"Normal" Is A Dryer Setting

Parenting A Child On The Autism Spectrum


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The Beautiful Surprise

She discovered with great delight that one does not love one’s children just because they are one’s children but because of the friendship formed while raising them. ~ Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera 

Parenting has no road map because it is a unique experience for everyone involved. No two relationships are the same, and what works for one child may not work for the other. As we go through life, each of us continually becomes reshaped and redefined based on our environment and our experiences. To have an end goal for raising a child often feels like a moving target to me. When all is said and done, this is what I want for my son Tim:

I want my son

To become a responsible adult

Who is capable of holding a job and living independently

And enjoys life to its fullest

Surrounding himself with people who love him.

As Tim’s mother, I by default am one of those people who love him, and I certainly hope he wants me to be around him. Tim and I have fun together, for example

Tim and me on the way to my youngest brother's wedding.

Tim and me on the way to my youngest brother’s wedding.

We were just getting started on that afternoon. What I love most about being with Tim is that he and I share a special connection. We understand each other’s jokes, moods, body language, and communicate both verbally and nonverbally. We are in sync. We get each other. One afternoon, when I walked through the front door after a long day at work, Tim took one look at me and said, “Mom, you need a hug.” Then this teenager who has a personal space bubble the width of the Grand Canyon proceeded to walk over, put his arms around me, and squeeze. I looked up at him, my son, who is now inches taller than I am, and said, “How did you know I needed that?” He just knew.

Tim and I no longer have a parent-child relationship the way we used to when he was younger. He is the most well behaved teenager I have ever met. When I was fifteen years old my parents probably thought my primary objective was giving them heads full of gray hair and worry lines across their brow. Not the case with Tim. As a result, the relationship he and I share is evolving into something quite unexpected. We are becoming friends.

Being my son’s friend is a strange concept to me. I have always approached our relationship as his parent, which means that I am his

“Friend” was never part of the relationship until recently. Many of the words that I used to define my role as Tim’s parent also overlap with synonyms for friend, such as

Supporter

Advocate

Confidante

Encourager

While I will always be Tim’s parent, the added dimension of friendship provides a depth and roundness to the love that already exists between us. Seeing the first buds of friendship in the relationship that Tim and I share is a most wonderful, delightful, delicious surprise. One of the best that life has offered so far.


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Homemade Lotion Recipe

A happy family is but an earlier heaven. ~ George Bernard Shaw

My mother's Jell-O salad.

My mother’s Jell-O salad.

Tim and I had a wonderful visit with my parents. They live in northeastern Indiana, and each summer Tim and I drive from the Twin Cities to spend a week with them. The afternoon we arrived, my mother had a Jell-O salad waiting for us in the refrigerator, and my father made grilled chicken for supper.

Even though we are separated by distance, my parents are some of the most important people in the world to be. Nothing compares to the bonds that are found in families, and the time I spend with them each year is never enough. My parents have lived in the same house for four decades, and as an adult I now appreciate the gift of a stable and secure childhood that they gave me.

Here is the area where I grew up.

Here is the area where I grew up. I am behind an Amish couple.

My father has Palindromic Rheumatism, which is a rare form of rheumatoid arthritis. It is difficult to treat due to the low number of people diagnosed. The medications my father takes to control his rheumatism make his skin fragile, which means that a bump or scrape becomes a major problem. Fragile skin is prone to skin tears, which look like bruises because they are an injury below the surface of the skin.

One night while my parents and I were talking, I brought out a jar of the lotion I have been making in my kitchen. Minnesota winters have been particularly rough on my skin the past couple of years, which results in me being dry and itchy. This is why I started making my own laundry detergent, which helped control some of the dryness and itch. Out of curiosity I also started making my own lotion, which dramatically improved the overall health of my skin. Dryness and itch vanished after using it for a few weeks.

When I showed my lotion to my parents, my father scooped a bit out with his finger and rubbed it on a skin tear that had broken through to the surface. I didn’t think anything of it until a couple of days later when he told me that the lotion seemed to help his skin. I looked at where his wound had been, and it actually looked a lot better. He asked me how difficult it was to make my lotion, and I said not very. After some internet research and a few test batches I had a recipe that turned out really well. I have been using that recipe ever since, and I told my parents I would type it up for them since up until now I’ve been carrying it around in my head.

Here is the recipe I use for making lotion. I have found that mine turns out differently each time, but overall the consistency is the same.

Lotion

Ingredients:

  • Cocoa Butter
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Vitamin E Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Beeswax
  • Aloe Vera Gel
  • Sterile Water (Purchase from grocery or boil tap water)
  • Essential Oils, such as Lavender, Peppermint, Bergamot

Cocoa butter, coconut oil and beeswax are solids at room temperature.  Everything else is a liquid.

The proportions to remember are

  • 2 parts liquid oil (grapeseed oil)
  • 1 part solid oil (coconut oil)
  • 1 part beeswax

Recipe

  • In a double boiler, melt ¼ cup coconut oil and ¼ cup beeswax. Then mix in ½ cup grapeseed oil and 1 tsp Vitamin E oil. Add a few chunks (maybe ¼ cup) cocoa butter and stir just until melted. If the cocoa butter overheats it will be grainy in the lotion. When you remove the oils from the heat, stir in a few drops of essential oil if you want a scent.
  • Transfer the oils to a blender container. Put the blender container in the refrigerator, or outside if it’s winter. Let the oils cool until they begin to solidify. The color will go from clear to opaque.
  • When the oils have cooled, begin blending them on the speed you would use to make a smoothie or whip cream. As you blend the oils, add 2 tbsp of aloe vera gel.
  • After blending in the aloe vera, begin pouring water in slowly until the lotion is the consistency you want. Since it will still be warm, I coat some of the back of a spoon and let it cool to see what it will be like when it’s finished.
  • Pour the lotion into a sterile container, such as a jelly  jar, and leave the lid off to let it cool completely.
  • Your lotion will keep for a few weeks at room temperature or for about three months in the refrigerator. Throw it out if you see mold, the lotion separates into oil/water phases, or it smells or looks strange.
  • Here is what the lotion should look like:
The finished product.

The finished product.

You can substitute different oils. Here are some options:

  • Shea butter instead of cocoa butter. Shea butter will be greasier than cocoa butter, so I use shea butter in the winter and cocoa butter in the summer. Cocoa butter makes the lotion smell like chocolate.
  • Sweet almond oil or olive oil instead of grapeseed oil. Almond oil will be a little greasier than grapeseed oil, and I usually do not use olive oil since it has a strong scent.
  • Aloe vera is a gumming agent and is an optional ingredient. It helps reduce inflammation in the skin and helps with the consistency of the lotion.

Essential oils that reduce inflammation include:

  • Bergamot
  • Cinnamon Bark
  • Eucalyptus
  • Rose
  • Thyme
  • Lemongrass
  • Peppermint

Essential oils that help with wounds include

  • Lavender
  • Geranium
  • Tea Tree
  • Cypress

If you have problems finding the ingredients, I usually purchase mine online from Amazon.com. I hope you enjoy your lotion as much as we do!


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Fifteen Years

Time moves in one direction, memory in another. ~ William Gibson

Tim is fifteen years old today. How time flies. One of my friends gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on Monday morning, and it amazes me how I can recall every detail of the day Tim was born, but I have trouble remember what I ate for yesterday’s supper.

This birthday is the first time Tim is taller than I am. One of his favorite remarks to me, which he says as often as possible, is “Mom, you are tiny.” My response is that the tallest person in the house gets to do all the hard jobs.

Last week Tim mowed the lawn for the first time. This is not a hard job, just one that needs to be done frequently, especially with the amount of rain Minnesota has received this month. The entire lawn takes about 20-30 minutes to cut, and I asked Tim to do about half of it. Most teenagers would have grumbled and outright rebelled, but Tim did not. I showed him how to start the mower, warned him not to run over the cord, and let him go. I didn’t tell him which direction to mow, how fast or slow to walk, or how to maneuver around the lamppost or the garden edging. I decided to let him figure these out for himself, which he did.

Tim mowing the lawn last week.

Tim mowing the lawn last week.

Tim did a wonderful job mowing his half of the yard. His help gave me time to work in my fruit and vegetable garden, where I did some weeding and put in a few more plants. Tim and I were also able to spend more time together, which he complains we don’t do enough of, since we worked together to accomplish multiple outdoor chores at one time.

Tonight Tim and I are going to celebrate fifteen years of his life. Like my girlfriend’s baby, Tim was born strong, healthy, and ready to take on the world. My world has become an unbelievably better place since he came into it, and as his parent I want to make his world as fulfilling as well.

Happy birthday, Tim!


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For My Dad On Father’s Day

Dear Dad,

Right now I am grilling chicken the way I learned from watching you. I know that the heat needs to be low, that it should take about an hour, and that you wait until the last 15 minutes before basting it. I just put the chicken on, so I have some time to tell you what I am most thankful for on Father’s Day this year.

Tim and my father in 2004.

Tim and my father in 2004.

Thank you for being a constant source of support and encouragement as you watched me raise my son Tim. You are an enormous part of the reason why he is as high functioning as he is today. When Tim was two years old, undiagnosed, and constantly screamed and bit, you reminded me that he was only a toddler and he didn’t know what he was doing. I still remember our conversation, almost thirteen years later, and your words always give me pause when I become frustrated with my child. When Tim was seven, recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and having an extraordinarily tough year in second grade, you reminded me that he was only a child trying to make his way in the world. Your words turned me into a warrior for him, and I have never had a second thought about taking on the teachers, staff, and educators in his life if something they said or did when working with him didn’t sit right with me. Now that Tim is nearly fifteen years old, a lot of the problems he had when he was younger have gone away. You rejoice with me about how Tim’s life and mine have become much better the last couple of years. You tell me that my son will never know how fortunate he is to me as his mother, and you tell me that I have faced challenges in raising him that no one should have to go through.

The good news is that I didn’t go through this alone. You were there with me, every step of the way. Thank you so much. I love you and Tim and I are looking forward to seeing you and Mom in July.

Love Always,

Tim’s Mom 🙂


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Laughter

A daughter is never too young or too old to crave the sound of her mother’s laughter. ~ Amity Gaige

My mother has the most wonderful laugh. She asked me to tell her about the Christmas Cookie Story, and started giggling when I reached the part about how Daniel broke the decorating silence by asking, “Dad. What. Are. You. Doing?” As we laughed I wished so much that she could have experienced it first-hand.

Mom and I were on our way out to a plant sale in a restored mansion. After examining the plants, we went inside the home for a self-guided tour. As we walked through the rooms, looking at the furniture, clothing, books, and photographs, it occurred to me how isolated people were a century ago compared to today. There were no cell phones, internet, or fast-moving automobiles. On our way out we noticed the carriage house tucked neatly on the side of the mansion and the circle drive that went in front of the main entrance. Families spent the majority of their time together, and when visitors came, it was a main event.

My mother in 1970.

My mother in 1970. She is tolerating whomever took the picture, which is most likely my father.

Not much has changed in Indiana, where I grew up. Last weekend was a quiet one that I spent with my parents and my sister, and I had the best time. My parents have been in each other’s lives for over four decades. While my father jokes about my mother leaving him for a younger man, we all know it’s just a joke. One cannot live without the other. My father likes to boast how it took him seven years and several breakups on my mother’s part until she decided to marry him. He keeps this photograph of her in his office at work, and he told me that she thinks this is a horrible picture of her. I like it because it is one of the only pictures of her where I can see both myself and my sister, at the same time.

One constant challenge my father faces with my mother is making her laugh. She is reserved, and smiles often, but when she laughs you know something is really funny. My father has spent their marriage making faces, jokes, funny dances, and whatever else he can come up with to hear her laugh. As a child I loved hearing my mother laugh because it meant everything in my world and hers was, for the moment, all right.

I am thankful for my quiet upbringing where not much had changed in the past century. Our family spent most of our time together, and the friends my parents made were select ones, and very devoted ones. I likewise as an adult have limited my social sphere to a small group of people, and that works for me. Like my mother, I am content to stay at home instead of going out, where I am free to spend my time gardening, sewing something from my never-ending pile of mending and alterations, or reading from the stack of books by my bed.

I have also learned to laugh only when I mean it. Sometimes we laugh because we feel the situation requires it, or that it will make the other person more comfortable, or that it is the polite thing to do. No, I don’t think so. Laughter needs to be genuine, spontaneous, and from the heart. Tim makes me laugh all the time, which makes me so happy that he is my child. It means he knows me, and he is the only person in the world who has the ability to make me laugh several times in one day. I love being in sync with him, even when he is in the middle of his teenagerdom. If I had not learned the value of laughter from my mother, I may not have had the wisdom to appreciate the depth of the relationship that Tim and I have. I have her alone to thank for that.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers all around the world. I hope you had a lovely day today with your loved ones.


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The Escape Artists

I packed my things and ran. ~ Mountain Sound, Of Monsters And Men

On the first day of our vacation in Mexico I inform Daniel that every time I travel to this part of the world there is a chance I will decide to stay put. A vacation to the Riviera Maya will come, in the far-off or maybe not-too-distant future, where I simply don’t come back.

Daniel: That’s odd that you say that. Another one of our friends just mentioned doing exactly the same thing.
Me: Really?
Daniel: He was serious about it. He told me you can rent an apartment in Mexico for $4000 a year.
Me: Oh my. I had no idea. You probably shouldn’t have told me that.
Daniel: We have enough money between the two of us now. If we didn’t have our boys I’d seriously consider not going back.
Me: But we have our boys…

Caribbean Sea on the Riviera Maya, Mexico

Caribbean Sea on the Riviera Maya, Mexico

The reality of the fantasy is that it becomes more of a realistic option as I age. In our youth-obsessed society, I feel that people tend to overlook the advantages of growing older, which include knowing what you want, when, why, and how you want it, and having the means necessary to achieve your goals. Tim will be an adult in three years, and Daniel will start thinking about retirement sooner than later. One day I just may make a run for the border and tell the people in my life they are either welcome to come with me or visit any time.

For now a permanent escape is not an option. Vacationing once or maybe even twice a year is sufficient, where we can leave our lives behind for a week and enjoy something completely different. There’s also nothing wrong with planning ahead, even if the end goal is decades away. Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and running a marathon takes a lot of preparation before the big day.

It was upon returning home that I received the note from my girlfriend about her niece. Reality came crashing into my mind like a bull in a china shop. Having to recall a lot of the struggles and experiences Tim and I faced when he was little is mentally painful for me. Those were difficult years, and I needed to find a balance between telling my friend the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about raising a child with special needs while emphasizing that it will be one of the most fulfilling experiences of her life.

One coping mechanism I have when I am feeling emotions such as grief, anger, stress, and frustration is to move my pain around. This is why I run, to transfer feelings of discomfort from my mind to my body. Running has a pain component which makes it both mentally and physically challenging. The pain is the good kind, however, the kind that reminds you that you are alive. For me it’s usually the bottoms of my feet that eventually start to hurt. When I am outdoors, on my trail, in the fresh air, all it takes is the first mile and every negative, toxic emotion clears out of my head. Then I run until my legs tell me it’s time to go home. Then I run a little more to push myself.

The afternoon before I called my girlfriend I knew I needed to run. There were too many black things swirling around in my head. When I returned home 75 minutes later I was mentally ready to have the conversation I needed to have with her. I showered up because Tim won’t let me near him when I’m stinky, made supper for both him and myself, and then picked up the phone to call Chicagoland.

Here’s the situation: My friend’s younger brother is married with two children. His oldest is four, and she has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Her sibling is 11 months old. The mother stays at home with the two children, and the father is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The mother, functioning as a single parent with an infant and a child with special needs, has suffered a mental breakdown and has been institutionalized. The grandparents are caring for the two children until more permanent custody arrangements can be made, and this is where my friend comes into the picture. Her brother had called her from overseas to ask her if she and her husband would care for his two children until he returns to the United States.

My first response was to say of course the mother had a mental breakdown. Wouldn’t you? In situations such as this one, sometimes the only escape is into your own mind. There is no vacation in Mexico. There is no long run through the sunny countryside. What you do have are small beings who need more of you than you are able to give, and sometimes it becomes too much. People break. Your brain is an organ like your heart, lungs, stomach, and skin. The danger is that injuries to the mind can be difficult to detect until they reach the level of trauma. When your brain has had enough and packs its bags, the hope is that intervention and healing are still possible.

This mother has lost custody of her children, and her marriage is also most likely over. The main concern of the family is to place both children into a stable, loving environment. I told my friend that her home is the perfect place for them. Her boys are nine and three. She and her husband are financially secure. She stays at home, and he has a good job that provides him with the flexibility to come home for lunch most days. They always have a pet or two running around and are active mentors to high school youth in the community. I can already see the benefits of this type of home environment. One of the challenges for children with Asperger’s Syndrome is socialization. You can’t get much more social than this.

I told my friend that my main problem with raising Tim has been the never-ending struggle with his schools. I understand that time, money, and resources are limited in the school system, but as a parent of a child with special needs I need to say that any form of improvement would be most welcome. I am not an angry, peevish person by nature, but some of the challenges I have faced throughout Tim’s school years have brought out a side of myself I never knew existed. I have learned to accept this as an opportunity for personal growth, and harnessing and developing this part of myself in a positive way has actually benefited other areas of my life.

My friend asked me what I think of homeschooling. I told her I think she has an excellent idea. She has never done it, but it’s an option. And options in situations such as the one she is in are good. Again, it’s like the marathon where you need to plan ahead. The end goal for her two new bonus children, in addition to the two she already has, is to raise them to be independent adults who are able to accomplish their own goals and pursue their own dreams. The independence, goals, and dreams of someone with special needs may be very different than someone else, but what we as parents want for the children in our lives, biological or bonus, is for them to believe that they are living their best lives. There is not a single, correct way to reach that. The twists and turns are what make the journey so incredibly exciting.

Ahhhhhhhhhh.

Ahhhhhhhhhh.

This past weekend was the first meeting between the two little ones and their new caregivers. I told my friend to let me know how it goes, to keep asking me questions. What I can give her in return are honest answers and perspective. I can tell her what I think I did right as a parent and what I did wrong, or should have done differently, as we say in politically correct Minnesota…after living here for 15 years I’m still learning the terminology. Hopefully an update will be in the works soon.

For now, one last picture of the Caribbean Sea.


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The Cat Grass

Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten. ~ David Ogden Stiers

Daniel had my heart in mind when he bought my Christmas present this year. Literally. My big gift from him, the Main Event, was a heart rate monitor. This may not sound romantic, but it is because he knows that I run on a regular basis, he wants me to be sensible about how hard I push myself when I exercise, and he was giving me something that I needed but was too frugal to purchase for myself. I had been relying on the so far tried and true method of running until my brain says stop. To err is human, however, so to be safe we decided to do the biosensor approach.

As I ran this afternoon, on the treadmill since it is icy and close to 0°F outside, I decided tonight was the night to introduce our cats to the Christmas present that touched my other heart, the one that feels, loves, aches, rejoices, reaches out, and sometimes becomes overwhelmed at the kindness that surrounds me in my day to day life. This other present was from my son Timothy, and when I opened it I realized that I have only begun to realize how kind, generous, and truly selfless he is.

Tim told me about my Christmas present sometime after Thanksgiving.

Tim: Mom, I bought you a Christmas present.

Me: Oh, really? You didn’t have to do that. What is it?

Tim: Do you want me to tell you for real?

Me: No. What is it?

Tim: Do you want me to give you a hint?

Me: Sure.

Tim: Well, it’s actually something for you and the cats.

Me: What?

Tim: It’s something that both you and the cats need.

Me: Um. Now I really want to know.

Tim: Do you want me to tell you?

Me: No. I want to wait until Christmas.

When Christmas came, Tim gave me the present he had purchased me and the cats with his own money. I opened it to discover that it was CHIA Cat Grass. Tim explained that he thought it would help both the cats and me since our cats Smokey and Amber both enjoy eating my plants, much to my chagrin, only to regurgitate them later on the carpet. I try not to keep plants that are poisonous to cats in our house, and our cats know that they are NOT supposed to eat the plants, but they do it anyway. Tim also knows that I am an avid gardener and lover of all things green, as evidenced by the numerous houseplants in our home and the veg and flower gardens we have scattered around our yard.

We planted the cat grass seeds right away in the planter provided, put it in a sunny window, and waited. I told Tim not to worry, if these seeds didn’t sprout, we could always purchase more. After about ten days I saw tiny green sprouts pushing themselves cheerfully up through the soil, and Tim and I watched the seedlings grow taller and taller each day. I have been waiting until the plant is strong enough to introduce to our cats, and when I was on the treadmill this afternoon I decided tonight was as good a night as any.

Amber and Smokey with the family Christmas present.

The aftermath: Amber and Smokey taking a break with the family Christmas present.

Our cats Smokey and Amber LOVED the cat grass. After supper I took the planter from the kitchen windowsill and put it at the top of the stairs. Both cats immediately ran over, sniffed the grass, and became very excited. They could not believe that I had willingly given them a plant all for themselves. Tim and I watched as they quickly began to lick, bite, and rub their faces against the blades of grass. They managed to demolish about half the plant, but it will grow back. Once it grows back in a week or two, the cats can have another evening of a special grass treat.

Tim loves Smokey and Amber, and they love him as well, but they are becoming old kitties and most likely have a few years left at the most. One of my friends put her cat down today and was embarrassed that she cried. Tim considers our cats members of our family, and they are. They run to greet us when we come home, they share our beds, and Smokey is nestled in my lap now, motor running, as I type. Our cats know when we are happy or sad. Somehow they know when we are sick. They know that when they walk up to us, they will be greeted with petting and affection, which they return unconditionally. I have told Tim that we are our cats’ entire world, and we need to treat them with kindness and respect. They are dependent on us for everything.

I was so incredibly touched that Tim thought of all of us for Christmas. He saw the cat grass ad on TV when he was at his father’s house and told him to order it. He paid for this with his own money, and he kept it hidden from me until we opened our Christmas presents. I tell Tim that he is my favorite person in my entire life, and he always will be, no matter what. I am just so extremely pleased to share my life with him.