Readers

Today my readers returned after their lenses had been changed. I was wondering if they would ever be fixed. And I was wondering if I would ever read anything up close again. I was worrying that I’d be resigned to reading billboards or anything else from a distance. A life without reading doesn’t sound awesome. Thankfully they came, and here I am without and with them. (Yes, I’m singing U2’s “With or Without You” to myself right now.)

Reilly had an all-day training for his work today, so I got to look after Z. I had a hard time remembering how I managed watching her, teaching her, and doing my job during the pandemic. It seriously blows my mind. I worked for a few hours, then we took a break at a park she likes, then we picked up some groceries, then we picked up my glasses. When we came home I worked a little more, then I prepared dinner while Z had therapy. After that we ate dinner, then I came down to the basement and worked for a little while longer before calling it a day.

We tucked our girl in, I took my allergy medicine, and now I’m about to eat some cheesecake the neighbors made for us. I’m very excited.

Rough day, indeed.

Father’s Day, From My Instagram

For anyone who knows Reilly or has heard me talk about him has no doubt what a great guy he is. He provides, he teaches; he exemplifies what kind of person this world needs. He is the best possible father for our Z: patient, creative, silly, full of love. He makes everything better. Happy Father’s Day to all the good men and father figures out there.

It’s also summer solstice: no other person I’d want to spend all the daylight (and nighttime) hours with than Reilly.

Happy Sunday, y’all.

June 14

Today is Wednesday, June 16. Which means I’ve distanced by two days when Z got her first cavity filled.

We scheduled the appointment last Wednesday, and I’ve tried not to stress out about it for five days.

When Monday came, we didn’t really know what to expect. Like we thought we’d try the nitrous oxide. And we didn’t know if she’d keep the mask on. Or how she’d react to the gas.

But Z sat down in the big chair. The assistant lay the seat completely flat. She put the little rubber snout thing over Z’s nose, and she didn’t push it away. Reilly got out his phone for her to look at while the dentist was busy.

The first minute was the worst minute.

The rest of it went the best it possibly could. Z relaxed really well and the dentist worked quickly. It seemed like a long time, but after applying sealant to the other molars and then cleaning out the cavity and then putting in the glue then the filling, I guess maybe 20-25 minutes passed? There was also a lot of water and air and suction and that flashy sterilizing light thing. It happened fast and in slow-motion at the same time.

I sat at the foot of her chair and gently squeezed her leg to let her know I was there. Reilly was next to me. That was probably more for our peace of mind than to comfort Z. She seemed completely fine.

I think maybe she was just enjoying the gas the whole time.

She really did terrific. Couldn’t have gone better.

I’m so grateful.

Monday Morning Movie

Sunday night someone decided not to sleep through the night, and she woke up at pretty inconvenient times. The first time was not long I’d fallen asleep for the night, maybe 11:30pm. I heard her crying and went to her room and lay next to her until she calmed down. Then I returned to my bed and fell asleep. Then around 3:45am she started complaining again. This time I went to her room and told her how important it was to sleep, because she had school in the morning. I curled up at the end of her bed with a blanket she wasn’t using. I slept, sort of. She didn’t fall back asleep. So at 6:30 I got up and we started our day.

Z wanted to watch a movie. She wouldn’t need to be ready until two hours later, so I listed off some choices. She asked for Disney Pixar’s Coco. This movie calms her, and she needed to be as calm as possible with the little sleep she got. I couldn’t say no.

While the movie played in the living room, I brought Z some breakfast and her water bottle. I looked at work emails and made sure nothing was too pressing. Toward the end of the movie, I brought down some school clothes, and she changed clothes. I also brushed her hair.

It came to the part where Miguel has come back from the Land of the Dead and finds Mamá Coco at home, looking very depressed and not responding when he describes seeing her Papá. His family come after him; he sees the guitar on the floor and starts to play for Mamá Coco, “Remember Me.” Coco slightly moves her finger, and after a moment she joins Miguel in singing.

That part always makes me cry. For all the reasons.

We finished getting ready for school. As far as I know, Z had a pretty good day. Last night we tucked her in. Then we watched some tv before bed. When we lay down and closed our eyes, we did not open our eyes until our alarms went off. Which means Z slept through the night, too. She felt the effects of not getting enough sleep the night before. Poor thing.

But I love when she chooses that movie. Every time she asks for Coco I’ll put it on.

Soon

The little one seems to have some separation anxiety.

This morning I parked at the school, and we sat in the car for a few minutes before walking to her classroom. Z said, “Hi, Mom. Mama soon.” And I said, “Yes, we’re at school right now. You’ll go to your class, and I’ll pick you after school.”

“Mama soon.”

“Yes, babe. I’ll pick you up after school.”

When I pick her up at the end of the day, the aide spots me, and she points my way and tells Z, “Look, there’s mama soon.” I take her hand, and I ask about her day as we walk back to the car.

She can’t yet quite articulate all the complex feelings she’s experiencing. She cries when she’s sad or hurt. She’ll disagree if I ask if she’s sad but she’s really happy. When she’s in a good mood, she’s super affectionate and gives hugs and kisses.

What I need to work on is reading more of her subconscious cues. How much more is she fidgeting? Stimming? Her face doesn’t always reflect her feelings, so I have to sharpen my own motherly intuition.

I have so much to learn still. Z got diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when she was three, and I’ve had four years of trying to figure stuff out. It’s been sobering and frustrating. I’ve felt inadequate often. But it’s also been fun and full of the sweetest, tenderest moments. I’ve felt blessed often.

She’s been so patient.

I’ll learn what’s needed.

Soon.

Letter to Zinger, 7 Years and 8 Days

Dear Z,

Remember that tooth that you were waiting to lose? The one I thought you might lose on your actual birthday but didn’t? You lost it, five days ago on April 11. The terrain along your toothline is varied and fun, and you own every single bit of all the smiles you flash. It salves my soul.

I’m about to pick you up from school. I saw on the news last night that police shot a 13-year-old child. A child. I also saw on the news last night that eight people died in a mass shooting in another state.

This is not the country I want you to grow up in. I don’t know what to do.

Every day I drop you off at school I try not to worry. Your classroom is close to one of the building’s exits. Your class has a number of adults who can hopefully guide you to safety in the event of an active shooter. Let me tell you I just hate the possibility of that idea becoming a reality. Would you or any of your classmates know to keep quiet? I know your teachers would do what they could to protect you. The risk is a lot. The thought is unbearable.

I’m so glad these scary thoughts are the furthest thing from your mind. I’m grateful you take every moment of your life to find joy and fun, to give affection and friendship. To share love with the world around you.

Let me be the one to worry. You keep on being precious and spirited and happy.

I love you and your newest goofy smile,

Mom

P.S.

It goes without saying I worry endlessly about Dadda, too. I hope we can all figure out how to make this better.

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

 

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.

Clemency Toward Grace

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The other day–sometime last week–I was just hanging out inside my own brain and came across the clearest, most refreshing thought. It came like a revelation. It was about me, directed at me, and it made me pause and feel sudden joy:

Z’s therapist is not a better mom than you.

Seems obvious, right? Seems that I wouldn’t need to hear this so plainly, because the opposite is so ridiculous, right?

For the past year and a half that Z’s had therapy, I would observe some of her sessions. I’d notice techniques used, instructions given, then little, destructive whisperings would creep into my mind:

Why didn’t you think of that? Why didn’t you research that?

If you had been a better mom, Z wouldn’t have to be doing this right now.

Reilly’s a better parent than you will ever be.

Z spends three intense hours Monday through Friday with her therapist. Of course there needs to be a relationship established. Trust. It looked so easy between them. I would find myself getting jealous, especially during those first months, and then sporadically in the last year.

They’re so close now. Look how Z hugs her. Look how they laugh and play together.

Z loves her more than she loves you.

That last thought felt so horrible. I knew these thoughts were irrational, but I had trouble dismissing them. I’d back away from her sessions feeling discouraged and lonely and definitely not good enough.

I felt so defeated.

But internal pep talks also fought their way to the forefront of my mind.

You are her mom.

She loves you. 

Both of you are worthy of each other’s love. All of it.

Where did these thoughts come from? Not completely sure, but I consider them gift of much-needed grace.

With this motivation, I would take the damaging thoughts and negative whisperings and try to use them in a constructive way. I would implement those same techniques and give those exact instructions from her sessions. I found that this reinforced her learning and development, as well as cultivated our relationship. I found myself improving. Researching. Noticing Z’s progress and encouraging her in as many ways as I could.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten angry or impatient–because I still wrestle with weakness–but it does mean that I’ve learned to breathe, and taking time to explain ideas to her and teach her vocabulary not only calms me down, but helps me realize the still-new and growing perspective of our little one. I appreciate this.

The negative thoughts linger, but I’ve learned to focus on working more closely with our daughter, and strengthening our bond and building and maintaining trust with her. I realized that Reilly and I spend far more time with her than any external resource would, and our presence as her parents has become an integral, inextricable part of her. We work hard, all three of us, together.

Understanding this has allowed me to forgive myself.

Now, those negative thoughts no longer dominate that inner conflict. They are not fact. They are not true. They instead have given way to a brightness and warmth and peace and freedom of these undeniable truths:

I am enough.

I am the best mom for her.

Preschool – First Day

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Look at that photo. She looks so depressingly grown up. She does look pretty confident, though, which I love. Like she’s saying, don’t mess with me, mofos. I’ve been so nervous about today, Z’s first day of preschool. She had no idea what was going on. Reilly and I told her that she was going to a new school, and that she would ride a bus, and that she would have fun teachers. I made her try on her backpack several times yesterday so that it would be familiar to her and she would think it’s hers. Both Reilly and I like this backpack, but I don’t think Z cares very much right now.

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The day dragged on, and Z getting up at 6:30 didn’t help. We had breakfast and played and watched a few music videos. We hung out and cuddled and sang songs together. I reminded our little girl that she was going to school today, but I doubt she understood. She probably understands now that she’s there.

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It’s so weird thinking of our 3-year-old riding a bus. I mean, that’s what big kids do. Yesterday I emailed her teacher asking if an adult would sit with her on the bus to school. I totally stressed out about it. I know that if someone’s not sitting beside her, she would want to get up and wander around. But the teacher reassured me an aide would help Z with the whole bus experience. The teacher also said that everyone would make Z’s transition to the school as smooth as possible.

That helped me feel a little better, but just a little.

Grandma sent a text saying to give her a big hug and tell her she’s going to do fantastic. And that’s what I did.

Though the day seemed to drag, the time for the bus to arrive sneaked up on us. I helped Z put on her shoes, and we walked out to the curb. I sat on the ground and pulled her to me so she could sit on my lap. I held her tight.

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The bus pulled up to the curb. The door opened, and the aide stepped off. She said hello to Z and handed me a form to complete and explained some stuff. She helped Z onto the bus and guided her to a seat on the same side as our house. I took a picture of the bus, and the aide helped Z wave at me as the bus pulled away. I smiled and waved back.

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I went back into the house and cried. I’m still sort of crying.

She’ll be home soon, though. I hope she did okay.