Yep – I’m glad January is gone. No, I’m not here to complain about the weather (good Minnesotan that I am), as it’s been so warm and nice around here this winter, well, I just can’t go there. January in our house has a history of being a really difficult month filled with all the ugly elements of autism that are just not fun for any of us. This January was no exception . . .
I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons why January is the pits, and you know what – it’s not all about autism – I get that. January is, let’s face it, kind of crummy for lots of people. The holidays are over, no one is eating junk food, gatherings and social events are minimal, and the festive sprit that envelops much of November/December in general disappears into the cold reality of “getting down to business”. I think for us, it’s a loss of “relaxed” time, and even though this happens for us every year and I should not be surprised that it’s an issue once again, it’s about going from a lack of structure to lots of structure that seems especially difficult for all our kids. Heck, maybe there is something to the Vitamin D thing as summer does tend to be better for all of us – I don’t know.
Worst of all, when Elliott started having more and more challenges as the month of January crept by, (arguing, bugging kids at school, calling teachers by their first names, flushing every toilet in the school bathroom just for fun, making new and interesting noises and clicking sounds, and a basic need for extreme control over everything in his world), his sister starting doing many of the same things – but with her own unique twist.
I know I’ve said this before, but it’s like watching an old terrible movie, where you know the ending, and it’s not good, but you can’t stop it. Except – maybe we can, but maybe we can’t. Ugh. Knowing the challenges Elliott has faced, and then watching my little girl start down a similar path at a similar age is unbelievably painful. I hate it.
Then, add in a pinch of Henry facing his own struggles at school (not academic, yet, but his organization skills are challenging him enough to affect his school performance), and well, it’s not been a fun time around our house. (You know it’s bad if I have not even considered a margarita!)
In the midst of all this ugliness, last week, something kind of cool happened that has made me do a lot of thinking. One day, after school, Elliott had a giant melt-down because we were not going to be able to make it to “Culver’s Night” at his school from 5-6, but because of his friendship group, we would need to attend from 6-7. This literally shook him to the core, and after 45 minutes of him melting down on the red couch, he asked me to join him. We worked through the time change – could the world survive our arriving at Culver’s at 6:10 rather than 5:00, or would it be better to forget the whole thing? Would Culver’s still have cheese curds at 6:10, etc?
All of a sudden, Elliott looked at me, tears still running down his cheeks, and said “Mom, I don’t want you to order kid meals for me anymore at Culver’s because I am not a kid – I am an old man”. Whoa – where did this come from? I was already in the zone for repairing the meltdown surrounding a schedule change, but kid meals, and old men – yikes! When I got myself together, we compromised on “big guy” rather than kid or old man, but the bigger issue is that Elliott is growing up, and in his own way, is asking for more independence and acceptance. Man, that’s kind of big, powerful stuff, and while this does not negate the crappy January that we had, I think he has a point. He is growing up, and sometimes, I am hesitant to recognize that or treat him like an 11-year-old because of autism. There, I said it.
So much about growing up is difficult, and sometimes living/working through the tough stuff on your own is key to becoming your own person. I think, in his own way, Elliott was asking me for more freedom to make his own mistakes, and learn from his own successes and failures. That’s hard for any parent, but when you add a pinch of autism, it’s just that much more difficult. I’m thankful he found a way to let me know what he needs (and if he does not want his free kids meal sundae at Culver’s –well then I do!)
In many ways, Elliott is a wise, old soul. Maybe “old man” was not so far off the mark after all . . .
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