Tuesday, February 28, 2012

For Crying Out Loud

The day was warm and our house windows were wide open, as were my car windows. I heard our toddler son’s wails as I pulled into the driveway. I hurriedly parked and dashed into the house, expecting to see him missing a limb by the intensity of his howls.
With older kids in high school and middle school, we decided to have another baby. Of course many think he was a ‘whoops’ or ‘surprise’ baby, but he is truly the only one we actually planned. Not quite ten months after our decision to go for it we were blessed with a beautiful baby boy, much to the joy of his older brother and sister who had been begging us for a baby brother.
During the discussions to add another child to our household, we agreed on no daycare, and that our older kids wouldn’t be ‘parents’ to their new sibling. In order to orchestrate this, my husband changed from day shift to swing shift, and I went to work early, coming home in time for Steve to leave for work.
For us this worked great.  The baby slept in, so Steve could sleep in. He had one on one time with his youngest son without me hovering over them. I was able to spend some of each day with grownups. A win win situation for all of us.
Our kidlet’s first birthday was just around the corner when Steve began forgetting to give him his formula. The routine each day was simple – or so I thought. They would wake up, have breakfast, bottle at ten, lunch, bottle at two and then I’d be home. I left formula bottles ready. Several days in a row I came home to see forgotten bottles,  so I patiently explained that our ‘baby’ would need to continue on formula until sometime after his first birthday.
This day, running in the door, I was horrified to see our darling boy seated in the center of the living room, screaming his head off, his shirt front soaked with tears. I snatched him up, and calling for Steve, looked baby over but couldn't see anything amiss. Steve finally came up from the basement where he had been hiding from the racket.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. “I don’t know.” “How long has he been crying like this?” My ashen faced husband replied “From before his last bottle.” “You fed him both bottles?” I asked incredulously. His answer was affirmative. “What did you feed him for lunch,” I continued to search for an explanation to our little one’s distress. “Nothing,” Steve replied, “You said to only give him bottles.”
On the morning of this fateful day, I had stuck notes on the coffee pot, fridge and range hood. “Remember to give bottles at 10 & 2”. Our son had been eating solid food for six months, and dined with us at every meal.
“Seriously?” I was flabbergasted. “He always eats! The bottles are in addition to his meals! You feed him every day!” “Well, you didn’t say so in your notes.” I handed little one to his father, slapped together a sandwich and watched as this starving child inhaled it in three bites. He then beamed from ear to ear and burped.
This was several years before Steve’s Aspie diagnosis. They were tough years. It took a while before I could laugh about this one.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The “Aha!” Moment

My husband lacks social skills, empathy and social discernment. He prides himself on his ‘honesty’. How many times have I tried to ‘shush’ him just to have him say “But it’s true!” Living with Asperger's Syndrome has been described as being born on the wrong planet. That explains my husband’s social awareness (or lack thereof) perfectly!
Before our marriage, and long before Steve was diagnosed, I had insisted that we go to couples counseling. There had been times after ‘heart to heart’ talks that I was left feeling as if Steve were holding something back about his life. We met with a counselor but nothing specific came to light. Once married, I still had a nagging feeling that all was not right. As the years rolled by and I watched Steve struggle with waves of depression I even began to suspect some type of early abuse.
Living with a person really does accentuate habits. My husband is very set in his ways. He hates change of any kind. He’s mildly dyslexic and extremely directionally challenged. He wants ‘absolute’ rules for every situation, black and white rules that apply to everything and follow by everyone at all times. Unfortunately for him, life doesn’t work that way. Especially when raising kids.
Ten years and several  counselors later, I asked my husband to go to our family doctor for a full physical. After the checkup the doctor said that he’d like Steve to check in with another specialist. He also wanted to put Steve on some anti-depressants. This was the first time my husband had ever been prescribed medication to be taken on a daily basis. The doctor also had some vitamins and supplements for him to take.
Steve’s visit with the ‘specialist’ occurred with little fanfare. That doctor called me at my office during Steve’s visit with him. He asked me a few questions about Steve’s behaviors, and for any information I might have about Steve’s childhood. Our talk was brief. I heard no more about it.
Three more years went by before I would find out that Steve had Aspergers. I had read an article about people who were unexpectedly hospitalized and died after having drug reactions because medications the person was on hadn’t been disclosed. I asked Steve to tape a list of his daily medications and supplements to the inside of his cabinet in the bathroom. I would do the same.
I was surprised how long his list was long. When asked why so many, he said that the doctors thought he had Aspergers. I was astounded. Then he reminded me of the doctors’ visits from years before. Why hadn’t he told me? Apparently he didn’t believe them, even though he took everything they prescribed. Once I started studying up on Aspergers, the light clicked on and I realized that the diagnosis was true. Everything fit. It all made sense.
Life would not be dull!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

On Pause

Visiting early to pick up his brother for the day, our oldest son is having breakfast with us and talking with his dad about another car project they'd like to get started on. Ideas fly back and forth as our six foot tall thirteen year old shovels his food in at an alarming rate. Our 'baby' is growing as I watch; he's at that wonderful age where he thinks the light bulb in our fridge is for tanning. I get up for the coffee pot to refresh our cups, but Son #1 waves me off. They need to hit the road, says he. Son #2 snags another piece of toast and they head out for a day of 'brother adventures'. Dad is staring at his empty plate, talking about an engine he thinks will work when he notices he is alone. He looks surprised.

"They've taken off for the day, Sweetie." I offer to fill his cup up, but he is oblivious. I can actually see the gears in his head turning as he continues his car project contemplation. I fill my own cup, put the pot back, and begin picking up our breakfast dishes.

I go about my daily routine, and at some point  my husband leaves the room. I put his coffee cup into the dishwasher, and looking out the window, see him heading towards his mecca, our three car shop. As long as I've known him cars have been his passion.

People with Asperger Syndrome, according to Wikipedia, “often display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused.” We know other Aspies whose single interest focus is on trains or guns, music or astronomy, mathematics or airplanes, or simply collecting a specific item such as stamps or beer bottle caps. Narrow, intense focus. All kids will typically have narrow topics of interest when they are small. As adults, immersion into a single subject becomes markedly noticeable. 'Car talk' around our house is non-stop. Fortunately, I love cars.

I’m just about done making dinner when my sweetheart wanders in. “What’s to eat?” he barks. Aspies tend to speak directly and to the point. They often sound rude. But that’s a subject for another day.
I tell him, and suggest he go wash up as dinner will be ready shortly. Noise at the front door announces that our sons are back. “That smells fantastic! When do we eat?” they chorus.
Seated at the table where we began the day, I had just asked the guys about their day's adventures when my husband burst out mid-sentence about various engines for ‘the project.'
Son #1 erupts in laughter as he looks at my startled face. “Dad was on pause again,” he howled.
Tis true, he was. Again. How good it feels to laugh!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Don’t Look at Me

Courtship is fascinating! We are all aflutter with new feelings for someone, and are so anxious to please. We want to talk and ask questions, to learn everything we can about this wonderful person we’ve found a special connection with. We dress to please, read up on subjects we aren’t familiar with, try new foods and books, movies and music. Anything and everything to strengthen new bonds.

But just try to have a meaningful heart to heart conversation with someone who closes his eyes at you!

I remember sitting across the table from my hubby-to-be in a nice steakhouse. Although not loud in my estimation, there was definitely a persistent hum of activity swirling around us. Dishes and silverware clunking, ice cubes in water glasses tinkling, voices murmuring, wait staff rustling about between the tables. Added to all of that was a soft roar of continuous noise from the kitchen.

I was mid-sentence (which, to be honest, I usually am) when my dinner companion sets down his knife and fork, leans back in his  chair with his hands in his lap, then firmly, but absolutely, shuts his eyes.

I was astounded!

I stopped speaking, set down my silverware, and just stared. After a few minutes Steve’s eyes opened, and he calmly proceeded to devour his steak as if nothing had happened.

What in the world, I thought. Did he just fall asleep? Have a mini-seizure?

I did not resume my chatter, but applied myself diligently to my meal. Not one more word was spoken until the waiter came by to see if we wanted coffee and dessert. We accepted coffee, declined dessert. Otherwise we were completely silent.

On the way out to our cars afterward, I asked if everything was okay.

“Just fine,” was his response.

“Are you sure?” I persisted. My dinner date paused as he opened my car door for me and began searching my face for a clue.

“Dinner was wonderful,” he said hesitantly.  “Thank you.” He turned, walked to his own car and drove away.

I was stumped.  What had just happened? What had I said? Did I miss something?

All these years later I now understand. Aspies may have trouble focusing when there is too much commotion going on around them. My hubby can’t listen unless he blocks out as much excess stimuli as possible. When he needs to really concentrate and listen, he closes his eyes.

I always know when he’s paying close attention to people at a meeting or lecture – his eyes are closed, his head tipped slightly back, and his hands are resting in his lap. I know he is awake because his foot will be tapping or his knee will be bouncing. It’s very hard for him to sit completely still while awake.

If you ask our pastor to name one person guaranteed to fall asleep during his sermon, he’d probably immediately name my spouse. I use to nudge my hubby constantly during services. I must have made worship times miserable for him.

Now I know why his eyes were closed. I no longer glance in his direction during talks and lectures. Speaking with Steve by telephone is usually the easiest way for us to communicate, and I’ve learned how to start a discussion with him in person.

“Sweetie, please close your eyes – we need to talk…”

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Sorted Affair

Laundry is not my favorite chore. Nor is it in my top one hundred. I don’t care for having all the responsibility for any dirty clothing or linens, whatsoever. It may even be fair to say I hate laundry. The word ‘chore’ was surely invented specifically to describe the task of doing laundry.
When I am on the phone to any customer service rep, they inevitably end our call with a polite “And is there anything else I can help you with today?” My instant and enthusiastic response is “Yes, laundry!” They laughingly decline. I hang up, morose. Not ONCE has anyone volunteered to do it for me.
When each of our children obtained the ripe old age of thirteen, they were ceremoniously give the absolute and complete control of their own laundry. No more “Where’s my uniform?” or “Are there any clean jeans?” Heck, they are now teenagers and miserable anyway. Doing their own laundry might remind them of how good they really had things in their distant past childhood. I supply the machines, detergent, dryer sheets and stain sprays. When they are off to full independent living, they will need to obtain those things on their own. Occasionally I will even allow them to sneak an item into one of my loads. It’s always good for a car wash or foot rub.
My husband is a whole different sort – or should I say “sorter”.  For years I would ask him to take the laundry to the laundry room and sort it all out into one of five wash bins. Blue jeans, whites/lights, colors, reds, and linens (towels & sheets). Sound simple? Ha!
I remember the first few times I started a load from one of the bins. My black panties were in the whites. One of his blue socks was in with the blues jeans and the other in with the colors. Red pillowcases were in the reds, but the rest of the red sheets were in with the linens.
After several weeks of this ‘sort’ of sorting, I finally asked my hubby to explain. He responded with his ever amusing ‘aspie logic’.
“The black panties go into the whites because you said ‘whites and lights’. Your panties hardly weigh anything so they go in there. I wasn’t too sure about the blue socks because they are colored but I wore them with my blue jeans so I put one in each bin hoping that I’d get at least one right. The red pillowcases go in red because they are pillowcases and not sheets, and you said ‘towels and sheets’ go in the other one so I put the red sheets in there.”
Ahhhh. Okay. I now sort my own (and spouse’s) laundry to start with. It’s much, much easier. And don’t even get me started on trying to get him to put all his clothes away.  THAT business is way too sorted...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Coffee and bagels

I'm sitting in Starbucks with coffee & bagel in hand, reading another texted apology from my husband of close to twenty years. Enough time has lapsed for him to realize that he is sorry for whatever words/actions (or lack thereof) on his behalf that have driven me away from our temporarily unblissful domicile. I do know that he doesn’t understand or ‘get it’. If he did I wouldn’t be here.

I also know that our marriage will most likely always be like this; that it (and he) won’t be changing anytime soon. When people marry, they often forget to visualize exactly how long "forever" is.

This is my reality. It is what it is. I sip and chew, and stew.I am thankful for my faith, and for my independent personality. I remind myself of all the good things and good times, of which there are many, that far out weigh the frustrating ones. I think that writing about our life and family could be helpful for others. Knowing that one is not alone can be an encouragement. It's one thing to read about challenges, it's another to read how real people cope.

I breath deeply and begin to relax. I fire up my Kindle and hit 'humor' in StumbleUpon.

Marriage can be hard. Especially when married to a man with Aspergers Syndrome. But laughing helps.