Guilt is not a Thing.

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 7.01.05 pm
She doesn’t care that you’re watching a movie. She’s upside-down.

I spent a long time with guilt; it was a normal part of my day. A constant measuring up of how well I was doing compared to my ideal. The result of this comparison inevitably was that I was failing.

The worst part was I was really trying. I’m not sure what my goal was? Perfect robot children eating kale chips and saying things like ‘Dearest Mummy (they call me Dearest in this fantasy), this green smoothie is even better than yesterdays! The spirulina really does make a difference!’ A clean house at all times? Or was it the elusive exemplar of connection. If I connected to my children, meaningfully and mindfully and other words ending in fully, then everything else would just melt away. And sparrows would come and do my washing.

I spent hours loading up a dump truck with my children. This was not connection; this was a three year olds version of water torture. Plus he kept telling me I was doing it wrong.I would be playing with my kids and trying so hard to be a good mother that I couldn’t relax. My version of being connected to my children meant that I wasn’t, I was too busy concentrating on my own feelings. I’d set myself a task with the expectation that I’d feel less guilty once it was complete. The less guilty bit never actually happened. The guilt didn’t disappear – it just wandered off and found a new part of my brain to sit in while it pointed disapproving fingers at my house, my children and my life.

Unsurprisingly, this was not fun.

Yet, throughout this paralyzing self-doubt, my children thrived. They didn’t explode or develop interesting emotional complexes; apart from being one and three which was an interesting emotional complex all by itself. Girl didn’t sleep, which was normal. Boy bought in truckloads of dirt, looking at me while I was saying ‘don’t bring in truckloads of dirt!’ which was disappointingly also normal. They pretty much didn’t care what they ate, what they wore or where they slept; as long as those things happened. They didn’t care if I was emotionally invested in the fate of the tower of blocks or if I gave an overly excited ‘It crashed again?’ while lying on the floor with my phone.

No-one cared about my guilt except myself. I wasn’t failing, I was trying too hard.

I started to think about the guilt, where it came from. Who gave it to me and told me it had to inform every decision I made? Who turned eating dinner into a measure of worth rather than just eating dinner? Who was judging me? There was no-one in my life whose opinion I cared about who was telling me what a horrible mother I was (I get that for some people they are being judged, and pfft to the judgers, but this is more about the pressure we put on ourselves. Again – PFFT to the actual judgers). Our children don’t judge us, and neither do our friends. When I admitted to friends that my kids once ate a pack of muesli bars in 2 hours, that I had threatened instead of talked and that occasionally parenting was hideous instead of brilliant– nobody judged. They raised their hands to the sky and yelled out ‘Hallelujah!’ because they’d done it too.

When friends admitted their guilt to me: One who hid packets of M&M’s around the house for her children to hunt so she could finish some work; another who didn’t remember where the vacumn cleaner was, or even what it looked like, and another who shoo’d her children away at the park with a hiss of ‘Go play! That’s why we’re here! Mummy is talking!’ We didn’t put our judgy knickers on. We put our solidarity knickers on because we got it.

We never said – ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ Instead, we said ‘I’ve done the same thing.’

We never said ‘You should do better.’ Instead, we said ‘I’ve done worse.’

We don’t care how guilty you feel. We think you’re a great mother. We care about acceptance. We care about perspective.

You don’t have to be meeting 100% of your ideals to be a good mother. Ideals are great, but so is perspective. Realistically, parenting at 80% or even 50% is still fan-bloody-tastic. Food is being eaten, hugs are being given and no one is being attacked by wolves. If your biggest parenting dilemma is that the thing you made looks nothing like the one on Pinterest then you don’t need to be doing better – in fact you possibly need to calm down (plus it NEVER looks like the thing on Pinterest).

Look at other parents, look at your friends. Remember how excellent you think they are? They think that about you, and if you really want, tell them about a Terrible Parenting Thing you’ve done because I guarantee they’ve done it too. Break out the solidarity knickers people, we’ve all been there.

Link to a Linky 🙂 Here

 

The Hardest Part is not my Kid.

Sometimes I get asked, or it’s assumed, that my life is hard. I think about my life. The good bits and the bad bits, and I don’t even know how it’s different.

That’s the thing.

I can’t imagine a child who did what I asked the first time without requiring a valid reason and offering a 5 point argument in return, I can’t imagine saying a number and not hearing a small voice interject ‘excuse me Mummy, Thomas/James/Percy is the number 1/5/3 engine.’ I can’t imagine watching my child walk down the street without stopping to pretend to load himself up with coal. I may watch those parents of other children with a mixture of fear and awe, but I have no desire to change my child, or those parts of my partner or myself that are reflected in him.

Don’t get me wrong, some days flat out suck. I have a 5 and 3yr old. Some days SUCK.

But the hard part has been other people.

I get that this is true for all parents, but if you have a kid who is any way out of the ordinary, or even a perfectly ordinary kid and you happen to be around people who have forgotten/don’t even know what an ordinary kid behaves like; then you will get handed advice (I say advice, I mean shit) from other people. These people may mean well, but they’re jerks. (If you’ve ever told someone your kid is Autistic/ADHD/any other genetic condition and gotten an “Oh I’m so sorry!’ response then you’ll get what I mean when I say nice people can still be jerks.)

There are lots of things I’m bad at – running in a straight line without falling over, singing (I am unbelievably bad at singing), not finishing the bowl of chips despite being ridiculously full and knowing that I am obviously going to regret it. But, I’m not a bad parent.

There are people who have a list in their head of what it means to be autistic, and what it means to parent an autistic child. This list is often negative. I know it is, I’ve heard it many times – Violent. Aggressive. Lacking empathy. Needs discipline. Can’t let them get away with anything. Only way they’ll learn.

These people can often be found at public parks and in shopping centres, but sometimes they’re close to us too. They’re our friends and our family, and they whisper to our fear that we are bad parents. Bad parents parenting bad kids, and doing it badly.

And when we hear that list, what do we do?

Sometimes we walk away. We grab our beloved children and we hightail it the hell out of there. We rant. We scream. We tell the jerk that they’re jerks and give them the finger. We hold our children close and whisper ‘You are loved.’ But how do you shake off the condemnation of others in something that is so close to your heart, especially if your kid totally did push the toddler down the slide?

I have my own list, a list detailing the courage of my 5yr old Son – the way he takes a deep breath, bottom lip thrust out and eyes wide as he walks, haltingly, knowing it’s going to hurt, but not quite knowing how much it will hurt and in what particular way – as he moves his lanky awkward body with his lanky awkward brain into a New Space. This is goddamn bravery. A list detailing his many acts of empathy, love, selflessness and compassion to those who don’t or choose not to see it – the Boy who strokes my face and tells me he wants me to cuddle him tonight ‘and your Batman Thomas Mini will be there too!’ This Boy who loves so fiercely, and quickly and whose heart can be broken so easily.

But.

When I’ve pointed out this list to others, what I’ve found is that my list isn’t wanted. Or it’s ignored with a sweep of a hand, an ‘of course he does good things, but he does bad things too right? Bad things?’

Or worse still, when I give the list and instead of feeling empowered I feel dirty. Because, I shouldn’t have to carry around my own list, my list that starts with ‘But, he also does this…’ whether I actually say those words or not. The ‘But’ weighs heavily. It panders to the idea that his existence requires a balance, that as long as my list is bigger than theirs that he is valuable. I should not have to defend my child’s existence by weighing up lists. No-one should. And then there’s the Boy.

He listens.

He hears.

He understands.

Is he balancing his worth based on lists? Does he hear the ‘but ‘ clanging into place during the times I have officially Lost My Shit and told the jerks off. Does he feel like only bits of him are worthwhile? Loveable?

Maybe it’s not other people that are the hardest part. Maybe it’s the attention I pay them, the parts of them I let into my parenting and into my relationship with my child. Maybe the hardest part has been, and always will be, myself. I don’t fully know how to navigate this, to teach my kid that all of him is loveable when he’s functioning in a world that often taints him and others like him negatively. But I can control the world I build for him with me, and that world will quietly have a conversation about how it’s not ok to push other people, even when they’d been at the top of the slide for ages and that ‘I’m strong enough to push them!’ doesn’t mean you necessarily should. The world we build will be gentle, and it will explain (repeatedly, probably, and with visuals) and slowly, we will add more people to our world; people who love us and people who understand. People who know what to do when I so often don’t. These are the people I will listen to, the people who will speak to my heart; and the people who, I hope, will eventually become the world for everyone else too.

10 Things I Have Done When Tired.

406006_477257592331576_1076918994_n
Lack of sleep leads to disturbing artwork.
  1. I have forgotten how many children I have. I was holding my newborn son when a kind stranger asked ‘Is this your first?’ I stared down at my boy in confusion and stammered ‘I don’t know.’ The stranger and I looked at each other in horror for a few moments, then she backed away.
  2. I have forgotten how many cats I have and that they are subject to the laws of physics. I woke up one morning, saw a vague shadow on the roof and screamed ‘The cats are stuck on the roof! GET A BROOM!’ while covering my months-old boy with my own body (I’d like to point out this is an act of immense bravery on my part). There are many things wrong with this scenario
  • We had only one cat.
  • Cats are known for being athletic and agile, but not for their ability to defy gravity.
  • If cats did get stuck on the roof, would a broom really be the best solution?

However, my equally sleep deprived husband leapt out of bed – and got a broom.

  1. I have told helpful checkout people my life story. Just because they were adults (adults!) and I. Could. Not. Stop. Talking.
  2. I have (this one makes my blood run cold): Announced a friend’s pregnancy. This is pretty much the worst thing you can do to a person, and I did it. Whenever you feel bad about something just think ‘Have I ever accidentally announced someone else’s pregnancy?’ You’re Welcome.
  3. I have been convinced I was in the early stages of schizophrenia. This is because, I recall from first year psychology,  a common early hallucination is spiders, and whenever I hung out the washing I would find a spider.

Me: I’m hallucinating, I saw another spider today.

Husband: You’re not hallucinating, you’re just paranoid.

Me: That’s another symptom!

After a week of frantically taking photo’s of the spiders and shoving my phone in my husband’s face screeching ‘CAN YOU SEE THEM TOO?’ it became clear that I did not have schizophrenia, but we were people with a spider problem.

  1. I have told my doting husband, quite seriously, that he should abandon his wife and family so he could sleep. That way at least one of us would be sleeping.

Husband: I’m not leaving.

Me: Are you sure? Last chance?

Husband: I’m not leaving.

Me: Can I leave?

  1. I have struggled to open the door after dozing off putting the baby to sleep. I tried to open that door; I tried really, really hard. Eventually, the only logical conclusion was that it was gone. This was scary. I was scared. I sat down on the floor, in the dark, trapped and quietly sobbing when my husband opened the door – which turned out to be on the opposite wall, to see what was taking me so long. All I could do was sob harder because I was so relieved.
  2. I have lied about my daughter’s name. A friend of a friend pointed at my daughter’s toy puppy and asked it’s name, so I replied ‘Puppy.’ ‘Oh? That’s very unusual!’ Hmm, really? When she later introduced my daughter as ‘Puppy’ I understood the unusualness. This was beyond my social-skills scope, so I let my daughter be called Puppy for the day. She loved it.
  3. During an interesting Mother’s Group conversation about sex and co-sleeping I told everyone that I had shagged on the couch. The couch they were sitting on. So help me, I even pointed. My friend sitting on that bit of the couch quietly slid to the floor.

I could have pointed again.

But I didn’t.

This is called progress.

  1. I have looked at my beautiful, glorious, perfect babies and thought: ‘I just can’t do this anymore.’

This is the turning point with sleep deprivation and babies and parenting in general. It doesn’t matter how much you love them. Love doesn’t make things that are quintessentially not easy and not fun, easy and fun. It doesn’t matter if you’ve met your baby and thought ‘Oh good, this is so natural!’ or if you think ‘This small person appears to hate me and why do I have porno boobs?’ There will always be a point where it gets too much. You will be too tired, and too neglected and you will feel like your life has run away without you. This is normal and ok. It does not mean you are failing, it means you are mothering. Sometimes mothering is about falling apart and letting other people put you back together again. You are still capable, and your baby loves you even when they consistently poop on you. It’s ok Mama, you’ve got this.

 

 

The Various Ways I have Messed Up Today and What are we Learning Really?

Holidays can be hard. I always forget this. Instead, I look forward to them, to officially Spending Time Together. Why, why would I do this? What do I think will be glittery and playful about 4 people with varying needs thrown together into a world filled with:

  1. No Routine (People ask: What time do the kids usually wake up? We have no idea. None. Some days it’s 5am some days it’s 9am – this is holidays, perpetual confusion and no knowledge of what is happening or when it may be happening).
  2. Loads of Toys (So. Many. Toys. Christmas Toys, Birthday Toys, Oh My God I Can’t Take It Anymore So Yes I Will pay $10 For This Crappy Toy So I Can Perhaps Have 10 Minutes Of Peaceful Grocery Shopping Toys: Do these toys equal happiness? No. No they don’t. We know this. We KNOW this. But we still do it. Clearly, we are lacking some serious causation skills. Don’t get me started on batteries.)
  3. Lack of Food (There is never breakfast food at breakfast time, there is never dinner food at dinner-time, and lunch is just this vague time throughout the day where we sob and eat crackers).
  4. Negotiating (Due to lack of routine/food we require negotiation to get food and go places. This is difficult enough between 2 adults who have probably eaten ½ bag of crisps and a nectarine for breakfast but when you add in a almost 5yr old who can sideline a conversation about perhaps putting on shoes to go shopping into a discussion about the mating habits of hermit crabs it can be time to sob and eat crackers before you’ve even brushed your teeth.)

There is too much noise for me. Too many voices, too many options and too much begging other people for 5 minutes to finish a cup of tea. I have that constant itchy awareness of dishes in the sink, clothes in the laundry basket, on the line, folding to be put away and the high possibility that there is wee on the carpet in the toilet. Tempers are frayed, instead of asking questions I make demands. Which, inevitably leads to the Boy yelling ‘I get to choose! I am putting my room in LOCKDOWN’ (a phrase which he got from I don’t even know where) and the Girl quietly but definitively saying ‘No Mummy’ and plopping down on the floor with the air of someone who is Not Moving Ever.

We attempt to placate the children with TV so we can work out what we’re doing, what we need to do and what is humanly possible to achieve. We say maybe 3 words to each other before Boy and Girl run into the bedroom and jump on the bed. The plan when we decided to have children in our lives was to respond to their needs with love and care and general respect – I do not follow the plan at this point in time. I yell, loudly.

This helps exactly no-one.

Having been told that your child is Autistic and that this involves ‘Deficits in Social Communication’ (Differences in Social Communication) there is an impulse to find the Learning in a lot of moments that may not necessarily have anything to do with learning and perhaps have more to do with me and my insecurities than him. This is especially true when I’m struggling myself. Instead of meeting the Boy where he is, I suddenly and inexplicably expect him to meet me where I am. At this point, I was consumed with ‘Why won’t my children Listen to me?’ with a side of ‘What about my needs?’ It’s easy to be sucked in by that fear that your kids won’t learn unless they’re explicitly taught every single thing. That fear that tells you that A Bad Day = A Bad Kid.

The Boy gets up, quietly goes into the back yard, comes back and stands in front of me with hands clasped behind his back and whispers ‘Mummy, I have a surprise for you. It’s not a butterfly. It’s a flower. You have to guess flower.’

I guess flower.

He presents me with a beautiful red hibiscus flower. ‘Now you’re happy!’

And once again, I politely tell that fear to Fuck Off. My child is learning. My family is learning. But most importantly of all, I am learning. I am learning where my own limits are, I am learning how lucky I am to be parenting these children, and that even if my Boy didn’t give me a flower today, that we would all still be ok. And that if I put my family in an uncomfortable situation (eg, holidays) then I don’t get to be all shocked when we react in uncomfortable ways.

I tickle bellies, I agree that today is a Not A Clothes day and we read books on the floor while munching on apples. I apologise for yelling and we all move on peacefully.

More or less.

L and I agree that today is a Shit Day and make amusing drinking signs at each other while pretending to play Garbage Trucks with Boy. After being wee’d on for the third time by toilet-learning Girl I hide in the pantry and scoff chocolate. This does not make the wee disappear. But it does make the chocolate disappear.

We wait for bedtime, we feed Boy and Girl in the bath. Baked beans. From the tin. They don’t even get separate spoons. We are ok with this. They are happy! They are playing penguin games and giggling. Happy! Finally, they are in bed, Boy is still wearing the same pyjamas he’s worn all day because they’re ‘cuddly pants.’ Again, we are ok with this. Happy! I kiss his baby cheek, stroke his face and tell him how much he is loved. How tomorrow will be a better day and that he is My Favourite Boy. He pulls his blanket around him and says ‘Yes, but tomorrow Mummy, if you yell at me, I will say ‘No Mummy! This is not a yelling house!’ and you will stop, DEAL?’ And I am so aware that this is a Learning Moment for me, not for him, and the best thing I can do here is make my beloved Boy feel less shit about a fairly shit day. So I say the only thing I could reasonably say – ‘Deal, ratbag, deal.’

And I go turn those amusing drinking signs into reality.

Starting School and How I’m Really Really Not Ok

It’s a mixture of anger and fear. That’s some of what I feel regarding the Boy’s first year of school. While I’m sure that other Mama’s feel anxious and worried about their kid starting school too, I can relate somewhat to their concerns but I feel particularly alone in mine.

Lets compare.

“I am concerned about my child being sad and missing me.” Vs “There is a real possibility that my child will be taught that there is something systematically wrong with them.”

WebMD states that ‘Children with autism have trouble communicating.’ It goes on to clarify this as Autistic children cannot always understand what other people think and feel, and cannot express themselves (Autism, 2015). This is a lot of cant’s for a child to go up against. Particularly when the Autistic Community have proclaimed again and again that they ARE communicating, just differently. How would you feel if your method of communication was either ignored entirely (in favour of ‘does not communicate’) or discounted as not good enough. Research has shown repeatedly that what Teacher’s believe regarding their students is often what actually occurs – a self fulfilling prophecy (Jussim, Eccles & Madon, 1996). If a teacher believed that my Kid couldn’t communicate, that he doesn’t have the capacity for empathy and that he couldn’t express himself – how much effort would they put in for him? What would their daily conversations with him look like? Would they only talk to him to tell him what he was doing wrong? Other kids are taking homework home, what’s mine going to be taking?

The Autistic Family Collective has found that more than 44% of Bullying cases were started by Teachers (Toscano & Donnelly, 2015). Given the current deficits based definition of Autism I’m not surprised. When you put any child in an untenable situation they will react in untenable ways. Unfortunately when an Autistic child reacts the goal is often to vilify them rather than understand.

“I hope my child does well.” Vs “I hope no-one locks my child in a cage ‘for their own safety.”

Recently, there have been many horrendous examples of supposed Behaviour Management for Autistic children and adults. Highlights include a cage (Scarr & Van Den Broeke, 2015) and a coffin-like box (Toscano & Donnelly, 2015). If a child (my child, potentially) has reached the point where they pose a danger, than that is not their fuck up, that is YOURS. And if the Teacher in the classroom chooses to highlight this fuck-up by removing a child to a cage who is clearly and obviously in distress rather than oh, moving the rest of the class, sitting quietly beside the child while an EA looks after the other children, calling the Principal or basically any other person at the school who can legally be in the classroom; then the main thing they are teaching children is that

  1. People in distress are not really people and therefore don’t even deserve basic respect
  2. You can treat people like shit when you’re in the majority
  3. You can treat people like shit and you don’t even have to acknowledge that it is shit if that person has a disability, compassion is reserved for when people are ‘normal.’
  4. If you frame it as ‘but they needed some chill-out time’ then you get to ignore the fact that you probably dragged a kicking and screaming child to a box.

Do we believe for one second that these Autistic children and adults walked calmly to these cages? No. They didn’t.

“I am socially awkward around other parents.” Vs “How the fuck can I tell who will secretly be keeping a list of all the ‘bad’ things my kid does and who will then tell their child they can’t play with my child, whom amongst other parents is TRUSTWORTHY?”

I hear this so often. The loneliness that often comes with being the Parent of That Kid. The lack of birthday invitations. The lack of play dates. The wanting to explain your child to people that really, you don’t owe a goddamn thing.

My fear is that I am required to make my Boy more palatable to the world, when what I want to do is make the World more palatable to my Boy. That support is not support. That I am failing him in ways I don’t even know yet, because the world is ableist and I am a product of this. That in meetings with Well Meaning Educators he will be reduced to a set of attributes and strategies, and I will fucking assist them in this because it is the best we have.

That’s what I’m scared of. That’s what I’m angry about. This Boy, who has my heart in the palm of this hand and who loves me with such wild abandon – I could break him. I could send him off in a uniform and into a system that will break him. And I wouldn’t even know, not straight away. I’d just watch him slowly fade, as the bits of himself that are so fantastic, that give him so much joy – as he is taught that those bits aren’t useful, or worse still, aren’t wanted.

And yet. And yet, and yet, and yet.

I want the world to have him. I want his world to be Big, and beautiful and magical because he is all of those things. I look at my Boy as he navigates through the world – his world too (HIS world too!) and he looks so right. He drinks it in. I want the world to see this Boy clearly, filled with potential and love and perfection.

And so, as we have done so many times before, this Boy and I; we will hold each other’s hands and we will take a deep breath and together, together we will walk into the world and we will pioneer the fuck out of it. Because we know that sometimes, that’s what it takes.

Autism, (2015) WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/understanding-autism-       basics

Autistic Family Collective. (2015, December 17). Abuse by Teachers Widespread.Media Releases. Retrieved from http://autisticfamilycollective.org.au/2015/12/15/abuse-by-teachers-widespread-autistic-family-collective-report/

Jussim, L., Eccles, J., & Madon, S. (1996). Social perception, social stereotypes, and teacher expectations: Accuracy and the quest for the powerful self-fulfilling prophecy. Advances in experimental social psychology, 28, 281-388.

Scarr, L. & Van Den Broeke, L. (2015, April 2). Canberra principal suspended after cage built for Autistic student. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/canberra-principal-suspended-after-cage-built-for-autistic-student/story-fni0cx4q-1227289436987

Toscano, N & Donnely,B. (2015, December 19). Leading autism service to be investigated over restraint policy. The Age. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/national/leading-autism-service-to-be-investigated-over-restraint-policy-20151218-glqo7g.html?utm_campaign=echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#link_time=1450509665