Lilli

Lilli

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How a Necklace Led me to Thankfulness

I carefully unclasped my daughter's necklace and took it off of her neck before I put her in the bath. I had put the necklace on her at 8 am, before school, and she had worn it all day until 8 pm.

Before she got out of the car for school in the morning, proudly wearing her necklace.

This was the first time my eleven year old with special needs has ever in her life worn a necklace all day for that long without ever once trying to rip it off because of sensory issues.

It made me thankful for the amazing therapist who used to patiently help my daughter to try and get used to the feeling of wearing jewelry without yanking on it and breaking it. So I sent that therapist a message and a picture of her wearing the necklace. We texted back and forth, rejoicing together about something so small - a little necklace - but it was huge to me.

Still wearing the necklace all afternoon...

Why such a big deal, to learn to wear a necklace without ripping it off? Because it was important to my daughter. She loves jewelry and fashion. She wants to wear necklaces. She had to learn how to wear one, and it took years to get used to it.

When I unpacked her backpack from school, I read a note from her 6th grade teacher that told  me she worked on spelling words and counting money values. It made me so thankful for the sweet patient teacher who helped her get this far. She believed in my daughter's hidden intelligence, even though she is unable to speak.

The necklace my daughter wore was a gift from the patient teacher I was remembering. She gave it to her on her last school day with my daughter, inside an engraved music box that says "You will achieve great things."

I sent the teacher a message with a picture, told her about how school has been going, and thanked her for teaching my daughter years ago.

"You will achieve great things." Every time I look at this, I tear up. Such a gift, to have others believe in my child.


I unpacked my son's kindergarten backpack and pulled out the pages where he had so carefully traced numbers from one to ten. I thought about all of the meticulous cutting and gluing he has been doing at home on his own - for fun - over the last few weeks. The scraps all over our floor each day are evidence of this. It made me thankful for the occupational therapist who lovingly helped my little guy practice using scissors, draw with markers, and get used to the sticky sensation of glue that he hated so much. I thought about all of the time she spent helping him learn to focus on and complete an activity or project. If she could only see all the projects he has completed since her last OT session with him many months ago.

I sent her a message and thanked her.

I didn't teach my son to do this. Other people did. I know who they were, and I'm thankful.

I thought of the conversation I had with my son's kindergarten teacher, where I told her that he had had a severe speech delay and many people worked very hard to help him though his early years. She was shocked. No one would ever guess that this little man, who delights me with every adorable conversation I have with him, was extremely frustrated in his inability to communicate basic needs and wants not so long ago, and that I spent long minutes deciphering and guessing his requests. Often with tears.

I sent a message and thanked the speech therapist who helped both my son and daughter make amazing strides, through her skill, encouragement, and unwavering belief in their potential for communication and expressing intelligence.

I think of every teacher each of my children has ever had. I remember them all, their encouragement, their hugs and smiles for my children, their patience, their love.

These people my children have had come alongside of them to help them learn and grow...they are gifts to me. And there are so many.

I think of all of the therapists and teachers we have ever known for all of our children. How do you thank a person for touching a life? How do you tell a person that their encouragement, skill, and commitment to help your child has forever affected the entire family and lives of all who surround this child?

Teacher appreciation week falls miserably short. End of the year teacher gifts are a paltry offering that can never express our immense gratitude. Therapists do not even have a special day or week of appreciation. Dance teachers, music teachers, really anyone who has ever loved my children and helped them in any way, even if it seemed small...these are all people I wish I could forever thank as I watch my children grow and succeed. The love is what I remember most. I am thankful for those who really loved my children, because that love helped them to grow. The faces of many are popping into my mind, as I think of those who have loved my kids.

The only thing I can think to do is to continue to thank these teachers and therapists as my children grow. I will never forget them. I will never be able to thank them enough. I will never be able to show them all that they did to help my child.

All I can do is show them pictures, and tell them, "Thank you."

If any of them are reading this right now, I want them to know that I am always thankful for them and all that they did. When I look at each of my children, I see all of the people behind them who have helped them become who they are today.

You can do this too. Thank someone. Tell them today, on a random day that is not a "national appreciation day" of any kind. Send a little message. Snap a picture and text it or post it. They still think about your child, trust me.

I know I still think about my former students, and I was a teacher eight years ago, in another state...another lifetime. I look up former students to see how they are doing. I don't contact them, I just look at their picture and check to see what they are up to. Did they graduate? Are they going to college? Did they stay out of trouble? I wonder if they remember me, and how much I poured into them when I was their teacher many years ago. I looked up a few students last spring to see who graduated from a special class I had once. I teared up, to see these precious faces who were once children in my elementary school class staring out at me from the computer screen as teenagers. High school graduates. Young people with big plans. I was so proud! Sitting there in the dark, staring at my laptop screen by myself, my heart was happy for them.

Some students, I was not able to find. I wonder about them still.

If you have a child who has ever had a therapist, or is old enough to have had teachers, you can be sure they remember your child and wonder how they are doing now. Wouldn't it be fun to let them know?
A gift from a former therapist. Loved indeed.
Every time I look at this sign I am reminded about how much that therapist has loved my daughter.






Thursday, July 16, 2015

The New Neurologist in the Mountains

It takes 43 minutes to drive to the new neurologist's office. I drive in silence.

No movie, no radio. Just the voice of the GPS lady giving me occasional directions. I watch Lilli in the back seat as I drive. She looks out the window. Every now and then, she puts her fingers on her chin and smiles. A few times she claps and flaps her arms. She is happy about something, that's for certain. What she is happy about, I may never know. Maybe she is happy to be alone with no siblings annoying her. Maybe she is excited to go for a drive with just me. Although I am not very exciting at the moment.

Maybe she is thinking and hoping about this new doctor. I had already told her that she needed to be kind and smile at the new doctor. That we had heard good things about him. That maybe he could really help us. I have learned that if Lilli smiles and is affectionate and happy when we meet someone new, things are much more likely to go well with that person. I want people to like Lilli. I want them to love her and see her like I see her. I figure, if they see her as I see her, they will want to help her.

This is my reasoning for telling Lilli to make sure to smile and give people hugs. No one can resist her smiles and hugs. Maybe that is desperate or wrong of me. I am desperate. Sometimes you get more help when people like you. But Lilli likes who she likes. She can tell things about people. She sizes them up and gives her love out to only certain few. I do not know her reasoning as to why some people deserve her affection and tight squeezing hugs more than others do. I tell her to be nice to the new doctor today, but I cannot really control what she will do.  I have seen her hug and kiss doctors. I have seen her thrash around and scream at doctors, trying to get away.

When we arrive, I carefully pack up her two bags of important things to get through this visit, and my purse with the secret weapon inside. Not really a secret weapon. More like an emergency tool.

The iphone.

I don't let her see it. I zip it in an inside compartment. She has not seen it in a week. I am determined to keep it hidden unless all hell breaks loose. I need her to be her happy self...aware. Engaged. Not lost in her repetitive Youtube world of watching Elmo clips over and over. If she has the iphone, she will be less likely to look at the new doctor and smile and make him fall in love with her. On the other hand, if she does not have the iphone, she might be screaming.

It's a chance I decide to take.

We walk slowly up the sidewalk. In the reflection of the glass door, I see her foot turning in. I wince because I know it is going to be bad when we finally go to the orthopedic doctor in a few weeks. She will probably need braces again. Maybe even surgery. Don't think about that today. That's later. Think about the neurologist. That's today.

When we enter the building, Lilli immediately begins to get anxious. Like a racehorse, she gets antsy and I can tell she is getting ready to bolt. I hold her hand tightly and force myself to smile at the woman at the front desk. She smiles warmly and directs me down a hallway. As we come to the end, I am dismayed to see that there is a line for registration.

Lilli cannot stand in a line.

She anxiously tries to get away from me while making sounds of increasing distress. I silently pray that they hurry up, hurry hurry. They are used to kids like this here, right? They will not make me feel bad. But no one smiles at me or reassures me as Lilli collapses on the carpet and lets out a loud screechy wail, and then a low gutteral growl and a hiss. The large registration area and waiting room is at a very low level of soft talking in various areas. A constant but pleasant hum of activity with computers, people in line, and parents waiting with children.

Except for Lilli. She is the only person in the room that is howling at the top of her lungs.

Lilli shrieks. I watch the blond woman on the right behind the counter and I detect a flinch and a flicker of something. Irritation maybe. Lilli really is loud, and it is a shock if you are not used to it.

Maybe she is just irritated at her computer. I try to think positively but the negative sounds are quickly squashing any possibility of positive thoughts.

Parents in front of me in the line are busy with their own children and we do not make eye contact. I stand still and mute. Paralyzed by dismay and embarrassment, even after all of these years of experiences just like this one. It makes me feel like a failure. I still do not handle this well at all.

Potty. She might have to go potty, it occurs to me. She is pulling on my bag, trying to get into it. Maybe she is trying to tell me something. I do not have a communication device with me. We are between devices right now. It's complicated. I have to guess, but I am a pretty good guesser.

I step around a person at the counter and interrupt. "Excuse me, we have a 9:30 appointment but I need to take her to the restroom, I'm sorry. I'll be back." The blonde, possibly irritated woman is polite and tells me it's ok. "I'll tell them," she reassures me. She points to the restroom.

I take Lilli across the large echo-y waiting room with high ceilings to the restroom as her cries bounce all around us. And she goes potty. I am ecstatic. A small victory to celebrate. I make a big deal and she smiles and puts her hand on her neck, as if to say, I told you. I was trying to tell you. She is quiet and happy while I wash her hands for her, get a paper towel and dry them off.

When we go back to the registration desk, we see a pleasant gray haired woman. She is courteous. But Lilli loses it again. Again she screams and tries to run away several times. I pull out my insurance card and sign papers while wrestling with Lilli's arm. She growls and hisses at me. The gray haired woman acts like nothing is out of the ordinary. She is busy with my insurance information.

I look right at her and say in a matter of fact way, "She has autism."

I don't do that very often. I just felt like I had to. We were in this huge room with high ceilings, and Lilli's every angry noise seemed to echo off of the walls around us.

"Oh, it's okay," she says.

Several more torturous minutes of pulling and crying go by. I don't sit in the chair to sign papers. I stand and hold tight to Lilli while I sign with the other hand, because she is pulling and trying to run away from me. She has already spied a glass door that leads outside and has run to it several times to leave the building. She might not be able to talk, but she is telling me loud and clear that every inch of her does not want to be here. I glance at a paper sign tacked to the side of the cubicle that has the internet wi-fi password, and for a second I almost cave and give her the iphone. Instead, I remain strong and try to memorize the password in case I need to use it later. If I give her the iphone now, there's no taking it from her without a huge scene.

Finally we are finished with the paperwork, and the woman points to the couches in the waiting area. As soon as we make it over to a red velvety couch, I pull out our mini DVD player and turn it on. The DVD player is way less addictive than the iphone. I cannot explain the difference very well but it's just different. Lilli quiets for a moment while she watches the menu screen pull up, and just then a door opens with a nurse saying, 'Lillianna?" It was so quick. Lilli hadn't even had a chance to calm down and watch the movie.

Crying starts again as we get up and I put the DVD player back in the bag.

Off we go, with Lilli pulling my arm and crying through the doorway. The nurse takes us to a scale and asks me if Lilli can handle stepping onto it.

"No. 60 pounds," I say, and I keep walking. Then I think, maybe it's 65.

"We really need her accurate weight," she insists nicely. I put Lilli on the scale and she lets out a loud angry scream. Down another hall to the examining room. The sweet, pretty nurse tries to soothe Lilli. 'It's okay baby, no one's gonna hurt you, you're okay, sweet baby..." she coos at her repeatedly.

I was wrong, I think to myself. She's 63 pounds.

I ignore the nurse's cooing and scan the exam room carefully. Perfect, there is an outlet next to a small table. I put the dvd player on it, plug it in, and pull out three legos for Lilli. Lilli is all of the sudden content. She watches the movie and places her legos on the table in different positions. The nurse asks me a few questions. Then she asks why we are there.

"We just moved here. She is a new patient," I say. The nurse welcomes me and smiles. I can't find a smile at the moment. I'm on edge.

She leaves and I rummage around in my purse for a few things. I don't smoke, and I only rarely drink soda. I don't take meds. But I need something, anything to distract me and help with the anxiety. I don't even have a piece of gum.

I know what I need.  I need a Kit Kat.

I don't have a Kit Kat. So I take a drink of my bottled water.

The doctor comes in softly. He shakes my hand. He says a kind hello to Lilli and pats her on the back. She glances sideways at him quickly. She is absolutely sizing him up. He is a soft, gentle talker and immediately begins to ask questions. I answer dozens of questions as best as I can. I am sitting in a chair in the corner, across from the doctor who is standing at a sort of makeshift podium, taking notes on everything I say. I smooth my black skirt over my knees (I dressed up to try and appear educated and concerned) and try to focus and answer every question very carefully.

Lilli is listening to every word I say. Occasionally she puts her hand on her neck as if to interject. She seems to be especially quiet and attentive when I tell her birth story. She has heard it many times. I hate for her to hear it as I tell about all of the scary things that happened at her birth. I do not try to soften it. I tell the facts. The number of times she stopped breathing.  How the pediatrician figured out that she was having seizures in the nursery. She number of days she was in the NICU. The medications she took. The hospitalizations. The many scary seizures and all of the various kinds and symptoms. All of it I tell with no emotion. Just the facts.

He writes it all down as Elmo sings Elmo's Song in the background.

He asks more questions. What are her triggers. What are signs we notice before she has a seizure. He does not look at me like I am crazy as I tell him hesitantly that she has hiccups before seizures sometimes. He tells me that is certainly a sign of seizure activity. This is the first time I have ever had someone confirm the hunch we have had for years. I tell him as much as I can, in a calm, factual way. I describe what the different seizures look like.

I hate doing this in front of Lilli. She is listening.

I tell him that most of her seizures are when she is sleeping. Either napping or at night. He asks me how we monitor her to make sure she is not having a seizure in the middle of the night. I tell him that she sleeps in our room with us.

And then I have to stop talking for a moment and collect myself. Because this is one of the hardest issues we have faced. And I cannot help but feel beyond desperate for change and hope.

I tell him that we have tried many things, even waiting for several years for hope of a seizure alert dog. He shakes his head and tells me we should not put our complete hope and trust in a dog, that he prefers that we use a monitor. Again I cannot speak for a few seconds. I swallow and tell him that this is very difficult for us, to have her in our room and monitor her 24/7.  But this is what we do, and this is how it is. We watch her.

We talk about medication. We talk about surgery. He calls her seizures "Intractable Epilepsy." Which means that we have tried four medications that have not ever controlled her seizures. I tell him about how we do a special diet. I tell him how chiropractic helps. Her seizures have gotten better. But they have not stopped. I tell him that we have cut out as many triggers as possible.

Still she has seizures. And she is on a medication that is causing her problems.

We talk about getting her off of this medication. We talk for a very long time, and I am amazed at how much time he spends with me and with Lilli. It feels like he has no other patients at all. He does a few magic tricks for her with magnetic blocks on a string. She laughs and reaches up and hugs and kisses him on the forehead. Then he takes out three balls and juggles, and she looks away. He tosses a ball at her, and she does not even flinch. It lands on her lap. He pulls out a wind up snail, and makes funny comments about it. He winds it up and lets it walk down his leg. She looks away, silent and unsmiling. He takes out a flashlight and pretends to blow out the light. She turns and buries her face in my neck.

"She has autism," he tells me gently. He does not know that I already know this. It's ok. I love that he spent time actually getting to know her instead of reading her file. It's refreshing.

We will do tests and meet again and come up with a plan.

We leave, and he gives her the magnetic toy to keep. She reaches up and smiles and hugs him. She wants him to pick her up. I can tell he likes her. She has succeeded in capturing his heart. I have never seen her interact with a specialist like this before.

We go to check out, and she cries. We go to the lab and have blood drawn to check her medicine levels, and I hold her tightly in my lap and hold her arms as she thrashes against me and screams and cries with all her might. The two lab techs are fast and expertly draw blood. She freaks out about the bandage and tries to rip it off. We leave, and I cannot describe how relieved I am to leave that building. I'm sure Lilli is relieved too.

I get in the car and get Lilli settled in her carseat, with a few cheesepuffs and a movie. Then I sit and take a big swig of water and eat the rest of the mini chips ahoy cookies I found in my bag. I sit and stare out of the windshield, worn out, eating cookies.

This was one of our better doctor visits.

As I drive home, I see mountains all around and ahead. I can't believe we live in such a beautiful place. I look up at the rolling green mountains ahead, and a verse pops right into my head. I lift up my eyes to the mountains. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.




What if God brought us to the mountains to help Lilli? What if I am looking at these hills and mountains and this place is the place where God has brought us to do huge things in Lilli's life? What if this doctor is going to really help Lilli?

My eyes well up with tears. I drive home, teary the whole way.

Later when we are home, Lilli has a seizure. It is a small one. Short.

I think about the doctor, and the small new seed of hope about her medication he has planted that is already taking root deep within me. Maybe moving here will be a turning point for us. Maybe she will finally get off of this medication. Maybe she will even get her speech back. The words she used to say so many years ago echo distantly in my ears.

She really said them, and I really heard them.

I think of how she would say "Go!" over and over as we bounced a beach ball back in forth down the hallway to each other. We used to play ball. She used to look at me and throw the ball purposely to me, and wait for it to come back.

I think of how we would change her diaper and laugh because she would imitate us and say the word "poop" in the most adorable voice ever.

There were more words too.

She didn't have a ton of words, but she had them. And they all disappeared.

Because the words were there once, I keep waiting for them to come back again. I keep hoping that her speech disappeared temporarily.

Temporarily for ten years.

Every time I look at the mountains, I think about the new hope we have here. I wonder what will happen here. I wonder what I will be writing about ten years from now about Lilli, telling all of the things that we experienced. What I hope I will be writing is that Lilli is saying words again. I hope her seizures are controlled, and infrequent. I hope that when she is 21, she has gained more control and independence in her life.

I hope so much that when we are driving in the car together and she smiles and looks out the window, that I can say, "Why are you smiling, Lilli?"

And she can tell me.

My Tiny Wish for Autism Awareness

April 13, 2015

So…I missed World Autism Day this year.

I saw something about it on a facebook post, and I thought, Oh, World Autism Day. Should we do something for that? Cause…our lives are affected by autism and all that.

And then I didn’t do anything.
OR.... I will be in my own world and completely forget and wear the same pair of jeans and top that I wore on April 1! Truth.

I didn't put a blue light on, I didn't even wear a blue shirt that day. I’ve never owned a blue lightbulb, even though for the past few years, I’ve thought to myself, yeah, I should get one of those cool blue lightbulbs and stick it in my porch light for April.

How hard is it to buy a blue lightbulb?
Or forget to.

I did nothing about World Autism Day…because  I guess I was just too distracted and busy helping my child who has autism.

That sounds like such a cop out. It sounds like I’m just saying that, but it’s true. This was just over a month after we moved here, and we were still not settled at all. So Autism Awareness Day was not even on my radar, because I was still focused on moving a child who has autism to a new house, new school, new everything. And that’s not easy.

I think that awareness days are great. It’s good to be aware. It’s great if other people know about autism. It has a purpose.

Coming from the perspective of a mom of a child who has autism, I wanted to explain what my wish would be for “autism awareness.”  It’s pretty small. Everyone can do it. Here it is:

I wish more people would step out of their comfort zones for a few seconds to be kind to others in public places.

I wish for tiny things:

A smile.

For someone to hold the door for us.

For people to be kind and not stare.

For nice comments and compliments, not awkward questions and comments.

I wish for strangers to be aware that there are those in this world who need a little more help than most. I’m not asking for money, I’m not asking for babysitting, I’m not asking you to buy my groceries, I’m talking about a smile and some understanding.

If you see us coming, please hold the door for us. It’s harder than you think for us to get through a non-automatic door to a store with a child who has a disability. In the past week I have had at least two people look right at me and duck inside quickly, while I struggled with a door and Lilli and a baby in a stroller.

Don’t park in a handicap spot “for just a minute.” I’ll be pulling in shortly and I will have nowhere to park for Lilli. We really need that spot.

If you see me struggling because Lilli is crying and I'm trying to leave the store, please don't stare at us and make me feel like a horrible mother. Say, "Can I help you in any way?" Or if that's too much for you, just smile at me like, You've got this, I know you're doing the best you can. and then keep focusing on your shopping instead of standing there, staring.

I wish it wasn’t so darn hard to take Lilli out to public places, but it is. Extremely hard sometimes. So I wish more strangers in those public places would be kind. There are definitely nice strangers when we go out.

Those are the people who I remember for a very long time.

You’d be surprised at the tiny efforts from complete strangers that have completely affected my life and changed my entire day. If you ever show the tiniest bit of understanding or kindness to a mom of a child with special needs, believe me, she will remember that, and it will warm her heart and probably make her whole week. Your tiny efforts can change a life. That's why you see all of these "An Open Letter to the Person in line behind me at the Grocery Store" type blog posts. These are people who were so touched by the kindness of strangers, they were compelled to write about it. 

It makes a huge difference, trust me. So when it comes to “Autism Awareness,” well, I simply wish that everyone would be aware that just being kind is absolutely huge.  Personally, I think it’s way better than buying a puzzle piece charm or slapping a bumper sticker on your car. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, those things just have never affected me personally.

Kindness affects me personally.

Sometimes we are out in public and I feel the opposite of kindness. I feel "different." I feel like the struggle is completely mine alone, and no one wants to come within ten feet of us to get sucked into our world.

That's a very lonely feeling.

Locked Out of the House with a Potty Problem


One day, we all went out as a family to run some errands. My husband and I needed to get our new drivers licenses here since we moved to a new state. I dropped my husband off at the DMV and left with the four kids to go to the bank.

Sitting in the bank drive thru (I would never attempt to take all four children inside, because Lilli would not handle that well at all) I was leaning too far out of the car window with one of those plastic tube things you put your deposit in. As I reached and fumbled with the tube, Lilli began to cry. I knew she had to go to the bathroom. How did I know? I just knew. It has taken years, but I am almost always right about the "potty cry" these days.

Strapped into her oversized car seat, she cried and ran her hands through her hair and put her hands over her ears in frustration. She threw her head back and cried her angry cry.

My blood pressure began to rise.

The angry cry gets me every time. I get frantic to help her. I cannot listen to the angry cry.

I started to drive towards our house (three minutes away) to take Lilli to the bathroom, but realized I did not have the house key. Dang it. Who leaves the house without a house key? A person who just moved into a new house and hasn’t put the new key on their key ring yet, that’s who. Ugh.

My husband had the house key. He was sitting in the waiting room at the DMV.

“How many in front of you?”  I texted him quickly. I knew he had to take a short quiz on road signs, because I had just taken it earlier that morning. He was still waiting for his number to be called. There is nothing quick about the DMV.

Prompted by increasingly loud angry crying, and knowing I was stuck until my husband got his license, I made a split decision and swerved into the Kmart parking lot. 

It was probably going to be a bad decision. I knew this.

What should I do? Tell my daughter who I’ve worked for years to potty train, “Whatever, just pee in your pull up.” Or should I take all four of my children into a public place to use the restroom?
Any parent of a potty training child has been there. If you want your child to learn to use the potty, you have to make these decisions, and that’s why you end up swerving into parking lots.
“OK kids we are going into Kmart to take Lilli to the potty, get ready,” I said. Really to myself more than to the kids.

When we pulled into the handicap parking space, I jumped into action, barking out directions to Chloe and Josh. “Get your shoes on! Hurry and get out! Stand here by the stroller. Hold this.” I really dislike how Lilli’s mystery crying unnerves me in seconds and turns me into this kind of short, impatient mother as I try everything to figure out what is wrong. I slid on Lilli’s boots (the ones she wears everyday because they are easy to slip on and off, and she won’t wear shoes when she’s riding in the car) and pulled her out of her carseat.

Shoes and jackets on with baby in the stroller, Josh, Chloe, Lilli and I hand hands nicely and crossed to the Kmart entrance.

No not really.

Really it was: I held Lilli’s upper part of her arm because she hates having her hand held. (Sensory issues.) If I didn’t hold onto her arm, she would walk away from me and could get hit by a car because she has zero awareness of danger in roads and parking lots. I pushed the stroller with my other hand and Chloe and Josh walked next to me while I said “Stay close to me!” over and over to five year old Josh. Sometimes Chloe will hold Josh’s hand for me. She ends up doing a lot of helping, simply because I don’t have enough arms. One day, all of our arms together will be keeping Lilli safe.  I think about the future often, and try to wrap my brain around the fact that the six month old  baby I am pushing in a stroller will be helping his big sister in a few years. 

I try not to feel sad about that. That’s the way it is.

As we entered the building, Lilli stopped crying. We made a beeline for the customer service desk and the nice woman pointed to the restrooms. We had to walk by a huge easter egg display which instantly made Josh slow to a snails' pace.

“Come on Josh, let’s go, we’ll look at those later,” I repeated several times as I herded them to the restrooms.  

In the women’s bathroom, I pulled out all the stops trying to help Lilli go potty so that she would feel better. We have worked so hard for all of these years on potty training. I don’t always talk about it, because it’s just not something I think I should go into great detail about publicly. But I will say that potty training Lilli has been a huge part of my everyday life for the past…seven years now. And I see now over the stretch of time, that we are getting there. We are. But it will take a few more years. Maybe even seven more. 

I will not give up. Everything that takes days, weeks, or months with a typically developing child takes years with Lilli. I think about when I potty trained Chloe, who is now eight. I’d say that Lilli is right around where Chloe was after I’d been training Chloe for just a few days.

So a few days of a typically developing child equals seven years with Lilli. Or more.

A therapist once told me, “Even if it takes until she is twenty years old to become potty trained, if she lives to be eighty, that’s sixty years of not having to wipe her bottom.”

Yes. That made total sense to me. At that moment, I decided I would potty train her for as long as it took.

Progress. That’s all I can ever hope for. Even if it takes forever.

Lilli was dry, but she also has trouble going in public places. New bathrooms throw her off. Lots of kids have this issue. Many adults do too, right?

Our luck, we had the bathroom to ourselves. I belted out the Veggie Tales theme song and Chloe joined in singing with me while she pushed the stroller in a small circle near the sinks and smiled at the baby.  I love that Chloe. She doesn’t even know how awesome she is. Josh used the other bathroom stall.  Then came out and washed his hands without me prompting him and waited with Chloe and Nate.

Lilli still wouldn’t go. I pulled out my phone and put Lilli’s latest Youtube favorite on: Veggie Tales Madame Blueberry – Part 3 - in Spanish. I held it out and did a little tap dance there in the handicap stall for her, trying to make her laugh and relax so she could pee.

Nothing. After about ten minutes, I gave up. Maybe that wasn’t why she was crying, I thought, stumped.

Josh held the bathroom door open for us, Chloe pushed Nate’s stroller out, and I held Lilli’s arm and guided her out and around the hallway out to the store. Lilli was quiet now. She seemed okay. As always, I was mystified. It drives me crazy that I don’t know what she wants to say.

Chloe and Josh wanted to look for “Mystery Surprise Eggs,” which is some silly thing they had seen on Youtube of some lady opening up all kinds of plastic eggs with toys and candy inside. So far we have not found them in a store. So we went to an aisle where I thought Mystery Surprise Eggs might be if they had them, and that’s when Lilli fell to the floor and began to sob loudly. She had my phone in her hand, and something was wrong with the youtube video and it wouldn’t play. She threw my phone down the aisle and screamed.

My internal “let’s get out of here now” alarm went off.

“Time to go, let’s go let’s go!” I said to Josh and Chloe in a low tone,  purposely calm sounding, but urgent at the same time. This situation wasn’t going to get any better. I retrieved my phone from down the aisle and turned the baby's stroller to go. Josh and Chloe were riveted to the candy shelf, looking at those silly stick containers of candy with plastic fans on the top. They were ignoring me. They are so used to Lilli’s crying that they are not even phased by it. I grabbed Josh’s hand and tried to drag him away as I wrestled with screaming, tantruming Lilli with the other arm and pushed the stroller with my elbows.  By the time we made it to the registers to get to the exit, everyone in all the lines were standing dead still, staring at Lilli, and staring at me. It felt like there was no other sound in the store except Lilli. If we lived in the 80s, I'm sure I would’ve heard a record screech.

Time stopped for just a second as I took in the instant realization that we now live in a small town, and everyone here knows everyone else, and now I will be judged by my mothering skills by people who know who we are when out with my melting-down autistic child in any public place. I had moved from a city where it was much easier to remain somewhat anonymous. I realized that there was little anonymity here.

I also realized, that I cannot take Lilli back to Kmart. Not for awhile, anyway.

There was not much that anyone in that store could have done to help me. Except that no one offered to help me. They just stared at us and made me feel bad. No one smiled. No one moved. I think they were stunned.

But things do not always turn out like this. Sometimes, people are kind.

Simple Kindness Goes a Long Way


Last  Saturday morning, we all went to the downtown to watch a huge bike race. We were going to split up and I would stay home with Lilli, because we didn't know how she would do. We don't like to split up as a family, but we have found that splitting up can make it easier in case Lilli has a meltdown.

I really wanted to be together as a whole family, so I came up with a plan. We would all go together. If Lilli got fussy, I would leave with Lilli and Nate, and meet Jasen and Chloe and Josh to pick them up later. We took the oversized jogging stroller for Lilli so she wouldn’t have to walk the whole time. She prefers to walk, but only for small amounts of time. She gets tired and overwhelmed when walking in crowded public events, so we use the stroller sometimes.

 Pushing two strollers, we walked around town, saw the bike racers take off, and then strolled to check out our new main street and the shops. It was relaxing, and the kids were great. We loved being out together as a whole family, which is not something we get to do often.




We split up for a short while on the sidewalk and I took Nate, Josh and Chloe into a shop while Jasen walked around with Lilli. When we met back up, Jasen commented, “I cannot believe how many people walked by and just stared at Lilli. No waving, no saying hello, no smiling at her or at me. Just plain staring.” 

“Yeah, it’s a bummer,” I said. “I guess we won’t ever get used to that.”

While we were in the adorable downtown toy store, Lilli got mad and we knew the trip was done for her. I was happy to take Nate and Lilli back to the van while Jasen helped Josh and Chloe decide what to spend their allowances on. Trust me, I had the better deal – those two take forever to decide. We had tried to show different things to Lilli in the toy store, thinking she might like them. Jasen took her out of the stroller and showed her the Lego display, but they were all in boxes, so that just made her mad. Her anger was quickly escalating and we needed to leave. We have learned that when she reaches this point, we've got to just go.

 I walked down the main street sidewalk pushing Lilli’s big jogging stroller with one hand, and pulling Nate’s lightweight stroller behind me with the other. Some people walked past me and smiled. Some made comments. One woman made me smile as she said, “Oh, let me get out of your way cause I’m a slow walker, and wow, you are extremely talented!” I was so glad she didn’t tell me I had my hands full, because that comment gets old to a mom after awhile. At a corner, I stood with the two strollers parked and waited for the “walk” light. A nice man came over to me and made a big deal out of Nate and Lilli, saying hello right to Lilli and complimenting her. I love it so much when strangers are kind. He asked me if he could help push one of the strollers across the road for me.
“I’ve got it, thanks.” I smiled. But man, did that make me feel good.

It is priceless when people see Lilli and smile… and don’t stop and stare rudely. People who say things like:

“Hi, what a beautiful girl!”
“I love your outfit!”
“You’re the big sister, aren’t you lucky?”

These people totally make my day.

People who acknowledge me and say “Do you need help? Here let me get the door for you,” are blessings.

Nothing is better than the gift of help with a door, and a warm smile.  Even when I sometimes decline the help, I love the offers. I cannot emphasize enough how huge it is to have someone hold the door for us.

Compliments like “You must be a proud momma of all these beautiful children,” make my anxiety dissolve and give me a bit of strength to get through the outing.

If this blog post makes a small difference in anyone’s day, then I will feel accomplished. The simple act of kindness. This is what I wish for. Because no one can really ever take away the anxiety that Lilli feels, or that I feel when we go out in public. And honestly, even I do not always know what to do when Lilli gets angry or starts to cry when we are out in public.

But a little bit of kindness does make a world of difference. And it’s free.  It’s easy. No one has to buy a little paper puzzle piece, wear a t-shirt…

or buy a blue light bulb.





Giving up Homeschooling, and Unraveling from FB posts (Weeks 3 and 4 after moving)

The Third Week.

The snow melted, and the phone calls began. I spent hours on the phone.

Days of phone calls. Note-taking. Websites. Forms. Applications.

Now that I am posting this months later, I can update and say that I spent four solid months doing this every single weekday. The process is quite unbelievable for moving a special needs child to a different state. I have spent an enormous amount of time on the phone. I spent at least 2-3 hours every weekday for over a month solid, making phone calls about Lilli. Then it tapered off to about an hour a day, or two.

Really.

I'd been through all this before, so I thought it wouldn't be so bad.

I was wrong.

Anyone who has a child with special needs can sympathize: when it comes to switching to a new state, nothing can be more frustrating than dealing with insurance, government and state agencies. Every state handles things differently. There are different programs, waiting lists, and information is scattered and hard to find. In summary, it's kind of like this:

1.make phone calls (endless annoying automated systems with no people to help and being put on hold forever or transferred from person to person)
2. take notes on what those people tell you to do.
3. call the people those people told you to call, and re-explain to them what your situation is with your child.
4. Those people tell you something completely different that conflicts with what the first people told you, and you have to start over.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 about five more times. Or more. Seriously.


Josh and Chloe were starting to get stir crazy, from two weeks of being off schedule from moving, and no pre-school for Josh. They fought and chased each other through the house trying to hit each other.

Lilli watched movie after movie as I sat at the table with stacks of paperwork spread out and scribbled furiously in a notebooks while balancing my phone with my shoulder and holding the baby on my lap. Unbelievably, I was able to get Chloe to do some homeschooling work. But not too much.

I unpacked more. I did more laundry. I was desperate for organization, all the while knowing that we would not be "organized" for many months.

Everyone was off schedule. I felt very stressed, discouraged, and homesick for the way things were before.

One agency I called, I spoke to a woman and explained about Lilli. I told her what Lilli had qualified for in our previous state, based on her disability. She told me nothing like that existed here. Nothing? Nothing. I hung up and cried. I wanted to move back to our old state. (Several weeks and phone calls later, I found out she was wrong. Very wrong.)

One week later, after many phone calls and tears, I had to call and postpone Lilli's appointment with the new neurologist here. I felt panicky about her seizure medication, prescriptions running out, and getting new health insurance coverage. Transferring things over, like her medical equipment and her specialists, and her therapies, well that was just not easy at all.

I spent hours online researching, trying to figure things out.

My phone rang, and it was a woman who had randomly overheard a conversation by the nurses in the new neurologist's office, about how I had to postpone the appointment. She said, "I think I can help you. Tell me about your daughter."

Like a superhero, she swooped in and saved me. She told me, "Yes, I am familiar with that program Lilli had in your previous state. We have that here. It just has a different name. Here is the name and number of a person you can call who knows what they are talking about. He will enter information about Lilli and get things rolling."

Finally.

Next came many appointments and stacks of paperwork including two 20 page applications and a stack of other forms, and countless more phone calls. It wasn't any easier, but at least I knew what direction I should head now.

And I didn't need to move back over state lines after all.

The Fourth Week

I reached my breaking point. I could not do all of this anymore. Something had to give.

I had to give up homeschooling Chloe.

In a moment of peak frustration, feeling overwhelmed about everything, I unloaded on my husband when he came home for lunch.

"I can't do all of this. This is no way to live," I told him.

All of that time on the phone, filling out forms, and searching online, I felt like I was ignoring my children and Chloe's schoolwork was not getting done. The kids were fighting and Lilli was crying and floundering. I had to figure out everything for Lilli, and it was a full time job. I had done a much better job homeschooling Chloe with a newborn right after my c-section. This was crazy.

"I'm enrolling Chloe in school," I said. And Chloe was fine with it.

She was ready to go and meet some friends and do something different.  I think even she sensed that Mommy was overwhelmed and the situation wasn't good. So two days later, she started school. On a Friday. It's a tiny school, a free public charter school. On her first day, we pulled up and everyone already knew her name and welcomed her warmly.

The campus where the school meets is gorgeous. I pass two lakes as I drive through the car line. Chloe gets art twice a week, music twice a week, and even a dance class. She made new friends right away, and she was thrilled.

I teared up after dropping her off that first day. At least I could feel good about this. It was a good school. She was happy to go. I loved homeschooling her and we did do a lot of great things this year.

But now things have changed. And it's OK. I am doing the best I can.

There was a strange small nagging sense of failure I had trouble shaking, about giving up homeschooling. I cannot really explain it. It was like a dream dying. It was a tiny bit akin to a massive pinterest fail. It was like I had moved out of one camp (the public school camp) into the homeschool camp, and then left that camp too. Like I had pushed ourselves away from both sides, disappointing others and inviting silent judgement from many. This sounds all so dramatic (which I am) but it felt a little like we had good friends in two different cliques in high school, but now we did not belong to either one.

I still believe in the amazing, wonderful, powerful experience of homeschooling. I wish I could do it. I did the best I could. I think I did a pretty darn good job for much of the time. I learned more about what Chloe actually knows and can do than I had ever known before. We spent more quality time together than we ever had. It was not all roses, as we had many moody moments together. But I cherish the entire experience we had. I am glad we did it. I just wish I could have kept homeschooling her, and doing it well. I could not do it well with a crying child in the background of every moment of our day, on hold with the insurance company and distracted by a mound of paperwork.

Maybe another mom who used to homeschool and had to give it up understands how I feel. I just never saw it coming - that I would not make it to the end of the year. I loved homeschooling so much, but to do it well, it is very hard. I had a baby right in the middle of it. Still, we made it through. Our tumultuous time of moving had been tough, and I thought we would get through that too. We almost did.

What I could not handle was Lilli, and the extreme stress that piled on.

I pretty much had a meltdown about what was happening with Lilli, and knew that life could not continue like that for all of us for even one more week.

I wondered if I had done a good job. I didn't have to wonder for long. Chloe took a placement test and scored very high. I felt relieved. Her new teacher was very loving, and not at all like "What kind of parent are you, moving at the end of the school year?" She was extremely kind, loving, and encouraging. She loved Chloe instantly. She also never gave me the feeling of "Oh, you homeschooled her...huh." She was pleased with what Chloe already knew.

So it was done. Chloe went to school. Next it was Lilli's turn. Then I would find a preschool for Josh.

More calls about schools for Josh, and several more meetings with the school about Lilli. It was a busy time, and my stress level continued to increase even though we seemed to be making progress.

My Facebook Mistake


I made a big mistake. During my "down time," which was when I was sitting and nursing the baby, I got on Facebook. I read article after article. I don't know why I do this. I am not the type of facebook user who trolls other people's pages. I read the articles people post, and the related articles, and I read the comments from other people who also read the articles.

This was not a good thing for me to be doing, because I ended up reading a bunch of articles that had to do with autism. Some were about special needs children who were abused by their teachers at school and, thankfully, caught. Some were about studies and research done on people with autism. I read comments in one article and could not believe the negativity. The bashing. The meanness. I sat and read through dozens, maybe a hundred comments. Heaping negativity upon myself by simply reading it. Obviously none of those commenters has a child at home with autism, I thought. Not only was I overwhelmed with the stress of all of this other special needs "stuff" I had going on in my life, I was reading negative comments by dozens of strangers who thought it was ok to publicly insult parents of children with autism.

In my post about the first week of our move, I wrote about how I was reaching my mental breaking point. So ridiculous, but facebook pushed me even farther to losing it. I had to take a break. Social media can be great. It also can be terrible.

I guess I'm telling you all of this because I know many other people are affected in similar ways.

Feeling stressed? Don't get on Facebook. You will feel more stressed. Unless you strictly watch funny animal videos.

Feeling overwhelmed? Stay off Facebook. Other people's negative posts will overwhelm you even more.

Feeling depressed? Avoid Facebook. More doom and gloom articles on there than the evening news.

Maybe it's just my feed. Maybe it's just how Facebook works, that the more certain articles you look at about certain subjects, the more Facebook assumes you want to read even MORE about that same subject. So I guess I got trapped in a Facebook hole of depressing, stressful posts and it made matters worse for me.

I am still struggling with this issue. I am not sure how to change my feed so that it comes up all kittens scaring each other and jumping three feet in the air, and funny dogs eating ice cream cones in one bite. Maybe someone can give me advice on that.

Or maybe, maybe, I should just simply stay off Facebook in general. But I would miss my friends. Facebook has ease to it. I need ease in my life. I cannot write emails to each individual friend all the time. I rarely talk on the phone now. I use "speak to text" when I text. Facebook is easy. It's a love-hate thing, I guess. You have to take the good with the bad. But when the bad starts to overwhelm me, I have to take a break for awhile.

The good news is, the break helped. There is such a thing as a Facebook diet. It's like eating too much junk food. Take a break from it for awhile and it helps.