To My Boys on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day will forever be a bittersweet day for me; I yearn for my mother to be by my side. It’s one of life’s real cruelties to lose a mother, especially at a young age, because a mother’s love is one that can never be replicated. It’s one of a kind. The bond my mother and I shared was truly symbiotic.

The job of a mother is, ultimately, the most important job. We literally bring life into the world. When I held my boys in my arms for the first time, my life was forever changed. It was no longer just mine. An equally over-joyous and overwhelming feeling consumed me when I thought about the immense responsibility I was about to take on as a mother, yet I couldn’t imagine anyone else taking care of my child better than I could so I took that baby in my arms and motherhood commenced. The bond was formed between mother and son.

My boys are my life. I live to just watch them be their unique little selves. And, the biggest silver lining to come out of this nightmarish pandemic is that I have been able to spend so much quality time with them together and separately. It truly has been a blessing because it is these times that will help build the bond between my boys and strengthen the love they have for each other. These moments will also help cement their bond with me, I hope, and teach them that a mother’s love is all-encompassing.

But as I lay here on the eve of this somewhat muted Mother’s Day, I thought I would write to my boys. Something for them to read (and to look back on) during a time when they lived in a world that was uncertain and precarious.

To my Nico and Maximo:

  • I can never fully express how much I love you both in words. Like, I literally can’t find the right words to express how much I absolutely love the two of you…and I’m a writer…talk about ironic.
  • I am a very strong woman, but I cry pretty easily so be prepared. You may take turns consoling me and bringing me tissues. Oh, and this will also probably mean you’ll end up marrying someone who is equally as emotional as your mother because that seems to be how things work out so…you’re welcome.
  • You are a joy and a pain in my life. When you are happy, I am over-the-moon ecstatically happy for you, but when you are sad it is the most heart-wrenching, hopeless feeling ever because all I want to do is make it better for you and I know that won’t always be possible.
  • I have to will myself not to kiss and hug and squeeze you over and over. I am very affectionate so you will need to humor me when I ask for a kiss or I expect a hug every single time I see you. I promise, I will never (intentionally) embarrass you with my affection as you get older.
  • You will always be my “babies.” I will try very hard to not coddle you and make sure to give you space, but I can’t promise I won’t use the terms of endearment I have had for you since you were born. Hey listen, your grandpa still calls me “pussycat” and I’m a grown woman for Pete’s sake. Parents adore their kids…what can I tell ya?
  • I will lose my patience with you and it probably won’t be pretty….ask your father. But, if I do then you must have done something pretty stupid or pretty bad because I have a lot of patience. So, word to the wise: Don’t make me lose my patience. You don’t want to see the “evil eyes.” Instead, think before you speak or act.
  • You will experience some challenges in life. Everyone does. I have experienced plenty so I will be one of the best people to come to when you need a shoulder to lean on or cry on. Yes, I said cry on. It will be ok for you to cry. Men are allowed to cry. I am a very good listener and I promise I won’t try to fix the problem if you don’t want me to. I will simply listen. Just please come to me every once in awhile.
  • I stare at you both all the time. I am constantly taking mental photographs of you in my mind because time goes by so quickly and we are never promised a tomorrow. I know that’s pretty morbid, but it’s true. I learned that the hard way with your grandma’s passing, but I adored your grandma so I watched her a lot and have many mental photographs of her to keep me comfort. I hope you will do the same with me.
  • You two are going to be tight for life. I can feel it. Yes, you will have disagreements, but I know you will always look out for each other. I am trying to instill that in you both now. I will always encourage you two to be close so don’t get annoyed if you share a room for an unusually long time. Just kidding…maybe.
  • I have been blessed with boys who symbolize the love I have for their father and who will forever know me as their mother. I love you both with an unconditional love. A love that you can always count on to carry you through anything. Thank you for making me a mom.

The Struggle is Real…for Everyone

I just left the hospital where my father is having surgery and it never felt so good to breath in the fresh air. Wearing a mask for countless hours (especially with glasses where they fog up every 5 seconds) is no walk in the park. It’s constricting and uncomfortable; just downright abnormal for me. God bless these healthcare workers who have to wear them for ungodly amounts of time and still manage to comfort you with a sincere look and an imprint of a smile through their mask.

The struggle is, for sure, real for these wonderful individuals and wearing a mask is the least of them, but it did make me think.

Being a healthcare worker or a teacher or a parent of a special needs child has always come with its struggles. Our jobs are extremely rewarding, but there are days when it can be unbearable for the mind, body, and soul. I am both a teacher and Autism mom so the catchphrase, “the struggle is real” has basically been my mantra in life, but I am now beginning to feel like this is becoming the mantra for our world and it’s as evident as a crooked, tacky bumper sticker on a brand new car—it’s ever-noticeable, annoying AF, and is going to be hell to get rid of without leaving an indelible mark.

I look around and all I see are messages and signage letting us know that we are not alone. We are “all in this together.” It’s a bit surreal when you see celebrities (unshaven and without their false lashes) just chilling in their homes, sending out well wishes on Instagram. Even my local Mexican restaurant is sending out positive vibes with its daily messages of hope (and ever-so-subtle “we are still open” pleas). My heart goes out to these small businesses who have been financially crippled by this pandemic, along with hair and nail salons (just call me Rapunzel) and the restaurant and hospitality industries. And that’s just to name a few. The sheer panic, anxiety, and discomfort that has come from all of this uncertainty has every single one us activating our internal “survival mode.” We are wading through unchartered waters with no shore in sight.

But, in seeing all of this sense of community and togetherness, I have come to the realization that I am truly not alone in my feelings of struggle, anxiety, and grief. Never before have I felt such solidarity, in struggle, amongst humankind as I do now. Now, don’t get me wrong….struggle is a very relative term and I am not making light of any struggles that were there before this pandemic because I have suffered my own struggles in the pre-pandemic era, but I truly believe that even those who have been blessed and privileged with a struggle-free life are finding themselves struggling in ways they could never have imagined. And, for this Autism mama….I find a bit of comfort in that thought knowing that empathy and a sense of community are (hopefully) growing.

No longer is it just Autism parents struggling with their kids’ needs and wants and their meltdowns and regression. I have been talking to many of my friends with neurotypical children and they are struggling with their kiddos not wanting to sit and do schoolwork virtually or go to sleep at a decent hour. They’re just as worried about their kids regressing because of a lack of structure, socialization, and explicit academic instruction. I feel so badly for my friends who have kids graduating this year; they are feeling so helpless because they cannot orchestrate efforts in a manner that allows for celebration and communal recognition. The countless high school and college seniors who deserved to enjoy all of those quintessential milestones like prom and graduation, but instead have to be celebrated and recognized from afar and in a sterile, virtual environment. It all just stinks.

And, I know it isn’t just Nico who is longing for the comfort of his classroom and his friends and a daily routine that made sense to him. All of our kids are struggling with this new normal that has cut them off from so much socially, academically, and physically.

For the first time ever, I am realizing that the struggles and the grief and the uncertainty that I am feeling are no longer just reserved for me as an Autism parent. It is being felt by everyone due to this pandemic. For Autism parents, we become somewhat immune to the feelings of loneliness and isolation, but now our world is feeling this same sense of isolation and loneliness. It isn’t just me who yearns to be more socially active with my son, but can’t for fear of what could happen. Nico has come so far, but I still worry every time we leave the house that something adverse will happen and cause him to struggle and flail. These fears are now synonymous with the fears of countless others due to the risks of COVID-19. We must limit our social interactions and travel so as to decrease our chances of getting sick or worse. The similarities in all of this, for me, are unbelievably palpable.

We truly are ALL in this together.

I hate knowing that, because of this pandemic, I will not be able to sit with my father after his surgery. It’s inconceivable to me to think of him recovering without me by his side so I can’t even fathom the thought of families being separated during a loved one’s last breaths. Healthcare workers unable to hug their children when they get home from a 24 hour shift. Fathers not being allowed in the room when their wives are giving birth. Or, a husband speaking to his wife of 50 years over FaceTime for, possibly, the last time before she is placed on a ventilator. These are real struggles and they are universal.

All of this that we are feeling is universal. The struggle IS real and it’s heavy. But, if raising a child with Autism has taught me one thing it’s this—you never know how strong you are until you have no other choice. Autism brings with it so much wonderment, but it also provides its fair share of heartache that can be hard to stomach. However, I never would have thought I could survive Autism and all the struggles that have accompanied this diagnosis, but not only am I surviving; I feel as though I have been thriving too. There is something to be said about a “healthy struggle” and I truly believe that although we are facing many struggles, not all of them have to be adverse. We should take this time to recognize and feel all of our emotions as they come, while also finding strength to push forward through them.

I am taking every day as it comes (as I have done since I began my journey with Nico through the world of Autism) and will continue to find silver linings everywhere I can. This helps me cultivate a healthy struggle with the circumstances that I have been dealt. These pandemic-era struggles will soon subside and we will, once again, find our rhythm, but for now bask in the silver lining that has been unearthed for us during these tumultuous times and that is: TOGETHERNESS.

And just to show you that I practice what I preach…my current healthy struggle is knowing that, because of this darn coronavirus, the 3-second rule no longer applies so the cheese stick I just dropped on my floor can’t satisfy my ferocious hunger conjured up by a 3+ hour waiting room stint. I just pitched it in the garbage….sigh. At least I don’t have to log those calories for the day now….silver lining!

Teachable Moments

Nico was not able to sit and do any of his schoolwork today. I had a feeling it was going to be a tough day as soon as the first meltdown started ten minutes after he woke up. First the whining began for no reason. Then, he started making weird noises that got louder and louder. He does this for attention because he knows I do not feed into his behaviors if they are petulant. Lastly, the screaming, throwing himself all over the couch and floor, and hitting began.

He was in the thick of a meltdown (probably just a tantrum since nothing had happened yet to trigger him) and it was only 9am. Today was going to be a long day. I said this to myself and immediately wanted to crawl back into bed, lock my door and shut the world out.

Instead, I gave Nico the “evil eye.”

I have become a whiz at giving the “evil eye.” This particular eye was something that scared the living hell out of me in my childhood whenever my mother aimed it my way. It scared the hell out of me when she aimed it at anyone in our house actually. The eye meant she had had enough, you had worn down her patience, and she was about to blow. Nico has become the recipient of the evil eye now, when he decides he is going to be difficult for no apparent reason, and he hates it. He will do basically everything in his power to get me to smile and stop giving him the eye because he does not like it when I get upset with him. From literally trying to push my lips into a smile with his hands to saying “no thanks..no thanks” over and over again, Nico knows when he has pushed me to my limit because it takes a lot. I have to laugh because my husband doesn’t quite have the same effect on Nico so even he is convinced of the power behind this ominous optical gesture of mine. Sometimes I want to burst out laughing because the effort that Nico goes to in trying to reverse my grim demeanor is ingenious as well as endearing.

I also chuckle in knowing, with 100% certainty, that I have turned into my mother and I have to say…I’m liking this maternal power I have cultivated. Ha! The evil eye is mine!

However, this meltdown/tantrum has proven to me that even though Nico has Autism, he is still a typical little boy who knows how to instigate, antagonize, push my buttons, and manipulate a situation. He is very smart. We knew that early on despite his lack of language, social skills, and age-appropriate behavioral skill sets. Nico knew how to problem solve very early in life, due to not being able to communicate with us, and I marveled at how hard he worked to help us understand what his needs and wants were. Nico is also very intrigued by cause and effect relationships; therefore, telling him “no” only fuels his interest more in wanting to do the unacceptable action.

So, I have begun to take these skill sets that Nico excels in and put them to good use now that we are having to learn outside of the classroom with me as his primary teacher. I am realizing more and more that Nico’s academic path for the rest of his Kindergarten year cannot be solely focused on literacy, mathematics, writing, and science because it is just too overwhelming for and unfamiliar to him. And, I’m ok with that.

My goal for my Nico, moving forward, is to teach him how to survive in a world that does not always lend itself to an atypical brain like his. I am going to teach him how to use his incredible problem solving skills, his intrigue with cause and effect relationships, and his masterful art of persuasion and manipulation to his advantage.

I have been reading article after article about the concerns parents, teachers, schools, and universities are having over the fact that students are not in school. Concerns that students are being forced to engage in environments that are unfamiliar and not effectively conducive for learning. It’s a constant topic circulating on social media platforms. This idea that parents are being expected to home school their children while also fulfilling their own work obligations virtually is all just so unrealistic and counterproductive. I feel for my fellow parental comrades, especially my Autism and special needs parents, who are feeling so defeated and overwhelmed with the current state of their child’s school year. But, I promise you…it’s going to be ok. Our kids are still going to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, and scientists.

And you wanna know why?

Because this is the time to make a concerted effort to teach our children life skills. It’s time to build their capacity in skill sets that, coupled with academics (which they will receive again sooner or later), will best prepare them for adulthood and foster a greater sense of independence. Independence is something that my Nico must painstakingly work towards everyday because my husband and I will not always be here to advocate for him and there is no guarantee that anyone else will.

Think about this…there are thousands of wonderful people out their sewing masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19. If those same people also take the time now to teach their children how to sew imagine the ripple effect it will have if we are ever faced with something like this again. I was never taught how to sew by my mom. She always told me that knowing how to sew was not going to be nearly as essential for me as it was for her because times had changed. Just like my dad never taught me how to change a tire because he said all I would have to do is call AAA and they would come out and do it for me. Hence why, to this day, I anxiously await my membership renewal in the mail and feel so comforted when I take road trips with my husband.

These two life skills alone are essential now more than ever. We are being expected to wear face masks whenever we go out in public so unless you can snag some off of Amazon for an insanely inflated price or know someone who did learn how to sew and can make you some, you best learn how to sew. And don’t even think about asking someone to come change your tire in an expeditious manner during a pandemic. Car repair and emergency maintenance companies are running on skeleton crews, if they are even still up and running at all. These life skill sets can easily be turned into “teachable moments” for our children during these times of school absence.

I have been taking the time each day to find “teachable moments” in whatever I am working on in the house. When Nico wants to read a book, I am teaching him how to read with intonation so he can bring every book he reads to life. When I’m washing the dishes, I am explaining to Nico which dishes belong in the dishwasher and which ones should be hand washed. When I’m cooking dinner, I explain to Nico that he cannot touch raw chicken or a hot stove. I show him what a well-balanced meal looks like (in the hopes that one day he will sit and actually eat one with us)–a protein, a starch, and a vegetable–and have him label each of the items with me.

Nico understands now that when you leave a room, you turn the light off in that room to save electricity (a lesson that has become invaluable as of late). He also knows that when he feels crumbs under his feet it’s time to get the vacuum and will point to its location in the laundry room. My husband is showing Nico how to skim our pool and explains to him the importance of keeping debris out of the skimmer. Nico has also learned where to find bandaids and ointment for when any of us gets a cut or abrasion. He may not be able to fully pronounce Neosporin or know how to apply a bandaid, but his problem solving skills will always ensure we are taken care of in these situations.

All of these teachable moments have layers of learning built right in. Nico is learning new vocabulary, he is learning more cause and effect relationships, and he is figuring out various solutions to problems that may arise. The point is, Nico is still learning daily. I may not be able to get him to sit down in front of the computer and do his sight word search or addition and subtraction math problems, but our days are not forgone when it comes to learning new skills.

Now is the time to teach your kids first aid, how to use a knife safely, the best way to mow the lawn, and how to make their bed each morning. This is the time to show them how they can add value to their lives and the lives of others. Do not be hard on yourself and think you are failing just because you’re struggling to manage home schooling while still working full time from a location that can be anything but conducive for productivity. Do not be beat yourself up because you are spending more time on trying to keep everyone in your home healthy and mentally sane in the midst of a global pandemic as opposed to completing every online assignment.

In my opinion, we’re doing pretty darn well amidst this chaos, but if you’re feeling like you’re doing less than ok right now do not, for one minute, think you are alone. We’re all trying to wade through this storm together.

And know this…we are all ROCKSTARS whose children are going to come out of this perfectly fine.

So, close up your kid’s Google Classroom for the day, kick your feet up, open a bottle of wine, and make a list of all the teachable moments you are about to bestow upon your children because they are going to learn infinitely more from those moments than anything else right now.

How do I know this? Because they are coming from YOU!