Monday, August 29, 2011

It's About Structure, Stupid

It's week 6 of summer vacation.  The last week.  And I go back to work in one more day.   On the one hand I am wondering after 5 solid weeks of Maya having whenever-to-bed and whenever-to-rise,  how the crap am I going to get Maya back to bed at a decent hour?  My kid has never been one that went to bed so early, even as a baby and I have never been one to enforce strict bed times.  I work most days during the week and evenings are my Maya time and I want to enjoy that time with her and not fight over bed time.  Believe me, my kid never goes to sleep until she is good and ready, which is not to say that she stays up until all hours but she does normally go to bed slightly later than most children I think.  She is usually in bed at 8.30 and goes to sleep anywhere from 8.30 until 10.  I tried enforcing early bedtimes and giving stickers as rewards for early sleep and threatening the running around, drinks of water, last kiss and hugs which can go on for an eternity.  But none of it ever works.  Maya, even as a baby was not a child who needed copious amounts of sleep.  She slept well but always at least 20 percent less than other kids her age.   In the last year she has gone from needing 10 hours a night to 9.  I was the same at her age.  In bed early but usually not asleep until I heard Johnny Carson come on the tv in my parents' room.  You can't fight DNA.  My plan for this week is to just wake her up at her normal schoolday time and make her get dressed and eat breakfast downstairs (instead of upstairs in my bed as is our weekend/vacation norm) like she does for school and hopefully that will settle her down to a quasi-normalish bedtime come next week.  We'll see.

Usually over the summer I notice that Maya really matures a lot.  It's almost like her autism also determines with Swiss-precision-timing when Maya is going to take steps forward.  I usually notice these just after the winter break and just after summer vacation.  I don't know what it is (and it is probably just coincidence, or perhaps because I work less during these times, I notice things more) but these two periods nearly every year are periods where I notice that Maya has matured in some really noticeable way.  Her maturity spurts are also noticed at school too and it always makes me feel good that is it not just in my head.

But this summer I have not seen my girl spiraling forward in her usual summer growth spurt.  If anything, it feels like in some respects she has taken a few steps backward.   Tantrums have made an unwelcome and semi-regular appearance in our lives again after being relegated to once-in-a-while occurrences for the better part of the last year and Maya has gone back to mostly not listening after making enormous strides this year in that area.  Daily routines, which have not been a struggle for quite some time have again become difficult and things like getting dressed, brushing teeth, washing hands, taking baths have become difficult and exhausting.

To be fair to the situation, we have undergone quite a lot of change in a relatively short amount of time.  Our beloved manny who has been a part of Maya's life everyday for the past three years has left us.  We have a a new nanny who is wonderful but still it is a huge change for Maya.  We also went through a 2 month in between period where Maya was shlepped one day to the next to us, grandparents, etc. Maya also had major dental work for the first time.  On top of that this is the very first time in her life where she has had 6 weeks completely free.  In the past she always went "somewhere" - school, daycare, therapy group.  This is the first time in her entire life where she has had such a long period of one day falling into the next.  On top of that she has had two sets of cousins visiting and Leo and I home at different times for weeks on end.

Still even though the "summer spurt" has not occurred like in the past there have been some small but significant things I have noticed.  One is that Maya can now swim under water, as I proudly wrote about a couple of posts ago.  The other is something I just noticed yesterday.  We were having family over for dinner, Leo's parents and brother's family which includes 2 of Maya's cousins.  Maya proudly set the kids' table for dinner yesterday and was very specific about where everyone would sit or more importantly, where she would sit.  When I gave her the cups (which were different colors) she decided right away that she would get the pink cup and she put it in her place and then she dilly-dallied in deciding who would get the yellow and green cups.  I mentioned to her that if one of her cousins wanted the pink cup she should let them have it because they were her guests and that you always want your guests to feel happy so it is nice to let them choose what color cup they want.  At this suggestion, Maya sighed and announced again that the pink cup was hers, --no sale.  When her cousins arrived and it was time for dinner, sure as shit if her little cousin didn't want that pink cup.  I asked her if her cousin could have it and Maya tried to convince her cousin that she really wanted the yellow cup.  I again reminded her that her cousin was her guest and that we always wanted people who came over to our house as our guests to be happy.  Maya hugged the pink cup closer to her.  I thought, no way, never going to happen and I went mentally through all our glassware to think if I had some other kind of pink cup.  But then all of a sudden, Maya held the cup out and gave it to her cousin and said she would have the yellow one. Ka-ching! Ka-ching!  I really was so proud of her, it is really the first time I can think of that she put what another kid wanted ahead of what she wanted.  

And of course I cannot leave out the most important milestone of all -- Maya has finally learned how to wipe her own tushy after she goes number 2.  I know some of you are probably thinking I am the Empress Disgustington for bringing this up.  But for years I have sighed and rolled my eyes at hearing - mommy, can you wipe my tushy?  And then having her spread eagle with her palms on the ground exposing it all.  Maya has been potty trained for the better part of 2 years now which was a very slow, arduous process and one where I showed a Keystone Cops skill level in parenting - every mistake in the book - (insert fist pump here). We are now a year without me having to drag extra clothes with me everywhere I go  as accidents went from certainty to probability to 50/50 to rarity to 'she must be sick' but this last bathroom related milestone just didn't seem to go anywhere.  She will wipe herself when she pees no problem, but no way would she dare tackle where fudge is made (I even grossed myself out with that one, but also for a brief moment turned into a six year old and laughed hysterically).  When I asked her what she did in school when she pooped, if she called anyone to help her, she said she tries really hard only to poop at home and when she had no other choice at school she asked for help.  My CSI type inspection of her underwear which followed for a couple of months after that to make sure she wasn't walking around in dirty drawers did bore that out and sure as shit (pun intended) when she barrels through the door after school, she flings her shoes and coat off, dumps her backpack, gives a quick kiss and runs for the toilet.  No amount of pleading, cajoling or sticker distribution could change it and I stopped trying.  Then from one day to the next Maya just started doing it and how do I know?  For a week she would show me the dirty toilet paper before she threw it in the toilet.  'Atta girl!

I think that is enough toilet talk  until the end of the next century, no?

Maya is a kid who, for someone on the autistic spectrum,  can roll with changes pretty well.  Transitions can be tough when she is not prepared for them but when well prepared and not put under pressure, she can sail on through.  What I am getting at is that she is not a kid that is so entrenched in her routine that any little variation scares her and she retreats into her own little world or has tantrums or worse.  For an autistic kid she is pretty go-with-the-flow.  And for my husband and I that is pretty good because we are not the most routine oriented people out there.  Some days we wash face, brush teeth, brush hair and others we brush teeth, brush hair, wash face (you get it, right?)   And Maya (again for an autistic kid) flows pretty well with that most of the time.  But then again, she has always had the routine of school/therapy as a fixed spot in her life.  I think this has fooled me a little bit into thinking she is more go with the flow than she really is though.  This summer I have seen a dramatic decline in her coping skills, in her ability to control her emotions, to talk things through instead of have a tantrum.  Now it has suddenly dawned on me on a late Sunday evening (when there is nothing on tv) that she really does need that structure more than I thought.  Without that, her abilities to cope are in the dumper.  Maybe she can be go with the flow on the weekends and evenings because the other 5 days are mapped out for her? Maybe this routine is her backbone?  Duh, mom, hello?  Maybe if I could give her more structure at home during summer vacation she will not slide back into tantrums and struggles but catapult herself forward?  I don't know but it is worth a shot.  With just one week to go it is a bit too late to turn it around now but next time I will plan better and put more of a routine in.  Live and learn.

I could be kicking myself now for not seeing or understanding this sooner but then again, if this summer didn't happen, maybe I would have never come to it.  And I have always thought there is no use to kicking yourself anyway, life is just too short for regrets.

Plus I am just not that limber.

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