Tessa Observed

It is spring break and Tessa is too young for camp. So I work from my couch and she entertains herself.

It goes better than you’d think. Too young for camp is just right for her dollhouse and the train tracks and the coloring books and the puzzles and all these other toys we’ve managed to accumulate over the years. 

Her pretend play interests me to no end. There is lots of “Mommy” and “Daddy” and “Baby,” with plenty of animals and Frozen characters thrown in for good measure. Her chatter goes something like this:

“You want hot dog? Yes, Mom. I want two. Okay, two hot dog. You want hot dog, Kitty? Yes. Okay. Why you leaving? Because. Over there hot dog and train. Put on coat. Okay put on my coat. Aaahhh I falling! Oh, I sorry.” And on and on. 

It says a lot about where she is right now. There is lots of “why” and lots of “because.” Lots of “please” and asking politely. Lots of “hello” and “bye bye.” 

Being more aware of the world around her means sometimes she gets shy and quiet and even clingy. She still asks to be carried downstairs in the morning or picked up when we’ve walked for a while. But she’s also finally started talking about herself more as a “big” kid and less as a baby, which she pronounces “beebee.”

She has a silly disposition that Graham didn’t have at this age. He is just learning to love jokes, but she is already all about making funny faces. 

Two months into school and while I still don’t get anything resembling a reliable report of what happened from her, she does reference her teachers by name and takes great pride in her art projects. 

She does not sing at school but she will do hand motions. She will only sing at home if no one sings with her.

She often refuses to hold my hand even when she has no choice in the matter. But I usually let her hold Graham’s hand instead, and she’s always up for that. 

Like Graham, she went through a long period where she refused and avoided cuddling and hugs. But she’s getting past it. It’s not uncommon for her to hang on my leg when I’m sitting down and requests to sit on my lap are common. Even sometimes when she wakes up in the middle of the night, she just reaches out and waits for me to sit with her and hold her for a few minutes before she’ll go back to sleep.

Sick kid nap achieved! I'm 1 for 2 but I'll take it.

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Tessa is stubborn… but easily distracted. She’ll stand her ground for a couple of minutes, then you can almost always get her to do the thing she was so strongly against seconds before. 

She is not exactly toilet trained. She is happy to use it on her schedule, which is usually just once or twice a day. This morning, with both of us home for the day, I thought we’d give underwear a try. She was down with it for five minutes, then cried and asked for her diaper back. To her credit, she said maybe she could try again tomorrow. While I won’t miss the diapers, I will miss the little crinkly sound of her walk. Assuming we ever get there.

No longer an easy eater, but not picky either, she often just won’t eat her dinner at all. There’s not a huge fuss, she just won’t do it. And every success is usually followed shortly by failure. Like the pasta with cherry tomatoes I made on Sunday, which she ate enthusiastically (3 bowls!) only to reject it with tears on Monday.

She is still, in most ways, my easy kid. Graham cannot let 3 minutes pass without asking for something. Tessa does make requests, but there’s usually 20-30 minutes between them. She forgets about the TV, forgets about snack, forgets about a promised outing. It’s a pretty great deal for me, since 2 kids asking that often would probably make my head explode. 

Personal space. Nope.

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She likes pink and hearts and butterflies and princesses. She also likes dinosaurs, Spiderman, and trains. 

I used to think of her as bold and fearless. But she is becoming more cautious as time passes and I haven’t figured out yet if that’s good or bad. Graham offered to let her try his balance bike and she sat on it only to immediately get off. I think it’ll be a while before she tries again.

She still falls asleep in the car if it’s afternoon or evening and we drive for more than ten minutes. 

She calls Graham “Grammer” or “Graham Cracker.”

Some mornings she can be plagued by a funk of feelings, but it happens less and less. She can get stuck sobbing, but it happens less and less. I still have to say “Use words, please,” but it happens less and less.


Somebody's unruly hair got her a bob and bangs so many of us get at this age.

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This is the go-with-the-flow child. This is the child who doesn’t make requests about what we eat for dinner or where we go for the day. She is the classic younger child in that way. If she did get it in her head that she wanted one thing and then we end up doing another, she usually responds by thinking for a second and then saying, “Later?” I tell her, “Yes, we can do it later.” And then she says “Okay,” and she’s fine.

There is still a lot she doesn’t understand. She’s made so much progress in the last year that I forget that a lot. But I’ve officially made the switch from assuming she doesn’t understand me to assuming she does. 

She is called Tessa and Tessy and Tess. I’m still not quite sure which one she’ll feel most herself in, but for now, at 3, getting to be such a big girl, she is Tessa to me as long as she’ll have it.

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.

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.

Embracing Yesh

“Yes” is Tessa’s new word. It often comes out “Yesh” or “Desh” or “Yeth.” For a long time her only words were “No” and “More” so “Yes” is a pretty big deal.

It is not her only new word. There’s “animal” and “baby” and “birdie” and “Graham” and “car” and “Dora” and several dozen more. But “Yes” is my favorite.

IMG 20140629 163747 300x300 Embracing YeshFiguring out breakfast:

“Tessa, is this what you want?”


Accidentally bumping her head while putting her in the car:

“Tessa, are you okay?”


Getting through the morning routine:

“Tessa, can I do your hair?”


Yesh is music to my ears.

Of course, along with the ups there are downs. Tessa has just finished up a month or two of sweetness and it seems she’s coming out of it and figuring out the power of tantrums. Sleep is harder and we may have to change up our bedtime routine (which had a couple good months) again. 

It comes with the territory, right? She’s also learned how to be silly. And finally there are deep laughs, the ones I always get jealous of in other people’s babies that my kids don’t figure out until 2 or 3.

She has started to sing and dance. She attempts, anyway. Her singing is always a beat or two behind, but she tries. Her dance consists of kicking one foot backwards and then turning around. 

As she’s figuring out words, she’s also starting to figure out the injustices of the world. Something is not “mine” just because you say so. Big brothers get cooler toys than you do. You get pulled out of bed some mornings even if you’d like to stay asleep because it’s time to go. 

She’s doing okay. After living in a world of No she’s doing pretty well with Yesh.

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.