Music Can Move Mountains

2020 has truly thrown me some curve balls and the year isn’t even over yet. I feel like once the summer came the days blurred together and I haven’t been able to catch my breath or tell one day from the next. I’m sure I’m not alone. This year seems like it will go down in infamy as the most treacherous year for all people, places, things, and animals…yep, basically every noun you can think of.

And speaking of nouns, I can’t believe we are into our fourth week of Nico’s school year and we’re all still in one piece. Nico is now a first grader and is also a 100% remote learner due to this God-awful pandemic we are living through. This is not the ideal setting for him and all summer long I was a ball of nerves thinking about how hard this was going to be for him and me. He hates talking to anyone on FaceTime so I couldn’t even imagine how he would manage working with his teachers on the daily through a computer screen. The only thing he looks forward to and understands clearly is the “Leave Meeting” button so you can see what a joy it is to work through five live Zoom lessons with him a day when he is just not into interacting with others virtually.

And if that wasn’t enough to keep me up at night, our first floor flooded, due to a water pipe bursting in our home, when we were hundreds of miles away visiting family so we ushered in Nico’s first day of the virtual school year from a hotel room and have since moved into a temporary home while ours begins the looooooong process of being rebuilt. Needless to say, Nico has been less than pleased with all of these changes and who can blame him? I’m barely hanging on myself.

I don’t think either of us has been in the best of moods for weeks. I can always tell with Nico because he gets over-emotional and weepy at the drop of a hat and will cry off and on all day. Or, he can get really frustrated and just want to throw things or become a bit aggressive with me. I feel like even I have been a roller coaster of emotions as I come to terms with being displaced from my home for several months in the middle of a pandemic during an unprecedented school year with a special needs child and 10 month old who would literally crawl back inside me if I let him.

I have been working tirelessly to stay optimistic and upbeat, but it has been extremely trying for me and I know Nico can sense my dismay and distress. Individuals with Autism are actually quite empathetic and feel emotions very deeply and Nico always knows when I am struggling or stressed or sad. And because he has picked up on my stress and discontent, I have noticed that he is struggling more.

Now, music has always been an incredible outlet for me to relieve my stress. I would often play my favorite songs on repeat growing up to help me regain my composure or release my stress and anxiety. Singing is also a favorite pastime of mine so, whenever I can, I will sing to help elevate my mood. Nico has always enjoyed music as well. From a very young age, he came alive with music. He loved when I would sing to him; it would actually help regulate him when he was getting over-stimulated so I would try and incorporate song into many of our daily activities.

As he has grown, he has become more selective with the music that keeps his attention and lightens his mood. He won’t let me sing the same songs I would sing to him when he was small anymore so I have to constantly find new ones to introduce him to. And, he has quite the eclectic musical palette too, which is kind of cool because he chooses music based on movies he loves or songs he hears that make him want to dance. He will then request these songs by telling me the name of the movie or by choosing a word or phrase from the song and repeating it over and over until I pick up on what he is saying.

He is quite my little problem-solver. He knows he has limited language so he always chooses his words strategically.

Well, today we started our fourth week of virtual learning and it was a marvelous Monday as we got in the car to head to the center, although I know neither of us was feeling quite marvelous. It’s just so hard to shake off a funk once you’re in it. But, as I drove Nico to his therapy center where he gets both his therapy and support with his virtual school day, I felt we needed something to boost our spirits so I put on the radio.

That’s when something really cool…and maybe even serendipitous happened! My car’s Bluetooth connected to my phone and the first song to play was a track from the movie, The Peanuts Movie which is a fave of Nico’s. And the song could not have had a better message for both Nico and me! It was a song by Meghan Trainor titled, “Good to Be Alive” and it always gets Nico moving and smiling. He must’ve really been needing to hear this song too because he was actually singing along with some of the lyrics. I could hardly contain my excitement when I heard him! My son, who uses very little language unless to request something or if prompted, was singing along to a song!

This was enough to catapult me out of my current funk for sure! But then, as musical fate would have it, my own anthem literally came on next without any prompting from me. Neither of these songs are in a playlist together nor did I intentionally connect my Bluetooth to play this specific song, but now we were listening to a song that I had to believe was sending me a message as well. It’s a song by Jess Glynne titled, “Hold My Hand” and it’s one I listened to nonstop the year it came out. The year was 2015 and it was the same year Nico was diagnosed with Autism. I remember playing this song over and over again and feeling so alone because I needed my Mother more than anything to just be there to “hold my hand.”

Well, here it was again, saving the day and lifting my spirits. I felt like there was almost a little bit of divine intervention happening in the car this morning as the song played, but what made it absolutely outstanding was to look in my rear view mirror and see Nico bopping his head and moving his hands to the beat so succinctly. I couldn’t help, but belt it out for him and then play it again before we got to the center so we could have just a bit more musical magic help bring us back to life.

This year has not been the best for us. It started in March with COVID and slowly inched it’s way to awful with my furlough in April and then became downright abysmal by July with our house flooding so I am just thankful we are standing upright in Week 4 of the school year. And because this year has sucked the life out of me, there were no First Day of School pics taken, no official posts to ring in this school year. I am behind on doctors’ appointments and first day of school haircuts. And, I have little over a month to put something resembling a 1st birthday party together for my precious Maximo while still keeping it COVID-friendly (talk about a contradiction in terms), but I’m giving myself a pass on having it all together this year. After all, my motto this year has been: “Welcome to the Sh$& Show! Compliments of 2020!” But, after having such an uplifting start to the day today, I feel like hopefully things will start looking up for us.

So, today was the START of our NEW school year! It may still be a bumpy one. Nico may struggle and resist, and regression may still occur to some degree, but my sweet boy will always have his music and our car rides to the center where we can “center” ourselves around the music that has become our mantra. Words are so important for both Nico and me. I love to write and Nico loves to read. And the lyrics we listened to today had a message that spoke to both of us, and that is…everything is going to be ok.

We got this!

We have each other and it’s good to be alive!

Truer words have never been spoken. I have Nico’s hand and he has mine and we are so lucky to be healthy and happy and able to wake up to another day together as a family! Here’s to this new school year for my sweet boy!

A Mother’s Love

I don’t think there is any stronger love than that of a mother’s. There is not anything I wouldn’t do for Nico to make his life easier, less of a struggle, more fulfilled, or more neurotypical. I have made ultimate sacrifices for him that have truly tested my faith, patience, and resolve, but I literally could not imagine NOT working this hard for my child.

This pandemic has been catastrophic on many levels and it has affected our little family in many ways, especially Nico. The only silver linings I have clung to have been the fact that he has his ABA therapy everyday and our backyard haven. We follow strict guidelines so that we know both Nico’s therapist and Nico are healthy each day they work together. Without ABA right now, I don’t know where we would be. And, when Nico comes home he enjoys his pool, swing, and trampoline in the backyard since going out or traveling is out of the question. That has been our life for months now and because of this dramatic change in daily life, Nico has regressed. I know he will have to relearn so much. It keeps me up at night just thinking about. I walk around my house with knots in my stomach just thinking about it.

As a mother, my life is my children. I have two now so I have to spend it equally between both of them, but that can be tough when one has special needs. I just always feel myself being pulled a little bit more towards Nico. Being a bit more protective of Nico. Wanting to give Nico a smidge more attention otherwise he would really never interact with his father, brother and me. Nico would be perfectly content to sit in the living room with us, but live in his own world surrounded by his books, his iPad, and his little knickknacks he finds around the house and collects in a pile. I catch myself staring at him, just wondering what he’s thinking. Wondering if he even knows or cares that his mother is literally watching him from just a few feet away with such wonderment and concern. I wish so many things for him. Every chance I get, I am trying to get him to talk appropriately or engage with us in functional ways. I live for the moments when he wants to be tickled or wants to show us his dance moves. It shows me that he can connect to us when he wants to.

Nico has no idea how much I truly love him. It’s an all-consuming feeling. I cannot find enough words to even describe the feeling. I tell him every single day, multiple times a day, that I love him. He very rarely registers what I’m saying, but I have to believe he knows what those words mean and he knows that he is loved. I now fully understand what my mom meant when she said those same words to me over 20 years ago. “You have no idea how much I love you…truly you don’t and I will never be able to explain it to you.” I found it so overly dramatic at the time, but I allowed her to hug me and gush over me because we were setting up our home for my high school graduation party and she was feeling very sentimental. I gave her a big kiss, told her I loved her to pieces, and then took off before she got weepy because I knew it was headed in that direction and I was a teenager just wanting to finish my chores. I knew she loved me, but as I reflect back…I really had no idea how much she loved me.

I am beyond thankful though that we had that moment together and she spoke those words to me because it would be our last mother/daughter moment. I would not have her with me after that day and I discovered there truly is no substitute for that kind of love—a mother’s love.

It’s a love that makes you wake up at 7am every weekend to make your children their favorite pancakes.

It’s a love that makes you take out every seed from a watermelon because you know your kids struggle with the seeds.

It’s a love that has you making your own secret blend of cinnamon sugar for your child’s favorite food in the world—cinnamon toast—because it makes him deliriously happy.

It’s a love that makes you stay up until 2am on the weekends to play all the Super Mario Bros. games because it is the best time to spend quality time with your one child while the other is sound asleep.

It’s a love that makes you want to sing to your child each morning and evening because his eyes radiate and it puts a smile on his face to hear music.

It’s a love that makes you leave everyone and everything you have ever known and move to a whole new state so your child can have a better quality of life despite your fears and reservations.

And, it’s a love that will continue to break you down, build you back up, carry you through, knock you over, and make you whole again because it’s a love reserved for your children.

My sons have no clue how much I absolutely love and adore them, despite how much I smother them with kisses and hugs and “I love you.” Just like I had no clue how much my mother truly loved and adored me in those childhood moments. But, I am so grateful to her because she taught me what a mother’s love should look like and feel like and what it endures and sacrifices.

So June 27th will always be my day to go an extra mile in showing my sons what a mother’s love feels like because there is nothing else like it. And for my Nico, I will continue to try and move mountains for you because you deserve nothing less.

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!