I am usually working on something. If I’m not working at my day job I’m writing blogs, taking classes, or working on some other family task. I love my to-do lists and really hate it when my schedule gets disrupted… so living in a family with special needs is a real challenge for me and, if it wasn’t for the glue Mrs. Superdad brings to the household, I would have gone insane long ago. She always makes sure that I get the time I need, but does her job to ensure I don’t become too obsessed.
Out of the blue a couple of weeks ago, MC came to me and said he wanted to work. I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I was clear that playing video games was not work. For some time Mrs. Superdad and I have been encouraging the kids to take what they like and turn it into something they can do and explore. Our attempts to guide them in this have generally led to much frustration. However, with MC’s interest in working with Dad in his office, it seemed like a good opportunity. MC loves movies and video games, (what 10 year old doesn’t?), and he has always been pretty imaginative. So I sat him at the computer beside me and I let him install an app that allows him to “build” basic video games and I installed some software so he could “do” video editing. Now he looks forward to sitting in the office with me to build his games and videos; I couldn’t be happier. Sometimes he can distract me, but it is a small price to pay to spend time with him and watch him “do” something with what he loves instead of just be a spectator. It is also exciting to see him learn and watch his creativity.
MC initiated the contact with me and I’m so thankful. However, it has also made me realize that my other kids have very different personalities and it isn’t fair for me to expect them to do the same. Being a list oriented person means that anything I want to ensure gets done must make my list; that includes spending time with the children. There is no doubt it is the most important task, yet it tends to be the one I most neglect. I need to do a better job of putting my kids at the top of my lists. After all they won’t be kids forever.
The most overused and least understood word in my kids’ vocabulary is sorry. I must hear this word 20 times a day, anytime I call them out (not putting their dishes in the sink, laundry away, flushing the toilet, etc…). Then when I explain to them that sorry is something you say when you feel bad for what you’ve done and don’t intend to do it again I get another “sorry”. What do you think I hear when I ground them after they’ve said sorry? “I said I was sorry!”. Sometimes I feel like blood will shoot out of my eyes! I’ve also noticed the older kids have adjusted the sorry to be followed with an excuse. For example:
Dad or Mrs. Superdad: “MJ have you taken out the trash?” (Knowing full well he hasn’t)
MJ: “Sorry, I forgot.”
Dad or Mrs. Superdad: “Trash day has been Wednesday for the past 2 years. How is it possible you forget every week.”
Dad or Mrs. Superdad: “Why don’t you just set an alarm like we’ve been telling you.”
MJ: “Well the alarm doesn’t work and blah…blah…blah…”
Dad or Mrs. Superdad: “What is wrong with your alarm?” (His alarm works fine)
MJ: “I’ll go take out the trash.”
So this week I’ve decided to do a little experiment I like to call “Dad’s Sorry”; Mrs. Superdad is also onboard of course. The goal is to teach the kids that the word sorry is useless and even hurtful when it isn’t genuine. I don’t want to spill the details until after the results can be tallied. What is the most overused word in your house?
I’ve officially reached my mid-life crisis. For those that have reached it you know what I’m talking about and for those still on your way you have something to look forward to. In modern times a mid-life crisis is usually marked with a purchase of a sports car, speed boat, or some other symbol of youth and activity. However, the mid-life crisis isn’t a crisis, but an evaluation; the crisis is how people react to it. This is simply the point where you realize I’m neither young nor old. It is where you evaluate what you’ve done over the first part of your life and consider what rest of your life will be like. This mid-life evaluation of my life is certainly reflected in some of my more recent posts “Seasons of Life” and “A Giving Day”. From my self-evaluation I’ve become aware that most of my life has been solely focused on working and supporting my family. These things are important, but as practical as they are they aren’t “living”.
My pondering has led me to believe that living is about the value we bring to this world; that starts with our family and extends in to our local community. In “A Giving Day” I spoke about the importance of volunteering. It is in this giving of our time that we can change someone’s life forever! From there many lives may ultimately be impacted; like ripples from a rock thrown in a pond. This I one of the reasons I’ve started this blog; to give you based on my perspective and experience and to learn from yours.
So to the question of what we live for I say it is legacy. It is leaving something behind that is bigger than us that positively impacts the world. Raising a child with special needs, like autism, is challenging and can literally take as much time and energy as we can muster. Yet, underneath the autism is a child who will live in this world after we’ve gone. Doing what we can to make this world better for them and those around them is vital. So I’m committed to not let autism rob me of doing what I can to make this world a better place for all of our children!
On September 22nd our community had North Texas giving day. This is a fundraiser for local non-profits. In addition to highlighting many of the wonderful non-profits, this year the event raised 37 million dollars for 2,518 non-profits! I love the North Texas community and the way this event gets bigger and bigger every year. However, I’m reminded that money isn’t the only limiter to the impact these groups can make; they rely on volunteers. Volunteers are key to allowing the non-profits to make the most of their money. A very successful business man once told me that money is a multiplier, not an enabler. All the money in the world can’t make a difference if there aren’t people who are committed to the task. I ask myself this question: Can I do more with 1 person and a $1000 or 10 people and $100? People are the key, not the money.
There are a great number of community groups across this world. As special needs parents we have a lot going on in our life and it is easy to be focused only on our own problems. However, we all have struggles in this life and it is up to all of us to pitch in and do our part. Many people, and governments, seem to think the answer is in the money. I reject that notion and say the answer is in the people. Our ideas and our passions change the world more than any amount of money. I’m hoping all of you will join me in volunteering in your local community. Together we can make this world better!
For those of you who own a home I’m sure you understand the work associated with maintaining your home. I don’t particularly enjoy fixing things around the house, but since I’m a bit on the cheap side I usually try and do the repairs myself. Mrs. SuperDad has learned that it is best to keep AC and MC away from daddy when he is “fixing” things unless she wants them to learn creative new words. I’m not proud of that and I try to stay calm, but sometimes I lose it when that 15 minute job takes 8 hours and 3 trips to the hardware store. I think most of us can identify with that frustration.
For me, maintaining my sanity induces the same feelings as maintaining my house. Both are hard work, require more time than expected, and can be extremely frustrating. Since my ADHD brain can be a bit difficult to follow at times, let me elaborate. How our day goes is highly dependent upon what side of the proverbial bed AC rolled out on. If AC is in a bad mood everything, that she doesn’t want to do, becomes a meltdown. I’m in constant awe of how Mrs. Superdad hasn’t completely lost her mind yet. I can go to work and deal with a different type of craziness, but she doesn’t have that option. However, no matter how awesome you are there are going to be days where life kicks you around and your sanity is stretched to the breaking point. Even if you did everything “right” all it takes is one mega meltdown to get you that front row seat on the crazy train. Some days it is like living on the side of an active volcano waiting for the eruption.
So how do I maintain my sanity? I can’t… at least not all the time, but my moments of temporary insanity have become a little less frequent by doing just two things. First, get involved in something outside the house. I know some of you are thinking “You don’t understand. I can’t leave”. This is the way we felt and lived for years, but you can if you make it a priority. Start small and be creative. Look for local respite care or seek out someone you trust to watch your kid. If you don’t have the money to pay for someone to watch them then trade watching their kids, cooking them a couple of meals, etc… Remember keeping your sanity isn’t just about your welfare, but your child’s as well. You might start at once a month, but I suggest working to get out once a week as quickly as possible. The second is to take a mental health day. This is more than just a few hours away. This is 6+ hours of you time. For Mrs. Superdad and I it might just be sitting in our bedroom, door locked, binge watching a TV series or just reading a book while someone else watches the kid. I think these mental health days are vital when you start feeling as if your life is getting more and more out of control. If you lose hope your mental state can deteriorate pretty fast. I’ll be honest: I’m not always good at spotting my need for a mental health day and sometimes I wait too long. This is when I’m most prone to reaching that breaking point.
Autism is hard and none of us are perfect. We are SuperMoms and SuperDads because rather than run away we stay, fight, and do the best we can every day. We are not robots or perfect. There are days when I don’t feel much like an Autism SuperDad. However, I know that I don’t carry on just for myself, but for my family. So that means like keeping the house in working order, I need to keep myself in working order.
My kids are really excited to be in 4-H this year. Last year it was just CJ, but this year Mrs. SuperDad decided to give it a try with MC and AC as well. Putting the younger kids in an activity such as 4-H is something we wouldn’t have done a few short years ago. However, off the recent Sports World success we’re going for it.
Now CJ wants to breed rabbits and since it takes two AC has agreed to get a rabbit as well. Actually AC is so excited that when she isn’t talking about Halloween she is hopping around, pun intended, talking about rabbits. She was especially hyper today because Mrs. SuperDad came home with a rabbit cage. Actually she and CJ had gone to “window shop” rabbits, but they didn’t take AC due to the super volcano like meltdown that would’ve occurred when they didn’t buy a rabbit. However, both CJ and mom came home pumped up. Mrs. SuperDad even spent a couple of hours this afternoon designing the enclosure for the metal cages.
Most of my childhood I lived on a hog farm and I spent several years in 4-H. Having grown up on a farm I have a very different perspective on animals than my children growing up in the burbs. On a farm there are pets and livestock; there is a difference. The livestock you feed and care for, but you don’t become emotionally attached. After all they are going to end up on someone’s dinner plate; my apologies to the vegans and vegetarians, but just keeping it honest. Our pets were part of the family and so we formed emotional attachments. To be totally honest I got a little too attached to my first 4-H hog and it was pretty difficult when I had to sell him. For my kids this is a whole new experience. Although raising rabbits for breeding is going to be a bit different than selling a hog for food I bet the first time they have to sell one of rabbits it will be emotional. On the other hand it will provide some good educational moments; I’m letting Mrs. SuperMom handle the mating discussion; hehe!
I think this is going to be a great experience for the kids. Although I’m not all that excited about having more mouths to feed, the kids will be learning to be responsible for the well-being of another living creature. To be fair the kids do have responsibilities with the cats, but let’s face it cats are pretty independent. If the kids forget to feed and water them the cats just step up their game and simply steal more of the kids’ food and water. If the kids get too neglectful they might even go the extra mile and pee on the kid’s pillows; I am cat hear me roar! The rabbits on the other hand will be in a cage and won’t be able to fend for themselves; they’ll be completely dependent on the kids and that is a big responsibility. Of course we’ll be watching out for them; kids and rabbits. Have a great week everyone!
For the past couple of years Mrs. Superdad and I have been discussing whether we should replace our flooring. We have the original contractor-grade ivory carpet in the house, which is now 12 years old. This carpet wasn’t the finest quality to begin with, but even if it had been I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have survived our kids much better. After all how much mud, dropped drinks, cat vomit, burns, and water (I’ll someday write a post on the great trampoline flood) should I expect carpet to take? We’ve tried carpet cleaning, but the stains only disappear for a couple of days and then start showing up again. Mrs. Superdad wants hardwood floors, which I would like as well, but aside from the initial expense I remember a comment my uncle made some twenty years ago that there is no point in getting anything nice until the kids move out. This was right after my cousin had spilled nail polish remover over his brand new dining room table (ouch). So I’m thinking stained concrete is a better solution. (Mrs. Superdad has been a fan of this and found stain, free of heavy metals and VOC’s)
The latest tragedy to hit our poor carpeting is the Red Road. While Mrs. Superdad was reading Black Beauty to CJ, AC got a hold of a red “washable” marker and decided that it was the perfect tool to build a road… on the carpet. She proceeded to draw a line in “washable” red marker starting on the ground floor, going up all 16 ivory-colored carpeted stairs and into the game room where it became more of a spiral. Apparently going through a ream of paper was not enough to quench her artistic desire. After getting over the initial shock, Mrs. Superdad tried a few cleaning solutions and found that good old soap and hot water seemed to work best. So Mrs. Superdad set AC to work with a bowl of soapy water and a toothbrush. AC initially wasn’t very cooperative, but she did it. It did lighten the “road” a bit, but it is still clearly visible.
Having kids is hard on floors, furniture, parents and about anything else you can think of. Honestly I would be satisfied if my stuff didn’t look like I had been dumpster diving for it. I haven’t come up with a fool proof system that will prevent the needless destruction of our home other than wrapping everything in plastic; not comfy. So what few nice things I chose to have I keep locked up and for everything else I let it roll. Now that doesn’t mean we allow willful destruction, there are always consequences, but it means I’m not going to stress out over every little stain. After all when I was a kid I wasn’t the most gentle and careful child myself. Mrs. Superdad’s mantra is “It’s only a bad day if someone is dead or something’s on fire. Everything else can be fixed.” That is life with kids; so I’ll just choose more ‘doing’ rather than ‘having’ and wait for the grandkids to get my sweet revenge.
Our lives are often said to be broken up into seasons, marked at their edges by significant life changes. MJ’s graduation from high school has started such a seasonal transition for us. He is the first of our children to reach adulthood and we now have to learn to deal with the changes that occur in the parent/child relationship. No longer can I pull out the parent card to overrule his decisions, but must respect the fact that he has the right to make his own decisions without my interference. This can be a hard transition, especially if you think your child is making a mistake. Just because he is legally an adult doesn’t stop us from wanting to protect him. Yet this transition is necessary for both us and MJ.
What has surprised me the most about this transition is the impact on the other children. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but based on their interactions over the last several years it just never really occurred to me that the other children would react so significantly. Over the last several years there wasn’t a lot of daily interaction between MJ and his siblings and what did exist was mostly squabbling; MJ is almost 6 years older than CJ his next oldest sibling. However, while MJ was at his grandparents’ working for the summer, it became apparent that this was going to be a difficult adjustment for them as well. What started out as excitement about reclaiming certain areas of the house, the man-cave that had become the teen-pit, quickly disappeared. We of course knew they loved their brother, but I suspected they would enjoy at least a few months of separation. However, the kids’ excitement was short lived and within days the frequency of the kids expressing that they missed him became a daily event.
MJ is now back home and starting his adventure into adulthood. For now he is living at home, but certainly there will be a point where he will move out permanently. Although it will be hard on all of us it is something that is critical as we all move into our new seasons. However, I’m now mindful that MJ’s brother and sisters are also impacted by this changing relationship and that part of our job is to help them make the transition. Another teaching moment provided by life.
So we decided this past weekend to take the kids to the science museum. It had been a while since our last visit so the kids were so excited that our day at the museum turned into a run through the museum. I would rather have taken it a bit slower and spent more time looking at each exhibit, but we were doing it as a family so running, walking, or crawling was fine as long as we had a good time. I love the science museum because it is during these trips that we get to see our kids’ passions. AC focused on dinosaurs, bids, and animals; walking back and forth naming all of the animals. MC on the other hand liked the mechanical and sports areas. Not surprisingly he wanted to do activities that involved moving his hands and feet. CJ, being a bit older, has a bit wider interest and spent most of her time with Mrs. Superdad and AC. All of us had a good time in the sports area where we raced dinosaurs. Even Mrs. Superdad and I raced each other and we didn’t even pull any muscles!
The most surprising activity of the day was when we took the kids into a special exhibit of collectable items where the kids could only look and not touch; not something that my children are particularly adept at. Yet they all had a wonderful time and it was the slowest they walked all day. AC loved looking at all of the collectables, especially the Pez dispenser collection. Nothing fascinates an autistic kid more than hundreds of Pez dispensers lined up in rows on display. I hadn’t seen a look like that on her face since last Christmas. Speaking of Christmas, AC has added like 100 Pez dispensers to her Christmas list. Believe it or not she did eventually move on to other exhibits. On display were dresses, dolls, sports memorabilia, and a host of other items.
Although most of the museum was a run, we had a good time and the kids got some hands-on education. In a couple of the previous posts we had talked about various lessons and challenges to educating children; especially those with special needs. This experience reminds me that sometimes education isn’t about us doing anything other than providing an opportunity for our kids to learn. Get kids excited and put them in a learning situation and they will amaze you. Sometimes education is like getting your kids to eat vegetables. You can either fight your kid or just chop them up in the food processor and add it to their mashed potatoes. When we make learning feel like work is it a wonder why we meet with resistance?