So Many Changes!

Hasn’t this been a year of change?  My goodness, all of us are suffering from whiplash when we think of how quickly we’ve been hit with change across the board, in every area of our lives. 

When I fine-tune my vision and focus on our little family in our own little world, I see how all these changes…and other more personal ones…have affected us a lot.  Gary and I don’t just have ourselves to consider, of course.  For us as parents, certainly, we always look at how change is affecting our children.  It doesn’t matter that Andrea and Kyle, and Andrew, all live far away.  We still ponder and pray every day about their lives and what impacts them.

Here at home, though, we are the most affected by how changes in life hit Aaron.  Trust me, the word “hit” is appropriate when speaking of Aaron and change.  Sometimes Gary and I don’t quite know what hit us when change hits Aaron.

Aaron has handled COVID issues very well, for the most part.  He’s still thoroughly sick of it, pardon the pun.  Yet he wears his mask well in public and has adjusted to this new way of living much better than some I know.  I’m very proud of him for that.

His day group opened the first part of July and things have gone well until recently, when several clients tested positive for the virus.  The day center has been closed now for over two weeks.  Aaron doesn’t mind that one bit because he loves staying home.  Our quarantine is over, and he and we are fine, but the center is still closed.

We’ve still been able to enjoy walks outside, exploring some new areas and appreciating the familiar ones.

Petting Moe, our neighbor’s cat:

And loving some time on our friend’s farm:

Besides all the COVID stuff going on, we’ve also had personal changes in our life.  Gary retired this past summer and we wondered how that would affect Aaron, but he’s adjusted beautifully and really enjoys having Gary home all the time.  I mean, now Aaron has another set of ears to listen to all his talk…and what’s not to like about that?!

We’ve had more remodeling done, including…and MOST importantly…Aaron’s room.  Aaron struggled with moving into his brother’s old bedroom.  He oversaw Gary and I as we moved his desk and computer to its new and temporary location, complaining like an old man about it…hovering and huffing a LOT!  He soon realized that his desk chair didn’t move so well on the new hard floor with no carpet, so he bemoaned the fact that his carpet was soon to be a thing of the past.  He tried to urge Luke and Noah, our remodeling team, to NOT take out his carpet but to no avail.  He also spoke to them about all the noise they were making and to please NOT turn off the electricity again!! 

He is now back in his own bedroom, with the hard floor and with his furniture rearranged.  Hey, if we’re pushing Aaron to adjust why not try even MORE new things, right?!  He’s just happy to be in his own bed again and in his own room, so this further stretch for him is being tolerated well.

Success!

Except for our latest change.  Gary and I are taking Aaron with us on a trip back east.  We’re going to Gary’s hometown in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina to help his sister after her knee replacement surgery.  AND…we’re taking Aaron with us.

Aaron would rather stay home, in his own house and his own room, even though we did put that hard floor in there!

Aaron loves Aunt Sandra and will talk her ear off on the phone, but Aaron loves being home even more.  It’s been a push to get him to settle down about this grand plan of traveling again.  Gary and I have had to be firm.  I’ve told Sandra to put on her thick skin. 

Aaron wanted to talk to Barb, Paradigm manager and Aaron’s second mom, about all this trip business.  She facetimed with him yesterday and it was so sweet.  She helped tremendously!  We may be doing that again from North Carolina!

We leave in the morning.  Our vehicle will be full of Aaron’s CD’s, DVD’s, blanket, pillow, books, food, drinks, his computer, Nintendo and games, and his stuffed snake. 

He is comforted in knowing that tomorrow night we will stop to stay in a hotel and best of all, we will eat out in a real restaurant. 

Gary and I would be comforted in knowing that as you think of us, you would pray for safety…for Sandra’s knee surgery to go well…and for Aaron to have a great time and to be happy. 

We hope to see lots of happy smiles just like this!  Thank you for praying!

In the Eye of the Storm

Life has been pretty tempestuous and I’m not just talking about a whirling mess out in the Gulf by the name of Laura.  We’ve had our own commotion under our roof.  Hurricane Aaron has been building for several days and the other night we were inundated with his storm surge.  Honestly, though, my outburst was stronger than his by a long shot!

Ah, the wonders and joys of autism.  Aaron wants…needs…routine and predictability and all his things in all their proper places.  Upheaval of any kind creates stress for him, and stress for Aaron inevitably creates stress for Gary and me as his parents and caregivers. 

The stresses around us that cause us angst do affect him because his level world is easily tipped by what Gary and I are going through.  Aaron expects us to stay as level as he needs us to be, but we all know that life just isn’t that way.

When Aaron sees Gary and me off kilter, he will then seek to identify what is bothering us.  Then that person or that event becomes the enemy because they have affected him.  Aaron doesn’t mean to be narcissistic.  That delightful character trait is part and parcel with autism.  We know that fact in our heads but sometimes the understanding doesn’t transfer to our hearts during the turmoil.

Several events have impacted us over this past week.  A hoped-for trip to Indiana to see our son didn’t happen.  Disappointment over changed plans crept in.

Then last week we grieved with our daughter and son-in-law, Kyle and Andrea, over the sudden serious health issues of one of their beloved dogs.  Aries started having seizures.  The next week was heart-rending as he declined drastically.  So, this past Friday they made that awful end-of-life decision.  Gary and I were so sad, but I also think that seeing our children’s grief increased our own.  We loved Aries, and we love Kyle and Andrea, so our sorrow was two-fold. 

This is the prayer Kyle prayed the night they said goodbye to Aries:

Aaron really can’t handle seeing us cry but try as we might he did see our tears over the loss of Aries.  We now had the double whammy of changed trip plans and heartbreak over Aries.

However, we were only halfway done with disruptions.  Out in the ocean, Tropical Storm Laura was brewing.  Kyle and Andrea live to the east of Houston, near the water.  Kyle works on a fast responder ship, and those huge vessels don’t stay in the harbor during a hurricane.  Fast forward to today:  Kyle is now on the ship up in one of the channels and will stay there indefinitely.  Andrea is home alone with their other 3 doggies.  She knows she is welcome to go to Kyle’s parent’s home a little further inland but it’s not best to leave your home if you can possibly stay.  So, Gary flew to Houston yesterday and is there with her, which is such a comfort.  His retirement a month ago is a blessing!

Aaron senses our concern about all this hurricane business.  He usually likes to watch the progress of hurricanes, but not this time.  Why?  Because Gary and I are spending too much time, in Aaron’s opinion, monitoring Hurricane Laura…wondering about Kyle and Andrea…planning Gary’s sudden trip…and talking on the phone.  No matter how calm we are, all this time and talk is unusual to Aaron.  Sometimes it takes time away from Aaron. 

On Monday evening, as I finished looking once again at the Weather Channel, Aaron became rude and I became undone.  I lost my temper and lost my cool, and Aaron reacted, and we had our own tempest in the family room.  These things do happen, especially when we are stressed, but then the tension and guilt are increased.  It takes some doing to un-do it all. 

Aaron paced in and out of the family room where I still sat.  We tried to watch a Little House episode but he just could not settle down so he chose to end it and go to bed.  But he kept coming back to me with one more word of anger.  Then he finally stood in front of me.

“I know what I’ll do!!” he belligerently said.

And with that, he stuck his tongue out at me. 

I tell you, I just had to laugh.  He didn’t mean for it to be hilarious, but it was.  I kept my laugh to a minimum and somehow he didn’t get more angry, but it was just really funny.  

I knew when Aaron was finally OK by what happened soon after.  He came bounding once again into the family room, stared at me, and then said:

“Mom?  Do you know what a sea mine is?”

A sea mine?!  But I was actually quite relieved to be talking about sea mines.  Aaron is playing Battleship on his computer, so talk of sea mines was perfectly normal for him.  It showed that he had at last moved beyond our anger and beyond the unsettled surroundings of his world, and he was back to his normal.  I didn’t care one bit about sea mines but trust me, at this point sea mines were a very welcome reprieve!

Aaron’s normal rarely involves human emotion or important life events that impact us.  These issues cause him distress, so he quickly reverts to talk of battleships and sea mines and gun turrets and whatever else comprises his focus at that time.  Gary and I so often shake our heads, but we know we must jump on board with Aaron in order to preserve our peace.  It’s both very frustrating and very fascinating to see how his mind works. 

There is one more thing going on.  Aaron’s bedroom remodel begins tomorrow.  Gary and I had to empty it before Gary left for Houston.  That caused some anxiety, to say the least.  But beyond that is the fact that now Aaron is in another bedroom where all his things are NOT in their normal place. 

“Mom!!  This bed isn’t like my bed!!”

“Mom!!  I like my lamp better!!”

“Mom!!  I don’t like this hard floor!!” 

“Mom!!  I hope I’m not getting a hard floor!!”

“Mom!!  I want to keep my carpet!!”

“Mom!!  My chair doesn’t work right on this hard floor!!”

Shall I continue?

No.  But Aaron will, trust me.

I took Aaron to Outback yesterday after we dropped Gary off at the airport.  Aaron was in his happy place…a restaurant with his choice of food!  As we munched on the warm bread and butter, Aaron looked down at the two pieces left on the cutting board.

“Mom,” he said, “you can have this one and I’ll have the other one.”

I laughed because the one he generously gave to me was the much smaller piece while he got the bigger one.  And it just reminded me of how life is with Aaron.  He doesn’t mean to be this way, but he does require the bigger part of our time and of our understanding and of our attention. 

Therefore, Gary and I require a bigger part of God’s grace and God’s understanding and God’s strength on days such as we have had this past week. 

And God’s forgiveness when we blow it. 

I’m so thankful that He understands.

And I was so thankful to see Aaron smile yesterday as I was able to restore some of his normal.  It’s my responsibility, yes, but also my joy as his mother and his caregiver.

By the way, in the eye of the storm there is peace.  God’s peace, which never fails, is there for me. 

I’m thankful for that, too, during each storm!

Stay-At-Home With Aaron

This Friday will mark one month that I have kept Aaron home due to COVID-19.  To borrow Aaron’s words while I was still able to take him shopping:  “You’re getting that because of the Coronavirus, aren’t you?”  Said with frustration, I might add, as he has seen this virus as a great deal of unnecessary drama in his life.  I think many are feeling that way right now!

The other night he got to video message with two of his friends from his day group.  It made him realize how much he misses them and his other friends.  I was glad to hear him say that, for getting Aaron to re-enter his former routine may take some doing.

He does love being at home, although some days he is at loose ends.  When this first started, I thought of something to do every day that would keep him occupied and happy.  Watching some shows during the day, for instance, was a treat for him since it’s something we never do.  So many activities we would normally do – eating out, movies, the zoo, shopping – are off limits now, so giving happy moments every day was…and is…vital to Aaron and to ME.

However, Aaron has now become a professional Event Coordinator.  😊  He finds it quite fun to plan our days!  But today, after going through the car wash and grabbing a to-go pizza for lunch, I had to say no to driving to a nearby lake.  My days are still full of necessary home life, so when added to these fun activities with Aaron, I’m finding myself getting behind.  I’m realizing that these are the days I used to wish I had…days at home when I could get so much done…but the “getting so much done” just isn’t happening!

One thing I really wanted to do today…and have wanted to do for many days…is to give a quick update on my stay-at-home life with Aaron.  What have we been doing to occupy our time?  Let’s see:

 

Playing Go Fish:

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Taking drives and seeing fun wildlife like these turkeys:

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Cutting coupons:

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Watching favorite programs:

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Dairy Queen Blizzards at Lake Afton:

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Donuts at Lake Afton (this pattern must stop!):

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Walks at Swanson Park:

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Practicing with selfies:

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Cooking:

 

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Getting a new PC game:

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Eating by lantern when the electricity went out:

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Pulling Weeds:

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And relaxing as only Aaron does, crunching mulch:

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We’ve had some moments, for sure, but I can honestly say that Aaron has mostly handled our stay-at-home much better than we thought he would.  I know that’s because of prayer, and I am so thankful for God’s mercies and strength and wisdom.

We are truly blessed to have so many options of places to go and activities to do that keep us safely distanced from others, yet able to leave the house and get some fresh air and sunshine, hear the birds, and enjoy this new pause in our lives.

How are each of you and your families doing?  I pray that God is strengthening you and that you are being encouraged in unexpected ways during these days.

Let’s keep praying for one another, and for our great country.  May God keep us safe and wise, and may we continue loving Him and each other in these unprecedented times.

 

Caught Up In Crazy

I very innocently planned a grocery trip today to Aldi.  I often go to Aldi on Friday mornings.  Not a big deal…so I thought.

Also, not a big deal to take Aaron with me…so I thought.

I wasn’t surprised that the parking lot was rather full.  I WAS surprised when Aaron and I headed for the carts to hear a woman call out to me, telling me that Aldi wasn’t opening until 12:00.  Somehow, I missed that memo.

Thankfully, Aaron and I only had to sit in the van for less than 10 minutes.  Out we hopped, again, grabbed our cart and had to walk to the back of a long line.  Never…not Thanksgiving…not Christmas…not pre-blizzard…have I seen a line waiting to get into Aldi.

The lady behind me mentioned that this was crazy.  Yes, it was crazy.  So was the line all the way up the first aisle headed for the produce, and the line waiting for eggs, and another for dairy products.  All through the store, in nearly every aisle, we were bumper to bumper carts and shoppers.

So much for social distancing.

I saw some things.

I saw concerned faces.

I saw tired children.

I saw long lists in shopper’s hands.

I saw smiles, too.

I saw kindness from many of the harried people there.

I saw a very elderly and frail woman with beautiful white hair sitting on the counter where her caregiver packed their groceries…and she was sound asleep, her head bowed, seemingly oblivious to the noise around her.

And I saw Aaron as we stood in the check-out line, his arms hanging down and his hands folded together while he stared down at the end cap display beside us.

He was somber and quiet, very uncharacteristic of him when shopping.  Usually he rubs his hands together happily as he stands in line talking about a game or a movie or what he wants to eat for supper or any number of other things.  Usually I must remind him to talk softly.

But not today.

Today, Aaron saw and felt the crazy all around him.  I was calm all through the store, talking to him and to others, trying to maintain a sense of normal.

That’s because I know how necessary normal is to Aaron.

But today was anything BUT normal, and Aaron was not to be fooled.

I’ve written about how Aaron is very tired of this Coronavirus…how done he is with store closings and restaurant closings and crowds and shortages.

I really didn’t expect Aldi to be part of the crazy today.  I didn’t expect our trip there to add to Aaron’s angst.

Yet there we were, sucked into the crazy while not wanting to contribute to it.  I was just there to get normal groceries.  But the crowds…the lines…the empty shelves…the waiting…the jostling – all made Aaron most unsettled.

“Mom,” he said.  “You’re just here because of the crazy Coronavirus!”

I tried to assure him that I was there because of needing normal groceries.  But Aaron wasn’t buying it.

All through the store…thankfully in a quiet voice…Aaron told me over and over that I was a part of this crazy because of the Coronavirus.

“You’re just buying that because of Coronavirus,” he muttered as I bent over the sandwich meat.

“You just want that because of the Coronavirus,” he said again as I added coffee to the cart.

Seeing him in the check-out line, so still and serious, made me very sad.  All the times I’ve wanted him to be quiet and now he was…but for a reason that yanked at my heart.  He was most uncomfortable…most uneasy…most worried.

This whole scenario of our current lives is new to me…new to all of us.  Watching Aaron’s manner and seeing his worried face was a real insight into how this strange time is new to him as well and is affecting him.

Normal is gone for now, and for who knows how long.  So, for many of us with special children…children who respond strongly to their environments…this may be an extra stressful time.

Let’s encourage each other and pray for one another.

And if you’re out and about in the crazy, and you see a mom with a special-needs child, give her an extra big smile, would you?

 

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Changes Ahead

If you know me, and especially if you are a Facebook friend of mine, then you know that I love sky pictures.  I have taken hundreds of sky pictures from our upstairs bedroom windows that face the western sky.

Sunsets:

 

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Storms moving in:

 

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Sunrise reflections:

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Even a Great Horned Owl that used to perch on the top of our big pine tree (sorry for the fuzzy picture):

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The view changes depending on so many factors.  Weather, the time of year, the time of day, trees that have been cut down due to disease, and so much more.

On a recent morning, as I finished my quiet time, I looked out the window and was drawn to the pretty sky outside.  But as I prepared to snap some shots of the sky, my eyes also saw this.

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Can you see it?  Where we once had a farmer’s field across the road from us, we now have a future housing development being built.

Civilization is encroaching upon us.  Some call it progress, but we are not exactly happy with how the building of 300 homes will change not only our view, but our traffic and so many other things as well.

But do you know what won’t change?  The sky itself won’t change.

I can still relish our beautiful sky, no matter what’s happening on the ground below.

Change is a fact of life.  Some changes are exciting and wonderful, while others are sad and fearful.

What’s looming in your view today?  Are changes possibly coming in your life that leave you unsettled and scared?

Our focus in those times is vital to our peace.  I can choose to be filled with apprehension or to be filled with peace.

Just like I can choose to look at the houses being built, or I can choose to gaze at the sky above…so I can choose to center my attention on my problems ahead or to center my thoughts on God above.

I control my eyes…my thoughts…my focus.

Psalm 123 states this fact perfectly.

 

To You I lift up my eyes,

O You who are enthroned in the heavens! 

Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,

 As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

So our eyes look to the Lord our God,

Until He shall be gracious to us.

 

God is sovereign over our circumstances.

God is also sufficient for us, whatever is our present or our future.

One more thing.  The word “gracious” carries the meaning of someone stooping down in kindness to an inferior.

Just like God stoops down in His mercy to me, time after time, to hold my hand and show me His kindness, so He will do over and over as I walk this path of life.

This is my prayer for myself, to keep my eyes on God and not on what is around me or ahead of me.

I control my eyes.

I am so thankful that it is God Who controls my life.

 

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Did Someone Say, “Time CHANGE?!”

I am 99.9% certain that whoever thought up all this time change business did not have a child living with them who had autism.  Specifically, a child with autism who has as one of their obsessions the desire for living life with precision timing.

Such is our Aaron.

Aaron wears a watch every day of his life.  If his watch breaks, time for him stands still…and time for us is nearly unbearable until the broken watch can be replaced.  Trust me, we take as little time as possible in finding him a new watch.  It must be a specific watch, one with numbers all around…a second hand…and the day and date feature.

Heaven help us when the day and date feature needs to be adjusted!  Aaron doesn’t have time to wait for that, either, and when I mess it up…which I so often do…then the world is off balance for Aaron until Dad is able to come to the rescue.

Many of you have heard lots of stories about Aaron’s precision with time.  For instance, on the weekends Aaron wants to eat lunch at 12:00 noon.  This often happens:

 

Me:  Aaron, do you want to eat lunch?

Aaron:  Yes.

Me:  What do you want to eat?

Aaron:  Can I have pizza?

Me:  Sure.  I’ll fix it now.

Aaron:  I want to eat at 12:00.

Me:  Well, it’s almost 12:00.

Aaron (pushing his sleeve up to look at his watch which is worn halfway up his arm):  No, Mom!  It’s 11:56!!

I sigh, exercising my lungs as I so often do with Aaron, and make sure we wait until 12:00 on the dot to start the lunch process.

Here’s another familiar scene:

 

Aaron:  Mom, I woke up at 7:58.

Me:  So, you woke up around 8:00?

Aaron (looking at me as if I had three eyes but no brain):  No!  I woke up at 7:58!

 

I began preparing Aaron for the dreaded time change on Saturday afternoon.  When we finished watching our DVD before bed, he glanced up at the clock in the family room.

“Mom,” he began.  “It’s 10:47, but it’s really 9:47, right?”

I assured him he was correct as he followed me into the kitchen.  He carefully watched me change the stove clock, the microwave clock, and the coffee pot clock.  Things were progressing smoothly.

Little did I know.

The bedtime routine was moving along normally when Aaron sat on his bed to write the time in his logbook.  This logbook in which Aaron records…precisely records…his time to bed and his time to get up.  Every.  Single.  Day.

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Aaron stared at his complex weather station clock beside his bed…the one that needs a person with an engineering AND rocket science degree to change the time.

“MOM!!!!  My clock says 11:02, but it should say 10:02!!!”

WHY DIDN’T I REMEMBER AARON’S CLOCK?????!!!!!

But outwardly I was the picture of calmness.  I told Aaron that I really thought it would set automatically by satellite.  Aaron sat on his bed with his logbook open, very still, staring at the clock as if he could will it to change.  I stood beside the bed, staring at Aaron as if I could will him to change.

Silly Mom.

He scooted off the bed and headed for the door.

“I’m getting Dad!” he informed me as he left his room.

Thump, thump, thump down one set of stairs.

Thump, thump, thump down the second set of stairs.

Soon I heard Aaron pounding up both sets of stairs.  Seriously, he takes stairs like a bull elephant.

And there followed Gary, much slower than Aaron, who was full of purpose.

“Dad, can you set my clock?!” he asked anxiously.

Gary set the clock, Aaron sat once again on his bed with his logbook open, and I stood there waiting hopefully for the time to be entered, precisely.

Aaron stared at his weather station clock.  Then he pushed his sleeve up and looked at his watch.  He stared again at the blue numbers on his very difficult weather station clock.

“MOM!!!!  It says 12:10!!!!  It should be 10:10!!!!!”

Oh.  My.  Word.

Dear Gary, in his tiredness, had set the clock AHEAD an hour.  Instead of falling back, we had gone full speed AHEAD…and Aaron was full speed DONE with this crazy time change!!

SO WAS I!!!!!!!!

“Aaron,” I kindly said (despite how UNKIND I felt), “can’t you just lay down, close your eyes, and go to sleep?”

It would have made more sense to tell him to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro…barefoot…in the dark…with no guides…and no supplies.

I wonder what time it was in Tanzania?

Aaron informed me that he could do none of those things.  Lay down, close his eyes, or go to sleep.

“Aaron,” I continued (my lips drawn tighter than they had been), “can’t you just wear your watch to bed?”

With that, Aaron once again pushed his sleeve way up his arm and stared down at his watch.

“MOM!!!!” he said, “we need to change the time on my watch!!!”

AAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, I prohibited Aaron from going back to get Gary.  I changed the dumb time on his watch.   I then sat down on his bed, praying as I started pushing buttons, and somehow someway I was able to change the stupid time from 12:10 to 10:10.

Can you tell I was done?  I needed a time out!!!

Oh, but we weren’t done!

Aaron was, once again, sitting on his bed while staring at his ridiculous weather station clock.  Whose idea was it to get him this clock anyway??!!

All the bases had to have been finally covered, I thought.  Aaron’s just waiting for the minute to change, as he usually does, before he will write down the time.

The EXACT time, for crying out loud!!!

“MOM!!!!” he nearly yelled, “it’s FLASHING!!!!!”

“WHAT????!!!!” I nearly yelled in disbelief.  “What’s FLASHING????!!!!”

And sure enough, under the very current and precise time, there was flashing the words, “NO WI-FI.”

“It says, no wifey,” Aaron told me.

“You’re about to hear, no mother,” I wanted to say, but didn’t.

“Here, Aaron,” I said now through almost gritted teeth, “you can just turn your weather station clock around like this and then go to sleep.”

But I may as well have told him to climb….

You get it.

No, Aaron could NOT just simply turn the clock around like this or just go to sleep like that.  Not with “NO WIFEY” flashing under the very perfect and totally precise time!!!!

I guess Aaron was spent…or knew that I was…because he finally got under his covers and let me escape to my room.

But soon I heard him thump, thump, thumping downstairs…where he told Gary about the flashing “NO WIFEY.”

Then came the thump, thump, thumping upstairs…and the elephant stomps to my closed bedroom door.

“Mom?” he said. “I’m tired of this day.”

“I know, Aaron,” I told him.  “I am, too.”

Never were truer words spoken!!

He walked back to his bed.

He was soon back at my door.

“Mom?  Do you think I should just wear my watch to bed?”

“I think that would be a good idea,” I replied (hopefully!).

Again, he was under his covers.

“MOM!!!!” I heard from the monitor in our room, “it quit flashing!!!”

Thank you, Lord!!!  I really did thank the Lord!

But if you ask me, it’s high time to change the time change!!

At least it is in OUR house!!  WHEW!!

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Remember When?

Aaron loves looking at a particular picture of me and Gary, taken back in the day.  WAYYYY back in the day, to be clear.  This picture was taken at Gary’s Army Flight School Banquet upon his graduation.

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Aaron has always said that he thought this photo was of our wedding, so I am often correcting him about that as I repeat over and over that this was taken four years after we were married.  Aaron doesn’t sweat the details, though, and he continues to tell us…and others…that here are Mom and Dad at their wedding.

But there is another detail that Aaron loves to share the MOST as he either talks about this picture or gets to show it to people who come to see us in our home.

“In her wedding picture,” Aaron begins (and I know exactly what is coming!), “Mom used to be skinny!!”

Emphasis on “USED to be skinny.”

As in I was…in the past…not the present…in the FAR distant past…skinny.

Aaron will randomly tell this bit of news to anyone who has ears, including people who barely know me.  He will share it within the context of any conversation, out of the blue, ignoring people’s curious looks and my rolling eyes in my red face.

Yes, Aaron, I USED to be skinny.  Those WERE the good old days.

I’m able to laugh as I tell this story, even as I constantly try to keep Aaron FROM telling it in order to hopefully teach him some manners or some tact.  Yet Aaron’s focus on the past…on MY past…has also taught me an important truth.

The prophet, Haggai, helped with this as well.  I’ll explain.

Haggai was the first prophet that was heard in Israel after the Babylonian exile.  The Israelites had returned to Jerusalem and Haggai encouraged them to finish building the temple.  Fifteen years had passed since any work had been done on the temple.  God promised to be with them as the people agreed to once again build God’s house.

Yet later, as they stood at the site of the temple, God knew that the people were very discouraged.  He also knew why they were so down in their spirits.  So, God spoke to the leaders and to the people through Haggai.

Haggai 2:3 – “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?  How does it look to you now?  Does it not seem to you like nothing?”

God, through His prophet, just cut to the chase.  He hit the nail on the head as He revealed openly what He knew they were thinking.  And what they were thinking was that compared to years ago, this beginning of a new temple looked dismal and ugly.  In fact, the Israelites…especially the older ones who remembered the former glory of the old temple…knew that the new temple they would build would in no way compare to the beauty of the past temple.

Who could help but be discouraged as they stood there remembering the glory that used to be, but would not fully be again?

But God didn’t just leave it there.  He continued to speak, telling the leaders to be strong, and ended by saying:

Haggai 2:4-5 – “Be strong, all you people of the land – declares the Lord – and work, for I am with you, declares the Lord almighty.  This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, and my Spirit remains among you.  Do not fear!”

I’ll tell you that there are times and there are ways in which I am much like these Israelite Jews as they looked at their current circumstances and compared them to what used to be.  And for me it goes WAY beyond remembering my skinny days!

Ten years ago, God set Gary and I on a path of great hurt and loss.  The details are not what matter.  What matters is that God was surely with us each step of the way.  He did indeed tell us to keep working for Him in very difficult circumstances, just as He did to Israel.  He told us to be strong even when we were tired on every level.

What kept us going?  The two promises that God gave to Israel were ours as well.  God said, “I am with you…and my Spirit remains among you.”  I can promise you that God kept His promises to us.  His strength, His peace, His Spirit, was always present and enabling in our lives.  His Word was powerful!

I love what John Mackay says about God being with us: “This is what distinguishes the advice of the world, ‘Be strong.  I know you’ve got it in you,’ from the counsel of Scripture which recognizes that we have NOT got it in us, but that God’s presence with us will make all the difference.”

Circumstances can get very ugly sometimes, but I am not to focus on what’s around me.  I am to focus on God and on the fact that He is with me.  He will not fail me.  He will not desert me to my enemies or to my runaway thoughts.

God also gave Israel a simple three-word command.

“Do not fear,” God said.

Again, John Mackay: “The Lord’s faithfulness in the past and the present is the basis for future encouragement.  It is not the appearance of the building, but the presence of his enabling Spirit that will make the crucial difference.”

Not the appearance of the building.  Not my surroundings, but rather the God Who surrounds me with His protection in every way I need.

So, what’s your “Remember When?”

Remember when:  You were loved.  You weren’t alone.  You were important to that group.  You were included.

Remember when:  You had a job you loved.  You had the money you needed.  You made a difference.

Remember when:  You had your health.  You had your spouse.  You had your children close.

Remember when:  You sang.  You taught.  You were a part.  You mattered.

Remember when:  You had your parents.  You had a family.  You laughed.  You talked.

The list is endless, isn’t it?  Life changes.  Sometimes suddenly…other times, slowly.  But change is inevitable for all of us.

What doesn’t ever change is God.  His presence is with His children, steady and stable, always constant.  He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.

When the past tries to capture my attention, I know I must look to today…to what God has for me today…to Who He is today…and to His promises that are true…TODAY!

And I can declare from experience that out of our deepest pain of yesterday will come our most beautiful usefulness TODAY!

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I’m Trying to Go HAPPY!!

Aaron and I sat down to play Skip-Bo the other night.  It’s a familiar nighttime routine for us on many days, this game of Skip-Bo.  As Aaron came to the table, I saw that he was carrying two bowls.  One was empty, and the other was full of Tootsie Rolls.  These Tootsie Rolls had been a sweet surprise from our friends, Jim and Joyce, this past Sunday.  Aaron was very happy to have been given such a huge bag of Tootsie Rolls, trust me!

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As we sat down to play Skip-Bo, while I was shuffling the cards, Aaron began unwrapping a Tootsie Roll.  He carefully took off the wrapper, and I then learned the purpose of his second bowl, the empty one.  He placed the Tootsie Roll wrapper into the empty bowl.  Soon he was ready for his second piece of candy, so he once again pulled on the wrapped Tootsie Roll, removed the paper, and carefully placed it alongside the first wrapper in the proper bowl. 

If there was ever a picture of how Aaron organizes his life, it would be in his use of multiple bowls.  I have blogged about this in the past, especially this piece from a few years ago.  It so fully explains Aaron’s use of bowls.  Put That in a Bowl!!

So as I watched him eat his Tootsie Rolls while we played Skip-Bo, I was once again reminded of how Aaron wants……no, he needs……his life to be just a certain way.  We all do that to some extent, but for an individual with autism, those needs are ever more acute.  The smallest disruption in routine and expectations can totally pull the rug out from under Aaron. 

Providing some fluctuations in his day and in his life can actually be very good for Aaron.  Finding the balance, though, is tricky.  Giving him consistency while also guiding him through changes can be very challenging for him, and definitely so for all of us who are a part of his life.

The staff at Paradigm can most assuredly attest to this fact.  They endure changing Aaron more than anyone.  Aaron can be very up and he can be very down at his day group.  Sometimes we see and know the triggers, and sometimes we don’t.  They have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly from Aaron during his nearly 11 years there. 

Aaron has been home this week with a bad cold.  He totally loves staying at home and would do so every day if we let him.  But like I said, Aaron needs to be away from routine and predictability in order to grow and to thrive.  He has friends at his day group and staff that he loves, but the atmosphere there is active and sometimes loud.  He can’t totally control his environment there……what people say or do……what activity he will participate in that day……how he will feel.  So for Aaron, staying home is much more preferred, but is not at all what he needs to do every day. 

He was well enough to return to Paradigm yesterday, on Friday.  I could tell he didn’t really want to go……didn’t want to think of leaving home for the day.  I was encouraging Aaron to keep a good attitude as I poured his morning coffee under his watchful eye.  He watches to make sure I do the coffee job JUST RIGHT!

“Mom,” he finally said.  “I’m not trying to go MAD!  I’m trying to go HAPPY!”

Wow!  His insights floor me sometimes.

He really wants to process life correctly.  Sometimes, however, it’s just a huge stretch for him to be able to do that. 

For Aaron, it’s Tootsie Rolls in one bowl and Tootsie Roll wrappers in another bowl.

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He can control this business of candy and candy wrappers.  He can’t control, though, his atmosphere at his day group.  Some days it’s just too much.  But we must gently push……must keep trying……must understand how hard it can be for him.

He had a great day yesterday at Paradigm.  They went to watch Rogue One at the theater.  Well, I’m not sure if it was a “great” day, but Katie told me that it was a good day……and to me, that’s great. 

Gary and I had Aaron with us at Sam’s on Monday.  I was checking out the asparagus when Aaron walked up to me with a bouquet of flowers, his face all smiles while Gary watched in the background.  Gary had pointed out the bin of flowers to Aaron, and Aaron instantly wanted to buy me some.  We’ve watched those Iris’s this week, some blooms falling off as they wilt while other buds burst into bloom.

Again, just like Aaron.  We wait for him to grow……hopefully to bloom……and in the mean time we enjoy him and his unique, colorful life that we see every day. 

Candy and wrappers…….buds and blooms……it’s all part of what makes life with Aaron both challenging and beautiful.   

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New Year, Old Ways

A new year is upon us!!  Welcome, 2017!

A fresh start can be so nice.  New everything.  Out with the old, right?  Well, not always, as I have seen on the past two days.  We all know that to be true.

I ended my old year on a most familiar note…..playing SkipBo with Aaron right before bed.  I guess that’s our version of a party, which suits Aaron perfectly as he really does NOT like parties.  Parties have too much noise and emotion for him, thank you very much.  But SkipBo with Mom is orderly, predictable, with nice piles of sequential numbers, and plenty of opportunity to cheat.  Yes, cheat, of which Aaron is a master if not watched closely.

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The next morning, our New Year morning, saw Aaron blandly staring at me as I very happily wished him a Happy New Year!!  His lack of expression at these moments is often hilarious, but I can’t always laugh because he finds that emotional expression irritating or he thinks I am laughing at him.  Which at times I am, but in a good way that he just wouldn’t understand.

Anyway, Aaron’s main concerns on our New Year morning were:

1)      Can I have FOUR cups of coffee?  (Don’t worry.  The cups are half full).

2)      Are there coupons in the newspaper for me to cut?

3)      What time are we going to Chili’s for lunch?

Aaron had opened a gift during our family Christmas Bingo game.  The gift was a Chili’s gift card that was burning a hole in…..well, in my wallet because I don’t dare give Aaron gift cards to keep.  They won’t keep with him.  They will be lost or given away.

I told Aaron that we would go to Chili’s after church.  He wanted to know the exact time, so I gave him my usual ball park figure and he was happy.  He was not so happy with the coupons in the paper for some reason.  Still slow from his cluster of seizures on Friday night, the coupons did not make him show his usual sense of purpose.  However, he settled in on the floor with his coupon trash cans as he sat on his coupon pillow with his coupon scissors…..and his FOUR cups of coffee on the bench nearby…..and he began to clip the coupons, very slowly.

I was in the bathroom later when Aaron came to the door.  “Mom,” he slowly began.  “I was cutting coupons but there were too much.”

Pause.

“OK,” I responded.

Pause.

“There were too much,” he repeated.

“Yes, there were a lot today,” I replied.

Pause.

“There were too much coupons,” he said again.

Pause.

“There were too much,” he once again asserted when he got no Mom reply.

Pause.  Sigh from me.

“Aaron, just take a break.  You can finish them later,” foolish Mom said.

Pause.

“I ripped them,” Aaron flatly replied.

Pause.  Another sigh from me.

I was following Aaron’s train of thought, one all too familiar.  He didn’t want me to cut those coupons.

“Because you don’t do them right,” he continued.  “You don’t cut them straight on the line like I do.”

He made his exit on that note.  No surprise from me.  It might be a New Year, but we are still living in our old ways…..always, always.

And sure enough, there on the family room floor lay his unfinished little stack of coupons……ripped, just like he said.  Aaron’s thinking has always been this…..that if he can’t cut the coupons, NO ONE will cut the coupons.  Especially Mom, who is a dismal failure at coupon cutting.

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Those ripped coupons were a stark reminder to me that just under the surface with Aaron there is always that issue of how he handles stress in his life.  He reacts, and often his reactions are very inappropriate.  His behaviors are a huge concern to us.  So I stood there being reminded that we were on our first day of a brand New Year, brand new beginnings, brand new opportunities……and here we were, being slapped into our old reality of life with Aaron.

Some things just never change.  We know that.

But there were other reminders of wonderful things that never change, either.  Gary and I finally got to church on time.  Yes, we were one of THOSE people who totally didn’t see the memo on the changed time for church……one of THOSE people who didn’t give New Year’s Day a second thought…..and so on this New Year’s morning we drove to church TWICE.  And we laughed at ourselves.  We’re HOW old?!

Anyway, we walked into church to the hugs and handshakes of sweet friends.  And there was Joyce, who handed me a bag containing a huge bag full of Tootsie Rolls…..for Aaron, because of my recent Tootsie Roll blog.  How unexpected and sweet, in more ways than one!  Later, Aaron was also surprised and full of smiles at this kind gift.

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The care of friends is unchanging in our lives.  Such a blessing!

The worship and the message on our New Year’s morning was encouraging and challenging.  And we sang one of my most favorite songs – Great is Thy Faithfulness.  What a wonderful reminder of God’s unchanging faithfulness in our lives!

And later, as we sat with Aaron at Chili’s, Gary and I watched him ever so slowly eat his enchilada lunch and his salad.  His joy at eating out was very evident.  Never changing, his love of restaurant food!  And seeing that joy is always fun for us, despite our constant reminders to him that he doesn’t need to take 17 toothpicks…..don’t stare at the other people and their food……don’t make noises…..don’t clap…..please don’t loudly stretch when you get out of the booth.

Never changing.

I was able to salvage a few coupons later from the ripped pages.  I didn’t let Aaron see me as I quickly cut them out behind his back.  And I know that we will continue to try to salvage good out of the bad days that Aaron will surely have this year.  It’s our reality with Aaron, New Year or not.

But through it all I know, like that favorite old hymn says, that God will remain the same, too.  Faithful to us, as always.

 

            Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,

            There is no shadow of turning with Thee;

            Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;

            As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

 

            Great is Thy faithfulness!  Great is Thy faithfulness!

            Morning by morning new mercies I see.

            All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.

            Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

 

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I’ll Go Happy

Last Monday, Aaron had a rough and grouchy day at his day group.  Sometimes we can pinpoint the cause and other times we just can’t.  I’m so thankful for the understanding staff at Paradigm.  I don’t know how they do what they do on some days, but I do know that they don’t get paid enough for all they endure on those days.  I love their philosophy:  Tomorrow is a new day and we start all over.

As I said goodnight to Aaron at the end of his rough day and gave him a hug, Aaron said, “Mom, tomorrow I’ll go happy!”

So on the next day, the new day in which we were starting all over, Aaron was indeed happy.  His attitude was entirely different than the no good very bad yesterday.  And on this better day we also got some wonderful news from our daughter in Houston.  She has a break between jobs and was coming home for a visit!!!!  Not only Andrea was coming, but also her boyfriend Kyle!!!!  Not only Andrea and Kyle were coming, but also Andrea’s two dogs and Kyle’s dog!!!!!   

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Can you tell I was excited?  You bet!  Aaron was excited, too.  He loves and misses his sister.  He’s getting to know Kyle and to realize that Kyle is a new part of our family.  But oh, I know Aaron and I know that having a house full of people and pets can be challenging for him.  We face this issue any time that we have extra people around…..extra noise……extra routine disruptions……extra attention grabbers away from our usual main attention grabber.

We work to prepare Aaron for those disruptions before they occur.  I went over several things with him, like how he would use Gary’s and my bathroom while Andrea and Kyle were here.  We talked about the dogs and how we need to act with having four dogs in the house.  I tried to cover all the bases with Aaron, but Aaron brings out new bases quite often……based on what’s happening around him at the time…..things we just can’t predict. 

I let Aaron stay home from Paradigm on the two Paradigm days that Andrea and Kyle were here.  Aaron was SO happy with that idea!!  He loved going with us to eat lunch at Freddy’s.

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He loved going for a walk in Swanson Park.

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He loved being here with us and the doggies.

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He loved us watching Independence Day Resurgence with him while he ate snacks and snacks and snacks.

He loved trying to sneak snacks and snacks and snacks to the doggies.

He loved talking to all of us, especially to Andrea and Kyle, about all his favorite topics.  And this is where we usually start seeing some issues with Aaron, because Aaron doesn’t know when to stop talking.  Sharing the stage is hard for Aaron.  He truly wants to be included in our conversations as we sit around the dinner table, for instance.  We do listen to him and try to include him, but Aaron isn’t going to talk about the subjects that we talk about. 

Here is a sample conversation:  We may be talking about Andrea’s new job or talking about Kyle’s summer at sea.  Then Aaron will loudly call one of our names.

“Andrea!!”  he says.  When she responds to him, we often hear this from Aaron:  “Ummm.  Ummm.  Ummm.”  We wait.  “Ummm.  Did you know what the Queen Alien on Independence Day Resurgence looks like?!”

“No, Aaron, I don’t know what she looks like,” Andrea answers.

“Well, she looks like a…..I don’t know.  Mom, what do you think she looks like?” Aaron asks.

So I try to answer but I don’t really know how to describe the Alien Queen because it’s been awhile since I saw that movie….and I don’t really care what the Alien Queen looks like…..and in trying to muster some enthusiasm and interest in this question that I’ve heard a hundred times, Aaron can sense a shift in my emotions.  As much as Aaron struggles with social norms, he is very adept at picking up the subtle cues that we are not as animated about Alien Queens as we are about Andrea’s job or Kyle’s schooling. 

He views our world from afar, wanting so much to enter in, but never knowing how.  But he does express his frustration by comments that we later hear.

“Mom, you didn’t want to talk to me.  You just wanted to talk to Andrea or Kyle,” he will say. 

I try to explain that we do want to talk to him but that we haven’t seen Andrea or Kyle in so long…..and we want to catch up with them on their lives…..but to Aaron that doesn’t make sense.  Round and round we go, and where we land nobody knows.  Or when we land.

Which happened on Friday during supper.  Andrea’s friend, Sarah, had come over to see Andrea and Kyle.  They sat in the family room visiting and talking and laughing.  Aaron was up in his room, then down in the family room…..up in his room, down again.  He wanted to be a part and he was in many ways.  He just can’t be the whole part and so conversation would swirl around him.  Kyle was talking and laughing at one point, and Aaron whacked Kyle’s leg with a book.  I heard it but didn’t see it.  It was a sign of things to come.  Aaron was frustrated now, truly frustrated, and when that happens he picks a target.  Lucky Kyle.

I don’t remember all the details of what happened at supper.  I was up from the table getting slices of cheesecake ready to serve.  Aaron was at a boiling point and we didn’t realize it.  His system was on overload…..his pressure gauge was maxed out…..and he erupted.  He leaned forward and yelled at Kyle. 

Aaron left the table.  We apologized to Kyle.  He was understanding and patient.  Aaron came down later and apologized.  We watched the movie later and Aaron was very happy, as if nothing ever happened.

Why do I tell you this story, one you’ve heard before if you’ve read this blog for very long?  Because this scenario is just a very real picture of how Aaron processes…..or doesn’t exactly process…..the world around him.  Our world is ticking along like normal, but Aaron’s isn’t.  He is so impacted by nuances that we don’t even notice.  Sounds…..loud laughter that he doesn’t understand…..hilarity……silliness…..his routine changing….   All these things greatly affect him, more than we can begin to know. 

So he reacts, usually loudly and hurtfully.  Then he’s sorry.  It takes great understanding, as I’ve said, to deal with this about Aaron.  He doesn’t think like we do or process as we do or react over time as we do. 

But he truly wants to. 

Andrea and Kyle left to go back to Houston the next day.  Aaron was with us in the driveway, entering into things, when Andrea asked for a hug.  Aaron ducked his head and walked away, through the garage and into the house as he muttered to himself.  A hug in front of everyone?  Are you kidding me?!  We know this about Aaron and it makes us smile.  He can yell, but spontaneous hugs are very, very difficult.

One of the first things I did after they left was to get Aaron’s things put back in his bathroom.  “Us kid’s bathroom,” he calls it.  We got his cup with his toothbrush and toothpaste put back on the counter.  We got his body wash and wash cloth back in the shower.  We hung his towel on the towel rack. 

Aaron then noticed that his razor attachments were not in the correct place.  He rearranged them the way he wanted them.  He stood back and observed the counter for a few seconds. 

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Then he said, “OK.  It’s looking good.”

That night at supper, Aaron asked the blessing.  He nearly always says two things when he prays.  He doesn’t say the same thing with each prayer, but he says two things.  On that night he said, “Lord, thank you for the food.  And thank you that Kyle and Andrea got to come.”

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Yes, it was looking good now for Aaron.  He was happy that Andrea and Kyle were here, along with Darcy and Oakley and Aries and our own Jackson.  He will be very happy when everyone comes for Christmas. 

Aaron will have every intention of saying, “I’ll go happy!” 

He’ll go happy into our family time, but it will be a time of upheaval for him and of struggle as well.  It’s up to us to understand that and to allow that for Aaron, all the while trying to help him know how to take time to decompress and not to blow up. 

Only when things are back to normal…..Aaron’s normal…..will he be able to step back and say, “OK.  It’s looking good.”

And it’s very important for us to be able to look at Aaron’s world through Aaron’s eyes, and still be able to say, “OK, Aaron.  It’s looking good.”

Let’s go happy!  It’s sometimes the hard choice, but always the best choice.