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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Spaghetti sauce all over my feet.

by Jennifer DyerSpaghetti Sauce

It’s Monday. As usual, I headed to the grocery store after dropping the kids off at school. While checking out, however, I made a mess. A huge mess. I’m not sure what happened, but just as I tried to put a jar of spaghetti sauce on the counter, I dropped it.

Time slowed. The jar bounced off the conveyor belt and tumbled three times. I watched, frozen, because I knew I couldn’t catch it. The lid hit the ground first with a clang then the glass shattered. Red goo and glass danced in the air then spattered the ground, my feet, and the nearby display stand.

I wanted to cry. I glanced behind me, so thankful no one was waiting. My eyes met the cashier’s. I waited for some sort of irritation. “I’m so sorry,” I said.

“Are you all right, honey?” she asked.

“Yes, I just made such a huge mess. I’m so sorry.” I blubbered on, promising the pay for the mess, and looking around for something to use to clean, but the only thing in my purse that might even start to pick up a mound of sauce was a Target receipt.

“Don’t you worry about that one bit, honey,” she told me. “You just let us handle it. I don’t want you cutting yourself.”

We went back and forth. I kept trying to figure out how to clean up her mess. She insisted that I couldn’t and reassured me that it was all right. “At least it smells nice,” she said. She chatted on about various other spills they had experienced recently. Instead of leaving her presence in tears of shame, I walked out with a grateful heart and no glass cuts on my hands.

My mind went back to the last time Rachel had shattered a glass jar in the kitchen. She tries so hard to be big and to figure out the way the world works, but she makes mistakes all the time. Worse, she can’t communicate what she was thinking and why. After an accident she often hides in a closet.

I wonder if I handle her mistakes the same way this lady at Kroger handled mine…?

Furthermore, I can’t help but reflect on the grace the Kroger checker showed me and think about Jesus. No one is perfect. All of us have some sort of spaghetti sauce mess on our feet, yet through Jesus’ death He says something similar to what that lady said to me: “No, honey, don’t you worry about this. I got this.”

May your messes be full of grace, my friends!

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Our experiment with flowers.

This weekend we had a science party for my 10 year-old’s birthday. Among other projects, we dyed white daisies different colors by putting their stems in water dyed with food coloring. We found that blue worked the best. Purple, interestingly enough, separated on the petals. The tips turned blue and the center of the flowers turned red.
Fun times!

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Autism: Mopping with muddy feet.

From our days in Relationship Development Intervention therapy (RDI), I recalled the principle that autistic children learn a lot by doing activities along beside their parents. In other words: consider the child a life apprentice.

Since learning that, I’ve made a stronger effort to engage Rachel in daily activities around the house. At first she preferred to ignore the world and sit in a corner piled with blankets. Today, though, she is often right in the middle of everything I do. It sometimes makes me smile. Sometimes, though, I just want to get things done.

Yesterday was no exception to the “get it done” mindset. Rachel dropped a bowl full of peanut butter, which shattered on the kitchen tile. I had to act fast before she stepped in the glass and cut herself.

The first part was tricky. Rachel was embarrassed because she had made a mess, so she wanted to help clean. But a shoeless child and broken plates do not mix. Once I finished sweeping, however, there was no keeping her back. Gripping the steam mop with iron fingers, she joined me on the floor.

My first impulse was to jerk the mop away and tell her no. I had to take a breath. My patience had jumped into the trash along with the glass chunks, so I had to stop and think about the big picture: Bonding with Rachel and teaching her a skill or getting the job done quickly?

I told myself to get a grip and let her have the mop. I held the cord and watched her dance around the kitchen. A grin spread over her face. Self assurance rolled from her shoulders. She felt so big! It was so cute … until I noticed the trail of muddy footprints behind her.

Ah, yes. Hadn’t she traipsed through the garage barefoot a few minutes ago? That would explain the footprints–on the white tile, I might add. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. In my head, part of me stomped around. This is so unfair. Everything I do gets undone or messed up. Why do I even bother?

Again, I wanted to grab the mop. But I held back. What would that teach her? One, she would feel like a failure. Two, was I crazy? My child was interested in mopping the floor! Who cares if she didn’t get it right this time. If I handled this well, I might have a big helper around the house.

So, I breathed out and just watched. Rachel looked behind her and grimaced at those footprints. I’m not sure she knew where they came from, but she mopped over all the muddy spots until they disappeared. (I think her feet were pretty clean by that time, too.)

Again, I learned something vital from my sweet daughter who happens to be autistic. Perfection comes with too high a price. When I take the time to be with Rachel rather than be around her, we gain trust and increase her social awareness. Who cares if there are muddy footprints in the kitchen. It’s just a floor. The dog tracked mud in five minutes later, anyway, taking away my clean floor. But no matter how much mud the dog tracks in, she cannot take away the relationship I have built with my daughter through time well spent.

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Leaving Paradise

A few days ago, I wrote about my fears of getting on a plane and getting away from my comfort zone. It took a lot to step out. I felt sad to leave my family, but also intimidated about what the next few days would bring. I am privileged to serve on the MomLifeToday team with so many amazing women. Several have huge speaking and writing platforms and are all around go-getters. I’m more of an: “Ack! I’m over my head” kind of girl.

I am so very thankful I came. Not only did I meet an amazing group of sisters, but I also learned so much. And how many times will I be able to sit in a room with so much collective wisdom? I am truly blessed.

Aside from that, I learned a lot about myself. I believe I am a coward. I crave safety, comfort, and the familiar. But for some reason, what the other women saw in me was courage. I don’t say that to preen my feathers, if you will allow the seagull analogy, but I say it to challenge you:

What do others see in you?
What does God see in you?

So often, I get bogged down in the little picture. I allow that sense of false humility to keep me down: I’m nobody. I didn’t get the whole parenting thing right today. I yelled at my kids and ignored the dishes. That other mom is thinner than me. She’s a better writer than me. She’s more famous than me. I’m a failure…

But is that what the Lord sees? No. As I sat here looking at the beauty he created in the oceans and sand, I thought about the big picture. Don’t be caught up in the little things: guilt, anger, bickering, jealousy, insecurity, self doubt… See the big picture God is painting with your life. Let the master artist create paradise in your heart so that you can bring it to those around you.

So…I don’t believe I am leaving paradise at all. In that case, I’ll miss the sand between my toes, but I will not have to vacuum it out of my carpet.

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Mommy separation anxiety

My heart thumps, making a constant drum beat in my ears. My chest is tight and my stomach keeps dropping. I’m not prepared for this!
What is it? Am I taking final exams? No. About to have surgery? No.
I’m going to the beach for a writer retreat with my fellow momlifetoday moms.
I feel ridiculous. How can I be so upset about a vacation? I’m about to spend three days in Florida, away from the winter blues.
What is the matter with me?
I believe it is a classic case of mommy separation anxiety. Interesting, but I thought it was my children who were supposed to hang onto my legs and scream, not the other way around. Last night, I couldn’t fall asleep. I was so sad that eldest was at a friend’s house when I wanted to hug her. I teared up, already dreading her leaving for college–not for the first time, I might add. When hubby and Rachel dropped me off at the airport, I almost jumped back into the car.
A few minutes ago, I texted hubby. “How’s Rachel? Did she cry long after you dropped me off…sniffle?”
I think he was trying to be kind. “She’s watching Dora in the car, but I’m sure she’s thinking of you the whole time.”
Hmm. Looks like I need to take a deep breath, do some more praying, and let Dad wear the Supermom cape for a few days…
Cheers, my friends!

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New home? My autistic daughter’s stamp of approval.

by Jennifer Dyer

As I have stated, we are moving. It is always stressful to move, but this time around has been particularly difficult because of our autistic daughter. Change is difficult for her, and there are so many considerations in finding a home that affect her. Location and the surrounding schools are only the beginning.

Over the last month we have looked at numerous homes. Each time, I kept Rachel in mind, or at least that’s what I told myself. All I saw were hazards and difficulties. That bathroom is isolated: too much potential for floods. Those hardwoods are close to the bathroom. More flood potential. That one has a pool. Yes, Rachel loves to swim and it calms her down, but she will be wanting to swim all hours of the day and night all during the year. It won’t be safe, especially with how easily she figures out things like fence locks. That one didn’t have an office with a door so hubby can work. That one had too much yard work, this one doesn’t have enough of a fence. Rachel won’t be safe. On and on…blah, blah, blah.

We were having no luck. When I looked at why, I saw that I was being stubborn. After disliking several things about our last two homes, both of which we took a loss on when we sold, I wanted something better, fancier, and with a better resale potential. I wanted an investment on the golf course that looked as though it just came out of a magazine. And those pesky things called reality and budget just wouldn’t let me have my way.

There was one house hubby kept bringing up, but I didn’t like it. It seemed like a plain, cookie cutter home with dated fixtures. A bit expensive for what it offered, at least in my opinion. Plus, it seemed like too much to clean.

But after a month of fruitless searching, I finally agreed to see it with new eyes. At first, I just looked around and saw projects that would make it more magazine worthy. I needed to change this, and this, and this…

But then Rachel walked in. Her eyes lit up as she took in the big staircase. She darted upstairs and did a big dance on the landing. She rushed from window to window, squealing with delight. She sashayed into a bedroom and took her dress off, a sure sign she felt at home. Then she ran to the potty to start flushing–checking out the plumbing is another sign she is getting comfortable. With sister and cousins in tow, she ran down the stairs and hid in the closet below the staircase. Then back upstairs to squeal some more.

The other kids loved it too. I tried to see it through their eyes. They didn’t care about the counter tops or light fixtures. All they saw was room to roam and neighborhood kids outside to play with. Places to hide, and carpet to roll on. In other words, I wanted a snooty, upgraded little magazine showplace, which we were never going to find, especially in our price range. I had lost sight of what we needed: a family home where people could gather and play and feel at home.

Silly of me, I know, but I decided to get over myself and my magazine dreams. I couldn’t afford them anyway. Even if I could, I’m not sure it would be the best place for me. Once again, God will land us in a neighborhood that will be a great place to live and get to know others.

May your house be filled with fun and laughter.

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Autism and surviving tantrums.

By Jennifer Dyer

As I write this Rachel’s screams and protests echo down the halls of her therapy clinic. Why? She wants to go to the potty. But not just any bathroom. Not any of the five bathrooms available in the therapy clinic. Nope. She wants to go across the campus and use one in the school that is attached to the clinic. As to the reason, I’m not certain. It could bring back memories of a simpler time in her life. Or perhaps it has better acoustics because it is large and filled with storage containers. Maybe she just wants to use that one. Whatever the reason, I told her no and I am having to enforce it.

These sorts of tantrums are common in our family. Rachel—seven-years-old as I write this—is over 4’ tall and weighs 70 pounds. She is strong, agile, loud, opinionated, and stubborn. Long after most children would have given in, she continues to scream and protest. Worse, she cannot be bargained with or disciplined in the manner one might with other children. From what I have read and observed of strong-willed children, Rachel could rule as their dictator for life.

How does a parent manage and survive these sorts of tantrums? Sadly, I don’t always have the answers, but here are some things I have learned:

Let others help you. Today I had trouble physically with Rachel because I didn’t want to drop her iPad (used for communication). A therapist offered to help me, but I turned her down because I didn’t want to make her late to her next appointment. I did, however, ask her to find the therapist we were waiting for. I should have let her help me, though. I accepted help, though, when our therapist arrived and told me I could go. I went. Fast.

Pick your battles to the extent you can. Believe me this one is hard. Sometimes I need Rachel to do something, such as get into the car immediately, but I know I cannot manage it on my own. I either have to wait until I have help or find a way to get her into the car without causing a fit. When this has worked, it has involved me enticing her to chase me with a toy she wants, putting food into the car, or letting her have my iPhone once she steps into the car. This may sound like the wimp’s way out, but there have been days before school where Rachel and I have had thirty minute wrestling matches that could have been avoided if I had chosen a better method to get her out of the house.

Have a strategy in mind. If you are heading to the park or mall or somewhere else where you know a meltdown could occur, go armed with toys that soothe the child or possibly have another adult around who can help you. This does not always work, and I’ve done a lot of praying for help in the moment. Trust God to answer those prayers.

Have a sense of humor. Okay this one is tough, really tough. Not everyone understands what autism entails. There are even people who cling to the idea that children with autism simply need some better discipline and they will be fine. My best advice about dealing with those people is don’t. You have enough stress in your life without letting others hurt you. Find something to laugh about once the situation is over. Life is much more fun when laughter is involved. I keep humorous books all over my house to help me keep my perspective in the tough times. I also have comedian apps on my phone in case I need a quick giggle. And I try to look for a bright side. (For example: Yes, I just fought a big battle with Rachel, but my biceps are quite toned…)

Be consistent. This is difficult for me. My ability to pick battles often depends on my energy level. Some days I can enforce rules that require a lot of energy on my part, but other days I lack energy and strength. Those are the days I take extra vitamins and supplements for energy and must pray for more strength. I am choosier about battles with Rachel, and I might not go on an outing if I lack other people to help.

Learn from your past. Allow your mistakes to be your greatest teacher. Listen to other parents and learn from them, as well.

Keep other parents with special needs children close. Support each other and learn from each other.

Be calm and honest in the midst of trials. I try not to get defensive toward others around me when Rachel is having a tantrum, and I am honest about Rachel’s autism. Most people accept this, but a few will not understand. Again, don’t let that get to you. Also, do your best to keep your voice even and your manner calm. Easy? No, but it helps. I believe children feed off the emotions of their parents.

Keep your perspective. Many days, such as today, I focus on the fact that all things are temporary. True, some trials seem to last forever, but as my mentor used to say, “This is but a blip on the screen of eternity.” So, when you face the various trials of raising a special needs child, take comfort. Heaven is a wonderful place!

The ultimate idea is to keep a support system around you. Pray continually. Don’t do this alone.

Hang in there, my friends!

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Parenting: being mom means being an example.

by Jennifer Dyer

The other day eldest had a friend over. Typical of growing children, their first order of business was to search the kitchen for snacks. My daughter wanted to have some of the cupcakes we had just made, but her friend’s family was currently undergoing a sugar detox in their household, so sweets were out.

I told eldest no throughout her entire cupcake campaign. When I had a chance, I pulled her aside and told her that we needed to support our friends. One way she could be a supportive friend in this situation was to eat what her friend could eat, which meant no sugar. Though she wore a dejected frown to tell me how unhappy this made her, she went along with it. They settled on cheese sticks and went upstairs.

Meanwhile, though, I sat downstairs and thought about…cupcakes. They were quite delicious, I must say, and hearing about them so many times had left me with a craving for one. I wrestled with myself for a while. The more I thought about those cupcakes the more I wanted one. As the mom, I could sneak out to the garage and eat one without anyone knowing. It was a good plan, yet…

Before I gave in I had a thought. What if during the moments I shoved cupcake into my mouth, my daughter and her friend found me in the garage snarfing the sweets I had just refused them. Hmm. That wouldn’t be such a good scene. So, I refrained and instead enjoyed the sweet success of being a good example.

Sadly–and this part is hard to admit–as soon as the friend left I gave in to my sweet tooth. And, true to form, I became ill from the sugar rush. Perhaps I should be going along with that sugar detox. Hmm… Well, at least I was a good example when it counted, yes?

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Mom gives herself grace.

by Jennifer Dyer

Whether or not you are a mom, I doubt you can handle “it all.” No one can. So, what to do?

A friend called me earlier and said, “You’re not going to believe what I just did.” She went on to describe applying for three jobs. On the first resume she put down the wrong job title, the second she forgot to put a subject on the email, and the third she forgot to sign the form when she dropped it off. Little mistakes, but perhaps costly. Instead of crying about it, though, she laughed. “You can’t do it all,” she said, “and I’m going to trust God that if the job is meant for me it will happen.”

She’s right. She is a mother, wife, full-time home keeper, and a volunteer. It’s no wonder a few little details slipped by. The important thing is to be able to laugh at the little slip ups. Laugh at the past, enjoy the present, and look toward the future. Trust God to take care of all three.

Enjoy today, friends.

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