Tuesday, August 30, 2016

From the spectrum.

I read a thing a while back that described the autism spectrum as being not linear, but a full circle where various behaviours and traits might inhabit certain quadrants and a person might display a high degree of one element and none of another. It took me a while to wrap my head around, but it actually makes a lot of sense too.

Both of my sons are on the spectrum, but because they present so differently and my older son is 'higher functioning' I find it easy to forget sometimes that I need to apply the same processes in terms of communicating effectively with him as I do my younger son. I '' the term higher functioning deliberately, because whilst my younger sons ticks a lot more boxes in terms of what we might think of as autistic traits, both of my boys cope well in the world and have developed their own individual skills and coping strategies that help them make sense of what goes on around them and if I think of the spectrum as a circle I can see where the autistic elements that contribute to my older boyo's diagnosis differ enormously from those of my little mate.

If you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person hey?

A few weeks ago the fifth anniversary of my smaller boy's diagnosis slipped by without any fanfare but not unremembered either.

I will never forget that day as long as I live. Sitting with my Mum after his appointment and feeling so overwhelmed and so scared, even though I had known that something was amiss for a really long time.

I couldn't have imagined him being where he is now. His little sister's babyhood was spent being carted around to various therapies, I can barely remember a lot of it which makes me sad but it is a story that many autism families know so well. It wasn't really until he attended a specialist kinder that my boy even started speaking, but you would never guess that was the case to spend time with him today.

He turns 8 in a couple of weeks. He is all arms and legs and elbows and knees. I see him at school running around with his little gang of mates, go go go with no apparent aim but just running because that is what they do. He has low muscle tone which has always been the case, but he's displayed an amazing ability for endurance running... we've been at his brother's footy training and I've watched him run lap after lap of the oval at a consistent, comfortable pace. It is like he switches to autopilot - I hope it is something we can help foster as he gets older that might give him some escape from the business of making sense of the world every day.

He is doing well academically. He has an individual learning plan and I meet with his teacher and support staff regularly to reassess his goals. We are so blessed to be at the school that we are - the support he receives is second to none and I've watched his abilities skyrocket over the past year.

Living with my son is like being on a rollercoaster sometimes. We laughingly refer to his cyclic behaviours as the 'full moon effect' but there's an element of truth in there as well. For a week or so out of every four he glazes over somehow... it is harder to connect with him and we go back to having to slow down and focus on things like eye contact, deep pressure and repetitive tasks to help bring him back to himself.

We've had a couple of very autistic weeks in a row at present, which has almost felt a bit like mania on his part he has been so high. He is stimmy and has difficulty controlling himself physically. His speech is very fast and he's literally bouncing off the walls at home. It is tricky, but it is part and parcel of his delightful self and in a few weeks he may well be back in a much more calm state. I actually love that he saves this for home, and at school the only real indication that something has shifted is that he ceases eye contact and needs fiddly toys and the like during floor time. Given he works so hard to get through the day in a fairly contained way, it's no great surprise that we see the explosion of emotion and energy at home.

Most of all though, as always, he is my beautiful son. People fall in love with him easily because he is an easy kid to love. He has an infectious smile, he says the most hilarious things, he is affectionate and loyal and so much fun to be around.

Five years ago I was so scared of what autism would mean for my family. Today I know that I would not change a thing. Both of my sons will do great things in the world, and maybe they will be things that a neurotypical person would never even think to do.

They are ausome.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

In between.

My oldest child is a teenager. This happened nearly a month ago. It is excellent and frightening all at once. I spend a lot of time thinking about the challenges he (and the others) face in terms of traversing the brave new world of social media whilst going through all the physical and emotional upheaval that lies ahead. We have had some pretty open conversations about all sorts of uncomfortable things, but they are conversations we have to have because I'm not so naive as to think he is somehow the exception to the rule when it comes to what teenagers are exposed to online, nor can I assume there aren't things being sought out by his peers and shared around.

Specifically I feel like the most important conversation for us to have is around consent. Like I said, it is uncomfortable. It would be so much easier to assume it is other peoples kids... other peoples problems. But I have two sons and two daughters, and all of them need to understand both the short and long term ramifications of their decisions. It kind of sucks for them really. When I was a teenager I made stupid, damaging decisions but the worst I had to deal with was other people knowing about it and living it down, whilst trying to reconcile my vision of who I actually wanted to be with how I was behaving.

I didn't have to worry about a friend or teacher or parent coming across a picture of me online that I may not have even known was taken. I didn't have to think about how a split second decision to publish something online at 14 might lead to an employer deciding not to hire me twenty years later.

I'm so conscious of the digital footprint my kids will develop. I've always been pretty careful with my own along with what I share of them and I am sure I haven't always gotten it right.

The thing I find most offensive in the circular conversations I see though is the parent judgement... the immediate assumption that a teenage boy (or girl) making a stupid decision must have done so because of lacklustre parenting. It is so easy to assume it must be someone else's kid.

They aren't all someone else's kid though. They are not in a vaccuum; the seeking of online gratification and the sharing of photos between peers. It starts somewhere, and there's a good chance it might even start with your kid.

Hence the consent conversation, and the constant discussion of internet longevity that we have at our place. Consent for obvious reasons - things are going to happen that I won't necessarily like but at least I can reiterate often the need for them to happen consensually. Longevity because the sexist/racist/bigoted/stupid facebook update you post thoughtlessly today may be the thing your prospective employer stumbles across while doing some research on you in years to come, or the thing that a friend sees and is hurt by and judges your character by for the rest of your relationship.

I think being scared is kind of warranted but not terribly useful. I'd rather have discussions that make my kid cringe than live in some kind of bubble where I assume this shit just doesn't happen.

Parenting. Can't say I saw this bit coming way back in 2003 when he was born, and it makes me wonder what discussions we will be having in 2029 when our new baby is the same age.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A funny thing happened on the way to growing up...

I could write a novel to describe the past two years, but I won't.

I will say that where I thought I could compartmentalise, and box things up neatly, and start over without so much as a backwards glance, I was wrong.

I've had access to this blog having set it to private, and would visit now and again rereading the life stories I shared, and remembering the unwritten life stories going on in the background.

I changed my names. I changed my life. My existence today could not be further removed from where it was the last time I posted here, and yet with all those changes and all the attempts to close off the past it seems I took me with me.

I've tried writing in that time but stumbled again and again. I wondered if the words had left me, or if it was the knowledge that there are people who stalk my public social media with less than honourable intent that made me feel like silence was the only option.

Either way, here we are. I'm not interested in being silenced, so let's see if the words come back with some practice huh?

I'm republishing the last three posts I shared here for the sake of some context, or perhaps just for the sake of my own vanity. The rest will remain private because whilst I am doing the emotional work I need to right now, it is my work to do and I guess I want to see this as a way forward rather than a rearview mirror.

I'm also republishing the recipes I shared here because I've been asked about Monkey Balls and the BEST BROWNIES EVAH enough times since unpublishing to think there may be some value to some people if I do that. Related: in the Monkey Balls recipe I mention my 8 year old son. THAT KID IS 13 NOW. And the years go rolling on.

I wonder what will happen next?

Monday, September 22, 2014


It's a strange beast, the marathon.

I understand now why people compare it to childbirth. Not just because it can take a long time (my first marathon this weekend just gone took 4:26, longer than two of my births) or because it really really hurts, but because afterwards even while you are nursing your wounds, you kind of think yeah I would do that again.

Which is just as well, given I'm meant to be doing exactly that in three weeks time. I'm still not sure if that's inspired or insanity, to be honest.

Anyway the marathon. I wanted to write some things down before I forgot about them.

The Sydney marathon is really quite hilly, which pretty much sucked after around 20kms. I don't know Sydney at all well, but we ran through some really pretty spots and some not pretty spots and over the bridge and all that good stuff.

I'm sure a number of people had cottoned on to the fact that I was preparing to run the full marathon with Zoey, although I've been SUPER careful in all my updates not to LIE about not doing the half but not to let on about the full either. A 36km training run for a half is kind of excessive though.

We ran our first half together at the same event last year, and when I went to register for the half this year I just had a moment of madness I guess, and hit the full marathon rego button instead.

We've written a bit before our friendship and competitiveness and that kind of thing, but there was not one moment of this race where there was any question of either of us running our first marathon any other way. Each step we took, we took together.

I was not prepared for the level of pain in the last few kilometres, especially when we realised we could come in under 4:30 and really smashed out the last couple (as much as anyone can smash anything out after running 40kms). And the thing that struck me most was the mind game of it all. I spent most of the time running 3kms to the next water station and not thinking in numbers any bigger than that because to be honest, it is kind of scary.

Afterwards, when it was done, I took a moment to acknowledge that 42.2kms is a really really long way. I used to share a staffroom with a maths teacher who would ride to school each day and it was probably that kind of distance. I thought he was crazy.

I am sure any number of people think I am crazy too now. That's okay, I think I like it.

It just feels like a really big deal to me. I started running two years ago. I quit smoking one year ago. I am not the same, and I am nothing special. I'm not particularly gifted, I'm not a natural athlete at all. I just decided to start. I'm a Mum and I'm a small business owner and I'm a coach and I'm a motivator and I'm a student and I am an ATHLETE.

I am kind of proud of myself. I like myself. I never used to. It feels good.

And if I can run a marathon, just imagine what else I can do?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What are you so scared of?

I had an epiphany today, because I jumped on a box.

I'm not even kidding.

There's a whole long back story, and I'm not going to tell it because I suspect many of you know it and probably even live it already. It is about self-limiting behaviour and lack of self-esteem and comparison and jealousy and discontent.

Those things we all have, but don't like to talk about because in our own little shiny spaces of the internet we like to maintain our sheen of apparent perfection... we share the highlights reel of our lives and hope it is glossy enough that people won't see through to the dark and dismal places underneath.

I didn't learn to run until I was nearly 36 because I simply did not believe my body was capable of it. I thought my knees were weak, my knees a bit crackly, I was not built the right way at all. I held onto those beliefs for so long because it was so much easier than trying and failing. It wasn't really about my legs at all, it was about my soul.

It was about fear.

I was scared of getting hurt. I was scared that I would look stupid. I was scared that people would see me and wonder what on earth an unco like me thought she was doing.

But eventually the deep dark got the better of me and I had to so SOMETHING so I took a leap of faith in the privacy of my own lounge on a beat up el cheapo treadmill and I started.

Once I had a bit of confidence I started running outdoors and realised really quickly that actually no one even cared what I was doing. The only people who ever seemed to even notice me were other runners, and there is this whole secret code amongst most runners that means you smile and/or wave when you pass another one because you both know the secret... that running makes you feel like a whole person.

My biggest fear though, the getting hurt one? Well that happened. A few times. And it hurt, but not as much as not being able to run hurt.

And something a bit magical happened this last time. I'm only just back on track with my training having damaged a tendon in my foot, but while I was unable to run I faced up to another big fear and I went and joined a Crossfit Box.

Since then I've done bootcamp a few times a week. And it has been AMAZING.

I don't love it in the same way that I love running, but I can't imagine not doing it now. I'm a convert, as my abs and arms will attest.

And so I come to the epiphany.

In bootcamp we often do box jumps, which is where you jump on a box. In case you were wondering.

I have always chosen to do step ups, because I have a serious phobia of box jumps. I am terrified of slipping off the edge and hurting myself. That self-limiting fear of incapability, back again to taunt me.

Today, I went and got one of the smaller boxes. In the first round I think I stared at it for a good 4 or 5 minutes without moving. I felt like my feet were glued to the ground and I felt like crying. Or just doing step ups like I usually would.

Eventually I screwed up the kind of courage it takes other people to leap out of a plane and I bent my knees and I jumped. I didn't land it perfectly, but I landed it. And I kept landing it, getting better each round.

Once again I discovered that when you do something that is truly frightening to you, it changes your self perception immediately.

Yes sure other people can do box jumps on to really high boxes with ease. But those people aren't me. I had let fear stop me from even trying though, and today I remembered that I can't do that and expect to grow as a person.

I hold back on so many things in life because I'm scared of getting hurt or of failing. But if I'd never gotten injured this last time, I would not have been in a position to jump on a box and rediscover that I can do really scary things. And that regardless of the outcome, just facing up to those scary things is enough to free your soul.

So what are you so scared of? Are you scared to learn to run? Are you scared to join a gym? Are you scared to apply for that job? Are you scared to talk to that guy/girl?

And what are you going to do about it?