A Break for the Tear Ducts

Places I’ve cried in descending order of frequency:

  1. Garden/Flowerbeds
  2. Shower
  3. Work
  4. Car, on the way to/back from work
  5. Talking to Z, tucking her in
  6. In my own bed, trying to fall asleep
  7. Family room

Today might be the first day in over a month I haven’t cried at all.

Weird.

 

Last Monday

Disclaimer: I’m grieving and have more feelings than I know what to do with. Writing is one way to sort through them. Not sure if they’ll make sense, but here they are.

On June 10 after work I went with Reilly and Z to a friend’s dance performance at the Provo Library. This was two days after Carla’s funeral. I admit that emotions were still a little bit raw and just under the surface. We made our way to the ballroom on the 3rd floor. Shortly after we arrived my friend walked up behind me, said, “Hey, sexy!” and gave me a hug. As we embraced she asked how I was doing. I told her I was doing ok. She said, “Just ok?” By this time I was choked up, and tears were streaming down my face. We released the hug. I looked at her and said that Reilly’s mom died. She looked at Reilly, and he nodded. The performance was about to begin, so she went to get ready.

We found some seats and settled in to watch the work: a series of dances choreographed by a master’s candidate as her thesis. My friend performed the second dance, and then Reilly and Z left to browse the library, as Z was getting a little bit restless and loud. I kept watching the dance floor/stage. A few minutes later my friend made her way over and asked if she could sit by me. We talked for a few minutes until she had to turn on the music for one of the following dances.

In those few minutes, my friend listened. She held my hand. She cried with me. She said something that’s often said as trite, but she did it with such tenderness and compassion that it opened my heart up to being comforted and not just vulnerable. She said fortunately most of the world has experienced what we’ve experienced. If we pick a random stranger on the street, it’s likely that they’ve lost a loved one–a parent, a child, a spouse.

It helped being reminded that people would be able to relate. To understand. To empathize.

I told my friend that I didn’t mean to come to her performance to dump my emotions on her. I just wanted to be able to partake of something beautiful that wasn’t associated with sadness. Still, she listened. She danced beautifully. AND she called me sexy. I am forever grateful.

Five Zinger Years

Dear Z,

Last Monday you turned 5 years old. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this little fact that you truly are a big girl. I look back often at your pictures from your first year, and that Dadda and I have been trusted with your life still overwhelms me in the best possible way.

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Look at that smile! Those peeking teeth. You looking ever so thoughtful just after you were born. Standing! You were an expert walker before you turned a year old, and now you strut around like you know where you’re going all the time. Like you own the place. This was the most sleepless year of my life, but thankfully you took to sleep training pretty quickly, and we’re just now feeling we’ve caught up.

You continued learning and growing your second year of life. You were fearless. You had an uncanny awareness of everything in your space. Your energy never seemed to run out, and we were learning that you needed some solid time with your favorite playgrounds and toys and books and splash pads to get you tired enough for the rest you needed.

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It’s true that most photos I included in these collages you look pretty dang happy, but it’s important to point out that you cried and were frustrated a lot, too. We shared these emotional states, because we’re trying so hard to learn each other’s language. For the most part we were able to figure out that most of your needs were pretty simple. As long as you were fed and dry and got sleep and enough play, you stayed pretty happy.

I love how much you love to play. I love how much you love to explore, even if it means that we’re constantly chasing after you and telling you what is and isn’t safe. Is this not a major part of childhood?

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In your third year, we pursued our suspicions about some developmental delays you were showing. We took you for an autism screening at the University of Utah, and they gave you an official diagnosis. Which, honestly, was the best news, because that meant that we could take full advantage of resources to help you communicate and develop in other ways.

You started ABA therapy the July after you turned 3 years old, and it has made such a difference. And you have been attending an autism preschool, where they reinforce a lot of the skills you’re learning in therapy. AND Dadda and I try to keep up with your programs and encourage all the little ways you’re learning to do so many things. These skills will continue to open the world to you, and you will get to explore all the opportunities available that accentuate your strengths and give your life meaning. This is so very exciting and completely terrifying.

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What’s so crazy about these years of growth is so much happens with you physically and mentally and emotionally. As you learn and grow, you’re showing signs of you really knowing who you are. You have a very Z personality; you have definite preferences; a way of speaking; a way of showing affection and manipulating people in your cute way to get what you want. Guess what? We’ve been there, kid. We know those ways, and honestly, some of us have never grown out of those ways.

We have two dogs, but the chiweenie, Sia, and you are true buds. She is your first dog, and you two have a special trust that I can’t quite describe. That makes me smile.

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Two weeks ago we went to Florida, and you got to go to Disney World. I dare say you were the most well-behaved big girl in all of the Magic Kingdom on the first day, and at Hollywood Studios the second day. You also got to go to the beach for a little bit, and you also loved every single moment of that experience. The way your senses process your world intrigue me. Just what does the water on your skin and the sand between your toes make you feel?

This past Friday I attended an autism conference at Utah Valley University. The keynote speaker stated as a general rule, the age of autistic people is about 2/3 the age of neurotypical people. In your life, this rings true that you’re about where most 3 1/2 year olds are in terms of speech and social skills. At your yearly wellness check up last Tuesday, you’re in the 60th percentile of kids your height and the 70th percentile of kids your weight. You’re gonna be taller than both your parents in a few years, but that’s where comparisons end. You’ve begun a path to your own life, and you’ll get to a point where you’ll make some pretty important choices that will shape your life the way you want. It won’t matter how other people your age are doing compared to you. Actually, age doesn’t matter at all. Live your life. You do you.

One of the biggest blessings we have from your supposed delays is that we get to cherish these extended development stages. We get to enjoy your childhood for longer: that curiosity, the amazement at the world; the hugs, the smiles, the wonder. Maybe these will continue on to your adult years, but we’re going to breathe it all in right now, in this very moment. We are present for this, this glorious moment of your turning and being 5 years old.

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We love you, big girl.

Love,

Mom

 

Parent-Teacher Conference and Kevin

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Last night we met with Z’s preschool teacher. The first thing she asked when she saw us was, “Who’s Kevin?”

Well, Kevin could be a couple of things:

kevinup

or

kevinmin

Z’s teacher said that Z often says, “Come on, Kevin” during class. Which sounds totally not out of the ordinary to us. We know who Kevin is (or could be), why doesn’t everyone?

We then talked about Z’s placement for kindergarten. The teacher said that she, the speech pathologist, and occupational therapist agree that Z is on the cusp of going either to a special class or an autism kindergarten class.

We forgot to ask what the difference is.

But her teacher said that Z catches onto academic stuff like reading and colors and shapes and math really quickly. In other areas Z is working on a few skills, and she still has social delays. She’s fine working or playing alongside a teacher or aide, but when another child/peer joins the group, Z leaves.

Y’all, sometimes I’m like that. But I don’t want to be the reason Z can’t interact with people. So we asked what we could do to improve her social skills. And we decided to try scheduling regular playdates with kids her age, just like we tried last year.

Sometimes I ask myself, “What’s kindergarten?” I don’t see a totally regular class full of typical kids–what I and Reilly grew up with. That’s not the normal around here. What I do see is the possibility of the bird from Up or one of the Minions. Both are equally great: Fun, goofy, smart (maybe not so much the Minion); generally happy and unassumingly generous with cheer. That’s our normal. I’m grateful to have accepted and live it every day.

That’s our girl.

 

Kindergarten Planning and Placement

Z turns 5 in the next couple of months. She’s been going to preschool since she was 3. In the fall she’ll start kindergarten.

KINDER-freaking-GARTEN.

A few weeks ago Z’s preschool teacher notified us of an informational transition-to-kindergarten meeting being held on January 24. We were able to go. It was only an hour long, but the presenter, Linda Chadburn, gave a lot of information. She was clear and easy to understand–she’s been in special education for over 25 years. I could sense a lot of the other parents were also trying to process all the information she presented.

We learned about Least Restrictive Environments, where by law children are placed with other children most like them. The presenter showed us an inverted pyramid with different levels of restrictive environments:

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From Linda Chadburn’s slide presentation

That’s a lot of levels.

Reilly and I have been talking, and we have an idea of where our little Z should go.

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From Linda Chadburn’s slide presentation

Z is currently in a special autism preschool. She goes Monday through Friday, for four hours each day. We feel she would most easily transition into an autism kindergarten. We just have to meet with Z’s preschool teacher and IEP team to see what they recommend.

This makes me so nervous.

The thing about the combined general education and special education classes is that the teacher/aide-to-student ratio is much larger, which means less individual attention. Her safety is one of our biggest concerns. Everything that you can imagine being an issue IS an issue, a definite possibility. Things you otherwise would have taken for granted. We don’t take anything for granted. That’s our world, and frankly, we’re ultimately better off for it.

But, we know Z is very smart. And her speech is really coming along. And if it and her comprehension have developed enough by the time her kindergarten placement is due, maybe we’ll be able to teach her about safety rules?

We’ll approach this milestone of kindergarten the way we’ve approached everything about Z’s development: one day at a time; one moment at a time. Learning as much as we can along the way.

That little girl. Getting to be quite the big girl, now. We love her.

Making Friends 2.0

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Photo by Gaby Germaine

This photo was taken at a New Year’s Eve party to ring in 2009 in NYC. TEN years ago. Geez, Louise.

I’m actually not an incredibly social creature. Parties are fun, and I bring my own energy when I can. Usually I make the rounds to chat with individuals or small groups, instead of busting all the moves in the middle of the dance circle. But I do like to dance, and I’ll dance if the music calls, but after the chatting and dancing, I gotta get home and decompress.

I made some really good friends in NYC. And I liked spending time with them outside of the LDS social scene, which wasn’t really my thing. I mean, this is partly why I defected from a singles ward to a family ward. People met people and dated people and broke up with people and started over again. That nonsense didn’t appeal to me. I did like going on dates. I liked talking with individuals and a few people at a time, but yowza, it could still be a lot. Because people are different. And sometimes I needed a head’s up to prepare for certain personalities. Maybe you know what I mean.

When I returned to BYU in 2010, all I wanted was to keep my head down, finish my work, and finally graduate. Which I did, for the most part. But a weird, funky thing happened, called Making Friends. And I loved spending time with my new friends when I could. We went to concerts and readings and film screenings. I went to Senegal for five weeks with some of them. And we still hang out, long after graduation.

But we all have our own lives now, doing our own thing with jobs and relationships and whatever our goals are. And we try to get together when there’s an overlapping break in our lives. Most of the time that results in doing something at our house, which I don’t mind. The fewer places I have to drive, the better.

Man, I sound like a grumpy hermit. I promise I’m a real sweetheart, though. Promise.

For a while in my 30s it seemed that I’d reached my limit on good friends, and I would shrug off any opportunities to establish new meaningful relationships. But then it occurred to me that I was depriving myself of new perspectives and influences and chances to grow, and that maybe I was depriving someone else of a friendship with me.

That sounds conceited.

But I like making friends, and I do try hard to be a good friend. And being a good friend is something our daughter needs to see as much of as possible. We don’t have to be especially social or outgoing to be a friend. I have to work at making friends. Maybe it will come more naturally to Z. I’ve been a jerk to a lot of people in the past, and I’ve been trying to make up for that. I’ve met some really cool new people in the past few years, and it’s been fun getting to know them. They’ve become special to me.

All the socializing we’ve done throughout the holidays has made me grateful to be surrounded by people who accept me as I am. New and old friends alike. They don’t force me to talk if I don’t feel like talking. They let me listen and observe and learn. They let me hang out inside my own head until I’m ready to interact more fully. They get my sarcasm that often borders on biting wit. They are patient. They love me without judgment. They encourage me to become better.

I’m working on doing the same for them.

Tuning Out to Tune In

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There is enough noise in the world already.

From 2003 to 2009, I lived in New York City with 8 million people. Lights, traffic, construction, music, strangers everywhere. All the time.

Surprisingly it was easy to get lost and become invisible in that environment. It was easy not to be seen. It was easy to turn the noise to static and drown out my surroundings. If I wanted to be seen or heard, I could emerge from the sensory sludge, reach out to friends, go see some live music and chat up a stranger, go to church and smile at familiar faces.

The beginning of my time in NYC social media had just started getting its footing. I’d started blogging there. I jumped on the Twitter and Facebook bandwagons. In addition to the maelstrom in the streets, I felt the outside world invading my home. It would be a sea we’d all be learning to navigate.

For some reason tuning out the internet influences wasn’t as easy. They were ever present; so easy just to wake up the computer and find myself staring at the screen hours later. Sometimes I was justifiably enthralled, but other times I truly wasted time cramming my noggin with nonsense and noise. It was easy to get lost, but sometimes more difficult to emerge from that dimension to interact with actual humans for quality time. Solid connections. Real relationships.

And now, when I’m in a much slower-paced part of the world, in a pretty chill area of Utah–we live next to horses and sheep, for crying out loud–the internet manages to pound on my brain. What news? What gossip? What music? What bad information? MUST CONSUME ALL OF IT.

Except I mustn’t do anything, but moderate and be conscious of which influences enter my home. Which is especially important to the very impressionable mind under the stewardship of me and Reilly. That little girl absorbs everything. And while she can’t convey all that she consumes, it’s there, just percolating, waiting to manifest in who knows what way.

How do I do this? And how do we do this as a family? A few actions that work for us:

  • I always manage to find some time during the day for absolute quiet, where I can have time to sort my thoughts. Or just take a few deep breaths. For Z, it’s nice to not have a lot of stimuli around for a few minutes and just let her talk. Sometimes the best we can do is the car ride home from daycare. I’ll turn down the radio and ask a few basic questions, and let her think without expecting an answer. What did you do at school? Did you play with the teacher?
  • A huge one for me lately has been physical activity. Exercise clears my mind, and those endorphins make me feel great. We try to encourage physical activity with Z as much as we can. When winter limits our options, we take her to different play areas at different malls, or even fast food places. Give that girl a slide and some space to run, and she’s happy as a clam.
  • Finally, there’s bedtime. This ritual usually ends with us snuggling, watching the night light, and Z talking to herself, and me singing a few nursery rhymes. Her voice is the furthest thing from noise to my soul (except at other times of the day when it’s screaming or whining, then I want to pull all of my hair out SERIOUSLY), and sometimes I’m lucky enough to listen to her happy jabbering fade into deep, sleepy breaths.

There are things that a lot of parents also do: enable actual internet filters, set timers on screen time, help count to 10 during a meltdown/tantrum. Those are definitely helpful, and kudos to all parents doing what works for them. I do other things on my own, as well: Find time to read, limit time on the internet; limit news consumption. It’s nice to find moments to breathe, to appreciate beauty in its many forms, to be able to separate the noise from the music. These moments help me to focus even more on what’s important, to tune in to clearer frequencies.