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The Long Weekend

  • Posted on November 28, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Now that the holiday is out the way, the boys are eager to enjoy their long weekend. There was a time not so very long ago that the disruption such a change represents would be traumatic. I remember times when each boy (though never all at once) would begin any long weekend by getting ready for school, as best as he could, all by himself as a sign of defiance, if you will, against the change in schedule.

Sometimes that simply meant putting on his backpack. Other times it meant getting dressed, including snow pants, boots and a winter coat, all by himself. I would coax, explain, and coax some more. Finally, I’d leave him be until he gave up on school and decided to play. One time Alex went around in coat, shoes, and backpack until well into the afternoon. Every time the front door opened, he’d go see if his bus had finally come. Eventually, though, they always gave up.

Things are very different now. Even though children with autism do not follow the developmental trajectory of their typically developing peers, they do develop—at their own pace, in their own time, and most definitely in their own ways. Now, the boys enjoy the long weekend. They’re perfectly happy to play all day long. So, that’s what they’ll be doing today and for the next two days. Still, they’ll be happy to return to school and their normal routines until the Winter Break comes.

Ownership vs. Stewardship

  • Posted on November 17, 2014 at 10:00 AM

In the United States, we have a culture that perpetuates an ownership mentality. We own a lot of stuff, we own our land, we own our rights, and according to some people we even own our jobs. With ownership comes a sense of entitlement: we have the final say, we make the decisions, we can use what we own however we want. We have many rights, but we recognize few responsibilities. The world owes us a lot, but we don’t owe anyone anything.

In contrast, quite few of the cultures we interact with practice a stewardship mentality. The stewardship mentality generally takes the longer view. According to this perspective, we don’t own much of anything, regardless of property laws, because these things will last longer than we will. This is particularly important with regards to land usage and community. The stewardship mentality recognizes fewer rights and many more responsibilities. Namely, as stewards, we have the responsibility to take care of—not simply use and certainly not use up—our property.

As I’ve said, I’ve been reading First Things First by Stephen Covey and the Merrills, and the issue of stewardship was brought up regarding the roles we choose. Then, after reading this, I watched a news clip about a child that was accidentally vaccinated by the school. In this clip, one of the guest speakers—I don’t remember who—was talking about how parents have the right to decide when and if a child is vaccinated. On the surface, I agreed with her. Personally, I don’t think schools should be vaccinated children at all—it blurs the lines of governmental authority too much for my taste. But, as I listened to her, I couldn’t help but hear the ring of ownership in her voice as spoke about parenting her child.

This isn’t atypical in the United States. Among the many things our culture tells us we own, we’re told we own our kids. This idea has been with us since the founding of our nation and it lingers to this day, though we have made inroads in recognizing our children as people with human rights of their own.

For centuries, parents enjoyed the right to treat their children however they saw fit. Slowly, over time, the rights of parents have eroded. Once upon a time, parents could decide whether or not their children worked or went to school. Then, school attendance became more or less mandatory. Once upon a time, parents could decide how their children were punished. Then, certain forms of punishment were labeled abuse and outlawed. Once upon a time, parents could decide whether or not their children were vaccinated. Then, vaccinations became more or less mandatory. Once upon a time, parents could decide whether or not their children received medical attention. Then, medical care became more or less mandatory.

While there is a part of me that resists the encroachment of government on individual rights, mostly I agree with these shifts, because I firmly believe that children are people with rights of their own. (Though, I can’t help but comment that it seems ironic that as our “old” rights are being eroded, we now have the “new” right to kill our children via abortion, a mentality that I suspect also leads to tragedies like this.)

When it comes to our children, our rights as parents cannot and should not outweigh our responsibilities to our children. This is stewardship, not ownership. We have the right to make decisions, but we have the responsibility to consider our children’s interests when making those decisions. We have the right to direct the courses of their young lives, but we have the responsibility to raise them into people who can choose their own paths. We have the right to resist social and even legal/governmental norms, but we have the responsibility to base our resistance on the best interests of our children and not on our own convenience.

In the name of cultural diversity, we learn about other cultures and we are exposed to how those cultures are mixing with the dominant American culture. As a child, I learned a great deal about Dia de Muertos in the name of cultural diversity. I’ve acquired a smattering of other cultural nuances from my classroom instruction, too. But it wasn’t in school that I learned about the truly substantial differences in culture. It wasn’t in school that I learned the difference between Native American and dominant American attitudes towards land. It wasn’t in school that I learned the pervasive significance of “ancestor worship” traditions among Asian cultures. It wasn’t in school that I learned that there are people whose views of the world are so completely and utterly different from our own that we cannot help but miscommunicate and misunderstand each other. What I learned in school in the name of cultural diversity was decidedly trivial, so as to not even open up the opportunity for us lowly students to challenge the norms of the dominant culture.

As much as I love this country (most of the time), there are things we need to learn from others, and it’s not simply to respect holidays that are different from our own. In grade school, I learned that America takes pride in being the melting pot of so many different peoples. In college, I learned that America could more accurately be described as a salad, because we all don’t end up with the same culture or the same world views and belief systems once we’re mixed together. The irony, which I didn’t learn in school, is that “America” is itself an arrogant misnomer. Canada and Mexico are part of “America,” too. So is the entirety of South America. We may be the United States of America, but “America” is not our own to claim. But the dominant culture does not want to be challenged. People en masse don’t want their minds to be opened to ideas that make them question themselves and their beliefs. We don’t want to learn the truly important things.

The United States has the potential to be that melting pot of yore. But it is not done by making everyone who comes here melt into some longstanding norm. We’ve already figured out that that really doesn’t work—thus, we say “salad” instead “melting pot.” But the melting pot ideal isn’t, by itself, wrong. We have the potential to take the best of the cultures of the world and to melt these “bests” into something truly exceptional, something truly ideal. What if we could combine the Protestant work ethic with the longer, sustainable view of land held by Native American cultures? What if we could honor our history while working cooperatively for a better future? What if we could balance freedom with responsibility, liberty with equality, self-determination with self-restraint?

What if we treated our children with the respect, dignity, and humility they deserve from us? What if we raised our children to balance their rights with their responsibilities? What if we were the kind of parents who made the world a better place simply by sending our children out into the world?

We don’t own our children. They aren’t “ours” do with as we please. We are stewards of our children and stewards of our future. We have the power to shape our children into people we will be proud to know, people who will make the world a better place simply by living their lives. We have this power because we can look beyond our own culture and embrace the best of the cultures we discover amongst others.

A Matter of Instinct

  • Posted on August 22, 2014 at 10:00 AM

As Willy makes his way through adolescence, I can’t help but notice that he’s definitely a guy. I’m not talking about physical attributes here. This has nothing to with his Adam’s apple, body hair, or body size. I’m talking about the behavioral instincts that are surfacing.

Don’t get me wrong. Willy’s always been competitive. In the past, however, Willy’s competitiveness has always come across as an aspect of how he feels about himself: He took the words “winner” and “loser” far too seriously and would do almost anything to be recognized as the “winner.” Over time, we were able to address the root problem and teach him better gamesmanship. Still, there was always a part of Willy that sought out external validation.

Recently, I’ve been witnessing something entirely different. Just short of beating his chest like a gorilla, Willy has been exhibiting very masculine behaviors. I’m talking about the I’m-going-to-keep-pushing-until-I-impress-the-girl kind of behaviors. The only problem is that I’m the only girl here and that Alex and Ben are (usually) not seen as the primary threats. So, yeah, things are getting uncomfortably Freudian.

Last week, after Will kept pushing over something really stupid while Mark was actually trying to teach him something, i.e. not trying to engage in one-upmanship, I just had enough. Without going into anything Freudian (though Mark just had to bring it up), I explained to Willy what he was doing, why he was doing, and why I was definitely not the right person to impress. Then, I explained to him as best as I could that, despite the very male instinct he was displaying, these behaviors rarely really worked.

Maybe it’s just me, but I have never changed my opinion about a guy one iota (at least, not in a positive direction) because he won some sort of machismo contest with another guy. Who can dunk a better basket? I don’t really care, but if I had to guess I’d say Michael Jordan. Who can arm wrestle best? I’d guess the Hulk. Not the Hogan guy, either. I’m going with the green one. Who can beat the video game faster? Um. I’d guess the guys who designed it.

“No, no,” they’d tell me, “between us!”

I never got the point of these episodes until I got to college. It’s not that college boys made this any clearer; it’s just that I studied more human behavior in college. I remember raising my hand—I don’t know if it was my first psych class or the class on human sexuality—and asked, “Does this ever really work?” The professor (who was a guy) smiled, shook his head, and said, “But that doesn’t keep us from trying.” He went on to explain that it was genetically coded precisely because there was (must have been?) a time in human history or human evolution when it really did work.

I understand that, from the points of view of anthropologists and evolutionists, this “must” be the case, but I have to wonder if it isn’t just as plausible that human psychology was just as messed up back then as it is now. Guys did it because they thought it worked, just like guys still do it because, on some level, they’re sure it will.

Now that it’s my own son it’s ceased to be the least bit amusing. And I do NOT want to hear about Freud! After all, the dude thought young women “fantasied” about their fathers molesting them, because he couldn’t acknowledge that the fathers of respectable families could really be sexually abusing their daughters. Um, yeah. That’s credibility for you!

Alex’s Visit

  • Posted on August 15, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Sunday was a work day. It wasn’t supposed to be, but I stayed up late into Sunday morning getting things done. Then, I slept until Sunday afternoon. When I woke up, I went right to my prayer journaling, then my independent studies, then to work. Alex only saw me on bathroom breaks. I’d give him a kiss on the forehead, untangle myself from his pinching fingers, and be on my way. I didn’t like it much better than he did, but at least I understood it. Alex was just plain frustrated with me.

Then, my mom came over. Willy ran down to tell me she was here. I was in the middle of something and didn’t want to have to start all over, so I kept going. Then, a while later, Alex peeked his head into my doorway. He saw me, smiled, and came into my den.

I guess he thought, If Will can go down and see Mama, then I can, too! “Hi, Alex,” I said. He took that as an invitation. He closed the door behind him and looked carefully around my den. I watched him while I kept working, and let him have his look. I’m just glad I took the cobwebs down first, because he looked everywhere. He’d made his way around my five bookcases and was coming back to take a better look at my desk & table workstation when Mark opened the door.

“I came to get Alex,” he said. He seemed a little surprised to see that I was fine with Alex being in my den. I didn’t bother telling him that, since Alex doesn’t talk, he wasn’t trying to engage me in conversation to distract me from my work.

Alex didn’t need much. He just wanted to be where I was and look at what I was doing. That was enough for him. Then, when I came upstairs and said “Hi” to my mom, I made sure I gave Alex lots of attention. Unfortunately, the rest of the day’s problems weren’t so easy to solve. Sunday was a painful day that forced me to stay up late…again.

Self-Stimulation

  • Posted on July 28, 2014 at 10:20 AM

From the outside looking in, perseveration can look upsetting. Imagine Alex, a fourteen year old boy, waking himself up at 5 in the morning so he can get the first crack at the computer. For two or three hours—however long it takes for someone else to wake up and take a turn—he’ll sit, stand, bounce, and jump in front of the computer to the sound of the VeggieTales theme song. The clip lasts from one to three minutes, depending on the version he finds on YouTube, and he watches it over and over and over again. Occasionally, he’ll move to different versions of it. Sometimes he’ll even move on to different songs, like “The Hairbrush Song.” Rarely, he’ll watch a whole episode.

Alex “stims” on VeggieTales. “Stim” refers to self-stimulation, which is an outside-looking-in coinage of autistic behavior. Basically, the implication is that the person is providing him or herself with stimulation, and that this is somehow unusual.

Think about that for a moment. When I was growing up, all the parents—not just mine—were always encouraging us kids to “amuse ourselves.” You’d hear parents of typically developing children encourage the same thing now, except that it’s so much easier to do when we provide our kids with technological devices like Wiis and smartphones, so “amuse yourself” barely takes any encouragement at all. Instead, we hear parents complain that their children are too connected.

Therefore, one must conclude that self-stimulation isn’t the problem. This leads to the obvious assumption that the unusual nature of autistic self-stimulation is the perceived problem and that, because it’s unusual, it is somehow damaging or destructive.

So, let’s go back to Alex. If you interrupt him before he gets it all out of his system, he gets upset. When upset, he may bite his wrist. He may pinch others. He may pull at others, especially the person who displaces him in front of the computer. The problem here isn’t that his self-stimulation is atypical, nor even that he’s compulsive about it. The problem is his inability to cope constructively with being upset.

The thing that gets me is that it’s supposed to be self-stimulation. We all do it. It’s a normal behavior. But since autistic people aren’t “normal” people, the way they choose to stimulate themselves isn’t “normal,” either. And the point is…? They’re not trying to stimulate “normal” people, they’re trying to stimulate themselves, so why not just let them get on with it?

Let’s do some contrast. Mark is a compulsive Facebook user. He’s in groups. He even started his own group. He plays games. He chats with friends and strangers alike. He’s more social on Facebook than he is in “real” life. And, from the people I’ve seen out in the “real” world, these are perfectly normal behaviors. But they’re not behaviors I do, nor am I particularly empathetic to Mark’s compulsivity with Facebook. I just don’t get the attraction.

On the other hand, I like to watch television shows and movies on my computer. I’ll start and stop them in between doing my work. I’ll compulsively run through an entire television series in a matter of weeks, depending on how long the show lasted. Considering that Netflix and Hulu thrive on this trend, I know I’m not alone. It’s a perfectly normal compulsion. But they’re not Mark’s behaviors, nor is he particularly empathetic to my compulsivity with Netflix. He just doesn’t get the attraction.

We don’t get the attraction for Alex, either. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a “live and let live” thing. It’s self-stimulation!

The Importance of Being a Trustworthy Parent

  • Posted on July 25, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Assuming our children are verbal, we expect them to answer when we talk to them. We expect them to listen, to answer our questions, and to tell us the truth. We learn, over time, that our kids will lie upon occasion. We try to teach them the importance of honesty, of authority, of coming to us when they’re in trouble. Rarely, it seems, do parents stop to wonder whether they’re worthy of what they demand of their kids.

From the beginning, I was reluctant to teach my kids to believe in Santa Claus. I still remember learning the truth of that. I didn’t learn the truth about Saint Nicholas. I learned that Santa Claus was a lie that adults told to little children. I learned that the letters, the news broadcasts, and the presents were all lies. I’d already figured out that the guy at the mall couldn’t be the real Santa Claus. But to find out there was no such thing…

As I child, I believed in fantasy. I thought, maybe someday, maybe if I’m lucky, I’d get swept away into Narnia. Or maybe I’d discover my own magic world—there are lots of them—and I’d get to go there. Maybe I’d get to go any time I wanted to. Life was rough and I clung to this fantasy longer than most kids. I read A Wrinkle in Time and the books that came after it, and I thought that maybe if I had my own magical, transformative experience I’d turn out alright, too.

When bad things happened to me when I was a child, I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t tell them, because I didn’t trust them. Would they blame me for what happened? I got blamed for things that weren’t my fault all the time. Would they believe me? They didn’t always. Would they be honest with me about the consequences? Would I ever really know what would happen next? I didn’t know what to do, but I didn’t know what they would do either. How would they react? What would happen to me? I didn’t trust them. So, I didn’t tell them, even when I needed them.

I wasn’t completely alone. I didn’t keep everything to myself. But I didn’t tell any adults either. I told other children and we coped with each other’s problems, helping each other as best we could. I remember what that was like. I remember what had happened to me and how I dealt with it. The truth is that the events of my childhood almost destroyed me. Not only did I get myself in situations where I could have been killed and in situations where other people wanted to kill to protect me, but I nearly killed myself. I seriously considered it. And the only reason I didn’t is because I knew two people in my life would miss me too much if I did. Neither of them were my parents.

I remembered these events and I decided to tell my children the truth. I told them that Santa Claus was for pretend and that it was alright to pretend. I made it perfectly clear that it was perfectly okay with me if they wanted to believe in Santa Claus, but that they didn’t have to. I taught them the difference between what’s real (like a brother) and what’s pretend (like a story or a toy). I told them that they could play pretend, but that it was just pretend. My children—autistic though they were, disillusioned though I was—learned to play pretend just fine. They didn’t lose any of the magic of their childhood. But they knew the truth. And they knew I would tell them the truth if they asked me.

Being trustworthy isn’t easy. We’re socialized to shade the truth. We’re indoctrinated with the “goodness” of white lies. We’re taught to fudge the details, to shape arguments to our advantage, to shape opinions to be like our own. We’re taught that charisma and glamor are qualities to have and to believe in, to follow. And then we have to break down these socialized tendencies and tell the truth, even when it’s hard, even when it’s uncomfortable or unpleasant or even “unnecessary.”

It’s not that my children don’t lie to me. Each of my children who know how to talk has learned how to lie, whether they lie well or poorly. And they do lie. But, when it really matters, when it’s really important, they know they can tell the truth, no matter how hard it is, and they know they’ll get my help and that they’ll have input on what kind of help they get. In other words, my children know they can trust me—even the teenagers—because they know I’m worthy of their trust.

The Importance of Respecting the Personhood of Your Children

  • Posted on July 23, 2014 at 10:00 AM

You make love and you make a baby. For nine months, that baby grows in his or her mother’s womb. The baby is born. The mother holds the baby. The father holds the baby. They laugh, they cry, they rejoice together. Their love has made another life. This is their baby.

This is a common enough scene and a common enough sentiment. I know I’m fiercely territorial when it comes to my children. You try to hurt them and you discover that this mama bear’s got claws and teeth. I’ll shred you to bits if I have to in order to protect my children.

There’s a difference between these two sentiments. It’s subtle, but important. It’s one not enough parents seem to make.

A territorial parent will:

  • Protect their children,
  • Nurture their children,
  • Provide for their children, and
  • Make a home for their children.

Some of us go to extreme lengths to achieve these goals. We seek to guide our children and imbue them with the morals and values we believe in. We shape and mold our children, like clay, into the adults we’d like them to become.

A possessive parent will:

  • Protect their interests in their children,
  • Develop their interests within their children,
  • Provide their children with the things they wanted as children, and
  • Make a life for their children.

These parents may go to extreme lengths to make their children into the people they’d like them to be, and that’s often people like themselves. They seek to order their children’s lives and imprint them with the morals and values they believe in. They shape and chisel away at their children, like stone, to shape them into the adults they’d like them to become.

Children are not property. They aren’t possessions. They are human beings. They are individual, little people who grow into individual, big people. They have thoughts, feelings, and dreams that are all their own. Someday they will have the power to leave you. When that day comes the only reasons they have to stay in your life is because: 1) they love you, 2) they respect you, or 3) they’re too afraid to do without you.

Personally, I’d rather be loved, though I hope to be respected as well. I have no desire to be feared—by anyone, least of all my own children.

I’m a territorial parent. I’m active in my children’s lives and I feel a welcome obligation to be present, both for their sakes and for society’s sake. But I am not a possessive parent. As much as I say they’re my children, I do not consider them property. I do not own my children. They are my own, but I do not own them. The difference is subtle, yet important.

I look around and I see possessive parents, parents who are trying desperately hard to make their children into mini versions of themselves or to shape them into who they wanted to be but couldn’t be. You see this in upper class parents who demand their children live up to the family name. You see this in aspirational parents who demand their children be all they can be. You see this in impoverished parents who tell their kids to be realistic if they say they want to be doctors or presidents. You see this in gang families that expect their kids to get into the biz. You see this in sexually-abused single mothers who allow their young daughters to be sexually abused, too. You see this in families who take desperate measures to convince their self-announced gay child to be “straight.” And you see this in families where typically-developing parents take desperate measures to force their atypically-developing child to be “normal.”

History is on their side. It’s only relatively recently that children were recognized as people having rights and those rights aren’t fully developed yet. We still talk about “Tiger Moms” and wonder if it’s a good thing. There’s debate and discussion. It’s not clear to many how these behaviors show that the parent is dictating to the child who the child should be—not what, as in a doctor or a lawyer, but who.

Our children are people. They will grow into adults. What are you doing to make sure that the children around you have a chance to grow into people you want to be around and who will want to be around you?

A Look Forward

  • Posted on July 18, 2014 at 10:00 AM

As the boys grow older, there are some things that are hard to ignore. Their bodies are maturing and we need to help them understand that. They’re heading for major life transitions and we need to develop a plan for what their lives will look like after school. There are choices to make, services to acquire, and things to set in motion.

These things are difficult in the sense that they consume time and energy. They need to be planned and those plans need to be led, not by Mark or me, but by our children who will be living those plans—for better or worse. These things are easy in the sense that there are choices, paths, and opportunities. We can do something about these things.

Sometimes thoughts sneak up on me that I did not expect. Earlier this week, as I was talking with our friend about her young children, it occurred to me that we might someday have a similar discussion about our children’s children. If scientists are to be believed, the human race—like every other species on earth—has a natural impetus to reproduce. The mating process encourages survival of the fittest. If all that is true, then there seems to be a lot of unanswered questions, like how “fitness” is decided and why social structures perpetuate qualities that do not seem to be in the best interest of the species.

Personally, I believe man-made science seeks to explain what God already understands, because God created a system that truly works. I know, despite our best efforts, we’ll never completely understand how the universe works, because we have finite minds and a system like the universe works on levels far beyond what we can grasp. As an example, what are the full implications of light that can act as both a particle and a wave? Why must light be both a particle and a wave to serve its purpose?

Whether or not my children have children of their own isn’t going to be determined by science or who is fittest, but by the choices they make and what God wills for them. That’s what I believe. Yet I think there’s something to that natural impetus. I’m too young for grandchildren, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want my children to be able to have children of their own. I think that should be between them and whoever they might conceive the child with. It’s not up to me, nor should it be. It’s not up to the government, nor should it be. It’s not up to society or any self-entitled group or person.

Unfortunately, human society has produced numerous people and groups that believe they should have the power to make those kinds of decisions. This results in dramatic, world-changing affairs like the Holocaust and the other genocides that have been committed in the name of various forms of purity—as if any kind of purity could be acquired by drenching the earth in human blood. This also results in less dramatic, but equally evil affairs like forced sterilization and denial of reproductive rights.

I can influence many things about my children’s future. I can fight with every ounce of my being that eugenics does not prevail. Yet I know that this silent, hidden enemy is alive and well and plays a very current, if less dramatic role, in contemporary society. I don’t want to look into the future and see this possibility, but denial doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Recovery-In-Progress

  • Posted on July 9, 2014 at 10:00 AM

So, I went to my post-surgery check-up, but the surgeon wasn’t there. I don’t know why I thought he would be. Instead, I met with another assistant. She checked out my incisions, but other than that the check-up was all verbal. I told her what I had experienced, good and bad, with my recovery thus far. She was pleased with my progress.

Her informed assessment, however, was something of an obvious conclusion. I’ve had too much stress. On the one hand, my life is stressful. This is seen as being particularly true whenever I bring up the boys. I brought up the boys to make the point that I’ve spent too much time putting their health (and educational) needs first; and that I’ve been putting my own health on the backburner for far too long. Her point was “Wow, three with autism, that’s got to be stressful all by itself.” Hm. Yes, I suppose it is, but not nearly as much as people might think, especially now that we’ve figured out what works for them.

On the other hand, she also made a point of stating that my body has been under particular stress lately. My crash or flare up, my diagnoses, my sleep issues, and now surgery – there is absolutely no “wondering why” I’m physically fatigued. No matter how much I may want to accelerate this process, and just be better already so I get back to things that matter, the fact is that my body is still healing, still recovering, and that this matters, too.

There’s so much I want to do…but if I focus on that, instead of on what I can actually do right now in this given moment, then I just add to my stress unnecessarily. For some, this might seem self-evident and obvious. For me, it’s kind of revolutionary. My idea has generally been: “Get through this as quickly and thoroughly as possible, so I can get on to the next thing.” It’s not that I am in such a hurry that I forsake quality, because that isn’t effective. It’s that I’m so focused on doing as much as possible that I’m actually reducing what I’m capable of because too much of my energy and focus is spent worrying over or planning for things I can’t do yet.

Here I am trying to recover, trying to build my capacity, and I’m eroding my good intentions with unnecessary stress. [Grumble, grumble.] I swear I’m going to get this balance thing right one of these days.

Ben’s Happiest Time

  • Posted on July 4, 2014 at 10:00 AM

When Alex leaves the house, the Ben comes out to play. This is not to suggest that Ben doesn’t play when Alex is in the house or that Ben doesn’t play when he goes out of the house. Ben is a typical kid, at least in the sense that he can play wherever he is and will do so without the least bit of encouragement (as long as you don’t account “typical play” as the only kind of play).

Still, it’s hard to say who enjoys Alex’s respite time more. Alex has a blast, whether he goes with his respite therapist or whether he goes with my mom. Ben has a blast because Alex is gone. They both enjoy their time away from each other.

Now, when things are reversed and Ben is out of the house, Alex enjoys Ben’s time away, too. The difference is that Alex, while having more fun than usual, is also calmer than usual. He doesn’t have to worry about Ben bursting in on the scene and stealing his fun away. When Alex is gone, Ben has his fun without trying to be the least bit calmed by it.

I swear, these boys’ ability to aggravate each other is epic. The term “epic” has become so overused I’m pretty sure it’s not “cool” any longer; but really, there is definitely something epic about the Ben/Alex battle. There is the typical sibling rivalry, of course: They like many of the same movies, toys, and activities, but don’t want to share them with each other. It’s more than that, though.

Alex exacerbates Ben’s sensory issues. Ben exacerbates Alex’s sensory issues. They have mutually exclusive coping strategies. Ben’s been such a bully for so long that Alex has given up the nice-guy routine and let’s loose on him. Ben is more vicious, but Alex is bigger. Alex still loses unless he’s willing to go all out; luckily, he has a genuinely gentle nature; unfortunately, that means Ben wins more often. It’s sibling rivalry on autism and I don’t like it.

So, Ben’s happiest time is when Alex leaves and my happiest time is when they’re both having fun, even though it happens when one of them isn’t here. It’s not that I want one or the other out of the house; it’s just that I want them to be happy—both of them at the same time.

Summer’s going great, let me tell you.