Monday, May 7, 2018

Sanity Savers #1: The Visual Timer

Two days ago I posted about why we stick to routine around here and that we have several sanity savers that help us stick to that routine.

Today: The Visual Timer

Transitions can make it look like my child is about to singlehandedly bring on the apocalypse. We learned this at a very young age - we learned it trying to leave public places, trying to come inside, and finishing, well, anything really. We also learned that developmentally, kids can't really understand the passage of time. When he was just two years old a therapist put us onto this visual timer. It's old school, you just wind it up to the amount of time you want to pass and kids can watch the red area shrink in size until it's gone and the clock beeps. It's AMAZING for helping him wait for something, for letting him know when we are going to change activities or move upstairs for bedtime. It also helps us be consistent as parents in following through. Rather than saying "five more minutes" roughly 20 times and escalating into a frustrated rage over why our kids don't understand us, we set it and stick to it.

Which is good for everyone, really.

Recently, bedtimes have gotten really hard again. We started using this timer to prevent the endless stalling and "one mores" that can leave a parent completely frazzled at a time of day when we often don't have much physical or emotional energy left. We set the timer and do all the things we love - read books, pray, sing, snuggle...but when that timer goes off, that's it. Bedtime is done. Kiss, hug and out the door. It hasn't solved everything, but it helps him know there is a limit and an end to that time together. (He is a MASTER staller. I promise we aren't cruel. But bedtime HAS to have an end or it gets ugly.)

Incidentally, if you need a laugh about putting little kids to bed, here's Jim Gaffigan. You're welcome.

The timer here is the one we have. It's lasted 3 years in a house where we play rough. It's called the Time Timer and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Stay tuned over the next week for more Sanity Savers.
The Time Timer 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Routine for Life: Intro to Sanity Savers

I know there are people in my life who find me too rigid, too controlled in how we do things around here. The never-mess-with-the-schedule, the strict bedtimes, the timers, the visual calendars, the social stories, the rigid diets.

And sometimes I believe them. That I'm too serious about all this or maybe if I just went with the flow, things would be fine.

They wouldn't, though. I know that.

And true confession right now: I love all the lists. The schedules. The clarity and boundaries in our day. I have always loved routine and order. Laminators and bins. Spreadsheets. Yes, I get tired sometimes and wish we COULD just stay in our jammies all day on a Saturday and just lay around and see what happens. But I know what would happen. We'd all pay for it dearly with a dysregulated, unhappy child.

It's just not worth it.

As we delve deeper into the diagnoses and the plans for how to best help our middle child thrive in a world that will soon see him as a threat, I am beginning to see that the significant quirks in my own crazy personality - the determination and stubbornness, the organization, the driving forces of passion and energy- are uniquely suited to what we are faced with. And while I continue to be my own worst critic, I have been working hard to see the good in myself. The ways that God has created me to be this mom to this child in this place and time.

This is pretty big for me, friends. I almost always only see the things I am doing wrong.

Right now, friends, our routine is life. And I am REALLY good at routine. At self-control. At doing what I'll say I do and following through with what my kids need.

And I know that I am not alone out there in fighting hard for my boy. In staying up late reading articles. In devouring books and talking to therapists and browsing the fun and function website and coming up with ALL THE PLANS.

Sometimes it's nice to come across a place where someone has already made some discoveries that might work for us, too, rather than starting from scratch.

So, while I'm no expert, we've been working hard for three years and if you have a child who might need a little extra help in life, I know sometimes you don't know about something until someone mentions it. And I firmly believe that the things we learn in life - the practical, the spiritual, the emotional, the physical - well, we're meant not to keep it to ourselves.

In that spirit, over the coming week, I thought I'd share our most favorite of sensory and routine supports in the hope that someone out there might need to know about it to support his or her little one in even the teensiest improved way.

Each day, I'll share one thing we do that I consider a Sanity Saver. And I will give credit where credit is do in how we found it.

And if it helps even one family, I'll consider it a win. Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

In the Immortal Words of Chumbawumba

There are a lot of songs that instantly remind me of late high school and early college. They come on the radio and I find myself with an instant urge to put on hiking boots, loose jeans, a plaid shirt and a tight belt. (Oh wait, I actually still dress like that 20+ years later.)


The words to one of those songs came into my head yesterday as I was pondering this beautiful moment of which I had been a part. Every six months my son is involved in a drum recital. And every six months he dreads said drum recital. He is not a big fan, to say the least, of being the center of attention or of performing in front of people. (Something already tells me this will be a non-issue with my middle child but I digress...)

Yesterday, we roll up to the recital, my son pale and quiet. I have done the mom thing. Given the pep talks. Prayed for him. Reminded him that messing up in a recital is OK. That recitals at this age aren't about perfection. Blah. Blah. Blah. Yes, mom, I know, mom.

"But what if I FAIL? I can't fail!"

And my own inner voice was coming out of my 11 year-old. Because that is the constant, marauding question that underlies everything I do. What if I fail? What if this isn't perfect? What if it's not good enough? What if I cannot literally solve every single problem that comes my way with deep finesse and joy and wisdom and all the things I cannot possibly have at once? WHAT IF? You can see that my mind goes down a pretty chaotic rabbit trail, there. It's not pretty friends.

And I know my boy. I know his inner voice says a lot of the same junk to him. About perfection and grace and failure.

And so every time I have to say the words "it's ok if you fail" I feel like a big, fat, hypocritical failure for telling my son something I cannot myself believe. You can see how much progress I am making here.

So, here we are, two people who are emotionally confused by the thought of failing even the teensiest bit, attempting to enjoy the hour and a half that will go by while we watch other children perform. Because, of course, he was slated to go last. 13 other kids would be performing first. Anticipation is good, right?

So, he took his place with his fellow drummers and I took my place with my fellow nervous parents and waited.

And the second boy, a boy whose family we happen to know, got up to perform for his very first time.

He looked terrified.

And sick to his stomach.

And he got about halfway through his song and froze. And then panicked. And then left the stage in tears.

And there were three things that could have happened right then.

(1) The room could have remained totally silent and awkward and moved with unspoken agreement on to the next drummer.
(2) We all could have stared at his parents and judged them for their son's failure. (Maybe we would not have done it verbally since, let's be honest, we're in the south, kingdom of passive aggressive confrontation, but we would have thought it.)
(3) Someone could have addressed it and risked saying the wrong thing (or the right thing) in a tough moment.

And friends, what happened next is stuck in my head.

As that boy was walking out with his head sunk in shame and embarrassment, one woman called out his name in encouragement and we all started clapping and cheering. That drum teacher got up onstage and reminded every single one of us that failure happens. That this boy had got up and he had tried. And that it's not easy after only a few months of lessons to get up in front of a bunch of people you don't know on a set with which you are unfamiliar and just play a song to perfection. The teacher chose option three and, I believe, changed the trajectory of the conversation.

We nodded, we agreed. The next two kids got up and did their thing. And if anyone is like me, we were wondering if that sweet boy was ok. If he would recover. Most importantly, how would this moment sit in his head and heart for the rest of his life?

He walked back in his with dad after a little bit and sat back down to watch the other kids.

After a few more performances their teacher got back up, looked him in the eye and said "Do you want a second chance?"

And friends, oh my word.

That courageous boy didn't even hesitate. He said yes, stood up and walked right back up on that stage. In front of people who had seen him fail. Who had seen him cry. Who had watched him leave in embarrassment.

Then, there was this moment of utter silence as we waited and the music started. And this kid, he just drummed his heart out. He played that thing into the ground.

The place erupted in cheers.

And, I'm gonna get southern here for a moment because I know no other way to put it, but I like to cried my eyes out, friends.

His teacher made him stand up and looked every kid in that place in the eye. And drove home a lesson I won't soon forget.

He said to them:

(1) We are all going to fail but we have to get back up again. (Enter Tubthumping by Chumbawumba into loop in my brain because of this wording. Thank you, 90's.)

(2) We can't let that failure keep us so low that we can't try again.

Guys, I don't know if I would have gotten back on that stage. Just after it was done and I had congratulated him and hugged my own kid and took all the required pictures, I asked my son about it. And he said the same thing. "Mom, I don't know if I could have tried again like he did." I asked him if watching the courage this boy had had and the way their teacher had responded had helped him to play his piece with less fear.

And it had, of course it had. He had seen in that moment that failure wasn't the end of his friend's story. That that kid had been embarrassed and ashamed. But those paralyzing emotions hadn't dictated his next moves. I don't know what he and his dad talked about out in the hall. I don't know if they prayed or cried or if he gave him a pep talk or just hugged him. You better believe I'm going to ask the next chance I have. But they walked back in together when it would have been easier to disappear. And that drum teacher in his wisdom offered him what we most often do actually get - a second chance. He took it, unwaveringly. Maybe because he knew it didn't matter since he'd already messed up or maybe he just zoned in to what he was doing or maybe he screwed up the most courage he ever has had to have in his life and just held his breath, but he made a room full of grown people cry because he played his heart out.

And THAT is the story he's going to remember some day. The whole thing. The failing and what it felt like. The conquering and what it felt like. Friends, the conquering didn't negate or erase the failure. That's still a part of the story.

But the failure gave that victory a much deeper hold.

The beautiful thing is that it won't just be his story. His whole family was there. I was there, my son was there. 13 other kids were able to see what it looks like to do something that looks unrecoverable and then to take the biggest risk of your life and do it again. They got to see a teacher choose deep encouragement and truth over disappointment and shame. They got to see adults cheer for a kid and weep over his victory.

That is a lesson, I hope, that will hold.

The next time that pesky inner voice starts screaming at me or my son, we're going to remember this boy. We're going to remember that failure isn't the end of the story. That it can, in fact, be a beautiful piece of the story. And we're going to sing a few words of Chumbawumba because they sang the dang truth: "I get knocked down, but I get up again, you're never gonna keep me down." Seriously, it's on repeat in my head in only a semi-helpful way at this point.  

So to our friend and his family, let me just say this final thing: We love you guys. What you did yesterday was nothing short of miraculous. We are grateful for a lesson that might stick better than so many that have come before. And we are grateful for the beautiful courage of a boy who got back up and tried again.