Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Be Still, My Son Says

"Once I saw a little bird go hop, hop, hop, and I said little bird, will you stop, stop stop?", the nursery song sings on. It is lunchtime for Garret and he couldn't stop hopping in time with the beat. It does not just stop with the hopping, his right hand beats this way and that in the air "conductor-like". This goes on from track 1 of the CD until track 17. By the time we reached track 17, he scoops the last serving of his favorite bacon and rice.

I know what's going on in some of the readers' mind right now, "Isn't it lunch time? So why is he hopping? Aren't you supposed to teach him how to stay still and sit down until he finishes the entire course of his meal?" I've asked these questions too myself. I feel guilty, sure. But then, every time I see my son's utter joy and fascination plastered across his face, listening to his nursery songs, being in his joy bubble, I just cannot afford to burst it. Would you? Or maybe it's just me because I'm his mom. Moms, as you know are bound to give in. We are the saboteurs of our own discipline or for what is supposed to be for that matter. And I say this with a grin on my face. It's not that I don't take establishing rules and discipline seriously,it's because these are the times, I realize, that utter appreciation of the finer and perhaps best things in life overthrows the norms of letting him sit down during the entire meal. It is during these times that I just sit back and watch my son be in his happy place. It is during these times that I am strongly reminded how the joy plastered on my son's face reflects the joy I have bubbling inside me as well. And I am fiercely reminded that I am truly blessed and everything is going to be all right.

Music seems to be Garret's thing. He loves it. Correction, he absolutely loves hearing music. And not just nursery rhymes. His favorite is the Black Eyed Peas. Honest. He does. He dances to "Bebot" and Fergie's "Clumsy". Oh, he's recent favorite-- Walk off the Earth's rendition of "Someone that I Used to Know" and "Magic". Remember the intro part of the former resembles the tune of twinkle, twinkle little star. And he imitates the snare drums of the intro notes of "magic". And when he turns on our keyboard, he plunks the keys of twinkle twinkle little star. This is my son's joy. Music, rhythm, beat, melody. It gives him a certain, indescribable sense of peace and calmness. This is Garret's peace. When I see my little prince transform into this creature of pure energy, joy and calmness, I too am energized, happy and peaceful. When I say I too am energized, I sometimes join him in dancing or hopping or whatever movement he makes, much to his dismay and embarrassment. I say this because whenever I do dance, he covers his ears and whines and literally pushes me to sit back down. And we all laugh our hearts out. He does not want to see me dance. An honest kid, my Garret is. Loud and clear he is saying to me through his urgent gestures, " Mama, this is my moment. Just watch me. Besides, you're not really much of a dancer." So I relent smiling and sitting back down and watch my little prince do his thing. It is beautiful to watch. It is a wondrous thing to behold. It is peaceful, calming, energizing, food for my soul. During these times, Garret is teaching me just to sit down. And watch. And be silent. And be still. And just enjoy the moment. And hear the voice of the Universe telling me, " Be still and watch life unfold through your son."

Of course, I do understand how Garret should already learn to settle down and remain settled while eating. So maybe next time, I won't play his nursery rhymes CD. Or maybe I will. Because maybe, correction, most certainly, my son is not the one who needs to learn how to be still. :-)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Another Milestone and Lesson Learned

May 19, Saturday

So this morning, Garret and I went to the Center to have an hour of follow through activities. I always look forward to this since it gives me the chance to really bond with my son and see what is capable of doing in terms of his gross and fine motor skills and cognitive skills as well. But more than this, what I cherish the most is when we begin our session with the "hello" song. This is when he gazes at my face with the most adorable smile and cups my cheeks with his two little boy hands, pinches both my cheeks and shakes them from side to side all the while grinning. During this time the roles are reversed, he seems to be the adult fascinated by me and non-verbally being amused by my appearance. Or could it be that he's constantly reminding me in his own way, "You're doing a good job, Mama." I don't know which is which. But I would like to believe it's a combination of both. Either way, I feel almost like the child wanting to be validated and affirmed of everything I have ever done in my life, that what I have been doing for him and his brother, for our family, for the center, for the kids at the center for the parents-- are on the right track, all paved with good intentions and all followed through with deeds full of heart and sincerity. Especially now. So when I look at my son's grin from ear to ear and gazing at me making full eye contact, the peace of mind that I so seek finds me.

We went through the obstacle courses, jumping on the hopscotch rings, trampoline, crawling in the tunnel, climbing the stairs and finally the end tasks of pairing colors and shapes, and etc. Of which during the end task, he began to pick the wrong-colored object that I instructed him to get using the color flash card "blue" as a prompt. I asked, "Is this blue?", putting the green object beside the flashcard. Garret shook his head! I say this with an exclamation point because he never shakes his head to indicate "no". This was a milestone for us! Usually, when he refuses to do anything or does not like a task, his expression of refusal is the adamant verbal expression of "AH!", which could mean from "No, I don't want it to No, I can't do this, to I need help, to I am angry." It's up to me to decipher the meaning of Ah and to act on it. So, yes, I was so happy! My Garret can shake his head meaning No. He actually means no. He understands how the object he picked was the wrong color that I asked him to get. And he expressed the "incorrectness" of his response appropriately.

You must be wondering why I am going all gaga over this particular detail. Because for parents with neuro-typical kids, I'm sure the first word your child said was "no." and the first body language they have mastered was the shaking of the head to reiterate the word "no." So it's okay if you wonder. Because for me or for most parents whose children are on the spectrum, we know all too well that their language is impaired to some level, in one form or another. So when our children breaks through that impairment in even simply just one aspect, it means the whole world to us and for them as well. What it means for us parents, for me personally is that Garret has found a way to express what he wants to express. What it may mean for Garret is that the people around him can understand him a little bit better. So yes, again this is a cause for celebration. As we went on doing shape matching, when it came to his two favorite shapes- heart and star, he spontaneously said, "art" for heart and "kar" for star. Again, my heart leaped. Wouldn't yours too? We moved on to doing 4-6 piece puzzles, the horse puzzle was up. I said, "Garret, look, a horse!" And my little prince responded, "ors!". My heart was practically dancing this time.

What's interesting though is that Garret seems to only speak words that interest him the most. He may speak not really intending to communicate something but because he likes the sound of it or the object itself. Making a mental list now, other words that he has articulated before-- "ga-go" for bubbles and "water" for water. These are two things he most certainly has an interest in. Correction, has an overwhelming interest in. Obviously, when I try to ask him to repeat the words, heart, star, water he does not repeat it for me. Again, only if he likes it. I find this fascinating and at the same time mysterious much like all other aspects in autism. Garret seems to have a resolute mind of his own, a very honest one at that." If I don't like it, I will not do it." Very simple perspective.

A fellow mom commented to me one day while observing my interaction with my son as I was trying to guess what he toy he wanted me to get from one of the rooms at the center, "Hala, Ma'am no, daghana jud diay nimu angay tag-anon kung unsa ganahan ni Garret." (You really do have to anticipate many things just to figure out what Garret really wants." I responded, "Yes, I feel most of the times, I am almost psychic- clairvoyant." This is our everyday challenge-- for us to understand what our son needs, to take note of that, put it in our memory bank, to be mindful the next time a similar situation occurs so that we'll know what he wants and to communicate to him in a way that he understands whether what he wants he can have or not, whether the thing or activity that he wants to have or get is appropriate at the time. It's actually getting better everyday as he is learning many ways to communicate from Sped Class and therapy. And we can only be eternally grateful for his teachers.

As I always strive to learn from my son, I realize how much similar and at the same time more complicated the real world is. When I was in college, we had a psychology teacher who always repeated to us this adage, "Assume nothing." She said this almost like a mantra digging into our brains so we would get it properly absorbed in our pig-headed brains of 19-year old kids who knew nothing about the seriousness and importance of this adage. Guess what, for the past few weeks, it finally, FINALLY bore into my thick-headed skull. Everyday I anticipate my son's needs. Most of the times, I get it right. Dealing with children in general, correct me if I am wrong, but I think I may be fairly accurate in saying, as parents, we know what's best for our kids. So we assume and anticipate what they need. Now, dealing with adults, sometimes anticipation and assumption will SIMPLY not do. You have to ask them point-blank what they need, what they want. You have to lay all your cards on the table and let them decide if they are willing to take it. This is after all the basic rule of Human kind-- Individual Differences. Differing perspectives, mentality, outlook, values, priorities. Oh, dear, all the lessons in Psychology undergrad are barging in on me right now like a huge tidal wave. And even if circumstances of dire need and evidence of great results are on the table, even if in your heart of hearts, you were sincere and just wanted to help people, NEWSFLASH-- Sometimes, it is just simply not enough. We live in a complicated world filled with details and technicalities and most importantly varying ideologies so it's a really good idea to keep in mind NOT TO ASSUME ANYTHING, because, as what my psych teacher said before, "Assume nothing because assumption kills." Well, not literally of course, but right now, I think it may be killing my peace of mind. I don't know which is worse.

Anyway, enough with my rattling and now proceeding with the most essential point that I want to get across. At this particular point, I was slapped right across the face with a huge lesson. Let me explain it this way: When Garret wants something, he taps my arm and leads me to the object he wants. If it's out of his reach, I try to get as many objects as possible so he can choose the right object he wants. In the same manner, from now on, I will ask people point blank, as bluntly as possible what they want, present them with as many possible options, lay all the cards on the table until I get it right, until they can choose for themselves what they really want. After all, I cannot impose my values and perspectives on other people. I think this may be the greatest lesson right now. There are things that I simply cannot impose on my children. There are things to consider-- their body clock, their moods, their preferences, the sensory needs-- everything. Likewise, I simply cannot impose on other people. And I cannot assume that they share the same mentality and experience that I have. And this time, I have to make clear to them as well that their "no" really means no. And if possible, I would like to ask them to shake their heads, for added emphasis.

Stress, pain, conflict, problems is as they say, however cliche it may sound, are blessings in disguise. Because they can lead to change, betterment and improvement. It gives a chance to start anew. Start fresh. Clean slate. Ruin can lead to transformation-- values, ideologies, perspectives, everything. At the end of the day, the important thing is not to focus on your mistakes but on what you can do about it. Dwelling on what has happened doesn't really do you or does anybody good. As another parent encouraged me, " For as long as you have a goal and that goal is sincere, and genuine and for the good of the people and children you work with, then there is no reason for you not to push on, carry on." For as long as the lesson is learned, then all is well.

I bear all these thoughts, all the words that I've just written right now on my mind as I lay on my boys' bed, Morgan's head on my lap, Garret's on my belly. Garret turns to gaze at me smiles. Morgan as usual, stares at me with a frown on his face. Both of them, as if, saying, " Mama, everything's going to be fine." and " Stop brooding and start acting, Mama."

This time, I would like to assume, that what I think they're trying to say from their facial expressions are both true.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Finding My Joy

It's been four weeks that I've written anything. And a good four weeks it has been. Unplugging has been good for my mind, my heart and soul. One amusing realization I had in the four weeks abstinence of even just opening the computer is that I can actually survive without facebook. ha ha.Or so I thought. Why else would I be back now writing this post? Seriously though, I found myself having all this time to think, to reflect, to ponder (ug sa bisaya pa, maghinuktok ug maghinuklog). It's really refreshing. Oh, and I rediscovered my heaven-- books! Books piled up in the corner just waiting for months to be read were finally given attention. I pored over them with a voracious appetite. It was time to refill the tank. My brain was just about empty and was in dire need of input, soul food, inspiration. "Me" time. A friend called it "selfish day", a closer friend called it "finding our own paths." Whatever circumstances brought this, I am just thankful. Now I was really forced to sit down and do nothing-- for my material mind but everything for my soul.

As I write this, the water running to and fro from our koi pond is the background music that accompanies me as I plunk on the noisy keys of the keyboard. Our koi, by the way have really grown big and the colors of the smaller ones are now more pronounced. Including their species--we're beginning to think the smaller ones are not really koi. We gave away Spar, our hammerhead shark to a friend since Garret relentlessly plays in the pond, kicking the water with all his might. Afraid that Spar might finally react violently, we thought it safer to give him away. Garret, by the way finally lost his other front tooth. For several weeks he looked so funny with the bucktooth face, his other tooth sticking out like that. Now he's back to his princely charmingly cute face. Morgan, on the other hand has a new-found love for carrot sticks and beans. (yes, blanched carrots and beans--"batong"). He munches on them like bugs bunny. Oh and he can eat two large french fries ordered from jollibee in one sitting-- more or less in just about 5 minutes. And just recently a new teacher came to the Sped Center for our new program. The boys responded to her very well. Of course, Morgan, feisty king that he is really gave this new teacher his perpetual skeptical look that forever says,"Who are you and why should I follow you?" before complying with anything. His "joint attention" was really on fire in that when the teacher tells him to do a task, he looks at me first as if to verify that what the teacher is asking him to do is right on the money. And then he looks back at the teacher and finally does the task. What a character this Morgan is! As I recount this episode in my mind many times over, I still cannot help but smile with all my heart at my clever, clever Morgan. My not-so-little prince of a son, Garret on the other hand, was very compliant during his first class. He followed every request, sat quietly and patiently and smiled after the session was done. Teacher Jo remarked, "buotan kaayu si Garret, Ma'am". (Garret is a very obedient child). Oh how my heart soared!

I remember talking to a parent a few days ago about acceptance. Accepting whatever we have been given, Autism, mild, moderate, severe, across the spectrum, delayed, and every mumbo- jumbo you could think about in the dictionary of this disorder, ADD (attention deficit disorder), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), GDD (global developmental delay, DS (down syndrome). In the course of our discussion, we reached some conclusion that one of the main hindrances to acceptance is how we tend to create dreams for our children. How we plan out and map out their future for them. We want them to be future lawyers, doctors, artists, so on and so forth, forgetting that yes, we may have brought them out of this world, but, they are their own persons, having their own unique personalities and capacities for achievement. And when we are slapped in the face by the reality of these disorders that are presented on a platter for us, we simply cannot take it. We cannot even bear to look at it. Because this was not supposed to happen. Because we had plans for our children. And what will happen to our plans? What will happen to our dreams?

As I've reiterated many times before, acceptance is a process, an everyday learning for me and for most parents as well. It's hard to unplug this hard-wired mentality from our psyches that we need to tell ourselves everyday, remind ourselves every day that it is okay. It's okay that my child has autism. It's okay that my child has ADD or ADHD. It's okay that my child is mentally delayed. It's okay that my child is differently abled. The underlying meaning here is actually-- It is okay that our dreams for our children won't come true. It's okay that other dreams will come into play. It's okay that he won't win medals in quiz bees, spelling bees, go to Ateneo or La Salle or university for that matter. It's okay that he won't be a lawyer, a doctor, an actor, a politician. It's okay that my plans for my child will be thrown away in the wind. It's okay to accept that there is a purpose beyond all this absurdity and craziness of the disorders. It's okay that even when I've enrolled my child into various kinds of classes and therapy, progress is slow yet constant at best. It's okay that the teachers do the best they can with the best resources and training they come up with. It's okay to realize that my role as a parent does not stop in providing for their basic needs but most especially with my child, I need to go beyond what is necessary and pay really close attention to my child, do the work at home that my therapists instruct me to do. It's okay to finally be humble enough to acknowledge that we are not in control of the universe, but we are in control in the choices we make for our children. It's okay to be stripped of our egos, our machismo pride and our false sense of self that most often than not connects to the "supposed" achievements of our children. Finally, the process of acceptance is all about saying to ourselves-- It's okay that my child has autism, add, adhd, gdd, is mentally delayed, is differently-abled because he is a gift from the heavens, no more and no less. And because of this-- I accept him or her for who and what he or she is no matter what. And I will love my child for as long as I have breath left in me.

I do not claim to be an expert at this whole acceptance matter. All I know is that I am still even learning myself everyday, from my boys, from autism, from everything. And what I am learning is that we can only understand our purpose in this life if we take the first steps to acceptance-- to learn to let go. To let go of our unreasonable expectations. To let go of what should be and to welcome the bouts of what can be-- What my children should become versus what they may become. What I should become as a parent, as a wife, husband, partner, man, woman versus What I can be capable of becoming. When we are able to do this, we are on our way to finding our joy. This, I think is what life is all about. Finding our joy. What are we passionate about? What makes us simply happy? What is our contentment? What is our joy?

In our quest for fulfillment and achievement, we forget the littlest things that do make us fulfilled and feel accomplished.

“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” Whoever created this beautiful quote certainly knew what he was talking about. Our children teaches us volumes of lessons. And we will only hear it when we learn to accept them for who they are.

What I said earlier about my brain tank turning empty you can almost hear it clanging is actually my joy tank hollering where am I ? Screaming into my ear, where is your joy? So this is why I had to unplug for quite a bit of a time. I think I am still unplugging now. Rediscovering who I am, what I have become, what my values are, what I can be capable of becoming. And I realize I need to do this not just for my children, for my wonderful boys. I need to do this for myself most especially. Because just as my two boys are gifts from heaven to be nourished and nurtured,I too am a gift from the universe to my family, to Garret and Morgan. And I need to nourish and nurture myself. And I need to ask myself the question, " Where is my joy?" to continuing on the quest to finding my joy. As much as I am in the process everyday of loving my children with an all encompassing acceptance, I realize with great wonderment that I need to accept myself too-- with fortitude and forgiveness for all my failings, my insecurities, my weaknesses, everything. When I am able to do this, when I can let go and accept myself, then I can love and nourish my soul the way it deserves to be nourished. And I will become a better person, a stronger woman, a more loving partner, certainly a better mother to my Garret and Morgan.

As I end this post, the water from the koi pond is still gurgling as the irater provides oxygen for the koi. Garret and Morgan are settling in for bedtime. I recall once again how Morgan raised his one eyebrow at his new teacher and Garret being very "buotan" and I smile with all my heart and liver (as Ketut Liyer emphatically said in Eat, Pray, Love) with the realization that I got exactly what I wished for in this life. My boys, oh my boys-- they are my joy.