How did I get to this place?
Though I met my husband in 2nd grade (SUPER cool, huh?!?), we didn’t get married until we were 30 years old. We never really dated…and…I’ll save that super cool story for another post.
Our first daughter was born in 2004…5 days before my son turned 11. Eighteen months later, our second daughter came along.
This is the story of my family and how we became us.
So, between 2nd grade and 2003, when I married my husband, there was a lot of Jerry Springer stuff I plan to skip right over. Maybe a juicy post to write in the future, but not today, friends. What you need to know is that I was a public school art teacher and I was a single mom, happily raising my super awesome son all by myself.
The first time I took my son to Disneyland, he was 5 years old. It took me all 5 years to save enough money for the two of us to fly to California. During my own childhood, my parents took me and my sisters countless times and I wanted to create similar memories with my child. At this point in time, the Disney nostalgia was the only driving force.
In 2003, I “retired” from teaching right before my first daughter entered the world. I never had the option to be a stay-at-home mom and I was excited about the new adventure.
We took a huge, multi-generational family vacation to Walt Disney World and enjoyed the Disney cruise during Christmas of 2004–Our son was 11 and our first daughter was 8 months. It was the very first time my children went to Disney World.
I had no idea if or when we would return.
Consumed with horrible ear infections, my first daughter was late to talk but she was unique and quirky from the beginning. We read to her every day and every night. She LOVED it. She also loved puzzles, the alphabet and writing/drawing. Tricky and smart, she figured out how to climb out of her crib WAY too early. And, she is left-handed…like her momma! (It’s not really important…I just like it.) 🙂
Our next daughter came along a year-and-a-half later. My first daughter was NOT thrilled. Her limited vocabulary reverted (bad ear infections, remember?) back to screams and demands. The baby also entered our lives as the poster child for clinical colic. To say it was a “nightmare” makes it sound better than the reality. For real.
I felt like a CRA-Z, CRA-Z, CRA-Z person back then.
I planned/dreamed of getting in my car and driving away…like towards a different state…maybe towards Disney???
Have I mention my husband traveled for work? Or that my father-in-law moved in with us while he searched for a job? My son was sleeping on a beanbag couch in our living room, my 18 month old was screaming at me and the baby NEVER. STOPPED. CRYING.
Like I said…get in my car…drive away…be gone…FOREVER.
It was not an easy season.
My doctor prescribed antidepressants and I needed them.
So…colic is fun…
Our baby cried non-stop for more than three months. When I say “cried”…I’m talking about a red face that’s soooo red, it is almost purple. Mouth wide open. Hair so sweaty it drips. For hours and hours and hours. My husband had a vasectomy when she was 2 months old. When I signed the consent form, I drew a happy face next to my name. 🙂 Not kidding.
I’m not going to lie…I had a VERY difficult time transitioning from single, working mom to married, stay-at-home mom with three kids. It took some time for me to evolve.
Our first daughter was ready and super easy to potty train at 27 months. Our baby potty trained herself at 22 months. The girls learned to swim without floats on the same day. They learned to ride their bikes without training wheels in the same afternoon. Our youngest learned her letters, numbers, how to write, count, etc. before she turned one. I chalked it up to her soaking in everything her older sister attempted.
In 2006, we took a second multi-generational Disney World vacation. This time, we had all three of our kids.
Back home, when I signed the girls up for preschool, our baby was the only one in her class that was potty trained and no longer used a sippy cup. She held a pencil correctly and wrote her name. She cried every day and didn’t like to go to school.
Our other daughter thrived in the environment. Though she knew her letters and a few site words, she didn’t mind the academic repetition and she enjoyed the social interactions.
Our youngest was rough. She was draining. And demanding. And intense. The parenting tools that worked for my other two children did NOT work for this one. I attempted every avenue, read about different approaches, tried it all…I was exhausted–physically, mentally and emotionally.
Oddly enough, when we traveled to Walt Disney World in 2009, we had very few issues. In fact, it seemed like our daughter was at peace and her anxiety levels decreased while we vacationed in Florida. (Was it Disney magic???)
In January of 2010, when the kids were 16, 5, and 4, my husband deployed to Iraq.
That puts a kink in things.
My emotionally intense middle one was so overcome with sadness that she almost threw up in the parking lot at the airport. To say she was inconsolable, is putting it lightly. The girls both cried for days. And days.
Though we all eventually adjusted, my youngest daughter’s intensity, anger and frustrations grew. She hated play groups and would retreat to the bedroom in search of silence. Walmart overwhelmed her and I once sat on the filthy, concrete floor of the beverage isle rocking her in hopes of calming her down. She was terrified of strangers, bugs (specifically flies), rain, loud sounds and changes in routine.
At this point in time, all of the books on my nightstand focused on military families, deployments and ways to help kids cope with an absent parent. I assumed the challenges with the girls (mostly our youngest) would subside once my husband came home.
I learned from the books that an adjustment period should be expected. So…I expected things to eventually get better.
We celebrated my husband’s return with another wonderful, joy-filled trip to Walt Disney World in January of 2011.
After our Disney vacation and about six months after my husband returned home, things were not better. Though the emotional intensity in our oldest daughter was easier to deal with, no one could effectively reach our youngest. Her outbursts, fears and all-consuming freak-out sessions were controlling our family. We begged and punished and ignored and yelled and cried and made behavior charts and Googled and I finally made an appointment with the pediatrician.
A chemical imbalance? Hormones out-of-whack? A rare disease? Of course, I didn’t WANT her to have something but I wanted an answer…a reason…a way to help her…SOMETHING! Armed with a notebook full of concerns, it took 4 adults to hold her down as they drew blood. Everything was negative.
The doctor suggested we call a psychologist.
It took 5 meetings before my daughter would speak to the psychologist without me in the room. She eventually looked forward to her weekly sessions and the “tools” sort of helped…breathing techniques, squeezing a pillow, a handmade “stomping” mat for anger outbursts.
In the summer of 2011, the psychologists said my daughter was bright and suggested I research Asperger’s Syndrome.
Books about the autistic spectrum replaced my military family collection and though my daughter’s “symptoms” were similar, she didn’t fit all of the characteristics. Kids on the spectrum ARE different…so…I was even more confused. Very confused.
My daughter needed to be assessed AFTER being in a social and academic environment that did not include her older sister.
The psychologist decided to get input from my daughter’s kindergarten teacher. I agreed.
Two weeks later, my youngest daughter entered kindergarten at age five…the ordinary time for a child to enter public school. My other daughter started 2nd grade and my son left for college.
I wrote a two page letter to the school–explaining everything about my youngest daughter–and we were blessed with an understanding and accepting kindergarten teacher.
EVERY ounce of credit goes to that amazing teacher for changing the course of our lives and I have thanked her many times for seeing something in my daughter that I was too close to see.
I was drowning and she saved my youngest daughter and our entire family with one, seemingly simple decision.
You think this blog entry is getting too long? Yeah, me too. If you want to know what happened next, you’ll have to wait for the next post. 🙂