The last time this happened was 2020, which is an ominous way to begin any sentence.
Isaac was not quite two and had come down with a “mystery respiratory virus” that required him to be on a nebulizer and antibiotics. In very little time, I also came down with this “mystery respiratory virus” that required me to also be on a nebulizer and antibiotics. Kyle worked from home while Isaac and I recuperated, and right when we were all feeling better, we got slammed with a stomach bug. On the plus side, said stomach bug got us used to ordering groceries through a website. On the minus side, well. Everything else.
Masks work, and I know this because our absurdly respiratory illness prone family hasn’t had a winter like this since mask use became popular right at the beginning of Covid. Even last year, when various illnesses started quietly spreading again, it was nothing like the years before, when Isaac and I, both of us with the lungs of a frail Victorian character, were knocked down for the count within days of the first sniffle.
But lo, here we are in 2023, and here Isaac and I are, both fighting the same respiratory bullshit. It’s hit Isaac harder than it’s hit me. Yesterday, we took him to urgent care and found that his O2 levels were at 88%, which is easily within ER range. PCR tests for both Covid and strains of the flu came back negative; it’s just a regular ass cold that turned into regular ass pneumonia. He’s on an albuterol nebulizer, like he used to be every year, and he’s on antibiotics, like he used to be on every year. He got a dose of steroids yesterday, which has the dual effect of (a) improving his breathing, and (b) making him really angry.
So that’s fun. And while we’re dealing with that, we’ve also been dealing with a cascade of other bullshit. In order:
Last Tuesday, Kyle brought our smaller car into the shop for an inspection sticker. It’s three months overdue. While he was there, the mechanic informed him that it failed because of some LCD light thing that they could technically fix, but they needed to order the part and it wouldn’t be in until Friday at the earliest. Kyle agreed to bring the car back on Friday.
So we did the whole week with only one car, which was easier than anticipated. All things considered, last week was pretty chill. Until Friday.
Friday during the day, I started feeling crappy, which was unfortunate because Kyle had to drop the smaller car off to be fixed. He did so while I stayed home, throat sore, feverish, exhausted. Every Friday is a half day for the twins, so I played referee for them in the afternoon while feeling like I’d been hit by a small bus; but in the evening, I had the chance to rest and took it with as much gusto as I could muster.
Friday evening, Kyle called the mechanic to check on the car, only to learn that oops, they hadn’t gotten the part in by Friday after all. We couldn’t pick the car up that night, but that was probably for the best because I was in no state to be doing anything beyond sleeping. This particular virus–not Covid or the flu, mind–is brutal.
On Saturday, I didn’t get out of bed very much. I think it wound up being a couple of hours in the afternoon and then about 3-4 hours in the evening for D&D, during which I mistakenly asserted that I thought I was on the mend.
Before D&D, Kyle sought to cook us breakfast for dinner on our stove, which once turned on, made a fancy “BZZT!” sound and displayed arcing blue light under the cooktop. Kyle immediately and correctly assessed this as what industry professionals call “not good” and turned off and unplugged the stove and flipped off the breaker going to it for good measure. We called an electrician that night, and said electrician mentioned he couldn’t come out right then but that he’d try and be out as soon as he could and, by the way, don’t use the stove until he can assess it, but it sounds like said stove was on the way out. So that’s neat.
Sunday was mostly chill except we had to figure out a way to feed three kids while also not having a stove, and two of those kids are autistic and very picky about food textures. Isaac was really starting to feel sick on Sunday, as was I, so he didn’t eat much, and I ended up having ice cream for dinner. No word about the stove.
Monday could’ve also been chill and restful, but the weather decided to throw everything it had at us–snow, sleet, ice, freezing rain, regular rain, the works–so the kids didn’t have school. Carrie was now starting to feel sick, so this was a surprisingly quiet snow day for us (usually our snow days are just pure chaos), but kids being home is always a bit harder than kids being in school. We heard a bit back from the electrician, who said that he couldn’t make it out in the storm but would come by first thing Tuesday.
So the electrician came first thing on Tuesday and, delightfully, the stove is still usable, minus one burner. We’re going to be replacing it sooner rather than later, but it’s not an emergency situation, so we can get through this bullshit week before replacing it, and that’s a great sign. Once the electrician had come and gone, and once we’d dropped Sammy off at school (since the twins were both feeling crappy), we went to pick up the smaller car, which passed inspection, and came home to call Isaac and my respective nurse lines, since neither of us were having a good time. Both nurse lines said that while this all sounded miserable, they have approximately six billion people in right now with the same symptoms so unless we were experiencing shortness of breath or whatever, we should just wait it out.
Remember that for later.
Tuesday night, Isaac was waking up with a bad cough fairly often, and Carrie ended up spiking a 103 fever around 1 a.m., so we were just. In a special place when we went to bed on Tuesday night. Very stressed out, and me still feeling like my lungs were gradually filling with sand (though I started feeling like I was on the mend late that night, so maybe the sand was leaving or something, I don’t know).
But anyway, Wednesday morning, Kyle called the pediatric nurse line again to say that hey, Isaac is still not doing great. They advised that he come in, since it was only a fifteen minute wait, and lo and behold, Isaac’s O2 levels were frighteningly low. Low enough that they said, after giving him baby steroids and starting his breathing treatment, that if neither of those things worked, he’d have to go to the ER by ambulance. Fortunately, both worked, and although Isaac wasn’t doing well by the time he left the urgent care, he’d improved slightly. After a brief hunt for antibiotics, he and Kyle came home, and we started the treatment phase, and now it’s today.
It’s honestly a weird week where the car being in the shop is a footnote. And where the stove not working is a minor inconvenience instead of a Major Issue. But here we are. I have no idea if I’m properly on the mend or not; if I am, it’s a slow climb. Isaac is definitely on the mend, but is sitting at the “wounded tiger” phase of being sick, by which I mean he’s lashing out at literally everyone for any given reason. This is a welcome change from the floppy listlessness of yesterday, but I’m looking forward to getting my smiley guy back.
And, well. To this week being over altogether, mostly.
Our house has basically been a mess since we moved in, but it’s been messiest in the four years since the twins were born because taking care of small humans takes a lot of work, and sometimes, it’s all we can do at the end of the day to stare at the scattered toys and papers and books and crayons and say “meh. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.”
It’s gotten better. A few weeks ago, in anticipation of some friends coming up to visit, Kyle and I dove into a whirlwind cleaning spree, throwing out so many things and leaving the main living areas of the house look more “lived in” than “disastrous.” Our entryway now has a nice little set of cubbies for everyone’s shoes (or at least everyone whose shoes are below a size 5). Our bathroom, while not spotless, looks nice and usable. Our dining room is usable. Our kitchen is still a disaster, but I think we need a full day for that alone, so I find it forgivable.
But the house is a mess anyway. And I have lots of reasons for it, like my increasing physical disability (update on the CPAP thing: definitely getting more restful sleep, but that’s just one problem solved, and my fingers and toes and everything have been in pain for about two years now, so let’s see what happens there) and the fact that all three of my children have some sort of special needs, visible and invisible. Frankly, as long as people aren’t tripping over things or existing in filth, that’s good enough for me.
But that said, I still get a sinking feeling whenever something happens. Fellow parents know what I mean.
Something like the twins are being too quiet, so I go to investigate and find that they’ve gotten into our supply of foaming hand soap and used it to create a rave. Things like they’re playing tattoo shop and have covered themselves with marker drawings or they’re playing beauty parlor and have painted themselves and the couch with nail polish. How did they get the nail polish? I have no idea. It wasn’t there a second ago. Twins are their own mischief engine.
It happened today. Carrie was playing school with me, using the wall and her magic wand as the pointer to teach me words; I obediently repeated the words she said as she said them (“cat,” “Baby Box,” “DJ Catnip,” “Mercat,” “Cat Rat,” because we are on a Gabby’s Dollhouse kick) and ignored it when she used the wand to scratch at the wall as if drawing. After all, it’s a plastic magic wand, so it wasn’t going to leave a mark. And then Isaac joined in and it was all good fun.
Except Isaac did not have a wand.
Isaac had a crayon.
And I had that sinking feeling, because I imagined someone coming into my house and seeing crayon all over the living room walls, which are themselves a disaster. The chair rail is cracked in half in one place, held on with duct tape. The paint has peeled off in other spots, and there’s a large white plaster patch underneath the window AC unit. When I can trust the kids more to be less destructive, I’m looking forward to really making it look gorgeous. Maybe I’ll paint some designs on one wall or maybe I’ll just hold off until the economy figures out what the fuck it’s doing and save any further painting/chair rail destruction for the inevitable renovation that I’ve been vaguely planning in my head since we bought the house.
But right now, there is crayon on the wall. Marker on other walls and on all of our furniture. Our couches have nail polish and a lot of mystery stains, most of which are water but some of which are probably something else that I couldn’t identify if I tried. Our carpets are just sad and waiting to be torn up and replaced with vinyl.
It’s embarrassing on some level. I remember friends I had when I was really young who had been in foster care for a little while. Their mother was so afraid they’d be taken again that she would bleach the walls of their house. Any mess was a disaster because she never knew if a social worker would show up. And that was always a fear in the back of my mind, maybe based in that or some off handed comment by some other adult in my life when I was young, that if you didn’t keep a perfectly Martha Stewart Living esque home, someone would come and take your children away.
I hate that.
Because the truth is, my kids are happy and healthy. They scribble on the walls because they feel safe at home. Are they supposed to? No. Did they get in trouble for it? Yes. But honestly, I’d rather have a home where my kids feel safe enough to do something like color on the walls than a home where they’re so afraid of messing up that it gives them an anxiety complex. I want them to know that no matter what they do, no matter how messy things get, they are loved and they are safe. Nobody in this house will ever stop being loved because of crayons on the walls or mystery stains on the couches or ground up crackers in the carpet. And they’ll be helping to clean up those things, as they always do, because when you make a mess, you clean it up.
But they’re safe. They’re happy. And that’s what really matters.
Well, no. It’s busy but it’s also not. It’s fallen into this nice routine but I’m tired all the time, which is unpleasant and probably the fault of the nerve medication I’ve been on for a year at this point (more on that in a minute), but it also means that by the time I reach the end of the day, I’m a noodle who isn’t very good at writing things. And I have so much to update on and so much to talk about but again: noodle, living in a constant state of no bones.
The kids have been in school in person for coming up on three months now, and it’s mostly been a pleasant time. We’ve had… mm, I want to say three Covid scares? Two that were everyone and one that was just Carrie. It’s a weird thing because I don’t like to send my kids into school sick anyway, but now in the time of Covid, you can’t just not send them to school sick, you also need to get them tested. And I am okay with that, just so we’re clear. It’s a pandemic, kids have only just started to get vaccinated, and I’d rather know one way or the other.
BUT it does take a day home with a head cold to five days home because we couldn’t get in to get tested until 12 on Wednesday so the results aren’t back until 10 on Friday, so we’ve missed the last three days of the week plus the weekend, and by that point, all three children have gone completely feral and are jumping from couch to couch to couch to couch while scream singing “Grace Kelly” by MIKA.
Thankfully, our school has recently implemented a “stay and test” option for people who are just close contacts, but that does nothing if your kid has the vague “maybe it’s a cold or hay fever or Covid?” symptoms, so we just check everyone’s temperature in the morning and get really caught up in the mitigating circumstances of each and every symptom (e.g., our kids are hot sleepers, so if one seems warm but they were in bed all night, we wait another hour after they get up before doing a temperature check).
Kyle and I are both triple vaccinated, so even with ominously named variants popping up all over the globe (seriously, if they’d just gone with Omicron from the start, I feel like this entire pandemic would’ve been taken a lot more seriously. Like I’m not saying that Covid isn’t a threatening name except it very much is not a threatening name), we’ve both felt comfortable and safe enough to go to the movies again and go out to dinner again and mostly resume our normal lives, sometimes with masks and sometimes not. And despite the handful of Covid cases in our schools, both of us feel pretty safe about our kids being back in person (and all three have IEPs, so even if schools went remote again, they’d end up taking the in-person option anyway, whee).
Being back to school in person has benefitted Sam so very much. We weren’t sure how he’d take to it, since it was a full year away, but the phrase “like a fish to water” comes to mind. He picked up right where he left off with his best friend Hunter, and he’s made new friends (Declan and Eamon) in his class. His teacher has nothing but good things to say about him, even taking into account his reluctance to put away his scissors sometimes and his adorable motormouth tendencies. He comes home constantly with stories about the games he played at recess (apparently, Among Us is popular with the kids these days, which… okay, cool, it’s literally just Mafia, but cool) and the time he spent with his friends, which is enough to make my heart feel warm and mushy, but THEN you add in that he got the highest scores on their classroom testing in math and ELA and I’m just. Beyond proud. Is there a way to be beyond proud, because that’s me. I’m beyond proud.
I also feel a weird sense of pride because, as it turns out, Sam is also autistic.
Roughly around this time last year, his therapists asked us if we’d ever had him tested, which we hadn’t. Sam and Isaac are both similar in that, while they’re both definitely autistic, they’re also both really social kids. They like to make friends and be involved with other people, but where Sam was in daycare from the time he was a year old, Isaac was home with me. Isaac was also notably delayed from the start because he was a preemie, whereas Sam would’ve just stayed in for the next ten years if the doctors had let him.
Anyway, we didn’t ever have Sam evaluated for autism because he’s such a social kid, and he learned from very early on that socializing means eye contact and it means language and it means doing things that autistic children typically aren’t seen doing. He had his pickiness sometimes and his need for routine, but we figured that was just typical toddler stuff.
And then the pandemic.
And a fun thing with neurodivergence is that when those of us who fall under that umbrella get stressed, we don’t mask as well. Our divergences become more and more apparent, and as a result, people start to notice.
The pandemic was stressful for everyone, and it was particularly stressful for Sam, who had his routine and life upended overnight and never quite found his footing again. Early on, we had him seen by one therapist who recognized that he has ADHD (both inattentive and hyperactive type, because we like to cover all bases here), and once he started receiving in-person therapy, his new therapists agreed with that and said that he also seemed to be autistic.
It took a whole goddamn year to get him an evaluation because everything is absurdly backlogged and you can’t do an autism evaluation virtually. We went for the first available slot in Boston, and an hour and a half later, the doctor said, “Yep, autistic” and sent us on our merry way with a bunch of emails and links and information and suggestions about therapies and what-have-you.
And, real talk, Sam is excelling so much in so many ways that I’m not super interested in pursuing therapy unless he asks for it. Talk therapy, sure, because I think that helps a lot with a lot of things. But ABA (gag)? Anything besides the OT he already gets? Nah. I think he’s doing pretty well on his own, and the diagnosis mostly just gives us a tool and a shield that we can use to say, “okay, because of this diagnosis, you cannot deny him services.”
(not that our school district WOULD HAVE denied him services, but just in case)
Anyway, he’s doing SO well that we’re actually shifting his services to an “as needed” basis, meaning that he’ll still have the help if/when he needs it, but he’s transitioned so smoothly and is doing so well that we don’t need to force it on him. And my god, he’s happy again. Last year, it was like a cloud over him, but this year, the sun’s back and it’s so beautiful.
My health is also on the docket of things to talk about. A year ago this weekend, I was in the ER with nerve pain so bad that I couldn’t do anything but scream and shake, and in a logical world, they would’ve pushed me through getting an MRI and surgery ASAP because nerve pain that bad is a major red flag for nerve injuries that could become permanent damage.
I got sent home with meds, celebrated Christmas and New Year’s, then saw a doctor in January. The doctor said it sounded like a herniated disc but I’d need an MRI to be sure, but the next available MRI appointment wasn’t until March. I would’ve taken that appointment, but it fell on the same day our insurance rolled over from one to another (not that the new insurance covered the MRI anyway?), so the MRI got pushed out to late March. Then I saw the doctor again in April, and he gave me the option of either getting injections to ease the pain while the nerve healed or having surgery. I said I wanted surgery, so I got to see ANOTHER doctor in May, and we scheduled the surgery for July.
So it’s already been eight months with this injury and things not really getting better, right? And then Kyle’s company laid off his entire department literally two weeks before my surgery and we had no insurance, so I had to postpone the surgery to August. And THEN we were in this kind of song and dance with MassHealth, where nobody was really sure if we’d be able to stay on it once Kyle received his unemployment payments (note: we still have not received unemployment payments), so we postponed the surgery indefinitely until Kyle got a new job and we were on that new insurance.
September rolls around, and Kyle gets his new job and good new insurance, some of the best we’ve ever had. I call to make a new surgery appointment, but first, I need a new MRI because it’s been, at this point, six entire months so who knows what’s going on in there? And I pay roughly the same for the new MRI that I did for the one with the shitty insurance, but whatever, right?
Within 24 hours, the doctor calls me back and says, “hey, you have zero herniation left. I’d do surgery on you, but it would be pointless because there’s nothing to remove. All you have to do is just wait for the nerve to no longer be inflamed.”
To get a clearer picture, I ask, “But what about the fact that I cannot feel anything on the inside of my left thigh and also at least two and possibly three of the toes on my left foot take a good thirty seconds more to get the message that I want to move them than the rest of my foot?”
“Oh, well, those are probably permanent, but in 90% of cases, the pain goes away completely within a year of pressure coming off the nerve.”
SO LET ME GET ALL OF THIS STRAIGHT. Because of insurance issues, I had to wait and wait and wait and wait on my surgery to the point where I’ve now been left with permanent damage and pain that has an okay chance of disappearing completely but nobody is really sure when that will happen?
I’m on this nerve medication, gabapentin, that makes the world completely fuzzy. I’ve been on it for a year. You’re not supposed to be on it more than a few weeks because it makes you sleepy and messes with your memory (not permanently, thankfully, just while you’re on it). I don’t know when I can come off it because I don’t know when my herniation stopped pressing on the nerve because I had to keep putting off the surgery again and again and again.
And like. I don’t want to get into it about universal healthcare, but I’m pretty sure that my waiting would’ve been cut in half if I hadn’t had to change health insurance five times in the last year.
Whatever. I have an appointment on December 13 to talk to the surgeon and discuss my options. I want to see if I can get hydrotherapy of some sort to try and take some pressure off things, and I really just need to find a decent and quiet gym and go there in off hours to walk and slowly bring myself to a healthier level of activity. I’ve been in so much pain the last year (and still am sometimes) that activity feels daunting, but I need it to heal, and I need to find a way to do it that won’t scare me away.
Meanwhile, I’m just keeping myself in a floating state of planning mode. Planning Halloween (Sam was a ninja and the twins were Spider-Man and Ghost Spider). Planning my birthday and a trip with two of my best friends to Cape Cod in the off season (was delightful but also very cold). Planning Christmas. Already thinking ahead to the twins’ birthday. Planning road trips. Planning planning planning.
Planning that extends kind of far out as well, but only kind of.
Kyle’s new company has some really great insurance, you see, and through it, we were able to cover PGS for our remaining embryos from the cycle that gave us Isaac and Carrie. Unbelievably, six of the seven embryos were healthy and there are exactly three boys and three girls.
Which brings us to the age old question of WTF are we going to do with all of these frozen babies?
I want one more. Not twins, please god not twins. I love the twins so much, and about 50% of the time, I love that they are twins (the other 50%, they are beating the ever loving shit out of each other for reasons that I do not understand, so I’m like, why couldn’t you be born one at a time so we’d have some buffer space?), but I physically could not do twins again. But I’d love one more girl as a coda.
BUT not for a while yet, if we did. Kyle isn’t fully onboard, which is fair because the twins are a LOT right now, and if someone dropped a baby in my lap right at this second, I’d be like, “WHY DO YOU HATE ME SO MUCH????” because I cannot infant right now. If we went ahead with one last transfer, it would be in 2023, no sooner. Too much is going on in 2022, and my health isn’t where it needs to be.
But it’s on the table now, and we didn’t know if it was on the table before. It was a daydream and now it feels like it could happen? I don’t know if it actually will, but it’s there. One last girl.
There’s something to be said for normalcy in one’s life.
I don’t push myself or my kids to conform to society’s ideas of normality, mind. I’m gloriously weird, my kids are gloriously weird, our family life doesn’t reflect what a lot of people would consider “normal,” but all of that said, we have our own beat of normal that we’ve been missing for a long time. It was missing for a variety of reasons–summer vacation, Covid, Kyle being out of work–but at long last, I can say with some confidence that it’s starting to come back.
For one thing, all three kids are in school now, finally. The twins started back in the spring, because they aged out of early intervention services, so it was less of a huge transition for them. Other kids in their preK class started the school year with tears and clinginess, but the twins just marched right on down to their classroom like they owned the place. Even in the spring, school was just so good for them overall. Carrie went from babbling a lot to actually using words more often than not (which we expected of her–she loves to use words and speak in complete sentences when she knows how, and school helped her refocus those abilities somewhat), and Isaac has done the same (which is huge for him–he actually answers questions without being fed options now, and that’s amazing) (and an addendum: if he just didn’t want to communicate verbally or if he wasn’t comfortable doing so, I wouldn’t push it on him, but he’s made it more than apparent that he LOVES to talk with us and communicate verbally, so I’m happy to encourage it). They’ve made friends and are comfortable with the routine they have at school, and I love to see it. They’re also so much calmer when their days are in this kind of routine, which I love to see for other reasons (like my own sanity).
And Sam started back at school, which is fantastic. Yes, Covid is still raging, but our schools have fantastic protocols in place, and after the stress of last year and knowing that Sam has ADHD and is likely autistic as well, I wanted him to be in a place where he could receive the accommodations he needs rather than struggling with me at home. His friends are all in school, and that has been huge for him–he’s not alone anymore, and I can see just from that how much happier he is. And that alone does my heart a world of good.
He’s receiving special ed services this year, too (which means I have three IEPs to keep track of, and as any parent of a special ed student can tell you, that is basically a full time job except you don’t get dollars for it), and that’s been great. His accommodations aren’t super complex, like he doesn’t require a constant aide at his side or anything, but he does have accommodations: he gets to work with a special ed instructor every day of the week and on his English/Language Arts lessons, and he’s got the special ed instructor around daily to make sure that he’s doing well. His teacher is also aware of his accommodations and will let him step out into the special ed classroom if he’s getting too overwhelmed by things, which will be good for keeping him from melting down in class.
I love his school’s philosophy on so many things. Their view of writing is that kids should be able to write about whatever they want in order to develop their writing skills and narrative voice, which I hope helps Sam as much during the school year as it helped him over the summer (when he would write five chapter long stories about the cardboard spaceship he built, and those stories were and are wonderful). They’re sensitive to each kid’s needs, and while that shouldn’t be a “wow this makes them stand apart from the crowd” thing, it kind of is, and I’m glad they’re standing apart from the crowd like this instead of in a bad way.
So the kids are back in school, and that routine is getting back to something like normal. It means that mornings are just me and Kyle, which hasn’t been the case since 2013, and that’s pretty wonderful in and of itself. The house is quiet except for the sound of both of us typing and someone quietly talking about the weather on TV, and maybe Kyle on a work call…
…which, oh yes. Kyle got a job.
It’s a fun sort of story. He’d interviewed with this company last year at the suggestion of one of his old managers who currently works there. They didn’t have a position for him then, but they promised to keep him in mind if anything else came up. Nothing did in the fall, and Kyle started his most recent job then only to be laid off in June. And it was the whole song and dance of applying to companies, having companies say, “mmm, thanks but no thanks” (anyone who’s looked for a job in the last decade or so, and especially the last two years, can attest to that particular Broadway number) for a couple of months, and then he called this company back. And wouldn’t you know, they had a position for him.
It’s a good position. Without getting into details, it’s an incredibly comfortable salary and benefits situation, and they sweetened the deal in all sorts of ways that are really blowing my mind. So far, Kyle is loving the people he works with and the company’s philosophy as well, and I really REALLY hope this good fortune settles in and sticks with us a while. We just have to get through the next five-ish days before his first paycheck comes in and then we should finally, FINALLY be okay in the longer term.
Having him working again is really nice. It just gives us a schedule during the week, real weekends instead of every day blurring together into an endless hellscape. It feels like life is just… life and not life with an asterisk about it being weird.
Have you ever had a month where everything happened so much and you didn’t have any time to really process one thing before the next was happening because that was May in our house.
It happens roughly this way every year. From the twins’ birthday in March to the Fourth of July, I’m basically running around like a chicken with my head cut off–baking cakes, wrapping presents, organizing mini parties (because aside from the twins’ first birthday, they haven’t really been in a place to have a real party). Even in typical years, May is the heaviest chunk of this insanity, with Sam’s birthday, Mother’s Day, and Kyle and my anniversary squeezing into the mix.
But this year is not a typical year, and unlike last year, this does NOT mean that things got quicker and easier.
The first chunk of the month was sort of easy. It was mostly just organizing for Sam’s birthday, his seventh birthday, which feels like a monumental year. We’d hoped that by this time, he’d have been back in school and able to have a birthday party–a real party–but 2020’s claws aren’t fully extracted, so we had to make smaller plans, plans that involved a Minecraft cake (of which I am VERY proud), a trip to the Museum of Science, and trick birthday candles.
And admittedly, that’s a far cry better than last year. Last year, I scrambled to pull something slightly special together, and it was all taking place roughly in and around our house. This year, we could at least go somewhere and do something. We could go visit my parents, which we’d BARELY started doing last year. And that made a HUGE difference.
He’s a happy seven-year-old, missing one of his front teeth, obsessed with Pokemon and Beyblade and Minecraft and science. Bouncing around the house at 9000 miles an hour when he gets excited and then flopping down on the couch talking about how exhausted he is. Begging us to have a Beyblade battle with him literally every second of every day or, failing that, to play Pokemon with him (this currently involves him telling us what to say about our Pokemon and us saying it).
He is also, it’s turning out, not a neurotypical kid. This isn’t surprising in the least, but all of the testing that Sam has had over the last several months in preparation for him returning to public school in the fall has kind of confirmed what those of us close to him have suspected for a while. At the very least, he falls pretty solidly on the “yes” side of the ADHD scale (as in “yes this kid has ADHD”), and everyone who’s evaluated him is pretty solidly convinced that he’s autistic as well, which is giving me a lot of emotions.
On the one hand, I’m thrilled. I’m autistic. Isaac is autistic. We’re a neurodiverse family, and that’s how it’s been from the beginning. It means that on some level, Sam’s brain and my brain work the same way, and that is just SUCH a relief as a mom, knowing that your brain and your kid’s brain are on the same wavelength. It makes sort of “hacking” those wavelengths a little easier, because even though the same things that worked for you almost certainly will not work for your kid, you at least have a common starting ground, and that’s an amazing feeling. Instead of watching your kid melt down and not knowing what to do about it, you can recognize “okay, the TV is too loud, he’s hungry and tired, and his blanket needs to be washed so it’s less scratchy.” And you can even find ways to motivate schoolwork, if you’re an A+ student (which I am. Sometimes.).
But on the other hand, I’m frustrated at the narrowness of diagnostic criteria for younger kids. When Sam was much younger, everyone who met him said that he couldn’t possibly be autistic. He forced eye contact with everyone, literally took people’s faces in his hands and made them look at him. He’s always been a little comic and so talkative. In daycare and even up through kindergarten, he’s always been a social butterfly who makes so many friends. He’s beyond clever and, to my great envy, has none of the social signs that people look for when diagnosing autism… so he went completely undiagnosed despite the ways he melts down during times of transition and despite his sensory issues with food and despite how he shuts down when something seems too hard for him.
ADHD and autism look really similar sometimes.
I’m a little relieved that he didn’t get diagnosed earlier because it spared us a lot of stress with therapies that might not have benefitted him in the long run, but I’m also annoyed because now, we have to go through the whole referral process, which can take up to 18 months (I’ve filled out paperwork for a place that could theoretically offer him an appointment in July–more on that being a silly idea coming up later–but they haven’t gotten back to me since I sent it). He has an IEP now, but it’s there without the legal protections in place because he doesn’t have that diagnosis, and that frustrates me.
So it’s a whole thing. I still have more paperwork to fill out for him to get back to school in the fall, and it’s a lot. But having these pieces to the puzzle has really helped.
Sam turned 7. We set up his IEP. I went to the eye doctor for the first time in eight years (ah, American health insurance). And then, since Kyle and I are both fully vaccinated and it has been a YEAR, we hopped on a plane and flew down to Florida for our tenth wedding anniversary.
We went to Disney for our honeymoon, and I can go on a whole rant about how awful a lot of their business practices are, but I also tend to light up like Christmas at the idea of being there, and after this trip, Kyle does as well. It was just the two of us, no kids or anyone else. We went at our own pace–made lightsabers on the first morning, ate around the world at Epcot the second day (I love Epcot festivals, they are magical), drove down to Miami-ish to spend time with my bestie Sherrie on the third day.
There was no real pressure. We did what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it. No worries about someone getting too tired or not wanting to eat the food at a certain restaurant. No rushing to make this Fast Pass time or that restaurant reservation. Lots of crowds, to be sure, but without the stress we’ve gotten used to on these trips.
And it was just. Nice. Nice and earned. We’d been burning out pretty quickly, thanks in large part to my sciatica having us running on empty since November, and while this didn’t refill our tanks by any stretch of the imagination, it was VERY nice to be able to just be with each other, relaxing and having a good time. Kyle enjoyed himself so much that he actually took pictures (I’m the one with the camera most of the time) and has been talking about what we’ll do the next time we’re there, and I’m just happy. Very happy to have had that time with him.
And now we’re back and 30 days out from my spine surgery. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t genuinely really nervous about the surgery. It’s not a complicated procedure like a fusion or fixing scoliosis; it’s just removing the herniated disc material and letting my sciatic nerve heal some, but because of my weight (let me tell you, a pandemic and a spinal injury are really not good when you’re trying to get healthier), there’s a possibility they won’t be able to reach my spine. And there’s always a possibility that it won’t work, that I’ll just leave the hospital in more pain than I had when I went in, and that scares me.
The recovery period scares me, too. Basically from July 1 through October 1, I won’t be on my A-game, which is annoying because so much is happening in that timeframe that I need to be present for: Sam starting school again, the twins starting school in the fall, Halloween prep, picture day… it’s all stuff that I love doing about parenting, and it’s all stuff I’m either going to have to be very lazy about or else entrust to somebody else, which I HATE doing because delegating is scary because what if it’s not exactly the way I would’ve done it but HNNNGH.
I need this. I desperately need this surgery and the recovery time, but I am stressing so much about getting through the recovery. Kyle suggested (per his therapist) that I focus on something after the surgery that we’ve got planned (which is nothing right now because I’m not sure if any of our usual fall activities are even happening this year–I think they are, but who knows?), and I agree with that, but it’s so hard to make my brain see past the recovery all the way to what comes after when so much comes in between.
I feel like this blog has been an absolute downer for the past year, though understandably so. The last year has SUCKED. I don’t think anyone had an objectively good year last year (except Big Daddy Elon Musk, but billionaires don’t count towards people having good years), and I was scrolling through my blog reflecting on how… just MLEH I’ve been about everything in the last twelve months. And again, completely understandable, but also I feel like that can’t have been fun to read. I’m sorry.
But here we are, encroaching on March 2021, one year of pandemic and social distancing and 500,000 people dying because assholes and masks and so on and so forth, and I’m actually starting to feel something that tickles a bit like hope. Real hope, not the false hope that kept popping up over the last year when people were naively like “it’ll be gone by summer!” or things like that. Real, honest-to-god hope.
After all, this is roughly the timeline they told us to expect back in mid-March of last year, when everything shut down and everything changed. Mid- to late-2021. We’re right on schedule.
I’m getting my first Fauci ouchie tomorrow, 4:30 p.m. I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a needle since the first injection for IVF, way back in 2016. My state, dear old Massachusetts, has kind of bungled the process for people to make appointments–my dad, 68 and with a heart attack in his medical charts, hasn’t been able to get an appointment, so I’m refreshing all sites frequently to try and snag one for him–but by some flash of luck, I woke up the other day to an alert on my phone telling me that a CVS near me had appointments available. I fit squarely into Tier 2 of the second phase of vaccine rollout up here–obesity and asthma qualifying me as medically at risk of a Bad Time–so I signed up.
And I’m ready.
(even if I’m a bit frustrated that Massachusetts hasn’t bothered to start prioritizing teachers yet while other states have and the websites to get appointments are basically strung together with some twine and duct tape and a few prayers and GOD, I wish I could take a hammer to said websites and get my handful of coding friends to rebuild them functionally from the ground up)
I have plenty of friends who’ve already been vaccinated for various reasons, ranging from frontline workers to teachers to people with medical issues and everything in between. Of that plenty, many have experienced the “your immune system is working” side effects–the aches, the fever, the chills, the generally feeling like shit from about hour 33 to hour 48 after the second dose. I’m ready for that. Kyle’s been keeping in touch with his boss about what’s going on, so with any luck, when I get the second dose, I can just coast through all of those side effects feeling vile but being mostly unconscious.
But I’m ready. I’m ready to not be afraid to go places besides Target or to not be afraid when I’m IN Target because the people behind me don’t seem to grok that six feet and six inches are not the same thing. I’m ready to feel like I’m not going to be putting myself in more danger if I have to go to the doctor for whatever reason (seriously, in the past year, I have avoided going to the doctor so many times I probably shouldn’t have because I didn’t want to accidentally expose myself). I’m ready to hopefully not be a link in a chain of people getting sick (like we don’t know yet that the vaccine prevents or reduces transmission, but the science–even with the new variants–looks pretty good so far).
And I mean. When even the most conservative estimates have everything easing up by summer, it’s hard not to be hopeful, outside of the trenches.
(in the trenches is another story, and every time I talk about hope, I think of my friends who do work on the frontlines and wish that I could somehow have a million dollars each to give them so that they could go on the most luxurious, relaxing, magical vacations of all time. Like hell, wanna spend two months on sabbatical in Hawaii? Go nuts, aloha. French Riviera whispering your name? Au revoir, you amazing heroes)
I’m getting vaccinated tomorrow, and then the twins turn three on March 14 and start school on March 15. Sending them in person isn’t a decision we made lightly; even though the school they’ll be attending has had exactly 10 cases out of 300 students and about 50 staff (and none of them in the preschool), the risk isn’t zero. On the flip side, though, Isaac has stagnated and regressed so much since daily ABA stopped, and I HATE phrasing it like that because it makes his autism sound like this horrible thing, and it’s NOT, but at the same time, I can feel how badly he wants to communicate with us, and goddamnit, I can try with the rudimentary PECS and I can say the words and do all sorts of things as his mom, but because I’m his mom, there’s a lot I can’t do. I’m not trained or qualified to do so much of it.
He really was making such incredible progress when he had ABA five times a week, and I know the language is there. And he wants to express himself and is SO HAPPY when we understand him. And preschool will give him an opportunity to be better understood, whether that’s vocally or through signs or through PECS. Whatever he needs. I just want him to not feel like he can’t be understood, because to me, that’s about as lonely and terrifying as it gets.
And Carrie is something of a ragdoll. She’s clever and sweet, and where communication is concerned, she’s at age level if not above it. BUT when it comes to physicality, her muscle tone is almost comically low. She seems comfortable wherever she is, which is great, but she gets tired quickly because she has to put more effort into making her muscles work than a kid like Isaac (whose muscle tone has always felt high to me because he’s always. so. tense.) or even Sam does. It impacts her ability to use her fine motor skills with holding a pencil or getting herself dressed and undressed, and I have no doubt it’s impacting her digestion. In the long term, it’s going to cause problems for her–she’ll be in pain, and I don’t want that at all. And if we can get started fixing it now, if I can get her therapy now, maybe she won’t follow in my footsteps and end up in remedial gym or getting an MRI for sciatica and feeling like she’s in her 90s when she’s not even 40 yet.
Plus, they’re SO good with masks. It’s kind of surprising, honestly. I would’ve expected the twins to just hate wearing a mask and to fight it all the way, but the two of them are absolute champs. They even have Barbie and Hot Wheels disposable masks along with the other disposable masks I’ve gotten them for the remainder of the school year. I think we’ll be okay. I think they’ll thrive in school, and I think we’ll be okay.
For the first time in forever…
…I can kind of see the rest of the year clearing up, like the way the sky clears up when it finally stops raining after a particularly long stretch of wet days. I feel like when I say, “when the kids go back to school in September…” I’m not doing some sort of wishful thinking; I’m saying something that will happen. When Sammy goes back to school with his friends, when the twins are in preschool five days a week, when I see my extended family for the first time since Christmas of 2019. WHEN, not IF.
Speaking of Sammy going back to school (WHEN that happens), I got in touch with the special ed department at his school to see if they could evaluate him for ADHD and autism or at least just to see if he has anything that would require an IEP to deal with in the coming year. His therapists have him on a waitlist to see if he can be evaluated outside of the school, but because of Covid, that waitlist is excruciatingly long–we’re talking years–and I don’t want him to start second grade at a disadvantage. I know that whatever else is going on, he deals with a lot of executive dysfunction and hyperfixation. I know that his mind goes so fast from one thing to another to another, I know that he acts like boredom is torture. I know that the idea of failing at something even a little brings him to tears, no matter what reassurances we offer. I know that if he’s asked any question about himself, no matter how benign, he shuts down and furiously refuses to answer.
I don’t know what that all adds up to. I do know that it affects his schoolwork. That he melts down when something is hard for him, that it’s an absolute WAR to get him to do his social studies and reading. That he doesn’t focus, can’t really focus, even on subjects he loves. But give him Pokemon or Minecraft or the deep sea, and he will tell you everything in excruciating detail. That he’s terrifyingly smart–doing third grade math as a first grader and absolutely OWNING it–but that he needs someone to help him apply that intelligence.
And I don’t know. Maybe it’s that I’m not as good of a teacher as I like to hope I am. When he’s on, he REALLY gets stuff. He’s getting straight As in math without even blinking, and I think he’s doing okay with improving his spelling and handwriting, but I feel like there’s something about his learning style that’s out of my reach, and if nothing else, I’d like to see if the staff at his elementary school can identify it.
A lot on my plate. Again. I can sort of feel my sciatica flaring, but I’ve been more careful to take time off and be diligent with my medication because I am NOT doing that again. I have an MRI to look at it up close on the 8th, and until then, I’m just taking it all one day at a time and knocking items off my to-do list little by little.
And feeling like the sun is starting to peek through the clouds. Which is nice.
The countdown is on, my friends: 39 days until the twins start preschool in our town’s integrated special education program.
I’ve had this countdown going for a while, but until Wednesday, it was unofficial. And admittedly, the situation isn’t ideal, but
Well, let’s start from the beginning.
Back in 2018, in August, Isaac started working with Early Intervention therapists because he had torticollis in his neck (which means that he had a hard time turning his head, probably as a direct result of it being firmly wedged up against my pelvic bone for the last 8 weeks of the pregnancy). He saw a physical therapist fairly often to gently ease him into having less of a stiff neck. About four months later, Carrie joined him in the arena of physical therapy, since she was being very slow in terms of gross motor skills.
As time passed, both twins gained more services–occupational therapy, speech therapy–and Isaac was eventually diagnosed with autism; and then, Isaac started ABA therapy and did fantastic with that, too. Up until the pandemic, the services we had were doing a fantastic job ensuring the twins were progressing in their development at an appropriate pace, and they had even started attending a once a week playgroup so they could start learning how a classroom worked for when they started preschool.
Because, you see, the beautiful Commonwealth of Massachusetts pays for therapy up to kids’ third birthdays–that’s what Early Intervention is. After the age of three, though, the state stops paying, and you have to hope that your kid qualifies for special ed preschool or even with insurance, you’re going to be shelling out a LOT of money for therapy.
So anyway. The world tried its damndest to stop last year but failed to do so, and the twins’ third birthday is rapidly approaching. Amidst my planning for a nice, lowkey celebration (read: no party whatsoever, maybe just my parents coming over, cupcake flavors, presents all purchased), we’ve also been planning for that transition, because as of March 15, the twins’ services won’t be covered under Early Intervention anymore.
None of them. Not speech, not PT, not ABA.
So about two weeks ago, we took the twins into our primary school for their assessments. It’s the same school Sam attended last year and will attend in the fall, and he was really excited and proud of it, talking about it as if he hadn’t been there in decades (“oh, yes, I remember the auditorium!” “of course, that’s the office!”). The preschool was set up in such a way that everything was absurdly spread out, which was a good sign; with OT and PT, we aren’t going to be able to keep the twins six feet away from everyone all the time, but seeing that the classroom was set up in a way that physical distancing was encouraged when it could be was reassuring.
During the assessment, Kyle and Sam and I sat at one desk off in a corner of the room while the twins played with the therapists in another corner. Carrie immediately took to the dollhouse they had and quietly set about tucking a plastic kitty she found into bed, while Isaac stood in one place and observed everything while smiling that amazing smile of his and making every therapist and teacher fall in love with him.
The whole thing lasted about an hour, maybe a little longer, and we were keeping our fingers crossed the whole time that both twins would end up qualifying for services. We never doubted that Isaac would–after all, he doesn’t speak independently yet–but we weren’t sure about Carrie. She’s behind, but her delays aren’t as obvious as Isaac’s, and her delays could probably be helped with a longer, slower path, if at all.
BUT the amazing therapists saw exactly who our twinsies are and saw where Carrie was struggling and where Isaac was struggling and recommended that they both attend preschool five half days every week.
And with the pandemic going on, I’d be reluctant to agree to that because there’s all these new variants making everything worse, and who knows when any of us will be able to get our Fauci ouchies, but today, we got the IEP with the breakdown of services.
If we leave out the preschool aspect (which would be roughly ~5 appointments per week), we’re still looking at $175/week for Isaac in copays and $125/week for Carrie in copays for all of that therapy. And they wouldn’t get that level of therapy outside of school, BUT a lot of it is stuff I feel like they’d really excel with having, stuff I never would’ve thought of, stuff that I don’t know they could get in an at-home environment because of the pandemic.
Carrie, for example. I’ve worried about her core strength and muscle tone for a while (she’s always been something of a ragdoll floppy baby–never in a way that makes you terrified, but she’s very good at molding herself to you), but never loudly enough to raise alarm bells to therapists and doctors. She demonstrated it so well during her assessment, though, that they planned for her to have just as much PT and OT as Isaac, and that’s a huge relief.
And Isaac has the full cocktail of services–PT, OT, speech, and ABA, all provided by the school. And I’m REALLY relieved. His ABA therapists have been great, but because of the pandemic, they’ve been really sporadic in their availability–going back to school, having to quarantine because a family didn’t bother to mention they tested positive, just unavailable because nobody wants to be going into homes these days. Giving him the opportunity to get those therapies in person five days a week… GOD, it’s just such a weight off my shoulders. He did so well with just ABA in the mornings from March through October, I can’t wait to see how he takes off when he’s getting all of these therapies all the time.
So everything is in review, I am buying six billion child-sized surgical masks every week (they come with Barbie and Hot Wheels prints at Target!), I am waiting for a TON of paperwork from the school, and I’m feeling an honest weight lifting off me.
39 days. There’s obviously some additional relief there, with me suddenly having MUCH calmer mornings than I’ve had in three years (let me tell you, in September, when we’ve all gotten our Fauci ouchies and everyone goes back to school full time and Kyle is commuting to the office 2-3 days a week and I’m ALONE for the first time since ~2013, omg, I am going to party SO hard, by which I mean I am buying a box of a dozen doughnuts after dropping the kids off and eating them ALL BY MYSELF and then enjoying the sugar coma until it’s time to pick the twins up), but most of it is a mixture of apprehension about Covid and relief about the services continuing with a much more consistent delivery that won’t completely bankrupt us.
I’m taking my time processing it all, and in the meantime, I’m just quietly shopping for first day of school outfits. In March. For twins. Who are almost three.
Because I can’t make the pandemic magically go away (if only), and I can’t look into the future and see that these services will work out really well for them both, but I can make them both look hella cute on their first day.
This was going to be a long blog post about the inauguration and politics in general, but that leaves me feeling tired. Suffice it to say that I’ve breathed a sigh of relief, but I also acknowledge that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and I’m focused wholly on the future and how to improve things instead of bemoaning the immediate past. The past informs the direction that we need to take as a country (a wholesale rejection of white supremacy, measures to rectify massive wealth inequality, having an actual PLAN for the pandemic instead of just pretending it doesn’t exist so we don’t spook the markets, etc.), but I’m through arguing about the past four years. They were politically terrible. Let’s move forward.
Instead, because I don’t feel like getting my blood pressure up today, I’m talking about life overall, or life in our house, at least.
Because it goes on. Like I said last time, insurrections, elections, inaugurations, Bernie with his mittens, it all happens and it all affects you, but at the same time, life goes on. You read a headline, you feel angry or sad or hopeful (which is new), then you have to run to the post office or call the kids’ therapists or something or another. Maybe you discuss it, you sign a petition, you run to a protest, you donate, but life is going on with or without you.
Life goes on.
The twins had their preschool evaluations on the fifteenth, and it went well, I think. They met with the entire preschool team, with the physical therapist running the evaluation while the others–the teachers, the SLPs, the OTs–took notes and observed. Kyle, Sam (who was there because we didn’t have childcare for him), and I sat in a corner of the room that was separate enough for the twins to not zero in on us instead of what they were supposed to be doing.
They started out pretty shy. Carrie warmed up to the situation first, when she saw that they had a dollhouse, because she is quintessentially what toy marketing execs want a little girl to be. She loved that the dollhouse had a little toy cat with a little toy toilet and a little toy bed, and she spent a great deal of time meticulously tucking the toy cat into bed or settling it on the toilet, not really talking about what she was doing, just doing it. She was SO quiet that the SLP had to come over and talk to us about her speech, and we talked about her on bad days–preferring one-to-two-word phrases over sentences, even though she CAN use sentences, and murmuring nonsense under her breath to tell you things. She’s very stubborn, so if you want her to talk to you, she just will not do so.
She also, apparently, struggled with her fine motor strength–not her accuracy, but her strength, coping the OT’s movements with her crayon but not really applying a lot of pressure.
And, really, much of the evaluation was for her. Isaac’s struggles are pretty easy to spot and pretty easy to describe. He spent the first ten minutes of the evaluation standing stark still like a statue and smiling shyly behind his mask. Though he eventually warmed up, he’s mostly nonverbal still (which is more of a “behind” thing than a permanent thing–he’s about where Carrie was between 12 and 18 months, and I think he’s mostly stagnated because the pandemic has prevented us from having in person speech therapy for a year now. Like, we work with him, but we don’t necessarily know what to do to encourage him to, for example, speak independently instead of parroting us) and has exactly zero sense of danger, which combines poorly with his extraordinary fine motor skills.
(which sounds kind of cool, but you don’t expect your two-year-old to figure out how to unlock a window, create a tower of stuffed animals to reach the lock, unlock and open the window about two inches, figure out how to open the screen, open the screen, and then start tossing his toys down from the second story window. That’s a surprise. So yeah, the windows in the twins’ room are duct taped shut now)
But the evaluation was both to get an idea of where Isaac is and to see if Carrie actually qualifies for the preschool’s special ed program. She’s right on the border where she MIGHT need the extra help, but she might also catch up with her peers by just being with them. It’s hard to say. And it’s not a huge deal either way–when I talked with the head preschool teacher over Zoom, she explained that Carrie will have a spot in the program no matter what, it’s just a question of whether she’s there for free as a special ed student or whether we pay the $140/month tuition.
And even that isn’t a big deal. When Sam was in preschool at the twins’ age, we were paying probably… mmm, I want to say about $200/week because it was a full time private daycare. Which I LOVED, but I can even point to ancient blog entries I wrote here about how I realized that having twins meant no more daycare for anyone. So back then, I was wondering “omg how are we going to even afford preschool for them, that’s $400/week, that’s $1600/month, how can we do that, that’s a second mortgage?”
The idea of both of them going and us only paying $140/month? $35/week? It’s kind of miraculous. And if it’s free, I’m just going to do a dance.
We’ll find out sometime this week how things went, and then we have a meeting on February 2 to set up their IEPs (or IEP if Carrie doesn’t need one). And that’s WILD to me. I’ve talked so much about IEPs with so many people (my sister always had one, my mother-in-law is a special ed teacher, one of my besties is an SLP, etc., and that’s not even counting the huge village of parents of children with IEPs who are like “yes, I will help you with this, I will tell you how I best advocated for my kid”) that actually diving into one is like
Let alone diving into TWO.
We’re very fortunate. Our town is apparently one of the best in the area for special education from top to bottom (which isn’t surprising; everyone here is some degree of wealthyish and it looks like fucking Happy Valley from “Mickey and the Beanstalk” and then there’s me with my overgrown ugly lawn covered in dead leaves like “oh yeah, I totally belong here!”), so while I know I’ll have to fight for a lot of things, I don’t feel like I’ll have to fight as hard as I would have somewhere else.
(like apparently, my hometown, which is just a few miles down the street from me, has one of the WORST special ed programs in the area. They used to be good, according to all of our therapists and contacts, but nowadays, things are just garbage from top to bottom)
It’s a lot. But I feel ready.
And life goes on.
And it might end up being THREE IEPs, anyway. Sam’s been having in-home therapy for a couple of months now to deal with, oh, a whole bunch of things. His anxiety had reached a point where he wasn’t sleeping in his own bed at all, he has days where he barely eats, he’s an absolute ping pong ball if he doesn’t have something with a screen drawing his attention… it’s a lot. Kyle and I had a sit down talk with the therapists over Zoom on Monday, and they suggested having Sam evaluated for both autism and ADHD.
The autism bit has me a bit skeptical. They were noticing a lot of the outward signs, and I agree that Sam has a lot of sensory issues, BUT if he is autistic, he’s also the most adamantly extraverted autistic kid I’ve ever met. And that’s not to say that autism can’t look like that–it’s a sundae bar, after all, and you can have all sorts of weird varieties of stuff going on–but it’s just. I hate to say this because it’s so not clinical, but he doesn’t ping my autism radar the way Isaac did from ~day one. Isn’t that a dumb thing to think? Like “mom hasn’t ever gotten autistic vibes from him, not even a little” is not a good diagnostic criteria, and should not be used as a diagnostic criteria.
I took one of the screening tests for him, the one they use in clinical settings, and maybe I’m too close to him to see (but unless I’m missing something, I feel like a lot of these tests are just asking parents how their kid is anyway and then observing in a play setting?), but he scored way too low on the autism test to even warrant further testing. And again, maybe I’m just too close to the situation, but like. I can’t imagine I’m missing THAT MUCH, you know?
Now, on the ADHD test, on the other hand, he scored off the charts. Everything from his lightning fast mind to his constant movement (not stimming, just MOVING) to his general breakdowns if he gets a question wrong was right on there. But professionals who see him in brief settings keep saying “no, he doesn’t have ADHD, but he’s probably autistic.”
I don’t know how to respond to that! I go, I do the assessments that are available, and maybe I have confirmation bias or maybe I’m too close to the situation or maybe I’m just crazy, but I end up getting super low scores for autism and super high scores for ADHD and I just ???? am I missing something? I see this child all day every day. He’s my son. We talk all the time. We snuggle up at bedtime and go over his day. He tells me matter-of-factly how he feels about so many things. I know when I can and can’t push him on things, when we can work through something or when we need to disengage from it. I’ve SEEN him from the moment he was born, and I’m just so confused here. Are they seeing something I’m not? Are we all just misinterpreting the same information?
Anyway. We’re trying to get in touch with someone to schedule an evaluation for the next soon, because if he does have autism or ADHD (or sensory processing disorder, which I also suspect), I want to know ahead of time so that I can plan IEP meetings for when he gets back to school in the fall. If nothing else, I want to be able to talk to the school in general to say that while he’s soaring in math and science, and while he can read perfectly well, he struggles with handwriting, with creating sentences, and with reading comprehension.
Life goes on.
It goes on for me, too. I started my inauguration day with a visit to an orthopedic specialist to talk about my back. Here it is:
Note how spines are not supposed to look like that. I apparently have slight scoliosis (less than a 25 degree curve, which means I’m not really a candidate for surgery, more for just PT and figuring out how to live life overall with a wonky spine), some twisting going on (though it’s unclear if that was just posture-related or is an actual Problem), and bone degeneration that’s a bit more than usually expected at my age (not quite 40). I’m supposed to be getting on a calendar for an MRI sometime in the next near future so that we can see what nerve involvement is there, and if there is nerve involvement (which there is, I can feel it), I’m a candidate to get an injection of anesthetic and steroids into my sciatic nerve in order to keep it from, you know, murdering me.
It’s both vindicating and frustrating. On the one hand, I’m able to point to it and say, “LOOK, see, the fact that I’ve thrown my back out at least once a year since I was 20 has a REASON behind it. I’m not being overdramatic, I do have some issues that could stand to be addressed in numerous ways!”
But on the other hand, I feel frustrated that I’m just learning about this now, that I didn’t think to get it examined before, when I was throwing my back out with such regularity, not necessarily because I was lifting something wrong or doing something weird but because my back is just prone to spasms. I could’ve spent years working on this and not been here, feeling miserable and useless.
Oh well. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.
And life goes on. The pandemic is slowing, slowing, slowing. It doesn’t feel like a very fast slowing (because how would slowing be fast??), but it’s happening. If President Biden is able to really get his vaccination plan off the ground, maybe summer will be normalish, maybe we’ll go on a very short vacation to like Hershey Park and Sesame Place, maybe this isn’t a forever sort of thing. Maybe we’ll get on a plane again someday, maybe we’ll travel across the country and the world again. It feels possible, which is a huge step above where it felt even a month ago, and I’m grateful for that.
This year, when we went to my parents’ house for Christmas Eve (we basically see them every week anyway), my mom talked about how she’d felt a bit like Christmas was another thing on her to-do list sometimes. That with everything to check off–the decorating, the buying, the wrapping, the cleaning, the cooking, the baking–it can feel like it’s just another Thing. And Christmas is absolutely my second busiest time of the year, no doubt. The March-through-July stretch is still a LOT crazier because every event every month in that stretch is a Big One, not an optional one, and none of them are my birthday.
So yeah, Christmas is a crazy time of year, but it’s usually also a rewarding time of the year. Sure, I’m pulling my hair out somewhat when we try to finish up on Christmas morning so that we can get to my uncle and aunt’s house before everyone settles in for dinner, but then there’s the catching up with everyone and the laughing and meeting new babies and new boyfriends and sometimes, my uncle makes this amazing saffron cream pasta that makes you understand why people pay so much for saffron…
Which isn’t to say that this year wasn’t rewarding. It was, just. You know. Different.
Like all of 2020.
We’re still combing through everything the kids got. My parents and Kyle’s parents spoiled them, of course, because that’s what grandparents do, and our playroom is currently overflowing with both (a) boxes, and (b) toys. We’ve been bringing things out one at a time, all while trying to sort through what’s in the living room and find places for that.
Sam got a pair of robots and some video games for Christmas, along with a few Lego sets, because he’s frustratingly easy to shop for. He’s one of those kids whose interests are narrow and specific, so on the one hand, you know exactly what themes to hunt down in toy sections; but on the other hand, you’re just like… I really want to get you something different, but all you want are these things. But he’s seemed pretty happy with what he got, and I feel like his gifts have much more staying power than the twins’.
Isaac was the one I thought would be least impressed with his gifts, but to my absolute surprise, he’s the kid who took to everything the fastest and has been playing with his gifts most consistently. Santa gave him a singing Mickey Mouse train, Kyle gave him a weird musical toy called a “Rocktopus,” and my parents gave him a little red Playmobil minivan. The train and the Rocktopus are never NOT singing, and the minivan, despite being hard as a rock and full of breakable things, has become his first ever “must have it in bed with me” lovey.
And Carrie, who is every little girl ever, received pretty much the best gifts for every little girl ever: an Ariel doll, a makeup table (for pretend makeup, of course), a dollhouse, and a dress up gown with accessories. She’s been frolicking about the house in a whirl of joy, and when she’s done being whirly and joyful, she falls into my arms, sighing happily and saying, “Oh Mom. I you so much!” (which is her way of saying that she loves me so much)
So it’s been good. And Kyle and I spoiled each other, too (I gave him Whataburger sauces and a fancypants sleep mask; he gave me jewelry and my very own fountain pen), and we spent Christmas Day doing nothing but watching movies on TV while eating popcorn and pretending that it was a normal Christmas and we were totally at our local theater and not scrunched up on the couch and saying things like “SAMUEL MATTHEW, STOP RUNNING RIGHT NOW.”
We saw Soul first, and it was honestly one of the best Pixar movies I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to explain it because the plot is kind of loose? And the message is kind of loose? But it also was a film that wasn’t escapism, that didn’t want to be escapism, that wanted you to leave the theater-slash-living room and go live life, not just exist. And it was heavy material, but it was handled in a strangely effervescent way, so that even though it was a lot of DEEP questions that required a lot of heavy pondering, you didn’t feel bogged down by them.
And it was gorgeous and made me more determined than ever to take the kids to New York when this craziness is over.
Wonder Woman 1984 was… eeeeeh. Kyle and I watched it after the kids went to bed, having our first “date” since the pandemic kicked in, and… eeeeeh. There was a scene at the very end that had us both sobbing, Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig did great jobs for the most part (the CGI got in Kristen Wiig’s way towards the end, which was a shame), and there were some fun moments, but… eeeeeh. It was disappointing. I didn’t go in with super high expectations, and even my lower expectations weren’t quite met, so that’s a shame. Still one of the better DC movies but… eeeeeh.
And thus the year is finally, finally drawing to a close. I know that the world in general won’t turn a magical corner on January 1 that has everything back to what we want it to be (though wouldn’t that be a trip), but at least we have the vaccine and a new presidency to shake things up a bit, and hopefully, by this time next year, I won’t be digging for scraps of things that made this year good.
It’s funny. Back last December, I bought a memory jar for us to keep this year, figuring we’d have a lot of cool memories to read about on December 31 as we counted down to midnight. It didn’t last long, mostly because mindfulness, while awesome, is one of those things it’s harder to do when you’re in the trenches of motherhood. You know what I mean? Those days, those weeks, those years where you give all of yourself and then some, and you take a shitton of pictures, not to show off your awesome mommy skills or embarrass the kids in the future but because you can’t be in the moment. You’re clinging by a thread, and you want to remember the good, but you can’t focus on it because the bad keeps showing up.
It’s not been the worst year for me; by comparison, we had it pretty easy. Despite Kyle losing his job in the spring, he got a MUCH better job in the fall, one that pays more, even if the benefits need some work. Sam being homeschooled has meant I can really focus on him for hours at a time, despite the twins, and he’s been able to get a more individualized learning plan (read: my six-year-old is doing multiplication and division without even thinking about it, and it’s weird). He and I have had more than a few outdoor adventures, including a really fun hike back in October (sigh, that was roughly the last time I felt healthy enough to get out and go) and a visit to a nearby pond.
Sam and Isaac both started therapy (in December and March, respectively) to help deal with everything. Isaac’s ABA has been better than I expected and not the nightmare I’d feared; Sam’s therapy has just started, but I can already see how he’s much calmer on therapy days than on days when his therapists don’t come. They’re both doing really well, and wildly enough, they’ll both be starting school again next year… in March and September, respectively.
I was hospitalized for my mental health, and I’ll be real, it’s a miracle more people haven’t done that this year. I’m lucky: my husband noted that I was doing really badly (I legitimately do not remember this summer, that’s how bad it was) and MADE ME get help. I learned the difference between wanting to die and being overwhelmed by life (there is a difference), and I learned actual real coping skills. I’m starting maintenance therapy next week so that I can focus on keeping my brainmeats healthy instead of letting them slip and slide and become a mess again.
I have a path forward for my physical health: my doctor has finally referred me to an orthopedic specialist for my back, and with any luck, I’ll have a specific way to get to a point where I can actually get out again (like I feel like I could now, but it’s cold and I’m also terrified). I survived the worst physical pain I’ve ever felt this year, somehow (wild thing about sciatica being that you’re in the worst pain of your life, pain so bad it gives you PTSD, but you are nowhere near dying, and when the pain ebbs, people mostly just tell you to walk and lose weight, like they do whenever you have a problem while fat). I had surgery and ruled out a major potential cause of my overall life issues.
So it hasn’t been an all bad year for me. But I’m still eager for it to be over.
I don’t necessarily think 2021 is going to be better overall, at least to start, just that we’ll all mostly be used to the chaos, so it won’t hit as hard. And slowly, slowly, things will get better. Plenty of people will still be idiots, of course, because that’s the world we live in, but idiocy can be mitigated by good people doing good things and stopping bad things. It’s going to be rough going. None of the positive things are quick fixes; they will take time, and they will need a lot of pressure, and just because things are no longer at an immediate boiling point does not mean things are better. Creating a better world is a true effort.
With that in mind, I decided that no, 2021 is not my year. It is my bitch. I am transforming myself into a screaming banshee of rage and forcing things to get better. I will scream and I will fight and by this time next year, I will be able to say, “you know something, that wasn’t a half bad year after all.”
It’s finally mid-December, which means we’re ~20 days away from this hell year being over. The FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine with shots beginning ASAP (I think someone in the Massachusetts government was saying that the first shots would be going out on Thursday), so there’s a light at the end of the Covid tunnel; and a new president will be inaugurated on January 20 (although he’s not as progressive as I’d like, it’ll be nice to wake up without that sinking sensation of pure dread for a little while).
In my house, things are busy and have been, to the point where my body is 100% telling me to slow tf down, but it’s like… I can’t, because if I do, everything falls to pieces. I’m not saying this because I’m being overdramatic; sometimes SAHMing feels like being the manager for an entire company.
But I digress.
I said last time that I’d been planning to write about sciatica, and boy do I have a story. Towards the end of my partial hospitalization program, where I was feeling mentally healthy and ready to get there physically as well, I woke one day with excruciating back pain. Nothing touched it–not NSAIDs, not Tylenol, not warmies, not stretches. When I went to the doctor for it, the x-rays showed that I basically have (a) mild scoliosis; (b) bone degeneration; and (c) bone spurs in my spine, which explains why I’ve been prone to throwing my back out since I was in college.
(it was November of my junior year, I had just turned 20, and I had a lot on my plate: finishing out the semester, providing stage manager/dramaturgy stuff for our chamber choir’s Madrigal Feast, violin lessons, pulling my act together for a semester studying abroad at Oxford University, plus all the typical late-teens/early-20s drama that comes with being a college student. Oh, and that’s when I first got diagnosed with asthma and what’s probably chronic bronchitis, so yeah. A little on my plate)
My doctor had me go to physical therapy, and I was slowly getting better, but I’d also have days where I’d get worse. The pain seemed to be doing weird things, sometimes being very calm and manageable and other times being too bad for me to get out of bed. Eventually, by about mid-November, I found that I couldn’t sit up for long periods of time. I had to lounge on the couch or in bed with my legs and back in a specific position or else the pain would become unbearable. I started using a TENS unit regularly, trying to confuse the nerves in my back and leg, where the pain had now spread, and while the massage was pleasant, it didn’t do much long term.
This all came to a head in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Even without the usual hubbub (read: 20 something people at my uncle’s house and baked brie and so many desserts and family for days), I had plans to bake cinnamon rolls and cookies and green bean casserole for our more subdued holiday (my parents, whom we see pretty much every week anyway, were hosting and making the pies). The Tuesday before, I had physical therapy first thing in the morning and felt GREAT, but that afternoon, we did pictures with the kids…
…which, don’t get me wrong, turned out AMAZING, but once we were done, I was in too much pain to do anything but go collapse in bed. I wanted to be at my best on Thanksgiving, so I decided to spend Wednesday in bed, recovering.
Well, silly me, because that’s the opposite of what you should do with sciatica, especially if it’s caused by a herniated disc (which I suspect mine is). Being horizontal spreads the disc material out and makes it bulge out more when you eventually, inevitably stand up (because I am not going to get a fucking bed pan for sciatica). So Wednesday wasn’t too bad at first–I spent the day lying on my stomach, doing press-ups as instructed by my therapist, and listening to hypnotherapy and guided meditation on YouTube to get my mind off the pain.
BUT sometime Wednesday night, all the things I had been doing just… failed. And Thursday morning, I woke up in blinding agony.
I have pain rankings, and this was only the second thing in my life to hit a 10. The first was gallstones, and those rank lower if only because they’re temporary. Once the gallstone breaks up or passes, the pain fades, and you go back to your life until it happens again. With sciatica, though, sitting and standing and walking and doing anything hurt like hell, and if you don’t figure out how to take care of it well, you eventually get to the point where there is nothing BUT pain. Pain is your existence, and you can’t remember a time without pain, and you can’t imagine a future time without pain, because that’s all there is.
Eventually, I was screaming. Just mindlessly screaming because it hurt so much. My primary care doctor had suggested that if my pain got this bad, maybe I should go to the ER, but I’d been avoiding an ER visit because our new health insurance has terrible copays for everything, to the tune of “an ER visit before you’ve met your annual out of pocket maximum will cost you at least $3500, and if you HAVE met your out of pocket maximum, you’ll have a $1000 copay.”
(MAN I am so glad that we pay 20% of Kyle’s paycheck to get THIS insurance instead of however the fuck much we would pay to get universal healthcare, like WOO this is so much better than living in Denmark and getting taken care of for the low low price of FREE)
But we called the ER and said I was on my way, and then I couldn’t even sit up at all, so we called an ambulance. I had to wait for the ambulance in the living room while screaming and crying and shaking from pain, and Sam had to see me like that, which I hate. I don’t remember anything about what I said or thought beyond “I hate that Sam is seeing me like this”–allegedly, I was telling the EMTs that I hoped they were going to get to have turkey, and I was really worried about making sure they’d have their turkey, but I don’t remember any of it.
They were great, as I recall–they gave me a nasal shot of fentanyl to take the pain from an impossible place to a place where I could be transported, and they were really funny. The pain did not go away completely from the fentanyl, but I stopped screaming for the ride and managed to get to a point where I was just lying there, quietly hurting, with nobody helping me.
That was probably the second worst part (the worst part was Sam seeing me like that)–being in the ER and nobody being there to even check in with me. They looked me over once I was there and gave me like… whatever generic painkillers they had available and eventually did prescribe me a nerve blocker called gabapentin, which has done WONDERS. BUT it also reminded me why I hate going to the ER for anything ever, because unless you’re dying or possibly dying, they sort of don’t pay attention to you at all.
And that’s understandable–there are a lot of people coming in and out of the ER, sometimes just to get painkillers, sometimes just to get an ultrasound of their baby, sometimes just because they’re like. Itchy. It’s especially bad now with Covid and people having to go to the ER because they might have it (on my way out, I saw three rooms designated as Covid-only). And I didn’t WANT to go to the ER, but my pain just got to an impossible point.
My therapist helped me with it this week. She told me that one of the hallmarks of chronic pain is that eventually, your body is too tired to try and fight it off, and the more you have on your plate, the harder it is for your body to work through the pain. Which was like, wow, I didn’t come here to be attacked like this, but that makes way too much sense.
There’s not much of a choice in the matter, of course. Kyle’s job doesn’t necessarily demand too much of him (he’s able to come out and help when I really need it, especially since after the ER), but he’s still working full time, and I’m full time with the kids. Especially during the holiday season, that means that my daytime hours basically evaporate, because there’s so much that I need to organize and do and make sure of, all while I’ve got three kids asking things of me at all times.
I’m not complaining. I love being a stay-at-home mom. But I think I might be reaching a pandemic breaking point, because said pandemic has unquestionably made things MUCH harder. There’s no chunk of afternoon time where the twins are napping and Sam is at school where I can just focus on getting household stuff done, whether it’s cleaning or setting up appointments or paying bills or whatever. There’s no time when I’m awake and not exhausted where I can just be.
I think I’d be able to bear it much more if I weren’t prone to chronic pain, but when you add all that work to the work of bearing chronic pain, the pain gets severe that much faster. You’re already exhausted from the everything–the kids jumping on the couches and knocking each other over and batting at Christmas ornaments because they want to be kittens, the homeschool battle because even on good days it’s a battle, the trying to keep up with everyone’s therapies like ABA and speech and coordination and whatever the fuck, the socializing that starts to feel like work because you’ve been overwhelmed with people being literally ON you all day, the weekends where it used to be getting more done but are now just gasping air before being pulled under again–and then the pain creeps in.
And pain is so exhausting. I remember when I was younger and used to get excruciating menstrual cramps (I found out while trying to have Sam that I had a tilted uterus, which has fortunately fixed itself since having kids, but let me tell you, it’s a for-sure recipe for very bad periods), I’d reach the end of the day and just fall asleep for 18 hours straight. There are a lot of ways to think about pain that involve accepting it and trying to help your body cope with it better, but sometimes, it really is just a battle that you end up losing.
So here we are in December. I can tell that if I weren’t on the meds I’m on, I’d be in a lot more pain, but the gabapentin is doing the excellent work of keeping the pain manageable, as long as I don’t push myself too hard and keep mobile. Sciatica is a weird thing where the more you’re able to stay mobile and keep exercising, the better it gets; but at the same time, when it’s at its peak, the pain defies belief, and all you want is for someone to just knock you out so you don’t have to deal with it anymore. BUT the meds I’m on make it possible for me to stay mobile, and I have a timer set on my phone that reminds me to get up and loosen up every two hours or so (I call it my dance break, and the twins participate, and none of us are very good dancers).
I keep doing Everything because I have to, which is something I keep thinking whenever someone remarks on us having two-year-old twins (and also three four-month-old kittens, more on that in a second) and asks, “how do you do it?” The only answer is that we do it because we have to. We had these kids, and we’re going to make sure they thrive. And there’s a light at the end of the tunnel–as I’m writing this, the FDA is an hour past approving the Covid vaccine for emergency use. By the time the twins turn three in March, we should be well on our way to getting our jabs, and in any case, the twins start preschool March 15 (assuming all things run smoothly). That will make things easier.
But in the meantime, I’m sitting here, feeling my leg be numb because it can’t hurt, and knowing that I can’t stop juggling all these balls or else everything falls apart.
And in the midst of all this, we adopted three kittens!
Honestly, they don’t add a lot to the load. We’ve been on waiting lists since Tinkerbell passed because I cannot go a long time without a cat, and the shelters we applied to wanted to make sure they paired us with kittens that could thrive in a house with three kids. I got the call Monday about a litter of five cats that had been raised with kids about Sam’s age and the caveat that I had to bring all three kids to meet them and the kids had to behave or else the kittens wouldn’t come home with us.
We went in wanting just two, but of the litter of five, two had already been adopted, and these three were the only ones left. And we couldn’t just LEAVE them, so.
They also kind of adopted us. Each one snuggled up to us and purred and rubbed against our legs and force pet us (you know, when cats bump their heads against your hand like “LOVE ME” and you’re like “I already do?” and they’re like “NO LOVE ME” so you do), and… well, they’re necessary. Not because we have any sort of mouse problem, not because I need more on my plate, but because they spark joy. A whole lot of joy.
Biggest brother is Duke Orlando Stinkybutt Catrissian, so named because he farts like an unholy terror. He’s a little fighty, but only with me or Kyle; with the kids, he keeps a respectful distance unless they’re petting him. He’s the most adventurous of the trio, most prone to getting into trouble and the murderer of at least one tree ornament.
Then we have Duchess Oreo Zoomies the Experience, who has established herself as Sam’s Cat. He named her–he saw the pictures of the kittens and decided that her name should be Oreo because she’s black and white like an Oreo. She ADORES Sam–hunts him down wherever he is and snuggles up with him. And she’s been so good for his anxiety, too, helping him to calm down and feel safe enough to sleep, even when he’s worried about something. She’s almost as much of an explorer as Orlando and is highly prone to Zoomies at all times.
Last, but certainly not least, is Duchess Orla With the Chanel Boots…
…who is Mine. She established herself as Mine when we were meeting them and she only came out to socialize with me and Carrie. She’s the shyest of the three, only really coming out for cuddles when the kids are safely in bed and Kyle and I are in a quiet place. Once she’s out, though, she’s a party animal but very ladylike about it. She’ll mince around the covers and attack our feet with the same attitude as Miranda Priestly going after an incompetent staffer. She’s adamant about being held but will also fight me forever about the cat pouch hoodie I bought (yes, I am being That Kind of Cat Mom).
And, well. It may have been biting off a lot, but I feel like the joy and stress relief they give with their cuddles make up for the buying food for three cats and scooping a litter box again and “what are you chewing on???” and “GET OUT OF THE TREE” and “Isaac, it is REALLY ADORABLE that you’ve decided to pretend you’re a kitten, but if you try to climb the Christmas tree, nobody will end up happy” and the “yes, Carrie, the kitty is sharp, have we learned a lesson?”
They’re necessary. They don’t feel like more on my plate. They feel like they’re individually taking the stress of having so much on my plate and dissolving it, and that’s a nice feeling.