The Mystery of Who You Are

When your child is an infant and a toddler, you don’t know a whole lot about who they are, but at least you can describe them. Sure, that description has little to do with their personality and a lot more to do with how they sleep, what they eat, their gross and fine motor capabilities, but you can at least pin those things down. And maybe for some kids they stay that way during the terrible 3’s, but some of what makes that age so tough for me isn’t just the constant frustration of a tyrannical preschooler, but the lack of consistency. 

Tessa just turned 4 and I cannot for the life of me pin her down. Fickleness may be her most distinctive trait, to be honest.

Sure, I can nail down a few likes and dislikes. She likes accessories and riding her bike and bunnies. But you could pick out something that’s absolutely perfect for her and she’ll hate it. She doesn’t have a consistent favorite toy, what she loves today she cares about not one whit tomorrow. 


A photo posted by Jessica Woodbury (@jessicaesquire) on

Some of this is garden variety developmental whatever. She asks for something, then when given it 5 seconds later is now furious that you’ve given her THIS and not THAT even though this is exactly the thing she begged and pleaded for. But there is no old reliable, no go-to, nothing that I always know will cheer her up. 

This adjustment is a little hard because Graham was such a child of habit and ritual and routine. He fit into a very specific box. It’s an unusual and eccentric box, but it’s a box nonetheless. He responds well to praise. He loves a certain kind of toy. He enjoys a certain kind of game. And while these things change over the years, there is a lot of consistency from day to day and week to week. It’s comforting to know how he’s going to respond, even if I don’t always like it.

But Tessa? You’ve got me. She doesn’t respond consistently to praise or discipline. I can say for sure that she is stubborn. 

Sometimes she is vocal and opinionated. Sometimes she is content to stay in the background. Sometimes she blends in with her friends and is totally mellow. Sometimes she is bossy. Sometimes she is the little sister who repeats everything her older brother says. 

I feel like I should know more about who she is by now. I’m her mother, right?

But I’m also the kind of parent who recognizes that my kids have their own very deep and very strong inner life that hardly involves me at all. I don’t want to put pressure on her to be a certain way. I want to give her the power to define herself at her own pace. I just get impatient about who this little one is.

I’m also acutely aware of how little I know of her because I know that autism presents in very unexpected ways with girls. Our family is a prime model of this. Graham who follows a very well-worn type, and Tessa who doesn’t fit any type at all. Her therapists don’t have any more of a clue than we do, but everyone agrees that she’s generally happy, fun to be around, and quite bright. 

It’s okay if I have to keep waiting to see what her challenges will be. There are certainly worse problems we could be having, I definitely know that. For now, I still won’t know when she’ll hop happily along beside me and when she’ll refuse to stand up even though we are going to do something fun and go somewhere she wants to go and why will she not just stand up already (while Graham starts losing it in the background). For now, she still doesn’t quite have the words and the awareness to tell me how she feels or what she wants all the time, even when she is upset. 

But I do give her full props for being a master of standing her ground. Like the other night when she wouldn’t stop making noise and kicking the wall in bed. She was keeping Graham awake and making him increasingly upset, so I pulled her out of the room and had her sit in the hall for a while. Despite very lenient bargaining, she refused to stop making noise and when I let her back in she went right back to kicking the wall. So she stayed in the hall. She planted her flag in the hall. And she wanted to make sure I knew it.



She fell asleep with that scowl still on her face rather than go lay nicely in her bed. I may not enjoy dealing with that kind of stubborn but I can’t help but admire it. 

I think of all the traits I want my daughter to have…

That level of commitment and willingness to flout authority? I feel like she’ll be okay.

Transition Time

In less than a month, we’ll have a big transition. A big, wonderful transition I’ve been waiting for FOREVER. I’ve been waiting for it for so long and been so focused on the logistics that I haven’t really thought much about everything else that goes along with it.

In a month, Tessa starts school. 

Her IEP was in December and it was an exercise in anxiety. In the world of special needs parenting, every time your child makes progress you have the thrill of victory along with a deep fear that now they’ll lose the supports that have helped them make that progress. I knew Tessa’s formal Autism diagnosis made the odds of getting her into a classroom pretty high, but I worried. And sitting through that meeting did not help.

Graham displays a lot more of the classic signs of Autism than Tessa does. In many ways he was ahead of Tessa, but his difficulties are easier to see. Tessa, we learned from her evals, has an ability to focus that goes well beyond what you’d expect from a child of her age.

I knew this already, of course. I put her to bed the other night screaming because I didn’t let her finish cleaning up the game she was playing. She’d taken a good half hour to take every piece out and put it nicely on the board, and now she was putting them away one by one. I wasn’t waiting another half hour before putting her to bed. She can seriously focus on one little activity like this for an hour. I wasn’t sure it would extend into an evaluation situation, but it did.

Hearing people say great things about your kid in an IEP makes you proud and nervous. I didn’t breathe easy until we reached the end and finally everyone agreed that she’d be placed in an early childhood class. Then there was another month of waiting to find out if she’d be placed in Graham’s school. And now it’s time to get ready.

I’ve been excited because of the prospect of ONE drop-off and ONE pick-up. I’m sure any parent with more than one child understands that. Taking Tessa to daycare adds at least a half hour to my morning commute and again to my evening commute. And, of course, daycare costs money even when you find one that’s relatively affordable. The difference in my budget isn’t enough to make a huge difference in my life, but it will mean less worry and less times when things are really dicey. And the time. The time! I’ve been working from home two days a week and not getting into the office until noon. I’m excited to be able to get in at a more reasonable hour and not feel so rushed on the days I work and have the kids.

I can’t even express the madness that is my Monday through Wednesday each week. This is huge.

But this set of new beginnings is about transitions. It means Tessa leaves the daycare she’s been going to for a year and a half. It’s been amazing for her and she’s been really happy there. It means Tessa gets a whole new set of routines and people and everything and I know that’ll be a bumpy transition.

And it means figuring out the gaps in time before and after school, since Tessa is too young to go to the programs provided at school. 

Oh, and then summer will come and we have to figure out camp for TWO kids and the cost of childcare will go way up for 3 months.

So hey, things are about to change. Hopefully it will be for the better. And then they’ll change again. And again. And again. 

All I can do is hope for the best.

In Which I Respond to Things Other People Said On the Internet

I meant to make this a more regular feature after the last time I did it, but it’s been a while. My apologies. But it’s about all that’s coming today. I am SO GLAD I decided not to do NaBloPoMo, aka write on my blog every day for the month of November. I would be well past the chore phase and into hating it with every fiber of my being. Now I just feel kinda guilty for phoning this one in. Especially after I’ve really felt inspired to blog better the last few days and get back to my roots. It’s coming. Soon. Until then…

What You Might Not Know About Single Moms

My most recent article at HuffPo went up right next to this one and it made me crazy just to see the headline. Because this is ridiculous. This article is every single stereotype about single moms that exists in the world. It is nothing anyone doesn’t know. 

It’s also ridiculous and overgeneralizing and just makes me want to throw something at the wall. This idea that single mothers are only looking for serious relationships? Yeah, let’s look at every single mom in every book, movie, television show, etc. They’re all so cautious, hesitant, putting their kids first. It’s one of the reasons I don’t write about dating nearly as much as I want to. Because I like going out. I want a real relationship but I’m not looking for someone to be a dad to my kids. I’m looking to find a connection. I don’t know who these men are who find single moms as easy prey. They’re certainly not anyone I’ve seen, as the vast majority of messages I send online don’t get answered. People won’t even go out with you once. 

Oh, and I would LOVE sympathy. More and more, I’m finding myself surrounded by moms talking about things I can’t relate to. It’s kind of like going back to the early years with Graham where I was living a completely different life with a nonverbal toddler going through daily therapy while everyone else was having fun and going to the park and setting up playdates. My concerns aren’t the same as theirs. My daily issues aren’t the same as theirs. I feel like many of my day-to-day concerns are only safely shared with my other single mom girlfriends because no one else gets it. 

Not everything in this article is terrible, but the parts I hated I hated so strongly it’s hard for me to form coherent responses. 

Jerry Seinfeld Thinks He’s On the Autism Spectrum

Complicated feelings, I has them.

On the one hand, when we refer to self-diagnosis casually, it reinforces the idea that an autism diagnosis comes easily. That it’s something people are getting whenever their kid is a little awkward. (And that belief is alive and well.) I feel the same way about ADD, Bipolar Disorder, and other diagnoses that people say, “I’m a little bit _____________” or “I think I’m ____________” without any consultation or real consideration.

Autism is more than social awkwardness or introversion. Keeping that stereotype going is frustrating.

On the other hand, when high profile people with a diagnosis come forward, it’s empowering and inspiring. I have several friends who were diagnosed with autism as adults and seeing what amazing lives they have and what they’re capable of gives me hope for both of my kids. Autism is still a diagnosis that needs to be demystified and relate-able.

Women With Kids Are More Productive Than Everyone Else

Not a surprise. I really want to write a post on invisible tasks, especially when it comes to considering custody agreements. I had the kids most of the time for a good while and was hesitant to go down to 50/50 even though I thought it’d be good for the kids. I knew that I was still the default parent in so many ways and that their dad didn’t necessarily realize the things I did that I’d still be doing that would make 50/50 custody not really evenly divided. Luckily we got that point across and changes were made. Mostly it’s gone well, but the juggling can be tough and most mothers I know, whether working or not, end up taking on the vast majority of their household management.

But actually I have little to say about this article. Except that there are many times as someone whose life is just about as busy as it’s possible to get that someone tells me they’re busy and I want to laugh in their face. Lately it’s been particularly amusing as we’ve done some interviews with college-aged kids at work and, well, they talk about college as if it is the most overwhelmingly busy place in the world. Ah, youth.

I honestly want a t-shirt that says, Please don’t tell me how busy you are. 

Also I want a Book Riot hoodie. They are coming soon. I will have one.

This Is Our Autism

Thanks to my friend Jessica at Four Plus an Angel for asking me to co-host the This Is Our Autism linkup with her. Autism is different for everyone, it’s different at every age, and we want to give people a better glimpse of how different these experiences can be. You can link up your post at the bottom. 

Autism is all we know in our house. Maybe someday I will know what normal children of a certain age do. Maybe not.

 This is our autism This Is Our Autism

Our autism right now is a four-year-old getting ready to turn five, getting ready to start kindergarten. He is adorable and sweet, and it’s not just me that thinks so. It’s his teacher and therapists in their IEP reports, it’s the people who sat in front of us on the subway and kept turning around to comment on him. It’s just who he is. It is also, to some extent, his autism. He is always a babe in the woods, always naive, he does not know how to hide what he thinks and feels. 

He is vulnerable, but also aloof. If the bossy neighborhood girl his age slights him, he does not notice. He is still oblivious to most social signals. Though this is sometimes a strength, as it’s led to him engaging children he doesn’t know. He wants someone to play with him, so he just goes up and asks them, it is a simple formula for him. If other kids ignore him he usually doesn’t notice. 

We have left behind that mysterious boy he was as a baby and toddler, the one who existed in a different orbit, whose meltdowns were random and raging. Now he is in so many ways a regular kid, but in so many ways not like them at all.

He lacks a lot of the things people associate with autism now. He does have his obsessions, but they’re relatively minor. He loves trains and cars, he likes to have one with him, but he does fine without them. He doesn’t have his collection organized or names memorized. He just likes them to an unusual degree. 

If you know what you’re looking for, though, you see it. Right away. I say, “Graham, look at me,” and while his eyes sweep past me he will not look. His eyes dart all around but won’t land on my face. If he is calm and I say it again, then I get his eyes, they lock with mine for a few lovely seconds, he may smile, but he is happier when his eyes wander off again. 

And there is that quirkiness, that way of talking that doesn’t have the ease and attempts of cool that even little kids adopt to try and be big kids. 

He wears every feeling. His heart is not just on his sleeve, it covers him from head to toe. 

His emotions are ramped up. Anger and frustration are things he has no idea how to process. Happiness manifests physically. Anxiety is his most common emotion, though, the one I worry about. If his sister cries, he gets upset and is crying, too, within seconds. Not because he is sad, but because it rattles him. 

He says, “I love you, Mom,” every day. Unprompted. He wants cuddles. He wants to sleep in my bed. Every night. He is sensitive, talkative, inquisitive.

IMG 20140608 111007 e1405339873151 This Is Our Autism

Our autism is also a two-year-old. She is, in strange ways, both more and less autistic than her brother. She is still new to the therapy he has done for years. She is just barely starting to figure out this whole language thing. She is hitting her stride, hitting that uphill climb I remember well from her brother. Bursts of progress and language. 

She likes the grown-ups she knows, she happily babbles incoherently when one comes and finds something of interest to show them. She isn’t as interested in kids. Except her friends at daycare. Those are her people. That’s pretty much how she sees the world: her people. It’s not that there’s her people and everybody else. There’s just her people. Other people do not exist. 

She wants. She wants so many things. That is life as a two-year-old. But her language skills are those of a girl half her age. When she wants something, even something she knows how to say, she often won’t use that word. 

She is unpredictable, sometimes moody, and can go from happy to livid in moments. Getting to livid usually happens the same way. She wants something, she can’t or won’t say what it is, any gestures and language she uses is unclear, attempts to figure out her request only get her more angry. In those situations, even when you find the thing she wanted, she will often refuse it anyway. Only to accept it again a few minutes later. 

She lives in her own world until she wants something. Though the walls of this barrier are starting to come down. When she changes, it is not gradually but all at once. One day she was suddenly, startlingly clingy. And that is how she’s been ever since. She wants hugs, she wants cuddles, she wants to be carried. This from the baby who spent over a year avoiding cuddles, rocking, all those joys you normally get from your little one. 

She is quiet and hangs back. She is an observer. Though once she’s alone she is happy to be the center of attention. 

She has no obsessions, never has. Her interests change constantly. She likes whatever her brother is playing with. She likes girly things, especially if they’re pink or if jewelry is involved. She wants badly to ride her brother’s bike. 

She is learning to dance. She is starting to try and sing along. 

Her autism is tucked in nooks and crannies rather than visible on the surface. Her eye contact is definitely decreased, but is getting better every day. Most people, and this includes people who know her well, think her diagnosis is silly or absurd or unjustified. Even I spent a long time not being sure but knowing something was off. 

I worry that people look at our autism and think it is not really autism. My kids are both mild and will hopefully need services at school for only a few years and then grow beyond them. I know we have a different experience than those who deal with aggression or obsession or an inability to speak. But I worry that kids like mine are the reason people think that autism diagnoses are handed out like candy. That they’re just late talkers or just kind of quirky. 

Our autism is no longer a thing that brings me to my knees constantly. It is growing and changing every day. 


Sesame Place: Special Needs Accommodations

Sesame Place 300x300 Sesame Place: Special Needs AccommodationsThis is the 3rd post in the Sesame Place series. Part 1 was planning your visit and deciding if it’s right for your family. Part 2 was about when to save money and when to splurge. And today I’m talking about Sesame Place and special needs accommodations. My children are autistic, but any disability would go through the same basic processes.

Sesame Place in 2012 was our first theme park visit and our tickets were provided so we could get a chance to try out special needs accommodations in that setting. Now we’ve been around the block a few times and this time came with 2 special needs kids. Here’s how it worked for us and what to keep in mind for your family.

Getting a Bracelet

2012 08 29 13 01 45 897 300x224 Sesame Place: Special Needs AccommodationsWhen we arrived we went to the Welcome Center (easy to miss, right next to the entry gates) and signed up both kids for the Ride Accessibility Program. I gave them the kids’ diagnoses and wasn’t asked any prying or unnecessary questions. They even had Graham still in the computer from our previous visit so we could speed right through. Both kids had their height checked to confirm the rides they were eligible for, and then each one was issued a bracelet.

The bracelets are bright orange and ours had 3 tabs off the side. Three of the water rides only get one line bypass per person, though this wasn’t fool proof, I noticed some of the tabs were coming loose in the morning. Still, we made it just fine. You’re also given a sheet of paper for each person which has additional information. You show this to the ride attendant each place you go, though we had to get a waterproof pouch for it later in the day when we hit the water rides.

Rides and Shows

Like most parks, the disability entrance is just the exit. It’s usually right next to the attendant’s controls. At Sesame Place, it also happens to be the location of Abby’s Magic Queue, aka the line-skipping pass. I actually liked that part of it since using that entrance was used often enough that we never had to try hard to get anyone’s attention. 

Our experience with the employees at Sesame Place was really great. Everyone was very kind as they let us on and off, if we ran into the slightest hiccup they were very apologetic. As my kids have invisible disabilities, it was nice to have the paperwork to just hand over and not have to answer any questions. (And the paperwork rarely got more than a cursory glance.) 

2012 08 29 12 21 04 773 300x224 Sesame Place: Special Needs AccommodationsIt’s not quite so easy when it comes to the shows. For us, going to a show is a bigger commitment than a ride. It lasts more than a couple minutes so there’s always the potential that we’ll have to make a quick exit. Luckily for us we snagged a few of the reserved disability seats at the show we attended in 2012. But you’ll still want to arrive a few minutes early to make sure you can get to the seats. At the indoor show we went to in 2014 it was so full by the time we came in right before showtime that disability seating wasn’t an option.

Shows do have loud sound, those of you with noise sensitive kids will want to bring along your noise-canceling headphones if you think they’ll want to go. A few rides also have sound, but overall it wasn’t bad.

The Water Park

For sensory kids, the water park will either be a breeze or a nightmare. You probably know which kind you have. Graham was pretty happy with all the water rides, but he was not terribly enthusiastic about the two big spray areas, especially the Count’s Splash Castle, which was really loud, really crowded, and really hard to keep an eye on your kid. Ernie’s Waterworks is smaller, has younger children, and is much more low-key, though neither of my kids were up for it. Tessa had to be coaxed through a few parts of the Lazy River because she didn’t like the parts where she could get splashed or sprayed, and so she skipped some of the rides all together to avoid a freakout. 

Tessa’s favorite water ride, Slimey’s Chutes, was a small and gentle tube slide that lets a parent go in the back and a child in the front in a double tube, or a child solo in a single tube. It only has one line bypass and the line can get long. While we waited in line for her second go-round I saw a special needs family encounter a problem that I hadn’t considered. Their special needs daughter, a teenager, was too big to go on the ride with a parent and had to go alone if she was going to go. For most of the rides this wasn’t an issue at all, but for this one my heart went out to them. But the story ends happily! She went by herself with minimal help from her dad, and her mom and brother cheered for her at the bottom. I may have gotten a little misty watching it all unfold.

But for most children, they’ll be able to go with a parent for several of the water rides, including Slimey’s Chutes, Big Bird’s Rambling River, Sky Splash, and Sesame Streak. (The same goes for dry rides, where you can generally be in the same row/car when you ride together.) 


We don’t have food allergies in our family, but I did see that Sesame Place now offers three special allergy-friendly snack packs (free from wheat, milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, and soy) that you can get at various parts of the park. You can also go to the Welcome Center at the front for allergy information and an allergy card. As their food policy does allow medically necessary items, you may be able to bring some food of your own inside. Best to read their info in advance or contact them before your visit.


I recommend anyone visiting with special needs go over Sesame Place’s accessibility page and their full guide.

We received complimentary passes to Sesame Place in 2012, but financed our 2014 trip on our own.