I can’t say I have one hundred percent changed. I’ve certainly evolved and I am constantly pushing myself and learning. In a way I have been teaching not only Emmett coping skills, but myself as well.
Far from perfect, still a control freak in ways for sure. Ask my husband, ask my mother. I spend most nights cleaning up a toy filled living room because when I wake up I can enjoy it for the five minutes, it makes me feel peaceful. Having two wild boys running around, living life to the fullest, my house is run by them (as it should be). You come to visit and you will see everything everywhere during the daytime. That is a part I have worked on, because I used to stress about it. I don’t mean dirty, let me clarify, I mean kid messy. You might trip over a train…or ten.
So, when Emmett was born and the autism journey began… Because autism is from birth, even though it obviously is not diagnosed until later…some things I expected were changed. Motherhood was by far harder than I assumed, yes I admit it. I think no matter if you have your first baby at eighteen, twenty five, thirty nine, it’s the same adjustment. You have that moment of WOW. Adding that Em was colic, had major food texture issues once we started solids, and did not sleep really ever (not until he was 4 years old), was a tough start. I am not looking for pity or poor me talk here, I am just expressing reality.
For someone who loved planners, organized my cds alphabetically, cleaned things that were just cleaned, liked my routine, it was quite the shake up once we had to change our idea of all of that. I expected his first birthday party to go perfectly (yes I used that word). I thought that going to playgroups he would play with the other kiddos.I convinced myself every month that went by he would eventually sleep more then two hours a night. The problem was I just thought I knew how it all went and as time went on I had to learn to let go.
Birthday parties, this is a big one. We have grown and progressed and it has gotten better, I will say that first. But after his second birthday party I recognized how different we did it. Putting up papers on the table that said “Do not give Emmett food, ask us first please and thanks so much”. We weren’t crazy looney parents, we would have wanted anyone and everyone to hand him snacks at his celebration. But Emmett had texture issues that caused severe choking. I have watched his face turn blue…it’s like the ultimate fear staring at you right in the face. So, when you keep hearing comments and judgement (let’s just be real) about those little signs, it can sting a bit.
I stopped planning his birthday around what I thought he should have, I started doing what Em would enjoy. We do it at home. He loves decorations, so we go crazy with that. He loves the idea of birthday cake and his favorite part is blowing out those candles. We have a very small list to invite, it keeps getting smaller to be honest. I started with like 60 (because to be honest that is what my own mother did at this age, all my classmates,etc). We are down to maybe less than 20 now, maybe even less than that. Does this make Emmett unhappy? Heck no, not at all. If one person came besides our family he would be over the moon. He loves people. Crowds overwhelm him still, but a small group he is okay, especially when we are at our home base. Was this my expectation? No. I did expect big parties, big crowds, all of that. I own this, because it was who I was. I had to recognize what was considered a big celebration for him, Emmett style.
I am still guilty of planning, I think a part of me always will carry that. I believe in growth, but I still think some roots of ourselves will always be in the central soul of who we are. Jason had a day off, it’s rare these days, we we planned a trip to the playground. As we were walking there it was obvious Em did not want to go. He vocalized several times he was not interested. We get there and he asks for a countdown of five minutes so we can leave, but his baby brother Sam is loving it. Thankfully with Jason there he told Em to come with him and so I could stay with Sam for as long as he wanted to. These are things that we are used to, but looking at the big picture seeing a six year old refuse a playground can make me feel sad. I admit it, I felt sad he did not want to stay and play and even have a snack with us. I have not fully let go of that whole expectation thing. I am not perfect, I have to dig deeper sometimes to just know just because some things are different does not mean my child is not content and happy. Later I saw Em happy at home and he was exactly where he wanted to be that day and I had to let go of the plans we had that day for all four of us. I had to know that what matters most is how he feels. He could not tell us why he did not want to be at the playground. I ran it through my mind, but it could be as simple as he wanted to just be home that day. Still working on the letting go, I feel it will be a lifelong process truly.
I never thought I’d be serving my six year old chips or cheesies at 8am. I would have thought that was terrible seven years ago, maybe as a treat once in a while but not every single day. But here I am every morning getting his green bowl with one of them and he powers three of them down by 10am. Em’s food struggle is super real and it is the one thing I can say I let go of a few years ago. I was the mom with my one year old, trying to do the chicken, mashed potatoes, and peas, etc. Breakfast of toast and eggs and yogurt. The kid just was not happy. He did eat yogurt for a little while, but never again. I went to this place of looking how little our list of foods was he would eat happily. I started to let go of what I saw on social media, what people may say, and just followed him. I have a two year old now (Sam) and he eats everything. Do I cut sandwiches like stars? Nope. Do I make a caterpillar fruit design? Nope. But he eats that bowl of porridge in the morning like it’s a Hershey’s chocolate bar (which he also loves). He enjoys that while his big brother crunches down those Old Dutch Salt and Vinegar chips next to him. Is this the life I expected? Nope. Am I happy? Yes I am. This whole food thing was my hardest challenge about four years ago with Em. I would cry and get mad and make my day filled with all of these ideas to try and get him to eat “like all the other toddlers”. It left, it vanished. The only challenge now is when he has food strikes, I cry and get mad there, but have all the reasons to. At the end of the day I am now the mom that as long as my kids eat I am a happy mom and feel we are okay.
Siblings. Brotherhood. This is ongoing and for life. It took until Sam was over a year for Emmett to hug him. We had to work on it, baby steps. Do they love one another? You bet. Do they get on each other’s nerves? You bet. Em can be loud, Sam can be fussy. Em likes to be left alone, Sam does not. As much as I can throw autism in places of some areas, this looks like a little and big brother relationship to me. Emmett won’t hold Sam’s hand, but he will push him in that Little Tikes swing until the cows come home. If Sam bumps his knee, Em will cry too and ask if he’s okay. I don’t get too many ‘posed’ photos of them like what I see as I scroll on Facebook or Instagram. I can’t guarantee a smile or even that they will look at me. Most of the pictures are more candid, which I have come to like more. We are not the family that gets family picture done once a year because it’s just not easy right now, when we can grab them at home quick and sometimes even a smile. This is never planned, it’s spontaneous and by fluke we get one that we might all look a little decent. We have our ten year anniversary celebration coming next month and in my mind I would love a beautiful family of four picture that day. But I cannot guarantee that will actually happen. Maybe we will try, but we won’t know until the day of, the moment of. It might be unexpected, which is sort of what this big ramble is all about.
As much as I can explain all of the unexpected you get in this autism mama life, you also get some groovy gifts and perspective. Em will never cry if not one person comes to his birthday party, as long as we have cake and candles. He is never gonna care what people think of him, he is completely loving being himself (I wish we could all say that, I can’t). Em can make so many things funny and hilarious, he can make a hard moment become a fit of laughter. If Emmett loves you, you are loved from the purest of hearts. There is more, I could go on, but you get it. If you know him, you fully get it from the top of your hear to the tips of your toes.
As far as me, Alex. This Monica Geller still lives on, even in the midst of certain obstacles and many adjustments. I still have my two laundry baskets, one for clothes, one for towels. I have a notebook on my kitchen counter that maps out most of the day, it feels like a lifeline. I like a clean house, even if it means losing an hour of sleep to do a quick tidy before bed. I have moments I give in and leave it, usually one day a week I turn the lights off and learn it’s okay to leave it be for a night. I will continue to learn and grow and adjust, motherhood does that, autism motherhood adds a little extra layer. It doesn’t mean I will completely change overnight or at all in ways, because it is a part of who I am. When I look at myself back in 2012 I was not where I am now and in five years I will be changed again. But the two laundry baskets and my trusty notebook can stay:)