Hands Are Not For Hitting

When Caleb was between 2 and 3, he started hitting my husband and me. At first, it was intermittent and not really bothersome. Then came the smacking, the punching, and the pulling on hair. We tried so many interventions: token economy, time out, books about hitting, talking about hitting. reminding him that hands are not for hitting when we think he is about to hit.

This is where my post is going to take a turn you probably didn’t expect.

My son hitting me made me realize that I was not over the physical and emotional abuse that I survived from the time I was born until I was 18. In retrospect, the emotional abuse remained a part of my life until just a few months ago when I told my family I don’t want them in my life.

I am a survivor of childhood emotional and physical abuse.

As a youth, I attended Al-Anon meetings and therapy, and there I learned about the probability of me turning out like my mother or father. My father was an alcoholic and drug abuser (everything from pot to methadone), so I had a high probability of becoming an substance abuser; but I was also likely to become a physical and emotional abuser as well. The idea of becoming my father is probably the greatest fear I have had my entire life.

When I was 21, I adopted a cat. I thought that the first step toward trusting myself as a parent was taking care of a pet. I adopted an adorable orange tabby named Murray. He was 4 at the time, and all I was told was that he was given up because his owners had a baby. But, that wasn’t the whole story. I would be holding Murray, petting his head, and we would be purring up a storm when suddenly he would scratch the heck out of my face, arms, and chest. He would freak out on me and, because I had tiny knives cutting me, I pushed him away from me. This happened again and again for a month. Finally, after recognizing that this wasn’t working, I came to the difficult conclusion that I would have to have Murray declawed. After his procedure, Murray would attack me, but I knew it wasn’t going to hurt; I was able to just soothe him and not react as he went ballistic. It was the right choice, because after a couple more months, Murray completely stopped having freak outs. He became my best friend for 16 years until he passed away on December 30th, 2017.

After I was comfortable being a mother to Murray, I adopted another cat. I knew that Murray was lonely, so I got Mina from the local rescue shelter. She was beautiful and tiny and didn’t know how to make a crying sound until she was 3. Murray and Mina loved each other, however I pretty much just put up with Mina. She was a bit evil; she would wake me up in the middle of the night by climbing onto my nightstand and turning off my cpap machine. However, I never hurt her either.

A month before my husband and I got married, we decided to get a dog. Because we knew we wanted to have children (and because that was the kind of dog my husband had growing up), we chose to get a Golden Retriever. We found this amazing breeder in Essexville – the dogs were gorgeous and the family had 4 children who would also handle the dogs. These dogs were all so well behaved and loving. That is where we chose the Light Pink Girl (the color of her collar), Penny.

Again, with Penny, there was no hitting. We would dominate her if she got too rowdy, but really, again, it all seemed so fine.

Fast forward to me, 36, with two dogs and two cats, and I was having to suppress this almost natural reaction to hit my child back. I was horrified with myself. When Caleb stop hitting, I thought I was okay. But I wasn’t.

It wasn’t until January of this year that I vowed to never lay my hands on anyone again. This was harder than I thought. I realized I still had issues. Okay, fine: I had more issues than a newsstand.

Caleb and I started going to therapy at the same time, but we each see different therapists. And I can tell you, Caleb and I are both in a really transformative part of our lives. Caleb is suddenly a brand new person who actually cares about pleasing others, especially his mom and dad. He is smart, driven, creative and happy. He has basically the entire basement and he calls it his “safe space.”

Caleb and I also grew really close this summer. That is when I started thinking about my childhood. I don’t understand why I love my child in a way that my mother and father didn’t love me.

My therapist has diagnosed my father as a sociopath. He was evil. But my mom knew what was happening at home. In a conversation with her over the summer, she posed me this question: Should I have broken up the family and left your dad? That implies that the family was not broken with me being abused.

After my father died, relative after relative came up to me and told me how sorry they were that my dad hurt me. They saw it happening and did nothing, and now that he was dead, they felt freer to talk about it? That is the thing – my abuse was not private. I was often hit in grocery stores. I was hit at family events. I was hit in plain sight of my mother and sister. I even told my school psychologist that I was afraid to go home; I was 7-years-old and nothing happened.  Nobody protected me.

I am learning how to let go of the past. It isn’t easy. Like I said, I’m still trying to make sense of a situation that will never make sense. There will never be any logic as to why I was hurt.

The last email I got from my mother was about her next vacation to New York and working on her sewing hobby. She and her husband are rich, and they don’t help us at all with any of Caleb’s medical bills. My son isn’t even allowed in their home because they don’t want him touching their stuff.

Seriously.

Caleb cannot go into my mother’s home.

I don’t want to go back down that rabbit hole with my mom where we all pretend that everything is okay. It is not okay. I finally have real unconditional love in my life, and it is amazing. I am so thankful for my husband, my son, and my husband’s family.

I’m now 39 and an orphan, which is strangely liberating. I am scared because I have hung on to my mother’s scraps of love for so long; letting go because I deserve better is the only option.

So I broke the pattern.

My mother, who doesn’t like emotions, was raised by my grandmother and grandfather who also didn’t like emotions. My grandpa used alcohol so avoid dealing with anger. Same with my dad’s dad. There was coldness and distance and alcohol abuse.

And I broke that pattern.

Every day I make sure that I tell my husband and son that I love them. And I love them unconditionally. I tell Caleb that he isn’t bad, he just made a mistake. I tell Caleb how excited I am to see him when I pick him up from school. I give him hugs and love on him, but also allow him some private time. I push him academically because I know that he is a smarty-mcSmarty-pants. I say “I,” but I should say “we.” My husband is right by my side, giving him love and stability; my husband is the rock, I am the fire. And together, we work. We make sense to each other and know how to treat each other. We give each other the benefit of the doubt and strive to meet goals together.

I am a better parent than my mom, dad, or sister. In fact, right now, I am kind of crushing it. (I know, have some humility.) We have a new puppy that bites, and I don’t get angry at all. Yes, I still go to therapy and I still need therapy. I am a flawed individual who has overcome a lot to be in the happy, stable place that I am today. I broke the pattern. And that means something.

Vaccinations: YES!

I am so confused as to why people still believe that vaccinations cause autism. I’ve had parents corner me and preach about the evils of vaccinations; mostly I treat them like an angry wild animal where I try to avoid eye contact and slip away as quickly as possible.

Let me makes this perfectly clear. My son has autism. We also vaccinate him. There is no correlation or causation between autism and vaccines.

So, why do we still hear about the horrors of vaccines? One major contributor to that big bag of bull was Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his co-authors of a case study in 1998. Dr. Wakefield deliberately wrote a fraudulent article because he was working with a bunch of lawyers who were trying to sue doctors for causing autism. He was eventually found to be a liar and stripped of his medical license.

Even though subsequent studies have proven that there is no correlation or causation between vaccinations and autism, people still believe it. I find this interesting. I feel like there has always been this underlying tone of blaming the mother for a child’s autism.

At first, when children were first being diagnosed with autism in the 1940’s, the burgeoning theme was that “refrigerator moms” were to blame; basically, it was the mother’s fault because she didn’t give her child enough love. We have blamed what the mother ate while pregnant, what medicine she took while pregnant, what the child ate after they were born, and now, we blame the mom for giving their children vaccines.

It is so time we stopped blaming mother’s for their child’s autism. First of all, in order to blame someone for something, you have to believe that autism is bad and that you would want to change your child. I can understand how people can hate autism; there are many people with severe autism that may not have the quality of life we want them to have. For us, though, we are okay. Caleb is high-functioning and just simply amazing. He has said that he likes being autistic. He likes himself. How can I argue with that?

Caleb and I are lucky in many ways:
1) My husband has a job that pays enough so that I can be a stay-at-home mother.
2) I did my Master’s and Ph.D. work in Instructional Technology (how people learn), focusing on motivation.
3) My husband also has a Master’s Degree, so we both know how to do research and figure out if the information is true or not.
4) We three want to work together and help each other.
5) Caleb is insanely smart and will probably have a fairly normal life.

When Caleb was first diagnosed, I read everything I could about autism. What particularly struck me were how many people had to institutionalize their child because the child was violent. Caleb was diagnosed at 2-years-old; I had no idea what was in store for him. I didn’t know if he would ever talk, have a life of his own, find love, etc. Now that I see him growing at a velocity that just blows my mind. So, yeah, in the beginning, I hated autism. And I can totally understand why some people do.

People who hate autism have a difficult time, because we don’t really know how autism is caused. There is a new theory about the change being made while the child is in their second trimester, but still autism is defined by its symptoms. And when some people don’t have something to blame, they find something.

To be honest, when I found out about Caleb’s autism, I felt anger toward my husband; he has a sister with used to be called Asperger’s and I thought that his genetics were to blame. I feel so horrible that I used to have that mind set. Caleb is a blessing, and we love him as is. And to be honest, with his smarts, he has the ability to leave a real footprint on the world.

So, moms, this isn’t our fault.
Working moms: it isn’t your fault that you have to make money to support your family.
Stay-at-home moms: it isn’t your fault that can’t help financially support your family.
It isn’t our fault that our children are different.
The only fault to be found would be a) deprive your child of therapy, and b) deprive your child of vaccinations.

Are Parents of Autistic Children More Likely To End Up Divorced?

Easy answer: no.
Real answer: it is complicated.

This post is not a particularly easy one to write. I like to look like I have it all together, I know how to handle anything that comes my way; the truth is that I have my struggles, just like everybody else.

Everyone in our house has their issues:
*Caleb is autistic
*My husband has ADHD
*I have chronic migraines and baggage from my childhood

The divorce rate for couples when one partner has ADHD is about twice that of “normal” couples; mix that strain with the added complications with having an autistic child, and you can lose your darn mind. And I do. Don’t get me wrong – there are days when I have to ask my husband to take over because otherwise I’m going to lose it. To be fair, there is no evidence that having an autistic child leads to divorce; in fact, the divorce rate of families with an autistic child was about even with families who have neurotypical families. This is explained by 1) couples with autistic children tend to be older, and 2) stressful situations can actually cause families to be closer together and weather the storms together.

I know that I married my soulmate. I know that Caleb is one of my two favorite people in the whole world, and I think he is my soulmate as well. Hell, I think my best friends and my dogs are my soulmates, so I may be overly sappy. I try to remember the love that I have for my husband and son, especially in the tough times.

When I turned 30, I decided it was time to do something that I had wanted to do for years, but was always too scared to do: get a tattoo. I’d known what I’ve wanted since I was a teenager, but over the years my ideas matured and I ended up getting a sort of trinity on my back – a trinity of what is important to me: “honor” (right shoulder), “trust” (left shoulder), “love” neck, “lifeboat” (under “love” on neck).

My family is my lifeboat. Together we sink or swim. Together we can survive the bad times and then revel in the good. I try to treat others with honor, love, and trust, but especially my family.

One thing that my husband and I are really working on (and I will probably repeat this a lot) is giving each other the benefit of the doubt. He didn’t answer my phone call? He must have not heard it or he is very busy. He didn’t mow the lawn? Maybe he isn’t feeling well. We have been working on this concept for about a year, and we are still trying to remember it. It is so hard because in the moment, I have real feelings that I want to express. I need to remember to check myself.

For instance, today, I totally chewed out my husband for not picking up his phone when I called him a couple times. This is a trigger for me because my husband has a tendency to not pick up his phone. He worked from home today, so I knew he wasn’t in a meeting. I got cranky. Turns out, I forgot to take my afternoon migraine pills. And it was 4:30pm and I hadn’t eaten yet today. I was tired, hungry, and in pain.

When my husband finally put his foot down and demanded that I take care of myself, I did. And then, boy oh boy, did I feel like a jerk. Gosh, why did I overreact so badly? Why did I forget to eat? And I forget to eat a lot. I have alarms that go off when it is time to feed the dogs, my son, my husband, but not myself. I need to remember to take care of myself so that I don’t become an irrational, crazy B.

All 3 of us sleep in a family bed because of Caleb’s sleep issues (which I will get into later), so my husband and I can’t really be romantic a) in our own bed, and b) until Caleb has fallen asleep, which is around 9, 9:30pm. My husband and I use the spare bedroom as our little love shack (dear visitors: I promise to put on clean sheets.). It is really important to take time out to be affectionate with each other. And I am not just talking about the dirty stuff. Sometimes we just cuddle and talk about our days. The dirty stuff is important, don’t get me wrong. But, it isn’t everything. Staying connected with my husband emotionally, intellectually, and physically are all very important for us in order to have a strong family bond. When my husband and I are happy, we are such better parents, and then Caleb is happy too.

We are building relationships that are going to last our lifetime; something so important deserves special care and attention. I think Jackson from Gilmore Girls said it best:

JACKSON: You know what I love about farming? The commitment. [Chris nods in agreement] No shortcuts, no quitting. You have got to be there for your crops morning, noon, and night. I mean you can have the greatest soil and perfect seeds, but if you are not 100% committed, you might as well pave over those 32 acres and build yourself a strip mall. You know what I mean.

CHRISTOPHER: It’s a lot of responsibility.

JACKSON: It sure is.

CHRISTOPHER: It sounds like you really love farming.

JACKSON: I do. Sookie and I, we both do.

CHRISTOPHER: Me too.