Two of Them

I can’t say when it started. Of course, when Tessa was an infant, Graham was a quiet and anxious 3-year-old. He had little patience for her. When she moved into toddler years, she wasn’t talking while Graham became more and more chatty. 

But some time in the last year things have shifted. And now these two have become a team.

Riding Bikes 3 Two of Them

Edited 8 Two of Them

resized 2 Two of Them

GT Two of Them

For several months I’ve been noticing how well they get along. As Tessa is a little older and more talkative, they’re able to play together and have conversations together. 

But it’s not just that. It’s not just that they get along. They’re a duo.

Maybe it’s because they’re always together even though they go back and forth between two houses. Maybe it’s because their brains are similar with their matching diagnoses. Maybe it’s just that magic that happens sometimes between people. 

 

New rule: no one's allowed to get bigger.

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Birthday lunch shenanigans. Tell me they'll always like each other this much. #happytessaday

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Helping. #bosnow

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We like watching TV up here. Because no bugs can get up here. Except ladybugs.

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The Grocery Store: the happiest place on earth.

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Good times and bad times, they’re in it together.

I realized a few months ago that we’d hit this new phase. It became most obvious in the weeks before Tessa started at Graham’s school. He started asking about it all the time. He talked about what it would be like when she came. He talked about playing at recess together and introducing her to his friends.

And you know what? She’s been at his school for over a month now and he’s still just as excited. He walks her to her classroom in the morning. He sits with her at breakfast. He tells me how she did at lunch. They get to do the same art projects. 

They go to bed at the same time even though Graham tends to fall asleep first. We sit together and read books for a while. Then the two of them lay down in Graham’s bed, their pillows side by side. Tessa may sit at the foot of the bed for a while or roll around on her side. But it’s been months since they’ve changed this routine. Tessa rarely sleeps in her own bed anymore. And Graham doesn’t seem to mind that much when Tessa, a very wiggily sleeper, wakes him up or steals his covers. 

If Tessa sees something, she immediately says, “Grammer!!” (Which in her 3-year-old mouth comes out “Gwammuh.”) And Graham returns the favor, showing her anything he thinks she should see.

They play games together. They play different things, but often stay next to each other. 

They fight sometimes, but it never seems to last long. 

They happily take turns choosing and pass off from one to the other.

Honestly, I’m a little stumped.

My siblings and I clashed more, our relationships were always tumultuous and it never seemed like things were quiet or calm. So I’m not exactly used to this. 

But this is exactly why I wanted to have more than one kid. I always wanted them to enjoy each other’s company, to have a real ally in each other, and to develop a relationship that would last their entire lives.

I know it’s early days. They’re just 5 and 3, after all. We’re still figuring out who Tessa is and what she’s like. There’s so much left ahead. 

And yet. I can’t help but wonder if this is just how they’ll be. I hope it is. I hope they always find this much companionship in each other. 

As you can see from the pictures in this post, it’s ridiculously easy to get pictures of the two of them together, happy. If school drop off wasn’t such a madhouse, I’d have snapped their picture every morning as they walk down the sidewalk, holding hands. 

I know it may not last. But I can hope.

The Future

“What is the future?” Graham asked.

This came right on the heels of yesterday night’s bedtime when he asked in the middle of storytime, “What is inside the earth? How did the earth get made? And how did space get made?”

Five years old at our house has a lot of big questions. I don’t mind the big questions. What scares me isn’t explaining the future but looking at our road ahead.

We talked of the future and the past and time moving forwards. 

Then we came home and it fell apart all because of 8.

These big things we can do, I find a way to talk about them and he finds a way to understand. But then we hit a small thing like 8 and we hit a wall.

“I cannot write an 8,” he cried. 

“Okay,” I said, “let’s practice so you can make an 8.”

“You do it,” he said.

“Graham, I’m  not going to do your homework for you,” I said. “I will help you practice an 8, though.”

“But I’ve already practiced an 8 so many times!”

“It’s okay, we can keep working on it.”

“No, we can’t! You  just do it!”

It continued like that. If you’re a parent, you know. If you were ever a kid, you know. 

Graham was a perfectionist since he was a baby. Things must be just so and if they’re not his anxiety kicks in. As we’re starting to look at reading and writing and these big important new skills, he’s running into his perfectionist issues in a big way. He doesn’t want to try to sound out words, he doesn’t want to try to write things down, he’s afraid to do anything because he’s so afraid to fail.

It’s the future, it’s the problem we will have to solve over and over again for years and years to come. And it’s beginning right now.

I have to teach him to try. He doesn’t want to. And suddenly it is a battle of wills.

The kid digs in and refuses to budge. The parent digs in and refuses to budge. These are the moments as a parent where you find your zen place and disengage and wait it out.

These are the moments as a kid where you start bringing out the big guns.

“I don’t love you,” he said. That was first.

A while later came “I don’t like you.” He’s a smart kid to realize that’s a separate offense.

And finally, the worst one, a card that has never been played but will most likely make regular appearances for the next 13 years:

“I don’t want to live with you anymore.”

This is a special card in the kids vs. parents deck that only children of divorced parents get to play. It hits us in our most vulnerable places. 

Every week when they stay with me, at some point the kids ask, “When are we going to Daddy’s?” I tell them and they say, “Yay!” And every time I wonder, do they ask about when they’re going to come back to me? Do they get excited to see me again the way they do about their dad?

Of course, parenthood isn’t about getting your kids to like you. It’s inevitable that at some point they really won’t want to come to your house and they really won’t want to see you. That’s true whether they live at your house full-time or part-time. But. 

It’s the future, it’s a tool he’s going to use again and he’s going to get better at it. I don’t know if I’m going to get any better at hearing it. I’m okay at the zen stuff, I’ve endured years of meltdowns so I’ve gotten used to it. But will I ever get used to this?

For years I’ve said I can’t wait for my kids to get older. People told me it would get harder. I’m still not sure that’s true. I still think I’m better at these older kid skills. After all, I’d rather have Graham’s breakdown over an 8 than Tessa’s breakdown over anything.

Tessa’s vocabulary is building every day. She often uses multi-word sentences and even though she’s hard to understand, she’s making great strides. But when she gets anywhere near wanting or needing or angry or upset, she stops speaking. She goes straight to a whine with no sign of a consonant or a word to be found. 

Tessa’s breakdowns require a similar parental zen, except instead of ignoring her and waiting for her to calm down, I have to sit there and say, “I can’t understand you,” and “Tell me what you want,” and “Use words, please.” I am so tired of this. Having a child that won’t communicate has been my struggle for years and communication is everything to me. 

I’d rather hear Graham tell me something mean than have Tessa tell me nothing at all.

That may not be normal, but that’s how it is. 

But, of course, the future is never quite how you expect it to be when you get there. Just like I never see Graham’s big questions coming, or how to explain The Big Bang to a child whose Science curriculum is the Five Senses.

It’s never going to be easy, this parenting thing. That doesn’t mean I’m not looking to the future.

No One Came to This Autistic Boy’s Birthday Party… You Won’t Believe What Happened Next

Forgive me for the Buzzfeed-style headline. But the events of Saturday are just such a roller coaster ride that I feel like if there’s ever a time when I’m going to get all Upworthy on y’all, it’s now.

If you’re a friend on Facebook, you’ve probably been following the saga of Graham’s 5th birthday party. This was the first year I decided to give him a real party. A party with invitations handed out and RSVP’s requested instead of just calls to our friends down the street.  I learned from last year that summer birthdays are tough. I handed out invitations early this year, made sure every kid got one, about 15 in all. I gave my email to RSVP and waited.

And waited.

Last week (a month after handing them out) we got our first RSVP: it was a no. Also no’s from all our local friends who would love dearly to come, but are just gone.

Summer birthdays are harder than I thought. As someone who had a winter birthday, and who moved so often that birthday parties weren’t that common anyway, I didn’t get it until this year. It is HARD. And it’s harder when I don’t have anyone’s contact information. Boston’s elementary schools aren’t just divvied up by neighborhood. The kids in his class come from all around, we don’t have a tight-knit community, we don’t call each other for playdates. And he’s been in an Early Childhood class where several of the kids are special needs and that complicates it even more. 

I started to worry. 

The party was scheduled for a trade-off custody day so that both parents could attend without messing with schedules. I chose a spray park near our house and chose 10 a.m. for a start time. The park is usually pretty quiet before noon and I planned to arrive right when they opened at 9:30 when it’s a ghost town to get us a table for the cake.

Saturday morning, the big day, I got to the park early with Kathy, the maker of Graham’s Hot Wheels cake. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot I felt my stomach turn. The little spray park had already been invaded. The doors were open even though it wasn’t open yet. There was no one there now, but someone had been there. They’d come, set up all the tables under the little bit of shade, added several chairs, put up a stereo system, set out a grill, and hung balloons and Happy Birthday signs. Whoever they were, they’d taken everything.

I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. I waited. We asked someone in the park nearby and they reported that people had been there and then left. It was quarter to 10, the kids showed up with their dad. Still no sign of the other party. So I called it. The area wasn’t one you could reserve, it was not cool to take all the tables at the park, so we took one back and moved it to an open space. 

People started showing up… to the spray park, not to the party. No sign of the other party either. Just kids from the swimming lessons next door who’d just finished and were now over for some fun. 

A girl who goes to camp with Graham was there. She hadn’t been invited or anything, but it was a happy coincidence. 

There are times when you’re glad your kid doesn’t pick up on stuff. And I was so glad that Graham hadn’t fixated on the invitations to his party. I was glad he didn’t remember that he’d given me that list of 15 names. I was glad that he was happy to run around knowing he was having a birthday party and there was a cake and he was having fun.

Time passed. Kids came and went. It stayed pretty quiet at the park. Still no sign of the other party. Still no sign of any of Graham’s friends. 

And then something wonderful happened.

It was Graham’s best friend Dennis. The one he talks about often, the one he says he misses, the one he calls “my best friend Dennis.” He’s an IEP kid like Graham. His mom came, too, and said she’d tried to email but by the time she got the invitation from Dennis she couldn’t make out the address. She’d made some attempts but they hadn’t made it to me. I didn’t care. I was so happy.

I cried. I cried behind my big sunglasses, grateful that they hid how crazy and foolish I looked. 

Dennis brought presents. Graham opened them and was thrilled. A new Spiderman bracelet was put on. Cake was eaten. They ran through the spray. They played with Graham’s new Hot Wheels race track. As far as Graham was concerned, it was the best party. And I had to agree.

And those people who claimed the tables for their party? There was no sign of them until we were leaving. So nice of them to claim all that space and not use it for hours. Sigh.

We said goodbye to Dennis, had lunch, drove around and then drove around much longer than necessary because both kids were asleep and why stop?

party No One Came to This Autistic Boys Birthday Party... You Wont Believe What Happened Next

I’d been updating online, of course. Letting everyone know Graham was happy even though no one showed up. And then letting them know someone had come! Hooray! 

But when I finally got to Twitter, well, that was when the story really started.

The internet was sad to see Graham alone at his birthday party. The internet decided to help. By this time I assured the internet that Graham did have a friend come, that this was all unnecessary. The internet did not care. The internet wanted to know what would make Graham happy. 

So this little boy who is so easy to make happy will be pretty thrilled when the internet sends him to see Thomas the Tank Engine at Edaville next month. Internet, I have no words. So I’ll just take lots of pictures. And until then here are a couple from the spray park. Tessa, who wouldn’t touch the water a month ago, is now sticking in hands and feet and is ridiculously cute. And Graham, I look at pictures and see this long, lean kid whose face sometimes looks so grown up and I don’t even know what to think.

 

  No One Came to This Autistic Boys Birthday Party... You Wont Believe What Happened Next

 No One Came to This Autistic Boys Birthday Party... You Wont Believe What Happened Next

 No One Came to This Autistic Boys Birthday Party... You Wont Believe What Happened Next

 No One Came to This Autistic Boys Birthday Party... You Wont Believe What Happened Next

 No One Came to This Autistic Boys Birthday Party... You Wont Believe What Happened Next

 No One Came to This Autistic Boys Birthday Party... You Wont Believe What Happened Next

Graham’s Fenway Birthday

Graham turned 5 this week and my present to him was taking him to his first Red Sox game. Though technically I took him to Futures at Fenway which is not actually a Red Sox game but a farm team game. But they wore white and red so Graham was all good. I won’t be able to get away with this kind of stuff much longer. 

He was so. happy. A couple little whines here and there, but overall it was one of the longest periods I’ve seen him where he stayed in a happy place. He is, of course, still himself so he was often serious and asked approximately one million questions. 

I was planning to head out before the game was over, assuming he wouldn’t last, but he did. And he set his heart on staying for the movie after the show. I assured him it was a grown-up movie and that he may not like it. He wanted to stay anyway. Graham has never watched a live-action movie from start to finish. Even a short live-action tv show must involve trains or cars for him to get into it. But he watched ALL of Field of Dreams, all of it. He still asked approximately one million questions, but he watched it and was happy and declared it his favorite movie ever.

I am glad we had that day, just the two of us, and that I finally have my camera out again (I lost my charger and it took me ages to get a new one) because it was a joy to capture it. I am not the kind of person who gets schmaltzy about perfect days, but this was about as close as they come. 

Also: who is this tall and spindly boy? He is going to shoot up before I know it. And I’m sorry, but this kid is just so beautiful I can hardly stand it.

 Grahams Fenway Birthday

 
 Grahams Fenway Birthday

 Grahams Fenway Birthday

 Grahams Fenway Birthday

 Grahams Fenway Birthday

 Grahams Fenway Birthday

 Grahams Fenway Birthday

 Grahams Fenway Birthday

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.