Slightly Insane Mom

"All mothers are slightly insane." –J.D. Salinger
May 27th, 2014 by Molly

Diagnosis pt. 2: In Which I Get Snarky

This is the second in a planned 3-part series on Sgt. Snowflake’s diagnosis. He was recently diagnosed with high-functioning autism (Asperger’s) and ADHD, combined type. Warning: these posts are heavy on the feelings, light on the humor. If you want humor, go read about my dog’s boner. You can read part 1 of the diagnosis series here.

Let me start off this post by saying that by and large, people are awesome. When I posted a request for information on autism and ADHD on Friendface, my friends came through with more resources and words of support than I ever imagined. This post isn’t about those people. This post is about the people who don’t know how to react, and so they say whatever foot-in-mouth nonsense first crosses their cerebral cortex.

A Handy Guide to Saying the Right Things to a Parent of a Child with Autism

So let’s say a parent comes to you and says, “My child has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism.” Here are some things you might want to avoid saying:

“What a shame.” You know what’s a shame? Kids with terminal illnesses. World hunger. Illiteracy. Violence in our inner cities. Priorities, people.

“I wonder if he’ll ever [go to prom/play football/go to college] now.” There are a lot of things my kid might not do. But last time I checked, you’ve never been to the moon or discovered a cure for cancer. What’s your excuse?

“Do you think it was something you did during pregnancy?” Yep. All of that air I was breathing and genes I was passing on. Definitely all my fault. Thanks for reminding me.

“My friend’s roommate’s nephew had that, but he grew out of it. Maybe your child will, too.” Anecdata is SO helpful!

“You’re getting a second opinion, right?” I dunno. I figured I would just wait for you to go get a Ph.D. in neuroscience and prove the first doctor wrong.

“I sell a line of supplements that’s been known to help with that.” Let me take your business card and I’ll get back to you.

“If it makes you feel any better, I’d never guess it by looking at him.” And you expected autism to look like… what, exactly?

“He’s probably acting out for attention.” I know, right? Why can’t he just shave his head and pierce his nose like normal attention-deprived preschoolers? Jeez.

“I bet it was that MMR vaccine.” You’re probably right. Jenny McCarthy will back you up on that.

“He has poor motor skills? Maybe you just don’t take him outside to play enough.” He’s the one I keep inside like a potted plant. The other two kids with perfectly normal motor skills are allowed to run and frolic as they please.

“I’m sorry, I’m just having a hard time processing this.” Oh my gosh, how RUDE of me! I totally forgot that my child’s autism is ALL ABOUT YOU!

Folks, if you have ever been in this situation, or believe you ever will find yourself in this situation, here’s a friendly tip: Take out that mental filter that strains the thoughts going from your brain to your mouth, dust it right the hell off, and use it. Because let me explain something here: when a parent receives a diagnosis like this, there is a grieving process involved. When you find out your child has a developmental disorder, your brain does something along the lines of this: Oh thank God, we finally have a label on it. Oh my God, my kid has a label. He’s LABELED. For life. What does this mean? Did I cause this? Will he ever go to prom? Will he have friends? What if he lives at home forever? I wonder if there’s a waiting list for behavioral therapy. What IS behavioral therapy? What IS autism, for that matter? Shit, I have to go home and google stuff. I just want to get in bed and cry. Maybe I can google stuff tomorrow. No, wait, we have OT tomorrow. Crap, have to get on the waiting list for speech therapy. This totally explains that time when he did XYZ at my inlaws’ house. Shit, what do I tell the family? They’re not going to get it. Maybe they will. I hope they don’t act weird around us now. What should I make for dinner?…

That’s just the first few seconds. And then you come home after a silent car ride with your spouse, and you begin making phone calls. You tell your parents. You call the therapy place the neuropsychologist recommended. You think about calling insurance to verify coverage, and then you think, fuck it, what I really need today is some ice cream, because I’d rather eat my feelings than deal with them right now. Because you’ve just come upon the first tiny kernel of realization about WHAT THIS MEANS for you as a parent. It means that everything changes and nothing changes all at the same time. Your kid is the same as he was an hour ago, and you’re the same, but suddenly the difficulty factor of your job as a parent has been multiplied times infinity-and-one. The old Acme anvil has just been dropped, Roadrunner-style, and you’re the Coyote with the birds and stars spinning around your head.

And you go on Friendface and see your friends posting Instacrap pictures of their frappuccinos and their pedicures, and bragging about their neurotypical kids being all typical and shit, and you realize that you are now a MOM OF A CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS, and if that’s what life has handed you, then goddammit, you’re going to wear that scarlet A with the best of ’em. So you work up the nerve and you write a post about your kid, and you wonder if your friends will all read it and say a simultaneous “Well, that explains a lot!”

And then you make dinner, you go to bed, you cry, and you get up the next day and face the world in which everything is different and the same.

So just in case you never have to find yourself in my shoes, please heed my handy advice. Also, please read this article about the Ring Theory of Kvetching. I read this article shortly after a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, and shortly before Snowflake was diagnosed with Asperger’s. It has truly changed how I approach people in a crisis, and how I look at other people when I am at the center of a crisis. The gist of the article can be summed up by this handy diagram. Read it and memorize it.

Illustration by Wes Bausmith, L.A. Times

Ring Theory of Kvetching

To explain: A crisis can be illustrated in concentric rings, with the person experiencing the crisis in the center. Those closest to them are the next ring out, followed by the next closest people, and so on and so on. If you encounter a crisis, ask yourself: what ring am I on? Your ring placement determines which people you are allowed to bitch to. Let’s go with the “friend with cancer” analogy. The friend, being the center of the crisis, is allowed to dump all of her feelings OUT, to any level of the circle, at any time. Her family is allowed to dump OUT to all levels outside of their ring; however, they may not dump IN. The only thing that goes IN is comfort. Dump OUT, comfort IN. If you are a coworker, thinking about dumping IN? Go dump somewhere else, because what you have to offer is not helpful.

I found myself thinking about the Rings of Kvetching a lot in the week or so after Sgt. Snowflake’s diagnosis: the massive challenge of always sending comfort and positivity IN, to Snowflake, the fear of dumping too much OUT onto others, and the anger and hurt at others dumping IN on us. I wish I could send around this chart to everyone who dumped IN with a note that says, “Thanks for dumping your bullshit on us. For future reference, here’s a handy guide on what NOT to do.” But perhaps that’s too harsh. Dumper-inners are often well-meaning folk, after all. They just don’t know what to say. Neither do I, sometimes.

So I’ll leave it at that, dear readers reader. Stay tuned for part 3.

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May 13th, 2014 by Molly

Diagnosis pt 1: Confusion and Doubt

This is the first in a planned 3-part series on Sgt. Snowflake’s diagnosis. He was recently diagnosed with high-functioning autism (Asperger’s) and ADHD, combined type. Warning: these posts are heavy on the feelings, light on the humor. If you want humor, go read about my dog’s boner.

I should start by telling you a little about my Snowflake. He’s such a cool kid. He’s goofy and likes to laugh and crack jokes. Starting when he was about 3, he discovered that he can make up his own songs. He composes elaborate melodies in his head, and sings them, mostly with nonsense words that he repeats exactly the same way every time. Recently The Dude played him “In the Hall of the Mountain King” on youtube, and the next day he ran around singing it, all the notes perfect after just one listen. He loves video games. When he was two, I got an iPhone, and quickly installed Angry Birds to see what all the fuss was about. I made it to Level 2 and gave up. Snowflake asked if he could play, and when I got my phone back a while later, it was on Level 27. He occupies himself in fascinating ways. He is rarely bored. He has little Angry Birds plastic figures that he runs around the house with, talking to himself as if he were one character or another, acting out scenes he’s constructed in his head. Sometimes he puts on his Mario hat and pretends he’s playing with his brother Luigi. And sometimes he’s Luigi instead.

Snowflake’s development was pretty normal up until age 2 or so. My labor with him was agonizingly long, but not high-risk. He was a high-needs baby, never wanting to be put down, but we assumed that was just his temperament, rather than something out of the ordinary. He crawled at 7 months, walked at 14. He was breastfed for 10 months, and then self-weaned. He picked up the hang of solid foods quickly. He was very verbal, and had an extensive vocabulary by 18 months.

Around age 2, we started to notice some things that seemed unusual. He would frequently gag on foods. He started getting fussy about trying new foods. He didn’t like anything with mixed textures, such as a piece of banana bread with nuts in it. When he was 2.5, I asked his pediatrician what we should do to get him to eat a bigger variety of foods. “Stop indulging him!” was the advice I got. “Make him sit at the table until he cleans his plate. If he refuses to eat, send him to bed without supper.” I struggled with that advice on a fundamental level. Allowing my child to starve himself didn’t seem like a logical option to me, nor one I could align with my conscience.

Snowflake at age 2

Snowflake at age 2

Around the same time, other people started noticing that Snowflake was different, too. The Dude’s family is large, with extended family gatherings sometimes reaching 50 people. On Snowflake’s third Thanksgiving, he spent the entire family gathering perched at the top of my inlaws’ stairs, his ears covered and his face red from screaming. It was too much noise. Too much to look at. Just too much.

I took Snowflake to mommy group meetings, and he would huddle on my lap with his ears covered, sobbing the whole time. On one occasion, a mom said to me, “Is he always like that?” I tried telling her that he’s not like this at home, but I don’t think she believed me, and I only half believed myself. I started taking him on fewer mommy group outings. I just didn’t want to have to make excuses for my son, why he was the way he was.

The Dude and I started having a hard time explaining Snowflake’s quirks. Our family and friends dismissed our concerns. “He’s just shy,” we’d hear. “He’s a picky eater. Just keep trying.” No one understood.

Snowflake at age 3

Snowflake at age 3

Between ages 3 and 4, we started noticing more things. Snowflake’s speech took on an odd pattern. Slow, deliberate, as if he were choosing his words with extreme care. His voice was both monotone and sing-song in quality, if such a thing is possible. At times, he seemed uncoordinated. He became afraid to do things that other kids do without thinking. Swing on a swing set. Go down a slide. Ride a tricycle. And he became defiant and anxious. When faced with a demand such as “put your shoes on,” he’d squeal and shake his head. Getting out the door to go anywhere was a 30-minute dramatic ordeal. He’d throw tantrums in anticipation of having to do certain activities. One time I told him we were going to the car wash, and he threw himself on the stairs, hysterical and paralyzed with fear until I told him we wouldn’t go.

I began Googling things. Eating disorders in children. Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Speech delays. Autism. I talked to my therapist, who told me I wasn’t being strict enough with him. Perhaps I should spank him, she suggested. I broke up with her soon after. She didn’t understand, either. No one understood.

By what I now realize is a sheer stroke of luck, our pediatrician retired, and I moved the kids’ records to a new doctor’s office. I made an appointment with Dr. T to discuss Snowflake. I told her about the eating issues. The speech. The tantrums. The anxiety. She immediately suggested the prospect of his being on the autism spectrum. She also said she believed he would benefit from occupational therapy to deal with his feeding issues. I felt an immediate sense of relief. For the first time, I had found someone who believed me, who didn’t automatically jump to the conclusion that our child was spoiled and undisciplined. Dr. T understood.

We began Occupational Therapy (OT) in Spring 2013. We filled out an extensive parent questionnaire about Snowflake’s sensory issues. Miss D did an evaluation. She determined that he had severe sensory issues with touch, and moderate issues with his vestibular and proprioceptive senses. OT would help with these things, she said. She’d work with him on his gross motor skills and his fine motor skills and his relationship to food.

Over the past year, we’ve seen a lot of progress in some areas. His gross and fine motor skills have improved by leaps and bounds. He’s more willing to try foods, although his diet remains limited, and mealtime is almost always a struggle. But for every two steps forward he takes, it seems he often takes a step back. In the fall he developed a fear of the wind. He hates the way it feels on his face. Imagine leaving a store with your child. As you exit the building, the cold wind hits his face, and he begins to scream. You’re in a crowded parking lot. People begin to stare. Your child screams the entire way to the car. He’s crying and slapping at his face. You hope people don’t think you’re a kidnapper. Now imagine that happens every day, for months on end, and you’ll understand what it’s like to go places with a sensory child. It’s draining.

We’ve learned to adapt to his issues somewhat. For example, I bought him a Spider-Man hoodie that turns into a mask. He wears it whenever he goes outside on windy days. He can pull the mask down over his face to protect him from the wind. I don’t mind having the kid who always wears a Spider-Man mask, because it’s better than a kid who is afraid to go outside.

Snowflake last month, wearing a Spiderman hoodie to protect him from the wind

A recent zoo trip was successful because of the Spider-Man hoodie

All of these issues have taken their toll. The Dude and I fall into bed every night, completely drained from the day. Most nights, we lie in bed, talking about Snowflake’s day. We speculate and we brainstorm. Sometimes I cry. Several months ago I doubled my antidepressant dose. Some days I need to take a Xanax to get through the day. Snowflake and I share anxiety issues, it seems.

And all of that, all of that weight of every day life, led us to finally seek a diagnosis. We wanted answers, and we wanted someone to show us a clear path. We knew we couldn’t go through life on Spider-Man hoodies alone.

We had him tested. We got the diagnosis. His thing, it has a name: high-functioning autism, commonly known as Asperger’s. And now we have a path.

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April 30th, 2014 by Molly

Worthless Crap Wednesday: Laundry

It’s time for a brand spanking new feature here on SIM. I’m calling it Worthless Crap Wednesday. Wednesdays are going to be reserved for posting about only the most worthless topics. So let’s get to it!

Laundry.¬† Back when I was a single gal, I actually sort of enjoyed laundry day. Did you notice what I said there? Laundry DAY, as in, a single, solitary day, once a week–heck, sometimes I even stretched it to every other week–on which I did a few loads of laundry. I’d get my little basket, the kind with the curvy indentation so I could rest it jauntily on my hip, and I’d grab my roll of quarters and off I’d go to the laundry room of my apartment building to do my load (singular) of colors and my load (singular) of whites. I’d throw in an episode of Sex and the City or Dawson’s Creek while I waited, and then it was done. Laundry. Check.

Oh, how I miss those days! Because this, my friends, is what I have now:

laundry

That’s just the dirty laundry. There’s another pile up on my bed waiting to be folded.

The kicker is, I JUST. DID. THE. LAUNDRY. Just did it. Just the other day. And here I am. Doing laundry.

Dante wrote about the 9 circles of hell. He was wrong. There’s actually a 10th circle, and it’s Laundry.

I was in the 10th circle of Laundry Hell this morning. I went down to start a load, and discovered that there was a load in the washing machine already. Apparently it had been forgotten about for a few days, because it smelled like a Wet Dog and Toe Fungus Sandwich. I started the load over again, with hot water and copious amounts of detergent and Oxi Clean. (Does that stuff actually do anything? I’ve been using it for years, mainly, I think, for psychological purposes.)

Once the load was done, I went to transfer it to the dryer, only to discover that there was a load of whites in there. Still wet. Le sigh. Started the dryer.

Waited an hour.

I opened the dryer and pulled out a dry blanket and dry sheet, and discovered a NEW LAUNDRY PHENOMENON. The pillow that was in the load somehow managed to suction itself to the side wall of the dryer drum, defying all rules of physics (or something). I had to literally peel the pillow off the side of the dryer, and the side that was attached to the dryer wall was–as you might guess–soaking wet. Le sigh. Started the dryer again.

Waited another hour.

Friends, it took me THE ENTIRE MORNING to clean one load of clothes.

Once the laundry is done, I schlep it upstairs and dump it out on our bed to fold. But God forbid I have to leave the room and actually leave a pile of inanimate objects unattended. If I do, I might come back to this scene:

IMG_1715

Thing 1 and Thing 2, curled up all innocently on my clean laundry. LE SIIIIIGH.

Some days I find myself resenting the people of my household for producing so much laundry. Look at them, I think. Just who do they think they are? Walking around here, wearing those clothes like they own the place!

The kicker is, I have a sneaking suspicion that I may be one of the largest laundry-producing offenders in our household. The other family members do contribute to the laundry-doing, and if my suspicion is correct, they may be shouldering an unfair percentage of the laundry burden.

But sometimes we must make sacrifices as part of being a family. It’ll all come out in the wash.

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April 26th, 2014 by Molly

The Stiffy

You would think when starting a blog, that I would tell you about my husband or my kids, but instead I’m going to tell you about my dog, Shithead. No, that’s not his actual name. Go rent The Jerk, for pete’s sake.

Shithead is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a foo-foo breed of canine known for being a companion animal, excellent with children, and also for needing little exercise. Perfect for couch potatoes like me and The Dude. When we got Shithead, we assumed a certain amount of maintenance in terms of grooming, vaccinations, and the usual dog upkeep. We did not, however, count on things like bladder stones, with which Shithead is unfortunately cursed.

Last year, conveniently around the time Mr. Mischief was born, Shithead developed a nasty case of bladder stones, which had him peeing like a 90-year-old man. So off we went to the vet for a pricey stone removal surgery, followed by a special prescription diet that costs lots of money and is apparently the only food he can safely eat for the rest of his life.

At any rate, when he had the surgery, the vet sternly warned me to watch for signs of more bladder stones, because if one gets lodged in his urethra, it could mean IMMINENT DEATH, for either Shithead and/or my new family room carpet.

One day a few months back, I noticed that Shithead was spending  more time lazing about on my bed than usual. I was alarmed, and drew upon that one youtube video I watched my vast veterinary knowledge to examine him. And what I found was a lump. A big, firm lump right in his abdominal area.

So, fearing for my dog’s imminent demise, I packed up the boys and the dog, and off we went to the vet.

We get there, and they immediately gather up Shithead and hustle him off to the doggy x-ray room. Meanwhile, Mr. Mischief is amusing himself by putting his mouth on every conceivable fur-covered surface in the exam room, and Sgt. Snowflake is whining about playing Angry Birds on my phone. And for some reason, I’m having one of those “Am I suddenly menopausal and I didn’t get the memo?” sweat attacks.

After a while, the doc comes back with Shithead in tow. She has a slight grin on her face.

“Well,” she says, “I have good news. We didn’t find any bladder stones. Shithead is just fine.”

“I’m confused,” I say. “What’s that big mass in his belly?”

“Well, you see,” she says, the smirk growing just a smidge. “Don’t be embarrassed, it happens to dog owners a lot. We see this at least once a week. There’s a thing that happens in the dog’s urinary bulbous glandis blah something… when the dog gets… excited…”

“Oh, don’t tell me,” I say, facepalming. “I brought my dog to see you because he’s horny?”

“Yep,” she says. “On the bright side, no bladder stones!”

So off we went, Mischief, Snowflake, Shithead, and I, after forking over $80 to find out my dog had a boner.

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April 24th, 2014 by Molly

25 Things

It’s a somewhat half-assed tradition in the blogosphere to begin one’s blog with a “25 Things” post, a random list of facts about the blogger. And because I fully endorse half-assery, here is mine.

1. I love reality TV. The Dude and I watch Survivor and Amazing Race religiously. I love cooking shows like Top Chef, and guilty pleasures like Real Housewives of Orange County.

2. I met my husband on eHarmony, after taking their “29 Dimensions of Personality” profile quiz and forking over $49.95. I was matched up with him, and some meathead from Orlando named Tony. Tony’s profile pic involved a pair of wraparound shades and his skin had the pre-cancerous glow that only comes from the finest tanning beds. I think I picked the right guy.

3. I live in a shitty 70s split-level. It’s a constant source of angst for us. Home ownership is one of the most highly overrated aspects of adulthood.

4. I have three tattoos: two horrid 90s tribal things, and a Celtic motherhood knot, which I will probably think is horrid in 20 years, but right now I like it.

5. I have read the entire Outlander series 3 times.

6. I dabble in crafty home decor stuff, but nothing more advanced than spray painting and recovering a dining chair.

7. I swear like a fuckin’ sailor.

8. When we moved into our house, it had landscaping that I’m fairly certain was designed by Dr. Seuss.

IMG_0024

9. Remember when you were a kid and you would get ZOMG SO EXCITED!!! when the mail came? I still get excited about mail.

10. I love pop music. It’s stupid and inane and sometimes misogynistic, but dammit, sometimes I just want to back that thang up.

11. On a similar note, I’m fascinated by twerking. I can’t do it, but I wish I could.

12. I adore David Sedaris. I once met him before a reading, and he gave me a shout-out during the show. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life.

13. Jobs I have had in my lifetime: register person at Bed Bath and Beyond; assistant manager at The Body Shop; closet planner at The Container Store; dental office assistant; real estate office assistant; associate editor of a local environmental magazine; middle school English teacher; associate editor of an 8th grade Language Arts textbook. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

14. I wish Caillou would die a slow, horrible death.

15. I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom.*

16. I have a MENSA-level IQ, but am occasionally flummoxed by my daughter’s first grade math homework. Damn you, Common Core! Damn you to Hades!

17. I wear two wedding rings: mine, and my maternal grandmother’s. Gram was a big part of my upbringing. She passed away in 2008, and I was given her wedding ring. I love having a daily reminder of her.

18. I love Frozen far more than my kids do, and get excited whenever they want to watch it.

19. I’m obsessed with Grumpy Cat. I wish scientists could clone her. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Thanks, Grumpy Cat!

20. I can’t keep Nutella in the house. I will eat it like it’s my job.

21. I adore my minivan. I’m sure that makes me a super-square soccer mom, but I don’t care. My Hottessey has heated leather seats, a moonroof, and an entertainment system. When I drive that van, I am a baller.

22. I prefer my coffee cold-brewed, over ice. If you’ve never experienced cold-brewed coffee, try it, you must.

23. I lost an organ after each of my first two kids. When my daughter was 1 month old, I had an emergency appendectomy. When my first son was 3 months old, I had my gallbladder removed. I always joked, “Jeez, if I have a third kid, I’ll have to have my tonsils out, haha!” I didn’t lose any organs after kid #3, but I did have to have an emergency c-section 6 weeks early, so I consider that time served.

24. I say “totally” a lot, and I call everyone “dude.” On a semi-related note, I frequently quote The Big Lebowski.

25. My right pinky fingernail is significantly larger than my left pinky fingernail.

 

*Not really. I just always wanted to quote “The Humpty Dance” in context.

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