Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mr. Cat

Mr. Cat, or the cat previously known as Cat, has been us for almost 13 years. When my now ex bought our house in a rapidly decaying urban area, there was this lovely orange cat who spent a lot of time on our porch, and on our front porch steps to get belly rubs. The house had been vacant for quite some time and I don't know if he belonged to the previous owner, a recently deceased WWII vet. Neighbors reported that the man had not pets. So there was just an orange cat living on the porch.

That first winter I insisted that my ex bring him in on cold nights. And we did, and Cat hid in the basement, usually in the old coal cellar away from our house cats.

The following spring Cat walked in the house and stayed. Except for a few times when a careless visitor let him out. But he always came back for a fresh can of 9 lives.

We have no idea how old he is. I know he is getting up there in years, living on the streets cost him a lot of teeth, some scars and who knows what else. He drools, cannot always control where his tongue rests, and has the worst breath you have ever smelled. But he has always been kind and gentle to people, my children in particular.

When we brought baby #1 home a week after being born, the ex assembled the bassinet and we inserted the baby and Cat got in there with the baby (at his feet). He would lay next to the co-sleeper in the bed. He did the same for baby #2 and #3.

They grabbed at him as soon as they learned how. He would lay there and take it. Never bit, scratched or harmed them. He would leave when it got to be too much, but always came back.

When I divorced and moved on, my current husband added the "Mr." to Cat's name. Seemed more fitting. I had named him for the orange cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's, but Mr. Cat was a title he more than deserved.

To this day Mr. Cat sleeps with the boys every night, he moves from bed to bed during the course of the evening, lays with them on the couch, checks on them when there are meltdowns or tears. He still gets his tail pulled, whiskers pinched, and picked up and carried, yet he still watches over my babies. When they are at their dad's he wanders the house, mournful cries; finally settling for me or my husband.

Mr. Cat has always favored the first born. Mr. Cat knows he's different and has put up with so much, yet never gives up on him.

This cat has been an angel for us. When the other cats and dogs run, Mr. Cat is always there for all of us.

When I get frustrated with the meltdowns and almost have my own, I try to be mellow like Mr. Cat because he has provided all of us with the balance that we sometimes lack.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


It is normal for a parent to hope and do everything in possible for their children so that their children can achieve more.

My hopes for my children from the moment I knew they existed were high, probably abnormally high.

They were so high because shortly after my fifth birthday, in summer 1978 I was diagnosed with cancer - non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I started kindergarten late, while losing my hair, vomiting from chemo, wearing a wig when I felt the need to cover my head. Some children and adults were cruel, horribly so. Some were kind, kindness you wouldn't expect to find. I went through kindergarten, first and second grade like this. Surgeries, radiation, chemo, missing school, missing classes for first holy communion. And then three years later it was gone. The hair grew back, I gained weight, and I was back in school regularly. But kids still teased; for years. And adults weren't much better. A story my dad related to me years after it happened was that just before I was to take first holy communion the priest didn't want me to take it because I had missed so many classes. My father fought, explaining that I might not survive this and the priest allowed me to take first holy communion. There were kids whose parents didn't want me over to play, they complained about my behavior.

But there was immeasurable kindness. Kindness I choose to remember more than the cruelties. My first grade teacher moved to second grade with me and was my friend. She took me out to lunch every year for my birthday for years after the fact. She sat with me for second grade pictures and I vomited on her. She came to my mother's funeral 20 years later. There were kids who were kind to me always and most recently one who I reconnected with through Facebook told me what an inspiration I had always been to him.

So when I had children I didn't want them to face what I faced. I took them from birth to the same pediatrician who diagnosed my cancer. I did everything I could to coach them to be kind, how to be social, how to play nice so you get invited back, cool clothes, etc. And then Asperger's came into our lives. And my son was bullied by kids, the teachers weren't able to deal with him and wanted him out of their classroom. And his brothers have suffered because everyone knows about their brother and his troubles.

So I mourned and tried unsuccessfully to accept this diagnosis. I consumed everything I could get my hands on to try and understand what I needed to do for my child and his brothers. And then it occurred to me that because his brain is not typical he will meet people that will manipulate him and he will feel friendless. But more importantly when real friends come along he will learn to treasure true kindness and friendship. He will make real connections with select people in his own way and he will inspire them as much as he has inspired me. His brothers are and will continue to be accepting people. And that is more than I could have possibly hoped for my children.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Daily Struggles

It's the daily struggles with the complexities of my son's Asperger's that get me down and frustrate me. One minute I am having a conversation with a bright, funny 8 year old and the next I am trying to negotiate with a tantrum throwing, threat making monster. Where's my little boy in there?

These days I am better trained at de-escalating these situations. But that doesn't mean I am always prepared for it. Today is a perfect example. Great day at school, happy to see me as he gets off the bus at daycare. Then a slight misunderstanding and he's off the deep end. How did that happen? It resulted in a run away attempt. Thank goodness for child safety locks on the doors. Then it was over. Like that. We talked some while his younger brother was in speech therapy. I asked him why he said the things he did about running away. He simply said I was mad. He couldn't tell me why though.

Most of these outbursts are like this these days, a flare up, then back to normal. Because of a communication problem. That's what baffles me. We put so much into training and therapy and we only make baby steps. Don't get me wrong, I am beyond grateful for the progress he has made and I know how blessed we are. But that doesn't make this any easier to get my head around.

I don't suppose I ever will. I don't like that my not being careful about my words can cause these incidents, but I cannot always be on and fully aware of the off hand remarks I make. It is simply exhausting.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Planning for This

I have always been a planner. Always. And as I have matured over the years I have learned to adapt my plans to situations, be more flexible, but always with a plan. There is no planning with Autism. None. The best I can do is guess. Guess what my son's reaction will be to something, because most times he's not predictable. Which made arriving at an Asperger's diagnosis next to impossible. I have only recently been able to fully grasp what "on the spectrum" really means. For us it means anything and everything can and probably will happen.

It started five years ago. For whatever reason. I am not a much into blaming vaccinations, or genetics, or whatever might cause it, it just is and I am okay with that. Mostly. My marriage was falling apart, we put him back in daycare for the first time in almost 9 months, he had two new brothers, our nanny was stealing from us, we lived in a bad neighborhood by a steel mill, who knows. But the boy started freaking out at daycare only, hurting people throwing things, uncontrollable tantrums. And he was just 3.5 years old.

We had screenings, tests, charts, stickers, journals, good grief we tried everything. And the best diagnosis we got in those first few years was disruptive behavior disorder. I laughed. I have been disruptive my entire life, why wouldn't my son be disruptive? I had yet to witness these outburts, they only happened at daycare, then kindergarten, first grade. There was a time when I thought these people were lying to me. My son is very intelligent and he isn't a follower -he is a leader a great manipulator. I simply thought that these people were upset that my first born wasn't a sheep. Then I saw an outburst and I couldn't stop it. I witnessed what he did to his classroom, before the director of special education informed me that she didn't think he had a problem. He just needed authority and structure. She didn't know crap, and it took an attorney and a lot more evaluations to get that point across. The school now grudgingly accepts that he has Asperger's and ADHD and of course Disruptive Behavior Disorder.

He goes to a special school now, one that can handle him and work with him rather than against him. All in an attempt to try to get him back in public school someday.

I didn't want special schools, therapists, drugs, support staff, case managers, and the whole nine yards, but we have it. While there have been improvements; like he can answer people when they say good morning without flipping out and having a fit or grunting at them, I am still incredibly afraid of what his future holds.

I only want him to be happy. Whatever that means for him. I want him to be fulfilled with his life whatever it might be. But there is no planning for your children, whether they are on the spectrum or whatever their circumstance. We cannot plan how it will go.

As the years have passed my other two boys are showing signs of similar problems. Copycat or not, only time will tell. My youngest now attends the same school as my oldest. And my middle boy, well he has his own set of issues that are slowly revealing themselves.

It has only been recently that these people who are involved in our lives have accepted and recognized that we are good parents. For a time there, our parenting was always being questioned, any time new therapists or the like would enter our home they would have that talk with us. Only to quickly realize we didn't need that talk. The school finally caught on too. That there was actually something not typical about these children. Every day is different, there are no specific triggers with this bunch. They have loving parents who try everything, provide a stable home, loving pets, clothes, healthy food, toys, you name it we have done it.

I realized that the fantasies I had about sending my kids to cool summer camps with kayaking, hiking and the like are just fantasies. That my days off from work are used to pick up children who leave school to walk home because they simply had enough. Or they trashed the room. Or they threw a chair. Or any number of things that normal children don't do but not mani-pedis or an afternoon off at the mall or a weekend with the girls.

Because the schools and day cares cannot plan for what my boys will do next. They haven't learned yet that there is no planning for this.

Sailing the waters

I know nothing of sailing, or guiding any kind of watercraft for that matter, however my journey with autism, divorce, marriage, work, and life in general have turned me into a great navigator-of absurdity.

I don't have time to see my own therapist so here I am. Most of my children get therapy of some kind and I am too busy with shuttling them and work to have my own therapist. How many therapists could see me on Sundays at about 11:15? Not many, so here I am. Proud mother of three special boys, a step mom of yet another boy (a teenager no less - gasp), a wife, a writer by trade, caregiver to 11 cats and 2 dogs, and navigator of the absurdity that is my life.

So please stop back, I promise some laughter and tears and a lot of OMG!