The Day I Realized a “Phase” Was My New Normal With My Autistic Child

I thought it was just another pretty day to play in my backyard with my four sons. Little did I know that it was a day that would rock my reality to its very core….

God had blessed us with a break from the rain with sunshine. My 4.5 year-old twins and I were soaking it up in our backyard.   I am always on high alert. I don’t want them to leave the safety of our backyard and wander to explore the front yard (and beyond) by themselves.

One of my twins has Autism, so I am especially vigilant when it comes to him because he is very unpredictable. That day it started off as his usual game where he starts to run off toward “no man’s land.” I shout his name and tell him to stop. Most of the time he runs in place as he turns to look at me. After a moment, he runs back to me, giggling the whole way. Every once in a while he continues to run on, but now in a playful “chase me” sort of fashion. However, this particular time was different, he started running and he didn’t stop. He didn’t respond to my shouts. He didn’t stop. He didn’t hesitate. He just kept running.

IMG_7946When he reached the street, he was in my sights but not close enough for me to grab him. I shouted louder and in a very stern manner. I meant business. He ignored my plea and ran straight across the street without even looking. Then he started running up a very steep slope that is a common area in our neighborhood. He has NEVER gone that far before! I was getting very scared, and I tried to push my body climb up that hill as fast as I could. At the top of the summit is a backyard with an iron fence and a pool. I know this, but my son doesn’t. I start to feel a little better thinking that fence would slow him down and allow me to catch up to him.

About half way up the slope, my heart sank as I saw him open that gate. Suddenly I was screaming his name, praying to God, and willing myself to overcome my exhaustion to get to him as fast as I could. What was I going to find? Was he going to be submerged in water? He cannot swim. Is the pool empty and he falls in and has a head injury or worse?

Eventually I managed to get to the fence. I was out of breath, overwhelmed with my fears coming to fruition, I see my little boy standing next to a pool full of water, staring at the warm steam coming off the surface. I calmly said his name; I didn’t want to startle him. He turned and looked at me for the first time since this ordeal began. I felt a huge relief come over me as he walked toward me. He willingly took my hand and walked with me without argument.

We started walking around the neighbor’s house to their front yard. No telling what the neighbor thought when he came out of his house. He heard me yelling at the top of my lungs in his yard. And then when he sees me, I am out of breath, exhausted, tears streaming down my face, and blood trickling from my temple from a branch that scratched me in my pursuit.

What did my neighbor think of the little boy that was calm and compliantly holding his mother’s hand as I tried to explain the situation between sobs. Did he know what almost happened? Did he understand when I said “he has autism,” that I wasn’t an irresponsible mom who wasn’t paying attention to her child?

Does anyone know what this means for me and my family? This is a game changer.

As I’ve traveled…stumbled down the path of parenthood with my boys, every challenging phase I’ve come across has been just that, a phase. From baby proofing the home, to toddler meltdowns. Time and development have pushed past that barrier and off we go to the next phase!! Until now, I have counted on these temporary lifestyle changes to be just that, temporary. However, a brush with a potentially tragic outcome with my Autistic son, made me realize that with ASD, some phases will never be over.

For the two years that my 4.5 year old son has been diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum, I have done countless hours of reading and research about the issues I might face with my son. Since he is still technically a toddler, I haven’t really been able to apply these potential behaviors to my son. Meltdowns in public? Similar to “toddler tantrums” to the outside observer. Nonverbal? Many young children shy away from talking to strangers. Not listening and responding to people? Have you ever tried to talk to a young child who is deeply enthralled with their favorite TV show? Wandering off without regard for personal safety? Absolutely a concern for all young children. However, consider these behaviors on an older child and everything changes.

For most children, an improvement in speech and communication helps a child to eventually express their frustrations and feelings in more productive ways than through tantrums. Children that learn social cues eventually will effectively communicate with other people and, hopefully, not be misinterpreted as rudeness, disrespect, or worse; aggression. With the exception of my older boys and their video games, they do learn to respond to questions and requests from others. With maturity and training, children begin to understand what is unsafe and how to act accordingly.

According to the CDC and the National Autism Association, 49% of children with autism will “wander” or bolt in this case. Accidental drownings account for close to 90% of lethal outcomes, second is being hit by a vehicle.

Strides are being made in communities to minimize tragic outcomes. Prevention is key, but it is not completely effective. The back-up plans include involving the neighborhood in search efforts (like an amber alert), and preemptively giving information to local EMS about an individual. If 911 is called, they have pertinent information ahead of time, so miscommunication can be minimized.

We are called to love our neighbors. I am counting on my neighbors to love my son.

 

 I appreciate my friend, Beth Moore, for sharing her story. Beth is an autism advocate in Tennesse. What can you do to help? Pay attention when you hear about these needs in your state by going to Autism Speaks and sign up to receive emails. You can also inform others about the need and have them sign up as well. If you are in my state of Tennessee, feel free to contact Beth to get more involved in making this change. The truth is, everyone will be touched by someone on the Autism Spectrum. Your children will be in class with them, your coworker may be taking care of a family member on the spectrum, you will be among them in everyday society. You will be fortunate to know these remarkable people, so let’s help them and their families get them the treatment they need.

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Who Said Miracles Don’t Happen Anymore?

Life can be a series of highs and lows. My life has certainly been a testament to that. Met and married my wonderful husband Eric – High. Tried to conceive for a couple of years, failed fertility treatments, surgery – Low. Successfully got pregnant through IVF – HUGE High! High risk Pregnancy that left me on bed rest for what felt like most of my pregnancy – Low. Delivering premature but healthy twins – High/Low. Six weeks being separated from them in the NICU – Low.

I could go on and on. Today I wanted to tell you about one of my favorite Highs. He is my little Miracle High. Eric and I were told that there is absolutely no way that we could conceive. That is why we went through IVF to conceive Ethan and Ella. I have no doubt that it was indeed a fact. As I said this is a Miracle High.

Here is an excerpt from my family blog in 2008:

Ah I woke up just like the day before. I had no idea that this morning would change all our lives so much! Eric was getting ready for work and I was in bed watching Sports Center (his choice not mine). I remembered that I needed to call in a prescription that day. Before I could get it, I had to take a pregnancy test. My cycle was running way too long and I needed to get on progesterone to get me back on track. I always thought this was a funny thing for me of all people to have to do. I mean we know I can’t get pregnant. On top of that, I went back on birth control after I had Ethan and Ella. I simply was taking it for convenience sake. Eric and I often laughed about all the money we wasted on all those birth control pills early in our marriage. So off I went to pee on my little stick. Unloaded the dishwasher, sat down and watched TV for a minute. Should I get the kids up? Oh no wait….better go check the test and get that out of the way.

I walked into the guest bath and looked at the test on the sink. Double take…..was that TWO lines? Huh? I must be seeing things. I heard Eric say something, so I threw the hand towel over the test and jumped back in bed. Eric said, “Why do you look so weird?” I was still in shock so I said, “just tired.” He went back to the closet to finish getting dressed and I ran back to the bathroom for a second look. Yes. Definitely 2 lines. How did this happen??? I mean I know how it happens for most, but not us! We were told that we couldn’t get pregnant on our own. Holy cow. Eric’s birthday was the next day. Boy could I have fun with this!!! I ran upstairs to get the babies up and whispered my secret in their tiny ears. I am pretty sure they smiled.

Thankfully Eric left shortly after that. (I was told later that I was in MAJOR trouble for letting him go to work because he would have called in sick. Whoops 🙂 I quickly called my mom, my sister, and Kristen. Kristen, my personal OB nurse, reassured me that the home tests were pretty accurate. Even so I had my mom come over so I could get an official blood test at the doctor’s office. I still didn’t believe it. I went and looked at the home test again. Still 2 lines! When I called the doctor’s office to get the test they acted like I was crazy. “Mrs. Greer, we usually don’t do blood tests if you have a positive home test.” I replied, “I know, but I don’t believe it. When can I come in?” I went in immediately, got my blood drawn, and paid to have the results to me stat.

All day I was avoiding calls from Eric and his sister, Amy. How in the world could I play this one off? I couldn’t even sit down I was so excited! I finally got the “official positive” test results from the doctor. Hallelujah! Praise God!! I checked the home test one more time and finally threw it in the trash.

Now how in the world would I give Eric the total shock of his lifetime??? The way we found out we were pregnant with Ethan and Ella was so impersonal. We called into a voicemail box and listened to a stranger tell us the good news. Not that we minded one bit. We were finally pregnant!!

I decided I would get the kids Big Brother and Big Sister T shirts, take their pictures in it, frame it, and give it to Eric for his birthday. Well I am not sure how many of you have tried to get a 16-month old kid to stand still so you can get a good picture of them. Now throw in a second child. It isn’t possible. Just take it from me. So I decided the next best thing was to just wrap up the shirts and let Eric open those.

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We waited on pins and needles until Eric got home. Of course since we were anxiously awaiting him, he didn’t get home until after 7. After the kids bath, Eric read them a story and they just had to give their Daddy an early birthday present. He didn’t know it, but I was recording the whole thing : )

I turned the camera off right after I told him so we could all snuggle. There were lots of happy tears all around. I was told later that Eric was thinking “Why in the world did she give me some shirts for the kids for my birthday?” Apparently what I thought was pretty plain isn’t plain to a man.

Was My Diploma A Waste of Time?? SLM Collective Post

When I went away to college at The University of Tennessee, I didn’t know a soul.  At my mama’s urging, I went through Sorority Rush.  I was hesitant.  I didn’t want to feel like I was “buying” my new friends.  However, my mama’s argument that it would be a good way to meet a lot of people quickly was compelling enough for me to look past my naive notions.

And how glad I am that I did!  On the first day, I met my friend, Becky.  I don’t know if we hit it off so well because we were both from Kentucky or our mutual love of Days of Our Lives.  Nonetheless, as I sat with her on Preference night with tears running down my face, I knew I had a friend for life.  Of course ours were tears of muffled laughter while others surrounding us were much more serious 😉

I am lucky to have a lot of strong women in my life that learn from every day.  Becky is one of those people to me.  I have selfishly been looking for something for her to write about for my blog, so I could share some of her wisdom and wit with my readers.  She posted something on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and it was my aha moment!  As a Stay at Home Mom, it really resonated with me.  Enjoy!

Recently, an older gentlemen asked me what I studied in college. I answered in a humble manner explaining my degrees to which he replied “How does that help you raising kids?”

Awkward silence.

When he asked me this question, I just made a face and shrugged it off. I am not one to engage or confront.  His question insinuated that I wasted my time going to college. I allowed this thought to rent space in my head for a few days. Now, I am thankful he asked me.  It gave me the opportunity to put words to my convictions.

There is so much to say. Where do I start?

Children are sponges.  Ever heard that phrase?  Well it is true.  You pour more into those fast changing little beings with your actions and example than with the lectures you give them.  Want them to be kind to others, be that kind person.  Want them to work hard?  Show them your hard work, past and present.  Want them to have skills and succeed?  You continue to build your skills and help those around you doing the same.

Example to Pursue Learning – I hope I never stop learning.  Of course it may have started in the classroom, but those habits to follow my interests in a meaningful way are still very much alive in me.  Never stop learning, folks!  It doesn’t have to be at an expensive college, but never stop moving your mind forward. It is invaluable for your kids to see those efforts. Who wouldn’t want their children to love learning?  They are more likely to follow that path if you go first.

Discipline to Achieve Goals – School was not always fun and certainly not always easy. I had bigger goals. I set and achieved those goals.  My kids know that I worked diligently to achieve my goals and with hard work, they can too!

Equipping for Employment – I provided for our household while my husband pursued his higher degree full time.  My income bought our first home and helped us save for the flexibility to stay at home after our first child was born.  We worked together on a seemingly endless path to make a better future. I consider it a tremendous blessing for my kids to understand the partnership of hard work and mutual support involved in those early years of pursuing degrees. Unfortunately, that future we build towards is not guaranteed to be easy. I have two friends who became young widows in the past two years. Life can change so quickly and dramatically.  If I had to go back into the work force to provide for my family, then I would be better equipped to do so. It is about creating better opportunities for ourselves and our families.  My kids will understand this more and more as they mature.

Community – The future we were building was for our family, but also for friends, church and community.  We serve in different ways inside and outside our home.  Was my college education part of preparing me for that? Absolutely. If I can teach my children to place a high value on serving my community, then I consider that a huge win. My pursuit of higher learning showed me the larger communities out there to serve in ways that I never would have realized otherwise. I have friends of various backgrounds and cultures. I was blessed to see perspectives outside my immediate circles.  That sense of community holds value in the way that I influence my young children.

I do not currently earn an income outside the home. A person’s education should not be considered irrelevant base on that fact. I may never get another paycheck in my life.   I have no regrets about the time and money I spent to get those little pieces of paper called diplomas.  The whole experience shaped me for the better into the Mom I am today.

Countless blessings can come from a lifelong dedication to learning for my family and myself.

~ Becky Thomas

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My Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day PIc“Watch out for that first step it is a doozy!!”  – Ned Reyerson.

That is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies when I was little. Why don’t they make movies like that anymore? Bill Murray plays Phil, who must relive the same day over and over. There are several times in my life where I felt like I was smack dab in the middle of “Groundhog Day.” In fact, when I was reading back through my book, Full Heart Empty Womb, I had to take that analogy out because I used it more than once!

My most meaningful Groundhog Day experience was when I was in the hospital on bed rest pregnant with my twins. I had been through a rough couple of years prior trying to conceive. When I finally was able to conceive through IVF, I had a high-risk pregnancy. I went into pre-term labor that landed me in the hospital on bed rest at only 22 weeks.

For 11 weeks, I felt like I was relieving the same day. I would wake up. Order my breakfast from the cafeteria (blueberry muffin, cheerios, sweet acidophilis milk – which we affectionately called my sweet ass milk ;). Pee. Lay and wait for my breakfast while I watched The Today Show. Pray. Sit Up. HOORAY!! Eat. Lay back down. Wait for my morning nurse to give meds. Drink water. Pee. Nurse comes gives me meds in my IV. Shift to my other side. Drink water. Pee. Finally the doctor comes to round on me. Tells me the same thing as the day before. “Every day we keep them in you, is four days less in the NICU!!” Pray. Then the best 10 minutes of my day – SHOWER!!! Lay. Drink Water. Watch Talk of the Town. Order lunch. Pee. Drink. Shift positions. Sit Up. Hooray!!! Eat. Lay back down. Crap. Gotta pee again. Get hooked up for my daily monitoring. Shift and try to get comfortable with all the cords. Stare at the contraction monitor and wonder why I can’t feel a single contraction. Pray. Shift. Count the flowers on the wallpaper. Drift off to sleep. Wake up when the nurse comes to turn off the monitor. Pee. Drink Water. Pray. Watch “Everybody Loves Raymond” in Spanish because I am that desperate for entertainment. Drink water. Shift. Stare at the clock. Eric is here with supper!!!! Pee. Sit up!! Eat yummy take-out. Lay down. Pee. Choke down chalky Mylanta for heartburn.  Watch TV with Eric. Shift. Pray. Watch Eric make his fold out bed next to me like he does every night. Drink water. Pray.  Take my Ambien. Pee. And fall into a peaceful sleep.

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It was a treat when Eric would bring our dog, Majors, to visit me in the hospital!

Thankfully I was blessed to be able to do that for 11 weeks….or 77 days….or 1,848 hours…or 110,880 minutes. And because I was able to relive that same day over and over and over, my babies not only survived, they thrived.

Count your blessing on your Groundhog Days.

You are gonna blink, and they will be grown up!

“Oh you will blink, and they will be all grown up!”

I usually hear this in the check-out line in Publix. After I have battled my way through every dang aisle with my three children.

Put that back!

Don’t hit your brother!

Don’t hug your sister. That always ends bad.

Stay by me and the cart, so they can pass by.

OUCH!!! You don’t have to be on top of me!

Don’t stop in front of the cart!

OUCH!!! Don’t hit me with the cart!

For Pete’s Sake! Don’t put your mouth on the cart!!!!!!

Although I offer a sweet smile and nod to the little old lady, inside I may be gritting my teeth and spewing a few choice words.

But even deeper down, I know she is right.

IMG_6522Then there has been this week. We had two bursts of snow in Tennessee that has amounted to over 7 inches of snow and 6 out of the last 7 days stranded at home.

Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE snow days…. until I don’t 😉 I loved every minute of it until about hour number 96 of not leaving the house. My kids and I are all social creatures who get to a point where we long to be social with someone who doesn’t share the last name. And the homemaker in me is ready to let Chik Fil A cook a meal and give my dishwasher a break from the two loads a day it has been doing the last week. I just need a day for my sanity and, honestly, theirs too.

I know when my kids are off to college, I will miss it. I may see some sweet neighborhood kids out building a snowman and say to the mother, “Oh you will blink, and they will be all grown up!” They may force a grin with their tired, snow day weary bodies. And I hope I remember. I hope I remember that, although, there are fabulous memories being made, it is a lot of work.

This is what getting three kids ready for a snow day at my house looked like this week:

  1. Run around the house to gather a hodgepodge of snow gear for each kid. Crap! Where is the matching glove!!!
  2. Start to dress first child who promptly turns into a limp noodle – long johns, long sleeve t-shirt, hoodie, socks (help me out child!!), snow pants, gloves (one in each hole!!), coat, and finally 15 minutes later – toboggan.
  3. Repeat with each child.
  4. Start to try to get yourself dressed then….
  5. Child #1 comes in and needs a new pair of gloves, because the other ones make her fingers feel funny.
  6. Start to get dressed then….
  7. Child #2 comes in and asks has played long enough to get Hot Chocolate. NO!!!!
  8. Attempt to go to the bathroom then…
  9. Child #3 comes in and asks if you are ever going to come out…
  10. You finally get your own hodgepodge snow gear on minus your boots and gloves because your daughter is now wearing them.
  11. Repeat at least 3 times a day.

It doesn’t just have to be a snow day.  Sometimes just a Tuesday can run you ragged.  Last week my husband was working late, so I was putting my three kids to bed by myself. My older two children read to themselves before bed. I was tired after a long day and ready to trim our 30-minute going to bed routine to 20 minutes. I asked my 7 year old, Matthew, if he wanted to read to himself instead of me reading to him before bed. He was SO excited to be a big kid reader. By the time I finished snuggling, chatting, and praying with Ethan and Ella, Matthew’s light was turned off.

I couldn’t help myself as I went back in his room, snuggled a little more, and got a book to read to him.

Because I am going to blink one day, and he will be all grown up.

Relish reading books, snuggles and the snow days. But give yourself a little grace if you need a minute to recharge your batteries because being a mom is hard work.

On the SevenFREAKINteenth Day of Christmas Break

On the SevenFREAKINteenth day of Christmas break, I was busy giving myself a pretty good guilt trip.

I need to get out in the sub-zero weather and peddle some Girl Scout cookies with Ella.  

I really should take the kids somewhere fun on one of their last days of break.  

And then after looking at Facebook…Oh look at the super fun trip they are on!!!  Geez my poor kids don’t get to do anything fun.

Alas, my nose was running like a faucet, and I had a ton to do to get ready before my Daddy’s surgery on Wednesday.  My sweet friend, Rheanne, gave me a pep talk when I was having a mini breakdown.  She reminded me that the kids were going to be just fine and that I just needed to focus on taking care of myself and my daddy.

So I allowed myself to remove “Entertainer” from my Mama job description and let them entertain themselves.  And guess what?  The day was pretty awesome.  Sure we stayed in our pajamas all day.  And Matthew played his Lego Dimensions WAY too much, but he also colored an entire dinosaur coloring book.  No one fought (excessively that is) and I didn’t have to take anyone to the ER.  Score!

When I found the below video on my iPhone after the umpteenth low storage message on my phone, I decided we need to have a lot more days like this where the kids can just be kids.

Too many quotes that I love to even pick one!  Of course I had to find the original one that they made a couple of years ago…

We (me included) spend so much time trying to make sure our kids are involved in the right activities, getting good grades and all the other absurd pressures for kids today.

We need to just let them be kids, have fun, use their imagination and record a talk show in their room with their big sister  🙂

 

 

How Daddy Prepared Me For His Cancer Diagnosis – #Pray4PaPa

Brian lesion.  Growth.  Cancer.  Rare.  Malignant.  Cancer.  Aggressive.  Surgery.  Cancer.  Stage 4.  Chemo.

These are the words that have been bouncing around in my head like a pinball and have me struggling to catch my breath at times.

No. Not my Daddy.

It started a couple of months ago when I got a call from my Dad, and he told me in a way too calm voice about a suspicious growth behind his ear. That started weeks of biopsies, CT scans, appointments with various specialists, and waiting. Waiting for insurance, waiting for phone calls, waiting for appointments, waiting for test results. Waiting, Waiting, Waiting.

Getting a Cancer diagnosis is overwhelming. I went from worst-case scenario to complete denial in my head. No. Not my Daddy.  So many questions and often no answers…or a long, painful wait to get some half-answers…or even incorrect answers in some cases.

Now we have an almost complete diagnosis and a plan of action, which puts this control freak somewhat at ease. I am extremely thankful to be living in Nashville, which is quickly becoming the healthcare capital of the world. Dad has the best medical team that is trying to identify and fit all the pieces of his complicated Cancer puzzle.

He didn’t know it at the time, but Dad has raised me with the tools that I need to face his cancer diagnosis and any other trial that comes my way.

Hugs Give Instant Comfort. My Dad has always been very affectionate which he has passed down to me and I to my children. I treasured the time over Christmas that I had to just sit with my Dad and snuggle. I will never take any of his hugs for granted. Even though I have kept my emotions somewhat guarded around my kids, they have a 6th sense and have showered me with hugs, kisses and “I Love Yous” at just the right moment.

Music Soothes the Soul. I remember listening to Three Dog Night and Deep Purple with Dad on his record player for hours when I was a kid.

When I pray for people going through hard times, I pray for Jesus to wrap His arms around them. Jesus wraps His arms around me through music.

When we were waiting for the diagnosis about what type of cancer he had, it was excruciating. God sent me the opportunity to write my first music review. For the days leading up to his appointment, I had MercyMe’s Christmas album on in a constant loop. God blessed me with the ability to be in a constant state of praise in a very uncertain time.

Another time I was trying to get some shopping in before the kids got out of school for break. I had just gotten off the phone with my parents. Dad always waits until Mom gets off the phone and we have our own “Goodbye & I Love You.” I completely lost it in the parking lot. No. Not my Daddy. I sat in the car bawling until Jesus dried my tears through Mindy Smith’s “Come to Jesus” playing on the radio.

Come to Jesus and let Him hold you in His arms.

A Positive Attitude Crushes Negative Thoughts. Dad has such a great outlook about his prognosis. His medical team at Vanderbilt is the best of the best of the best. God has placed his care in very capable hands. Dad’s sense of humor helps us all think positively too. He says he can’t wait to be bald, beautiful, and skinny when he is through all this 🙂 We even laughed last night about Eric and I finally having the time to watch “Catching Fire” during his long surgery since we can’t stay awake for a whole two hours after the kids go to bed 😉

Our Faith is a Verb not just a Noun. Of course we can do all of these things because of the Faith that Dad and Mom instilled in our family. Our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is deep in our heart and souls. I, honestly, don’t know how people deal with struggles without having Him as their rock to lean on. We do not know what God’s will is in this situation. We pray that it complete and total healing for Dad. Whatever direction we go, we know that Jesus will have us wrapped up in His arms and give us the strength to face the next step.

Now the words that I will pray over will be:

Strength.  Faith.  Love.  Jesus.  Healing.  Comfort.

Pray4PaPaSLM

My youngest son, Matthew, wanted to make bracelets for everyone in our family. They are our #Pray4PaPa bracelets. Every time we look at them we say a prayer for Pa Pa, Mimi, & his doctors.