Mind Control

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God,” Romans 12:2 NKJV

As I sat during last night’s football game, I had to continually reprogram my thinking. Yesterday was the first football game of the season. Unlike last year, my youngest son Lan had no interest at all in sitting by me. About ten minutes after our arrival the first words out of his mouth were, “Can I go sit by my friends?”

His request was not unexpected. He is growing up and now in high school. However, I have to constantly battle within my mind that he is not in elementary school or middle school. I have to constantly remember that he has shown increased maturity and responsibility.

He will never learn how to correctly behave in social situations if I am constantly whispering in his ear what he should and should not do.

So, I have absolutely no idea what happened in the first half of the game.

Aside from a few glances over at my older son who was in the stands with the band, my attention was keenly focused two sections over. Lan was talking with one of his school mates and hugging and speaking with his former teachers.

I watched him walk up and down the stairs, waving hesitantly to various people he knew. He was always in eyesight. My husband sat down beside me and sighed. “He’s fine,” he moaned. Lan may have been fine. I was not.

Last night was definitely an exercise but for me more so than Lan. I had to exercise faith that he would be all right, not just last night but in these next four years of high school. I had to exercise patience because watching him socialize while not under my direct supervision was nerve-wracking. I was surprised at my level of anxiety. I was also proud at Lan’s willingness to mingle.

I’ve prayed that Lan would find good friends. He has a few but none of them go to his school. He will have to make new friends. I will have to allow him the opportunity to do so.

I know it is God’s intention to answer my prayer. I just have to get out-of-the-way and allow Him to do so.  I have to trust God for this to happen. I prayed while sitting in the stands.

High school is often a time of angst under the best of circumstances. We all want to protect our kids when it pains us to see them branch out. But there is no way any of us can learn without failure. Lan will never reach his full potential if I don’t allow him to try and fail.

I have to remember he isn’t the same child who would wander in pre-k. He isn’t the same child who was terrified of crowds. He has grown and I must too, if I’m not to lose my mind.

Sometimes we can have our minds so programmed to one thought that we are reluctant to change. Always realistic, I must look at what he can become not how I’ve viewed him in the past. I must change my thinking if I am to “hand him over,” so God can do even more.

I wrote recently about letting go. Last night showed me I’ve still got a ways to go. Letting go means relinquishing more and more of my parental control and gaining more and more control over my thoughts.

This change is uncomfortable, nauseating and even painful. But it is necessary for all of our sakes. If Lan is to grow up, I can’t hold him in.

My husband saw one of his teachers last night who said Lan was doing just great in his class. I breathed a sigh of relief. I have to change my thinking so I am not surprised by the very things I pray for!

God has gotten us thus far and I’m confident He will see us through high school and beyond. I just have to remind myself of miracles past every time I get that gnawing knot in my stomach.

Lan came back to my seat at the end of the game just as my husband instructed, even before the timer was done. He maneuvered the crowd just fine. There was no major fiasco. No catastrophe. We survived.

It is indeed an effort not to view the teenager towering over me as the little kid I’ve sheltered for so long. Lan and I have moved on to a new season in life and ready or not it is here.

For once it is not Lan who needs to be mature and adapt. This time it’s me.

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One Lucky Cat

Nearly ten years ago, as I was giving the boys breakfast and frantically trying to get them ready for school, a visitor came boldly calling at our door. At first, I thought I was hearing things (my mind was really frazzled back in those days) but lo and behold there really was a cat very loudly meowing at my back door.

My first thought was I don’t have time for this nonsense. I don’t like cats. At all. However, the kids I was desperately trying to get ready for school had abandoned their oatmeal to come look at the pretty kitty.

As short fused as I was, I’m sure I was in no mood to entertain a cat let alone try to figure out where it came from.  I started shooing it away, and yelling at it to get it back down the steps and off my deck. By now both boys are looking at me like I’m Cruella DeVille and Cam very pointedly says to me “Mommy, that’s mean.”

I take a deep breath and bite my tongue. After all I am trying to teach my kids compassion and the last thing I need is for them to go marching into their Christian pre-school and telling the whole world how I was trying to kill a cat that morning (that would have been Cam’s interpertation).

So… I find a can of salmon in the pantry, put it on a paper plate and stick it outside the back door. By this time the cat is gone or at the very least, I can’t see it. Good riddance, for sure, and I’m just a bit annoyed that I just wasted a perfectly good can of salmon.

When we return home the first thing both kids do is head for the back door. No cat, but the food is gone.  Grateful, I’m thinking it has found its way home.  We did a good deed (albeit reluctantly) and that is that.

No such luck. Over the next couple of months this cat would increasingly come to my house. It didn’t just come, it lingered.

I finally relented, but only after posting signs throughout the neighborhood.

Okay, we now have an outside cat. No harm in that. The kids are happy. I’m no longer viewed as “Cruella” and it shouldn’t take that much effort on my part.

Well, a few days later I come down the stairs and my darling husband is standing in the kitchen holding the cat….and a litter box! And by the way, he doesn’t like cats either.

One week and one vet bill later, I name the cat Lucky.  For some reason I decided it would be a good name so he isn’t stigmatized by his black coloring. The other is to save him from being named after a Ninja Turtle.

By now, you’re probably thinking what does this cat have to do with God and autism?

I have learned through my journey that God answers prayers in the most unexpected ways. It is around this time that my oldest son, still in pre-school prays for his brother to talk. This prayer wasn’t anything we prompted him to do. Cam thought this up all on his own.

Lan would say a few words here and there, but we really had to pull them out of him. However, once the cat was here to stay, Lan became enamored with him and started asking things like, “where’s the cat?” “Can I feed the cat?” “Lucky where are you?” Landon even started telling people he didn’t know about his cat.

I figure this cat must have been desperate for a home because he allowed a three-year old and a four-year old to pretty much drag him around as their real life “stuffed toy.” Lucky never once scratched or bit them.  He was actually more social than the two dogs we had. He was also smarter too.

Lucky helped draw Landon out of his shell. Consequently, Lucky worked his way into my heart. As the kids lay on the floor one night watching some Christmas special, I noticed Landon’s pillow wasn’t a pillow at all.

It was the cat!

I started to fuss but then realized Lucky wasn’t trying to get away. He looked up at me with those big yellow eyes as if to say “it’s okay. I don’t mind,” and then he turned away from me and back to the kids. His kids.

He hasn’t been a perfect cat but he’s probably come close.

From Lucky, I have learned the immense value of an afternoon nap and how it’s important to get one when you can. Lucky has shown me how to be flexible, eating the dog’s food when she eats all of his. He has proven that the world won’t come to an end when you sometimes break a few rules.

The world didn’t end when I walked in to find him snoozing on my “good” sofa.

Armageddon didn’t erupt when I woke to find him asleep beside me… in my bed!

Did I mention, I don’t like cats?

I don’t know that I’ll ever consider myself a “cat lover” but I certainly love this one.

I have seen God’s answers to our prayers aren’t always what we expect them to be. Our blessings and miracles often arrive in disguise. I almost closed the door on one of mine. Don’t you make the same mistake and miss out on an answer you’ve been waiting for.

Not all angels have wings. Some have paws, of this I am sure. I look back all these years later and readily admit I didn’t do the cat a favor.

I’m the lucky one!

Kids can be…

This week as I skimmed my Facebook page, my attention fell to all the first day of school pictures posted.  Most of these were from my hometown where school starts later than here in Georgia. I quickly noticed the pictures had something in common.  All of the kids going to kindergarten or elementary school wore big smiles and their faces were aglow with anticipation.

In contrast, the kids heading off for their first day of middle school looked hesitant, wary and were marked with trepidation. I could relate to their lack of enthusiasm. I remembered exactly how they felt.

Three years ago now, I dreaded the first day of middle school for my youngest son, Lan. He was so eager to head off and join his brother in middle school. I, however, was a nervous wreck!

I didn’t share his enthusiasm of starting that next chapter of his life. Every other moment, it seemed, I found myself immersed in yet another news story depicting the callousness of kids today. Facebook nightmares. Bullying. Suicidal adolescents that fell through the cracks. My head throbbed with thoughts of everything that could go wrong. The overwhelming thought that hammered away in my mind was that kids can be so cruel.

My oldest son already attended the school and unbeknownst to me dealt with his own bullies the previous year. I just found this out months ago! This finally explained why he was hardly inclined to look after his brother. Cam was worried about himself! Sure enough, not even a week passed before a boy stepped in front of Lan and started questioning him.

A funny thing, or rather a blessed thing occurred then. One of the neighborhood kids stepped up to the perpetrator to defend Lan before the kid could get all of his words out. Kennedy’s defense of Lan set the tone that he was not to be harassed. With no prodding on my part, the other neighborhood kids also watched out for him throughout his three-year tenure in middle school.

Ramone in particular, would even let me know when major assignments such as science projects were due. Lan habitually would neglect to tell me of such pertinent information in a timely manner! In a day and age when most kids entering middle school were striving to get in the “in crowd” a good number of kids reached out to Lan and considered him their friend.

Lan’s confidence increased. He stayed after school to take part in art club and comic book club. He wanted to socialize. This was a major accomplishment!

Lan worked hard his second year of school to earn a place in the “A” band with all of his friends who were honor students. He wanted to go to Festival and compete just as they had done the year before. He set a goal, worked hard and achieved it.

I learned of many kind deeds well after the fact. The first day of middle school I fought back tears. Upon his eighth grade graduation, I let them flow.

In the last days of school, Lan’s principal saw me and asked if I would be attending the awards ceremony. I’d always done so for my oldest, a high achiever, and would do so for my youngest as well. Lan had just mentioned the day before that he did not think he would get any awards. He was rather sad about it. I told him it did not matter, not to worry and instead enjoy all the end of year activities with his friends.

Well, as my husband and I sat in the bleachers with the other parents, the principal began to explain a special plaque awarded each year. The Mandy Young Award is given annually to the eighth grader that overcomes some difficulty with a good attitude. When Lan’s name was called, he quickly made his way up front, especially so, for someone not expecting anything!

The gymnasium erupted in applause and kids stood chanting for him! Lan waved his hands to the crowd as they cheered, as if he were the president or some celebrity. It was quite the sight. I would have laughed if I hadn’t been crying.

Landon not only survived middle school, he thrived! Once again, a single thought hammered through my mind.

Kids can be so kind.

Letting go…

After dropping my youngest son off to high school this morning, I pondered, “at what point along this path did I gain peace in regards to letting go?”

I am not at all suggesting that I have given up on his development or have relegated myself to the status quo. Instead, I sit here in a rare moment of silence realizing somewhere along the way I finally let go of the frustration and worry that continually dogged me with every decision I made.

I still think about decisions I make, commitments I have and how they do revolve around the needs of my kids, yet the desperation I once felt is no longer there.

Somewhere within these last four years post Asperger’s diagnosis, I have miraculously (and it is very much a miracle) let go of the frustration and implications that haunted my every move.

Part of it, I believe, is the realization that my stressed out state was overflowing onto the other members of my family. They can’t function well if I am running around like a warden and cracking a whip like some crazed dictator. Lan has enough to deal with and doesn’t need the frustration of a “crazy mother” on top of that.

I always worried about making everything the best it could be, nagged my kids to meet set goals, badgered my husband to adhere to the list of commands I deemed crucial, all in my failed attempts to better control my situation.

Autism is such an uncontrollable condition, not always the same on any given day.  Often, you don’t know what you’re going to deal with before the day is done. A broken leg is simply a broken leg. You suffer through it, work around it and eventually it heals. Unfortunately for us, autism just isn’t that simple. Its intangible characteristics don’t have clear boundaries, often transforming, evolving and changing us as well….if we allow it.

Somewhere along the line I decided to stop allowing Lan’s diagnosis run all over me. He was doing fine. I was the one socially and mentally imprisoned. I’m not sure when it happened, but I am extremely grateful for the transformation. I finally managed to accept the peace from God that I’d been praying for. It had been there for the taking; I just wasn’t smart enough or mature enough to take it!

We will never see how much God will do until we admit to ourselves just how little we can do within our own power. I’ve witnessed miracles both great and small. Sometimes it is the smallest ones, like a good grade on a quiz or an awesome picture he draws that bring the greatest joy.

In the past, I was always looking ahead to meet some goal, get him through the school year, develop a certain skill, or make him responsible that I often lost sight of the present. Lan has a certain catch phrase, “what’s wrong with that?” which is his usual response when I scold him about doing something I think he shouldn’t be doing.

Well, the mad tyrant that possessed me for so long subsides as I decide more and more often that there is nothing actually “wrong,” with the behavior I berated. Lan’s behavior for my over-correction was never anything crucial or disrespectful. I would often chide him for things I would find silly like dancing in the middle of the floor to his own internal music or devising some crazed concoction he deemed to be lunch, usually the very sight of which made my stomach churn.

I have realized Lan is often correct and sometimes there is “nothing wrong.” He may not do things the way I would them but that’s okay too. Letting go and allowing my child to express himself (within suitable boundaries, I’m not that far removed from my old self!) allows me the freedom to stop trying to control his every move. The release of my iron grip allows me to breathe a little and actually relax.

There was one point in my life where I don’t think I relaxed for years. I was in survival mode and it is very easy to stay there if you aren’t careful.  The challenges of parenting, in addition to all the other stuff life threw my way, kept me very much on the defensive. The problem with my survival mode was that it became permanent and not temporary.  I was always trying to anticipate and manipulate the future. This frantic and desperate state left me hopeless to enjoy my present.

In my quest to make everything “right” I got overzealous and failed to appreciate some of the strides made, large and small. But I’ve gotten better for not only my sanity but his as well. I was actually able to let go enough for Lan and his brother to fly up to Maryland and spend a week with their grandfather this summer. It was only a two hour flight but it may as well have been a world away.

I received an email from my father-in-law this morning describing how he enjoyed the kids’ visit and how they did just fine. My world didn’t break in two while they were gone. Lan had a wonderful experience with relatives he rarely gets to see. Letting my kids go it alone, without me, wasn’t easy.  However, it was certainly good for them. Some things cannot but taught. They must instead be experienced.

My child is now very proudly in public high school among his peers. He practically runs from the car to get inside. I will admit I can waver from proud to terrified in any given day. But, I am learning to let go of my fears as well. Cautious? Yes. Fearful?  Not so much.

The previous school years are becoming a blur, having passed so fast.  I don’t want to “endure” his high school years, I want to enjoy them. They too will be gone so soon. Every football game he so energetically cheers for, his fascination with school mascots, his enthusiasm at being part of the crowd, I want to celebrate. I can vividly remember years ago when he would hold his head down and shy away from people. He’s growing up. I’m growing…wiser.

Letting go the vise grip I once held gives Lan and I both permission to try new things and even fail. I don’t have to hold Lan’s hand upon every venture, milestone and accomplishment he seeks to achieve. It is more important that he knows my hand is available; always near, should he ever need to grab hold.

Is it ever enough?

Burdened down with the guilt that comes from working full time and trying to juggle the demands of a family, I often fault myself for not doing enough on my child’s behalf. A woman’s work is indeed never done in even the best of circumstances, but when you are raising a child with “special needs” the question tends to stab the conscience with the succinctness of a butcher knife.
As the only person in my pre-marital family who is not an educator, I still took it upon myself to teach Lan or have him review whatever material his teachers would cover. With an older son just one grade above him, it was always easy to grab materials in the summer time to preview and prep so that Lan would not become victim to his shortened attention span.
However, as the kids grew and the material became harder there was less and less I could do for my child. Being fairly well educated and a bonafide health professional, I was at a complete loss when trying to teach this “new math” now the standard in education. These kids were doing in middle school things I vaguely remember from high school! As my older son progressed through honors courses, I could no longer rely on him as a reference for what Lan would cover in school as done years before. I was essentially stuck with trying to figure it all out and find the time to do so all the while juggling my other obligations.
My work days on average tend to be long, usually twelve hours at a time. So on these days I am unavailable for homework, unavailable to answer questions or even to follow up on what exactly Lan should be doing in his classes. Fortunately, he managed to surprise me and his teachers by basically keeping it all together. He didn’t excel academically like his brother, a master of standardized tests in his own right, but he managed to hold his own! Consistently and frustratingly, Lan managed to somehow miss honor roll by one class throughout middle school. There always seemed to be  that one class, usually math, that kept him from the prize. He so desperately wanted to make honor roll like all of his friends.
The heartbreak of the report card always left me with a twinge of guilt. Could he have achieved his goal if I were more available to him? What difference would a couple of hours a day really make? Would it be enough to push him over that invisible edge?
Well, we’ll never know because we can’t go back in time and I can’t control my work schedule. Still, most mothers often wonder if they have “done enough” to help their child achieve his or her very best.  I try not to beat myself up over it. My husband helps as he can but is quick to admit, school just isn’t his thing even he has a Bachelor’s degree in business. I can clearly see why it takes an entire village to raise one child!
Surprisingly though, one good thing has come of this though. Lan has learned to be independent. He has also learned to be responsible since there is no guarantee that I am available to keep him on the right track. He now tells me when he has projects due instead of me prodding him about them. He takes initiative in regards to completing his school work, even more so than his “gifted” big brother. Maybe my unavailability was a blessing in disguise.
I can’t really teach independence while hovering over the child. His confidence has grown exponentially with my unavailability. He no longer turns toward me for answers but explores them on his own. I guess I should be grateful and accepting that where I am weak and insufficient, God more than made up for my deficiencies.
In hindsight, I can see this now. God prepared my child in ways I probably wouldn’t have the guts to do. I still have to prod Lan to “focus” but not nearly as much as I used to. In fact, he never seemed bothered by my lack of availability. I guess my guilt served no purpose other than stroking my own battered ego.
I have concluded that I will never have enough time to give toward my child as I think I should. Exhausted from my day job, I am grateful to have enough energy to complete my shift! It has only taken ten years to absolve myself of my guilt, ten years too long for the fact to sink in. God will do what I can’t, put the perfect people in place and watch over my child far better than I ever could.
I may never have enough time to spend, material to teach or even energy to spend entertaining my child’s never ending onslaught of questions. Yet, I no longer beat myself up over it and resign myself to being a deficient mother.
Lan doesn’t fault me for my absence and I shouldn’t either. I work because I have to like most women I know. It has taken years for me to move away from “should have, would have and could have” to “God’s got it, trust Him and it will be all right.” I only wish I could have learned this lesson earlier. But like most things of value, I guess it takes time to reach that maturity.
So, for all of you out there who wear the same shoes of caring for anyone with special needs and doubting what you do, faint not! Fear not! Fret not!
You will only make yourself physically and mentally ill and drive yourself crazy in the process. Trust God, knowing He can provide whatever you can’t and give you the energy and know how to do what you can. Sometimes we struggle so hard in our own power like treading water to stay afloat when we would be better off to simply relax and instead “float” atop the waves, allowing God to dictate our direction.
Will I ever be able to do enough? No, I’ve decided. But, I now realize that I don’t have to.
I could in no way ever imagine all that would be required of me mentally and spiritually to raise this child. At times it’s been frustrating but I never had to go it alone. Thankfully, I’ve had God’s help every step of the way even when I couldn’t see it at the time.
Trust God. Cut yourself some slack. Learn to be at peace and enjoy the journey. Never enough is okay. God’s got your back!

Rite of Passage

Two weeks ago, I sent my youngest child off for his first day of high school. I’d done this very same thing, just last year, but this time was different. Unlike my brainiac first-born, my younger child has an Autism diagnosis. Asperger’s to be exact. Lan successfully navigated and “graduated” middle school managing to even pass those aggravating standardized tests necessary to progress. But this year was different. This would be the first transition to a new school where he would have to go it alone.

Unlike the transition to middle school, Lan was entering a school out of our district. Consequently, the comfort of familiar friends was lacking. For the first time, his big brother would not be in close proximity to watch out for him and rely on. Lan was apprehensive. My husband and I were guarded. I often wondered years before just what would we do when it came time for him to enter high school?

God has proven time and time again that He has my solutions before I ever anticipate my problems. I could in no way expect that Lan’s former elementary school principal would be appointed principal to his future high school. There was no reason to ever suspect Lan would ever attend this school as it was well out of our district. I also couldn’t predict that his former IEP teacher (that’s special education for those of you out of the loop) who taught him for years in elementary school would become a counselor at that same high school.

It took making a request to the school board and having it granted that placed Lan in a position where people he knew would have his best interests at heart.  Upon notification of the county’s approval, I didn’t have to ask that his former teacher be appointed as his counselor. The principal took it upon herself to do so on my child’s behalf. The familiar connections made years ago proved vital even before the school year began. With their assistance, schedules were modified and class requests accommodated. I am confident that what was painless with them would have been a headache elsewhere. I am so grateful for their helping hands that guided us each step of the way.

The first day of school was overwhelming for Lan. My husband and I probably didn’t fare much better. Lan’s first comments when I asked him about his day was that the school was “too big and loud and the students were huge.” I must admit several upperclassmen looked to be about the size of professional athletes. He looked so small in comparison. I assured him the next day would be better and prayed that it would be so. Thankfully, it was.

The addition of band class, a familiar face at lunch, and learning to navigate the vast hallways settled the nervous stomach. It did wonders for my husband and me as well! Even without the comfort of our neighborhood kids to watch over him, Lan ventured out into the vast hallways greatly annoyed that his overprotective parents continued to worry and hover.  Yet, by the end of the week, he was eager to head off to school, vocal about his assignments and looking forward to the first football game.

God answered a prayer I’d uttered years ago out of frustration. I distinctively recall sitting in my car contemplating school choices for him with tears in my eyes, frustrated and at a loss for answers. All of the schools I’d considered previously were at least an hour’s ride away from home and well beyond the capabilities of my budget! Thankfully, I wasn’t required to come up with an answer.

I didn’t have to figure, maneuver or plot out the points to the most desirable outcome. I didn’t have to go before the school board and plead my case.  With one letter, I was spared from enduring the inconvenience of juggling two boys at two different schools and the conflicting schedules sure to ensue. My oldest was already attending the magnet school located on the same campus. Our county has a provision that if one child is already attending a campus, any sibling can follow. Cam decided to apply for the magnet school at the very last minute. It wasn’t anything we had planned for. I’d been trying to convince him for two years the magnet school was where he belonged. Wouldn’t you know it would take a girl, not his mother, to convince him that is was a good idea! God used the opportunity given to one son to open a door for the other.

God put the right people in the right place at the perfect time. Twelve years after a “pervasive developmental disorder” diagnosis and five years after the Asperger’s label, Lan moves along aware but never thwarted by his condition. His attitude has never faltered and aside  from the regular teenage moaning and groaning, he continues to take everything, challenges included, in stride. If only we, as parents, had the same confidence.

I thank God for answering my prayer, even years before I would ever realize what He had done. God has delivered on more than one occasion. I shouldn’t still be in awe but His grace always overwhelms me. Not every day on this journey has been a good one. We’ve had our fair share of trials and meltdowns, but still we press on.

If I’ve learned anything in this back to school process, it is to once again trust God. And worry less. Even as the control fanatic that I am, I could never have orchestrated things so perfectly if given the chance.

I grudgingly accept that autism dictates some of my decisions. I am grateful, though, that it does not determine our outcomes.

God’s grace covers! Autism has yet to define my child, at least, through his eyes. The first week of high school was met head-on and we survived. God watches over His children. God continues to watch over me.

Faith Hope Courage

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