Into the Wilderness

Anyone like exploring new territory?

I love finding parallels in life and parenting. Hiking into new terrain is much like parenting — there is always a new path or trail — sometimes the view is beautiful, sometimes it is challenging; you can feel safe and confident and other times lost and scared — what are you supposed to do next? The more you hike, the more prepared you feel to handle the unexpected. Much like parenting. Though you can still be caught off guard from time to time when you face something new, regardless of your preparation or past experience.

We will be doing some hiking this summer, and while I’m looking forward to spending time with my kids, I stepping into the wilderness in a more parental way. Our son has autism. He is high functioning but exhibits some tell-tale signs that he is on the spectrum: arms flapping when he’s interested in something or he gets excited (often paired with a humming sound); and struggling with picking up on some social cues. We have known this for several years, and have enlisted the help of several professionals to help us and him. With that said, my husband and I hadn’t shared our son’s diagnosis with him, nor spoke about it openly (outside of talking with teachers, counselors and other professionals) until now. My reluctance to talk about it openly was not because I was embarrassed or ashamed, but because I didn’t want a label attached to him–I didn’t want people to think of him as being ‘different’ or less than (because he isn’t). I didn’t want it do define him — what he’s capable of and who he is and will be. I convinced myself that by keeping quiet I was protecting him and, if I’m being completely honest, also protecting myself — somehow I felt like his diagnosis was a failure on my part (yes, I realize that is not rational). I didn’t want to have to discuss with the situation with family or friends. I didn’t want to shine a spotlight on it. In talking with an therapist she told me it was time to embrace the diagnosis, let my son in on what he was dealing with so he understood his own behavior and why it was different.  I am the adult in the situation and have grown a thicker skin. And while I may be concerned that sharing this could draw judgment, or pity; I know that those that love my son and our family will be supportive and caring. My son needed to know, and I needed to get over my fears.

We sat our son done and explained his diagnosis. “Being on the spectrum simply means your brain works differently than others. You have advantages that others don’t because you are on the autism spectrum. And you have disadvantages,” we told him. We shared examples of where he is advanced (academics, conversations with adults and younger children) and where he is challenged (building relationships with his peers/friendship; controlling how he expresses interest/excitement). We sat our older son down and explained to him what was going on as well. We thought it was important he understand what his brother was dealing with, and why his brother does what he does. “His brain is wired this way,” we told him. “If someone asks you why your brother is acting weird/strange/differently, you say, “that’s just my brother being my brother” and leave it at that.”

I’m grateful for organizations like Autism Speaks. And the awareness that is being brought by parents and the medical field on this topic. Yet this still feels very unfamiliar to me. It’s almost as though I’ve been studying a map for a while, and I’ve decided to start on my journey through unchartered territory. I am going into the wilderness. Its new. Its scary. I think I’m prepared, but am I? Will I encounter something new I’m not prepared for?  I know I’m going to make mistakes. I know I am going to learn. I am praying I do right by my son and our family.

How do you navigate unfamiliar territory? How do you handle talking about uncomfortable topics?

I will be taking a few weeks off to enjoy the summer with family and will be back in August.

To Grandma’s House You Go

What special memories do you have of your time with your grandparents?

Our boys are fortunate. They have two sets of very loving grandparents that they will get to visit with this summer. The good news is the grandparents love them and are eager to spend time with them (and thankfully in good health), the bad news is the grandparents live far away. Both sets are across the country.  We decided this year, our boys are old enough to visit both sets of grandparents by themselves. Sending my boys on a plane without us is one of the most stressful things I’ve done, but I know they are going towards people that love them a lot and can’t wait to see them.

While concerned about them while they travel to see their grandparents, I also worry about their behavior (and what it will be) once they get there. Will they be on their best behavior? Will they act up (talk back to Grandma and Grandpa, whine, complain, etc.)? What will Grandma and Grandpa do if (when) this happens?

Grandparents vary, right? Some just want to love on their grandchild(ren) — give them hugs, take them places and maybe buy them things. They are happy to spend time with them in whatever form. There are others that want the time spent together to be more meaningful — teaching values, morals, life lessons, etc. One accepts the grandchild as they are. The other wants (or hopes) to mold the grandchild. Some grandparents are a blend of both, and others nothing like what I’ve mentioned above. Most grandparents though do share one thing in common: they love their grandkids.

In preparation for their first trip, my husband and I, assuming our kids would have their moments (e.g. they would ‘act up’ at some point), gave them some ground rules to help them (and their grandparents) enjoy their time together:

1. Don’t complain — if you don’t like what is being asked of you (wake up at a certain time, help with something, eat a new food, etc.) either a) suggest an alternative politely *or* b) just do what is being asked (arguing will just delay the inevitable and make everyone miserable)

2. Ask upfront for permission on screen time — grandparents want to spend time with you, not your gadgets. Grandparents are not unreasonable, so ask them what screen time they can live with. Determining this upfront will help with heart ache later.

3. Suspend bathroom humor — Grandma and Grandpa will not find it nearly as funny as you do

4. Have fun — there are so many neat things you get to do with Grandma and Grandpa — going fishing, swimming, eating ice cream, etc. — focus on what’s in front of you (the people, the place, the experience), not what you’re missing out on (e.g. another game of Madden Mobile or cartoon you’ve already seen a dozen times).

I am so thankful our boys have both sets of grandparents and can make memories with them. I know my boys will appreciate those memories much more when they are older.

Will my boys behave while their away? I’m not as concerned with them behaving as I am with both my sons and their grandparents appreciating the opportunity they have to share wonderful memories together. I know I treasure memories I had with mine.

What special memories does your child have with their grandparents? How are they creating new memories together?