Don’t You Want More Children?

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If you wait long enough, some life decisions will be made for you. Career, marriage, children… where we will live. Practically anything can be decided by procrastination. Maybe everything isn’t what I imagined for myself when I was young. Some things have exceeded my expectations, and other things took a wrong turn that was completely out of my control. But for the most part, I am on the right path now, and I know exactly what I want.

Except for one topic.

Over the holiday, a conversation reminded me that we have made no decisions about having more children. I say “reminded” me, because I don’t think about it at all anymore – I just go about my days, oblivious to the thing that once dominated my every thought. But somewhere in the back of my mind I am aware that we have not really settled this matter. We are both officially in our forties, and Teghan is about to turn nine. Has the decision already been made for us? 

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8000 Days Later

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It was on a Sunday afternoon in late October, 1994, when I knew I would marry my husband. Which was strange, because I had woken up that morning feeling relieved that it was finally over between us.

It had been all wrong. I was eighteen years old and had only known Dave for three months. We were touring together in a musical group with a strict rule against dating. We each called a different state home, and neither of us had ever lived on our own before. To make matters worse, Dave had a girlfriend away at college. He could not live with the guilt of falling for me, and I was not interested in being the other woman. Besides, I had plans for my life that made letting go of him inevitable.

That month of October was the most exciting and heartbreaking time in my life. When we realized we both had feelings for each other, we had built up too much tension to act reasonably. We fell hard and we lost our minds a little. Then came reality. The guilt. The long talks. What were we doing? All the while we were traveling the country with eight other people who were oblivious to what was happening between us.   Continue reading

Seasons Came and Changed the Time

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We finally made it to the beach. Better late than never, but we aren’t exactly overwhelmed with lake options around here. When it comes to the difference between a summer in Michigan and a summer in Central Illinois—this detail tops the list. Especially for a little girl who asks to go swimming no less than fifteen times a day.

So we spent Labor Day weekend in Michigan, where lakes are so plentiful that we managed to get over an hour with the beach entirely to ourselves on a holiday weekend. This happened partly because the weather was cooler than usual; but mostly because when the locals realize summer is ending, they make that extra forty-minute drive to Lake Michigan.

We avoided Lake Michigan.

No matter how much Teghan loves the beach, crowds make her anxious. Which makes us anxious. And, she steals things. One moment she’s playing in the water…the next moment she’s playing in the water with a bag of chips in her hand. Where did those come from? Most parents are familiar with the panic that accompanies the knowledge that your child has taken another child’s food, or worse—is eating random garbage. It’s cute when a toddler does it. People understand. I’m here to tell you, the panic becomes amplified as your child ages.

(Our daughter has also never passed a straw she didn’t attempt to put her mouth on; which is always embarrassing, and sometimes gross. At some point during our holiday weekend she drank from an abandoned cup she found in a downtown park. Literally anything could have been in that cup.)

But this was one of the most relaxing beach trips we have ever had. For the first time, we got to be the parents who just sit on a blanket and watch, without worry, as our child plays in the water. No darting off into the wilderness, or suspicious gazes toward someone else’s ice cream for us to patrol. It was easy. Fun, even. The way beach trips are meant to be.  Continue reading

Finding Our Way in the Darkness

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Two nights ago my daughter was sobbing uncontrollably on the hallway floor. The reason? She had removed a strainer from the cupboard and wanted it in the toilet. I had taken it out.

But that wasn’t the reason, really.

First of all, I have no idea how she even knew it was in the cupboard. She hadn’t seen it used in the toilet, so I am not sure how she decided it belonged there. And although I am 100% positive that my removing it was the source of her great distress—I may never know why it distressed her. Because in spite of the leaps and bounds she has made in communication, conversation is still not an option for us.

Other parents will reassure me by letting me know their children are unable to express what’s really going on inside their heads, too. I imagine children who have regular conversations with their parents do sometimes fall to the ground in fits of rage over something they can never quite put into words. And then I think, maybe this is one of those times and we are just like everybody else.

How can I explain the difference to someone who hasn’t experienced the ways missing conversation can truly keep you in the dark? It’s easy to throw up my hands and say “who knows” while I wait for her to calm down about an insignificant strainer. I strongly doubt it will affect her long-term. This one is easy. And really, it is more than slightly easier than the tantrums over something put in the wrong place, or because the neighbors didn’t park their car in exactly the same spot today. The good news is that it will pass, and she will survive. Maybe I don’t even need to know the details.

What isn’t as easy is when I do need more information and I know there is no way to get it. Like when she comes home from school crying, or comes down with an illness. I have no way of understanding what might be going on. I could ask questions all night long and never get closer to the truth. She would only go back and forth between completely ignoring my inquiries, and repeating the last word I said back to me.  Continue reading

How Will She Download 2016?

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Yesterday, through the wonders of modern technology, my best friend from second grade and I were able to travel back to 1984. Four years ago I had found an old home movie of us and shared it on her Facebook timeline. Then yesterday, the popular “On This Day” app reminded her of it, and she shared it back.

I was waiting in the car with Teghan when the notification came in, and we watched it together. It wasn’t easy to explain. Did she know what I meant when I said that was me? Is she able to easily put together that I used to be little like her, and that this video was taken many years ago? I’m never sure. Time is one of the most difficult concepts to describe effectively. But she seemed entertained.

In 1984 I was about the same age as my daughter is now. The video shows two friends putting on a show for the camera. We cannot take our eyes off of our own images appearing on the TV, and we are especially thrilled with the novelty of my dad turning the camera to “negative” mode.   Continue reading

My Little Runaway

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Our daughter is a wanderer. Last month she managed to escape school. She found an opportunity during lunch; she slipped through the door into the gymnasium, and then out another set of doors onto the back lawn. Luckily a teacher saw her sprinting across the grass through a window—but she made it across the street and into the neighborhood before they caught her.

I wonder where she would have gone if that teacher hadn’t noticed her running across the grass.

I like to think I know my child pretty well. We sometimes practice walking without holding hands in safe areas, hoping to teach her the importance of staying with us even when we are not physically tethered. And it works for a while. But any random thing might catch her eye and she’s off—no hesitation or care in the world outside of getting to her destination.

Sometimes she just likes how a certain house looks and wants to go inside. Maybe someone has a porch swing, or she’s thirsty and sees a cup. She will drink out of any cup. ANY cup. But nothing excites her more than a body of water.

We recently visited some old friends who live on a small lake. It was a good visit for Teghan. She ate cake and played on their swing set. We knew the lake would be a temptation, but she seemed content to swing. We knew eventually she would go to the edge of the water and plunge a foot in. We aren’t new– we were prepared for that. What we were not prepared for was her unexpected sprint toward the lake, down the dock…. and that confident leap she took off the end of it.  Continue reading

My Monthly Budget Pep Talk

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We have enough. We don’t make as much money as we would like to; and I often have to remind myself that this is a conscious decision we have made for our family. But– why did we do this to ourselves?

Our priorities have nothing to do with money and everything to do with our daily happiness. Because isn’t that what the bulk of existence is—thousands of days that roll out into a lifetime? There are goals we make, and maybe we could reach them faster with a little more pain right now. But these minutes and hours are everything. And we would rather be poor on our own terms than financially comfortable on someone else’s.

Of course, we learned this through trial and error.

It isn’t the same for everyone. Some people have passions which appear in the form of time-consuming careers outside the home, while a large percentage of our happiness can be realized from the comfort of our living room. The fact that this applies to both me and my husband is both a blessing and a curse, I suppose.

We live in a culture which narrowly defines success and happiness, and it takes time and experience to figure out that one size does not fit all. There is no right or wrong, just a limited amount of time to get the most out of what we’re given.  Continue reading

A Language Built on Wants

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The other morning we were awoken by the grand entrance of Teghan, as usual. I say “grand” because each time she will swing open the door and pause, excitedly; waiting for our acknowledgment of her presence before jumping on top of us. It’s an easy thing to take for granted, but I am still amazed at how different she is from the child who had zero interest in seeking us out in the morning—let alone consider jumping into our bed.

She can also dress herself and express what she wants. If it’s the weekend she will want to watch YouTube videos on daddy’s phone while snuggled between us. This is how we sleep in. Eventually she will get dressed and ask for breakfast. She knows she needs to get dressed first, and once she has accomplished it we know there is no stopping her from going downstairs.

Most of our conversations are along the lines of: “want…. cereal.” She is good at labeling with single words—she has definitely mastered the art of pairing anything with the word “want.” And that is where we have been stuck for a very long time. Continue reading

Mashed Potatoes on the Record Player!

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Easter has always been the easiest holiday for Teghan. Holidays usually include kid-friendly events like doubling their toy collection, taking candy from strangers, observing loud explosions in the sky…. but searching for symbols of fertility in strange places around the house? Our kid was made for it.

The Easter egg hunt was the first game concept Teghan ever understood. She is gifted at finding things. Remember the Wham! record? It has proven to be a good tool for vocabulary, too. At some point my husband figured out that if he placed eggs (or sometimes treats) on things throughout the house he could evaluate her receptive language more accurately.

For example, “chocolate on the kitchen table….” is the quickest way to find out if she knows what “kitchen table” means. And if she doesn’t know, she will next time.

These strategies are especially useful when your child cannot communicate and will not “perform.” It doesn’t matter if she knows the answer or not; if we ask her a question we will have about a seventy percent chance of being ignored. Offering an incentive improves that percentage drastically.

So Easter egg hunts are perfect. In our own home, of course (she still isn’t very good with following rules or sharing). This year we offered her back to back days of waking up and coming downstairs to an empty basket and a few eggs in plain sight to get her started. No explanation needed. Continue reading

And This Moment, Too, Will Pass

Teghan Running

In July 2012 I decided to start a blog. I knew nothing about how to do that, but I wanted to share our experiences with our daughter and autism. She was four years old at the time, and things weren’t easy. I hoped to not only find a supporting community, but to communicate a piece of our lives to our friends who we had recently moved away from.

On that first night, when I had finally gathered enough courage to publish what had been on my mind, I had no intention of sharing it. Not yet. I created a Facebook page and shared it with no one. I figured that courage would come later. It was enough that I was willing to have some stranger accidentally stumble across it.

But when I woke up the next morning I had over 200 likes on my Facebook page. Somehow, Autism Daddy had come across my blog and shared it overnight. My post “This Moment Will Pass” already had thousands of views. And it gave me the courage to share my page with friends and family. Continue reading