blocks to build steps for the dolls--you know, the steps that Elsa builds to her ice castle during the "Let it Go" sequence (and if that song is now in your head, you're welcome). My kids are talking about, playing, or singing Frozen probably about 95% of the day. There are worse things that could happen.

Today is Anderson's trip to Hollister. Which is fine, except he wants to take Elsa. Now, this is ALSO fine with me--I could care less what he wants to take and where. I assure you, I am not the mom who doesn't want her boy to play with "girl toys". First of all, I don't even really believe in "girl toys" versus "boy toys"--toys are toys and they're all about developing creative minds and pretend play ability and social skills. And when you have a kid who is on the spectrum or has another disability that makes purposeful pretend play difficult, trust me--you are happy when your kid does ANYTHING that mimics traditional play. Girl, boy, dog, cat, alien. Doesn't matter. It's all good.

And while we are on the subject, let me just go ahead and address where I stand on homosexuality, because I know that there are people out there who think that if a boy wants to play with "girl toys", he is probably gay. I may lose some readers here, but I'm hoping that all of my friends and readers subscribe to the same general philosophy that I do--that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and that it's okay to agree to disagree, and we can all still get along and enjoy each other. I believe that love is love, and that we are all human beings. I don't believe that God or any other entity condemns people to eternal hell for loving, which is what we are designed to do. I believe that the ultimate sin is just not being a good person in general, and you can be a good person regardless of your color, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc. So, as a result, I could care less if my children are gay. It would certainly make their lives more difficult, because of the societal stigmas that still exist, and that would be tough for me, but all I want for my children is for them to make a positive contribution to society. To treat others with respect and kindness. And I want them to be WITH people who do the same. Whether that's a boy or a girl makes no difference to me. So, if you were curious, when it comes to Anderson's new-found love of this doll, no I don't think it means he's gay, but if it does? I don't care. Not even a little bit.

But back to the topic at hand--Anderson taking Elsa to the mall.  Society does, to a certain extent, believe in "girl toys" versus "boy toys". It would be easy for me to sit here and say I don't care what society thinks here--and I don't. I don't care what anyone thinks, really, about the choices my children make when it comes to toys, games, identity. What I DO care about is what people say to or about my kids. Especially if they say it within my earshot. See, I can debate lifestyle philosophies and religion and politics in the most civil manner, but throw my kids into the mix? I. GET. CRAZY.  It's the mama bear syndrome.

I think mama bear syndrome is even stronger in mamas of kids who have special needs. I'm extremely sensitive when people comment on Amelia's size (as evidenced by other blog entries...). It's just hard for me. The same goes for Anderson. Except I think it's worse for me when it comes to Anderson. Because Anderson doesn't even understand comments and he can't interpret other people's faces and feelings.  For instance, when I picked him up from preschool the other day, he was, of course, holding Elsa tightly in his hand. I noticed another little guy in his class looking intently at Anderson, with a funny look on his face. Now this little boy didn't say anything at all, but it definitely made me think that he was probably wondering what Anderson was doing with a doll.  And in that moment, I realized that if I heard another child making fun of Anderson for having a doll, it would kill me. It would kill me because no mother wants anyone to make fun of her children. But it is even more painful for me because Anderson wouldn't even understand it. On one hand, that's a blessing. He won't even pick up on those who are being critical of him--wouldn't we all like to be oblivious to our naysayers? But to a mom? That's just salt in an open wound. Not only is someone saying something negative about her child, but her child has difficulty even understanding that. So that kind of behavior can continue, and her child  may never even know, and will certainly never be able to tell someone else. It just opens the door for all kinds of things that I don't even want to think about.  All I can picture right now is some pre-teen boy passing Anderson at the mall and laughing at Elsa, especially when they see how excited he is by "the dark doors" while he's carrying around this very-dressed-up doll. I know, I know...I'm making assumptions about other kids. I know that it may not even happen. But I'm a mom, and I'm not even pretending that my mom-thoughts are completely rational. All I know is that I would most likely break down in tears right there if that happened. That, and I'd probably envision myself saying something really not-nice to the kids. I definitely don't want that.

So for today, I'm adding that to my lengthy list of things to work on for myself. In the meantime, I'm nominating Marty as the one to take him to Hollister today. I'll get there. Just not today.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Princess

Usually, if one of my kids is going to develop an obsession with something, it's the boy. He fixates on different things all of the time--we've gone through lawn mowers, fans, elevators, get the idea. He's prone to obsession.

Well, most recently, it's the other one who has the obsession bug. Amelia is currently infatuated with all things Frozen. Dolls, songs, YouTube clips.  She has even gone so far as to only answer to "Anna". She even introduced herself to another child as Anna. When I had a conversation with her that, while it was okay to pretend to be named Anna, she should introduce herself by her real name, she got angry and insisted that we change her name. This has gone on for probably a month or more, and is showing no signs of easing up.

We got an AppleTV for Christmas, and it's been a treat for the kids to be able to watch their favorite YouTube videos on the big screen.  This is how Anderson was introduced to Frozen--the videos of all of the songs in the movie. My boy loves some music, and apparently show tunes are no exception, because it took no time before he was asking to hear the Frozen songs as well.  "For the First Time in Forever" and "Let it Go" are huge favorites in our house. Anderson is actually singing "Let it Go" as I type this.

Enter..."the Princess".

Anderson started talking about wanting an Elsa doll, because Amelia has an Anna doll and she carries her around EVERYWHERE. Fine, no big deal. Well, he then discovered Amelia's singing Elsa doll and declared that she was his. Elsa is a little on the large size, and is hard for Amelia to hang onto, so Amelia was good with this plan. Cue the sounds of angels singing and clouds parting here, because the amazingness of true, non-ASD-tinged pretend play soon filled our house. Amelia and Anderson played "Princesses"--he was Elsa, she was Anna. I thought momentarily about how Marty would sigh when he walked in and saw Anderson with a huge doll in his hand, but PRETEND PLAY WITH A PURPOSE, YOU ALL!! It was the most adorable, most precious thing I've heard. They saved each other from the freezing ice.  They saved each other from fire.  They played for a solid hour straight.  It was just awesome.

I should've known something was up when Anderson excitedly told me that he wanted Tofu to sleep on the counter, and Elsa to sleep with him in his bed. Anderson has never, EVER denounced Tofu. This was a big deal. I convinced him he could have both Tofu and Elsa.  Later, after the kids were in their beds and I was settling into mine, I heard little feet walking through the living room. Anderson appeared and started telling me that "the Princess wasn't going to be in the bottom of the bag, that she could be on top". We are very skilled at translating Anderson-speak, and I quickly realized that the bag he was referring to is the giant bag we use to cart all of their crap belongings to school. It goes in their locker, which is where Tofu and other personal things stay during the day. He was worried we'd bury Elsa at the bottom of that bag. I assured him we'd put her on top and it would be fine.

The next day when Daddy dropped them off at school, Anderson very gently, very carefully put Elsa in the locker--he stood her up even, so that she didn't lay down and get buried.  Fast-forward to me picking them up a little after 4:00.  His teacher had a very concerned look on her face and said that Anderson had had a very emotional day. A big crying jag in the morning, including refusing to eat snack, as well as more crying that afternoon followed by time lying down on the bean bag.  Anderson doesn't cry at school.  He's a rule follower by nature and generally enjoys his time at school.  This was definitely out of the norm.  His eyes were red and puffy and he looked awful.  I felt his cheek immediately to see if he had a fever, and he was cool.  I got on my knees and pulled him close to me, kissed his cheeks.  Then we had the following conversation:

Me:  What's wrong buddy? Why are you crying today?
Anderson: I got in three troubles today...
Ms. Stacey:  He didn't get into any trouble! I don't know what that's about...
Me:  Why did you cry?
Anderson: I played at blocks today.
Me: Buddy, look at me. Why are you so sad at school today?
Anderson:  We have another Lacey at home (Lacey is my sister's dog...he calls Haddie "another Lacey")

And on, and on and on.  There was no way he could answer that simple question. Everything coming out of his mouth was bizarre and unrelated.

I talked more to Stacey, and started realizing it might have been about Elsa. Apparently he had mentioned his "Princess" that morning, and expressed concern that someone might take her. Of course they had no idea that there was a giant doll in his locker, so they didn't have a clue what he was talking about. Unfortunately that happens a lot--he talks about so many odd things, nothing that he says catches anyone's attention anymore, parents included. He slept with Elsa at naptime, and then apparently a teacher he is rather unfamiliar with took Elsa to put her away--and he didn't like that at all. This seemingly set off the afternoon crying fit, which prompted his loving Ms. Stacey to get Elsa out of the locker to calm him down.

He's had a sniffly nose and a dry cough, so I was still uncertain as to whether he might be coming down with something, which generally causes similar episodes. I kept an eye on him all afternoon, and it took a long time for his little eyes to get back to normal,  but he was nothing but his excited, happy self--he and Amelia continued to play Princesses with great enthusiasm.

Before bed, Marty and I both talked to him about Elsa going to school. We let him know that she had to stay in the locker, and that if he was going to worry about her or cry, she was going to have to stay at home. He seemed to understand. I called to check on him today around lunch time and he was having a wonderful day. Problem solved--all was good.

It's so Marty, none of that was a big deal. To me, it was heart-breaking. I hated that he couldn't just TELL me what was bothering him, that we had to play the "rule it out" game to determine the problem. I hate that his little obsessions cause him such anxiety and grief. Most of all, I hate picking him up from somewhere and seeing those huge red-lidded, tear-stained eyes, and knowing he was totally beside himself and I wasn't there to help figure it all out. I guess a Mama's heart is just different from a Daddy's heart.

On days like that, I hate Autism. I just wish he could TELL me what's wrong. It's so easy with Amelia--she can express her frustrations and feelings in one single sentence. Anderson is totally incapable. He can't even tell us what hurts when he falls down or hurts himself--which part hurts. And he wants us to know...oh, he does. You can see that frustration in his eyes. My buddy. Sometimes it's so hard for him. Sometimes it's so hard for me.

Alas...tomorrow will be a better day. We've got a hot date planned for Hollister and Chick-Fil-A. I'm sure he'll take his Princess.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Haddie Love

By now, you've probably seen me post an obscene amount of pictures of our newest family member, Haddie Sue (or Haddie...we just added the Sue because it's cute). However, you probably don't know the story of why and how we added her to the family. It was a case of the stars aligning perfectly, and I can't tell you how happy I am that the universe was in our favor.

I've always had dogs--as a kid, as an adult. Marty and I got our first dog literally THE day we returned from our honeymoon. Rex was a Boston Terrier puppy, and he was my first true puppy love.  He was with us until last year, when we had him put to sleep because of complications due to congestive heart failure/old age, and let me tell you--he was my BABY. As in I treated him like one for many, many years. During infertility, when I couldn't mother a child, I "mothered" him. That dog could sense my every emotion. I can't tell you how many times I literally cried on his shoulders--any time I cried, he would just come and sit next to me. He just knew what to do. Having him put to sleep was literally one of the most difficult, painful things I've ever done--ever. That process is just...well...unimaginable.

Rex had a "sister"--not from the same parents, but only four months younger than him. Darla was our 2nd Boston, and she was Marty's dog.  She was the runt of her litter, and was "mis-marked", meaning that her markings weren't typical Boston markings, and nobody wanted her. I met her breeder at a gas station in Versailles, and the minute I saw her, I knew we had to have her.  She came into our house that first night, all 2 pounds, if that, and took over the house. She showed Rex who was boss immediately. I was afraid we would accidentally step on her and crush her--she was about the size of a smaller guinea pig.  She was spunky, feisty, outgoing. She would surprise you with some serious face-lickage; she would start wagging her nub-tail, and if you made eye-contact with her, she was on your face in .02 seconds.  She was fiercely loyal to Rex and stood up for him many times; she HATED all other animals. She was spoiled, and stubborn. In the end, we had to give her up because she didn't adapt well to us having kids (we had our dogs 10 years before having children, so that transition was tough for both of them)--at all. Another horrible day in my life. We still tell Darla stories to this day. She was one-of-a-kind.

Unfortunately, when we had kids, our dogs who were used to a LOT of attention from us were forced to settle for maybe 1/6 of our attention. Our kids, being preemies, were pretty needy; daily walks and play sessions were put aside.  They were both pretty bitter about it, and rightfully so. I still feel guilty about their last years with us--I feel like we let them down. They were used to more. They deserved better. After we put Rex to sleep last year, we decided it would be awhile before we got another dog. The kids were plenty to manage; adding a dog to the mix was just not in anyone's best interest.
However, in the last few months and specifically the last two weeks, two things had become clear:  I missed puppy love and had been feeling the need to "mother" something again (can't have kids, why not dogs?), and our kids, in the short year that Rex has been gone, have become terrified of dogs. The only cure for their severe phobia was just to get another one. Marty and I had talked about it; I was ready, he wasn't.