Middle Schools, Mammograms & Margaritas

Friends – it’s been a wild & crazy week here at the Red Couch. I’m still a bit shaky, but since spilling my guts is cleansing for me, I’m risking being a bit all over the board on this one. Please bear with me.

Things did not get off to the best of starts for us this week. It started just before dark on late Sunday afternoon. Elliott had been having an up and down day – not awful by any means, but as winter often does, extreme family togetherness does not always bring out the best for the trio. He decided, on his own, to go out for a scooter ride. Let me preface what comes next by saying that in our neighborhood, there is a circle path that we have trained our boys how to do safely on their own. No busy streets – and a long and careful program in terms of safety training and even a few months of walkie-talkies to make sure they were ready for it. Alas – at 12, E is allowed to ride around our little circle/block on his own without supervision on his scooter or bike. Fresh air is calming for him, and it gives us all a break and him a sense of independence when he can get out on his own for a few minutes.

That said, the E man loves stop lights. He’s been able to overcome a lot of his obsessive tendencies with stop lights, but they remain a passion for reasons I’ll likely never understand. He loves to look at them, study the timing of them, the walking symbols, everything about them. And one block off of our little circle path is a very busy intersection and a major stop light. Apparently, on Sunday afternoon, E man ventured off his scooter path, and was staring at the stoplight while jumping and flapping his arms which someone found alarming and called the police. Frankly, in many ways, I am grateful to live in a neighborhood where people care enough to want to make sure all is well. Watching a 12 year old boy jump and flap in front of a major intersection is unexpected – it does not look typical. It logically could make any adult concerned that he might dart out into traffic or just be lost in general.

We’re also grateful that a very caring, with-it police officer took the call – approaching Elliott carefully, and asking him where he lived. Elliott tells me he asked the officer “are you here to take me to jail” and the officer told him he just wanted to make sure he made it home safely and wanted to follow him home in his car.

Enter Tom & I noticing a very slow moving police vehicle coming down our street and that weird feeling in the pit of my stomach that this had something to do with Elliott. The officer explained that a concerned person had phoned, and we were able to explain Elliott’s deal (autism with a side of stop-light obsession). He could not have been kinder – and in the end, we were able to have a heart to heart with E man about why his jumping and flapping in front of a stoplight concerned our neighbors. Yes, there were tears, and yes it hurt that he once again was sad about how his autism affects him. But, I think something about the encounter may have hit home for him, and for that I am truly grateful. No one wants the police to be called because their child looks awkward and unsafe in public – but it was a learning lesson for all of us. My job is to find safer ways to explore studying stoplights – perhaps becoming a civil engineer will be incentive to work hard in school? More importantly, it was a lesson in honesty. When you say you’re riding your scooter around the circle, you had better be riding around the circle, and not riding up to stare at the stop light. Life lessons all around . . .

Monday morning, I met one of the wonderful ISD 196 Special Ed. Staff members who took me on a tour of 2 district middle schools as we are considering both for Elliott next year. As E man is our oldest, this whole middle school thing is new and frankly, very unnerving for me. I shared with some friends last month that as much as I think I’ve accepted E’s autism, that his puberty and gradual move towards adulthood is bringing with it a whole new set of emotions and stages of grief about how different it is for him. The Middle School thing is just one of those things I’m struggling with. In many ways, I feel like I’m going through diagnosis all over again, and it hurts.

The good news is that both are very good schools, and while they each have their own unique strengths and challenges as they relate to Elliott and our family, I don’t feel as if either would be a bad fit for him. There is no right or wrong choice, it just about making the right choice for E and our family.

Much of my discomfort of Middle School for Elliott is my own deal. I hale from a very small town in southern MN, and with a graduating class of 50, this suburban middle school stuff is very out of my element in general – not to mention the whole special education component of it. When I walk in the doors, and am told that one of the school is a very small middle school with just 900 students, I can’t help but gulp. Then, walking by the Industrial Sciences class and watching these huge middle schoolers use saws and an array of dangerous equipment as they build pin ball machines was almost too much for me. Monday night was Tom & I up late talking about the options and trying to figure out what the pros and cons were for each and what direction we might want to go. Kind of heavy stuff – but not unlike what almost every family does when their oldest starts middle school – just with a little “extra” to consider. Ugh – parenting can be so humbling.

Yesterday, things kind of got back to normal. Still contemplating middle school stuff, but the kids were all having good weeks at school, and the week was kind of turning around. Around 2 p.m. – I didn’t think anything of it when my phone rang (especially as I looked at the number and didn’t recognize an ISD 196 number). Turns out – the mammogram I had last week had some areas of concern on my right breast, and they needed me to come in for further testing. Wow – that one really caught me off guard!
Immediately, I went into panic mode- I am anxious by nature, and living with autism for the past 10 years leaves me in a constant state of elevated stress – kind of like constantly in fight or flight status waiting for the next ball to drop. Yes, I’m medicated (after a couple of panic attacks and thinking I was dying of a heart attack – medication was strongly encouraged), and it’s been enormously helpful through the years.

Even more frightening, at 45, I have recently known multiple people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Getting older sucks, and this is just one of those things – still, no matter what, you never think it is going to be you.
Last night, I didn’t sleep much. I was up, on the internet, reading all the scary stuff I could digest. I’ve been doing my mammograms religiously since 40 without incident. I have 3 kids and 2 with autism – breast cancer would be a lot to deal with on top of my current load.

Alas – they got me in right away this morning. Allow me to say that while the “compression mammogram” is even less fun than the regular kind – it was not as bad as the internet suggested. Following that test – the technician showed the results to the radiologist, and then told me I needed to move on to have an Ultrasound as they were still uncertain. By this time, I had every worst case scenario imaginable swirling around in my brain. I could not help but cry, and I was scared out of my mind. After she did some pictures with the gooey stuff, she told me the Radiologist would need to talk with me, and once again, I expected the worst. None of this had any hint of “ok” for me, and I was terrified. Alas – just a few minutes later, the Radiologist came in and announced “good news” in the doorway. It may have been wrong for me to jump up and hug him – one breast out and full of goopy gel – especially since he didn’t seem the huggy type – but I could not help myself.

All the crazy thoughts circling around in my head about watching my kids grow up, finding a way to put stop light obsessions to good use and the fact that I just bought a keratin treatment for my hair on Groupon this week, and what a horrible waste that would be if I need to be bald in the near future just ceased in that awkward embrace with the radiologist who was not touchy feely. Whew!

Sure- I have friends who have had a different outcome at their call-back appointment, and my heart goes out to them – maybe even in a new way after today. I have faced adversity – as we all have – and I dare say that having autism in our family has given me a greater appreciation for the struggles we all face. But today, as I drove home from that appointment, bickering with Tom for his unsafe driving, to my crazy house to wait for my trio to come home from school, I could not help but smile. After all, they are my crazy, wacky family, and I’m grateful for every moment I get to have with them – middle school, police officers, stop lights & all.

That said, tonight, I think I’d like a margarita. Anyone care to join me?