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Tantrums vs. Tantrums

There is a difference in the kind of tantrums Tristan would have and the kind that Anthony, at 19 months old, has. Of course it’s difficult to remember in exact detail what Tristan was like as a toddler, but there are specific instances that come to mind that help to paint the picture. I remember actually saying to people that, when Tristan was two, he “didn’t really throw tantrums,” or that the tantrums he did throw were “different.” They weren’t the stereotypical lying-on-the-floor-crying-kicking-and-beating-arms type tantrums that I’d read about in child development books or parenting magazines. Instead, what Tristan really had, I realize now in hindsight, were perserverative episodes. A truck would go by on our street, and Tristan would completely lose it when it left for good. Or I’d pick him up from preschool and he’d be throwing a tantrum about a rake that was missing from the playground (the teacher explained that it had cracked and they had to throw it out). Or the time my friend, who has a child eight months younger than Tristan, had the idea to come and pick up Tristan and me on her way home from work so we could come over, but Tristan threw a fit when we tried to get him to sit in her car — a different car than he was used to.

Yes, it’s true that all kids have their moments of irrationality, but the thing that made these moments especially difficult with Tristan was that you couldn’t use distraction techniques to get his mind off of whatever was causing the tantrum. In fact, in some cases he could perserverate about something all morning, finally go for his nap, and wake up two or three hours later and immediately start harping in on the same topic again! Even in sleep, his brain would not let go! My friend driving the car that day attempted to talk to Tristan to calm him down, at which point I said, “Just drive.” I knew there was nothing you could say or do that would allay his anxiety — we just had to force the issue until he realized he had no choice in the matter and that, in fact, he had survived. He cried for maybe another 10 minutes, then finally stopped. I remember that episode because it was the first time my friend said, “I see what you mean now — this is different.” I would explain things to people about Tristan’s behavior, but they’d usually underestimate or misinterpret what I was explaining, and say things like, “My child does that too sometimes.” But I knew it wasn’t so cut and dry — I did have three nieces, and was around other kids Tristan’s age at the various playgroups and activities I had him in. I knew he walked to the beat of a different drummer. And though I intuitively knew this, even before his diagnosis, it didn’t really make things easier. Dealing with a child who does not follow the “kid manual” (any of them!) can be very wearing on a parent. It is, as described in that article I posted a while back, like traveling to a country you never intended to visit — and, I might add, you’ve got the wrong language translation book with you!

As for Anthony — he throws tantrums, yes. They are loud and sometimes even long, and once he is in one it can be hard to get him out if it — he just has to work through it. But with more minor tantrums, it is very easy to distract him and focus his attention on something else. If he is getting frustrated about not being able to work a toy, or if he wants something that I won’t let him have, it is easy for me to come up with some other thing to grab his attention. I still am slightly shocked every time I employ this tactic — and it works! Ahhh, I think. THIS is what everyone else was talking about! Yes, toddler tantrums of any kind can take their toll on you. But having experienced the Tristan kind, I will take a typical toddler tantrum any day!

Beginning again…

Could this really be the re-start of my blogging? Perhaps. Anthony is 19 months old. Little by little, my year is becoming less hectic as one responsibility after another falls to the way side: Book Sale over (the Smith College Club of Baltimore Used Book Sale); my job at Cook Library, Towson University is ending for the semester (with the exception of a few days here and there when I will go in this summer); and I’m losing steam with Pampered Chef, though I keep hanging on to it for now. For the first time, I feel ready to start having a “normal,” less-hectic life. Which doesn’t mean that I want to go back to being a stay-at-home mom; au contraire, I am feeling a strong pull to return to full-time work in my profession as a librarian. I feel my energy and enthusiasm for having a multitude of commitments is waning — I want to be able to concentrate on just a few — namely, my family and my career. Oh, and myself.

Yes, this new thing called “myself” which I began to re-discover about the time I turned 30, but then understandably put it on the back burner after Anthony was born. Last weekend was Mother’s Day, and I decided that what I wanted was a day to myself, for myself. Not a day to go out with the in-laws and my mother, dragging the kids along to some crappy restaurant, and then having to deal with the aftermath (i.e. cranky kids and loss of time to get things done at home). Rather, I wanted a day where my husband took the kids out somewhere for a few hours, while I enjoyed some peace and quiet, went shopping for clothes for myself, and got myself a haircut. The keyword here being “myself.” I’m always making everyone else a priority and putting myself last, but I figured that on Mother’s Day, I had license to be selfish.

But what I didn’t know was how sweet and tasty this bout of selfishness would be for me. I want more. I want to guiltlessly promote what it is *I* want and need on a given day, and force everyone else to fall in line. It doesn’t work that easily, of course, but I’m thinking things might start to go in that direction little by little. I’m not talking major disruption to the status quo, here. What I AM talking about is: making getting myself a haircut a priority every two months — and at a “good” salon like I went to last week (Bubbles) for a $30 haircut, not just a Haircuttery haircut. In the past I’ve balked at spending so much on a haircut, but recently I thought: how often do I actually get a haircut? It had been at least six months this last time. Even if I meet my goal of going every two months, I’ll only be spending about $200 a YEAR on haircuts. I think I deserve that!

Writing in this blog, or in my diary, is another thing I’m going to do for myself. Again, I’ve put these things on hold out of guilt for spending too much time doing “selfish” things. But now I’m seeing things differently. For one, I’ve already done the self-less thing now for at least six years. I think arguably I gave up a lot of myself even before I had kids, in the name of doing what was best for “the marriage.” But the thing is, I don’t think whatever I did ended up being in anyway “best for the marriage.” I ended up following some model, probably my mother, for what it means to be a wife and mother, and I’ve made myself miserable. I need to create a new paradigm for motherhood — starting last weekend.

I couldn’t even remember the URL for my blog.  Fortunately, my friend Alisa linked to it from her blog.

I’d just read something about the importance of keeping record of even mundane, daily life things, how these details are what will be interesting to a future reader. (Will this medium even exist in the future? What would happen to all of these words if the Internet suddenly no longer existed? Somewhere I’ve read that paper is the most long-lasting medium we have.)

And I would love to do that — if I felt like I had the free time to do so. Having taken on a job as a reference librarian at Cook Library, Towson University, and currently in the middle of coordinating the Smith College Club of Baltimore Used Book Sale, I have very little time that is my own. Right now it is 11:30 at night, and Anthony could wake up at any time calling for me, at which time I will crawl into the bed with him and nurse him back to sleep. It’s not a habit I want to go on forever, but I haven’t found the right time or method for changing this…

Will write more later. I just wanted to find my blog first and make sure it still existed!

Back on the Blog

The nature of being a mother is that I have no time to blog about being a mother.  There are about 20 other things I “should” be doing right now, but I’ve decided to get back to blogging for a brief moment.

I have been trying to write this post for over a month now — and the last post I did publish was over six months ago! There is too much to catch up on in one night.

Some highlights:

Our son Anthony William was born September 29th.  I did have a natural childbirth, and a much shorter labor this time around (short, but intense!)  Anthony weighed 8 lbs 14 ounces.  Pushing him out felt something akin to trying to poop out a rusty car muffler.  But I digress.

Tristan continues to make progress, yet in other ways some of his “odd” tendencies are becoming more apparent.  Among the good things that have happened since I last blogged: Tristan has begun asking and answering “why” questions.  This is a significant step in autism circles.  His responses are still quite rote. I could tell that they’d been teaching him in school to start any reply to a why question with “Because…” because he’s always reply this way in the same drawn-out tone — but then sometimes, he wouldn’t have an answer, and if he did have an answer, it usually had no relation to the question.  But, it was a start.  More significan to me is his asking “Why?”  I know this gets annoying when toddlers and preschoolers ask “Why?” over and over again, but since I’m so used to Tristan saying the same things over and over again, it’s really no different, and it least it sounds more like a “normal” child!

Another thing Tristan’s begun doing over the last coupld of months is nodding and shaking his head during conversations.  He has a tendency to overdo it, and sometimes shakes when he should be nodding (nodding is physically more challenging), but at least he’s doing it, and trying to make it part of the conversation.  I specifically asked his speech teacher to work on this with him, and I see that she has been.  The services he’s been getting in his public Pre-K have been phenomenal.  He has acquired so many skills — and enjoys using them — too numerous to mention.  He even has a special education teacher who works with him on social skills, usually on the playground or during snack time.  They work on things such as climbing on the equipment (as opposed to just sitting and playing with the mulch, which was his usual preference whenever I’d take him to a playground) and asking friends to play with him.  He enjoys being around friends — seeks them out — and is even taking the bus to and from school. 

With the birth of Anthony, of course there have been some rough times.  Tristan adores his baby brother — to a fault, really.  He can’t keep his hands off of him sometimes.  Then there are the usual jealous actions, such as grabbing toys out of Anthony’s hands, or climbing into my lap and saying, “I want you to hold me like a baby!”  I expected these kinds of things, and I understand where they are coming from.  Quite recently, Tristan has started wetting the bed more often.  He’d been doing great with that, but now over the last two weeks I’ve been changing his pajamas and sheets in the middle of the night several times a week.  I just purchased some disposable “Underjams,” basically diapers for big kids who wet the bed, but I haven’t introduced them to Tristan yet.  I’m hesitant to, because I’m afraid of going backwards down that path.  Tristan hasn’t asked to wear a diaper, and in general doesn’t seem all that concerned about the wetting.  In fact, part of the reason behind his wetting might be due to a subconcious need for me to come to him in the middle of the night, stemming from the insecurity that comes with a new sibling and the attention I must give his baby brother, sometimes at Tristan’s expense.  But that’s all part of life, and I know this is just something he needs to go through.

But sometimes, the tantrums can be overwhelming.  There’s a lot being demanded of Tristan — school, a new baby in the house, becoming more independent.  By the end of the afternoon, when he comes home from school, he is often at the breaking point, and I don’t always know what to do in those moments.

Then there are some new bizarre behaviors.  What was once an obsession with trucks has turned into… an obsession with clothing.  His own clothing.  Anthony’s clothing.  Even my clothing.  I will sometimes find him in his room, sorting his socks, or lining up his pairs of jeans.  Or I’ll walk into the baby’s room and see his sleep n’ plays in a pile on the rocking chair. Tristan tries to exert control over what Anthony wears.  I let him pick out the baby’s outfit for the day, figuring that might help him adapt to having the baby in the house.  But the problem comes when Anthony outgrows something — which, as babies are wont to do, happens quite often.  Tristan cannot handle it when Anthony outgrows an outfit and we must put it away.  This has happened so frequently now, though, that I think he is starting to deal with it better.  And as Anthony gets older, he’ll outgrow clothes less frequently.  But still, just yesterday Tristan threw a tantrum when I said an outfit he wanted Anthony to wear was too tight.  I never quite know how he is going to react — it changes day to day, depending on how well Tristan is adapting on a paricular day.

To go along with these clothing-related behaviors is a perseverative line of questions:

“Do I have a lot of long-sleeved shirts, or a few?”

“Does Anthony have a lot of sleep n’ plays, or a few?”

All day long, over and over again.  It’s enough to drive a person mad. I think I’m supposed to just ignore these questions.  That’s what his speech teacher told me to do.  It is just so hard to not respond to something someone asks you.  Sometimes Tristan will insist: “Tell me!”  If I say, “Tristan, I’m not answering that question anymore!”  he’ll get quite anxious and upset until I answer it.  It’s better to not say anything.  I’m still working on that. 

And where does Anthony fit in with all of this?  I fear that Anthony is going to be the child who kind of gets pushed aside while I deal with all of Tristan’s needs.  Anthony, at five months, is very responsive and just loves Tristan.  Tristan will sometimes climb into the crib with Anthony, and I’ll hear the baby laughing and squealing.  They are playing together.  Sometimes I’ll come into the room and Anthony’s clothes are off, and Tristan’s rubbed lotion all over his legs (Anthony has excema, so Tristan sees me frequently lotioning him).  Anthony just lies there, happy as a clam.  He is just a joy.  And I feel guilty for saying that, as if I’m contrasting him to Tristan who, even though I just adored him when he was a baby,  I never described as “a joy.”  More accurately, I ran myself ragged trying to keep him happy — and felt compelled to do so, as if by some instinctual force within.  And he was adorable.  But the experience was different. Tristan was more intense, became upset more easily, and didn’t play with toys.  Oh, yeah, that’s a biggy:  Anthony actually PLAYS with baby toys!    Tristan never would pay attention to rattles and stuff like that as a baby.  Teething rings didn’t get used — he didn’ t know how to use them.  Not having had any other baby before Tristan, I didn’t have anyone to compare him to.  I thought maybe the toys were just bogus, a big marketing ploy attracting parents with their bright colors and cute characters and that babies didn’t even really like them.  Well, Anthony has proved this theory wrong.  He is so easily entertained by a toy with little balls that rattle, or that makes a crinkly sound when you crush it.  Wow, I say to myself everytime Anthony starts crying and I hand him some toy — and he stops.  He actually gives sustained attention to the toy.  I just don’t remember it being this way the first time. 

That’s all for now.  This post is not carefully edited, but I just needed to bang something out and record some of this for prosperity (or to remind myself six months from now what was going on six months before).  The time really does go quickly — and I am grateful for that!

And we… are…

Potty-Trained!

I’m almost afraid to say it so definitely, but he’s been wearing his underwear for almost two weeks now, and done without a diaper for #2 the last two days, with no accidents.  He even stays dry at night.  Tonight he said, “I want to get rid of my Car Movie and Spiderman diapers and just wear underwear!”

I think my brain had started to believe it would never actually happen, that I would never actually say those words.  It has just taken so long.  People would tell me, “Oh, one day it will just click,” or, “They’re all potty-trained by kindergarten.”   First of all, the latter statement isn’t true, as there are a lot of special needs kids who aren’t potty-trained by kindergarten, including kids on the autism spectrum, and the more extreme the case, the longer it takes.

But the idea of it just clicking — that’s exactly what seems to have happened.  It just took a bit longer than it does for most kids.  Although many kids today seem not to be potty-trained by age three or three-and-a- half.  So we’re actually not that far behind.  But once he got closer to age four, I wasn’t getting those reassuring comments from people as often, instead just getting an “Oh…” if I said he was still in diapers.  You know the “Oh…” said with a mixture of pity and accusation.  Or maybe a little dismay and curiosity.

I’m not sure what specifically to attribute it to, but one night, more than two months after he’d had that diarrhea episode, Tristan said he wanted to wear his underwear.  Now, there is one thing I did differently that day:  For the last couple of months, I’d been having Tristan go potty every couple of hours, trying to keep his diapers dry.  But that day, I was feeling tired and lazy, and I guess kind of defeated.  I thought, This isn’t going anywhere, so what difference does it make if I keep asking him to go to the potty?  So for the entire afternoon, I didn’t bother to ask him to go, and he never attempted to go on his own.  When Andy got home, close to eight o’clock at night, I asked him to change Tristan’s diaper.  Andy said it was soaked.  Tristan never expressed to me that he wanted his diaper changed, but for some reason after Andy changed him, he asked to wear his underwear.  And that was it.  Was he maybe finally affected by the feel of a soaked diaper? Even though he didn’t say anything about it?  I can’t know for sure, but that’s the only thing I did differently that day — I got lazy and didn’t bother to make him go to the potty!

But there’s one thing I know for sure: he had to decide for himself.  There was nothing anyone could do to convince him otherwise.  I think he was truly worried about the lack of control he felt, and when suddenly he felt like he could control it, he was confident enough to go cold-turkey.  He is so proud of himself now.

This opens up a whole new world of possibilities.  I’m already thinking about summer camp for next year!  But I’m still holding on to those diapers for now… I know many kids experience regression after a new baby comes into the family.  I’m thinking he might just start wetting himself at night, which is not all that unusual.    It’s amazing how much of this is psychological.  Like after the diarrhea episode, he didn’t just refuse to wear the underwear, but he was wetting his diaper more often during the day, and waking up with wet diapers where he had previously been waking up dry.  So his bladder was actually physically affected by the psychological trauma of the diarrhea event.  Fascinating.

I can’t believe what progress he’s made over the last three months, and specifically over this past month.  I can handle the little things so much better now, seeing how he is really growing up, giving up two signs of babyhood — his paci and diapers — in a matter of weeks.  Some mothers express nostalgia and sadness over their children’s loss of babyhood.  I don’t feel that way at all.  Maybe I would if it had happened when he was two or three, but right now I’m just elated and relieved and thrilled for him.  I love looking at my four-year-old, and seeing him as a little boy now.

Although I have to confess, one day when Andy had Tristan out of the house, I went to retrieve that pacifier, still hidden in my underwear drawer, and throw it in the trash.  I stared at the chewed-up, orange paci.  There was a time when I was always buying new pacis, but this particular one he’d had for a while, since he was using it much more sparingly.  I stood over the garbage can with it — and I couldn’t do it.  I was mortified.  What’s wrong with me? I thought.  I put it back in my underwear drawer, justifying my decision by the thought that Tristan might say he wants to give it to his baby brother when he’s born (which he has expressed), so maybe I should keep it just in case.  But I know that’s just an excuse.  Something’s making me hold on to that thing.  It was so much a part of him for so long. If you would have told me a few months ago I’d have a hard time throwing away his last pacifier once he gave it up, I’d have laughed in your face.  I guess this is just one of the hazards of motherhood: completely illogical sentimentality.

Fortune Cookies

We got Chinese food today and, as usual, Tristan opened and ate both cookies. But I get to read the fortunes. I don’t exactly heed fortune cookie messages, as usually they’re something like, “Fame, riches, and romance will be yours for the asking.” Tonight, however, the messages seemed particularly apropos.

The first one said, “It is sometimes better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” This immediately reminded me of the “Welcome to Holland” article. I’ve been thinking about that article more and more, and realizing how many things this metaphor can apply to. Many of us, with or without special needs children, probably assumed Life was going to be something like a trip to Italy, and instead it’s been like traveling to a country we never intended to visit. This fortune cookie message, if you’ll allow me to indulge in a little critical “explication de texte” (I’m a frustrated comparative literature major trapped in a stay-at-home mom’s body, so humor me) is saying it’s the journey rather than the destination that is most important. I know that sentiment has been stated many times before, but it was in that moment of sitting with Tristan eating Chinese food that this message came to me and struck a chord in a specific context (like Proust’s tasting of the madeleine…). The specific wording is significant, too: “travel hopefully.” This journey with Tristan has been all about hopefulness. We all hope for the best for our children; when your child seems like he’s not keeping up with the others, and having a hard time handling the world around him, you do nothing but hope. But you’re always hoping for that day when he will “arrive.” This fortune cookie message suggests that there is perhaps something more meaningful to the “traveling hopefully” part. Maybe human life is all about the struggle, the work involved in caring for someone, all of the love and hate and anger and bits of happiness that happen along the way, and not so much about the end result.

Of course, the second fortune cookie stated, “Keep in mind your most cherished dreams of the future.” So I guess we’re not supposed to completely disregard what it is we’re traveling towards. Then again, I could also take this message to mean that I should not forget my own personal dreams for the future — the ones I often feel are put on hold for the sake of raising my children.

In other news: as of this week, Tristan’s been dabbling in underwear wearing. Today he wore it for most of the day — until he had to do a #2. Then he ran upstairs and changed into a diaper for the event. He’s not yet being persuaded to do that business on the potty. But afterwards he put on underwear again, and tonight he insisted on going to bed with it on. I was a little leery, but he has been staying dry through the night for a while now, so I’m hoping (there’s that hoping thing again) that tonight will not be an exception, otherwise I’m afraid he’ll back-track. I did suggest he put on a pair of absorbent “training underwear,” just in case, and he obliged. But this is significant progress. I can’t say what’s caused it. He’s deciding for himself. And I’m just riding the wave.

Welcome to Holland

This article brought tears to my eyes. It is such a beautiful and accurate way of describing what it’s like having a “special needs” child. I identified with this completely, particularly the parts about having to learn a new language, buy new guide books, and enduring all the other travelers’ comments about how great Italy is (you’ll understand what I’m talking about once you read it).

See the article here:

http://www.stepuptoautism.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=3