Essay #4: It Begins

I’ll be sharing personal essays on my journey with autism with my daughters, mom life, grief and mental health. I hope they make you smile, I hope they make you cry, I hope to spread an understanding of high functioning autism and mostly I hope they allow other moms to not feel alone. I’d love your feedback! Names have been changed for privacy. To read previous essay click on the Essays category tab above under the title.

           “Check the list!” I call out to Laurel as we all rush around the kitchen getting ready for school. I bought a large white dry erase board and wrote out everything the girls need to do before the bus comes. The quiet visual reminder is helpful because it allows me to not nag. No nagging equals more smiles. The board is my buddy to tag into the mom vs. kids’ morning wrestling match, sadly becoming my co-parent. Actually, a co-parent that doesn’t talk and just does its helpful job? I might be brilliant.

           “Can I write a check mark if I’ve done it already? I can use the purple marker since it’s my favorite color.”

           “Um, yeah you can, that’s a great idea Laurel.” Never underestimate the power of a child writing a check mark next to his or her name. This board will give the girls the autonomy to organize their morning since I have not successfully managed the first three days of school to get up early enough to get myself fully ready for work before the girls need me. Time is not on my side.

           I thought the earlier middle school bus was going to be rough for me and Olive, it’s an hour earlier than the elementary bus, but it has been a refreshing change so far. She’s been getting up on her own when her alarm goes off, let’s hope the habit sticks. Olive has never been a good sleeper, wakes up as soon as the light comes through the windows. Why did we give her a bedroom on the side of the house that sees the sunrise? When Olive was a toddler, I used Velcro to attach all sides of her bedroom curtains to the wall to avoid the morning sun waking her. I can laugh about that now but at the time I had zero sense of humor about my lack of sleep. I had always been a morning person before having kids. It’s as though that life was sucked out of me. In college I would get up early and go for a walk before my morning classes; where’s that chick? Does College Sarah ever get to come back? Maybe the early bus will help me get her back. Our house is between two bus stops and I let Olive pick which one to go to but both stops are too far for her to walk, I have to drive her. Most mornings Michael is gone before any bus shows up, so I have to drag Laurel and Ruby with us, pajamas and all. Doing this when it gets colder will be so fun. Ugh.

           On the first day of school at the middle school bus stop a girl I didn’t know existed asked Olive to sit with her on the bus. Happy tears filled my eyes. Olive says she has no friends and no one likes her. I witnessed the opposite. Having Asperger’s Syndrome means not seeing your social situation in the correct light, well let us check that box for this chick too. It was a heartwarming Momma moment God knew I needed. We’ve lived in this neighborhood for five years and I had no idea this girl Olive’s age lived right up the street. Mom fail. As the bus drove off and Olive waved to me with a smile on her face, I felt a sense of relief and misgivings slid away. She’ll be alright.

           I have to say the first couple of days have gone smoothly. I even got pictures of the girls the first day, big win for me. Last year we had second week of school pictures because the first week consisted of all of us crying as we went out the door. That was even when all three girls were on the same bus, therefore high five Sarah, we improved this year. And to hell with all those moms posting on social media perfect first day of school pictures of their kids. I guarantee it’s all smoke and mirrors anyway. I bet Mom snaps a picture and the daughter grumbles and cries and rips the bows out of her hair. We barely make it out with teeth and hair brushed, never mind perfectly coordinating outfits and hair braids. Fancy chalkboard sign too, shit no. I think we can all get caught up in the, my life is perfect based on these photos I posted, social media attitude portrayal but I want other moms to know we aren’t all perfect. Life is messy. Let’s share that. I posted the photo of my mismatched girls with messy hair and only one smiling.
“Bus is coming in ten minutes, let’s go ladies!” Thank you, God, everyone is ready.

           “We have the team assembled and we will all document our views of Olive. I already noticed she doesn’t socialize much and sits alone at lunch. I see that she was in a social skills lunch group once a week in fifth grade, we have one here at the middle school as well and we’ll put her in it when it begins in a couple of weeks. It’s run by our school counselor, who is sitting here on the call with me, who you apparently met at locker orientation. I’ll be in touch in two weeks as well. Does that sound fine to you?”

           “Yes. When would the evaluations begin?” My cheeks are burning just thinking about that locker orientation fiasco. I’m hoping my voice doesn’t sound like it’s quivering since I’m an emotional mess and my daughter’s middle school director just told me my 6th grader sits alone at lunch. Poor baby.

“We would have to run a PPT meeting going over the testing to be done and get your signature for approval. There would also be an at-home checklist for you and your husband. That will all happen once we determine if it’s necessary. We will need some time to observe first.”

“Ok, thank you.” Just like last week, my office door is closing as my tears are falling. Get it together Sarah. A sign of a great f-ing school year when it starts right off the bat with a conference call. Keep calm and trust the process, that’s all I can do. Never mind I want to scream I’ve been observing this child her whole life, I have a degree in psychology, I know what I’m talking about! I didn’t see this all before but that’s beside the point.

“Mrs. Sarah?”

I guess preschool director life can keep my mind off Olive. I pray she feels some sort of joy during her school day. “Yes?” I open the door not even attempting to hide my face, my teachers know me well enough.

           “Olivia’s mom is here and didn’t come to the parent open house night earlier this week. Do you have her handbook and paperwork? She’d like a moment to chat with you too.”

           “Of course, here it is. Tell her to give me a minute, thanks.” The preschool parent open house night is one of the most nerve racking parts of my job. I speak to all the parents about the school and what to expect. Public speaking is not my forte. I hate when a lot of the parents don’t come, and I have to repeat myself a bunch of times the week after. I don’t have time for that. I should record it and put it up on social media for everyone to see who couldn’t come. Have to save that idea for next year and continue to be a parrot this year. I’m also in the middle of prepping my upcoming speech for the PTO open house nights at the elementary school next week. I don’t care if anyone misses that one. Why did I agree to do all this again?

           I’m in Gram withdrawal. The workweek makes it impossible to visit her since she’s a half hour away. I’ll go today after school. I have the ability to make her day just by stopping by for an hour. I need that Soul Fuel just as much as she needs company.

           “Gram, I don’t want to leave but I have to pick up Olive. Thanks for listening to me blab on for the last hour. I promise to come more often.” The time went by too fast; her face lit up when she opened the door when I arrived, and I hate to see her look when I leave. She’s getting better from her fall and it warms my heart.

           “I know you’re busy Sarah. The fact that you make time to see me means the world. Here, don’t forget these.” Gram always gives me something to take home. Last time it was a set of vintage glass bowls, today some books and jewelry. She’d rather me take them now while she can tell me a story behind each item and clear some clutter at the same time.

           I need my house to not continue to be a place of life sucking fog. I need to remember what brings me joy and do more of that. Gram equates to joy. How can I expect Olive or anyone in my house to be happy and show joyfulness when I’m pouting around, acting stressed and mad? I’m not this pissed off angry person I’ve been as of late, it’s not who my true self is. I have to remember who I really am, what makes me happy and do those things more. My therapist would be proud to hear me right now.

           “Michael, did I ever tell you about my kindergarten teacher? I think that is when my elevated anxiety levels began, at age five. My teacher was a mean older lady, the type to slap things with her yard stick ruler. Probably would have slapped her students with that thing if it was acceptable. I was quiet and shy and she would yell at me to talk louder. When I felt as though I was shouting the other kids would start laughing, called me Mouse because I was still apparently barely audible.”

           “Sounds like you had the best kindergarten year. Mine was much better than that. I had a sweet lady.”

           “Aren’t you lucky? She would tell me over and over during the school year how there was no reason to be quiet, as though I could just stop and suddenly become talkative if I chose to do so. I know you were quiet; did anyone treat you like that?” Michael and I both grew up shy.

           “Nope. Never.”

           “That was the beginning of me thinking I needed to be someone different because who I was wasn’t good enough. Cue in the anxiety.”

           “Jesus. Maybe because I was a boy I was treated differently. Hey? I love you just the way you are.”

           “I should hope so, you married me.”

           I love evenings when we can cuddle on the couch and just talk. Our early relationship dates that consisted of only chatting for hours at a bar were my favorite. He gets me. Life over the years has gotten in the way, has become entirely too serious and busy. Laughing and talking with Michael brings me joy. It’s sad my goal is to simply sit down and talk to him more. That should be a continuous habit, when did it change?

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