Amanda’s turned a big corner

So, my grand experiment of posting something every day hasn’t quite panned out, but I’m not giving up on posting altogether. Just maybe not as ambitious 🙂  To say things have been crazy would be an understatement, what with the kids going back to school and getting used to the changing schedules again. But, really what I’m the most glowingly happy about right now is Amanda. In the last year, she has turned a major corner and with her birthday today I see the girl I loved turning into the young lady who I’ll cherish. This will be a long post, but a lot I need to get out tonight.

Let me start with some background. Two years ago, Amanda was 12 and started 7th grade in junior high. Big change, but she was overall doing pretty well. She had some behavioral problems, one which resulted in some school discipline, but overall not too bad. The normal SPICE teacher (responsible for the Autism program) was out on maternity, so there was another teacher filling that role that Amanda did pretty well with all things considered. When the regular teacher came back, though, Amanda shut down. We started having a ton of behavioral problems with her, both at school and at home. She retreated away, we’d sometimes go days without seeing her other than meals, and she would rarely even say anything. Nothing we did would help, and any efforts we made to try to get through would be met with more resistance. She would say incredibly hurtful things to me and Teri, and to see how it was affecting Teri was killing me. I mean, here’s her mother, who’d walked through hell and back to beat cancer so she’d have the chance to be there for Amanda, talking with her teachers daily to try and help at school, going to hours-long IEP meetings to negotiate for Amanda to make things better, and being absolutely shit on by Amanda in return. It was bad, seriously. And as bad as we felt, I’m certain that Amanda felt twice as bad and was simply lashing out at us because she felt this was the one place she could (meaning, if she said half the things that she said to us to any normal person, she probably would have been beaten to a pulp or put in an institution).

During this time, Amanda was on a video game a lot called “Animal Jam” – an online kids’ game by National Geographic, safe chat to protect from stalkers, all that kind of stuff. She met some other kids her age on there and was able to form some friendships, something she had a really hard time with in real-world, face-to-face settings because of her socialization issues. It was also kind of a “role-playing” situation, she made a wolf character and she could act out that side of her personality. Somewhere in here she really started calling herself “Frost” as a nickname, taken from the character she made. At first, she was spending a lot of time on the game and neglecting other things, so Teri and I were concerned there (me, especially, having battled my own World of Warcraft addiction over the years…I’ll have to do a post exploring that at some point). She would lash out when we would try to limit computer time to have her do homework first. This is where some of the huge battles took place, resulting in a lot of hurt feelings and still no homework done. The quandary, of course, was trying to get Amanda to do what she needed to do to pass school but not limit her growing friendships. And for a long time, that really did not go well.

So, last year when she turned 13, I told her she could set up a Facebook account, thinking she could friend some of the other kids she was on Animal Jam with. She had an email address but rarely used it, she’d never respond when kids from school were trying to reach out. Hell, I don’t think she even opened the mail application on the Mac we set up for them. So, she poked around on Facebook and didn’t get it, and I guess her friends were on Deviant Art so she created an account there. Amanda is really a great artist, and apparently her friends she was making on Animal Jam were also into that, so there was a community that she seemed to find a place in. Soon, she started mentioning some of her friends and funny things they would talk about (which Teri and I had no idea what she was talking about, but hey, we’re old so we don’t get that “kid stuff” anymore, right?). She was still having problems in 8th grade at school, and we’d still spar from time to time over computer time, but the 2 hours she’d get from 6:30-8:30 (between dinner and bed) had become the time of day she most looked forward to.

She left her Deviant Art account logged in on my iPad (I think she’d signed in when I took her to an appointment or something) so I decided to make sure she wasn’t chatting with some 34-year neck-beard living in his mom’s basement or something. There was so much teen web-speak I had no idea half the time what I was even reading (damn, I feel older than dirt…). There were mostly normal back-and-forths with the other kids, kind of like Facebook posts for their group (and I learned Amanda knew most of the adult language we’d kept from saying in front of them…and how to appropriately use them as exclamations), and some role-playing in personal messages. The role-play was what interested me the most, in that they were essentially writing a story with each kid playing a part. Amanda was a wolf in most of her stories, hiding in shadows and emoting (“ears laying flat”, that kind of thing) but in reading through some it struck me at how she was using it to explore her own personality in a safe way. She could be any character she wanted, and she could “try on” different aspects to see what fit her. It was fascinating, and very creative. I didn’t read through a lot, as I didn’t want to invade her privacy and safe place away from me and Teri, but I did want to make sure she was being safe. Which she was, and I’m proud that I at least was able to instill some online smarts with her.

So, 8th grade finishes, and Amanda passes (barely, in a couple of classes). She was done with the junior high, and would start 9th grade in high school. She was seeing that as a fresh start, done with the awkward period between child and teen. She still wasn’t back with us, but things started to improve at least. She didn’t have homework to worry about, so she would read and draw, and spend time on the iPad chatting with her friends and then her evening computer time. She’d do her daily house core, Teri would make a calendar saying what chore they needed to do each day, and she’d mostly do it without a whole lot of cajoling. She was still a recluse in her room, but she wasn’t as nasty about it. Camp Kesem was coming around, and she was nervous about being away from her friends online all week. The night before camp, she was bawling while she was responding to messages on Deviant Art from her friends. She went to camp, though, and had a great time as we knew she would.

And when she got in the car for the ride home, she talked.

A lot.

Probably for the first half-hour or so, she talked about things they did. Funny things that other girls in the cabin did. The amazing skit a group did at the talent show recreating the Harry Potter puppets “Mysterious Ticking Sound” video (it’s pretty funny, you should go watch it…it’s ok, I’ll wait). Over the course of the last month, we’d see Amanda more, talking some about this and that going on, showing us some of her drawings and how she’s doing things in Photoshop. Actually kind of reaching out to us, which Teri and I have tried our best to reach right back to her. A lot of the natural hostility she’s had towards us just kind of slowly evaporated over the summer.

The first day of 9th grade last week, we were a little worried about. How was she going to at this new school? New teachers, new friends, harder classes. She came home that first day and got off the bus, not frowning…maybe not exactly smiling or grinning, but at least without what had become her trademark scowl over the last 2 years. I took her backpack and asked how school went.

“Well…umm, it was actually…pretty good” and she smiled at me.

And my heart melted.

She talked about her teachers, how much fun they were and the funny things they were doing to keep them involved. Getting to know some of the other kids. Her new SPICE teacher at this school. It was good. She was happy.

Cut to today, my little girl’s 14th birthday. Comes home from school laughing. Not just not-frowning. Not just smiling. Laughing. She had a good birthday at school. I didn’t get to talk to her much, as I had to run out to get a few things. But she saw the ribs cooking for her birthday dinner before she went to her room with the iPad to meet up with her friends online. While I was gone, Teri went up to get the iPad after her cool-down-from-school time, said she should knock out her homework before dinner since we’d do cake and present.

And Amanda replied that she’d already finished it.

She. Did. Her. Homework.

Without us having to walk across hot coals trying to get her to do it.

Dinnertime, she talked a bit, smiled and laughed as I put her rack of ribs down, inhaled them and went up to get her normal evening computer time with her friends. When she came down, it was time for cake and presents. We lit the candles and I brought it over while we all sang Happy Birthday. She tried to blow out the candles and missed most of them because she was “smiling too much and couldn’t blow hard enough”

Let that sink in for a minute. Amanda. “Frost”. Smiling too much.

Looking back at the last two years with her? Having a problem with smiling too much is a problem that I can absolutely live with 🙂

Of course, there are some things I left out here and there. It’s not ALL sunshine and roses right now. But after all we’ve gone through (and continue to go through with Teri and such) it is close enough. I’ll hold onto this day for a long time.

I’ll try to update more often. Teri goes in for a CT scan and blood tests tomorrow in prep for the next study appointment on Wednesday, see if these new drugs are doing anything other than making her feel like shit. As for now, it’s late, I need to follow up on an issue at work, get laundry, maybe get to bed before 12:30 and up at 5 or 5:30am.

Andy

Amanda’s turned a big corner