Monday, April 21, 2014

Choosing Joy in the Midst of Chaos.

Last night, as I sat on the middle of the bed scrubbing Paul's computer, backpack, the walls, the windows, the window sill, the silky curtains I made not that long ago, the quilts on our bed, the sheets and every area that Mae's little three year old hands had touched I found myself thinking about how I was feeling at that moment, and how I could have been feeling and how much of a choice I actually had in the matter.  As I replaced the sheets and went down to the basement to search out new sheets, the thoughts stayed with me.

I could have been upset.  It could have ruined the entire day.

Maggie had yet again proved that no baby gate can hold her when she broke down the five foot gate that blocks the door to her room and snuck into the master bedroom while Paul and Sadie and I were still downstairs cleaning up after Easter dinner.  She'd found Patch's special doctor ordered allergy ointment, a mixture of crisco and vaseline, mixed with cortisone, and had smeared it everywhere (she loves that stuff, which is why I had hidden it in our room... a room she seldom is allowed into).  By the time she was done not only was it covering one half of our room, but she had a couple inches of it smeared into her hair, just in time for today's OT meeting with her newest therapist.

Then she strolled downstairs to show us that she wasn't quite ready for bed yet.

Paul was doing the dishes and taking out the trash and had been talking about how glad he was to be getting out of the house so early with the first week of finals beginning in a few days and projects and papers still unfinished.  I was vacuuming up the egg that Patch had crushed into the carpet in the playroom and sweeping up the spinach that Mae had shredded and thrown on the floor (just before splashing olive oil in my dress at dinner time with a mischievous smile).  Sadie was headed upstairs to brush her teeth when she met her sister on the stairs and shrieked.

And thus the course of the evening was changed for the entire family.  Paul and I dropped everything.  He took a now shrieking, sobbing Mae into the bathroom to try to wash off as much of the ointment as he could (there are few things she hates like having her hair washed... and he's the only one who's strong enough to safely do it at this point), as I began the cleanup process.

By then it had been a long day.  We'd been up for a long time.  We'd missed receiving the Eucharist after a meltdown an hour into Mass.  Everyone was tired (well almost everyone...).  We're starting Sadie's first grade year today and I had a lot to do once everyone was tucked into bed.

Yet as I sat on the bed I found myself smiling.  There are many things that I can't really control in life, but one thing I can control is how I react to what's going on around me.  I can choose joy over anger and frustration (although I'll admit, as we left Mass I felt like frustration was winning... it's definitely a process, and I'm thankful for the grace that allows me to stumble along through it).

At that moment, I could hear Paul talking softly to Maggie in the other room, his voice somehow carrying through the hallways of our old house over the sound of the running water, explaining that she was a little bunny who'd gotten into something she wasn't supposed to have and that meant that we had to get her cleaned up.

As I scrapped the ointment off the sheets and tried to organize the cleanup process, I thought more about my choice.  I could get upset.  I could let my knee jerk reaction to scrapping a think oily ointment off everything from the satin curtains to the beautiful delicate Amish quilt that we received as a gift from my parents when we got married, ruin the night as quickly as the ointment had ruined the curtains.

Or I could think of how amazing the little three year old getting her hair washed in the next room actually is.  How she practically has super hero strength.  How determined she is. How daring she is.  How, when she sets her mind to something, she remains undeterred, despite our best attempts at diverting her.  I found myself smiling and even laughing as I thought of all the ways she'd surprised us over the past few years.

And the cleanup? It went much faster as I marveled at the number of baby gates we'd gone through (I've lost count) and as I thought that perhaps she has a future as a product tester.  She has scaled a sheer 6 foot gate.  She's broken the metal legs off a space heater.  She's yanked a huge bolt out of the wall to remove a heating vent screen.  We have a wooden table that she snapped into three pieces.

I could be upset at the path of destruction that has run across the house these past couple years.  Instead I'm choosing to be amazed.  Things are just things.  They can be replaced.  More often I realize we didn't really need (fill in the blank with something that has been broken) anyways.

And that amazing happy little girl who's always getting into things?  I can't imagine my house without her little chirping laughter filling every corner.

Watching her play with her brother and sister, watching her eyes light up as she sprinted around the yard picking up eggs and then carefully arranged them in her basket, watching her grow and learn and press her tomatoes into my hand at dinner last night while carefully saying "one, two, three, four..." those moments, wouldn't be the same if she wasn't exactly the person that she is, and that includes her amazing strength, both of will and of her little limbs.

If I focused on what has been broken, on the messes that I find myself cleaning up day after day, on the meltdowns, life would be pretty dark... but if I remind myself that those are simply some of the various colors that are being used to make the beautiful, original painting that is Mae's life, than the lows no longer seem all that low.

Determined, strong, independent: these are traits that will serve her well as she works through whatever challenges she faces in the future and while it may mean a little extra clean up for me, it is absolutely and completely worth it.  I may not be able to choose the challenges that we face as a family, I can certainly chose the attitude with which I will face them.


  1. Blue Dawn works well for grease stains- though you probably know this!

  2. I needed to hear this. I have three kids, none of whom are on the spectrum, but I always find myself especially exasperated by my strong-willed son. Rather than choosing to react as you do, I default to my own meltdown. Hopefully going forward I can try to choose to react as you do. It would certainly help me to be a better mother, and maybe not have to bring this struggle to the confessional each month!

  3. Cammie, you are amazing. This is beautiful. God bless you --- what a way to look at challenges. And yes, Mae sounds like such a sweet and precious little girl even with all the drama. Thanks for sharing. linda

  4. Your post is most timely for me. Thank you! God bless and Happy Easter!

  5. I love your attitude! So hard to find joy in the chaos but you are doing a wonderful job.

  6. Cam, you have a big heart and nerves of steel. ;)

    God bless.


  7. I love your attitude, and I agree with your stance, because your own anger and frustration was not going to make the situation better. But I wonder something. I know she is only three, and that can excuse a lot, but if Sadie did this sort of thing at three, how would you have talked to her about it? Would you have scolded her and disciplined her (in an age appropriate way)? If Patch does something like this at three, how will you teach him no? Does her autism mean Maggie cannot understand naughtiness? Sometimes kids innocently do the kind of things you describe, and harsh reactions and punishments are counterproductive. But I wonder, at what point should a special needs child be expected to behave and realize there are consequences to some of her behavior? Can she be expected to exercise some self control? How will she learn this? Although not at all exactly analogous, I think of the play "The Miracle Worker" about the life of Helen Keller. Before Annie Sullivan no one expected good behavior from Helen. But she was out of control. Only Annie had the courage to expect her to behave. I'm glad you saw Mae’s getting into the ointment as just "one of those things" and didn't let it throw you for a loop. I’m glad you looked at the positive side of this. I hope as she grows, and gets more therapy, it will also become evident just what she can manage in terms of self control, and understanding of acceptable behavior.
    God Bless. ~ Bonnie

  8. Hi Bonnie,

    Oh she still definitely is disciplined and stopped from being naughty (I don't talk about it a ton since that's not usually the focus of my posts), but sometimes her reaction to the natural consequences (as in this case) are so severe that there's no need for even being told that she's done something. She knew she wasn't supposed to do what she'd done and she was hysterical for about a half hour... In terms of discipline I would say I treat her pretty much the same as I did Sadie at her age.

    She's bright and I'd say 90% of the time she knows when she's doing something naughty. Her discipline is, in general probably less, because what happens to her naturally when things go wrong tend to be more traumatic and upsetting to her, if that makes sense.

    And because most of the problems we have aren't actual naughtiness. I'd say 9 out of 10 times the hardest parts of the day have to do with sensory overload rather than intentionally doing something wrong.

    I'd say our expectations for her behavior are pretty high. When we go out she knows how she's supposed to behave and usually behaves well, with I'd say an average to low amount of meltdowns for her age (unless it involves sitting still for more than an hour, like at Mass... that's pretty much her limit... but again, that's not surprising for any three year old).

    Actually in general, I'd say that her and Patch's consequences are pretty similar (developmentally she's around 16-18 months if tests are to be believed). Tantrums that don't end equal time alone in their room until they calm down. They know they have limits.

    Since I try to focus on the positive though, I can totally see how it would might come across that way!

  9. I just thought of this just to add to the explanation above... usually when Mae breaks things it's out of her extreme strength/clumsiness/ climbing for sensory stimulation, rather than when she's actually doing something she shouldn't be. That's probably the hardest part! Because she really is generally such a sweet, good little girl, most of the trouble she gets into is sensory seeking behavior... and the clumsiness that she inherits ever so honestly from both her parents (although that's also part of her sensory problems too). Thankfully, I met with her OT today and hopefully the new therapy and all the routines they'll be adding to my day will help with that too!

  10. That's great and I'm so glad she is being treated the same way as the other kids. That way she's not using her differences to fool anyone into being soft on her. Kids test parents to find out the limits, and unless you set them and then enforce them, the kids will not know where the boundaries are.
    I sure can understand her sensitive reaction to having done something wrong. I remember when I was a kid in second grade one time I didn't do my math homework and the teacher told me to go into the cloakroom where I would be punished (those were the days when the swatted you once on the behind with a ruler). When she came in, I burst into tears and began shaking and crying so hard that she melted and knelt down to hug and comfort me. I think it was the knowledge that I had disappointed her, and that she was angry with me that upset me so, so much. Honestly, from that day on I never did not complete a homework assignment for the rest of my school years. So I feel for Maggie, and her reaction when she realizes she has done something wrong and will be punished.
    Thanks for answering my curiosity about how you handle discipline for her.
    God Bless. ~ Bonnie

  11. No problem! I know it's not really something I've talked about much.

    The girls are both so sensitive that usually they're more upset about having done something than anything else.

    Now Patch, I think he's going to be my handful. When I say no to him he smiles at me, laughs and runs and keeps doing whatever it is he shouldn't be doing while saying "uh oh" in a loud voice (or some variation of the scenario! I have a feeling he is definitely going to be a challenge in coming years with his mix of charming and naughty!

  12. Our little Gabe also employs the "uh oh" while he is doing something he shouldn't (dropping food and other things off his high chair tray, playing with remotes, TV buttons...) He also holds his arms out in a sort of "how did that happen?" kind of gesture.

    I had actually wondered the same thing as Bonnie with regard to communicating that certain behaviors - sensory-seeking or not - cannot be tolerated. It sounds as if your girls react the same way ours did... hated to disappoint and were therefore generally good, though younger DD had her moments, at least until she started kindergarten.



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