Tag Archives: teenagers

Beauty in the Muck

There have been times in life that I was so busy anticipating potential dangers, that I failed to see the beauty right around me. Last week while working in my garden I was keeping such a keen eye out for snakes (I loathe snakes) that I almost missed the beautiful butterfly in my midst. Sometimes when we are so focused on one negative, it blinds us to the greater number of positives right in front of us.

As the parent of a kid on the spectrum, I have on occasion caught myself anticipating what “could happen” all the while oblivious to what is happening.

Lan will complete his first year of high school in just a few weeks. We are now in the midst of “test anxiety” though trying hard to keep it at a minimum. Failure to pass these exams will mean a summer of trying to restore these credits. “Credit restoration” would play havoc with summer travel plans let alone the struggle of shuttling him back and forth to school.

Lan’s teachers are proud of his work in class. He does better than many of the neuro-typicals in his classes. Yet, Lan has never excelled at standardized testing. Challenging for most, to a kid with attention deficits these exams are a very steep uphill battle.

As an ever recovering control freak, I fight my fears realizing his exams and other things lie well beyond my control. Instead of focusing on the pessimistic what ifs, I am ever searching and sometimes struggling to count my blessings now.

I am grateful this first year of high school has been a success. We had no traumatic events as I’d feared the beginning of the year. Lan’s teachers have been receptive and accommodating. Many students are quite kind to him and often act on his behalf. Lan has made a few friends. He has thrived under the direction of his band teacher. Lan is no longer nervous about the huge crowds and even learned to maneuver them well. As of last week, he no longer meets the requirements for speech therapy services.

In the muck of IEPs, core curriculum and teenage angst, I can appreciate how far we’ve come when I take time to look for the beauty.

I was once so accustomed to looking for potential snakes (bullies, indifferent teachers, additional diagnoses) that I failed to see let alone appreciate the beauty that God poured before me. Now, I am ever grateful and continually search out the beauty in life.

If you feel mired down in your muck, I challenge you to look up from where comes my help. We don’t have to walk this journey alone. We don’t even have to orchestrate every step along the way.

God is willing, available and more than able.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30 NKJV

“To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3 NKJV

 

Time and Transition

transition: “a change from one state or condition to another”   “movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another” Merriam Webster

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end,” Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV

I birthed this blog the first of August when my youngest entered high school. Now with less than a month before school is out, first year jitters have been replaced with a spirit of perseverance, faith and gratitude.  transitions 1

Lan has evolved from nervous freshman to actively seeking out his friends. He has moved away from the kid sitting alone at lunch to having a steady rotation of friends to eat with and interact. Surprisingly, most of these kids aren’t even in his classes.

Friday, when my husband picked both boys up from the high school, Cam made a telling remark. He said once people saw him with Lan they kept asking, “are you Lan’s brother?” Apparently, Lan’s social vine extends farther than any of us realized.

It was quite the eye opener. For years, Lan has always been the other brother, often falling under the shadow of big brother Cam. Now, in high school, the tables are turning a bit and the light is now shining on Lan.

Lan surprised me today with news that he will receive an award at Thursday’s end of the year awards ceremony. We have no idea what he is receiving an award for. He has worked extremely hard on his school work but an A student he is not. However, Lan’s tenacity to put in the extra time and effort has endeared him to most of his teachers.

A school year fraught with uncertainties looks to be ending on a good note. We have traded Georgia CRCTs (criterion referenced competency tests) for EOCs (end of course exams) so test anxiety ever looms. Yet receiving this award, whatever it may be is progress. It is one more step in the right direction, one step forward in personal accountability, one acknowledgement of doing the best you can, no matter what that best might be.  transitions title

It’s has been quite a year of change. Insecurities vanquished. Challenges met head on. Bullies thwarted. Faith in people… restored.

There has been much personal growth and maturity from fragile bud to longer lasting leaf. Lan made out just fine.

I’m referring to me.

Do My Shoes Match?

As Lan is making it along in his first year of high school he is becoming ever so aware of other people’s perceptions. Somewhere along the line he has matured away from the kid who wanted to wear a sweater in the summer and shorts in the winter into someone with a true desire to be “handsome.” His word, not mine!

I find this kind of comical. Teenagers are often very self-aware and insecure about their looks, dress and a number of other things. Lan has for the most part been oblivious to all of this…until now.

He wants his shoes to match his clothes. He has even taken to swiping some of his older brother’s “cooler” clothes. No big deal for most but I am proud of him for his increased awareness of the people and things around him and his at urge to at some extent blend into the “normalcy” that surrounds him.

I have at times often wondered through the years when some major “turning point” would occur. I’ve prayed about certain things and then forgot that I prayed about them having prayed so much for one thing or another.

Progress begins in steps. Lan continues to make gains, some large and some small.  God faithfully answers my prayers, even those long forgotten.

Simple things like dressing himself appropriately and other social cues that were once so foreign to him are steadily creeping into his consciousness.

I still have a long list of things I’d like to see Lan progress in. I will admit dressing appropriately isn’t even in the top twenty. However, I am grateful for this accomplishment even though I almost “missed it,” not realizing he hadn’t asked me or his father for clothes in months! We always picked his clothes out for him but somewhere along the line he began doing it for himself and doing a very good job at that!

Sometimes our minds are so fixated on the “major tasks” we are trying to carry out that we miss those minor milestones along the way. I am grateful for my blessings, truly celebrating all the gains and successes we have had this year. My every prayer has not been answered, but I have hope and faith that God is not done with us yet!

We are blessed beyond measure even as the ASD hovers in the background. I won’t allow “autism” to rob us of our peace or joy. It only serves as a point of reference for where we were to where we are now.

We are blessed in spite of diagnoses, IEPs, and a few social hiccups.

I’m grateful for gains socially, mentally, and even physically this year. Lan is building up both mind and body going with his dad to “la fitness” as he calls it.  This child who was once weak and so uncoordinated is now hanging tough with his dad on the treadmill, elliptical and bench press. I never could have imagined this years ago!

Lan has friends at school who are nice to him. His new school is no longer a source of anxiety. High school has at least been embarked upon even if not fully conquered.

So much to be grateful for!  Too many blessings to count. God is faithful even when I fail. He lifts us up when we are weak. He has provided us with angels here on earth.

Celebrate this season giving thanks for blessings large and small. I am grateful even for those small things that don’t really matter in life.

I’m grateful his shoes actually match!

Progress Report!

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things [are] noble, whatever things [are] just, whatever things [are] pure, whatever things [are] love, whatever things [are] of good report, if [there is] any virtue and if [there is] anything praiseworthymediate on these things,” Philippians 4:8 NKJV

Last week both boys brought home their mid-term progress reports from school. Lan called me while I was at work with a slight tremor in his voice. His report wasn’t awful but it wasn’t great either. His grade in two major classes dropped and he was well aware I would not be pleased.

He rattled off his grades tentatively and I succinctly told him I knew he could do better and would do better. He wasn’t grounded. I reminded him that as long as he did his very best I would always be pleased with his work.

Now, that is a huge change from the “old me” of just a couple of years ago. Both boys could definitely put a little more effort into their schoolwork but it isn’t a matter of life and death. Having received a bad report in matters of life and death has definitely put things in perspective.

It is two years ago now that my oldest son, the one without an ASD diagnosis, went to the doctor. He had a funky skin rash that began in October. It gradually spread. Nothing would cure it.

In November, my husband took him to the dermatologist, the earliest appointment he could get. The doctor very matter of fact admitted she didn’t know what it was. I appreciated her honesty, but I thought that was rather odd. I got a funny feeling in my gut, the kind you want to dismiss, but just won’t quite go away.

I was expecting them to leave the appointment with prescriptions for antibiotics and a topical cream. Instead, my oldest left with a small plug of skin taken out of his arm. The biopsy was sent off for analysis.

It wasn’t until two days after Christmas I found myself on the phone with the physician who sat with my son and husband in her office as she explained the diagnosis, a diagnosis that affects one in five million people. My husband was wise enough to have her call me as his head was reeling. After the dermatologist ran through the possible scenarios (including chemotherapy) I vividly remember standing dumbfounded in my kitchen trying to decipher the boatload of information that had been dumped on me. I remember crying and walking around in circles but I also remember very vividly screaming as loud as I could “I will not receive a bad report!”

I heard the dermatologist. I respected her opinion. But I wasn’t going to receive that finality in my spirit in regard to my son. And God heard me.

I prayed. I solicited the prayers of family and friends who had their entire churches and Sunday school classes praying for my child. I knew that whatever we had to endure, we would get through it.

Thankfully, we had only to endure a battery of tests. His skin was affected but not his internal organs. His brain was fine. We didn’t get the final “all clear” until February. It was a harrowing ordeal for any parent. I was forced to examine if I’d put so much energy into one child to the neglect and detriment of the other.

So many questions, but God is faithful. We learned some things through our experience. We endured. Matured.

That experience allows me to put my “bad reports” whatever they are in perspective. Two years later and that time is still so fresh in my mind. I don’t want to ever forget it. I learned things aren’t always as they seem. God doesn’t want us to have faith in what we see or hear but instead in His power.

During that trying time I thought about all the miracles God had done for my family. I thought about the positives, the joys and undeserved blessings. I meditated on God’s grace toward us every time a negative thought would try to break me. It wasn’t easy, but a very deliberate decision on my part. God is pleased when we look at Him instead of our obstacles.

Numbers 13-14 teaches of how eight of the ten spies Moses sent out brought back a “bad report.” They could not see the potential in the land promised to them by God, only the enemies who possessed it. Furthermore, they gave a bad report to the other Israelites causing them to long for Egypt, the very place they had been in bondage.

How often do we look back to the familiar, even when it is to our detriment, because our present obstacles look insurmountable?

Only Caleb and Joshua, the spies who gave the “good report,” made it into the Promised Land with the descendants of those who died. God was so displeased with the Israelites’ lack of faith; He caused them to die in the wilderness. These are the same people who witnessed miracles that freed them and walked through the Red Sea! These were the same people who ate manna from Heaven! These same people would not allow the miracles of their past to fuel the faith for their future.

I don’t want to make that same mistake.

So, we may have hit a bump in the road with grades but I’m by no means accepting it as the “end all” for either child. I have faith in what God can do with them and in them. I have witnessed miracles with both my children. I may not have all the answers but I am confident that I don’t have to.

I look at the neatly typed papers from the county office and see them for what they are…merely progress reports. Not a definition of my parenting skills or a proclamation of my children’s future. I once would have been infuriated with less than the best. I am now… patiently waiting. We are all progressing toward God’s plans for us.

I am not going to analyze, criticize, and run all of us ragged as I used to.  Instead, I think about the great gains Lan has made thus far this year, successes I didn’t anticipate so soon. I’m proud of how Cam has been able to handle his classes along with the rigors of marching band. I focus on the good.

God’s got it, whatever my “it” is at any given moment.  Only His report truly matters!

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.

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.