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Thursday, 30 May 2013

Aspergers, half-term and learning to relax

Half-term. All five of us at home. Ethan's on a run of early shifts so is home by lunchtime each day. We're trying to embrace the togetherness. But are driving each other crazy!
The kids spend their time either bickering with each other, moaning at me or asking for stuff.
Ethan is obsessively washing clothes and 'tidying up'. He perhaps thinks he's helping. More likely though, there's too much mess and chaos around and his way of feeling in control of that is to take some practical action. If he sees clothes in the washing basket, he has to wash If he sees a mess on the side, he has to clear it - often into the bin.
I now have four washing loads of clothes to put away. And, with the constant rain we've had this week, the dryer is so over-used it's in danger of closing itself down in protest.
What Ethan doesn't realise is that we don't have enough room in our wardrobes for all of our clothes to be clean. The washing basket handily doubles up as a storage facility! I've told Ethan this before but the information never seems to stick. The washing basket must be empty.
Never mind that there are wet clothes still on the floor from our swimming trip this afternoon, or that tea should have been started twenty minutes ago: we have enough clean clothes to last us the next six weeks without having to wash a single item - so that's OK.
There are other 'tasks' he attends to which drive me crazy. Taking the washing off the airer when it's not quite dry, putting pots away dirty, making the kids packed lunches but making the sandwiches with old, slightly stale bread that I was only keeping for toast, getting the boys dressed but putting them in each others' clothes so that Sam's trousers are pedal pushers and he can barely breath and Oliver's tripping over the three inch extensions to the bottom of his. Ethan doesn't seem to notice. Mind you, neither do the boys. So maybe it's a man thing.
I really am grateful and lucky to have a man who gets stuck in, helps out at home and mucks in with the kids. I probably need to relax a bit more.
Like, this week, I've felt obliged, almost to myself, to incorporate some kind of wholesome, educational, worthwhile activity into every day. Whether it's homework, times-table bingo (Ava isn't fooled by me trying to dress this up into a game!), drawing a picture for a poorly old lady down the road, or going for a healthy bit of fresh air (in the rain): I've had it drilled into me by my mum that each day has to involve some kind of duty. I find it hard to just sit around and chill out. Or hang out at the park with friends all day.
So maybe this half-term should be about me sitting around a bit more, allowing the kids to sit around, and allowing Ethan to do whatever he needs to do to feel more in control of his environment.
I'll just have to sneak around after him hanging the damp clothes back out, changing the boys trousers and retrieving what he's 'tidied' from the bin!
Happy half-term everyone!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Kid-free time!

Apologies for keeping this brief but about to go off swimming with Oliver, followed by school pick-up, a quick hand-over with Ethan, then work this afternoon and evening, bed, work again then...
Away for 24 luxurious hours without the kids! The effort involved in organising it (arrange for grandparents to come, clean the house, change the bedding, sleep in Millie's room in her 3/4 size bed for 2 nights so our in-laws can have our room, sort out school pick-up, make fish pie in advance for the kids' tea, do a big shop so the fridge and freezer are full, arrange for one of the kids to stay at a friends so it's not too much for the in-laws, sort out someone to do the football run on Saturday morning...) almost makes it seem not worth it. Almost, but not quite!
Because, in the busyness and chaos and demands of life, when everyone seems to get a piece of you other than the person to whom you promised yourself, it's so important to consciously carve out a bit of time and energy for each other.
Because there's only so long you can run on empty before your relationship breaks down.
So, this weekend is our relationship MOT time. With the kids out of the picture, we might even make it through the whole 24 hours without arguing - I'll keep you posted! Mind you, we'll probably be tucked up in bed by 8.30pm on Friday and not surface again til 10am the next morning. So there'll be little chance for arguing anyway!
Happy almost weekend everyone!
Love this image - the kids are what glue us together and move us forward in our relationship, but so often, they're also the cause of us 'breaking down' in the first place!  When they're out of the picture we suddenly have the time, energy & space for each other.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Aspergers: battles over breakfast

We argue about the most ridiculous things.
This morning it was about what spoon Oliver, our three-year-old, should be eating his breakfast with.
I know I have a tendency to interfere/take over. And I probably should let more things go. But this morning we all needed to be out of the house by 08:30: Ethan to take the kids to school, and me to go to work. At 08.10, Oliver was still scooping 3 multi-grain shapes into his mouth at a time, balanced on a teaspoon.
I needed to hurry things up. He didn't want me to feed him. So I gave him a bigger spoon.
Ethan had a small but violent eruption: 'He was fine with the spoon he had. He'll never fit that spoon in his mouth,' (never mind that it's a child's spoon and Oliver uses it most mornings) 'Why do you always have to interfere?' This was followed by Ethan stomping out of the room muttering about me always having to be right.
He was right - about me always having to be right, and about me interfering - but not about the other things, which were the things that mattered most at that moment.
But, I've learnt not to take things to heart. And, if possible, I try not to verbally fight back. This time it wasn't possible...I was too wound up. I felt I just had to tell Ethan why he was wrong - that Oliver used that spoon all the time when I was in charge of breakfast. And that he was only getting a miniscule amount of cereal on the spoon that Ethan had given him (Ethan, of course, disagreed - although, if he works by logic, surely logic would tell him that a bigger spoon would mean more cereal in Oliver's mouth?!). I finished my speech by pointing out that, if I hadn't interfered, there was no way we'd all get out of the house by 08.30 (probably should have kept that last comment to myself - that was the one that caused Ethan to stomp out).
In the past, the bad feeling and resentment would have lingered all day. These days, I'm learning not to take these little spats too seriously. And not to dwell. And not to judge the validity of our entire relationship on a highly-strung, stressed-out, tired vent in a chaotic environment surrounded by demanding kids. Like children, Ethan and I have tantrums and, like children, we are best when we are distracted from our sulks.
By the time I got back from work today, everything was fine.
We're learning to live with each other. My next challenge is to stop interfering so much; to let Ethan do things his way - even if I think those ways are 'wrong'. I need to let him deal with the consequences of how he does things, cos that's how I've learnt. And I need to appreciate the fact that he tries. Perhaps, this morning, I should have thanked him for getting up before me on his day off, going downstairs and getting the boys started on their breakfast (and then swapped Oliver's spoon)!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Aspergers: knowledge is power!

So, by Sunday night, all was well. Ethan went round with flowers to say sorry to the person he’d upset. I was proud of him. And I learnt how difficult it is for Ethan to see things from another person’s point of view. Even down to him doing exactly the same thing as the person he’s criticising! So it was a learning curve. And we all moved on.
Until Monday! When life got in the way. It started well, with Ethan taking the kids to school. But by the time we were both sitting down for breakfast, things had gone wrong. ‘I had to get really cross with Ava,’ said Ethan. My heart sank. And the story unfolded...
‘The last time I saw her,’ continued Ethan, ‘was crossing the road from our house. After that she’d just gone. I kept expecting to catch up with her but never did. Then I thought I’d definitely see her waiting at the zebra crossing. But she wasn’t there. I presumed I must have walked past her so walked all the way back to our house looking for her. When I couldn’t find her I just had to go back to school to drop the boys off and there she was. Waiting for us at the school gate.’
Now I knew, immediately, that Ava would have met up with her friend and her friend’s mum who live a few doors down from us and walked to school with them. We often all walk together, Ethan’s often walked with them too. I knew she would have done this in full view of Ethan and presumed it was OK because he didn’t say otherwise. And I knew she wouldn’t knowingly have done wrong by crossing the zebra crossing with them and not with him. I also understood that Ethan would have been stressed, oblivious to all of this, worried and very annoyed.
Ethan exploded at Ava at the school gates and (mortifyingly for her) shouted and smacked her bum in front of other kids. Whatever your thoughts are on smacking, by far the most painful aspect of all of this for Ava was that it was happening in front of her mates.
Ava started crying as soon as I collected her from school that day. She said she’d tried to tell Ethan what had happened. She was indignant that she’d looked back when she reached her friend and that Ethan was looking right at her and didn’t mind her walking with them – Ethan says he never saw. I know how frustrating that is. It can seem like Ethan is looking but what his eyes see doesn’t register with his brain. Ava says that she didn’t even realise that she’d crossed the road until she’d got to school because she was so busy chatting with her friend and her friend’s mum and they’d all just naturally crossed together. I could completely understand this. And, of course, Ava should have waited at the crossing for us like she’s been taught to. And she knew she should have. But it was a genuine, honest mistake. Ethan just didn’t pause and listen long enough to hear that. And even if he had ‘listened’ to Ava’s side of the story, I don’t think he would have understood at that moment.
The choice I had in all of this was how I would respond. In the past I would have shouted and screamed. Told Ethan how horrible he was, how he’d failed as a parent, how the kids would grow up to hate him, etc, etc. I might not have used those exact words but that would have been the gist of it. This time, I stopped. I didn’t automatically rush to defend my kids. I tried to see things from Ethan’s point of view, particularly in the context of his Aspergers. I understood that he ‘saw without seeing’, I understood how stressed he would have been that the situation was out of control. I understood how just getting three lively children aged 8, 5 and 3 to school is a huge, chaotic, stressful task for Ethan and how he wouldn’t have been able to take in everything that was happening. And I understood that he wouldn’t have been aware, or understood the effect on Ava, of other people being around during the telling off.
I calmly explained both his and Ava’s perspectives to Ethan, as I saw them. And he listened and accepted what I was saying. And regretted how he’d reacted. That day after school, I explained to Ava how her daddy’s brain didn’t work the same as other people’s and why he’d reacted the way he had, and how he’d seen but hadn’t seen her going off with her friend. When Ethan got back from work he apologised to Ava (he’s getting good at apologies!) and they hugged and had some quality time together.
And I learnt that I need to take the time and effort to understand Ethan far more than I now do. That, as the kids grow, they need to understand too. That I need to equip myself with knowledge of what we’re all dealing with. That yes, I will be the one trouble-shooting and peace-making and picking up the pieces most of the time. And I need to find ways of getting support for myself in that. But empathising with Ethan instead of tearing a strip off him, seeing and praising the good and helping him work through the bad, leads to a better outcome for us all. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Aspergers and Dr. Spock

Proof that I'm getting better at laughing (or at least smiling) at the different approaches of an Aspie and a neuro-typical...
Yesterday we were coming back from a day out with the kids. The kids were all asleep in the back of the car (looking like street urchins they were so covered in dust, mud and general gunk. We'd been on a monkey safari but, rather than watch the monkeys play just a few feet away from us, Sam (and therefore Oliver who copies everything Sam does) seemed only interested in rubbing his hands around in dust. So that was £16 well spent). Anyway, the kids were asleep, so it was the perfect chance for Ethan and I to chat. Like grown-ups. Nothing too heavy, just passing the time of day with a discussion about black holes, wormholes, the speed of light and how time goes slower in space.
I say discussion. Ethan was animatedly explaining the finer details of space and light to me whilst I listened/drifted off. I did, however, lock onto the fact that five years of space time is equivalent to around 20 years of earth time (space lovers - please excuse any facts that are slightly squiffy here. This isn't an academic paper on the workings of space and time. Ethan and (far more likely) I, could well be wrong on some details. Please allow for some poetic license!)

So I said, a bit too flippantly for Ethan's liking, 'Why doesn't everyone hang out in space for a few years then and live longer?'
Ethan was annoyed by my comment. 'What? Then they'd have lost 20 years of life on earth.'
Me (trying to be light-hearted): 'Yes, but they'd have lived 20 earth years and their bodies would only have aged five earth years. That's 15 years less ageing on the body.'
Ethan: 'But what's the point? All their friends would be old, or dead. And they'd have missed 20 years on earth.'
Me (getting less light-hearted): 'What's that got to do with it? All I'm saying is that while 20 years of life had gone by they would only have aged 5 years. So only 5 years of wrinkles instead of 20, only 5 years of their body getting older and more tired rather than 20.'
Ethan: 'No. That doesn't make any sense.' (Talking very slowly and deliberately) 'They'd have still been in space for 20 years. They'd have lived those 20 years in space.'
Me (with all sense of light-heartedness gone. In fact, shouting): 'Yes, but for their bodies it would just have been five years. People are obsessed with looking young for as long as they can. I'm just saying, obviously not in a serious way, that going to space is a way to slow down your wrinkle development.' (Sensing Ethan  feeling confused, and crumbling) 'It's just a bit of light-hearted banter.'
Me (building up steam again): 'You just can't see things from anyone's point of view except your own' (stick with me, it ends happily). 'I'm talking, in a jokey way, about wrinkles. I'm not interested in the 20 years that have gone by on earth. I'm looking at it in a different way to you. Why can't you listen and connect with someone else's point of view?
Then I realised that I was attacking and criticising Ethan for the very thing that I was doing; not seeing things from his point of view. Ethan was being serious and literal. I was being flippant and jokey. And I was taking the high ground. Presuming my way of seeing things was the superior one.
The result: We were actually arguing about the merits of space travel reducing wrinkle onset.
I smiled. And it eased the tension. We changed the subject and moved on.
I learnt a little more about accepting our differences. About not charging forward like a bull in a china shop when I think I know best. About not bulldozing Ethan's perspective just because I can communicate mine better, and it's usually more entertaining.
Most of all, I learnt that smiling, laughing and holding onto things lightly (particularly my own opinion), is vital.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Aspergers and losing of them being my temper.

I'm premenstrual so I know that everything seems worse than it is.
But AAARRGGH. I don't know who I'm more exasperated and annoyed by: Ethan or the kids.
I worked my butt off yesterday. I was working (as in paid work rather than looking after the children work) and was premenstrual (there only seem to be a couple of weeks of the month when I'm not!) and sleep-deprived. So the day was never going to be an easy one.
In addition, you may recall, I broke my daughter Ava's clarinet earlier in the week (£30 + 2x 80-minute round trips to fix it), Ethan lost a £150 coat and a £35 tool he needed for work. And I lost my engagement ring during a particularly hellish session at the local 'fun' pool last weekend. So it's been a trying week.
After a long day yesterday of house calls, I rushed to school just in time to pick up the kids to discover that Sam (our 5-year-old) had bitten a hole the size of a 10p piece in another boy's coat (whilst pretending to be a black panther, we later discovered).
I expected to have to pay for the coat (the lovely mum of the boy has since said it doesn't matter but that's beside the point for the moment). Ethan argued with me for a while about whether we should be offering to buy a new coat but eventually crumbled and accepted that we should. At least, I thought he'd accepted it. At bath-time he came out with it: 'So, are you going to ask them for the old coat then?'
'Well,' he went on, 'How do we know they're going to buy a new coat with the money? They might just spend it on something else.'
Ignoring the fact that, when someone bumped into our car a few years ago and gave us the money to cover the repairs Ethan spent it on a new computer, how embarrassing and, just weird, can you get?
There's no way in the world I would insist that this boy's mum hand over the old coat before I would give her the money for a new one. It's just ridiculous. Especially as it's all stemmed from our son biting a hole in her son's coat to start with!
I'm sure Ethan must know, really, that what he was suggesting was extreme. And not normal. But he just can't bear to feel that we're somehow being 'taken advantage of,' or that things aren't happening exactly the way they should be (unless it's him not following the 'rules', in which case, that's OK).
The day before, I'd got home from a work call late. I'd only been paid for half an hour but the round trip to the person's house, plus the journey time, plus me staying a few minutes longer, meant that the job took me around 90 minutes. When I got in, shattered, at 10.30pm and started on the kids packed lunches for the next day (which it had never occurred to Ethan to do) he greeted me with: 'So, you're being paid for an hour then?' He knew I wasn't being paid for an hour. But he can't stand the fact that I (as part of his family) had given something for nothing. And he just can't help but point it out. It's just so negative. And selfish. No thought for what kind of a 'shift' I'd had, no 'how did it go?'' Just into confrontational attack mode straight away.
Today, I rushed back in-between a kid's party and made Ethan and I a bacon sandwich before having to rush back to the party again. While the bacon sandwich was cooking, I sorted out a play date for Ava, put the washing out and unloaded the dishwasher. When Ethan and I sat down for our sandwich, Ethan made exaggerated gestures looking around for a cup of coffee.
I snapped and called him a t**t. In front of Ava and Oliver, and Ava's friend. I couldn't hold back.
I'm having to cut this short now, because the kids want something to eat and, although Ethan's around, they're coming to me because he's pottering in the shed.
There seems to be an aspect of Aspergers which is just plain bloody selfish and self-absorbed. And it's so hard to live with. I find myself feeling hard done by and venting in front of the kids far more than I should. Then it's me that ends up feeling guilty.
Aaaaargh again. But in lower-case letters this time so maybe this blog has done something to calm my rage.