Negative 24. That’s how many degrees it was this morning (with windchill) when I put Evelyn on the bus.
Three. That’s how many minutes it takes the bus assistant to buckle Evelyn in the carseat.
Twenty. That’s how many times I normally wave, sign I love you, blow a kiss, and repeat even when it feels like negative 24. Evelyn (and her bus friends) watch expectantly for this every morning.
Ritual. Routine. Schedule. Consistency. All ways in which we grease the challenging parts of the autism wheel in our family. As a historically fly by the seat of my pants, shop without a list, drive without a destination kind of girl, it takes work for me to keep pace with consistency. Even though I see that the rhythm of consistency keeps everyone, not just Evelyn, in sync.
I am naturally inclined towards a clumsy chaotic state of being–where dishes pile up and my answer to putting away laundry is to buy more laundry baskets (we have 8). For most of my life, I argued that I thrived in chaos. But I must admit I was very mistaken. I would have told you that I would rather enjoy life than worry about the dishes. And I still don’t worry about the dishes. I go shopping once on the weekend. With a list. And now I only need to go once during the week. This frees up hours for me to enjoy life with my kids.
Ritual is a lifeboat to which she clings in the sea of life in a confusing world. It might seem minor to you that she not get yogurt after her nap. But Evelyn eats a yogurt every day after her nap. And after her yogurt, we change her diaper. After her diaper is changed we play (which does not come naturally) for an hour. And after we play, we make dinner, we watch a sesame street and we start our night time routine. If we don’t have yogurt, the diaper change is hell and play attempts are disastrous. When Evelyn spends time upset during the day, which she does when we don’t have yogurt, she doesn’t sleep as well at night. When she doesn’t sleep at night, the next day is shot. It can take days to get back on track–this affects Evelyn–this affects our entire family. I shop with a list that includes yogurt ever week.
And I understand why Evelyn is thrown off kilter when the normal rhythms of her life are disrupted. Daily rituals for Evelyn are like the traditions that soothe my soul. I like certain dishes at Thanksgiving that take me back to childhood. I like Christmas stockings stuffed with playing cards, nail clippers, mittens, and silly gifts like reindeer jugglers or books about survival in worst case scenarios. I like the way my mom makes grilled cheese and the way my dad makes pancakes. Don’t we all have those things that make us feel as though all is right in the world?
Transitions are extra hard for Evelyn. We try to dull their sharpness. We sing, “It’s bathy booper time, it’s bathy booper time, it’s bathy booper time,” (to the tune of Howdy Dudey Time) because it makes the transition from Sesame Street to our night rituals less jolting. And I say “Gentle, gentle, mama combs it gentle,” repeatedly in this weird and creepy voice while comb through her curls in the bath tub–through which she would scream if I did not do the chant.
And after teeth are brushed, hair is dried, and bodies are snuggled into warm pajamas with feet, Evelyn and I walk to her room hand in hand. She flops on her mattress and I repeat, “cozy, cozy warm, warm” three times with a specific cadence that Scott can’t get the hang of. It’s, then, a kiss on that beautiful little face. And the next words are built of loving stone. “Night, night. I love you. I love being your mama.” Those words are as much for me as they are for her because on the good days, they are reaffirming. At the end of a difficult day, I remember that I do love being her mama. Those words are my anchor and I always feel a sense of peace after having said them.