Monday, September 10, 2012

The saving grace of going back to school

When summer draws to a close and school starts again, I think what many of you do:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

I crack up whenever I see this video!

How did your summer go? Did you survive? Did your children survive?
We did okay. Not great. Not horrible. Just okay. Prince Charming lost his ESY (extended school year) services. Monkey somehow managed to keep his ESY, although they cut his hours in half. I’m sorry, but 12 hours over an entire summer isn’t super helpful. Whatever. That’s another conservation for another day… We happen to love our ESY teachers, and something is better than nothing.

Last spring I found a local Groupon-type deal for a beginner’s karate class and thought it would be a perfect summer activity. It would be a good, healthy, and inexpensive way to add a routine to our summer schedule. At the beginning of summer Prince Charming was dying to go and Monkey would launch into tears at the mere mention of it. My how things changed once they started going to the class! Monkey enjoyed himself immensely and managed to earn his white belt. Prince Charming refused to participate and would launch into a meltdown at the drop of a hat. And, that’s one more conversation for another day…   
Despite summer preparations including a newly defined reward schedule, a list of expected behaviors, and lists/charts around the house for regular routines, the break from school was not easy. It never is. I did my best to set things and prepare so that the summer would be simple and straightforward, but life has a way of changing things up sometimes.  

In fact, we saw some significant regression over the summer with Prince Charming. The words, “I told you so” (directed to the school district in regard to their removal of services) come to mind. His sensory system became quite a bit more reactive, and I found myself needing to equip him with a sensory toolkit just to leave the house each day. We haven’t had to do things to that level in a quite some time and it was disheartening to see him react so easily and quickly escalate into meltdowns.
The boys also found their brotherly voices over the summer break. And by brotherly voices, I refer to their constant bickering, yelling, screaming, fighting, kicking, and general disdain toward one another. The silver lining to that cloud is that it is all very neurotypical behavior, so I had to remind myself of that as I could feel my head wanting to explode repeatedly.

As summer wore on, there was a general shortening of my fuse. At times I possess a large amount of patience; other times, well…not so much. I have been told by parents and professionals on various occasions that they are impressed with my patience and calm demeanor around my kids when they are acting up. I am no saint, that’s for sure.
I found myself getting irritated more quickly and the general noise level began to really bother me. My house has never been a quiet place, but during the summer ear plugs should be standard issue.

Needless to say, my nonprofit work and blog writing came to a grinding halt. You may have noticed I was almost completely absent here on Caffeinated Autism Mom during the summer months. Now you know why. I can’t write or work in a chaotic environment. My brain doesn’t function that way. I can only filter so much and then at a certain point I just can’t do anything productive.
During the summer I actually had my first migraine in years, and there were also a couple of multiple-day headaches thrown in there for good measure. At a certain point I became ugly mommy with a bad attitude that could raise her voice at the drop of a hat. I’m not proud of that. It’s not a shining moment for me at all.

I hadn’t truly realized how much my attitude had changed until one day things were particularly rough. The boys were bound and determined to fight like cats and dogs and I had simply had it. I was DONE. And, I yelled. Loudly. In no uncertain terms, I laid down the law and separated them. Since they obviously couldn’t be near each other without having a problem, I took away that choice for the afternoon.
Later that day in a quiet moment when peace had been mostly restored, Prince Charming came to sit with me and said that he was looking forward to school so that I wouldn’t be mad anymore.

Knife to the heart.
Within the same hour, Monkey told me that I needed a break. He then told me that when he and Prince Charming started back to school again he thought I would be happier. That effectively twisted the knife.

I felt as small as a gnat.
I took each of the boys aside and apologized for my behavior. I talked with them about why I was having a hard time and what they could do to help so that we could all be happier.

School started the next day. I did not do a celebratory dance or take a nap or eat a bucket full of chocolate. I felt sad. I was relieved for the quiet, but I was sad that our summer ended the way it did. I can’t fix it or make it better. I can only try to do better next time.     
I will tell you that I noticed an immediate shift in my demeanor. When the boys got home from school, I was eager to talk with them about their day. I was 100% clued in, sharing the moment with them and truly happy to hear all that they had to say. I could feel my blood pressure lower and my jaw un-clench. My joy had returned, and it only took one day with a 4-hour break from the boys to do it.

It really is the most wonderful time of the year.   

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