When Family Shows Up

This last month has been filled with some really amazing highs and some incredible lows. Such is life, I suppose, but when you’re trying to wade through the tumultuousness of a nationwide pandemic–while raising a child with Autism in the midst of it–the highs just don’t ring as high and the lows leave a more somber, stifling effect. That’s when it’s so absolutely invaluable when family shows up.

I knew celebrating Max’s 1st birthday was not going to be as grand as I always envisioned it to be thanks to COVID, but I was still going to find a way to create memories with him to help document this milestone birthday. I was also struggling a bit with the fact that we were going to have to celebrate it in our temporary house since our beautiful home was in the midst of a lengthy journey of restoration from a summer water damage disaster which upended our lives in more ways than one, especially Nico’s.

And if that wasn’t enough, we were also still reeling from the recent loss of my husband’s grandma/the boys’ sweet Abuelita so we were now prepared for Max’s birthday to be filled with bittersweet emotions. Needless to say, the lows were definitely outpacing the highs. Max’s 1st Birthday had to be the high of all highs so October could avoid being another month to succumb to a case of the “2020s.”

As a result of us being out of our own home for over four months now, Nico has had to adjust to so many new environments and that is such a huge feat for him. Plus, he has really struggled in this new virtual first grade school year as he has traversed through remote learning. There is no sugar coating that. It has been less than ideal and there have been days where I have just cried at the lack of progress I feel he is making because he is not having a typical school year like he did last year. After having such a tremendously successful Kinder year in an inclusion classroom (up until March) we were so hopeful for what elementary school would be like for him. But, COVID has robbed so much from Nico and I have no idea what to expect anymore.

I miss the social interactions Nico had with his classmates. He is already limited to who he actually interacts with typically due to his social-emotional challenges and lack of communication so going to basically zero social interactions with kids his own age (outside of the few children he interacts with at his therapy center) really makes me nervous. His classmates this year truly can’t get to know who Nico is and how engaging he can be. They only get glimpses of him through a sterile Zoom meeting environment. And, since most of those interactions show him stimming, scripting, or having a parent assist him with answering, his classmates are only seeing ONE side of Nico. This has now lead to the curious looks and the lack of “Hi, Nico” from his classmates while other kids in his class exchange pleasantries each morning with each other.

I know Nico may not notice or be aware of it (thankfully), but it resonates loudly and clearly with me and breaks my heart a little more each day. I can’t help but feel like the lows have been taking the lead in our home. However, I try to keep things upbeat in our house with lots of song and dance and hugs and kisses. There is never a lack of affection and although many people believe that children and adults with Autism do not like to be touched and do not display affection or empathy, this is a huge myth! My Nico is extremely loving and affectionate.

So, when our family showed up for Max’s birthday week it lifted our spirits and transformed our house into one of celebration and positivity on almost an existential level!

Our family drove countless hours, despite going through their own journey of grief, to make sure we could ring in Max’s 1st Birthday with a bit more pomp and circumstance like we’re used to when it comes to milestone birthdays. They know how important family is to us, especially Nico, and they showed up! It was probably the best decision for all of us because laughter and joy through tears makes everything so much better.

In those two weeks they were here with us, there was more normalcy in our lives. Nico had friends to exchange morning greetings with because his cousins are his best friends and include him in all they do. They never look at him strangely or exclude him from anything because they don’t understand him. Nor do they assume that because he doesn’t know how to initiate playful interactions with them that he doesn’t want to play with them. His cousins have always found ways to make my son feel included because they learn what Nico values and enjoys and engage him around those things. They go beyond just saying “Hi, Nico” which is what I was settling for just so that he had some sense of social interaction with others.

Inclusion like this is what I miss so much about Nico’s experiences last year in school. And, I know it is what fuels growth in all those with Autism. Nico experienced such progress and had so many positive moments because of the inclusivity that was cultivated in his classroom last year. It was nice to have some of that same inclusivity for Nico in our own home for awhile.

Having family with us made virtual learning feel a bit less tedious, our temporary home feel a bit more like our own home, and gave Nico the boost he needed to get him through a month that had us all craving some good ol’ TLC.

And, as October came to a close and Día de Los Muertos was upon us–that special day of the year where we welcome back the spirits of our lost loved ones into our home–I decided to finally take the time to display an altar. This altar would honor our family and friends who we had lost over the years. I would commit to doing it every year and then something always kept me from bringing it to fruition.

But, this year I needed to do it for my own spiritual healing. I needed to do it for my own emotional well-being too. I also felt my Nico needed a bit more family enveloping him with as much love as possible this year; this year has been a doozy for us.

It was the best way to keep family around us right now when we need them the most. With the holidays approaching, its hard to think about having to socially distance from those we need, especially when COVID is spiking again, flu season is upon us, and Election Day is just around the corner (and all that that day could incite).

Family, for me, has always been my top priority and I have a husband who mirrors those same values. And, when raising a child with special needs, you really do need family to lean on because it is HARD. To manage the pitfalls of life while staying controlled for a child who could meltdown at any moment when all you want to do is meltdown yourself…that’s HARD. This is when family shows up and takes on the meltdown, your child’s or yours, and it is life-(saving)changing.

You can be vulnerable with family and know that just like they are there on the best days, they are also there on your worst. We, special needs parents, must take care of ourselves because there are not many others who can care for our children. These are tough times and it is easy to become worn out and we don’t have the luxury of getting sick because no one can take care of our children better than we can….except maybe our family.

Make time for family right now. Especially now.

All I know is that you make time for the people that matter in your life. Despite everything, you show up. Family does this. And, I have to trust and believe that they keep showing up even if it is only in the stillness of our hearts or with a passing flutter of a butterfly’s wing. With every memory they evoke in us, family is forever.

Thankful

This post is dedicated to all of the amazing grandparents helping to raise their grandchildren…we, parents, could seriously not do it without y’all.

I was always very apprehensive when planning a future that included children. I knew I was very career-driven and would not be able to stay home with my children on the daily. Plus, in this day and age, with the exorbitant cost of daycare and cost of living, a one-income household is not the norm. I also never thought my parents would be the ones to sacrifice their retirement years to care for their grandchildren full time. Hell, they talked about moving to Arizona or some other retiree paradise so my future family and I could come to a sunny place for vacay. They had put in their time already…and then some. I know the typical plan of action is to place your children in daycare, which we were going to do, but I still was always nervous about the implications of having someone that wasn’t blood taking care of my kid.

When my mother passed in 1997 (I was only 17 years old) I definitely became pensive about having children because I always thought I would have my “Wonder Woman” mom to guide my every move and the thought of navigating motherhood without her was just something I couldn’t bear. I, of course, still had my father, but let’s be honest, no one does it better than mom! But, when I tell you that my father has become my lifeline, my additional partner in parenting (thank goodness for my husband, of course), and the most sacrificing, giving, loving grandparent around, I need to share it with the world because the grandpa living in my home is a lifesaver!

When Nico was born, my husband and I were already in a great place when it came to who would help us with Nico once we went back to work; my aunt (another Wonder Woman) had just retired and offered to be Nico’s nanny. I was completely flabbergasted when she offered and even more humbled when I saw how quickly she jumped in. My husband and I were doubly fortunate because we have always lived near family and so, between his and mine, we have been insulated with love and support. Nico was going to be all good, that was for sure. My aunt had already rescued me by taking up the reigns when my mom died. She was there for anything my father (her brother), my brother, and I needed so to have her taking care of Nico, as his “honorary grandma,” just felt right. It lessened the yearning I had for my mom knowing that I had my aunt by my side, especially once we received Nico’s Autism diagnosis. My aunt was right there by my side learning everything there was to know about Autism and it’s effects on Nico. My father; however, became my personal hero early on with helping to raise Nico. He was never the most hands-on father with his own neurotypical kids so helping to raise a child with Autism was definitely not in his wheelhouse, but he buckled his seatbelt and jumped on the roller coaster with us regardless of how scared and uncertain he was. What he did from the start and continues to do grounds me in such humility every time I think of it.

My father was the typical “bread winner” of the family. He went to work, put food on the table, made sure I had a roof over my head, and made sure I didn’t have to want for anything. My mother, however, was everything else for me. It was my mom who I was attached at the hip to (my brother was clinging to the other one) and she was the one who I always envisioned taking the lead in the grandparent department because that was just who she was. But, Nico has become the saving grace for my father in so many ways. My father has said quite often that Nico has given him a purpose in life again and I certainly agree.

In these 6 years that Nico has invaded my father’s heart, my father has taken on a whole new lease in life. My father uprooted everything he knew to move with my family and me to Texas so we could give Nico a better quality of life. That, in itself, is not something any grandparent is expected to do EVER, but my father has really reinvented himself with this change. Being with Nico on this adventure (as we like to call this chapter in our life down here in the Lone Star state) has taught him patience, empathy, how to not take himself so seriously, and how to channel all his love (that he didn’t quite know how to show at times) into helping Nico progress through the world of Autism and provide him a home where he never has to want for anything.

Grandparents have that special place in our children’s lives that is so unique. My in-laws love our son immensely and it kills us to be hundreds of miles away from them, but I tell ya, when we get home and he sees them his heart skips a beat. They are the silly, playful grandparents that every kid hopes for! We always loved having sleepovers at Nana and Papos’ house because we would stay up late laughing and dancing–two of Nico’s favorite things to do! He adores them. And if that wasn’t enough, Nico is super blessed to have his great-grandma in his life still. Abuelita’s love for Nico and the pride she has in him just radiates off her every time she sees him. It makes my husband so happy to know that he can share the love he has for his grandma with his own son. She misses Nico so much and since she can’t travel to Texas to see him we FaceTime as much as possible so she can keep up with his progress. Thank goodness for these technological wonders!

I have recently been seeing many articles that talk about how good it is for grandparents to help raise their grandchildren. Its keeping them healthier, more active, happier, and actually even keeping them alive longer. I can totally see how this research is true because my father has so much more pep in his step than in years past. Here are a few articles that highlight this growing trend:

To all the grandparents–we couldn’t do this without you Thank you.

Grandparents May Live Longer if  They Help Out with Grandkids (Seriously!)

Grandparents Who Babysit Live Longer, Study Finds

In today’s world, parents do not have the luxury to give all of themselves to their children and their jobs equally; something is always being sacrificed. An overwhelming sense of guilt washes over me whenever I have to leave Nico for work, but I am so incredibly thankful that my son has someone who loves him just as much as I do waiting to take the reigns when I can’t. I am truly blessed and lucky that my son has his grandparents in his life and that they would move mountains for him. So, to all the grandparents out there going the extra mile for us parents so that we can build a great life for our kiddos…I raise my glass to you (although I know some of you are already a few glasses ahead of me as you prepare for another week of grand parenting…lol)! Cheers and THANK YOU!