It’s the Holiday Season…

I love the holidays, though my definition of “the holidays” differs from most people’s in that I firmly believe “the holidays” begin with Halloween and end with New Year’s because those are the temporal boundaries of my other busy season (the primary busy season lasting from March through July). During what I’ll call a twelve week span (because let’s be real–October first is the very latest we all start celebrating Halloween), I’m constantly baking and getting the kids ready for things and wrapping presents and baking and traveling and baking and did I mention baking?

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(for the record: I love all the baking I do, but it’s a lot between October 1 and January 1)

As of this writing, my holiday season has been in full swing for about a month, with the first holiday happening last week. Halloween was unseasonably warm this year, and that turned it into an adventure for everyone. I baked the cupcakes I’d signed up to bake for Sam’s class party…

…and they were apparently a big hit! And honestly, they were great fun to do, at least partly because Kyle helped with the decorating. We spent two evenings together in the kitchen baking and mixing and mixing and decorating, and per his report, the whole experience was highly satisfying (his favorite part was rolling the cupcakes in sprinkles after they’d been frosted, and I can’t blame him). 

Our Halloween plans had otherwise been to attend the school’s trunk or treat (since our neighborhood is garbage for trick-or-treating–no sidewalks and halfway up a really steep hill that people like to drive down at about 300 MPH) and show off the kids’ costumes. For Isaac, we ended up getting an embarrassingly cheap dragon costume (and I say “embarrassingly” because it was horrible quality and way larger than the site suggested it would be, leading to a very difficult time when he eventually did wear it), and Carrie got a very floofy version of Rapunzel’s dress along with a gorgeous braid headband. Sam was, of course, Darth Vader. 

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But anyway, we wanted to go to the trunk or treat, but that first got rescheduled because of mosquitoes (Massachusetts was having a pretty bad EEE outbreak this year, but we had a hard frost a couple of days ago so TAKE THAT YOU BLOOD SUCKING MONSTROSITIES) and then it got cancelled because of rain. This left us without any sort of trick-or-treating for the kids (because our hill is dangerous in good weather, never mind when it’s pouring out) until my mom gamely agreed to come with me and take the kids to a local mall for trick-or-treating there.

This was something of a mistake.

Our local malls vary from “pretty nice, actually” to “why is this still open?” and this mall tends towards the latter category. Thirty years ago, it was a really nice place with fancy restaurants and a really posh feel to it, a classier version of the typical 80s mall. As is the case with most malls, however, time and changing trends in retail chipped away at its poshness and left it somewhat of a shell. It’s still got a singular anchor store (there’s a Sears, which gives me questions, and the other anchor spot is now taken by a doctor’s office) and the skeleton of a food court, along with a handful of mall fixtures (American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret, Journeys, etc.), but it’s definitely a shadow of its former self. 

A disheartening number of storefronts were vacant when we got there on Halloween, and the fronts that were open ran out of candy pretty quickly–I don’t think anyone at the mall anticipated the entire county coming to trick-or-treat there rather than face the rain. Sam had a grand time because he’s five and got lots of candy (a full set of Dum Dums! I’ve never seen one of those before!), but the twins were wailing by about 10 minutes in, and my mom and I were both exhausted at the end of the adventure.

So. Here’s hoping that next Halloween has pleasant temperatures and no rain.

(but at least the kids looked cute! For all 5 minutes they all stayed in their costumes)

And now it’s today, which is my birthday.

Did I do anything to celebrate? Well, I wanted to, but the kids shared a wonderful cold with me, so I spent most of last night with a throat too sore to allow talking and most of today wishing I could be horizontal. Kyle, being the star that he is, stepped in and made the batch of brownies I’d planned to make for myself and, since he was working from home today anyway, let me get a nap in while the twins were napping, which will hopefully help me recover from this cold quicker and without any trips to urgent care because of breathing (because the last thing I either need or want is to get pneumonia again). 

So things have been lowkey, but I need that. We’ve been juggling a lot of adventures lately with the twins especially, namely that Isaac has been fast tracked on the path towards an autism diagnosis and Carrie still qualifies for early intervention services.

Carrie first: she had her annual evaluation today to see if her development has caught up to where it should be, and the hilarious thing is that she’s basically where she ought to be when she’s not being observed. When she is being observed, as we discovered today, she’s pretty behind in a couple of areas, namely fine motor and receptive communication. 

But she’s not actually behind.

Most of the areas where she scored “behind” were items on the test that she knows how to do and does often, but today, when asked to do them in front of the EI evaluation team, she gave an impish little smirk…

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…and ran off giggling to hide behind the couch. Cue my little genius communicator getting much lower scores in fine motor skills and receptive communication than I know she’s capable of. On some level, this should bother me, but I’d rather she get services and not need them than need them and not get them. Worse comes to worse, they reevaluate in six months and she doesn’t get services anymore after that, or else she just gets a little supplemental help and EI helps with her preschool placement in 2021 (wow, that’s an actual year, that’s bizarre).

And then there’s Isaac.

A couple of months ago, I mentioned my concerns about him relating to autism… well, less concerns, more “I’m autistic myself, my entire family is autistic, I know what it looks like, and he looks like he’s going in that direction.” Our wonderful services coordinator got the ball rolling for diagnosis, but because he was only 17 months old at the time, we couldn’t do a lot because most diagnostics won’t say much until a kid is at least 18 months old (which I hate because if you’re living in a bright, loud world and can’t filter out sounds and sights, important to unimportant, and get so exhausted because of it and have a hard time having conversations or learning language because you’re so overwhelmed… like, wouldn’t you want to name that and learn coping skills ASAP?). 

But we started anyway. We took the ASQ and the M-CHAT, both of which mostly look at autistic traits–that is, traits that are common in people with autism. Things like lack of eye contact, stimming, repetitive behavior, the typical “that child has autism” traits, you know. Those both kind of bugged me because they felt like they were reducing autism to a checklist of traits, which I haaaaaaaate

BUT then came the RITA-T, which we did last week. The RITA-T actually looks more closely at behavior that makes sense when you understand how autistic brains function (i.e., it’s hard to split your focus because so much sensory input is competing for your attention, and you can’t automatically filter it like a neurotypical person would). The test focuses on something called “joint attention,” trying to split your attention between a toy you’re playing with alongside another person and the person sharing the toy with you. It also focuses on how you’re interpreting sensory input (e.g., how Isaac reacted to me pretending to cry, how he reacted when I called his name with a blank expression, etc.). 

And, well. Isaac scored high enough to qualify for fast tracking towards diagnosis at our local hospital. 

Fast tracking essentially means that instead of us having to play telephone games trying to get in touch with someone, the EI specialists send in the paperwork for us. Fast tracking means that instead of facing a 6-18 month wait for an appointment, we’re looking at a 6 week wait. And that’s a huge difference. Six months would put us at Isaac being two years old, skipping over a lot of development. And eighteen months would put us at Isaac being three years old and aging out of EI services altogether. That it’s been fast tracked means that if he gets a diagnosis (which seems very likely at this point), he’ll be able to receive the services and therapy he needs to help him cope with a very overstimulating world and hopefully start preschool already better prepared than he would otherwise be. 

So. We’ll see what happens there. In the meantime, I’ve got 16 days until we do something absolutely insane and pack up the whole family in a rental car to drive down to Texas for Thanksgiving! Until next time and a wild trip report…

(oh also I have purple hair now)

Mushroom & Mustard Pork Chops + Communication

MUSHROOM & MUSTARD STUFFED PORK CHOPS
I have no idea where this recipe originally came from–I learned it from my parents, and I think they learned it from a magazine somewhere? Maybe? It probably dates back to around the 1970s in this incarnation, but it’s still good… if you like pork. And mushrooms. And mustard.

Ingredients

  • 1 boneless pork chop for every person eating (i.e., two for two people, three for three people, etc.)
  • 1 lb pasta of your choice (we always use tri-color rotini, but see below for notes)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup heavy cream for every person eating
  • Butter to coat frying pan
  • Mustard
  • Mustard powder
  • Tarragon
  • Parsley
  • Pepper
  • Salt
  • OPTIONAL: As many or as few sliced mushrooms as your heart desires.

Directions

Preheat oven to about 175 degrees F (should be the “keep warm” setting if your oven has one). Melt butter in frying pan over medium heat.

Use a fork to STAB THE EVER LIVING DAYLIGHTS out of each pork chop. Coat the stabbed side in yellow mustard. 

Place pork chops in frying pan, mustard side down. Use fork to STAB THE EVER LIVING DAYLIGHTS out of non mustard side and coat that side in mustard. Now there are two mustard sides.

Let pork sit for 5-7 minutes before flipping, then cook on opposite side for another 5-7 minutes. Remove pork from frying pan and place in warmed oven. 

Add can of cream of mushroom soup to frying pan without rinsing (gotta keep all those good pork bits in there!), along with yellow mustard (to taste; I like to taste a LOT) and cream. Add mustard powder, tarragon, parsley, pepper, salt, and mushrooms as well.

Combine ingredients and set to simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.

Serve pork sliced into bite-size pieces over bed of pasta and sauce. Enjoy.

NOTES:

  • You can use whatever pasta you like for this dish, but I’ve found it works best with short cut pastas, usually either tri-color varieties (rotini, penne, and radiatore are perennial favorites) or with egg noodles to make a sort of pork stroganoff. If you use a longer cut pasta, you’ll want a pappardelle or else a spinach linguine/fettuccine for best results.
  • Your pork should cook thoroughly between the frying pan and the oven, but make sure you check it for doneness! Pork should not be consumed when it’s under 145 degrees F. Unless you’re super into parasites and salmonella poisoning, in which case, go nuts.
  • I’m a bad Millennial and use canned mushrooms when I make this dish, usually just a can of sliced mushrooms that you can pick up at pretty much any store. If you’re a fancier Millennial than I am, you can slice your mushrooms yourself; just make sure they have time to cook down to a nice tender consistency before serving.

*

Sam has been in school for a grand total of two weeks now, which seems both like an eternity and like no time at all. We’ve all sort of slid into a routine of getting things done at night or in the morning, of going to the bus stop for a certain time in the afternoon and spending the school hours on various baby things until that afternoon time when Sam gets home. Of setting out clothes the night before so I don’t have to get up super early to help him choose an appropriate outfit and making sure everything he needs is tucked neatly into his backpack before he leaves. Of newly enforced strictness about the TV (after all, his pre-K didn’t care much if he was a couple of minutes late) and less screen time.

He’s come home with plenty of stories for us. After a particularly rough day last week, his teacher made him star of the day the next day, which mostly meant that he helped out more around the classroom, but it still made him happier about being there. He’s had to hang out on the wall at recess twice, once by himself (for pushing another kid in line while they were heading outside, which he knows not to do) and once with his best friend Hunter, together but far apart (they were… “blowing on each other” he says? And weren’t mad about it? But were still on the wall? Sigh, I miss getting daily reports from his teachers). He’s doing well, as far as we can see, where academics are concerned, but then again, academics thus far consist of sorting things by color and shape and spelling the words “the” and “red,” which he’s been able to read for about six months now. 

(small personal victories: I was determined that he’d have the basics of reading down before kindergarten and HE DID! Now to try that with the twins…)

So it’s… a process. A transition. I hope he doesn’t end up being That Kid, who always starts recess on the wall (I’m pretty sure most of it’s just that transition period between the sort of relaxed structure of his old school and the stricter one of the new school), which has mostly meant just trying to talk to him when the day is over.

BUT as any parent with kids in school will tell you, that’s harder than it seems. Instinctively, you want to draw out every detail about your kid’s day the second they step off the bus. You want to know everything. Who did they talk to? What did they play at recess? Did they like their lunch? What new words did they learn? What new books did they read? (They read “Red” and I’m so excited about it!) What special class did they have today? What did they do in the special class? 

And then your kid is like “I don’t want to talk about it” or their post school answers end up being one-syllable grunts. “Stuff. I dunno. Yeah. Fine. I guess.” And you wonder if they actually were at school or if they’re leading a secret double life as a teeny tiny international super spy. 

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What we’ve mostly discovered with Sam is that he needs time to decompress at the end of the day, and that we’re most likely to get the full story of his day at bedtime, after the twins are in their room and he’s had a chance to wind down with some screen time and ruckus and little boy things (ranging from Legos to “WHY ARE YOU THROWING THAT???” to “STOP TRYING TO SUPLEX THEM THEY’RE BABIES”). That’s when he’ll say, “Okay, I’m going to tell you,” and Kyle and I listen and affirm his feelings and help him to feel better about the day. If he has a rough day, we tell him that we’ll try again tomorrow. If he has a great day, we tell him that tomorrow may be even better. We try to end the day on a positive note.

We’re not always successful, but we try.

Most of his communication nowadays is about science, and I’m dying to chat with his teachers about how much he loves science, because I completely forgot to list that on his “things he likes” paper (I listed “Minecraft” and “Legos” and “Star Wars” because those are his top three Things, but science legitimately trumps all of them). He’s so incredibly curious about the natural world, and he loves learning everything he can about it. Mostly, he focuses on space–it is, after all, the scientific gateway drug–but thanks to Octonauts, he’s also been really into animals lately; and then he’s also been really into weather the last couple of days. 

(today, we watched a bunch of Weather Channel augmented reality videos–I can’t recommend them highly enough–and Sam just fell absolutely in love with Jim Cantore, which is the cutest damn thing)

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(I also adored a weatherman when I was five. His name was Dick Albert, he was my parents’ age, and I once made him a Christmas tree ornament that I labeled “For Dice” and my mom still has it)

I maintain what I think is a healthy amount of worry about his schooling. I hope that he’s challenged but not so challenged that he loses interest. I hope he behaves himself but doesn’t lose his spark. I hope he makes new friends but doesn’t lose his old friends (so far so good on that one–we are, per his reports, batting 1000 in terms of playing with old best friends Hunter and Kaia at recess)

(they had one day last week where they were, apparently, all Spider Man: Sammy as Peter Parker, Hunter as Miles Morales, and Kaia as Gwen Stacy)

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Then there’s the little ones. 

Isaac, in particular, has me gnawing my fingernails in worry. He’s right where should be with his fine and gross motor skills–he’s our little runner, and he never stops moving. When it comes to communication, though, well…

You’re not supposed to compare babies, which is 100% impossible when you have twins because you have another baby RIGHT THERE, so even when you don’t mean to, you end up just looking at the one who’s ahead and then looking at the other who’s behind and being like “…well? Aren’t you going to do that too?” You don’t mean to and you’re not supposed to, but the dumb part of your brain that doesn’t listen to what you’re supposed to do does it anyway.

Communication-wise, Carrie’s doing great. She’s slowly moving into my favorite phase of language acquisition, which is the parrot phase, where your child just repeats everything you say right back to you as a question, and you want to get mad because you’re trying very hard to explain that they shouldn’t bite other children, but when they look up at you with big eyes and repeat, “We don’t bite our fwends?” in that high-pitched voice, your willpower crumbles. She’s got a good dozen or more words consistently (to either my shame or my pride–not sure which yet–three or four of those words are Disney princesses), and she’s got hand signs for two or three more words. She’s frequently able to tell us when she wants something and what that something is. It’s very nice.

Isaac, not so much. At best, he has three-ish words: mama, dada, and Wubba. He also makes kissy noises at the cat. The trouble is that he doesn’t do any of that consistently or in a way that’s helpful for literally anyone, least of all himself. If he loses his Wubbanub (which is his pacifier with a stuffed animal attached, they are perfect, buy one for your baby today!), instead of saying “Ba! Ba!” like I know he can, he’ll stand in front of me and yell, constant long “AAAAH!” sounds at higher and higher volumes. 

Worse than the yelling, though, is the expression on his face. I don’t want to read too much into it, but it seems like pure frustration that I’m not understanding what he needs and that he can’t communicate it back to me. The longer he yells without me getting it, the more distraught he looks, the more his eyes fill with tears, and the more my heart breaks. 

I want him to have words or some way of communicating with the world. If it turns out he’s autistic, I don’t want him to be neurotypical or anything but himself, but I also don’t want him to be unable to express his wants and needs. I don’t care if it means he has a sign with pictures on it or sign language or a computer or what; I just want him to be able to express himself because I can see how much it hurts him when he can’t.

Anyway, I say all of this because he has a meeting with a speech and language pathologist on Friday for an evaluation and sort of game planning session, hopefully to move forwards into speech therapy for him. Which, again, I don’t want to force him into a mold he doesn’t fit, but I want to see that pain and frustration go away when he’s able to actually communicate that his Wubbanub is missing or that he needs a diaper or wants a bottle. 

As for Carrie, she’s just an absolute peach. She’s honestly dangerously cute, always posing with her chin on her hands and saying, “Cheeeeese!” for me. It should be illegal, really, being that cute, but I can’t complain. 

She and Isaac have started bonding together more now that Sam is in school most of the day. They bring each other their respective lovies when they see the other is upset, or they’ll bring each other clothes and try to get each other dressed. It’s a relief; I was wondering if they’d ever like each other or if it would always be World War III between them. And battles still break out very easily, but they’re usually because we have one of something and they both want it. 

(this even applies when we have two of something but Carrie’s is prettier–Isaac, for instance, is not terribly impressed with tortoiseshell sunglasses but adores Carrie’s sparkly rainbow shades)

They’re sweet. And they’re good. All three of them. And as always, I just hope I’m doing right by them, overall.

 

First Day of School Stuffed Cookies

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL STUFFED COOKIES
Recipe borrows liberally from Tasty’s recipes for The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies and Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies. Check out the notes below for variations! 

Ingredients
1 ¼ cups bread flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking powder
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup butter, toasted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 ½ cups chocolate chips
Stuffing (hot fudge, Nutella, peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, caramel), chilled

Directions

  1. Melt one cup (2 sticks) butter and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to ensure an even brown. Once you notice dark flecks in the bottom of the boiling butter, transfer to a liquid measuring cup and allow to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. *note: if liquid butter does not reach the 1 cup marker, add water until it reaches that line*
  2. Sift or whisk together flour, kosher salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. 
  3. Cream cooled butter, white sugar, and dark brown sugar in a large bowl. 
  4. Add vanilla extract and eggs to the large bowl and combine thoroughly. 
  5. Gradually add dry ingredients to the large bowl (about ⅓ at a time), mixing until just combined. 
  6. Fold in 2 cups of chocolate chips and other add-ins. 
  7. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours (overnight if you’re an A+ student!). 
  8. Preheat oven to 375°F. 
  9. Use 3 oz. ice cream scoop to form large balls of cookie dough. Flatten balls between the palms of your hands and rest on cookie sheet.
  10. Place fillings (about ½ tbsp per cookie) in the center of the cookie and seal cookie dough around the filling. 
  11. Top each cookie with chocolate chips and other toppings.
  12. Bake cookies for 10-13 minutes. Allow to cool 2 minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to cooling rack. 

NOTES:
I use salted butter for my cookie recipe because I really like the contrast of a saltier cookie with sweet chocolate chips (using unsalted butter is a bit too cloying for me), but unsalted butter will work just as well!

I usually only mix standard, semi-sweet chocolate chips into these cookies, but other add-ins can really boost them to a new level! Try any of these: 

  • Chopped dark chocolate. Use a bar of dark chocolate (not bitter chocolate, unless you’re REALLY into that) and give it a rough chop before folding it into your dough alongside the chocolate chips. 
  • Mini chocolate chips. Substitute for about a cup of regular chocolate chips to give some texture contrast to your dough.
  • Espresso powder. Add one tsp after creaming your butter and sugars. 

The possibilities for fillings and toppings are absolutely endless! I tend to stick with just chocolate chips and rainbow sprinkles (to give the cookies a celebratory flair!), but you can top and fill with any number of things! Experiment; that’s what fun in the kitchen is about! 

*

I always hate when I’m looking for a recipe for something and I have to scroll through hours of reading on somebody’s life before I get to the actual recipe. I get that it’s a THING, and I get that it’s all about self-expression, but look. If you’re coming to my blog because you googled “chocolate chip cookie recipe” and this somehow popped up instead of the Food Network or Epicurious or something, here you go. The recipe is at the top, and if you want to read about my life, you can keep going while the cookies bake or something.

67396929_10156380619950592_4343912859269332992_o(they’ll look like this after they bake, for reference)

It’s early August, and Sam is less than three weeks away from starting kindergarten. I’ve got all his supplies here in my office, still sitting in Target bags (more supplies than needed, because I was a bad student and tried to find his supply list online… and the list I found was The Most Wrong, so now I have a bunch of pencils and erasers and things that he’d probably need at some point, just not this year). I’ve got his metaphorical Hogwarts letter with all of the instructions and a little fish with his teacher’s name on it. I know his best friend from daycare is going to be in his class with him. I’ve no idea what bus he’ll be taking home in the afternoons, but if this year’s routes are similar to last year’s, he’ll be getting home a little past three in the afternoon–hopefully while the twins are still napping. 

We’re winding summer down slowly with trips to the beach and company picnics. This past weekend, we packed everyone up in the van and drove up to Hampton Beach in New Hampshire, an experience that fell squarely in the middle of the stressful things scale. On the one hand, Isaac got carsick three separate times during the drive and then had a huge diaper blowout after about two hours on the beach. On the other hand, he, Carrie, and Sam seemed to have a blast despite the sickness. Sam and Kyle built a sandcastle together, and the twins huddled with me under our beach umbrella, experimentally playing with sand and eating Goldfish crackers (and sometimes eating sand, too, because they’re babies). 

It was a typical outing for a family with young children. Kyle and I looked at it as a balanced affair, with frustration that having young kids meant we couldn’t do as much around Hampton as we otherwise would have (they have some great arcades and candy shops, and even though I’m trying to lose weight, I have a hard time turning down a beachside candy shop), relief that things went smoothly aside from Isaac’s bodily fluids, and happiness that it was a good day overall. It lasted just long enough that everyone was happily tired when we got home, not so brief that the hour and a half drive seemed a waste of time, not so long that we were exhausted.

And today was Kyle’s company picnic, at a conference center about 40 minutes from our house. I say “conference center,” which makes it sound like it was some sort of buttoned up meeting space and very dull; really, it was more like a summer camp-slash-carnival, with lawn games and bounce houses and cotton candy and face painting and so on. They had some great typical cook-out food (not quite barbecue–hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken, plus a bunch of sides) and some free ice cream, and all-in-all, it was a nice set-up. 

Trouble was that it was LOUD. This is par for the course at every company event I’ve attended for every company ever. The DJ always has the music turned up to 11, the fans are always going to keep the tents cool, there’s a lot of talking and buzzing and noise. I gather that this isn’t something that bugs most people, but it makes it hard for me to engage with anyone–my brain just won’t filter out unimportant sounds like the conversation way over there, the constant roar of the fan, the faint buzz of some fly that wants my lunch. 

Basically, I spent most of today staring blankly into space and probably looking really strange. 

The times I didn’t spend staring blankly into space were fun. The babies enjoyed their cook-out fare, mostly (good: chicken, corn, pasta salad, hot dogs; bad: bell peppers, zucchini). Sam played in the bounce house and obstacle course until he was too sweaty and exhausted to do much more than whine at us. Kyle and I split a cherry cotton candy, and Sam and I giggled our way through a pair of ice cream sandwiches. The twins were adorable, my hair and lipstick were awesome… it was mostly good.

But I am tired. 

So is Isaac, for that matter. He didn’t nap at all today, which meant that the afternoon following the picnic was flavored with his exhausted sobbing at all points, with him nearly nodding off while standing on my lap and then crying when he realized he wasn’t actually completely asleep. I wish we had a clearer picture of what’s going on with him, if only so that we could plan for days like today, maybe with noise cancelling headphones or with frequent breaks or with one of us staying home with him.

He can’t go for an evaluation most places until he’s 18 months old, which is frustrating. He and Carrie turn 17 months old less than a week from today, but the Early Intervention autism specialist can’t test him until he’s 18 months old, and I really want to go through them because otherwise, wait times for an autism screening are many, many months long. And like I’ve been saying, if it turns out that he’s autistic, I’m not bummed out or even slightly disappointed; it’d be nice to have another brain that works like mine in the house, someone to sympathize with me when everything is just too much. 

BUT I also want him to have better coping skills than I have, and to know from a decently early point if he’s going to need more assistance in any area–if he’s going to be like me and deal with frustratingly heavy executive dysfunction and sensory overload issues; if he’s going to need help communicating with us; what accommodations he’ll need to live a happy and healthy life. And I’d like to know that stuff sooner rather than later. 

Sigh. I don’t know. It’s not a super rough waiting game, because at the end of the day, we’re probably only waiting another month, and the screening centers our service coordinator suggested to us haven’t gotten back to me yet anyway. But it’s still frustrating to have no news whatsoever, not in a good or bad way, just because we’re waiting.

And then there’s Carrie, just running laps past every milestone, perfecting her toddle, adding new words to her vocabulary every day. She’s frustratingly cute; she’ll say ‘uh oh!’ or shake her head while saying ‘mm-mm!’ if she’s caught doing something she shouldn’t be. She has her stuffed Bear that she found after my mom brought some boxes to our house a couple of weeks ago; said Bear is now her constant companion, and between him and her stuffed Ariel doll, she’s constantly on about her favorite little friends. She’s impish and giggly and basically everything you’d want out of a little girl, almost stereotypically so. All she needs are the little pigtails and she’ll be sitting squarely in the “Platonic form of Daughter” box. 

She and Isaac get along better these days than they used to, though they still fight over toys and books and my lap. They give each other kisses pretty frequently, team up to accomplish whatever baby feat they’re working on, hide in their “clubhouse” (which is underneath and behind their high chairs, against the wall), and find each other’s lovies whenever the other is crying (Carrie will actually toddle around calling “Wubba! Wubba!” when Isaac loses his pacifier-slash-Wubbanub; Isaac throws Bear at Carrie whenever she cries). I think that’s my one fear with Isaac having autism; I worry that it will affect their relationship. I don’t think it will, but I want them to be close, or at least as close as they can be. 

But. But but but. 

School starts soon, and there are cookies to bake. Good night.

Beds and Screenings

When you’ve got three kids, you pretty much feel like most of your Big Adulting milestones are far behind you, especially if you’ve got three kids, a spouse, and a house. You’ve finished whatever schooling was expected of you, you’ve got married, you’ve signed papers for a mortgage, you’ve done your taxes, you’ve had a job or two or ten, you’ve had kids, you’ve ticked so many things off the list that it’s easy to forget other smaller milestones that come along the way.

Like buying appliances. We bought appliances for the first time when we bought our house, as the previous owners planned to take the fridge with them and the dishwasher had a color scheme and serial number that suggested it had been manufactured in the 1970s. In those halcyon days before Sears became a memory, we wandered through the Kenmore section and chose our appliances in black, not because we had an affinity for black appliances (honestly, stainless steel hasn’t gone anywhere for years, so that would have made more sense) but because the one remaining appliance–the stove–was black and we wanted things to match.

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(this is literally what our old dishwasher looked like)

That was nearly four years ago, and this week, Kyle and I checked another milestone off the list that we didn’t realize was a milestone: we bought a bed.

It’s not our first bed, obviously. We started our married life with an inflatable mattress that lasted three months and was perfectly fine for sleeping and marital activities until one night in August. We’d been sleeping soundly until very, very early in the morning when Kyle shook me awake and asked, “Do you ever have that sinking feeling?” And lo and behold, we were in the process of descending to the floor as our inflatable mattress ceased to be so inflated. We discovered, once morning came, that the mattress had somehow acquired insurmountable holes and was no longer suitable for use by anyone. 

SO we eventually shuffled off to Big Lots and bought the cheapest possible queen mattress and the cheapest possible frame and, like the very talented young marrieds we were, didn’t even bother with a box spring. And for the next eight years, that mattress worked very well for us! Or… mostly well. In the last year, the bed has begun to show the strain of belonging to two fat people (one of whom, we discovered this week, has gone down 6 pant sizes–not me, but one of whom!). 

(it’s Kyle, he’s down six pant sizes)

And admittedly, a lot of the recent strain on the bed, at least on my side, came from the twin pregnancy making me enormous, which put pressure on the springs and turned the bed from delightful and comfortable to misery. The springs had reached a point where they were poking my hip violently throughout the night, and poor Kyle has been dealing with lower back pain for ages, which made everything harder than usual. 

So a new bed. We’ve had a recent windfall of money, thanks to Kyle’s family, and while they were up visiting this week, we wanted to actually shop for a bed, not just go to Big Lots and buy the cheapest and easiest thing in the store. Fortunately for us, my cousin works at a Mattress Firm and was able to give us the Sleep System Experience (I don’t know if it’s actually called that, but it is now). 

And, you know, it really felt like an adult thing because the consideration was less ‘we need this, let’s just get whatever we can afford’ and more ‘what will last us and ensure that we have a good night’s sleep for years to come?’ That, really, was the adult part, where yes, affordability was a concern, but we could afford to consider quality as well. 

We tried out beds like a pair of lumbering Goldilockses, and in the end, we walked away with a pretty nice mattress and an adjustable frame (which I wasn’t sold on until my cousin put it in the “zero gravity” position for us and we both kind of groaned in relief like “ah yes, I remember being 18 and not having back problems”). Both were delivered on Saturday, along with lavender sheets (Kyle’s color choice, and I’m not complaining, purple is awesome) and a comforter that was listed on Amazon as being steel grey but is really one of the many shades of poop we’ve encountered over the last five years of being parents. And I’ve added to my “must buy” list a headboard (preferably one with a bookshelf) and a less poop colored comforter and maybe some throw pillows BECAUSE we got a king-sized bed. 

I never thought we’d need a king-sized bed, even though Kyle and I are both generously sized. We’ve slept in king-sized beds while traveling before, and though we’d start the night spread out and on different sides and laughing about how much space we had, we’d inevitably end the night wrapped around each other in the middle of the bed because I guess we like each other or something? And even with Kyle’s height (he’s 6’4”), a queen seemed to suit our needs perfectly. 

And then we had kids. 

More specifically, we had one kid grow old enough to leave his own room in the middle of the night and come into ours for, oh, any number of reasons. Lately, it’s because he’s just lonely, because my son is nothing if not a people person (he’s going to do so well in kindergarten… I hope), but it can be anything from nightmares to a stomach ache to he suddenly thought of a story to tell us. When he was smaller, I didn’t mind him in our bed because he could easily snuggle between the two of us, and we could all sleep comfortably. 

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Now, though, Sam is creeping ever closer to the four-foot mark, and having him in bed with us had become… well, difficult, we’ll say. It was the worst when I was pregnant with the twins, because of course, I was a small moose and Sam was clingy, but there was just no space in the bed for Kyle AND Sam AND me AND the planet that was my huge belly. We brought him back to his own bed most nights, but that wasn’t an ideal solution because he’d need a long discussion to get him back in the mood for sleeping in his own room, which meant that one or both of us would miss out on a lot of sleep. If we’d had the space, we’d have just let him sleep in the bed with us, but…

Well. I’m no longer pregnant with twins (a fact I’m grateful for every day), but Sam is even larger than he was before, and his midnight jaunts to our room haven’t slowed down in the least. For a while, with our bed being the disaster it was, we set up a little nest next to the bed, and he’d just hunker down there, content to be in the room with us, even if not in the bed; but that always gave me “wow, I’m a shitty mom” vibes–me in my comfortable bed and my son on the floor in my room, as if he didn’t have his own bed.

(his own bed, despite having a kind of cheap mattress, is very nice–it’s a sleigh bed, even, which has me envious as I click through pages of headboards on Wayfair)

The bed invasions won’t stop, and I don’t really want them to. I’d read an article a while ago about a woman who’d bedshared with her son and how people would always snidely remark about how “you don’t want him in your bed when he’s a teenager” and while she no longer bedshared with him once he’d reached his teen years, she made it clear to him that her room and her arms were always open to him, without judgement or condition. And he heard her and she was the one he came to when he had a broken heart or a difficult time at school or any number of myriad things teenagers deal with.

We didn’t really bedshare with Sam when he was a baby (both of us are paranoid about rolling over in our sleep), but at the same time, I want him to know that he’s always safe with us, whether it’s sleeping in our bed or sitting on the couch between us or buckled in the back seat of our car. I want that for the twins, too, when they’re old enough, whether it’s because of a bad dream or a bad thunderstorm. That they feel safe and comfortable with us is absolutely paramount for me. 

SO! King-sized bed it is. Maybe, eventually, if we ever transfer another embryo and get a dog and more cats and who knows what else, we’ll get another king and push them together like some sort of magical giant frankenbed, but for now, we’re enjoying the HELL out of this adjustable king-sized bed.

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On the other side of things is Isaac.

Isaac, my beautiful smiley little boy, my unexpected middle child who’s cuddled his way into my heart so deeply and irrevocably, my adventurous snugglebug whose smile could cure cancer. He’s been developmentally delayed–and officially labeled as such–since he was about four months old, most of that coming from (a) some torticollis and (b) that he was born six weeks early. We’ve had him in Early Intervention for that since about that time, and for a while, he was progressing by leaps and bounds, going from a potato who could only look over his right shoulder to a rocket baby zooming around the living room at the speed of sound. 

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But lately he’s kind of stalled. It’s not a big deal, honestly, because babies do that. They go through a developmental leap and they stall, they gain 15,000 skills over the course of one (long, sleepless) weekend and they pause. It’s more noticeable when you have twins because they never stall at the same time (and this stall happened while Carrie busily learned to stand on her own and take small, uncertain steps), but stalls still aren’t unexpected. At worst, I figured, we could just speak with the Early Intervention team and see about getting him some physical therapy or occupational therapy so that he’d keep up with his sister in terms of walking and talking.

He’s also a rocker and a bouncer, constantly moving himself in almost violent back and forth movements, sometimes mashing his face against something and other times mashing the back of his head against something. He can’t fall asleep unless he spends a decent amount of time on his hands and knees, rocking back and forth while dutifully sucking on his Wubbanub. And to be clear, babies rock and stim a lot, because the world is new and they need to experience it from all angles. Rocking is soothing for babies, too, and for the most part, it didn’t worry me. 

But something in my brain pinged that maybe I should worry, just a little. After all, we have Early Intervention anyway, and they’ve always told us that any evaluation the twins need, they’ll do for free. With that in mind, I asked the twins’ caseworker to bring an ASQ, or Autism Screening Questionnaire, with her when she came to our house next.

The ASQ is a series of what felt like six billion questions that you answer “always/often” or “sometimes” or “never” and your kid gets scored based on your answers. I don’t remember the scoring specifically, but I do remember that 65 was the cutoff for further testing. Carrie, who had her six month evaluation today, took the test first and got a 30, which is numerically the equivalent of “might possibly be the inverse of autistic, like citsitua” and that surprises exactly no one who’s ever spent time with her. She lives for sensory stimulation of all kinds and is about as neurotypical as a sixteen-month-old baby can be. 

Isaac, on the other hand, scored a 95, which is numerically the equivalent of “at least two autisms, possibly even three.” 

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Fortunately, our caseworker and our physical therapist (who was there for Carrie’s evaluation) also had a copy of the M-CHAT, which is the next step in autism screening. Its proper name is the “Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers” and it’s basically the exact same thing as the ASQ, only with fewer and more streamlined questions. With that one, a score below 8 suggests a mild or moderate concern, while 8 and higher suggests that further evaluation is warranted. 

Annnnnnd Isaac scored an 8.

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So we’re moving forward with his autism screening, with our EI office’s autism specialist coming in the next couple of weeks to have a playtime evaluation with him, just 10-15 minutes to see if he should be fast-tracked to an evaluation program, a process that can otherwise take months or even years (which I think is absolutely ridiculous BUT there’s probably an enormous backlog). And I have feelings.

I was pretty weirded out (in a good way) by the questionnaires hitting on questions I wouldn’t have even thought to associate with autism, like questions about constipation or increased muscle tone or “have you ever wondered if your baby was deaf” among the more typical ones like “does your baby have good eye contact” or “does your baby perform repetitive motions?” And I’m relieved for those questions because at the end of the day, you don’t have to be a completely nonverbal Rain Man type to be autistic. Isaac has great eye contact and likes people… but he also has no sense of stranger danger, doesn’t have any real words, and is often very stiff like he can’t stand to be positioned any way that’s different from his current position (which makes diaper changes a blast). 

The idea of one of my kids being autistic is also unsurprising to me; it runs in my family as much as brown eyes, enormous knockers, and astigmatism do. Though my younger sister is the only one in my immediate family with an official diagnosis, the rest of us easily fall into the category of “had current diagnostic criteria been used when I was six, I’d have a diagnosis and a half.” Kyle’s been telling me for ages that I should see a doctor to be officially diagnosed, and honestly, if things move in a more autistic direction with Isaac, I probably will. 

I mean, there’s a lot to it, and so much of treatment and diagnosis nowadays focuses less on what it’s like to actually be autistic and more on how autistic people interact with the world around them. In my experience, and from what I’ve read, a lot of it relates to the usual filters in your brain just… not working the way they do in neurotypical brains. A neurotypical person might easily be able to filter out things like the scratch of a shirt tag, the sound of the air conditioner, the flickering light in the corner, the smell of a long since cleaned spill, the taste of dry mouth, but it’s honest effort to filter those things out when your brain works autistically, and so you’re always on the verge of reaching a level of overstimulation that doesn’t much come for the neurotypical brain outside of the throbbing, psychedelic dance floor of a local club or Disney World on Christmas Eve.

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It’s exhausting. Some days, I reach the end of the day and just need to zone out completely, sit in a dark room and breathe. I have a hard time socializing outside a quiet or one-on-one setting because trying to figure out which voices matter and which ones don’t is really hard. Online or when it’s just with another person–especially someone I know well–I follow conversations very easily, but beyond that, I tend to spend my socializing time towards the edge of a room, counting down the seconds until I can leave.

But anyway. The point of all that is to say that if Isaac is autistic, I’m glad that he’s got me to advocate for him. This sounds really smug and haughty like “ha ha, my autistic child could not have a better parent than I, for I am the best of the parentals!” but it’s really more like “how fortunate to have been born to a mom who understands exactly how his brain works because it’s how her brain works.” It means I’ll be able to help him recognize when he’s getting overstimulated before it ends in a meltdown and help him find ways to cope with the loud, brilliant world that won’t lead to his complete ostracization. It’s like a vision impaired or hearing impaired parent having a child with a similar situation: they’re able to help better because they’re in the thick of it with their child. They know how to navigate a world that’s going to be harsh for their child because of the situation of their birth, in the same way that all parents teach their kids certain things about functioning in the wide world.

So overall, I’m pretty chill about it, but I do have two fears: therapy and Autism Moms ™.

They tie into each other, really. With therapy, I fear therapeutic approaches that, instead of teaching Isaac to cope with the world, will instead train him to appear neurotypical while ignoring what’s going on in his brain that causes the atypical behaviors. I’m not interested in tweaking his behavior; if he needs to stim, I want him to feel confident enough in himself that he can do so. I am, however, interested in teaching him coping mechanisms so that the world isn’t too much for him. 

Related to that… the Autism Moms ™.

Not every mom of an autistic kid falls into the category of Autism Moms ™. When I think Autism Moms ™ I think of the Jenny McCarthy type, the type wailing about autism stealing their child away from them, the one who will try bleach enemas and raw diets and anything to “”””cure”””” their child’s autism. 

I never have good encounters with these types (and they are incredibly common on parenting websites and forums). Things usually start off calmly enough but end with me trying to get it through their thick skulls that kids who have autism are STILL PEOPLE and THEY STILL HAVE EMOTIONS and maybe saying “I wouldn’t wish my autistic son on my worst enemy” IS A SHITTY THING TO SAY. 

Fortunately, the vast majority of autism moms I know are not this type; they’re fantastic advocates for their kids and respect that their children are PEOPLE, that autism is less tragedy and more “well, I just have to adjust my style and expectations like you do with every kid.” But I still fear the Autism Moms ™ because I know my feelings on autism aren’t super popular with them, and I think I’d probably get torn a new one for being really calm about my son potentially being autistic (like… ?? am I supposed to freak out and cry and sob? What is that going to change?). I want to have a village, but I do not want THAT village. 

So I focus on things like the Autism Self Advocacy Network and the #ActuallyAutistic tag on Twitter, and I’ll keep doing so as we all move forward with this. Fingers and toes crossed that we’ll be able to have Isaac evaluated soon and know one way or another, but either way…

Well, he’s my sweet little baby elephant, exactly as he is, no matter how he is.