Thursday, March 6, 2014

Changes.

I remember my first day of kindergarten. 
I remember my mom took me shopping in the weeks before, and I was allowed to pick out my very own big girl backpack and lunchbox- whichever one I wanted!
It was a purple pound puppies bag.  It had a gray plastic pound puppy head that stuck out of the side of the bag.  In retrospect it was really creepy.  I adored it. 
My lunchbox was pound puppies too, but it was red.  It had a matching thermos.

I remember many first days of school in years following. 
Mostly I still just remember the shopping beforehand.  And what I wore.
And I remember the excitement.  The newness.  My name printed neatly on a fresh desk.  Sunny classrooms.

I vaguely remember my mom on those first days. 
Somewhere in the background, huddled with other moms outside the classroom doors, all laughing and mopping their teary faces with wadded up Kleenex exclaiming, "I told myself I wouldn't do this!" and "I can't believe how big they're getting!". 

I never thought much of it at the time.  I didn't understand it. 
My thought process went something like:
"moms are weird... my shoes are shiny... pound puppies!!!"

Now, almost 24 years later, I find myself playing a different role in the First Day of School story.
On Monday Finn turns three, and on Tuesday he starts his first day of preschool.
It's all happening very fast.

Selfishly, part of it seems a little unfair.  I should have had more time.
Most kids don't start any type of preschool until the fall after they turn three, at the very earliest.
And even then it's normally just two mornings a week.
But Finn's autism sets us on a different path than most, and although it is emotional for me, after much deliberation I am certain it is the very best path for Finn.

Since Finn was a baby- 15 months old- he has been in the Early Intervention program to help him learn and develop. 
He has had speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and special instruction teachers come to our home every week to teach him the very basic of things:
How to drink through a straw, how to play with his toys, how to give a high five, how to kick a ball.
All of these things never came naturally for Finn.  He was always busier studying shadows and the way the sun shines through his fingers. 
Having these teachers in our life and part of our daily routine altered the path that Finn was headed down, and through their dedication he did not only learn the basic skills they were teaching, but the larger skills of socialization, interaction, of trust.
He has gone from crying and running whenever someone walked in the front door, to greeting familiar and even new faces with a smile and a high five. 
He learned how to feel confident. 
How to be proud of himself. 
All because so many people believed in him.

This past summer Finn started at a private therapy school a couple days a week to receive ABA therapy.  We had wonderful teachers there as well.  People who truly loved (and still love) Finn and fought for - and with-  him every step of the way. 

All of these people have not only been a part of Finn's life, but a part of my life as well.  A big part.  They became my friends, my family, my social life.  No matter how different we all were, we were all united in our common goal: to help Finn succeed. 
And our common belief: that he would.

Finn turns three next week, so this has been our last week with Early Intervention.  These services are only available from birth to age 3.  We have said goodbye not only to some of our most beloved teachers and friends, but also to a way of life we have gotten very accustomed to over the past 21 months. 
I keep telling Finn that he's "graduated" and he seems quite pleased with himself.
I, on the other hand, am still floundering.  Wading through the emotions.

Despite my knowledge of Finn turning three and losing his Early Intervention Services, I did not plan on having him leave his ABA school. 
I didn't plan on sending him to preschool through the county- which is what most kids do after Early Intervention. 
I planned on keeping him at private ABA school because we liked it so very much. 
I didn't anticipate a big change.
At the urging of some of our mentors and teachers, we went ahead and proceeded with all the evaluations and transition meetings to get Finn eligible for county preschool, and to visit the classroom that was recommended for him at the very least before we decided against it. 
So I did that, even though the whole time I thought we were going to decline it.

But much to my surprise, when I visited the classroom they found for Finn this week, I loved it so much that I literally burst into tears.  Which was weird for me, because I'm not much of a crier.
The teachers were happy, determined, and confident. 
I was surprised again still when I found that the kids were, too.
The classroom looked tailor made to Finn- brightly colored rugs with his favorite letters and numbers, swings, ipads, games with gears, puzzles... a sensory room across the hall with trampolines, monkey bars, bikes and stairs, and a big playground outside. 
But my favorite thing of all was that I never once felt like I was in a classroom with special needs children.  The teachers didn't treat any of the children like they were disabled.  There were modifications in place to help the kids learn and succeed, but no one was treated like they were Less.
I knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was the perfect place for Finn.

I am so glad that I listened to the advice I was given and followed through to see this classroom. 
I am so glad that Finn is going to be going to school there, because he is going to GO PLACES in that room.  Big places.
But I was so utterly unprepared for a big change, and for the tidal wave of emotions that are coming with it.  My baby turning 3, my baby going to a big preschool classroom four full days a week, saying goodbye to our Early Intervention teachers, saying goodbye to our ABA teachers... it's so much for my little mama heart to take...

And I find myself now understanding what my mom, what all those moms, felt on the first days of school so many years ago. 
The pride.  The wonder.  The fear. 
The magic that is creating something from nothing, of growing him inside of you, of bringing him into life. 
The painful raw feeling of time passing. 
Of watching this person... your person... go. 
Down their own little road. 
Capable.  Incapable. 
Ready.  Not ready. 
Oh, the vulnerability,
the simultaneous agony and joy that is watching your beating heart live outside of your body.

It's especially hard for me because Finn is still by all accounts a toddler.
My first day of school memories with my pound puppies paraphernalia were made when I was twice Finn's age.
So it's been hard for me to let this happen. 
I have had to consciously work to sit my maternal feelings down and pick up my practical and proactive feelings and make my brain work for Finn's best interest. 
Because the truth is, he doesn't have a typical toddler brain.  He has an autistic brain.
And if I am honest with myself, although he loves me and snuggles me and tolerates my constant kisses and hugs, he is bored at home.
And he will thrive at this preschool. 

And I will be my mother. 
Wiping the tears from my smiling face. 
And I am better for it. 

 
 
"And will you succeed?
You will indeed!
98 3/4% guaranteed.
Kid, you'll move mountains."





 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Cole Wyeth.

I don't know how it happened, but somehow my baby is going to be 6 months old next week.


It's been without question the fastest 6 months of my entire life.  A blink.


We are getting to a real nice little groove now, a comfortable family of four.  Things are coming more naturally.

A trip to the grocery store with two little ones now feels like just another errand instead of a marathon requiring days of mental preparation.  Dinner and bath and books and bedtime is now my favorite time of day instead of the most stressful. 

I couldn't imagine what life would be like with Cole, and now I can't imagine what life would be like without him.  Actually, more accurately, I can't even remember what life was like before him.  At the time I must have felt busy but surely it was boring by comparison.


Finn gets a lot of facetime on the blog because of autism and the battles he fights, but I had to stop and give Cole a little credit.  Because even in his tiny little 6 months body, he is just the biggest and best most ardent supporter and lover of all things, especially his family. 


He is smiles easily and laughs contagiously... 
Finn has already learned how to steer guests and family members, even friendly strangers, away from him and over to Cole.  "Here look at my baby brother he's the face of our campaign"  he seems to say as he grabs their hand and puts it on baby Cole matter-of-factly before he gets back to whatever business he'd rather be involved in. 


Cole is always happy to oblige.  He squeals, he drools, his eyes dance and he makes you feel like a million bucks.  He is a baby's baby.  His armpits are so ticklish that you can't change his undershirt without a full on giggle fest.  He makes the mundane magical.


He is absolutely infatuated with Finn. 
My favorite new thing is going in to get Finn out of bed together in the morning, and Cole's whole body just lights up. 
His smile shoots through his toes. 
I tuck him into bed with Finn and he stares at him with the biggest eyes, waiting and hoping for some kind of validation from his big brother...
and Finn will tuck his head into the pillow bashfully, but ever so quietly reach for Cole's hand. 
And they'll lay there together holding hands until I whisk them up into the morning.


Cole, you bring joy into each of our lives in a "my cup runneth over" kind of way. 
You are all things bright and beautiful.
You are my rose colored glasses.

I am so grateful that I get to be your mommy.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

just like riding a bike.

i remember learning how to ride a bike without training wheels. 
it's a pivotal time in a little person's life.  learning to balance all on your own.
when i first set off, i was so scared that i would fall.  but then i got going, and remember the thrill of knowing that i was doing it.  "I'M DOING IT I'M DOING IT I'M DOING IT BY MYSELF!"

that's pretty much how i feel every day as a parent of two.
i'm doing it i'm doing it! 

the first time you learn to ride a bike you fall. a lot.  normally the squeals of delight at your newfound independence end in squeals of pain as you eat asphalt. 

i eat a lot of the proverbial asphalt these days.

but i'm still doing it.

some days are great days, some days are bad days, but mostly every day is a little bit of both.
sometimes i am the best mom ever.  sometimes i'm the worst mom ever.  every day.

there are the lows.  oh the lows. 

the forty minute drive to and from finn's therapy school when cole decides he just doesn't want to be in the car.  and banshee screams the whole way there.  and the whole way back.  and i feel like i'm locked in a moving box of misery and it can't get any worse so i pull over and discover that holding a screaming baby in the starbucks parking lot with your boob hanging out is actually worse, and i have to pee so bad and i can't find a binky and now my whole shirt is soaked and we're still 25 minutes away from home.  so we head back down the road and i make everyone (no one) feel better by yelling back at the baby JUSTSTOPCRYINGGODWHY because babies always respond to yelling works every time.  and we finally make it home and in my frenzy to release finn and i from the unending pain that is the constant wail of my precious newborn child i jerk him out of his carseat too fast and he loses his balance and falls in the driveway and scrapes the skin off the top of his foot because of course it's winter and he doesn't have on shoes. 

the lows.

but then there are the highs. 

the moments, like right now, when they're both sleeping.  peacefully.  happily. 
in clean clothes and dry diapers in their own beds with full bellies. 
and i'm wearing clothes without baby spit up on them and i even have on mascara. 
and i realize i'm doing it and it's good. 
yesterday we made christmas crafts for the grandparents and everyone had fun and it actually worked!
today we went to finn's gym class and no one cried and finn tried new things and sat for part of circle time.
this week finn gives high fives and does all the motions to head shoulders knees and toes and uses his voice to get my attention.  he says up up up and bubbles and mama (twice!) and nods yes and no and says ssss for swing.  and cole belly laughs and holds my finger when he sleeps and smiles. 
oh, he smiles!
and we all forgive and forget the asphalt we ate and we dust ourselves off and give it another go.

i used to think, how can i give 100% of myself to two little boys who both need 100% of me?
i can't.  i can't be 200%.  no one can.
but you know, it's okay.
we all kind of work together.  sometimes one of them needs 80% and the other is ok with 20.  and sometimes we all play together and it's a nice 50/50 split.  and sometimes cole is crying in the car or finn is pulling all the glass balls off of the christmas tree because the other one just needs all of me for a minute. 
and it's all okay.
at the end of the day, daddy gets home, and we're a family, and we all love each other and work together and we learn and do better every day. 


i found this picture on billy's phone the other day.
it was probably 6 in the morning, and i had just gotten cole out of my arms and into his bassinet when finn woke up and got in bed with me. 
i'm sleeping in my clothes from the day before. 
it hadn't been a pretty night.
but i kind of love this picture.  and i love that billy had it.
one day they'll be big and i won't have to choose between eating and showering and i'll be able to go out with my friends (if i have any left) and i'll wish i could do it all over again.

the days are long but the years are short. 
time to get back on the bike.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

autism one year later.

over the past year the word "autistic" has become a little bit more palatable to me.

a year ago when finn got his diagnosis at the ripe old age of 20 months, a lot of me was still in denial.  i thought if we threw a whole bunch of early intervention and aba therapy on top of him that this autism thing would go away.  in all fairness, he was still so little then that it wasn't unrealistic to think that.  some of his quirks and delays could really have been just that.  it's hard to tell in a 20 month old sometimes.

but a year later here we are, and finn is 2 1/2 years old.  a lot of kids don't get diagnosed until this age.  so i'm grateful that we have a whole year under our belt already.  but it's bittersweet, because now at 2 1/2 it is much clearer to me that finn is autistic, and in some areas he seems more severely autistic than he was a year ago.  he has made tons of progress this past year, but not enough to make him appear developmentally typical.  i am so proud of him and how far he's come, but he has to work so hard for every little victory, fight for every inch, and as i see him grow and fight and learn i'm so very proud of who he is. 
and it's so very obvious to me that he is finn, and he has autism. 
and he will always have autism. 

i couldn't really say that before.

i used to dream that i would wake up and finn would just be talking.  that one day he would just come into the kitchen and tell me what he wanted for breakfast.  like all of a sudden it would just be easy for him.  i wanted that so much for him.  and selfishly, for me.  because there is nothing worse than your little boy being upset and not being able to tell you what's wrong.  nothing.

but here we are today, and i sit with finn while he tries so hard to talk.  while he holds his hands to my mouth, while he pushes his lips against mine because he wants so badly to match their movement.  and i know that it's never going to come easy for him.  we're always going to have to work for it.  (and i will always, always, be working just as hard right there with him.)  this is a devastatingly heartbreaking reality for me, but at the same time, i can't tell you how proud it makes me. 
that finn is who he is and he is a fighter.  and he doesn't give up when it doesn't come easy.

there are lots of thinks that i love about finn's autism and lots of things i hate about it.  ultimately, it's part of who he is, and we take the good with the bad.
i love that it makes him see things differently than me.  one of our favorite things to do is try to see things from his perspective.  things that are glaringly obvious to him can easily go unnoticed by people like us.  like a shadow on the wall.  and things that are glaringly obvious to us can easily go unnoticed by him.  like a person talking right in front of you. 
we were at "my gym" yesterday and finn, as usual, did not want to sit at circle time.  the kids all had orange traffic cones to play with and the teachers were instructing them to do different things with their cones (pretend your cone is a hat, pretend your cone is a fire hose, bla bla).  finn lasted for about 20 seconds of this and then ran to the back of the gym.  there's a back hallway with a bathroom and a water tank and it turns a corner into somewhere i couldn't see.  finn ran to the end of the hallway (never out of my sight) and kept looking down the corner and then back at me.  we were doing a stare off (come back to the circle... no come to the hallway... come back to the circle...) and finn won and i went to meet him at the end of the hallway.  where he promptly took  my hand and threw it towards the part of the hall i couldn't see from the circle... (look mom)... and there lies a huge storage area with the entire stockpile of traffic cones and ten million other awesome things. 
it's moments like those where i think, my kid is a brilliant genius, and all your sweet little kids at circle time are just sheep.  (ha!)


but i hate that as he gets bigger, i can't fix everything.  there are things that he feels and experiences that i can never make better or even fully understand.  sometimes he's like a fish out of water.  he's still trying to navigate his own mind and at the same time our very different world.   
i took him and cole for a run on sunday, and halfway through finn started bawling.  i thought he had bitten his tongue or something, but try as i might, i couldn't find any reason for his sudden explosion of tears.  nothing i could do would help.  i tried all my tricks.  i sang songs, i held him, i gave him my phone, i played his favorite youtube video, nothing made a difference.  he sobbed uncontrollably until i let him down and he wandered around a field next to the road sobbing, unable to get a handle on himself.  it was awful.  i have never felt more helpless.  i ended up putting him back into the stroller and running back to billy's parents house as fast as i could to put him in front of a windmill that lights up.  it helped for a few minutes, and then he started sobbing again.  it was so bad that i took him to the doctor.  i prayed that he had strep throat.  or an ear infection.  that it was something i could put my finger on and touch and treat and make go away.  that it wasn't a sensory thing or an autism thing or something in his world that i couldn't reach.  but he wasn't sick.  and that night, without explanation, he was himself again.
it's moments like those that terrify me.  that he's falling down this pit of autism and that one day he's going to be 17 years old and i'm going to be chasing him crying through a field unable to save him from what i can't understand.

i could never imagine finn as a teenager or an adult who was severely autistic.  i hope that he will talk one day.  i hope that he will be able to communicate with other people and get along in our world without too much trouble.  and i think there's a really good chance of that.  i think we're doing all the right things and he's working so hard, and i think there's a really good probability that he will be able have a somewhat independent life.  but for the first time now, i have let myself look down the road of him not.  of his speech never progressing beyond "ba ba ba" and of him making weird sounds and flapping his arm and all that looking much stranger coming out of a 17 year old than it does coming out of a 2 year old.  i don't like looking down that road.  but i think it's important that i can now, and that i'm okay with it.   
i saw a girl at target with her mom this week, and she was doing those things.  she was probably 20, and she was trying so hard to get ahold of herself, but she clapped her ears when the carts banged together, and she made loud embarrassing noises, and i knew that one day 17 or so years ago her mom must have looked at her baby girl and hoped that she would talk, and sing, and grow up and drive a car and go to prom and get married and do all of those things and it looked like maybe she would, but then she didn't.  and maybe that sucks.  but i bet they have a really happy life.  it's just a lot different than they thought it would be.


people ask me all the time how finn is doing, and honestly, he's doing so great.  he is great with baby cole.  he doesn't pay much attention to him, but he'll give him a kiss when i ask him to, and he always makes sure i hear him when he's crying.  he has never been anything but gentle with him, and he'll even snuggle him a little if we're all in bed together.  i know that one day they'll have a really special friendship.  no matter what kind of classrooms they're in. 

i don't think that finn is going to wake up one day and be "normal" and honestly, i don't want him to be.  i hope that all of the therapy we do and classes we try help him learn skills that will make him proud of himself and help him to communicate and feel understood.  and i am so glad that we have friends and family who love and accept him for who he is. 

because he's pretty great.