Imagine

Many parents and early childhood educators take imaginative play for granted. Yet, when you have parented a child in the spectrum, it’s fairly common that your child will struggle with the abstract and feels safer with the concrete. Not every kid on the spectrum struggles with this, but when my oldest was young, imaginative play just wasn’t on the menu.  

I bought my oldest all the things I could to encourage imaginative play. I got play silks and dolls and a even constructed a homemade wooden play kitchen. And while he did engage in a little imaginative play here and there, it was still very concrete, and it just didn’t come naturally.  

When his sister was 2 and entering that phase of imaginative play, he was 7.  She brought him in with her. Watching her turn an ordinary block into a bed or car amazed him and amazed me. Watching him imagine with her brought me to my knees. 

I thought with the youngest, seeing him discover imaginative play would be old hat. But when he plays, I still have so many feelings.  I never want to interrupt him when he’s in flow with his play. Even though it’s a daily occurrence with him, it’s so deep and complex and I’m still filled with gratitude and awe. 

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Wandering

I started a new job and a new schedule last week.  It means that I have every Saturday off and today I got to spent it with only the smallest of the small ones.  With three kids, it’s hard to get one on one time with any of them, so I relished this day with just the youngest.

It took me while to get him out of the house – in part due to his protests, in part due to my unwillingness to interrupt unstructured play.  Plus, we really didn’t need to leave and pajamas are comfy.  But sun is scarce this time of year in Maine and I felt it was my parental duty to get a little vitamin D action and fresh air.  Also, we’ve been reading Eating the Alphabet, and he really wanted to try star fruit and kumquats, so I promised a trip to the grocery store. (They were out of starfruit, but had kumquats.  Those buggers are tart!)


A trip to the grocery store doesn’t beget much sunshine and fresh air, so I convinced him to go for a walk and hunt for mushrooms.  We’ve been foraging for mushrooms since late summer. Don’t worry, we’re careful and haven’t eaten any yet, though I did put some birch polypores up in tincture.  There are a few paths by our house, I knew we wouldn’t find any interesting mushrooms, but it was enough to get his Bogs on and get him out the door.

On our way back, our neighbors and their two toddling girls were outside.  The boy went to grab his Scuut bike and helmet and enjoyed our hilly driveway and dead end street for a good long time.

Today I am grateful for this slow day with my boy, temperate fall days, and, because I’m human, early bed times.

Beads, String, Words

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We sat down tonight to make necklaces for Hopper and her friend she adores the most of all of her friends, JuJu. Her friend who we have plans to see this weekend.  Her friend who she misses even though they go to the same school because they are in different classes and the other girls treat JuJu like a commodity.

We sat around the table beading, my heart breaking as Hopper told me how she tries to play with JuJu at school and other girls, one in particular these days, physically drags JuJu away.  JuJu, the beautiful, soft, open hearted peacemaker doesn’t know how to use her voice.  Hopper doesn’t play tug of war, she doesn’t pressure JuJu, she doesn’t insert herself into the drama.  Instead she walks away hurt and confused and missing her friend.

While I texted JuJu’s mother to make arrangements. Hopper and I did and undid the necklaces a couple times until we found just the right pattern of colors – colors both JuJu and Hopper will love.  Hopper picked out charms, an A for her (real) first name, a J for JuJu’s (real) first name.

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I let JuJu’s mom know bits and pieces of what Hopper was telling me, and felt her heart breaking, too.  She had no idea. I wanted to scoop them up in my arms, both her and JuJu.

Is this how it starts, is this how girls become property, on the playground, other girls dragging them too and fro?  Sweet girls, like JuJu and my Hopper, who want calm and peace and don’t want to make fusses, so they go along to get along, to avoid the threats (both direct and assumed) of conflict, of ostracization, of not belonging.

What happens when they’re older and it’s their partners or boyfriends telling what they can and can’t do, what then?

It’s not too late.  When I see JuJu’s mom this weekend, I’m going to rally.  We’re going to take this on.  I can’t let our girls suffer the loss of their friendship for this. I can’t let them continue to be victims of bullies – bullies who live in the bodies of 9 year old girls and who wear costumes of friendship… little wolves in sheeps clothing.

Yes, There ARE Stupid Questions

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The trouble with being in a relationship with a woman for 10 years and having two kids, one borne of each of your uteri, means that some people get a little confused.  Some of them seem to think that they can’t possibly accept your family at face value without understanding the vast mystery of lesbian relationships.  (Spoiler alert: there is no mystery.)

Tig and I were committed in every way.  We had two children together – I grew one and she grew the other.  The child I grew, Pip, is her son in every way.  The child she grew, Hopper, is my daughter in every way. But seven years ago when we separated it was clear that people just couldn’t wrap their little heads around this lesbian thing.  They got even more confused when I ended up with The Man and he and I had Mack together.  Apparently me having a life and doing things other people couldn’t quite grasp made some of them completely lose control of their minds and their filters.  These are real things people have asked and said to us over the years, further evading my hope for humanity.

1. Do Hopper and Pip have the same father?

Yes, sort of, in that THEY DON’T HAVE A FATHER. So yes, this non-person is the same non-person for both of them.

Two moms.  One mom, the other mom.  Two moms.  It’s math.  No other parents required. And also none of your business.

2. Will Tig keep Hopper?

You mean like forever in a locked tower somewhere? I think that’s illegal and just all around poor parenting. See: Rapunzel.

3. Will you keep Pip?

I don’t have a basement so I’m not sure where I’d exactly ‘keep’ him, but 50% of the time he will be at my house, with his SISTER, so I guess, sort of?

4. Do you let her keep Pip?

Well, she has a basement, but I think it’s pretty moldy down there and he’s kind of allergic to mold. I think she’s a little nicer than that and might keep him locked in a tower with his sister.

YES – he goes with his sister.  Half the time with me, half the time with Tig.  Two moms, not together, shared parenting, basic custody arrangement.  Why is this so hard to grasp?

5. How come you don’t have Pip?

Because he’s with his other mother.  We don’t live together anymore, in case you didn’t get the memo, which generally means parents share their time with their children.  Besides, the velcro I had him attached to my hip with wore off.

6. How come Hopper is with you?

Because she’s my daughter and it’s my parenting time with her?  Is this a trick question? Are we on Candid Camera?

7. Who’s the real mom?

Do you walk up to any other kids or parents and ask who the ‘real’ mom is? No, because it’s rude and irrelevant.  You asking me who my child’s parents are when we’re clearly standing right here either means you are rude or you are having a stroke.  So, are you an asshole or do you need me to call 911?

8. “This is Hopper, Danielle’s friend’s daughter”

Now, this stung. A lot.  It was my grandmother so I didn’t run her over with my car and I know she LOVES Hopper to bits, she just really doesn’t grasp the lesbian/relationship/divorce thing at all.  She’s 87, I decided to give her a pass. But anyone else who says any variation of this should make their final arrangements.

9. “We don’t think we should have to buy Christmas gifts for Hopper, we don’t really ‘consider’ her a grandchild”

This was said by my step-mother who can summarily go fuck herself.  Seriously. My child doesn’t deserve love and connection because she’s not related to you biologically?  Well Douchie Von Doucherson, I’m not biologically related to your stupid either and THANK GOD FOR THAT.  Oh, and fuck off.

10. “How is Pip?  How is Mack?… Next topic…”

Hey, guess what Dad? I have a daughter, you ass hat.  I don’t give any shits whether or not YOU can bring yourself to stoop so low to have a relationship with the big, open hearted love that is Hopper.  At the end of the day, she’s my daughter.  She’s one of three specific humans on this planet that I would take a bullet for (and, in case you’re taking notes, you are not one of them).  She is one of the most important people in my life and your dismissal of her and conditional acceptance of her based on genetics speaks VOLUMES about your character.  I ain’t got no time for that bullshit.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go love up my kids, all THREE of them.

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photo credit via photopin cc

Pull-Up Throw Down

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While the Man was still gone off to military training this summer, I embarked on the harrowing journey of potty training our 3 year old.  I had maybe just a tiny little TON of resentment that he was going to get out of one of the hardest, most stressful parts of parenting a toddler.  I avoided it as long as I could, but when I decided to put him in daycare a couple times a week, I knew it was going to have to happen sooner rather than later.

This is a child who I initially started doing Elimination Communication with at 6 weeks.  And we were total EC rock stars from 6 weeks until about 6 months.  That summer the Man went away to hunt down his dream job and I started to spiral into post-partum anxiety.  EC fell far off the radar and when the Man got back at the end of the summer I was in rough shape and we never quite got back on the potty horse.

Fast forward 3 years and I couldn’t even get him to sit down on the potty, nevermind relax whatever muscles need relaxing to actually let his pee out.  It didn’t matter how many shiny stickers I bought or what I tried to bribe him with, he was perfectly content shitting and pissing in his diapers.  I had moments when I got really upset about it and was sure I’d be buying him diapers well into his teen years.  But then I pulled back, let it go, and tried again with more patience when I wasn’t quite so emotionally invested (and when there were two adults to bear the burden of rug cleaning and toddler wrestling).

By the time the Man came home in late August, he would sit and go pee, but always with prompting and often with a WWF cage match just to get him on the actual seat. There were dinosaur underwear purchased and there were various bribes involving chocolate.  And there were many, many accidents moments after I tried to get him to sit (and he refused).  We talked a lot about our own potty habits and tried to make it seem like the most cool and groovy thing ever.  Don’t judge, we were desperate.

About a month ago when sitting on the potty was met with only minor protests, I bought a new pack of Thomas the Train underwear to grease the wheels and I stopped putting him in pull-ups.  Eventually, it worked. He was in underwear all day and all night. Exceeeeept for #2 – he couldn’t quite make the mental leap to let his poop escape into the potty.

We convinced him, by some small miracle, to ask us for a pull-up when he had to poop.  Things started to shift from having to watch him like a hawk for The Signs to him declaring he had to poop and asking for a pull-up (and 10 minutes in the bathroom with the door locked like a teenager to do his business while he played with all the random crap that gets left on the top of the washing machine.  BUT WHO CARES, body awareness folks).

I made him a special deal.  I promised him not only the chocolate cookie bar I’d been promising him all summer, but I upped the ante – Cranky the Crane. Cranky the Crane = 5 packs of pull ups, for those of you interested in maths. I even made an Extra Special Sticker Chart with a big picture of Cranky and one lone box for him to put his Extra Special Sticker on when he finally poops.  Every time he asked for a pull-up, I referenced the chart.  But he still insisted on pull-ups because who loves shitting in their pants more than new toys?  My kid.  Apparently.

Then yesterday soemthing happened – we ran out of pull-ups.  I decided I wasn’t going to drop another $10 so he could shit for 3 more weeks in a pull up once a day.  Nope.  Not doing it.  So when he asked, I said sorry, but he could sit and try to put his poop in the potty.  He sat, and I even complied with his request for privacy and a locked door because, desperate.  But it was a no go – he held onto it for dear life.

The Man and I shared knowing glances several times today, the question of whether or not we would soon be cleaning up the shit-splosion of a lifetime, or doing a jig, passing silently between us.  Early this afternoon, Mack declared he needed to go and I guided him to the bathroom.  I closed and locked the door, at his request, and waited.  And waited some more.  And reminded him of his would-be friend Cranky.

After 10 minutes I made a ruse about having to go in to throw something in the compost bin and found he had finally, FINALLY, pooped on the potty! We clapped, he got shy, and I kicked out everyone who came in the bathroom to celebrate with us.  We put his Extra Special Sticker on his Extra Special Sticker Chart and made a plan to go get Cranky later in the afternoon.

This evening I reminded him that, now that he knows how to poop on the potty, when he has to poop he can poop on the potty AGAIN!  And he said “yeah, I can poop on the potty again and then I’ll have TWO Cranky the Cranes”.

Oh, shit.

~~~

photo credit via photopin cc

My Postpartum Progress


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I was about 5 months post-partum with my youngest, whom I affectionately call “Mack” here, when things slowly started to unravel.

It wasn’t depression.  I wasn’t depressed. I was frustrated.  I was angry.  I didn’t feel like myself.  But I wasn’t sad.

So what was this thing happening?  Why the floods of cortisol, the tight chest, the explosive outbursts over nothing?  Why the irrational fears about my family being harmed, the constant feelings of being unsafe, the terrible, intrusive thoughts?

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Mack’s birth was a long time coming.  Ten years before, his brother had been born, via an ultimately unnecessary c-section.  Mack, however, was born into a tub of water in my dining room, surrounded by trusted caregivers, The Man, and my sister.  Emotionally, my pregnancy and birth were very healing.  I had a lot of unexpected physical hurdles during the immediate post-partum period – nerve and tissue damage, tongue tie, very low iron/blood volume, and three back to back colds. Yet even with all of that going on physically, I was still happy, light, and able to find grace in small things.  I thought I was in the clear from post-partum ‘depression’.  I was wrong.

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Mack was 6 months old when The Man decided to follow a job lead that would land him 500 miles south and land me home, alone, with a 6 month old, 10yo and 5yo, and no reliable income.  I had started to struggle a bit prior to him leaving, yet when he first left I was very supportive.  As things started falling through and not panning out like he’d hoped, I wanted him to come home.  But he had hope beyond hope things would work out.  He was confident he would land a position with the campaign he was working on. He wanted me to trust him.  I tried.

But I wasn’t sleeping.  I was losing weight.  I was yelling at my older kids, a lot.  My capacity for handling new stressors was non-existent.  Every day was a miracle if I could keep everyone alive and fed.  I felt trapped and scared most of the time.  I couldn’t watch certain TV shows because they triggered panic.

Eventually he came home when it was clear things weren’t going in the direction he wanted.  But for me, things had headed in a direction that I wasn’t going to be able to come back from on my own.

While he was gone I started blogging again, I found Twitter, and I found an outlet for some of what was going on. I also found a community of women on Twitter who were struggling in some of the same ways I was.

Most importantly, I found Katherine Stone’s website Postpartum Progress.  Before Twitter and Katherine’s site, I thought the only post-partum mental illness to worry about was depression.  But I knew I wasn’t depressed.

So what exactly was happening?

Thanks to Postpartum Progress, I realized that I was facing a post-partum anxiety disorder.  And it wasn’t the first time.  I had been misdiagnosed after my oldest child’s birth; it wasn’t PPD, I had an anxiety disorder then, too.  I finally found a spot for that square peg I’d been trying to fit in a round hole!

It had a name.  What was happening to me was REAL. I wasn’t crazy.  I wasn’t losing my mind. I wasn’t a bad mother.  Armed with this knowledge I could get treatment that would work.  I was still resentful that I had to deal with this, again, but knowing what I was facing empowered me to advocate for myself and treatment that was right for me.

And I did just that.  I went to my PCP’s office and when she would not listen, I asked for a referral to a Nurse Practitioner who manages psychiatric medications.  My NP was amazing.  She took time with me, she took my lead, she looked into medications and supplements I wanted to explore.  She walked me through fire.  And earlier this year I weaned off my medication with my only regret being that I won’t see her anymore.

I survived a post-partum anxiety disorder for the second time.  Thank you Katherine for being brave enough to share your story and strong enough to grow your personal journey into an organization that is valuable beyond measure.

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Yesterday I worked with Katherine to help find a mom resources in my state.  Katherine took hours of her time to talk with this mom, to reach out for resources, and to support this mother where she was at.  Katherine isn’t just the story behind Postpartum Progress, she’s in the trenches, working and advocating for women both directly and indirectly.  If you have time, please go to her site, look around, and make a donation.  Every single dollar goes towards helping women get the access services and support they need.

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Happy Anniversary Katherine, you deserve every ounce of gratitude and grace pouring your way today, and every day.