The art of solo parenting

Last week I got the flu. Seriously, full on fever, aches, cough, chills and everything else that comes with the flu. It was awful. Thankfully, it hit the hardest over the weekend which meant, I could actually be sick. Yup, you heard that right, this mom was able to curl up in bed and not be seen unless someone was bringing me medicine.

How you ask?

The answer is easy, living it is hard… solo parenting.

I never like to refer to my husband and I as “single parents” because we aren’t. We have each other, we are partners, we can do things alone and not necessarily have to find a babysitter. The problem is we are more like team mates for a tag team wrestling match than actual partners. We are only together on the weekends and one week day night for dinner.

That’s it.

The rest of the time it is one parent and two kids. One parent getting everyone dressed and out the door, one parent shuttling everyone to soccer practice, one parent attempting homework and dinner before bedtime. One parent. All the time. It’s exhausting because usually that one parent has also put in a full day’s work. (yes, I realize that many people do this, some don’t even have the help of a spouse…. I’m in awe of these people) The great thing about it is that we both have to do each task. Some days I get the kids to school, some days Stampy does. Some days, I am wondering why my kids just won’t go to bed, some days Stampy seems to have the kids in bed and the dishes washed before I get home from work. (I’m also in awe of him on these days.)

Some days it’s rough. No two days are the same, it’s a constant switch which makes it hard to get into a routine. It’s hard to schedule therapy that everyone can attend when you work opposite shifts. It’s hard to schedule your own appointments with two kids in tow. It’s hard to work as a united front when you are always running solo. It can also lead to more solo parenting on the weekends as everyone runs around like crazy people trying to get things accomplished that is just nearly impossible without an extra set of hands. There are the times you just want your family together as a whole.

Our schedule, although it is not ideal, has given each of us a freedom. A freedom to meet friends out for dinner, a freedom to go away for the weekend, a freedom to go to the gym, a freedom to get sick for the fact that we each are perfectly capable of taking care of our kids in all types of situations. There are no notes left to instruct how to make dinner or where pajamas are. I know that everyone will be bathed and no one will be at 9 PM. I won’t be called over a trivial issue while I’m trying to eat my first peaceful meal in two months. I know that I can utter the words “I think I have the flu, I’m going to bed” and not give a second thought to what is happening in the rest of my house.

And that is a wonderful thing.

You have nothing to worry about

At 9 months old, I informed our pediatrician that I was concerned because Molly didn’t respond to her name or really turned when we talked to her, but I knew that she could hear. He replied with “the important thing is that she can hear, you have nothing to worry about”.

At 20 months old, I told the nurse practitioner that I was concerned about some behavioral issues Molly was having. She replied with “It’s very normal at this age, you have nothing to worry about”.

At 2 years old, I was concerned still about the length of temper tantrums we were having and the face that cutting her hair seemed to settle them. Again, I was told “you have nothing to worry about”

By 3 years of age, I said I was concerned that she didn’t tell us she was hungry or thirsty or communicating, wasn’t potty training, was screaming for hours on end. After spending 10 minutes with us, the pediatrician said “She’s not autistic, you have nothing to worry about”.

Only I did.

I had everything to worry about.

She is autistic. Her behaviors were not normal development and I was not being heard. So, I did what any sane person would do that was quickly losing their sanity and went somewhere else for help. But the words still rang loud “she’s not autistic”. I believed those words.

We spent 2 1/2 years in and out of therapies and met with multiple specialists, all who said the same thing, “I think she may be autistic”. I believed those words.

I was confused and honestly, I don’t think I wanted to know the answer. But we hit a turning point. We hit the point where we needed a diagnosis to know which therapy road to travel, which specialist to see and to get a lot of this covered by insurance. So, we went.

We traveled over an hour for several appointments to a wonderful pediatrician. One of the first to spend significant time with Molly. The one who gave us the answer we needed. The answer that Molly needed. The answer that seems to make our life harder, but ultimately will make our life easier.

She is autistic.

She is sensational.

We had everything to worry about.

The hard times

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I was prepared for this. After all, we have been through a worse surgery when he was much younger. Tubes? We got this. Numerous parents have stories about how their child had tubes in and were back to normal that day. Pictures line my Facebook feed with happy bouncy toddlers 20 minutes after waking up from surgery in the post op room with captions like “doesn’t even phase him!” and “you’d never know he had surgery an hour ago” and on and on. Last time, surgery was 3 hours minimum with at least a 3 day hospital stay. This time it was 10 minutes with us scheduled to go home an hour later. Last time, I barely knew the surgeon other than what I had gathered from our previous appointments. This time, I knew my surgeon, I knew his family, I attended his wedding. This was going to be easy.

It wasn’t easy.

The good thing is, the fact that I knew the surgeon meant when they wheeled Charlie into the OR I didn’t think twice. That wasn’t the hard part. That was the only easy part. The hard part didn’t start until the recovery room. There was my baby peacefully sleeping, hooked up to monitors with a tube in his mouth to keep his airway open. I started to tear. I wanted so badly to pick him up or hold his hand, but I couldn’t. No touching, no calling his name. I forgot how hard it was to not hold your baby when you think he needs you most. I was told he would slowly wake up, he might be fussy or combative (“the opinionated ones usually are”) but he wasn’t. He was lethargic and tearful and in pain. He just cried over and over again that his ears and head hurt and that he wanted to go home. The problem was, he wouldn’t take any medication and he wouldn’t fully wake up which meant he continued to be in pain and we couldn’t go home. At least I could hold him and rock him. He slept and slept in the recovery room. We tried force feeding him Tylenol and Oxycontin to relieve his pain but he just wanted to go home. Close to two hours later, we were finally leaving. With a tearful, nauseated, sleepy boy. My heart broke for him. He insisted up until he was wheeled away for surgery that “nothing was hurting” and his “ears weren’t bothering him” and here he was in pain and sick. I knew in the long run he would be better for this, but I felt guilty at the moment for what I put him through.

Safely tucked in the car, I was prepared for the 2 1/2 hour car ride home. After all, the nurses told me he would most likely sleep the whole way and he did, right after he vomited all over himself and the car seat immediately after we pulled out of the surgical center parking lot. Somewhat calmly I cleaned him and his car seat up. My husband changed his clothes and we tucked him back into his seat. Once he was asleep, I just started crying. I didn’t feel as helpless as I did the last time, but I felt helpless. We couldn’t get home any faster and I couldn’t do anything to make him feel better. He was alone in the back seat. He woke about 25 minutes from home and cried the rest of the way and once again I couldn’t hold him. We got home and he cuddled and cried for most of the day. Not until bedtime did he start to come around, but his playing would be interrupted by tears of pain with his hands over his ears. This was not the fun day that so many had depicted on social media, nor was it as easy as other parents had made it seem.

I knew, though, in a couple of months I would probably give false hope to someone else as the memory fades of the emotions and you just remember that everything was OK in the end. It was OK in the end. It was OK 24 hours later as he played for hours outside with a friend and proudly announced that his ears were “all better!”.

Nobody likes change

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Once we are past the tantrum and everyone is thinking with a clear head I often say “nobody likes change” in my head. 99.9% of the time it’s in Ross Gellar’s voice and I picture him and Rachel fighting over the girl from the copy place. It makes me smile every time, which is good because at this point I need something to break the tension.

It’s true. We have a little girl that doesn’t like change and apparently two parents who are really bad about realizing something has changed until we are strung out and have lost all patience and are trying to regain some composure and patience. Then it hits us “oooohhhh, we had a new bus stop today”. Molly won’t ever tell us why she’s anxious or what has changed or how she’s feeling, it’s like a guessing game from hell.

You’d think we would better at picking it up the subtle changes to our day. After all, we are five years into living with a child that needs uber-consistent days and regular schedules but there are times we just fail at it. I don’t feel guilty about the failing, life is what it is and sometimes it means change. I just want to be better at preparing for the tiny things that will occur during the day that won’t seem so tiny to her.

Normally speaking, change brings about tantrums and the inability to function. She seems to have difficulty getting one foot in front of the other and putting two words together. Little eye contact is made on these days and there is a lot of crashing into objects around her. There are super strict routines that must be followed lest we break out into a 45 minute crying jag which always results in a loss of a shoe. Usually it’s this part of the tantrum which sends Stampy and I to the mental ward and we end up losing our patience. There are no incentives or rewards on these days to change her, it is what it is and it leaves us all drained wondering “what just happened?”.

Today, she handled change differently. Today she sobbed, hunkered down in her bedroom and clutched one of my old stuffed animals while she stared out the window waiting for me to come home. Schools were closed today. My in-laws are back to their babysitting duties for the first time in six months but my father-in-law didn’t come today, he always comes on Tuesdays. Molly pointed that out. Today was different.

Today was different in the fact that once I came home, Molly told me what she did. She told me what she didn’t like and told me how it made her feel. Today was one of the first days she expressed rational thought to her emotion and how it made her feel. And that is a big change. That is a change I love.

Therapy Thursday

It’s adjustment disorder.

She has sensory processing disorder.

She is autistic.

She suffers from anxiety.

She has the emotional capability of an 18 month old.

This just tops the list of things we’ve been told about Molly. She has “failed” pretty much every standardized tests for diagnosing any of these conditions.

She can’t control herself when routines change. She’s rigid. She doesn’t communicate well. She can’t keep eye contact. She’s delayed developmentally.

She doesn’t like loud noises, clothes, food, has balance difficulty. She has sensory processing disorder.

She’s afraid of the dark. She’s afraid of public toilets. She carries on frantically when she doesn’t like something. She gets too nervous about being wrong. It’s anxiety.

The problem is that all of these symptoms overlap in the Venn diagram from hell. They are each part of sensory processing, autism, adjustment disorders and anxiety. So each profession we talk to grabs hold of the symptoms they specialize in and diagnose and suggest treatment for that. Each have compelling arguments why they are right and how their diagnosis would cause the other symptoms and then each are left with a bunch of ??? when Molly doesn’t quite fit their mold. And we are left trying to figure out what to do next.

We’ve had success with therapeutic riding, but not in some main areas.

We had success with behavioral therapy, but as soon as Molly figured out the ropes it was downhill from there.

Sticker charts are useless. She can’t be motivated. Some days to do anything.

Since this summer, we have been heading into the anxiety difficulty. It’s the last piece of the puzzle we really haven’t tackled. We tried once. We did the big name hospital, we weren’t happy. Honestly, it scared me off. It’s a lot of time, energy and resources to go to these appointments. We’ve been blessed with plenty of family and friends who are more than willing to help, but it’s still tiring and at some point leads me to a nervous breakdown after balancing schedules, appointments, work and babysitters. After the first failure we’ve been putting it off, but a recommendation from the school psychologist has me staring at a list of names again. Plain old names. All backgrounds fit what we need, no one seemingly better or worse than another. It’s another shot in the dark to find out what we need and who we need. I sat and stared at these names this morning, trying to pick up the phone to call them and find out if they take our insurance and if they have availability that matches our limited free time, but I didn’t call anyone. Instead I sat and cried. Feeling like I needed a therapist myself, or a personal assistant to make the call so I don’t have to deal with it. I considered hooking my box of wine up to an IV but it was 9 AM and I had a feeling that social workers or counselors don’t appreciate drunk phone calls that early in the morning.

Then Molly came home from school and I realized that I do have to deal with it. I have to deal with it because I have a daughter that has difficulty dealing with life.

At least my boxed wine is still on sale at the local liquor store.

Smiles & Beer at 9 AM. Practicing the art of “leaving the children”

Funny thing, when I tell people that my husband and I are going away I usually get one of two responses. I either get a “good for you!” or a “WTF?”. Rarely is there a reaction in between. That being said, I think leaving the kids is a GOOD THING. In my mind I’m teaching them some great life lessons and hopefully setting them up for future successful relationships. That could also be the beer talking….

With that being said, I give you the  7 reasons I think leaving my kids behind is beneficial.

1. First and Foremost Stampy and I are husband and wife. I used to laugh at the baby advice books that urged me not to neglect my husband. Maybe that’s because it told me that I should simultaneously be nursing a child, changing a diaper and fixing him a sandwich. (ok, maybe not quite that bad, but one was very much pro-serve-your-husband) Down to the nitty gritty it has a good point. To be successful parents and teammates you need to get along. How do you get along? By doing things that you enjoy without someone throwing food on the ground, whining or punching their brother.

2. We are strengthening the grandparent/grandchild bond. Yes, they do see them all week long but there’s nothing wrong with a little extra special one on one time with the grandparents. Even kids need a break from their mundane boring parents that are always telling them to brush their teeth, put their shoes on or go to bed. That is a win-win-win situation.

3. This trip was to run a 10K. The kids have watched us (me, really) train and go running. I think teaching hard work, exercise and goal achievement is one much more effective by showing them instead of telling them. Molly is also learning the art of losing gracefully and perseverance, when she sees that I never win a race but continue to try. However, she never hides her disappointment when she hears that I didn’t win. “Maybe next time, Mom”

4. I get two days without reading food labels. Two. Whole. Days. That only means that my food label reading skills will be rested and ready to go when I get back instead of getting half way through the store and realizing everything in the cart has not been checked. Now, everything will be double and triple checked. Thank you rested, non-autopilot brain.

5. I learn to tone down my Type A, hyper-controlling personality. In order to leave your kids and want the grandparents to do it again, you can’t hound them for every time they give Oreo cookies for breakfast. After all, it’s really not my problem when the sugar high kicks in and at least the kids are eating while I’m gone!

6. I can exercise and drink all before 9 AM. That is two things before 9 AM. Two fun things. Usually those two things are drinking cold coffee and losing my mind trying to get the kids ready for school.

7. I realize I miss the bickering and whining. Crazy, right? But removing myself from it actually makes me miss it (really, the kids) which helps me on the days when no one will listen to a word I say, I just think back and remembered that I missed this. I missed the insanity and wanted to come home to it.

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I am an “Allergy Mom”

At a party recently Nutter Butters were served. I knew they were going to be there. As an “Allergy Mom” I had spoken to the party mom before hand and sat my kid at the table with my eyes wide open. The mom next to me started to panic when she heard me turn down the passed treat saying “no thank you, he’s allergic”. She asked me questions about if it was ok for her son to eat the treat next to mine, did I want them to move, why can’t her son take peanut butter to school, etc. The normal questions that I’m always happy to answer. 

I wasn’t prepared for our next meeting. At her own son’s party she came up to me and said “I told my friend about what happened at the other party and she was shocked that you let your son sit there and that you were actually nice about it!”

I think that was a compliment.

I wanted to face palm.

“Actually nice”. Like it’s surprising that a mom of a child with food allergies is nice. Not the impression that we, as a group, really want to hear. 

It made me think. Why do we get such a bad rap? Why do we need to stand tall and shout and demand? Why as a group can’t we work together to educate others and enjoy life? Why is this such a battle?

I started to think about other groups of moms. Thanks to social media and the internet we have grouped ourselves off pretty well. We are Breast feeders, stroller users, cloth diaperers, extended car seat safety moms, baby wearers, co sleepers, formula feeders, and home-schoolers to name a few. In each case we have labeled ourselves by a CHOICE that we made and gathered up with others like us to discuss our bond. There will be arguments between those that wear their babies and those that use a stroller. Crib sleepers and Co-sleepers are sure that the other one will be killing their child and let’s not even talk about the breast vs. bottle debate. But here’s the thing, those in your group mostly agree. You have a united front.

This is not the case with “Allergy Moms”.

None of us chose this label. In fact, nobody wanted this label. We got stuck with this label. We are in a group we don’t want to be in with moms who aren’t anything like us in our parenting styles. Here’s where the problem begins. We fight with each other. There are so many food allergies, symptoms and sensitivities it’s hard to lump us into one group. These people over here don’t care about the “may contain” statement while these families only use allergy free factories. This group is allergic by contact while this group by ingestion. This group has been to the emergency room while this group only has testing that says their allergic. My head is starting to swim just thinking about all the categories I could list. Everyone has a different comfort level based on their experience and their doctor. No two “Allergy Moms” are the same. Without a united front, we are still alone, fighting for our child. We want to advocate but honestly, sometimes I don’t know if I’ve made the right decision. Sometimes, I just hope for the best. It’s hard to worry ALL.THE.TIME. It’s daunting. 

I can understand why the non-allergic world is confused by us. We all want safety for our children but we don’t agree with what is the best method. And if those of us that live it everyday can’t agree, how are we ever going to educate everyone else? How are we ever going to get others to understand what is acceptable behavior and what is not? How can anyone understand any sort of protocol?

They can’t. And we can’t. 

So the next time you see one of us in high alert, instead of thinking “there they go again”, ask us. Ask us about our personal situation, our beliefs and our experiences that have led us to where we are today. That’s all we want, we want understanding and compassion for our situation. The one we didn’t chose. The one we live with every day.