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"The Road to Greeley" with power poles and cars

My little boy has autism. He is fascinated by power poles and curves in roads. Driving to Greeley is a treat, because of the curves and power poles – I’d never notice these if it weren’t for him!

Aidan the artist!

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If anyone had told me 6 years ago that I’d still be changing diapers on a nearly 6-year old, I have to admit I would have been scared spitless and wondering what the hades I’d gotten myself into. And yet, here we are with Aidan in kindergarten and still wearing pull-ups because he either can’t or won’t use the toilet.

I remember when he was 3 and 4, people would say to me, “Don’t worry. He won’t go to school in diapers.” Well…again, here we are. Now, I’m just hoping he won’t go to high school in pullups.

The thing with Aidan is that, in terms of the autism, he’s pretty high functioning. He talks, expresses emotion, interacts socially (to some extent), and is generally a sweet little kid. Here’s where the other side, the ODD, comes in though. ODD is short for Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and it roughly boils down to where a child will say no and be oppositional simply for the sake of being oppostional. If you say the sky is blue, this child will say it’s purple with yellow polka-dots until he’s screaming bloody murder and insisting it’s purple with yellow polka-dots. This all occurs without me arguing with him. With some things, like the color of the sky, it’s really no big deal. But, with some things, it IS a big deal – like with potty training.

When I said “can’t or won’t” I was referring to the ODD. Aidan CAN use the potty to urinate, and generally does except when he’s in an ornery mood. Then, he’ll go in his pullup purposefully if I ask him to use the potty. Using the potty is a battle, no matter what I try, because of the autism-ODD combination.

Now let me explain that I have a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. I KNOW what to do, and we have a very behavioral household. There are rewards for trying, and better rewards for doing. For oppositional behavior, there are set consequences – losing privileges and time-outs along with losing whatever activity he was engaging in during the oppositional period. (Losing it for a time period, not permanently depending on what it is – I don’t want to punish my daughter for her brother’s behavior.) The long and short of it is that I know what to do – and it’s *still* frustrating.

ODD is a frustrating disorder to say the least. Sometimes he’ll just say no and/or refuse to do something for reasons I can’t begin to understand. Sometimes, it’s even for things he enjoys and wants to do. I don’t think even HE understands it sometimes. Stubborn is an understatement – this kid sometimes gets in his own way. Adding the autism into the mix complicates things because he has trouble relating to people anyway. I’ve been asked how much is ODD and how much is autism, and I honestly don’t know except to say I’ve seen both. ODD doesn’t account for his fascination with automatic doors, elevators, transformers (the ones on the power poles, not the toys), and lights or his language and physical delays. Autism doesn’t account for the oppositional behavior and the purposeful defiance that I see.

In the end, I think it burns us both out. I see him get so frustrated and upset and I WANT to help him. My love for this child, in spite of the ODD, is unending and I wish I could do more to help make things a little easier for him. And yet, I get burned out and frustrated. When I’ve changed the disgusting, feces-laden pullup for the 8th or 9th time in a day, there are times when I just want to scream. When I have to deal with “no” and “I won’t” and “You can’t tell me what to do” or him ignoring requests repeatedly, I want to run away. I get angry, frustrated and exhausted.

And yet, we muddle on. Although to some extent it’s a battle of wills, it’s also the story of a son who loves his mother and family and a mother who loves her son with all her heart. Will he get out of pullups? I sincerely hope so. I’m not going to say “by high school” or by anything anymore – my sense is that it just puts pressure on both of us. We already try to make potty training less a matter of control and more a matter of pride for him, and I work hard NOT to get into fights with him over it. The pressure of “by high school” or by anything is more on me – and I have to let go and let him do this on Aidan-time. I’m hoping the peer pressure of being in school will help and so far it seems to have had a positive effect

So where do I go from here? I keep loving this special child that tests my patience every day. I enjoy and appreciate the smiles and the happiness that I’m so lucky to have, given his autism. I love the hugs and imagination, and even the lights, elevators, escalators, and “button doors.” I see things I wouldn’t ordinarily pay attention to, like the color and shape of the transformers on the power poles and the shape of the lights and buttons in elevators.

And, I keep trying. And trying. And trying, and trying. I have faith that he can eventually do this, and that I will survive it. And I never, never, ever give up.

Laura - 1 year old - 1966

Laura - 1 year old - 1966

I know most people in my field say that you don’t really remember things until you’re much older than I was in this picture. But I say they’re wrong.

I remember this picture being taken, not in the way we typically remember things, but in a more tactile, textural way. My memories from this age are all sensory – tactile, specifically. I remember the color and feel of the mesh screen that covered the fireplace (I’ve checked this out with my mom – she doesn’t know how I’d remember that!). On the day in question, I remember the rough, warm feeling of the rock planter that was on the side of the house…the texture was rough, and the rockes were like sandstone. I remember the feel of the breeze, and that the rocks were warm to the touch, and the smell of the daffodil. I remember feeling lifted and then set down into the grass (don’t ask me who did it – I don’t remember that!)…the point of all this reminiscing is that I do remember some things from that time period, all of them sensory.

One other thing I remember is a deep sense of contentment. The adult Laura would say that I trusted the world around me, and myself and felt my place in the world. This sense would become shaken to its core in the next few years, and would continue on throughout much of my life. Living with a depressed mother, an alcoholic father, and then having two sisters added to my life was a lot for this little person to handle, and the next thing I remember is spending a lot of time crying. Interestingly enough, my first clear memory of my mother is of her standing in front of the windows in the living room and crying – because my dad had stayed out drinking all night again and she didn’t know when or if he’d be home. There was a lot of sadness in my family.

Through some pretty dysfunctional family dynamics, I learned that my needs came last, and that I was selfish to even consider myself before everyone else. I had the “selfish” label thrown at me more times than I care to remember, as I’m sure many other little girls have…and I learned quickly that if I trusted my gut feeling on what was right or wrong, I’d end up hurt. Abusive family dynamics work that way –  you learn that what the abusers say is truth IS truth if you want to remain intact. In my family, the abuse was mainly psychological and emotional…but it still left its scars, scars I am still dealing with today. The trust I had in myself was worn away by day after day of denying my own valid needs in favor of catering to others’ – this is what you do to survive.

I’ve struggled with the effects of this pattern for decades now. I really struggle with needing to please people and feeling like I need their approval. I struggle with developing and maintaining healthy boundaries, and I struggle with being myself AND being in healthy relationships. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression. That’s a lot of baggage – and I’m proud to say I’m making progress. I am not the same person I was even two years ago – and I like myself a lot more now. I’m lucky enough to be able to share this process with others, and to help them on their journeys as well.

These days, I’m trying to get back to the little girl in the picture – back to the days when I felt content in myself, trusted the world around me, and trusted myself. It’s hard work, too. There are things I can trust, though – I can trust that the spring warmth on frozen ground will bring flowers and sweet smelling grass. I can trust that the daffodils will still bloom every year. I can trust that my little girl will have the chance to trust herself, and recognize that her needs and wants are valid (even if she doesn’t get everything she wants!) I can trust myself that, as a mother, my daughter and my sons will be raised differently and in a world where their needs are honored and their selves are valued. I can trust that I won’t always be perfect, but that the love I have for my children is enough, and that if I honor them as unique, amazing little people, my love will shine through and guide them on their ways.

And finally, I can trust that if I learn to trust myself, I can be a good example for them, in their journeys.

Pastry bag sketch #1 - LBL

Pastry bag sketch #1 - LBL


Every weekend, one of my two little munchkins and I go to Starbuck’s here in Loveland. The kiddos take turns, and each of them gets some time alone with Mama every other week – we start off with a little breakfast and drink (chocolate milk for them, coffee for me), and then decide where we’re going to go or what we’re going to do when we’re done.

Becca generally likes to get the fruit cup or the protein plate (is watching your eating genetically engraved in a girl’s psyche? Holy cow – we eat well, but I never TAUGHT her that she couldn’t have an occasional doughnut!) She also usually chooses to go do some shopping of one sort or another. A week and a half ago, she wanted to go to Barnes and Noble, and we lucked into a painting demo for kids that the local art league was doing. Needless to say, this was heaven for both of us!

Last weekened, Aidan went with me, and didn’t really want to go anywhere. He wanted to draw, though, and since I had no paper, I thought we could draw on the little brown paper bags that Starbuck’s puts their pastries in. As I was drawing – ZOT! A really, really cool idea struck me.

Wouldn’t it be fun and cool if we got a bunch of people together who ALL did a small piece of work on the pastry bags? It would be a cool little exhibit for the local Starbuck’s – and great, free advertising as well, a great way for people to get to know each other and for local artists to show off their talent, and just plain have some fun! I’m envisioning something as simple as having markers or small paints availabe up to as complex as having mixed-media materials available as well.

I also used to do book arts – wouldn’t it be REALLY cool to bind all these mini-artworks into a book? We could scan the bags and/or color copy them and bind them so each artist could get a copy, if we did this in a small group. We could also get to know and inspire each other…

There are many really cool, interesting possible iterations of this idea, and I’d like to try it. I’m not sure how to begin – I guess maybe talking to the managers of our local Starbuck’s would be a good place to start…all it would cost them is a stack of the paper bags. Maybe we could even buy one for 50 cents to a dollar, with a percentage of the purchase going to help a local charity – like a homeless shelter or battered women’s shelter?

I’d be interested to know if you all have any other ideas – let me know!

Pastry bag art #2 - flower drawing

Pastry bag art #2 - flower drawing

Pine Cone Spiral - copyright 2009 by Laura Burlingame-Lee

Pine Cone Spiral - copyright 2009 by Laura Burlingame-Lee

Hearing my kidlets laugh and playing with them
Helping others
The ocean, the shore, and Connecticut
Beachcombing
Listening to the sound of ocean waves
Traveling to new places
Adventures
Bright, sunny days and cool rainy days
Autumn
Spring
Sun sparkling on untouched snow
The smell of fallen leaves and ripe fruits
The smell of bread baking
Soft blankets and warm quilts
Hot cups of tea
A really good, engrossing book
A clean home
Good humor and jokes
Teaching
Learning – always, always learning!
Working for peace, unity and justice
Playing with art and office supplies
Knitting
Making Art
Photography
Writing and Journaling
Watching football all snuggled up
Swimming
Snuggling!
My spirituality
Learning about new religions and faith traditions
Quiet time
Good music
Appreciating art
Singing
Found and spontaneous art – chalk, PostSecret, guerilla art
Being creative in any way

What makes YOU happy?

Roses from Grandma's Garden - copyright 2009 by Laura Burlingame-Lee

Roses from Grandma's Garden - copyright 2009 by Laura Burlingame-Lee

Something really cool happened this week – Aidan lost his first tooth. I know I wrote about that earlier, but what’s amazing to me, and where I learn so much from this child comes from what he did later.

Now you all know that the tooth fairy is a pretty cool gal, right? Leave your old, fallen-out tooth under the pillow and she gives you MONEY for it – sounds like a golden exchange in MY book! And inflation has affected the exchange rate since when I was a kid…I used to get a dime. Kids nowadays get more. I’ve heard of as much as five dollars…but in our world, the tooth fairy is an activist that shares a little with each kid so (ideally anyway) every kid gets something. So, in our bleeding-heart liberal, activist house the tooth fairy gives the kids a dollar.

Now some kids would be saying, “ONLY a dollar? C’mon, Mom…you can’t buy anything with just a DOLLAR!” Aidan with his autism really doesn’t have any real idea about what quantity means with money, just that money means you can buy things. And Aidan didn’t want the tooth fairy to leave paper money – no, he wanted COINS.

Aidan likes coins…they’re shiny, you can line them up, you can count them, stack them, roll them…they’re a lot more fun than a piece of paper you can’t even color on. Aidan also knows that you can buy things with coins and “cards” ( or “plastic fantastic” as one tour guide I ran into called them.) Paper money really doesn’t mean much to him – coins are more substantial and have a lot more meaning.

For days after the Tooth Fairy came, Aidan held onto his coins with a vengeance. NOBODY was going to touch his coins. He either carried them in his little fist, or had them neatly lined up on the kitchen counter. Yesterday (Saturday) he wanted to take them to church.

Now I run our church nursery during all the services on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Aidan is friends with one of the pastor’s little boys, and I assumed he wanted to show Gabe his coins. Gabe wasn’t there that night – in fact, there was no one in the nursery so we went to sit and enjoy the service. Becca doesn’t do too well during these, but Aidan loves to go. He’ll listen and try to say the prayers, sing the hymns and generally do what everyone else is doing. It’s not just imitation, though – Aidan seems to genuinely “get” church and spirituality. I learn a LOT from this little guy.

So when offering came, Aidan pulled out his four quarters from the tooth fairy, and put them in the offering plate. The usher looked at me, and I shrugged. I whispered to Aidan, “Honey, if you put these in, you can’t take them out again. Do you know that? He nodded and the usher went on. After the service I checked in with him again: “Aidan, did you want to get your money back? I’m sure they’d let you get it.” He shook his head, and I said, “Are you sure, sweetie?”

This is the moment where, yet again, Aidan blew me away. “No Mommy. I give it to God.”

Wow. How many of us, thinking about everything else we can do with money, think of God last? And here is this little 5 1/2 year old boy, who knows he can buy things with coins, giving literally every bit to God.

I like to think of myself as a giving person, but that day, in that room, I saw how little I actually do give. This little person, who gave everything he had, has given far more than I ever will. Most importantly, he gave to me – the lesson of giving, and of God.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you who love your children…the single mothers taking on both roles, the new fathers, and the fathers with children who are growing up…the fathers of grown children and the grandfathers…the men who are fathers in every way except for biology, the men who realize that “fathering” is a verb that goes WAY beyond conception, and most of all, our Father and Creator.

Aidan and Becca, June 2009, Loveland CO

Aidan and Becca, June 2009, Loveland CO

After about a week and a half of weird, volatile weather, we finally have a typical sunny Colorado day. The temperature is 77 – just about perfect for being outside, and the around here to be able to just relax and enjoy the day; usually someone has to be somewhere and we’re rushing here and running there. Today is a wonderful exception to that rule.

We started our day by going to the park and playground. Loveland has some great parks and one of our favorites is Dwayne Webster Veteran’s Park, on Lake Loveland. The munchkins were able to run around and climb, swing, and slide to their hearts’ content, and I grabbed a table in one of the shelters and worked on some art ideas and wrote. There was a group of older adults from an assisted living facility having a picnic in the same shelter, too – I again realized how much I enjoy talking to people and hearing their stories. Some of the people obviously had Alzheimer’s or another sort of dementia, but it was so nice to talk about our kids, show pictures and listen. Two gentlemen were veterans of World War II, and we shared stories – my father was also a veteran of that war. The ladies were thrilled with Aidan and Rebecca, and my little princess-diva was captivated by all the attention. Aidan, as usual, simply took it in stride and looked for red balls.

After playing, we rediscovered the joy of Dairy Queen…is there anything more indicative of summer than seeing children eating ice-cream cones? I love seeing their little faces covered with ice-cream as they dive in and not just eat, but savor the cone with all their senses. Aidan especially loves to do this – he’ll talk about the taste and color of the ice-cream, how the cone has squares on it, and how the paper around the cone sticks to it and is blue. We enjoy these on the patio tables by the street, and he comments on the cars and trucks going by, and wonders where the nearest red balls are. Becca, meanwhile, just sticks her face in the cone and laps it up doggy-style.

Now home, we are outside and I’m on the porch writing while they splash in the kiddy-pool on the front courtyard. We live in a townhouse, with no yard, and I really miss having the expanse of green on which to play and run. Anyway, we have the kiddy pool set up on the flagstones, and they splash around having a good ol’ time. The latest bit of fun is filling cups with rocks and pouring water over them – making fountains. That’s Aidan’s idea, and it’s so nice to see him be a normal kid. (Except when he has to line up the rocks on the porch and freaks out when anyone touches them … sigh.) Even so, he’s engaging and playing and enjoying, and that’s wonderful to see. Little bit by little bit, we are unlocking Aidan, and he’s coming out more and more into the wider world we share.

The Tooth Fairy visited our house recently too – my little boy is growing up, and it’s bittersweet. The sweet part – as you might guess – is that he’s FINALLY potty-training. Big boy pants have been popular around here lately! He wants a guitar when he’s a big boy – and we’ve agreed. He thinks that he’ll get to be on “Jonas” when he gets it, and that Becca can be Hannah Montana. Who says autistic kids are completely in their own world? Higher functioning kiddos like Aidan very definitely notice and interpret the wider world. Getting them to stay there and interact with it is the challenge, and day by day, we’re still unlocking Aidan.

Summer…well, life is good, popsicles are sweet and cold, and the water from the hose is refreshing. Slides are slick, swings rush, and green grass grows, as do our kids – every day.

There are some bright spots today – Aidan, my little 5-year old boy who is autistic, has decided that he wants to wear big-boy pants!!!! Hallelujah, he may not go to school in pull-ups. I’ve been changing his diapers for 5 1/2 years, and I am SO ready to be done with that. I think he got jealous of his 3-year old sister, which is FINE by me. 🙂 That, and the “tooth fairy” left a note for him telling him he had to be a big boy and wear big boy pants, because he’s growing up. ;p

The other bright spot comes from my daughter Rebecca – I’ve never seen a child narrate her life to music the way this little girl does. Everything is something to sing about – “I going to water, water plants…” to “I go to the pot-tay, pot-tay, pot-tay…” to (at the top of her little lungs) “Mommy’s driving, Mommy’s driving cossetrate!” Seeing her sing reminds me of myself at her age…I loved to sing. My mother used to tell me “Laura, you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.” Well, Becca doesn’t either…and I LOVE to hear her singing. It’s the most beautiful sound in the world to me, next to hearing my kidlets laugh – it shows she’s so happy with her world, that she just breaks out in song.

How much better does it get? 🙂

Aidan and Becca playing "hide from Mommy" at the park - June 2009

I have to admit there are days when I wonder HOW we survive our children…”Capt. Obvious” decided, in his infinite lack of wisdom that it would be a good thing to torrent/download a copyrighted file containing the Harry Potter audio books… How many ways can you say, “DUH???” So, in typical litigious fashion, our internet provider (who shall remain nameless, because *I* don’t want to face any kind of lawsuit) has sent their “warning letter across the bow.” Meaning, they have told us, “BUSTED!”

Now, here’s the thing…Capt. Obvious knows better. He’s 19. But this is also a kid who has no driver’s license, no money in the bank, no job, and no car …and who wants to move in with his friends next year to go to another college – one for which he has not applied. Ok – how many ways can you say “Unprepared”? This is a kid who is 19 going on 10-11. He says he’s going to take full responsibility for the copyright thing – and I think that’s wonderful. However, if he gets fined, I’m wondering where he thinks the money is going to come from? AND, he’s 19 – he’s not a kid anymore in the eyes of the law. The penalities could (and should) be bigger for someone who should know better.

Hopefully, this is a warning and it will go no further. Me, being me, though – I catastrophize. I’m envisioning lawyers descending on the house, subpoenas in hand, having to turn over every bit of electronica for examination of something that MIGHT have violated the copyright. I try to be honest – I really do. I know my husband does too – he works for the police, for crying out loud…I have to wonder if Capt. Obvious here realizes the hot water he could get us ALL into.

So…am I ticked off with him? OH yes…Hubby and I have told him he has to erase/delete every single bit of everything he’s ever downloaded. If he doesn’t have a receipt for it – it’s gone. Period. He has to use his computer in full view of us at all times, now, and I’m tempted to tell him he has to use it for school purposes only (although even that might be a stretch given his grades last semester.)

Meanwhile, MY blood pressure has skyrocketed, and I’m afraid I’m going to lose my connection because of his stupidity. Sigh…I guess we’ll see what happens. In the mean time, if I disappear, you know why. If someone else out there has gone through this with their kid, would you please let me know, and let me know how it turned out? I love my kid, pain in the rear that he can be.

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror