Wednesday, November 30, 2011

B is for...

It’s very easy to make assumptions about what ‘normal’ families do.  It’s also easy to assume that, just because a thing is what was always done, we should continue to do it.  Trust me – before you figure it out, that way madness lies.

When the two youngest kids were much younger, we did the things that families do: going to other folks’ homes, grocery shopping, eating out, running errands in the car.  Infallibly, disaster would strike during the outing (like refusing to leave the car, fighting for freedom, biting to avoid hand-holding, running away), or a ticking time bomb would explode when we returned home.  There would be violent tantrums, meltdowns, insomnia, or terrors.

We started noticing the symptoms of anxiety, realizing that public noises were startling and intolerable, and so much visual input was overloading senses.  Eventually we stopped taking the kids out.  It meant grocery shopping had to be done by Dearest, most of the time.  It meant volunteerism could only happen if there was a parent available to stay with the kids, because even if child care was provided at meetings, my kiddos couldn’t tolerate it.  Shopping started to be almost exclusively done online, even for some of the staple groceries.  Any deviation from the home routine had to be arranged with utmost care, and always with an ‘out’ in place, so that we could leave immediately if necessary.

I spent more time finding websites where I could research the most pertinent information (and for prenatal methamphetamine exposure, there wasn’t much!), and taking all the online classes offered to foster and adoptive parents.  I read.  A lot.

We’re not a ‘normal’ family.  Was it unexpected to think we would be?  No, in fact, I have two older children.  I had first-hand experience about what families do, taking children in public, going out to restaurants, traveling to visit family members, even going to theaters to see live performances.  With a three-year-old.  Really.

In a quiet moment, a realization came – our family will be the hub of the wheel.  It’s all right to watch the activity happen around us, and we can be gathered together, securely in the center, and watch if we want, or turn our faces inward when it becomes too much.  We discovered that, even if ‘everyone else is doing it’, it may not be what works best for our family.

Considering I spend so much time at this computer, you can bet I look at a lot of knitting patterns.  Sometimes I see one that strikes a spark in me, and I fall in love with it.  The Emmaline sweater is one such pattern.  I chose my yarn carefully and couldn’t wait to receive it.  I even swatched for this sweater, mind you; eagerly cast on and started knitting.  The yarn I chose was lovely to knit with and I knitted happily… 

When an unwelcome thought started niggling at the back of my head I at first pushed it away, but it had to be faced: this sweater is not going to work for me.  Ever.  It isn’t the right style, and at this point in my life I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate much more than a tank top, even in winter – how could I have ever contemplated wearing a sweater knit with bulky yarn?

I removed the needle from my knitting resignedly and rolled the raveled yarn into a ball.  It felt like the right thing to do, even though it wasn’t the easy thing to do.  Changing plans can be like that, sometimes.  Telling the family you can’t come to a gathering, turning down offers for social events, realizing that a family dinner in a restaurant is not a treat for anyone – those things can be hard to swallow, at first.  The enlightenment, when it comes, is a relief; the realization that you don’t have to keep putting effort into a plan that was never going to work in the first place, and that changing that plan is not equal to failure.  When we accept our differences and realize that the real best-laid plan is the one we make with foresight and honesty about the result, we can give the yarn to someone for whom it’s much better suited, and knit another pair of socks.  J

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A is for...

Assurance.  Bet you thought I was going to say Asperger’s.

I wonder if people are used to thinking more in terms of reassurance?  I know that with my kiddos, we try to be repetitive with the good messages and provide a lot of reassurance when they’re on the right track – or when they aren’t on the right track and we’re trying to convince them they can be!

The holiday season is upon us, and Boyo is dancing as a Party Boy in Ballet Northwest's The Nutcracker again this year.  As it gets closer to opening night, the rehearsals get longer and more frequent, and the schedule gets more complicated for the family.  I’m happy about that, because he loves it.  Even more importantly, it makes a huge impact on his attitude and behavior, because it’s a wonderfully positive, supportive atmosphere, and he rests in the assurance of his dance teachers that he will be successful.  Boyo works hard at dance and it burns off energy and anxiety, leaving him much more relaxed and allowing him to be more patient and kind to his sister.

Do we ever stop needing assurance?  No; in fact, if you think about it you have some sort of assurance in place every day.  Your insurance company assures you they’ve got you covered if anything untoward should happen while you’re out on the road.  The weatherman assures you that whatever is in the forecast is what you can expect to see in the sky.  You can rest assured that, with your usual ingredients, your go-to recipe is going to turn out exactly the way you like it. 

We rely on this.  It’s what faith is made of.  My friend Rhondi assured me that I could write a blog – I love her faith in me J

In my knitting, I’ve learned that with most sock yarns I can use US 0 (2 mm) needles and be assured of getting 9 stitches per inch – so much so that I can check the gauge by eye and know if it’s close enough.  If I’m following a pattern I may have to adjust the stitch count; otherwise I just go on with the basic toe up guidelines as written on Fleegle’s blog, and I've done it so many times I know it by heart.  I get a sock that fits, every time.  

That’s a long way from the days when I was convinced I’d never be able to knit socks, and a friend assured me that yes, I could, all I had to do was follow the pattern one step at a time.  Two dozen pairs later, I think socks have become a metaphor for me, and an assurance that everything will be all right.  In knitting, and in life – one step at a time.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dispelling a Myth

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.  Proverbs 22:6 NKJV

I don’t think you would ever have had to set foot in church to be familiar with this proverb.  There is another saying, often used in a 12-step setting, which has a similar connotation: if nothing changes, nothing changes.

These pithy little platitudes don’t hold up very well under close analysis.  They are great, however, for reminding oneself to stay on track, even without knowing it’s the right track until reaching the destination – but only if one is sure of the engineer.

Training up a child in the way he should go implies a parent knows the best way, and that isn’t always the case.  In a dysfunctional home we can see that if nothing changes in regard to the direction, nothing changes about the outcome.  Children raised in dysfunctional homes often struggle mightily, as adults, recognizing the path along which they were raised was neither functional nor practical.  Fortunately, most children can decide at some point if the path is right for them, and may get off on a siding to head to a different station. 

Do you think the same holds true for raising kids with different cognitive or behavioral needs?  No.  In fact, even neurotypical kids growing into adulthood may not understand what it is about their upbringing that’s not working in their lives; it can be especially difficult for children with behavioral, emotional, or cognitive differences.  As parents of two kids with challenges, Dearest and I believe it’s best to tell the kids what is expected, as well as model it on a daily basis – and to explain why a particular behavior is expected and how it affects their lives either way.  If they don't understand the method used inside the home, they can't implement it in situations outside the home.

As anyone who has been knitting for a while knows, sometimes a project just doesn’t work out the way you think it should.  You frog back, check the instructions, count carefully, re-knit it… and it’s wrong.  If you’re lucky, you can check the back of the book, or the publisher’s site, the pattern page, or go to Ravelry and check the forums to see if anyone has posted errata, or mistakes in the pattern.  In the first shawl I knitted, I couldn’t figure out why my stitch counts weren’t working.  It wasn’t a big mistake, but the numbers didn’t match and the pattern wasn’t going to work unless one knew to adjust for the difference.  I chose to knit the shawl so soon after it was released the mistake hadn't been noted yet - but I found plenty of folks on Ravelry, including the designer herself, who confirmed the mistake was in the pattern.  It's been corrected, and I finished the shawl.

My first shawl -Traveling Woman - September 2009

What myth am I trying to dispel?  That the person who tells us what to do: our parent, counselor, pattern writer, etc – the ‘expert’ – is always right.  Even if the expert wasn’t wrong in whatever he or she was talking or writing about, the method might not be working for me, in my particular situation, in my particular family, in my particular project.  Trust your instincts, trust your eyes, trust your feelings, ask questions, and know that it’s all right to make adjustments.  No matter what happens during the process, the goal is to be happy with the end result.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Starting somewhere

Several people have suggested I write a blog, or asked if I'd thought about it, and the answer has always been a resounding, "No" -  in fact, I have always doubted there was anything new to say.

But what if I put together just the right combination of words and released them to the ether so they were put before a person who needed them, just when they were needed?  Well, I'd hate to miss that opportunity, so here goes...

I knit.  A lot.  It's a meditation sometimes; a form of defense other times; a way of playing solitaire so I can think about my next move.  By 'my next move', I mean, "How can I handle this latest crisis?"  The crisis usually involves behaviors, academic issues, or family dynamics that one might encounter in a family with a 13-year-old daughter who has Asperger's Syndrome and ADD, and an 11-year-old son who was prenatally exposed to methamphetamine and has Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), ADHD, and anxiety.

These are Second Round kids:  I have two older kids who are married and have families of their own.  I finally reached the brass ring in the husband department when they were 8 and 10, and by the time they were teens, Dearest and I decided we needed to have children together.  Into the foster system we bravely forged, without any sense of how it might really end up.  To be fair, it wasn't just us; we got these kiddos so young that no one could really know what we might face.  We were pretty naive, and I was definitely in an "I can save these children!" fantasy world.

Fast forward:  Girlie has been with us since just before her first birthday, and is 13 now.  Boyo has been with us since he was 6.5 months old, and is 11 now.  If our family was a brick wall, you would see more patching compound than brick, I think, because we have seen many, many cracks in the mortar that holds us together - BUT, we have not fallen.

In 2008, my oldest daughter madmaxmama and I decided to learn to knit, while she was pregnant with her second child.  Actually, we had both learned as young girls, but we both ended up decided we'd rather crochet than knit.  When we took it up again, though, we went at it with gusto, watching videos and consulting with each other and anyone else we could find.  I wouldn't consider either of us experts, but we have grown and gained a lot of experience, and I think both of us feel pretty accomplished as knitters.  Wouldn't it be great if we could grow as parents as quickly as we can improve our knitting skills?  For instance, in 2009, a few months after I started knitting, I wanted to dye my own self-striping yarn.  I found tutorials about dyeing with Kool-Aid  and my first go was successful!

Or was it?  No, in fact, it wasn't long after I started knitting a project with this yarn that I realized the colors were ridiculously bright and even if I were capable of knitting some fun striped socks at that point (which I wasn't; I didn't learn to knit socks until several months after this episode), it wasn't the best kind of yarn for socks.

Thankfully, I learned I could have another try.  A dye-over, if you want to put it that way (and I do, because I'm easily amused).  I bought more Kool-Aid, rewound the yarn into a loose hank, and put it back in the pot. This time, I got lucky, and ended up with beautiful fall leaf colors that turned into a cute little project bag:

If you're a knitter, you might have already learned that you may have chosen a yarn not well-suited to the project you had in mind.  Or colors that, on second thought, don't really work with your wardrobe or personality.  That's all right, though, because you can use the yarn to knit something else, or dye it, or or choose a different yarn to go with your pattern.  Raising kids can be like this, too.  If what you tried didn't give you the desired results, go back to the drawing board.  Even if your kids have the same syndrome/condition/behavior as the kids you read about, they are not the same kid.  Give yourself permission to try something different; a different way to praise them, a new way to start conversations, a way to let them know that no matter how much you love each other, you still have to work to get it right.