Monday, October 31, 2011

Nope, no cutesy costume pic. But feel free to post yours!

No, I'm not crazy about halloween, no I don't think you're evil if you love it.  Really, it's cool.  Do what you do.  It makes it extra-unappealing to think of dressing the dude who is OCD about his shoes being tied just-so (extra hilarious when you realize he will only wear velcro shoes) dressed in a costume, pulling at it, miserable.  The littles don't seem to care one way or the other. If, at some point, the kids start to beg and ask if they can trick-or-treat, we will revisit the topic.  For now, we have a great time giving out candy as a family.  Unless, of course, the event is on Friday night... or an unexpected Saturday when the kids are bathed and dressed for bed and we're about to start family devotions... yeah, that was last weekend.

When Eric and I were first married, and even when we were pregnant with Ryan, We sat on our front porch in Fort Worth with our dog, commenting on each family's costumes and of course handing out candy.  And, as any newly married couple, discussing our childhood experiences with the holiday and dreaming about what we'd do with our kids.  Yeah, that's hard to think about.

On the way to therapy today, in between reaching to the CD player to turn back to his favorite song, Ryan started to pick at his shoes.  As he did, I looked (yes, carefully) at them and noticed out loud "oh, buddy... you need new shoes."

I know that a lot of kids get attached to shoes.  I get that. I was one of them!  I had this little pair of brown ballerina-type flats when I was a bit younger than Ryan.  Mom couldn't get me out of them.  When I went to see Nanny that summer, you can bet that was one of the first things we did.  The Dillard's in Fort Smith, it was, where I picked out not one but two pretty new pairs of shoes.  You've got to hand it to her... Nanny was geniusly creative.  I know what she was thinking.  She got me all tickled about new shoes, which is totally not hard to do, and tried to have the salesman throw the old ones away.  We got all the way back to Heavener, and I asked for my old shoes.  Didn't take many tears and we were back in Fort Smith the next day to pick them up.  Nice try, Nanny.  Nice try.

But Ryan, oh dear.  As I reached down to do the "mommy toe pinch", I hoped desperately that I was going to be able to get through this without a trip to the shoe store, department store, or otherwise with him.  The last time we bought shoes for Ryan with him in tow, I apologized to the saleslady as we walked in for the noise she was about to endure.  She laughed.

I didn't.  But she'd know soon enough.

It took all of ten minutes.  With my nearly six-year-old on my shoulders (hubster had just had back surgery) it was a ready-set-go kind of deal.  We went to his size, I pointed.  Then we took a deep breath and removed a shoe.  Literally, I held out his foot as he screamed, pulled my hair, and beat my head so his daddy could try the shoe on his foot.  Once we found the ones that fit, were brown so he could wear them to school and church just fine, and were velcro closure, we checked out.

Yeah, I think the lady at the checkout got the point.  

Most of the time, we're just different.  When I go out with the littles, people talk to us, comment on how precious they are... but when Ryan's with us it's so often not that way.  When he's screaming and beating his chest anywhere and folks are staring, we can't choose what looks or feels different.  There are times when it's no big deal, but there are times when the different stings.  Some times, like halloween, I can kinda decide that we're different because we want to be.  No, we don't do halloween.  We talk about Reformation Day, and we pass out candy because we want to give because we have been given so much.  And some people like to dress up and trick or treat, which is fine for them.  For me, it sounds like a nightmare.  As for the scary stuff, I guess you could say I'm a chicken.  I don't like to be scared.  The whole scary-movie, haunted-house thing is lost on me.  There are people who dig it, but there are also people who dig not having kids and love every sporty thing under the sun, and that's just not us.  Ah, a real reason to be different that can, if I choose, have nothing to do with Autism, advocacy, or safety. Aaaaaaah.  Yes, we choose not to participate.  We have our reasons.

Then there are some things that I miss... like sorting through the candy.  I was one of those kids who would sort the candy into several piles, categorizing it.  I loved doing that, but I did that with M&M's and Skittles too, even when M&M's were only brown, light brown, yellow, orange and green.  Guess who loved sorting through the candy too?  Richie picked out little boxes of Lemonheads that we had planned to pass out.  He lined them up by color, then made a little design or two out of them.  Then he made a nice little ramp in the middle of a cute, colorful box highway.

As I listen to someone talk about what their kids will dress up as, where they'll trick or treat, and even whether or not they do Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, my heart wants to scream "JUST BE GLAD THEY NOTICE."  I want to launch into a dissertation on our reasoning behind this, that, and the other, and make darn sure they know to be sure they enjoy every last second of the neurotypical childhoods taking place all around them.  Would I be entitled, even justified?  Oh yes.  In the world a lot of us live in (if you turn on a TV or pay attention at the checkout in the grocery store... sheesh), I'm entitled to splat my feelings all over someone's face, just because I felt them.  Tell 'em.  Give 'em hell.  Put them in their place.  How dare they flaunt their normal lives in front of my splattered heart and shattered nerves?  I could go on and on with excuses stemming from childhood abuse, even, for things I say and what I can and can't handle and the decisions we make.  But I do my best not to.

Yes, I have and will, in the proper setting and with the proper tone, remind someone gently to be a tad more aware of what they're saying.  But anything I choose to say better be of a heart of humility and grace, not out of my own agenda.  Putting someone in their place?  My agenda.  Fixing someone?  My agenda.  When my agenda doesn't align with God's agenda, disaster will ensue.  I may not see it.  The results may be delayed, and they may be invisible.  To hurt someone just because I am hurt, insulted, or just too cranky that day is simply adding hurt to hurt.  There are times when it is appropriate to speak up regarding someone else's choices, but these times must be chosen with the utmost humility and prayer, and incredibly carefully.  Is life at stake?  Safety?  I mean, "Hey, don't throw that match into that gas can!" is a pretty safely chosen bet.  But "you shouldn't let your children watch Spongebob"?  Not so much.  That's preference. No matter how strongly you feel about it, no matter how many strong arguments you may have against it, it's still not a life-or-death decision. As a wise person once said, "Does this need to be said?  Does this need to be said by me?  Does this need to be said by me right now?"

So yes, I hope you're out there trick-or-treating it up safely with your little Spongebobs, your Optimus Primes, your ghosties, your Sheriff Woodys, your princesses.  Have a fabulous time!  And thanks for bringing them to the house.  We SO enjoy seeing them all dressed up!  Enjoy sorting through the candy like I did with my mom.  I will be here with my kids, in their regular clothes, having a regular night, save a little study about Reformation Day with my BFF, Eric.  That and I'll be here ready to hand out candy, should there be any trick-or-stragglers left over from Saturday night. You know, people like me, who had no idea.  And out of the appreciation of the grace that you and so many others... but mostly the Holy Trinity... extend to me, I will more than happily dump a load of candy in your little Angry Bird's plastic pumpkin.  I will comment on what a cutie bug he is, and all because I mean it.  And I will trust that you know what is best for your kids and yourself, as I know what is best for me and mine.

And when you come to the door and see my kids already in their jammies, or when you see us, get to know us, or read this and notice our differences daily, don't feel sorry.  Please.  We appreciate your smiles, your friendship, your words of encouragement when the day gets screamy right in front of you, and we're thankful for your prayer and all these things.  We're learning to not just embrace but enjoy our different.  We're learning to see the amazing in every personality difference, preference, and all the other behaviors that make us who we are.  We're also seeing that each of us is just as different as the other, and Ryan's differences just seem to stick out a bit more.  And this time, as far as halloween goes, difference is our choice.  We've had a great day.  

Blessed evening to you all, whether you've been trick or treating, trunk or treating, fall festivaling, remembering the 95 Theses, Diet of Worms, and other adventures of Martin Luther, or just hiding in your house with the porch light turned off.

And to all a good night.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Quittin' time, part 2

Sorry I made you wait for the rest of this.  I keep thinking I'm going to have more time, and every time I think that something comes up.  When will I learn?  The bad news is my best friend is sick tonight so what I was hoping I'd be doing isn't going to happen.  But the good news is I have the rest of the day (and I mean until like 1:00 tomorrow morning) to get the stuff done I need to do today.  So here I am.

If you're wondering about part 1, click here. Now that we're all on the same page...

So after I left bible study, I reminded myself at times audibly that God is in control.  There's always a reason.  Always.  Even when we don't know what it is, there's a reason.  I went home, changed the littles' diapers and stuff, got what we needed and went to the school to get Ryan.  I was almost sure that since his aid wasn't with him, I'd have to get the kids out and go in and get him, since I pick him up in the middle of the school day.  Imagine my surprise to see his teacher bringing him out.  When he got to the van, it went something like this:

Me: So how'd he do?

L: We're good.

Me:  We're good?  Oh, he had a good day?

L: No, we're GOOD.

Me: Um... you mean we don't need to hire someone else good?

L: I'd like to try it.

That last comment and the look on L's face I will remember for eternity.

She went on to describe how well he'd done since lunch the day before, when his aid had resigned. Not one meltdown.  Little fits, but no meltdowns.  Being the mommy I am, I had to make sure he was safe.  Satisfied with her answer, I put my official mommy-seal on the deal and we agreed.


Full inclusion.  All day.  Only someone to help with music and p.e.

After searching the van for and reattaching my chin, we headed to therapy.  Soon as I was out of the school zone I called Eric.  We both teared up.  I think we both said "FOR REAL?!?!" about ten times.  The only other thing that we could manage to utter was Praise God.

It has now been a week and a half.  If Ryan's folder was still here, I'd show you the happy faces and "Great Day" markings on his behavior chart.  I am still in utter disbelief.

I'm in disbelief that he's doing this!  We are so proud of him!  We are so proud of his teacher!  We are so proud to be in a school district that makes the paperwork fit the kid instead of the kid fit the paperwork!  I mean, he still needs some support.  But when you're in a place where all the teachers actually really do care about the kids... all of the kids, not just the easy ones... kids like Ryan get a shot.  They get a real shot. And when they fall, others pick them up, dust them off, and give them another shot.  I cannot tell you how grateful I am for God's providence in all this.  For the teachers, administration, the special programs department, his teacher form the last three years who still checks in on him, the aid who knew for whatever reason it was time to go... all of this, we are so grateful.

I don't know why God chose to give us all He's given us.  I could begin listing it all, but don't think blogger would allow me the storage capacity.  Just looking around in our family, just seeing our three kids smiling at us, is more than enough.  We're healthy, my husband and I love each other, we still have my mother, his parents, and his Nana, we have our sisters and their husbands and families, and we have extended family.  We have a fabulous church, wonderful friends, and a roof over our heads.

As King David said in 2 Samuel 7:18, "Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?"

Who am I, Lord?  Who are we, that you have brought us this far?!

Thanks and much praise be to God!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Quittin' time... part 1

Aaaand I'm alive.  This fall (if you can call it that in central Texas) has been fabulous, just very busy.  Somewhere between my crafty-time, trying to get the house decorated and settled for real (I'm so not a decorator), keeping up with driving to therapy, church, all the stuff that's important to our family and still managing to be able to keep the daily stuff like dishes and laundry done is keeping us so busy.  I won't even go into how exciting football marching season is for us... well, let's just say we're busy but happy.

Somewhere in all the excitement last week, I was taking time for one of my favorite mama treats, our ladies' bible study here in town.  Discussion had just ended and we had just settled into our chairs after singing for a few minutes when my phone rang.  I picked up my phone and tried to make my way out of the room, my hunched-over shadow taking off poor Beth Moore's legs on the screen.  Sneaking into the church library I answered. It was our diagnostician.

If you've been in our situation or something similar, you know how your heart can drop when it's not time for a yearly ARD meeting and the diagnostician's number is on the screen.  Usually it's not great news when she's contacting me, and I had that sinking feeling in my gut that says there's something up.

Hate it when I'm right.

She was gentle and sweet and calm, but there's no good way to deliver it.  "Mrs. Senzig, I just wanted to let you know that as of yesterday at lunch *Ryan's aid* has resigned."  After that it was just kinda emotional freefall.  I don't generally go nuts over these things.  I manage to sing my version of that Veggie classic "God is Bigger than the Boogieman" in my heart, and it's eventually all okay.  I managed to be all business on the phone, using my version of what we affectionately called Nanny's "Tupperware Queen" voice, but I was dying.  Seriously?  She really decided she couldn't do it?  I was surprised, frustrated, upset, sad, nervous... and just flat hurt that dealing with my kid wasn't possible.  Not at her.  I am so thankful that she knew her limits.  I like her, I really do.  I know she cared about him, I know she was good to him and wanted the best for him.  But a lack of training is hard to overcome when you're thrown into the deep end of the Autism pool on your first day.  She had managed to rally and we were all proud of her for that, but in the end it just wasn't something she could keep doing.  And that's okay.  Really.  We're thankful for the time she spent with him, the effort she spent, the heart she spent.

So after she promised they would keep looking for an aid, told me that I'd need to bring Ryan just a little later to school so that he'd be with his class when he showed up (long story), and assured me that he was safe with a temp aid for the next two days I hung up and went back to class.  I did pretty well, listening and keeping up with Miss Beth on the screen.  Then I told my friend Melanie, who was right beside me, who then suggested I tell the rest of the ladies so they could be praying.  Actually, she volunteered to do it for me, and (being me) I said I'd manage.  Right as I explained that I knew exactly what was hard and why because she basically was doing my job, I told them I could understand why she wanted to quit, because sometimes I do too.  And as those words left my lips, I crumbled into a pile.

If you've never experienced a group of people who sincerely love you around you, crying with you and praying for you, I hope you get the chance.  Attention is not my favorite thing, especially with a tear and snot-soaked face, blubbering with all I've got.  But there I was, humanity all over my face, exhausted, enrobed in the hands and hugs of women of faith.

They like to call us "Warrior Moms" at times.  Most days I wouldn't call myself that.  I don't deserve that.  I'm not petitioning anyone for the cause, not knocking on doors or breaking down huge walls in the area of advocacy.  I'm not one of the scientists searching for a prevention or a behaviorist studying a new way to help these sweet ones figure out this crazy world.  I'm just a mom.

Just a mom.

Just a mom who loves her children and wants the... no, God's... best for them.  Just a mom who would do anything needed for her kids.  Just another mom who keeps the sword and shield up on one side with the game face on, and usually manages to polish the shield and smile with the other hand in a somewhat futile attempt to keep our family going.  Fighting Autism's symptoms while at the same time attempting to help our family learn to act in a way that is palatable to society as a whole.  All this without losing who we are as a married couple, plus laundry, dishes, social planning (anything social takes a ton of it), potty training, keeping up with all the usual homemaker stuff, and what?  I'm supposed to look like a human when I step out of the house?

Yep, just a mom.

And there are millions of us.  Being the warriors our family needs.  But for every time someone's called us "supermom" there are about a hundred times we feel inadequate.  Frustrated.  Hopeless.  Tired.  Weary.  But that moment of losing it... that moment where the cracks in the armor show and all the frustration, fear, and weariness pour from the floodgates... is the very moment when God shows who He is.  It's when we get to see that those people who say hello and ask how we are every Wednesday really do care how we are.  It's that little reminder that although people may never really get it, there are those who are cheering for us, whether or not they get the ins and outs of our struggles.  In our weakness, in that proof of our humanity, the world gets a little glimpse into what God is made of.  That He can do this through me?  ME?  Weak, tired, horrible at confrontation, recovering people-pleaser me?  Me who can't stop being selfish and at times lazy and impatient, sometimes all at the same time?

Yup.  In my weaknesses, He is strong.  He will not leave me stranded, even in my darkest times.  ESPECIALLY not in my darkest times.

Deep inside this Warrior Mom's armor is a scared, weary child who is tired and needs a hug.  And even when you wear as much armor as Autism Warrior Moms, sometimes it's that feather on the 2-ton barbell that sends us crashing to through the floor.  Sometimes something catches us so off guard that the armor falls and we need friends to help pick it up and put it back on... and sometimes hold it up for us.  Just for a little while.  Because even when your whole life and philosophy for living is grounded in the belief that God is sovereign, life can just be too much.

The story doesn't end there... stay tuned for part 2.  In the meantime, have a listen. :-)

The Warrior is a Child
~Twila Paris

Lately I've been winning battles left and right 
But even winners can get wounded in the fight 
People say that I'm amazing 
Strong beyond my years 
But they don't see inside of me 
I'm hiding all the tears

They don't know that I go running home when I fall down 
They don't know who picks me up when no one is around 
I drop my sword and cry for just a while 
'Cause deep inside this armor 
The warrior is a child

Unafraid because His armor is the best 
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest 
People say that I'm amazing 
Never face retreat 
But they don't see the enemies 
That lay me at His feet

They don't know that I go running home when I fall down 
They don't know who picks me up when no one is around 
I drop my sword and and cry for just a while 
'Cause deep inside this armor 
the warrior is a child

They don't know that I go running home when I fall down 
They don't know who picks me up when no one is around 
I drop my sword and look up for a smile 
'Cause deep inside this armor 
Deep inside this armor 
Deep inside this armor 
The Warrior is a Child

Monday, October 3, 2011

Abide With Me

I took a calculated risk the other day.  Of course, we all know my math skills stink like yesterday's diapers.  This was no exception.

As the weather turns cooler (okay, as we can go outside without cooking in our skin... this is Texas) I start missing the smells and tastes of home.  To celebrate the reuniting of myself and my crock pot last week and the seasoning of a very special cast-iron skillet, I decided it was time. 

Big ol' pot of beans.

No, I haven't completely lost my marbles.  Not all of them.  As far back as I can remember, beans, cornbread, and fried potatoes has been part of my family. My Granny, Nanny's mother, used to have "bean day" every Wednesday for the whole family and any friends who wanted to come.  All of us had different ways of eating them.  Nanny liked the crunchies parts of the fried potatoes with beans and some "juice" with some chopped onion and salt and pepper.  My aunt Gladys Mae, one of Nanny's sisters, likes hers with all that, plus more pepper and Tabasco.  Grandad liked his like Nanny's except with catsup... and that's how I like mine.  Beans, not so much juice, catsup, onion.  Oh, and the crunchiest potatoes.  Used to half-wrestle Nanny for those. 

From the time I left for college, every time I visited home, Nanny would ask what I wanted to eat while I was home.  This meal was always part of the list.  Always at the top.  She finally began to ask "what do you want to eat this week besides beans and fried potatoes?"  With practice, I began to be able to recreate this meal pretty close to home.  But it's just not the same without her. 

As much as I was hurt in life, if there was a way for her to rescue me, Nanny would.  Horrible breakup?  She drove the three hours to listen to me cry.  Need a way to go to college? She figured out a way to pay for my first year, because as she told the bank president, "her Mama wants to and can't, and her Daddy won't." But as much as she did for me, as much as she sacrificed for all of us...

We were still lonely.

We still hurt.

Even once she realized that I wasn't crazy, and autism really did exist and Ryan likely had it, she tried.  She once had a lady who came to look at some Tupperware who kept looking out to the driveway as they talked.  The lady kindly explained that her grandson was in the car, eating his lunch.  She just didn't know what he'd do.  After a minute or two of going on, the lady finally told Nanny that her grandson has autism.  Nanny looked that grandmother in the eye and let her know that she wasn't alone.  "Bring him on in!" she said, "there's not a thing in here he can hurt."  And the boy came in, ate his lunch, and was awesome.  And the grandmother was so grateful. 

Even with family as amazing as I am blessed to have, even with a husband who loves me beyond what I can explain, even with friends I can call... they are still mortal.  They will fail, they will mess up, they will... as my dear Nanny did... drift out of this life.  And even if they lived forever, I am still me.  My thoughts are my own, my heart is my own.  There are moments when I have to be without someone else.  There are times when I have to be alone. 

Some people thrive on being alone.  Some people say they do, but really just don't want to admit they're horrified of loneliness.  Others still will readily admit their dislike of it, and go through life kicking, screaming, and whining every time they have to be by themselves.  I'm not knocking friendships.  I'm not knocking fellowship.  I'm certainly not saying I have this area of life nailed.  But there are times... and I'd like to throw out that, maybe even most of the time... we are who we are, doing what we do because it's what we do, and there's no one around with skin on who can possibly truly rescue us. 

I've been on both ends of this.  I've been the person who woke up on Saturday afternoon as a single adult with a stricken feeling at having to spend the day by myself, afraid I'd have to go it alone for a whole day. I've also been the person on whom someone placed their sanity, hope, and happiness.  Both are awful places to be.  Both, if taken to an extreme, can be detrimental or even deadly.  It's not sinful to want company.  It's not awful to enjoy company, or even to feel lonely!  We were created with others in mind.  Why did God create Eve again?   Genesis 2:18 tells us, after creating Adam "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."   We were made with a need for each other.

But who can sit with me through Ryan's meltdowns?  Who can be with me through every fit?  When my husband had back surgery and needed help out of bed at 2:30 in the morning to go to the bathroom after I'd just put the baby back down at 2:15, who was there?  Me! 

But I wasn't alone.  No, I wasn't alone.  Yes, my dear husband was there, but he needed me to be together and calm and loving for him.  He needed my encouragement, not my whining (although he received quite a lot of that, I'm embarrassed to say). Through it all, from day one, to whom have I belonged? 

Who knitted me together in my mother's womb?  (Psalm 139)

Who planned my life's purpose?  (Jeremiah 29:11)

Whose words calm my heart's fears, encourage me, teach me, reassure me, and remind me of His sovereignty? 

Upon whose sovereignty does the very foundation of my faith rest? 

It is He who abides with me.  It is He who abides with my children, my husband, my dear family and friends.  It is He who calms my spirit so I can be Ryan's, Richie's, and Maelynn's rock. 

As we ate an unusually painful bowl of beans and fried potatoes last week, I was amazed at God's providence yet again.  I love my husband, my children, my family, my friends.  Although I may move, seemingly, heaven and earth to be with them in a time of need, I cannot be their everything.  Even if I could write a check for their every need at every moment, I could not be their everything, nor could they be mine.  And when I move away from God, forgetting to whom I belong for a time, He remains there, ever the same.

God alone can be my everything.  He alone will calm me, hold me, give me peace, hold my tongue, and make me speak.  Though my knees chatter, though my heart aches, though my heart, soul, mind, and physical strength be gone, He will abide with me. 

Thanks be to God!

Abide With Me

Abide with me; falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers, fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, abide with me.

Thou on my head, in early youth didst smile;
And, though rebellious, and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee,
On to the close Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence, every passing hour,
What but Thy grace, can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, tears lose their bitterness
Where is thy sting death? Where grave thy victory?
I triupmh still, abide with me.

Hold thou Thy cross, before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, Lord, abide with me.
                              2007 Justin Smith Music

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