I had oodles of ideas swimming through my head for today’s AofA posts. In fact I had weeks to get this one ready because of some time off I had recently. I’ve been on sabbatical this summer with my five kids. My biggest goal was to focus on my family’s needs. Reruns of my “Best of” have been posted for the last few Sundays, so I walked away from the computer to recoup, to relax and to get some of my act together that had started to fall apart.
I needed to concentrate on important matters that hadn’t been properly addressed (one of my typicals started having school learning issues last year). I strived for better organization (“losing” papers I should have filed, misplacing my debit card yet again and running late every time we had to leave the house started to rule my days). I needed to put determination back into my step and commit myself to making some things easier for all of us (my energy levels were at their lowest low which resulted in canceled outings, pre-packaged meals and a cranky me). Oh, to have it all together! But, life got the best of me. (Again.)
Instead of jotting down some of those awesome writing ideas for today (or filing the paperwork, or putting the debit card immediately back into my wallet or leaving enough room to get out on time) my overworked brain couldn’t think beyond what was happening right in front of me at the very moment things were happening. Sure I still wrote some stuff, but there were the usual, mundane items like writing a check out for a bill, sending a couple of email updates to family, scribbling daily chore lists for the kids. I haven’t written anything reflective, charged or hopefully ever after in weeks. I missed writing. I missed it because this sabbatical reflected nothing of being a sabbatical. In the true sense of the word a sabbatical is taking leave of a position in order to provide rest or to acquire new skills. What I experienced was anything but!
My husband was scheduled to travel the entire summer which left me home alone with the kids. We have all hated the experience. HATED it. Every single one of us got sick (even hubby who was several thousands of miles away). A long-lasting viral infection took me and the kids down from July 4th through the rest of the month. A damaging storm contributed to the insanity when we lost all the food in the refrigerator (followed up with losing every last bit of my patience). We lost power during the storm and for 3 ½ days afterward which added more stress and difficulty to our situation. At the end of July my daughter was screened for some medical problems another (Ronan’s best mini-therapist) showed more struggles with attention issues. These latest concerns lead to more testing which uncovered vision problems that should have been picked up long ago but weren’t and need to be corrected now.
I overbooked appointments. I got lost trying to find some of those appointments. I made huge mistakes weekly with our busy schedule, and I had to force myself to push through distraught moments that triggered emotional messes where I thought surely I’d throw in the towel. I so wish I could have walked away from the madness. How I wanted to quit participating in our crappy summer completely.
There was no rest. There was no sabbatical. There was nothing new to learn. There was instead lots of testing of limits and pushing of buttons from my little people as they sensed my “could care less” attitude take over. As they overstepped their bounds I held my breath counting backwards from 10. I retreated from tense situations hoping to grip what few peaceful emotions I thought I still had in me. Some days we did preserve a bit of harmony like when we went to the library and Ronan remembered how to check out books with his siblings. Other days when nothing was peaceful, hopeful or helpful, I holed myself up in my office letting all manner of chaos fill the house on the other side of my closed door.
This was not a summer that compared to what I remembered great summer fun to be when I was a kid. It was not the one I had hoped to share with my kids either. I wanted to sit poolside watching all five swim like little fish. I wanted to have the neighborhood kids hang out with us. I wanted my kids to have movie marathons with popcorn on the weekends. I wanted easy days and easier nights. What happened was quite the opposite. We did see the pool, but only three times (and with our $150 membership each visit came to $50 a visit. Oof.) I shooed every neighborhood kid away at some point (while probably still wearing my pajamas past 3pm). I tucked my kids in as early as I could (as many nights as I could, too). Thinking I’d at least get some peace and quiet at the end of an annoying day when they were all tucked in backfired. The kids’ night-time shenanigans lasted several hours over several days over the course of several weeks. Like I said, it was a crappy summer.
This picture is what I envisioned while taking this a sabbatical. I craved the relaxation and quiet moments that this image conjured up:
This is what I think I looked like most of June and probably all of July:
Not a pretty picture, huh?
What a disaster! My house was not the cool house. We didn’t do a fraction of the stuff I wanted to do out in town. I lost control of the household and one by one, each of my kids. I do remember a few moments of happiness during the height of the summer. Like when I taught Little Buddy how to play Scrabble. And when my oldest kindly gave her sometimes pesky little sisters a chance to play Life and Go Fish with her. But, as quickly as happiness crept back into our home the vicious sibling rivalry perked right back up too. “He’s cheating! You skipped me! I don’t wanna play with you ever again!” Temporarily single-parenting five kids who have high energy with very little support (not because I didn’t ask, but because reliable help is so unreliable these days) was tough! If I could have fast forwarded this summer I would have. The longer we lived in it the harder it was to survive through it.
All of my kids thrive on constant feedback and have go-go-go stamina. I only wish I had half their energy to get everything done around here. Learning of potentially new diagnoses was overwhelming. I wanted nothing to do new medical concerns (isn’t Ronan’s enough?!). I felt like I had vertigo watching their constant motion (if one more kid runs past me I’ll scream!). I strategically tuned out increased whining and tattle telling (if I don’t look them in the eye maybe they won’t try to talk to me). I craved to be outside but with the heat we were stuck indoors (but indoors has couches where I lay down as I snuck in quick naps so yea, me).
Finding an activity for everyone in one place can be difficult (or too expensive, or impossible because of Ronan’s lack of attention and interest and especially lately because it isn’t easy to go out alone without help with five kids). This summer was no exception. We stayed home a lot. A lot. The kids were dying of boredom. I kept myself distracted and busy but not constructively busy. I rearranged furniture for fun. I cleaned out and re-cleaned closets in spite of the begging my little girls did as they pleaded, “We promise to keep our room clean, puh-leeeze let us keep those 2,306 stuffed animals and silly bands and doll house toys and play jewelry pieces we never pick up or put away. Puh-lllleeeeezzzeee.” Just when I thought I could sit down and actually do one thing from start to finish someone needed me or insisted my input was absolutely necessary or told me Ronan had a stinky diaper. From one room to the next, and up and down the stairs I went. Sit down, stand up, go, turn around and start all over again. While I didn’t get any formal exercise, my heart rate did increased, I did breathe in and out, I did count the now consistent ‘count backwards from ten’ don’t-blow-up technique. My only goal at this point was to make sure everyone was safe, accounted for and not about to bother the rest of the humans in the house.
I don’t think I ever stopped moving for longer than a few minutes this summer. When I did it was at night. In the dark, dark hours of the night I sat. I couldn’t move. I felt paralyzed. My thoughts made me stop. My body forced me to stop, too. I ached like an old lady. As I settled into the quiet of the night I sat and tried not to think. But, my fears took over. Worry set in. My brain, as tired and ticked off as it was earlier, was in overdrive with emotions – Why don’t I have it in me to do this? How on earth can I do it all anyway? How will I save each of my children from whatever the world thought it could throw at them? How can I afford the therapy/medication/supplements/time it takes for them to heal so that each one of them can live, breathe and grow? How do other people get through their “normal” and make it look so easy or affordable or, or…normal?!
Seriously. I needed sleep, but my brain wouldn’t give it a rest. I had to make myself stop thinking and then stop over thinking. I stayed up too late and couldn’t wake up in the morning. This was my summer. This was my “vacation time”. It was becoming dangerously depressing. As much as I tried to take a break, relax and consider building new skills I was falling backwards, spiraling in fact, toward negative hopelessness. That’s so not like me. It’s not like me at all. I’d muttered more expletives under my breath in two short months than I think I’ve uttered out loud. I turned into an unhappy sour puss during one of the worst summer vacations ever. Quickly something needed to change.
So, what did I do? How did I fix it?
I did nothing. I didn’t find myself. I didn’t check into a place for intervention. I didn’t call for professional help. I just stopped trying to stress about doing it all. I stopped over thinking and did some mental reorganizing that I should have done weeks earlier. I started to pray differently and reflected on the positives. Fortunately when one starts to look for the positives, one just has to see they are right there next to them. Instead of shooing my own children away as I’d started to do, I sat with the kids. I played with the kids. I modeled for them and with them. We played with the Legos. We colored. We read. We watched movies. We baked. Instead of wishing it all of the awful away (or hoping any of it would be easier, or pretening we could live what other people call “normal”) we just tried to be.
Here’s what happened when I let it all go and just lived with what I had right in front of me:
Our last visit to the pool. We were in the water for 10 minutes before thunder brought us back homlocked us out because I forgot to bring the house key with us…whoops).
Happier? And more peaceful, right? Images of hope, focused, goofy and happy. That’s more like it. Those are my amazing kids, and that’s the me I miss. That’s the Mom my kids need me to be, the one I pledged to be for them so very long ago. It’s much easier to be the peace-filled me than to be overly stressed out person who tried to take over.
We have just a few weeks before full-time school schedules and added therapy sessions will have us here, there and everywhere. Just a few weeks to seek out some relaxation. Just a few more quiet days before the sounds of alarm clocks, school bells and after-school sporting events fill our ears. Just a few more hugs to catch, kisses to blow and snuggles on the couch my kids who aren’t scrambling to go anywhere but here. It isn’t too much to manage at all and will surely have healthier and happier outcomes for all of us.
You know what? I think I can continue to turn this summer around for the better. I know I can do that. In fact, I will.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.