Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Things That Make A House A Home

After a military relocation to our new home at another base these past weeks, I found the chaos of the move had set my spirit into a tizzy.  Even with months of preparations: giving away old clothes and baby gear to Goodwill, getting rid of unnecessary papers in order to lighten our load, the move proved to be difficult, nonetheless.  With boxes of household items and books everywhere, the box that I had wanted most to find was my piano music scores.  After several days of searching, my husband, Alex, thought that it may be in a pro-gear (professional items) box in the garage - go figure.  Funny, but after several military moves, I didn't feel much like a pro at all.  If anything, I felt pretty overwhelmed. I just wanted to get into some sort of groove as soon as possible.  I was fully aware that this was going to take some time and that I need to drastically lower my expectations and face reality. 

As summers typically go, with our child living with autism, it's not my favorite time of year.  I know that many families can completely relate to the lack of structure and difficulty in finding activities that would suit our kids.  Forget about not wanting to be exhausted all day long; we don't have that luxury that is quickly forgotten about during the school year.  There is only so much time that an average non southern native adult can tolerate in the heat and especially in the heavy humidity.  Every summer seems to present the same dilemma for me.  In fact, it feels like I just wrote something similar about the same time last year.  A summer of relocating however, brings with it additional challenges (on top of which, poor Jake was very sick for over three weeks before the move and we were both cooped up and exhausted).  Some of these challenges involve: getting to know the new area and figuring out resources (while trying to provide some sort of daily structure), making new friends of my own (this should actually fall at the bottom of the list, but lets face it, it's a very real need), finding autism support, dealing with "the broken record" (repetitive words and phrases that autistic kids say) and its effect on my psyche, escalated screams and tantrums (which I affectionately refer to as "the angry peacock" - if you've ever heard a peacock, you know how loud its calls can be), and last but not least, excessive demands for Jake's favorite activity, the king of all kings: the iPad; my dreaded arch nemesis.

You may be thinking that well, what's so bad about the iPad?  It can be used as an educational activity, right? If so, then you are indeed correct.  With some kids living with autism however, if not closely supervised, this activity can quickly turn into an OCD-like, undesired behavior such as: hitting buttons over and over, watching the same thing repeatedly or doing the same program repeatedly.  Somehow, Jake figured out how to get into YouTube and find his favorite Baby Einstein episodes.  He'll watch parts of it repeatedly, just to see the face of the Einstein's head.  We think that he got attached to this image from his baby days, loved it so much, and that image just stuck with him.  Perhaps it was his first childhood friend. 

Even if we delete YouTube, because it's in our user history, Jake figured out how to re-access it.  In the past, we have used the iPad as an activity re-enforcer/motivator in his ABA sessions, and it was incredibly effective.  When he's lounging, and not in therapy, we've set a time limit on it's use and give him transitional updates of how much time he has left in five minute increments.  We break down the last five minutes and announce 5, 3 and 1 minutes, before announcing that time's up, in order to ease his anxiety about the ending of the activity.  This helps him transition out of it into the next one.  For a while, he was only doing educational activities on his I-pad and we were very pleased to see how well he was working with it.  Since this summer's move though, old repetitive behaviors have come back with a vengeance.  This was to be expected.  After all, it's not our first time at the rodeo.  However, it isn't easy to deal with by a couple of not well rested parents.

After several weeks of being in this transitional phase of moving, feeling unsettled and no social time, we went to a Shabbat dinner at the Chabad community center and met some very nice families, including two who were also coping with autism.  Several of the other families were also new in town, so it was nice to be somewhere where others were going through a similar experience.  The newness of our environment, juxtaposed with some very old traditions like lighting the Sabbath candles, good food and good company, was just the thing to make our transition more comfortable.  I have to make a mental note and remember to find things and traditions that are familiar and bring us comfort when faced with lots of new things. 

Part of wanting our family to have a military lifestyle, is that we didn't want our children to feel like they were ever living in a bubble or growing up with a sense of entitlement.  We wanted them to grow up moving around, meeting new friends, seeing how other people live in other cities and countries. Exposing them to different races and religions would help develop a sense of acceptance of all people.  We wanted them to be able to be well adjusted individuals because of their life experiences.  We wanted them to be able to empathize and be accepting of all sorts of differences. This, of course, they are already learning at home, by being siblings to an autistic older brother.  We are already seeing what we hoped for take place.  The twins have adjusted incredibly well to our new home and their summer camp.  I am so proud of our kids!  Putting things into perspective is, in a way, like stepping away from the small details seen through a kaleidoscope, and seeing the bigger picture more clearly.  We sometimes can get easily caught up in the smaller details, but if we take a step back, the reality is so much simpler.

Good news! - this afternoon Alex found the box of my piano music and I eagerly arranged my scores (yes, by composer, in alphabetical order) on the living room shelf that's across from the piano.  Looking around, I see that things are actually starting to come together nicely.  I look at the wall hangings and masks that we have up from places that Alex and I have traveled to together.  There are still stacks of family photos waiting there for me to put up and fill up more wall space.  You know, this is probably the thing that I most enjoy doing after moving - decorating.  I plan on taking my time putting up the rest of the photos.  With each one up, I bond with the new home a little more, letting it also get to know its inhabitants a little more as well.  The military owned property in this little beach town is starting to look like a home; our home. With all the moves we've already had, and with more future moves yet to come, Alex really puts it best: Wherever you and the kids are - that's what I call my home.  I couldn't agree more.