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Taking Off The Parenting Hat To Go On A Date

22 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

The last time I saw a movie with my husband – a real movie, in a movie theatre, with a giant bucket of popcorn to share – my firstborn son was about a year old. Because we just had the one child back then, and because one-year-olds who aren’t yet fully mobile are easier to manage than hyperactive eight-year-olds, my ageing mother-in-law was able to babysit.

We have gone out on other occasions, of course. We are regular patrons of a nearby dinner theatre that’s run in a barn – if once or twice a year can be considered “regular”. We go to the annual Christmas gala organized by my employers, and on the odd occasion, we’ll go to a party or a wedding.

For the most part, though, our outings include the kids. We frequent parks with slides and swings, and we go to restaurants where the waitstaff bring paper cups filled with crayons along with menus that the kids are allowed to draw on.

I am always hearing and reading about the importance of a couple going out on their own to spend time just with each other. I fully subscribe to that idea, and from time to time my husband and I make a commitment to have a date night once a month. But the logistics are so difficult.

People often assume that living with my mother-in-law gives us a built-in babysitter whenever we need it, and while that may have been true to an extent at one time, it’s not anymore. My mother-in-law is almost eight years older now than she was when we went to the movie that time, and instead of having one one-year-old, we have a six-year-old and an almost nine-year-old.

Finding a trustworthy babysitter is hard enough for any parent. There’s something very frightening about entrusting the most valuable things in our lives to people who usually aren’t old enough to vote. And when one of those valuable things is a vulnerable special needs child, the angst about it increases ten-fold.

Most babysitters do not know how to handle a special needs child. We have to find people who have some understanding of autism, are quick on their feet, and have the physical strength and presence of mind to restrain a child for his own safety. If it’s someone who can take the time to actually get to know the child while I am home, so much the better.

Usually, it’s just easier for us to not go anywhere by ourselves at all. But then our relationship definitely starts to take strain, because we are not paying enough attention to nurturing our relationship. Eventually, because of our increasing levels of stress, it starts to take some kind of toll on our parenting, in spite of all our efforts to the contrary.

Last night, we had the opportunity to go out to a concert – meaning that my husband had free tickets – and we had to scramble for a babysitter. The free tickets had come about unexpectedly, so we hadn’t exactly planned for an evening out. I desperately said to my husband that I didn’t even know who to ask.

My husband came up with the perfect solution. He asked M, one of the guys who works for him, if he would be willing to watch the kids for the evening, and M willingly accepted. M has kind of become a friend of the family. We invite him to the kids’ birthday parties, he came over for Easter dinner, and we eat out with him from time to time.

We completely trust M with the kids. He is so used to George’s autism that he doesn’t bat an eyelid when autism-related things happen. George knows him and likes him. James downright hero-worships him, and when we told him that M was babysitting, he practically pushed us out the door so he could hang out with his idol.

Safe in the knowledge that our kids were safe and happy, and that they might or might not tie M to a totem pole by the end of the evening, my husband and I headed into the city to see a live performance by Paul Weller, former member of The Jam and Style Council.

The music was every bit as good as we had hoped it would be, and my husband and I felt that buzz of happiness that you get simply from being with someone you love. M didn’t get tied to a totem pole. The kids behaved like model children. They were like the kids on those reality TV shows after the Super Nanny has whipped the family into shape. M said he would babysit for us again anytime we needed him to.

Last night, my husband and I renewed our intention to have regular dates nights to connect with one another, enjoy each other’s company, and just be.

How important do you think it is for couples to spend time together away from the kids? Is it something you manage to do regularly?

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

I Survived A Stressful Week Without Going Completely Insane

19 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

This last week has been fraught with stress. Along with almost everybody in my department, I spent the first half of the week waiting to hear whether I still had a job. I work for a large corporation, and they do these organizational shuffles from time to time, and invariably not everyone survives these. While we knew that this reorganization was underway, no-one was telling us anything. Throughout Monday and Tuesday, several familiar faces quietly disappeared. And those of us who remained were wondering who would be next.

On Wednesday, the new organizational charts were finally released. I had a brief moment of panic when I couldn’t immediately find my name, but located it under a new manager. I was not thrilled about that – I loved my previous manager – but at least I was there, doing more or less the same work I’ve been doing.

On the same day, I received notification that I had been accepted into the Professional Writers Association of Canada as an associate member. This was big news indeed: it gives me access to all kinds of tools and people that could help me in my quest to get a foothold in the freelance writing business.

While all of this has been going on, I have been trying to resolve some technical issues that have been preventing the upload of my new website. Last night I had to log onto a couple of sites, and click a couple of buttons that would finalize the transfer of my domain name to a new registrar.

My website broke.

I went into emergency fix mode, calling customer support lines and harassing my long-suffering website developer. I was able to put in place a band-aid fix, which will work just fine until my new website is uploaded after the weekend.

Then my email broke – the email that’s associated with the domain name.

It didn’t take me long to figure out what needed to be done. I had to kill off the email address in one place and recreate it in another. Which meant that I first had to sift through the emails in the old place to figure out which ones I wanted to keep. And we all know that nobody keeps their inboxes nice and tidy, right?

Sheesh.

I got the email address set up in one place, but now it would appear that I didn’t succeed in fully killing it off in the old place. So the Internet thinks the email address exists in two places. While I’m getting most mail in the new place and none at all in the old place, there is the odd message that simply doesn’t get delivered. Kind of like lost snail mail.

I am trying to muddle through and sort all of this out while coming down from a week of stress.

And deal with an autism meltdown that happened this morning when George couldn’t find his box of DVDs.

All of this is happening as I go a bit mental leading into the final week before my half-marathon.

At least everything that’s happening is, in some way, a step in the right direction. I still have a job. My writing career took a big leap. The infrastructure is in place for my new website, and I can always change my email address.

Even George’s meltdown was a positive thing, because he was able to communicate what the trigger was.

I am ready for a relaxing weekend, and I hope that anyone reading will relax right along with me.

A House Full Of Love

14 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Today is Guest Post Exchange Day! I am honoured to introduce you to a fellow special needs mom, who is not only an awesome blogger, but also an awesome friend. Mimi has not one, not two, but five children with special needs. That would sound daunting to anyone, but Mimi wouldn’t change her life for anything.

Hi!  I’m Mimi, mom to 5 great kids, all with special needs, but we don’t focus on that.  We focus on their achievements, their triumphs and the love that they have for each other.  Sure, they fight just like any other siblings would fight but at the end of the day the love is still there for each other.  My oldest daughter is 24 and diagnosed with PDD-NOS (a form of autism) and is an unmedicated bipolar by her choice.  My next daughter is 22 and was born with Down Syndrome, hydrocephalus, PDD-NOS and acanthosis nigricans, she’s my spit-fire child.  Next is my soon to be 16 year old daughter who was born with spastic diaparesis cerebral palsy, she also has Asperger’s Syndrome, bipolar with psychosis, anxiety disorder and an eating disorder.  Next are my two boys, my first son is 10 (11 in June) and for some unknown reason he is cognitively impaired, he too has PDD-NOS and a mood disorder.  My youngest son is 9 (10 in June) and he was born with Fetal Valproate Syndrome, static encephalopathy (due to a traumatic birth), he has PDD-NOS and a mood disorder.

Raising special needs children has its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade my life for anything the world has to offer me.  My children are the reason my world rotates on its axis.  Some people call me a mother polar bear because I am so protective of my children, but who else is going to protect them besides me?

My boys are the best of friends, they are great playmates for each other and I hope and pray that the bond between them stays forever.  It’s similar to the bond between my 2 oldest daughters.  They are close because when they were young girls, I was a single parent by my choice, so it was just us 3 girls against the world.  Until I met my husband in 1994, Bethany was 6 and Lauryn was 4 and Jon has been their daddy ever since.

What entertains my kids?  Different things…  My boys are video gamers with their dad, they each have either their PSP’s or PSP Go’s or in Jons case his PSP Vita, but they all three will gang up on the bed and be gaming, ignoring everything else that’s going on, whereas Maurra my (almost) 16 yr old loves doing research on various things, which is very common for children diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, right now she’s focusing on historical events.  Lauryn is crazy for Justin Bieber and loves to watch horror shows in her bedroom.  Bethany is my crazy football fan – well I’m pretty crazy for our Green Bay Packers also, so we tend to watch football together and we DVR the games so we can watch them through the week.

Our social outings look a little different than most.  First of all, my 3 youngest kids can’t handle car rides very well, so our trips have to be short in nature, and there has to be a reward at the end of the trip.  Lauryn enjoys going to her adult day program 4 days a week, but that’s about the extent of her traveling comfort.  She loves to dance in the truck which is fun and the cars around us seem to be her audience.  Bethany (my oldest) and I tend to do mother-daughter outings or she will go with me if I have to run errands.  It’s hard to break things up so the kids can handle everything, but in the end it’s for the best for them.

The boys are getting ready to start their 3rd year playing Miracle League baseball, which is baseball strictly for children who are disabled.  I volunteer my time with the league as the team coordinator and absolutely love watching all of the kids play the game.

Like I said before, I love having special needs children, and now we are looking into adopting a special needs child because there is more room in my heart for more children, but I can’t have them myself anymore.  So we are looking into a special needs adoption.  I hope it all works out for the best.

Well, thank you for letting me share my family with you.  Have a great day!

And thank you, Mimi, for sharing your family with us!

Mimi has a great blog at Wife… Mom… Writer… All Blessings. She can also be found on Twitter @Gigi_S.

Maintaining The Balance

7 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

I’ve been feeling disoriented and out of sorts all day. I woke up very early this morning after a night of virtually no sleep, had to deal with an autism meltdown resulting from a power outage, and then due to circumstances beyond my control, had to skip the long run I’ve been itching for all day.

Because of all of this, when I sat down to write this post, I came up empty when I was digging around in the warehouse of my mind for a topic. All is not lost though, because Facebook came to the rescue. I posted a status update asking for topic ideas, and a friend of mine who is a fellow mom immediately fired off a whole list of ideas, that will pretty much see me through the rest of the month.

If anything, I was left with the opposite problem: too many ideas to choose from.

In the end, I decided on this one for today:How does Mom manage parent time, marriage time and self time while also working outside the home?

How indeed?

Moms in general have to wear many, many hats. Special needs moms have to wear even more, simply by virtue of the fact that parenting a special needs child requires a completely different set of parenting skills to parenting a typically developing child. Add to that the fact that I work a full-time job that involves two hours of commuting each day, and I do all of the admin for my husband’s business. I also make sure the household bills get paid, and I am trying to establish myself as a writer.

It can be very, very hard to carve out time for my husband, much less for myself. But for the sake of my sanity and everyone’s happiness, I have to find a way to do it.

I have tried to stay on top of things through a variety of means. Written daily schedules. Routines. Planning. To-do lists.

All of that helps, but it is not the complete answer. I can plan and schedule until the cows come home, but it all comes to naught without one crucial ingredient.

Commitment to go to bed by a certain time.

It is incredible how powerful a simple commitment like that can be. It cannot merely be a commitment with myself – it has to be a declared intention. I don’t exactly post it on Facebook, but I do tell my husband that I will be going to bed at such-and-such a time. Once I make and state it, I feel obligated to follow through. And so my mind immediately calculates how much time I have, and how I can best arrange what I need to do, to fit within that time.

And you know? It works.

By following this practice, I have been figuring out how to do things more quickly. I have also been spending more time with my husband and getting enough sleep to enable to get up early to go running in the mornings.

I don’t always get it right, as some late night status updates on Facebook will testify, but I am doing a lot better than I used to.

Now, if only I could find the time to follow my secret career ambition of becoming a Mythbuster…

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/leoglenn_g/5789714663/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

The Transience Of Life

4 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

As I write this, I am sitting on the subway (having miraculously gotten a seat with enough room to type) on my way to the memorial service for my friend Margaret, who died last week.

Her passing was a big shock to me and my husband. We knew that she had been sick, but we had no idea that her illness was life-threatening. We did not know that she had cancer.

As I prepare to honour Margaret’s memory and offer condolences to her husband, I am still reeling from the very unexpected death of my aunt just three months ago. I find it hard to believe that so recently, I was jetting to the other side of the world to comfort my mom and help scatter the ashes of a woman who had been like a second mother to me.

These events – the deaths of my aunt and my friend – have led me to think almost obsessively about the transience of life. I am very aware that at some point over the next few years, I will lose my mom, who is now the last surviving sibling in her family. In all likelihood, because I am ten years younger than my husband, someday I will be widowed – hopefully a long time from now.

And I think about how I am getting along with everyone in my life, how much they all mean to me, and how much it would devastate me if any of them were to suddenly not be here anymore. I worry about whether I am a good enough mother, wife, sister, daughter, and friend.

I find myself feeling permanently shaken by the idea that at any moment, someone I love could simply and suddenly be gone forever. Arguments and disagreements upset me a great deal more than they used to, because what if I never get a chance to make it up with the other person? What if I never get to say sorry?

Earlier today, I gave one of my best friends a directive that she is not allowed to die. Ever. Not understanding the depth of how I feel about all of this these days, she asked why.

Well, it’s because I value her friendship and although our only communication is via email and Facebook, she is an integral part of my life. And I want her and my other loved ones to be there forever.

I know it’s a simplistic wish – for people to never die – but whenever I lose someone close to me, I feel like a part of me dies with them.

The only bright part of this is that when they die, a part of them stays alive with me – a part of them that I carry with me always, no matter where I go.

My point in all of this is that life is short. There is no time for meaningless disagreements that really don’t matter, and there is no time for people to treat their loved ones in a way that makes them feel unhappy, unwanted, or unworthy.

We need to embrace the people we have, while we still have them.

And when arguments happen, as they invariably do with us humans, there is no better time to patch things up than the present.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/3036430387/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Note To Self

22 Apr

 

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 22 – The things we forget: Visit http://thingsweforget.blogspot.com/ and make your own version of a short memo reminder. Where would you post it?

A few nights ago I was late getting home from work because of a delay on the subway. This meant that after a day that had already been long and frustrating, I had to compress the evening’s usual chores and and activities into a shorter amount of time. As soon as I got home, I started doing what I needed to do, without giving myself any time to unwind. I efficiently moved from task to task, supervising homework, getting the laundry on, preparing packed lunches for the following day, eating dinner that, thankfully, my husband had already made.

I was stressed about the time, trying to get everything done and still get to bed at a reasonable hour. When the kids were slow to put on their pyjamas, I was a little more brusque with them than I really needed to be. Later, after they were sleeping, I prepared the coffee machine for the morning, as I always do. While I was measuring out the coffee, I accidentally spilled a little bit of it on the kitchen counter.

And I totally lost it. That little bit of spilled coffee turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back on that particular day. I didn’t get mad and throw things, but I broke down crying. I sat down and put my head on my desk and just sobbed. For those few minutes that I lost control, the coffee represented the general disarray of my entire life.

When it was all over, I inevitably felt a little foolish. A meltdown over spilled coffee that took all of three seconds to clean up? What was that about?

The truth is that all of my concerns about that evening had been about inconsequential stuff. So what if I was half an hour late getting home? It wouldn’t have been the end of the world if the kids had been fifteen minutes late getting to bed. That load of laundry could have waited until the following day. I could have set up the coffee machine in the morning.

But instead, I allowed myself to get absolutely wound up over things that really didn’t matter. And when you consider all I have to deal with that does matter, that seems counter -productive. Very often I am so overwhelmed by my full-time-job-mom-of-two-with-special-needs-child existence that the slightest things can just feel like a major catastrophe to me.

Sometimes I need a reminder to pick my battles, and avoid getting stressed about things that, when it comes right down to it, have absolutely no bearing on the quality of my life. I need to learn how to let the little things go so I can devote more of my energy to the big things.

And I shouldn’t pet the sweaty stuff, because that’s just gross.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle with a little help from http://wigflip.com/superstickies/)

beauty without limits

21 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 21 – Health madlib poem: Go to http://www.languageisavirus.com/cgi-bin/madlibs.pl and fill in the parts of speech and the site will generate a poem for you. Feel free to post the Madlib or edit it to make it better.

When I read this prompt, I thought it would be easy. It turned out to be a lot more challenging than I had expected. The Madlib gave me a poem that was beautiful in some parts, nonsensical in others. I had to throw out the first couple of attempts, and I finally got something that I could edit into something I could like. As tough as this exercise was, it was a lot of fun. Everyone should give it a try!

quietly i have never run, softly beyond my heart
my son, your smile is full of love
in your most happy tears are things which surprise me,
on which i cannot speak because they are too deep

your beautiful look profoundly will move me
though i have tried to understand
you see things in ways that are beyond me
exploring your world thoughtfully, intensely

your potential reaches the stars and sun
i move my world for you so that you may fly
i cross the ocean for you to know no limits
your path is different and the road is challenging

nothing gets in the way of your growth
the strength of your shy wonder: my child
i smile at the beauty of your blond hair
your blue eyes bright and sparkling with life

i would run to the ends of the world for you
so the world can be yours
you are amazing: son, brother, friend
your heart is pure, your smile lights up the sky

By Kirsten Doyle with a little help from e.e. cummings

The Final Rose

14 Mar

I am at the top of the hill with the humans. The rain that threatened earlier has held off and the sun has come out. I can feel the warmth touching me lightly. The humans cannot see me, but it’s not their fault. They feel my presence, but they do not realize that I still have a physical form, albeit one that has almost faded completely. If they were looking intently through one of the shafts of sunlight, they might just be able to make me out. But even if they could, they might not realize it was me.

I was a human myself until very recently, although my memory of that time is fading fast. I know that this place, and these people, were somehow important to me, but I do not know what my name was or how I left my human form.

One of the humans is talking while the others listen. Some kind of water is leaking out of their eyes. I detect a great deal of sadness in the group and I somehow feel that it has something to do with me. I wish I could comfort them, but I instinctively know that they must find their comfort from one another.

Now the humans are taking turns to take a gray powdery substance out of a little wooden box and scatter it to the winds. I feel a very strong connection with that substance, as strong as the connection I felt a couple of days ago when I saw the body I used to inhabit. Two of the humans are climbing out onto a ledge holding the box. One of them pours the rest of the gray powder under a tree, and the other reverently places the box beside a rock.

What a strange ritual. My memory has dissipated too much for me to understand it, but even though I cannot be seen, I feel as if I am a central element in what is happening.

The humans are starting to make their way down the hill, some more quickly than others. Unseen, I flit between them and among them, catching snippets of conversation as I go. They are taking care of each other, the humans are, making sure everyone gets down the hill safely. I see a woman taking off her hat and tenderly placing it onto the head of an older woman to shield her from the hot sun. I sense a lot of distance among this group. Some of the humans have come from far, far away. Some of them have not seen each other for a long time. Even though my sense of who they are is so vague, I feel unsurpassable happiness at the sight of them together, leaning on one another, supporting one another.

With me in tow, the humans reach a house, and a jolt of crystal-clear memory pierces me. This was my home when I was a human. I lived here for a long, long time. As I look at the woman who had received the hat coming down the hill, the word “sister” floats into my consciousness, along with a sense that we spent a lot of time together in this house. A sense of loss emanates from all of the humans, but none so much as this woman who was my sister. I hope she will be OK. I think she will. Everyone seems to be rallying around her.

The woman who had given my sister the hat wanders off into the garden. I decide to go with her. She walks slowly, stopping now and then to smell a flower or look around her. She cannot see me, but I feel that she knows I am there. I float along beside her for a while, looking at her face that seems to be lined with sadness and her shoulders that slump under the weight of regret. Regret for what, I don’t know.

I feel that I have to give her something, some kind of comfort, but since I left my human form, I have been unable to communicate with the humans. I drift away, in search of some way to leave a message.

I find myself standing among some rose bushes. All of the flowers on them are dead, and for some reason that makes me very sad. These roses must have meant something to me.

All of a sudden, I know what I have to do.

I embrace one of the dead roses, enveloping every part of it with my being. I infuse it with my energy, and I become one with the flower as the petals start to fill with colour.

When the human comes around the corner moments later, she stops as she sees a single red rose in the rose garden. She approaches me and gently touches one of my petals. She inhales deeply as the sweet scent of the flower fills the air.

She knows it’s me. I can tell from the way she stands looking at me for a long time, and from the way she lovingly says goodbye before she turns and walks away.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, kgwaite challenged me with “Write a story from the perspective of someone just entering or just about to leave earth (or life).” and I challenged Eric Limer with “Write a story in which social media is the main driving force.”

Moments

15 Feb

A life can change in the blink of an eye. A missed subway train, time spent looking for car keys, spending ninety seconds to finish the chapter of a book. A fifteen second delay, a chance look at a piece of garbage, a single step in a particular direction. You never know what your “thing” will be – that seemingly insignificant event that ends up changing, taking, or saving your life.

One day just before Christmas, my husband was delayed by about fifteen seconds when leaving a coffee shop. Those fifteen seconds saved his life. Because if he had left on schedule, he would have been right in the path of a car that unexpectedly lost control on the highway.

Many years ago, when my life was in tatters, I accidentally glanced at a piece of scrap paper before tossing it into the garbage can. The advertisement on the piece of paper ultimately led to me travelling to Israel in a trip that changed the course of my life.

Two weeks ago, my aunt took her dogs for a walk. It was a warm sunny day, and she was happy. When she saw a car approaching, she took a single step to avoid it. If she had stepped in one direction, who knows what would have happened? But she stepped in the other direction, and within seconds she was dead.

Life takes us in very unexpected directions. We find that things don’t always happen according to plan. We realize that fate or coincidence – depending on your beliefs – has given us a reprieve, a second shot at life. We suddenly find ourselves winging our way from this world to the next.

We cannot prepare for everything that life throws at us. We can plan for old age, but there’s no guarantee that we will get there, or that our plans will work out if we do. We can resolve to make amends with someone “tomorrow”, only to discover that tomorrow did not come for that person.

There is a message in all of this:

Live your life to be happy because you don’t know how much of it you have.

Love your friends and family hard because things could change at any instant.

Don’t let the sun set on an argument. For some people, it will not rise again.

Take a chance now and then. Don’t grow old regretting opportunities that were missed.

Live for the moment – this moment – because you don’t know what will happen in the next.

10 Useful Skills For Autism Parents

23 Jan

Autism parents frequently have to do things that other parents don’t. Our kids are so different, what with their limited communication skills, their sensory challenges, and at times, their superhuman physical strength. It is impossible to parent a child with autism in the same way you would parent a typical child (which means that when you have both an autie and a typical child you have to adopt two different parenting styles, but that’s another post for another day).

In the beginning, it’s hard, knowing what to do. And in a way, it never really gets any easier. But there are things I have learned from experience, that are now second nature. Here are ten of my favourites.

  1. Drywall repair. Many auties, my son included, are headbangers. They may bang their heads out of anger or frustration, or simply to get attention. And then they bang their heads, they don’t mess around. They give the wall a good solid WHUMP that’s enough to make the room shake. The drywall invariably takes some punishment. The inside of my house looks a bit like a pitted golf ball, and there are places where the impact of my son’s head has caused actual holes – big, gaping holes.
  2. Mixed Martial Arts. My husband likes to watch Ultimate Fighter on TV, and although I don’t watch it myself, I have absorbed some of it through osmosis. This has proved invaluable in times when my son has had a meltdown. When most kids have meltdowns, they simply lose their tempers. When auties have meltdowns, they thrash on the floor, bash their heads on the closest hard surface, and can risk hurting themselves quite badly. Even as they are kicking and screaming, they have to be kept safe. Hence the MMA skills. I have become quite the expert at using my bodyweight to restrain my son from hurting himself. The difference between me and the Ultimate Fighter guys, of course, is that I try to avoid causing pain, I don’t get paid big money for my efforts, and I have a mental age that’s higher than my shoe size.
  3. Dishwasher Racing. My son hates – and I mean hates – for the dishwasher to be open. Anytime I have to unload it and repack it, I have to deal with this kid repeatedly – and with increasing volume – telling me to close the dishwasher. He plants his bum on the kitchen floor, right in front of the sink, so I cannot get to the dishes. Sometimes I actually have to slide him out of the way. I have taken to setting the oven timer whenever I start doing dishwasher stuff, and the idea that he can visually see how long it will take does seem to soothe him. But God help me if the dishwasher is not packed, closed and switched on by the time the timer expires.
  4. Stealth Hair Cutting. My son, like many other kids, dislikes haircuts. But he doesn’t dislike haircuts in the same way most other kids dislike haircuts. He dislikes haircuts in the same way most people dislike having a kidney forcibly removed while fully conscious and able to feel pain. Rather than risk traumatizing my child, I give him haircuts while he is sleeping. This involves a lot of patience, as I have to wait until he is very asleep. If he’s not asleep enough, he will wake up as soon as I touch his hair and he will scream loudly enough to startle the llamas in Peru. I have to creep around in the dark like a burglar, and sometimes it takes several nights to get the job done.
  5. Mediation. OK, this is a skill that any parent with more than one child has to learn. But when one child has autism and the other doesn’t, you have to raise your mediation skills to a whole new level. It’s a bit like trying to sort out a dispute between one person who only speaks Zulu and another person who only speaks Icelandic, when you only speak Pig Latin.
  6. Jumping Through Hoops Of Fire That Are Constantly Moving. OK, that may be a slight exaggeration. But dealing with school boards can really feel that way when special needs concerns are brought into the mix. I am getting really good at making suggestions to teachers and therapists that are phrased in a way that makes it sound like it was their idea. If it gets what my son needs, I really don’t care who gets the credit for it.
  7. Improv. If I had a dollar for every time a random stranger made a stupid remark about my son needing “a good hiding” or “proper discipline”, I’d have enough for a five-star trip to New Zealand, including flights, hotels, meals, and a Lord Of The Rings tour. I have learned the art of the Quick Comeback. If someone is being rude and intrusive while my son is having a hard time, I am no longer shy about saying things like, “My child has autism – what’s your excuse?”
  8. Distraction. This is a concept that most autism parents are well aware of. Sometimes I can just tell that a meltdown is just around the corner, and I want to do everything in my power to head it off at the pass. I get favoured activities or treats within arms’ reach, try to stop or somehow control whatever is winding him up, talk to him, sing to him, throw out mental arithmetic problems at him (the kid’s like Baby Rain Man with numbers – what can I say?) I have about fifty-fifty success with my efforts – but I will take that over ninety-ten in favour of the meltdown.
  9. Planning for Change. If there’s one word that makes autism parents everywhere tremble with fear, it’s change. Our kids don’t do well with change. They like the same places, the same people, the same routines. When we go on vacations, we have to take most of our family’s belongings with us so that we can replicate our home environment as closely as possible. Every summer, we put together social stories in preparation for the new school year, that include pictures of the new teacher and classroom, and we take our son to the school so he can get used to – or stay used to – playing in the playground there. I contingency-planned my wedding like it was going out of style – and all of those efforts paid off.
  10. Appreciating the Little Things. Where an autism parent is concerned, there is no such thing as a small accomplishment. All achievements, ranging from new words added to the vocabulary to giant cognitive leaps, are causes for celebration. As the parent of a child with autism, I have really learned how to smell the roses. Life is full of challenges for me and my family. But every single day is a blessing, and every single night, when I kiss my children goodnight, I am grateful for the people they are. And no matter how hard the day has been, I feel like the richest person on the planet.