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Sunday, 31 March 2013

Aspergers and positive thoughts

Positive thoughts about the benefits of having an Aspergers husband. I know that’s what I promised for this blog post...But argh – tossing our friend’s blanket on the driveway (I can only presume so that the person wouldn’t knock at our door), texting for ages at his own son’s birthday party while invited guests threw themselves into musical statues, and exclaiming ‘na-na-you lost’ to our 5-year-old during a ‘jolly’ family board game – the fresh memory of these incidents is making positive thought hard. However, a promise is a promise (even if it is only to myself!) and Easter is the time of hope and new beginnings, So:

Loyalty – Ethan wouldn’t write a blog to rant about how inefficient, stressy, shouty and nagging I am. He always talks me up to people and tells me how great I am and how well I’m doing with the kids, him (!), life.

Low-maintenance – Ethan places very little demands on my time and energy (my patience is another matter!) because he’d generally rather spend time on his own than with me! Reading that back, it doesn’t sound like a positive attribute, or like a positive habit for marriage. But at the moment, with 3 demanding kids and me trying to carve out the little time I get to write or read or see friends, it’s kind of a relief.
Having nice stuff– our house is filled with good commodities at a fraction of the cost and our mortgage is low because Ethan does his research. In fact he positively loves researching boring things like interest rates, the best available light bulbs (really!) and what box would look best in our front room to house the many electronic gadgets he possesses. I have absolutely no interest in any of this stuff and our house would look a state and we’d be cooking on a camping stove and my kids would be teased for not having a clue about DSXLs if it wasn’t for him.

His softness – despite him coming across as aggressive and cross at times, he’s actually quite tender-hearted and loves us all a lot. And he can, and does, tell us.

He’s always here – OK, this doesn’t always feel like a positive thing but, with few friends and no interest in going to the pub every night or playing golf or going to the match every Saturday, he’s pretty much either at work, or at home. So he’s always around to help with the kids, or to babysit so that I can go out and do those things (well, not the golf...or football, but the girlie equivalents).

He knows about everything (except socialising!) – totally randomly, he was even able to advise me on what types of bath chairs there are to help elderly people in and out of baths. There’s no reason why he should know this stuff, he just does.
He’s great at his job. Because it involves gadgets, technology and visual creativity: Three areas in which he excels. And he works hard and is committed.

And he’s also committed to us – his family. And to trying to change where he can, to be the best husband and dad that he can be.
And as long as we both keep trying to be the best we can be for each other. And saying sorry when we mess up and getting ourselves back on track, we’ll be OK I think. I also need to remember to hide his mobile before our next kid’s party...

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Aspergers, telly and toothpaste

Have been visiting a few forums and chat rooms recently for partners of people with Aspergers (they pretty much all seem to be American. Which is fine, but does make me wonder where all the UK partners of people with Aspergers are...)
It provided a bizarre kind of comfort to discover that other people are grappling with the very same issues that I am. That other Asperger partners are feeling lonely and emotionally deprived. That they too want to smack their partners round the head with the ipad/laptop/iphone/telly that they are more connected to than any actual person. That they are completely exasperated when they have to say things four or five times and still they're not really heard. And that they imagine leaving their partner for good when they are left stranded in a library with three clawing, whining kids, the pram and all the school bags because their partner doesn't like the noise and the chaos (OK, maybe the last one was a little specific but you get the idea).
There's something comforting about knowing that other people are going through it too. That Ethan is 'normal' in the world of Aspergers. And that other people are coping and many are committed - by the side of their Aspergers partner.
But the other thing I noticed is that, on the whole, these forums and chat sites tend to focus on the negatives. They tend to be places to rant, release and rage. Probably because it's the one place that people can. And it's an important and necessary process. But, after immersing myself in tales of how insensitive people's Asperger partners are, how emotionally and sexually deprived neuro-typical partners are and how generally difficult life is with an Aspergers partner (to the point that many people were thinking of getting out) I found it made me feel a bit sad, deprived, hopeless, annoyed, frustrated, depressed. It also made me feel a bit like I'd betrayed Ethan. Who may show all these negative characteristics but who is, after all, doing his best. And if there was a chat room for men to compare notes on wives/girlfriends who try to control them, nag them, moan at them, criticise them, never have time or energy for sex, etc, etc, Ethan would be well within his rights to be leading the discussion. Except that he never would.
There seems to be a fine line between expressing emotion and venting frustration and making yourself, and others, feel worse about the situation we're in.
So this blog post was meant to be an ode to all the good qualities of Ethan (and his Aspergers) that I am blessed with. But I've used up my time and space talking about the importance of talking about the good stuff!
So, next time, I'll dedicate my blog post to positive aspects of Aspergers (they are there). And for today, I'll get a final frustration off my chest...but with my sense of humour in tact (I've decided that, for all of our sakes, I need to use this weapon far more).
Yesterday, I had to be at school early to go on a school trip with my daughter. Before leaving (at 7.50am) the boys were dressed, their school bags were packed, Sam's lunch was packed and all Ethan needed to do was give them their breakfast, brush their teeth and get them to school on time.
At 8.45, as Ava and all her class were on the coach, seat-belts buckled and ready for off, the teacher announced that the trip had to be postponed because of the snow. Everyone piled out again and, looking at my watch, I wondered whether I'd catch Ethan at the tail end of dropping off the boys. At Sam's classroom there was no sign of Ethan or the boys so, presuming I'd missed them, I started walking home. As I came out of the school gates, a car screeched round the corner and out tumbled the boys. Late. As I helped them out the car, Sam exclaimed 'It's not been a good morning. Daddy made me do all the jobs. I had to brush Oliver's teeth!' So, not only was Ethan late but he hadn't even done the morning's jobs - he'd palmed then off onto his 4-year-old son! Five minutes later when I took Oliver's coat off, I saw the effects of Sam being appointed tooth-brusher. Toothpaste covered Oliver's jumper from elbow to wrist.
Later I discovered the reason for Ethan's lack of parental duties: he was too busy getting himself ready to deal with the boys. He wanted to be able to get home from drop-off and immediately start watching a film in order to squeeze it in before he had to collect Oliver 2 hours later.
Like I say, sometimes I feel like smashing the flipin' telly over his head.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Aspergers, spending and new things

Having spent two days with Ethan's parents I'm reminded of how much both nature and nurture affect who we become.
It's flipin' hard to have a conversation with them. If anything becomes too personal or tied into feelings, they quickly clam up, walk away or occupy themselves with something. And, if they have the choice, they'll just by-pass conversation altogether. The first day they were here the ipad, laptop, Nexus7, computer and iphones were all on, all day and dominated everything - conversation, activity, even mealtimes. But then fiddling about on the laptop gave Ethan and his dad that connection, something to focus their communication on, that they wouldn't otherwise have had. Take away the gadgets, and conversation quickly got strained, or dried up altogether. And that's with me in the mix - and I'm an expert talker! I've always felt like I've had the ability to chat to anyone, get anyone talking, find a connection or some common ground - or at least feign interest and get a person to chat about themselves. But boy, by the end of two days even I was struggling.
And then there was the inability or refusal to disconnect the brain from the mouth. Ethan's dad punctuated the day with telling us our house was cold, telling us our children were badly behaved, telling us the places we took them to were rubbish! It's a good job I've developed a thick skin. Being married to someone with Asperger's has, at least, done that for me!
Big blow up at the weekend when I discovered that Ethan had been eyeing up Apple TV's on the Internet. So far in the past year, Ethan has purchased new speakers, a new amp, a new blu ray player, a new pair of eyes (laser surgery cos he didn't like wearing glasses), two new TVs, 30 new down-lights (cos the perfectly good lights we already had weren't the right kind) and an ipad that is completely excessive in addition to the two laptops, two iphones and computer that we already have. Believe it or not, I hate excessive spending, excessive anything actually. I'd much rather we had less and gave away more. But the arguments are exhausting. With each (unnecessary) purchase Ethan promises that this is the 'last thing' that there's 'nothing else I want'. But always, within a few weeks of having the new toy, he's looking for his next gadget fix.
Two weeks ago he bought the ipad that, I thought, we'd agreed we didn't need and wouldn't buy. Huge argument ensued. I felt like leaving him (and smashing up the ipad). He promised that was definitely 'the last thing'. I calmed down and (once again) let it go. Only to discover two weeks later him looking at prices for some other chunk of metal. It seems, with Ethan, the more he has the more he really does seem to want. And it's just so selfish and so unfair.
There are a couple of things I'd like (a log burner and a piano) that are now, thanks to Ethan's constant spending, way out of reach for years. And yet he keeps buying...And what he buys only he is interested in. Only he wants. He knows it will cause arguments and strain, and yet he keeps doing it. Like a junkie that is compelled to put his next fix above everything else.
Maybe I'm being too dramatic. Maybe other men have a midlife crisis and buy an expensive sports car, or spend thousands each year on football season tickets, or drink the equivalent of a small fortune every week at the pub. Ethan does none of that. But it seems wrong that I should just have to accept his constant indulgence in gadgets as a male quirk while my wishes and desires remain ignored or unrealised for decades (perhaps forever) because he's spent all our money on things that he wants....
In the meantime, I've got a job. Earning my own money to buy my own piano might be the only way we manage to stay together!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Aspergers and...whoops, where's my child?!

Went to Legoland Discovery last Saturday.

With a 7, 4 and 2 year old, an open-plan free-for-all of exciting looking rides, activities, pods and corridors, a crowd of thousands, a constant roar of noise and a dad with Aspergers, it was never going to be a relaxing day...
But, the kids were having great fun. We were enduring. And we were together as a family, and all getting on. Things were looking good. But then Ethan lost Oliver.
When I asked what he was doing to allow Oliver to escape he, quite surprisingly (because he doesn't like to admit mistakes), said he was 'just staring'. But quickly followed this up with 'Ava was supposed to be looking after him. Ava - why didn't you stay with him?' Which makes my blood boil. Heaping the responsibility and blame onto a 7-year-old rather than take responsibility himself.
This is where I really struggle with Ethan's Asperger's. Keeping the kids safe is quite important. Me being able to trust Ethan to meet his responsibilities as a dad and watch his son for a few minutes without zoning out is quite important. Because I can't be responsible for all three of them all the time while he 'just stares'.
And, I know, some people would say that, in that environment of noise, chaos, people, activities - basically sensory overload, that telling someone with Asperger's to focus on one thing and be on the ball is like telling someone in a wheelchair to run after a toddler. But, from my perspective, I need Ethan to be able to do those basic things that other dads naturally do. I don't want to always be the one that's engaged - socially and practically, to keep our kids safe and happy. I need to switch off from time to time too, even just for a few minutes.
Because isn't marriage supposed to be about partnership. Being a team. Bringing kids up together....
We found Oliver after a few minutes. Actually, Ethan found him. And Ethan also found our older son, Sam, when I failed to (hypocritically, I'd let Sam go off and play in the soft play area and failed to keep track of where he was - but mainly because I was trying to keep up with Oliver). And Ethan tried really hard to stay focused and engaged after that. But it took an outburst from me, and stares from the people around us, to get to that point.
It kind of takes the romance and zest out of a relationship when you're having to tell your husband off all the time and feeling frustrated so often.
On the other hand, he can be the sweetest, most considerate, most supportive, most dedicated, most loyal person ever. And I know I'm not the easiest person to have a relationship with either. Being often highly strung, far too critical and easily grumpy. And Ethan's really handy for jobs like sorting out the insurance on the car and playing with the hamster with the kids (I still don't completely trust those long yellow teeth of his - the hamster's, not Ethan's!)
I love him. He's just massively frustrating. We'll keep muddling through, I guess.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Aspergers - no hugs but plenty of coffee and chocolate

Feel a bit overloaded today.
Sorry for myself, I guess. Like that rose, often talked about in Aspergers relationships, withering in a desert with only a prickly cactus for company. Can't get close to the cactus because I get pricked, and don't have the energy anyway as I'm dehydrated and wilting. It's becoming a problem how infrequently I am hugged or kissed, or spoken tenderly to by my husband. And anything beyond hugging is as fleeting as sunburn on a British summer holiday!
When every day seems full of a million little hassles and demands (school uniforms, packed lunches, 7-year-old daughter having issues at school that require me to have awkward conversations with other mums, 2-year-old in trouble at pre-school for pushing, my dad being ill and an hour's drive away, making tea, helping with homework, getting shouted or cried at by daughter who is seemingly hitting puberty early, trying to keep up with friends, remembering to phone sister, etc, etc) a hug from my husband, the odd suprise dinner made or night out, or even a few kind words of encouragement, would go a long way.
And I know that I'm as much to blame as Ethan. I don't hug him a lot. I criticise rather than encourage. And I know I'm pretty stressy and needy at the moment. But I feel some of it is a reaction to how he is towards me, and how incredibly difficult our relationship is most of the time.
I don't know what the answer is. Two weeks on a beach in the sun would help...
Failing that, I know we need to talk more, read more (about Aspergers), do the excercises in the book I'm reading at the moment (Loving someone with asperger's syndrome, Cindy N Ariel, PhD - it's helpful, I recommend it) but finding the time, energy and inclination inbetween three young children, jobs and all the other demands of life just seems insurmountable sometimes.
Thank goodness for lattes and chocolate. Maybe they're better than hugs anyway!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Every silver lining has a cloud

What a gloomy title for a post. And it jars a bit since I'm generally quite a positive person - negativity is Ethan's specialism.
But, in this case, every silver lining having a cloud really is the best way of explaining the predicament I found myself in on Sunday. Sunday's a funny day - it seems to be the setting for so many arguments between Ethan and I.
Last Sunday, after church, Ethan was positively personable! He was chatting away to all and sundry - and managing far deeper conversations than I was (mainly about lighting or the latest Apple apps - but then 'things' are generally what men talk about).
Part of the reason that Ethan was having such good, in-depth conversations though, whilst I was, at best, managing a few distracted, disjointed lines, was because Ethan was completely and utterly oblivious to everything else.
Our three children were all over the place - Ava playing hide and seek with some other kids and weaving in and out of all the old dears with their cups of tea, and Sam and Oliver alternating between whining at me, fighting with each other and trying to make a run for it out the main doors.
I tried a couple of times to make eye contact with Ethan, to plead with him for some help but he was engrossed - iPhone out, eyes down, mind elsewhere.
At one point, when I got fed up of not being able to make any meaningful connection with any grown-up myself, I put Ava in charge of keeping an eye on Oliver and I actually focused, for a few minutes, on a conversation (I say that I focused on a conversation, in actual fact I spent the whole time wondering if Oliver was behaving and if Ava had got distracted and was playing hide and seek again). After a few minutes I thought I'd better just check...only too find Oliver trying to open the door to the outside world and Ava being quizzed by an old lady. As I stepped in and took Oliver away from the door I had to endure a telling off from the old lady for being an irresponsible parent (she didn't use those exact words but that's what she was implying).
Throughout the whole process, Ethan stayed completely absorbed in his conversation about technology.
I felt stressed, badly-done-to, neglected and put upon. But at the same time, Ethan was making conversation, he was being sociable and connecting with others. And I was really torn - here's where the silver lining and cloud come in. I tell him endlessly that he needs to make more effort to be a friend, that he needs to put himself out there, that he needs to initiate conversations. When he was doing this so well (the people Ethan was conversing with seemed genuinely into the conversation too) it seemed wrong to have a go...
But I couldn't help myself. I was just too stressed not to. I'm sick of always being the one thinking about everything and being responsible for the kids because Ethan isn't. I'm sick of being judged by other people (usually old ladies) about my parenting skills when I'm often trying to look after three kids all aged 7 or under (and two of them boisterous boys) all on my own. Excuse me for attempting to say hi to a couple of people after church and build some relationships. What a terrible person I am.
When I'd ranted a bit and cried a bit, Ethan and I reached a resolution. Because Ethan's pretty good. He realises that being totally absorbed in conversation for half an hour while I struggle on my own with the kids isn't fair. But if he's going to chat and be sociable, he struggles to do this whilst also keeping an eye on the kids. The conversation has to engulf him for him to be able to focus on it and keep track of where it's going. So we agreed that every Sunday before church, we'd divvy out our kids! I'll be responsible for two of them after church and he'll be responsible for the other.
Whether one child + conversation will be too much for Ethan we'll have to wait and see. I expect that, at some point, I'll see whichever child Ethan is responsible for running riot and I'll have to step in. But, like with everything in our marriage, we'll keep trying to make it work.
A silver lining with a cloud is better than just cloud after all...

Friday, 1 March 2013

Asperger's, selfishness and men!

Sunday's resolve to criticise less, hold my tongue and see the amazing results lasted until Monday.
When Ethan came home with an iPad.
A week earlier we'd had a discussion that went something like this:
Ethan: Do you think we should get an iPad.
Me: Absolutely not. Why do we need one.
Ethan: So we can just quickly look on the Internet or send an email without having to boot up the computer.
Me: We can do that on our iPhones (we have one each)
Ethan: hmmm.
And I thought that was the end of it. Add to that discussion the fact that we're totally skint, it's all 3 of our kids birthdays next month and that, a day earlier, Ethan had said we needed to do our shopping at Aldi to try and curb our spending.
The next day he comes home having spent £200 on an iPad. Yes, I know that's a good price for an iPad - that's Ethan's argument, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. BUT WE DON'T NEED ONE. AND WE CAN'T AFFORD £200.
I really did let rip. For the whole of that day. I didn't just stop at the extravagant, irresponsible and selfish purchase of the iPad. I brought up the thousands of pounds that have been spent on TVs, Blu Ray players, new down-lights for the entire house (to replace the perfectly good down-lights we already had), etc,etc over the last few months. Are you getting an inkling of what Ethan's special interest might be?!
I couldn't help myself. It's really frustrating that, one day he can be telling me I can't buy food for our family to eat because we have no money and the next he's spending £200 on something that we don't need and that only he wants.
Maybe it's partly a man thing. My friend was telling me yesterday (as I complained and vented about Ethan) that she had to persuade her husband not to spend £15,000 on a flashy new car but, instead, to spend £7,000 on a sensible car that would get the family around.
So maybe this isn't a blog post about Asperger's but, rather, a blog post about men!
In the meantime, the log burner that I've been wanting for the last couple of years, has been delayed once again because Ethan's spent all our money.
I don't know whether one of the symptoms of Asperger's is completely selfish behaviour - but I hope it is. So that I can at least partly put Ethan's behaviour down to the way his brain is wired and not just because he's a tw*t.
On a positive note, 'cos I feel it's been a bit of a gloomy blog, Oliver's made it through a whole week of pre-school without crying when I leave, Sam got a Praise Certificate for being so knowledgeable on dinosaurs (so proud!) and Ava moved up a level in swimming (so we're one step nearer to being able to knock it on the head and be £5.50 better off each week!). And I made three pretty acceptable World Book Day costumes (we're doing it a bit early at the kids' school this year). Even if they were a bit squished by the time we got to school and we were late so nobody saw them, and Sam refused to wear his hat made from a bin.