Year of Pleasures: Seeing Atti’s Future

At 8 years old, Atti is starting to cross over from the little kid phase to the big kid phase. And with that comes all the development that starts to freak parents out. All the development that will eventually wind up in independent adulthood, but right now is just kind of scary. And for a kid with significant motor disabilities, it’s even scarier. While many parents are worried about what dating might look like for their kids in a few years, parents of kids with disabilities worry if their kids will even have friendships, let alone dates. I worry that as his body continues to grow that I’ll be able to meet the demands of caretaking. I worry about his struggles in school and what that might mean for his future. If he’ll be able to live independently, be hired at a job, study at college. I know Atti is capable of everyone of those things, but I worry if the world will let him in to try.

Lately I’ve come across a couple of exceptional pieces of media that have rendered me crying in the fetal position, not out of fear, but out of gratitude I could barely contain.

I stumbled across the documentary Becoming Bulletproof while I was flipping through my cable channels and I watched the whole thing with Atticus, despite there being some frank sexuality talk that he might have been too young for. But then again, maybe not.

The documentary is a behind the scenes story of a group of actors making a movie. Only most of the actors have disabilities. You watch as the able bodied crew is constantly surprised at the abilities of the actors – making interesting choices, playing to their strengths, falling in love with someone else on set, having dreams for their futures. You see the intense emotional cost of having to live in a world that doesn’t see you as human. And how that emotional cost actually exacerbates the limitations of the disabilities these people have. You see disabled adults actually expressing adult emotions and experiences in a way that is NEVER done in media.

One of the actors is a man named AJ who has cerebral palsy and I kept stopping the movie to make sure Atti was paying attention to someone on the screen that was just like him. Someone just like him who always had this secret dream of being an actor, but knew he couldn’t make it happen on his own in his current circumstances. But at this camp, a camp for actors with disabilities to go to and make one movie a summer, he could. And you watch him overcome his physical limitations, overcome his hard won insecurities, and deliver a performance. You see how much it means to him to contribute, to have people depend on him, to live his dreams. And I sobbed and I sobbed and then I found him on twitter so I could fall at his feet in gratitude that I had this movie to use to mentor my son through his own limitations and insecurities.

I want every single person who loves Atticus to find this movie and watch it.

I’ve been a fan of Zach Anner’s since I saw him on Oprah Winfrey’s reality show where she was giving away an OWN television show. He was funny and charming and above the usual reality show squabbles because he was really trying to do something more than just be on a reality show. He has an awesome Youtube channel and has just published his first book If At Birth You Don’t Succeed.

Zach also has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around, just like Atti, just like AJ. He is funny and winning and vulnerable and in both his Youtube videos and his book he discusses his disability with humor and charm. No self pity, but also no apologies. A lot of the book revolves around his romantic life which I found to be so wonderful. It was full of relatable humor – everyone knows what it’s like to be clueless and fumbling while longing for love – but also really examined the barriers the world puts up for anyone who doesn’t function in the one particular way that most often occurs. He jokes about all the times a curb keeps him from shopping, how his wheelchair breaking down causes no end of problems, how his eyes make reading and school challenging, and all the times he had to find a work around for those barriers or give up. And with his ingenuity and humor he found enough work arounds to accomplish more than most people.

Watch this movie. Read this book. Think what your life would be like if you had different barriers in your life, but the same brain in your head. How it feels to be denied opportunity. And then help me make the world bigger for Atticus.

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Welcome to Bummertown

Most depressing picture ever

My life has always been relentless. But this is ridiculous.

Everybody suffers in this life, and I really really dislike it when people stay stuck in their pain and treasure it. When they insist that their pain is THE MOST SPECIAL PAIN. When they refuse to gain empathy or perspective and just canker. I’m not one of those people that falls for the “someone always has it worse so you don’t get to be sad” trap, but I am someone who believes that pain is not an exclusive club and you are never alone in your grief. Which is why I blog.

I’m not a war refugee or a torture survivor. I’ve never been incarcerated for something I didn’t do. But that’s pretty much how far I have to go to find someone who has had it worse than me, and in a way that reveals either my total brokenness or my health and resilience, I can never decide which, I find that somehow comforting. And hilarious.

It’s hilarious because I have a twisted sense of humor and an appreciation for the absurd. It’s comforting because this world does not know how to deal with pain. Every negative emotion is a problem. And if you are a religious person, it’s of the devil. We’re supposed to fake it till we make it and look on the bright side and have a positive attitude. And those things are all fine if you’re grumpy over daylight savings time or frustrated with the people you have to share a living space with. It does not work for tragedy. And it DOES NOT work for mental illness. But that’s what we get anyway. One size fits all advice even when it binds us.

Because of that, we often need permission to feel those feelings. We need someone to say, “That is really hard. It must make you sad.” or “That would make me feel really angry.” Most of the work I see happening in group therapy or among friends or in my role as a peer counselor is validation. “I see that. It would make me feel frustrated too,” feels like salve on a burn. “You are right to feel that way,” is like an incantation. We spend our lives either hiding and ignoring our feelings, or fighting for the right to have them.

So when I am *this* sad, and *this* weary, it actually feels perversely comforting to look at the facts and go, “Yeah. You should be sad. The only thing that would be worse is if you were trying to escape Syria right now.”

Atti’s surgery went really really well, but his recovery has been super rough. He had to stay twice as long in the hospital as he was expected to because a body with Cerebral Palsy is like a beautiful 150 year old house. Even in the renovations you’re going to run into problems. Atti’s bladder refused to work, so he had to be catheterized for far longer than expected. And the catheter kept clogging leaving him writhing in agony and screaming “I’m Sorry! I’m sorry!” over and over again, but unable to tell us where it hurt or what the problem was. His spastic body ramped up with fear and pain until his whole body was tied up with cramps, and every treatment for one thing caused a new problem somewhere else. He was in such turmoil that he could only be calmed if one of us stood at his bedside petting his hair and playing his special lullaby over and over and over again. For seven straight days.

And in the middle of all this, I started bleeding.

For two years we’ve aggressively been pursuing fertility treatments. Treatments that forced me into a mental hospital and major surgery. And, because, of course, when all the conditions were finally right for embryo transfer, Atti was about to go in for the surgery we’ve been waiting for for a year. Of course. And while he was in this painful recovery process, that’s when it became obvious the procedure failed.

It’s hard to know what to call this. It wasn’t that I just got my period – this was a rejection and far more physically involved, but since I wasn’t technically pregnant it’s not exactly a miscarriage either. But those embryos meant something to us. To Bear they were babies. To me they were possibility. And either way, they’re gone.

And we just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other to be there for our boy.

We took Atti home a few days after that and it’s still been harrowing. His catheter got caught on the wheelchair when we were trying to load him into the car and broke and partially pulled out. Atti was screaming, I thought we’d have to be readmitted, and there was a moment where I honestly began to collapse and prayed for death to claim me there and then in the hospital parking lot.

His pain has been so intense we’ve had to keep him medicated around the clock, which meant we were waking up every four hours to screams of pain and had to soothe him back to sleep for another hour, like we had a newborn that couldn’t be removed from their crib. His catheter clogged again, only, not being a medical professional, I didn’t realize what I was looking at and thought it was opioid constipation, so he screamed all day until a nurse friend came over to help us. Then it happened again the next morning and we had to take him back in to the hospital and spend the whole day there while they tried to see if he was ready to leave the catheter behind.

Atti in recovery

Today he is outside in the sunshine playing on his ipad. He has left the pain medications behind and is now soothed by music and attention. He’s still strapped into all his immobilizers and can’t sit up, but it’s only boredom we have to fight now, not pain. Which means that all that grief I’ve been shoving away is sneaking back up on me now. So I tell Atti I have to work and go into the bathroom for a 5 minute break down. Or I’ll cry at his bedside and tell him that I’m sad we don’t get to have more babies in our family right now because I think it’s important to show him how to cope with hard emotions.

I’ve been hiding in work – work I haven’t announced here yet because there was too much hard stuff in the way, but I’m developing a media startup, complete with keeping startup hours – but over the last couple of days I’ve been blocked. Completely blocked over the dumbest stuff. I need to work on our social media campaign and just write a bunch of FB statuses, and I can’t do it. I’m staring at cursors and debilitated by depression. Because now that the crisis is over, it’s time to process. And I don’t want to.

But that’s another thing about having a life as hard as mine. You only have two choices for survival: 1) ignore and deny it all and let it corrupt your soul, or 2) deal with your shit. So I’m dealing.

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Full Circle Moment

Sesame Tweet

This is what I woke up to this morning. I’m going to try and explain how this is a sea change for me. It’s going to be a total bummer of a story, but hang in there. There’s a happy ending.

I’ve written and spoken pretty extensively about my abusive childhood, but I rarely tell the stories. I have a selection of stories that I think are hilarious in their downer-hood, and some stories that are only hilarious to me while the rest of the room gapes in open mouthed horror, but I rarely give out the gorey details. This is purposeful and I have a lot of reasons for it, but I’m going to break that rule so I can explain just how important this tweet is in my life.

My childhood was abusive and neglectful. A lot of people have sadness and trauma in their childhood and part of the reason I don’t tell my stories is so that they can’t be ranked. I am not interested in playing a game of “Who Had it Worst!?” (Boy, would that be some weird theme music.)

Many people experience abuse and trauma. But my parents? Were experts. They went to creative and innovative lengths. It’s like, if everybody eats, some people really really enjoy food, and my parents were foodies. My parents were the foodies of abuse.

I have a specific memory. We lived in a house in Broomfield Colorado, and my younger sister and I were too young to start school. Which meant that I was 3 or 4 years old. We lived in the basement and my dad worked days while my mom worked nights and my two older siblings went to school. So I was home alone with my younger sister until my mom came home from work, and then we had to be quiet while she slept after her shift. And kept sleeping until everyone got home. So my sister and I would stay in the basement by ourselves until my siblings came home from school. Sometimes my mom would call down the stairs and hand us a bag of donuts on her way off to bed, but most of the times we would fend for ourselves.

I was three or four years old and I was climbing down the stairs with a bowl of cold cereal, trying to balance it carefully so I didn’t spill the milk on the stairs and face trouble. I’d set us up in front of the TV and we’d watch Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and that was the only happy part of my childhood.

I learned to read at 3 years old because of Sesame Street. I had friends who I felt cared about me. I saw happy families and people and muppets work through conflict with understanding. I would pray that Maria and Luis would adopt me and that Grover and I could be friends.

I grew up and I learned to keep secrets. I learned how to hide and let people believe what they wanted to believe. And like most abuse survivors, I believed that I was intrinsically damaged and dangerous. I believed that there was something so wrong in me that my parents couldn’t help but abuse me. It was easier to accept blame than it was to face that the people who were supposed to protect me were dangerous. And as I hit my teenage years and began to think about my future, I knew in my bones that children could not be a part of it. I *knew* that I was a Nitrogen bomb and that when the day came – and of course it would come – that I exploded, everyone in my path would be charred. I was a 16 year old high school drop out who lived in my car. I was a street rat. The life lessons I had to pass on were how to spot trouble, how to dodge, how to hide, and how to climb through a vent to get to the locked up food. Nothing a happy child should have to know. I knew that the best way I could protect my potential children was by not having them.

As the years went on, that shame became a secret too. In our society having kids is still pretty much a given, and for a girl in a religious environment it’s all but a fact. All of those feelings became a burden that inspired reinvention and denial. As I kept getting older and faced the years of infertility, I was nearly crushed under the conflict of an honest desire for children to love and a secret relief that they weren’t coming.

I worked really really hard at addressing that. I have always been diligent about getting emotionally healthy and this was one area that I dove deep into. People tell me a lot that I’m brave because of what I talk about publicly, but it doesn’t feel brave to me, it’s just how I’m wired. If I’m going to claim any bravery for myself it’s in staring the ugly right in the face and dealing with it. Whatever success I have as a mother is because I did that. I opened that door and I looked in the dark corners and I faced it all down so that my children wouldn’t have to.

Getting that tweet from Sesame Street brought me right back to that 3 year old me. It brought me right back to that loneliness and longing and that hope that someday someone would love me. And it made me realize, again, in a way that 3 year old me could understand, that I did it.

I took all the ugly that I was handed and I transfigured it into love. And because I did that my child will never know that world. He will be untouched by the Nitrogen bomb because I spent years defusing it and turning it into fertilizer that nourishes the soil and creates beauty.

That tweet was a pat on the back from a beloved family member, telling me that they were proud of what I’ve done. I don’t have parents or grandparents to tell me they’re proud of me. I only communicate with two siblings who live far away. No cousins. No aunts or uncles. No family friends or old teachers or church elders. There is no one in my life who could have offered that and had it mean anything like this. This was a gift that I will treasure forever.

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More in Viral Adventures

Skater Atti
So, in case you’re not following along on the FB page, Atti’s viral moment is only picking up steam. We’re now in the “local news picks it up” segment of the journey and heading straight for “national news begins to pay attention.” I’ve had to set all my other responsibilities aside as I became his accidental full time momager and suddenly developed a tiny shred of empathy towards Kris Jenner. Just a shred.

We’ve reached the point where I can’t keep track of all the views. So many outlets have shared it on their pages that I don’t know how to even find them all. At last count we had crossed the 20 million mark. Upworthy, Buzzfeed, Ask Men, LittleThings.com, a TV show called Right This Minute, the front page of reddit, trending worldwide on Facebook, and that’s when the local news came calling.

Atti and Dad
First there was the ABC affiliate. And then there was the Fox affiliate. Each news outlet did their own version and I think each story is worth watching because my child is so gorgeous and lovable, but your mileage may vary. Then USA Today picked up the ABC affiliate story and had it on their front page for a minute. AOL.com ran the story.

Atti on CBS
This is a still from my favorite news story so far. The local CBS reporter just got us and Atti put on a full scale charm offensive. He is turning into such a little ham. But mainly it showed me that all the viral notoriety is worth it for my baby to go on the news and tell the world how he loved my kisses. I will never be the same.

Then CBS.com – the national news – picked up the local affiliate story. So did FoxNews.com. And all week my phone has been ringing with other offers, more conversations, more attention. And Atti is just so happy that the whole world is seeing him as a cool kid and not an afterthought or a burden.

I know there are lots of new readers with all this attention, so let me give you the Clif’s Notes. Below is a playlist of all of Atti’s videos on my Youtube channel. And here is a collection of all my best Atti stories. He is not only a great kid, but the best person I know. I’m so proud that the world is getting to see what I’ve always known.

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Atti Goes Viral

Snuggly Atticus

The last couple of days have been wild, but I think that I should really just start accepting that as understood when I start writing my posts. I just don’t seem to run optimally unless I’m surrounded by chaos.

I took what was supposed to be a super quick road trip (bookmark that story for another day) and yadda yadda yadda didn’t get home until two days later then expected. Then my activism stuff kicked into high gear as my church issued a press release that was super super problematic around issues of abuse. Writing about that turned one eye of the internet towards me as I started getting hit with some ugliness that comes with attention.

But then. On the very same day I’m dealing with the underbelly of humanity by advocating around child abuse, Atti’s skate park video gets published on Upworthy and suddenly the other eye of the internet turns toward me. But this time with effusive love and support. This time I was hearing about how great we are and how amazing my little hero is and suddenly I feel like human beings are worth fighting for.

And then I started reading the comments to Atticus.

(I left out all the ones chastising us for not using a helmet because, Guess what folks? If your child can’t walk you don’t buy them a helmet. This was not a matter of being too lazy to put one on, this was a matter of not having reason to believe he would ever need one. We had no idea he would love this like he did. Plus he’s on five wheels, not two. He’s way more stable than a skateboard. He has a helmet now. Shush with your able bodied privilege.)

Atti is an EXTREMELY shy kid. Sometimes we’ve met people who know him from videos and he hides behind me or closes his eyes and covers his ears. But he is always wanting me to show him the videos I’ve made of him. There he can see himself as who he really is. And seeing how many people were watching that video? And cheering him on? Made such an amazing difference to him. He went to bed giggling. He was hugging and kissing me all night. I kept saying “Look at all these people who believe in you!” And as we put him to bed we went to read him stories, but last night? He read them to us. He gathered up his courage to try reading out loud. To risk sounding “funny” as he struggled to make the words with his mouth and to show us just what that sweet little brain could do. You all gave him faith in himself.

If you don’t have a disability, imagine the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do. Maybe it was a sport and you had a coach who really pushed you to do your best. Maybe you struggled with math or reading. Maybe your parents really wanted to play an instrument and you hated every second of it. Imagine whatever that thing is. Remember how discouraged you got? Remember how bad you felt about yourself? Maybe you even said “I’m so stupid!” when you got a bad grade. And how all those bad feelings about yourself kept you from trying. Maybe you gave up on that instrument. Or quit that sport. Or are still telling yourself “I just can’t do math.”

Now imagine that all of those feelings you have, instead of being around math or sports or the piano, was about talking. Imagine it was about walking. Imagine that every single human encounter you had required you to do a complicated math problem. That’s the world my Atticus lives in.

My job as his mom is to protect that sweet brave spirit. To make sure that he never gets discouraged enough to give up. I need to be his coach and tell him that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that It’s better to have tried and failed than never tried and that Winners never quit and quitters never win. All day long I’m trying to make up for how hard the whole rest of the world is by telling him how much I believe in him.

I wish you all could have seen his face when I told him that a million other people believe in him too.

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Farmer Atticus

Tomato Picking

Since losing my little dreamhouse on Courage Street back in 2010, we’ve been renters. In the last five years we’ve lived in three houses that were pretty great, all things considered. And because we’ve had such good luck I haven’t been in a rush to re-enter the market. Plus, to be honest, I wasn’t ready to love again. I am such a home body – like, a literal agoraphobe – and a home is such an important symbol to me of the roots I long to put down and the safe place I long to create, that losing my first home of my own left a mark on me. (And of course there was the whole destroyed credit and no down payment thing that comes with having a foreclosure on your record. Curse you financial meltdown!!)

Our current house is just ridiculously gorgeous and great for us. We have amazing neighbors, Atti can use his wheelchair to get anywhere in the house, and this backyard. I mean. But it’s not ours. And I’m feeling those hunger pains again.

We went looking at a property last week and it was PERFECT. I can’t stop thinking about it. But they were asking A LOT because there were three houses on the parcel, and yet they were all trailers. To do what we’d want to do we’d have to tear everything down and build again, which would be great, except for the land being way too expensive for that to make any sense. But this land. I dream about it. Views of the mountains on one side, the valley on the other. Acres of rolling hills only ten minutes from Bear’s work. If only.

It might take us a whole other year to really get what we want because as God is my witness I’m never moving again. Bear keeps wanting to play conservative because he doesn’t want to be house poor again, I keep saying I don’t care if we’re house poor for a few years if it means that I never have to pack another box in my life. And I have my heart set on lots and lots of land. In part because I have big plans for a group home for gay kids who can work the farm to prepare for their future and save for college, but also just for Atticus. This kid is an outdoor kid.

When you spend your whole childhood in physical and occupational therapy, you get what they call “therapized.” He’s so used to being bossed around, picked up and lifted into position, told to do simple tasks that have no context, and eventually he’s gotten rebellious. At therapy he pretends he can’t stand or take steps, but at home, if there is a box of Cheerios on the counter out of his reach, he can suddenly master his body in ways I can hardly believe. It’s a constant battle to provide a reward or context that makes enough sense to him to keep doing the work it takes to move his body. And these days, it’s really hard to teach a kid to work.

But! If we had a farm! For a kid who loves playing outside so much every piece of clothing that goes on his lower body is ripped up from dragging against the concrete, whose back is as bronzed as the face of a cowboy but with a belly as pale as a lizard’s, who has callouses on his knees and his toes from the unique way he travels, on a farm, he would work.

Last night I told him that I would take him outside to pick tomatoes with me and we could send them to school for his teachers. He got so excited he jumped on my belly and giggled and refused to go to sleep. First thing this morning I got him dressed in his outside clothes as we sang about Little Atticus had a Farm and all the animals he would have and the tomatoes he would grow with a pick pick here and a pick pick there. We went to my little backyard patch and Atti – who you have to bribe to eat anything not carb based – ate every tomato that hit the bottom of the bowl. And then got entranced by “the little green ones” and picked tomatoes until he counted to 100.

He told me that the first animal he wants to get is a goat. And then a chicken so he can eat the eggs for breakfast. I want to get him a donkey he can ride around or pull him in a wagon. If we had a little donkey, he could take it hiking. Seeing how the world could open up for him in these old fashioned ways, I get teary eyed just thinking about it.

So for now we’ll have to make do with little tomatoes and wrangling cats. Because I am not settling for another house. When I move again, it will be for our Dreamfarm.

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Atti Update

Baclofen pump

Atti stayed home from school today. We’re all recovering from the flu, but that’s not really what did it. It was his screaming and tears when we tried to get him up and ready this morning. This is not the first time either. It only started a week and a half ago and he’s already begged and cried his way out of three days of school.

This actually doesn’t have anything to do with school. He loves riding the bus so much he cries when he gets home. He loves his teachers, he loves the routine, he loves learning, but ever since his surgery my anxious little guy has ramped up into a kid who never wants to leave the house.

We tempt him with movies or his favorite foods or trips to special places like the zoo. Bear even took him to a water park and he begged to go home after minutes. Even with a rash guard covering his belly.

When he’s at home he’s happy as can be. As I type he’s making up songs and playing with his Kindle at my feet. He needs a lot more assurance than pre-surgery, but since that basically just means more snuggles, I’m not mad at that. I just worry about my little guy and his relationship to the big wide world.

Shortly after I married Bear, I went through a period of agoraphobia. I would shake and cry at the thought of leaving the house. I failed my last semester of college, I lost a job, the thought of leaving that front door caused me physical pain. Now I know it’s all part of the OCD/anxiety broth my brain is stewing in, but the conditions I was living in – not having the tools to be open and vulnerable to my spouse without letting all the pain of the world overwhelm me – took my typical level of compulsion to a place that made sunshine seem dangerous.

I think that’s what’s going on with Atticus. He has had a major, major, change to his body. Imagine how self-conscious you feel when you’ve put on a little weight. Remember how it kept you from applying for a job, or reaching out to someone you wanted to know. Now compound that by medical necessity, disability, and the fact that there is a giant medical appliance jutting out from his tummy instead of just a little normal extra weight. This poor kid is already so different in so many ways, but he also knows how beautiful he is. This threatens that. This is another threat to his ability to fit in.

He will get used to it. It’s amazing what you can learn to accept. And we have all the right people involved. I’m just trying to be very carefully tuned in to him. Most days I would just tell him “Tough beans. You’re going to school.” But there are some days when that would make everything so much worse. Days like today when he just needs to feel safe and tackling the world comes after that. It would all be so much easier if he could speak fluently enough to go to therapy, or tell me how to help. But he doesn’t, so we’re both stumbling through trying to figure this all out together. All I know is that my first job is to make him know that he is loved. So back to the work of snuggling, and pushing, and eventually he’ll get through this.

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Atti gets his Baclofen Pump

Kid in Hospital Bed
After a year stuck in red tape hell, we FINALLY got all the approvals necessary for my little guy to get his next surgery. I kept thinking of this one as a quicky on the road to the two major hip reconstructions we have coming up, but boy was I wrong. This one was HARD. And totally sucked. For all of us.

Atti had a Baclofen pump implanted in his abdomen. The pump is full of medicine and releases it directly into the spine, where it can bypass all the side effects of taking something orally. In this case, Baclofen is a muscle relaxant which, if you’ve ever taken a muscle relaxant you know, makes you stoned. Sleepy and silly and incoherent is no way to go through life. So by having this pump he gets all the medicine he needs but he still gets to keep his clarity.

I didn’t realize until our pre-op appointment that he was going to be in the hospital for a week. Or that he’d require at least two weeks of recovery at home afterward. With all of Atti’s surgeries he’s bounced right back almost even before we left the hospital. This one was different.

Dad and Sick Kid

This time, we couldn’t keep his pain under control. He’s so stoic that he never cried, he just writhed around in bed with the pain written all over his face. The worst was when he’d wake up in the middle of the night begging for help. I will hear that little voice in my nightmares until the end of time.

I stayed with him in the hospital the whole time, and since it was Shriners we were spoiled rotten. I got a roll out bed next to him so I didn’t have to sleep in pushed together chairs or a windowsill like I’ve had to in the past. There was a day room playing music he liked and a cafeteria with decent enough food. But still, it was the hardest time I’ve ever had as a parent of a kid with medical needs. This hurt him so bad. The pain has been intense and bewildering. And it’s hurt how he feels about himself. And there’s nothing I can do but hold him and love him and try to save my tears for the bathroom, or at least where it’s too dark for him to see.

We’ve been home now for a couple of weeks and Atti is crawling around like nothing happened to his little body. The spasms in his legs are way down, we can get his legs open enough to easily change diapers, I think this is going to make a massive massive difference for my little hero.

But we still have some healing to do. Both of us.

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Atti’s Introvert Friendly Birthday Party

Birthday Party
For Atti’s whole life, any mention of a birthday party was met with screams and tears. Even attending other kids birthday parties were too much for him to take as he was humiliated by proxy with all the attention on the birthday kid. Even hearing Happy Birthday in a restaurant was enough to send him into redfaced earcovered dripping wet tears. And for a kid as introverted as mine? A birthday party really would be torture. All that special attention is great for an extrovert, but with my guy being too shy to speak, I can’t imagine a greater hell than opening presents while everyone watched.

So we did things just the three of us. I’d make a special cake, or he’d pick out a special present, but it really couldn’t get lower key. Until this year. Atti finally said he wanted a birthday party. We were so shocked I kept asking him over and over again. “Really? A birthday party? Do you want your friends from school to come? And church friends? Really?” But he kept saying yes, so I jumped on the chance to go absolutely crazy.

And I did. Special invitations, so so so much food (that will be coming later this week), lots of decorations, but I also kept one eye on Atti the whole time, making sure that I had built in some safeguards for my gentle little boy.

So if you have an introverted kid, here’s some tips I’ve tested out for you.

Dance Party
Don’t make your child play host. I made a music playlist and had it going on the computer so as people arrived I’d hand the kids a balloon to blow up or play with (as age appropriate) and told them we were having a dance party. We built the chaos of those early minutes into the party so I never had to ask Atti to go and take a kid to play. We were all just playing from the moment they walked in the door.

Cow Kiss
Create a safe space. For our activity we rented a petting zoo (hashtag country living privilege) but the point of it was to have something Atti could hide in while the other kids could still be entertained. If things got too overwhelming – which they did – he could hang back and make friends with a special calf while all the other kids ran around the backyard doing whatever they wanted. In a pinch a safe space could be a bedroom, or even your lap, but it helps to have a place your child knows they can check in for a few deep breaths to ward off the big overwhelming feelings.

Alpaca
Hit the invitation sweet spot. It might seem counter intuitive, but if you’re not having a party with a couple close friends, than the answer is to throw a rager. We invited a LOT of people. And we told everyone to bring their siblings and parents. We basically had an open door policy. What you’re looking for is reaching peak crowd. If you have enough people that you can’t all sit around and talk in one large group? You did it right. A crowd allows people to break off into smaller groups, people can disappear for a minute if necessary, your child isn’t the source of entertainment, and they can hang back as much as they need in order to be comfortable without anyone being worried or changing the fun of the party.

Goat
Throw out the program. It was really important to me that if we were going to throw a party, I wasn’t going to neglect Atti to entertain a bunch of other kids. Free form activities allowed me to make sure Atti was having a special time, but if the other kids were bored with the dance party, they could play with stickers set out on the table. Or pet the animals, or go crazy in the backyard, or play in Atti’s room. There were enough adults around to make sure nothing got broken, but otherwise I encouraged the kids to just play and let go of any plans of moving orderly from one activity to the other. Any kind of an activity that came with an expert to take charge would be great too, as long as they were warned not to single out the birthday kid.

Calf
Have a buffet style spread. I made so much food for this party. Partly because it was so much fun for me, but also because I thought of the food as another activity that could provide a distraction as necessary. I spent plenty of time around the snack table as a teenager, and I hang with so many introverted internet types that I know the punch bowl is a perennial comfort zone. So keeping with the motive of not having to control or lead anything, I had all the food out on the table and made it up for grabs through the whole party. Including the birthday cake. We didn’t sing happy birthday, I didn’t walk in with lit candles, we just had it on the table and about halfway through the party I started cutting it up and putting it on plates.

Cowboy
Make One on One time. When a stressed out overstimulated introverted kid starts getting overwhelmed, the LAST thing they want is attention drawn to that fact. If you can make some activities that require one on one time, you can release some of that pressure without anybody being the wiser. For us it was taking turns on the pony rides, but it could be facepainting, or a turn on the trampoline, or special cupcake decorating time, anything that lets the kid chill out on their own for a minute.

Horseriding
Forget the presents. This will not only save your introvert some unwanted attention, but it will make you a hero among parents.
Buying presents for kids parties is the worst! Who knows what some kid at school wants? You’re left spending money you don’t want to spend on plastic crap the kid might not even want. Boo. Instead we took Atti shopping and let him pick out his own presents, and then we had a couple other things – like his Big Boy Bed – that were surprises. If your kid really really has their heart set on presents, then maybe you could stash them in a back room somewhere so you don’t have to open them while people are at the party.

Family
Throwing this party was a total dream come true for me. I’ve been waiting to go Pinterest crazy with a birthday party for Atti’s entire life! But one of my core values as a parent is not to make Atti’s childhood all about me. It has to be what he enjoys, in a way that he wants to celebrate, no matter how many adorable paper goods I’ve had to pass by. I think with this party we managed to make both of our dreams come true.

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Year of Pleasures – A Day at the Nursery

Nursery

When I buy plants it’s usually while I’m doing something else. I’ll pick up a little something while I’m buying nails at the hardware store. Or I’ll buy some herb seedlings along with my groceries. I haven’t been to an honest to goodness nursery since I don’t even know when. But with my friends coming in to town I wanted to do the backyard up and I had an Atticus that needed to be entertained, so I consulted yelp and went to a nearby nursery. Holy cow was it amazing. I could have spent forever there. There were butterflies and hummingbirds all over the place, so used to people that they’d fly right up to you and hover in your face. I took my time picking out primroses and ranunculus while Atti zoomed up and down the aisles and searched for the perfect red flower to take home for his contribution.

I think I found a new happy place. If they served food there I might never leave.

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