Monday, March 21, 2016

Failing.

Doubt is a pernicious thing. It sneaks in, like a virus, and works its damage before you even realize what is happening.

Someone said something. It made me feel like I was failing. I don't like feeling that way.

I'm doing good work. Very good work, in fact. When someone sees my good work and tells me it's poor, it makes me doubt myself.

At first, I was angry. I felt hostile, combative. "Why would you question me? Why can't they see how hard I'm working?"

But the doubt seeps in. Maybe I'm not good enough. Maybe I really don't know what I'm doing. Maybe I'm turning in mediocre work and I don't even realize it's not good.

Maybe I'm failing, and I don't even know it.

I've written about this before. I was fired twice from jobs, good jobs. Both times, it was because I was 1) over my head and 2) suffering undiagnosed anxiety and panic attacks.

When you get fired from a job, it leaves a scar. Sure, you can get other jobs. But that scar never completely heals. You always have that voice in the back of your head. "Is it going to happen again? Am I doing enough? Am I safe?"

And when you start seeing the signs, you panic. Especially when it feels like your fate is out of your control. Like there's nothing you can do to stop the disaster that you see looming.

And sometimes, it's just arbitrary. I got fired once, a long time ago, because I worked at a machine shop and they had to cut costs. I was a cost cutting measure. Doesn't matter. I still felt like a failure.

I hate that feeling.

I hate doubt. Doubt in one thing - especially work, where so much of my self-confidence is embedded - leaks into all aspects of my life. It cascades. Pretty soon, I'm doubting everything I do. Maybe everything is a failure.

There are things in my life where I know, unquestioningly, that I am not failing.

I am not failing as a partner. I have the great good fortune to be in love with an amazing, brilliant, passionate woman who loves me with her whole heart. I am not failing her.  I believe that I am doing everything I can to make our relationship successful.

I am not failing as a father. I believe that I'm doing everything I can for my son. I believe that, whatever is happening from day to day with him and with me, I'm doing the right things to turn him into a successful man. I believe that.

So maybe my boss will get some stupid idea in her head that I'm not cutting the mustard. That doesn't mean I'm failing. I won't fall into that spiral of doubt and shame and self-loathing again.

I am not failing. Just because someone else can't see my worth, that doesn't mean that I'm failing.

I can get another job.

I can move on and find other options.

I will survive if challenges arise. I will survive it. I can move through the challenging times and come out better on the other side. I will not let the doubt eat me alive.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Milestones

I remember when he was a baby and I wrote about him all the time. He was evolving so quickly, and I wanted to capture every moment of it. Also, I was with him all the time - every moment of the day, seemingly. And I was there, with him. Not like now, when he'll be in his room watching Minecraft videos on his tablet, and I'll be in my room, reading Twitter on my computer.

When he was a baby, I was there with him. Holding him, feeding him, changing him, putting him down for naps. Watching the expressions on his face change. Watching, as he learned how to use his hands. Watching, as he built up the strength to stand on his feet. Watching him, and watching the slow and ridiculously fast changes happened to his little body.

He's older now. The changes happen slower, but are no less dramatic. And I forget to record them. And sometimes, the moments that happen are more complicated to document than simply saying "he walked for the first time!" 

This year, my son is in student government. My shy, reticent kid who had trouble making friends and often was too nervous to ask his teacher if he needed help, is in student government. And he's excited about it.

He went to his first dances this year. I mean, let's be honest, elementary school dances are not much more than playing music in a room and watching what happens. Some kids dance excitedly, some run around the room like goofballs, some - like my son - stand on the outskirts and try not to look interested. But he's interested. Next year, by this time, I expect he'll actually want to dance and not just stand on the sidelines.

He's getting more independent, and I'm taking advantage of that at home. He has chores - he gets to unload the dishwasher and put his clothes away in his dresser. He helps with meals. He actually made one meal last week, with some guidance.

He's turning eleven in a couple of months. I'm seeing that there's a corner we're turning. He's no longer a little boy where I have to pick his clothes out, where I have to worry that he won't eat what we're having for dinner, where I always knew what he was thinking and what he liked and waht he didn't.

But he's not a completely independent young man yet, either. He still snuggles, when he can, with me. He still lets me read Harry Potter to him before he goes to bed at night. He still struggles with homework and tells me to cut the crusts off his sandwiches.

He's changing, though. Every week, he's evolving more and more. He's becoming an interesting, witty, creative, fascinating young man. I love watching this happen, watching this little boy grow up.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

My Autistic Kid

I forget to blog here sometimes. When my son was little, I would blog all the time, because he seemed to be changing every week. And it was all fascinating. What he ate was interesting, the way he learned to walk and move and communicate was fascinating. I do less of that now.

It's not that he's no longer interesting. It's just that, well, he's older. Change happens more slowly, but it is absolutely happening. He's in fifth grade now. He played baseball for the first time last spring, and in a few weeks, we'll be signing him up for baseball again. He has friends, he plays kickball on the playground. He's hilarious. He's insightful and witty and warm and loving. He's a great kid. He still fascinates me.

For those who don't know, my son was diagnosed as autistic when he was in first grade. My son is 10 and a half and he was diagnosed when he was in 1st grade. So ... he was six and a half.

This is what it looked like, in the months before he was diagnosed. We knew something was different about him. We just didn't know what it was.

Dealing with It, Whatever It Is

My son's got some stuff that he has to deal with. We saw some behavior-related issues last year, but with support from his teachers and other school staff, plus the invaluable help of a therapist that works wonderfully with children, he got better. It wasn't a perfect year, but he ended the year on a good note.
This year - first grade - we saw a lot of the same things. We tried the same kind of techniques that had worked last year, but they didn't seem to be working. There's physical stuff like hitting and getting in other kids' spaces.

There's name-calling. Unprovoked incidents with other kids. It's all behavior that we just don't understand.

See, our son used to be the kind of kid who was described as "really centered." Or "zen." "He's so calm," the other parents would say at play dates. And suddenly, we were in our second meeting in two straight years with the principal, the teachers, plus various other school staff. Suddenly, we'd be dropping him off at school and other kids would run up to us and tell us that he was being mean to them. Or that he had written on their book. Or hit them. This happens a lot.
 So ... we're talking to people. He's still seeing his therapist, but now we're going the next step. We're doing a deeper psychological evaluation on him, running some tests to see what else is going on with him. We might be dealing with ADD. Maybe some sensory issues (things like heightened sensitivity to noise or crowds). Or maybe something like Asperger's.

I resisted the idea of him being autistic at first, because I didn't know anything about it. Literally all I knew about autism was "Rain Man" and the kid in St. Elsewhere. That was it. That was my social context.

I was scared. I don't mind saying it. I didn't know what a diagnosis of autism meant. I didn't know what it would mean to have an autistic son. So I was scared.

But understanding autism helped me understand him more. Most importantly, I understood more about how he saw and experienced the world, and I found out about ways we could help him. He's been seeing a therapist since 1st grade. He's been in a social skills group since 2nd grade. This group, with other kids his age, helps teach him about social interactions like conversations, things that NT people take for granted but are fraught with unspoken rules and norms. The group has been incredibly helpful for him.

He's done occupation therapy before and that's been very helpful as well. He has a lot of sensory stuff - particularly needing deep physical input. When he was little, he would run from across the room and do these tackle hugs. Sometimes, they were strong enough that I almost lost my footing. Physical input. When he did OT, he loved things like diving into ball pits and mats. For a while, I would have him dive chest-first into a beanbag or onto the mattress a few times before he went to school, just so he could get that need met and he wouldn't be craving it at school. (At school, he would often bump into other kids in line, or swing his lunch bag around and accidentally hit them. We think this was him sensory input-seeking behavior. His teachers at the time, unfortunately, had trouble seeing it as anything other than him causing trouble. Sigh.)

My son is an intelligent, witty, joyful kid who reads constantly. Last year his teacher called him "brilliant" and I don't think that's an exaggeration. He also has Aspergers. It's a part of who he is. It's not the thing that holds him back, any more than having black hair holds him back. It's part of who he is.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Signs of Resistance

"It's time to go to school."

"No," he responds calmly.

You know who's not calm? Me. 

I ask him again, twice. Finally, he changes his tune and gets himself ready to go to school.

My son is ten years old. And he's grown; my goodness, he's grown. He's become so much more confident and charming and easygoing. Much of the social anxiety that we saw in the past has dissipated. He walks into the playground and kids call his name. And (Aspie parents take note) he stops and responds!!

There are many things going well. And then ... there's the testing that he does at home.

I'll ask him to turn off the television and he'll ignore me until the third or fourth or fifth ask.

I'll tell him to go to bed and he'll start whimpering, like a puppy dog. (It's obviously fake and I don't even think he thinks it'll work. He just does it instinctively.) 

And then there is the simple act of "No." Not that he wants to put up a fight or an argument. He just quietly says "no." To everything. 

With a smile on his face.

When he was a baby, he would run experiments on us. What happens if I drop my food off the tray? What if I smear it on my cheek? Now, I think he's doing experiments again. He's testing how I'll react if he ramps up the disobedience.

So I've approached with a certain amount of caution. Sometimes I'll ignore him and just ask again. Sometimes I walk off (making sure he sees that I'm irritated) and then come back a minute later.

Sometimes, I'll crack the whip on him. I've had to use my dad voice more in the last two months than I did for the previous year. 

"When I ask you to do something, I expect you to do it the first time."

And then I get the whiny response. "Okaaaaaaaay!" 

The whining. I HATE the whining. 

Or I'll get the angry response. He snaps back at me as though somehow I've angered him, instead of the other way around. 

He's testing, though. And he's still an Aspie, so I know that I can't just tell him to cut it out. So I'll check him. "When you respond like that, it sounds like you're angry at me. Are you angry at me? No. Okay, well your tone says something else. So make sure your tone matches what you actually feel." 

All things considered, he's doing fine. He's just testing some boundaries right now. I need to remember that he's always going to be testing me out. What's he really doing is testing himself out. Right now, he's testing out conversation, testing out emotions. He's trying to see what he can get away with, what he does that will upset the people he loves. He's growing into an older kid who needs to figure out how this human interaction thing works. I'm doing the best I can to help. 




Sunday, October 18, 2015

What We Talk About When We Talk About Talking

One of the most challenging moments in the day-to-day life of a parent is the unforeseen meltdown. Sometimes, kids just have the wrong thing happen to them at the wrong time and they just explode.

This isn't just true for autistic kids, although I notice it more readily with mine. He doesn't like surprises; when he doesn't get something that he's expecting (recess, dessert) or when he has to change his schedule without warning, those are the days when he's more likely to melt down.

And yes, he's ten. Meltdowns still happen when kids get older. They just take different forms.

I worry sometimes about how I respond to him after a meltdown. I can't talk to him during the meltdown - he's flooded with emotions, and all I can do is to keep him from getting worse or doing damage to something (i.e. throwing a remote control across the room). 

So I talk to him afterward, once he's calmed down. We talk.  

Usually, too much.

I'll explain to him patiently how the rules are the same as they've always been. And how he has to take school/weekend responsibilities/chores/whatever seriously.

Sometimes, I'll talk to him about how he reacts differently than he used to. How he's gotten so much more mature than he used to be, and how moments like this don't come as often as he used to. 

Sometimes, I'll ask him if there was anything I could have done differently. Wait, what?! Am I really asking him what mistake I made when he freaked out? No, not really, but yes, sort of. This is a dangerous avenue, but sometimes I go down that path anyway. I get talking, and look, I'm still a dad that hates to see his kid upset. 

And I think part of it is that he's getting older. I'm so aware that he's not the same little boy he used to be. I can't see ten-year-old him without seeing two-year-old him reflected in his eyes. And sometimes, the conversations we have are really conversations I have with myself. "How can I solve this problem? How did this maturity blossom in you without me noticing?"

Sometimes, the questions I'm asking can never be answered by him. "What are you thinking when these things happen? Do you still trust me?"

I need to shut up sometimes. I know that when it works best, he gets upset and I just step back and let him work it out. He can do it. He doesn't need coaching from me as much as he used to. And he doesn't need me to relentlessly dissect every moment of conflict with him. What he needs to know is that I love him, and that sometimes that love means cracking down on the rules and not apologizing for it afterward. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Flashback: Back to Regular Dad

I posted this almost nine years ago on my old blog. I've been thinking a lot about my little boy, who just hit his tenth birthday. (I need to write more about him. He's amazing.)

Anyway, this seems appropriate and it's not on this blog yet, so here it is.

June 30, 2006

I know that ticklish spot, right under Oliver's chin, and I know that when I hit it with my bare toe just right, he goes spasmy with giggles.

I know that sometimes, his favorite thing is rolling across the floor like a log going down a hill. And that, if I gently nudge him with my foot, he'll roll and roll until he hits the window, softly giggling the whole time.

I know that he takes his naps almost like clockwork at 9 am and at 3 pm.

I know that he loves aquariums. And peekaboo. And watching birds. And watching the construction trucks that stream by our apartment. And anyone walking by our window.

I know that he smiles and occasionally waves at strangers. And he flirts with every woman who works at the grocery store, and they all flirt right back.

I know that when I eat snacks, I'd better put down a handful of Cheddar Bunnies or Veggie Booty for him, or else he'll get resentful.

I know that my little boy loves me. I know this. I know if I lay on the floor, sometimes he crawls right up to me and puts his little head against my chest for a few moments. If I'm really lucky, he'll crawl up to my face and give me a wet, sloppy, open-mouthed gooey kiss right on the lips. And that's the best thing ever.

Today is the last day I get to be a stay-at-home dad.

Mrs. B came home tonight and began her summer vacation, which is (unfairly) only six weeks. She gets a month and a half to be the primary caregiver for Oliver, while I try to find myself some gainful employment. And then, when the fall comes, both she and I will go to work, and Oliver will go to the day care seven blocks from our house.

I think back to those early days, when I worried if I was ever going to get the hang of taking care of him all day. (Actually, that first day, I was really worried if he was ever going to take a bottle from me.) Naps worried me. Feedings frightened me. I was constantly worried that I would poke him in the eye, or drop him, or something similarly awful.

And here we are, ten months later. Naps don't scare me any more. The bottles aren't even an issue anymore. We do two meals a day, two naps, hours of playing, and sometimes I'm exhausted and nap while he does and sometimes I don't even bother. I can keep up with him. He doesn't scare me anymore.

It's been nearly a year that I've been taking care of him, and we've grown so much together. I feel privileged to have had this much time with him, that we've been able to afford (barely) to do this. I have a bond with our little boy that not enough fathers get. My own father never had the connection with us from the early days that I get to have with Oliver.

Now I have to readjust to being just a regular working dad, one that drops his kid off at daycare in the morning and sees him at night for dinner and sleep. (Actually, the daycare won't start until late August, but stick with me, folks, I'm on a roll.) I won't get to see him play during the day, giddily tearing through his books or tossing around his blocks, one by one, with a squeal of glee every time one flies into the air. Those moments will just be on the weekends.

I'll miss all the intensive time with him. Hours of playing on the floor, hundreds of books read, balls tossed, blocks stacked and tumbled, messes made and cleaned and made again. I won't miss the problems: the difficult naps, the teething miseries, the days of complete distraction where he couldn't do anything for five minutes without screaming in frustration.

Well - I say I won't miss that. But I will. Because when things went wrong, I was the only one he had during the day to make things better, and almost always, I figured out how to make it better. I got him to sleep. I provided teethers and (before he had actual teeth) my fingers to soothe his aching gums. I found ways to keep him entertained. I figured out how to be his parent, the caretaker, the one he relied on. I learned how to take care of him, and he learned to trust me.

I don't ever want him to forget how much that time meant to me. I know I will never forget it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Survivor's Rage



Another empty cubicle at my office.

We came in Monday morning and she was gone. Nobody knew what she did, who she offended, why she got the axe.

We all assume it wasn't for a rational reason. It never is. People here don't get fired because they miss their numbers or because they violated some crucial policy. It's because their supervisor didn't like them. Didn't like their attitude. They spoke up too much. They questioned too much. They showed too much independence.

We don't value independence. Our directors want people who are malleable and scared. We are intimidated, embarrassed, harassed. It's all small and subtle, often behind closed doors.

My last colleague - she was smart and passionate about her work. She read the news constantly: she was the most plugged-in person in the office. And she was loved by everybody in the office.

Almost everybody.

She dared to question the ideas of our director, and she got the axe. I don't know what happened, and I never will, in all likelihood.

In my small department, I've lost four colleagues in two years. It's a haunting thing to come in and see that empty office, and know that someone else failed the test.

My job is almost certainly fine. I have no concerns that I'll get the axe.

That's not enough. There is no job security in a place that fires someone every two to three months. There is no peace of mind when you know your entire team of colleagues might be gone in a year.

And we're just expected to carry on as though everything were normal. Our colleague is no longer spoken of. She is an unperson. She stopped existing the minute she was terminated. All of her work - it stopped. Her projects ceased to exist. Nothing she did will be mentioned again.

I have a good job. I am paid well. We have retreats in nice places and we're wined and dined. But the trade-off is too much. I've lost people I care deeply about. I've lost them for stupid silly reasons.
Because my boss decided to get rid of them.

This isn't survivor's guilt. This is survivor's rage. I'm angry that my friends - my very talented friends - are being treated so badly. I'm angry that I meet up with them months later and they're still shaken. Still questioning what they did wrong. Still wondering if the cruel things said about them are actually true.

I hate this place. I hate my boss. I hate the leadership of this toxic twisted office.

I'm sending out resumes and going on job interviews. I'm pushing as hard as I can to find somewhere else. This time, I don't want an escape hatch - I want to move up the career ladder. I have a huge palette of skills and, as one of my friends put it, I will be the answer to someone's prayers.

I want that to happen soon. I don't think I'm in danger of losing my job anytime soon. But I have learned how to survive in this toxic place, and I do it by swallowing my complaints and my anger and playing along. Going along to get along. I'm tired of it. My soul is tired, people.