Monday, January 20, 2014

How to Stay Married on Two Hours of Sleep

Note:  I am a caring nurturer, a member of an online support group, but not a licensed therapist.

Friends sometimes ask how we do it.  With all the stress and pressure and lack of sleep, how do we make our marriage work?  When asked this question, I smile and take another sip of coffee and say, "Sorry, I spaced out for a bit there.  What was the question?"

The truth is we fuck up all the time.  Hopefully, we learn from it, and find new and inventive ways of fucking up.

The sleep issue goes way back.  One of the first major meltdowns we had over sleep was when our older son was a newborn.  My husband is a very heavy sleeper--nothing bothers him.  I, on the other hand, wake up when a moth farts on a tree outside.

One particularly awful winter night, the baby was crying and crying and I tried everything to calm him down.  Diaper.  Bottle.  Swaddle.  Unswaddle.  Rocking, singing, and pacing the floor.  Nothing worked.  I was reaching the end of my patience when I remembered the words of the nurse: "No baby ever died from crying."  I needed a break.  I put him down in his crib and went to my husband for back-up.

"I need your help.  He won't stop crying," I said.  My husband continued snoring.
"Please, wake up!" I begged.  I shook him.  "I need help!  He won't stop crying!"
"All right!  All right!" he yelled, and rolled over and put the pillow over his head.  Meanwhile, the baby continued wailing from the other room.

I was furious.  I decided I was going to dump a bucket of ice water on the bastard if he didn't get up.

"WAKE UP!" I yelled.  He kept sleeping.  Fine, then.  Ice water it is.  I grabbed hold of the doorknob and yanked the door of our bedroom open, only to discover that the hinges were loose.  The door came out of the frame and landed on the top of my bare foot.

"OWWWW!" I shrieked, and let go of the door.  There was this huge BAM! as the door went crashing to the ground, the baby cried louder, and I hopped up and down on one foot, cursing and crying.  My husband didn't stir.

"WAKE. THE FUCK. UP!"  I grabbed the first thing I could find--a water bottle--and hurled it, not at him, but at the window next to him.  The glass, which was not double-paned, shattered.  January wind and snow gusted into the room.

My husband stirred a bit and opened one eye.  "Did you open a window?"  he asked.

"No, I broke the window, and the door, and if you don't get up, you're next!"

     *     *     *
We've gotten better since then.

Still, it's hard.  We both work outside the home, so there's no opportunity to nap during the day.  And as hard as it is to care for a sleepless newborn, at least they're not mobile.  They don't wake up and jump on the dog.  They don't butter the couch and cover themselves with every bandaid in the house.  They don't climb the furniture, break lamps, or go outside to fetch handfuls of snow to put in our bed.  Sleepless ASD kids are just harder, and it's too easy to get exhausted and angry, but we do our best.  My husband and I have guidelines that we try to follow, and we're both guilty of violating them.  I'm here to share our "wisdom" (whaa-whaa-whaa) with you.

1.  Take turns. Duh, but a lot of people don't.  The key here is to have shifts.  It makes no sense for you both to be popping out of bed every 15 minutes.  Try to have shifts so that each person isn't on duty all night, and you both can have some sleep.  We generally do two-hour blocks.  Any more than that can be scary.

2.  Work out the schedule ahead of time.  We hardly ever do this, but it works when we do.  For example, last night I knew it was all on me.  My husband had to get up early this morning, and we have no school, so it was my job.  (Last night was so effin' miserable that I've already told my husband that tonight I'm taking two Tylenol PMs and going on soma holiday.)

3.  When you're on duty, protect the sleep of your partner.  Besides keeping your kid safe, that's the most important thing you can do.  Who's going to relieve you when you're burnt out?  Close the bedroom door and take the noisy kid somewhere else.

4.  Don't be a fucking martyr.  When it's your turn, and you hear a noise, get up and take care of it.  Don't throw the covers back in a melodramatic fashion and go stomping out of the bedroom.  (See Rule #3)  Don't come back in the bedroom and rant about whatever the kid is doing wrong.  It's your turn.  Don't grumble about how hard your life is.  You both live in the same house.

5.  Ask for help when you need it.  Sometimes patience runs out before your shift does, and you need help.  Sometimes you walk into a perfect storm of smeared poop, maple syrup, and dog vomit.  When these things happen, and you're going to lose it, ask for help.  And Sleeper?  Get up.  This is an emergency.  (See Rule #4) 

6.  Say "Thank You."  It's really important.  I cannot overstate this.

When things go well, we can laugh about his exploits the next day.  When they don't, we know we're in this together.  We pour the coffee and hug it out and hope for a better night soon.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Autism Travel Log: Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Shove--Part 2

This is the continuing story of a somewhat hellacious weekend trip with the family that I began here.

Yes!  We arrived at the hotel and found my husband, looking clean-shaven and dapper, waiting for us.  The boys ran up to him as if he were the hero they were waiting for.  Daddy, Daddy!  It's Daddy!  Hey, Dad!  Dad's here!  Mommy, who had driven them, put up with them, and bought them food, was forgotten.  I didn't care, because I was thinking, He's here!  He's here!  Thank God!  Maybe he has a glass of wine for me!
Peep Show!

We brought our stuff up to the room, and I immediately noticed a problem.  The window in our room
faced into the atrium of the hotel.  For some people, such an arrangement would be weird or a little cool, but for the mother of a perpetually naked child, it was going to be a challenge.  I mean, he might as well hang a picture frame from his waist and announce, "Conventioneers and members of the wedding!  Behold my junk!"

We were going to have to keep clothes on him.

But first, the pool!  Yes, let's chill these whiners out with a dip in the indoor pool.  Oh, what an idea!  They were happy for the first time all day.  Please don't splash Mommy.  I just had my roots done.  Do you think brown hair just grows out of your head?

My husband's ONE JOB in planning this whole trip was to find a restaurant for dinner.  He's a chef, a foodie, and is great at finding just the right place.  He knows our requirements.  Any restaurant we go to must serve french fries, ice cream, and chocolate milk.  The restaurant is preferably a little noisy, so we don't disturb other diners, and has booth seating, so we can keep the boy in a seat.  Unbeknownst to me, my husband must have taken up crack-smoking, because he made a reservation at a charming and quiet English pub, with no children's menu, no milk or apple juice, and no ice cream.  The seats were short stools.  It was a disaster.

"I wanna go to Pennsylvania!" the boy cried.  Me, too, buddy.  Me, too.

We went down the street to the Franklin Fountain, a really cool old-fashioned ice cream shop.  They housed their giant sundaes.  They were happy for the second time all day.

We returned to "Pennsylvania", which is the boy's word for the hotel, with the hope that he was worn out enough to sleep.  No such luck, alas.  He refused to settle down.  First, he wanted to sleep with his brother.  Then he decided it would be more fun to shove him off the bed.  So I made him lie down with me.  I scratched his back, and just as I thought he was drifting off, he stood up and took a flying leap onto the other bed where my husband and Big Bro were sleeping, and kneed my husband in the pills with all his weight.

I settled him down again, and must have fallen asleep for a bit, because I woke up to him shaking me and saying, "Take it out, Mommy.  Take it out, please."

"Take what out?" I asked.  He responded by shoving my fingers in his mouth.  He wanted me to pull out his tooth.

"I'm not doing it, dude." I murmured, and fell asleep for real.  I awoke in predawn hours to the sound of the boy singing.

"Peanut butter...we love peanut butter!"  I opened one eye, and felt around on the bed for him.  I found a bloody tooth, but no boy.

"Peanut butter!  That's what we like best!"   Where was he?  Not in the other bed.  Not in the bathroom.  But then where...?

"Do you like it on your head?  Yes, we like it on our head!"  I followed the sound of his voice to the curtains, and saw two bare feet between the curtain and the window.

Oh, God.  No...

Oh, yes.  There he was, butt-naked and singing, pressing his genitals against the window in full view of a very resigned-looking janitor who was vacuuming below.  The boy turned to me and grinned, his glasses and missing tooth making him look like a deranged jack-o-lantern, and continued his song.

"On your head?  On our head!  OHHHH!"

And that was just the first night.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Kid Sucks At Puzzles...and other spectrumy things he doesn't like.

We've all heard the saying, "If you've met one child with've met one child with autism."  Still, it seems there are some common threads that bind our kids together, and it's so great to find another parent to whom you can say, "Your kid, too?!"  But there are some pieces that don't fit for us.

Puzzles.  My boy shows no interest.  He was all right with the wooden puzzles with individual pieces, but once those pieces had to fit with one another, he gave up.  Big Bro was a fan of those floor puzzles, so we have a lot.  I've tried to engage him--especially with the alphabet puzzle--because I want to provide some kind of structured activity at home, but he balks.  He barely looks at them, and then tries to mash the pieces to make them fit.

At one point, I actually said, "Dude!  Aren't you supposed to be good at this?"  Then I laughed and scolded myself, and poured a glass of wine.
I find it amusing that the puzzle piece is supposed to be the symbol of autism, and my kid hates them.  If I had to develop our own personalized symbol of autism awareness, it would be a decapitated Disney figure, but perhaps that's too macabre for the general public.  I doubt people would buy car magnets or get tattoos of something that looks like the work of Sid from Toy Story.

He's not that into trains.  He shows a mild interest.  He likes to watch the Thomas the Tank Engine video while jumping on a trampoline and shouting the names of all the trains, but that's about it.  He has a little wooden train set his therapist tries to get him to build for some functional play, but it's not a passion.
$6 ticket. He lasted 10 minutes. That's 60 cents/minute of fun!

There's a model train museum about 30 minutes from our house, and I'll take him from time to time.  Sometimes we'll stay for 10 minutes, sometimes longer.  The "museum" is in a little strip mall, and the owner has set up a really lovely display.  He also has religious showcases and anything else that strikes his fancy.  What I find hilarious about the whole situation is that this man, who is very nice, has absolutely no idea that he has built Autism Graceland.  When I take the boy in there, the only other people I see are other moms and other flapping boys.  And the owner tries very hard to encourage the kids to look at his display of bicentennial memorabilia, and seems a little confused by the jumping and humming and flapping.  He never says a word about it, though.  He's good people.

The boy doesn't like Legos, either.  I wish he did.  I wish he showed an interest in something other than breaking my house.

You know, I used to hear these stories of kids on the spectrum who obsessed over a certain toy or puzzle or collection or, I dunno, a pair of socks, and were absorbed for hours.  Understandably, their parents were concerned.  But I can't help feeling a teensy bit jealous.  My son has nothing that keeps him occupied for five minutes, let alone an hour or so.  I can barely imagine what it would be like to have time to pee by myself.


He doesn't line up his toys.  Like ever.