A family's story

Posts tagged ‘life lessons’

Where I ditch perfection…

Today I turn 40. There were no trumpets. No confetti. No big proclamations or cabana boys jumping out of cakes. Really, it has been “just another day”. And that is okay. I don’t need the flashy kind of birthday. I’m not flashy. I like quiet. It’s really just enough that my family and friends remembered and wished me well. And, well, Jake gave me the biggest hug this morning and a sweet happy birthday wish. (Considering that he’s 12 and most days I annoy him more than anything, that was one of the best gifts ever.)

I always get a bit retrospective on my birthday. With this being a “milestone” birthday and all, I have been thinking about my 30’s quite a bit. What did I learn? Did I come out ahead? One thing for sure, my 30’s had a lot of change, experience, and pivotal moments.

I started out that decade with a plan. I always had a plan. I was going to carpe me some diem. Or whatever. I thought I had it all figured out. I was going to work, we were going to add to our family, I was going to rock the professional and personal work/life balance thing. It was going to be amazing.

Looking back, my 30’s reminds me a lot of the game Perfection. Remember that game? I was going to get all the pieces put in just the right spots, with plenty of time to spare, beat the buzzer and win!


Jake had been born a couple years before. His arrival threw me because he was early. I was expecting Tate a few months after my 30th birthday. I was prepared. Even if he came early, we’d be okay. Nursery was done early. Clothes were washed. Bag was pack–EEEEEEH!!! The buzzer went off before I got those pieces put all together. Tate came 3 weeks and 1 day early, I had an emergency c-section because he was breech, and he was diagnosed with a heart murmur the day after he was born.

Tate’s first couple of months were the typical blur of having a newborn. We threw in some specialist appointments (turned out the heart murmur was minor and he would be okay). But damn, that kid WOULD NOT SLEEP. EVER. He was a fussy little guy, and hated to be snuggled. Hated being on his tummy. He threw up at seemingly odd intervals. I went back to work, barely getting enough sleep at night.

We moved on. The boys grew. We were finding our way. It wasn’t smooth, but it felt like the pieces were starting to fit a bit better. I was going to beat that buzzer. Yea—EEEEEEH! Buzzer went off. Damn! The head of our daycare called and expressed concerns about both Jake and Tate and their development. Whaaaaa?! She suggested autism in relation to Tate. I wouldn’t, couldn’t, listen. How? Why? Not my baby!!

We made appointments with Early Intervention. Tate was evaluated. He was severely delayed in speech, both receptive and expressive. His pragmatic skills were nil. What did that even mean?! Jake was speech delayed. He started services with the school. Tate started meeting with a speech pathologist. He then was evaluated for OT and developmental therapy. I felt like some new pieces were added to the game, but we were playing, and just about winning.

In 2009 we found out we were expecting another little boy. We were prepping for our transition to a family of five. Hubz finished the basement. The game of Perfection was getting closer to comple—. EEEEEH! Buzzer went off again. I went into pre-term labor at 33 weeks. It couldn’t be stopped. I had excessive amniotic fluid. I wanted to have a VBAC and, well, the baby was on his umbilical cord. A c-section was going to have to happen. Our little guy, Cole, was born 7 weeks early. He was small. But he was strong. He spent 3 weeks in the NICU. It was a rocky period, but we made it through.

I picked up those pieces, organized them differently, and started again. One piece went in so easily. Cole was flourishing. He was meeting milestones ahead of schedule, which was a relief. Tate was in Early Childhood preschool and was talking more and more. Jake was doing pretty well in kindergarten. I decided to stay home with the boys for a year or two, and I quit my job. I became a room mom for Jake’s class. I was figuring out how to navigate the parent gig with school and being home. My mom and I were talking about how much fun we were going to have once Jake and Tate were in school full days. Yes! I was figuring it out. These pieces weren’t so hard, after all…only a few more, and I’d wi—-EEEEEEEH!

My mom got sick. So, so sick. She was hospitalized. Then a stroke. Then a diagnosis…Pancreatic cancer. Terminal. How was I ever going to get through life without her?! The summer of 2010 was, and remains, a blur. I shuffled between caring for the boys and caring for my mom. I was truly sandwiched. The pieces of were scattered everywhere. I couldn’t even remember how to put them in the right way. That damn buzzer was going off. September 2010. The buzzer blew so loud and so fast. Mom was gone.

The pieces were everywhere. I think I lost a piece or two. I had enough to attempt to start over, so slowly, ever so slowly , I picked them up, and started placing them gingerly into their places. One. At. A. Time. I learned about things that were important. And I learned to let go of some things that weren’t. We also realized that as much progress as Tate was making, something wasn’t quite…typical. Six months after my mom died, we found out that our Tater Tot was autistic. No one I knew had a kiddo with needs like his. Hubz and I thought our game was totally busted. During that time the game sat on a shelf. The buzzer was jammed. I had other things to worry about.

Once we had a diagnosis for Tate, we got things moving. I figured out insurance. Hubz dealt with HR. We found ABA. Tate got more services. His IEP was beefed up. He started to make REAL progress. I pulled out the game, looked at it to decide whether I should try again. I flipped the pieces between my fingers. I could do this. Those pieces could fit. I could still win at Perfection. I got pretty close, but then, as usual, the buzzer went off, again, and I was no where near perfection.

As is the norm, the buzzer sounded a few more times in my later 30’s. I’d get SO. DAMN. CLOSE. Then…EEEEEH! Buzzer would go off. I kept trying, though. Then, one day, while I was putting those pieces in, I started to realize that maybe this game of perfection wasn’t where it was at. At 39, I put that perfection on the shelf. As it collected dust, I realized that I have friends whom get this roller coaster life that we lead. They have helped me see that perfection isn’t always the end goal. My family is fantastic the way it is. We can always work for BETTERING ourselves, but perfection??? It doesn’t have to be the end all, be all.

So, as I turn 40, I am chucking that stupid game into the garbage. I have finally realized that those pieces will NEVER all quite fit into their precise spots in a dictated timeframe. Life just doesn’t work that way.

This decade, I hope to work to achieve a balance. I know that there will be joy. There will be pain. Perfection is a word in the dictionary. I cannot and will not use it to dictate how my life should be. Perfection isn’t how I will measure my children’s successes, either. We are perfectly imperfect, and it suits us well.


Fabulous at 40?

So, in 20 days I will be 40 years old.  I’ve seen so many memes lately about “I don’t feel 40 until I go out with people who are 20 and then, yep, I feel 40”. Okay, maybe not EXACTLY that wording, but you get the gist. You guys, it is SO true. When I am THINKING and PONDERING and possibly PERSEVERATING on various things, I don’t feel a day over 25. For real. But then I try to do something physical, like, oh, I don’t know, open a jar of pickles, and gosh darn it, I FEEL the pain. That twinge in my thumb. A creak in my wrist. Oh, man…..

In my efforts to “get fit by 40” (which, news flash, I didn’t), I have been walking for 30 minutes a day, at least 5 days a week. I’m proud of myself for having walked more than 10,000 steps a day most days of the week, and for maintaining regular exercise. However, it isn’t the most rigorous. And I definitely eat too many calories. (Sidebar: Why do bread, bagels and cheese have to be soooo damn delicious?!)

So, I find myself sitting at the higher weight (holiday candy and cookies be damned!) and needing to step up my fitness game. Sooooooo, I am taking the 21 Day Fix plunge. Eeeek! I did it last year and felt better. This year, I will do it again, but I will remember to do the MODIFIED workouts to start. Even with modified workouts, I know that for the first week, possibly two, I will be so sore, and Advil will be my friend. If you see me hobbling around, or having trouble getting down into a chair, no need to worry. It’s just that I’m so out of shape. I just need to tell myself that this is better for my body in the long run!!! I will also try to aim for the 10,000 steps a day. It keeps me active, even if I am slightly a slave to the Fitbit. 😉

Also, I keep reading about the devil that sugar is to us humans. C’mon, man! In addition to bread, bagels and cheese,  I also love candy, ice cream, flavored lattes, etc. But, I am sure that sugar in the amounts that I consume it is not the best, so I will work on cutting down on that sugar consumption. I’m not happy about it, but I will. I will work to appreciate fruit as a dessert. (Insert eye roll here.)

Part of being fabulous means working the mind, along with the body. To achieve this, I plan on writing more this year. It is a good outlet, and I love rereading some of my old posts. It’s like a diary that I share with the world. But it is a good record of my life and happenings. I think I may also try my hand at writing a book. It may never be published or shared for public consumption, but really, I just want to see if I can do it. Wish me luck!!!

Last year I worked at trying to find my happy. I lost my way a few times, but overall, I think I did find it more than I had been in the past. That is my goal for my 40’s. I want to find my happy. (And for this conflict-averse, people pleaser, that is going to be HARD. But I’m going to do it. Just watch me!!!)

So, yeah, I may not be “fabulous by 40”, but I’m hoping to work on being fabulous IN my 40’s. That’s a good goal, right? I have 10 years to get it right.


I am “here”.

I saw that a friend from high school got published on Scary Mommy. Her post was brave. It was powerful. It inspired me to write again–thanks, Jeanine! (You can sneak a peak here: http://www.scarymommy.com/dear-college-boys-in-the-school-bookstore/)

Oh, my poor, neglected blog. I don’t come here as often as I used to. Raising 3 boys, maintaining a steady level of chaos and balance, volunteering and experiencing life as a family do that. I’m an almost 40-year-old stay-at-home mom to a middle schooler, a fourth grader and a first grader. I don’t even know how I got “here”, but “here” I am.

Just to keep everyone abreast of the boys’ lives, they are doing well. We have our bumps, but overall, they are growing and learning and finding their way. Jake is navigating middle school. Tate is embracing his status as “the oldest Hope boy” so well at the elementary school. And Cole is just so damn typical. Seriously. I love it and want to rip my hair out at the same time.

Anyway, getting back to being “here”. I have three boys in school full time. Six years ago my plan was to be back in the workforce by now, earning a paycheck, and having a career. Then, well, life happened. So, I scrapped my original plan, and Hubz and I moved ahead with a new one. I’m living the life of a mom whose work lies within the confines of being a parent and probably the only non-ADHD member of the home, so at least one of us has some good executive functioning skills!

If anyone thinks that I “just” stay at home, well, don’t I wish!!! With my “free” time, I volunteer at the elementary school. I am able to help in Cole’s class with literacy stations and with teacher projects. I’m able to run PTO events and assist my friends with their endeavors at the school, as well. I’m even able to have lunch, on occasion, with other moms whom work flexible schedules or are still at home, themselves. Additionally, I run errands, grocery shop, shuttle kids and their friends to therapy, practices and games, and I still manage to find time to grab a latte most days!

I have a sixth grader. In our district, sixth grade is in a middle school. His schedule reminds me of my high school schedule. It’s likely as demanding as my life was in ninth grade, although, I never had to contend with ADHD nor learning difficulties. And yet, my kid is still kicking butt! I am so proud of the maturity with which he is handling this new phase in his life. I, on the other hand, feel as insecure as I did when I was 12. I mean, 10 different teachers, 10 periods, homework every night, gaah!!!

I have a fourth grader. He’s also going to be 10 in six months. How is my Tater “going on 10”?! I remember “going on 10”. I love watching his expanding experiences. He’s learning so much. And he’s doing it rather successfully. I’m not sure if I would have been able to handle as much as he has to handle every day, and he does it with few complaints, and often, with a smile and a giggle.

I have a first grader. Scratch that. My BABY is a first grader. I can’t even. This is the one that tends to blow my mind. Wasn’t Jake just my trailblazing first grader?! It’s amazing to see how much has changed in just 5 years. The curriculum is more rigorous. The demands are high. And my little Cole is doing first grade like.a.boss. Not that I would think he would handle it any other way, as he’s always taken on experiences and tasks that are clearly above his age level. But he is. And he makes me so proud every day as he learns to make the choices that are right, but not always easy.

I am almost forty. For serious. In three and a half months I join the “Fabulous at 40” club. I have some friends that are already reaching this milestone birthday. How did we get here?! I remember the year MY mom turned 40. It was a big joke about how old she was. I really never understood it until it started to happen to me, but holy cow, I completely feel no older than 25, and many times, in terms of being awkward or unsure of myself, I still feel 15. My birth certificate and driver’s license beg to differ, however. Guess I’ll just keep on practicing “fake it ’til I make it”.

I have been working on being healthy and taking care of myself. When I peaked the scales this summer, I realized that I can’t continue to gain weight every year. I no longer felt comfortable in my skin, and I was achy and exhausted all of the time. The diet of cheese, bread, and ice cream (which I really, really, REALLY wish I could sustain) was catching up to me. I took charge. I work out five days a week. I eat relatively healthily most days. I have cut out most processed carbs. I have reduced my cheese intake. I feel so much better. My knees don’t hurt when I sit down. My back isn’t achy every night. My jeans fit again. And, AND, I went in a belt notch. Wooohooooo!

Hubz and I will be celebrating our fifteenth wedding anniversary in a month. FIFTEEN YEARS. How the heck did that happen? Weren’t we just planning our wedding? We have grown up together, he and I. We’ve learned a thing, or ten, about commitment, love, communication, parenting, home ownership, sump pumps, purchasing a HOUSE, finding a good doctor, finding a second opinion, navigating school-aged children, navigating IEPs, coping with loss. We may not be as young (or as thin) as we used to be, but we are definitely still as in love. I don’t mean that as a cheesy statement. I really mean it. I know that he’s got my back. He knows I’ve got his. We’ve worked on so much together..and our lives are so intertwined. I love that. Neither of us would be the person we are today if it weren’t for the other.

When I started this blog, I used it as a way to process through Tate’s autism diagnosis and all that goes with that. Back then, I was trying to find a way to figure out what autism meant to our family, what it meant for Tate, and I felt the need to share everything with the world as a way to process through it. Today, autism is still a part of our lives, but I am not able to share everything. I know what MY experience with raising a son with autism is like, but I know that for all of the similarities, there are so many differences. I also know that if anyone has a question about autism, they are likely much better served by asking someone who is autistic, rather than a mom of an autistic kid. I mean, I have experiences AS A PARENT that I am happy to share, but I can’t tell anyone what it’s like to be autistic. I’ll leave that to many others…including Tate, whom says, “it is what I do.”

Often, I still find myself “between hope and a hard place”. Sometimes that hard place comes from a parenting moment, or watching my children navigate their worlds, and sometimes it comes from my being pulled into umpteen different directions. I am going to try to write more. I MISS that. But my writing may often focus on topics not autism related. Sometimes the topics may not even be parenting-related. But they will be Lisa-life-related, and THAT is my expertise.

Another Chapter

We are on the cusp of another school year. As we prep and fret and wrestle that darn anxiety beast in these last precious summer days, I try to slow down, just a bit. I take stock of the boys, who they are, what they love, how they approach life in this moment. I scan them, I commit their looks/voices/phrases to memory. I feel much like I do at the end of a great book. I have fallen in love with the characters. I want to savor all of the best parts of the story. Part of me doesn’t want to move onto the sequel, just in case it isn’t as good as the prior story…but I know that the story isn’t over…and there’s the hope…the hope that the next one is EVEN BETTER than before.

Jake is going into fourth grade. FOURTH. In the blink of an eye, or so it seems, he has gone from that shy, sweet little boy with wide eyes and a crooked smile to a sweet, gangly big kid. He sounds older. He looks older. He is grappling with that awkwardness where he knows he doesn’t quite belong with the little kids any more, but he certainly isn’t quite ready for big kid situations, either. Being the oldest, he tends to hold back, just a bit, and linger in that little kid space. As a parent, I’m grateful that he’s still more interested in Phineas and Ferb than Facebook. He prefers Plants vs. Zombies over playing pranks. He’d rather go to the park than go to the mall.

As far as school is concerned, he is handling it relatively well. Aside from anxiety-driven need for regular reassurance about his classroom and school start date, he is excited. He is approaching fourth grade with an open mind and positive attitude. It helps tremendously that he was able to meet his teacher prior to the school year, has seen his fourth grade classroom, and knows he has the same resource teacher as last year. This year we are aiming for more independence. I know he has it in him. We just need to give him the right tools to foster its maturation.

Tate is going to be a second grader. I can’t quite fathom this fact. As much as my heart tries to insist that he’s still a wee little kid, my head verifies the reality. He’s growing up. He’s taller. He’s stockier. He’s using his routines to get through the day. He relies on his weekly schedule and can answer his own questions about “What do I have today?”. He’s found some scripts that work really well in pragmatic language. His vocabulary is blossoming. When we go out in public, he is more able to regulate himself. He is able to advocate for himself in many basic situations. Sometimes he surprises us and advocates for himself in complex ones, too. (Like when we were at IKEA last weekend and he told us the lights were hurting his eyes, and he needed to get out of there.)

As he heads into second grade, I think this is the most comfortable that I have ever felt. His teacher is phenomenal. She is communicative. She truly wants to help her students learn–in their own way. He is familiar with the school. He knows many of the routines. He knows many staff members. He calls it “my school”. He has back-to-school anxiety, but it really is not nearly as significant as it has been in past years. We have a good plan in place for his educational and therapeutic needs.

And Cole. Cole blows my mind. So this is what a typical four year old is like. Wow. He makes my head spin, leaves me frustrated many days, and makes me feel like I still haven’t figured out this parenting gig. And that’s a very good thing. He is clever, adventurous, and willful. He is creative. He loves taking objects apart–just to figure out how they work. As spirited as he is, he also has the most amazing gentle side. He doesn’t like seeing others hurting or upset…and he is very loyal. Once you win him over, he’s got your back.

My “baby” (wait– he is NOT a baby, he’s a big boy!) starts Pre-K on August 26th. We switched preschools this year, and he will be attending the school district’s preschool program that combines the Early Childhood students with typically developing peers. We are familiar with most of the staff, after Tate’s stint there, and we couldn’t be more excited for Cole. He has so much to offer, and I am confident that the teachers will really challenge him and pull out that knowledge he has stored in that amazing mind of his. Also, he’s grown up with a special needs brother. He has been around special needs kids. He doesn’t see them as different. He sees them as kids. And he’s such a social butterfly, that he’ll enchant even the most socially-challenged kiddo. (He was amazing with Em’s daughter earlier this week.)

In nine days I will send all three of my kids onto their next adventure. Our next adventure. While I still savor the memories of the character development and story lines from our recently completed chapter, going into this next one, I have a good feeling that it will be just as great…maybe even a little better. And I can’t wait to get started.

Life is a Roller Coaster

One of my favorite movie scenes of all time is in the original Parenthood movie. The elderly grandmother talks about how some people go around life as if it were a carousel, it predictably goes round and round, but doesn’t have much excitement. There are others who choose to ride the roller coaster, messy, unpredictable, but much more fun and adventurous. With the chaos going on around Steve Martin’s character, the camera shifts to make it appear that he’s on a roller coaster…and he looks pained…but his wife looks calm and is enjoying the ride. It is an excellent example of a metaphor.

Lately, I feel like the Steve Martin character. We are riding a humdinger of a roller coaster around here…complete with ups, downs, twists, and loads of unpredictable excitement. I am grimacing much of the time….I feel uneasy. I wish I could get off of this ride and opt for a little time on that carousel…but I know that is just not our ride.

Last week was the last day of the regular school year. I could feel myself inching up, up, up the rungs of the coaster. If we can just get through this ride…it will be easier. Only one more day…only one more hour…. And then the report cards came home. Words like “still struggles” “regression”, and “anxiety” peppered the boys’ notes and IEP progress reports. The free-fall of the coaster came. A pit formed in my stomach. Some screaming relieved the pressure as my own anxiety and concern peaked.

To be fair, we also saw phrases like, “works and tries hard”, “met goal”, and “really improving” on both boys’ reports. Both boys also achieved good grades in their respective favorite subject matter (Jake: science, social studies and art) (Tate: math). The coaster swerved to the side, promising a slightly smoother ride than I was imagining…I could catch my breath. The tension in my shoulders released. I felt the sun shine on my back.

Jake went to visit his grandparents and spend some time with his cousins at my in-laws other home in a resort area. He was missed. Tate and Cole bickered and fought and hit and whined a lot while Jake was gone. They missed their brother…the peacemaker. The one who helps keep life in our household at an even pitch. I missed him, too. I never realized how much I depended on Jake for help with his brothers…whether it was to mitigate some bickering or to fetch a snack or beverage for them while I was busy. I had constant demands on my attention, and I was feeling woozy. It was as if the roller coaster was spinning me round and round and upside down. I felt overwhelmed and frazzled. I clawed at, and clenched the safety bar with my hands…not letting go for dear life.

Hubz has continued to be swamped at the office. His absence around the house is hard, anway, but it adds a layer of complexity and difficulty when we’re in a state of flux and routine is shot and the boys are struggling to stay “together”. Hubz and I barely had time for each other several nights last week because he worked until 7 or 8 and then had to get online once he was home. Or he just needed to decompress and didn’t need to hear me rambling on and on about the frustrations of life with 2 boys who couldn’t agree on which tv show to watch that night. Again, that roller coaster threw me for a loop. I struggled to keep my balance.

Like any ride, however, there is promise for smooth sailing. Today, Jake started summer school. Tate starts ESY on Wednesday. We finally got Tate’s summer ABA schedule. It is still a bit sketchy, but something that I can at least use to walk Tate through his new routine. We’re going to make a visual schedule today. Cole is going to attend preschool day camp starting tomorrow, as well, so he won’t be as bored at home, either. That roller coaster slowed down a bit. We’re just coasting now…and the pit is gone from my stomach. I’m able to take a deep breath and enjoy some more of the scenery. I can smile and let some of my guard down. Not all of it, as I know that the next hill is coming…but today, in this moment, I can breathe and release my death-grip from the safety bar….

Life Lessons Jake is learning

Jake has always been one of those kids who attaches to something for a while, gets almost obsessed with it, and in an effort to make him happy, Hubz and I (and other family members) support the habit.

When he was 2 he was gaga for Elmo. We had Elmo parties, toys, clothing, pajamas, books, etc. For about 12 months he held onto this addiction.

At age 3, he was all about Thomas. We got a train table, Thomas the Train trains, clothing, books, blankets, etc. He lived, ate, and breathed Thomas. We even did the “Day out with Thomas” extravaganza in our area.

At age 4-5 it was cars/trucks. He couldn’t get enough of them. That was an easy habit to support…those 89 cent cars at the store kept him busy for hours.

At age 6, he was ALL Ben 10. He was Ben 10 for Halloween, had shirts, pj’s, and toys. We have way more Ben 10 paraphanalia than any human should.

Age 7 & 8 brought on the Pokemon obsession. He loves it. We rent Pokemon DVD’s from the library. He watches the newer shows on Cartoon Network. He has a few shirts. He has a binder full of cards.

He has grown to expect new cards every week. That is partially my fault. I was buying them as a reward every Friday. However, he began to expect it, and no longer appreciated the cards, so we had to nip that in the bud. It doesn’t mean that he didn’t keep asking…he just wasn’t getting any new cards.

Last week he was being particularly pesty about said cards. I was holding my ground. Hubz and I came up with the idea that if Jake did well on his reading test (he did–got 22/22) and got 100% on his spelling test, that we’d get him a pack of cards. Of course, this is the week that his teacher hasn’t handed the tests back to the students immediately. We’re still waiting for the grade.

Argh! So, I guess this has become less of a lesson of achievement = reward and more of a lesson of patience is a virtue.

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