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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Me-Cation Party of One

If we are friends and we spent time together a year ago, chances are you don’t know me now. My siblings all live in California. I live in Texas. I go home at least once or twice a year. They almost never come here, which is okay, because my house is a bit of a disaster. Some of them read my blog. We talk on the phone. I don’t think they really know who I am anymore.

I am different.
I’m evolving.
I’m becoming…
this after-intense-motherhood-gig, person. I am the sum total of all of my experiences. Not many people know all of my experiences.

I am a 53-year-old African-American woman.
I am a wife of nearly 25-years.
I am a mother two autistic young adults.
I am a mother to a 30-year-old son whom I have raised from the time he was 5-years-old.
I am a caregiver to my 79-year-old mother.
I am a writer.
I am a wanna-be-artist.
I am a mother to my precious, sweet dog Harry, who is my favorite child because he does not talk...back.  

My friends who follow me on Facebook know more details about my life than they probably ever wanted to know. I tell the truth. I don’t sugar coat my life. I say a lot of things that other people probably wouldn’t say. I love to express my feelings in writing. I laugh at myself, a lot. I live to make others laugh as well. I post pictures of the highlights, smiles, and my dog Harry. 

If I’m depressed, you will probably know about it. You just may not know the total extent of it. No one knows the total extent of my depression and anxiety, not even my husband or my by best girlfriends.

There is one person who knows everything about my mental health, or lack thereof --my therapist. She's incredible. I love her. I trust her. She knows the truth, the whole truth, so help me God. She is helping me do the work to figure myself out. She listens to me with complete objectivity and without a personal agenda. She never ever judges me. She doesn't even tell me what to do. She helps me figure out what I really want. She helps me to listen to my own voice and stand up for myself.

A couple of weeks ago in the middle of September, after encouragement from my therapist, I took a break from my life. I called it a much-needed me-cation. All summer long, I had been longing for it. Every hot, treacherous day in Texas made me ache for the breeze of the ocean. Every afternoon, staying indoors because the heat and the mosquitos which are unbearable, made me want to escape. Every evening waiting for the weather to cool down, and it never did, made me hate this place where I live just a little bit more.

Even though my day to day life can be excruciatingly lonely. My phone rings often, but it’s usually my kids with a problem, a want or a need. The appreciation for what I give of myself to them is invisible if it exists at all. I was literally dying to spend some time alone. For a change, I wanted to do whatever I wanted to do without compromising with anyone. Life with this family is one gigantic compromise. There are so many days when I’m doing my best not to run away, for real. As in permanently.

I needed to be able to think my own thoughts, or not think at all. I wanted to not be constantly on call for the play by play of everything that goes on in the days of my young-adult children. I needed time off from being their constant problem solver, listener, and therapist. There’s a reason why therapy is only 45-minutes per session and not 24/7.

I wanted time off from thinking about what all of the adults in my house will eat every day. “What’s for dinner?” is one of the questions I hate most in the world.

My second most hated question is, “Where are you going?” I’m going. Away. From you!

I’ve paid my dues. I’ve been answering these questions for a long time. My children are grown. Enough already.

My mother has suddenly decided that she doesn’t cook anymore. She just sits, and sits, and waits for me to decide something. I’m tired of deciding. I’m all decided out.

Kendal is 23-years-old now. He moved away a few months ago to San Antonio where he lives with his older brother, Adrian. Still, he is relentless. He calls me every day at least twice a day, more like ten times. It would be incessant if I let him. I have learned to turn the phone on "do not disturb" or completely off if I really need peace.

We have a contract to keep his phone calls to once a day. He seldom keeps his end of the bargain. Which means I have to spend a lot of energy pushing back in order to maintain this boundary. I believe that he thinks I was put on this earth to be at his beck and call. For the longest time, I played into that. I’m done. Not anymore. I’m tired.

This time before I left for my me-cation,  I front-loaded my family (including my mother) with expectations. First of all, I sent my mother to spend some time with my brother in California. It was his turn to share the love with her.

I told them all shortly before I left, “I’m going on vacation. Alone. I will not be available by phone. Where I’m going they don’t allow cell-phone conversations all day. I can check my phone in the evening, but I would rather you not call at all. Use all other available resources before you call me. If there is something urgent, I will try to get back to you within 24 hours. I will be on a retreat for women. I can not disclose the exact location.”

More specifically, a retreat for one woman. Me. You don’t need to know exactly where. Trust that I have my reasons. I’m sure it will be less expensive than a divorce, going into the hospital or rehab, which is where I’m on my way if I don't get a break.
Only my husband knew my exact location, and he wasn’t one-hundred percent thrilled about it. He would have preferred to be with me.  Luckily, he had to work. And honestly, this was something I needed to do for me and for the health of our relationship. We talked or texted every day. I also told him I don’t want to know everything that’s happening while I’m gone. There is plenty that I shield him from when I’m home because I know that he is inundated with work. Which is actually a good defense mechanism for not having to deal with all of the crap.  

I have lived on the edge of panic for so long, the amygdala in my brain is on constant alert for fight or flight. At this point, I  prefer flight. As in, on an airplane, away from this shit.
I went home to Los Angeles, but it wasn’t my normal kind of visit. I needed a real vacation. At the very last minute, I think 7 days before, I decided that it would be to one of the places where I am most comfortable in the world. I know how to fly in-and-out quickly and easily without dealing with LAX. I use Long Beach Airport where I can walk across the street to rent a car.

I have a love/love relationship with Los Angeles. The longer I’m away from it, the more I realize how important it is to me. I love the beaches. I have so many memories tied almost every beach there, from as far south as San Diego to as far north as Monterey.

For some reason, Manhattan Beach is one of my favorites. That’s the place I think I would like to retire when I’m rich. Ha! I have a special affection for all of the beaches of Southern California. Some people don’t like the Pacific because the temperature of the water can be cold. Some of the beaches can also be full of seaweed to the point where you can’t enjoy them. This was the middle of September and Manhattan Beach was perfect --warm even. The weather overall was perfect. It was close to 80 degrees during the day. Most evenings by the beach, you barely need a sweater.
All summer I thought of the ocean and everything about it that I missed. We needed some time together. I needed to take deep breaths, think, write. To meander about, take my sweet time and not have anyone questioning me.

I spend most days of my life living for others. This was about living for me, for just a few days. It was about meditating to the sounds of the ocean, relaxing and writing, not even necessarily talking.  

After last minute texts to my closest girlfriends, they did come out to see me where I was near the beach. My family had their reasons for not being able to come out to my last-minute invitation, and that was perfectly okay. My girlfriends didn’t care that I didn’t give them a big heads up that I was coming to town. They didn’t care that I did not come see them at, or closer to their homes the way that I usually do. They didn’t ask “Why didn’t you plan something with us weeks ago?”

My thought process was, I am my priority. Spending time with anyone else will be icing on the cake. The cake will still be moist and delicious without them.

Still, my girls Jenny, Mary, and Rebecca jumped at the chance to see me at least for dinner. Rebecca took a day off and hung out with me at the pool at the hotel. It made me feel that unconditional flavor of love that only my girls can give.

I’m sure they wondered What is going on in your life? Is your marriage okay? What are you doing here all alone in this hotel? Who does that? 

However, they didn’t judge me, not one bit. In fact, Rebecca is also a writer and business owner. She is a big proponent of Self-love and self-care. She was happy to see me doing this for my self.
I sat in the California sun overlooking the marina, next to the pool of this little boutique hotel in Redondo Beach. It was lovely to have time to think clear thoughts, to come to some conclusions about what is next, what needs to change, and what I really want from the next stage in my life.

I tried not to think about my deeply rooted fears for Blue’s life and his future. About how much he still has to learn about life, self-care, medication compliance, and how to maintain a budget.

Thoughts of autism and anxiety seeped through. How autism compounds things and makes simple things seem difficult. I worry about him every-single-day. I question everything that I do as his mother. I thought of how something small can turn into something huge within a blink of an eye. I thought about how much I needed time away from thinking about all of this.

I walked the beach alone, observing the power of the ocean and the beauty of the breathtaking sunset. Every evening I came back to my room, alone and reveled in every-single-moment of quiet. It was my favorite kind of party -silent, party of one.

And Oh My God, there was a bathtub on my private balcony. I soaked in warm bubbles and bath salts each night while I listened to the sounds of the dolphins and seals playing in the ocean. It was such a breath of fresh air in contrast to the sound of complaints and requests for services.

My body was so relaxed. I was in bed most nights by 11 p.m. My sleep was sound and deep. I woke up free of worry. I sat on my private patio and meditated on the sounds. No worries of whether or not an adult child was making it to class on time. My biggest worry was getting down to have breakfast in the hotel's restaurant. I had a regular, healthy appetite. Where at home I drink coffee and avoid eating because eating means thinking of what to eat, and cleaning up after what to eat, and who has the energy for all of that? I would eat near the patio doors and walls made of windows which overlooked the marina. I was alone. No conversation And I didn't want any.
It was the ultimate indulgence in self-love and self-care on my journey so far. I know for sure, I want more of it.
When I checked in to the hotel, I knew instantly I never wanted to leave. I really did not want to leave and go back to my world of responsibilities.

When I checked out, sadly I asked the girls at the front desk, “Do you have a frequent guest club? I would love to join because I will definitely be back.”

If you knew me years ago, I loved to be around people as much as I possibly could. After years of isolation from the home that I love, I would travel near or far to be with the people I truly connect with. This time the most important person I connected with was me, and it was a freakin blast!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Dating Advice for Young Adults

Every few months the subject of dating is something that my two young-adults who happen to be on the autism spectrum, get stuck on. One of them gets a little more stuck, a lot more often. Probably because he has been a lover of female attention before he could even speak the words to say so. His interests began in pre-school when he was speech-delayed. He would always sit near pretty girls. He would put his arm around them. He loved to give and receive hugs.

My youngest son developed more interest in relationships at a more appropriate age. However, his approach to relationships with the opposite sex is a lot more pragmatic.  Still dating is not an easy thing.

I don't know why they ask me for dating advice. They really don't listen to my answers. That doesn't stop them from asking me over and over again. It also doesn't stop my heart from breaking and wanting them to find love and happiness.

  • Why can't I find a girlfriend? 
  • What's wrong with me? 
  • Why does dating seem to come along easily for most people but not for me? 
  • Why is every girl I meet already taken? 
  • Why am I struggling? 
  • You have no idea how this feels! (Which is more of an accusation than a question). 
Well, I may have some idea how it feels. I had a few dry spells when I was in the dating world, you know, way back in ancient history. I actually had quite a bit of fun dating many of the wrong guys, but it was all apart of my human experience. In hindsight, there wasn't one heartbreak that I would change. Each of them taught me something about myself and about men in general.

One of the things I think that helped me the most was having males who were just friends. In my teen years, I had more male than female friends. Yep. I really used to be a teenager. I know things have changed in your age of technology, however, human nature is very much the same. You don't have to believe me now. You'll see someday.

Every relationship good or bad is something that you are destined to experience. We would all love to be able to control the experience. It would be great if the one we think we love, always loves us in return. That doesn't always happen.  It would be fantastic if we never had to go through the pain of heartache when someone ends the relationship before the other person is ready, but again it's a part of the journey.

If you can control love, you will be the first person on earth to do so. Good luck with the millions you will earn selling your secret.

Again, we have no control when it comes to love.

One of my boys is a strong believer in God, the other not so much. The youngest is still examining his faith.

For the terms of my believer, these are my answers (although I think they are appropriate for anyone).

  • Finding the relationships that you are meant to have, will NEVER be a struggle ~You will not have to knock the door down. There will be no need to call them constantly or text them over and over. You won't have to convince them that you're the one. They will come to you naturally and they will stay with you as long as they are meant to.  
  • The struggle comes in when you are trying to make something happen that God, (the universe, or fate) says, it is not meant for you. 
  • There is nothing wrong with you. ~What's wrong is that you are approaching every relationship and every person you meet as if they are meant for you when they're not. 
  • Dating seems to come along easily to others ~because you are on the outside looking in. Other people may have more relationships. That doesn't mean that they are quality relationships. They will undoubtedly also have more drama. More drama comes along with the relationships that are based on selfish desires (not God's plan or fate).  Maybe God doesn't want you to have all that drama. 
  • If the person you meet is already taken...they are not meant for you to be in a relationship at that moment.  Perhaps that person, even if they are the opposite sex, and beautiful, or handsome, crossed your path because you are meant to be friends. Maybe being a friend without selfish desires, will lead to something more. That new friend could possibly end up leading you to another destined relationship.  
  • You struggle more when your desires are selfish ~A relationship that comes your way without a struggle is meant to happen, even if it doesn't last forever. You are meant to learn something from that experience. That person was meant to be a part of your journey.
I believe this advice will serve you well, whether you are on the autism spectrum or not.  The language of love is universal. I'm no expert, but I've had a few relationships in my 53 years on this earth. The latest one has lasted nearly 25 years, so far.

I decided to write these answers down for my sons so that perhaps I won't have to repeat myself, nine-hundred-ninety-nine more times.

Here you go, kid! It's in writing.



Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Made it to the Mat

I come down the stairs this morning on my way to yoga when I notice the sink full of dishes. Blue was supposed to have cleaned them last night.

After having my supposedly, professional, surface-cleaning crew clean the kitchen yesterday, I can't tell you how happy I was when Blue decided to make homemade cookies last night at 10 p.m. (I call them surface cleaners because last week after they left, I changed a room around and ended up vacuuming up a ton of dust from places they apparently have never seen.

I look at Blue like he has three heads. He told me the dishes were clean last night. He appears to be sticking to his story despite the evidence. It's kind of like the current President of the United States, who expects us not to believe what we actually see with our own eyes and hear coming out of his mouth. 
"The dishes are clean," he insists. 

They are nowhere near clean. They are piled one on top of the other. There are remnants of cookie dough, sugar, and flour on everything, including the kitchen floor. 

"But I used hot soapy water," he says.

I left him with hot soapy water in the sink before I went to bed so that he wouldn't attempt to use cold water and no soap because no one was watching. 
"You didn't wash them thoroughly or there wouldn't still be food on them. And then you piled dirty dishes on top of ones that are supposed to be clean. Clean dishes that have been washed go in the drainer after being rinsed with hot water, so that they can dry. Cleaning the kitchen means clearing the sink ...entirely." 

From there, I start getting caught up in showing him how to do it correctly ...again. 

We're going back and forth when my mom chimes in, interrupting us. "You know Blue, your father is going to notice those cookie crumbs on the kitchen table when he comes down to have his coffee." 

Seriously mom? You have to interrupt us to mention crumbs when I'm already trying to get him to do dishes he doesn't want to do. You need to add your two-cents right at this moment?  Insert massive eye-roll here. Help me, Jesus. 

After all the years she has lived here, she still doesn't get that it's hard enough to discipline or correct him, but to have more than one person correcting him at the same time, is what can make him blow a gasket.

In autism, over the years I have found that everything is worse with an audience, especially with audience participation. 

I know that he needs money for the day. There will be a negotiation for how much because he has several stops to make. He has to take the train. He doesn't have a student pass for the summer. I don't want to discuss this in front of Mom. I ask him to meet me in the garage. This is how I have to live my life. Always the secret meetings behind closed doors. Always, explaining and compensating for the behavior of others. 

I am tired of giving him money. I am tired of negotiating over money. I am tired of micro-managing his spending. I am tired of justifying the money I have given him to his father who always blows a gasket and second-guesses me. 

Blue worked a five-week internship this summer through Texas Workforce/Vocational Rehabilitation's Earn and Learn program. He blew through that money faster than my head could spin. He still has one more check coming. Thank God! Not that it will last any significant amount of time. 

Half-heartedly, I pull out of the driveway and around the corner. I get to the stop sign at the end of the block. I make a u-turn back towards the house. I decide not to pull in front. I pull up on the side. I don't want anyone in my family to see me contemplating. I spend a lot of my time contemplating. It's a whole thing in my day. I should put it on my calendar.

Should I take him to the train station? 
It's going to cost at least ten dollars for him to get there. 
I could just take him and save that money.
Alan's always bitching about how much Uber money he spends. 
I really want my frappuccino before class. I haven't had one in three whole days. 
(I've been addicted to them this summer. They have been my guilty pleasure.)  
If I take him to the station I could go to the other Panera, grab my frappuccino and probably make it back to class on time. 
I'll be cutting it too close and I'll end up missing class.
f*#% that. 
I missed class last week. 
I need this today. 
Why am I sitting here negotiating my own self-care? 
You don't do that much for yourself, Karen. 
Remember last night at the grocery store? You felt like you were ready to jump out of your own skin, while Blue shopped with the speed of a turtle with only 3 legs. You wanted to run away and change your name? It was like you just couldn't do one more damn thing for another ungrateful human.  Like you need a vacation ...yesterday. And today, you're negotiating yoga time?  What is wrong with you? 
Fennis in Maui
Flow Yoga, Cedar Park TX

Thirty minutes and one frappuccino later, I'm in some version of twisted root pose on my mat when Suzette the instructor, comes over to ask if she can help adjust me into the pose correctly.

"Would you like a blanket to prop your shoulder?" she asks in the softest, most kind, voice. 
Soothing yoga music is playing softly and my heart melts a little.
She props my shoulder onto the blanket. I want to cry real tears.

I'm here. 
It's so nice to have someone checking on ME, asking what I need. 

In this moment I am so thankful that I decided to walk away from the madness.
Well, I drove away, but I made it to Yin class.
I put myself first. 

The usual Yin class instructor who I really dig is in Hawaii on vacation. That may have had something to do with my hesitation.

I will not mention how I wish that I was there in Maui ...with her or instead of her.  I won't call her any ungodly names, out loud.  I love the beautiful pictures on Instagram of her doing yoga poses on the beach in front of the bluest ocean I've have not personally seen this summer. I certainly will not mention any envy over her sculpted, lean, yoga body, and the fact that she has carried children more recently than I have. Nope. Jealousy is not a part of my vocabulary. 

Before class, I thought maybe I wouldn't appreciate the practice as much as I do when Fennis teaches. I was wrong. Suzette was great.  

After savasana, she guided us to thank ourselves for making it to our mats this morning.

I am truly thankful. Today I chose me.  



By the way...I am happy to announce that my blog made the Top 30 Autism Parenting Blogs on Blog Feedspot for 2018.  Check out the hyperlink to see some of my homies who also made this list. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Liberating and Anomalous

Every smile you see from me, there is work that goes into making it happen. Sometimes when I look back at pictures, I can’t believe how many smiles I’ve managed over the years.
When I say my smiles take work, I mean therapy. I mean a concerted effort. I mean juggling responsibility and obligations to the adult humans in my life. I mean deflecting incessant phone calls long enough to actually enjoy an adult activity, without stopping to save the world. 
What's your superpower?  

Everything these two sons of mine need from me is urgent and according to them, should be my first priority. My smiles and happiness are not on their list of important things in life. I have to be vigilant to make them a priority in my own life. For a long time, I forgot to do that.

So, if you see me out on a date with my husband, traveling or having a cocktail with my girlfriends, you can bet your ass, it took a lot of work to make it happen.

I’m working intently to not be depressed this summer. I have written about my Summer Sadness many times over the years. Going to therapy is often the highlight of my week. (How sad is that?) It may be the only day that another human actually sees me, hears me and validates my thoughts, feelings, and desire for happiness.  

When you spend most of your time around crazy, needy, people you can start to doubt that you are entitled to happiness and self-fulfillment.  My children always have one issue or another problem. They repeatedly tell me 'everything is my fault.' I know it isn't true. Or is it?  After a while, I start to wonder what is fact and what is fiction?

(Please don't be offended by me calling my family members crazy and needy. I consider myself to be every bit as crazy as they are. My husband would probably also describe me as needy, or at the very least, uniquely high-maintenance. Or be offended. That's okay too.)

Summer is often a trigger for my depression for a number of reasons. The number one reason one being the Texas heat. This third week of July the temperatures will hover over the hundred-degree mark every single day. I got a serious attitude when I read the forecast a couple of days ago. I started cursing inside my head. I do that a lot. This sun is intense like no sun I’ve ever felt anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sun. I would just prefer it to come along with an ocean breeze, not mosquitos.

In Texas, during the summer if you are shopping or running errands when you come back to your car you will feel like you have been assaulted. You will want to run home to your air-conditioned house, and vow never to leave again until the fall. Except in my case, you have to leave the house. I can’t spend too much concentrated time in my own home with my family. I love them. I also need space from them. I take care of them. It is a big part of my job in life. If I want real time-off ...home is not the most opportune place to get it.

This summer the boys are 19 and 22. They are both working. This is Blue’s second try at having a job. Kendal now works full-time however, he is going through a transition to another city, living with his brother. Apparently, his part-time job is calling to argue about anything and everything. Our conversations may start out pleasant, but they can go left pretty quickly. It’s almost like he still needs this fix of someone to argue with every day. Oppositional Defiance much?  

The thing we talk about most is his plans for the future. The conversation is the same one we've been having for over a year. Sometimes, he takes a different route to get to the same destination, but we always end up at the point of frustration. I can't tell you how much I look forward to it

Holding the boundary on his phone calls is an energy drain. I set the boundary of only one-call a-day, in the evening when he gets home from work. He works overtime to cross that boundary. It is exhausting. But hey! At least he’s not popping into my house for these extended conversations, and by conversations, I mean circular arguments that don't go anywhere. So there's that.

This summer, I continue letting go, trying not be weighed down by every factor in the boy's lives of which I have no control. They are making progress. In my head, I know that I have to accept their rate of growth and the adult choices that they are making or not making. That doesn’t stop my heart from wanting more for them.  I mean honestly, what good does it do to worry about all of these things I have no control over?

Well, whoever said that anxiety is rational?

Just let them wing it, right? How can I leave everything up to them when they are facing challenges that most people don't have to face? They are autistic adults who have trouble with executive functioning. Depression and anxiety and feeling overwhelmed is also a factor. Anxiety alone can completely shut your entire system down. I don't care how smart you are.  I'm not autistic, but I believe I do have issues with ADHD and anxiety. There are times that I feel incapacitated by fear. I've had a lot of years to work through it and find ways to compensate for it. Their adult lives are only just beginning.

Blue is growing but at the pace of a turtle race. If I just sit back and continue to watch him flail, the longer he will be here in my house. And literally, the more money we as his parents will spend supporting him and his education. We have to come up with an exit plan. The biggest growth we saw in his brother was once he moved out of this house I am their comfort zone. I think close proximity to me stunts their growth. I think with Blue there will need to be a gentle push out of the nest. Otherwise, home is a comfort zone that he may never want to leave. The funny thing is, he doesn't really want to be here anyway. It's all a big, fat, frustrating, catch 22.

How does autism factor into all of this? What part is just stubbornness? What part is the typical behavior of a young adult who just doesn't have everything figured out? 

Because he is still at home sometimes it feels like I am still very much in the throes of raising an adult-sized, strong-willed child. I know it’s supposed to be all about natural consequences at this point, but when the natural-consequences affect me, I tend to want to avoid that.  For instance, if he doesn’t take medicine regularly; he ends up having a meltdown here at home, I feel the pain of that meltdown and then my blood pressure goes up. I remind him in order to save myself. I’ve been so on edge for so long. My body is conditioned to stress. There are times when I feel like I've forgotten how to breathe. I'm so used to holding my breath, waiting for something to happen. I actually forget to exhale. I have to make a conscious effort to do so.

I’m looking for peace wherever I can find it. Yoga helps. I wish I could live in the yoga studio. Only there are no cocktails there.

It’s not good for inner peace to have a stubborn, young adult in your house. He wants to be independent, but he’s not. He is frustrated by that. I am frustrated by that. He asks for help and for advice only to follow up by doing whatever he wants to do anyway.

I’m fighting hard to find myself again. I’m setting boundaries, as they continue to push back hard against them. I work diligently at exercising purposeful self-care and self-love. I’m finally doing some of the things in life that I enjoy. I’m doing things that are just for me more than I have since these boys were born. This takes some getting used to for everyone. They are so used to having me available at any given second. 
The transition to adulthood feels like it’s by far the hardest part of raising them so far. Watching them wade into the deep social quagmire of High school was difficult emotionally. Coaching them through the anger, depression, loneliness and intense desire to be accepted was excruciating. Somehow, the weight of their adult choices feels heavier to me. I know I shouldn't be carrying that weight. But I am their mother. I don't think we ever stop worrying or wanting the best for them. Maybe the weight feels heavier because I know that I am no longer in control. 

 I confess... I love to be in control. I think most people with anxiety have an excessive need to be in control, even over things in which we have no jurisdiction. That's not an easy thing to admit, but I am flawed --a constant work in progress. Letting go is the right thing to do. It's what they need and deserve.

I can not jump in and wave my magic-fix-it-wand like I did when they were still in high-school.  They need help and guidance, but most of that will now come from sources other than me.  Making adult life choices is up to them at this point.  

This time in our lives is liberating and anomalous at the same time.  I'm letting go, but it's not a straight path. It feels foreign to not be in control anymore.  It’s a constant challenge between what to do for them and yet,  stay out of their way.  I’m more of a consultant than a parent.  I can’t make them do anything. I can only help them find the resources so that they have the best chance at helping themselves. 

I’m letting go and they are screaming, "Leave me alone! But can you talk to me twenty times a day?" "Can I have some money?" And, "I don’t need your help!" sometimes comes within the same breath. 

I know will get there. I'm kind of in a hurry. I want my freedom back. I got things to do.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Everything and Nothing

My youngest son Blue graduated from high school one-year-ago. It feels like three.  I'm exhausted. I think my last nerve has disintergrated and there isn't anything left to trample on. 

This is my third and final launch and things are not going smoothly.  You'd think I would have this figured out by now. This is the one I hoped would be the easiest. I could not have been more wrong. 

Every day we fight about something, everything, and nothing. 

To ice that cake, I'm not quite finished launching his 22-year-old-brother who also has autism, anxiety and a mood disorder. He's out of the house, but with his recent move to another city, there are all-new transition issues that are coming up. His anxiety goes up, his phone calls increase, which means my anxiety goes up and my patience is short.

The phenomenon --kids in their late teens and early adulthood not getting along with their parents has been happening since the dawn of time.  

I remember breaking away from my mother. I was eighteen when I told her I was done with the religion she raised me in. I would no longer deal with the judgment of those people. I would find my own relationship with God. I'm sure she loved every moment of that conversation.

Look. I get it. Young adults don’t want to be told what to do or be limited by their parents.  This is why they should move out. This is why they go away to college or go away somewhere, the military, anywhere, but away, to start their journey to independence. Unfortunately, in our situation, that has not been possible thus far. 

Blue spent this year transitioning into community college with a great deal of angst.

He survived. 

I survived. 

The second semester was slightly better than the first as he got more used to the new environment. 
I got more and more used to the fact that this story was not going to play out the way that I had pictured it for so many years.

I can't tell you how many times I have to stop myself from thinking about some of his peers who are also on the autism spectrum, who are moving right along, attending a University, working, driving and living on campus. 

Nope! You’re not supposed to compare your child to other people. Ever. Out loud. Try telling that to your brain. Try not feeling the pain of dreams broken and dealing with a new reality.

I know that everyone has their own journey. His journey is not mine to decide and all of that. He has his own strengths and challenges and his life will unfold the way it's supposed to. I can't lie though. I wish things would move along a little easier and a little faster. A sister is tired. I'm ready to step back and watch him wander off into the horizon.  

From the time he was in the 6th grade we were planning for him to have a college career. That’s when he started taking advanced math. All of his grades were nearly perfect. He had such a great work ethic. He pushed himself to the next level without any prompts.

We had been told by several teachers, “With his grades in math and science, he has the kind of brain that would make an engineer or a scientist.” 

My eyes lit up. I was eager to see him soar …out of my house and towards success.  

In middle school, his Special Education team did their best to edge me out of the Advocate role by the time he was in 8th grade

“If he’s going to go to college, he’s going to have to advocate for himself,” they told me. 

He became his own advocate. In middle school, he once sat in a meeting full of teachers and administrators fighting for this one particular teacher to adhere to the terms of the accommodations of his Individual Education Plan. 

Yeah. She was a real piece of work and I wanted to thrash her, but I sat back and watched him fight his own battle, and I was proud. 

By the time he was in high school, I was able to sit back and take a seat while he did the driving.  (It was a good thing because his brother was busy making me crazy with HIS transition to adulthood.)  

Blue’s coursework in high school was advanced for the most part. Like I said above, he did have accommodations. His anxiety was the major factor that slowed him down even though his intellect and work ethic were on point. 

The biggest among the accommodations in his I.E.P. was extra-time for processing and turning in major assignments.  He also had a tracking teacher who worked with him to make sure things were not falling through the cracks. 

He was always such a good student who appeared to be doing his best. Teachers were willing to work with him. “He’s such a positive contribution to class,” they would say.  They loved him. 

He took a college class on our community college campus the summer before "Senior Year Hell." It was Speech Communication. Even with his anxiety, he managed to make an A. 

But that same summer is when things started to unravel for him. His anxiety was at an all-time high. We were working through medication issues. He started working on his first job and it was a bit of nightmare. The job ended after three weeks with a meltdown in the parking lot right outside of the store. 

Social relationships, especially of the female persuasion, became super important to him.  He has always had friends …lifelong friends who were loyal. He started to see that his new social relationships with groups of teenage girls came along with a lot of conflict. He didn’t have the capacity for keeping up with his course load and all of the drama at the same time. He ended up having to drop AP Physics and was barely holding on in several other classes.  

He managed to do well on his SAT’s, but during the time when he should have been applying to colleges, he was barely keeping his head above water. 

Per the suggestion from his therapist, we tried to ease him into college by having him carry a small course load.  We didn’t push for him to get a job both because of his anxiety and so that he could focus on school. 

I had the bright idea to give him an allowance and some freedom of transportation via Uber and the metro system. One, to give him more of a sense of independence and two, because quite frankly, I am tired of being everything for him. I'm tired of being the designated taxi driver. Most of the time his attitude sucks. He is rude. He doesn't exactly smell like fresh flowers, and he doesn't tip. There have been countless times where I have had to pull to the side of the road and get out because of a meltdown. Meltdowns and driving are not a good mix. 

I'm tired of cooking meals for him. I cook and more than half the time he doesn't show up for dinner, and he complains about having to eat here when he does.  I could make a big pot of spaghetti and he would come home and pour a bowl of cereal. Um. Okay dude. I'm done. 

I admit, at first I was happy to have him spend so much time outside of the house. It was worth every penny we were spending. 

I justified giving him this allowance. If we helped him buy a car it would end up being even more expensive, than paying for Uber. Not to mention, we wouldn’t have the liability and possibility of him getting into an accident.  (He has his permit. What we have not been able to do is get him to do the actual behind the wheel training.)

Our agreement was that during school his allowance would be in exchange for some basic chores here at home, going to class, and making good grades.  More money could be earned for additional jobs and projects around the house. 

What I didn't factor in is that even though we were providing this opportunity for him to earn money, he would come to resent us for not only being his parents but his employers. He sees the chores as my way of "controlling him." Insert eye-roll here. 

Gradually, he stopped meeting his end of the agreement. Sometimes he'd go to class. Sometimes he'd sleep all day. And yet, he would ask us to go above and beyond meeting our end of the bargain. He wanted more and more money and privileges. He would actually have the nerve to get really angry when he didn’t get what he wanted.  

It was like someone forgot to give him the memo that he is now an adult, and we are no longer obligated to meet all of his wants and needs. 

Only we did give him the memo. His therapist gave him the memo too. She spelled it out quite clearly. He wanted to ignore the memo. He wanted an alternative fact memo. 

What we are seeing now is an independent soul trapped in the body and mind of a boy who doesn’t have the resources for all of the independence that he wants. He wants the privileges of adulthood without creating that world for himself. 

This puts us (and by us, I mean mostly me)  in a position of having to say NO to a lot of requests and demands. Therein lies the power-struggle. He is pissed off that he has to come to me for money, which ultimately means freedom. 

I think it's hard for everyone when you first start managing money. I also think when you haven't really worked for it,  it's is like trying to hold water in your hands. It’s leaking everywhere and before you know it, it’s gone.

We have the means to support him, but at the same time, we have the obligation to create a desire for self-responsibility.

This isn't our first time at this rodeo. Our older boys have worked to help take care of themselves from the time they were teens. Adrian, our oldest, also went to college on us the first year. After he blew off our money and came back home, it wasn't long before he had to move out and figure things out on his own. 

Now with Blue, we are having to establish new boundaries around finances and spending. All of this is going on at a time when we are the last people on earth he wants to deal with. He certainly doesn’t want to hear “NO” from us. 

I  try to give him the freedom to do what he wants to do as an adult. That doesn’t mean that I have to pay for it all. It was getting to the point where he was eating out more than we do, and he has an affinity for sit-down restaurants.  Okay, I'll admit he gets that from me, but when I was his age, I was paying for my own restaurant excursions. 

College students have to learn to do things that are free …or at least on the cheap.  You do not have endless resources. We don’t have endless resources to give you. Most people in the real world have financial limits. 

I'm so tired of the fight. I miss my sweet child. Growing up I saw so much of myself in him. He has a kind heart. He has always been the kind of person that wanted to make others feel better. I know he's still in there somewhere, but I'll be damned if he will come out to play. 

As he attempts to break away from me, he is less than sweet. He is bitter and he wants me to suck the lemon too.  

He is angry with me …a lot.  

My stress level is through the roof. 

I know it’s not really about me. 
I believe it’s about him feeling powerless. 
I believe it’s anxiety and fear. 
It’s about being at a stage in life where he wants to break away but making it happen feels overwhelming… 
Maybe even impossible. 

And so it is time …for a job. He starts tomorrow. 

I’m praying about it.