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The Shadows of Genetic Shades

  • Posted on June 14, 2012 at 8:00 AM

When Mark and I married and began our family together, we didn’t know we were likely to produce autistic offspring.  We did, however, know—between my history of depression and Mark’s bipolar disorder—we were likely to see ourselves in our children, in the form of depression at least, and probably mania, too.  (It wasn’t until after we were married that we realized I brought anxiety into the mix as well.)

As our boys grew, there were signs that were indicative of what was to come.  Alex would get wound so tight—between anxiety and hints of mania—that his emotions burst out for lack of effective opportunities of expression.  Willy’s emotions would swing—from elated to morose and back again—with such rapidity it would be hard to predict from moment to moment whether he’d be crying or telling me I was the best mother in the world and his day was great.

Up until recently these feelings—these uncontrollable emotional swings—had a juvenile innocence to them that took off the edge.  Yes, anxiety, depression, and mania in children can be severe and painful, but in our boys it was relatively mild—enough to be present, but not enough to be too worrisome.

Then came puberty with all its changes, imbalances, and turmoil.  For both Mark and I, puberty was a major trigger, though the signs were apparent a bit earlier with Mark.  It seems this is true for Willy, too—and probably Alex, though he’s not quite there yet.

Knowing it was likely, even knowing it was coming, helps I’m sure, but not by much.  Having an intimate familiarity with depression helps us to be more understanding, but at the same time it seems to make the ache of watching it blossom in our son all the worse—at least for me.

I want to wrap Willy in my arms and make the hurt go away, but I know I can’t.  I do what I can, knowing it won’t be enough, knowing that for all I can do I cannot fight this battle for him.  I watch and I ache for my son and I ache all the more knowing that when it passes this time around, it’ll come back again and again and again.

The shadow of depression stretches over us.  The shades brought about by our genetic heritage dance in the overarching gloom.  I wait.  I love.  I help.  I ease.  But I cannot dispel the shades that tear away my son’s happy smiles, leaving a tired flatness in their place.  But I trust that the spring will return to his steps and the smiles will wreath his face in delight once more—for a time.

Establishing New Morning Routines

  • Posted on September 12, 2011 at 4:05 PM

There are a lot of new routines involved with the start of a new school year. Sometimes these are really old routines that we have to re-establish. This year, however, there’re some new elements to our morning routines.

Puberty does some interesting things to the body: hair growth, increased sweating, acne, greasy hair. Nighttime bathing used to be adequate. Now, Willy needs daily showers and taking them before bed just doesn’t cut it. I remember enough about my own middle school experience to know that, while Willy hasn’t run into any bullying yet, being the “stinky” one wouldn’t help his chances. So, even though Willy hasn’t gotten to the point where he takes particular care of his appearance (if he ever does), we’re adding showering to his morning routine.

In the past, Alex has usually been the one I get up first. Now, Ben is usually the one ready to go in the morning. Plus, since Willy’s bus comes first this year, Ben comes after Willy is almost completely ready. Add that change to the change in bus schedule and this means Ben is usually completely ready long before his bus arrives. It’s been difficult for Ben to know what to do. After all, he’s awake, he’s dressed, his shoes and backpack are on, maybe he’s even eaten something. And then, what? He’s just supposed to wait. But Ben doesn’t like waiting. Ben likes doing. So, if the bus isn’t just going to show up because he’s all ready, then what’s he to do?

The first few days of this, Ben decided that he should go outside and get in the van (not that he made it that far), so I could drive him to school. After all, the bus obviously wasn’t coming or it would have been here already. (This has happened a few times over the years, and once already this year, for various reasons.) Unfortunately, trying to keep Ben inside means I have less attention to finish getting the other boys ready.

Today Ben was a little more tired than usual, but I think we finally have the routine established that Ben should, in the event that he’s ready before the bus comes, do something else—like play or color or something. Last Friday went well, today went well and I’m hopeful we can keep it up.

So my advice to my fellow parents is this: New routines can be stumbling blocks, but you have to give your kids time to adjust and communicate the changes so they know what to expect. Stick with it, and before you know it the morning routines will go by (almost) smoothly!