Monica Geller to Autism Mama:The Control Freak Leading a Life of the Unexpected

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:)

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No is a complete answer

We all have our routines, our schedules, our life. Trying to find balance is in all of us, we share that. We also share that whole ‘I am determined to fit everything in’ mindset sometimes. Well I am here to tell you something, I started a few months ago becoming a little picky, recognizing what was important and sometimes I just could not try and scramble to make every person happy. I’m done trying and it is still a process.

I feel guilty when I can’t fit something in for someone, when my plate is already so full it is spilling everywhere. Like I said we all have our stuff, our plates are all carrying things. So, when I name my pile on this blog I am not saying it weighs more than yours. But I still carry and juggle, just like you.

My life has evolved, with marriage and babies and books and gains and losses. Ten years ago I was a Recreation Programmer and a fresh newlywed, today I am a stay at home homeschooling mama of two boys, who loves to write books. There were all these chapters in between that brought me here. The good, the bad, and the ugly, I am grateful for it all because I do really love my life.

People often post to social media that when you say you love your life you are not being real, you are not being honest, you are a liar, a fake. My friends, I am far from a fake. I am not perfect, I have made one thousand mistakes, but when it comes to my life I speak the truth even when it’s a little more blunt once in a while. Life feels good, life hurts, life brings all of it to you and we learn from every moment. I have cursed, I have sworn, I have said how unfair it can be for sure. But I am proven over and over again that there really is a reason for it all.

I explain this because when I say I love my life, I do. That part of covered. Now, my life carries mostly awesome moments. They come along with the hard stuff and my time is taken up ninety nine percent of the time by my two sons. I chose to be here and I do not regret it for a second. There is sacrifice, I homeschool so I do not get the typical breaks in the day some do, I have my kids 365 days a year for the most part. My husband works a ton, like a whole lot (which is awesome!), but we do not get time like most couples with kiddos. By the time he gets home we are doing routines. Our time mostly consists of being mama and daddy. Making KD, wiping butts, bedtime stories, countdowns, etc. You know all of that if you are or were in the trenches too. We are in a season of parenthood we can’t do overnight getaways, so we squeeze in a date day once or twice a year. There is the extra layer of having a little boy with autism, lots of preparing and priming through our day, transitions, the whole bit (That is a whole other blog). So, when those spare days off come or an evening is a little less tiring, I want to just be present with Jason. Even if that means we fall asleep through a comedy special halfway through.

My mother lives four hours away, so when she is home I want to be with her and spend that time because it only happens twice a month. I can call her yes, I can text her, but sitting with her just connecting is on my list as a priority. And as of six months ago I was helping my Pop who lived with us full time and it was a gift as I see it now. Time is important, I know this.

I write this because I have been asked by several people these past few months to do things, to go here, to do this for them, to make time for a certain event. I don’t mind at all for the people I love, but I have to a place that I know I can’t do it all. I look at my plate and say ‘Yep, not a good idea right now’. I think about the little time I get to have and I realize what is the priority for my family and even myself. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to help or be a part of things, it’s just that unless you live my life on the daily you have no idea what I am already trying to get done. This is sincerely not a complaint or a whiny moment, this is just reality. If my husband has one day off in two weeks, I want to be there. Believe me,I love a mom lunch out, trust me I’d have it weekly (And I know someday I will). I love writing and that gets done in these moments, when Sam is napping and Em is in the tub playing  (I am currently sitting on the bathroom floor with my laptop). You can make it happen, I believe that too. But…here is the big BUT, sometimes when you are staring at the calendar as I do (Little TYPE A, actually a lot), and you see eight weeks of Summer ahead, that is not a lot of time. You see two days off in three weeks and think lets grab those and just be together the four of us as a family because our boys are getting bigger and older every single year.

I feel guilty, in fact I use to tear myself up about declining a favor asked or event. I still struggle with it, I find myself writing three paragraphs to make up for the No. I gotta let it go because there are so many more important things I can put my energy into. I cannot turn myself inside out to make every human being around me happy (Lord…How many of us have said that?). It goes with so many other life moments for me. I don’t do extreme birthday planning anymore, I do small parties but with big heart (lots of decorations and fun still, but more for my kids and not everyone else). I stopped creating a life that was about based on what everyone else wants or says or what people post online. I listened to one voice…ME…and went with it. Little by little it gets better and I feel a weight lifted for sure.

One catering business is not going to make every single person happy in one village with their options, so take a deep breath and realize you cannot do it either. I say it to me too, NO IS A COMPLETE ANSWER, folks. We all have our plates, just be mindful and present and do what is best for you. Life is too short not to.

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Father’s Day Series: Jason

The most scared and excited I have ever seen you is when Emmett was born. Emergency c-section, NICU, and you were on cloud nine with fear all mixed together. Like any new parents, at any stage in life, we were scared shitless. The first night the two us alone at the hospital with him should have been documented. Both scared we were going to somehow mess up.

Almost seven years later and I feel we should still be documented. Those moments of unsureness come sometimes I think with all parents. The great thing about you is your sense of humor, and that we share it and understand one another. I worry like a mother does, but you have a safety watch with them I cannot come close to. We grew up together in a way and parenting is a part of our path together.

You will run for hours in that backyard with Emmett to help him unwind, take him for walks when he needs a change of scenery. You want to make Sam laugh all the time, you can see how the two of you light up when it happens. You are their snack man, topping of juice cups and bringing out more Bear Paws as a backup. You hug them and say I love you at least three times a day, which I love because as a father it shows our sons how important that is. You don’t shy away from any of that, you want to hug them and kiss their little chubby cheeks as much as I do.

I’ve watched you grow from new dad to two kid dad, neither one of us will ever be expert parents. That does not exist as much as people seem to be convinced they do. We live and learn with every moment and obstacle, we have grown a lot and will keep doing that. I have watched you sit through so many speech appointments and interventionist visits, taking it all in, and I will never be able to thank you for being there. I know I know, people will say he is supposed to, he’s their dad. But it is not always the case. I see every part of this as something to be grateful for. Jason you process things differently, sometimes it takes time, but once you get it you are good to go. Being married and raising a family with someone takes work and there are all these layers. We are not perfect, never will be. But I love you and could not imagine doing this thing with anyone else.

You make mean molasses cookies, you fold the clothes/towels way better than I do, you have grown in so many ways as a man and as a father over these past seven years, I am proud to call you the father of our sons. Can you believe we are actually here? We are full on being adults and raising two beautiful kids we created. One time in life it was conversation after conversation about how things would go. Thanks for sharing our home and being my best friend (yes that is so cheesy for me). I say that because you were my friend first and that built this foundation we have. Our boys come first for you, you would do anything for them to keep them safe and taken care of. Here is to many more years of this family thing, we got it (at least I think we do).

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Father’s Day Series: Poppie

Oh Pop, this is going to be a hard one. This is the first Father’s day we can’t spoil you. A new book, an afternoon drive, and Mum telling you funny stories as you spill your icecream on the seat. I can hear you now, ‘Gee Whiz Cripes Hughene!’. I get scared I will forget your voice sometimes, but we have so many videos of you with those precious boys I know they will always remind me.

Where do I even start? You were the mac to my cheese ole man. I find myself saving jokes to read to you when the kids go to bed, I grab your favorite marshmallow ice cream at the dollarstore, suddenly it hits like the heaviest set of bricks. Let’s talk about you, let’s give the world a little piece of who you were.

You wanted to make him laugh, like all of us did. Because his face would turn red and he would just laugh from the gut. The purest form of it all. Whether it was Uncle Cecil’s phone calls where he would slide in a joke or riddle, Mum telling funny work stories, or me reading ‘bad jokes’ from the internet, Pop was all over it. When you picked a movie, you always wanted to find a comedy just so you could watch his reactions. His favorite movie was ‘Oh brother, where art thou?’. The part with buddy thinking his friend got turned into a frog, Pop’s favorite scene.

Pop wanted to help, he wanted everyone to be okay. You could be family, you could be a stranger, he wanted the world to be a safe and looked after place. He would drop grocery orders off with Grammie every Christmas to people who may need it more. He would give a child a five dollar bill at the corner store because their mom or dad could not get the candy they wanted. Pop volunteered everywhere, I think he loved people and wanted to just dive in and do what he could do. He hired hard working skilled people to do yard work, house renovations, you name it… who needed the money more than a big business company. If he knew it would put food on their table, take any sort of stress off, he felt good and would always go to bed that night saying we could all do small things to change the world.

Pop loved his family. Pop loved us all, his children, grandchildren, and two great grandboys. He loved my grandmother, yes they divorced, but stayed the dearest of friends and he loved her until the day he was gone. I hope they are together now and enjoying good tea, he’s making her something to eat (because God love Grammie could not boil water), and they are just happy. That is my wish. That is what I know too.
He could eat one to two boxes of pastries a day and he never came close to being diabetic, even though we would joke he could be someday. Pop made the best bologna stew on Cape Breton Island, with doughboys. The little hamburg steaks when I was a teenager were our favorite meal together years back. Split a can of Meatballs and Gravy too, with bread of course. He was a foodie, he liked what he liked, but still a foodie. Bacon, eggs, toast, even on his last morning here with us.

If a hole or tear happened to any of my clothes, he was who sewed them back up for me. I will even admit he would iron something for me if needed, because I could do washing, drying, folding, etc…but iron was never a great skill on my end. Pop would claim to be a Mr.Fix-it, but God love him he wasn’t. He could do quick fixes, but usually a call to someone was made for the big stuff and he would takeover as a foreman during. He was stubborn as hell, I guess that is where we get some of it from.

The purest love I have ever witnessed in my life was him with my two sons. I think they kept him going, I just do. When Grammie passed, we were able to keep him for almost four more years and it was those babies that did it. It reawakened something in him I had never seen until Emmett was born. I think it brought him back to raising his own babies, a precious time for him in life. Pop was so happy just to be near them, watch them grow, love them, kiss their faces off, squeeze them. He took it all in, he was so present.

I miss him, like every single second that passes a piece is missing. Some moments are easier, when I am swept up in the day with Em and Sam. But the night time is harder. That was usually tea time, snack time, chat time for us. I miss him sitting in the chair saying his rosary every afternoon, seeing his lips move and his eyes closed as he concentrated so hard on it. When he said he prayed for you, he really did, no nonsense. He had a list and he named everyone off with full heart intention.

He was my father when I needed one the most. I hope he knows how thankful I was and am for that. He gave me memories and traditions to last the rest of my life, it’s just heartbreaking knowing he is no longer here in person. I know Pop is with us all every day, this is true. So many signs pop up, believe me. He checks up and he will be carried forward for many generations by our moments and memories and everything else.
Thank you God for him. Happy first Father’s Day in heaven Pop.

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Father’s Day Series: Papa Guy

Like I keep saying, I am a lucky and blessed woman. I grew up right next door to my Great Grandparents. I was there every day, morning, noon, and night. I do not take that at all for granted. Let me chat a bit about Papa. Sweet and kind Papa.

There was never a time I walked into their house that Papa did not give me a hug and a whisker kiss, always smiled. He wore so many hats in his life. One of them was being such a big part of the Sydney Mines community. Everyone knew who ‘Jimmy Guy’ was. He delivered coal to many families, even my Grammie Boutilier said she remembers as a little girl him coming to the door to see her mother. Papa was a big part of St.Andrew’s church, he sang in the choir. I loved watching him, I loved seeing how proud he was to sing the gospel and how dedicated he was to showing up every Sunday to do it.

Papa was my first big loss that I remember. It was a time of change already, my parents were newly divorced and I was already adjusting to that. Mum sitting me down to tell me about Papa was one of the saddest moments, my sweet Papa that I had just seen days ago. He had dropped me off to Mum’s apartment after my visit with Dad. He hugged me ,told me he loved be and to be safe, those whiskers against my cheek. You really never know when the last moment you will share with someone is. That was it and I am so happy it was, because it was simply him.

My childhood on Guy street was built by many people, but Papa was a big part of that. Big sunflowers remind me of him. He had a garden he looked after so well and there was always sunflowers big and tall. Doing his comb over in the bathroom mirror. Papa let me sneak squares out of the freezer, gave me the good caramel chewy candy out of the Quality Street tin. Papa drove me to school in elementary almost every single day, picked me up for lunch sometimes, and after school. I spent a great deal of time with him and Grammie and I feel that is extra special to have. It does not happen too often, Great Grandparents living right there so close and I was able to just scoot over at anytime. Christmas time it was either Grammie Guy made dinner or Mum and they would come over. We spent a lot of time with them as a family as well. It truly created a wonderful foundation no matter what has happened since.

Papa lives on in all of us (as does Great Grammie Guy). We talk of loved ones who worked hard and loved their family so much, good soul people. Papa Guy was one of them. His legacy, because it truly was one, will live always with our conversations and memories. We miss him every second of the day because he was such a soft safe place in the world for us all to be around. Thank you God for him, for the thirteen years I was blessed to have. To sit at that kitchen table again with him and Grammie is what I hope heaven holds a lot of the time.

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Father’s Day Series: Stan The Man

The step parent role is a tough one. I have never been in this position, but I have been in the step kid position. It’s hard, it’s for sure a transition. It doesn’t have to stay that way though as long as you both work at. There does not have to be pressure to replace any parent at all, creating a relationship can come from other places. It can take time to grow, but slowly it can be a great thing. Some things take time.

Now almost fifteen years later, I can say that Stan is my friend. I could say that many years ago, but if you asked my sixteen year old self I was worried. Why was I worried? Because from history and life experiences I was scared to attach myself to really any sort of father figure. It’s just the truth, the way it was. I honestly can’t say I am over that feeling, it takes me a while to really dive into getting to know someone new. When it was new with Stan and Mum, I stepped lightly into the water. Not because of anything either of them did at all, it was entirely a me thing.

I stand here today and I can say Stan would fight for me, for my boys as much as my mother would. We slowly grew a friendship, our sense of humor is very similar and we are both Clint Eastwood people (I mean, come on!). After I had my first baby, Emmett, it kind of took a big jump in the best way. I saw how much he loved Em and something changed. I knew my kids had a Poppie Gear all the way. You see the thing was Stan never rushed me, never pressured me, never tried to take the place of my own father. He also knew I was Mum’s kiddo starting off and did not try and push me aside or put me down a list. As a mother myself now, I understand how important it is for our children to be first. When a relationship does not work and we had children with them, when we go forward and meet new people they should not replace our kiddos. Stan never tried to do that. Mum would not have put up with that sort of thing anyway, let’s be honest.

I will say that Poppie was my Dad these past eighteen years yes…but it does not mean that I do not introduce and say Stan is like my Dad too. I believe we do what makes us happy and how we feel. I feel I was blessed with the anchor of my Pop, but Stan was also there to help sail that fatherhood ship in my life. I say friendship a lot because it feels that way too. When I see a funny ‘meme’ or clip I always save it to show him when they travel home. I know roast chicken chips are the go to, and don’t forget the nibs. I also know that he will want to see the new Quentin Tarantino movie coming out as much as I do. I am grateful through growth and baby steps and life changing experiences we are at this place now.

You make my Mum happy and that is sincerely all I could ask for. Can’t wait for our next pizza flips (pep and cheese for me don’t forget) and watching a movie that makes Mum squirm a little (haha). Love ya Stan aka Poppie Gear to my Em & Sam.

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Father’s Day Series: My One And Only Grampie

Fields of Athenry brings me to a place of sitting with you as you strummed your guitar. As a child you are blessed growing up with grandparents, but to have my Grampie Guy I sort of won the lottery. He is kind, quiet but strong, and his hugs have always brought me to a safe place. Even at thirty, I feel like the little cabin girl again when I reach up to hug him. Grampie has always been there for me, I know he always will be.

In this life I have lived I know we are not guaranteed unconditional love from everyone, but this man carries it as my grandfather. I feel honored and proud to be one of the granddaughters of Archie Guy. I may not get to see him as much as I would like to, being busy in life and everything else that gets placed on this road we take. But I hope he knows how much I think of him and how much he has been such a root to my tree of life. Music always brings me back to so many memories, music is a big connection for me with many things. I even have a playlist on my computer called ‘Grampie’ and it brings be back to Margaree and everything that was beautiful and simple then.
My relationship with God was built with Him of course, but to be honest there are a few people who helped keep that sort of faith structure strong and steady. My Grampie is one of them, he is a part of that foundation that was built early on. I know I am never alone, I know that prayer helps and brings a calmness to my heart I cannot explain, because my Grampie Guy showed me this is true.

I love you Grampie, I can’t put much into words how to thank you for always being there. I know that unconditional love and strong faith exists. A big thing for me as well is the memories my Mum shares of you. You have always been so kind to her and she has always spoken so highly of you my whole life. I truly was blessed to grow up with so many grandparents, but I was especially lucky to have you then and now.