I Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

A lot of people are curious how I manage to stay sane. To summarize my household, I have a husband who has migraines and ADHD, a son with autism, migraines, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder, I have an older dog, Eli, who is awesome, a puppy who thinks he is a land shark, and me, the eternal migraine sufferer who tries to keep this house running.

When I think about it, it seems like a lot of stuff to handle, but honestly, somehow we make it all work. I think the biggest issue my husband and I worry about is Caleb’s health – intellectually, emotionally, and physically. It is all about prioritization.

For instance, our leather couch is missing leather from a part of the left side armrest from when Eli was a puppy and chewed everything. He chewed up our new bedstand (which is wooden), all my flowers and flower pots, toys, clothes, and about a million binkies which always showed up in his poop. *gag* At first I would get upset because I had never experienced another animal destroying my property like that. But the problem was, if I let the destruction upset me, I would be upset for the rest of the day. Pretty soon I was always upset. It got to be ridiculous. I couldn’t enjoy my day or my dog (Eli is mine. All mine.) because I was upset.

Finally, I decided to stop being upset. It was really that easy for me – a switch I turned off. I was no longer gonna sweat the small stuff. But, how do we figure out what is small and what isn’t? How do we track and give feedback to ourselves?

For me, the big stuff was a matter of whether or not this had a real impact upon the health and safety of my family. That was the big question, the deep core issue. If the answer was “no,” I would find a way to ignore it, redirect it, or fix it but not get emotional about it.

Some examples of the small stuff:
*getting peed or barfed on
*superficial destruction of furniture or household items
*Keeping a perfectly clean home
*Making the bed, ever.

Examples of big stuff:
*Hitting or any sort of violence
*Threats of violence
*Angry words
*Caleb going to bed before 9pm
*Caleb takes his anti-migraine medication
*Caleb stays buckled in his car seat until I tell him he can get out of his seat.

I don’t expect anyone else to do what our family chooses to do. My mother and her husband are very protective of their home so Caleb is not allowed over. I mean, yes, I find it hurtful, but I have to let it go and realize that maybe to them, the furniture is the big stuff. I have to respect that.

We all have our “big stuff.” For me, it is really important to have a loving home that is cozy, inviting, and not dirty. It is important that we never use our bodies or words for violence. In fact, I tell Caleb and my husband multiple times a day that I love them unconditionally. I stress to Caleb that there is nothing he can do to make me stop loving him. I mean, if he hits me, I give him a time out; the punishment isn’t because I am mad at him but rather because he needs to learn that violence is never okay. And the “no violence” rule goes for everyone in the house, including the dogs.

Another reason that violence is something we won’t tolerate as a family is because I was physically and emotionally abused as a child. I never knew what unconditional love was until I met my husband, and then later, my son. Every dollar, every favor, came with a price; my family tried desperately to control every aspect of my life. I don’t hate my parents or grandparents. In fact, I feel bad for them because I feel like I have learned so much from my husband and child about the person I want to be. I was a lot like my mother, to the point it was a running joke. But, I quickly learned that we were very different; my son comes first in my life, no matter what.

So, yes, I do not talk to my parents or extended family. Actually, the funny part is that the only person in my family that I do talk to is my dad, and he has been dead for 9 years!

My side of the family doesn’t share my values or my priorities. Family get togethers used to include different people yelling at Caleb, freaking out over everything he does. It became overwhelming for everyone involved, including us. My mom and sister and their families live in big, beautiful homes. We are talking crown molding, expensive appliances, more than one bathroom, jacuzzi tubs, etc. We live in a house that is about 1,000 sq ft. Why? Because it is more important for me to be a stay-at-home wife and mother and take care of Caleb than it is for me to work a job and make more money. We live cheaply, eating out maybe once or twice a month. My husband and I get our groceries from Costco and Aldi so that my son can have the gluten-free/casein-free food from Whole Foods.

I guess what I am getting at is that in our family, Caleb comes first. If we have additional kids down the road, they will also be our priority. So, no, I don’t have plates that match, most of our glasses are plastic, and 99% of the stuff we own we got as hand-me-downs. But we have membership to the Hands On Museum (which I really need to write about), we go to the zoo and aquarium, and we buy a ton of books. Yes, I buy used clothing for Caleb, but we also make sure he has a couple Pokemon shirts so that he is happy. (Hint, I have Caleb’s measurements written down. Wherever I go, I take a measuring tape with me, so I measure how long it is, etc. Different brands have different shapes, so this helps a lot when buying used clothing.)

My husband taught me about living on a budget, and now I cringe at the idea of buying name brand anything unless it is for Caleb. I am so thankful that I have people in my life who have helped me becoming a more easy-going person. I probably will never have fine china, but that is okay with me; chances are, I’ll be too busy having fun with my family to notice.

Why I Don’t Care About What Others Think

At my baby shower, my mother-in-law gifted me a puppy that would clip around the chest of a child and a tail that acted as a leash. I was horrified. I believe my exact words were, “She knows I am giving birth to a person and not a dog, right?”

Ah, how smart we are before we have children. I believe I also made absurd statements like Caleb would only get books for the December holidays and that we would never let anything Disney into our house. HA! Oh, and I scoffed at the idea of a family bed. Yeah, I was super smart.

Fast forward 7+ years, and my son has a monkey backpack with a tether. And by tether, I mean leash. Yup, I actually bought him a dog leash that blends perfectly with his backpack so he could have more room to roam. And my son loves wearing his monkey.

Caleb is a flight-risk. When in busy parking lots, I hold on to his hand for dear life. We do have handicapped parking, and we do use it; I can’t tell you how many times I have had to carry a 40lb+ sobbing Caleb out to the car. Also, having a shorter trip from the car to the safe area of the store is reassuring for me.

Caleb started wearing his monkey backpack before he could talk; Caleb didn’t really talk until he was 3, and even then it was slow going. He also couldn’t truly understand the words I was saying; even if I told him a million times to not leave my side, it doesn’t mean that he knows exactly what that means and what mistakes look like. As Caleb’s language expanded, so did his understanding of the spoken word. With the monkey backpack, we both could focus on trying to take in the stimuli around us. We forgot about the restraints.

I cannot tell you how many people have yelled at me about my son and his leash. I have had people bark out windows as they drive by. I have had grown men come up into my face and challenge my parenting choices. I have had so many people roll their eyes at me.

People question what we feed Caleb, because yes, he has a bit of a belly. People question our token economy. People question how much or how little we push Caleb. People question if he should have unfettered access to electronics. People question why Caleb still cannot dress himself. People question why I let my son have a meltdown in the middle of the store and not be mad at him or punish him. People question if we are spoiling Caleb. And I don’t care. I care about what my husband and son think and that is it.

I do care about facts and information. I care about research that drives our parenting choices. I am willing to learn and change, because in the end, what we all want is for Caleb to be successful and happy.

I do ask the opinions of friends and family, but in the end, my husband, Caleb, and I make the final decisions together. Caleb still likes the freedom of wearing “Monkey.” We take walks, searching for Pokemon; having two hands free to play is incredibly helpful.

That said, Caleb is growing and we aren’t needing to use Monkey as much. When we walk in a downtown area, I insist on Monkey; one time eating dinner outside in downtown Chicago, Caleb ran into the middle of the street and all of us had a heart attack. I ran after him so fast, my heart beating out of my chest. My child still doesn’t have the sense to look for traffic before crossing a street. His life is worth more than my pride.

I mention pride because there are many mothers who don’t want to admit that their child is different or needs special accommodations. I grew up in a crazy, abusive, messed-up home and we always had to act and dress like everything was perfect. The idea of it makes my whole body react.

I am proud of my son, exactly the way he is. He works so freaking hard every single moment of his life. When he makes mistakes, you can see the panic in his eyes. There is not a mean bone in his body. Yes, he LOVES to push buttons, but so did I when I was younger. I mean, I was 16 and he is 6, but that just means he is advanced, right?

I guess what I am getting at is:
*Caleb was born at 33 weeks and looked like Walter Matthau

*Because of his time at the NICU, Caleb had a flat head. He had to wear a special helmet

*Caleb has had more meltdowns at Target than I can count
*I have had to chase down Caleb in the middle of Costco, leaving my cart completely abandoned.
*Caleb is very particular about his looks, which aren’t conventional

*Caleb is the king of awkward social interactions. During our garage sale, he was such a pushy salesperson that he actually scared people away!

And I am not embarrassed one bit.

It is true that when you love someone, you have to love all of them. The good, the bad, the ugly – they all come in a wonderful package. So, yes, my child will flap his hands and require a leash and say really inappropriate stuff. But, he is also the kindest, smartest, most creative person I have ever met and I have no doubt that Caleb will have a real positive impact upon the world.

And when in doubt, I just remember that I have to be the role model for Caleb. I want him to see me take the high road and focus on what is important. And that is why I can say that when it comes to how my husband and I raise Caleb, I don’t care what anyone thinks.

 

BTW, you can buy Caleb’s backpack here.

Study Time: Reframing Homework

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Because Caleb is insanely smart, my husband and I have worked to develop curriculumĀ  that best suits his educational needs. Yes, he has a parapro at school, but what we are working with is a contextual issue. Caleb needs to attend public schools in order to learn how to properly interact with his peers.

However, the school is not an environment that is best suited for Caleb learning information or skills. This is where Amazon and Costco truly shine; they both sell workbooks that allow you to teach your child an array of skills without having to develop your own lesson plans.

The school did provide us with the first grade math workbooks, but we have blazed through those. We are now working on multiplication and division. Some workbooks focus on one subject, like addition or geography; there are also workbooks for each grade which are also incredibly helpful.

I have also found that flash cards are a great way to help reinforce information. With young children, Behaviorism usually works best; performance is the best indicator of success. It is all about practice, doing the same drills over and over again.

We keep a token economy at home, where he can earn (or lose) stars based upon performance. We use the I Can Do It chart at home. We first used a variety of activities, but now we just have one main theme of “No Mean Words,” and all of the stars go into the same pot. Caleb can exchange 10 stars for one book, or he can exchange stars for money which he then uses to pay for excursions to the aquarium or Legoland, etc.

At 3:30pm everyday, we have “study time.” Caleb can choose 2 of the 7 listed possible subjects, which include addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, handwriting, reading, and geography. We also so vision therapy everyday. He controls which subject matter we study first, and I give him the time he needs to answer the questions. Being patient is not a strong suit of mine, but with autistic children, you need to relax and let them answer in their own time. I’m talking like 2-3 minutes, maximum.

The 4 cornerstones of motivation are challenge, curiosity, fantasy, and control. Malone only uses 3, but I have added “control.”

Challenge: Make sure that the subject matter is appropriate for their abilities. It should push them, but not too hard. They should have relative success in the end, even if it is a bit rocky in the beginning.

Curiosity: Be sure to pick a subject matter that is interesting to your child. Maybe they are not crazy about math, but they love Pokemon, so counting Pokemon is a great place in the middle. A lot of autistic children are naturally attracted to electronics; educational games on my son’s Kindle helped him learn how to read at age 2 1/2. Do not discount how helpful electronics can be, as autistic children are not the same as their neurotypical counterparts.

Fantasy: This refers to anything that doesn’t already exist; by taping into a child’s creative side, you allow them to think about the future they want. This may be as simple as thinking up numbers to add together or as complicated as an art project.

Control: Allow your child to have some influence over the subject matter they learn, including how to learn it (workbook, flashcards, problem solving, etc). By giving them ownership, they will be more intrinsically motivated to learn.