School pictures are kind of amazing. You spend the equivalent of a house payment on a package that costs 19.99 at the local big box photographer and they almost always come back kind of awful. I am a firm believer in the awesome-ness of a school picture. I get almost silly with excitement waiting to see how they turn out. They are a time honored tradition of child humiliation that I dare not mess with. That's why I will never ever not ever get re-takes done. What fun is that? Half the greatness of a school picture is that they are kind of terrible and not something you'd ever actually buy. The other half of that greatness is the growing up they chronicle. And growing up isn't always cute, man.
School pictures are the physical and awkward proof that growing is tough business and that sometimes when you were a kid, you had a dried booger on your nose or an uncomfortable smirk on your adorable face. Throw in the teacher trying to do good by smoothing your hair out like an 80's surf movie star and you have school picture perfection.
So I am going to cherish this one in honor of the completely ridiculous zoned out faces he likes to give me but that I rarely capture. And I will cherish it for one other reason, too.
I knew it would happen eventually. That someday we'd have to cut his hair.
It's been coming down the pike fast, though. He cannot handle the salon. It's too stressful for him and I decided after the last time that I wouldn't take him to try again for a while. Not until he decided that he wanted to try again. So no big deal, right? Wrong. His long and gorgeo hair gets crazy tangled in the back every.single.day. Brushing out the tangles is akin to trying to hold down a greased-up gymnast. His ability to regulate his vestibular system on his own terms has been remarkable. We've even gotten to the point that he only fights every other time for hair washing. But if I get out the brush and conditioner, all hell breaks loose. It's the tangles. If there were no tangles he'd let me brush his hair all day every day. But the tangles bring stress. The salon brings stress. Of course, by stress I mean total panic and flight response.
Sooooo, I needed to grow ovaries big enough to cut his hair myself.
In order to do that, I needed to say goodbye to my little baby. Oh boy. That took some time. My first. My heart.
It took two days to do it. I was terrified that I'd ruin his hair. But he let me cut it. A few minutes at a time. Snip by snip. Through my tears, he giggled at me. "Mama! A Schizzors are cuttin mah hair!" and then he'd run away. And after six or seven sessions, it was done.
Underneath all of that flowing hair was this big boy. I haven't stopped staring at him yet. And I've cried a bucket of tears over the whole thing like a mama will do. He's been tossing his head from side to side to feel the difference in weight. I've been running my fingers through it. He's beginning to get over the extra snuggles on the couch that I have demanded from him so that I can bury my face in his hair. Maybe he'll let me get a few in today. Maybe not.
Suddenly, all this growing up that I knew would happen is actually happening. And suddenly I can see the big kid he is growing into.
And I'm gonna be the mom that cries about that and loves it all at the same time.
My meeting with his teacher was at 4:15. I was so nervous; I got into some nice jeans (read: clean), put on a sweater and some sassy black boots. I showered, too.
I'm fifteen minutes early so I take a look around. The school is so sweetly small. And that's because it is for miniature people. I stop in the library. It's the cutest library you've ever seen.
I look at the artwork on the walls. I find Mr. Pants' pumpkin hanging among the patch. I get a bit weepy about it.
So I head to the ladies room to freshen up. And I am too tall for it. It's all too adorable.
Making my way back to begin our conference, I am eager to talk about my kid. There is a question nagging at me but I'm afraid to ask it. I received his progress report last week. It basically said he is smart as a whip. It also said he is quiet. Now a lot of people have quiet kids. It's a very natural and normal way to be. There is nothing wrong with it. But my kid is not quiet. Not by anyone's definition of the word. I read that part over and over. "He keeps to himself". "He's observant and quiet". "Always well behaved". And I panicked. That's not my kid. My kid is loud and insane. Laughs in guffaws and yell talks. He is demanding and assertive to a fault. But it seems he doesn't rule the pre-school kingdom yet. And a part of me is freaking out while the other half is saying be calm. He's adjusting still. That's when the question came to me. And it never left.
His teacher Mrs. K has a bubbly personality. I like her. She tells me all about the routine of the class. She explained the surprise piece of candy in his back pack the other day. She told me that Mr. Pants is becoming more and more comfortable in class. Not talking very much, but still. He is doing well. She tells me that she doesn't push him to interact with other kids because she thinks that will send him backwards. I agree. She goes on and on and I begin to tune it all out. Because that question is trying to jump out of my mouth and I don't know if I want the answer yet.
She finishes talking. She seems to genuinely like my kid and that makes me happy. She asks if I have any questions. I pause. "Do, um.." I begin trying to think of something else to ask but I have nothing. I start to fumble for my words to stall but they come anyway. "Do they, um, the other kids..." Gulp. I'm trying not to tear up. "Do they like him? Are they nice to him?" and a tear broke through but I kept it in the eye. I felt stupid. I'm such an emotional blob sometimes and I didn't want to do this here. I look down and shuffle the papers in front of me as a diversion. She smiles and says, "I know why that worries you. Yes, they do. He keeps to himself but there is a little girl named K that always eats lunch with him. She's older and she kind of took to him early on and helps him to transition. It's very sweet. And W loves to run with him on the playground. They run laps the whole time. It's so funny. They just laugh and laugh." I thank her and get up to leave.
When I get to my car, I let the tears come. Relief. I head home to my kid who has two friends. Two whole friends. And I cry happy tears about it all the way home.
Linking up for the weekly #iPPP with the amazing Greta and Julie.
I feel lost as a mother.
For the last several weeks Mr. Pants has been an anxious and over-loaded tornado. He is more often than not, a wreck. Uncontrolled. Devestated. Unwound.
His stims have come roaring back. He is side-eyeing, hulking and repeating. Life is so very difficult for him right now.
I have been floundering. Grabbing at straws. Drowning. Daddy too.
Sensory kids are never predictable. Just when you think you have it down, the game changes. Just when you think you have worked through the hardest parts, the parts change. Just when you think you know the score, well, you don't.
I am humbled. I am sad. I am hopeful. I appreciate the fact that we will never have all the answers. Even though I'd like them. Especially during weeks like these.
We are not sure why. We have some ideas.
We are not sure how to work through this. Again, with the ideas.
The old solutions are not working. New ones are met with resistance or escalation.
We will not stay lost. He will not stay in this intense place. And this is how I know...
For weeks he has struggled to be with her. She has been desperate for his company. He has ignored her. Yelled at her. Hurt her. Isolated himself from her. He hasn't been able to deal with her crying or her singing or her dancing. It would send him into a tailspin. I do not know why. Other than it feels like, it's not her. It's not personal. It's any noise or distress or change or anything but quiet solitary being is too much right now. I think.
But not today. Today he loved her. Today he played trains with her. They danced to music together. They read books. And when Mama gave them each a box of raisins to eat while they waited for dinner, this is what happened. He sat with her. His body relaxed. He wanted to be with her. And her little foot drifted onto his leg. I think she was making sure to keep him there.
We will be ok. Mr. Pants will be ok. This sensory shit won't rule this child.
I know because he's already done it. We created a comfortable space for him and he figured out how to move his body through space at the ripe old age of 13 months. And he will again. Only this time, he has a new backer. His baby sister who seems to only grow more and more in love with her big brother everyday.
We will be alright. We will get there. We just need some new ideas. New strategies.
And more raisins.
He is fast. He is so fast. People say it to me all the time. Nine times out of ten their first observation of Mr. Pants is "he's fast". Which I love. Because it means I am partially justified in playing mind games with him when I think he's going to run from me. Especially in public. Remember that ENT visit where he channeled Forrest Gump
and led all the children in some laps? One by one they joined him like the miniature Pied Piper. They couldn't help themselves. He's magic.
He's a runner. And a climber. And a swimmer.
And a jumper. A daredevil. A complete crazeball.
He has been most of these since before he could actually walk. So it should come as no surprise to me or anyone else that he is built like a mini tank. A brick shithouse, if you will. He has definition that grown men envy. He is cut. CUT. His little body carries not an ounce of fat. You could bounce a quarter off of his calves. And he's strong
. Unnaturally strong. He's a three year old Atlas. It is possible he was bitten by a radioactive grasshopper.
But don't take my word for it. See for yourself. He finally did some running with actual clothing on and
when I had my phone to document it. Exhibit A. The leg. Aka: Spiderman's leg.
Exhibit B. Back and shoulders.
Exhibit C. The biceps and abs.
This post really has no other point than to say, see? See what's going on here? He's got superpowers. There is a reason I must use The Force when I'm alone with him. It's because I have no other choice. If a foot race breaks out, I'm finished. I'd have to resort to begging passersby to trip my own son or I'd have to start throwing things at him to slow him down. He runs. He needs to. And it fills him with a happiness reserved only for running. He's just so damn happy. And since I cannot take that from him, I have to start being able to keep pace with him. Otherwise I'm screwed. Consider yourself warned, Mr. Pants.
Mama started excercising today and it's all your fault.
Yesterday, Mr. Pants had a straight up heart exploding panic attack. Yesterday, my heart went through the ringer. Yesterday, Ms. Plum showed her brother just how much she loved him. Oh man, yesterday was hard.
His heart was racing. He repeated the same phrase upwards of a thousand times. He held his wubby and rubbed his face. Nothing I did was helping. It was her. All her.
She sat with him. She cried with him. When she saw the opportunity, she leaned in to him. He let her. She kissed him. And then she kissed him again. Each kiss bringing a moment of calm. She kept kissing him. He wanted her to lie under his comforter, but she didn't understand. She ran away. His panic returned. So she did too. Her body and soft kisses, telling him, "It's ok, brother. I am here".
I have never seen a child experience such panic. I was at a loss. Such a loss. Everything I tried, failed. When it was over I spent some time crying it out in the bathroom. When I came out, they were together. Sitting quietly in their tent. Just being.
Then Grandma Pants stopped by for a little story time. Still dipping into a panic every few minutes, Grandma drew him out with a dolphin impression that made him laugh.
Becoming more and more comfortable, he took a moment to contain himself. The worst was over and we were heading towards normal. But he still didn't want his mama to hold him. And I'd be a big fat liar if I said that didn't sting. But he needed to choose how he came back to us. And he was choosing. He chose the green bucket.
The day trudged on. He was not himself and she knew it. It is normal in our house for Plum to want to be where Pants is at all times. What is not normal is that yesterday he wanted her with him all of that time. And so she was. By his side every moment of the day until she knew he was ok. No booster seat across the table for snack. She was going to sit right next to him. She wasn't going anywhere. Which was a good thing because I hadn't cleaned her booster tray after breakfast.
He's ok. He got through it. So did Plum. But it wasn't until he came to me and asked, "Ah shirt, Mama?", that I was alright. It's been months since he needed squish box a la Mama
. And this time, he wasn't the only one that needed it. So as he climbed on in, we watched some Thomas & Friends. Mama and Pants. I finally exhaled and my heart began beating at a normal pace. His did too. I stopped feeling as though I could cry at any moment. He did too. I finally released the pain I felt for him. And he let go of the pain too. We sat still together and just breathed in and out. It was completely over. Relief.
And Plum? Well, with the opportunity to tag out, she promptly went into Pants' room and played with all of his favorite toys.
Just like a baby sister should.
My big little kid. Being brave.
There comes a time in every young child's life when they feel ready to take a big step. They become convinced that they have the cojones to try something a little too big for their britches. We were walking through the county fair tonight and it wasn't going well. Pants was tired. He saw the motorcycles. He saw them going around and around. "Ah mo-cycle, mama?" "Do you want to ride one, bud?", I say with hesitation because I know the answer is yes. He wants to. He asks again, "Ah mo-cycle, mama! Ah Mo-cycle!"
We get in line. He hates to wait. But he does. And then it's our turn. I place him on the ride and leave to stand behind the gate. I tell him, "It's going to take you on a ride" and I hold my breath. Because there is a time in every mamas life when she has to let go a little and let her baby try new things. Even if her heart is telling her no. I ask him before the ride starts, "Do you want to get off?" "No mama" he says. And I hold my breath. I want to die. I don't know how this is going to go.
The ride starts. And before his motorcycle makes two rotations, the ride is over.
Because there comes a time in the life of a kiddie-ride operator when they lock eyes with a mama who's about to scale a gate and go all G.D. Spiderman to rescue her scared baby. And in that split second they have a decision to make too. Stop the ride. Or stop the ride.
We'll try again next year, bud. But if you need rescued then too, don't worry. Mama will hang onto her lycra and cape.
Just in case.
On Saturday, Mr. Pants, Grandma Pants and I headed out to a school supply expo. And yeah, maybe we didn't think it through but then again, I rarely think things through. We were excited. We brought Mr. Pants along because Captain America, Spiderman and Super Why would be there and I thought he might get a kick out of that.
We strolled up to expo only to find that um, there was a line for two city blocks to get in. This was precisely the moment that I started to worry that the day may not go as planned. I knew it was impossible for Mr. Pants to wait in that kind of line. I know that because he freaks his freak just waiting for me to get done peeing so that he can pretend to pee. He doesn't even have to pee. He just hates waiting that much. And I get that
. He is my son after all. So Grandma Pants took our place at the back of this line of insanity while Pants and I went for a walk. Before we set out, I knew where we would end up. I let him lead the way. All the way back to the fire truck we'd seen on the drive in.
We walked around and around and back and forth. Mr. Pants became irritated at the pop music blaring from the local radio station tent and began demanding his favorite song. I explained to him that we would be in the building soon to meet Spiderman and he wouldn't have to hear that annoying Disney Kids crud anymore. In the meantime maybe Grandma would take a picture of us.
Well, we got in the building. And Mr. Pants immediately executed a perfectly graceful monkey climb straight up my spine. I think he may have been trying to actually melt himself into me. He was freaked. Too many people. Too loud. Too much. It's hard to gauge how these kinds of things will go when you are the mama of a sensory kid. Carnivals, zoos, school supply expositions. They are hit or miss. When they hit, it's awesome and the joy he experiences is heart exploding. When they miss, it can descend quickly into some bad places. Sometimes we recover. Sometimes not. At this point in our day, I wasn't sure how it was going to go. We trekked on and I carried my monkey so that he felt safe. We saw Spiderman. Pants wanted nothing to do with him so we moved on. We saw Captain America. Mr. Pants wouldn't even look up from the nape of my neck. So I snapped a picture of someone else's kid getting their picture taken with the Captain so that I could show Daddy. There were K-9 dogs, fire safety vehicles, stuffed zoo animals (gag), bubble stations and face painting. Mr. Pants believed this all to be bullshit.
That's when it happened. One row over, they were letting kids play with the sirens in some police cruisers. It was loud. And I knew we were in trouble. He began to shake. Tears in his eyes. Voice shaking, "Ah go home, mama. Ah go home, pweese?". We were done. I told Grandma Pants that she would have to go on without us. I needed to get Mr. Pants out of there. I told her that we'd be playing outside and could keep in contact with our cell phones. I asked her if she'd mind getting school supplies for Mr. Pants and we'd meet up when she was done. Grandma was on it. Grandma is always on it. Neither of us had known it would be a madhouse. But it was. So we divided to conquer. I begin heading for the exit with Mr. Pants. I'm telling him, "It's ok, bud. We're leaving. We're going outside. It's ok" when something caught the corner of his eye. "What's that, mama?" he asked me. "That's a leaf, bud. Do you want to say hi?"
Clear assured distance
He did not want to say Hi. Well, at least not from anywhere the leaf could actually hear him. But he was intrigued. He wanted me to put him down for a minute. And he walked a twenty foot perimeter around that leaf. Watching his every move. Completely entranced as if to say, "There is an enormous leaf just walking around, man. This is blowing my mind."
And then, IT happened. We had stopped to observe the creepy leaf right near a stage at the far end of the expo floor. Right before the exit to outside. I look over and realize they are setting up drums all over that stage. "Look, bud! Drums!" and for the first time since we arrived that morning, I relax. Because I know. I know that it is on. And that my boy will be ok. He will stop shaking. He will not be afraid anymore. The thousands of people squeezed into that space will fall away. And Mr. Pants will overcome his fear. Because, by what felt like Divine intervention, a drumming group was about to save this day.
And save the day they did.
The rhythm is gonna getcha
Thank the Universe for drummers and giant creepy leaves.
Because, just like that, our day at the expo ended with a smile.
A little Thanksgiving side-eye
We know when Mr. Pants starts a stimming that he needs some sensory input. Sometimes the stims are a reaction to overload to. Basically stimming is a repeated behavior that seems meaningless but is done to trigger or calm the senses. It can be physical or verbal. It's often found in children with autism and or children with sensory integration issues. His most prevelant stim is the side eye
. He does it to trigger his vestibular system. To help his body move through space. He has other stims too. A vocal one we lovingly refer to as The Velociraptor. Well, because it sounds like this
(nevermind that it's actually from Predator). The Velociraptor comes out when he is very excited. And then there is the third one. Daddy's favorite. Hulking out. He's been hulking out since he was about six months old. He extends his arms, clenches his fists and jaw and shakes for a few seconds. Kind of like he's about to turn into The Hulk. This one centers around food mostly but on occasion he will hulk out when he gets over stimulated. And sometimes he changes it up and will side eye for some food. Anyhoo, it's nothing to stress about or be afraid of. It's a jumpstart or a release. No big deal.
Creeping his way to the comfy crack. He didn't make it.
I was looking around on the interwebs last week looking at stuff geared toward sensory kids. Toys, equipment, books etc. Everything was really cool and really any kid could benefit from many of them. But as I was looking through the products I discovered that we already do a lot of these things. Just with stuff around the house. By making spaces for Mr. Pants to squeeze into. Like the crack of space between his bed and the wall that we stuff with blankets and pillows (we find him in there a lot). So when I found online a "relaxing retreat" that would set us back 350 smackers I was all, "HAHA!! We have like five relaxing retreats in our house and they didn't cost anything. Go me! I am a genius!". There's a pretty great space in the back of my closet that lil dude will take some pillows too when the mood takes him and he needs to escape a bit. He is also a big fan of closing himself up under the sink. Free, free and free. I joked with Daddy that we unknowingly have designed our house and our habits around Mr. Pants' sensory needs. And totally on a dime. It's no shock that products geared toward any specific need or group are often crazy expensive. And that is no less true for sensory stuff. Other sensory items you can buy are soft landing climbing stuff. I'd link you but I don't want to dis anyone's livlihood or product. They look like quality products but um...I have yet to see one for less than four hundred bucks that would remotely satisfy the climber that lives within my son. So for us, the in house climbing equipment has always been here. It just has kid all over it now (and peanut butter oil. sigh. Any tips on getting that out?). I resigned myself a long time ago to a fate of crappy furniture. I think I will give him until he can play outside unsupervised. Then I'm gonna lay the smackdown on furniture climbing, jumping and the like. Maaaaaybe we will pick up a trampoline on Craigslist (visions of ER visits are keeping me from that right now). So for now, we use what we have or we make our own stuff. No need to buy a thing.
This kid wants to be squeezed and pressed like an olive. He's wild but he wants to be contained. So when the need arises, he uses what we have to squeeze into or be caged by. He just does it. I never told him to or showed him how. When he was 10 months old he would sit calmly in a tiny basket. He used to do that about five times a day. Just sit there. In a tiny basket. Looking adorable. For about five minutes. At ten months old. We also fill rubbermaid tubs with blankets and pillows and he will climb in and chill. These are called squish boxes in the sensory world.
Gettin his squeeze on. 12 mos.
Early squish box (cause you can't put a baby in a tote covered in pillows without CPS coming)
Store your babies under the sink!
Tiny basket sitting 101
But my favorite sensory retreat that he chooses, I like to call squish ala mama (and girl, I've got some squish ok?) A little while ago he got sick. And his proclivity for nudity is well documented. Well even when he is freezing cold, this kid won't wear clothes. So I wrapped him up under my shirt and he stayed there warming up and peaceful. I actually saw the lightbulb go off over his head. New sensory retreat! And dare I say, the best of all the sensory retreats? Yes. Yes I do say that.
There are literally hundreds of things you can do for your sensory kid that do not require a fat wallet. Most of which are crazy messy (hello colored snow in a box!) And I want to hear about yours. What kind of sensory activities have you done with your kids that require little to no money? Talk to me. I need more ideas.
She called...and emailed me the report. And oh man, it's good news. We have a long road ahead for sure (I'll explain in a bit) but for now (and hopefully forever) autism is off the mother effing table!!!! At least for the next year to eighteen months. If you could only see my enormous and ridiculous grin. It hurts my face. When I talked with her over the phone she indicated that she didn't get "an autism feel" from Mr. Pants. And that in her opinion, Mr Pants has a severe speech and language disorder that is affecting his congnitive development. She acknowledged his sensory issues and believe they are playing into it as well. And his repetitive behaviors put him at risk for OCD. All of those together, she believes, are creating the other behaviors that are presenting concerns similair to kids on the autism spectrum. Two things are keeping him from receiving a diagnosis of autism. Those two things are eye contact and reciprocal social behaviors (ie: he totally shows love, gives love and desires love. And all of those other emotions too like happiness, sadness, anger and excitement). He tested within the spectrum for three of the five catagories but WAY off the spectrum for those two and because they need to be on the spectrum for all five catagories, autism has been ruled out. For now. The year between two and three is critical though and we will need to be mindful of his progress and skill aquisition. We need to be sure he isn't losing skills after he masters them. That would be bad and we would need to have him re-evaulated sooner should that happen. BUT (and it's an enormous BUT), Doc doesn't think that will be an issue with him. She really doesn't. And oh my good gravy it is making me insane with excitement! See my biggest fear for my baby boy was that he would be ostracized by his peers for being unable to connect socially. That he would be treated differently. Cruelly. For something that he could not help or understand. And while I know this could always still happen, I am so effing grateful that it won't be because he can not make friends. And that if it does happen to him, he will be able to communicate his feelings and accept support and help. He doesn't have to be popular or even involved in school activities. That stuff will never matter to me. My wish for him is that he will be able to grow a relationship with his baby sister, make a friend at school and someday find an emotional connection in a partnership with whomever he loves. And oh boy, the tears are flowing as I write this. All signs point to he will be able to (HELL YES!). I'm a happy mess.
So now we have to ramp up the therapy. It's time to kick it up several notches. He is communicating below the first percentile for kids his age. And that's just about as bad as it can get for a kid without autism. We need to help his growing brain make more connections and keep them and place all of our efforts on developing his expressive and receptive communcation. And this doesn't mean just words or speaking English. This means all of the facets of communication. Speaking, relaying ideas, understanding concepts, distinguishing between objects and understanding nuance. We have some work to do! Hopefully as his ability to communicate grows, his stress responses (the OCD stuff: opening & closing, tuning out, patterns etc) will diminish. Fingers crossed. He seems to be dealing very well with his vestibular and other sensory issues (but I totally knew that). Something that stood out is that they believe that his vision is affected somehow. So that's on the list of things to get evaluated now too. Wouldn't I feel like an asshat if he's needed glasses this whole time? Aaaaaand, my brain hurts. It's a lot to take in, because my mama heart stops at "not autism" and swoons. But we have work to do. And I have no doubt that Mr. Pants is up for this challange. And his mama and daddy will be right there cheering him on. But for today and the next few days, I'm just gonna play and snuggle with my boy. Who I am so proud of. And it never mattered what was coming in the report, no amount of anything was gonna change that.
Since we began this journey that lil dude is on, I have received so many contacts and messages of encouragement . So I want to thank everyone who is rooting for my boy. Thank you so so so much. He is a wild little guy who is funny and exceptional. And it makes my heart swoon that others see his light too.
Every wonder what sensory seeking kids do on the playground when everyone else is playing an organized tee ball game? Mr. Pants just hangs out and adds to his stash of vestibular input.
Hey guys. You go ahead and play that silly game. I'm gonna hang here awhile.
Let's kick it up a notch and buck these legs to see what that does.
Ever watch a tee ball game upside down and side eyed? Pants has.
Oh, hey dad.