Friday, July 24, 2015

Living Next Door to Close Friends: A How To

Tonight I'm sitting in my living room writing while Joe, Matt and G play an assortment of guitars/mandolin in the background. Well, it might be generous to use the word "play" in regard to Grayson and his guitar, but it's very sweet nonetheless.

The Stephenson gang: Matt, Mary, Carolyn, William and Thomas have been living 4 doors down from us for almost a year.  In townhouse speak, that's right on top of one another.  And it has been such a gift. How else do you spontaneously end up playing tunes together on a work night after the kids are in bed? Or only cook 4 nights a week, because your compatriot cooks the others? And best of all, have a 10 pm backyard sledding party?

Recently a few of our friends have wondered how this can work.  How can you live so closely and be so intimately involved in each other's lives and remain good friends?

What follows is a primer on how we do it.  Because like any relationship worth having, it does take some work.  However, during our 24 hour road trip a few weeks ago, Mary and I discussed the ins and outs of it all and were amazed to see how God has orchestrated things for our good.

1. Grace: When you see someone every day you're going to see the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Along with laughing, you're going to be annoyed, and disappointed, whether with an adult or with a child.  We all need an extra dose of grace for one another and just like God's mercies are new every morning, we all get to start over with each other in the morning too.  It's important to always think the best of people: chances are that if you chose these friends in the first place, they would NEVER do anything to hurt you on purpose.  So be quick to forgive and be thankful that they are so forgiving towards you as well.

2. Communication: We have a running joke about communication around here and the route it takes and doesn't take.  (Don't worry, I'm not going to name any names Matt and Mary)  But truly, communication is so important.  Whether it's what we're eating for dinner, who is babysitting at what time or how you FEEL about something.  And listen, if you're spending this much time with people, you're going to have to say some hard things.  It's not fun, nobody wants to, it's really awkward and there might be tears.  But if you're going to get to the good stuff and really be family it's going to be required at some point.  Here are a couple of tips for these conversations:  have them in the car- it's a lot easier when you're not staring each other in the face OR do it over drinks. Seriously.  (No drinks in the car) And watch your tone!

4. Parenting: This is tricky. No matter how similar your beliefs, personalities, and humor, there are bound to be differences in your parenting. Instead of judging how you would do things differently (as if your parenting is the end all), cheer one another on.  Share your struggles on the dark days and show your support.  When you live next door, your children will be raised like siblings.  i.e. there will be lots of bickering.  Mary and I especially, being home all day, have found it very helpful to communicate with each other about correcting "the group";  what we're comfortable with the other person doing with our child, and what we think is/isn't working.  It can be such a joy and comfort to have your friends right there in the trenches of childrearing with you.

Carolyn and Baby A at the grocery store.

William and G on a hike.
5. Don't Double the Work: I love to plan meals and cook.  Mary doesn't.  Mary loves to do art and science experiments with the kids.  I DO NOT.  We are so thankful to have each other to lighten the load throughout the week.  Who says you can't have dinner together 4 times a week?  That's one less kitchen to clean and someone is getting a break!  Plus, you eat things that aren't necessarily in your own rotation.  Mary makes a mean pizza.  And I cook red meat for Matt (Mary only deals in poultry).  We are convinced that cooking in bulk saves money. We also give each other breaks.  If I'm running errands with only Baby A, I'll grab Carolyn or William to come with me.  Mary routinely takes Joshua to her house so that I can have some down time.  For you and your friend, it might be driving the carpool or going to Costco for both families.  Whatever it is, figure it out.  This has to be one of our favorite things about living close.

6. Other friends: You still need 'em.  Yes, it's so much easier to hang out with someone next door, but it's important to continue to cultivate other friendships.  First of all, you're going to need a break from each other.  Second, every friendship is unique and sharpens us in different ways. And I don't know about you, but I need lots of sharpening.  So even though you feel like you're going out of the way to plan ahead and drive across town, it's totally worth it.

In conclusion, do this! Life has been so much richer having friends close by to do daily life with.  And an absolute necessity if you don't have family nearby.  Do I think it's crazy to go out of your way move to be near your friends? NO!  Would I do it again? YES!

We love you crazy Stephensons!  Thanks for putting up with us. (And don't ever leave)

We are clearly NOT of the selfie generation.  Cannot get our act together.
Oops, where's Mary?

Where's Ashleigh?

There.  Except Matt and Joe look a little too cozy.  But I guess that's what happen when one climbs into the lap of the other.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What's Joshua Like?

I think upon hearing the word "autism" one can immediately have a certain picture in their head.  At least I used to.  But all people on the spectrum are different.  And while talking to my counselor recently, I realized that she (and probably others) has the wrong idea about what Joshua is like. So today, I'm going to tell you all about him. And I think it's going to challenge your view of these kids.

From birth, Joe and I have always described Joshua as laid back. He still is.

See?  Right there.  You weren't expecting that.  I wouldn't either.  I know that doesn't square with all of my talk about his fierce tantrums.  But really, those are just a small, small portion of his life.

He has always been very happy-go-lucky with lots of smiles and laughter.  Like G (and unlike Baby A), he is a snuggler.  Today we spent about 30 minutes with him laying against me on the bed while I read and he played iPad. He loves to be tickled and thrown around. He's quiet a lot of the time because he doesn't really talk, but can go through periods during the day with LOTS of loud, happy outbursts.  More and more these outbursts are words:  "Yucky!" "Yes!" "Jaaaahsh" (Josh) "Mickey!" "1-2-3!", etc. He wakes up at 5:45 am every morning and runs down the hall towards our room saying "Daddeee! Daddeee!"

Joshua LOVES to play with his siblings and other kids.  He doesn't have the skills to do it on his own, but when we facilitate he can play a mean game of chase or wrestle. And actually he has been reciprocating with William (age 2) lately.

He can now get in his car seat, has been opening the front door (oh dear), and is getting much better about sticking near us in public. They call him "Joshie" at school and he loves it there. He loves to be outside and will walk anywhere holding your hand. He has always, always been drawn to music and I can't wait for the day that he can pick up an instrument. He has deep connections with those he is in a relationship with. When he wants to, he makes STELLAR eye contact. And as Mary says, it's like he looks into your soul with those big blue eyes.

He is comfortable with new people.  If you engage with him, he's cool with you.

His favorite thing to watch right now is the Kids TV 123 channel on YouTube. It is full of educational songs, simply illustrated, and some with catchy tunes. Actually, all 3 kids like it.  Besides Mickey Mouse, it's the one "show" they agree on.  Joshua has been singing along to many of these songs and repeating words from them at random times.  Most memorably, "Yucky! Yucky! Yucky!" all through church.

We always tell him he's going to get by in life on his good looks.

We have been doing some potty training.  And I use the term "training" very loosely. There is no underwear involved and it's all very laid back.  Basically, we sit him on the potty with the iPad several times a day.  Sometimes he does some business, sometimes he doesn't.  If he does, we make a big deal and he gets a few m&ms.  If he doesn't, we just get him off and put his diaper back on.  We started the process because, without going into detail, he started showing some signs that maybe he was done wearing a diaper.  The difficult part is communication...because he's not great at it...doesn't see the value in it a lot of the time. If he is regularly using the potty by the fall, we will start the hard core portion of training, with his teacher leading it from school.

We're working on starting ABA therapy with Joshua. It's complicated to explain, but it is one of the only medically proven therapies to help people on the autism spectrum.  Joshua already receives some ABA therapy at school, but we (and his other therapists/teachers) believe he would REALLY REALLY benefit from a more intensive approach: one on one, several hours a week. The hard part is that it is cost prohibitive without insurance.  We do pay for some therapy out of pocket, but ABA is thousands a month and that is just not possible.  Interestingly, most of the states mandate that insurance companies must cover autism therapy.  However, Blue Cross (and most other federal government providers) realized they didn't have to provide coverage because they aren't a state, so they DON'T.  Shady, but true. We believe there is one insurance option for us that will help pay, but of course we won't be able to get started until January 1st.  We're thankful for advocacy groups like Autism Speaks, without whom I doubt any insurance companies would cover therapy for children on the spectrum.

In the meantime we're hoping to hire a local special ed grad student out of George Mason to hang out with Joshua a couple of days a week.  This will accomplish a few things: another person for Joshua to interact with, someone with knowledge in the field to work with him, and it gives Joe and I a little bit of a break.

If you haven't met Joshua in person, I really hope you do some day.  He is a joy.