Music

There are times the strangest things will make me miss my kids. I don’t want you to think my life is a misery. It certainly isn’t and I am happy, content with my life. But once in a while, sadness sneaks up on me.

True confession time: I sing in the car. Loudly and badly. Usually it makes me happy, but once in a while, a song will come on the radio that makes me feel sad. (Ringo Starr’s “Photograph” for instance – I heard it on the way home the first time I visited my daughter at a facility. Years later, it still makes me remember that day and cry.)

When those songs come on, I change the station.

Christmas music can be the worst. Don Henley’s “Please Come Home for Christmas,” which I used to regularly belt out in the car: I don’t even listen to it when it comes on the radio …it makes me think of my kids, and it makes me truly sad.

There are some other Christmas songs that affect me that way, too. You may laugh when you hear what they are. I hope you do; I am smiling as I think of how to  describe them.

There is a really bad Dean Martin version of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” that is overplayed on the local stations. My kids would laugh and say “don’t change the station” every time it came on because they knew it annoyed me – especially the German accent part – and because they knew that the ONLY acceptable version is by Gene Autry.  I change the station when it comes on now, not because the song is awful(it is!), but because I miss the good-natured joking that surrounded it.

And “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” has a story, too. When my daughter was little, she kept singing a song over and over. We couldn’t figure out what song it was….her lyrics were, well, different. “Does your llama, does your llama ever poo.” I don’t know how she got from a hippo to a llama – and the rest of the lyrics, well, they changed every time…only the llama and the poo remained the same. It wasn’t until she sang along with the radio in the car (yeah, we all do it), that we realized she had corrupted the hippo song. Now when I hear it on the radio, I smile and change the station before “Llama Poo” gets stuck in my head.

There are others, random songs, songs with mis-heard lyrics (for years I thought the werewolf of London had hair that was purple, not perfect!), that make me, not exactly sad, maybe “sentimental” is a better word. Not all of them remind me of my kids. A few remind me of friends now far away or passed away.

I’m sure some of the songs I sing in the car now on a regular basis will someday move into the category of “no longer fun”….in the meantime, I plan to sing them loud and work on my car choreography. If you see me, in the peep-mobile (that is what I call my yellow car – and a story for another day), singing and dancing, smile and drive on by – and if it’s a warm day and my windows are open, join in. It doesn’t matter if you know the words…I probably don’t know them either.

Truancy

I always got my daughter to school. She put on her uniform, took her morning meds, I pulled her into the car, and walked her into the building, if necessary. Her hair may have been messy, her shoes might not have been on, but she got there.

At her residential placements, they have much less success in this area than I had. An on-site school – and the facilities can’t make her go if she refuses. I am not suggesting that they drag her by her feet down the hall. Or bribe her – I wouldn’t want that either.

But there needs to be some way…If she had missed school at home as much as she has missed school at her various placements – I would have been charged for her truancy.

Explaining to her that she is just prolonging the school experience is not helpful – she has no concept of time. She cannot connect her behavior now with a later graduation date – this just not make any sense to her.

I don’t know what the answer is regarding her schooling. She will be the first in her bloodline to graduate from high school, if she finishes. I have always placed a high value on finishing high school – not on getting A’s, but on doing your best. There is no shame in any grade – if that grade is the best you can do.

Thoughts about being alone.

Alone is not the same as lonely. I am far more likely to feel lonely in a room full of people that when I am by myself.

Alone for me is quiet, restful. I read, knit or sew, watch an old movie (mostly Cary Grant or the Marx Brothers), old tv shows or cartoons (I love Dobie Gillis reruns – truth be told, I love Maynard), write letters, or work around the house – you may have noticed which one was listed last!

Since my son moved out, and my daughter is not at home, I am home alone a lot. It is quiet. There is ambient noise – I live near the highway and I often have my windows open. I have two dogs. But there is no yelling in my house. It is peaceful…maybe “calm” is a better word. The environment is calm and I am calm. I only recently realized how much I crave, need, the calm and quiet.

I am not afraid in my city neighborhood. This neighborhood is familiar…I grew up here…my parents grew up here. I know if I have an emergency, my neighbors are available. We don’t socialize, but when we are out and see each other – we stop and talk.

I am not a hermit. I work, I go to school, I meet friends for lunch, see my parents and sisters. Occasionally, I participate in a girls’ night out or see a friend for dinner. Many of my acquaintances, friends and family are talkers. Although I enjoy their company, time spent with them is NOT quiet. And at the end of the day, I am ready to go home.

Home. I like my home. It is cheerful, comfortable, and since I live alone, everything is my way. I set the furniture, which I picked out, in an arrangement that pleases me. No one else is here to offer an opinion or request a change. When I first started moving things around to suit myself, I had no idea how much I would enjoy that…Everything is my way.

And I cook what I want! I love tomatoes, onions, spicy food. Even for breakfast. There is no one here to object and no one here to request something different when I decide to eat the same main dish all week.

It made me wonder for awhile, whether or not I would ever want to live with anyone again…whether I could go back to the give-and-take of other people in the house. And, of course, that made me wonder if I even want to date at all; there is a risk that things could turn serious…

A recent experience made me realize that I might be willing to adapt – and it surprised me.

I was visiting my gentleman friend (yes, he is just my friend), having dinner, clearing the table, playing cards…it was very “domestic.” I realized, that despite my current contentment, this domesticity was something I missed. It shocked me that I felt that way. I made some excuse and hurried home. I needed to think about that. I am still thinking about that….8 weeks later.

Death of Perry

While my daughter was away, our first dog, Perry, had to be put down. That was a hard day; he had been a faithful dog.

Perry was bought as a puppy to be a watchdog, a protector for our family. I put bars on my downstairs windows for safety – not to keep burglars out, but to keep Perry in. I was afraid he would go through the window after an animal or human who was walking by. He did not like anyone to come in the house. Or in view of our house. It didn’t matter if they were friend or foe – this was HIS house, HIS territory, and he did not like anyone outside of our family here. I could not open the front windows or blinds because anyone walking where he could see, was in HIS territory.

He would stand up on his hind legs when I answered the door. He was taller than me when he stood like that…but he didn’t like the feel of the screen on his paws and wouldn’t touch the door. He just stood tetering on his hind legs and growled. He scared annoying door to door salesmen/solicitors off of the porch every time, by looking them straight in the eye.

Perry was handsome. His coloring, his proportions, were beautiful. He was a boxer mix with a crazy row of fur down his back. We wondered if his unknown father was a Rhodesian Ridgeback. That crazy fur stood up whenever he was upset. It made him look dangerous.

Fearing he would escape, I had a fenced area – six foot high – constructed outside my back door. That way my kids would not have to try to hook him to a chain. He was 100# and very strong. The tall fence and ‘beware of dog’ sign did a lot to make us feel safe. No one would see that tall fence, hear that bass-voice bark and break into our house. No one. I used to say he reminded me of the creature in “Alien” – the way he showed his teeth.

As ferocious as he appeared, he was really a big baby. He hid under the dining table when it thundered, or when Tori threw a tantrum.

I called him ‘laundry dog’ because he used to follow me down to the basement and wait there while I started the next load. He followed me everywhere around the house.

He had a big vocabulary. He seemed to understand clearly all my verbal commands. He didn’t always obey them, but I have no doubt he understood them.

Perry loved the kids. He laid outside the bedroom doors when I went to work early, just waiting for the kids to rise. He was not crate trained – we had a big dog crate when he was little, but he ate it. Yes, Perry ate the ASPCA-approved crate.

We joked that he was part goat. He ate everything near the floor – toys(you may recall that I referenced the Barbie massacre in an earlier post), crayons, my son’s birthday money (my son had dropped it- we were, thankfully, able to retrieve enough pieces to replace all $100 at the bank), Christmas ornaments that he would jiggle off the tree – yes, even glass ones. We bought him big cow leg bones to chew – he would grind them right up. Nothing upset his stomach.

He did NOT chew my furniture or try to sit on the human chairs, but we bought him a used giant ottoman to sleep on. We also made him a denim bed out of old jeans that we called the ‘mutt butt.’

An end table that he had used as a hiding place as a puppy had to be retired because he kept trying to hide there as a full-grown dog – his rear end was too big and he would knock over the table.

When we first noticed the growth on his front leg, we didn’t think too much of it. It didn’t seem to hurt, it was not in a spot that could be operated on easily – so we just watched it. At the vet’s suggestion, we made him wear a sleeve – my daughter’s old turtlenecks, adding padding (kotex) to the sleeve as necessary. The neighbor kids thought it was hilarious that this big ferocious dog wore pink shirts. They would have cracked up if they knew he was wearing kotex!

When his growth became painful, another trip to the vet – the suggested cure was amputation of his leg. Perry never learned to lift his leg to pee – whenever he tried, he tipped over. I did not see how, with his really broad chest, just one leg up front was going to work for him. I thought the kinder thing to do was to put him down.

It was a sad day. My sister tagged along to keep me company. The pound will put down a sick dog down for a very reasonable fee, so that is where we went. When we took him in, he was very scared of the other dogs, who were barking. This was out of character for him; he was obviously not feeling well. Feeling sorry for him, the worker kindly led him to where they keep the the little puppies to await his fate. He was only 6 years old.

Off the rails.

It’s a roller coaster.

My daughter’s behavior has gone off the rails again. She had been doing pretty well in school, participating in therapy, obeying the rules….then the progress suddenly stopped and we plummeted downward.

This is a recurring pattern:  Make progress. Slide backwards. Rinse. Repeat.

I don’t know why the progress only continues for short spurts. I don’t know why she suddenly decides to bite someone or throw a table. The reality is – it happens. There isn’t any excuse for the sudden and outrageous behavior shift. My daughter would like to blame someone else for triggering her outburst – but she is the one who is behaving badly. My daughter would like to do as she pleases without any consequenses – after all, she is a teenager.

There are times when you can look at her and see that she can’t help herself, can’t control her reactions. She simply loses it.

There are other times when her actions are clearly calculated….if you have enough wherewithal to walk upstairs and rip the wallpaper in MY room, this is NOT the same as flailing about and ripping the wallpaper where you happened to be standing when you lost control of your temper.

I struggle with identifying that self-control line sometimes. I want my daughter to be as responsible and well-behaved as possible. Where the line is clear – I do not cut her any slack: If you angrily destroy your own toy, it does not get replaced. If you angrily destroy someone else’s property, you need to replace it. In my head, I can hear her saying “that’s not fair.” She has a thing about ‘fair.’ The problem is, her definition of ‘fair’ is fluid and self-serving. Not to mention, life is just not fair!

I hope she gets back on the rails soon. I would like her to finish school on time. And, selfishly, I would like to avoid another disruption in our visitation schedule.

Rules

There is a reason for those rules.

When my son was little there were two Saturday morning rules: Do not go downstairs naked and do not answer the door. These rules allowed my husband and I to sleep in a little on Saturday mornings.

One Saturday morning, I heard my 4 year old son go downstairs and turn on the tv. Back then, there were appropriate cartoons on for kids on Saturdays. I rolled over and decided to enjoy a little more sleep.

A short time later I heard little legs running upstairs and a little voice yelling ‘Mom, Dad!’

My son had disobeyed the two rules – he had gone downstairs naked, and he had answered the door. Seeing strangers standing there(it was door-to-door Jehovah Witnesses), my son became afraid and ran upstairs to get us. I think the strangers were probably as scared as he was.

I don’t believe we had to remind him about the two rules ever again.

Olive Garden

Olive Garden – no restaurant has been as accommodating to my daughter’s quirks (plain pasta, meatball and sauce on separate plates).

I always tip REALLY well when a server at any restaurant accommodates us, which I am glad to do.

My daughter has learned from watching me that if you ask nicely, servers will help you. And if they can, they will do what you ask.

Sometimes, what she asks is, “Will it look like the picture?” Sometimes she will just say, “Mom, will you explain how I want it?” If she is feeling good, confident and comfortable, she is more likely to express her preferences herself. I encourage her to address server the directly, but I follow her cues – if she is visibly nervous, anxious – or having some word confusion – I offer to step in to help.

We tend to frequent the same restaurants, family friendly ones, because she has trouble deciding what she wants if there are too many choices.

Her brother has set a good example, too. He is always generous and polite to wait staff.  She is always watching to see how he does things – she wants to be like him,

17 year cicadas.

My daughter hates bugs: spiders, bees – anything with 6 or 8 legs. Mosquitoes will make her hysterical.

Lightning bugs! There was no explanation that could satisfy her when she noticed them (age 6 – before then, her bedtime was early enough that she just didn’t see them.) She just ran and screamed. And screamed, in her room, well into the night. She did eventually out-grow this fear.

A gnat made her try to exit the car on the highway – thank goodness for the child-safe latches on my car. To this day, there is no bug scarier to her than a gnat.

When the 17 year cicadas came out, I was not sure what to expect. The noise from these creatures was deafening. It made me think of the roar of the ocean. We had an overnight visit scheduled and I was not sure how she would handle the noise. I played the radio in the car to mask the noise a little. A couple of them hit the windshield – that was disgusting to both of us. One of them landed on the passenger-side, outside mirror. That guy was hanging on for dear life. My daughter was fascinated by this giant bug. Apparently, bugs are scary inverse to their size!

She asked me what we would do if the cicada was still on the mirror when we arrived at the restaurant. I assured her that he couldn’t possibly hang on for thirty miles and I calmly added that I would get out and kill him if he did. She surprised me – she didn’t want me to kill it – just brush it away, so we agreed this was the plan. Thirty miles later – he was still there! When I slid the car into park, he flew away. I guess he was hungry for Olive Garden, too. Olive Garden – more about that in the next post.

The Really Big Preschool

When my daughter was 4, I sent her to a private preschool. It met in an old church with a lovely playground, next to the churchyard cemetery. My daughter enjoyed her time there very much and the teachers were very good with her. Once she was school-aged, she would comment about the preschool every time we drove by.

One day were driving in another part of town. We drove past a very large cemetery that covered many acres, Holy Cross, on the south side of the city. My daughter, seeing the endless rows of headstones, turned and said to me, “Mom, that is a really big preschool!”

She hadn’t realized that the preschool’s churchyard cemetery had a purpose other than offering a buffer between the classroom and the playground. When I explained what the cemetery was actually for, she didn’t want to believe me. She was sad that so many people had passed away. My daughter can be very compassionate – she understands what it is to miss someone who has passed away – and she felt sad that so many families had felt that pain.

Christmas can be hard

Christmas can be hard, or at least strange, when you have a child at a residential facility.

As a family, we had wonderful, if overwhelming, Christmases when my children were small. While the days of, and after, the celebrations with extended family were sometimes just too much for my daughter to take in, the feeling of love and the anticipation were wonderful…even for her. She has never doubted she was and is well-loved.

When my son left for basic training, Christmas was somewhat subdued, without him here at home.

The next year, he was home, but my daughter was in a residential facility placement. He and I traveled to spend Christmas day in the cafeteria of the facility, with other families and their children celebrating at other tables. I’m not sure I can adequately explain to you the strangeness of it all. This was not a Norman Rockwell Christmas! The three of us could celebrate together…. but that in itself was part of the strangeness: our extended family was not there!

This facility reminded me of visiting a friend in the mental health ward at an adult hospital. At this facility, and I want to stress that the facility was clean, caring, and safe – the staff were WONDERFUL – there were very rigid rules about what we could bring my daughter. When you arrived, you locked up your purse and phone and you could not take in food or drink. These rules were for client safety, as well as the safety of staff; rules necessary because some visitors – adults – do not use or have any common sense. Some of the gift restrictions were: no aerosols, no glass, no shoestrings or drawstrings, no metal – this includes staples in books, spiral notebooks – you get the idea – nothing that can be fashioned into a weapon or device to harm others or yourself.

When my daughter opened her presents(toys, clothes and books), we used a sharpie to put her name on each item – like you would at a nursing home. Tags and some of the packaging had been remove before we wrapped them. We shared ham, scalloped potatoes, and dessert, provided by the cafeteria. My son and I stayed and visited the allowed two hours and headed home.

Did I mention it was a 2+ hour drive each way? Over the course of her two-year stay at this facility, I made the trip at least 110 times. Sometimes alone, sometimes with my son or sisters(they took turns). On a very few occasions, her behavior was deemed safe enough to take her out. We would go out to eat, go to the salon, and maybe pick up an item she needed at Gabe’s or the mall. Whether or not she could go out, I never missed a visit. If my daughter can’t be home, I have made and will make every effort to see her as often as possible.

Her current placement is slightly different – better for her needs – farther away. I will write about this placement, and Christmas there, in another post.

The ‘f’word

 

I mentioned in a previous post that we don’t swear in my house. That post made me think of a fifth grade incident with my son.

He came home from school and told me, “I know what the ‘f’word is.” My heart sank. I had tried so hard to protect him from the vulgarities spray-painted on a nearby bridge. Was it for nothing?

“It’s ‘fart,’ he said.

To my very great credit, I did not laugh. I told him that was not a nice word, and I did not want to hear him say it again. Even now, years later, when I am typing this, I am smiling ear-to-ear.

It wasn’t until high school that he came home and told me, “Mom, the f’word’ isn’t ‘fart,’ you know.” I told him I was aware. He shook his head and walked away. There must have been some interesting conversation at school that day!

Because she’s going to kill me.

Cluster. That is what the juvenile court calls the gathering of all the county agencies that deal with children. Imagine going into a room of strangers – twelve strangers – who work for various county agencies. They are gathered to decide what is going to happen to your daughter after her first domestic violence charge.

They look at you like you are an alien creature – this is not a friendly crowd. There is some chatter, then one looks at you and says, “I don’t understand why this girl just can’t go home.”

I thought before I spoke. They had all seen the reports and they had the files in front of them – I was surprised by this comment. Because it was winter, I was wearing a jacket and long-sleeved shirt. I slipped off my jacket and pushed up my sleeves. My arms were covered with deep scabbed-over scratches. I heard some gasps; then I spoke. “Because she is going to kill me.”

A stay (30 days) at a local behavioral facility was arranged/ordered by the court.

This was the first of several stays at various facilities. There will be posts about them all, but I want to make two points here; (1) I feel she received good care at each of the facilities and I am very grateful she received help, (2) She would not have been admitted to any of them without children’s services and juvenile court involvement.

About swearing

I don’t swear. I will say ‘crap’ or ‘darn’ or, if  I was  really mad, I may have said  ‘half-assed.’ That is as wild as language gets in my house.

My daughter learned to swear like a sailor. In fact, she has called me things that would make a sailor blush. Where did she hear them? Who knows. The school bus? The Behavioral Health unit? We don’t have cable. My extended family doesn’t swear. I really don’t know where she learned those ugly words.

My son, at 21, said to me, “Mom, if I said those words, you would wash my mouth out with soap.” I told him he was right. I would. And I added that I knew he wouldn’t bite me. (My daughter would bite me. She did on many occasions – not because I tried to wash her mouth out with soap.)

Sometimes my daughter aimed those ugly words at my son. He never responded in kind. He would go for a walk or a drive until he (and she) cooled down. In this situation, I am proud to say, he reacted with a maturity beyond his years.

What if I don’t come?

I tend to look on the bright side of things. I am optimistic by nature. But there have been very  dark days here in our family, and I won’t sugarcoat them for you.

On a visit to the behavioral health emergency unit at the local children’s hospital, one of many, I asked the nurse, “What happens if I don’t come when they bring my daughter in?”
She replied, “You have to come.”
“What if I don’t?”
“You have to.”
“What if I don’t?” I asked a little louder.
“Then we have to call children’s services.”
“Ok. That’s what I wanted to know.” Now I had a plan. A plan of last resort.

I should back up a little.

The first time the police took her to the hospital – let’s abbreviate the behavioral health emergency unit “BHEU” – the nurses fussed over my daughter and got her whatever she wanted from the food service: Pizza and chicken nuggets. I’m sure it was the most expensive meal my daughter ever ate.

The next time the police or ambulance transported my daughter to the hospital, I took the policeman aside and asked, “What’s the point, they are just going to feed her and release her.” I described the first visit to the BHEU and the policeman assured me that it would be different this time. I don’t know what he said to the hospital staff, but they never fed her again. But they didn’t admit her, either.

“It’s a chronic behavioral problem.” Duh! Did they think I didn’t know that??? I was living it!

Asthma is chronic. When patients have a crisis, they can be admitted. Apparently that is not true for mental health patients. I know it has become popular to say “behavioral health” instead of “mental health.” That does not change what it is.

My daughter routinely received a shot of benedryl and haloperidol (or other heavy-duty drug) when they took her in to the BHEU, restrained, fighting and screaming obscenities and threatening those around her. Sometimes it would take two shots to quiet her down. The paramedics would not transport her without a police officer, because it wasn’t safe. The police always came out to deal with her in pairs – The police in our city usually ride alone.

Despite the violence of her episodes, she was never admitted. I asked if the BHEU could check other facilities – to see if some other facility would evaluate her or admit her for treatment. She needed help. They went through the motions, but the answer was always, “No.” No facility would admit her. This happened both before and after she was diagnosed as autistic. This happened despite her medicaid coverage – and this is important – medicaid has NEVER denied her any service. The BHEU’s just didn’t see she needed the care.

They would say to me, “She is calm now, you can take her home.”

That’s how I got to the point of asking the question, “What if I don’t come?” I thought if I didn’t come, they would have to admit her. Instead of not showing up at the hospital and having the hospital call children’s services because I wasn’t there – I showed up and then had them call. This time, the last time, I went to BHEU, when they said, “She is calm now, you can take her home.”  I said “No, she can’t come home. It isn’t safe.” And I waited there for the social worker to come and talk to me.

After that, I went home and spent eight hours cleaning up the mess she had made in her room. Broken walls. Broken toys. Broken furniture. There was very little left in her room that wasn’t broken.

Clowns are NEVER a good idea.

Full disclosure – I do not like clowns. I like the Three Stooges – but I wouldn’t enjoy that physical humor if they were wearing white greasepaint. I don’t watch scary movies, so I haven’t been influenced by that – I just don’t like the way they look.

When my daughter attended Headstart, the end of year picnic included a clown. Now this clown was a man that helped on the transport bus, a nice man, a man my daughter liked, but a man that did not usually have his face all painted up.

The screaming started when she saw his face. We walked away from the activities and waited inside. She was hanging on me like an octopus on a fish. I don’t believe I gave her the fear or dislike of clowns – I don’t think I reacted to that clown at all, since I recognized him – I even tried to explain that it was just Mr. Helper with his face made up. But she was NOT buying it. We ended up leaving the picnic celebration early.

My daughter had similar reactions to Santa, the local baseball team mascot, a Hokey Pokey Elmo doll and the robot rat at Chucky Cheese.

Chucky Cheese. That is not the place to take someone with sensory issues, I know. My daughter had so desperately wanted to go to the birthday party of a classmate – and it was at Chucky Cheese. So we went. As long as the automaton Chucky was not singing – she was ok. But anytime that robot rat started talking and singing, she stopped playing and ran to me. Of course, I was never very far away from her because I needed to keep an eye on her to keep her from wandering off. Overall, the party was a success. The fallout after – well it was like the day after Christmas – exitement withdrawal.

She has largely outgrown her fear of mascots, battery operated dolls and Chucky – but clowns? No, I don’t think I will take her to see a clown anytime soon.

Christmas Overload

My family and my ex-husband’s family are Christmas crazy. The grandmas in our family go WAY overboard with presents and food. So do the aunts and uncles.

Because of this, Christmas seemed to last for days. Days of disrupted schedules (although we did our best to keep the schedule as normal as possible) changes in diet, too. And excitement. Did I mention the unbearable level of excitement?

My daughter would do ok through the exciting holiday celebrations. But on the day after Christmas – well, it was not pretty. It was like excitement withdrawal. I don’t know how else to explain it. It made the holidays less enjoyable for me, knowing I would have to deal with the fall out.

As my daughter has gotten older, it has gotten better, the fallout less intense. It encourages me to hope that she will experience developmental improvements in other areas, too.

Reflections

There was a period of time when my daughter was afraid of reflections. Not a direct look in the mirror – no she liked looking at herself in a mirror. She liked that a lot.

What frightened her was the distorted image in a window (back then some of our windows still had old wavy glass), or in the glass over a picture on the wall. Even a reflection in a shiny, chrome-like toy upset her. I’m not sure exactly what it was that frightened her so; the distortion? the movement she saw when she walked past it? She could never really articulate what she was afraid of, but she was obviously afraid. This started about the time she outgrew her crib and it happened more frequently at night.

The solution was easy. In her room, the curtains hung down over the glass windows. The posters and photos in her room had the glass removed. Shiny toys could be scuffed up a little so they no longer shone. Additionally, I got her a bed tent. The first one was a little flimsy one I picked up at Christmas-time. It helped a lot.

When she outgrew that tent, I constructed a larger one; a large rectangle, longer than her bed, high enough for her to sit up in bed. The supports were pvc pipe and the tent sides and roof were old sheets. It was NOT beautiful, but it was functional, economical and sturdy, and until she outgrew her fear of shiny, reflective things, it served us well.

Scheduling

I am adaptable.

When my former husband worked nights, I adjusted to his schedule.
When my son was born, I adjusted to his schedule.
When my son started school, I adjusted again.

My daughter’s schedules were constantly changing – different appointments, preschool, naps – all integrated with my son’s and husband’s schedules.

When I went back to work, there was another schedule to add.

I still have to consider other people when I schedule my time. But less, much less. I am still working – at least for another year and a half. My daughter’s facility schedules weekend visits and calls only – so on those days I have to consider her schedule. My parents are starting to need more of my time and I’ll be adapting again.

One thing I have learned – No matter what changes come, I have to schedule some time for myself. Oddly enough, this is the scheduling that has been most difficult for me to do. I have to give some thought to why that is!

Where’s your mommy

One day, when my daughter was still my foster child, I took her to the county offices to have a supervised visit with her birth mother. My daughter was more than a year old. As I did with all my foster children, I took a camera to the visit to take a picture of mother and child (before cell phone camera days) and told the mother I would bring copies of the photo to her. This is one of only two photos we have of Birth Mother. The other photo, which she gave me to keep, was taken in a bar – with some rather inappropriate signage in the background.

Birth Mother loved her child very much, but due to her own developmental, substance abuse and mental health issues, she could not care for her child. Birth Mother was homeless. She had unrealistic expectations, no experience with children and no family to guide or support her. She was an adult, but seemed much younger.

As I was leaving the two of them alone with a social worker, I heard Birth Mother say, ‘Where’s your mommy, point to your mommy.” I looked back to see my daughter pointing at me, not Birth Mother. This was not the answer Birth Mother wanted. This was the last time she came to see my daughter.

My daughter was right, I have always been her mommy, the one who took care of her. The one who stayed at the hospital with her when she had RSV. The one who took her to appointments. The one who read to her and tucked her in at night. The one who did all the things that mommies are supposed to do. But I couldn’t help feeling sad for Birth Mother.

The Food Machine

When my daughter was a toddler, she was VERY chubby. When she turned sideways, you couldn’t see her cute little nose because of her big cheeks. She was already very chubby when she came to stay with us at just seven months old… wearing 24 month size clothes. She was never flabby, or suffered from poor muscle tone – she was just chubby.

Because she was so chubby, and so very cute, clerks were always trying to give her food.

One day at McDonald’s, the clerk gave her a box of animal crackers on the house. She gave my son one, too.

My son made this very loud announcement about his sister: “Mom, she’s a food machine!”

She slimmed down considerably once she started walking at about age 2, and has been at a healthy weight since. Still really, really cute. But no longer a food machine.

The make up incident!

Sometimes my daughter’s logic makes me laugh. I am not laughing at her – I laugh at myself because I can follow the logic she used to make a decision.

My daughter started getting body hair at around 10 years old. I encouraged her to shave her armpits when they became quite hairy – I did not want anyone making fun of her when she went sleeveless. Let’s face it – kids can be mean. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. I offered assistance, Nair, an electric razor – but she couldn’t decide. I told her to think about it and let me know.

A short time later, I went up to check on her and I could smell a familiar scent. It was Cover Girl makeup. My makeup. I asked what she was doing and she showed me. She had taken my pale foundation and spread it all over her dark brown armpits. “It covers stuff you don’t want someone to see, right?” she asked. Well, I understood her logic, but the make up did NOT make her armpit hair disappear. It just made the hair sort of pink. (When she was little she told me, “I’m chocolate and you are bologna.” That really is a pretty accurate description of our colors.)

We settled on a compromise: no shaving – short sleeves, not tank tops – and an old t-shirt over her swimsuit.

Oh, and since she had put the make up on her pits sort of like you put on roll-on deodorant, I threw it out. At the time, I couldn’t afford to replace it…so she did me a favor: I stopped wearing so much makeup, and never went back to it.

My Crazy Taste (part 2)

My house is not only colorful it is comfortable and quiet. My retreat. I had been working at getting the house just the way I like it for some time, when I had an epiphany.

I was talking with a friend. He told me he was very intentional about the image he presented. It dawned on me that I could choose how I present myself just like I choose how my house looks! This honestly had never occurred to me!

For many years, I bought a lot of my clothing at thrift stores. I still do. But now I consider how I want to look, what I really like – not just what fits and is appropriate for work, or what someone else likes. I like color, bright color. I have a little color blindness, maybe that is why. When the colors are bright, I see them clearly. Maybe that is why I prefer red in my house. For many years I wore navy or black dress slacks with print blouses and unconstructed jackets. Loafers or low heeled dress shoes. Conservative and very boring.

What I really like is jeans. I am still conservative – everything that should be covered still is, but I like jeans, peasant style blouses, flowing scarves and bright colors. Vintage purses. Comfortable shoes. I had quit wearing jewelry when my daughter was home(I never did wear very much). It isn’t safe to wear a necklace when someone will try to choke you with it or a bracelet when some one will twist your arm with it. But I like jewelry; not expensive jewelry. Costume jewelry. Gaudy, big, bright and jingly. When I am wearing a charm bracelet, I feel like I am wearing windchimes. The sound makes me feel happy.

My clothing choices are now just as crazy as my choices decorating my home. I have never been happier, more confident about the way I look.

My crazy taste.

I know many people who have modern streamlined tastes, great rooms and open floor plans; a few who love antiques, or old-fashioned furniture and decor. I don’t know anyone who shares my my eclectic (I think crazy is a better word to describe it) decorating taste…maybe Fred Sanford – do you remember Sanford and Son? That is my living room furniture/style, only in red, rather than avacado green.

When I was married, my then husband preferred matching; pairs of lamps, sofa and loveseat(same fabric pattern) and drapes. He liked dark hunter green. I made the house look nice within those confines. Back then, it was more important to me that HE liked it. I am a person who finds it easy to be content – and it never bothered me, that the style wasn’t my own.

When it was just me and my kids, the house was set up to be convenient. A door on the kitchen to keep the dogs out and to afford some separate spaces for homework. Some things had to be stored away in order to be safe with my daughter. There had to be alarms on the doors. I had too much to do to consider just what would please me as far as decor went. I replaced things that got broken with found furniture or thrift store/yard sale bargains; function and safety were always more important than form.

Decorating my house the way I like it has become some kind of weird self-care.

Now that I live alone, everything is MY way. (Almost everything, my son is still storing stuff in his old bedroom and the basement!) I like red, so there is a lot of it. I have a beaded curtain in the doorway – because I like it. I hang items on the wall that make me smile….things that remind me of places and people I love, and who love(d) me: I have a toy piano in the living room – my aunt brought it home on a bus in a snow storm. She did that just for me. The toy train my uncle bought lives on my window sill. I have a lot of cardinal birds(our local high school team ). I have a deer head on my living room wall – not a real one, although I would like one – but a stuffed animal deer head that a friend picked up at a garage sale, because it made her think of me; I smile whenever I see it. I have old things that were my grandma’s or her sister’s; old photos, old needlework. I have porcelain enameled tables in the kitchen, with vintage linens to use when a friend comes for dinner. I have old fashioned rugs on the floors, with a plan to refinish the hardwood underneath when I retire. I frame and hang my children’s artwork.

The style reflects me, only me, and it is extremely comfortable and cheerful. I never imagined I would enjoy the kind of freedom of expression that I currently have in my home.

Say “Thank you.”

I look for the good in people and circumstances.  I am genuinely thankful – for friends, my biological family and my church family.  Is everyone helpful to me ALL the time? of course not. I’m sure I am not always helpful to them either! But by and large, they have my back. And when I look back over my life, I see a lot of things that people did for me that were helpful to me. Often I didn’t know at the time that their kind words, advice, or actions would impact me later in my life.

Two years ago I participated in a personal thankfulness project.  It was not a stretch for me – I routinely write thank you notes to people for all kinds of things.  But this project changed my life. It started out as a way to thank some teachers, some old friends, some new friends, acquaintances and even a bailiff at the domestic court, for their help during some very difficult times.

The bailiff is a good example. On what  until that time was the worst day of my life, he did more than was required to help me navigate the mysteries of the county courthouse. I didn’t even think to ask his name, I was so frazzled at the time.  I went back to the courthouse eight years later and found him. I shook his hand and thanked him for his help. At that time he didn’t remember me.  I suspect he is kind a lot, and I was just another case coming across his desk.  But he remembers me now: Last time I was at the courthouse, he said, “I know you – you’re the thank you lady.” Apparently no one thinks to say thanks.  Thankfulness matters.

I ran into a classmate at a my 40th high school reunion.  This classmate, who I didn’t know well, had done something very kind for me when I was in high school.  I never forgot it – it was not something big, just kind at a time when I needed someone to be kind.  When I said ‘thank you,’ at the reunion, it was the beginning of a friendship; a friendship that would not otherwise have developed.

And it’s not just ‘thank you.’  All of our words, AND our actions matter.  Somewhere across your path today, someone is having a bad day, going through struggles you may not recognize – do the kind thing. Say a kind word, be nice, it matters so much more than you realize.  And if you think of someone who shared some kindness with you, thank them. No matter how much time has passed, thank them.

 

Yesterday, A Long Time Ago

 

Sometimes the way my daughter describes things is just lovely.

Yesterday, a long time ago.

Because she has no concept of time, she calls everything in the past ‘yesterday.’ Yesterday could mean, well, yesterday, but it might also mean last week, last month, or when she was a baby.

Having no concept of time has helped her adjust to residential care. When she said to me, ‘I’ve been here a really long time,’ I held my breath. Was she aware that it was almost two years?
‘I’ve been here years, no months, no weeks. Yeah, weeks! I’ve been here weeks!’ ‘Weeks’ was the biggest unit of time she can imagine.

Having no concept of time meant that time outs were not helpful. Having no concept of time made bedtime a problem in the summer when it was light until 9:30pm. Having no concept of time meant that and hour or four hours at the local library were the same to her. “No, mom, we just got here.”

How many opticians does it take…

How many opticians does it take….

This is not a joke. I love to read. I read the paper, I read books. I read everyday. And I wear glasses – bifocals.

I am blessed to have coverage through Medicaid – they pay for my eye exams and glasses. My eyeglass fashion choices are limited, but that’s ok, I’m very grateful for the glasses.

My daughter knows I like to read, and knows I need my glasses to do so. She knows I value them, take care of them. So when she became angy at me and wanted to hurt me, she grabbed my glasses – and threw them out the window of our car – on the highway.

I had her pay for a new pair with her birthday money. She was miffed. A few weeks later she was angry at me again. This time she grabbed my glasses and bent them into a little mound that looked like a scissors. I started wearing readers from the dollar store….I kept my new replacement glasses out of her reach, wearing them at work.

Glasses are not the only thing she has intentionally destroyed. The list is very long – window screens, our front door, my bedroom wallpaper, the dishwasher, the oven, fans, furniture, jewelry, pictures and the walls in her room. Just typing the list makes me sad; not because my stuff was destroyed, but because this was such a horrible time for our family. Stressful, scary, disrupted, dangerous – all these words apply.

 

Enough

My daughter has no concept of enough. I don’t know if it is related to the lack of number sense or something else.

But there is no satisfaction in her – there is never enough. Whatever she has, she wants more. Whatever she doesn’t have, she wants…and wants more. It is not a matter of being ungrateful – it is something bigger. Something I have a hard time understanding.

She could never understand Goldilock’s declaration: This one is just right.

It makes me sad that she doesn’t experience contentment.

She has a hard time, too, with the concepts of more or less, bigger or smaller, nearer or farther, above and below.  I think that not understanding  these concepts is all related for her – but I am not sure how.

How do you make someone understand “enough?”

The evil that is math.

Not that I think math is REALLY evil – I am a bookkeeper – I use math successfully all the time.

But my autistic daughter –

Number sense is what they call it. My daughter doesn’t have it.

At seventeen, she cannot tell time, make change, keep track of days on a calendar, add, or subtract. The numbers just do not mean a thing to her.

Whenever a teacher or tutor suggested a method, we tried it. It just doesn’t connect for her. At least not yet. I will always remain hopeful that one day, basic math will just come together for her.

In fact, I imagine that one day my daughter will ask, ‘Mom, why didn’t you tell me…..?’ and I’ll have to wonder why I didn’t explain it that one way that she was able to understand.

 

UEN is here.

Unexpected Empty Nest – If you asked me ten years ago about being an empty nester, I would have said, “Never gonna happen. My daughter will always be at home.”

Now, I find myself living alone. And loving it. Most of the time.

It’s not that I disliked having my children here. Not at all. I just always felt you raised your children to be independent, self-supporting adults.

Like my son. He works hard and takes care of himself, and has done so since he graduated from high school.

It has been apparent to me for some time that it would not be that way with my daughter.

My daughter needs constant supervision. She needs more than I could ever provide here at home. So she is away at a school/residential facility and headed for a group home after. I will be retiring right around the time she graduates from high school. It is highly unlikely that I would outlive her – I am an older mom; I was 36 when my son was born and 43 when my daughter came to stay – so an independent living situation is in her best interest. Still it is hard to have her away.

But living here alone has made me think….about what I want. What I want! That has been the lowest priority on my list for a long time. Now it is suddenly at the top of the list. What do I want?

Our local university has a 60+ progam. When you are 60 or older, you can audit classes for free. So I am going back to school for my own enjoyment. Learning new things, keeping my mind active. Survey of Economics is my first class; it’s a good start. School is fun without the pressure of exams and homework.

Other changes will come, too. Maybe dating. I have a gentleman friend(both of those words carry equal weight). Maybe I am ready for something more.

And my house. My colorful, eclectic house – I decorate to suit myself, only myself, now that I live alone. There will be more about that in another post.

How did she learn to read?

You have to understand, I always read to my kids. Goodnight Moon, Dr. Seuss, all the usual books. I read a lot. I read enthusiastically, with all the funny voices, pointing at the pictures. The whole bit.

My son and my daughter both started reading in kindergarten. They were always among the better readers(aloud) in their classes.

One day, on the way home from school – third grade, my daughter says to me, “Mom, why didn’t you ever tell me the pictures go with the words?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. And the answer was horrifying to me. My daughter, to whom I read so often, had never understood that the pictures in the books went with the words. I pointed at the pictures, I asked her questions about the pictures, but I had never said outright, “Daughter, these pictures go with the story I am reading to you.” And she had not been able to make that connection herself.

While I was horrified that she had not understood that the pictures went with the words, this gave me some insight into how she thinks/understands things. And it made me realize that I needed to explain things to her VERY directly.

For the life of me, I can’t understand how she learned to read.

If you asked her to read aloud to you today (she is 17), she would read with the correct inflection, pronounce every word correctly, even words she doesn’t know or hasn’t seen before. I would bet you that her reading aloud would sound better than the reading aloud of most of the adults you know. But she would understand very little of it. She would understand any direct statements – but if there is something suggested – she will miss it. Neighbors complaining about barking, in a story, would not make her understand that there is a dog in the story, because the dog wasn’t mentioned, only the barking.

“Well, that was unusual” – a victory

My daughter is loud. She is the loudest person I have ever met. When she was little, I went to my neighbors and said, ‘if you hear her screaming, and you will, please feel free to come over and check on her, or call the police – whatever you feel is the right thing for you to do.’

She is also often loud out in public – as every parent knows, loudness will be in direct relation to the importance of being quiet.

For example, we were invited not to come back to the library in a neighboring town, after my daughter had to be carried out under my arm, screaming bloody murder because she wanted more books. And when our congregation moved into a new church building, she could be heard screaming, ‘they’re everywhere, spiders are everywhere!’ when she saw the sprinkler heads on the ceiling. To her credit, sprinkler heads do kind of look like spiders.

And then there are the embarrassing questions, asked at the top of their little lungs. ‘Mommy, why does that lady have a beard?” (Man with a ponytail gives me a mean look.)

It took a lot of coaching and reminding to get her to wait until we were in the car, doors closed, before asking any questions that might hurt someone’s feelings. But we had a victory here!

We were at a store south of town when a van of little people, six or seven of them, dressed in Amish or Mennonite garb, parks next to our car as we are walking out of the store. I am waiting for a loud, rude question – but nothing is said. Once we are in the car and the doors are closed, my daughter says, ‘Well, that was unusual!” I asked if she had any questions about little people, or plain people. We had a nice question and answer session about both subjects. And I thanked her for waiting until the car doors were closed to ask the questions.

Her response – “Mom! I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.”  Victory!

The Rice Krispie Suit

Fifth grade was a bad year for us. Puberty added a whole new set of problems and behavior issues.

One particularly bad morning, my daughter did not want to go to school. I had to make her go – you see, there is this idea she has: If she gets away with something once, she expects to get away with it every time. There is no going back; no reclaiming authority if you give her a break. I used to introduce myself to her grade school teachers and say, “I am her mom. I want you to understand you cannot let her get away with anything. If you do, you will never get it back. Do not cut her any slack.” Most of them listened; the one who didn’t – well, let’s just say that was a VERY bad year.

But back to that one morning – My daughter sat down on the kitchen floor. I asked her if she was going to walk to the car or be carried to the car. She grabbed the box of Rice Krispies off the table, dumped it on the floor and rolled in it. Her black school uniform was covered. Her hair(that was a bad hair day!) was covered. I think there were even Rice Krispies in her shoes.

I really think she thought that I wouldn’t take her to school looking like that…but I did. I walked her into school, told her teacher it had been a bad morning. The teacher kindly said ‘I’ve seen  worse.’ She took my daughter by the hand and said, ‘let’s get you cleaned up.’ This event was near the end of her regular schooling. Shortly after that, my daughter was recommended for home instruction because she had become too difficult to manage in a classroom.

I had her get up everymorning, put on her school uniform and took her to work with me. My employer was so helpful – allowing me to bring her along. I worked part-time at a church, so I parked her in the youth room to nap, read or draw while I worked my four hour shift. All the doors at the church have chimes – so I didn’t have to worry about her running out a back or side door.

Home instruction meant she was with me all day, everyday, save 2 hours in the afternoon, four days a week, when a teacher would work with her one-on-one. Often, I would just sit in my car and nap during that time – I had to stay nearby in case there was a problem with her behavior.

I had her evaluated again during that time – she had not yet been diagnosed as autistic – despite sensory issues, pervasive developmental problems – she always tested just a litte too high. It would take a domestic violence incident, juvenile court / jail, and a six-month stay at a residential behavoral unit to finally get the autism diagnosis. This was just the beginning of a very bad time for our family.

Hair care

I am white and have long straight hair. My adopted daughter is black and has very curly, very thick hair. It is the kind of hair that some folks would call “bad hair.’ Not me. I think her hair is lovely.

My daughter has a beautiful, dark face, gorgeous eyes, dimples, perfect skin and a contageous smile. If I looked like her, I would have my hair cut extremely short and wear it natural. Sometimes she does that now. She has her own sense of style – and it is really good. I take her to a salon when I can; she likes having her hair washed in the sink. I hold her hand, sometimes she  wants me to – it can be scary. But I let her tell the stylist what she likes and wants, like any other teenager would do.

When she was little, I braided her hair, styled it, bought hundreds of barrettes and thousands of beads. I took a class to learn how best to care for her hair and keep it healthy. I consulted with neighbors and other moms at school. I understood that to some people, having hair that looked unkempt meant you weren’t well loved. My daughter was always well loved.

We briefly tried straightening – I would not recommend it – it made her healthy hair weak and it did not give her what she wanted, which was ‘wiggly hair.” Long skinny braids with beads on the ends gave her the wiggle she wanted…so we spent many Saturday afternoons watching videos and braiding. I spent far more time and money on her hair than I ever spent on my own.

Were all my styling attempts successful? No. There were days when my daughter was having problems far greater than a bad hair day; days when it didn’t seem that important to have her hair ‘just so;’ days when her teachers kindly let her wear a scarf because she couldn’t stand to have her hair fixed. These were the days I dreaded having a mom approach me after school and say, ‘You should fix that girl’s hair!” Or, being offered advice by someone – how can I say this nicely – someone who needed to take their OWN hair care advice…or at least look in the mirror before leaving the house. These folks were NOT helpful.

When I see someone who is having a bad hair day, or whose child is having a bad hair day, I smile at them and offer a kind word, like ‘love your shoes.’ Now THAT would have been helpful.

My son, the idiot.

Sometimes, when your kid misbehaves, it is hard not to laugh.

I want you to understand that my daughter loves my son. If you ask her who her favorite person was – she would say, ‘my brother.’

It has always been that way. From the time she came to stay in our home at just seven months, he was her favorite. It’s not that they are close in age and were playmates – he is seven years older. He just has a nice way with people – children, older people. He was a really kind boy and now he is a really kind man.

One day we were driving in the car – my son and I in the front seat, my daughter, then about 8 years old, in the back seat. I do not for the life of me remember why she was upset with him, but she was really, really mad. And she yelled at him, “you’re not my brother, you’re an idiot!”

I never allow name-calling. I expect my kids to be nice – but for some reason, and I really can’t figure out why – this cracked us (my son and I) up. We were trying not to laugh, trying really hard to control ourselves. Besides not wanting to encourage name-calling behavior, we didn’t want my daughter to think we were laughing at her. I think it must have just been a relief of the tension; a release of whatever it was that had made her upset.

We think of this event regularly and joke about it – all three of us. Surprisingly, my daughter doesn’t remember what she was upset about either (she rarely forgets anything involving people and places). All we remember about it is the shared family joke that it has become.

I recently told my son, “Whenever I hear the word ‘idiot’, I think of you!” He took it in stride; he knew that I was referring back to this event.

My daughter shook her head when I told her what I said to him. Then she smiled and said, “good one, mom.”

Dad doesn’t have any cows.

Miss Literal.  That’s what we call my daughter sometimes.  To her credit, she has learned to ask, ‘Is that an expression?’ when we say something she finds confusing.

Back when she had speech therapy, pronouns were a problem. ‘Carry you me?’ she would often ask. You me.  She wasn’t sure to whom the pronouns referred. So, for a while we eliminated pronouns. We used the names instead. When you say, ‘Do you want mommy to carry (Daughter’s name)?’ there is no room for confusion. She could tell who was carrying and who was being carried.  After a time she began to understand the pronoun thing.

There were other word issues though.

When she said she wanted to eat a hammer – we could discern that she meant a hamburger, for instance.  That kind of word confusion was easy. If you couldn’t guess what she was referring to, you asked questions. Lots of questions. What color is it? Who was there with you? When was this, was it yesterday or yesterday, a long time ago? (To my daughter all past is yesterday – I will be posting more about her lack of a concept of time.)  What did we do there?  Was it fun? Is it something you eat?  Do you like it? You get the idea.  With enough answers you can figure out what someone wants – and as she grew older this kind of word confusion grew to be less of a problem – unless she is very, very tired.

Opposites were a problem.  If pepper makes things hot, then salt must make them cold.  It took a long time and eating a lot of salty food to convince her this was NOT true.  When my daughter gets an idea stuck in her mind – there is no changing it.

When I said to her “Don’t do that, your dad will have a cow,” she calmly informed me, “Dad doesn’t have any cows.”  You don’t realize how many idioms, how many weird expressions you use, until you try not to use them at all.

I have a sarcastic sense of humor. I love puns and clever jokes. So does my son – he gets that from me;  our senses of humor are very similar. And when my daughter asks “Why is that funny?” one of us explains it to her. It makes me very sad that she doesn’t know.

Often she looks at us to see if she should be laughing…and just laughs along with us.

I don’t want you to think she doesn’t have a sense of humor – she certainly does.  She can be intentionally funny, and every once in a while, she surprises us with a joke that is hilarious – and we laugh  because it is funny, and smile because we know she understands why.

 

 

 

How I got a dog with no name.

Our first dog was ‘Perry’ – my son named him. It seemed like a soft name for such a big protective dog. We got Perry as a puppy. His job was to protect us – we had a break-in while I was at work and some teen criminals stole my kids’ electronics and other items. The policeman who came out said a dog was the best deterrent to that kind of crime…so we got a dog. A dog we expected to be about 35# – but grew to 100#. He was a big handsome boy. When strangers came around(or anyone who didn’t live here at my house, including extended family), he would curl back his lips, show his enormous teeth and growl. No doubt he would kill to protect us.

Perry seemed to know that different family members required different actions on his part. Perry rough-housed and slept on the floor with my son. He followed me around like a puppy and lay on my feet to warm them. With my daughter, well, he seemed to know she needed quieter attention. He would run ahead of her, lay down and roll over so she could rub his tummy. That move was just for her.

While he was very protective of me, in particular, he never went after my daughter when she screamed at me or attacked me. He would go hide under the dining room table until the tantrum-storm had passed.

He did antagonize my daughter in one way, though. He had a taste for Barbies. He liked their little shoes, their children and their heads. We had more than one horrible Barbie massacre.

When Perry had to be put down(it was unavoidable), my daughter was away in a temporary placement. She was so very sad that she had not been able to say ‘goodbye’. When my daughter came home, we decided we would look for another dog when we were all ready.

I had in mind a handsome, mostly black, shepherd mix male…and we (my daughter and I) went to see what was available at the pound. They were running a special – all dogs over 45# were free for the cost of a dog license – all shots and neutering included. The worker asked what I wanted and I gave them the description I had in mind – adding that the dog needed to be ok with small children, this was to accommodate my daughter’s behavior. The worker asked if this would be an inside dog. I responded ‘yes,’ and before the ‘s’ came out of my mouth, she said she had the dog for us, the perfect dog for our situation.

She brought out the ugliest dog I have ever seen. Half the hair on the tail and ears was missing. She(not even a boy dog!) had just weaned puppies. Her white hair was thin and you could see through it – black freckles on pink skin. Her face had no expression and she seemed to be saying ‘duh.’ She was skinny, sadly underweight. But this dog let my daughter walk her on a leash and was completely attentive to my daughter. This dog never flinched when we walked past loud, barking dogs or mewing cats. This dog never stopped looking at my daughter for direction. And this dog pranced when she walked like she was a fancy french poodle. Well, of course, my daughter was smitten.

The pound had given her a name – just for the website. It was the same name as my niece(my lovely niece was really not interested in having an ugly dog named after her). Since I call everyone ‘sweetie’ anyway, we began calling the dog ‘Sweetie’ – and we never bothered to pick a real name. The pound waived the adoption fee even though Sweetie did not meet the weight requirement. I think they were just happy to adopt out this homely pitbull mix dog. Apparently, no one played with Sweetie when she was a pup, so she doesn’t play. She only recently (she is six years old approximately) started barking – she learned that from our other pound dog. Sweetie is like a big(60# now), lazy cat. She wants to sit on your lap when she feels like it.

On the plus side – she has NEVER had any accident in the house and was completely housebroken from day one. And she never developed a taste for Barbie flesh or fashion.

On the way home from the pound, my daughter started crying, actually weeping; she mumbled, “I love this dog so much.” Now my daughter is away in a residential placement; my daughter was only here with Sweetie for about a month (I will write more about that later), but she loves this dog. And I have no doubt that Sweetie remembers my daughter. Every time I visit my daughter, Sweetie sniffs my clothes and wags her tail. I think she knows that I have been hugging her real master.

About Runners – It is a real problem.

I have a 24 year-old son, a 17 year-old daughter and two rescue dogs. I don’t have any special insights to offer, but sometimes just sharing my experiences can be helpful – helpful to me, that is.  And maybe, if you have some of these same experiences, you’ll realize you are NOT the only one – that bit was really helpful to me a couple years back.

I decided to blog about my parenting and care-giving experiences – and maybe a little about self care, too.  This first entry in the blog is about running – running away – without consideration of safety – it’s a real and often misunderstood problem.

My autistic daughter is a runner – I had alarms on the doors – exterior and all the bedrooms; hooks out of her reach on all the exterior doors when she was little. We had to consider bars on the second story windows – she thought she could jump out the second story window and not be hurt – like in a cartoon.

One day she climbed out the little bathroom window because she decided she did not want to take a bath – to her this was a rational choice.  She was on the back porch roof, naked, in November. She was thirteen and had wanted her privacy in the bathroom, so I closed the door. But it did not occur to her that being outside naked was NOT private and not safe. It was a cold draft coming through the house that alerted me to the situation and I was able to coax her back in. Needless to say, that was the last time she was afforded bath-time privacy: after that,  I stood outside the open door while she bathed with the shower curtain drawn.  (I remember telling an acquaintance that someone at my house climbed naked out on the back porch roof – they asked if it was me! I laughed at the thought – they were serious and didn’t understand why I laughed.  Sometimes you just have to laugh so you don’t cry.)

My daughter has no common-sense fear and would be an easy target of whom to take advantage. She is beautiful, and a joy to have around – most of the time. Her demeanor can change in an instant, without warning, and often without an identifiable trigger.

I could accommodate all her sensory issues, keep her on a rigid schedule and overlook any behavior that was just quirky, not safety related. But safety became an increasing concern.  Due to her increasingly dangerous attempts to run, and increasingly violent outbursts (she was born drug affected and has related IQ and behavior issues in addition to autism.  Let me add she is adopted; I was not the one who took the drugs.) it became unsafe, for her, and for me, to have her here at home.

The police were always wonderful – you can specifically ask for a Crisis Intervention Trained (CIT) officer when you call 911 – this information has been invaluable to me. Unfortunately, it was difficult to get real, substantial help without the juvenile court being involved. I ended up opening a voluntary case with Children’s Services so that they could arrange an appropriate, safe placement for my daughter.  They have been truly helpful. Her social worker and MRDD worker are both very dedicated – and I am grateful for them.

My daughter is currently in a residential placement in another distant county. I drive up to see her about twice a month – one of those is an overnight visit, and talk to her on the phone often.  She is working toward HS graduation – she may graduate as early as age 20 – and her behavior is improving slowly in a highly regimented program. It is hard to have her away; she is only 17 – but I know she is safe, not running, not hurting herself or me.  I am hopeful that she will continue to do well and be able, eventually as an adult,  to live closer to home, in a supervised setting.

Recently, a policeman knocked on the door  and asked if I had lost a family member – they found a developmentally disabled youth wandering nearby and wanted to know if she was mine. They had been here so often with my daughter, they just assumed it was her again.

There are so many more people in this situation – with a disabled child that will run away with absolutely no concept of the danger – more than you might realize.