She was a delightful infant, from what I can remember. One of the biggest regrets of my life is the six months of fog that has replaced clear memories of Audrey as a happy, engaging baby. Born in the hot summer of 2005, she entered the world clear-eyed and curious, into the arms of battle-worn parents, with an older brother who had been in and out of the hospital his first year, Try as I might, I can't remember specifics about her daily life. I took lots of photos, know that she always was out and about, looking darling, with intelligent eyes and a content smile. But I can't remember clear moments; these fell by the wayside in the natural progression of living through trauma. I despised myself for years about this, then felt tremendous guilt, and now a sense of peaceful sadness. What can I do but accept it. We took it one day at a time back then.
But after that first year, Audrey has more than made up for the lapse in memory. Once she hit 18 months, and then at 20 months when Aedan arrived, she has been large and in charge, loud, challenging, and delightful. All in one short, whirling-dervish package.
I have read articles and blogs about siblings of autistic children. About their struggles of feeling left out, overshadowed by all the attention of the special needs sibling, having a hard time adjusting to the social "normal" world outside of the home. We started to zero in on Liam's puzzling sensory and social issues when Audrey was young, her coming along for the ride to his assessments, appointments, play dates. Coupled that with Aedan usurping her as the baby not even two years later, topped off with her developing personality of being highly energetic, slightly ADD, full-feeling and impulsive. A perfect storm for a Middle Child Identity Crisis was born.
When cuddling with toddler Audrey and a nursing newborn Aedan, I witnessed Audrey's "kiss for baby" pucker sounds turn, in a nanosecond, into her biting the top of his head. I remember thinking, "oh shit."
She pushed my buttons every chance she could. She entered preschool at 3 1/2 behind the curve socially, having sweet Liam as her older sibling behavioral model. Always, she craved acceptance and support. Her enthusiastic, energetic shrieks could quickly turn into a tantrum when she didn't get her way; she would push and shove her way around kids much bigger than she, the nuanced interactions of the Lord of the Flies playground escaping her. These social mores and norms had to be taught, exampled, then practiced, forgotten, and practiced some more.
Remembering my mom's sage parenting advice that "kids come into our world" and refusing to change my entire identity for a spirited child, I continued parenting her the way I did Liam. Using platitudes such as "let's practice being gracious and kind" and uttering idiocies like "you have to listen to the goodness in your heart, and let that goodness shine," I tried to touch her innantely sweet nature. But she struggled to understand. She fought to contain her impetuous, larger-than-life emotions, insecurity and attention-starved nature. Life must have been overwhelming for her as she tried to bend it to her will.
Up to my eyeballs in autism and a newborn baby, I started to develop a complex right along with Audrey. When she started Kindergarten, she hit the ground running. We hemmed and hawed all that summer, the summer she turned 5, about whether to keep her in Pre-K one more year or let her have a chance as a younger Kindergartner. Partly because, to be honest, I needed a break, we sent her in.
That year spelled disaster from the get go. Kids picked on her for being small; she felt left out and retailiated with no boundaries and using "un-kind hands" to push and shove her way in line. Paired with a veteran, no-nonsense teacher, Audrey tried to learn proper behavior. Academcally, she remained on point. Socially, she dug herself deeper and deeper into a chasm of disrepute.
Thirteen conduct referrals by March: the most her veteran teacher had ever issued a student. I started to experience anxiety every day, parking the car to pick her up; more times than I like to recall, I'd find her, off in the corner, a small brave smile on her face behind clouded eyes, as her teacher would hold up a finger, asking me to "wait." My small, brave smile mimicking my wayward daughter's, I'd brace for another tale of Audrey's mishaps.
Her teacher always believed in her, as did the principal. Her principal's favorite story was Audrey, in the middle of hearing a lecture on behavior and consequence in the school office, stopping the dialogue in its tracks to exclaim, "Wow, Dr Lescher, your pedi-cuter (pedicure) is GORGEOUS!" The principal had to leave the office to hide a smile, knowing that this utterance didn't come from subterfuge but from impulsive, genuine feeling.
When she threw a scissors at a teacher's aide and received a three day in-home suspension, I broke. I felt like a failure, didn't know how or what to feel. I could see the panic behind Audrey's defiant eyes, and realized that she didn't know how to turn her own behavior around. We both needed a serious wake up. Calling Brendan in a panic, he stopped me, mid-tirade. "We have to stop this now. No no more pleading, no more platitudes. These don't make sense to her. We have to use what works to get through to her."
And he was right. Her love language is gift giving, followed by quality time. All paired with attention and praise. So we stripped her room of toys. She stayed in that room for hours at a time, with only paper and pen. She missed out on Aedan's birthday party. She started to understand that drama would not be met with drama. During that time, one memorable exchange between us went like this: "You are just a kid, Audrey. You are not an adult. We are not equals."
How hard it was for me. I love being the fun mom, the understanding mom. I am figuring out that you have to parent each child you are given just a little differently. All kids are not the same, so our quest to become more flexible, firm, and loving may vary in incremental ways.
I cried a lot those couple of years. I watched Audrey learn her lessons, then forget them all over again. I always told her that I loved her no matter what, that she had to learn to be a loving person in control of her emotions in order to be happy and successful in life.
She repeated Kindergarten with the same teacher, which ended up being a successful retention story that that school recounts to this day. Best decision we made, reiterated when I have heard Audrey, more than once, admit that "Kindergarten 1 was hard for me. I didn't get it. In Kindergarten round 2, I figured it out."
She's now a force-of-nature almost 10-year-old. I have to check myself and remember to meet her emotions without drama, without giving her too much power. I've had to pull the car over a few times to get myself together when she gives me lip. Have to remind her, ad nausesum, that "you are not your brother's mom. You are just a sister. You don't get to boss him around."
I wish I didn't have to boss her around, but that's the joy of being a mother. Constantly on-point, even when you want to throw your own tantrum. Raising Audrey teaches me to be more patient, less dramatic, more flexible. I try to remember her place in the family, right in between two brothers each with different special needs. I try to not be as hard on her, but hard enough when it really counts. I try to encourage and support even when she reacts in ways that I never could or would. Some days I laugh my ass off with her, when moments before I felt like throwing something, crying, or both.
Hence, today. I had been having a mellow, productive Wednesday: early hike with a friend, a solid personal training sssion, organizing bills and stopping off at my favorite juice bar. Ready to welcome the kids off the bus with open arms and an "I'm ready for you" smile.
Liam's bus arrived first, and he showed up out of sorts, immediately asking for his tooth fairy gift that didn't arrive yet. And then ten minutes later, smiley singing Aedan followed by Audrey, hangry and already making plans for the afternoon the minute she walked in the door.
Asking her to brush her hair before her snack, then pick out three books in lieu of having homework took us from zero to sixty in three seconds. With an outraged "WHAT?", she started crying, then whining, then complaining about the "worst day of her life." I took a deep breath, sent her to her room, asking why she was treating me like this, what was wrong? Off she stomped upstairs, and I caught my reflection in the mirror I was dusting: slightly bemused, befuddled, and resolved.
After ten minutes she was done. "I'm sorry mom. I was just hungry." I thanked her, then reminded her how when I'm hungry I don't talk to people like that. At least, not most of the time.
We left after a bike ride and a snack. She sat at Speech, waiting for Liam, quietly reading the three books that took her 15 minutes of much drama to choose. Quietly, cooperatively. Earnestly. Afterwards we picked out snacks at the gas station, she the picture of calm and camaraderie. Her arm flung around Aedan, the windows down as we drove to the park, her messy hair a halo around her. She listened to my directions, held my hand walking to the park bench. "Guess what?" She mused. "The best day of my life was the day I was born, mom. The day I joined this awesome family that loves me so much."
And that is why she graces this planet, in all of her challenging glory. My karate-taking life of the party, our deep-feeling Girl Scout. For all the pure, unfiltered love she fills it with.