How We Survived The Holidays

Like many parents of special needs children, I found myself starting to worry about and even dread the holiday season this year.  If last year’s disaster was any indication of how December 2014 was going to be, I knew I was going to be in for an awful ride.  Just to make things more interesting, in addition to Thanksgiving and Christmas, our family has five birthdays (including Michael’s) in the last six weeks of the calendar year.  Because, you know, breaking routine and adding lots of excitement and parties to life is just what every autistic kid needs to remain stable.

Last year was the first time Michael was really aware of his birthday, so we built up the anticipation and went all out.  He got an Iron Man/Avengers themed affair and dictated what kind of cake and presents he wanted.  He was SO excited about it that he was sick for two months afterwards.  Then we went away for three days at Christmas where he was up all night in families’ homes and hotels.  January was hell.  It took him weeks to return to normal.

Then I’m a wild card too.  I love my family’s traditions, and I try to hang on to them as best as I can.  I love Christmas and the special family times and memories.  I really do enjoy it.  But hosting Thanksgiving and three birthday parties, taking the family away for Christmas, and thinking about purchasing presents for nineteen immediate family members (let’s not forget those birthdays too!) can really make my ADD go into overdrive.  I find myself running around without a plan and not in a good frame of mind to provide Michael with the stable environment and routine that he needs.

I was determined that this year was going to be different.  I learned a few lessons from last year and was ready to make some changes while keeping as much as I could about what I loved from the holidays.  Here are the changes we implemented.

  • We did not talk about Michael’s birthday at all unless he brought it up.  I did not mention a party or presents or anything.  He knew the day was coming up because he has a calendar on his wall with special events written on it.  (He’s been doggedly crossing off all 280 days on it so he knows when the new baby is coming.)  He requested some presents but I made no promises and downplayed everything.
  • The day of his birthday we did not throw a party.  Members of the family came and visited in groups of twos and threes, staggered throughout the day, and did not stay more than 20 or 30 minutes, which is Michael’s limit.  We had the whole day planned out, kept him busy, transitioned him from activity to activity, but kept things calm and low key as well.  There was no huge excitement, cake event, or momentous occasions.  He turned down offers of singing happy birthday and hugs and was very happy with all his new birthday presents.  He never got overly stimulated and the whole day was a happy and stress free affair for him.  Again, we did not talk about birthdays or parties afterward.

The birthday boy gets some cake.

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Icing cupcakes he made himself to give to his guests.

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Receiving a toy NASA shuttle that once belonged to his mommy and uncle.

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Getting help from Daddy to assemble a Lego shuttle and launch pad (see a pattern?).

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Getting a Toothless action figure at bed time (the one gift he had been begging for).

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  • Michael had very limited access to the other birthday parties we hosted at our home.  With six adults and nine children celebrating, the place gets pretty full and noisy, and Michael finds it hard getting alone time in his usual escape places.  Instead, he got to go out and have one on one time with a grandparent from the other side of the family for several hours while the party was going on at our place, and he would join us just for the last 30 minutes or so.  He wasn’t deprived of celebrating with the birthday person, but he wasn’t forced to deal with more than he could handle either.  He would usually come back in time to give his birthday present, eat some cake, and see the family for a few minutes.  It really worked out for him, and he wasn’t totally wired when everyone left either.  This was a really big win for us, something we are definitely going to repeat.
  • I kept up my routine for as long as I could.  Michael had lots of new toys, particularly Legos from his birthday, that kept him busy.  We did our morning homeschooling and afternoon movies.  I didn’t talk about upcoming events until the day of and tried to keep things normal and boring as much as possible.  He totally thrived.  I lost it the week before Christmas as I went nuts with last minute preparations, mostly leaving the children to their own devices, and I noticed his behavior declined in that time, but all in all, I gave him as much stability as I could, and he really rose to the occasion and kept it together.
  • We ended up not traveling this year.  The decision was mostly made by Nate’s job that required him to be local, and I was really bummed about missing out on my annual visit with extended family, but I could not deny that it was really the best move for the kids.  They just don’t sleep away from home and their behavior quickly spirals out of control as their sleep deprivation increases.  We spent a few hours visiting with family on Christmas day and quickly took the kids home as soon as they crashed around nap time.  They’ve been home in their beds every night and getting afternoon naps and it’s really kept things even keeled.

My only major slip up this year was I left a broken bottle of red food dye on the back of my counter on THE DAY OF CHRISTMAS EVE NO LESS and Michael got into it while I was out doing errands and he was home with a sitter.  The stuff leaked into his skin and he got a bad reaction, the same as if he ate some, and got out of control with his sensory seeking behavior (we got NO sleep that night).  Usually stuff like that lasts 48 to 72 hours, but with the use of some of our alternative medicine treatments, the reaction was substantially minimized and only lasted about a day.  I really considered myself lucky there.  He did very well Christmas Day while we were out visiting (again, new Lego set kept him quiet, happy, and busy).

Now I’m trying to catch my breath from the whole month of December (and catch up with the laundry, the dishes, the routine, etc.), but Michael has coasted through beautifully.  I’m so pleased.  It’s like the opposite of last year.  It was very hard work for me and Nate, trying to anticipate and plan for every little event that might upset his equilibrium but it was totally worth it.  We definitely learned what worked for us in terms of keeping things calm and easy for the kids to handle.  And we were still able to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas and spend time with family as well, which was very important to me and my years of tradition.

I’m so grateful for how things went, and hopeful about having enjoyable, peaceful holiday seasons in the future.  Here’s hoping you all had wonderful Christmases yourselves, and may you enjoy a fantastic New Year!

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Year 3

So this is a little late in coming, but I wanted to make sure I properly celebrated Gabriel’s birthday here on my blog.  He turned three about two weeks ago, and this past year has been quite the accomplishment for him!  He really has come a long way.  He can now speak well enough that I can understand a lot of what he’s trying to say.  He likes to climb up on things and jump off, do play dough, listen to music, and take naps.  I can see that I really cloned myself with him.  Not only does he look so much like my baby and childhood pictures, but he has the same crazy, evil doctor movie laugh that I did, is completely moved by music the way I am, and seems to have that wild, passionate temperament that can easily swing to extremes in all directions that I do.  He’s been working hard to overcome his limitations, and I’m very proud of him.

I decided to sneak him out of the house for some birthday ice cream on Mother’s Day.  Going out for ice cream seems like it should be a normal part of one’s childhood, but since Michael can’t have dairy it’s been something we’ve had to forego as a family.  I figured I could get away with it with Gabriel since I could call it a birthday treat, and he can’t talk well enough to tell Michael where we went.  Besides, they were selling Mommy ice cream cones at Stewart’s for only $0.50 on Mother’s Day so it seemed like a win all around.

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The birthday boy and his excited date!

The ice cream made that kid’s day.  I ordered him some chocolate of course, and he went to work in that cup like he was born for it.  He was happily shouting hellos and goodbyes to everyone that came in and out of the store, and marched up and down the seat of his booth singing “Jesus Loves Me” at the top of his lungs.  The ice cream was so firm he had trouble scooping it out by himself, so I had to help him a bit, but he was in little boy heaven.  He’s already falling so fast into that overlooked middle child spot at home, it was really nice to just have that moment with him and see him enjoy himself.

Happy birthday to my beautiful Gabriel James!   Your name means God’s messenger and champion, one who brings about change.  I believe you’re going to grow to fulfill every word of that.  Mommy loves you so very, very much.

My Third

If you’re a sci-fi reader, Thirds usually get the short end of the stick (I’m thinking Ender and Lady Firebird for those of you familiar with the genre).  But one year ago yesterday, our family joyfully welcomed the highly anticipated latest addition to our family: William Christopher.

I remember it pretty clearly because Nate was sick and I was on deck with Michael and Gabriel.  I woke up early (which was unusual for having gone to bed late the night before), saw Nate was clearly not feeling well and decided to let him sleep.  The boys were up at 7, and I made them breakfast.  I don’t know was up with them, but they were wrestling, screaming, scrapping, and tossing each other into the walls by about 7:45, and I found myself chanting, “Only 12 more hours till bedtime, only 12 more hours till bedtime.”  Unable to bear being locked in the house with two lunatics, who were in desperate need of entertainment, I decided to take them to the grocery store for one or two unimportant items.  I figured a change of scenery might calm them down and kill some time.

As soon as I decided to take them out, I got my first contraction.  I remember thinking, Oh that one was different.  Could it be today?  I called our mommies to put them on alert, and both were horrified that I would try to go out shopping at that point and tried to persuade me to stay home (I have a history of delivering pretty quickly).  They had just convinced me to stay put, when two children rolled past me in a full on wrestling match and one child chucked the other right into a wall.  That was it, I was either going to take the children out of the house or potentially do something I was going to regret later.  I promised our moms I would stay in touch and come home if anything else happened.

So out we went to two stores.  I figured if loading and unloading children into car seats several times wasn’t going to instigate labor, then nothing was.  But it was very quiet and uneventful, all labor stopped for the full 90 minutes we were out.  I came home at 10 to find Nate still asleep and nothing out of the ordinary.  A few minute later, the contractions started again, and I could feel the familiar squeeze in my back.  I called our midwife, who lived 45 minutes away, and my friend, who has been my doula.  I called all our parents and asked them to come watch the children as I really didn’t want to deal with their rambunctiousness while in labor.

Then I walked into the bedroom at 10:30, poked a sleeping Nate, and announced, “We’re having a baby today.  All our parents and the midwife are on their way.”  Poor guy, I probably should have eased him into it, but he rose to the occasion and sprang into action.  Kalah and our parents arrived at 11, and we started filling a big tub in our bedroom for a home birth.  Parents entertained the little people.  Susan, our wonderful midwife came at 12.  By 1, I was 7cm dilated and decided to sit in the tub for awhile as the contractions were starting to get harder and painful.

Laboring at home and in a big tub was just fabulous.  It’s almost like not laboring at all, except at the very end.  Things eased so nicely in the tub that for awhile I was afraid the labor had stopped altogether and didn’t realize that I was hitting the final stages.  Our moms were present as they had managed to miss both previous births (I really do birth quickly, the other kids were born while they were still traveling to the hospital).  Nate sat next to the tub and did whatever I asked, and Kalah massaged my back during each contraction with her magic hands.  Susan monitored everything and let our family enjoy the birthing experience.

William arrived at 2 in the afternoon, only 4 hours after I realized I was really in labor.  He was exceptionally purple and squishy, but pinked up right away.  My water broke on delivery, and Susan still had to remove the birth caul from his face.  I’ve been told that’s good luck, I guess we’ll see.  Kalah got to cut the cord.  Nate had done the other two and never was a fan.

William was briefly introduced to his grandfathers and brothers and had his name announced (we always save it as a surprise), and then got swaddled up and tucked right into bed with me.  He was a champion sleeper.  Having a birth at home is fantastic.  You get to lie in your own bed, you know where everything is, and your husband gets to order pizza from your favorite place.  Susan was absolutely wonderful, a calming, reassuring, and non-obtrusive presence.  Grandparents helped Michael and Gabriel make a happy birthday William cake, and the whole affair was a wonderful family day.

William Christopher means “defender” and “Christ-bearer”.  Stephen Lawhead has a great quote from the second book of his Pendragon Cycle.  He says every man is given two names in life: the one he receives at birth, and the one he earns as a man.  We pray that William will live to fulfill all the great destinies that God has for him and that he will grow to earn the name he has been given.

He’s been a great little fellow so far.  Despite suffering from digestive discomfort for a number of months, he would still greet you with a smile and has a sweet personality.  He is a voracious explorer, and his specialty is tasting things.  He is developing nicely, and I am seeing some beautiful neurological development that I did not see with Michael and Gabriel, which is reassuring.  He is our blessing from God, and I look forward to the time we have to share with him.

Milestones

We celebrated Michael’s fifth birthday this weekend.  It really was a great time for all of us.  It was so different than all of his previous birthdays, and I have to say it made me very happy.

It’s the first time he knew it was his birthday.  I don’t think he understands the passage of a year yet, I’ve tried to explain that, and he still doesn’t get it, but from his books and movies, he does understand that it’s a special day that has a party with cake and presents and it celebrates him, and that’s close enough for me.  It’s also the first birthday party where he was vocal enough to tell us what he wanted.  A year ago he was still in the two to three word phrase category, but now he’s catching up, and he’s been telling us for five months “Iron Man cake on my birthday??” daily.  He loves his Avengers superheros, and he had an Avenger themed party.  He went nuts and loved the entire day.

My brother Skyped in from Tennessee wearing an Iron Man mask to say happy birthday.  A special friend of mine came over and used her awesome cake decorating skills to make Michael the Iron Man cake that he wanted.  All his grandparents made sure to get him Avengers themed presents.  Everyone really went out of their way to celebrate him, and he had a fabulous time.

He has made so much progress in this last year.  He’s communicating much, much better.  I mean he’s like light years better.  He’s sharing emotions for the first time and inviting other to share his experiences.  He’s finally potty trained during the day (thank God!).  He’s getting awesome at coloring and tracing letters, and he’s learning to read.  He loves his baby brother and can be kind and gentle when he has a mind to.  He’s even starting to help with some simple household chores!  His personality is starting to peek out, and he’s a great little kid.  And he loves all things Iron Man. 🙂

Sometimes I feel very alone during dark times in Michael’s journey, but I have to say moments like these really remind me of how many other people deeply love Michael and are cheering him on as he grows.  God has truly provided us with the best family and friends that are just right for us, and I am incredibly grateful.

So happy fifth birthday to Michael, my buddy!  You’re a special boy who’s growing up so fast!

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In his new Iron Man suit from his grandparents.  He wears it all the time as you can imagine.