Summer Camp Blues

This has proved to be a tough day for no real terrible reason.  Lots of tears have been tumbling out of my reddened eyes & I’ve been trying to keep myself occupied, (luckily, Ikea has been a good annoying distraction – more on that in another post.)  I didn’t bother even putting on make-up today, because I knew it would be another emotional day.

Like I said, it’s not anything tragic, but I’m a big sobbing mess.  Why?  The Boy started summer camp today, and was away from me from SEVEN excruciating hours!  It was harder on me than it was on him.  And it’s not just that camp started, it’s that preschool is finished, kindergarten looms in the very near future, and he is almost 5 … time is moving way too fast for me.

Wasn’t it just yesterday when he and I were taking Mommy & Me swim classes at the YMCA?  Wasn’t it just last week that we hatched caterpillars that grew into butterflies and set them free in the front yard, caught up in the magic of the moment?  Wasn’t it just last month when we would have long periods of quiet bonding time, me relishing in the way he discovered the world around him?

Where did the time go?

Now he’s ready to spread his wings & fly away from the nest – not too far, but far enough to cause me to hold my breath.  Will he be ok?  Will he remember to re-apply his sunscreen?  Will someone help him if he is having sensory issues peeling his banana?  Will the camp counselors remember what I told them & help him with social interactions, or will they leave him to fend for himself?  What if a kid is mean to him, pushes him, hurts his feelings & I’m not there to intervene?  My mind was swirling with a thousand “what-ifs” all morning long.  I mean, I would feel like this if he were an NT kid, but he’s not & although he seems typical, he still is an Aspie & has special needs.

My job is to protect him.  Besides The Husband, (and his Grandparents) no one else in the world takes this job as seriously as I do … and then the control freak in me just felt so uncomfortable with all the variables that are absolutely OUT of my control.  And bottom line, it’s really hard for me to trust – especially to trust that someone else will care for my child the way I expect them to.

The Boy & I talked the entire ride to summer camp; role-played on how to make new friends, what to say, what to ask, talked about how to keep our hands to ourself, talked about asking a counselor for help if and when The Boy needed to take a break because there were going to be a lot of kids around him, we went over his home phone number, my cell number, our address and a slew of other things … WITHOUT freaking him out.  Just casual conversation.  And then, after a lull in our conversation, he said:

“Mommy, I’m a bit nervous.”  My heart leaped, but I had this.

“Honey, that’s ok, it’s normal to feel nervous when you’re starting a new adventure.  I feel nervous too when I am trying something for the first time, so does Daddy.”

“What if I don’t like it?” He wondered.

“Well,” I swallowed & searched for just the right thing to say.  “I think you’re probably going to have so much fun and make lots and lots of friends, but if you try it for a week or so and you decide you don’t like it, then you don’t have to go back.  But you do have to be brave and give it a try … doing new things & meeting new people is part of growing up.”

“But I miss my friends from my old school – I want to go back there.”  Now, here’s where my heart sank … This poor child has been shuffled around to 3 different schools now & it’s been tough to put down any kind of ‘roots’ and make lasting friendships – every time he bonds with someone over the school year, we’re off to another program, never to see them again.

“Honey, your pre-k school is closed for the summer,” I explained, “everyone is going to different summer camps or they’re on summer vacation, but we will see your friend Dani for play dates, and you will make new friends here – it is going to be a lot of fun.”

He accepted my explanation and we got out of the car and walked in to this new, unfamiliar world of summer camp. We checked him in, dropped off his backpack & he was excited and happy as I took his picture for the purpose of documenting his first day of summer camp in 2014.

I walked him to the door that led to the play yard outside, and he kissed me good-bye & ran outside, full of hope and excited energy.  It was all so fast – I wanted him to linger for a minute, but knew that wouldn’t be a good thing – better to rip the bandaid off quickly.

I watched him from a window where he couldn’t see me … he wandered around aimlessly for a few moments, as I held myself back from running out to his rescue.  He was just about to strike up a conversation with a couple of older girls as a basketball slammed into the side of his head!  I had to resist the instinct to intervene – I waited to see what he’d do.  He shook it off & shortly thereafter he started a game of race with another older boy.  A camp counselor was nearby and monitoring the interaction.  I felt better, but still uneasy.  I crept out, and then found another vantage point to spy from … I spied for another 10 minutes and then I had to force myself to go.

The truth is this … I don’t want to miss one moment of his life.  Selfishly I want to be there for every little thing, I love seeing the world through his eyes – he’s always filled with wonderment & awe over all the discoveries he makes during the day.  But I know that the right thing to do is to give him some space to grow & explore the world without me right there on top of his every move narrating the story, but that’s really difficult for me.  I also want to protect him, help him, guide him, and monitor everything.

But it’s not about me – it’s about letting him drift away from the nest a little bit & letting him put into practice all of the things we’ve been working so hard on, (social skills, self-help skills,) and not ever letting him see how much it affects me.  He can’t know that it breaks my heart to have him away from me for more than a few hours, otherwise, he would want to comfort me and take care of me & never leave my side.  I will never be that kind of burdensome mother.  I’ve seen them in action & they disable their children to the point of a role-reversal. And Typical or NT, I think this kind of a transition (the growing up & letting go) is hard on any (good) parent.

So, I suck it up, I walked back to the car, losing the fight with the tears that were distorting my vision.  I got into the car, shut the door and just sobbed for a good ten minutes.  I’m not ready for this transition. If I had a magic potion, I would keep him little for a while longer.  Though I don’t know that I’ll ever be ready for him to grow up … It’s my job to prepare him for what lies ahead in this great big world.  And as with pretty much every job I’ve ever had, there are some things about the job that are not easy.  Letting go just a little bit & letting your little bird spread his wings is not easy to do, but it is the right thing to do.

When I went back to get him (and believe me, my eye was on that clock every other minute, counting down!)  He was happy to see me, gave me a hug & said “Mommy, I had so much fun!  And I made lots and lots of new friends, just like you said.”

That made me feel a little better.  A little.

I hope tomorrow is easier.  (Update: IT WAS!  I feel much better today … )

The Adventure Begins Here Photo Credit: http://stage.bsaboston.org/camp/

The Adventure Begins Here
Photo Credit: http://stage.bsaboston.org/camp/

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Silent No More

photo credit: neuro-atypical.com

photo credit: neuro-atypical.com

No, I’m not going to be quiet about it anymore.  The Boy has Aspergers.  He’s an Aspie.  He has been diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism now because they no longer have Aspergers Syndrome listed in the DSM V.  Hearing this last Friday was not “news,” but I think I have finally accepted that this is our life.

Two years ago, I got the diagnosis of “Aspergers Syndrome” from a psychologist who contracts for the Los Angeles County Regional Center.  A psychologist who had met with me and The Boy for all of 2.5 hours.  Her diagnosis made sense to me, but at the same time I wanted to dismiss it because I felt like she just conveniently made that assumption based on The Husband’s family history.

Everyone that we had talked to leading up to that diagnosis had told us that The Boy was a “perplexing” case.  I was told that he may “outgrow” his diagnosis by the time he started Kindergarten, so I kinda believed it and kinda hoped they were right.

And so I didn’t tell too many people about The Boy’s Aspergers Syndrome.  Only close friends and family. And you, dear Reader. I kept quiet because I thought that this diagnosis was The Boy’s, and it was not for me to share with anyone beyond his immediate family until he came to an age where he could determine who he wanted to tell what to and when.  I didn’t want him being labeled.  I didn’t want him being judged.

That decision kept me isolated from my friends, and from the parents of his typical friends.  Even more isolated that his diagnosis had made us.  I kept quiet about it because I figured if he did indeed outgrow his diagnosis, I didn’t want people to be confused.  I didn’t want to have to explain.  I just wanted to work quietly on this without everyone knowing, and I think subconsciously I was hoping that the diagnosis would just disappear from our lives & fade away into the background; becoming something we would just say was a “phase” that he outgrew.

The fact is, this is our life, and it has been every day for the past two years.  Even if he does overcome some of the diagnosis, he will always be an Aspie – he will have his quirks & his mind doesn’t work like most everyone else’s.  So, this is our life.  This is his life.  This is perfectly fine.  It isn’t the way I had envisioned things when I was 8 months pregnant & reading baby books about “what to expect,” but that’s ok.  The lesson is: Expect The Unexpected.  And, make no mistake, I wouldn’t trade this for “typical” EVER.  I love The Boy just the way he is; he is perfect.  I only want him to have the tools he needs in life to have the best life he can – to be as happy and healthy … but this is our journey, and it’s an ever-changing one. There are no books to help guide us on our way.  Expect the unexpected.

I also kept quiet also because I felt like I wasn’t entitled to have the feelings I have had: confusion, frustration, isolation, exhaustion, sadness.  How could I complain when The Boy’s case is mild – look at him one moment & he seems like a typical child, but in another setting you might say there’s something off, but can’t put your finger on it.  He is extraordinarily verbal, loving, outgoing … not like some of the children I’ve met with severe autism who are non-verbal & have never given their mother a hug or kiss.  So how can I justify feeling anything other than gratitude for this?  I must be a shallow, horrible person to feel frustrated with our situation at times.  How would anyone even understand?  Surely my friends with typical kids wouldn’t be able to relate.  So I said nothing.  Until now.

Now I’ve changed my mind.  I’m not going to be quiet about this anymore.  I am allowed to feel how I feel & that may change from one day to the next.  Yes, of course I’m grateful that The Boy is high-functioning, that he is affectionate and playful, curious, intelligent, creative and engaging.  Yes, his case is “mild.”  And I tend to focus on his strengths rather than his weaknesses.  But it’s not always easy.  Every day is different; some days are great, some are challenging.  And I didn’t even realize how much I work with him until a friend visiting from out of town pointed it out to me.  But that’s my job; he is my heart & I am his voice.

And I’m really going all out with my vocalization.  After two years of searching for my “tribe,” other moms who are parenting an Aspie kid around The Boy’s age, I have yet to find an active group near where we live, so I just went ahead and created a meet-up group yesterday.  I figure if I build it they will come, right?  I hope so!  There have to be other parents who are feeling stressed out, tired and in need of sharing experiences.  I’m here for you, mamas, and I’m ready to talk.