I came up with the title, “The Summer Gentling” on one of summer’s earliest days. I came up with it because for one blazing second I thought that things would be quieter or easier when my children weren’t bound into a schedule of academics and activities.
I thought that waking late and laying around and playing in the pool were the panacea to stress, and my complaining, holler-y kids would become little lambs will all that pressure off.
Why did I think that? Does July have magic powers I am not aware of?
I believed summer’s early deception – where the kids read and watched tv and were mostly content to leave each other alone. I thought relaxation would be our ritual. But it lasted exactly five days. F-I-V-E. Then, they must all have gotten rested up enough to want to kill each other again.
Thank you Jesus that I work from home and could break up the fights myself. I wouldn’t wish this nonsense on a serial killer, let alone a sweet teenage babysitter. I hold my breath every time I leave the house and pray that I won’t find her cowering on top of the fridge where the projectiles won’t hit her. My kids are kind and funny, sweet and polite. To OTHER people. To each other, it’s basically Clash of Clans.
To quote my sweet son Noah, “It makes my brain feel all fluttery when I can get Grace to scream. It’s like my head is full of butterflies, and I get so excited! I think to myself, ‘Yes! Yell louder!’”
And there there’s Jesse, our family’s exclamation point, who has remarked, “I am happy when I can hit and wrestle! I love getting to beat up my brother once and for all!”
Hitting, yelling, wrestling, fighting. And so my summer goes.
The absence of a routine – you know, the one I thought would be so great to get away from? – is actually part of the problem. At least for two of them. Noah and Jesse, both on the (high functioning end) of the autism spectrum need to know what’s happening from one minute to the next. About two weeks in, it was all, “What are we doing today?” and “What’s happening next?” and “What’s after that?” When you work from home (again, thank you Jesus but also, my office is 20 feet from the kitchen fighting over who gets the last donut), YOUR routine (coffee, dishes, get dressed, sit at computer) isn’t necessarily compatible with THEIR routine (preferably, movie, ice cream, pool, pizza, play date, Disney World).
So we made one. And it wasn’t one they liked. Too bad, autism. ADHD and OCD, I’m looking at you, too.
Props to my husband Matt for his help in creating a new way of doing things. Every morning = make bed, brush teeth, get dressed. Doesn’t sound like much? They would be in their pj’s with bed head and a mouth full of cavities until dusk if we let them. After breakfast = fold and put away laundry. I have to die a little inside watching the clothes get smashed into the drawers that were neat only one minute ago, but they’re building character right? And I can “help” without doing it for them, right? RIGHT? After lunch = 30 minutes of reading time, and then a family activity if we could do one (pool, water balloons, a game of catch). The rest was admittedly free-form, but at some point, I really did start running out of ideas. Additionally, see the previous section on my working from home.
Fights, disobedience, and back-talk all resulted in having to clean the bathroom which is the job most universally hated in our house. And with 2 boys, why wouldn’t it be? I hate cleaning the bathrooms so much, I actually started putting the Clorox as a warning. Or maybe it was a suggestion?
Moral of the story: with autism, the reason is never the reason.
With kids on the spectrum – whose beautiful minds are easily set adrift with tiny changes in schedule – there’s always something that incites “bad” behavior. For the boys, an easy summer made for harder emotional management. They were actually squirming uncomfortably under the weight of all the unknown space ahead of them. So even though they screeched with annoyance at having to do what we told them to, they did it. The anticipation of regular things actually made everything more manageable for our family. We had folded our arms around the boys and loved them in ways they didn’t even see.
We gave them the protection of routine. They gave us sparkling toilets and a little more peace.
Psalm 91:4 – “He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” (NLT)
Find my latest book, Mommy Needs a Raise (Because Quitting’s Not an Option), on Amazon!
Sarah Parshall Perry
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