Pants up. AKA Mommy loses her cool.

by Jennifer Dyer

It might sound like this will be about fashion. Not really. Yes, wearing saggy pants leads to perilous moments of ankle waddling, but this is about my daughter with autism and her sensory issues.

Rachel likes to pull her pants down. I don’t know why. I suspect the pressure of a waistband on her tummy while sitting is painful. If any kid has gut issues, it’s my sweet girl. We have most of her tummy troubles under control with diet, but I imagine she still has discomfort.

So…the pants. We buy the softest, most stretchy leggings possible. I buy her long dresses to wear over those. But if it were up to her, she’d skip the leggings.

In the car, on the bus, wherever she goes, Rachel likes to sit on her bare bottom. She pulls down everything under her dress and sits on the seat commando style. I don’t know why. I never pretended to understand her sensory issues. But I know that’s at least a part of where this stems from.

I understand it’s difficult for her. But I also understand that in society, pants are not optional. Maybe in some places…but not in most. School, grocery stores, libraries–pretty much pants-required kinds of places, or at least they are pretty adamant about covering of your hindquarters. The pulling down her leggings to sit has become a big issue at school, especially. It’s keeping her from going to general ed classes and mixing with the other kids. It’s affecting so many areas of her life.

While riding in the backseat with Rach, I asked her to pull her pants up. She did about halfway. A second later she yanked them down. We rinsed and repeated, so to speak, each time with her pulling her pants back down a second later. I know this is beyond a sensory issue–it’s compulsion taking over at this point, but she has to learn. I reached around to keep her pants up behind her back. “You have to keep them up.”

She screamed and said no.

I took a deep breath. I hate confrontation. I hate hearing her cry. I don’t want to make her miserable, and I have compassion for anyone with sensory issues. I had them myself. But she seriously has to keep her pants up! I’m her mother. It’s not my job to keep her happy. It’s my job to develop her character. I have to be strong. All of that ran through my mind as we struggled.

I was doing pretty well to keep my cool, but Rachel grabbed my hand and squeezed the kung and the fu out of one of my bent fingers. I jerked away, but she has a death grip. My brain quit working, adrenaline pounded through my limbs. “Get away!” was the big message in my mind. I smacked her thigh and yelled, “Stop!”

Eldest, sitting in the front seat beside Grandma, whirled around to see what happened. Grandma veered and glanced in the rear-view mirror.

I don’t hit. I occasionally spank, but it’s rare these days because it escalates Rachel’s behavior rather than helps it. When Eldest was little, there was usually a verbal warning of “I will spank you.” And then it was done in a calm manner.

There was no warning here. I didn’t hit hard, but shame washed over me because it felt like I’d acted rashly. I felt liked I’d done something terrible even though in retrospect it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined it. In fact, it was an immediate response that communicated to her she needed to stop. And I truly didn’t hit her hard enough to even make her thigh red.

Regardless, in that moment, I wanted to curl up and hide because I’d let myself lose control of my emotions. I looked out the window and noticed a meadow full of pink wild flowers. A powerful urge washed over me to jump out of the car and run screaming through the grass and melt into shadows.

But motherhood isn’t about running away. It’s about standing firm, putting my own feelings aside and doing what’s best for my family. Yet I’m not a robot. I have feelings, I feel pain, too, and I get over stressed.

I took a deep breath and apologized to Rachel for losing my temper. I don’t know if she understood me or not, but I told her I should have pulled away. It’s not OK to hit people in anger or in fear. But it’s not OK to hurt people, either, and there are consequences for that.

In retrospect, we shouldn’t have started that battle of the pants on that day because I was too tired to begin with and didn’t feel well. Those big battles have to be started when I’m up to following it through for the long haul. We’re going to try again with her behavior therapist and work our way toward changing her behavior patterns that way.

Furthermore, I need to stop being so hard on myself. I know y’all understand. We have these ideals we hold ourselves to, but fall short. Or people who don’t understand our circumstances criticize and wound our hearts. Sometimes, though, the failure is much greater in our minds. Sometimes we have to offer ourselves grace and move forward.

Grace, it’s often the greatest, but most difficult, gift we can give ourselves.

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Needing encouragement?

Sometimes mothering is as easy as stuffing a tiger into a pillow case. I can’t seem to keep it all together. And I often mess up.

Ever feel that way?

I do, especially when I trip over the scattered contents of my linen closet, or walk into my closet to see all my clothes pulled off the hangers by my busy younger child.

And then there are the times I butt heads with my preteen…

The other day Eldest and I had a wonderful mother-daughter date … until the drive home. Somehow, reflection on a movie shifted into an argument about laundry, which ended in me screaming, “Listen to me!”

Nice one, Mom …

I apologized, but my action shattered our fun. We arrived home in icy silence and entered the house, which looked exactly as we had left it. Cluttered countertops mocked me along with the “room of doom” upstairs where my other daughter with autism had been busy in my absence. She’d filled the room with the contents of the linen closet, paper scraps … and glue.

I wanted to hide and scream. “Why, God? When I pictured motherhood, it didn’t include scraping sticky newspaper bits and scrubbing peanut butter out of the carpet. Nor did I envision screaming like a hormonal banshee. I’m just so tired.”

Life never turns out the way we expect, does it? And moms are human, too. We make mistakes. And that’s why we need to encourage one another.

Click here to read the whole post “Mom’s Need Encouragement” at MomLife Today.

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Preposition lessons with Rachel.

by Jennifer Dyer

One of the many goals Rachel is working toward in speech therapy is understanding prepositions. For years, I’ve yearned to assist her with language, to use my career experience as a speech-language pathologist to help her, but I usually feel as useful as an empty tube of lipstick.

Today, though, I was able to do something that felt like speech therapy (to me) with her! Or at least I thought I was helping.

As always, things don’t turn out quite “normal” around here.

Since Rachel is highly visual, I thought I would pair the preposition word concepts with a picture card and model the correct usage for her using toys. I was trying to hit all the learning styles I could in one go: visual, tactile, auditory, verbal, and a 3-D representation (that last one is a term I’ve heard used by Kay Giesecke M.S. CCC-SLP).

Sounds like a great idea, yes?

In theory and when done correctly, yes.

But…

I used 1″ square cards from the Boardmaker program that featured a written word along with a simple picture representing each preposition. (See them in the pictures below.) Using some doll house furniture and a Mickey Mouse toy, we labeled one preposition at a time.

On was the easiest for her, so we started there. (See picture below.) I first modeled on by placing the card on the couch and Mickey on the “on” card. “On. Mickey is on the couch.”

I handed Mickey to Rachel. “Put Mickey on.” If she didn’t place Mickey in the right spot, I modeled it again and handed her Mickey to try again.

Rachel wasn’t happy, but she smacked Mickey onto the couch, so I thought … since, the on part went all right, I should keep going!

Yeah, y’all can probably hear the horror film music in the background and at least one of you might be screaming, “Don’t go there!”

But I did.

I threw all the prepositions I had in my arsenal at her. In, on, under, between, in front of, behind…

Rachel grabbed the couch and sat on it.

Then she sat on Mickey too.

And the word cards.

That should have clued me into her emotional state. She was telling me, “Too much, woman!”

But I didn’t listen. I grabbed the couch out from under her and trumped that by adding the doll house bunk beds. She sat on those too. And then hid in the closet, only peeking out so that she could make sure I would notice when she slammed the door shut again.

Yay … score one for mom.

My problem is I sometimes try to accomplish so much at once that I forget to notice the little things. I should have jumped for joy when Rachel got the concept of on. And I should have stopped there, at least for the moment. Perhaps I could have added one more concept, but sometimes it’s best to end earlier than planned with a positive result than to end up with her screaming in the closet.

Just in case you were wondering:

A few days later, we tried again with this set of tiny bears I bought at a dollar store 15 years ago and have used in therapy dozens of times.

But, I’d learned my lesson. I quit trying to be the fabled hare who wins the race with speed. Instead, I followed the path of the tortoise and used only the three prepositions assigned to me by Rachel’s behavioral therapist.

We worked for just 10 minutes. I incorporated only the toys pictured above plus a few more bears. I used the same methods, but much slower, on a small scale, and with much more success. Rachel did hide in the ball pit afterwards, but it she wasn’t upset, just tired.

I started with in only. I put the bear into the house. “The bear is in.” Then I handed her a bear of her own. “Put the bear in the house.” I pointed to cue her for the first few times. After she put the bear in twice, I stopped pointing.

I added on after a few more trials, using the same method. I worked with her using on by itself then added in. Then I randomly asked her to: “Put the bear on.” “Put the bear in.”

I added under, working on it by itself at first. Then I mixed in the other two. Since she had already worked on the concepts with her therapist, I was able to move quickly. If she hadn’t worked on the words, I would have drilled the concepts one at a time in different ways, perhaps using different props, but keeping with only one preposition in a mini session.

If you need picture cards like the ones I made above, I used PicMonkey.

 

 

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One Sunday afternoon and autism.

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It started, as many things do, with something small. A glass of water. I had no idea it would end with a hole in the wall.

Earlier, after a peaceful Sunday afternoon, Eldest attended a swim party. On the way home I asked her to head straight to the shower. Otherwise, Rachel would think we did the unthinkable–went swimming without her.

Rachel knew, though. She can smell chlorine on a year-old swimsuit. At first, she didn’t seem to react beyond babbling more than usual. But with her communication issues, it is hard to tell.

Her frustration became apparent, however, when she stared straight at me and dumped a glass of water into the carpet. Things went darker from there. In less than 10 minutes we had a hurricane in the kitchen–water dripping from the countertops. And a tornado in the closet, complete with a foot-sized hole in the wall.

While I don’t endorse her tantrum behavior, I’ve realized I don’t give Rachel enough credit. Even though she is nonverbal, Rach is far more sophisticated than I realized. I believe she was sending a message: you take Sister to all kinds of fun places and not me.

I wanted to send my own message back: but everything is so difficult when we go places. I still have to chase you sometimes. You make loud noises. I have to be hyper vigilant every second. I feel like autism has taken us hostage. I get so tired.

But life is what it is. No one asked Rach or I how we felt about our situation. So, we have to make the best of it.

Since Rach doesn’t get invited to many parties, I need to do things with her during those moments. It’s difficult because I have my own set of goals to accomplish. Letting the dishes, my blog, the laundry, or other things go makes me feel as though I spent all my time running backwards. But I have to think about how she feels in those times, too. Big sister does seem to go all kinds of places while she sits at home.

Yeah. It stinks. But life has a tendency to hand us all lemons. They may be sour, but lemons are one of the healthiest foods around. And some of the best desserts in life are made with them.

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On the subject of purity.

by Jennifer Dyer

Years ago a popular sitcom featured a young man in high school who admitted he was a virgin. The episode centered around this guy’s state of virginity, and it wasn’t flattering. Instead of praising him for his desire to wait until marriage, his more worldly cousin tried to help him overcome this horrible condition, as though it were a disease. And in the end, he acquiesced to cheers of the audience.

In our culture, purity is often shoved aside, seen as something to toss off like a moth-eaten coat. But that wasn’t what God intended for us. Join me over a MoretoBe.com for more, including ways to talk to our kids about this very important subject.

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Showing vs. telling in parenting.

by Jennifer Dyer

As a writer, the concept of showing and telling often haunts me. Am I telling the reader my character is upset? Or am I showing them: “He pitched his briefcase in the car and jammed his keys into the ignition. Yanking the door shut, he didn’t bother to pull the rest of his jacket into the interior. Let it flap around and collect road grime. Why care anymore? He jammed the accelerator into the front bumper and left a satisfying trail of of rubber behind.”

Showing is far more powerful. It is the difference between put-me-to-sleep stories and those that transport you to another world. It takes more effort, more thought and planning, but the end result is worth it.

What about in parenting? Am I showing my kids how to behave and/or react to circumstances, or am I telling them and, in essence, refusing to practice what I preach?

A while back, a few of Eldest’s friends were having an issue–no surprise there. Tween girls are surrounded by drama. Anyway, Eldest told me about her conversation with Friend A regarding the problem. It was actually pretty mature, with Eldest and Friend A trying to work through the issue rather than say mean things about the other person, but I could see the potential for hurt feelings.

I asked her, “What if Friend A repeats what you said? Even though your words were intended as kind, it could be taken the wrong way, and you will be the one hurt. It’s easy to slip from being helpful into gossip. Be mindful of what you say so that it won’t come back to hurt you or anyone else.”

Good advice? I thought so, since I said it.

So, a few hours later, I caught myself conversing discussing … gossiping with my sister about so-and-so’s problem, trying to solve things that were none of my concern. Was it truly gossip? The subject of the conversation might think so. But my even bigger concern was what Eldest thought, as she was in earshot.

I’m not sure if she was listening, but I realized I was telling Eldest how to behave, but showing her another way. And showing is …

Much. More. Powerful.

Showing is what Jesus, the perfect parent, did for us. Jesus did not simply tell us about himself. “Hi, all. I’m God. You’re not. You need me. The end.”

Jesus showed us he was/is the ultimate personification of love and light by living a sinless life, enduring trials, and dying on the cross as the perfect sacrifice. He did not only tell us he loved us. He showed us.

And that is powerful.

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Talking to your kids about sex.

by Jennifer Dyer

There is something interesting about the way people talk or don’t talk about sex. What is so easy to discuss with friends over coffee causes parents to stammer, blush, and say to their children, “Ask again when you’re 30.” 

But we do our children a disservice when we act as though we are ashamed of sex or that it is something dirty. Instead, we should help them to see sex as part of God’s beautiful design for a fulfilling marriage.

How soon is too soon to talk to your kids about sex? As soon as they ask. You can let their questions lead what you tell them.

Years ago, a mentor told me about seeing two bunnies procreating in her yard while sitting with her three-year-old. Her daughter asked what they were doing.

She replied, “They are making love to make babies.”

Her daughter screwed up her face. “Do you and Daddy do that?”

My friend did not let the question ruffle her. “It’s different, but, yes.”

And that was it for a long time, but it started the conversation and kept it open from that point on.

Eldest didn’t ask any major questions until she was 10. It wasn’t that I wanted to hide the topic. She just wasn’t ready to discuss it. But I wanted to be ready when she asked because there is a plethora of misinformation, lies even, about sex hitting our children in the face every day through popular media. Even in the malls, we are bombarded with sexual images and messages.

We, as parents, need to be the first source of truth for our children about God’s beautiful design for sex. And it’s not a once-and-you’re-done kind of topic. There needs to be an ongoing dialog about sex and all it encompasses as your kids mature.

Kids crave information on sex. In his book, The Bare Facts, 39 Questions Your Parents Hope You Never Ask About Sex, author Josh McDowell points out “the word ‘sex’ receives more than four billion Google searches every year.”

 

That’s billion with a “B.” How many of those searches do you think are from kids? friend recently found the word sex searched on her 9 year-old daughter’s iPod.

 

One mom, eyes wide with terror, asked me what she was supposed to say. Here are some things I’ve discussed with Eldest, who is 11 as I write this:

  • Sex is what you desire to do when you love a person so much you want to be as close to them as possible.
  • God made sex for marriage, to be kept inside of marriage.
  • Sex is a picture of how deeply God loves us. The Bible uses the term “know” (the Hebrew word yada. See here for more info.) in regards to sex. It is the same term used many other times in the Bible describing how deeply God knows us.
  • Sex is like glue that puts a marriage together.
  • If you have sex with someone you aren’t married to, sex still “glues” you to that person.
  • There are chemicals in the brain released in sex that actually bond you with a person. This is wonderful in marriage. It will hurt you deeply emotionally if you aren’t married to that person.
  • God says sex is only for marriage, not because he is mean, but to protect you emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
  • The world–TV, music, movies, video games, and people–will tell you sex is just for fun and it can’t hurt you to play around, but those are lies.
  • Some people say it’s too hard to deny yourself any sort of pleasure. That is also a lie.
  • Your friends are not experts or reliable places to get information about sex.
  • Sex is meant to be private, between a husband and a wife. It is beautiful.
  • Sex also can create babies. There are all types of birth control available, but they do not always work.
  • People will talk about safe sex, but the only kind of safe sex you can have is when you are married and both of you are faithful to each other.
  • When you have sex with different people, you can get viruses, sort of like colds, only much more serious. Some of those viruses even cause cancer. (See here for more info on HPV.)
  • People can have sex and get pregnant outside of marriage, but that is not God’s best plan for you.

The world is full of lies about sex we must refute with our kids:

  • Sex = love.
  • Everyone else is doing it, so I should too.
  • It’s unrealistic to save sex until marriage with people waiting until their late 20’s to get married.
  • Sex in marriage is boring.
  • Sex is dirty and bad, and God doesn’t like it.
  • I’ve already had sex, so what’s the point in waiting.
  • Oral sex isn’t really sex.
  • Sex is no big deal. It’s just an action. It doesn’t mean anything.

All wrong. All lies.

In the above mentioned The Bare Facts book, Josh addresses and dispels many of the questions I’ve posed above. I’d highly recommend the book for parents and for teens.

(For an in-depth description of the deep meaning behind sex in marriage and the word yada, see Dannah Gresh beautifully address it here.)

The world wants to sell our children a different, cheaper version of sex that will leave them broken mentally and often physically. We, as parents and mentors, have to be willing to talk openly and often about sex to our kids, telling our children of its beauty, blessing, and boundaries.

If we, as parents, aren’t willing to discuss sex with our kids, then who will? And what will they tell our kids?

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Why am I blue? Understanding life’s changes and the emotions they evoke.

by Jennifer Dyer

My subconscious is smarter than I am.

This past week I’ve been on edge. One moment, I want to yell and rant and the next I’m wishing to hide under my covers and never come out. While I am usually pretty driven to accomplish, I feel like a balloon drifting over a windless desert.

So, today, I spent some time praying and asked God what was wrong with me. “Why am I so blue?” Some of it is hormones, those lovely horrible moans that take a perfectly sane woman and turn her into a raving monster for a day or two every month. But I knew it had to be something deeper, something more serious adding to my mental disarray.

As I prayed, I thought about the time of year–it’s May. And every May I go through this. Panic attacks, scattered thoughts, anxiety, over-thinking, on edge, depressed, and fearful. Though it has lessened over the last five or so years, I still feel it.

Why?

My subconscious has already realized what the rest of me is slower on picking up: School is about to be out.

Don’t get me wrong. I love having the girls home. I enjoy long summer days, swimming, playing, sleeping in, the feeling of potential each morning when a day is filled with unknown adventures. And I am so, so thankful I can be with them during their breaks.

But I also know that I am on the clock all the time. Not only for eldest with her needs for a close relationship with her mother, but also for Rachel and all the demands that go with having a special needs child.

Errands that I run during the school year will include Rachel during the summer. Don’t get me wrong. I love taking her places, but its easier when I don’t actually have to accomplish anything. Each trip to the store usually involves some sort of incident like the hand sanitizer debacle yesterday, which is a story for another time.

I also feel like I’m not doing enough, especially for Rachel. She needs constant speech therapy, but I have never figured out how to be therapist and mother. She needs consistency and a firm routine. Not easy for the creative and scattered mind of her mama.

I need quiet, at least part of the day, or I cannot think straight. As it is, my brain is usually half lost in a project, and I have difficulty keeping my feet in both worlds. And neither remains dormant.

Here’s the interesting thing. This panicked feeling usually lasts until about the second week of summer. Then I adjust to the new routine and we have a great time.

In August I go through it all over again because my babies are back in school and away from me for most of the day.

I feel better just knowing what is bothering me. It’s like a weight has already been lifted. When the anxious feelings come, I think of the fun times we had last summer and focus there instead of worry that I will be so exhausted I will drop where I stand. And I remind myself to cherish each MOMent because they often pass too quickly.

How about you? Is your self conscious sometimes ahead of you?

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Bullying: a guide to survival from a victim’s perspective.

Over on More to Be, I wrote about surviving bullying from the perspective of a person who had been through extreme bullying and not only survived, but has devoted a part of her life to helping people overcome the painful moments in their lives.

Join me on More to Be and Be part of the conversation:

http://www.moretobe.com/2013/04/01/bullies-and-perspective-gained-from-a-victim/

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I’m not good enough! Do you ever say this? Well, good news…

by Jennifer Dyer

A while back, I agreed to help a friend publicize a project. As I writer, I am aware of how much social media presence means in today’s world. Numbers are king. And I, my friends, am not big stuff.

The publisher of the project asked everyone interested in helping to fill out a survey.

The info they wanted? Numbers. How many hits does your website get? How many people “like” you? Do Wookies and Droids in the galaxy far, far away follow you?

As I read through the questions, a growing weight settled on my chest. Half of the things they asked I didn’t even know.

In my mind, the survey asked the question: “Are you good enough to help us?”

“No! I’m not good enough! Not by a long shot.” I started to believe I wasn’t good enough, so I shouldn’t try to help out my friend. Other, better people would help her. (How wrong is that? I was going to let fear and feelings of inadequacy stop me from helping someone!)

“I’m not good enough” clouded my thoughts, jaded my sight. Every time I tuned into any of my online channels, I despaired at what I saw. No one liked me. I wasn’t making an impact. I should just quit. And I should eat some worms.

Phooey.

All my creative efforts stalled. Instead of doing what I do best, I spent my time worrying about why more people didn’t like me. My doubts poisoned all my efforts.

I some time in prayer, mostly whining to God about why life wasn’t fair.

But God was gracious and didn’t toss me a piece of cheese to go with my whine. Instead I saw:

* Focusing on what others have is wrong and harmful to my own heart. That includes feeling envious of their success. It only leads to distress and distracts me.

* I had to face that I was trying to be in control. That leads to anxiety and doesn’t change anything. You’d think I would have learned this during my extended illnesses. Controlling most things in this world is as futile as controlling the wind with my bare hands.

* Do what I do best and let God take care of the rest. Does this mean I give up? No. It means that I focus on what I do best. I will dedicate a bit of time each day to learn how to navigate the social media world and making genuine connections with people, but I cannot control what other people do. I can only control the choices I make.

* I choose to relax, to write to share God’s love and grace with others, and to let the rest go.

* I don’t have to please the masses. I only need to please my Audience of One.

How about you? Have you ever tried to “control the wind?” How did you get through it?

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