I dread this month so much. I can't believe it is already August but here it is and I feel my chest tightening and my breath shortening despite my new medication.
I don't like change except when it comes to more variety in food especially when I am not the one making it. In my dreams, I will have sushi for dinner for one day, the next day barbecued Korean short ribs, and why not chow down on curried goat the next night? That is the kind of change I can live with. However, aside from that, change blows.
I always took forever to adjust to new things even when I was little. Usually, I am unhappy with the way I handle new experiences of life. I find myself saying things like, "I can't wait to do this the second time around, I know so much more now...." I said that about my Disney trip and my trip to China. I said that about breastfeeding and while I won't go back to high school or college, you will often find me lecturing young people about their academic career decisions. Change forces you to make adjustments, reprioritize, and of course, just do plain ol' thinking. These are things that I don't like to do and yet, change can be so helpful.
I bring this up now because Spencer got a new ABA therapist to work with him for 2 weeks while his regular therapist took a vacation. After spending 7 days with him, she recommended that I get his vision checked and also suggested that he was possibly left-handed!!!! Spencer has 1-3 therapists passing through our home every weekday for the past three years and not one person had suggested that to me. Also, I am his mother. How could I not see that he could be a lefty? But here is a fresh eye that pointing out something we might have been blind to. She suggested that it could be the reason why he hates writing.
Additionally, last week, I asked our teenage babysitter Vivienne* to take Spencer to the park. They usually play and work at home but I figured that something good could happen if Spencer went to the park without me. It was also a really hot that day and I just didn't want to get all sweaty but felt that the boys should be outside.
You would think it is not a big deal, allowing someone else to take Spencer to the park but to me, the park is a big deal. I am very hands-on at the park. I love chatting with other parents but I still don't like to leave Spencer idle. It is not because I see him hit other kids (which has happened) but it is more to help Spencer spend every minute in the park playing appropriately. I hate to see him off and alone which can happen oftentimes or if he plays with another kid, he becomes very rigid and doesn't know what to do if the other kid mixes it up a little. If anything, I will be his playmate on the days we don't find anyone to play with him.
Building up his social skills is my number one priority right now. It is not easy when our playground is on top of sand and he doesn't like sand. And up until recently, he didn't like sprinklers either. But I can usually coax him to get on and stay on the sand now but only if I am his playmate just as it is now with the sprinkler. Hopefully, I will one day graduate from playmate status and be promoted to the position of Looming Shadow.
When Spencer came back from the park with Vivienne, he was smelly and dirty. These were signs of progress but then she told me that Spencer went on the swings which he has not done appropriately since he was 18 months old. It was amazing to hear about it but then today, I took him to the park without her and he asked for the swings and I realized the tremendous value of change/new person in his life. A new person doesn't know your fears and so they can not readily validate them, let alone accommodate them. It gives an anxious kid the perfect opportunity to try out some fearful without showing great failure because the person has no idea that he just screwed up at trying to face a fear.
Could that possibly be true? Could a 3-year-old be that complex? Does he really worry about what I think of him? Could that be why he doesn't want to try doing something fearful in front of me?
I quit my job three years ago so that I could increase therapeutic opportunities for my kids but now I wonder if I should be working out there in the world and entrusting my kids to others that won't validate their difficulties like I do.
Either way, it is a valuable lesson to learn and one that is timely as Spencer will soon leave our state's Early Intervention program and receive his services through the school system. This means that the therapists that he has had for over two years will suddenly stop coming to the house. This could be traumatic for a kid who probably thinks that every kid has "teachers" coming to his house on a daily basis.
I know that Spencer is so used to them because he is sort of defiant during sessions now and yet that just tells me that there may be a huge vacuum effect once they leave. I become anxious just thinking about the moment that Spencer realizes that they won't return. Will he understand? Will he be sad? Will I be there when he figures this out and recognize it for what it is? Probably not. I will probably just say something like, "What the hell is wrong with him today?" and never figure it out. Like me, for Spencer, change sucks big time.
We have already started telling him that he will go to preschool in September. Spencer doesn't know what September is but he knows it is coming soon. I already bought him some t-shirts and a bookbag with the school's logo on it. He already started to use the bookbag. I let him because he is going to need as many familiar things as possible once he starts school. Luckily for us, he is really looking forward to going to preschool.
I am also going to plan a farewell party for each therapist during their last session so that he knows that the last session has a special significance. We will eat cake and play games and hopefully they will get to see the fruits of their labor as they get to see him do something totally different on their last day with him.
Truthfully, this will no doubt help me too. I am very afraid to see them go. It will be weird not having these adults come to my house everyday. Because of them, I clean my toilet and wash my dishes, and clean the bathroom sink frequently. They are also easy targets when I crave grown-up conversation.
I also know that since Spencer will be out of the house for over 6 hours a day, I may just freak out from the huge change. I was hoping that I would have some part-time work by the time they started school but that has not happened at all, not even a little.
Spencer went to the park again with Vivienne and she let him pour water on her head and then HE ASKED HER TO DO THE SAME THING TO HIM! I was floored when I heard this. I thought I was super cool when I got him in the sprinkler. She takes him to the sprinkler for the first time and he asks her to douse him with water. Maybe if I leave him with a total stranger, he may start speaking full sentences with 100 percent clarity and befriend 5 preschoolers within 24 hours.
Maybe what this family needs is just a little bit more courage. I am so scared to see him fail which I will equate as my own failure because I am the one that put him in that situation. This fall I am going to rock the boat again and will put Spencer in his first afterschool activity without me by his side. It is not for special needs kids either. The instructors will likely know as much about PDD as they know about Ancient Chinese literature. I am going to put Logan in a soccer class too. Last year, we took the leap (aka - learning alongside typical kids) with chess class and we came out alive and still loving chess. Now we are going to take his love of kicking a ball into a whole new level.
This year, my goals for putting them in the class is not so much to expose them to typical kids and have them practice following direction. Plainly and simply, I just want them to make friends in their neighborhood. I love where my boys go to school but for young children, friends must be within walking distance. That is the biggest downfall about having your kid go to school far away from home. None of his classmates live nearby. They don't even live nearby each other. Each playdate only comes after a tennis match like exchange in emails between busy well-meaning parents. There is no spontaneity. There is no convenience for the parent.
This fall I earnestly pray that they will allow themselves to enjoy their classes and will help themselves to become brave enough to make new friends. Maybe if I send them to the class with someone else instead of me, they might transform themselves into non-anxious calm children and have a blast. That could be a thought but I wouldn't want to miss witnessing their moments of pleasure and triumph and/or sadness. I will be there for them and probably increase these chances of success if I can just wipe the worry off my face. Now that would be a real change and perhaps the only change they really need.
* Name changed because she is a minor
Photo: One of the reasons I do not let Spencer be idle is that he may go off and do something not functional if he is feeling overwhelmed or uneasy. Here he is at a recent birthday pool party and if wasn't clinging to me, he found comfort staring at the lines by the edge of the pool. This shot was taken by my husband who probably may not see what I am seeing. Instead of deleting it, I am keeping it and posting it to remind myself why is important to keep challenging him to join the party. It is a reminder to myself to do the same. He has the lines, I have my computer and insurmountable to-do lists as my excuse to be reclusive. It is painful to look at this picture. Don't be surprised if this one disappears.