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The Two Little Piggies

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I have a love-hate relationship with teaching. The hours are horrible. The pay is a pittance. The work never stops – nights, weekends, vacations. There are times where it is as if no one wants to hear a word I am saying, and all I am doing is putting out one behavior fire after another. Not to mention all the times I have had to tell  the Three Monkeys that I can’t do something with them or for them because I have had something to do for the class.

It is EXHAUSTING.

And then there are times when it all is so incredibly breathtakingly amazing.

This is the story of the two little piggies – guinea piggies that is – and how an act of kindness lifted my heart in so many ways.

Way back in August, my students and I decided we wanted to get guinea pigs for our classroom. We had everything we needed. Cage? Check. Food? Check. Hay? Check. Guinea pigs? Ummm…

It’s not that I didn’t want them. I did! But, guinea pigs cost money. And with the pay cut I took in order to work at this little piece of academic heaven, I never had the spare change to go get them.

That damned empty cage sitting in my classroom mocked me every single day.

And then this week something serendipitous happened. I came across a listing for two male guinea pigs (cage included) FREE to a good home. Needless to say, I jumped on it. FINALLY we were going to get our piggies! I went to school the next day and excitedly told my class the news. The squeals of delight filled the room. We couldn’t wait!

That evening I took Monkey #1 (now 15 1/2, if you can believe it) and The Middle Monkey (almost 14!) to go pick up our new furry friends, Sergeant and Lieutenant – AKA Sarge and Louie. Together, the boys and I loaded the cage into the car and headed home. Upon arriving, we unloaded the cage to the kitchen table where they would wait until the next day when I would move them to their new home – my classroom.

There was just one little hitch in the plan. Something unexpected happened. In the span of about 10 minutes, Monkey #1 fell head=over-heels-hopelessly-in-love with Sarge and Louie. The very guinea pigs that were destined to go to my class the very next day.

All Wednesday evening, Monkey 1, my sweet little Aspie Monkey, was crouched on a kitchen chair, arms wrapped around his knees, gazing through the open cage door at Sarge and Louie.  He was so calm. So peaceful. Nothing, not meds wearing off, not his brother being very 13, was ruffling him. Occasionally he would tentatively extend one finger and stroke one of the piggies.

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“But, I love them,”

And then came the words that broke my heart. “I wish I could keep them,” he quietly whispered.

“But, baby, I’ve already told my class about them, and they are very excited about the piggies coming. You know they are meant to go to school.”

“I know,” he sighed. “But, I love them. I know I just met them. I can’t explain it. I love them.”

Oy.

I tried to make light, but I could tell, this was no ordinary love. This was a deep piggy love, and I – the worst mother in the whole wide world – was ripping them away from him. Not that he told me that. But he might as well have, because that is exactly how I felt.

The next morning, I brought the piggies to school. More squeals of delight. I told my school kiddos the story of Monkey 1 and his love of the piggies and how he had wanted to keep them. I don’t know why I told them. Except that maybe I have a case of verbal diarrhea and just talk even when I shouldn’t. But I did.

Today I got a message from one of my parents. Her daughter had told her about Monkey 1 falling in love with the piggies. Then the sweet girl asks her mother if there was a way that we could get other pets for the class and return the piggies to my son. Because obviously God wanted my sweet son and the sweet piggies to be together. The piggies belonged to him. Not the class.

I didn’t know how to respond. I was literally speechless. All that came were tears.

In the hours that followed, that mother asked and searched, and has now located another pair of guinea pigs for my class to have. All so my sweet Aspie Monkey can keep Sarge and Louie.

His response when I told him was to bury his head in my shoulder and repeatedly say, “I get to keep my boys. I get to keep my piggies.”

Yes you do, my sweet boy. Yes you do.

So while it means there will be more living things in my house, every single time I see those little furballs, every time I see that little smile on Monkey #1’s face, I will think of the sweet girl who knew it was meant to be – even when I didn’t.

And I’ll remember the time my student and her family taught me a lesson in kindness and compassion I’ll never forget.

Reflections On a Nest

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I was working in the yard again today.  Yes, again.  Today’s task was to cut back the giant shrubs on the side of the house.  I cut them back once a year, basically using the loppers to reach as high as I can.  Not the best method, as there are always some branches that are too high for me to get to.  And of course, by the time they get that tall, the branch is also too thick for me to use loppers.  I decided this was the year that I needed to get those tall branches.  After all, some of them were reaching the second floor roof line, and nearing the power line into the house.  Time to lop them off.   The other day, in an act of desperation,  I even tried to STAND in one of the shrubs in my quest to reach those pesky tall branches.  Not one of my brightest moves.  My foot slipped and I now have three nasty bruises on my thigh.  I look like I have been mauled by some beast.  And yes, I was holding the loppers – and yes, I do realize I was lucky to only receive some bruises…

New plan.

This took me up to Home Depot to get one of those tree trimmers on a pole.  EXCELLENT!  So, today I was busily cutting away.  I mean some of these branches were at least seven feet long!  Whooo Hoooo!  Mission accomplished!

In one of the taller branches (one directly outside my bedroom window), I found this:

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It is gorgeous.  Made completely of grasses.  Intricately woven.  Easily eight inches tall from its base to the rim.  Inside as smooth as glass.  I marveled at its complex simplicity.  Then brought it in to the house for The Monkeys to see.  My first thought was that we could save it to put in our Christmas tree (a tradition in my family since we found a nest in our tree one year).  But, truly, this is a work of art.  So the decision was made to let it dry out (we’ve had a LOT of rain and everything is wet) and display it in the house.  As the art that it is.

I returned outside to continue working.

And there on the ground, right were I was working, were three little turquoise blue eggs.

Two of them had broken in the fall.  The third was intact.

The guilt washed over me.  That beautiful nest had been a home to these eggs, and I had destroyed them.

Of course, the teacher in me also found it a bit fascinating.  I mean, you can see the little embryonic birds.  But still.  I feel bad.

So, I bring the eggs into the house to show The Monkeys.

The Girl Child had the kind of predictable response of “EEEEWWWWW!”

The Middle Monkey – my little scientist – observed them, poked at them, and simply said, “Huh.”

The response of Monkey #1 was perhaps the most interesting.

He felt sadness.

Sadness for the death of the little birds.  Sadness for the mother bird at the loss of her babies.   “After all, the worst pain any mother can have is the loss of her babies.”

Here is a child who with his Asperger’s is not “supposed” to feel empathy for others.  To not to be able to relate to others’ pain.  But, Monkey #1, always different, seems to feel it more.  As I sat there on the stairs, showing them the eggs, he hugged me and said, “I hope you never have to know how it feels to lose one of us.”

Wow.

Me too neither.

So, my sweet, sensitive, Asperger-y Monkey #1 is insisting we bury the little ones.  To honor them.

And so we will.

And every time I look at that nest, I will remember that moment, and smile.

Where Has the Time Gone?: Part 2

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My goofy Monkey #1 - letting his freak flag fly

My goofy Monkey #1 – letting his freak flag fly

Monkey #1 will be 13 on the 25th of May.  *sigh* I will officially be the mother of a teenager.  And not just any teenager – one with Asperger’s.  Teenage hormonal issues are enough, without the addition of Asperger’s.  Puberty has just started to hit here in Happy Monkey Land – making things not so happy at times.  Of course, it is a little hard to figure out which is a hormone meltdown, and which is the general run of the mill Asperger meltdown.

Tomorrow is his “Rite 13” ceremony at church.  It is a time when the church welcomes all of these burgeoning teenagers in to the adult fold – and they transition into the youth groups.  Kinda like the Episcopal version of a Bar Mitzvah – without all the chanting.  😉  But it is a part of the service, where they figuratively move from their families to the youth.

Tonight, there is a dinner for the Rite 13ers and their families.  As a part of it, their parents are to write a letter to their child.  Lovely little sentiments giving pithy wisdom about entering adulthood.  Reflecting on memories of their childhoods and the adults they will be.

And for a person who has so many words running through my head all the time – I am stumped as to what to say to him.  I am drawing a complete blank.  Nothing is coming easily to me – at all.

I could tell him about the challenges he will face as a teenager – but I don’t really know what they will be.  His challenges will be – make that are – so different from mine, simply because of his Asperger’s.

I could tell him about what his adulthood will be like – but, I don’t really know what it will be.  His experiences will be different from mine.

(Of course, my block isn’t helped by the fact that The Middle Monkey and The Girl Child are currently screaming at each other.  But, I digress.)

I guess I just don’t know how to take all the words I want to say to him as a mother and put them down on a piece of paper.

I want to tell him how proud I am of how he deals with his challenges.

How I love the fact that he isn’t afraid to let his “freak flag fly.”

How I love the way he will still crawl into bed with me and snuggle.  Or rub my feet.  Or scratch my back.  And how he will still hold my hand IN PUBLIC!

How through all the trials and tribulations of his life, I can’t imagine my life without him in it.

Huh…I think I just found my words.

Algebra. AGAIN?!?

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I have to admit.  I am a pretty good math teacher.  I do a pretty good job of breaking down more complex skills into manageable chunks.  But, let’s face it – I teach 4th grade (or 5th, depending on the year).  The most complicated I get is addition and subtraction of mixed numbers with unlike denominators.  And long division.  I give steps and alternate methods.  It works.

But, Monkey #1 is in 7th grade – and his math is now *gulp* algebra.  And I’m not talking the stuff I teach.  Stuff like 25 + x = 36.  That is a piece of cake!  He’s got stuff I haven’t seen in YEARS!  Like 32 years.  Tonight’s homework included this problem…

3x -21 = 5x -11

Not the hardest thing in the world – but not exactly the stuff I deal with on a daily basis.

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoyed my Algebra classes.  There were steps.  And rules.  And order.  Besides, I love “crunching numbers.”  It’s fun!  But, I was in 10th grade the last time I took an algebra class!  One tends to forget how to do things like that.

To add to the fun, Monkey #1 has math anxiety.   I think it has something to do with his Asperger’s.  He gets frustrated so easily.  It’s like I have given him quantum physics!

His homework tonight was the type of stuff I remember doing in 9th grade – in Algebra I…not in 7th grade.  And he was in FULL Asparagus mode (asparagus is our code word for when he is being particularly Asperger-y).  So, not only was I having to reach into the far reaches of my brain to remember how to solve this particular type of equation  – I was also having to talk him off the math ledge.  Ahhhh!  Good times.  Good times.

Slowly the steps came back to me and we managed to work his way through his homework.  Don’t even get me started on the battle of “showing all your work.”  I just gave up on THAT.  Ok, Little Man.  You want to solve it all in your head?  Have at it.

Looks like I am going to have to start boning up on my advanced math skills.  This is only the beginning…

God help me…

Screaming, and Stomping, and Slamming! Oh, my!


Ah.  Motherhood.

Or with the inflection I am really thinking,
AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!  MOTHERHOOD!!!!!!!!!

Life in a house full of ADHD (present company included) and Asperger’s is always, um…interesting.  Particularly in the evening.  When everyone’s meds run out (present company included).

So far this evening, The Girl Monkey has had three Drama Queen scream stomp slam breaks into her room.  (Why is everybody picking on me?!?!!!!!!!)

Monkey #1 has had two screaming Asperger fits. Including yelling at his sister…which then prompted one of The Girl Child’s events.  (Why won’t anyone let me talk?!?!?!?)

Monkey #1 was sent to his room to cool off.  The Girl was being dramatic in her room.  So, Monkey #2 and I settled on the couch to watch some TV. Wheel!  Of!  Fortune!  Monkey #1 comes back down and starts to grumble about not getting a say in anything and why can’t we change the channel…grumble grumble grumble.  Wellll…. It could be because when we were trying to decide what to watch – YOU had a meltdown and threatened to hurt your little sister and had to go to your room…  Smart Mommy did not say that out loud.

The only quiet one.  Monkey 2.  No whining.  No stomping.  No screeching.  Just enjoying some Mommy Monkey Snuggle Time.  Of course, he can’t sit still at all. Wiggle. Wiggle. Wiggle.  (Sweetie, your chin is very sharp.  Please stop digging it into my arm.)

By this time, I just want to put the other two outside to fend for themselves and just snuggle with Middle Monkey.   They are scrappy.   And pretty darn smart.  They should be fine.

Ok.  Not entirely practical.  And won’t get me voted Mommy of the Millennium.  Guess I shall keep them.  Just as long as I can occasionally run off screaming and stomping and slamming, too.

Oh, my.

It’s a Matter of Trust


Monkey # 1 is fascinated with the fact I am blogging.  He actually has said, “I can’t believe my mom has a blog!  How cool!”  Nice to know I am still considered cool by my almost 13-year-old.  I know the end is near for that.

The other night he came to me and told me he wanted to start one as well.  Being the ultimate cool mom, I set him up with one.

Today he is working on his first post.  He came to me for some “technical advice.”  I showed him what he needed.  Then I asked him what the theme of his blog would be.  He simply replied, “Life.  My thoughts.  You know.  Stuff.”  Before he left my room, I said to him, “When you have posted it, let me know.  I’d like to follow it.”

He just nodded his head in his little Asperger-y way and said, “Ok.”  And he turned to leave.

It made me think about why I started this blog.  I started it to get some things out of my mind.   I started it to throw private thoughts out in to the universe.  And I know there are some things that I have posted that are “personal.”  Things that I wouldn’t want to censor, just because of who might be reading.  So, I rethought my statement.

I called him back to me and said, “Scratch that.  I trust you.  You can share with me what you want to share.  And if you don’t, that’s ok.”

I realize that most parents of teenagers would question my sanity.  And believe me when I say I doubt mine every day.  But, like with most things I do, I have a pretty good reason.  In this case it is his Asperger’s.  This kid isn’t like most just about to be teens.  He is an old soul.  And because of the Asperger’s, he is incredibly rules bound.  And he tells the truth – always.  And I know that if I set parameters for him, he will follow them.  This is the kid who has been known to walk up to kids at school that he has heard using very inappropriate language for a middle schooler, and inform them thusly.   Which then creates a new rule, “Leave things like that to the grown-ups.”   But, that is another story.

Of course, I know his password, and I can log in at any time to check up on him, but I would never do that with out just cause and with out his knowing.   I don’t want to be that sneaky mom.  The stalker mom.   It is a matter of trust.

As he enters into his teen years, there will be many times when it will come down to a matter of trust.  My trust of him – and ultimately his trust of ME.   But, I like to think that as he has grown, neither of us has done anything that would prove to be UN-trustworthy.  I am trying to raise The Monkeys to have good heads on their shoulders.  I realize things might be very different the other two – especially the Girl Monkey… I envision her teenage years are going to be hell.  Somewhere in the back of her closet, she most likely already has the beginnings of a hand-made rope ladder for when she sneaks out at night to go hang out with her friends.  I can read that little girl like a book.

For now, I welcome my sweet boy to the world of blogging.  I fully trust he will find it as enjoyable an experience as mine.

Thanks.

 

 

My Heart Bleeds


The Monkey Daddy sent me a message to call him.  Monkey #1 needed to talk to me.  Ok.  He probably left something at my house that he needs for school tomorrow.  So I call.  Monkey #1 answers the phone.

“He had Asperger’s!” he sobbed into the phone.

“Baby, who did?”

“The shooter!  He had Asperger’s!”

Ah.  He is talking about the horrific shooting at the Connecticut elementary school.

“Sweetie, where did you hear about this?  I’ve heard rumors, but nothing definite.”  I am trying to placate him, miles away from him.  Knowing what he really needs is a therapeutic hug.

“It was on 60 Minutes!  A friend of his mother kept saying he had Asperger’s!” he wailed.

“Oh, honey, even if it is true, there is no way you could do something like that.”

“But, I hit (Monkey #2) when I am mad!…

I am turning into a monster!”

It was then that my heart shattered into a million pieces.

It was then that I wished that I could hold him in that way that only I can and smooth his hair and gently squeeze him to prompt him to breathe and sing “BINGO” to him and whisper that he could never ever ever be a monster.

My sweet son, who just so happens to have Asperger’s, is now terrified that he too has the capability to walk into a school and kill 20 children and 6 adults – not to mention his mother –  before taking his own life.  That he will become a monster capable of such a thing.

The magnitude of it all is just too much for me to comprehend.  And it makes me want to cry.

As both a parent and an elementary school teacher, the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School has rocked me to the core.  I think of those parents, having to face a life without those beautiful faces.  I think of the teachers who sacrificed themselves to protect their students.  I think of the survivors who have to live with the memories of that experience.  I just cannot imagine.

And now, I worry that in light of the revelation that this poor, tortured, bright, awkward young man – a young man so intelligent he started college in his mid-teens – may indeed have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ignorant people will begin to be paranoid about ALL that are on the Spectrum.  “Watch out!  That autistic kid is going to go all nuts and shoot up the place!”  Those of us who love someone on the Spectrum, already have to deal with many misunderstandings.  My own family tells me that what Monkey #1 really needs is some effective discipline.  Surely THAT would control his outbursts.  I have witnessed the glares of people in stores and restaurants as he is experiencing some major sensory overload and is on the verge of a meltdown – or is in full-blown Asperger’s mode.

I just want to scream at them and say, “He isn’t BAD!  He’s Autistic!!!!!!”

The shootings are tragic enough.  Let’s not make things worse.

As I talked to Monkey #1, I quickly searched the internet for any information I could find that would give him enough data to sooth his soul.  I happened upon an article from the LA Times, siting SEVERAL autism specialists from some very note-worthy institutions.  I started reading it to him.  Trying to console him in the only way I could.  With facts.  Facts he understands.  Facts he can wrap his swirling head around.  Facts that would help him to realize there is nothing about him that could cause him to act in such a manner.

What finally reached the terror within was this paraphrased statement: while someone with autism may lash out, they do so during an outburst.  It is impulsive.  They do not premeditate a violent action.  I could hear his breathing begin to calm.   I asked him, “When you hurt (Monkey #2), do you sit around for days planning what you are going to do to him?”

“No,” he replied.  “It’s usually because I am mad at him and I hit him one time.”

“So, you don’t think about the ways you are going to hurt him and how many times you are going to hit him?”

“No, it just comes to me.”

“Then, baby, there’s the difference.  You aren’t a monster. You are a sweet, wonderful, amazing child.  And I love you very, very much.”

While that exchange was one of the most heart-breaking things I have ever experience, I am very very thankful that I was able to have that conversation with my sweet little monkey.  There are 27 sets of parents in Connecticut tonight who aren’t as lucky.

And my heart bleeds for them.