I’m Your Only Flaw

I was trying to think about what I’d write this week and then I remembered it was our first date anniversary on July 4th. Twenty two years we’ve been rotating around the sun together. Twenty two years since Rockafella Skank by Fatboy Slim was at number 1 in the UK charts. France beat Brazil in the World Cup. And City of Angels was the number one movie and was coincidentally what we went to see on our first date.

We met whilst working at the same bowling alley. We moved in together after seven months and lived happily in sin for 3 years. He then made an honest woman of me in a small civil ceremony which is still one of my favorite days. We honeymooned in the Lake District but got bored as it was out of season and everywhere was closed and cold so we drove down to London and watched the Lion King at the Lyceum. Then we had kids and moved to the US. The end.

That’s the short version. But you must know by now, I don’t do short very well…

I think our first ‘couple goal’ is that he hates ‘couple goals’. He is infuriatingly pig headed when it comes to comparing with others. I am inherently nosey and Facebook is my dream app as everyone tells everyone their business. I am in heaven when people post cryptic comments which are most definitely about someone having pissed them off. I run straight for the popcorn and refresh button and watch the drama unfold with glee! When people post about their new purchases, I guarantee I’m eyeing up my living room and working out if we too, could get away with a similar art deco style chaise longue made of the remnants of their decking. Rich! We need a deck! The buggar just shrugs. He doesn’t seem to care what other people have. Our world is what’s important to him and although I’ll never understand his lack of interest in other people’s business, it kind of makes our world feel special.

When it comes to arguing, we are pros! We don’t do it very often but they’re humdingers when we do! He drives me potty when he asks why I have to argue with him in such a reasonable tone and I then have to sound even more unhinged and explain to him how an argument works. I tend to demonstrate with door slamming shenanigans. I once even rang him back just to hang up on him as he’d dared to cut my ranting short by determining the call needed to be over. That just made him laugh which then kinda destroyed the irate vibe I was going for when he rang me back to clarify if that was what I’d just done! We’ve also discovered that for us, it works best to go to bed on an argument. I know the advice is to never do that but I don’t think we’d sleep ever again. We discovered this at the happiest place on earth, DisneyLand Paris. It was one of those arguments that seemed ridiculous. We were tired and hungry but it went nuclear. I didn’t think I’d ever speak to him again. But then we got up in the morning. Do we spend the day arguing or do we put it behind us? I called him a nob, he called me a bitch and I realized we were over it. And we had one of the best days ever. We tend to have probably one a year but I always storm off to bed calling him a nob and slamming doors and the next day, we just carry on. Whatever works eh? If this is suggesting that I may be the highly strung and ever so slightly over dramatic one whilst he remains calm and level headed, that’s your cross to bear and I will flounce from this keyboard declaring you’re wrong and just hate me to prove my undeniable point.

I once tried to withdraw labor and for a week I refused to remove his empty cups from the side. Finally on the 8th day, I asked in exasperation why on earth he hadn’t moved them? How could he not notice they were still there? His reply: “You get up fifteen minutes earlier than me every day to make me a coffee before I go to work so every morning I don’t just see a cup, I see a cup of love that you made just for me. I see seven cups of love.” Seriously?!? How the hell was I supposed to get mad at that! Smooth move slick! I now find cutting his carrots into discs instead of his preferred batons a much more satisfying indicator for him that all is not well. He knows sh*t got serious when that happens!

Luckily, we tend to agree on the biggies: politics, importance of 80’s music, religion, whether Carole killed her husband, child rearing etc. There have been debates and we’ve both conceded points or agreed to disagree. Although I will never forgive him for teaching the kids the word is S-con instead of S-cone and I’m sure we’ll never agree on tuna’s viability as a pizza topping. However, generally we’re on the same page before we talk so that is a great help in the harmony arena.

I think it’s his Dad skills that stand out for me. Seriously, I don’t think I can imagine anyone being a better Dad. He was born to it. The kids are so close to him. I think it helps having boys because he has a legitimate excuse for buying all the consoles going. He takes pride in his young padawans. Not knowing at the beginning Joshie is autistic tested us as a couple. We had several “discussions” on the way we parented. Rich’ll be the first to admit, he was not comfortable pursuing a diagnosis. I’ll be the first to admit he’s now his biggest champion. I still do the majority of reading on how we can work better as a unit but he always tries these new ideas earnestly and offers up articles he’s read in return. With the dreaded IEP meetings, he’d complain about having to attend but then he’d put on his suit, smile and argue whatever point we felt needed arguing. He’d gently tap my knee under the table if I was going off on a tangent….like that’s possible! And it’s gotten to the point where I know I have his support. He gave me the confidence. I know if I need him to be there he will be. Just knowing that makes me feel supported enough to go alone. But all in all, the boys are so similar in their love of science and math and computers, I love seeing what hair brained activity they’re gonna come up with next. Half the time, I don’t understand what they’re talking about but I see the excitement and smiles on all three of my boys faces and realize it doesn’t really matter if I’ve no clue!

The other thing that we’re very protective of as being key to a happy relationship is our viewing choices. We agreed quite early on in the Netflix era, that we needed to watch shows together. It is cheating to watch an episode of Game of Thrones without the other one present. He learned never to put the remote down until the first bit of important dialogue has commenced as he realized with time, that that would be the moment I suddenly have something important that has no relevance to the movie to bring up. Every. Single. Time. I learned the best time to get him to agree to watching a chick flick is when he’s hungover. Oh, the tears he’s cried with Matthew McConaughey whilst nursing a hangover…priceless. But in fairness, I knew there was some kind of destiny vibe going on with us when within the first year, I realized instead of watching Home and Away and Coronation Street, he’d got me looking forward to Captain Picard’s adventures. That was some Jedi mind trick he pulled there! We laugh a lot. With each other and at each other. He laughs more sometimes cos I do things like cutting my own fringe but yet again, he was in the bathroom at the time giving me words of encouragement! But I love that if I’m feeling sad, the TV suddenly has Moulin Rouge or Enchanted on cos he knows that’ll cheer me up and that’s how I know, Giselle!

I know we’ve been really lucky with our adventures. We still talk about how we can’t quite believe where we are sometimes. We’ve visited places I dreamed of as a kid. We know things could change at any minute. He’s just text me to say he’s heading home as Covid has us heading towards quarantine again. I better leave this here and spray some Mr Sheen behind my ears and pretend like I’ve been busy tidying all day.

So anyway, I hope you don’t mind this wander into soppy territory. I’ll admit I tend to keep my social media as a sanitized version of real life where the kids know to kick vagrant shoes and abandoned t-shirts out of shot “because it’s for Facebook Mom?”. But with our anniversary and writer’s block it kind of felt ok to write about this. Hope it was!!

And to end like my favorite, and Rich’s despised Jerry Springer : My final thoughts: I remember when my step dad passed away and one of the readings we chose was The Dash by Linda Ellis. When I think of me and Rich I often think of that poem. We really have no idea what we’re doing. We often feel we’re coasting along wondering what will happen next. We’ve had a few challenges over the years, and a few lucky breaks and we always try to rise up to them. I don’t think it’s intentional but it feels like for us, we’re really trying to make that dash count.

My favorite pic of us as we look so happy but it had been a stressful day and the guy taking photos told us to look romantically at each other. We cracked up at the absurdity of it.

Why I heart autism

My boy! Simple as! Before him all I knew was rocking kids and Rainman. I feel like I could read about it everyday and I’d learn something new. My husband laments that I don’t read anything else now. He reads the lastest novel and wants to discuss with me all the exciting happenings-I loved the series before but yet it remains unread from chapter 2 on my bedside table as I hunt out more autism related information instead….

My baby was just a difficult baby. Everyone told me that. All babies cry incessantly if their mum’s stressed. All toddlers want their mum constantly if you always give into them. Most preschoolers play by themselves. “Stop wishing his childhood away” everyone reassured me. School age kids have tantrums when their parents don’t show them who’s boss. Blah blah blah….We’d had him tested when he started school as he spectacularly failed their speech assessment. His teacher was surprised. I have no idea why-I’d expressed my worries to her already-he didn’t really talk much-he spoke to us in Spanish as he’d learned that from Dora. He used it amazingly appropriately without any cognition that we didn’t immediately understand (I had to google some of the phrases altho repeated exposure to Dora and Diego had given me the basics). The pediatrician eventually did her tests and decided he was typical “but wouldn’t be surprised if he got a diagnosis in a couple of years” She told us to look up Aspergers and sent us on our way. It was a turning point for me.

A couple of years and another country later, the quirks we accepted as just his way began to impede that way so off we headed to a psychologist office. Then to the school who did their own testing. All manner of questions and assessments by so many professionals with different focuses. I knew. I hoped I was wrong but I knew. I’d gone thru on the online checklists so many times. Always check, check, check! I knew if he wasn’t considered autistic he would be at some point. Friends tried to offer reassurances that he was just fine as he was: everyone has quirks. Often, I felt like people thought I was trying to diagnose him unnecessarily. Why would we want a label for him. The stigma is real and wrong. Yet every strategy we’d read about and tried, helped either him or us understand something that had previously been a mystery. This was why we pursued a diagnosis ultimately. I truly didn’t want the results to come back as autism but at the same time, I hoped they would. It would justify my worries, my sleepless nights and clear me of being a crap parent. But more importantly, if he was “officially” autistic, then we hoped could get support and gain understanding for him.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t upset when every professional concurred he is autistic. But luckily, I’d already started lurking in the online autism world and by the time we got the diagnosis, I’d come to realise a diagnosis doesn’t change who my son is. The diagnosis just helps us help him. That is a good thing. Any dreams I’d secretly nutured for seeing my son to become the A* popular happy kid turn college star turn genius at work with a wonderful wife and happy kids were always my dreams-I imagine they’re every mum’s. Autism, for us hasn’t dashed my dreams but it has made me more realistic-they were just a bit premature and maybe I need to see what his dreams are first. Most mum’s just get to pretend a while longer. But we’re in Houston by coincidence so the commute to NASA for astronaut training won’t be too bad…who am I kidding! Houston traffic is the worst! 😉

Anyway, we just get on with it. We have days when it’s forgotten about and days when it’s all too obvious. We have worked out most of the “quirks” that upset the neurotypical apple cart and just found ways to make things work for us. Sometimes, it’s easy. Sometimes, it’s not. It’s helped no end getting a job working at his school. No more worrying about after school care, instant access to his teachers and other professionals. It’s great being able to pop my head around a door and just ask advice. I got some great training too which I was able to put to good use at home as well as in the classroom. And I love working with these kids. They’re wonderful. Completely unique. They trust you completely and that’s what I love about it all. Autism seems to strip away the need for bullshit. It’s honesty.

Then Joshie asked me this morning why he needs a special ed teacher. He’s already drawing comparisons between himself and his classmates, noticing the differences. Suddenly cereal got serious! I was so scared of telling him the wrong thing that would negatively affect the way he feels about himself. So this is why I heart autism. It’s a part of my son-and basically to hate autism would be to hate a part of him-frankly that’s just not possible. He is one of the kindest, caring, most sensitive and hardworking people I know-he just doesn’t sugar coat his demeanor for us oversensitive neurotypical types. Autism for me, has made me more aware of my behavior-it’s taught me not to accept things at face value. I hate the fighting Momma Bear autism Mom crap-autism isn’t me. I don’t have autism. I don’t understand what it feels like to be autistic. But I try to educate myself. I love how autistic authors are sharing their experiences so I can consider if I’m perpetuating behavior that is harmful. For example, I hate that victim mentality that autism is happening to someone because their child has a diagnosis-autistic adults are vocal in how these neurotypical worries affected their confidence-depression, stress, anxiety, reduced employment opportunities, addiction are very real concerns. My son is not broken. As Temple Grandin puts it “different, not less” So it has made me more confident in supporting his needs and I will strive at every opportunity that people just accept it when my son says he needs x, y, z to live his life as easily as us neurotypicals do. Everyone has that right.

Josh does face challenges daily and as his mom I’d be lying if I said I had never wished things were easier for him and that I’d not cried recently about some aspect to do with autism (Tuesday) but he just embraces his life. I may worry about his obsession over FNAF but then again, it’s easier to frame it as admiring his undying passion for an animatronic computer game which so far has led to him doing more reading and he’s currently programming with his Dad. That’s awesome in my view. I could get frustrated when he argues with his teacher over semantics but surely it’s better to ensure her understanding of autistic behavior when the kid actually had a point (obviously a little social story for the kiddo too but sadly for my neurotypical sensibilites he usually has a valid argument for his behavior). Seeing his need for routine could be considered as tiresome but actually, routine is just a way of ensuring honesty: you said we’d have dinner at 6? We have science every morning…Like I said autism is honesty! That’s another good thing we should be celebrating.

Sure, it’s not the easiest road and others face far greater challenges but it’s our road and he’s a wonderful navigator and I know for sure he’ll tell me if I’m heading in the wrong direction.

That, in a nutshell is why I heart autism.


(The picture is of lightening intersecting a rainbow I took at our apartment by lucky chance-scary, powerful, a little bit frightening but beautiful and awe inspiring at the same time)