It's been a long week.
Week before last, I was in Oklahoma helping my Mom with a bit of an emergency. One of those life situations that creeps up and you need someone close to you to deal with. So, being the gracious man he is, Eric hugged the two little kids and I and kept Ryan with him. The things I needed to help my Mom with meant that Ryan, being himself, would have been in more danger with me than with his father at work. Yes, he has such wonderful coworkers that this was no problem. Blessed? Oh, yes! I was gone with the two littles working for almost a week. Ryan did great with his Dad! It was just the two of them, except when they were at work. They had a great time being bachelors together. Every day, though, he would say either "Mommy, where are you?" or "Mommy, come home." Yeah. That pretty much broke my heart. You know my Mom really needed me if I left him. If you know me you know that. And he was so happy to see us when we got back!
For about a day.
When back to school after Christmas hit, his usual resistance to change followed.
If you have a weak stomach, or just can't stand to read about potty-type things, this is your chance to duck out.
Ok. I warned you!
When Ryan is nervous about change, he refuses to poop. Refuses. His record for holding it is about four days. After a stool softener dissolved in hot chocolate (chocolate coffee to him) and much praise and cheerleading, he pretty much passed a small orange. Then he was back to normal. And that was just after we got back from Christmas. Then we were home together for the second week of Christmas vacation, then I was gone for a week. We were right, though... he did do great in his element, here at home with his Daddy all to himself. Then when I got back and he started school, the start to school prompted excitement and anxiety that comes with a new semester, and we were right back where we started.
The first day back at school, I was home hacking away at the laundry beast, when we get the call. He's messed his pants, needs a change. Ok, no biggie. It was the first day back with all of us at work, and I looked like it was laundry day. Eric came home, grabbed some clean underwear and wipes and took care of the big guy at school on his lunch hour (yes, I am married to a prince, thank you for noticing). Not even two hours later, the school nurse called.
Ryan was in her office, very upset, having great difficulty. Shaking. They thought he might be sick. I plucked the sleeping 3 year old and almost 2 year old out of their beds and went to school in a pre-weight-loss college sweatshirt, awful sweatpants, with a bandanna over my so not washed hair. Oh, and shoes that didn't match a thing that I was wearing. Any other kids would have been like "aww, mom! You're embarrasing me!" My Ryan was so relieved to see his mommy that he actually answered a question for me. For real. So I cleaned him up, and immediately realized that, in my haste to get to my boy, I hadn't brought clothes. No clean underwear, no pants. Yeah, I felt pretty dumb. Thankfully the nurse had extra of everything I needed, because obviously Ryan was not thrilled at not having pants on. The whole time, the aid that helps him in music and PE sat with Richie and Maelynn so I could help Ryan. On the way home, Ryan asked if he could have iPad.
Not until you poop, dude. I'm sorry.
Soon as we walked in the door, he barreled to the potty and I heard his sweet "You did it! Excellent!" from the bathroom. I bet Steve Jobs had no idea his device would be used in such a way. Or maybe he did. Either way, I'm grateful for the leverage his invention brings.
But that was just the beginning. Every night and afternoon for a week this has gone on. Screaming, yelling, bargaining, pleading. Begging. Encouraging. It wears on all of us like you wouldn't believe, but most of all Ryan. Last night he finally did his thing without making a mess, and got iPad immediately as a reward.
I cannot express explicitly enough that in this Ryan is not just trying to "play" us or drive us crazy. This behavior is a result of not knowing what to do with the anxiety that comes with change. The problem is that this particular behavior will cause him harm if we can't find a way to curb it. This leaves Eric and I wishing there was someplace close where we could go and have people get it without having to explain for an hour. Partially because we can't explain it fully. We grasp blindly, desperately at something that will give him some relief from this vicious cycle, but the best we can do is just get him to go. Excrement as currency for playing iPad or VSmile seems to be the only thing these days.
This is another one of those ways I am in disbelief of the hold Autism has on these kids, their parents, their families. Most times when we leave Ryan with a sitter other than his grandparents he does this same thing. We come home to find him completely crashed and burning. Crying, shaking, not sure how to express anything other than to mess his pants. The guilt that comes from knowing this will likely happen is too much, so we just don't. Our marriage is strong and becoming stronger as we face these things every day, together. If we believed that we had to have a date every week/month to keep our marriage alive, which we have in the past, the guilt would turn this plan against us.
Others' expectations... and at times, even ours... must be thrown out the window so often. Did I expect to have a six-year-old with diaper rash? Nope. But it's what we have. Thing is, I also didn't expect to have a son who, at his tender age, is already learning drum set patterns. Things that we took for granted go out the door, but others come flying in that are even more amazing in their place. Sometimes we have to look for them. Too often we need each other to point them out. We don't have it all together. We're not even close. But we do have each other, three great kids, great parents, a fabulous extended family, and the love of Christ.
There are times when I'm not sure how we're going to keep doing this. Take Saturday. Eric was out with work, and I was here from 7:30 AM to past bedtime with all three kids. Richie wasn't feeling well with snotty issues, and Ryan was having his potty issues, but we got to have our dear best friends over. Well, sort of... the husbands were at work in the same place, and the ladies and kids met at my house. You know, the kind who are truly family... who know that you don't know what's coming next, but they're ready to roll with you no matter what it is or how bad it smells, and without judgement or trying to tell you how much better they could have done it. After they left, just as I got the kids through the bath, got Ryan through another poo battle, I walked into the living room just in time for Richie to hurl... copiously... all over the couch and the floor. He did this four more times within thirty minutes. Eric got home just in time to change out of his sport coat and into sweats before Richie got him too.
We are told as believers that God wants us to live joyful lives. Does joy mean happy? Sure sounds a lot like it. But happy with puke all over me, after just being hard-core screamed at while I cleaned up poop? Happy, with my child so scared, anxious, frustrated and just rocked to his core that he's hitting himself in the head and slapping his ears? Hmm. After a search, I only see where "happy" is used in the bible 8 times. In those eight times, the majority are referring to a circumstantial feeling. That a man may be happy on his honeymoon with his new wife, that there may be happiness in celebration, that kind of thing. But the word "joy" is used 203 times in the ESV, according to biblegateway.com. One of the things that frustrates me the most until recently is that "happy" doesn't seem to always find me when I'm here with the doors shut. How is it possible to be happy when you're cleaning everyone's bodily function in the house with the grateful exception of your husband? Well, maybe it's not.
And hold on... maybe that's okay.
Yes, unhappiness happens. It always will. It rears its ugly head, causing frustration and anger and just general discontent. But when those wheels fly off... and they will... we are to stop and ask for help. Ask for the endurance. For the calm. For the gentleness to return. Ask for it, and work toward it, and John 16:24 tells us that we will receive what we need. Why?
"Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full."
That our joy may be full. Not that we may be perky-skippy-happy all the time, but that our joy... the deep-end of happiness that comes with peace and contentment... may be FULL. That as we keep pedaling in our lives, we will be able to come back to content. Once that joy is in place, once we've practiced seeking and asking for that joy, it's easier to climb up from the lows. Joy in who we are in Christ is the lighthouse that keeps Eric and I coming back together after losing patience with each other. It's what allows us to let go and ask each other, and many times our kids, for forgiveness. It allows us to start over a thousand times a day if we need to.
And I do. And it's there every time. Forgiveness from God, my husband, my kids. Circumstances still apply, but the peace returns and the smile soon follows. Hang in there, friend. Ask for help. Seek it. Those around you don't have it all together either. They may say they do, but they don't. I promise. As together as they may seem, as they want you to think they are, as happy as they may truly be at that moment, we all have issues. Hangups. Imperfections. We all do. But no matter what your challenges, there is hope. There is forgiveness. There is a reason to keep pedaling.
"You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."
Thanks be to God!