Little Fella

Little Fella is somewhat of a misnomer for our third child, who tipped the scales weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds 7 ounces at birth. Needless to say, I am glad he no longer occupies my body. At the time of Little Fella's arrival, Kate's favorite movie was Finding Nemo, with her favorite scene being the one in which Dory attempts to speak whale to what she thought was a little sea creature, which ended up being a giant whale. Anyway, Kate committed this scene to memory and could be found scripting it throughout the day. As soon as we brought the baby home, she began referring to him not by his given name, but as Little Fella. And it stuck.

I am still getting to know Little Fella, this newest member of our family. I know that he likes to be held all day, and I know that he is amused by the antics of his older sisters. He likes to take naps on his dad's chest but not in his crib. He likes to snuggle against my neck as he falls asleep at night, and I like hearing the soft whisper of his breath. He recently learned how to smile, and every time I see that smile it makes my heart sing.


Kate and Annie

Though two separate beings, it is impossible to write about one without mentioning the other. Two sisters, spaced two years apart, so intertwined. Much like twins, they share their own secret language and are best friends or worst enemies.

Their relationship got off to a bit of a rocky start, with Kate throwing herself to the ground and screaming, "PUT BACK!" the second we brought Annie home from the hospital. Not bad for a toddler who was quite echolalic and did not have a whole lot of spontaneous language in her repertoire. After a few days of the screaming, curiosity set in. During Annie's first year of life, she was subjected to the constant poking and prodding of her older and not so gentle sister. Kate enjoyed poking Annie's eyes, pulling apart her toes, sniffing her, and Kate's favorite, laying on top of her. Fortunately, Annie was a content baby and tolerated, and was even amused, with these intrusions. When Annie reached toddlerhood, though, she started fighting back. No longer did she enjoy being man-handled constantly. So, Annie began hitting, or pulling Kate's hair, or knocking over the line of toys that could not be moved out of place for any reason. Annie became very in-tune to Kate and knew how to push her buttons, and she did. And when Kate's buttons are pushed, look out.

Needless to say, the first two years of having two children were very trying. Their relationship began to improve when Kate was 4 and Annie was 2. Therapists came to our home and included Annie in Kate's therapy sessions. They worked on social interaction, sharing, play skills, language development. At first, Kate resisted and tantrummed. Annie was a willing participant, eager to play and learn with her sister. Slowly, Kate's resistance subsided. She began to play next to Annie, and eventually, with her.

Kate is on the autism spectrum but is not shy. She is the first to greet her classmates and wave to strangers on the street. Maintaining conversations and sustaining social interactions are still difficult for her, but improving. Kate is passionate, strong-willed, fun-loving. She is active and uses all of her senses to experience life to the fullest. Annie is not on the autism spectrum. She can be shy, slow to warm, but once she is comfortable, becomes quite the little chatterbox. Annie is sweet, kind, and inquisitive. She is helpful and will stand up for herself when necessary. Both girls love playing on the playground, dressing up as princesses, and both girls have a quick smile and infectious laugh. They have become who they are because of each other. Two sisters, best friends.


Happy Medium

Sophomore year of college was one big party. Large amounts of alcohol were consumed for any reason at all. Dining food suck? No problem, half a bottle of Mad Dog and you won't even taste it. Ex-boyfriend going to be at the same party? Poor dear, let's do some lemon drops, that'll make you forget him. Blizzard coming? Nothing else to do, better stock up on some So Co. By the end of that year it was a miracle my liver was still functioning, although I may have lost a few IQ points.

As the spring semester came to a close, it was with a bit of relief that I packed the contents of my life into my trusty 1989 Pontiac Grand Am and headed home. Home, to a blissfully sweet, boring, alcohol-free summer. The only plans I had were to work at my aunt's nursery school. Couldn't get into much trouble with a bunch of toddlers.

After a few weeks of summer break, a friend I had met earlier that year called. Lauren lived a few miles from where I grew up and was calling to see if I wanted to hang out with her and some of her friends from high school. I did and that's how I met him.

The minute I met Gonzo I knew he was going to be my future husband. I know that sounds cheesy, but we clicked immediately. He was easy to talk to and made me laugh. Suddenly, my boring summer was filled with him. Trips to the beach, baseball games, camping, spending time together with friends, just plain fun. An unexpected summer romance. My new best friend.

But alas, we were young and carefree, and while we had a blast that summer, we were unsure what the fall semester and distance would do to us. So we agreed that what we had was a happy medium. More than a summer fling, not official relationship material. School began, and we kept in touch the old-fashioned way before the advent of the internet and email. We wrote letters, sent cards, talked on the phone. We visited each other at our respective schools, saw each other over breaks. Our happy medium had indeed blossomed into a real relationship.

Fast forward 13 years. Gonzo and I have been married for 8 of those years, have 3 kids, own a house. We stood by each other through the death of grandparents, uncles, a friend, students, through the serious illness of a sibling. Friends married, divorced, had kids, moved away. Our family has grown to include 5 nieces and 2 nephews. We've laughed at the silly, endearing things our children do, and we've cried through frustrating moments and scary unknowns. We are bread and butter, milk and cookies, macaroni and cheese. A true partnership. Side by side we stand to face whatever comes our way.


Floating in Space

Kate announced her arrival into this world with a lusty scream and flailing limbs. From the beginning she was in constant motion. Her tiny baby feet twirled like the propellers on a helicopter ready for take-off.

The bigger Kate grew, the more her body moved. Arms flapped, head shook, body twisted. By age 2 1/2, she could be found spinning in endless circles or running aimlessly back and forth across the room. She threw herself forcefully onto the ground whenever someone came into our house, and she developed a fondness for dragging her head across the floor.

It was at this time that we became concerned that something more might be going on instead of Kate just being an active little girl. Language development plateaued and did not progress beyond simple labelling of objects. Letters, numbers, colors, and cars were an intense obsession. Kate could walk through a parking lot and rattle off the make and model of every car, but she could not answer a yes or no question. Tantrums occurred with small changes in her environment, such as a chair being moved out of place. Instead of playing with toys, she lined them up or repeatedly put them into and took them out of a basket. Kate was evaluated by the county early intervention team and qualified for special education services for delays in all areas. A developmental pediatrician diagnosed her with autism and sensory processing disorder shortly after her third birthday.

Kate's first occupational therapist, Jo, was a sensory-trained OT who had a deep understanding of the autism spectrum and sensory processing disorder. Jo helped me understand the reasons behind Kate's constant movement and showed me how to help her. One of the greatest insights Jo gave me was the reason behind Kate's need to slam her body into things. To Kate, Jo explained, it might feel as though her body is floating in space. That feeling of being untethered, Jo continued, is the reason she seeks out that deep pressure; she needs to feel connected to something; this is how she experiences her world; this is how she figures out where she begins and ends.

Two years later, the floating in space analogy stays with me. It allows me to see life through Kate's eyes. That two people might experience the same thing in a totally different way and there's nothing wrong with that. That when we look through another's eyes, we understand them better. That we are all floating in space through this life and need to be connected to one another to help us find our way.