Little things will break you down if you let them.
Yesterday was a perfect example. It was Easter morning. Excitement was in the air as the children woke up to find that the Easter Bunny had stopped by while they slept! True to tradition, empty baskets were set outside of each child’s bedroom door. Next to each was a single, candy-filled egg, strategically placed to let them know that an egg-hunt awaited them downstairs.
I awakened to choruses of “The bunny came!!” and “Look! We got baskets and eggs!” from my older two. Piper, however, was less than thrilled. She sat at the top of the stairs and cried. “No! No! I want my purple basket!” The bunny had slipped up and left a pink one in its place.
My drowsiness lifted, and I immediately shifted into crisis-aversion mode. How could I have forgotten that last year, she held onto a purple, plastic bucket as she collected Easter eggs? My husband and I led them downstairs, and though I swiftly replaced her pink basket with the purple bucket, with that one small change (an entire year later), the damage was already done. She threw the bucket with disgust and sat on the floor with all the makings of an impending meltdown.
There we were in the kitchen, eggs everywhere, just waiting to be scooped up. But I could feel the fun-filled event I had pictured in my head the night before quickly turning into tension for everyone.
“Why do your always have to make so many RULES because of her?” one of my older two protested, because I asked them to wait until she calmed down.
At that moment, my gaze met Dave’s, and we turned them loose to hunt their eggs. With no words necessary, we had both realized that collectively standing there waiting for her, bracing ourselves for the meltdown was not going to accomplish anything.
The funny thing is, once we stopped bracing ourselves for the “inevitable” and relinquished control of the situation as a whole, Piper stood up and walked over to some eggs that had been left in her Minnie Mouse slippers. The meltdown never happened. Sure, she became preoccupied with those two eggs and stopped “hunting”, but she was happy. All of the kids were happy. It might not have played out exactly how I imagined it would, but it was good enough and we embraced it.
Though that experience was but a drop in the bucket of parenting a small child with Autism, a valuable lesson was hidden in those few moments. I learned that finding our way through each day is a lot more bearable and positive when we stop bracing ourselves for the fallout and start embracing Piper for who she is and how she views the world and on a smaller scale, each experience.
Certainly, it can be a lot more difficult to parent her at times in comparison to our experiences with Kaydie and Cam. However, by embracing her exactly the way she is, I’m able to reflect on many ways her Autism makes it EASIER to parent her at other times! Particularly, reflecting on yesterday- Piper being who she is made the whole day easier.
Hyperfocus is often a point of frustration in Autism parenting, because a child becomes so involved in an activity, it can be extremely difficult to transition her to another activity. Yesterday, instead of seeing it as a negative, I embraced the heck out of it! Given three crayons and a $1 coloring book, Piper was the quietest, most well behaved child in church.
Embracing moments of immense pride in what might seem like everyday situations to others is another example. I know everyone in the family was holding their breath when Piper followed her sister to the front of the church for the Childrens’ Moment. She’d never done that before. No one knew if she’d wander or freak out. But she sat there with her sister, in front of the entire congregation, and when it was done, returned to her seat just like everyone else. Embracing her progress and growth enabled us to witness her shine in a totally unfamiliar social situation. To everyone watching, she was just like all of the other kids. To me, that was the most amazing thing I felt all day.
Embracing her happy nature and love of music allowed us to enjoy her dancing innocently in the aisle as we slowly filed out of the service.
Embracing her patience allowed us to enjoy brunch at a fancy restaurant. Even though the service was slow, at best, not once did she complain and leave her seat.
The routine that is so necessary to maintain sanity also paid off big-time, as she went down for a nap shortly after 2PM, because that’s what she does every single day in Pre-K. It afforded me the joy of an uninterrupted hour of play time with Cam, a connection which he desperately needed from Mommy.
There are so many moments in our journey when I get frustrated and lament “This is not how it’s supposed to be.” Reflecting on yesterday has opened my eyes, literally, as Piper’s mom. What she needs from me when she begins to struggle is not for me to brace for the next blow. She needs me to get on her level and try my hardest to see the world as she sees it at that moment. In doing so, I am embracing her being.
Sure, yesterday started with a struggle. But it ended with a smile, many laughs, and a promise for more joy, today.