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.

Secure Your Own Mask Before Helping Others

Having an autistic child can be exhausting and sometimes even a little soul crushing. Caleb doesn’t have the people-pleasing desires that usually fuels children to behave; while he cares about what we think of him, he usually acts before he thinks. Of course Caleb wants me to like him, so he usually recognizes bad behavior and asks for forgiveness after the fact. It isn’t personal; Caleb has problems with impulse control.

Usually when Caleb has a migraine, his impulse control is pretty much nonexistent. That is when I have those really bad days where you look at the clock and it seems to be running almost backwards. The days when you are white-knuckling it until bedtime.

I have found that on those days, I am also not at my best. I probably have a migraine as well, so dealing with a completely unruly child is stressful. In order to stay sane, I have to take care of me. There are a few things Caleb and I do in order to maintain our mental health.

Feelings Therapy: Caleb and I both go to therapy at the same practice at the same time. Once a week, we both take 55 minutes to work on ourselves. This is so good for us; Caleb is usually in a good mood after talking to his doctor and I usually have had a good cry and feel like a weight has been lifted off of me.

Timeout: Timeout can be a very effective tool when used properly. The most challenging part is finding a place for time out. I know a lot of neurotypical kids who are able to sit in a seat for 5+ minutes; this is not a reasonable expectation for Caleb. We tried just having Caleb stay in his bedroom, but we got into a smearing issue. (For those that don’t know, smearing is, well, here, you can read about it.) *gag* So, we ended up using the treehouse in our living room that has a removable ladder. It is high enough off the ground that Caleb will not jump out. And yes, he even once smeared in there and it took hours of scrubbing to get that sucker clean.

Now, we still use the treehouse, but we don’t take away the ladder. The rule for how long timeout should last is the child’s age plus 1; Caleb is 6 so he has a 7 minute timeout. During timeout, we do not engage with Caleb. In fact, this is when you go into another room, set a time, and spend 7 minutes relaxing, doing something for you. I will take the time to make some coffee or ice my neck. The point is, we need timeouts too. I have even given myself a timeout when I am overwhelmed; I will go into the bedroom and close the door. Caleb can live without being supervised for 5 minutes, and those 5 minutes just might keep me sane.

Exercise: Not only do you feel happier and stronger when you exercise, it also helps melt away the stress. A lot of my exercises are to strengthen my core, which is exactly what Caleb needs, so we exercise together. Another benefit to exercise is that Caleb is tired and calmer afterwards. For core strengthening exercises, I use this website as a reference.

Another good incentive for exercise is Pokemon Go. As a family, we have taken long walks downtown or at one of our many local parks in order to catch Pokemon. In fact, as soon as I am done with this post, we are going to downtown Farmington to Pokehunt. It is surprising how far you will walk without realizing it; walking is good exercise, but strengthening Caleb’s core is our priority.

Friends and Family: You need friends to talk to, and yes, cry with. Friends and family who understand our family dynamics are often very helpful and compassionate. I have recently decided to be completely honest with my friends about my life, instead of feeling like I have to sugarcoat everything to make people comfortable. Yes, the friends and family I depended upon before Caleb are completely different now. My husband’s parents are the most amazing people and I even use his mother as a guide for myself and my behavior. I have learned to lovingly detach from people who don’t want to understand Caleb and our life. Right now, I have 3 really good friends (not including my husband), and getting out of the house and hanging out with them seriously refreshes me. Sometimes I need to get away so that I miss my family and I really want to be with them. Cause, let’s face it, there are many times when all we want is just a moment of peace. We deserve more than a moment; we need hours. In order to have a social life, my husband and I work together so the other may go play. However, we are always back home by 7:30pm because bedtime rituals are super important.

Don’t Sweat the Little Stuff: I haven’t dusted my house in 2 weeks. Maybe 3. I swept a few days ago. Laundry is piling up, I have dishes drying that need to be put away, my bathroom floor is disgusting, and that is all going to have to wait. Having a super clean house is not even close to the most important thing in Caleb’s life. In fact, my husband and son would be perfectly happy living in filth. What matters is that I don’t kill myself trying to take care of everyone; that only leads to me being overwhelmed and cranky. That doesn’t help anybody. So, not stressing myself out makes me a better person.

My main motivation for my positive attitude is not only my health, but also Caleb’s. Caleb gets very upset when I am unhappy with him. Caleb doesn’t think about his actions until after he has already done them; this distinction is important because he really does want to be a good kid and make me happy. I have to remind myself this all the time. All 3 of us deeply love each other, and in order to excel, we need to remember to be kind to ourselves as well as others.

 

Personal Hygiene

Raising an autistic child who also has Sensory Processing disorder, it can be a challenge to make sure your child is clean and nice looking.Every day at 8:00am and 8:00pm, Caleb does basic grooming, including brushing his teeth, bathing, skin care, and hair care.

Brushing Teeth: Brushing Caleb’s teeth is always difficult; he doesn’t know how to keep the toothpaste and saliva in his mouth, so it just dribbles out. Rinsing out his mouth also requires coordination that doesn’t end very pretty. Caleb sometimes gags with the toothbrush in his mouth; two days ago, I was hosed down with vomit when the toothbrush gagged him.

We have tried vibrating toothbrushes, and in the beginning he loved them. Now that he has been sensitive to gagging, he doesn’t want it. We also make sure that his toothpaste doesn’t have fluoride because he does have a tendency to swallow it.

Bathing: Last summer, I signed Caleb up for private swimming lessons at the local YMCA. At first, it was wonderful, but then he started getting really upset when he had to rinse off in the shower before going in the pool. Eventually, the shower was a deal breaker and he stopped wanting to go swimming. Then he refused to even take a bath. For six months, we had to wet wipe him down everyday. It was frustrating, but my husband and I knew that if we pushed him too hard, he would never bathe again.

Six months after him swearing off water, I was able to persuade him to take a bath with the promise of a lavender bath bomb. I don’t know why this was the turning point for him, but he said yes. Since then, I buy the Whole Foods bath bombs, mostly the lavender scent, and I keep them on hand until I need to get Caleb in the bath.

Skin Care: Caleb has keratosis pilaris (yes, because he needed MORE issues), so it is important that we clean his face and use special face cream. We use Burt’s Bees oily to normal skin face wipes; Caleb loves the grapefruit scent. They are gentle enough for Caleb to use himself, as I’m not concerned about the wipes going near his eyes. After the wipes, we use a cream by KP Elements that really helps with the bumps on his face. Finally, Caleb has some chap sticks that he uses.

Hair Care: Caleb has long hair because a) his daddy has hair down to his waist, and Caleb wants to be like daddy, and b) he hates haircuts. He gets anxious just talking about hair cuts. So, we let him have long hair on the condition that we brush it twice a day. We have to be very careful and slow, but still Caleb will complain through it. He is very sensitive, and just because it wouldn’t hurt us doesn’t mean his pain doesn’t exist. We try very hard to always start at the ends and slowly work our way up. We want Caleb get used to hair brushing, even though it bothers him, because appearance is important.

I also once a day apply Argan oil to his hair. It is important to get oil that is 100% pure organic oil; we like PURA D’OR Organic Moroccan Argan Oil. It is fairly inexpensive and doesn’t have a strong scent. Oil that is not pure or organic can have an off-putting scent, which can be a deal-breaker for Caleb.

We try to explain to Caleb that people judge other people by their looks. It isn’t right or fair, but we all do it. Just because Caleb is autistic doesn’t mean that he gets a pass on how he looks. He needs to conform to some social norms, and it is important for him to start getting the routines down now so that when he is older, he just does it automatically.