Saturday, October 20, 2018

Meet Taro

Smoldering eyes.
Remember a few summers ago when we went to Japan and then things started falling apart for Stow a bit, so we decided to get a cat and build a pool? Turns out, this is kind of a pattern. Not the building the pool part--the making various changes to see what helps Stow part. I know it doesn't make a lot of sense when you think about it, but it seemed to me that since things were going so well with Momo, it couldn't hurt to get another cat. Momo and Pink had bonded so solidly that the boys were getting left out on the pet love. Since Momo's a calico, she can be a bit stand-offish, so I didn't imagine her warming up to either of them any time soon. And, my gut was telling me that Stow could learn a lot from having a pet that would put up with him.

Bird watching.
Everyone who owns cats knows that change can be hard for them. In fact, cats are a lot like kids on the autism spectrum (check out this book), so adding one risked upsetting the balance we'd managed to develop with Momo. Friends with single cats told me to leave well enough alone. Friends with kids on the spectrum told me to leave well enough alone. Ren told me to leave well enough alone, and especially since he takes care of the litter box, I was inclined to listen to him.

For awhile, anyway.

So much fluff.
Then we went away for a long weekend and Ren worried about Momo being lonely the whole time. On top of that, right after we got back, we got an email that the Humane Society where we got Momo was having a sale. If Ren's a sucker for anything, it's for Momo and a good sale. So, one Friday in July, I finally convinced him to go to the Human Society to check out the kittens.

We told the kids we were just going to look, but we also knew it would be nearly impossible to leave without a new cat. It didn't help that the kids discussed names for the twenty minutes it took us to get to the Humane Society. They wanted to name it Freddy or Jason since it was Friday the 13th. They suggested Ringo (apple) to go with Momo (peach).  I reminded them that we might not get a cat and that, if we did, Ren had naming rights. He'd named Momo, and that worked out pretty well.

The cat, eating my homework.
When we got there, we learned the sale wouldn't start until Saturday (ugh) and that there were just a handful of kittens ready to go home with people. Ren thought we should walk away while we still could, but then we found Taro. When you put a tiny kitten into a small room full of this family, you expect two things to happen: 1) the kitten to hide as far under the nearest chair as possible, and 2) everyone to fight over who gets to hold the cat. Neither of these things happened. In fact, everyone patiently awaited their turn to hold a very purr-y and cuddly kitten. Despite all the signs telling us not to get a kitten, I chose to focus on the one sign that mattered. This kitten was totally down with us.

Momo, wholly unsure about Taro
I suppose the rest is history. After a bumpy first few days, Momo and Taro became fast friends.

What? What do you want?
More importantly, though, Taro has continued to be the most easygoing cat I've ever met. He purrs nonstop and often loud enough that it sounds like it hurts. He chooses to spend time with Stow, climbing on his lap, sleeping on his bed.

A patient study companion.
For his part, Stow is thrilled when Taro shows him affection, and he is learning what cats do and don't like. These are amazingly portable skills.


Besides the cat, we've also started speech therapy for Stow. He's doing it at a place that does hippotherapy. Sky (and Stow) benefitted from OT at the same place, so I figured it was worth a try, even though I had a hard time imagining what speech on a horse would look like. (Hint: it looks exactly like speech off of a horse, but with a horse.) In the few times he's gone so far, the therapist has already confirmed that Stow most likely merits an auditory processing disorder diagnosis (one that won't be formally done until he's at least 10) and that he has a hard time picking up conversations when there is any kind of static at all. So, each session, she has the horse leader and side walker have a conversation while Stow tries to complete various tasks. Over the last several months, we've become more and more convinced that the speech and auditory processing issues are Stow's biggest challenges, so we will see if this helps manage the meltdowns some.
Speech on a horse.
Another big change for Stow is that he started doing karate. I know it seems counterintuitive to give a kid who has aggressive meltdowns formal instruction on how to hit, but we hope that karate lessons will help Stow better delineate when it is and isn't okay to use his hands that way. We also figured it wouldn't hurt to give Stow lots and lots of practice in hearing and then physically responding to prompts. The pathways from his ears, to his brain, to his body have always been a little muddied by the autism, so strengthening/clearing them can only be a good thing. The instructor, who has been teaching karate for 25 years, uses multimodal approaches to teaching and has shown unending patience. As a result, Stow has thrived. Just today, he finished the tasks required to get his orange belt. His ability to focus, listen, and follow directions blows my mind.

The small mercies of all of these things aren't lost on me.

Stow and Ren at Stow's yellow belt ceremony.
I know I've been a bit negative lately. The re-emergence of the depression after all these years caught me off guard. And, Stow's struggles have made Ren and me weary. We're getting old, after all.  The thing is, though, Stow is an amazing kid who has overcome some pretty big challenges. And, nine times out of ten, he's done that with a huge grin on his face and a ready hug for anyone who needs one.

He's going to be just fine, you guys. We all are.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Week in Japan

"I love what it smells like here," I tell Ren in our first conversation since arriving. The grass and the cedars and the wooden buildings smell especially sweet as the October chill settles over the campus.

"Maybe it's where you will die," he replies, trying to be funny. It's not funny, of course, but sometimes these terrible jokes are as close as Ren can get to connecting with me. Ren knows that I struggled with ideations the last time I was here, so the joke is particularly poorly-timed. I don't know how to respond.

"Ok, I gotta go get some sleep," I tell him, cutting the conversation short. My mental health is an uneasy topic for both of us.


In my restless sleep, Stow is having another meltdown. He's pretty sure someone has stolen his LEGO. The problem, of course, is that he's stolen so many LEGO from Pink and Sky, it's nearly impossible to determine uncontested ownership. Pink wants her LEGO back, but verbal reasoning is not the way to achieve this. Neither is simply taking back what is hers. I try to distract Stow  as I position myself between him and Pink. If Pink can  just walk away, perhaps the meltdown can be averted. She jumps in, though, "Why does he always steal my stuff?" she whines in a voice at least two octaves higher than  normal, triggering Stow who grabs her arm and then her hair. I wrench him away and then deflect his blows with my forearms. Two things are sure to trigger a long meltdown: LEGO and screens. So, the hitting and erratic and impulsive behavior go on for awhile. When Stow melts down like this, he has to be protected; as much as I want to, I cannot walk away from his flying fists. Eventually Ren changes places with me and uses one of his old judo moves to get Stow on the ground. Only then, with the two of us working in tandem, can we slow his feet and hands and help him calm enough to keep him from flying out of the house in a panicked rage.

When I wake, I remember it’s just a dream. The bruises on my forearm have already faded.


Pink's teacher wants to know why she insists on reading her book and working on her stories instead of listening to classroom instruction. It's a legitimate question. I try to explain that things are hard for her at home between two mercurial, black-and-white-thinking brothers, especially when I'm gone for work. The teacher says she seems happy and positive at school. I don't understand why he doesn't understand kids better. Avoidance and defiance are two pretty common coping strategies for kids with anxiety, after all. It occurs to me that I am failing all of my children. It doesn't matter, though; I'm the only mom they've got.


Walking alone down the busy sidewalks of Kyoto, headphones turned up loud as a way to distract me from my brain, the title of memoir I didn't even know I was writing popped into my head: Fat, Ugly, and Suicidal. The thought makes me laugh because I know I could never name a book that but also because it's a shame I can't even tell anyone that it's the kind of thought that pops in my mind, despite the fact I’m in a place I love, listening to good music, and surrounded by the energy of the city. My brain is an asshole.


Sky answers when I try to Facetime with Ren.

"Hi," he starts, "I know I should, but I don't really miss you at all."

And, then, "Did you buy me a building for my electric train? Because I don't want one."

"I know," I respond. "Where's Otosan?”

While I talk to Ren, Sky hams it up in the background. First, dabbing dramatically, then shoving Pink's stuffed unicorn into the camera so I can no longer see their dad, who is droning on about the broken faucet. Teenagers are complicated.


Doubling the dose of the antidepressant seems to have worked. I no longer spend all of my energy trying to avoid stepping in front of a bus or jumping off a bridge. But, the days don't feel a whole lot easier. Unwanted thoughts still pop into my head: at the cape I briefly picture myself going head first over the cliff; drinking with friends, I imagine drinking just enough to excuse a tumble off of a curb and into oncoming traffic. I'm amazed by the persistence and creativity of these thoughts that come from somewhere along the border of my conscious and subconscious mind.


On Facetime, Stow is trying to tell me something. A few hours earlier, his teacher sent me a picture of him smiling widely as he holds a filled sticker chart. His new tooth seems to have grown so much more than it should have in the six days I've been away. I can't understand what he wants to say. Something about a thing on a table next to the stairs and a big surprise. The message, in and of itself, makes little sense, but I imagine he's talking about the sticker chart and the reward. Without context, communication with Stow can seem impossible.


I listen to a playlist a friend shared with me. 237 songs. My whole life I've struggled to describe my music tastes. But, this playlist hits it. It feels like an unexpected gift, a light at the end of the tunnel.


The fog hangs low today. Maybe my first flight will be delayed. Maybe I won't make my connection. The smell of Akita cedars accompanies me as I roll my suitcase across campus to meet the taxi. In 20 hours, I will be home again, no more or less sure that I got away at all.