Tag Archives: Grammer

Graham Looks Into the Abyss

It is hard with little kids (and autistic kids) to know what is just a passing phase and what is a character trait that may continue for years to come. 

 Graham Looks Into the AbyssLately Graham has been showing some signs of fascination with the melodramatic and morbid. I first noticed it when we saw Frozen back at Thanksgiving. “Favorites” are still new to him so I asked him what his favorite part was. He said, excited, “When the girl turns into ice!!”

He’s since seen it several more times and will not budge from his opinion.

What’s his favorite part of Wall-E? “When he breaks down.”

And what about Planes? “My first favorite is the song. ‘Nothing can stop me, nothing can stop me…’ But my second favorite is when he crashes into the ocean.”

I had my own slight obsession with melodrama and death as a child. I’ve only grown out of it as an adult, and I think I’ve lost it only because I’ve stopped looking beyond a day or two into the future and have been in a very live-in-the-now mindset for the last 3 years or so. But as a kid, when I played with my toys there was an awful lot of tragedy and death in my pretend play. When I became an obsessive reader, I preferred books with heavy doses of weeping. 

But it’s completely possible Graham is just going through a phase where he’s just kind of figuring out the possibilities of death and destruction. 

Or he’s just seen too much Thomas, since that show always revolves around someone getting into trouble in some way.

He asks me about death a lot. Not in general terms, but specific ones. “What happens if you do that? Do you die?” (To be fair, he also asks about jail a lot. “What if you do that? Do you get in trouble? Do you go to jail?”

Today he reported that at school they read a book about a lady who died. It took me a while to figure out that they read a book of The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. “She swallowed lots of animals,” Graham said. “And on the last page she died. People die if they eat too many animals.”

He’s also started to show a little bit of childish fear, which is honestly a welcome change from his anxiety. The fear has been manifested lately through a question he calls out from his bed, usually when I’m climbing into mine.

Like, “Are there monsters in our world?”

And, “Do crabs go inside houses?”

The big-ness and scary-ness of the world is something I can’t protect him from and I’m glad we’re easing into it a little so I have time to get my bearings. It’s still something that’s small and new for him, not something that legitimately scares him, just something he’s curious about.

Although the other day he asked me, “Mom, when do the days end? Do they go forever?”

I didn’t know what to say to that. But then it turned out he was just wondering when night was coming now that daylight savings kept it light longer. 

Phew. One step at a time, kid.

Forgetting and Remembering

Sometimes I forget. I forget Graham is autistic, I forget that he’s different. It’s so easy sometimes. He just exudes kid-ness so strongly and so normally that there’s no reason I should think about it.

And then there’s the possibility that he may no longer qualify for a diagnosis. It’s been brought up by his doctor. And while it’s left me feeling unsure of how we fit into the world, it’s certainly been happy news.

There are other times where I can’t forget. It’s been like that this past week.

First, there was the evaluation in the mail that Graham took a few months ago as part of a research study. It’s actually Tessa who’s enrolled, but Graham went in for one session. They did cognitive analysis (average! Yay for average!) and they did an autism diagnostic. It shouldn’t have surprised me that he qualified for a diagnosis. And yet it did. 

Second, there was the email I sent to Graham’s teacher. This is his second year of pre-K in an integrated classroom, but next year he enters the big bad school system of official Kindergarten enrollment. So we will either get a placement through the regular system or we will get one through an IEP. And I wasn’t sure which it would be. He’s done so well, he’s made such progress, I’ve been so pleased. I honestly felt we had a good shot of doing a regular placement and then setting up IEP supports to make sure he adjusts. But his teacher is the authority so I asked her so we could plan while the schools are open for us to take a look. She said he’s best off staying in an integrated classroom, which means no regular placement, which means he’ll move to a different school next year. (His doesn’t offer integrated Kindergarten classes.) Again, it shouldn’t have surprised me. But it did.

And finally, there was the trip I took Graham on to the Christmas Train in the Cape, which we’ll be reviewing later this week. It was just the two of us, I could focus completely on him. And what I saw was a whole lot of autism. Most of the time he is in the same routine, the same places, the same people. I changed it a little and saw what I hadn’t seen in a long time. Fear, shyness, blocking out the world. I went back to all the lessons I’d spent years learning. I didn’t push him, didn’t encourage him to break out and have fun. I just let him be, let him take his time, let him enjoy in his own way. It’s been a while since I’ve been there. Another surprise that shouldn’t have been a surprise.

 Forgetting and Remembering

I don’t have my heart set on him losing his diagnosis. It’s not my goal for him. But it was on the table and it changed the way I was thinking about the future. And now I’m changing again, pulling back a little. I’m returning to the roll-with-the-punches approach to parenting where I stay cautiously optimistic, challenge him carefully and with plenty of support, and make sure he always has his safe space at home.

On the bright side, another thing happened this week. We’ve been having dance parties at home (the kids and I are partial to the Ke$ha station on Pandora. Shut up.) and Graham has been asking for them more and more. So I thought, maybe this would be something he’d enjoy. We did some quick research, sent a few emails, and were invited to go to a Peewee Hip Hop class on Saturday morning. 

He wanted to go, he was excited, but he also expressed some fear. He didn’t want to go into the classroom without me. I tried to prepare him, but I didn’t know much about how the setup would work. I think we were both a little anxious and a little excited. Sure enough, there was a parent waiting area. No windows into the studio. But there was a video camera inside that showed his class on a tv to the waiting parents. 

 Forgetting and Remembering

I didn’t play the A-card when I brought him in. He’s 4, the class is for 4 to 6 year olds, I was going to play it by ear, as usual. See how they acted, see how they treated him, let him be a part of his age group. I’m sure he wasn’t the first 4-year-old to have a little anxiety about his first class. The staff showed him the camera and the TV, the teacher brought him inside, and it was a done deal. He was involved, he didn’t ask for me, he just enjoyed himself. 

And during those 30 minutes I didn’t forget. But I sure did feel proud. 

Two Little Owls

I think it’s time for a little old-fashioned photo dumping.

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The elusive smiling Tesser Messer. So hard to get smiling pictures of this baby. It’s not that she doesn’t smile but they’re not as common as they once were and she doesn’t hold them for long. Luckily at the Halloween party we went to there was an indoor slide. Girl loves slides.

Girl has also been a good sport about her hair which continues to not part like a normal girl’s hair. She’s letting me put barrettes in it more often to keep it out of her eyes. But man I wish it would just part so it’s not always hanging down in her face.

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There was also much jumping. To me in these pictures Graham seems to look like he suddenly aged 5 years while I was looking the other way. 

The party was at Early Intervention. Graham’s old speech therapist was there. It was the first time she’d seen him in over a year. He is a totally different kid than the one she remembered. It was nice to be reminded of his progress. Graham didn’t remember her at all, I feel a little bad that these people who were so instrumental for us and for him are no longer a part of him that he knows.

My two little owls received many compliments. I am not much of a crafter, and on the day of Halloween I had to spend a few hours stitching on their feathers after they’d started to fall off. (Curse you fabric glue!) So I was grateful for the kind words. Graham enjoyed his costume, which was the most important thing. Tessa tolerated hers just fine, another win. Perhaps we can find a way to make our costumes out of hoodies every year?

Graham requested his costume be a rainbow owl. Which is just so totally him. I did my best to make his vision come alive.

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I haven’t been able to take many pictures lately and this was a perfect opportunity. I didn’t get much in the way of practice and working on framing and crafting an ideal image. But I got my two littles at ease and just as they are and that is just what I wanted.

Brother and Sister Bonding

When you become a parent you don’t magically start enjoying things you didn’t enjoy before. Which means that even though I have a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old, I don’t suddenly enjoy playing the kinds of games that little ones enjoy. I know that part of parenting means doing stuff you don’t love, but the tedium of little kid games can wear on a girl.

Which is why I’m so thrilled about our latest sibling milestone: THEY PLAY WITH EACH OTHER.

I always knew I’d have more than one kid. And I always hoped I’d have kids who enjoyed each other. I know these things are hard to control, that there’s only so much you can do to make it happen. When I was little I was always solitary and preferred the company of adults to younger children, so I know this well. 

But you guys. My kids. They play with each other. They enjoy each other. The sibling annoyances are minimal. It is so freaking awesome.

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Tessa wants to do everything Graham does. She’s not always capable of it, but she holds her own most of the time. She likes the stuff he likes. We’re developing little rituals in our day. They play outside before Graham’s bus comes. After he gets home, Graham rides his balance bike around the sidewalk and Tessa pushes her little shopping cart. 

Often she just watches him, laughing with delight. 

He has become more tolerant of her when it comes to his beloved trains. 

In the car they’ve started tossing toys back and forth to each other and laughing.

We each hold one of Tessa’s hands when we walk.

It is supremely awesome.

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A lot of this has to do with Tessa finally getting comfortable enough walking that she can hold her own with him. She still has a little learning to do when it comes to going up and down stairs and ramps, but she’s competent. It also has to do with Graham’s growing appreciation of his peers. He loves playing with any kid and never notices if they’re his age or older or younger.

But so much of it is just that unpredictable unknowable stuff about your kids that you just have to let happen and see how it goes.

I know this may be short-lived. Tessa still isn’t talking and adding conversation to the mix could change things. There may be fights over toys and belongings. There may be more differences in what they enjoy as they get older.

They may never mesh again the way they do now, or they may always be close to each other. I don’t really know and all I can do is encourage them to care for each other and hope for the best.

Right now, though? I’m loving every minute. It fits with my parenting style. I tend to be minimally involved with the kids and their play. I tend to let them be independent and do things for themselves. I will play with them, but I encourage them to explore on their own.

I am trying not to get all invested in them as a super brother-sister team. I know in these early years things can change quickly.

So yeah. I’m enjoying it.

I’m enjoying the mornings Graham and I will wake up before Tessa. When we hear her voice Graham goes into the room and greets her and I melt.

I’m enjoying those mornings when Tessa and I wake up before Graham, how they spot each other when he comes quietly down the stairs and smile.

I’m enjoying when Graham’s bus comes, Tessa stops in wonder then runs towards it with delight, then cries when Graham gets on and she can’t join him.

The only thing I enjoy even more is the look on her face when the bus comes back in the afternoon and he climbs off. 

The First Day

Today was Graham’s first day of school. He’s in pre-K this year, and fortunately he’s in the same class as last year with the same teachers. It’s an opportunity to see how far he’s come.

Last year he was not excited about posing for pictures, would barely stay still long enough for me to take a few.  He was verbal and happy but often quiet. He still is, I guess. But I get so much more detail about his life. I still get plenty of, “I don’t want to talk,” when he doesn’t feel like answering a question, but I’ll take it. He told me they had puzzles and cars at center time. He told me they sang songs he knew. He told me which kids are in his class again this year. And he told me, quite adamantly, that he does not want school lunch. (Which blows, because school lunch is free this year and money is tight and OF COURSE he won’t eat the free lunch. Last year we switched to bringing from home because he just wasn’t eating.) 

When I look back at some things I feel like we’ve made light years of progress. He just isn’t that kid anymore. He’s still tightly wound, he still gets anxious and upset. But he is so much more open about how he feels and what he thinks. As for me, the second time around meant I could be pretty low key and focus on taking pictures. Me and focus are still struggling to get along, but lots of good ones, I think.

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9714767656 c85ea3f6c1 z The First Day I was probably more stressed about today than Graham, and not because of school. Because it was the first day of dropping off both kids, picking up both kids and working.  The plan was:

  • 9 am Graham’s bus comes
  • 9:30 Drop off Tessa
  • 10:15 Arrive at work

But Graham’s bus came 20 minutes late. And there was traffic so I didn’t get to daycare until nearly 10. And of course for Tessa’s first day dropoff took longer than usual. And then I got on THE WRONG BUS because I am an idiot and because the Silver Line is STUPID. And I didn’t realize I was on the wrong bus until it had passed the stops where I could’ve gotten off without much damage done so I had to wait until we doubled back to those and get off then. BAH. It was already well after 11 and I still had a long walk to get to work thanks to my stupidity.

So I got to work around 90 minutes after I’d planned and had to leave at 2, it was like I was just popping in for a visit or something. I had to give myself plenty of time to make sure I got to my bus on time (which, of course, then sat there waiting for 15 minutes before leaving). Tessa didn’t sleep at daycare so she crashed in the car and opted to continue her late nap when we got back to the house. Graham was promised some quality time watching Chuggington, so he got his 2 episodes in, then we had to dash into town and by the time we got back it was dark and time for bed and where did the time go? When did I actually get to sit with my kids?

And let’s not forget work, the work that I have to get done since I’m not doing a 9-5. (If I did a 9-5, with the time for my commute, I’d be gone almost exactly the entire time my kids are awake during the day. Ridiculous.) Which is why I’m writing a blog post at 9:30 pm.

I’ll be honest, I have no idea how we make this work long term and include things like my Zumba classes at the Y, making dinner, excursions to the park, playdates or whatever else. Not to mention regular errands like grocery shopping. (I think we’re going to maybe hit the store tomorrow morning at around 7:30 am… But that might be too ambitious.) How do we do these things and still get to enjoy our time together, stop and bask in the moments? Not that I’m much of a moment-basker, but I worry that we will just be in a constant state of motion and my only relaxing time will be when the kids are gone and I can’t enjoy them. At this point I’m trying to figure out how to teach myself to function on 3 hours sleep. I’ll let you know how that goes.

In the meantime, though, I love this face. Sure, the focus isn’t quite right and the settings are just a smidge off but I got the shot and I love it. Kind of a metaphor. DSC 0215 v2 The First Day  

A Little Parental Catharsis


You guys. This summer thing is not going so hot. I don’t know if it’s just today or this week or the weather or me or what. But today is not one of those good parenting days. Or good kid days. Or whatever you want to call it.

Tessa is her usual self. Long periods of contentment and independent play. But these sessions are punctuated by monumental freakouts where you are forced to think fast. Does she want milk? Does she want food? What kind of food? Does she need a diaper change? Is she cranky? If you do not figure this out correctly within 30 to 60 seconds, the meltdown can get bigger so that she will even refuse the thing she wants. It sucks. But I’m basically used to it and usually I can figure it out fast. This is exactly how Graham was except he was like that with everything, not just occasionally. 

The trick these days is working with Tessa, who could blow up at any time for no reason, at the same time as you’re working with Graham. He has a contrary streak that I just can’t figure out. Is it just a preschooler thing? An autism thing? A Graham thing? I have no idea. But it’s a thing I have no idea how to work with.

Discipline is something neither of us can figure out at the moment. I do not want to do it if he doesn’t understand it, but I have no idea if he understands it or not. 

Example: Graham throws something. He knows he gets in trouble for throwing. So I tell him not to throw or else there will be some kind of consequence, like losing a toy. (No big loss. He has many at his disposal.) His response is one of two things: a) he throws something else within a few seconds, while looking right at me, or b) he says, “I want my toy.”

Scenario A doesn’t really matter because if I warn him again, the whole thing starts over. If I take his toy he just freaks out and then eventually ends up in Scenario B.

Scenario B consists of the same thing every time.

Graham: I want my toy.

Me: Then stop throwing, please.

Graham: I want my toy.

Me: Then no more throwing.

And on and on. He gets stuck in some kind of feedback loop. I’ve tried other approaches. I’ll say, “Be nice,” or “Be quiet,” or “Okay,” or I’ll ignore him all together. Either way he continues to repeat. The repeats will get louder. And if he stops repeating he’ll start stomping feet or throwing or yelling. All while staring at me.

It seems like he wants me to know he’s angry. But I can’t figure out how I’m supposed to respond to make this stop.

Asking him “why” is useless as he doesn’t understand what that means, or if he does he can’t articulate his reasons. If he throws again and I remind him, “Graham I just told you not to throw or else you’ll lose a toy,” his immediate response is to start the “I want my toy!” cycle over again. 

We can go for days without this happening. But when it starts it tends to stick around for a while. Like I said, it’s some kind of feedback loop thing. 

I can handle either kid’s issues. I can handle both kid’s issues as long as they don’t happen at the same time. It’s that perfect storm of double freakouts that get me. Without some time to catch my breath and assess I tend to get frustrated, which only raises the level of Graham’s responses. 

I think we’re going to have to bring back the behavior chart. And positive reinforcement isn’t doing a whole lot either. If he’s stuck in a  loop of whatever kind, the promise of a positive thing doesn’t pull him out of it. It’s the exact same loop of “I want my toy!” Worse, he’s gotten in the habit of getting food and treats as a reward, which just make him more obsessive about getting them all the time. 

When we’re not stuck in that weird space in Graham’s head, it’s the usual stuff. “I’m hungry” every 5 minutes. “I’m thirsty” interspersed with that. The difficulty of trying to find something that will entertain a 1-year-old who has just started walking and an almost-4-year-old who turns on a dime. 

This morning we attempted a playground outing in an attempt to break the cycle and get everyone worn out a little bit. We arrived, Graham insisted on swings and was told to wait until I got Tessa settled. Luckily in her demanding squawks (stand? no. put you down? no. on the grass? no. the swing? yes.) she ended up on the swing. Gave her a few pushes, went to the other end of the swingset to get Graham seated in a big-kid swing. Then back and forth pushing them. (Because sitting right next to each other would be too easy.) Then Tessa starts a round of squawks. (out? yes. put you down? no. on the grass? no. standing with mom? no.) I eventually determined that she wanted to go to the little playground with the slide (she’s just had her first few goes down a slide and is fascinated with it) so we headed that direction. Of course she squawked the whole way because she didn’t understand that we had to go all the way around to get to the gate. Finally she settled. Graham tagged along. Set her on the little kid playground. She walked excitedly for a few steps. 

Then began the terrifying dance of spotting a 1-year-old on a playground where you’re standing behind them and then you have to get down as fast as you can to make sure you can guide them down the slide and they don’t fall off. Then back up, then jumping down, etc. T started a bizarre round of behaviors where she’d walk to the edge of the slide, I’d dash down and stand right next to it holding my hands out to her to help her down. Then she’d back up, squawk, flap her arms and rub her ears (what she does when she’s upset) and just stand there. This happened several times. We got maybe two little trips down the slide. And then when she was down the squawking began anew. I have no clue what it is she wants, but then again she doesn’t seem to know either so I guess we’re both in the same boat.

And in the midst of all this there is Graham to monitor as he has a tendency to start burying his trains in the dirt. 

Finally, at the 5th request for a drink we headed home amidst a chorus of whines. Ah, parenthood. We made it maybe 15 minutes max and were all drenched in sweat by the time we got back to the house. 

Oddly enough it seems to have worked. Graham’s taken it down a few notches. Tessa just went down for an impromptu nap (her morning one lasted only a half hour). 

And despite the fact that this morning drove me near the edge, I had a massively successful outing with the kids on Sunday. Every day doesn’t make me crazy. Just a few. More than usual. 

Also, writing this made me feel much better. So there’s that.