Monday, July 23, 2018

Birthday Season

And just like that, birthday season is over. All of our birthdays are squeezed between May and July and it's always such a special, celebratory, family-filled time. On a side note, I'm happy to report that by Joe's birthday Decky FINALLY figured out the whole blowing out candles thing and he is now a pro. Since mine and Joe's birthdays are only two days apart, and it's also right around the anniversary of our first meeting, we traditionally like to do a mini-getaway to celebrate. Sometimes we sneak off without the kids, but since Ez and I will be solo-traveling while Joe and Decky stay home, we opted for extra family time this year with a lake getaway to Tahoe. We also fit in a trip to the State Fair (on the hottest day of the month) for my actual birthday, which is now officially an annual tradition - aka, we've done it twice 😏

Maybe it's because we haven't been to Disneyland in five months (yes, we're Disney spoiled), but Ez and Deck were super excited by the monorail, carousel, and fake-Dumbo rides. Ez ate his weight in watermelon and ice cream, we spent way to much money "winning" one tiny little prize, I tried wine slushies for the first time and am now wondering what the heck I've been doing with my life, and we all narrowly avoided heat stroke - all in all a fantastic day spent with my three favorite people in the whole world.

On Thursday we packed up and headed to Tahoe which is hands down one of my favorite places in the whole world. Joe and I went there for our honeymoon, and then again for our birthdays last year, so I was excited to finally bring the kids along for the ride. I'm happy to report they loved it just as much as I do and despite freezing water temperatures and little chattering teeth we had to drag them out of the water each day. I already want to plan another trip back.

To cap off a week of fun we had one more celebration with my parents and then left the kids overnight so Joe and I could have a relaxing staycation watching Jurassic World and doing yoga in the park. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect, family-filled, relaxing birthday. If this is any indication for 35, I'm definitely ready for you ❤

Monday, June 25, 2018

Happy THREE Decky!

Dear Decky,

I just don't know what to make of you turning three. On the one hand you seem like such a big boy already, part of me thinks you've been three for months now. On the other hand you're my little baby, and you always will be. Still, we've noticed a few definite changes as you head into threenager territory. Up until now you've been a very go with the flow baby. Happy to go where we go, do what we do, and entertain yourself if we're busy. Now, suddenly, you're your own little person, you've got your own agenda and needs, and you're not afraid to yank my arm off dragging me from one place to another if your needs aren't being met. NOW.

It was bound to happen, it's part of growing up, and I promise we'll take your opinion into consideration from now on, my sweet little Decks.

We've also noticed what I can only describe as growing pains. Possibly physical as you're definitely looking taller and leaner lately, but definitely emotional. A couple weeks ago I actually took you to Urgent Care because you were silently weeping throughout the day like you were in pain, and then you passed out face down on the floor and completely freaked me out. It was so unlike you. Of course, as soon as we got to Urgent Care you were running around like you owned the place, practically climbing over all the legitimately sick people in the waiting room and fighting off three nurses at a time as they tried to take your vitals, like the baby Hulk you are. Physically you were fine, but those weepy moments have come on several times a week and I wish so badly you could tell me exactly what's wrong. Since you can't tell me, my best guess is that it's a mixture of needing more attention than you've gotten lately, having more to say than you're able to express with your limited vocabulary, and being completely worn out from all the summer fun we've been having.

It's ok baby, we've all got days like that. I promise you can always come cry on my lap, no matter how old you are.

On the topic of vocabulary, we've recently had you assessed by a speech therapist and you're currently at a twelve to eighteen month level. You were happy to show off your beautifully intricate jibberish, that I will forever believe is an actual language that exists somewhere, but when it comes to learning our plain English words you just haven't shown much interest. Until she put you in the 12-18 month range. Then you were like, GAME ON, and you've suddenly been learning several new words and phrases a day. I can't tell you what a relief that's been, and I am so, SO excited to learn all the crazy, hilarious, insightful thoughts running through that beautiful mind of yours.

I promise you that although English may not be as fun to speak as your own language, you will find it far more useful.

I hope you've had as much fun turning three as we've had fun celebrating you. We were wracking our brains trying to come up with the perfect day for you, and we were having the hardest time because you love the simplest things. In the end simple is what we went for and it turned out being amazing. We made sure to splash in some water (at the river), we got you your very own mini ball pit, which you and your brother are obsessed with, we took you to the toy store where you picked out a Cars Dinoco semi truck, to go with the Cars Mack truck you got on your second birthday, and you immediately came home to play with the two of them together. You know what you like and you're loyal to those things, and I can appreciate that. We also had a barbecue with family (where you ate a pb&j) and we've got plans for some water balloons and a trip to Wacky Tacky to cap off your three day three year old celebration.

Though I hope I tell you this every day, I want to make especially sure you know today, on the day that you quite literally came crashing into our lives three years ago, that you complete our little family. You give the best kisses, the best snuggles, the best infectious giggles, the best spontaneous dance moves, and the best "are you insane?" looks. Your happy spots are burrowed under a blanket flipping through a board book, hiding in a self-made fort beneath the recliner, ransacking your brother's room, splashing in water, or sitting on my lap. You've brought infinitely more balloons, bubbles, and bouncy balls into our lives, and I'm not sure how we got along without those necessities all this time. We love you to infinity and beyond baby boy and we're so excited to see how three unfolds for you.

Friday, June 22, 2018

A Little Summer Update

We're three weeks into summer vacation and it's already feeling like a blur that's going by way too fast. I know I say this every season, but can summer last forever, pleeeease? We're loving our hot summer pool & river days, breezy hammock evenings, and weekend family hikes. We end each day sweaty and dirty and chlorinated and sleepy and happy. Summer is also our season of birthdays, and we're so excited to celebrate Declan in a few days.

A few updates on life lately:

Ez officially has one year of school under his belt. His graduation was chaotic and tiring, which basically sums up the entire school year, if I'm being one hundred percent honest. During the graduation ceremony Ez was running off the stage while Declan was simultaneously trying to run onstage and truthfully, after a particularly brutal week of tear-filled dropoffs, I was so, so ready for summer vacation.

But, with the distance of three weeks to buffer the frazzled nerves and exhaustion, I look back on those preschool graduation pictures and remember it for what it was, a really sweet celebration to cap off a growth-filled, pivotal year for our Ez. Even though he refused to wear his cap and gown ("I don't like it. It isn't comfortable.") and he wasn't about to sing any of the songs (although he knew all the words), he did run onstage and cross over the bridge all by himself when they called his name. Maybe my expectations were especially low by that point, but I was so, SO proud of him. And when it came time to sing the final goodbye song, he climbed right up the steps and sang his little heart out, waving happily the whole time. We are so proud of our preK graduate.

After battling the school district quite a bit these past few weeks, doing lots of research, drawing up lengthy pros and cons lists, and having some in-depth heart to heart talks, Joe and I have decided to follow our gut and keep Ez in preK another year. We know he will benefit so much from an added year of maturity and his foundation will be that much stronger when he does start kindergarten.

Ez began his ABA therapy sessions this week, and despite the teary dropoffs (which we expected), he seems to enjoy his time there. This new morning routine has been quite the adjustment for us, but I think we're all adapting well and it's nice to have a bit of structure in our summer days.

We've also begun the process of getting Decky assessed for autism. This second time around has been easier in some ways, mainly because we know what to expect, but answering all those forms a second time around is emotionally draining, to say the least. We're so fortunate to have discovered Alta Regional this time around, and they've really streamlined the process for us and helped out so much. I'm also incredibly lucky to have found a support network of moms through Ez's school who have already navigated these confusing pathways and have offered so much guidance and support. Between assessments, doctors, the school district, ABA, and too many acronyms to keep track of, I don't know how anyone can get through an autism diagnosis without an extensive support group. I've gone from never checking my email and not needing a calendar these past four years, to having white boards, checklists, phone reminders, alarms, and on and on. It's been a steep learning curve but we're doing it, and things are finally falling into a nice rhythym for Ez, and moving in the right direction for Declan.

Wishing you all a lovely summer filled with just the right amounts of relaxation and adventure!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Happy F I V E Ez!

I remember the entire week before Ez turned four I was up late looking at his baby pictures and crying. Four felt so big compared to three. He was no longer a toddler, and definitely not a baby. All of a sudden we were entering brand new "little kid" territory and I didn't feel at all ready for that. I had no idea what four held in store for us, but I felt like the changes would be big. 

And they were.

They were big and necessary and difficult (even the good ones) because that's just the way change works. It's scary and uncertain and hard.

But Ez, he showed us time and time again that he could handle big changes. He can do hard things. He can be uncomfortable and frustrated and come out stronger and better. He's my little bull, through and through. 

I thought I'd feel really sentimental going into five too. We already know even more big changes are on the horizon, and big decisions have to be made. But this time around they don't feel nearly as scary. And that's because I know Ez has got this. I have nothing but confidence in his ability to grow into the amazing person he's already becoming. 

Dear Ez,
As I was looking back through old videos I realize how much responsibility I've placed on your shoulders over the years. I thought you were such a big boy when your brother was born, and now I realize you were only two, even younger than Declan is now. You were doing your best to figure out the whole big brother thing, just like I was doing my best figuring out how to be a mom of two. As the first born you definitely got stuck with a set of rookie parents; thank you for showing us so much grace over the years. You've taught us about patience, loving big, laughing easily, forgiving quickly, never giving up, and always eating an apple a day 🍎😉

We celebrated your birthday with a school party on Friday, an Ez Day birthday eve - aka a day filled with your favorites: Wacky Tacky, Panera Bread, Toys R Us, the splash park, and cake + presents, and then a family birthday party on Sunday (aka Mother's Day). 

I couldn't have asked for a better Mother's Day gift than getting to celebrate the boy who made me a mom five years ago. You've exceeded all my expectations about being a parent a million times over and your daddy and I couldn't be more proud of you. Love you more, love you most, love you to the moon and back 🌙

I remember each of these days like they were yesterday:

Friday, May 4, 2018

Making Sense of An Autism Diagnosis

In February we received some news that we had been waiting on for six long months: Ez is on the Autism spectrum. In some ways it was a complete shock to us, and in other ways we knew on some level for awhile, if that makes any sense. I knew that he displayed sensory issues and had several meltdowns in extremely loud environments. I knew that his speech was behind the curve. But it wasn't until he started preschool last September and his teachers brought their concerns to us that all the signs of autism really started falling into place. We started the process of getting him assessed, a process that took way longer than we thought it would, and involved three separate appointments, one that was mostly me talking with the doctor and getting what felt like hundreds of pages of questionnaires and forms to fill out, the second was the actual assessment, and the third was when we got the news. 

The time between that first appointment and the second (about a month and a half) was the roughest part of this journey for me. I tend to exaggerate because numbers aren't really my thing, so they either fall into the category of "a lot" "average" or "not a lot". I'm telling you right now that I'm not exaggerating when I say that one of the forms I had to fill out asked me no less than SIX times if my kid was weird. 

Is your son/daughter weird?

And then, I guess, in case I didn't know what that question meant, they followed up with:

Do his peers find him weird?
Does his teacher find him weird?
Does he react oddly in certain situations?
Has anyone ever called him weird?

And, the kicker:
Do YOU find him weird?

Let's just say I had a lot of sleepless nights over those stupid questions. At first it was a visceral protective "if you call my kid weird one more time I'm gonna punch you in the face" parental reaction. (And I swear, I'm not a normally violent person. At all.)

Once I got mostly over my anger at the wording, I started dwelling on another troubling facet of an autism diagnosis - doctors don't understand this disorder enough to even nail down the symptoms properly. "Weird" is not a symptom, yet there it is, being used as a tool to diagnose autism. Being diagnosed with something that doctors don't completely understand adds a whole new level of anxiety to the process, and unfortunately it's one that, for the time being at least, we'll have to learn to live with. I'm comforted by all the strides that have been made in understanding autism in the last few decades, and I'm hopeful that even more knowledge will present itself in the near future, but for the moment we've had to learn to sit with the anxiety of not knowing. Not knowing if the treatments they recommend today will still be considered the best treatments a few years from now. Not knowing the cause or even exactly what the differences are in how his brain is processing information. Not knowing things is not one of my strong suits. In the age of Google, it seems like I can get answers for most things in a matter of seconds, but this is not one of those things, and it has been hard to process that.

I want to stop for a moment at this point just to say loud and clear, I am not at all saying autistic kids are weird and those assessment form questions are NOT my own words. I don't even think being weird is bad. However, when you start hearing it in relation to your kid it makes all the mama bear protective instincts go on high alert.

So that was my thinking from about late September until past Christmas, and then (sorry, I know this is long, but you're getting months and months worth of thoughts compacted into one lengthy post) I switched gears to thinking, so what if he is weird. Every person I know on an intimate level is weird. People in general are basically weirdos. Myself included.

Every recent Disney movie touts weirdness. Follow your own path. Be yourself. Your differences are your strengths. And that stuff is so easy to get behind until you have teachers saying to you, (in nicer words), your kid's weirdness is a problem. 

These past few months are when it really started to hit me about what makes parenting so tough. When they're babies it feels like the no sleep and keeping them alive thing is tough, and then they turn into toddlers and you realize just how easy you had it with a newborn, and then you start getting into the emotional stuff and the decisions that will impact them for the rest of their life and realize THIS is the hard stuff. 

Now we're navigating that path of finding a very fine balance between staying true to Ez and his "weirdness" while also giving him all the tools he needs to thrive in school and beyond. For us at the moment, that means lots of assessments through Ez's new ABA therapy, the school district, an occupational therapist, and then we move forward with new plans and schedules to help him in the areas he needs help. This is still a very new process for us, and there's so much we're learning on a very tight curve, but, through it all, Ez continues to impress me with his resilience. Even when he's declining to answer questions an hour into the assessment, I'm impressed that he's using full sentences to do so ("I don't want to answer that question" or "I already answered that" 😂). We're learning to celebrate the little victories along the way. 

The thing that helped me get past all those questions was realizing and really focusing on the fact that calling Ez autistic doesn't change a thing. He has always been, and will continue to be, our Ez. Autism is not a label that can sum up Ez as a whole, nor any other person who has been diagnosed as autistic. Those questions on those forms don't sum him up. They take all his worst qualities and ask them repetitively, but they left out all the best stuff. 

I read a quote that sums it up well: 

"If you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person.

All autistic people are unique, all people are unique. 

So, just to balance things out, here's a little note for you, Ez, so you can always remember some of your best traits that you won't find on any standardized forms:

You are the most stubbornly determined boy I've ever met (aside from your father), and also the snuggliest and most loving. You're so empathetic and in tune to people's emotions and will always try to make someone feel better if they're upset. You work so hard to learn new tasks, and you always succeed. You love to sing and dance, you show unprompted gratitude, and you are one of the most festive people I've ever met (tied with me and Gangy). You've come so far this year, in language, potty training, going to school (and spending time without any family members around for the first time ever), being a big brother, and learning so many new things. It really is astounding how much you've grown in a short year, and I'm so impressed with how well you've handled so many big changes. And, most of all, you're brave. You do hard things even when they scare you, and that makes me (and your daddy) so, SO proud of you. 

And a note to you, Decky, (who hasn't gotten much mention here, but will also be assessed this year), 
You are an uncontainable ball of energy, yet you also have a tremendous amount of focus. You will sit there and examine something and take it apart and put it back together until you get how it works. You don't have a ton of words in your vocabulary (not English ones, anyway), but you're still one of the most communicative people I know. Your daddy and I joke that if the four of us were ever stranded in the wilderness, we'd have to rely on you for survival. When you want something, you find a way to get it, and often that involves scaling furniture. You give the sweetest out of nowhere kisses. You don't know the meaning of fear. Your unbridled joy at the sight of balloons or bubbles is one of the greatest joys to witness. The sound of your giggles is one of the most infectious sounds in the world. You make your daddy and I so, SO proud.

A little note on this post, which has been sitting in my drafts folder since one sleepless night, months ago, when I was struggling to make sense of all the thoughts and emotions swirling around in my head: - I almost didn't post this. Part of me feels that this is Ez's (and possibly Declan's) story to tell and it's a big thing to share online. But, one of the things that has helped me is reading other family's and individual's accounts of living with autism. Every journey is unique but it is still helpful to see that others have successfully navigated these roads before. So, after months of sitting in my drafts folder, I decided to send this post out into the light of day and maybe one day someone else feeling these similar emotions will read it and know they're not alone.