Living Life Between The Dumpsters

Dumpster

Photo by Steve Snodgrass

Every morning when I am dropping my son Austin off for school, I can always count on being greeted by the same two faces. Day in and day out; rain, snow, sleet or shine they are there, waiting for on arrival. They are older and a little weathered now but still stand tall with strong backbones. Their names are Bruce and Betty and I can always count on them to be sitting with anticipation awaiting our arrival.

Well, Bruce and Betting is what I have named them. In fact, they are not human but do have faces per se. You see, Bruce and Betty are large brown dumpsters.

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You Can’t Enjoy Church Sitting In The Car

on the road

by Flood G.

Well, it is 11:15am on Sunday morning and where am I? I am sitting in the car in the church parking lot. Does that count as attending or do I actually have to be in the building? It has been one of those Sunday mornings with my special needs son, Austin. You might be wondering why I am in the car. Well, I will tell you.

The morning was mostly manageable getting ready to leave for church. All of the boys and I were successfully able to get in the car and get to church on time. Michael got out and went in with the high school kids and I dropped Luke off at his classroom without a hitch. Now it was time to get Austin to his class, which recently has become a challenge in itself. Austin will turn 13 next week so you know what that means.

autism + puberty = a parental nightmare

As we were walking down the hall I was reminded that all junior and senior high students were going to be meeting together in a large meeting room for their morning class. Austin is now in the 6th grade class so I knew that meant he would be in there as well. Once Austin and I arrived, I could tell by the crowd of students that this might not be the best option for him this morning so I decided to take him to the worship center with me. Even though his shadow was there, I knew Austin might have trouble with a loud, crowded room of kids.

Austin and I found a seat in the back at the end of a row. We had no problem sitting down and it looked as if it would be a normal morning service for us. Everything was fine until the singing was over. That was when Austin decided he wanted a ring pop, which of course I did not have. We usually give him a ring pop when we are in the worship center to keep his mouth busy so he will not talk so much but I was not planning on him attending in the worship center with me so I did not think about bringing one. In the past we have forgotten ring pops and were able to manage but not today. Austin quickly became very vocal in his disapproval and began doing the one thing I hate more than anything else he does, he began squawking.

Have you ever watched the movie Dumb and Dummer? There is a part of the movie in which Harry asks Lloyd, “Want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?” Well, that is almost the same sound Austin makes when he is unhappy about something. If you are unsure what I am talking about here is a clip.

Now imagine someone making that sound in a quite room with about 800 other people. Austin started right when everyone sat down and became very quite waiting on the senior pastor to begin speaking. I could tell it was not going to stop anytime soon so we quickly left the worship center in order not to be a distraction. We tried the overflow room, which was relatively empty, and made it a full 23 seconds before the noises started again. We then proceeded out to a couch in the foyer which turned out worse than the other places. Not only was he squawking, but he refused to sit down and was walking around hitting his head with his hand. Of course, everyone was looking at us as they walked by so we went to the one place I knew would be safe, the car.

So here I sit, in the parking lot, staring at the church building, in a parked car. I tried.

So how am I feeling? Guilty first of all. The churches in which my wife and I were raised stressed the importance of church attendance. Growing up we were there basically there every time the doors of the church were open. That mentality is still stuck in my head somewhere and the guilt is very heavy that I am not inside the building right now.

I am feeling a little lonely. Not just because I am sitting in a car alone with my son but more in regards to our interaction with other church members. The way you get to know others is by becoming involved but at the moment, because of Austin, we are not able to be as involved as we have been in the past. So, after attending our current church for almost 3 years, we still basically have no substantial relationships with others in the congregation. I am blaming no one. It’s just that we are not able to get involved like other families and because of that, not able to develop deeper friendships.

I am a little saddened as well. I think about all the other families who also might not be able to participate, or even attend church, on a regular basis. I am concerned that they too feel lonely even in a crowded church building or guilty because they have to miss another Sunday.

So here I sit. This is not the first time I have sat in the car with Austin during church and it definitely will not be the last time. I do like the fact that we at least made it and that Michael and Luke are able to participate. The other part of me at least takes some comfort in the fact that this was another opportunity for Austin to learn how to interact with other individuals in a group setting, though today would go down as a complete failure. All I can do is try and I believe that is enough. Though not always successful, I hope our determination to at least try to get to church sets an example for the other two boys as they grow up and have families of their own.

So now, back inside we go to pick up the other two. Austin is in a better mood now and hopefully we will be able to walk down the halls without indecent.  Trust me, if there is a problem, I will tell you all about it later.

When Your Son With Autism Doesn’t Want To Get Ready For School

Austin Not Smiling

Austin Not Smiling

This morning was one of those mornings at the Parker house. I am completely frustrated and it is not even 7:30 AM. As I sit here drinking coffee while Luke eats his “white donuts” for breakfast and watches videos on YouTube about Jurassic Park toys, I am counting down all the things I must do today before I can go back to bed. This morning I almost called it quits. Who needs school anyways? I am pretty sure they can learn whatever they need watching TV or playing XBOX.

I am sure for most families, school days can be a real struggle. For many like us there is the high school kid who doesn’t want to get out of bed until there is exactly 75 seconds remaining before you need to leave the house to get to school on time. Then there is the 4-year-old who eagerly gets out of bed but takes forever to get into the car because they are walking out the door carrying two blankets, a Power Ranger, a Batman, a sword and a glass of milk. “Please leave your blankets here.”, I said. “But I ‘meed’ them.”, is the reply I got.

Then there is Austin, our middle child with autism. Waking him up each morning is like choosing a piece of chocolate out of a Valentines box of candy. You may choose something really sweet and delicious or you may get something filled with chalk flavored toothpaste that makes you gag and spit all over your new shirt. Some mornings he is eager to get his shoes on and head to the car. Other days he is grabbing his shoes from the closet and throwing them across the room as far as possible. Today was more on the later end. There are days when everyone can wake up on the wrong side of the bed. For a child with autism, sometimes its like they woke up on the wrong side of the bed and it was the side next to the 100 foot cliff. Continue reading

Eight Years is a Long Time Between Children

Boys with Light Sabers

Photo by Bonnie B. Photography

My wife and I have three boys. Their ages are fourteen, twelve and four. Yes, that is a pretty good spread between the last two. In case you were wondering, no, it was not an accident (you would be surprised how often I get asked that). This year, all at the same time, we were able to experience one son starting high school, another starting middle school and the third going to preschool. The range of experiences around our house is amazing.

Having such a large spread in the age of our children has its advantages. First, we have an automatic babysitter for short-term needs. Second, some of the competition for items around the house is less severe since they each are at different points in their lives and have different interests. Third, we as parents are older and wiser than we were when our first two boys were young so maybe we can actually get the third one right.

There also some disadvantages. First, as a parent we have become older which makes keeping up with a four-year old a little more difficult. Second, we have ventured back into the toddler stage, which is not always a fun stage. Remember all those difficult times you had with the first two boys? Yeah, you get to do that all over again. Third, we now have even more years before they all move out.

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Nursing School, The Hardest Two Years of My Life

Nursing School

by Texas A&M University-Commerce Marketing Communications Photography

The past two years have been the hardest two years of my life. When I say hard, I literally mean hard…physically and emotionally hard. The type of hard that can drive you crazy. The type of hard that keeps you so busy it can make you wonder if you are loosing your identity as a person. The type of hard that makes you want to warn all others who might be entering a similar situation to flee as fast as possible. I can’t complain too much about it because it was mostly self-inflicted. I had some input into the situation and maybe could have had some things work out differently but I made the choices I made for one simple reason: I love my wife.

It all started just almost four years ago. My wife had recently given birth to our third son, Luke, and we were talking about the future. Did we want to have a fourth child was seriously on our mind. At some point over the weeks we were talking, she made a decision. Three children were enough. I think for her that matched her family experience as she came from a family of three children. I was on board with her decision as well, except for the fact that now our family would have only five members, which for someone analytical like myself means that we would have an uneven number. Four or six is a much more logical number. For instance, whenever we ride a ride at an amusement park, someone would have to be a single. That bothered me.

One of the questions I had for her was what did she want to do once all three of our children were in school. I could see the look of concern on her face when she thought about the future. She was pretty sure she wanted to work somewhere and in the past has had several different types of positions but none of them were what you would call fulfilling. At some point in our discussion, she decided to share with me one of her dream jobs. “You know, something that I would love to do, is to be a nurse.” Great! I loved that idea. Go for it. She would be a great nurse. She is a really good mother and is wonderful at taking care of our special needs son. (Now, when I am sick she thinks I am a baby, so that attitude might need a little work.) Working as a nurse would give her a rewarding career, flexible schedule and good monetary income. Think about all the golf I could now play!

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Why Attending Church is Hard

Austin Tongue OutAttending church is hard work as a parent of a special needs child. In fact, most of the time I don’t even want to go to church. It’s stressful and my mind is usually not engaged in what is taking place. If it wasn’t for the fact that my oldest son loves going and being with his friends we would probably skip church much more often. Now, this is probably really surprising to hear from someone who has a seminary degree but maybe my honesty will benefit someone else.

From the start, I want to give props to our current church, Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. They have been great and have an excellent program for special needs children. That was one of the main reasons we decided to become members. It is a 30 minute drive from our house but we feel it is worth the extra driving time.

Though our church does a great job at involving Austin, I still worry every time we attend. For two of our sons, church is easy. We just make sure they get to the correct location at the correct times. We never worry about them or what will happen when they are away from us. Austin on the other hand is a completely different story. I am always wondering if Austin is going to have a breakdown, is he disturbing the other kids or teachers in his class, is he going to try to lay down in the worship center and prop his feet up on the lady sitting beside us! (Yes, he has tried that on multiple occasions. You should see their face when this twelve-year-old boy lies down and props his athletic shoes in their lap.)

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Free Kid’s Meals! – Not Always Worth It

Austin at the age of 8

Austin at the age of 8

Free Kid’s Meals nights are amazing. Where we live in the Raleigh, NC area, restaurants offer free kid’s meals with the purchase of an adult meal to drive sales. In fact, I know families that have it all mapped out, having a prearranged plan on which restaurant they will hit on a given day. We also have our favorite locations and visit them on a regular basis. The problem with the free kid’s meal offer is that you have to bring your children!

Having three boys (a teenager, one with autism and a four-year old), we often use those restaurants that allow us to get our orders to go. In fact, almost every Tuesday evening you can find me standing in line at our local Moe’s Southwest Grill picking up dinner for the entire family. Sometimes I have a kid or two with me but most of the time I am by myself, stopping by on my way home from work. Employees there often ask me, “Where is Batman?”

(Now, as a side note, my youngest son, Luke, loves, loves, loves Batman. Every single day he asks if he can wear his Batman shirt to school and goes to pieces if you say no. In fact, we had to buy four pairs of the exact same Batman pajamas so he could wear them to bed because he refused to wear any others. As a side to a side, if he has a Batman shirt on and a jacket, he will walk around with his jacket slightly unzipped so that he can walk up to people, spread his jacket open like Superman spreads his shirt, showing his Batman emblem and with a four-year old’s deep voice and say “I’m Batman.”)

Last week, we had family in town and decided that it would be a great idea to take all the kid’s to Moe’s for free Kid’s Meals. Just to count, that was 6 adults and 8 children. Everyone on the north side of Raleigh must have had the same idea as us that evening because the place was hopping. As we were standing in line to order our food, my son with autism, Austin, began to get a little agitated. He had left his iPad in the car and he did not want to stand in line any longer. Austin can be a sneaky little thing. When he wants something or does not like something, he knows how to get our attention. He was trying the typical walk-away and hitting himself-in-the-head approaches but saw that it wasn’t going to work. He needed to employ a new tactic.

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