Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Elder Metcalf and How He Got There

When a kid graduates from high school, it's always a proud moment for a mom and dad. For most parents, it's also a reflective moment, thinking about your kid growing up, and wondering what life holds for them.  I bet most parents would also admit to a certain amount of worry. Is my kid going to be successful? Will he get an education, and a good job, and turn out to be a productive and functioning member of society? Depending on the kid, you might only have a passing flash of worry, or you might spend the next 40 years stewing about it.

When your kid with autism graduates from high school, you have more than a few fleeting moments of sheer panic. You suddenly realize that in spite of all the frustrations and headaches that go along with autism and public education, at least when your kid was in school, he had a place. He belonged somewhere. No matter how well or poorly the school team did it's job, at least there was a team. There was someone besides you who had responsibility to see that he was progressing. Now that he has graduated, there is no more team. Your kid only has you to figure out what his next step will be.

When Duncan graduated from high school, we were proud. And scared. Not sure that we had done the right thing letting him graduate on time with his class.  He could have stayed in high school for a while longer, but they didn't have much else to offer, other than a familiar  place to go every day. We felt like Duncan needed more than that. We just had no idea what that looked like or where to go next. All I knew for sure was that waking up one morning 25 years down the road and having a lazy, unshaven, out-of shape 43 year old man living in my basement and  playing video games all day was not a viable option for us. And that if I wanted to prevent that from happening, it was up to me to find opportunities for Duncan that would give him chances to work and learn and interact. And I had no idea where to even start. There is no handbook that comes with raising an autistic kid. It is a fly by the seat of your pants experience that doesn't end once they hit adulthood.

I wish I could say that answers were quick to come and that we quickly found a new team of people who could offer help and advice. That was not the case.  Duncan graduated from high school two years ago, and in that time we have met with mostly bad advice and closed doors. It's not that there aren't people who try to help.  It's partly a problem of the nature of the diagnosis. Autism is a spectrum.  There are not textbook cases or textbook answers. One program might work perfectly for one person, and be a perfect disaster for the next, even though they  might appear to have similar issues. You just never know until you try. So I guess what I have learned over the past two years is a lot of things that have not worked for Duncan. That is not to say they won't work for someone else. But nothing seemed to be a great fit for us.

One doctor strongly suggested that we immediately apply for social security disability income for him. So that's where we started. After six months of applications, meetings, testing, doctor visits, documentation of everything that had ever happened to him since birth, more doctor visits and evaluations, he was denied.  At first I was so angry. He is obviously disabled.  All the doctors we saw classified him that way. How could they deny him?  I KNOW people on SSI who are less disabled than Duncan. I was told to keep at it. Keep fighting their decision.  Like with every other thing associated with autism, if you make a big enough stink and are annoying enough, eventually we could get him approved.

Here is the thing though. Social security income is a ridiculously paltry sum.  For Duncan, it was like $400 a month. And even though they tell you that you are encouraged to work, as soon as you start to earn money they start deducting your income from the amount they send you. We could have spent our time and energy fighting it, but for what? So that he could be limited to earning $400 a month sitting at home alone? That is not the life I want for him. He is capable and deserving of so much more. He is capable of work. He needs a sense of purpose and accomplishment as much as anybody, as well as the satisfaction of earning his way.  It wasn't hard to see that helping him find work would be a much greater blessing than helping him learn to be dependent.

 So the next step was voc rehab. That was a joke. His first counselor there was nearing retirement and almost palpably uninterested in what happened to Duncan.  He was just a name on her list.  But still, he got assigned a job coach that did a half decent job of working with him. After nearly a year of working with this job coach, he finally got a job working 10 measly hours a week as a bus boy. At first we were excited. It was a place to start, and his job coach promised that he could eventually work into more hours. The people he worked with were kind, and seemed ready to give him a shot. It seemed to go great for a while. He liked the job, and was doing well. Then after four months, the place got a new manager and almost immediately after the new manager started, she fired Duncan. We went back to voc rehab thinking that surely there was something they could do. It didn't seem right that a business could agree to hire a person with disabilities and then just up and fire them at the drop of a hat. They told us that they see this happen all the time. Yes, legally, we could fight it, but for what? Ten hours a week and a manager that was obviously uninterested in helping him? Our energy would be better invested in starting over with a new job coach and going through the whole process again. He got assigned a new and better voc rehab counselor, and we were moving forward with finding a new job coach. I was not looking forward to another year of job searching though.

In the meantime, the most important person in all of this had been spending his days mostly sitting at home alone while his family was all off at work, or school.  He did chores around the house. He walked the dog. He played on the computer. On my days off, we would run errands together and go to lunch, we would apply for jobs, and he volunteered here and there when I could get him there.  I was trying everything I could find to make something happen for him, and so very little was actually happening in his life. He was becoming that reclusive guy I feared I would find in my basement one day.

Through all of this time and effort, floating around in our heads was the idea that Duncan could be a service missionary for our church.  Mormons are well known for their young proselyting missionaries who volunteer for 18 to 24 months to preach the gospel and serve in an area far from their homes.  Most people are not as familiar with the less visible service missionary program, which is a program for people who want to serve but are unable to serve a full time proselyting mission. This program gives both young missionaries and older people too, the chance to serve close to home, either full time or part time. It offers more flexibility for people with disabilities or other limitations and still lets them use whatever skills or abilities they have to serve. This sounded like a great opportunity for Duncan, and more important, through many prayers and contemplation, it felt right. Even though, because of his autism, he was honorably excused from serving a full time proselyting mission, I  felt the strong impression that he still needed to serve, and that he still deserved the experiences and blessings that would come to him through serving in the way he could.

 Frustratingly though, we could not seem to find the right fit for him. I knew that for Duncan to be successful in a service mission  he needed the right mentor. He needed someone who could take the time to get to know him and his abilities, give him the right kind of training, and keep him on track. We never seemed to connect with the right people who knew where we could turn and what we needed. Many sleepless nights, many prayers and hours of investigating opportunities had not produced anything yet. I began to wonder if I was wrong about Duncan and a mission. Maybe it was only me that wanted this to be the right thing for him. He was scared and unsure about the thought of serving a mission. He didn't know what to expect, and I didn't have any answers to give him. Was it only my pride that was pushing him into serving? Was this whole idea a mistake? How long could we sit around and wait on the right opportunity? So we kept looking, but we kept seeking out other options too.

In the middle of all of this, I was planning my daughter's wedding. For a few months, the wedding took front and center of all of our time, energy, and mental abilities. I was in the middle of working on some things with voc rehab for Duncan, and then everything got shoved aside while we concentrated on the wedding. I was scheduled to take two weeks off work for the wedding, and it was about my last day there before my time off started that a couple came into my work. It was a busy day, but I remember hearing snippets of a conversation my co-worker Mindy was having with this couple, something about them being missionaries, but I didn't pay much attention to it.  Little did I know at the time that the answer to our prayers was literally standing right in front of me, and everything would soon fall into place in perfect time.

For the next two glorious weeks, everything was wedding and celebration.  And even after I was back at work, the wedding still the main topic of conversation for a while.  Everybody  wanted to know all the details and how everything had turned out.  It was not long at all though, maybe even as soon as my second day back when sweet Mindy suddenly jumped. "Lynne!" she said. "I just remembered! I need to talk to you about something! I've been thinking and thinking about this, and I just have to ask you."  She then went on to tell me about her long conversation with the missionary couple from two weeks ago. It turns out that he was a pharmacist for my company and had recently retired, which is why my friend had struck up the conversation in the first place.  He and his wife had just been called to oversee a brand new pilot program for young service missionaries. It is starting up in only Davis and Weber counties and is something completely new and different. They would be overseeing missionaries at the Deseret Mill in Kaysville and were currently just getting things up and running and were beginning to look for young men and women who might fit the bill to serve there. They were so excited about this new program, and my friend, as she was listening, kept thinking of Duncan. What's funny about that is that she doesn't really know Duncan. She has met him once or twice, and of course I have talked to her about him, but it's not like she really knows him. Anyway, she meant to tell me about it that day, but with all the hullabaloo of a regular day in the pharmacy, added to all the extra hubbub surrounding the wedding, she forgot.

She forgot until the perfect time, when the wedding was over and I had room in my brain to think again.  She told me all that they had talked about, then called that nice couple and got me in touch with them. I spoke for quite a while with them on the phone, and  the more I heard, the more this sounded like the perfect spot for Duncan. Within a week or so, we had met with the missionary couple and taken a tour of the mill, filled out the application and met with the bishop. A week later we met with the stake president, and about a week after that, we got the official call. And now, Elder Metcalf, as they call him there, is one of the first two official full time young church service missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at the  Deseret Mill.

 The program is designed to be as close to a regular proselyting mission as it can be. He will have study and journal time each day, a devotional each day, service time in the mill, life skills training, and scripture study. They are currently recruiting new missionaries, and eventually, each group of six missionaries will be supervised by a senior couple who works right along side them. There are devotionals and zone conferences and temple trips just like any other mission.  The couples that are there serving are dedicated to helping these kids succeed, and the best thing is they are willing to cater each missionary's experience to their abilities.

It is hard to believe, but all of my prayers and concerns about finding the right circumstances for Duncan were answered. The senior missionaries he is working with are the perfect mentors for him.  They are excited to be serving there with kids like Duncan. They have the patience and time to work with him. He is a big part of their calling.  They get it. They recognize their call and Duncan's call, and the whole operation  of the mill as all vital parts in Christ's work, and they help Duncan to see that too.  He will also get the chance to form friendships with missionaries who are his age, and to gain experience and skills that he will take  with him his whole life. He is serving, yes, but he is receiving so much more.

Honestly, in my life, the times when  prayers have been answered so concretely and so obviously are few and far between. Every once in a while though, I get the message, loud and clear, that Someone is listening. It never was and never is all up to me. We've got folks on our team. Friends in high places. And friends right beside us too.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Post Wedding Stress Disorder. It's real, people. I know because I am living it.

When we were in the frenzy of planning, which really lasted from January 18 to August 8, I kept remembering things at odd moments that I needed to do, or something I had to add to a list. And I had to write it down at the very moment it occurred to me or I would forget it. And then I would stress out trying to remember what I had thought of.  So I got a notebook to keep all my ideas in. But then I could never find the notebook, so I would just grab another notebook and start writing in that one.  This pattern continued until  I had about five of these notebooks going, and I was constantly searching through random notebooks looking for things I knew I wrote down somewhere. Which was really almost as frustrating as not writing them down at all.  So now,  I have all these notebooks lying around the house, and I keep running across all these random wedding lists.  And when I find one, I can't just set it aside and go about my day. I have to analyze it, check it to see if I actually fulfilled that list, and ruminate on how it all turned out all over again.  I am 99.9% absolutely thrilled about how perfectly everything came together  But there is a little list of things in my head I wish I could redo. I could waste a lot of time fretting about that imaginary list if I let myself. But then I remind myself of all the millions of things that went absolutely right. And it's all fine, it really is. And when I'm in the middle of an ordinary day, just going about my life, and I find a notebook or a list, mostly all I feel is: I DON"T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THE WEDDING ANYMORE.  Those lists are irrelevant to my life!  We survived the wedding and, it's' like the load floating off my shoulders all over again.  It was all so fantastic and beautiful, and I am so glad it's over. Really, there was no letdown.

So why am I still so semi-functional? Laundry gets washed and folded but not put away, We sometimes manage to eat some semblance of dinner around nine pm. My room is a mess and I don't even care. I have NO desire to run, even though I am supposed to be running a half marathon in one month. I have even less desire to eat right. I eat crap all day long. I could sleep all day. I have to  drag myself out of bed about 15 minutes before I have to leave for work in the mornings. As  result, I have diagnosed myself with PWSD. Post Wedding Stress Disorder.  All that wedding planning blew a fuse or two in my brain.  Which is entirely possible. My brain was pretty fried by the first part of August. So I'm thinking I will submit my newfound diagnosis to the DSM IV committee.

It was all worth it though.  I only hope I can recover in time for Audrey's wedding. She wants one just like Alisa's.

Friday, September 18, 2015

School News

The school life is in full swing around here, and so far so good. Here is what's new for all of our scholars:

Yay for Audrey who is going to be in the school musical. She has a part in the ensemble, and one speaking line. She also has committed to staying after school FIVE NIGHTS A WEEK until November. On top of the two nights she was already supposed to be staying after for debate, that is a lot of long days. She isn't thrilled with being in debate, but I'm making her stick it out. I tell her one day she will be glad she did it. I don't know if that is really true. I just know that I wish now that I had done debate in high school. I was never brave enough. I was terrified of having to speak in front of people. Now I see all the benefits of learning something about public speaking earlier rather than later in life. Whether or not Audrey will feel the same way remains to be seen. But I'm the  mom and so I won that debate. See what I did there? Debate. Do you get it?
Also, Audrey is taking honors everything and AP something else. Don't ask me for details, I am only the mom.  Honors and AP are something else I never dared to do. Not to mention the fact that I was too lazy. And as if all that were not enough,  she is still working at Lagoon every Saturday through Halloween. If she survives the next six weeks, the rest of her life will be a piece of cake, I think.

Will is taking a concurrent enrollment drawing class with a sketchbook that he says is as big as Olivia. He wanted to drop out of that class after the first day, but it's three college credits for 40 bucks, so he decided to stay in, with a just a little nudging from his mother.  He is also taking some AP and honors classes, including calculus which impresses the *&I^ #% out of me as I never in my life made it much past geometry. He works at Arby's a couple times a week,is taking piano lessons, and spends more than his fair share of time shuttling Audrey around while I am at work. He has already been sick twice since school started. Not a good omen. Also, he did not obey my command that he go to homecoming this year. He has promised however, that he will attend at least one school dance before the year is through.

Olivia is finishing her first school break. She starts back again on Monday after three weeks off. Year round school is the worst idea ever concocted. That is all I have to say about that. Also she has to read 20 books this year. They have to be at least 150 pages each, but if they are over 200 pages they count as two books. Or some dumb rule like that. Maybe I'm just getting old, but it seems like school gets dumber and dumber every year.  Olivia however, seems to be thriving in spite of it all.  She takes piano lessons too and is riding her bike everywhere.

Mitch has started his second to last quarter at Weber State. If all goes well, he will graduate this spring. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. He has started applying for jobs, and has even been to California a few times for some testing. It worries the heck out of my mommy heart to think of my boy as a policeman, especially in California and especially with all the craziness surrounding cops these days. But he has worked hard enough for it, and I hope he finds something that he loves. And if he winds up moving to California, that will be all the more reason for me to visit there regularly.

Alisa is in her second semester of her master's degree. She sends me pictures of her assignments that she does well on. She has professors that write lots of nice comments about how amazing and smart she is, which I already knew, but it's nice to see it in writing. She is teaching too, and likes it, which is a good thing since that is her chosen profession.

And then there is Duncan, who is about to start a new chapter in his life and education as well. He is waiting eagerly for his service mission call to come in the mail. We got all the paper work in a few weeks ago, and he should be getting his official call any day now. It's a pretty cool story on how that opportunity all came together for him, after a long long time of waiting and wondering, and when all is set, I will write about that.

Piper the dog is not in school, but she should be. She needs some obedience training. She always likes to try to be the big boss around here and we have to be careful to keep asserting our dominance and putting her in her proper place as the low man on the totem pole. She loves us all dearly and really wants to keep us all safe by being in charge of everything that happens around here. We just keep reminding her that she is at the bottom of the pack. But the only person around here she is really afraid of is Belle.

And that's about all she wrote as far as the students among us. Dan and I are just busy being students at the game of life and making all our dreams come true. You know, dreams like eating and having a house to live in. We are getting a nearly-all-expense paid getaway to beautiful St. George in a few weeks though. Well, it's really a work trip for Dan and a getaway for me. But I'm sure having me along to harass and annoy him will make it seem like a vacation for him as well.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Where the Buffalo Roam

Pretty much a perfect Labor Day was had around these parts today. Sleeping in, the perfecting of a s'mores cake recipe  after a summer of experimentation with s'mores cupcakes, which we never did nail down, a birthday lunch for Mitch, a trip to Antelope Island, one last excursion to the snow cone shack for the last day  of snow cones til next May, a back yard barbecue in the most perfect late summer weather,eating fresh tomatoes and pears, and watching the second Harry Potter movie with Olivia in honor of her finishing the book and completing a book talk for school. Very little labor, very little stress, and lots of time to enjoy each other and the sunshine. Finally, a holiday where we got to relax.

Will' s lunch date. I swear, we can't take this kid anywhere.

 We had never been to the ranch side of Antelope Island, so we drove out to the Fielding Garr Ranch today. The ranch was cool, but the best part was this woodsy area perfect for exploring. Falling down trees and a little water and a big open field. You could almost see imaginations turning on in here.. Kids running with sticks and calling to each other, balancing on logs to get across the water, and finding little hiding places in the bushes. Olivia had the best time, and so did I.

She is outstanding in her field.
She also had a mad urge to run through the field, kind of like Bambi.

Lots and lots of buffalo today.

And a photo shoot of my sunflowers. My kids won't let me pose them and take pictures anymore, so I have to settle for flowers.

Our first (and probably last) official sit down and eat outside barbecue of the summer. The kids claim we had a one a while back, and  I do have a vague memory of eating and sitting outside, but today we used a table cloth. So that makes it an official barbecue.

Tomorrow we have to go back to the real world of work and school and homework. Well, most of us do anyway. I have one more day off work, and Olivia is off track, so we get to cheat a little bit. After that though, the week hits us full on. Why can't every day be Labor Day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

At Least It's Never Dull

Tonight, as I was passing through the family room, I looked at the couch and realized I could not remember the last time I sat down on it. My own couch. I spent a lot of money on that couch. I hope I get to sit on it again soon. The way life is going around here though, it may be a while.

Yesterday was especially eventful. Duncan and I went to check out a service mission opportunity for him. It looks to be the perfect place for him. He was really excited, as was obvious by his answer to the question, "So Duncan, what do you think?" He responded, "It's okay." I quickly explained to the folks we were meeting with that coming from Duncan, an okay was considered high praise.  We have already submitted his application, and now it is just a matter of waiting for all the pieces to fall into place.

After that, we drove out to Roy to go shopping at Winco.  Ninety minutes and  $200.00 later, the back of the car was chock full of food, and after everything was packed in, we climbed in to go  home and rescue our poor dog, who had been locked up in her kennel since early morning. Only, the car would not start. It was completely dead. It has been threatening to not start for a while now, and I just kept putting off getting it fixed. I mean, we had a wedding to pay for. Who can afford car repairs?

The timing could not have been worse. I just kept wondering which of my wonderful neighbors I could burden to come haul our butts AND our groceries home. And then, I realized I was not that far from Mitch's house. So I texted him, and bless his handsome heart, he came right away and rescued us. Took us and all our groceries home, packed in tight in his tiny Yaris, and drove me to the auto repair place to drop off my key so they could tow it for me. He was my hero yesterday.

The car was not the end of our troubles though. A few nights ago, one of our brilliant offspring cranked the thermostat down to 60, which caused the air conditioner to freeze over which caused the  blower on the furnace to burn out. Calling a repair guy to come look at it also necessitated cleaning out the furnace room, also known as the litter box room. I shall not go into deep detail on that, since I am still suffering from the trauma of it all. And did I mention that it was 95 degrees yesterday? The perfect day to have your air conditioner break down.

So yeah, between the groceries, the car and the air conditioner, it was an expensive day at Hotel Metcalf. I hope the guests appreciate the nice cool air and the luxury transportation.

And after all that headache, the day was redeemed by the sight of this:

Yep, that is my Livvi, riding a bike at long last and after many tears and tantrums. We have been working on the bike riding for five long years, and finally, yesterday something just clicked. She found her balance, and she was off, riding around for over an hour. The best part was when she raved about how much fun it was. After hearing her cry and complain for five years about bikes being  scary and she couldn't do it, and it was too hard and she might fall off, to see her having fun on a bike was one of those ultimate mom moment payoffs.

And the bike riding then lead to this.

Audrey finally decided to get out and give that long board that she got for Christmas a try. And she didn't do half bad either. Now we just have to teach Olivia about brakes.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Day of Rest? Yeah, Right

What a wild Sunday. Anything but a day of rest is what we got today. Today we had Will's patriarchal blessing this morning, ( it was fantastic) then an interview with the bishop for Duncan about a mission,(again, fantastic)  then Will spoke in sacrament meeting,( what can I say? fantastic) and it was my turn to teach the Beehives,( I fed them candy, which they said was fantastic)  then after church we hurried home for dinner so that we could turn around and run back for another stake meeting where they realigned all the ward boundaries. It was Harmony Bluff for the win, as we were the only ward to only gain and not lose members. It;s the first time I have been in a ward where I actually would have cared if we had lost people, or if we had changed wards. So all is well in my personal Zion tonight.

Tomorrow is the first day of school for Will and Audrey. Will's last first day. Audrey's first day of high school. This week I am in payback mode for all of the time off I have had this summer, so I'm working extra hours. Olivia has a book report due at the end of the week, then she is off track for three weeks. I'm already tired just thinking about it all.

The good news is that we have survived another productive peach season. Off of our little tree, we canned 33 quarts of peaches, and several pints of jam. I say we canned, but what I really mean is I canned. As soon as the wedding ended, instead of lying about in my bed eating bon bons, as I had originally intended, I started slaving over a kitchen sink and a stove, peeling, washing, boiling, chopping, etc. etc. You can ask my wedding guests that were still here if you don't believe me. And I am happy to say that there remains not one peach on that tree. I feel so sufficient.