BooYAH for Babysteps

You know those crazy stories we have all heard where an unsuspecting woman gives birth without realizing she was even pregnant?  I kind of relate to that woman now.

Last Saturday, September 16th, Gizmo and I successfully completed the public access testing required for a dog to become a certified service dog.  The test is used to demonstrate that I am capable of handling the dog in public and that the dog demonstrates manners appropriate for public access.  He had to be exposed to food in a public arena without attempting to take it, remain sitting while I walked away, stay calm when other animals entered his space, and demonstrate many other skills.  Gizmo handled the entire test beautifully, and I was so happy for him!  We returned to the parking lot and our trainer, Rob, gave me some pointers in loading and unloading Gizmo. He then handed me the leash and said, “He’s ready to go.”

“Ready to go?  As in ready to go home – to my house – permanently?”

Indeed.  After discussing some financial arrangements and other details, I loaded up Gizmo and started my drive home in a shocked stupor of thought.  I knew this day was coming but had not prepared myself.  I was completely unprepared.  The house was in its usual state of shambles – a state that I guess Gizmo may as well become acquainted with sooner than later – and I was unsure how hubby and Luke would react.  I didn’t know how I would react.  I’ve never really had a real pet – aside from a couple of strays taken in and loved for a short time.  This guy was literally going to be a new member of the family, and we had nothing prepared to welcome him.

With no small amount of trepidation, I unloaded Gizmo and took him into our home to wp-image-933974955meet his match.  Although Luke has met Gizmo before, we have not done much training directed at bonding the two of them.  As I brought them together, Luke threw his arms around the dog’s neck in a nose-to-nose death grip; his eyes lit up playfully and he puffed out his cheeks in his typical greeting to a loved one, then screeched, “DO YOU WANT GIZMO TO DO A BLOWFISH FACE?!”

What do you think, Rob?  You down for training this dog to make a happy blowfish face for the man?

We still have a lot of work to do.  Gizmo is certified as a public access service dog, but we will still need regular, professional training sessions to help us integrate him into the family.  Our greatest accomplishment with the new team is that Luke is no longer trying to poke Gizmo’s eyes out!  Booyah for babysteps!

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Fears and frustrations

Unsettling fear and frustrations have taken up residence in the the front of my mind this week. I have become quite adept (with the help of medication) at filing unwarranted fear away to rarely visited recesses of my mind. Unfortunately, this week has brought paranoia to a screeching halt – front and center in my thoughts.

Lack of sleep, I am sure, is significantly contributing to my current state of mind. Luke’s sleep has become sporadic again. He regularly cycles through periods of good and bad sleep, but what makes this period so frustrating is the concurrent lack if impulse control. He has taken to tossing the computer, monitor, and printer overboard as a sure fire alarm to get Mom’s full attention. It is amazing how much a computer can withstand, but I think he delivered the final death blow this afternoon. Luke has reverted to lots of smaller challenges that add clutter to my mind and my house:

  • He throws canning jars and other glass dishes in order to experience the visual joy that transforming something whole and useful into thousands of glittering shards offers.
  • Emptying fluid-filled containers on freshly mopped floors is back into the daily routine. The stickier the better – entire bottles on dish soap on a tile floor makes for a slippery visual treat – especially when unsuspecting mom goes for a slide!
  • Even better, combine the two for a great reaction by shattering an unopened two-quart jar of apple cider for sticky and glittery shard appeal.

All of these are annoying and frustrating, but the greatest fear has come from Luke’s newfound skill of starting vehicles. This afternoon, Luke took the keys from the fireplace mantle and started the minivan in the garage. Tuesday, Luke slipped out of the house and went up to my parent’s where the farm equipment is stored. This is nothing new for him. We often walk up together and just sit on the tractors, combines, and trucks. It has served as a reward for good behavior. However, this time he went on his own and actually started several tractors and the combine. Without much effort, these powerful machines could have been put into gear with disastrous consequences. Thankfully, two employees were close enough to stop him before any damage was done. He discovered that this new skill creates a frenzy that only reinforces his desire to repeat the behavior – which he has done several times with less success since Mom’s paranoia has not allowed him to get much of a head start. He has found moments though. I cannot go to the bathroom without specifically assigning a sibling to watch him. His most successful run happened while I was distracted by checking up on reports of then Tropical Storm Harvey, who was parked over Port Arthur, TX and my oldest boy who is serving a mission there and is still holed up in his apartment as a result. Luke has an impeccable eye for when I am most distracted and takes advantage of that.

And so, I sit here with Luke pinned under my right leg for his safety and my sanity. I write to clear my brain and hopefully devise some great plan to discourage future incidents. Right now, punishment by utter boredom is the best I’ve got. Feel free to comment if you have inspiration that I lack!

We Fart!

In my childhood visions of motherhood, I would come home to a clean house and happy children who would lovingly greet me with joyful hugs and kisses.  Yesterday, I came home and was greeted by Luke, who ran into the kitchen the moment I walked through the door and excitedly declared, “We FART!!”

Why yes, son, we do.  I am so happy that you have learned this exciting new concept.

This is just the latest in a string fun, new summertime discoveries:

After listening to his parents speak in church, he came to the sudden and quite vocal realization that, “We don’t pee in the freezer!”  (And, yes, he did try it.)

20170713_205600If he wants to get Mom’s attention, a sure fail method has always been to sample a variety of nonfood items.  This summer, however, Luke has kicked it up a notch above just rocks, dirt. and dried up manure.   Those are just so old school.  He knows that if you really want a reaction, you have to get creative!   Try some bird poop off the headstones during a visit to the cemetery on Memorial day.  A long, deep swig of teal acrylic paint (dumped into a cup for easier drinking) lacks creativity but sure generates a nice little Mommy tantrum.  Need a little protein?  How about a large, fresh, juicy slug from the raspberry patch? mmmmm!

I can honestly say that my childhood dream did not include having this conversation with my legitimately worried four-year-old daughter at bedtime:

“Are you sure about this, Mom?  Are you sure this toothbrush hasn’t been up Luke’s butt?”

“Yes, I’m sure, darling. I throw those toothbrushes away as soon as he brings them to me to smell.”

Ah, the real-life dreams of motherhood: dreams of those beautiful days when I am greeted only by the innocent and excited declaration that, “We fart!”

 

 

Unfortunately Fortunate

3476Fortunately, I have a sweet ten-year-old son with autism.

Unfortunately, a significant manifestation of his autism is a glaring lack of impulse control.

Fortunately, Luke discovered a love for building vehicles out of wood kits.

Unfortunately, the wood must be painted.

Fortunately, Luke loves to paint.

Unfortunately, I turned my back.

Fortunately, he only emptied two containers of acrylic paint.

Unfortunately, black and John Deere Green do not match my kitchen floor, even if the footprints tracked around it were kind of cute.

Fortunately, Luke knew this had to be cleaned up and tried to do it by himself!

Unfortunately, he’s not very good at it yet.

Fortunately, he obeyed immediately when I told him to go wash up in the bathroom.

Unfortunately,  a brand new container of hair spray was left out on the container.

Fortunately, he left the hairspray alone.

Unfortunately, he opted for the Vaseline instead.

Fortunately, he washed his hands.

Unfortunately, he unloaded the entire Vaseline container into the sink drain.

Fortunately, Luke recognized that he needed to change his painted clothes.

Unfortunately, I have not done laundry and his backup pair of shorts was not clean.

Fortunately, he looked for his gray shorts.

Unfortunately, he looked by dumping out all of the clothing in the laundry room – both clean and dirty.

Fortunately, he found a pair of pajama bottoms as an adequate substitute.

Unfortunately, his search resulted in a 3-foot-deep sea of laundry.

Fortunately, I don’t mind folding laundry.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know the water in the bathroom was still on.

Fortunately, my husband heard it.

Unfortunately, Vaseline makes an amazing hydrophobic plug.

Fortunately, I am very experienced in flood cleanup.

Unfortunately, water was already pouring from the ceiling in the basement, filled the vanity drawers, and created a very effective wading pool in the bathroom.

Fortunately, I now have clean drawers.

Fortunately, laundry is now all sorted and clean clothes are folded.

Fortunately, my kitchen floor got a nice wipe down.

Fortunately, I love my son!

LUKE – I AM YOUR FATHER

While I was still pregnant with Luke and considering names for the perfect, little boy that would soon be joining us, I remember distinctly the moment that the name Luke popped into my head.  I was stopped at a stop sign in our tiny little town on my way home from grocery shopping.  Suddenly, I just heard it in my head, “Luke.”  That is a very nice name and I think it meets all my criteria.

  1. I have never dated a Luke.
  2. It is short.
  3. It doesn’t rhyme with any derogatory words.
  4. It will not be mispronounced.
  5. It is common enough to not be weird, but not so common that three kids turn around every time I call his name.

I took the idea home to my husband.  Who immediately agreed.  The name had also come to him.  Of course, he had a much more practical reason for liking the name.  “After all,” he said, “I have always wanted to say, ‘Luke, I am your father!'”

And so it was that Luke came to be Luke.  We knew Luke was perfect when he was born.  His life was a miracle. We loved every piece of his 5 pound, 11 ounce body.  We watched him grow and waited eagerly to introduce him to Star Wars so he could meet the hero that inspired his name.  As time went on, though, we began to realize that our perfect son may not ever understand the humor in his Daddy’s words, “Luke, I am your father.”

The unfortunate fact is that the movie Star Wars is notably lacking tractors of any kind.  Now if our hero, Luke Skywalker, were to fly through space in a John Deere tractor battling evil farmer clones in combines, Luke might be convinced to watch.  However, since Luke prefers harvesters to jet fighters and perfectly hitched fertilizer sprayers to witty robots, we reconciled ourselves to the hopelessness of introducing our Luke to THE Luke.  Until today.

Unlike Luke, Thomas loves all things Star Wars, so he was elated when I offered to let him watch one of the DVDs on my laptop today.  Not long after the movie began, Luke bounded into the room, and I thought, “Well, that was fun while it lasted,” knowing the battle that would follow.

However, instead of pushing away his loud, aggressive, older brother, Thomas excitedly invited Luke to join him.  “Luke, you wanna watch a show with me?   The hero is Luke – just like you!  C’mon!”

20170409_144259Luke happily plopped himself next to his brother.  They hugged for a few minutes and then resumed the movie.  Luke lost interest after a few minutes and has been in and out of the room many times, but each time he returns, he is welcomed by his little brother who pauses Star Wars long enough to love on Luke.

Who knows, with enough loving invitations, maybe Luke will understand the story someday.  After all, “The force is strong with this one!”

In Case You Ever Wondered . . .

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a bit of a Facebook junkie.  I love sharing bits of my life with family and friends I am unable to see or talk to regularly.  However, I have noticed that I often use Facebook as a vent for the frustrating days we have with Luke and seldom do I really share what a beautiful soul I have the honor to raise.  For example, Luke has developed a new attraction to cutting things up.  Here are a couple of pictures that I posted to Facebook:

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Last week: my knitting cord cut and ripped out of the sweater I was working on, my earphones

 

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Today’s casualties: my sweater, hours of work on a crochet project, charger cord, and his little brother’s prized Valentine box

I am so quick to share the aggravating moments, but often fail to share the sweet ones.  So, in an effort to counter all of my whining posts, I want to share this beautiful one.

Last Saturday was almost magical. Luke was a sheer delight to be with. He painted all the pieces to the wood tractor with very little support. He was so patient and even waited for one coat to dry before putting on a second coat. After all the pieces were painted, he used screws and a screwdriver to assemble it. All I did was start it through the hole. That project took a couple of hours and he was so attentive and excited about it.20170225_155444 After we finished, he found some pics of tractors we had printed out and spent the next few hours painting them. It was a beautiful and magical day – almost like a window opened to the sweet little boy trapped in a generally uncooperative body. 20170225_155332.jpgLest anyone ever think otherwise based on my frustrated posts, I adore my boy. I love him with all my heart and just yearn for more days like these!

Left or Right?

Left or right?  I sat at the intersection pondering the lasting consequences this decision would have.

It was December 2015 – a particularly harrowing month to be living with Luke.  Luke does not just enjoy summer, he requires it to be happy.  He needs the movement outside to burn off energy and soak up happy emotions.  By December, with both exercise and vitamin D limited and Christmas chaos and candy abundant, Luke had become completely unmanageable and violent.  One day, Little A – then three and still very small for her age – tripped as she bopped along with the kids coming in from school.  Without warning, Luke was at her side, stomping on her head and laughing uncontrollably.  He probably only landed one or two hits before my teenage boys saved her, one tackling Luke, the other blocking her from the blows, but the image was seared into my brain.  My little girl suffering under the feet of her much larger brother who mindlessly acted on every passing impulse.  He was growing so quickly; how would I ever protect her when I no longer had the older boys to intervene – when his body looks like theirs? Six feet and 200 pounds of uncontrolled emotion was a fear that I just could not imagine.

Life at school was not much better.  Although we had hit the jackpot of loving talent in a new behavior interventionist (BI), Erin, the special education teacher simply did not have the temperament to handle my volatile boy.  Whenever Erin was gone, his behaviors with the teacher escalated.  He knew how to push her buttons and did so freely.  Breaking away and running from her, pushing and hurting other students, intentionally ripping breaking his classmates’ eyeglasses, dumping and breaking school supplies, smashing the box that holds the fire extinguisher.  After enduring months of his abuse, the teacher finally broke.  She just could not work with Luke any more.

I am not sure the specific event that led to the drive I was on with my Luke.  I know it had been another rough day at school and he would.   not.   stop. screeching – the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard screech that just grates on sanity.  In desperation, I loaded him into the van; it was the only activity that had ever reliably calmed him.  We drove and drove and drove.  Slowly the screeching faded into wimpering and then to blessed silence.  As I pondered our situation, I became completely and helplessly overwhelmed.  Endless drives day after day simply could not continue, but it was our only calm from the storm.  Suddenly, a thought came to me that promised to protect the people I loved and end the endless frustration. . . .

I have struggled with depression, probably, since I was a teenager.  I have had suicidal thoughts for a good part of my life, but these thoughts were always outside the boundary of my reality.  They would pop up unexpectedly without provocation, but they were not my reality.  I am a happy person; I would not ever DO the things that just popped into my head.  This day was different though.  I suddenly had a moment of complete clarity – a solution to this unsolvable problem.  If he only wanted to drive, then we would drive.  Just up the highway from our house the road rounds a corner that is precariously close to a rocky ravine.  As a kid, I was terrified of rounding that corner, but on this day, it seemed like a small ray of light.  It would be so easy to just keep straight.  We would leave this problem behind us, together.

It was in this frame of mind that I stopped at the intersection near home.  With puffy eyes and a broken heart, I pondered my direction.  Left or right? Left would take us to a permanent solution.  Right would take me back home to endure more of the never ending screeching and violent, destructive meltdowns.  I turned right; that option would still be there on another day; it would always be a choice I could make later.  I will make it through this night first.

I was scared: scared that I might actually do something that would hurt so many people I love;  scared that I had moved the ever-present suicidal thoughts from the buried corners of my mind to the forefront of conscious consideration.  My rational brain knew it was stupid, but my emotional brain just kept reliving the option.  Was I going crazy?  How could I trust myself to take care of Luke when I had actually considered this awful thing?

While dropping Luke off at school the next day, Erin and I were trouble shooting possible triggers and solutions for the behaviors we were seeing.  Next thing I know, words were tumbling out as I recounted the previous evening’s experience.  I am not sure what I expected – perhaps a horrified gasp or a stunned reprimand.  What I didn’t expect was her calm response, “Shanna, I would think you were crazy if you didn’t have thoughts like this.  Look at what you are going through.”
Erin’s background is in social work; she has helped truly troubled souls move to a better place.  She has more love for lost souls than any person I have ever known.  She has known and loved people who have actually followed through on these haunting thoughts.  Her reassurance that I was not a failure or a danger to my son buoyed my spirit and gave me hope that this was just a passing valley in a vast and beautiful landscape that was unfolding.  It was a reminder that we are allowed to suffer in order to more fully experience joy.  Yes, Luke’s low times still bring me great sorrow and concern, but I cling to the knowledge that my boy will be back; other days will be brighter, and my view will be all the more beautiful for having known the darkness.
Left or right? I chose right.