Something I never thought I’d say…

Little known fact about me: I was homeschooled for a year.

If I’m remembering correctly, the reasoning went something like this. My grades had been slipping for two years at that point, due to what I now recognize as my first ever bout with depression (because no, eleven-year-old me, wishing that you’d get hit by a car is not normal). I remember a lot of talk about me not knowing how to study, which is fair enough I suppose, and a lot of blame being cast at the decision of the school district to put me in a fourth grade class that was, charitably speaking, a disaster. 

(the same fourth grade class in which a boy gave me an index card with pee on it, in which I was so bored by the material that I took to drawing on my desk for hours at a time, in which I was a permanent member of the “100+ club” because I’d learned two years before that 0x0=0)

(if I’m casting blame for my depression, it falls at the feet of puberty hormones, a pair of abysmal school years in a row, and plenty of bullying)

So I was homeschooled for eighth grade. My sister was homeschooled the same year, because the district was thoroughly messing up the accommodations for her learning disability (at one point, someone caught her closing herself in her locker during a break in classes because she didn’t want to do her assignment). My brother was homeschooled the same year because it wouldn’t be fair to leave him out. 

It was a weird year. I know that, at the start, I was… reluctant, to put it gently, and by “reluctant,” I mean that I remember having some screaming afternoons for no reason beyond that things were weird; but I eventually got the hang of learning at home, especially after we got into a routine that largely consisted of schoolwork ending by 12:30 every day and plenty of free time afterwards.

My parents used mostly religious curricula; I don’t think it was all A Beka, which was the In Thing at the time, but I feel like I used A Beka for math. My science book talked a lot about how evolution wasn’t a real thing and came with some supplementary materials on that subject, including a book I loved called “Dinosaurs by Design,” which had lots of informational pages on dinosaurs sandwiched between illustrations of, for example, Adam and Eve hanging out with a parasaurolophus. 

(I had to look up how to spell that, don’t judge me, when I was in my dinosaur phase, everything got its name from The Land Before Time)

The history text wasn’t terribly memorable. The English/language arts stuff was great, but then again, I’ve always been an E/LA person. I had to memorize a bunch of poems, and while I don’t remember how any of them went, I remember the act of memorization. For math, I did Algebra I, and I cheated so very much. Whenever my mom would leave me alone to take a test, I’d grab her answer key and input everything, which she must have known about, but it happened anyway. And then in June, as I was preparing to head back to public school (having apparently learned how to study), I had to take the Algebra I final at the high school and panicked because I’d been cheating all year and now my inability to math would be public knowledge and my parents would be furious and it was the end of the world…

…and then I got a 93?

Oh, and then every week or so, we hoofed it up to the nearest Christian school for my sister’s in-school therapy (I think? I don’t remember much because I spent the entire time reading Baby-Sitter’s Club books and longing after the smell of pizza in the other room), and most of what I remember about that was sitting in the front seat of our van singing off-key along with my Sound of Music CD.

Even 20 years later, I can’t decide if it was a good or a bad experience; honestly, I mostly settle on neutral. I don’t know if I actually learned to study or if my depression just ebbed somewhat. I was in honors and AP classes throughout high school, so something went right somewhere. And I remember, my first day back at high school, being beyond surprised when the friends I’d last seen in June two years prior not only remembered me but were incredibly happy to see me. 

(hahaha, thirteen-year-old me was such a miserable child, someone please go back in time and help her and also please de-frizz her hair)

*

Meanwhile, in the world of today, we’ve decided to homeschool Sam for the school year. 

I’m excited for it and simultaneously terrified and worried, because I don’t want to pull him out of school this year, but it honestly seems like the best option. Even in Massachusetts, where a lot of people have been doing really well social distancing and wearing masks, we’ve started seeing Covid-19 cases creep back up, which bodes incredibly ill for the school year. Had we kept up with the low numbers of the summer, I’d have been happy to send Sam back for at least a few weeks so that he could’ve had access to the school’s counselling services and learned to use the distance learning tools they’d set up for the students. 

But the numbers started to creep up.

And ultimately, Sam is… not the best at being self-guided. If we set him up on my computer or on a laptop and said “you need to do your schoolwork,” it wouldn’t take very long for him to end up on YouTube watching Markiplier play a game in which he’s a piece of bread (this is a thing, apparently). I don’t blame him for that, because he’s six. I barely know any adults who, when presented with doing work versus watching videos on YouTube, will easily choose the former. 

It’s the rock and the hard place I’ve been talking about. School isn’t safe. Distance learning won’t work for him. What are we supposed to do?

Well, it turns out that the answer is homeschooling. 

Just for a year, mind. I still think that Sam really needs that social aspect to his education, and that if Covid can get under control by next September (please please PLEASE), I want him to be back in a classroom for that reason alone. He needs kids his age. He needs socialization. He hasn’t had that in ages. 

But for now, homeschooling.

A friend of mine in the next town over posted a link to the curriculum we’re using; it’s called “Moving Beyond the Page,” and it’s largely literature-based and customizable. Sam’s a pretty smart kid overall, but he’s definitely far more advanced in math than he is in reading/writing, so we’re doing a first grade curriculum for reading and writing and a third grade (!) curriculum for math (because he can multiply and divide, and I listen to him do it and think how are you doing this, I couldn’t do that in my head until I was an adult). 

In my fantasy dream world, I’d want to grab one or two of his friends and their families and just do a small group working on the same curriculum, but that almost feels too risky and seems impossible. I wish there were a way to make sure he keeps in touch with his friends, but they’re all so young that the Messenger Kids app ends up being a “sometimes I remember to message my friends but mostly, I play games” thing. And I know that, if he’s anything like me, he’ll spend a lot of the first couple of months in screaming tears over our new normal. 

But. If he’s anything like me, he’ll adjust and come away better for it, having a good and fun (albeit very weird) year and blowing his future second grade teacher’s mind by asking them, “So when do we start square roots?” as everyone else is just getting into their times tables. 

School Shopping

The Fourth of July is behind us, we’re not quite to the point where people find it acceptable to go all out on Halloween (at least some people, I’m more of the mindset that spookiness should be a year-round thing), which means that it’s time to think about going back-to-school.

Our town has come up with some plans, though they haven’t shared the full details with all of us yet because their plans aren’t completely finalized, and they’re going to be getting them approved by the state first. What they did, since we are a small town of less than 10,000 people, was hold a series of town hall meetings with the principal of each school explaining the way things will likely look in the fall.

Because yes, by some beautiful miracle, schools aren’t starting until after Labor Day. I am so relieved. I hope that this remains the case for the rest of forever, even when there isn’t a deadly global pandemic.

But our town is small, and Covid cases here are few and far between–no clusters, just a person here, a family there, that sort of thing. Easily traced and manageable. And the Commonwealth wanted school districts to have three separate plans for back-to-school, so they came up with three separate plans, with the caveat that (a) the full in-person school just was not going to happen this year and anyone trying to insist on it can suck the big one; and (b) regardless of plans made, we’d probably be switching to remote learning again at some point during the school year.

The plan they want to implement, at least to start, is a hybrid remote-distance plan, with half the kids coming into school for two days, a half day of Zoom calls for everyone, and then the other half of the kids coming in for two days. On days they don’t come in, kids will have day long learning assignments, which I hope won’t translate to their time being monitored, because Sam finishes his stuff in less than an hour, and I genuinely cannot devote a lot of time to handholding; not because I don’t want to, but because other things are happening. 

I’m definitely leaning towards sending him in during the hybrid days, partly because I just don’t have the ability to give him the guidance he needs five days a week, and partly because I think it will be good for him, emotionally and mentally, to be around kids his age again, even if it’s only for a little while. 

I don’t like it. I don’t like any of it. I’m furious that we, as a country, shat the bed so profoundly with this pandemic (like, come on. Wear fucking masks. It’s not hard. You are all just whiny babies), because we shouldn’t have. We should have just been able to put on our big kid undies and socially distanced and worn masks for six weeks and then moved on. We should have had a government that cared about people instead of lining pockets.

But we don’t, and like I told Kyle earlier this week, should is irrelevant. You need to focus on what is.

And in that line of thought, I went school shopping for Sam today. 

It’s early to do it; last year, school supply lists weren’t available until around August 1, if not later, but because of the pandemic (I think), our district is trying to offer everyone a little more wiggle room, so they released the school shopping list last night, with another caveat that we needed to get double supplies–half to keep at home for distance days, and half to have at the school for in-person days. 

I honestly always have fun with school shopping; it makes me feel like a kid again. You know that really great feeling that only comes with smelling brand new, sharp and never-used crayons? The perfectly sharpened pencils, all in a row? The erasers, still pearly pink and perfect? I popped open Sam’s pencil case from last year today to see what of it we could salvage for school, and I got immediately overwhelmed with the scent of pencils, crayons, and erasers. For just a moment, it was like I was back in my first day of first grade.

This year, classrooms are going to look like they did when I was in school, too. I think we had some classrooms where teachers arranged the desks in something besides rows, but I also know we had more than a few teachers who were pretty old school and kept desks, even for first and second graders, in carefully distanced rows, not groups or circles or anything. 

But things will be different, too, because each classroom will only have less than 10 kids in it at a time. Things will be different because if your kid’s friends are in a different class from them this year, they won’t get to play with each other at recess–they’ll be outside, running around in little cordoned off yards, staying six feet away from each other. Things will be different because there won’t be a holiday concert or birthday parties or parties for holidays or anything that would be dangerous. 

And I wish that I didn’t feel like Sam needs that in-person interaction to really succeed at school and to be mentally healthy. 

They’ve told us that we can change our minds at any time, though, so I’m giving it something of a trial period. For the elementary school, they’re using the teachers the kids would normally have for distance learning instead of using an outside agency like they are for the upper level schools (which is just one of the six billion things the district is doing wrong, according to Random People On The Town’s Facebook Page). We’ll see.

And in the meantime, I buy supplies. I stocked up on two things of number 2 pencils, and six erasers. Fourteen sticks of glue, three pairs of blunt end scissors, two boxes of 24 crayons, two whiteboards with markers, lots of paper (colorful and plain white). Every time I go into the back-to-school aisles, I feel this enormous pang of sadness for the teachers having to deal with this mess. They deserve so much better pay and so much kinder treatment than they’ve received. I’m grateful beyond words that I live in a state where our elected officials are taking this pandemic seriously; I feel horrible for teachers in other states who are being forced to write living wills as they go back to school, a time that should be exciting and fun, so that they can help keep the cogs of the economy turning. 

I was feeling sulky today and saw that the coveted box of 96 crayons was on sale for less than $5, so I bought it, along with some drawers for all of my various craft supplies purchased in better times (I have about 3000 stickers and pens and washi tape and markers and so on). It helped for a minute, but just that minute of “wow, being six was awesome!” that quickly melted into “being six is less awesome right now.”

My therapist has gently been reminding me that this, too, shall pass, which is such trite advice, but it’s something I need. I need to know that this isn’t forever, because it’s not. People are going to continue to be dumb about it, but a vaccine will come soon enough, and if they don’t take it, that’s on them. Kyle will have a job soon (he has to), the twins will start school soon, things will go back to something resembling what we knew, though hopefully a little better for us having learned some harsh lessons along the way. 

(part of my plan for this year, back before it became 2020, was to get my first tattoo–something small and simple to see if my skin would scar horribly. If my skin didn’t scar horribly, I’d want to get something more complex later, and it would probably be a crocus)

And I ordered Sam ten more cloth masks so that he can cycle through them all as he needs them. He inexplicably wanted ones with pizza and tacos on them, and I say inexplicably because he does not eat either pizza or tacos.

We paid bills yesterday, not worrying at all whether or not we could afford it. I don’t know if I’ll be able to say that again for a long time. 

But I have 96 crayons, and Sam has school supplies. Kyle has job interviews, the twins have therapy, and this will not last forever.

Stuck

Like nearly every parent in the country right now (shh, homeschoolers, you can gloat about not having to change anything later), I’m facing a dilemma right now: do I send my kid to school in person this fall or do I try and do at-home learning for him?

It’s a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, this pandemic is a serious thing, and I don’t believe that schools should be opening right now. Our state is doing pretty well by the numbers for now, but I look at sites like CovidActNow (www.covidactnow.org) and I see the states around us creeping back up to ugly numbers. I see people carelessly heading down to Disney World on a vacation–it can’t be that bad if Disney is open, right??–and wonder how much they’ll adhere to quarantine practices when they come back. I see things from the Federal government that make me wonder if they aren’t actively trying to make things worse, and also that something as simple as wearing masks to protect yourself and the people around you has inexplicably become as much of a political statement as open carrying in Walmart. 

(who are you going to fight in Walmart, anyway, the deep discounts?)

I read our state teachers’ union’s ideas for reopening, and they sound theoretically okay–phased, slow, paying attention to the numbers–but none of them want to risk their lives like this, and we shouldn’t be asking them to. Some people say that oh, it doesn’t spread among kids, so it’ll be fine! Other people still think that the whole thing is a hoax to get us all implanted with 5G chips so that Bill Gates can take over the world or something (I wish they’d implant me with a 5G hotspot; I’d take my family and my Netflix and go ride this nonsense out somewhere very far away from other human beings). 

And then there’s that… look, have you met kids? Schools are absolute petri dishes, and unless you’re going to be putting them in little bubbles for the whole day, they’re going to be getting themselves sick and getting each other sick. I remember Sam’s first year of daycare, he had a cold and ear infection every three weeks. Literally, every three weeks. And it put my job in danger because he couldn’t be at daycare with a fever and ear infection every three weeks, so I had to take off to take care of Sam, but that wouldn’t matter now because I don’t work anyway, BUT ANYWAY, the point is that any given virus will go around a school like wildfire.

Like another example. I remember when I was six, the chicken pox went through my school. This was before the vaccine, back in the days of ill-advised chicken pox parties (my parents did not have one of those; I just happened to sit near a kid who was patient zero for that particular outbreak). Even without the chicken pox parties, though, you couldn’t avoid it. If the kid next to you had the chicken pox, you were going to get the chicken pox. And that was doubly true for the everyday viruses that marched through the school like a faceless army on a mission. In the winter, we’d all rotate being out of school for days to weeks with whatever yuck was going around. Stomach bugs, colds, flus, all of it.

So the idea that Covid-19 won’t spread through schools like wildfire is kind of silly to me. The idea that it’s a risk worth taking is also kind of silly to me. I don’t want to get this disease. I don’t want my two-year-olds to get this disease. I don’t want my parents to get this disease. I don’t want my kids’ teachers to get this disease. 

The obvious answer to all of this is to keep Sam home from school until there’s a vaccine (please please please let one of the three or all three work, I don’t care which one, just please give us a chance to focus on fixing our inherent issues instead of watching the world burn down around us). It’s theoretically possible. We finished out last year entirely online, with twice weekly Zoom calls, new boxes of crayons as consolation prizes, and gosh I miss the first half of last school year.

Even if I didn’t follow the school’s inevitable plan, homeschooling is easier now than ever. A lot of my friends currently homeschool (dear international friends: the school systems here in the state were wonky long before the current disaster timeline, that’s why), and they’ve got kids Sam’s age, and they’ve all been sharing helpful link upon helpful link. So it’s a thought.

But.

Here’s the hard place.

The hard place is mostly a picture of my average day. The morning, from 8:30 until 11, is all about the twins. On any given day, I’m coordinating ABA (they still come into our house because they’re considered essential, thank goodness), plus 1-2 other therapies for each twin, all of them at random times in the day that have nothing to do with any logic that I’ve found beyond “this is what time I’m free.” Afternoons are free of coordinating, but that’s when I dive into trying to get Stuff done (as in, house management stuff: bills, trips to Target, making sure we’ve got the things we need, doctors’ appointments, etc.). And all of that before 5 p.m. so we can get the kids to bed at a normal time. 

Earlier, when this was all starting, Kyle took charge of a lot of Sam’s school stuff–he didn’t stare at Sam and force him to do stuff, but he was able to coordinate Sam while being a little light on stuff at work. He was also able to help set Sam up on Zoom for those calls, and when he lost his job about two months into this nonsense, he was even more able to help–he was a lot more hands-on, helped Sam with art and science projects, etc. 

BUT. Kyle will absolutely be in a new job by September (please please please or else we’ll have more to worry about than just Sam’s schoolwork), and while I didn’t worry about the impression it made when he was stepping away from waiting for his computer to load a build when he was at a company he’d been at for six years, I do worry about it at a new company. Whoever he works for will likely be “understanding,” but it’s still not a good look to get a brand new job and then spend most of every morning away from your work. 

All of this creates the hard place. Who’s going to teach Sam? He’s not old enough that I feel comfortable leaving him to his own devices–I know that if he’s left alone with the internet, he’ll be through with schoolwork and diving into Let’s Play on YouTube, which he’s not supposed to do, but he does when left to his own devices. This isn’t kindergarten, either. He’s actually going to have subjects to study this year, beyond just learning to read and write and very basic stuff. He’s going to have things that he needs to be taught, not just things we can throw at him and say “here, color this.” 

That’s not even getting into the social side of things, the other intangibles that come with in-person learning. Sam hasn’t seen other kids his age since May. He hasn’t spent time with people outside of the family in about as long, and I know that’s affecting him. He’s more anxious, more nervous. He wakes up at night at least 2-3 times a week, sometimes with nightmares and other times just wanting to be with us. He doesn’t want to go and play by himself at all, so his playtime has mostly devolved into video games, which I hate because I’m like–dude, stop playing video games. You have six sprillion Legos, you have such cool toys all over the house, play with those so I can stop feeling like I’ve been flushing money down the toilet the last six years. Every day, he checks his Facebook kids messages, but that’s a sporadic form of connection at this age. 

There’s no good answer. I still don’t know what we’re doing. And I’m angry that it’s come to this: that the alleged “greatest country in the world” couldn’t get our act together four fucking months ago so that, come the start of the school year, we could send our kids back safely. Because it’s not safe right now, but the costs to not sending our kids back are pretty high, too, and as a parent, I’m feeling entirely lost.

Progress

Weekday mornings at 9:00, Isaac’s ABA therapist arrives.

(we’ll call her Y here)

Isaac knows when it’s about time for her to get here, and he perches himself on the back of the big couch, the one against the picture window. When he sees Y’s car pull into the driveway, he smiles his happiest smile and watches her walk from her car to our front door, and he beams at her as she comes inside. 

She washes her hands first thing (after all, we’re still in a pandemic), and then she goes into the toys room (it’s supposed to be a dining room, but Sam’s toys have kind of taken over, and we don’t really have the best dining furniture anyway) to get the Box. The Box is essentially a lockbox full of developmentally appropriate toys: crayons, blocks, beads, puzzles, Play-Doh, etc. The Box only comes out during ABA time and gets put away when ABA time is over, so the toys mean a lot to Isaac (and to Carrie, who gets ABA therapy at the same time Isaac does). 

ABA is a lot less structured and behaviorally focused than I’d expected it to be. Isaac mostly directs what they do himself, with the only real therapeutic mandate being that he has to communicate as much as possible during play. This typically takes the form of him asking for things by saying their name and saying, “please” (e.g., “please puzzle” for today) or making a verbal choice between two things (e.g., choosing between the yellow crayon and the purple crayon… admittedly, a very difficult choice). 

For two hours, from 9:00 to 11:00, things are pretty blissful. Isaac loves Y to pieces (and she’s fantastic with him), and he loves his Box. I can’t tell you if he’s got one favorite toy in there that matters more than the rest, because he bounces between them so happily, though he makes sure that he spends a healthy amount of time with each one. He likes stacking shapes and building with blocks. He likes using crayons–both fat and thin–to make various masterpieces in a coloring book. He likes putting together the puzzles and naming each picture. He likes smushing the Play-Doh between his fingers. He likes pushing the wheeled toys–a fire engine and a singing puppy–around the living room. 

When it’s time to clean up and have lunch, he helps, because he’s a firm believer in everything having a place, and the toys’ place is in the Box. Y takes the box back to the toys room and says good-bye (Isaac always says, “Bye!” very happily, I think mostly because he knows how to say it), and then it’s time for lunch. 

*

ABA is one of those things that I find difficult to talk about with people I knew well before Isaac got his diagnosis, because in a lot of adult autistic circles, ABA is tantamount to child abuse. It’s painted as a way to erase your child’s autism, as a lot of negative reinforcement, as trying to make your kid “normal” rather than as accepting them for who they are.

And the reason I’ve found it difficult to talk about ABA is because… well, our ABA isn’t like that at all. Not even a little bit. 

I’m not saying that to invalidate anyone’s experiences, because I believe them, and I can see where ABA therapy has the space and methodology to become really nasty, really easily. And I’m also really frustrated that it’s often the only therapy approved by insurances.

I remember when Isaac first got his diagnosis, the doctor who gave him the diagnosis said that maybe he wouldn’t even need a diagnosis in a few months (of course, this was before COVID turned everything into crazy town, so who knows what she’d say today?). The way she said it sort of suggested that ABA and therapy would remove Isaac’s autism, but they haven’t done that, and that pleases me. He’s autistic. That’s as much a part of who he is as his brown eyes, his adorable giggle, his amazing hugs (seriously, this little guy gives the best hugs). 

What ABA has done for him is given him a way to communicate with the rest of the world and a way to not feel so frustrated. He’s always been a kid who desperately wants to be understood, so when he started having those lightbulb moments with ABA where he realized “oh, if I make this noise while moving my lips like this, they understand that I want milk” they came with so much joy for him. He still gets this enormous smile on his face when he says something and you understand him. He wants to be heard. 

That he’s being heard and understood has also really improved every aspect of his life. He’s not as prone to meltdowns or tantrums as he used to be, and he’s sleeping better. He’s stopped throwing the entire contents of his and Carrie’s room to the bottom of the stairs most days (most days). Even better, for my mommy heart, he and Carrie have suddenly become inseparable. Oh, they still fight like cats and dogs sometimes, but they also refuse to sleep in separate beds at night (though if they wake up at 3 a.m. and aren’t in separate beds, it gets very loud) and they tag team almost everything. Isaac is mindful of the things that Carrie likes and makes sure she has those things whenever possible (e.g., her favorite toy in the ABA Box is the bucket full of Mardi Gras beads; she likes to drape them around her neck and around her ankles to be as glamorous as possible. Isaac knows this, and so once he’s worn all the beads for a beat, he finds her wherever she is and methodically adorns her). When he is upset, Carrie is often the first to notice and make sure that everyone else knows (“ISAAC SAD! STOP IT!”). 

I don’t know how things are going to progress in the next ~year (the twins will be aging out of early intervention next spring, theoretically, depending on what COVID is doing), but so far, ABA has been nothing but wonderful for us. And I think that boils down to two (or so) things. 

The first is Isaac’s personality. He’s an extroverted autistic kid; he wants to communicate. He’s a goofball, very talkative and curious, excited about being tall someday, loves singing, and loves people in general. And I think that’s kind of what autistic therapies–especially ABA–want kids to become: those outgoing, will tell you all about This Neat Rock They Found, absolutely hilarious kids. I’m fortunate enough that I have three (hahahaaaaaa my introverted ass is like “I love you all so much but I need sixteen naps right now thx”), that Isaac was essentially just waiting to have the tools to communicate, so when he was given those tools, he flourished. 

And like… I think a lot of people don’t understand that autism is a way of experiencing the world, not a personality trait. You can’t train it away by trying to reward outgoing behavior or punish introverted behavior (nor should you because hello, let your kids have personalities?). And that lack of understanding permeates a lot of autism therapies, unfortunately, so instead of focusing on giving kids the tools they need to express their wants and needs (because I don’t think anyone would say that giving kids those tools is a bad idea–you need to be able to express that your needs aren’t being met, and what sort of shitty life is it if you can’t ever say, “I want a doughnut”?), they focus on trying to change personalities. And that just isn’t going to work. 

If that makes sense, which I have no idea if it does. 

Anyway, the point I’m trying to drive at is that Isaac’s personality already lends itself to being outgoing, friendly, and excited about interacting with the world. And I think that this sort of therapy wouldn’t be great for a kid who’s the opposite, who’d prefer to sit down and read a book or draw a picture instead of telling you about Also I Found A Stick Shaped Like A Y.

And the second, which remains the reason I sort of stay aloof from a lot of Autism MomsTM, is parental wants and expectations. I have a really good friend whose son has autism and is about two years older than the twins, and she’s been kind of a mentor/guide for me whenever I’m like “AAAAH WHAT DO I DO ABOUT THIS???” One of the things she told me that helped me the most was that ultimately, therapists work for you, and I think that’s been enormously helpful in making ABA a positive experience for us. 

At the beginning of Isaac’s therapy, we talked about what our goals were for him, and Kyle and I expressed that we just wanted him to have a way of communicating with us. We didn’t–and still don’t–want to take away his stimming or force him to communicate in a way that doesn’t work for him (e.g., if he’d really struggled with talking, we’d have been perfectly happy to work with PECS or to learn sign language or whatever he needed). Our therapists have been really respectful of that; Y, in particular, hsa been fantastic about incorporating Isaac’s stimming into his therapy (like how she taught him to say, “ready, set, go!” by preceding a moment of spinning with those words, and now they’re his favorites). 

There’s a lot to unwrap about therapeutic goals coming from parents, because I’ve no doubt that there are plenty of less than reputable agencies eager to make a quick buck or adhere to some weird guidelines who will pressure parents into setting goals that aren’t fair for their kids. Kyle and I tend to be immovable rocks when it comes to our kids’ best interests (e.g., if you can’t present a very strong, very scientifically backed, peer reviewed reason for changing our minds, we’ll be showing you the door), but when you’re overwhelmed by a diagnosis or don’t understand what autism is, it can be easy to find yourself steamrolled. 

And at the same time, there’s a lot of pressure in our society towards conformity; not necessarily towards sameness, but rather towards not getting too far outside of the mold. Even without external pressure, I feel like parents can have an internal need to “normalize” their kid as much as possible, and again, that can lead to some… mmm, wonky therapeutic goals. 

So I guess my overall takeaway with ABA so far is that (a) it’s not for everyone, and less cookie cutter therapeutic approaches should be researched and covered by insurances; and (b) parents of autistic kids need to be educated and empowered to set therapeutic goals that don’t erase their kids’ neurodivergence but instead give their kids the tools they need to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. 

*

Tangentially related, the twins have been on a Sesame Street kick lately (just the old stuff, though; I don’t know who’s who on the new episodes, and I don’t have the mental real estate to learn just yet) and have continued to prove my hypothesis that old school Sesame Street creates early readers. Between that and the Number Blocks on Netflix (highly recommend both, btw), both twins can count to at least thirteen (and, if you accept them repeating thirteen several times before shouting “TWENTY!” they can also count to twenty) and have started learning their ABCs. Carrie is particularly blowing my mind by (a) singing the whole alphabet song by heart, (b) learning the signs for all of the letters, and (c) recognizing letters and numbers by sight. 

Which isn’t half bad for a pair of 34 week technically developmentally delayed preemies 🙂 

Brought to you by the letter D

Hello.

It’s been a Time, let me tell you. Two weeks since I last wrote, and everything is happening so much.

Drugs. I’m not talking the ones that you were warned against in the fifth grade (aside: when we had D.A.R.E., it was before there were any mascots or anything, and all we had was this… “music video,” if you can even call it that, of what we were supposed to believe were police officers singing, “Dare! For keeping kids off drugs!” and then this guy in the background would radically wail, “KIIIIIDS OFFFFF DRUUUUUGS,” and I will tell you that I do not remember anything about the program besides that specific snippet), but the ones that you get prescribed from your doctor. 

When I went to my OB-GYN for my crisis of intrusive thoughts, he had me talk with a behavioral health specialist (which is the new name for a shrink), and said specialist both prescribed me counselling and called my primary care doctor to request an increase in my dosage of my current antidepressant, Effexor. I had been taking 75 mg (the lowest possible therapeutic dosage), so now I’m up to 112.5 mg, which means two little capsules every day instead of one. About a week after that, I had a psychiatric medication review with a nurse whose job is doing only that ever to see if I should continue with the Effexor or if I should switch to a different antidepressant and/or take something else as well. This was a lot like my therapy intake appointment, where you just go through alllll of your issues, realize how long they’ve been issues, and feel like somebody’s just peeled your emotional skin off for a minute. 

Like. Normal therapy gets into these issues, but it’s a slower and more gradual process. Intake appointments get to the heart of things all at once. No slow, gentle “so what was it like during that one specific afternoon when you were eleven and those five boys in your class called you ‘ugly’ while you waited for the school bus?” but more of an “OKAY SO YOU’VE EXPERIENCED INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS SINCE YOU WERE ELEVEN AND HAVE HAD SUICIDAL THOUGHTS SINCE YOU WERE A TEENAGER, SOUNDS LIKE CHRONIC SUICIDAL IDEATION, NEXT TOPIC.” 

Anyway, the nurse (who was excellent; very to-the-point, and also very practical) ended up prescribing me a sleep aid called Trazodone to theoretically cut down on my bedtime insomnia from 2ish hours to 0ish hours, and I’ve been on that for about a week. I want to say that it’s working (especially in conjunction with Kyle and my decision to start taking melatonin at bedtime every night in very tasty cherry gummy form), but I honestly don’t know. I’m forcing myself to be more well-rested, by which I mean that I’m refusing to take afternoon naps even when circumstances would allow me to (read: no appointments for anyone, either virtual or physical), but I can’t tell if anything is working well because Sam’s in an anxious streak and has woken us up one way or another basically every night for a couple of weeks now. 

(more on that in a minute)

So that’ll be fun to talk to my therapist about. Meanwhile, I’ve also had an appointment with an endocrinologist (not a reproductive endocrinologist, because while I’m 100% for snagging one more girl out of our freezies, we need to pay the $3500 to have them tested and have Kyle actually employed before we strike on down that path) to try and start getting my PCOS better under control. Last October, I spent a day in the ER with agonizing pain in my lower left abdomen, which the ER diagnosed as constipation (even though, and this is TMI, I was and am regular for basically the first time in my entire life) but which my OB-GYN figured was probably related to my PCOS. We went down a path there of trying progesterone-only hormonal birth control (review: too much breakthrough bleeding, too much depression, nowhere near enough pain reduction) because I’m prone to migraine with aura, which makes me a poor candidate for estrogen usage; and I got a referral to the endocrinologist to see if we could make my hormones start behaving. 

That appointment was supposed to happen in either February or March, but either I was sick as hell or it was during the Great Cancellation Of Things, so the appointment proper didn’t happen until this month. After we talked about my symptoms (I am quite fat, I have wonky periods, I am very hairy, acne is my constant companion, getting pregnant was a pain in the ass, and my ovaries have the distinct “string of pearls” cysts on them), my endocrinologist ordered about six sprillion blood tests to check how my hormones were doing overall. Everything is consistent with PCOS (absurdly high testosterone, which I wish I could donate to some trans men out there, and hallmarks of insulin resistance though not diabetes), so she’s starting me on metformin (500mg to start, gradually increasing to 2000mg/day) to combat the insulin resistance, and I’m adding that to my daily regimen.

Basically, I’ve reached a point in my life where everything is measured in various pills; and that’s not even counting my migraine meds (because I only really take those when I manage to catch a migraine starting). And honestly, I don’t mind it much. There’s some faux wisdom about blah blah blah, being medicated is bad, makes you conform, something something 5G Bill Gates QAnon bullshit (or, on the other side of things, “all you need is fresh air and a positive outlook, plus maybe some crystals and essential oils!” Or both. Silliness has no boundary), but it’s like. Maybe I like not feeling like garbage. Maybe I like it when I’m able to spend an afternoon writing a blog instead of sleeping. Maybe I want to treat my body’s hormonal wackiness. Maybe I want to have the ability to feel genuinely happy, because depression has stolen that from me, and if I need medication to get that back, I will literally take all the pills

Like not to feel happy all the time. That isn’t how things work. I just want to be able to look at the days and weeks to come and not feel like I’m drowning. 

BUT ANYWAY.

Dads. This weekend was both Father’s Day on Sunday and Kyle’s birthday on Monday. I’ve spent a decent amount of time, therefore, baking and also organizing gifts and cards and the like. 

The baking was the fun part. I love baking; it’s one of those things that, if you know a few tricks and are very precise with what you do, people will love you for it. Kyle’s cake, catering to the things he adores in a dessert, was a red velvet layer cake with a s’mores filling (marshmallow fluff mixed with crushed graham crackers and mini chocolate chips) and decorated with rich chocolate buttercream, marshmallows, graham crackers, and candy bars. I don’t like to say that I’ve outdone myself when I bake something, but this time, I absolutely outdid myself. 

I also outdid myself showering Kyle with multitudinous gifts, each designed to remind him of one of his kids when he used it. From Sammy, he got the game of Sorry, because we pretty much just play board games with Sammy (Sorry is… not anyone’s favorite right now because it’s really frustrating independent of anyone taking revenge on anyone else, and we’re all learning valuable lessons about not trying to stack the deck, because the game Knows). From Isaac, he got what’s called a dice tower; it’s basically a better way of rolling dice that resembles a marble game…

…and makes satisfying “click clack” noises as the colorful math rocks descend. Isaac loves putting things in things, especially if that act creates a Noise, so the idea of him giving a dice tower was just irresistible. And from Carrie, Kyle received some of those colorful math rocks, specifically a dice set with pink and purple butterflies because that’s just who she is. Sparkles, pink and purple, butterflies, rainbows… that may change in the coming years, but for now, she’s my girly girl. 

Lockdown has been easing in a good way here in Massachusetts–at least out in our neck of the woods, people have remained compliant with mask orders, so some things are somewhat back to normal, and we’ve felt comfortable enough the past couple of weekends to go and visit my parents at their house (even though our house is now visitable with its delightful couches, we wanted the twins to get some time at their grandparents’ house, since they haven’t had much time there at all). We went there for Father’s Day on Sunday and enjoyed some takeout from Outback Steakhouse and some good visiting. My dad and Kyle both got cards signed by all three kids (some more legibly than others), and I got my dad a book of Dad Jokes, because he is the absolute master of them. 

So it was a good weekend with a lot of normalcy, and that was really good for my mental state. Yesterday, for the first time in I don’t even know how long, I felt wide awake without having to go and take a nap when the twins did (I try not to nap when the twins do, but usually when that happens, I end up so tired throughout the afternoon that I can’t function; that I’ve been able to go several days without feeling like I need a nap–today excluded for being a migraine day–has been really nice). I also managed to go out and run some errands like the world was back to something resembling normalcy and not just. Chaotic.

Problems have even started being more normal, too, specifically where Sam is concerned. He’s had a loose tooth for several months, as you do when you are five, and it got really loose the other day, probably earlier than it should have. I guess he bit down too hard on a piece of bacon, and that pulled his tooth away from the gum and, apparently, exposed a nerve. The dentist told us there’s nothing for it except to give him Tylenol or Motrin and Orajel, because pulling it before it’s ready would cause more problems than it would solve.

The trouble is that this small adventure has caused a lot of anxiety for Sam. He’s understandably wary about eating now, because his tooth hurts–last night, despite us having his favorite noodles for dinner, he sobbed hysterically and refused to eat them because he was afraid. And then tonight, he sneaked down to snuggle with me when he was supposed to be in bed and told me, “I know I’m supposed to be happy about my loose tooth, but it hurts so much, and I’m really kind of mad at that bacon.”

I told him that the only way he’s supposed to feel is how he does feel–that it’s alright and even makes sense for him to be angry about this happening, because losing your first tooth should be exciting, fun, and painless, not scary and painful. 

And then he wanted to talk about spiders, because he’s six.

His pediatrician recommended us to a therapist to try and help him cope with anxiety better–I think his is worse than it should be because he’s got parents who are prone to anxiety, so there’s that natural tendency to pick up on it, and since the two of us are only just learning healthy coping skills, it’s hard for us to teach him. With any luck, speaking with a therapist will give him tools to use now so that he can grow up and have a handle on this instead of growing up like we Millennials do. 

So we’ll see where it all goes. But hopefully, it’ll go good places. Until then…

The Gremlins

Hey, guess what, here’s a TRIGGER WARNING, because I’m going to talk about my depression, and it’s going to be raw and real, so if you have a hard time reading about suicidal ideation or depressive psychosis, please click the little X on your tab. Please also click the little X on your tab if you’re the type of person to make “lol triggered” jokes because fuck you.

Right, so anyway.

I know I’ve talked about depression a lot, but not in a while, because for a really long time, I was doing really well. My meds (Effexor, specifically) were doing their job, I was feeling pretty good about life, even my hormones weren’t stopping me from being healthy. Ish. I still don’t have the high levels of serotonin required to make a cutesy Zoom video (and, in fact, the handful of video collabs I’ve been invited to participate in since quarantine started have whooshed right by me, for which I sorely apologize), and my energy levels have stayed steadily somewhere around “engages kids in play but only if it doesn’t require a lot of frolicking on my part.” I’d been mercifully free from downswings for years, even in the postpartum times, and I’ve been feeling genuinely optimistic, despite the world being a dumpster fire in a lot of ways. 

And then 2020 happened.

I felt the first hints of a downswing in January, when the president decided that starting World War III over Twitter was a great idea. It wasn’t anything severe at the time, more of a few nights panicking while trying to fall asleep and thinking, “Really. Fucking really. I cannot emphasize enough how little I and everyone else in existence want this, and yet it is happening, and it might result in massive casualties on all sides and nuclear winter. Yayyyyy.” 

But it passed. 

And I might’ve gotten through the year without a downswing, despite everything. The nonstop rush of everything happening so much that’s the modern newscycle has actually been good training for me at getting righteously angry while also being able to distance myself when I need a mental health break. We donated to help Australia recover from its wildfires, I spent most of the winter in bed because of bronchitis or norovirus, and once I’d recovered, I went into Sammy’s class twice to read him books. When I wasn’t sick, I went to the twins’ playgroup every week, and as exhausting as it was, it was good for me, because it was getting out of the house and doing a thing. 

But then Covid-19 came. 

And I hate talking about it as a catalyst for my depression getting worse, because it’s not like I’ve really suffered all that much from it. I have a dear college friend who’s an ICU nurse, and the fact that she’s not just rolling over into a ball of nope every day astounds me. I know people who’ve gotten sick themselves or lost friends and family members. By comparison with all of the above, I should be fine: I’m just homebound. That’s all. 

But depression doesn’t work that way. Instead, it sees patterns and recognizes those patterns as itself. For me, the pattern that pushes me into a downswing is monotony. If there’s little to no change in my day-to-day life, it gets hard for my brain to produce serotonin, no matter what good things are happening, like birthdays and new couches and D&D on the weekends. And I knew the second the Commonwealth started locking down that things were going to get ugly. I hoped that maybe, just maybe, the fact that I’m still on my antidepressant might keep things from getting too ugly, that maybe I might be able to come out of this with the lack of depression that makes sense for someone who’s not really suffering from the situation, just bearing emotional weight for the people around her.

I pushed through it as much as I could. I put off talking to someone as long as I could. What were they going to do, give me medication? Tell me that I could start therapy as soon as things were over? I didn’t leave the house because I’m prone to illness induced asthma and got bronchitis just a few months ago. My days fell into the same routine, even once Isaac’s ABA started and we had people coming into the house. The added pressure of keeping up with the twins’ Zoom call therapies didn’t help things at all, especially when I kept missing therapy sessions because I lost track of who was meeting when. Our poor services coordinator texts me at least once a week asking, “Are you still able to meet today?” when I’m 10 minutes late for our Zoom meeting because of basically no reason. 

I got through half of March. April passed by. We had Easter. We stayed in our routine. We were good. We didn’t leave the house to do anything but get groceries once a week. We washed our hands all the time. We made Isaac’s ABA therapists wash their hands the second they came into the house. We wore masks. Kyle worked twelve hour days, seven days a week, to keep up with a new project his old company was doing to help with Covid. 

And then, on April 30, he was laid off. 

Maybe that was the catalyst for the spiral; or maybe it’s that March, April, May, and June are usually my busiest months, spent obsessively organizing birthdays and anniversaries and holidays, and this year, I’m basically just sitting on my butt, doing nothing. I don’t really know. 

I just know that one night, I was sitting on my new couch, watching my kids play, and suddenly, it was like a little gremlin in the back of my head, saying, “Isn’t it a shame that you can’t want to die because of your kids?”

I should’ve seen it coming, probably. All of my previous hobbies have gotten kind of lackluster to me. I can’t disappear into writing anything anymore. None of my video games are fun anymore. I can’t make myself get up and read a book anymore. Even looking around at the mess in my house that needs cleaning makes me feel frustrated and empty, like why even bother when we can’t get it done while the kids are here anyway?

But there it was, that first intrusive thought, something I haven’t had since I started Effexor. More followed, usually late at night when I was trying to fall asleep. They really were like little gremlins sitting in the back of my head, saying things I didn’t like. “You know,” they said one night, “if you told Kyle you were going to take a nap, you could sneak up here and do it in a way you can’t sneak away any other time.” 

And the rest of my brain was screaming, “But I don’t want to die!”

Another time: “Let’s google ways of doing it painlessly, because pain isn’t fun.”

And the rest of my brain was screaming, “Dying in general isn’t fun either!”

I’m not a self-sacrificing idiot. I did some googling, not of painless ways to die, but rather of potential side effects of all the medications I’m taking. My birth control pill had listed under its name, “Contact your doctor if you experience new or worsening depression,” so that was the first step I took, calling my OB-GYN and saying, “hey, I don’t know if this is because of the progesterone or anything, but…”

And in a heartbeat, although Covid still mattered, it didn’t matter. Immediately, my doctor set up appointments for me to come in and see him. At the same time, he set up an emergency triage with the mental health department, which made the appointments kind of weird: I sat in his office having a pelvic exam, PAP smear, endometrial biopsy, and polyp removal (owwww), and then I went into another room and had a phone call with someone from behavioral health to make sure I wasn’t in any immediate danger.

And I wasn’t, because the gremlins aren’t terribly convincing, but they’re still present, so the mental health provider set me up with one of her colleagues, and we spoke on Friday.

The first appointment with any new doctor is an adventure, because you have to go through your medical history with a stranger and talk about how you’ve only ever smoked tobacco once and it was a pipe in college and it was terrible, and how having three kids and taking progesterone to help with PCOS means that your sex life is a craps shoot as to whether or not it exists and so on. 

The first appointment with a therapist, though, is basically an emotional debridement. You don’t just talk about your physical health and history, oh no. You have to go through the history of your mental health, which means delicately going into your background and realizing, as you talk things through, that maybe you haven’t been as okay all along as you previously thought. Like for example, your therapist asks, “How long have you had intrusive thoughts like these?” and you start to answer that it’s just been in the last couple of years, but no wait, you remember them in college, and no, they went back farther than that, and suddenly, you realize that you were having intrusive thoughts as a kid, and you were so scared of them because you grew up in a church that preached demonic possession and didn’t want your parents to think that you were possessed, so you kept it all to yourself. 

“What were they like as a kid?” the therapist asks, and at first you think you don’t remember, but then you do remember the thought of wouldn’t it be nice to get hit by a car or be sick in the hospital so that everyone would feel sorry for you. “What a weird thought!” you say laughingly, and the therapist says, “It sounds like you subconsciously wanted to ask for help but didn’t know how.” 

So you have to absorb that while also chatting about yes, things were better for a long time after you started meds, but now they inexplicably are not better anymore.

It’s a lot. And as you’re raw from letting this all sink in, the therapist remarks, “I think you’ve got severe depression and depressive psychosis, and also your meds don’t seem to be cutting it anymore. I’m ordering a medication review with your PCP and one of our prescribing RNs to see if we can’t find something that will work better for you. And you and I are going to talk again next week. In the meantime, here are some crisis numbers. Please make sure you’ve got them on hand and make sure your husband has them in case there’s ever an emergency.”

And you’re like, oh, I guess it’s worse than I thought.

I’ve got a lot to unpack over the coming weeks and months, on a lot of levels–judging by that, more than I probably realize. Having therapy to look forward to is helping in the short term, but in the long term… I don’t know. I just want to feel hopeful again, you know? 

Anyway. I didn’t write any of this as a ploy for sympathy or to try and divert attention from infinitely more important causes (and if we’re friends on Facebook, you know where my mind’s been this past week), but just because I want to be honest on this blog, as I always have wanted, and that means sometimes telling some hard stories. So there you go.

The Hard Years

We’ve had our share of hard years, you and I.

2011 was a hard year, all the way into 2012. It started out with so much ice that we were stuck in your parents’ house for weeks on end (wonder what that’s like ha ha ha.). Then your car spun out on your way back from work one night, and it was totaled, and I was so glad that you were okay. As long as you were okay, we’d figure out the car situation. 

Except maybe a month later, my car got totaled, too, by some maniac that crashed into it while I was sleeping after teaching a way-too-early morning class. He pushed it all the way up on your parents’ lawn, and pieces were falling off of it. That was right after we both signed on your replacement car, that awesome Toyota Corolla that I still miss. That was a good car. 

And then I had that mess up with my job, the year I was a teaching fellow, scrambling to make it to teach a 7:50 class at my school an hour away, driving on highways that weren’t yet familiar to me well before sunrise, eating a terrible breakfast of pretzel M&Ms and a 5 Hour Energy. I misunderstood the school schedule, nobody bothered to correct me when I asked, and we had a third of my pay taken away overnight.

I remember that day, when I found out what they were doing, and I felt so ashamed and guilty, but you never flinched. You went out that night and got a job, boom, just like that. It wasn’t a great job, no, but it was a job, and right then, having a job was better than having no job. 

It’s ironic to me that 2011-2012 was such a bad year for us, because it was the year we got married. May 22, 2011. 

Remember how neither of us can remember it through a first person lens, just like we’re watching ourselves go through the entire day on a TV screen or something? How surreal is that?

But things got better for the summer, my first summer in Texas, our first summer as a married couple. We found an apartment in Bedford, a really nice one, and I had an internship that paid more than I’d ever made before, easily enough to pay for both of our cars (because I had a new one now, too, so that you could get to your classes in Arlington while I went to work in Southlake) and the really nice apartment in Bedford. Sure, the apartment had an ant problem, but that didn’t bother us–they were our minions and we were their gods.

Sure, the building’s electricity went out with alarming regularity and caused the stove to catch on fire a few times, but we had that great loft where the reptiles were nice and warm, and space for all of our things, and nobody there but the two of us. 

One night that summer, well before sunrise, you turned over in our bed–the inflatable mattress my parents had given us–and asked, “Do you ever get that sinking feeling?” as the mattress deflated and our butts touched the floor. We couldn’t afford a new bed, but we got one anyway, because we needed one, and we laughed the whole time: folding up the air mattress with its many holes, choosing the cheapest queen size bed at Big Lots, trying to get it past all of our boxes into the corner of our bedroom in that really nice apartment in Bedford.

I could’ve stayed there, I think. I didn’t like that summer, what with its temperatures refusing to dip below 100 so we spent way too much on electricity every month just to keep the apartment livable, but I could’ve stayed in the Bedford apartment if things had worked out. If we’d figured out our work situation more quickly, maybe we’d be living in Bedford right now, though our lives would look very different. 

Things started to not work out. The internship ended, and though I’d spent the entirety of my graduate program hearing that internships almost always led to job offers, this one didn’t. Not only that, but the head of the department gave me a furious dressing down when I presented the work I’d done for the internship, telling me that I was terminally unprofessional, which was a shame because I was such a good writer, and that she didn’t see me as employable. As she left the room, me standing there barely composed, my legs shaking, she turned and gave me a saccharine smile. “Congratulations on your wedding,” she said; she looked like Dolores Umbridge.

 I don’t think my confidence in myself has ever recovered from that meeting, but it’s funny because your confidence in me didn’t waver for a second, even when you came home the day after and laughingly told me that you’d lost your job, too. 

That wasn’t the end of Bedford. Our days turned into job hunts, and we spent our nights watching movies on cable. On Halloween, we didn’t have any trick-or-treaters, but we did snuggle on the couch with popcorn and chocolate milk, and it was really nice. 

And then in November, things turned again, like the Wheel of Fortune always does. Without applying for it, I got a job, my favorite job I’ve ever had, and with a substantial increase in pay from what I’d been making at my internship. It still wasn’t a lot, but it was more than enough to keep us comfortable in the Bedford apartment, to keep the cars paid for, maybe even for us to start doing normal things like going to the doctor again or trying to grow our family. 

Christmas in 2011 was absolutely wonderful. It was my first Christmas away from Massachusetts, but I couldn’t feel too homesick. We didn’t splurge, but you understood when I needed a little Christmas, right this very minute, and you accepted that I named our Charlie Brown Christmas tree “Charles Barkley” (however begrudgingly). We had our junkfood feast and you hung the lights. On Christmas Day, we watched fewer Star Wars movies than we planned, but that’s mostly because getting through Attack of the Clones is a chore. I made us cheesy chicken kiev and green beans. 

And things seemed to still be going well. Work was busy, but busy work is a good sign, they say. If you run out of things to do, that’s when you should worry. You looked for work in your field, I came home every day, we did Married Couple Things. In early March, we thought I might be pregnant, but I wasn’t, and then a few days after I wasn’t, I was laid off. 

It came as a surprise and as not a surprise, both at the same time. I’d heard rumors about layoffs all week long, but when it actually came, it was still a blow, even with both my manager and the CEO telling me they’d recommend me to anywhere I wanted. As nice as they were, I still felt no guilt ordering an expensive dessert on the company’s dime that day. 

But just like that, we had no income. You had your savings account that was supposed to be for college, but we didn’t want to spend all of that on rent and car payments. I was hunting for jobs like crazy, but I got nothing. You were applying for everything you could, but you got nothing. 

We were at the end of our rope. We were broke, student loans were beginning to come due, and the recession had settled into our chosen fields in Texas. And we made a hard choice, together.

Because moving up here was a hard choice, and it felt a little bit like failure. We’d tried to make it on our own, but we’d stumbled and fallen, and though my parents didn’t mind having us live in the in-law apartment for a while, it was so quintessentially Millennial of us, wasn’t it? All of our things got packed into a UHaul storage box that we wouldn’t see again for another year. We squeezed what we could into our two cars (my mom drove one), and we took the long road, through Arkansas and Tennessee and Virginia and Pennsylvania and New York and Connecticut and Massachusetts. 

But we were together. We laughed together. We cheered for Bucksnort, Tennessee, and for our savior town of Bristol. We made each other snort laughing about the Mouseketeers summoning Mickey to devour a sacrifice. We had each other, and by the end of that long, hard first year, we’d really put into practice what we’d promised in our marriage vows. We were each other’s best friends, through thick and thin, and we knew that if difficult times came again, we’d weather them together.

And, I mean, weathering them together is infinitely better than weathering them with one of us 2000 miles away from the other.

This year has been rough, too, and it’s only May 22. I got so sick in January and February, so sick that I said to you at one point that I was so sick of being sick and stuck inside because I couldn’t walk around Target without feeling exhausted and winded. As if that were a preview of coming attractions, Covid-19 descended on the world, and we’ve been stuck inside since March. 

Right now, we should be planning our date at the Melting Pot. The kids should be at my parents’ house, having a sleepover because tomorrow is a Saturday. Maybe we’d use some of the free time in the morning to go to Home Depot and order a microwave, but more likely, we’d sleep in until my phone buzzed with my mom asking, “So when are you coming to pick up the kids?”

But we’re not. We’re not even getting a calm day. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment, you’re watching the kids all morning, you’ve got an interview in the afternoon, the best we can really do is a faux-movie date after the kids go to bed. Not the anniversary I’d hoped for.

The truth, though, is that I still wouldn’t trade it for the world, because it’ll be with you. 

Here’s some more truth for you: I still want to go through all the ups and downs of life with you, even nine years after I walked down the aisle having an out-of-body experience. I’m not at that desperate stage of love, where I’m thinking and saying, “I NEED YOU.” You don’t complete me, my dear; I was complete when I met you. But damn, do you make life better. 

I can sit here in our office and ramble on to you about how I’m trying to reconcile my need for this lockdown to end with my desire to keep people safe, and you understand me. You don’t fight with me; when we disagree, you work with me and we find solutions together. We’ve reached that point where we can look at each other over our kids’ heads without saying a word and communicate flawlessly, and I love it. 

I love the way Sam teases us when he catches us kissing, because it means that he knows as well as we know that we don’t just love each other; we really like each other. I love the way Carrie sees us kiss and then does her little dancey dancey walk over to us to get in on the action (heaven forbid we ever show affection to anyone and not show some to Carrie as well). I love how Isaac laughs in confusion when we cuddle on the couch, like we’ve ceased to be Mommy and Daddy and have just become MommyandDaddy, a single conjoined entity. 

I love our nighttime clothes folding sessions while watching whatever series we’ve decided is currently worth our attention. I love the way you squeeze my butt when I roll over in bed, like “hey, I love you.” I love that we’re both able to see what the other really means and work through the actual root issues of any given problem. I love that you both do and don’t let me be the DM’s wife during our Saturday night game (the nat 20s on persuasion rolls are totally legit!). I love that feeling of relief that settles in when you get home from wherever, not just because I’m no longer alone with our three monkeys, but because you’re here, so things will be alright.

This is a bullshit season of our lives, and it’s not the first, and it won’t be the last. But after being married nine years and being together thirteen, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be than with you. 

I love you, always.

Stuff is still happening

I think the wildest thing about locking down is that it feels like there’s nothing new to report ever about anything. Stuff is happening, sure, but it’s like being in a major depressive downswing, where it’s all happening in this void of nothing. Days are all bleeding into each other, to the point where I told like three or four separate people today that Monday is Memorial Day.

It’s not. 

Stuff is happening! It just is happening in this void that’s usually relegated to memories. Like you know how most of your memories kind of bleed together so you know that a thing happened, but you don’t know specifically when? That’s what it feels like. 

It’s like my memories of my choir tours back in college. In four years, I went on twelve choir tours in a huge bus driving all up and down the eastern seaboard of the US, and while some of them are very specific place-related memories (like obviously, that time we went to the beach on Cape Cod was during a tour on Cape Cod), most just sort of blur into a “I know this happened, but I don’t really know when or where.” When did I stay at that person’s house? What year was it? Was it in Pennsylvania or New York or Virginia? Was it in the spring or the fall or the winter?

(if you were in A Cappella Choir at ENC, you know what I mean)

Stuff is happening. Sam’s birthday happened this week! I have a six-year-old now, and it’s crazy. For the most part, there’s very little difference between Sammy the six-year-old and Sammy the five-year-old, except that Sammy the six-year-old has Minecraft guides that he likes to read aloud to us at all hours of the day and night, where Sammy the five-year-old did not have such guides. 

I think he had a pretty awesome birthday, all things considered. We’d been promising him for something like two years that we’d have his birthday party this year at our local indoor play place called Luv 2 Play, which is just that kind of McDonald’s Play Place gone wild, Discovery Zone type adventure land, with ball pits and climbing structures and arcades and pizza! It’s like Chuck E Cheese but so much more! And they’d literally just opened a month before the lockdown went into place and then the lockdown happened and so much for that. 

So I knew the potential for disappointment was high and because of that, I went a little overboard with the stuff we could do. Our local police department had a program in place from about the time the lockdown started where they’d come to your house for your kid’s birthday, lights flashing and sirens wailing, and I signed us up for that. Sam was super shy about it, but he was also beyond happy, and he got to sit in the front of and pretend to drive a squad car (his comments on it: “Wow, there’s a lot of stuff in here! It’s a mess!”). 

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I baked him a cake, as I always do, and even though it looked sort of a mess, it tasted great. Black frosting, as he requested, plus Minecraft decor, as he requested, though my favorite part was the Lego brick candles I found on Amazon. Guarantee I wouldn’t have thought to use those if I hadn’t been scrambling to try and find ways to create a spectacular cake for my big guy to help him with what could’ve otherwise been a really sad birthday. 

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AND. His best friend’s mom got in touch with me and we planned for them to drive up to our house so Sammy and his best friend could see each other. I think that was my favorite part of the day. Sam, being six, says that his favorite part of the day was getting various toys, but I think what really sticks in his mind was seeing Hunter and getting to talk with him, even if they had to stay apart through a car window. 

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So it was a success, despite everything, and I’m relieved. 

Stuff is happening. We broke down our old couch and chair because the furniture outlet we’d gone shopping at literally days before the entire state shut down called us and said, “Hey, are you going to have your couches delivered or what?” 

We’ve needed new couches for ages because our living room furniture was not only purchased in the era of “well, the Båckachë model from Ikea is affordable” but has broken in multiple ways and multiple places. It was ugly and stained and had ceased to be comfortable by any definition. 

And we had a pretty nice tax return this year and figured, hey, Kyle’s gainfully employed and even though he has to work from home now, we should be fine through this pandemic!

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Anyway. We needed new furniture, so we bought new furniture; but when everything went into lockdown, we thought we’d have to wait until whenever restrictions were lifted completely to have it all delivered (since we just did what’s called “threshold” delivery, which means they basically yeet the furniture at you from the back of a moving truck). But no, apparently they’re doing deliveries again, so we’ve broken down the old sofa and rocking chair and made our living room empty and ready for a sofa, loveseat, and coffee table. 

97101404_10157206797540592_2838004347839709184_o(it looks a lot emptier now that we’ve cleaned up all the toys)

It’s wild. Even in this time that feels like miles of endless nothing, I’ve somehow reached the age where I have a coffee table. A really nice one, too! 

Isaac is still having his ABA, which is great. He’s so much calmer and happier, and he’s been getting along so much better with Carrie. He’s gaining words, and though he doesn’t necessarily use them unprompted (i.e., he won’t do like Carrie does and point to a picture of something yellow while saying “yellow”), he still has them, and that’s important. He doesn’t melt down as often as he had been, and he’s just… he’s really doing so well. He’s still very obviously autistic, and I’ve made it clear to his therapists and their office that I am perfectly fine with him stimming, with him being obviously autistic; but he’s learning to communicate better, which is helping him both in the short term and in the long run. He’s better able to express his wants and needs, and because of that, he doesn’t get frustrated so easily. 

Which is good. 

And then for me. Despite not being able to actually physically go to a doctor’s office, I had a breast cancer risk assessment screening thing last week. It wasn’t a huge deal, just something my OB-GYN had recommended because I have a lot of aunts who’ve had breast cancer and other cancers, on both sides. When that’s your family makeup, you want to get yourself assessed, just to make sure that you’re not missing something.

To nobody’s surprise, I’m sitting right in the middle of the high risk category, which doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m 100% going to get breast cancer, nothing I can do about it, but rather that I need to start being screened more frequently as soon as possible so that if anything does pop up, it can be caught ASAP and stopped before it turns into something unstoppable. 

Naturally, with the world locked down, that basically means that I have to hurry up and wait. I received a packet in the mail talking about my risks and medications I could take (that decreased the risk of breast cancer, but also increased the risk of blood clots and uterine cancer, so I’m like ??? that sounds like the opposite of helping?), and I have a note on my chart about getting a mammogram as soon as I can. And I get to follow that up with an MRI and just alternate mammograms and MRIs every six months until I die or someone chops off my boobs or something. 

(true story: if I could donate some boob to someone who wants to have more boob, I totally would)

All of this has happened in the last week, since the last time I wrote something, but it feels like nothing is happening. Tomorrow is Saturday, I know, but beyond that? Who even knows? What even is happening? Everything is happening, and it’s all a big, meaningless void of nothing. 

And yet, I’m still in favor of keeping locked down as long as it takes to get some sort of actual plan in place or get our act together on treatments and vaccines and whatever the fuck we need because this is not a pleasant illness. I hate being locked down, and if by some miracle, there was no more Covid-19 tomorrow and we could all frolic about freely, I would be the first one out of my house. I want my son to be able to go back to kindergarten and see his friends and finish out the year. I want to take all three of my kids to their well visits without having to wrestle with masks. I want to know without a shadow of a doubt that our trip to Disney World in November is happening. I want people to be able to go back to work. I want to get my roots touched up. 

Like that’s the thing. I feel like there’s this misconception that if you’re in favor of things being locked down, you’re having a blast being cooped up inside and don’t see any downsides whatsoever. That is the opposite of true. I am hitting a yellow wallpaper point. I’m worried about the longterm ramifications of the way the world is right now for all three of my kids, regarding not just their educations but also their psychological stability and the economy they’ll be inheriting. 

But I also don’t want people to die. I’m generally in favor of that not happening. People die every day, of course, but if we can reduce the number of people dying, I’d like to do that.

And then like… I talk about returning to normal and, okay. I’ve seen the post, too, about how our previous “normal” is what has this country being the laughingstock of the world with how we’re handling this. I don’t want that. When I talk about returning to normal, I mean I want my son to be able to see his friends at school and be taught by someone who’s trained to teach kindergarten rather than by me saying “what the hell is a digraph” during a Zoom call. I want to go to well visits at the doctor to catch problems before they’re major. I want to be able to say, “hey, let’s go visit so-and-so” or “hey, let’s go to the playground” or “hey, let’s go get ice cream” and then do that thing.

But I also want the things that would provide a safety net in situations like this–things like universal healthcare, universal basic income, significantly higher pay for teachers, a living wage for everyone, general compassion and caring for our fellow human beings across the board. I want that change. But I also want the normal of being able to pick up my kids from the school bus after they’ve spent a day with their friends.

I hope that makes sense. 

I’m not going to debate anyone about it if you disagree. 

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But I do wish we could find a nice balance between “endless lockdown because we don’t know what we’re doing” and “we’re just going back to business as usual and screw people if they get sick.” 

Sigh.

Uncertainty

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I wrote this entry a couple of days ago, but then I deleted it and decided to try it again, and again, and again, because no matter what I’ve been writing about things, it doesn’t turn out right.

Here’s the short of the matter: Kyle got laid off last week. 

It was 100% unexpected and had nothing to do with the current state of the world. In short, his company was bought out and layoffs happened. We thought he’d be safe from them because of a variety of factors, but in the end, he wasn’t. 

We’ve been through this before in our life together, lots of times. Right after we got married, my internship that was supposed to turn into a full time job… well, didn’t. I’d been our primary source of income because Kyle was still finishing his degree, and we went from being able to afford things like an apartment and our car payments to… not being able to afford anything. And it sucked for about eight million reasons, the largest of which being that we were broke. Worse than broke. We were trying to get an education, and the economy tanked after we’d taken out our loans, so there we were, jobless, newly married, with $60k in student loan debt. 

Kyle had a savings account, so we used some of that to keep ourselves from going under completely. We both job hunted like mad, as much as we could. Kyle eventually found a seasonal retail position, and I kept hunting. I flew up to Massachusetts to interview for a technical writing position and stayed there for a week, waiting to hear back and hearing nothing. And then, out of the blue, people started finding my resume and I ended up, at least for a little while, at my favorite job I’ve ever worked with my favorite coworkers ever. 

But that didn’t last either. That job ended in a layoff as well, because the economy was tough, and my entire department was cut. Kyle and I made a choice then, that we’d both try and find more work, but that if we couldn’t find work in Texas, we’d cut spending where we could and move in with my parents, since they had an in-law apartment they were offering us rent-free. 

And, well. No nibbles after a month, bills piling up, stress on our shoulders. We made the move, and it was hard, and I hated it. I hate moving in general, but I hate it most when it’s moving from somewhere you’ve thought would be at least semi-permanent. I hate it when you’re watching your entire life, save for whatever necessities you can squeeze into a couple of small cars, get shuffled off into storage. All of those wedding gifts, all of those books, all of those photographs, boxed up and kept in a U-Haul for who knew how long. 

I hated feeling like a failure, too, because even though the layoffs in question were mostly because of a shitty economy, you always feel like you’ve failed when you’re laid off. Even when your manager tells you that your work is exemplary, and when the company owner tells you that he’ll recommend you anywhere you want to go, you still wonder how you could’ve let this happen. 

But back then, it was just the two of us, plus a snake and two leopard geckos. We lived as leanly as we could; weeks where we’d saved money ended with a $20 dinner for two at Chili’s, but most of the time, we’d end our week with whatever we could buy for $10 or less at the corner store. 

We moved into my parents’ basement, quintessential Millennials. And somehow, once we’d settled in there, things came together. In only about four months, Kyle got a great job, paying way more than I’d been making in Texas or than he could’ve hoped to make there. A year after moving in with my parents, we moved into our own place. A year after that, Kyle got his last job, which was a great experience with great benefits and pay that enabled us to buy our own house and raise three kids.

And now this.

I’m trying to be okay, for everyone’s sake. I know it’s logical to be okay, that every job Kyle and I have gotten in the past decade or so has been offered to us rather than being something we’ve had to hunt down, that we’ve got a surprisingly sturdy safety net at the moment. I know that all of Kyle’s contacts in his industry heard he was available for work again and started sending him jobs immediately. I know that, in the end, it’s probably going to turn out that it’s all for the best, and he’ll be making way more than he was before, and he’ll be happier and more comfortable than he was before.

And yet.

Everything is uncertain now. We’d finally gotten to a point where paychecks didn’t feel stretched paper thin. The twins are done with formula, Sam’s in public school. We’re halfway through buying couches, for heaven’s sake. 

(we are going to finish buying the couches, as soon as the furniture store opens back up)

It’s different now than when it was just the two of us and some reptiles. Eight years ago, when we packed up our life and moved away, not knowing what the future would bring us, it was just us (plus a snake and two leopard geckos). Nobody depended on us. We could’ve, if we’d had that sort of kooky young person mindset, just up and moved to Scotland or New Zealand, and it wouldn’t be that hard because it would just be us. 

(I mean, it wouldn’t be easy, but big life changes are easier with just two adults who know how to cope with change)

But we’ve got kids now. Three kids depending on us to keep them from starving or being homeless. And in the end, we’ve got enough of a safety net that I know, logically, we’ll be alright, but there’s that little nagging gremlin in the back of my mind saying, “but what if…?”

I remain staggeringly cognizant of the fact that we’re living on a knife’s edge, like pretty much everyone else in our generation. Kyle and I–Kyle especially–are skilled workers who always get compliments on our “work ethic” and other intangibles that people like a lot, but we’re also lucky. Lucky that this happened when it did, lucky that we have families who are able to support us, lucky that we’ve got our safety net in place, lucky that Kyle has great contacts with great connections. Lucky. 

We’re taking turns being optimistic. It’s Kyle’s turn tonight. I’m feeling sulky and mildly belligerent, but I’m internalizing the latter and nursing the former with a handful of novels I’ve been meaning to read and the knowledge that Sam’s birthday next week will, at least, be a good time.

Week One of ABA

As it turns out, ABA is considered an essential service by our state, so whether it’s wise or not (I’m leaning towards “eh?” because it’s a single person and we make her wash her hands before she interacts with anyone), we’ve started Isaac’s ABA. This is also, at least in part, because nobody knows when things are going to get back to anything resembling “normal,” and I don’t want him to miss out on any therapy he needs or be super duper behind in the coming years. Autism therapy services are notoriously hard to schedule and nail down (like forget finding someone who’d do Floortime or RDI, they’re basically booked years in advance, and I guarantee they are not covered by our insurance), so it feels like waiting at all is walking a very fine line between logical and bad idea land.

I’ve written before, too, how the idea of ABA made me nervous, and it still does because we’re not technically in the therapeutic part of it yet. The first week, as our BCBA (who is basically the services coordinator) explained to us, is all about getting Isaac used to his therapist (currently Yesica, later Kathleen) and attached enough to her that he’ll actually be interested in the therapy and not spend the entire time burying his head on my lap like he did on Thursday. Things will 100% change when we get to the actual therapy part of therapy, but for now, I’m feeling encouraged.

On day one, Yesica and our BCBA Jessica (it was confusing) brought in a big locked trunk of brand new toys that they’d scrambled to get (because literally nothing is open right now, and the places that are open are mostly just stocking essentials). The toys included a lot of typical toddler toys like stacking cups and boxes with shaped holes and crayons and a noisy firetruck. The idea with these toys is that they live at our house and only come out when Isaac’s therapist is here; that keeps them fresh and interesting and special, so that Isaac isn’t just using them all the time and not associating them with therapy.

Our therapist is here from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m., five days a week, which may be a little much for Isaac (though the doctor who diagnosed him suggested at least 10-15 hours, probably more), as he basically hits his limit around 10:30 and spends the rest of the session on my lap, staring off into space. Which, yeah, fair. I’ll admit that if I had someone pulling me into interactive play all the stinkin time, 90 minutes would be about my limit as well, and I’d probably be like “OH I NEED TO GO PEE, BE RIGHT BACK” and then hide in the bathroom on my phone until two minutes before they were scheduled to leave, at which point I’d wash my hands, come out, and be like “OH MAN SORRY ABOUT THAT, YOU KNOW HOW IT IS.”

(this would only work once, but I’d do it anyway)

And basically, for the last week, it’s just been playtime for those two hours. Yesica encourages Isaac to play with different toys and tries to get him to talk while they’re playing. She’ll help him to sign for “open” or encourage him to say “help,” and whether it’s because he’s just reached an age where that works for him or whether it’s because of the therapy, it’s working. He does regularly sign for “open” and he does regularly say “help,” and it’s really nice to see. He’s also been trying out more and more words lately, which we celebrate loudly every time there’s a new word in his vocabulary. Cake, tada, buzz, wow, light, things like that. I feel like a switch got flipped in his mind, where he’s like “oh, I can make words too! Cool!”

The best part of ABA so far, though, and the part that’s given me the most peace about the process is how Isaac’s therapist has incorporated his stimming into his therapy. Instead of trying to discourage it or stop it from happening, she’s been encouraging it and using it to teach him things. She’ll pick him up and say, “ready, set, go!” and then help him spin around, and it’s worked to teach him to respond to “ready…” by saying “set, go!” Earlier today, he was sitting on our rocking ottoman and rocking himself, as he does, so she worked with it. She rocked the ottoman for him, and then stopped, while teaching him the words “stop” and “go.” 

This mostly gives me peace because I didn’t want any part of this to mask or erase Isaac’s autism. It’s who he is. He will never not be autistic, and that’s wonderful. I don’t want to ever teach him that’s something he needs to hide or pretend he isn’t. He is who he is. And so far, even though it’s only been a week, they seem to be embracing that. I’ve got fingers and toes crossed that they’ll keep it up as we progress through therapy, into the coming year and into his eventual transition to preschool next spring (please, please, pleeeeeeease let this pandemic have calmed down some by then). 

I’ll keep talking about this, because when we started to go into ABA, I felt like there weren’t any “middle of the road” perspectives out there, where the parent talking about ABA wasn’t wanting their child’s autism to be cured but also was seeing the necessity of some therapy to help their kid cope with a very noisy world that needs words. And so far, that seems to be the mindset of our therapists as well.