He’s Not Very Well Behaved

Last week we went to the mall to watch our oldest son dance. (He’s very into hip-hop, and it is adorable, but I digress.)

As I mentioned in my last post, wherever we go, we’re sort of a tornado. A Yatesnado, if you will.

We found a seat in the crowded mall and while I wrangled Diva (3) my husband did his part to keep Danger (6) with us. Danger Boy is autistic, and he’s prone to wandering. And on this particular occasion there was a lot going on in the mall, and all of the activity was making him VERY fidgety. So my husband did his best to hold him in his lap, and keep him occupied.

A woman sitting in front of us turned around and remarked on how beautiful our children were. Then she looked at Danger and added, “But not very well behaved.”

It was said in a teasing tone, I think, the kind adults use when they think they might get a child’s attention. Like, if he’d been a typical child maybe he would have realized this woman noticed he was giving his dad a hard time, and he’d straighten up.

But he’s not a typical child. And I sort of sat there, ready to say it. Or ready to say something angry. Or…something. But instead I just smiled. Because I felt right then that I didn’t owe her an explanation. She was a stranger, someone I’ll probably never see again, and right then, I felt mutinous. Because I didn’t want to say “Oh, he’s autistic.” Because this perfect stranger was not entitled to our story so that she could be more comfortable. Because in that moment I felt that HE HAD A RIGHT to the way he was acting.

The thing is, he will never be in step with society. Things will perturb him that don’t perturb other people. He will behave in a way that doesn’t appear ‘normal.’ But doesn’t he have that right? I mean…really, doesn’t he have the right to be the person he is? To take up space like the rest of us, to act in a way that is natural to him?

He does. From the bottom of my heart, I think he does. I think his life should be about MORE than modifying his behavior to make those around him more comfortable. But I fear people will always look at him and think, “he’s not very well-behaved.”

Back to the mall, there was a flashmob shortly after that. Really. A choir sang a beautiful Christmas song, and Danger started to cry. Because sometimes music makes him cry. The same woman looked at him again and said, “I don’t think he feels good.”

This time I did respond. “He’s autistic. And sometimes music makes him cry.”

She was instantly apologetic and we ended up having a conversation. So it ended on an okay note, but it definitely got me thinking. About people. About the way we see them.

It’s cliche to say that you should reserve judgment of people because you don’t know what they’re dealing with, but oh well. I’m saying it anyway. That child screaming on the floor might not be spoiled. They might be autistic and over-stimming. They might be a spoiled child, or a tired child, too. But either way…does it really matter?

I am that parent destined to have a child who’s misunderstood. And my tendency is to try and minimize people’s reaction to him. To try and make it so people don’t notice. And to a degree, I think that’s fine. I think it’s good for me to teach him appropriate behaviors, because I think he can learn them. (For example, just because it’s hard for him to be mindful of his feet does not mean I’m going to ALLOW him to kick the chair of the person in front of him on a plane) But I’m so quick to want him to be quiet in a store when he’s vocalizing. They’re happy sounds. But they aren’t socially appropriate. But they’re how he expresses himself. And they might make other people uncomfortable for a few minutes, but I think…I think that’s okay.

Because he will not blend in. It isn’t possible. And why should he? So that other’s won’t experience a moment of discomfort? So that *I* won’t experience the discomfort of someone looking at me and saying, “He’s not very well-behaved”?

Heaven forbid I silence him because of my own pride. Because he has a lot to teach people. And more than that, he has a life to live, that is HIS. He’s not simply here for the enrichment of others, or for the enrichment of ME, even though he’s taught me more about patience and acceptance than anyone else in my life, no, he’s here because HE has a life he’s meant to live. Because he has a place in the world.

Even if it’s sometimes a noisy place. 😉

Adjusting expectations

I’m not going to lie: today kicked my ass.

Okay, let me backtrack a bit. If you’re a regular follower of the blog, you may remember me blogging about having my girl tested for dyslexia. I have felt for a while now that there was something going on. My gut just told me she was not preforming in school at the level she capable of. Even though she was tested for and qualified for Gifted and Talented, her reading was well below average. Her spelling was much worse. In kinder, 1st and 2nd, I got some version of “It’s too soon to worry.” Over the summer, we decided to have her privately tested by a neuropsychologist. At the same time, I finally got the school to agree to test her. We got the school results back first. Yes, they agree she’s not performing where she could be and her spelling is horrible, but she’s not dyslexic. Today, we got the professional results. No, she’s dyslexic. She just has moderate Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

I’m not hugely surprised. I mean, I guess I’m still surprised it’s not dyslexia. I really thought that was it. But ADHD is … I don’t know. Maybe I should have seen it coming. Maybe I did see it coming. She’s always been a fidgety kid. She’s always been a mover. She’s high energy. She’s a quick and nimble. And she had impulse control issues–which I know from my years as a teacher is how ADHD presents in girls. It’s just … I was so sure about the dyslexia.

Here’s my parental gut-check moment: I was so sure about the dyslexia because I think I have it and was never diagnosed. So all these traits we share (bad spelling, lack of organization, slow to develop reading skills), I thought they were symptoms of the dyslexia. I was even prepared for dyslexia and ADHD. I just wasn’t prepared for only ADHD. I had no idea it could affect spelling (because this girl seriously can not spell!), but apparently, yeah, it does.

This blog is probably very disjointed and rambling. I’m apologize. This is just all my gut reaction stuff … in the middle of deadline … in the middle of Christmas … trying to balance my love and my hopes and my expectations for my wonderful daughter with this new knowledge of the challenges she’s going to experience.

In case you’re wonder (because this is the question that’s come up the most as I’ve talked to others today), no, we’re not planning on medicating her. The doctor said maybe, someday, it would be an option, but only if she’s doing hard core studying for something very academically rigorous, like studying for the MCAT, for now, she should be fine with an adjusted study schedule and some adjustments in school.

I walked away from the meeting with a renewed determination to nurture my daughter in a loving and positive way. To embrace all her unique and wonderful qualities. To be more gentle and kind with her.

Unfortunately, she got off the bus this afternoon in a pissy mood. She seemed determined to push every one of my buttons. She groused at me. She picked on her brother. She complained about everything. I tried the gentle and kind approach. I really, really did. After hours of gentle and kind, I finally had to lay down the law. She had to get her mood under control or else.

Remarkably, she got it under control.

After the day I’d had, I felt like a failure. But maybe, today, she didn’t need gentle and kind. Maybe today was just a day when she needed boundaries. Maybe she needed ordinary me (who doesn’t take that kind crap) and was trying not to be the ordinary me. We both failed and floundered. Maybe, ultimately, I don’t need to adjust my expectation for her. Maybe I just need to adjust my expectations for myself.

Zen and the Fine Art of Traveling With Kids…

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Three of them. And Four adults. And ten suitcases. And a blanket.

Shana had a Disney vacation in the first week of December, and interestingly, we did too! Right at the same time. Though, we were on opposite coasts. She was in Disneyworld, while I was experiencing Disneyland. In Anaheim. With New Orleans Square and the Indiana Jones Ride. (As God intended. But I digress.)

We stayed in the beautiful Grand Californian and took in the lovely Christmas sights. We also celebrated Danger’s sixth birthday. Dodged the crowds. Had the sliding glass doors zip-tied shut so Danger  wouldn’t go over the balcony. The usual.

We also brought my brother and my parents so that we would have ALL HANDS ON DECK for the wrangling of the children. Someone has to be on with Danger at all times to make sure he doesn’t run straight for a ride, and the other two are also still young (7 and nearly 4 now!) so they all require a bit of handling.

If you’re looking for excellent tips on traveling with kids…well, I’d love to be your source. There are people like that. With lists. And tiny baggies with snacks, and apology notes for fellow travelers and…I don’t know magic unicorns that carry their suitcases for them.

We’re a circus. Like…a traveling circus. With loud, flower-print luggage (and lots of it!) and, not forgetting the blanket. Which is rainbow. But that’s not important. Just filling in the image for you.

Just getting through out tiny home airport was a feat of balance and skill. Then we had to board the plane. Sorting through boarding passes was interesting to say the least. Then we got on the plane. “I HAVE 11E! Do we have an 11D? NO? Ok so we have 10A and 10B, so you’re here…”

It was a short plane ride. I sat next to Danger who was immersed in Minion Rush on his ipod. And when I say immersed…I mean doing hand gestures, voices and in general making what I’m sure was an adorable ruckus for 6 AM.

Then we got to to the airport. LAX is not the Magic Kingdom, if you were wondering. It’s definitely not the scenic route to the Happiest Place on Earth. But it’s cool. I was organized. For me. I had all of our passes for the Magic Express sorted. All we had to do was wait by a busy highway for the bus to show up. With all of ours bags. And the blanket. And one autistic child who was still pretty sure he was a minion.

But it was ok! Because the bus came every fifteen minutes. Except no, it didn’t. I was wrong. It came every hour. Close enough.

We stood on that island, cars going by on both sides, with all that luggage for an hour. But then…the Magic Express. And then…Disney!

It was really wonderful. They’ve recently changed the system for people with disabilities, and the new card, which is something of a modified fast pass, worked really well for us. (If you’re traveling with anyone who has a disability, I encourage you to check it out. It makes things so much easier!)

One thing I will say for my family: We’re a parade. We’re not the most organized of parades. Neither are we quiet. We belong nowhere on Pinterest. But we really know how to have fun. We in fact enticed a group of teenage girls to do a hoedown with us while in line for Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree.

We didn’t always wake up in time for the Magic Hour. Sometimes the kids ate candy instead of dinner. Sometimes they were too loud in the airport (a million thanks to the couple who was sitting next to Danger in LAX on our return flight, who assured us many times that he was in no way bothering him with his loud outbursts of laughter and occasional crying ((he broke a tooth on the last day. It was rough))). Sometimes I didn’t have all my documentation handy. Flights were delayed.

So yeah, I don’t have a lot of great checklists for traveling with kids. But I did learn this: If you commit to having fun, a lot of the disasters don’t seem very big.

I’ll close with this paper my son made me. Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays, in many languages. No matter how loud and crazy your holiday is, I hope it’s fun. Even if it’s not organized!

PBK

Lessons Learned from Disneyworld

We recently returned from a week at Disneyworld. The trip was a year in planning and went by so quickly. I managed to breathe for a few minutes and learn a few lessons that I think are appropriate for life or a return to Disney.

Aurora

1) Plan ahead.

All of our planning paid off. We had all of the reservations we wanted. We actually had too many reservations, but when you have a small child, uncertainty is not your friend. If you plan ahead, you always know where you’re headed. You may end up somewhere else, but that forward direction prevents meltdowns and whining.

2) Be flexible.

All of that planning is great, but when you’re in the moment, you have to go with the flow. You can always go back to the plan, but it’s the little detours in life that make the journey fun. I’m so glad we were flexible enough to deviate from our plans and investigate the little nooks. We found surprises we hadn’t expected!

Elsa and Anna

3) Ask for help.

Disneyworld is huge. If you haven’t been there, you cannot imagine the size. We got lost, took wrong turns, and were confused about transportation and reservations. I didn’t waste time wandering. I asked for help right away. I need to do that in life more often. Too often I circle in the dark, when if I just put some of my pride aside and asked for help, I wouldn’t have to struggle.

4) Plan for downtime.

We didn’t do much of this, and it was a mistake. We wanted to squeeze as much as we could into our time. But small kids need time to rest, especially with so much going on. I don’t plan enough rest time in my life either. I work and work until I pretty much collapse. It’s not a very healthy way to live life or vacation. The best thing we did was to remain flexible, and when my daughter was tired, we went back to the room and rested.

Sleep

5) Leave while you’re still having fun.

I almost think a week is too long. There was so much to see that we needed all the time, but we were on the verge of being short with one another and giving in to exhaustion. Even Disneyworld isn’t fun if you’ve overstayed. The same goes with life. When work or the way you’re doing things in your family isn’t fun anymore, it’s time to change it up.

Have you learned anything from your recent or past travels?

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The Perfect Christmas Card

I’ve always loved Christmas cards. I remember as a little girl, eagerly checking the mailbox during the month of December for cards. I loved opening them and seeing what was inside. I loved looking at the pretty pictures, like this: … Continue reading

My Family’s Favorite Christmas Tradition by Priscilla A. Kissinger

Welcome Priscilla A Kissinger back to PBK!

Christmas is my favorite holiday.  I love the music, the baking, the giving and receiving of presents, the parties and good food—remembering our blessings and why we celebrate.

Most of all, I love getting together with family and friends to celebrate.  If you read my last guest blog on PBOK, you probably figured out how important my family, especially my three daughters, is to me.

In our house, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without some of our long-held family traditions. I worried as my girls grew older and went off to college that some of these traditions might fade away.  Blessedly, they’ve remained just as important to my girls as they are to me.

Some of our traditions have religious meaning—singing “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” as we light the advent candles on the dinner table. Others are a mix of religious and secular—reading the original Christmas story followed by Twas the Night Before Christmas while wearing our new  pjs on Christmas Eve.

One special tradition we’ve followed every year since my girls were in pre-school is making gingerbread houses. From scratch. I’m talking, bags of flour, jars of molasses, Crisco, sugar, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, eggs, oil and a dash of vinegar. Lots of mixing. Getting an arm workout as you roll the dough. Using pattern pieces to hand cut walls, roofs, chimneys, and more. Puffs of confectioners sugar billowing as you add tablespoons of hot water and meringue powder and start the mixer to whip up batches of Royal Icing. Tables splattered with a mix of candies, chocolates, frosting bags with tips. Lots of snacking as you work and Christmas music playing in the background.

Mind you, this isn’t just an afternoon event. I’m talking a long evening or afternoon of baking pieces. Another day of decorating your building sides and creating fir trees from upside down sugar cones, a special tip and lots of green Royal Icing. Another day of “gluing” your houses together and adding the roofs.

In case you haven’t noticed, we take our gingerbread house baking pretty serious.

It all started when I bought a VHS tape entitled “The Magic of Gingerbread Housed with Cheryl Lesh-Maughlin.” It’s a short video that comes with a recipe and pattern pieces you cut out by hand. Little did I know what I was starting when I watched the video with my girls and sparked our love of house building.

What started out as one simple house our first Christmas season

first_gingerbread_house

Has morphed into much more. We’ve made gingerbread neighborhoods, complete with a frozen pond and a sleigh train full of toys.

neighborhood_1neighborhood_2

Being avid Chicago Cubs fans, one year we attempted to create a mini Wrigley Field, complete with mini gummi bears as Cubs fans and a sports bar across the street. Yes, for any Cubs fans out there, you’ll be happy to know we included rooftop seating on the bar and a handicap parking space in the lot.

Cubs_pic_1

Cubs_pic_2

One year we scratched our itch to travel by creating three spots we’d either like to visit or would love to visit again. This turned into a hotel on the Greek shores of Santorini—complete with brown sugar and cinnamon sand, the Roman Coliseum—with crumbled ruins inside, and a pavilion in Guell Parc in Barcelona—multi-colored Nerds candies provided the fabulous colors Gaudi envisioned in his park.

roman_coliseum_and_guel_parc_1

santorini,_coliseum,_guel

When my girls were younger, you’d probably find a Jasmine or Belle figurine on the front porch.  Now those figurines have been donated or hand-me-downed to cousins. But the fact remains that my girls still remind me gingerbread time is arriving. One might comb Pinterest for ideas. Another might come up with some outlandish design, which means another one has to talk her back to reality.

It’s a lot of work. A lot of hours. In my mind, that means a lot of bonding time. A lot of singing carols together. A lot of laughing as we reminisce.

We used to start early in December. Then we’d have the house to display during the holiday season. The frosting and gingerbread make a great potpourri on the kitchen counter. Then sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve we break out a hammer and a butter knife to start chipping away. Yes, Royal Icing dries that hard. I’m talking, cement hard. That’s what makes it perfect for house building.

So it’ll mean another year’s creations demolished and devoured. But the memories we’ll have created will linger. My girls will once again scatter off to colleges and jobs in other states. But the together-time  we shared will be priceless.

To me, it’s the reason for the season—peace, love, and joy. That’s what I wish for you and your family this holiday.

And speaking of your family, do you share any traditions that carry on, no matter how old your kids have grown? I’d love to hear about them!

A001Priscilla A Kissinger is a three-time Golden Heart finalist who writes contemporary romance with a Latino flavor. A single mom with three daughters, Priscilla recently earned an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. During the day she works as an administrator at a major university, and she spends her free time writing, reading, playing tennis, training for half marathons, watching sports and singing karaoke with her family.  You can find out more about her at www.prisakiss.com.

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My life in cars

71dartI got my first car when I was sixteen. It was a 1971 Dodge Dart (literarily as old as I was) with a bad blue paint job. My grandfather had bought it new and driven it for the last ten years of his life. Then it sat in the drive way until my father bought it for my sister. She drove it another three years before it was passed on to me. The car was awkward and clunky and totally unique. It smelled like dust and motor oil, a smell I love to this day. It was the perfect car for socially-awkward, geeky self. It was far cooler and more distinctive than I was and that was one of the things I loved about it.

Unfortunately, I drove it less than a week before it died a horrible death. We ended up selling it for $500.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA year passed before I was able to wheedle another car out of my parents. It was a used Mercury Tracer. That car lasted my senior year in high school, all four years of college and my first few months out in the world. It was blue and remarkably had an even worse paint job. The entire car rattled when I went over sixty five. The air conditioner went out after three years, so the last two years I drove it (in the hot Texas summers) with a fan mounted on the dash that plugged into the lighter. It helped a little, but in the dead of summer, it was really just like turning on the convection fan in an oven.

The week after I got married, my husband taught me how to drive a stick shift. I am not joking or exaggerating when I say that week and a half was the worst strain on our marriage for the first eleven years. It’s a miracle we made it. Worse still, he taught me during a trip to the mountains of New Mexico. That’s right, I learned to drive a stick shift. In the mountains. I’ll never forget sitting in the parking lot of the grocery store, unable to shift my car into gear. Eventually, I had to drift forward until my bumper rested on the car in front of me before I could reverse without killing it. When we got back, I flew up to Kansas City where I bought my next car–a used Saturn–from my mom’s cousin.

That car had no power brakes and no power steering. The steering was so stiff, I hold a bagel in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other and as long as the road was straight I could steer with my pinkie. I once parallel parked that car near the UT campus in rush hour traffic. When I die, I hope someone remembers to put that on my tombstone, because I don’t know that I’ve committed one single greater act of courage.

After the Saturn was a used VW Jetta diesel. My first foreign car. It was so fun and peppy compared to the Saturn that I left like a Formula One racer. And it got nearly fifty miles to the galleon.

When I got pregnant and we needed a bigger car, it only made sense to buy a Jetta station wagon, because I loved that first Jetta so much. It was my first ever new car. The first time I got to pick the color and interior I wanted.

You may be wondering why I’m waxing poetic about cars. I’m not normally a car person. Really, I’m not. But today, we picked up a new car. My sixth car–though The Geek and I are planning on sharing this one. It’s another brand new car. The most expensive I’ve ever driven.

It’s lovely and super safe, but I’m not comfortable in it yet. It’s not home. Not like those other cars, so I suppose I’m just feeling sentimental. I was such a different person with each of those cars and they all represent something different to me.

The Dodge Dart was a loving moment of my grandfather, who had died when I was nine. Who I’d adored but sometimes barely remember.

The Tracer was my first burst of independence. I drove it to my first job. It carried me back and forth to college countless times. I feel in love with my husband when I was driving that car. For three years, every other weekend I drove from College Station to Austin to visit him.

In the Saturn, I was a teacher. I hauled papers and my first laptop. I was so sure of myself and so convinced I could change the world.

93-95_Volkswagen_JettaIn the Jetta, I was a writer. I went to conferences and met critique partners. I had my heart broken by agents and editors and the realities of my own inadequate skills. I had my first bad car accident. For the first time I feared driving–something that had always come naturally to me. And I got over it and learned to drive again. I sold my first book while driving that car. I drove it to the obgyn after my first miscarriage. I went to the fertility doctor in that car. And when I finally got pregnant again, I drove for weekly blood work in that car. The first time I heard my darling baby’s heartbeat, I got in that car afterwards.

In my station wagon, I’ve been a mom. It has safely carried each of my babies. It’s held no fewer than twelve different car seats and booster seats. It’s windows have been plastered with everything from Elmo sun shades to Thor stickers. And let’s not even talk about the gummy worms and hot chocolate. I’ve listened to so many wonderful books on tape in that car. I sat in that car, in my driving, bawling myself sick after The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’ve taught my children to sing out loud in that car. To love books on tape. To curse at bad drivers. (Not so proud of that last one.)

And yet, some time soon, we will sell this car to someone else. It will go on to protect someone else’s babies or children.

How can I give it up? How can I possibly say goodbye to that time in my life?

And yet I will. Just like I’ve said goodbye to the funky girl in the Dodge Dart and swooning girl baking in the Tracer in the name of love. I said goodbye to the stalwart teacher and the determined writer. Somehow, I will say goodbye to the new mother.

Some of you will tell me that I’m not saying goodbye to any of those people. They are still in me. They are still me.

Tomorrow I will crank down the windows on the new car and sign out loud and pick up my kids from school and drive around having fun and loving the new car. But for now, for tonight, I am heart broken and lonely and missing all my cars and all my former selves.

I know I will be fine. Probably by bedtime. We humans are resilient. We are made to forget, even when we want to cling.

What’s the hardest part for you about transitions?

MomCon 2014

volunteersresize-300x200Hey Texas Moms,

One of our fabulous readers, Katie Mehnert, shared info about a fabulous event coming to Austin in January, MomCon 2014. Sometimes being a mom is pretty lonely and you wonder if you’re doing anything right. This looks like a great place to recharge and connect with other moms.

Register

Trish Morrison is the CEO of MomCon, and she had a piece in the Huffington Post on why she sends her daughter to an all-girls school. Check it out!

Huffington Post

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You decide…

Question_mark_(black_on_white)We’re casual here at the Peanut Butter moms. I hope y’all have felt that and kick off your shoes, snuggle in and enjoy our blogs. Us moms have talked (via email & in person) about how much we love having this venue where we can openly discuss all things parenting/writing/family related. We’ve covered so many topics, and I’m always amazed at what my sister moms (not the same as sister wives :-)) come up with in their blogs. I learn so much from their wisdom and humor and experiences and I know being apart of this group (and that includes you too, readers!) has made me a better mother.

As we’re closing in on the end of this year I’m wondering though, what would you like to see more of here? What topics do you wish we’d discuss, or rehash? Here’s your opportunity to speak your mind and have your voices heard. We WANT to know so give it to us straight.

And thanks, as always, for sharing part of your week with us.