30 seconds to stay sane. Could you do it?
At six o'clock this morning, I woke up to the smiling face of my four year old. We had slept over my mom's house and had to share a room, not something I usually attempt to do with him. At six o'clock, I could hear he was awake. I braced myself for being jumped on, but after five minutes, determined he was in a good mood, a cute mood, not something normal for my Gabriel. I put my arm out to signal that he could join me and cuddle for a while in bed. Gabriel, being the wise boy he is, mimicked me on his crib mattress on the floor, putting his arm up with a small giggle. Finally, after a three minute stand off, I called him into bed.
“Mommy, do you love me?”
“Yes Gabriel. I love you very much.”
“I love you very much too. Can I have PBS?”
I wouldn't trade that thirty seconds of perfect morning for anything. Good thing, because that is all I can get in a typical day now. He had thirty seconds of being my sweet, loving boy. And then twelve hours of being absolutely frustrating. So frustrating today, that I spent the last half hour he was awake shifting between crying, trying not to scream, and trying not to cry. That is my day. That is what autism did to my day today.
I am trying to help my mother redo her basement for my boys. We are in the process of transitioning from a normal preschool curriculum to a Montessori curriculum. We are going through hundreds of toys, mostly toys I accumulated over the years and gave to mother to store and then later use in her daycare. According to Montessori, most of the toys are like candy. They have no educational purpose and should be used sparingly. So, we are getting rid of the majority of the toys and getting new toys that fit the Montessori principal. This means cleaning, a lot of cleaning. On top of everything else, we also had a snow storm this weekend, so I spent two nights at my parent's house so that I could help my mother transition as much as possible.
With autism, routine is key. For my sons, it does not have to be a written schedule that we keep, but we have a loose schedule and we must follow it. It is not so much what we do in a day, but how we do it. That being said, we were at “grandma's house.” which means we have to do everything the way grandma does it. When the boys get up, they immediately want breakfast. At home, we have toast or cereal and half a banana with optional eggs. Anything else at home is a fight to get into them. At grandma's, pancakes are great with banana but they must also have yogurt and maple syrup so that you can mix yogurt and maple syrup and get...chocolate. I just go with it. So I had to find the exact right containers and get them the exact right food and cut it up the exact same way as grandma does because grandma was already busy in the basement this morning. It sounds like nothing because you think of a normal four year old instructing you in the kitchen, “this is the container grandma uses and the yogurt is right there, and you need this container for maple syrup, and the pancake is cut in little squares...” and so on, but that is not how it works with Gabriel and Jude. I have to play a guessing game and if it is not completely correct the very first time, it is a melt down. The food will be thrown, not eaten, and the screaming will continue for a half hour. Luckily, this morning, I was successful.
After eating is dressing which has its own routine. Again, success. Then I can finally bring the boys to the basement and begin to try to help my mother sort toys and bag the ones we are getting rid of. It took me a half hour to convince Gabriel to stay in the side of the basement we had already rearranged and completed, the baby side. The rest of the morning was spent asking my mother one question and telling Gabriel for the five-hundredth time not to crash the toy, not to dump the toys, not to annoy his brother by being a train, not to scream and so on and so on and so on.
After three hours, we completed about an hour's worth of work and were done. We finally had all the toys sorted. I got to go home for the first time in three days. At home, the craziness continued all afternoon, but with not much better to do. I realized, after a few days at a home that doesn't normally house my children, the chaos my house was in. I saw the dust in the corners, the unmade beds, the mess of toys throughout my house. With screaming and pestering still ongoing, I finally lost it. I sat down in my kitchen and cried for almost an hour before leading the boys to shower (another insane routine that I was not successful at) and then cried some more while dressing them. After a lot of crying, my Gabriel found the sweetness of this morning, I thought, and hugged me for the first time all day and said to turn off my tears and go to bed.
At last, he was busy in his room. I sat down for a couple minutes to pull myself back together and stop worrying about every little thing that wasn't quite perfect today. By the time I got back to Gabriel's room, the entire room was trashed. He was using his books as a fence, dumped his plastic nuts and bolts all over the floor, scattered his laundry, and stripped his bed to make a fort (I was away less than five minutes). Needless to say, all toys were removed from Gabriel's room tonight. My “rule abiding son” (he only follows mechanical rules not my rules) was sent to bed, his clock turned blue (he has a tot clock with different color lights that mean different things which he follows with an obsession), and he was asleep within an hour (a small miracle for a child that does not ever sleep well).
This story will continue in the morning because this is an everyday struggle. I am glad that I would not trade my thirty seconds of Gabriel for anything, because the hours I struggle though so that he understands that he is loved and that is important are trying, but worth it.
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