A Girlfriend

Tears stung my eyes one night last week as I listened to Aaron suddenly tell me about how much he loved his friend, N.  Oh, he’s talked about N for a long time.  Sometimes she’s his good friend…sometimes she’s his antagonist.  She is a fellow client at Paradigm, Aaron’s day program, and they have known each other for years.

Aaron’s developmental delays due to his autism and seizures have prohibited him from having some of the normal joys of life that our other two children have enjoyed.  He’s not able to drive.  Holding down a job would be very difficult for him.  Responsibilities that they have assumed as they have become independent have not been possible for Aaron.

Aaron has always had a pretty simple view of life.  He’s never seemed to really mind not moving on in life as Andrea and Andrew have.  It’s actually a blessing that he doesn’t have those desires.  He’s very happy to live as he does.

Yet when Andrea and Kyle started dating, we saw another side of Aaron beginning to show.  It was a combination of jealousy over Kyle’s relationship with Andrea, whom he dearly loves, and resentment.  But was there resentment over Kyle taking Andrea away?  Or resentment over Andrea and Kyle having something that he did not have?

Two years ago, Aaron went with Gary and me to see Andrea in Houston.  This trip had the different dynamic of Kyle now being in the family picture.  He and Andrea were not engaged yet, but we all knew that they would be someday.

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On one hot Texas afternoon, Kyle was showing us around Galveston.  We walked in the historic district, going into quaint shops and enjoying the sights before heading to dinner and the beach.

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Aaron, however, was in a very foul mood.  And when Aaron is in a foul mood, no one is in a good mood.

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Aaron didn’t want ice cream.  Aaron didn’t want candy.

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Aaron didn’t want to look at old architecture.

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Aaron didn’t want to have his picture taken.

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It was miserable.  WE were miserable!  He kept saying, “I just want to go out to eat and go to that lake!”  A really big lake, by the way.

In the parking garage, as we walked to our car, Aaron finally had enough.  With pent-up anger, as I tried to walk with him and cheer him up, he blurted out:  “Well, Andrea and Kyle are going to get married!!  Why can’t I get married??!!”

There it was…a glimpse into Aaron’s feelings and into his heart.  And there I was, with no words to console him.  What could I even have said to make him feel better?

In the following months, Aaron brought up the girlfriend and marriage subject more and more often.  He was putting two and two together, and there were some uncomfortable moments.

“Mom,” he said one day, “I want a girlfriend.”

“Oh, Aaron,” I answered.  “I understand that, but you don’t really need a girlfriend.  Just be happy to be friends.”

“But you were a girlfriend to Dad, right?” he asked.

Oh dear!  Busted!!

“Well, yes, I was,” I uncomfortably answered.

“What was it like?” he continued.

“Ummmm,” I struggled, “it was special.”

“I want to be special,” he said.

My heart!!  What does a parent do with this side of their special-needs child?!  No doctor or medicine or therapy can fill the normal void of my son wanting to be loved in the way that I had just described as being special!

As Andrea and Kyle became engaged and we planned their wedding, Aaron was resentful.  He didn’t even try to hide it.  And on the day that we told him about their engagement, he went outside and did his thing in the mulch, alone, as he crumbled mulch and I watched him out the window…my heart crumbling, as well.

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Gary and I have tried to be honest with him as he’s asked more than once about why he can’t get married.  I mean, could he marry one day?  But then we’re reminded of the very answers we give to Aaron when he brings up the subject.

We tell him he needs a job…that he would need to live somewhere else with his wife…be able to pay his bills…that there would be her medical issues and his medical issues…

And we feel mean to tell him these things.

Yet that IS the reality of Aaron’s life.  Reality can’t be sugar coated in an effort to make Aaron feel better.

Or in an effort to make us feel better, as well.  Letting Aaron marry would bring to our doorstep a host of issues that we do not even want to think about.

On that night last week, after Aaron and I had watched a rather emotional episode of the series we’re watching, instead of hurrying out of his chair he instead started talking.

“Mom,” he began.  “I love N, and she says she loves me.  When I come in Paradigm, she says hi to me.  She wants me to sit beside her, and she holds my hand.  That makes me happy.  It makes me feel good.”

The sincerity in his voice and his sudden cascade of words stopped me from moving off the couch.  His rushing words and his emotion also stopped me from brushing off what he was saying.  Instead, I sat there and looked at him as he talked.  He continued.

“Ever since first grade,” he said, “I wanted a girlfriend.  No one ever wanted to be my girlfriend until N.”

It was hard not to smile, and also hard not to cry.  In fact, my eyes did fill with tears, which Aaron really dislikes.

“Are you crying?!” he asked.  But when I told him I was, a little, he didn’t even get upset.  He just kept talking about N…about how he wanted her to be his girlfriend…and how no one else wanted to be her friend.

His relationship with N is complicated.  She is complicated and Aaron is complicated, and there are many issues.  N uses Aaron, trying to take his money and his food and all his time.  She gets angry, and sometimes makes Aaron cry.  Yet Aaron defends her most of the time, particularly when she talks him into giving her his money.

Aaron reminded me of the day that I had recently called Barb about N taking some of his money.  Aaron gets very angry when I do that.  He said the most amazing thing that night.

“Mom, when you called Barb about N taking my money, you messed up the boyfriend/girlfriend option!”

Where on earth did he come up with that?!  And how on earth did I not break down laughing?!

A few weeks ago, as I drove Aaron to Paradigm, this is what he said:

“Mom, N asked me to marry her.  On accident, I put it too far and I said yes!”

Again, I was laughing inside but knew that on the outside Aaron needed my understanding.  Thankfully, his “putting it too far” did not end up in a commitment of any kind.  But sometimes, in his heart, I know he wants to have this taste of a normal life even though he has no idea at all about what it would mean.

But Gary and I know what it would mean, and we know it can’t happen.  It makes me a little sadder for Aaron when he does talk about it.  Yet I think of the reality of what would happen if we said yes to this grand idea, and I’m jerked back to THAT reality and know that it can’t be a part of Aaron’s life.

God continues to give us grace and to soothe my heart when I hurt for Aaron.  And I’m very thankful that He gives us the strength to not “put it too far,” and say yes!!

I’m thankful, too, that God isn’t too far from us in any of this.  He knows and understands,  and His promise to be near the brokenhearted is always true!

The Dandelion

I’m a little…actually, a lot…fired up right now because of an article I just read.  Apparently, a special-needs teacher in Indiana decided on award night to present one of her male students with the Most Annoying Male award.  Yes, you read that correctly.  She did this in front of all the other students and their parents, including the parents of this young boy.

OK.  You have the background now for why I’m upset. To publicly humiliate this boy and his parents is inexcusable.  To do it in this fashion is heartless.  And the fact that this woman actually teaches special-needs students is beyond belief.

Yesterday evening, after we ate supper and as I was cleaning the kitchen, I looked over at our kitchen table.  The evening sun was shining in the windows beside our table, highlighting the beautiful flowers that Gary brought to me last week for our anniversary.  The flowers still look so gorgeous, so bright and cheerful, that I just had to snap a picture.

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When I look at those pretty flowers, I’m reminded of Gary’s love for me over all these years, and how he showed it on this particular occasion.  Gary shows his love for me every day in so many ways, but he knew that these flowers would be a very special way to demonstrate his love on our special #40 anniversary.

Later, I went out to the garage to talk to Gary while he whittled on a walking-stick he’s finishing.  It wasn’t long, though, before we heard the familiar sound of Aaron’s fast walking headed in our direction through the house.  He loudly opened the door and barreled into the garage, primed to talk about whatever was on his mind.  So much for our quiet conversation, Gary and I both said without speaking as we looked at each other.

I became occupied with some things that needed my attention,  soon realizing that Aaron had disappeared but had not gone back into the house.  I stepped out on the driveway and sure enough saw Aaron at our neighbor’s house.  He was standing at their pool talking to them as they were, I’m sure, trying to have a few moments of conversation without interruption from either of their young boys.  After calling to him a few times, Aaron turned to come home, and I turned back into our garage.

A few seconds later, Aaron rounded the corner and ran excitedly into the garage.  “Here, Mom!!!” he exclaimed.  Into my face he thrust his gift…a decrepit looking and closed-up Dandelion.

Aaron was all smiles as he awaited my reaction, holding this unimpressive Dandelion under my nose.  Honestly, my first initial impulse was to say something like this: “Oh Aaron, how sweet, but I don’t need a Dandelion in the house.”

Yet something stopped me as I saw Aaron’s huge smile and looked at how his eyes were sparkling with delight.  So, I took the little Dandelion and instead thanked Aaron.  When I did, Aaron spontaneously put his arm around me and gave me the sweetest side hug!  If you know Aaron, you know how unusual this was!  I hugged him back, a little awkwardly because I had been turning to walk away and because I was so surprised at his hug.

Aaron chuckled, full of satisfaction at his good deed.  I told him to come with me and we would put this special flower in some water.  This made Aaron very happy!  When I put the browning and unimpressive Dandelion in a small plastic glass of water, you would have thought I had put a gorgeous bouquet in a crystal vase.  Aaron grinned from ear to ear as he bounded back outside to talk some more to Gary.

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I decided to put Aaron’s little gift beside Gary’s big gift, which only accentuated the smallness of this meager Dandelion.  Yet, in no way was Aaron’s intent any smaller than Gary’s.  Both were full of love, expressed in two different and yet two very sweet ways.

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This is Aaron.  He does, in the midst of his often perplexing and annoying ways, show us his love.  He shows love on his terms and in his times, not usually on ours.  But in allowing him this freedom we are also allowing him to be expressive in manners that suit him and that come from deep in his heart.  It’s beautiful to see!

You notice I did say that Aaron can be annoying.  Aren’t all of our children, at times?  Yet never would I publicly shame Aaron as this teacher did to her student.  Our special children often find it impossible to function as expected in our complex world, but they are rarely setting out to purposely be annoying.  It’s up to us as parents and as teachers to understand this and to respond appropriately.

I don’t always understand, and I don’t always respond as I should.  Like last night as I said goodnight to Aaron, why did I choose that time to mention his need of improving his showering skills?  It took him a while to wind down from that, just when I am most tired, but what did I expect?  There are times I need a lip zipper, for real!!

This morning I saw that Aaron’s closed and rather ugly Dandelion had opened fully and was a bright yellow.  I showed Aaron, and he smiled a smile that was as bright as his Dandelion gift.

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Our special children…ALL of our children…will open and thrive if given the opportunity.  A little water and some light totally changed my little Dandelion.  He still looked small beside the larger vase of flowers, but he has quite a large place in my heart.

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Just like our Aaron.  If given the chance, he can shine along with the biggest and the best.  It’s just going to be in HIS way, and I need to know that this is a good thing.  A very good thing!

I also need to remember to point out to Aaron his own progress and accomplishments.  He loves hearing affirmation, just like he loved seeing his Dandelion gift sitting there looking brand new.  It reminded him that he had made a very good choice!

I pray that Indiana special-needs teacher will understand this someday, too.  And I especially pray that her student will be nurtured and will open up to his full potential…and that someone certainly threw away that awful “award!”

 

The Turn Signal

A few months ago, as I headed out of our neighborhood taking Aaron to his day group, I noticed that my right turn signal didn’t sound right.  The second time that I pushed up on the turn signal lever and heard that very fast clicking sound, I knew what it was.  Either my front or my rear turn signal was out.  I drove across town, dropped Aaron off, and then before leaving I got out of the van to check the turn signals.  Sure enough, the rear signal wasn’t working.

Bummer!  Of all the days to have this happen, it had to be on the day I had several errands to run instead of just going straight home.  One of the places I had to go was McConnell Air Base…and they are super picky there about things like the speed limit and vehicles working correctly.  Imagine that!

I drove under the speed limit the entire time I was on base and was thankful that I only had to use my right turn signal once.  But I was sure that this one time would be the one time that an MP was behind me!

I had also promised Aaron that I would take him to one of his favorite stores, Big Lots, after I picked him up.  Our local Big Lots had closed, so I had to once again do some extra driving in my defective van.  I never knew how many times I needed that right turn signal until it wasn’t working!  And I decided a possible conversation with a police officer was a better choice than the conversation I would need to have with Aaron if I told him our Big Lots trip was cancelled.

I wanted to paste a sign in the rear van window that explained my situation…to let others know that I knew my light wasn’t working…to tell them that I really DO know how to use a turn signal.  How many times have I said that very thing out loud about other drivers who don’t use their turn signals?  I was feeling a little guilty, wondering how many of their signals were broken, too.

Sometimes we just can’t see and don’t understand what a person is going through, do we?  We look at the outside and think things look fine, but the inner workings of a person are far more complex than what we outwardly see.  This fact is very true for every single one of us but is very VERY true for our Aaron.

To be clear, I am not saying that Aaron is broken.  What I AM saying is that Aaron’s responses and handling of life situations can manifest outward behaviors that are extremely frustrating for others around him to understand and handle correctly.  His brain is wired way differently than typical people, and so his turn signal often doesn’t let anyone around him know the direction he is getting ready to take until he’s turned that corner and there’s no going back.

Karen Williams wrote in a paper years ago concerning students with autism:  “Rage reactions/temper outbursts are common in response to stress/frustration.  Children with Asperger’s Syndrome rarely seem relaxed and are easily overwhelmed when things are not as their rigid views dictate they should be.  Interacting with people and coping with the ordinary demands of everyday life take continual Herculean effort.”

Williams was writing about young students, but this same description also applies to adults with autism…to our adult with autism…our Aaron – who definitely flipped his turn signal on last week at the theater.

First, the set-up:  Aaron had been home for three days this past week due to our severe weather chances and flooding concerns.  Aaron loves being at home where he is totally relaxed and able to do all the things he enjoys.  But when he must re-enter normal life, like going back to his day group at Paradigm, it is often a huge struggle for him.  And therefore, for everyone around him.

On Friday, Aaron was reluctant to go to Paradigm.  Even the thought of Friday movie day didn’t really help him.  He decided not to go to the theater, despite having his nine dollars in his wallet for popcorn and the prospect of a fun movie to see.  I encouraged him to go to the theater, and his staff encouraged him to go after texting with me.  But no one MADE him go.  However, that is not at all how Aaron saw it.  His anger was getting deeper.

Second, the incident(s):  At the theater, Aaron took a behavioral turn that everyone could see despite his lack of a working signal.  I don’t even know all that happened there, and don’t really want to know.  I believe, though, that his day group staff was told by theater staff that Aaron needed to leave.  No matter what I know about Aaron and what I understand about his autistic outbursts, these times test my love and my patience.  I’m a normal mom who is terribly embarrassed when Aaron blows it, especially in public.

I wonder what all he did there.  Who saw him?  Did anyone we know see and hear our son acting that way?  Now what?

Third, the repercussions:  When I went to pick Aaron up at the theater, he was sitting in the Paradigm van.  Aaron emerged from the van with a very unhappy face, and I knew something not-so-good had happened.  Athena, his kind staff, gave me a very brief update, but Aaron’s still-angry mood told us it was not the time to discuss it.

He and I talked about it on the way to Wal-Mart, and again inside the store.  But Aaron was saturated with frustration and guilt so I knew I could only say so much before I would push him over the edge again.  Two repercussions that initially happen with Aaron, when that angry turn he took is over, are regret and guilt.  He truly wishes that he hadn’t gone so far in his anger.

Aaron was totally compliant in Wal-Mart, overly so.  This is his way of making up for his angry actions.  At the self-checkout counter, Aaron was super helpful.  He held my coupons, helped unload the cart, and couldn’t say thank-you enough to the clerk who assisted us.

“Am I being good, Mom?”  he asked at one point.  “Am I helping?”  And he looked me square in the eyes, waiting for my response and my affirmation.  It would have been so easy for me to say, “Yes, Aaron, but I sure do wish you would have been this nice in the theater!”

But when I saw his eyes, tired from the bad day and hopeful that he was finally doing something good, I nearly cried.  Right there in the check-out lane at Wal-Mart with holiday shoppers all around me, I wanted to burst into tears for Aaron and for me.  For Aaron, because I fully know that he can’t repair his broken turn signal in time to avoid that wrong turn.  And for me, because I love him and I want to “fix” him, but I really can’t.

I turned away quickly and finished paying.  Aaron helped gather up the bags out of the cart and we walked to the van, happy that the rain had stopped.  When we got home, another storm was coming.  Aaron was concerned about the lightning while he was on his computer, so he wanted me to be sure and tell him if he needed to shut the computer off.

“Mom,” he instructed, “come up and tell me, or call to me from downstairs, OK?”

He waited for me to respond.

“I’m giving you two decisions,” he finished.

I always smile at how he says that…two decisions instead of two choices.

But I thought of how true his saying was at that time.  I did have two decisions regarding more than lightning and his computer.  I also had two decisions about that turn signal issue of Aaron’s.  I could be angry and berate him, or I could be loving and instructive at the same time.  The decision is mine to make, despite how difficult it sometimes is.  It’s easier to lash out at Aaron, honestly, but harder to be loving and patient with instruction thrown in.  Yet the first decision only brings more anger and hurt.  The second decision, hopefully, helps to fix Aaron’s hurting heart and show him a better way to handle his anger.

Back to my van’s turn signal – Gary was able to pick up the correct part and repair it that evening.  Aaron was beside him the entire time, at one point using that moment to show Gary some scrapes on his legs.  Aaron is so oblivious about how he looks in public, and at times it’s really funny.

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But at other times, like the theater incident, it’s anything BUT funny.  How we wish that we could install the part that would make Aaron’s turn signal work correctly and avoid all the damage that’s done when it doesn’t!

How many times do I wish I could paste a sign on Aaron’s back that explains his behaviors?!

I can’t, though.  We just keep driving down this road with Aaron, trusting that some people understand and not worrying about the ones who don’t.  Easier said than done!  But God does give grace and He gives us wisdom to make that right decision…and He redirects us when we don’t!

Aaron’s turns aren’t easy when his signal’s messed up, but we’re there to repair the damage and pray it works better at the next turn.

And sometimes hang on for dear life!

 

Included

Last night, I peeked into Aaron’s room and saw this:

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THIS…is Aaron finishing The Meg movie by watching the credits.  He keeps his eyes glued to the screen as if he is looking at the most pivotal part of the movie and wouldn’t dare look away.  He knew that I was getting ready to go downstairs so that he and I could watch our nightly show.

“Mom, I’m almost done!” he said.  “It won’t be long!”

To Aaron, the credits are a part of the movie.  He will not end a movie when most of us say that a movie is over.  No.  The movie is over only when the credits end.

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If Aaron starts something, he will finish it in his Aaron way.

Aaron has started something else recently.  It’s not the first time we’ve seen him start this thing, but it’s the most recent.  It’s not something that we can touch or see, but it’s something that we definitely hear.  And feel…because Aaron feels it deeply.

I can explain it by telling what happened a few weeks ago.  We were eating breakfast on a Saturday morning on our patio.  Gary prayed before we ate.  One thing he did was to ask God to take care of us, and also to bless and take care of Andrea and Kyle, and Andrew.  He named them, but for us three sitting at the table, Gary just said “us.”

No big deal, right?  Wrong.

Aaron’s head popped up after the prayer and immediately he said, “You don’t also want to love ME?!”

Gary NOT using Aaron’s name did NOT sit well with Aaron.

We talked about why Gary called us “us,” and explained that it had not one thing to do with not loving Aaron.  Aaron finally hushed about it, but we could tell he wasn’t totally convinced.

Like I said, once Aaron starts something, he will finish it…sometimes weeks later.  And even if we think it’s finished, one more little part of it may emerge at any moment.

Aaron has a very difficult time expressing his deep feelings in conversation.  He also has a blind spot when it comes to seeing how he is affecting others at times.  But to be so unaware of other’s reactions, he sure can see a difference sometimes in how we talk to him compared to how we talk to our other children.

For instance, when I’m on the phone with Andrea, Aaron will almost always stand beside me at some point and want to talk to her.  He waits and waits until I let him have the phone, or turn it on speaker, and then he goes on and on and on about his latest movie or game.  He doesn’t ask her about her life but gets his satisfaction by doing all the talking.  Andrea responds so well, and Aaron loves it.

But Aaron has also observed that the way I talk to Andrea, and she talks to me, is different from how we talk to him.  He doesn’t get why it’s that way, and he really isn’t able to change it, but he does know that our interactions with each other are not what they’re like with him.

This has been bothering him lately, and he’s been comparing himself to her or to Andrew.  Therefore, he strives for attention…and Gary and I strive to give him a share of our attention while we are getting more and more tired of the striving.

The other night, Gary and I snuck outside and sat on our front porch.  Just the two of us.  Talking.  Uninterrupted.

But then we heard the door in the garage close.  Aaron popped around the corner.  We were caught!

There Aaron stood, talking and talking and talking.  Talking about Terminators and Trandoshians and clones from the Delta squad and visor modes…

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Our brains freeze and our minds wander when Aaron talks non-stop.  Then he asks a question, waiting for an answer, and we do a mental hustle trying to remember what on earth he was talking about.  It’s a scenario repeated so often, and one that Aaron so often interprets as a lack of interest on our part.

A couple nights ago, Andrea texted during supper and sent us a picture of what is growing on the mystery plant in their yard.  Grapes!  It was fun to see the picture as we’ve all wondered if the plant was a grapevine.  Gary and I were happy!

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Then yesterday, she sent a picture of their first onion harvest from their backyard garden.  And again, we were happy.

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But Aaron was not happy.  Once again, he sensed more enthusiasm from us about Andrea’s life than his.  And once again we were doing damage control for much of the evening.  UGH!!

This morning, Aaron was up and on his computer at 4:30.  That’s 4:30 A.M!!!  I got him to go back to bed, but he was up again not long after.  And as I talked to him, he mentioned Andrea and her things and he hoped she wouldn’t call.

I sighed.  But not where he could hear me.  He heard me sigh once when I was on the verge of anger.

“Don’t breathe madly!!” he commanded me.

I went to the kitchen this morning, and then decided to do the hard thing that I didn’t feel like doing.  I walked back upstairs to Aaron, sitting at his computer.

“Hey, Aaron,” I said.  “Do you want some eggs and bacon?”

He did.  So later, there we were, sitting at our kitchen table eating eggs and bacon.  I wanted to be having my quiet time and talking to God, but here I was having a not-so-quiet time and talking to Aaron.

But before I prayed over our food, Aaron blew me away by what he said.

“I just want to be included,” he said.

That was truly amazing!  And as we ate, I was able to assure him that he IS included in our lives.  Yet no number of words coming from my mouth gave him assurance of that fact as much as my listening to HIS words coming from his mouth.

Really listening.  Asking questions.  Looking at his Ironman Guide Book that he ran and got from his room.

The flying fortress.  AIM.  Girl face statues.  Titanium Man.  The frozen ship.  The brain controls that make you dizzy.  And oh, SO much more!

Then I got a text on my phone.

“Better not be Andrea,” Aaron muttered.  “Like her grapes and onions!”

I wanted to laugh but knew better.  And I know better than to think that this inclusion and being loved business is settled.  I know it isn’t. But I was very touched by how Aaron calmed and responded when he knew he had not only my full attention, but my full interest.

The credits on this part of Aaron’s life movie are still rolling, and we must show interest…and also guide him to know when it’s time for a break.

And that a break doesn’t mean exclusion!

God, give us and so many other parents like us the grace to love ALL our children just the same, even when the expression of that love is anything but the same.

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My Special Needs

I hate Mom.

Those were the last words I heard Aaron mutter softly as he lay in his bed after a very rough evening.  I heard those words on the baby monitor that I keep on my nightstand so that I can hear seizures.  I would rather have heard a seizure, honestly. 

And I was so frustrated at his hurtful words that I picked up the monitor, pressed the talk button, and nearly…very nearly…spoke angry words that would have only exacerbated the situation on so many levels.  I am glad I didn’t.

Earlier in the evening I had written another funny clip about Aaron on Facebook.  I love sharing the very unique and humorous ways that Aaron speaks.  His take on the world can be side-splitting hilarious and so refreshing.

But he has another take on the world as well, and that take can take a huge toll on me and on Gary…and take every tiny ounce of patience that we have left in order not to erupt ourselves into verbal onslaughts that will match Aaron’s, word for word. 

I knew that we might be in for a rough night when Aaron was still playing a game on his computer after 9:00.  He’s usually downstairs long before then, hovering over me, waiting for me to finish whatever I am doing so that we can watch one of his TV shows on his DVD set.  But 9:00 came and went, with no return of Aaron who had previously asked me to assure him that we would watch a DVD at his precise, set time.

Upstairs I went, only to find him playing one of his favorite Lego Star Wars games on his computer.  When Aaron plays a game like this, he has a very hard time stopping it and saving it.  He must reach a certain point in the game, and in his mind, before he will turn it off.  For over an hour he kept repeating the same phrase, loudly: “I’m coming!!”  Over and over and over.

I knew better than to rush him, but I also knew that the clock was moving toward bedtime and not TV time.  We were in for it, I knew it…and I was right.

Aaron finally rushed downstairs and barreled into the family room, eyes wide and words rushing out. 

“Can we watch Bones, Mom?!!  Can we??!!”

I reminded him of the late hour, but he didn’t care one bit about that.  He was in such a tizzy.  And he could tell that I was tired and didn’t want to stay up late.  His whole nighttime routine was a wreck now, due to no fault of mine, but Aaron refused to take responsibility. 

Mom was mean.  Mom was dumb.  Mom didn’t care.  On and on.

He turned his DVD on.  Turned it off.  More yelling.  Turned it on.  Turned it off.  Asked if I was crying, over and over and over…for Aaron does NOT like to see me cry.  I wasn’t crying, but he didn’t believe me, so he stared and stared at me.  And he also does not like for me to make funny eye or facial movements, so he stood in front of me as I sat on the couch, demonstrating to me with his own face the looks from MY face that he would not tolerate.

It was just too much.  He looked so funny, really, that in my tiredness I did the forbidden…I laughed.  Aaron thought I was laughing AT him personally.  He erupted and we traveled even further downhill than we already were.

It was a wild hour after that.  He was in and out of his bedroom…in and out of bed…in and out of our bedroom.  He was calmer talking to Gary…angry talking to me.   Say goodnight, Mom…no, don’t say goodnight, Mom.  I don’t want your goodnight kiss…OK, I do want your kiss. 

He calmed when Gary came upstairs.  He let me hug and kiss him goodnight.  And then the soft, muttered words that I heard on the monitor…words that showed he was still upended and very frustrated. 

My calmness during the whole episode only seemed to fuel his flames.  The realistic, upset words I did say seemed to appeal to him more than soft kindness.  So strange how that works.  So strange how that complex brain of his works.

Seizures are honestly easier to handle than are the behaviors.  Seizures are scary and sad.  Behaviors are exhausting and often hurtful.  People feel sorry for seizures.  But behaviors…what do you do with behaviors? 

And behaviors leave me feeling like a very unfit special needs mother.  I am not above the anger and the lost patience that Aaron’s anger and lost patience trigger in me.  Then comes the guilt and regret.

I lay in bed last night, Gary’s calmness and nearness giving me comfort.  But my tension was strong, too, and sleep wouldn’t come.  My tossing and turning was keeping Gary awake, too, I knew.  I would relax and then thoughts would wash over me.  I would relax again and Aaron would stir, seeming to be restless as well. 

There are so many thoughts and emotions that go through my mind after these episodes, infrequent though they have been lately.  How could I have handled it differently?  What should I have said?  What should I have NOT said?  Guilt for not liking Aaron when he’s out of control.  On and on.

What I do know is that God is always there for me.  He heard me last night, there in the dark, praying and confessing and praising.  He knows my form.  He knows that I am human and that I am weak and that I need Him, totally.  He knows that I get frustrated and tired, and that I do love Aaron with all my heart.  And He knows that though I love Aaron, sometimes I don’t like him when he’s angry and full of hurtful…and hurting…words.

Being a mom of a child with special needs is never easy.  Some days…and happenings…make it harder than others. 

But then I think about God, and how often I am that child with special needs and how much He gives me His love and His grace. 

That’s the kind of parent I need to be with Aaron.  Forgiving him…understanding but not condoning…and opening my heart and my arms with love. 

I have no superior wisdom or strength.  I mess up…I give up…I look up.  And there I find God, always understanding and giving me grace. 

God’s a good Father to me, his special needs daughter.  I need all He gives to me and does for me, for I have nothing of my own.  He certainly didn’t choose me for this parenting role because of anything I have to bring to the table.  He chose me because…well, I don’t really know.  But what I DO know is that He is all-knowing about what is best, and that in all of this I see MY special needs every bit as much as I see Aaron’s.

And in the seeing, I am shown God’s great love and great grace and how His arms are always under me, bearing me up when I am at my weakest.  Which is often.

God loves me, His special needs daughter. 

And He will give me all that I need to do the same for Aaron, His special needs son that He entrusted to my feeble care. 

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Aaron’s Bowl of Normal

Walking through the family room the other day, I noticed something red sitting on the end table beside Aaron’s favorite chair.  I knew he had left his bowl of Hot Tamales on the table, but there was something else.  I stopped to look, and this is what I saw.

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Aaron had set aside these two Hot Tamales.  This is nothing new, so I knew exactly what it meant.  It meant that Aaron realized these two Hot Tamales were a different shape and size than his normal Hot Tamales.  To Aaron, they don’t fit into the bowl of regular candy.  They are not the norm.  They must be separated from the usual candy, sitting there until all his candy is finished, and then thrown away.  He will not eat them.  They are unacceptable to him. 

Our Christmas holiday is still a warm memory to me.  However, not every memory with Aaron is warm and fuzzy.  Those unusual Hot Tamales help explain our family dynamic perfectly.

Aaron both loves, and somewhat dreads, our Christmas celebration.  He loves the anticipation of opening his gifts.  He looks forward to time off from his day group…time to be at home relaxing and filling his days with whatever he wants.  He likes seeing what food I am making, hoping that some of his favorites are in the mix. 

However, Aaron’s autistic mind is also very aware that his structured schedule is about to change.  He knows that he will soon need to share his ordered world with Andrea and Kyle…with their three dogs…and with Andrew.  He even must share his bathroom, for crying out loud!  In his mind, he is already setting aside some of these daily issues much like he does his unacceptable Hot Tamales.  They are not the norm, so they are cast off mentally as being unpleasing…yet in this case, necessary.

Aaron in many ways looks forward to our family being together for Christmas, just as he looks forward to eating his candy that is poured into one of his ever-present bowls.  But soon comes along those pesky interruptions into his ordered life…interruptions that are very difficult for him to sort and to deal with properly.

Christmas Eve is most often the time for what Andrew calls “Aaron’s Annual Christmas Meltdown.”  We say this with a smile when Aaron doesn’t hear us, but we also say it with some dread for what might come. 

Two of our best Christmas traditions occur on Christmas Eve.  My favorite is the Christmas Eve service at our church.  Each year we ask Aaron to come, and each year he turns down our offer.  The large crowds…all the talking with strange people…some of the louder music…and having to sit quietly for such a long time…are all very stressful to Aaron.  We understand this, and we don’t push the issue.  We know better.  But each year I’m sad that our picture in front of one of the beautiful Christmas trees does not include our full family.

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When we get home from the Christmas Eve service, our other fun Christmas tradition takes place.  Christmas Bingo!!  Otherwise known as the usual cause for “Aaron’s Annual Christmas Meltdown.”  Our Christmas Bingo is fun and loud and unpredictable.  Aaron greatly dislikes loud, unpredictable fun…which to him is NOT fun!  This is why Aaron shuns parties of any kind.  He says that people act weird at parties.  Never mind that on any given day one may hear Aaron clapping or saying outlandish things as he watches a show or scratching himself openly in Wal-Mart.  Aaron sees his actions as totally fine, but when Gary acts goofy as he announces each Bingo card, Aaron’s frustrations grow and grow.  Add to that our laughter and joking, winning or NOT winning each round, prizes that disappoint…well, Aaron’s bowl of normal is quickly being emptied and he is usually simmering as the game progresses.

This year, Aaron joined us after we had played a couple rounds.  He hovered near the table, observing us and seeming to need time to gather his courage to sit down at the table.  Aaron usually targets one of the guys, especially Kyle since he is new to our family and Aaron still isn’t sure it’s OK that he married Andrea.  He targets Andrew because Aaron has always been somewhat jealous of his brother.  And he targets Gary because Gary is Dad, and Dad is acting way too silly. 

When Aaron sat down with us to play, we all quietly decided to try to make the game as non-silly as possible.  We also decided to be as quiet as possible when announcing that we had a Bingo.  However, this plan ultimately made us laugh even more…as quietly as possible but still not quiet enough for Aaron. 

But something else was also going on with Aaron.  Andrea later said it very well.  Aaron knew that things were very funny because we were all laughing, but he couldn’t figure out what the funny things were.  There were many comical moments, but none made Aaron laugh.  He was focused and intense and struggling very hard to keep from being angry.  There was nothing worth laughing about in Aaron’s mind.  Instead, he was wondering why we were all laughing at the gifts and at each other’s comments, and as we see every year, his tension was mounting and his fun meter was doing way down. 

My heart went out to him as I just watched him sitting on the opposite end of the table from me.  He had just won a prize and was so very seriously opening the little box. 

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He loved getting a Bingo, and I found myself wanting him to win every time.  But life isn’t like that, and I knew he needed to once again learn to be a part of our world…loud and puzzling and frustrating and disappointing as it is.  He can’t remove the parts of life around him that are not his normal.  He must adapt as much as possible, and we must also be allowed to enjoy our family life together with him when we can…when he can. 

There are small ways that we have learned to let Aaron be…to not ripple the water unnecessarily.  Like when he won a bottle of body wash, but it was ladies body wash.  With each other, we would have laughed at this…making fun of the girlie name on the bottle and teasing whichever guy had the misfortune of winning it.  But not with Aaron.  We just kept quiet about it, watching Aaron stash his prize safely on the floor beside him.  And later that night, I found the body wash placed in the shower to be used by him the next morning.  I never said a word to him about it, and he happily used it…and smelled very nice!

We pick our battles with Aaron when we can, happy that he actually made it through this Bingo game without an eruption of anger.  His anger later spilled out toward me after I made a random comment about forgetting to put the ham cheese ball out to eat, saying that maybe we should start our game all over.  That did NOT make him happy…and neither did my hand motions that he copied angrily.  He was so done with that evening!  All of us were picked out of his normal bowl, trust me!

I was happy that his seizure during the night didn’t ruin his Christmas day.  I was happy that he was able to open his presents, though he was heavy-eyed and dreary after the seizure.  I was happy that his other seizure later that day was during his nap, and that he didn’t fall down. 

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And I was especially very happy that our neighbor came over and took our family picture in front of our tree.

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For really, our family isn’t complete without Aaron.  He may want to kick us at times out of his normal bowl, but then he does turn around and let us back into his life. 

And we do the same with Aaron, over and over and over again.  We welcome…we include…we modify…we adjust…we sigh…we go to bed tired – but we do love our Aaron and will always want him in OUR bowls as much as possible. 

 

 

The Rat

It all started one recent night when our almost-broken DVD player became the totally-broken DVD player.  Aaron and I were watching the next Blue Bloods show that was in Aaron’s rigid schedule for the evening.  Aaron kindly paused the program while I went into the kitchen.  Something about that pause became the something that pushed our ailing DVD player into its grave.  Even Gary, our go-to he-can-fix-everything guy, came but could not fix.  And as I watched Aaron’s frustrated reaction, I rightly guessed that he would also be very difficult to fix that night.

I was very correct on that one.

There are times when Aaron handles life’s interruptions of his routine with amazing calm and grace.  That night was not one of those times. 

I didn’t help, either.  When Aaron became more belligerent, I became more frustrated.  I don’t do end-of-the-day meltdowns very well, especially as I get older.   I finally told Aaron not to be a bully.  But I didn’t end there.  I also told him not to be a bully brat.  I thought it had a nice ring to it, you know. 

Aaron did not think it had a nice anything.

Now we not only had to go to bed without finishing our Blue Bloods show, and knowing that the DVD player was dead, but we also had to walk up our stairs for our goodnight routine harboring anger.  I could have made amends and gone right to bed with no problem. 

Aaron could not.

And so began an age-old bedtime dance that we hadn’t done together in a long time.  It basically consisted of Aaron refusing to do what is normally done and insisting on doing what is unacceptable. 

His angry comments included: 

“I am NOT helping put the oil in the diffuser!”

“I am NOT taking my medicine oil!”

“I am NOT saying goodnight to you!”

“I am NOT going to bed!”

“I am NOT letting you kiss me goodnight!”

“I am NOT a bully brat!”

I stayed as calm and flat as I could be in my reactions as I went about my own bedtime routine.  Aaron continued his fuming by going into his room and closing his door, only to open it seconds later.  He would stomp up the hall and come into my room, hurling another angry comment at me.  One time he closed his door normally, but immediately reopened it so that he could slam it shut the second time.  I had to smile at that one.

But I wasn’t smiling at any of the rest, for sure.  I was sorry it had come to this…I was very tired…and I was totally aware that Aaron’s outrage could continue for some time.  Therefore, I just went to bed, pulling my covers up and acting as if everything was normal.  Gary had not come upstairs yet, so I left my door open. 

Sure enough, Aaron clomped up the hall again and came into my bedroom.  He didn’t even seem to blink as he saw me in bed and so changed his direction, standing on Gary’s side of the bed.  He glared down at me under the covers and continued his verbal barrage.  Then he was off, slamming his bedroom door before soon reopening it, and repeating the same action again and again.  In my bedroom, hovering over the bed as he angrily talked, and off again.  I don’t even know how many times this occurred.

Then all of a sudden, the next time Aaron hurried to my room to glower at me, he didn’t.  He didn’t hover and glower, but instead he sat on the bed beside me.  He started rubbing his hands together and then he said, “Mom, do you know what Nanomites are?” 

Really.  Nanomites.

And just as seriously as I possibly could, with no hint of surprise or laughter or tiredness,  I told him that I did not know what Nanomites are.  There we were, in the dim light, talking ever so diligently about Nanomites.  We didn’t talk about our anger…our hurt…our frustration with each other…our disappointment in the dead DVD player…or our needed apologies.  We talked about Nanomites.

And all was well. 

Aaron went back to his bedroom.  I stayed in bed, waiting.  Soon he was headed back up the hall, but this time he came around to my side of the bed.

“Here Mom,” he said.  “I want you to have this.”

A couple days earlier, I had taken Aaron to Dollar Tree.  You would have thought I had let him enter heaven for a few minutes.  He bounced from aisle to aisle, SO excited by his many finds, but definitely the MOST excited by this big, plastic, long-tailed, red-eyed rat! 

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I rolled over in bed that night, and there on my night stand was that long-tailed, red-eyed rat.  I knew as sure as ever, then, that things were right with me and Aaron.  He had given me what at that moment was most precious to him…his black, plastic rat. 

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He laughed and bent over as he rubbed his hands together…a sign of his pure joy.  And I thanked him.  I thanked him as sincerely as if he had placed a huge vase of roses on my night stand.

Aaron wanted me to come and say goodnight in the way we always do, so I did.  Then as I was in my bathroom right after that, I heard Aaron once again walk up the hall.  He knocked on the bathroom door, and when I answered he said, “Mom, I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too, Aaron,” I replied.  “I love you.”

“I love you,” he mumbled as he hurried off and back to bed.

I kept that ugly plastic rat on my night stand for a couple days.  It reminded me of so much.  It was an unusual picture of my relationship not only with Aaron, but also with God.

How many times have I been angry with God over a problem or a situation in my life?  Maybe not even full-blown anger but frustrated and not trusting Him totally.  How many times have I held onto hurt, or worry, or fear, or whatever else it may be that I want to harbor close to me.  Things or people or events that I don’t want to relinquish to God? 

All the going back and forth with God doesn’t accomplish a single thing.  It’s only when I yield to Him and to His control in my life, tell Him I’m sorry if I need to do so, and then give Him my thing that to me is precious…that I want to keep and coddle…only then will I have true peace.  Also, only then will I have open communication and sweet fellowship with God again.  Only then will I see what’s on the new path upon which He has set my feet.

Who knew what that silly red-eyed black plastic rat would teach me? 

Leave it to Aaron…and to God…to take the bad times and make them full of good.