Carrot or stick, guys?

The blogger who goes by Autism Daddy has a great post up, “A Letter To The Dads That Left Because Of Autism & The Ones That Are Thinking Of Leaving… (from a dad who stayed)”.

IMG_20140531_113657_788He takes a stick to dads who bail on wives and kids because of the challenges of care giving…

Let’s get something out of the way right out of the gate. Let’s admit it. Let’s call a spade a spade You were a jerk already, before the autism, right? You probably would’ve left for some other reason. It was already in your DNA to be a loser, right?

There’s a real need for sticks today, I’m afraid. Too many guys are raised without strong male role modeling, and the culture is conflicted about just what makes for a good man in the first place. Lots of mixed messages, negative messages, and incentives to stay a boy; what Dan Kiley called “The Peter Pan Syndrome.”

So there’s a need for strong voices, kicks-in-the-butt and sticks to “guide” dads in the right direction as care givers. (That’s the direction toward the need, not out the door.)

It is a challenge, for sure. I once went to a spiritual mentor and confessor because I was having graphic sex dreams every night. “Look, I’m not trying to stir this up,” I complained. “I’m not watching porn. I have a great time with my wife. So what’s the deal?”

“Escape,” he shrugged. “You’re feeling overwhelmed and your mind is trying to go some place fun.”

So I get the desire to run. It’s an “animal” instinct in difficult situations like care giving. We are, in some ways, wired to at least consider running away. And sometimes we need a stick to keep us from doing that.

But some of us, maybe most of us, respond to carrots. Praise from the wife, encouragement from friends and family, breakthroughs or just plain pleasant moments with those in our care – these things keep us close and keep us coming back when we feel tempted to run.

In my case, faith provides bunches of carrots. As a Christian, I seek to stay on a path that includes hardship as a means to spiritual growth and joy. Here’s a prayer from the tradition in which I live out my faith,

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but
first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he
was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way
of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and
peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

With Joey’s autism, I’ve been pushed beyond what’s pleasant into what’s really loving,

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things… When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13)

I am a more mature man, a fuller person, and a more sincere Christian for having been a care giver. The God in whom I trust has planted plenty of carrots along the path I walk.

May you find a bunch of ’em, too.

A holiday, an anniversary, and…

…an extra special Joey wake up call that shut down the festivities.

Today Melissa and I celebrate note our 24th wedding anniversary. We had (past tense, yes) plans to renew our vows and receive a blessing from a local clergyman. And it is Memorial Day, so it promised to be a laid back holiday pace after lots of activity helping our older son prepare to move to the East Coast.

I was up early and snuck to the gym, assuming I could have a workout and get back before Joey was up. Wrong.

I came home to find (actually, hear) him on his computer, with some formidable volume up as he played this song over and over,

Needless to say, Melissa had been yanked out of sleep by her ears – Joey was blasting the music like any young guy, one of those crossover things where autism wasn’t necessarily the culprit.

Melissa was already run down a bit by the busyness of the last few days, and now she’s gone from tired to sick. So the anniversary celebration is on hold.

Joey’s now mad because I’m home – he’s repeating his “Dad has to go to WORK?!?!?!?” phrase, which really means, “Dad, get your work clothes on and get out of my space.”

Good times.

I thought drilling holes in my skull would relieve the headache

Tonight Joey is maintaining a constant din. The noise was in progress when I got home in the early afternoon. Melissa must have endured it all morning.

He’s pulling out all the stops. Repetitive phrases, song lyrics, movie lines, thumping his chest with his hand, combinations of words and thumps, cranking up the volume on YouTubes; if it makes noise, he’s all about it.

I think he might be stressing about his brother’s move to the East Coast. Joey said, “Tim will be home soon” a couple of times today, and he wasn’t happy with my “Tim is going to his new house” response. So that might be why Joey, who’s been fed, medicated and bathed, is wide awake and making constant racket.

I won’t lie to you. My temper is now on edge. This racket is close to torture. It is like having an ache that distracts from and interferes with anything you try to do.

I feel like I’m having holes drilled into my head. Except that procedure is supposed to relieve pressure and reduce pain, not enhance suffering.

“All the world’s a stage…

…And all the men and women merely players.”*

Today we threw a combination going away party and truck loading for our older son and his wife. Early tomorrow they head for their future, which for the next few years will play out in Charleston, SC where Tim, Jr. will serve as a Naval officer and Carly will finish her Math degree at historic College of Charleston.

Melissa did a great job organizing the party as a near surprise, using word of mouth and a bit of Facebookery.

A number of the kids’ closest friends came over to load up the truck and to celebrate. They are still romping in both our front and back yards, to the dog’s delight. I’m here typing this while I keep an eye on Joey.

Speaking of Joey, the kids’ friends made a wonderful video of recorded messages from all kinds of folks, wishing Tim and Carly the best as they move away. Melissa and I are on there, of course, and so is Joey.

Joey looks at the camera with a bit of distress. It’s his “You’re making me work, aren’t you?” face. You can hear the friend with the camera prompting him to say things, and then you can hear Melissa and me doing the same. We eventually get “Goodbye Carly” (twice), “Goodbye Tim” and “I’ll miss you” recorded for posterity. And then an “OK I’m done” turn of the head and exit, stage left.

I suppose we could say, “Well, that was sweet but it was just him repeating meaningless words from other people.” Except that Joey’s been smiling at his brother more than usual the last few days. He’s been coming out of his room to check on the party today. We went to dinner with Tim and Carly last night, and Joey kept smiling and saying “Tim” across the table. He knows something is up, something is changing. And instead of stressing him out, it’s peaceful and tender.

Yes, he’s just following prompts on the video. But he really is brother to Tim and Carly. The curtain between stage and reality is sheer, or maybe just threadbare.

* Shakespeare, As You Like It

Another exciting episode of “24”

The last 24 hours included:

Post-midnight ringing phone.

Therefore a bad attitude.

Joey throwing up all over newly washed bedding.

Therefore several extra loads of laundry.

Care giving memeThe dog throwing up on the rug – maybe in sympathy with Joey?

Therefore spot cleaning before coffee was brewed.

Cat stealing a piece of our hastily warmed chicken dinner.

Therefore more bad attitude.

Constant “wait a minutes” when trying to get a shower.

Therefore feeling as personally disgusting as the vomit enhanced bedding and carpet.

Sleeping on the couch because the cat peed on the bed and she stands at the bedroom door and howls all night if we just lock her out. So a human has to be out so she’ll shut up.

Therefore a very sore back. (Note: The vet says, “Humane society.” But we’re soft hearted and soft headed with this cat, so she stays).

Son and his wife getting ready to move to the East Coast.

Therefore all kinds of spastic mom and dad emotions on top of farewell planning.

Working on a re-fi of the house (email requests for documents and actions about every 3.5 seconds, I think) and making reservations for an East Coast trip to see the kids later in the summer.

Therefore brain in meltdown red zone.

Trying to get the required long pants out for Joey to get dressed for his day program, only to find that he’d taken all the clean ones and stuffed them in a laundry hamper to hide them.

Therefore… aw, hell, I don’t even know.

Work.

Therefore I am. Or something.

Weeds are back where I just had them pulled.

Therefore… did I mention bad attitude earlier?

Now, there’s a whole list of “on the other hand” good things that went on in the last 24, but I’d feel like a Pollyanna to list those.

Care giving = doing all of the stuff that clogs up the lives of normal people, then having someone or something puke all over it.

The mean, selfish, hateful post

Our older kid graduated from college over the weekend. He’s the NOT autistic, no-special-magical-savant-skill, makes-it-easy-on-mom-and-dad one. The one you can overlook while stressing about the other one. Here he is exchanging a post-commencement hug with Melissa…IMG_20140510_110652_789

IMG_20140509_153000_122Melissa and I went across the state to attend. In fact, we went two nights early, stayed in a nice hotel, went to fun places and upscale restaurants and all that. Here are a bunch of cute bear cubs we enjoyed watching at a wild animal park on a sunny day in South Dakota’s Black Hills.

Which has you asking, “Hey, where’s that cute autistic kid they love so much and blog about all the time?”

We left him behind.

He stayed in a respite apartment arranged through his day program. And stayed for two nights, which was a first.

I could gush about that turning out well, and we are super grateful to the staff that made it possible and cared for him.

But the fact of the matter is that it was our first time on something like a vacation from him in about eight years. And this we liked.

Today is Mother’s Day, and he’s been sweet and loving to Melissa. He insisted on writing “Mommy” on her card’s envelope when I only asked him to write “Mom.” And he’s thoroughly mucked up her hair by running his fingers through it and snuggling with her during dinner. We are glad to be here with him.

But we enjoyed being away. It refreshed us. We were able to give full attention to stuff like a tour of the labs in which our older son learned and honed his engineering and research chops, without having to detach every ten seconds to see to Joey issues.

Mean, selfish and hateful? But somehow I’m not feeling the need to apologize.