August 19, 2014

Jelly Goes to Kindergarten

Alef: the first letter of
the Hebrew alphabet
 Yesterday was Jelly's first day of kindergarten. It was all the things I suppose the first day of kindergarten should be like. So much excitement at seeing some familiar faces, the chaos of figuring out where to line up, learning teachers' names and scoping out the new kids. I managed not to cry. My baby girl, in kindergarten. She said she wasn't nervous.

Today, the second day of kindergarten, was a little harder. No parents to accompany her to the classroom meant an extra long goodbye and a few tears I saw her fighting hard to keep in.

Jelly hasn't shared much about the days. I found out through another boy that she cried when the teacher spelled her name wrong (the woes of having a name that can be spelled multiple ways.) She fell on the playground. She learned some Hebrew but she doesn't remember what it means. She had art and her friend had music.

But I know Jelly. She has to process first. She won't come home recounting her entire day though I have no doubt she remembers it. Little bits will come out here and there when she's ready to share them.

This morning, as I prepared her lunch she told me about what was okay to bring for snack and what was okay for lunch. "You can't have too much food at my school," she told me. Later, "there are no mistakes in art, right, Mommy?"

She is the smallest one in her class, which means she is the smallest one in the school. That seemed to bother Jelly a little bit today. She can't climb as high as the other kids. As part of the under five feet crowd, all I could think was "get used to it, kid." I hope her big personality will make up for it.

She had an interesting observation about Hebrew, which is part of her school's curriculum. She had taken some Spanish classes in preschool so I asked her why she thought she could remember the Spanish words but not the Hebrew. "Because at Spanish they gave me a paper with all the words on it In Hebrew, there's no paper." I explained that this was probably because Hebrew words use a different alphabet, one that she doesn't know how to read yet.

This was an astute statement on her part. Jelly is a visual learner. This surprised me since her language skills, from vocabulary to reading and writing, are so strong. But Jelly learns to read even complicated words essentially as sight words. Even now, she still doesn't quite get the "sound it out" concept. So, by not being able to see the Hebrew words, she has a harder time remembering them.

Or maybe she's just not ready to tell me.

August 6, 2014

What Could Have Been

I watch Jelly playing with some nine year old boys at the beach. These aren't just any nine year old boys, these are my best friend's twins. They've known Jelly since birth. My friend and I talk about how remarkable it is that kids of very different ages can play together so well, especially at the beach. There's just something about digging in the sand.

It was a lovely family outing. Except it wasn't really a family outing, not for my family anyway. Jeff and Moe weren't there. Of course they could have come, they were more than welcome. One of the boys even commented that the was sad Moe couldn't come, because he knows how much he likes the beach. They're good kids.

These friends stay at the beach for a week or so every year. The first year we visited them there, Moe spent the entire time running straight into the ocean. It was a little scary but Moe loved it and was still pretty small. The second year was a little better. Two years ago, he just ran and ran and ran on the sand and when he wasn't running in the sand he was eating it and it wasn't much fun for anyone. Last year, we canceled at the last minute because Moe was going through a really rough patch.

So this year, we decided I would just bring Jelly. Jeff would take Moe to the pool so they would have something fun to do as well. Jelly and I had a great day. It was relaxing and fun and everything a day at the beach with kids should be. 

But a story was playing in the back of my mind. The same story I tell myself over and over again. 

Jelly deserves a big brother she can play with.
Why can't we take a family vacation to the beach?
This is how how life is supposed to look.

And then I feel guilty for not just enjoying the moment. For not believing my family is good enough as is. For resenting autism and focusing on all of the things we can't do.

I've been reading a book, "The Reality Slap: Finding Peace and Fulfillment When Life Hurts," based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This type of therapy is different than Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in that "rather than trying to teach people to better control their thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories and other private events, ACT teaches them to 'just notice,' accept, and embrace their private events, especially previously unwanted ones." (Wikipedia)

ACT teaches that these "what if things were different?" scenarios are just stories we tell ourselves. I don't have to fight them, but neither do I have to give them any weight, especially when they aren't helpful. It's been a good strategy for me.

But it isn't easy. 

It's one thing to tell stories of what might have been in the abstract. I compare our most difficult times with others' perfect social media stories, or some notion of how things could have been. But during my day at the beach, I was experiencing that life. It wasn't entirely easy or perfect, but it was was infinitely closer to the family life I had imagine. The one I ache for.

Thankfully, the other thing ACT teaches is to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion. To recognize these feelings of loss and grief just as a friend would. So this week I'm working on that. On understanding that dealing with a life more challenging that I had expected is hard and that I am a work in progress. I am imperfect, but I am learning.


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