How to Prepare for Vacation with Extended Family

With her long stretch of school-free days, summer often brings vacations and visits with extended family. I know some of you are planning those trips right now, with emotions ranging from anticipation and excitement to trepidation and anxiety.

Even the most supportive, encouraging, and peaceful families have their conflict and complications. If you have family members with special needs, you may feel those complications even more acutely. Misunderstanding, different parenting styles, insecurity, pride, and even ignorance can cause hurt feelings.

Because I know how you feel and because I’ve learned lessons the hard way, I’m sharing a few tips today. (Be sure to read to the end! Hint, hint.)

Prepare the child.

What does your child need before changes in her routine? Pictures? Social stories? Schedules? When Henry was 3 years old, we printed pictures of the many family members he would see at Thanksgiving, most of whom he sees only once or twice a year. We looked through them and named them several times just to establish some level of familiarity. Before our Disney vacation earlier this year, we showed him videos of the parks and pictures of our resort.

Your child might need to be reminded that Aunt Sally speaks very loudly or that Uncle Sam smells funny. Talk through coping skills as well as what to say (and what not to say!) in those situations. If your child receives any kind of therapy, enlisting the help of the therapists is also a terrific idea.

You also need to bring along anything that helps your child cope with unfamiliar surroundings. Only you know what these are, but they might include toys, blankets, pillows, or books. 

Prepare the extended family.

Each year around the holidays I see form letters floating around the internet. These letters are examples of how to email your family and prepare them ahead of time for whatever they may experience with your child who has special needs. Why not do the same before a summer vacation? Clear expectations from the outset are never a bad idea.

Your email need not be exhaustive, but you can briefly inform them of your family’s needs (physical, emotional, or otherwise) and ask them for their patience and grace. For example, your child may have an early bedtime due to sleeping difficulties or disorders. A gentle heads-up would be appreciated at best and a reminder at worst.

This is not the place to be petty or make trivial requests. This is a serious email, letter, or phone call to help everyone understand what your family needs to function.  

Remember, we cannot control outcomes or other people’s perspectives, but we can take responsibility for our own actions and rest in the knowledge we have done our best to be accommodating and gracious.

Prepare your heart.

There is absolutely no way you can prepare for every possibility, every contingency, or every attitude. What you can do is prepare your own heart.

How? For me it first means a lot of prayer. I pray over my family and over myself. I pray for each of us to listen with open hearts, to serve one another with love, and to give each other grace. 

Then, I get back to basics. Who am I? Who does God say I am? Scripture tells me in Christ I can do all things. I don’t have to be a slave to the desires of my flesh. So, if something unfortunate does happen, I don’t have to succumb to the need to be right, to be justified, or to be applauded. No, in Christ I can overcome these temptations.

I’ve found prayer to be the most important, most beneficial step of all, even more than the logistical, tangible preparations. Everything may be just perfect during your vacation or visit, but if not, you can still pause and say,  “God’s grace is enough for me and for us in this moment.” And then? Just watch how true that is.

In A Family Shaped by Grace, Gary Morland advises “pondering the following words” before family gatherings: Ephesians 4:29, Philippians 2:14-15, James 3:16-18. I would wholeheartedly agree. Annnnnnnnnd….. I want to send a copy of A Family Shaped by Grace to one lucky reader as soon as it’s available!

——-> GIVEWAWAY TIME! <——-

To help you make the very most of your summer, I’m sending TWO FREE GIFTS to one lucky reader.

In The Ultimate Guide to Summer I walk you through 5 reflection activities that help you:

– Discover your family truths

– Identify your have-to schedule

– Determine your priorities

– Plan the fun

– Create and gather resources

Plus, you’ll also receive fresh family activity suggestions and even austism-friendly travel destinations!

I will also pre-order A Family Shaped by Grace for you! I had the pleasure of reading the entire book, and I promise there are takeaways for every possible family situation — even the ones that may seem perfect.  I agree with these words from the publisher:

“In this life-giving book, Morland shares his journey of discovering the timeless tools of family peace that will help you . . .

  • break unhealthy relationship patterns
  • save your family relationships
  • learn how to generously offer grace to the people who matter most in your life
This book will transform your family culture and your family legacy–starting with yourself.”
 
So, how about it? Ready to enter? You have two options:
 
1. Comment here and tell me anything. You can tell me why you want to enter the contest, your favorite thing about summer, your crazy middle name – whatever.
OR
2. Comment on FB or IG and do the same!
 
Winner will be chosen at random and announced on Monday, May 22.  Good luck!

 

I received an advance copy of this book as part of the AFSG launch team. The contest is not sponsored by Gary Morland or his publisher, Revell. I have not been compensated for reviews.
 
New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

For all the new moms (and moms of the newly diagnosed)

On April 5, 2014, I stood beside two dear friends about to become mommies, and I wondered, “What do they need to know about motherhood?” I was almost 5 years into the journey and considered what I could tell them that might be helpful.

Nothing.

Really, nothing. If I could go back to 2009 I would want someone to say this to me:

You think you know what love is. You’ve heard it a million times, how amazing is a mother’s love. Your head knows this, but I promise you – your heart doesn’t know it yet. The inexplicable force of it will take your breath, and you will know, beyond any doubt, only God could create a love like this.

You can read every book ever printed, but God gave you the most important tool: your instincts. Much of parenting relies on it. (Eve didn’t have a book, you know.) At any given moment you will need it. In the quick-as-a-flash decisions and the methodical, laborious decisions. In the day and in the night. In your home and in the grocery store. Yes, even in the oh-Lord-just-let-me-sink-into-the-earth embarrassing moments.

Everyone will tell you how to raise your baby. They’ll say let him cry it out and don’t let him cry it out. They’ll say feed him baby food and don’t feed him baby food. You know what? There’s definitely a need for support and encouragement within safe, trusted community. And there’s a place for making educated decisions. Just remember that you will have an instinct no one else has, and you must trust it. You must.

No one else will hold that screaming baby at 2am. No one else will listen to his cries and know exactly what each one means.  No one else will rock him for hours on end or watch his chest rise up and down as he falls asleep. No one else will read every expression, every gesture and know when something’s not right. No one else will know what makes him giggle and then guffaw in that beautiful baby way.

It’s you, Mommy.

Your husband is gonna be amazing, wonderful, blow-your-mind-awesome. He will know your baby inside and out, too. But he’s not Mommy. God gave him incredible gifts and you’ll be thankful for them. But he doesn’t have Mommy Instinct.

So, read all you want. Prepare all you want. Some of it will be helpful, some of it won’t. But nothing anyone can tell you is greater than what you already have.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

How to enjoy, not just endure, your summer

My childhood summers were blissful. We spent hours splashing in the pool, playing kickball in the neighbor’s backyard, riding our bikes, and playing hide and seek at dusk. We planned epic zip lines and designed treehouses worthy of a future HGTV show. We dreamed of the days we could drive ourselves to the Dairy Queen. We played Clue and Monopoly when it rained. If I sound nostalgic, it’s because I am.

A few years ago I began to dread summer. I began to see that my son’s childhood summers would not be exactly like mine. And while that is ok, it can also be hard. I want to pick strawberries. He wants to play computer games. I want to take long walks in the woods. He wants to watch movies.

Can you relate?

Summer can be a long string of days we simply endure. It can be an emotional mess of forcing our own agenda, arguing with our kids, and battling guilt. But, it doesn’t have to be.

Have you ever found yourself counting the days until school starts? Have you desired easy-breezy days and faced the reality of struggle and tension?

If so, I’d love to help. I don’t promise utopia, but I do promise a plan to help you set realistic expectations. I promise if you stick to your plan, you will experience more joy and fewer disappointments. Sound good to you?

What if I told you I could walk you through a 5-step guide to help even the most jaded and exhausted parents plan a meaningful, fun, and peaceful summer?

What if told you it would cost less than a sweet tea at McDonald’s?

Get The Ultimate Guide to Summer for $0.99Grab your guide here

Re-claim June, July, and August as you:

– Discover your family truths

– Identify your have-to schedule

– Determine your priorities

– Plan the fun

– Create and gather resources

Plus, you’ll receive 2 Bonus resources. And if you’re an autism mom, I have special features just for you!

Together, let’s make this summer awesome!

SaveSave

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

Shades of autism

Try to imagine every possible shade of purple. Lilac, periwinkle, eggplant, indigo, plum, heliotrope, lavender, orchid, mauve. Imagine every hue in the Crayola box and ones you’ve never seen.

In my mind autism is the color purple, and every person is a different shade. Henry is royal purple. His friend at school is violet. My friend at church is fuchsia. This spectrum is precisely what makes autism difficult to define, understand, and diagnose, but just like the Crayola box, it is also what makes autism breathtakingly beautiful.

Much of what makes Henry unique, quirky, and hilarious is also what makes him autistic. His enthusiastic passion for trains and his budding fascination with NBC Nightly News. His insistence on listening to the same songs over and over again. His extraordinary memory and spontaneous recall of events. His forthright conversations and unabashed honesty. These are all part of his unique shade.

Knowing Henry is autistic makes the past more beautiful, too. We now view every adorable toddler moment, from the flat-out funny to the oddly confounding, through the “a-ha!” goggles of autism.  

How he tugged out my ponytail and took off my glasses every single time … because that’s not what Mommy was supposed to look like.

How he pulled a different shirt from my dresser and thrust it toward me … because what I was wearing wasn’t soft enough for cuddling.

How he could repeat words all day long and even spell some of them …  but couldn’t form a sentence.

How he loved Elmo … but rejected the costume in horror when Keith brought it home for Halloween.

How he looked in my eyes every day, how his smile lit up his whole face … but he never asked me to play.

The realizations bring me peace. The awareness falls softly, settling on my tired shoulders, relaxing the tension of all the questions knotted there.  The confusion is gone, and though life will always bring us new questions, we meet them with knowledge and grace.

I could fill pages with all I’ve learned about this disorder, yet what I think I know about autism is often turned upside down. The infamous struggle with eye contact, for example, seems nonexistent as Henry touches my face, looks deeply into my eyes, and laughs at our shared joke.

Autism is a range of abilities and disabilities, a spectrum of wonder. Each shade is luminescent, although I think I have a favorite. It’s royal purple.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

What I Want My Friends with Neurotypical Kids to Know

To my friends with neurotypical kids:

I love spending time with you. I’m grateful for every conversation, every drive, every meal. We share laughs and stories and secrets, and I take none of it for granted.

I am also keenly aware of the ways in which I don’t quite fit in.

When you’re proud of your kids’ accomplishments in sports or music or dance, I can smile and cheer along with you, but I can’t relate. My son’s interests are far different.

When you’re complaining about packing lunchboxes, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I dream of creating fun lunches, but my son will not eat them.

When you’re enjoying your child’s birthday party, I am trying my best to enjoy it too, but you might catch a worrisome expression on my face. I’m watching my son like a hawk, holding my breath, hoping nothing stimulates a meltdown.

When you invite us to [fill in the blank] and we decline without a clear reason, I’m not being vague to be rude. I’m either sparing you details or protecting my child’s dignity. Sometimes I’m doing both.

I want you to know that for every detail I share, I’m holding back 100 more.

I want you to know that I’m not a worrier, but I’m always aware of your eyes and wondering what thoughts lie behind them.

I want you to know I never belittle your parenting struggles, but sometimes I resent the fact I can’t tell you mine.

I want you to know I love you and your children, yet being around you sometimes makes me feel alone.

So, why are we friends?

You and I still have so much in common.

As much as I need friends in my life who understand autism parenting, I also need friends who don’t. I need friends who don’t talk about special needs on our dinner dates. I need friends who see all of me, not just parenting me. I need friends who share my interests, humor, and faith. I need friends who push me to excellence and also allow me to make mistakes. In short, I need you to remind me who I was, who I am, and who I am becoming.

If you ever think, “She looks put together; she must be ok,” know that most of the time I am, but sometimes I am not. I can’t always tell you what I’m going through, even though I would like to.  

I need you. You need me. We’re friends because our Creator designed us for fellowship and community, and somehow you and I found each other and clicked. I love you, even though I don’t always fit. Thanks for being my friend anyway.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

Brave Enough to Help

The sounds of happy children waft toward me as I walk into the children’s museum to pick up my 5-year-old son after a class field trip. I find him with the other students in the lobby, listening to their teacher read a story as they wait for the parents to arrive. Henry’s voice tears through the sweet atmosphere as he spots me, screams and melts down in front of his classmates.

Earlier, the entire class had ridden the city bus to the museum, and Henry wants to return in the same manner. No amount of consoling is going to fix this. Somehow, his teachers and I failed to prepare him adequately for this part of the day. A spotlight seems to be on the two of us as he continues to melt down. I feel the stares sear into my back.

Click here to continue reading on one of my new favorite online spaces, Kindred Mom.

“Kindred Mom is a gracious online community dedicated to helping moms flourish in motherhood. We believe motherhood is a sacred and beautiful journey of discovery and we are committed to holding space for moms who are looking for connection, guidance, encouragement, and truth about the incredible role of a mother.”

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

The Rodeo in the Back Row

Today’s heartwarming and hilarious story is from Sharon Peterson at A Stone’s Throw from Perfection. I think you’ll love her words as much as I did.


One of my dearest friends attends the same church as us.  She and her husband have three adorable little girls and every Sunday these three little girls sit quietly with their mother and father.  They look like stair steps, going from oldest to youngest, dark hair-light hair-dark hair.  They may color or draw or sometimes play on a Kindle quietly.  Once and a while, one of them will curl up and fall asleep in one of their parents’ lap quietly.  If one of them has to use the restroom or get a drink of water, they ask for permission quietly.

Did I mention how quiet they are?  

Our family sits in the second to last row, way, way in the back.  Because when you look at our row, it’s not sweet little ones sitting quietly.

No, our row is more like a rodeo.

I wish I could tell you Sundays were easy but they aren’t.  If I’m not careful, I start to resent them.  Six days a week, at least one of the boys has therapy, and the seventh day is Sunday.

It’s not a day of rest, folks. 

First, there’s getting everyone ready.  Racing around to find “church clothes” (I know, I should done that the night before. Don’t judge) and then getting them in the “church clothes.”  Someone doesn’t like those shorts, this shirt has a hole in it, and is that even clean?  (Must have grabbed it from the wrong mountain of clothes.  Again, no judging).

I’m not even going to bring up the shoes.  

Finally, we’re on our way.  This is usually the point where my husband and I get in our weekly fight.  I have no idea what it’s about, why it started, or who wins.  I just know by the time we get to church, there is some door slamming and walking off in a huff.

Sunday school is next and it’s not so bad.  There’s some singing and some chanting and then everyone goes with their respective age group.  At this point, we have taken our six year old son, Gideon, with autism (who is still potty training) to the bathroom 14,671 times and had one success and threatened Daniel, our oldest son, also with autism, 9,643 times about appropriate behavior in Sunday school and had one success there too. But we’re okay.  We’re fine.

Then 10:30 rolls around and it’s time for big church.

One of the things I love about our church is that it’s very family-centered.  Children are encouraged to stay with their parents during the service.  Our pastor has four children of his own and he’s learned to block out “kid noises,” like most parents.  Everyone settles in.  But, for us in the way back, we’re just getting started.

In the last year, Daniel has decided that he no longer wants to sit with us.  So he sits across the aisle.  Each Sunday, he tracks down his First Thousand Words in Spanish book and that’s what he reads.  While I’m not certain he could pronounce them, I suspect if I gave him a test over those words, he’d nail it. Ben, our middle son, tries to finagle his way into sitting with those three sweet girls (because who can blame him?).  I might add, he is an angel when he sits with them.  When he sits with us, well, not so much. Gideon stays with us through the first 20 or so minutes of the service before he goes to children’s worship training.  Gideon likes to lie down.  He’s not too picky about where he does it.  Draped over several chairs, the floor, on top of me.  It wouldn’t be so bad if Gideon were not a very, very big boy.

This is the rodeo part I was talking about. 

Daniel tilts his chair back, looks at me, grins at my stern look of reproach, laughs, tilts chair back again.  He carries with him a small cloth monkey, a fidget toy, which he employs to annoy the ever-loving snot out of me in various and sundry ways.  Yes, I would like that monkey to disappear.  I never, ever want to say, “Stop playing with your monkey at the dinner table,” ever again.  But for now, the monkey stays.

Gideon is laying on my lap.  “I want water,” he says.  So, I take him to get a drink and Ben follows to go to the first of fifteen bathroom trips. I wait for Ben so we can go back in all together, but he is taking forever so I knock.  No answer.  I whisper loudly that I’m going to come in if he doesn’t come out.  I’m not paying attention to Gideon who is back at the water fountain and had given himself a shower somehow and water is now all over the front him.

Ben finally appears.  “Sorry, Mom, I had to go . . . you know.”  Yes, yes, I know.  That means I make him go back into the bathroom to flush the toilet and wash his hands.

We’re five minutes into service now. Five minutes.

We’re back in our seats.  We’re singing.  Well, some of us are.  Others refuse to stand and yet another is stimming with loud vocalizations and jumping up and down.  Thankfully, our church family is used to us and no one seems to blink an eye. Ben has to use the bathroom again. Then the worst thing happens.  A new family sits behind us.  I panic.  Sometimes I want to carry around business cards that I can hand out quickly that read, “Please excuse us.  We have two children with autism. We apologize in advance.” Instead, I smile (nervously) at them.  Ben comes back from the bathroom and then proceeds to spill 1400 Legos all over the floor. (Who was the dummy that let him bring those?  Oh yeah.) And Gideon wants more water and he’s gonna pinch me until he gets it. These chairs should have seat belts and complimentary rolls of duct tape.

I am exhausted at this point.

Finally, Gideon is whisked away for worship training by a buddy (another way our church has been amazingly supportive of our family).  Ben gets to play with his Kindle during the sermon so he commences to blowing stuff up or building spider spawn or whatever Minecraft stuff it is he does. Carl and I can relax.  This may be the first and only 20 minutes of our whole week where we aren’t worried about Gideon breaking anything. Katherine, the youngest, is safe in the nursery.  Ben is quiet. Daniel is occupied for now.  We can finally be still and listen to the sermon.

But I have to make a confession.

Sometimes I fall asleep (we still aren’t judging).  It’s not intentional. I’m not doing it because I want to.  It’s just so quiet and I can finally relax for 15 minutes and before I know it, my eyelids get so heavy and then I’m jerking back awake. I’m sure God doesn’t approve but then again, God also knows how just plain worn out I am and maybe He understands.

He does give rest to the weary, right?

Being part of a church body is very important to us.  And, may I just say, we have an amazing church family, one that has loved on us, taken care of us, prayed for us, laughed with us, cried with us, and still seem to want us.

So, we will put up with the rodeo that happens in our row in the back.  We will apologize when one of the kids is having a rough day . . . or a normal day.  We will smile (mostly) and feel blessed to be part of our church family because they accept each one of us as a child of God.  Through them, we can see God’s love in a very tangible way.  Maybe some of our children aren’t able to fully understand that, but they can feel it and they know they are loved.

That makes the rodeo worth it.


Sharon Peterson lives in Texas with her husband of fifteen years, four children, two cats, and a hermit crab. Two of her children have autism, one has dyslexia, and the youngest is three and the only girl. When she’s not hiding in a closet, she also homeschools, writes, reads, is actively involved at her church, and dreams of a bathroom trip uninterrupted. Finding laughter and beauty in a crazy, mixed-up world is one of her passions. She is currently working on her first novel.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

Why do we need Autism Acceptance Month?

Autism Acceptance Month* is here. Since you’re reading this, you may feel as if this celebration isn’t needed. You’re aware. You accept. Doesn’t everyone? Sometimes I feel the same way. But then something happens to remind me that not everyone lives autism awareness everyday.

Someone asks me about vaccines. Someone asks me if Henry will grow out of it. Someone tells me she doesn’t know much about autism but really wants to learn. Someone asks me about the percentage of Americans with autism and drops her jaw at my response. Someone wants to know the difference between autism and Asperger syndrome. 

I am thrilled to be able to answer those questions, to direct people to resources, and to do so with grace and love. When someone cares enough to ask, I’ve seen their heart.

So, why do we still need Autism Acceptance Month? Because people still don’t know.

I live this every day, and maybe you do too, but many people do not. And they don’t need to live it every day, but they do need to know about it. Why?

Chances are, we all know someone on the spectrum. The CDC estimates 1 in 68 children in the US are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This number isn’t mean to induce fear; it is a statement of fact. More humans have atypical brains than we once imagined. Due to advances in science, knowledge, and understanding, more people are now diagnosed than ever before. (For more on the history of autism, I recommend Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes.)

Not understanding autism prevents us from living out Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”  We can cause deep, long-lasting harm when we don’t know how to interact with those who process the world differently. As Christians – as humans – we should want to avoid this.

We are all made in the image and likeness of God; therefore, we all have inherent value and worth. We deny ourselves part of the fullness of human experience when we don’t take time to understand. Learning about others enriches our own sense of humanity, which in turn increases our empathy.

What will you do to raise acceptance this April?
Be sure to click “Yes, please!” at the top of the page for suggestions.

 

*I use Acceptance instead of Awareness here, in keeping with the preference of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

He doesn’t wear jeans.

I gather my toddler into my arms and ease into the rocker for our pre-nap snuggles, the favorite part of my day. Henry curls into me as I begin to rock and hum.

A mere moment passes before he sits up and declares, in his sweet baby voice, “Close!”

“What is it, honey? You want me to close the door?”

“Close! Close!”

“The door, baby? You want Mommy to close the door?”

“No! CLOSE!”

I don’t know what else to do, so I get up, close the nursery door, and return to our position in the rocker.  Clearly frustrated, Henry slides out of my lap, shuffles across the room, and opens the door. I follow him in amusement as he makes his way to my bedroom.

The industrious and determined little fellow throws open a drawer in my dresser and moves shirts around until he finds what he is looking for. He pulls out a soft, fuchsia tee I often wear to exercise and shoves it at me.

“Dis!”

“You want me to wear this?”

“Yes! Dis!”

He wasn’t saying “close.”  It was “clothes.”

I change my shirt, not out of obedience to my toddler but sheer curiosity. He marches back to his room and resumes his place in my lap, quickly falling asleep on my now acceptable shoulder.

*****

This is my first memory of a sign Henry had sensory processing problems, although I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. Instead, it was one more story of Henry’s amusing independence and strong will. “He knows what he wants!” we explained with a chuckle.

Children with Sensory Processing Disorder, which often accompanies Autism Spectrum Disorder, can have unique clothing needs. Some wear their socks inside out to avoid feeling the “bumps” (seams) across their toes. Others can’t tolerate the feel of buttons or zippers. Tags are an almost universal nuisance.

Henry needs soft.

He began protesting against jeans around age 4, but I paid it little attention. Over the next three years, the protesting increased exponentially. In kindergarten he wore jeans a handful of times when I fought him over it. This year he hasn’t worn them once.  My first grader doesn’t wear jeans.

On Sundays he wears chinos he has approved for softness. Monday through Saturday he wears “soft pants.” You might know these as track pants, sweatpants, or athletic pants. In other words, the young Meredith who would not have been caught dead in sweatpants at school is now raising a child who wears nothing else. God is super funny like that.

When the weather began to cool last fall, I asked myself some serious questions:

Why do I want him to wear jeans?  (Because I like them. They’re cuter. Polo shirts look dumb with sweatpants.)
Is this a good reason? (No.)
Does he need to wear jeans? (No.)
Will not wearing jeans have an adverse affect on his education or social life? (No.)

When I came face to face with the fact that my personal taste was the only reason for Henry to wear jeans, the decision was made. You know what they say about picking battles? I wasn’t picking this one. Not anymore. My first-grader doesn’t wear jeans, and that’s ok with me.

Henry in soft pants.
New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

When the permissible becomes an idol

Not all sin is clear-cut: it’s often deeply tied to our motives and our hidden choices. I have zero judgement on anyone else’s choices. Conviction isn’t one size fits all.

After all, I was fine with drinking for a really long time until all of a sudden, I wasn’t anymore.

Sarah Bessey

I’ve been transparent about a period of severe depression after Henry was diagnosed. It’s not so much the diagnosis that causes depression as it is the extraneous details. It’s the devastating reactions from other people; the ridiculous amount of research, paperwork, and appointments; the difficult decisions; and the loss of sleep. Every parent needs extra care during this time, but for a person who already struggles with perfectionism and maintaining mental health? Well, it’s a recipe for disaster.

What I haven’t shared publicly until now is that I turned to alcohol. It began with one glass each night, but pretty soon one glass wasn’t enough. Two glasses of wine each night dulled the pain, took the edge off. Whatever words you want to use, it all means the same thing: I was dependent. I was never drunk. Henry was never in danger. I was dependent, nonetheless.

I don’t remember how or why, but gradually, my habit scared me. I didn’t need rehabilitation, but I needed a hard, honest look in the mirror. Jesus was calling me to lay this down. I felt a deep impression in my soul.

The drinking is not the problem. It’s anything you use in place of Me.

Did I just say drinking was my idol?  I think I did. I needed Jesus to deal with the pain, not wine. I needed more time on my knees and less with a drink in my hand. And it’s not that I wasn’t already spending time on my knees. I was a Christian. I prayed and read my Bible and cried out to God regularly. Sometimes hourly. Really. But I still drank every night, and that was not ok with me.

It wasn’t the first time I tried to dull pain with something other than God’s presence. In a previous season, I found myself losing weight rapidly, unable to eat or even look at food without feeling nauseated. There was no purging, no intention of losing weight. It was simply an inability to eat. The nausea subsided within a couple of months, and the pendulum swung in the other direction. One evening I found myself standing over my parents’ kitchen sink, spooning strawberry cake frosting into my mouth. Most nights, I stayed up later than everyone else and ate a second bowl of ice cream, even though I don’t crave ice cream. At the same time, I meticulously tracked every mouthful and weighed myself every day. I was both disgusted with my mindless sugar intake and unable to stop.

The sugar obsession disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived. Not until years later was I able to see the reason for its disappearance was the reappearance of my mental and spiritual health. As dark and painful as they are to remember, these two seasons tell me everything I need to know about how my body handles intense periods of stress. I numb pain with idols.

Lay it down, Meredith. This has come before Me.

By the time I realized my drinking had become an idol, the nightly drinking had ceased, but the shock was enough to put on the breaks. Me? I’ve been outspoken about compassion and recovery for addicts since I was a teenager. Me? The one people tease for not drinking?  Yes, me, and since Lent was approaching, I could not think of a better way to make room for Jesus.  Those 40 days changed me, and it was the first time Lent made any sense.  Ann Voskamp says, “One needs to be dispossessed of all the possessions that possess us — before one can be possessed of God.” So, I dispossessed myself of what possessed me, to make room for God to fully live in me.

It is this part of my story that propels me toward both the women who still suffer in silence and the women who have fought and overcome the monsters in the deep darkness. We are a wounded bunch of recovering perfectionists and good girls. We clench tightly to our self-hatred like treasures in a buried chest, not daring to expose them to the light.  We turn to alcohol, under-eating, over-eating, exercise, sex, and shopping. We do so under the guise of what can be wonderful, harmless fun like “retail therapy” and “girls’ night out.” And it’s all ok, until it’s not.

Lay it down. This has come before Me.

Today, I endeavor each day to maintain a healthy mind and spirit. I am keenly aware of triggers and temptations. I seek help before falling into despair or turning to pain-killers. And I stand guard. If I feel I’m too close to an edge in any of my choices, I ask for help to step back to safety. I refuse to become possessed again, not by sugar or alcohol or anything else. I will be possessed neither by tangible things nor by attitudes like insecurity, anger, bitterness, resentment, or self-pity. I want my spirit to be fully open to God, to being renewed and transformed.

I used to have a problem. I used to be dependent. Now I am free.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.