Friday, April 29, 2011

M.M.A. or W.W.E.? No... Just M.O.M.

TGIF.... Seriously.

I think I finally fell asleep last night/this morning moments before the royal wedding began.  My mind was swirling after an eventful evening at work.

Frustrated?  Angry?  You bet.

But as I lay in bed tossing and turning, I began to wonder exactly who I am.

Where did this angry, full of fight, vengeful person come from?

I used to be so quiet.

In fact, way back in the last millennium, my brother Ken wrote a poem about the family for Christmas.  Each sibling was singled out with their own little verse.

"Frances so quiet and so serene... To you Life could never be so mean."

Christmas 1974.

So where did this person that I have become, come from?

In a nice-nice world, I could say it comes naturally from the mother-cub bond.  But where that relationship is protective, I am more angry.

And I believe Autism is the cause. 

Not because of the  But because of the reaction of the world out there.  The ignorance.  The judging with the "I know better than you" attitude.  The insurance companies.  The services...or lack there of. 

How much have I had to fight?  How much have Rich and I had to fight?

It's exhausting.  But you do it.

And you can almost never relax.  An insurance denial.  A look from a stranger out in public.  A mess up in the schedule.

A fighter.  Always a fighter.

And then the bus comes.  You kiss your kid and send him off for the day.

You close the door and unlace your gloves but you never quite take them off.  You breath a sigh of relief and relax your stance for just a moment.

Eventually, the phone rings, the mail comes, the unkind word is spoken....

You come out of your corner, ready to fight again.

So TGIF my friends....TGIF.... 

And for my son.... TGIF.... Thank God I'm Fighting.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

One If By Land, Two If By Cell

Where do I begin?  Oh where?

Yesterday there was simply too much to do.  Thus, the mommy-do list was chucked out the window and my only goal was to shower.


I wanted to write about cooking club at the junior high this morning but instead, I will talk about the phone....

No, this is not going to be a tirade about Sean going over his minutes.  He doesn't even have a cellphone.

This is going to be about the old-fashioned land line, one of which I still have. 

Yesterday, was cooking club at the junior high.  Or so I thought....  It was marked down on the trusty calendar.  It was even stated on the email that was so wisely printed and attached to said calendar.

But, alas.... it was not meant to be.

Sean, however, was picked up from his day school and shuttled over to the junior high to enjoy....nothing.  I, blissfully unaware of the schedule mishap, was driving about town taking care of things at my mom's and picking up Ashley at preschool.

I usually ignore the answering machine and its blinking light - it can only mean someone, somewhere, wanting something.  Maybe it was instinct, but yesterday I was drawn to the red flashing button.  I pressed it and a voice came on.

It took me a second because the "real" voice was talking about the machine's voice...

And then I realized it was Sean.... 

He wasn't saying "Hey, mom.  Come and get me."  It more like recording his conversation with the school secretary.  Of course, I was able to figure it out and was on the phone with the school in a split second.

"This is Frances.  I'll be right there...."

I was relieved to see a smiling Sean emerge from school.  The shredding of routine a mere blip on the radar.

"Sean, do you know my cellphone number."


"Why didn't you call it?  I was at Grandma's and then right across the street picking up Ashley."

"Because I was calling from a land line."

In the two minutes it took to get home I tried to explain that he can call a cell phone from any phone.  I'm sure Sean heard none of it.  His mind and mouth were already racing through his list of topics.

We got home and I proceeded to scurry about trying to get ready for work.

I yelled from my bedroom, "Sean, call your dad and find out how soon he'll be home!"

He did.  He called his dad.  He called his dad's cellphone....from a land line.

I will never be able to figure out that boy!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Toast, A Toaster, and A Smile

It is just past noon and I am finally beginning to emerge from my NyQuil induced fog.  I am left wondering if Star Jones from Celebrity Apprentice is really going to perform Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star in front of Steven Tyler for her American Idol audition.

It all seemed so real.....

Unlike Sean, I believe my symptoms are due to allergies.

This morning would have been the perfect day to call all the kids in sick and go back to bed.  But alas, I found myself once again in the car driving Sean to school.

"How is school going and you can't use the word 'great'?"


I am in no condition to try and outwit my 12 year-old.  I wave the white flag and let him speak.

Sean picks up his favourite subject from the past few days and begins talking about the new game that they are playing at lunchtime with his classroom psychologist.  It's a game called "Attack" and before I start getting hate mail.... it's a boardgame.  They play boardgames all the time.  This particular year they have been playing RISK and now, Attack.  It teaches them to think before they act, to work as a team, and to lose gracefully.

Or that's what we are all hoping for.....

It makes him excited to go to school every day.  One time I scheduled an orthodontist appointment close to lunchtime.  Silly me for not wanting my kid to lose out on classroom time and to be efficient.

Sean told the orthodontist that he (meaning the doc) had to hurry up because he (Sean) had to get back to school.

Thankfully, the team was amused.

Kids will say the darnedest things....

Which brings me full circle back to American Idol and the contestant on it with Aspergers.  I don't know his name and I'm not even sure he's still in the running.  But I do know that a few weeks ago he made a reference to the Pepsi commercial with Michael Jackson.  The Internet was all over this poor kid and his comment. 

I felt bad for him.  He made a joke.  Sure it was on a Coke sponsored show but give the kid a break.

He has a quick wit about him.  That should be commended.

And if he were in Vegas or on Saturday Night Live, he'd certainly be getting the big bucks....

So let's celebrate and tip our glasses to the funnies and the quick-witted's amongst us....the people that belt out Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with all the gusto and confidence of a trained opera star.

We can all use a few more smiles throughout our day.

I know I can.

Crap, just burned my bagel in the toaster.  Oh well... I wouldn't have been able to taste it anyway.

Have a great day everyone - and smile!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Eggs-actly What The Doctor Ordered

Sean was sick over the weekend - cold or killer allergies...don't know which yet.

We're not surprised.  Sean is famous for being ill around the holidays.  His first Christmas was a double-ear infection.  His second was spent in the ER getting fluids during a nasty bout with the flu.

Over the years we've learned to adjust along the way...keep things in perspective.

Thus, this holiday's germ invasion didn't stop us from celebrating Easter in our own unique, secular way.  Nothing says "Easter dinner" like leftover Lou Malnati's deep-dish pizza.  Yummy!

We kept it quiet and tried to deal with Sean's blend of illness mixed with adolescent crankiness as best as we could.

When Carissa and Ashley talked about searching for eggs, Sean made it clear that he was not the one that suggested it.

I think my son has finally reached the "I'm too cool for that" phase....

We're not big candy eaters so it was only after being reassured that all the plastic eggs were filled with money that Sean finally picked up his bucket and headed out to the backyard.

Coming from a family of nine children where everything from cookies to ice cream was doled out in equal shares, I made sure that each kid knew they were to pick up only 10 eggs.

Ashley found her's right away.  Carissa came in next.

And Sean wandered.  He had seven.

We attempted to hint with the Hot-Warm-Cold game but only succeeded in making him angry.

He was determined to find the rest on his own.


And you all know how loaded the word "fine" can be....

Eventually he located #8 and then we told him that the rest were hidden inside the screen house.


That wasn't the "backyard."  That wasn't what we had told him.  We had broken our own rules.

I cringed every time Sean looked at the egg sitting on top of the Fisher Price basketball hoop and didn't see it.  One glance, two glances, three... YEA!  Of course, true to his nature, Sean figured out the hardest one located under the grill cover pretty quickly.

Finally, he had ten.

We headed into the house and made our leftovers.  Sean played computer, relaxed, coughed and sneezed.

In other words, just another typical day... another typical holiday for the Lehning family.

We can only wonder what's in store for us next.... Memorial Day is right around the corner!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Good Son

Today is Good Friday.  Not that I'm super religious or anything but it is a day of significance nonetheless.

Today is the day that we would colour Easter eggs with my dad.  I can't ever remember a time when we didn't.

But my dad died in November.  Today my mom will try to carry on the tradition.

How does all this factor into a blog on Autism?  Simple.


Last year my family experienced two deaths.  One was our beloved dog of 14 years, Whizzer, in June and then, of course, my dad Thanksgiving week.

In no way am I equating the two....

The way Sean dealt with both was remarkable.  He had such grace throughout....
When Whizzer suddenly became ill, there was no denying that something was seriously wrong.  It was only a span of two weeks but since she was home the entire time, it was extremely intense.  Not once do I recall Sean falling apart or even crying during those days.  He had his alone time with her.  He helped make her paw prints.  Only on the night she died did he cry.

Even then he was steady and calm as could be.

When my dad became ill it was really a shock to my family. 

On one of the last days of October, Sean interviewed my dad as part of a merit badge for Boy Scouts.  He had to interview a veteran and my dad had served in the Korean War back in the 50's.

I videotaped the exchange.  Sean was amazing.  He listened to my dad tell stories.  Since Sean is a history buff - specifically war and weapon related - he was able to ask detailed questions.  It was one of those great wonderful moments between grandson and grandfather. 

My father went into the hospital a couple of weeks later.  It was minor. 

I brought Sean to visit him.  Sean walked in the room and right away took my father's hand and asked, "Grandpa, what was your favourite story?"

My dad replied, "Oh Sean, there's so many."

Days later my father died.

Sean was so strong.  I barely remember him shedding a tear.  But I think he knew and understood.

At the cemetery I stayed behind to watch the casket and vault lid lowered.  My husband was going to take Ashley to the car.  I asked Carissa and Sean if they wanted to go with their dad.  Sean said he wanted to stay.  Carissa stayed as well.

The three of us stood there in silence.  Watching.

But it wasn't Sean, my little boy, who stood next to me.....

Instead, it was a young man standing next to his mom and his little sister - watching over them and protecting them - just like any good son, autistic or not, should.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Trying Times...and Trying...and Trying....

"Nice and slow."

The words still hung in the air this morning as Sean opened the car door and bolted for the school entrance.

Oh, that boy....

You have to wonder sometimes with him.  Is it autism or adolescence that is the cause for his selective hearing?

I know as a matter of I-paid-a-$1000-for-a-test-that-is-not-covered-by-insurance fact that Sean does not have an auditory processing disorder.

I did get my parking validated though.  Woo hoo.....

And.... my son does know the meaning of 'slow' as evidenced from a stunt he pulled a couple of weeks ago.

We were driving to school as usual and I was thoroughly enjoying the delay caused by construction that afforded me the luxury of lecturing my captive son for a few extra minutes.  Heck, I could even drive around the block if I sensed he wasn't getting my point.

I was in prime form.  'Slow' was going to be stuck in his head for the entire day if I had my way.  Gave him the definition, used it in a sentence...even spelled it out and ended with an agonizingly drawn out pronunciation.

I was really pleased with myself.

Sean said I was annoying.

And then we pulled up to the school.  He exited the car with the usual "I know, I know" and then did something beyond belief.

He started walking slowly.

I almost burst into applause until I saw his face....and the smirk.

The kid was watching me watch him.  And boy did he put on a show!  

I tried keeping an eye on him in the rear view mirror but exiting the kiss n drive for the junior high is like pit road at a NASCAR race.  Probably more dangerous.

How soon did he break into a run?  Who knows.... He was gone in a flash.

I drove out of  the parking lot shaking my head and muttering, "Smug little...." to the morning DJ. 

Looking back you have to laugh because it is that "typical" moment that you so wish for and cherish.  The day he mouths back at you.  The day he conspires with his sister.  The day he breaks the rules purely for the sake of breaking the rules. 

Which of those adolescent milestones will we hit?  Which ones will autism steal away from us?

I don't know.  Every day is a new challenge.  Every day is a new triumph.  And you never know how those scales will be balanced when night falls.

Will I ever get Sean to walk at a normal pace?  Probably not.  But so far, I'm having fun trying.  And that's all I can do.... try.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You Bet Your Dickens...A Tale of Two Times

The 3 to 4 o'clock hour yesterday offered up quite a dichotomy....

I was watching Dr. Phil in between picking up Ashley at preschool, Carissa's carpool arriving, and Sean's bus pulling up.  The hour filled with revolving doors, a symphonic cacophony of stories of their days and a swirling storm of thrown coats, shoes, backpacks and socks.

And all the while, Dr. Phil is talking about violent kids....

One, in particular, showed signs of being on the spectrum.  The video footage that they shot at home showed how the parents dealt with his violent outbursts and trying to restrain him, or, at the very least, attempt to keep everyone safe.

I remember those days....  I remember having Sean down on the floor, trying to control his flailing arms and legs as he screamed.  I remember crying and begging him to just stop.... please just stop.

It could have been over something as simple as him wanting to do his homework and not finding a pencil....

My friends laugh at me for having my children's things overly organized.  We are talking individual bins - some of them clear - labelled for specific Burger King/McDonald theme toys, trucks, Slinky's, animals, etc.  It's an obsession for me.  Everything with regards to the kids has a very specific place and I completely freak if things aren't put away properly.

The reason is simple. 


Years ago, if Sean couldn't find the wind up Chicken Little toy that burst out of the egg within a mere nanosecond of him asking for it, he would meltdown for hours.  I couldn't take a 3 hour battle over a toy.

As I sat there and watched Dr. Phil, I also remembered how difficult it was to talk to the professionals back then.  Before Sean's diagnosis, I had been put through hell and beaten down to nothing because the "professionals" all thought - and said way too many times - that I needed to be a better parent.  Sean was the way he was because of me....

One phone call, in particular, stands out.  The psychologist called and asked how I was doing and how was I handling a certain issue that we were having.

I was terrified that if I said the wrong thing she would have my children taken away from me.  Terrified.  Absolutely terrified.  I lived in fear of that every day for years.

A truly dark memory in deed.  Thanks Dr. Phil.

And then Sean walked in the door with report card in hand.  It doesn't matter that it was sealed and addressed to mom and dad....he opened it anyway.  He said he was curious.

All A's and one B.  Good job.

But the thing that struck me the most was the comment on the bottom.

"Sean is a definite role model and example for his peers to follow.  We hope that he continues to set a positive example for others."

I almost cried.  I was so proud.

Now when I am reminded of the past by a television show or the broken closet door in the bedroom, I can look back and see how far he's come.

I always knew that he was a great kid.  He is a great kid.  Now, finally, the rest of the world is beginning to see it.

While Dr. Phil made me recall the worst of times, Sean reminded me that things do change and that these are the best of times...

And tomorrow may even be better.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hoping To Find Friends...And Not Just In Syndication

Today is one of those classic stay-at-home dreary days.  I'm fortunate enough to have the day off of work so sloppy sweats for the day it is!  I'm not out to impress all the other preschool moms at drop-off or pick-up....

I wish I could have given Sean the day off.  I would have liked to have kept him home and cuddled all day with him like I used to.  But he's grown now....

Today when I dropped him off at school I had a wistful-mom moment.  Sean got out of the car - I'm careful to give him the kiss on the head before I get near the school and no longer shout "I love you" out the opened car window - and I watched him "fast walk" through the crowd of kids waiting to be let in.

He didn't stop to say "Hi" to anyone.  No one stopped him to say "Hey".  He just walked through the crowd and didn't notice anyone around him.

And no one noticed him.

I wondered for a moment if Sean had any friends and for a split-second my heart broke.

Sean has never been to a sleepover and hasn't been to a birthday party since the days of when you invited the entire class.  No one really knows him and how truly amazing and wonderful he is.

It's been painfully obvious over the years how he's been excluded.  One time we were out as a family at a small indoor amusement park/video game place.   A classmate of Sean's - and fellow Cub Scout - was having a birthday party.  It was as close to an all-class invite as you could get....except that Sean was with us. 

I felt so bad. 

I couldn't hide the party from him and I refused to hide him from the party. 

In a rare vindictive witch moment, I hoped the parents of the boy and all the other parents that had stayed with their kids that day saw us there and felt horrible.

I'm sure they didn't.

But that was years ago.

Will Sean find friends as he transitions from the therapeutic day school program to the mainstreaming of the junior high?

I don't know.

And if I think about, then my heart just might break.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Full Moon in Chicagoland at Christmastime

I awoke to snow covering the newly greened grass.  Guess I can't mow today....

I am assuming that most of the Chicagoland area is grumpy this morning over the setback in weather.  My son is amongst the leaders. 

"When will Spring come?" he moaned this morning.

"Soon, Sean.  Hopefully soon."

My son is adverse to wearing such things as long pants, long-sleeved shirts, coats, socks....  The kid is made for beachfront living on some tropical island.

Clothes bother him.  Confine him.

Every day after school, Sean walks in the door and the shoes are off before the elongated "Helllllllll....llllooooo" is out of his mouth.  The socks are tossed down the hall - never quite making it into the basket.  The door closes on his room and within 5 minutes of departing the bus in full winter gear, he will be stripped down to shorts and a t-shirt.

Every day.  Without fail.

Oh, and no underwear.

I don't know what it is about underwear but he can't stand it.  Briefs, boxers, boxer-briefs... they are all met with the same disdain.

Even Michael Jordan's comfort waistband can't win Sean over.

It took us years - YEARS! - to get Sean used to wearing underwear when he was going out in public.  He was always pretty good about dressing himself.  The shirt might be on backwards or the buttons might be off-kilter, but at least he tried.  His shoes would be on....

Normal people would assume he was ready to go.

Not us.

"Sean, do you have underwear on?"

"Uuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhhh."  The overly exasperated sigh and stomping off to his room would mean that I didn't need to phone a friend.

That would be a "No.... Regis.  Final answer."

Sean will be 13 next month.  A milestone indeed.  He has accomplished so much.  Although we still ask every once in awhile, we believe that Sean has even mastered the art of wearing underwear.

However, that still poses a dilemma.

Since he only wears underwear half the time, I don't have to replace them all that often.

Dang, what am I to buy him for Christmas then? 

Because it is, after all, beginning to look a lot like Christmas out there.  Don't you think?

Happy 2 months and over 2300 page views!!!    Thank you everyone... I am extremely humbled.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Here's Looking At You, Kid

Hope everyone is enjoying their weekend....

I have been guest posting on a site called Acting Balanced as part of Autism Awareness Month.

As promised, here is my first guest post...


My twelve-year-old, autistic son Sean walked in the door yesterday and said something that frightened me to my very core….

He came in talking about girls.


Nothing good can come from this new found fascination.  I can only speak for myself, but in seventh and eighth grade I remember the humiliation, the heartache, the tears. 

Considering I met my husband in 7th grade, I cannot honestly say that the memories are more bad than good but the bad were really, really bad.  I’m still scarred!

I can jump ahead and spend sleepless nights wondering how I’m going to protect my son’s heart from the fickleness of a 12 or 13 year-old female, but we have more pressing details to attend to first.

Sean has almost no eye contact.  Seriously.   I’m not sure if a girl said “Hi” to him that he would be able to pick her out of a line-up of two, let alone an entire junior high filled with them.

The girl he has set his eyes on (pun intended) is a classmate from when he was in 2nd grade and still attending his home school.  Sean claims she was his girlfriend but I think it was more like he was totally in love with her and she barely knew he existed.

Experiencing unrequited love at age 7…  It’s a cruel, cruel world out there!

I have to give him credit, though.  Sean has a plan.  He has started asking his classmates if they know her and what classes, if any, they have with her.  He wants to figure out her schedule, map it out, and then conveniently “intercept” her during passing period.

At first I found that strangely stalker-ish, but then again, isn’t that something that we all do?  You see the cute guy at Starbucks on Mondays at 8:10 am and you plan all your future Monday mornings hoping for the “intercept”….

My guy friends thought it was cute.  I am sure if I weren’t his mom, I would think so as well.

At the very least, it has him talking with other kids and discussing what any typical adolescent male talks about – girls!

How will he recognize her in a sea of faces streaming quickly past him on their way to their classes?  He can’t even look into the faces of his two blonde aunts to know the difference between them.  If he meets her in a group, since he doesn’t maintain any eye contact, how will she know that he’s talking to her or connecting with her and not some other girl in the group?

Eventually, Sean will have to start practicing looking at faces and noticing features.  He’s a good-looking kid.  Smart, funny, polite… a great little catch for any 7th grade girl.  Being autistic only adds to his quirky charm.

And since he can’t hold a secret from me even if he wanted to, I’ll never have to worry about him sneaking kisses behind the bleachers!  Thank you Autism!!! 


 You can see it live at:

Thanks everyone!  See you on Monday!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Two Words Too Many

Yesterday I told my son to shut up.  Yes, my autistic son. 

And it wasn't a quick demand.  It was drawn out... Shut.... Up.... and it was loud.

I could have slapped him across the face and he would have looked less stunned.

Did I feel awful?  Yes.  Am I still kicking myself for doing it?  Yea...

My hours changed where I work.  I used to be able to go in after my husband got home.  Since January, I've had to start at 5 pm and that means taking the kids and putting them in the babysitting room at work for an hour or so while Rich makes his way through traffic.

I dare not leave them home alone yet.  Surely, I was babysitting by the age of twelve but that was over 30 years ago.  Things are different today.  Life is different.

Besides, the uncertainty of Rich's commute is too great.  He works too far away from home.  Most days his drive is a breeze.  But there are those times... the accident, the weather, the construction... that will wreak havoc along the way.

What if Sean freaks out because the phone rang?  What if one of the girls gets hurt?  What if the doorbell rings and they answer it?

Too much to think about...  Too many "what ifs"....

So I bring them to the babysitting room on the nights I work.  Sean doesn't like to go.  He barely gets off the bus and we have to get ready to leave.  He needs his down time.

Yesterday was just one of those days.  Sean was exhausted.  He wanted to stay home and relax.  Carissa and Ashley were fine with going but Ashley was upset about the intrusion into her sacred playtime with Carissa that the drive would cause.  I had other things on my mind and a million things on my to-do list.

The last thing I needed was resistance from the troops.

Sean put his coat on first and zippered.  Ashley started crying because Sean had won the coat-putting-on contest that only she is allowed to triumph at.

When Ashley started crying, Sean got upset.  He gets frustrated with her because he doesn't know why she cries or screams.  He'll yell back at her, "Ashley, what do you want?!"  You can almost hear the crack in his voice, see the tears in his eyes.

It's so hard to go to work - something that I have to do - knowing that I have to put Sean through a difficult transition and the girls have to be uprooted in the middle of their playtime.

But I have to do what I have to do.  And I only work a few nights a week.

So yesterday while trying to get out the door, trying to hurry along in order to avoid being late due to construction, Ashley started crying and Sean started to scream.

And I shouted. 

And I instantly felt bad.

Not because I lost my cool.  I'm human.  I am not Super Mom.

But because I knew why Ashley was crying... and I knew why Sean was shouting. 

And for a split-second, I did not give my autistic son... the compassion and understanding that he deserves.

The look on his face said it all and no apology or hug could ever erase that.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Great Flood...of Worry

I forgot the book yesterday but overall, we held it together pretty well.

I worry about the next several weeks.  With each passing day, the pressure for Sean keeping himself together becomes more and more intense.

From Spring Break to the end of the school year there are eleven, almost uninterrupted, weeks.  A day off for Good Friday and one for Memorial Day.  Other than those, Sean's in for a long haul.

He's grumpier in the morning.  Tired.  Complaining.  Today it was about his comforter being more dense than the one (actually I have two) on my bed.  He says he overheats and then can't sleep well.  If he wouldn't burrow down under the blanket and then not only cover his head but tuck in everything like a turtle shell, I'm sure he would have a more contented slumber.

I tell him this.  But I'm only the mom.  What do I know?

I do know that I worry about him most during this time of year.  He's doing wonderfully in school.  The transition is going better than expected.  He's been thrown a million curve balls - a long-term substitute for a hand-picked teacher, a schedule mix-up, another schedule mix-up, difficulties on the bus....and then add in braces in January and my new, longer, working hours.

It's been a ton of changes and yet, the kid has sailed through.

But now is that time of year.... where he's tired of keeping everything in check and processing so much so quickly.  He's exhausted.

I worry about him because he's broken down in the past during this time. 

This next part is really difficult to talk about but it's reality - you all know it is....  It's when your child has a meltdown at school and has to be restrained.

I know.... it's horrible.  To imagine that happening....  It shreds your heart.

But it happens.

When Sean was younger our goal was simply to get through the day.  Not that it happened that often - it didn't.  But you always worried it would....

And it always happened during that time between Spring Break and the end of the year.

One year he almost made it.  It was three days before the end of the school year.  3 days!!!!  He was so disappointed.  He had tried so hard.

The next year he made it through.  And the next.  And the next.

I don't know when I will stop worrying about Sean having a Defcon 1 meltdown.  I certainly won't stop now - not at this time of the year.

So as I calculate the number of lunches I have left to make, the number of granola bars that I have yet to purchase, I also count the number of days to freedom.

For Sean, it is the freedom from noise and people streaming past him....of immeasurable expectations from all the new people in his life.

For me, it is the freedom from that crushing worry that I have as I drop him off at school every morning.

40 days...and counting.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Keeping My Head In The Game

I made the wrong chocolate milk for Sean this morning.  Oops.  Put in Quik instead of Ovalitine.  The kid was a champ and gulped it down and then asked for the real thing.

Good job, Sean.  Bad job, Mom.

I wonder if this will be how my day will go....

Oh no, I'm now arguing with a 5 year old over my giving her three pieces of paper to draw on instead of  just the single one that she requested.... 

I really should call it quits and go back to bed.

Anyway... It's orthodontist and cooking club day for Sean.  A day far away from our normal routine.  A day that will have to be meticulously gone over with Sean so he knows what to expect and when.  It also means for me running around, watching the clock and trying to remember all the details that will ensure the day will go as smoothly as possible.

Emails to both schools informing them of the appointment and the early dismissal/late arrival that will result...check.  Phone call to the bus company to cancel transportation between the two schools...check.

Now as long as I don't forget to bring his toothbrush and toothpaste so he can brush before the appointment...  Oh, and don't forget the Advil for after it....  And his lunchbox .... And the book that he left in his loft bed that he wants for his free time later in the day....And his soap so he can wash his hands for cooking club after school....


Details, details, details....

My life centers around details.  But no more or no less than the life of a mom who's child is not autistic. 

I often drive by my town's community athletic fields and I remember what life was like before "typical" and "atypical" became part of my vocabulary.

Soccer practice for Sean.  Cheer leading and dance for Carissa.  A new baby....

Each activity (and yes, having a new baby is definitely an activity!)... each had their own bag or backpack.  There were days when I would leave the house wondering if I was going on vacation because I had so many bags in tow.  I often worried if I had the right kid at the right field on the right day at the right time in the right uniform.  It was always a huge sigh of relief that would escape from me when I would see others from their groups.  Whew!  I did it!

Now that my kids are older, my schedule could surely be more hell-ish.  Cheer leading and soccer are more than two nights a week.  One dance class would certainly not be enough.  And Ashley would have her own activities.  I could be living out of my mini-minivan, ordering dinner through a speaker.

Fortunately, my kids have decided to fore go their old lives.  They like scouting and to read.  They like to go to the pool and play in the backyard or ride bikes.

Our lives are simple.  Quiet. 

It's still busy with therapy and all the other things and events that happen - camping, community service, field trips, honor roll activities, homework.

My life is still ruled by the clock and the calendar.  I still have details.  While they may be small to others, only we can know how important they truly are and what missing one could do to an entire day....

Like switching Quik and Ovaltine....

Oh, the horrors!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

In Search of "Mom"

I love you, Mom.

Four words.  So simple.  And yet Sean won't say them.

I tried again this morning.  We were heading out the door to school, my title of "Ultimate Fashionista" clearly intact in my fleece pajama pants, old sweatshirt and flip-flops.

"I love you, Sean."

"Love you" was grunted back from somewhere between the house and the mini-minivan.

"I love you, Mom," I said back to him.

"Love you"....

Hmmm.... grunted AND annoyed.

I dropped him off at school and hoped for the best.

Sean's tone has always... geez... how do I describe it?  Well, it's always sucked.  It's gruff.  It sounds like he's perpetually annoyed with the world.  He's often mistaken as being rude.

We've tried.  Oh man, have we tried.

Even last night as we called out to him that it was time to shut off his light and go to sleep, his "O....KAAAAAA" came across as less than pleasant.

"Sean, watch your tone."


I've tried over the years to soften his tone.  When he responds "Ok,"  I respond back, "Ok, Mom."  It's that extra little syllable that seems to help.  When he says, "Love you," to me, I almost always say, "I love you, Mom," back.

He ignores me.  Absolutely ignores me.

It could be his autism.  It could be his adolescence.  It could be both.  I don't know.

But what I do know is this....   there won't be any whispered sweet nothings behind the bleachers anytime soon.

It's not that my handsome, brilliant boy won't be the object of some teenage girl's affections.  No, it's not that at all.

Sean can't whisper.

Simple as that.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Camping & Questions... It's All Good!

Good afternoon and welcome back....

It's been more than a few days since I last posted.   Sorry!  It was just one of those times I guess where you hunker down and get through moment by moment.  Thankfully, it really had very little to do with the kids and had more to do with Life getting in the way and under my skin.

But I'm back...

And I swear, Sean is taller than me this morning.

I had been in and out all weekend - trying to camp with Carissa and her Girl Scout troop.  We left on Friday for a destination about 60 miles west of our northwest suburban Chicago home.  Unfortunately, I had already committed to take an extra shift at the park district where I work sometimes on Saturday nights.  Thus, after some fun and games and lunch on Saturday, I hit the road back to Elk Grove.

Sean was relieved to see me.  He always worries when things are off schedule and people are not where they are supposed to be.  It doesn't even have to be something as extreme as camping.  One evening in October he went to a Halloween party/movie night at the home of a fellow Boy Scout less than a mile from the house.  We've been in Boy Scouts for years and have known the family since preschool.  Although this type of event would be a first for Sean and for us as a family,  we were quite comfortable dropping both Sean and Carissa off at the party.

Sean called home about an hour into the party to check on his little sister Ashley.  It was a cute moment on the outside, a sure sign of anxiety on the inside.  We reassured him that all was well and he went on to have a great time.   

Another 'first' conquered.

But, back to camping for a bit....

Some of the moms and I were able to sit around and chat for a few moments.  Our girls will be heading off to junior high next year and a whole new world to navigate.  Us parents will be the ones desperately hanging on to the steering wheel while we travel the winding roads of puberty, adolescence, and (gulp) first loves.

After awhile, they asked me how Sean was doing.  That, eventually, led to talking about autism.

The one mom apologized for asking so many questions.  I told her that I don't really mind.  In fact, I like talking about it.  Mind you, I don't want to eat, sleep and breathe autism.  My life is not entirely autism.  Therefore,  I do not allow my world to be taken over by it.

But I do not mind talking about it at all.  It is by listening and asking questions that you learn.  If I can teach someone the smallest thing about Sean or autism in general, then I I believe... it will lead to a greater understanding of this thing that affects our child and our lives so intimately.

They say understanding leads to compassion.... 

And this world could certainly use a little more of that.

So ask away...  I'm here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When "Soon" Lasts Forever....

I sit here this morning with Pepsi in hand and a sparkly purple, cone-shaped  princess hat on...

No, my friend, today is not going to be business as usual at the Lehning household.

If fact, I expect it to be rather difficult.

My 2 year-old nephew arrived early this morning to spend the day with me.  Having grown up in a large family with the mantra of "What's one more?"... the extra mess, the extra noise, the extra hot dog for lunch hardly registers on my things-to-do list.

For Sean, however, it is a huge, huge deal.  It does not matter that Sean will be gone at school most of the day.  It does not matter that my nephew has little more than the slightest of a passing interest in playing with Sean's things or competing directly with him for computer time.

Nothing matters to Sean except that there is another body in his house.  Another person to make noise.  Another person to make a mess.  Another person to interfere with his perfectly planned, perfectly timed routine.

This person, this tiny, little person, has invaded his world.

This is not the first time I have babysat my nephew so it is nothing new for Sean.  I'm guessing that after Sean gets home from school, he will forage through the pantry and refrigerator and then retreat to his room.  After about 30 minutes the first call for me will be heard.

"When is he going to leave?"

"Soon, Sean.  Soon."

I dare not give a time because that then would cause Sean to intensely watch the clock.  His anxiety will grow with every passing second.  Being late would have a most distressful consequence.

"Soon" is all I will give.

Five minutes will pass.  Ten.  With each beckoning of me, the tears will flow more freely, the voice will be more tense, the pleas will be more gut-wrenching.

It will not be easy for Sean to get through this experience but he must.  He has to learn how to cope.  He cannot live isolated.  My family cannot live isolated.

In a twist that can only be described as really bad timing, today is also early dismissal for Carissa's school.  Once a month, she gets home an hour early and has a friend in tow.  It's her one time a month... to be like every other kid and have a friend over for an hour or two.

Today is that day....  Today is her day.

I've warned Sean about what awaits him after school today.  I will try to handle and manage his discomfort as best as I can.  Hopefully, the weather will hold and he can escape outdoors and swing on the playset.  It calms him.  The back-and-forth, the quiet.... 

Eventually, he will ask...

Eventually, he will cry.....

And all I can do is watch the clock and say "Soon, Sean.  Soon.  It will all be over soon."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Stop The (Bus) Ride...I Want To Get Off !!

Today I have decided to give up Pepsi.  Not forever...yet.  Just for the day.  And I have so stupidly proclaimed my goal on my Facebook page.  My friends will keep me honest and flog me publicly if I fail.

Being the mother of three young children, I'm not sure if this is the wisest of decisions but I hope that this little addictive part of my personality will be replaced with an equally addictiveness to...oh say... eating healthier.

Yea.  Right.  I'll just keep thinking that....

My willpower has already been tested.  This morning as Sean was doing his final preparations for school he brought up the bus....and the rules....again.


Oh, I thought we were over this!!!!!  I thought we had somehow magically made our way through his brain and he got it.


Have wall... will beat head against it.  Hard.  Mine.  Not his.

Of course since the conversation (ok...loud discussion on my part) continued for the duration of the short drive to the junior high, I can only wonder and worry about where it left him.

Will he revert back to his rule-pushing ways today?  Or, will he settle and finally agree that Mom is right?

Throw me a bone, Sean!  Throw me a bone....

I have The Lion King's Circle of Life song filtering through my head right now.... a product of both circumstances and watching Due Date with Robert Downey, Jr. last night.

Ahhhh, the infamous circle... the merry-go-round that just won't stop.

You think you have it figured out and then the rotation brings you right back to where you started.

The bus is my merry-go-round.  My big, ugly, yellow merry-go-round.  And the one working the controls is Sean.  He, alone, will decide when the ride comes to a full and complete stop.  And then we'll move on to the next ride.  And the next. 

An amusement park filled with an infinite number of merry-go-rounds.

Pepsi, anyone?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Extra Cheese, Extra Loud, Please!

America's Funniest Videos is going to cause me to go deaf.

But more about that later.

First, a bit of housekeeping....I was invited to guest post on the website for Autism Awareness Month.  You can find my article "Here's Looking At You, Kid."  under Recent Posts..AAM Guest Post... Here's Looking... on the left-hand side of the website.  I will post the article here as well at a later date.  Thanks to everyone for being so supportive!!!

Now on to the blog....

I didn't post over the weekend.  Not a single word.  I know, I know.  Strange.  It was merely one of those weekends where you feel like curling up on the couch with a blanket, a movie and something chocolate.

But that, for the most part, didn't happen.

5:24 am on Sunday... Why is it always on the one day you get to sleep in???  5:24 am Sean pounces on my bed and says, "Hey mom, Ashley needs you."

His hearing is incredible.  I wanted to explain to him that she was simply babbling and until I hear the distress call of "Mom!" that I wasn't going to go to her.

But it was 5:24 am....on a Sunday... did I really want to get into a major discussion with my son on raising a now 5 year-old child? 

I think not.

I "save" Ashley from her bed and take her to mine to snuggle and hopefully get back to sleep.  After an hour of twisting, turning and her feet burrowing into and under me, I call it quits and get up.

Sean was already playing on the computer.  I went into the kitchen to make some toast.  The furnace wasn't running and Smokey was not awake, the loss of the click-clack of her nails on the floors only adding to the silence.  Thus, the house was unusually quiet and yet, Sean still wore his noise-reducing headphones.

Hmmmm... quiet house... headphones... me in another room....

You can only imagine how loud his call of "Mom" was at that hour.  It was immediately met with an equally as loud "Shhhhhhhh."  I went over to him and attempted to explain, in my best "I'm trying not to be crabby" voice about how everyone else was still sleeping.  I asked him what he needed so badly that he had to bellow my name at daybreak.

"What are we doing today?"


"Nothing, Sean.  We're doing nothing."

The day wore on and my crabbiness grew as the effects of 3 hours of sleep beat me down.  My brain was fried.  I did get a bit of respite, though, when the kids were able to go outside in between the scattered showers while Rich picked up take-out.

And then dinner came.  As a treat, we ordered pizza and watched America's Home Videos on tv in the kitchen while we were eating.  Some seats at the table make for better viewing than others.  I was kicked out of my usual place and not at all unhappy that I would not have the pleasure of viewing babies vomit or skateboarders tempt the fate of their future fertility while enjoying dinner.

I wound up sitting next to Sean. 

Sean likes to talk.... loud.  He doesn't mean to.  Voice modulation is just another thing we deal with on a constant basis.

"Sean, lower your voice," is a phrase that can be heard throughout our day.

It was used alot last night during dinner as the kids competed with each other and the tv to be heard.  The louder the kids, the louder Tom Bergeron and AFV became.

I was the one closest to the speakers.

I can not blame my kids for my impending hearing loss anymore than that Rick Springfield concert in 1982.

Thus, Tom and the whole ABC family will be getting the bill....

Friday, April 1, 2011

98 Degrees - More Than Just A Band

Carissa is home sick today. 

Sick is simply something that Sean does not do....or at least do well.  Carissa is a champ and can pull off having an ailment like no one else on the planet.  Sean fights it and fights it.

I always know when he is ill by the way he sleeps.  Sean is an early riser.  If he's sleeping in...he's not feeling good.  The call in to the attendance line is a foregone conclusion.

When he was younger it was a real struggle.  The kid would obviously be sick and yet he would cry and beg to go to school.

I'd say, "But Sean, you're sick.  You need to stay home."

"I need to go to school!"

Oh, what to do?  What to do?  Was he more afraid of missing school and the make-up work or the change in routine?  How can I be torturing my kid by making him stay home when he's sick???

Eventually I would insist and he would finally settle down.

I'd set him up on the couch with whatever was needed for the day.  Pillows, blankets, towels...a bucket (a dollar each time you make it!).  Usually he would sleep...

Just as I knew when he was sick, I also knew when he was feeling better....the computer would be on.

Back to school he'd go.

There were days where he was truly sick, days where he was desperately in need of time off from the rest of the world, and then there was the week - yes, a week - where he had to stay home because he injured his neck in a freak bus-is-here-but-coat-is-there incident. 

Not alot but certainly not perfect attendance....

Over the years it became easier to keep him home and Sean grew to appreciate the break more.

But would he ever "play sick" like other kids?  Nah... this kid is simply not capable of manipulating and scamming me to that extent.

Unlike some other child I know in this house.....