J-Bear and Me

learning to navigate the world, j-bear style

Month: May 2016

In Poodle We Trust

A friend I made through APAW tossed around the phrase “In Poodle We Trust” as something we should put on t-shirts for a potential fundraiser. Those of us who live with APAW poodles, or wonderful poodles in general, learn that you come to trust the instinct and wit on these dogs pretty fast.

Blossom first came home with us the first week of March. She visited for a long weekend, stole all our hearts, took diligent care of a sick and miserable J and then went back to APAW for a few days. The following weekend we attempted to bring home a sweet boy named Valor. He is charming, adorable, energetic… but his energy was a complete mismatch for J. They overwhelmed each other in all the wrong ways. Valor, who holds no grudge, went back to APAW and Blossom came home for what we hope to be forever.

j and blossom in the backseat of the car, j in his carseat and blossom sniffing his handShe fit. I can’t explain it. It’s like a million tiny missteps occurred at the will of the universe to bring her and our family together. An organization lied and deceived us. J’s heart was broken. Blossom had potential situations fall through. Everything just kept happening until one day, as a joke, I said to the founder of APAW that it was Blossom I wanted for J. Everything about her was exactly right and I prayed a puppy would be born that walked in her shadow. I didn’t have to wait. The original was right there, waiting and fate took over.

She has read us all from day 1 when we met in the lobby of APAW’s former location. She saw broken hearts. She saw a reticent little boy and a troubled mom. Her, her cohort Charlie and her son Eager didn’t let us stay that way. They showed off what is so special about their breed and drew out laughter and joy. I am a sucker I’ll admit but I was won over, fully and completely. J soon was as well.

The day she came home with us, she was anxious about the change of setting but still had our numbers. It took her longer to get used to Papa Bear but soon she was snuggling on the couch with him in the evenings. She knew when J was getting sick just what to do and where to be, all without direction. She knew how to calm him, how to make him smile and even better, how to make us laugh. Her utter love of fetch can keep J happy for hours…

Until times came when she wouldn’t play it.

I thought I was ruining their bond when she’d refuse. This is Blossom after all, she lives for catching her tennis ball or her kong bone! She loves to run and play and chase, yet… she refused. Every time J would start, she’d come over to me and lay down, watching him like a hawk. I could not convince her to engage. J would inevitably get very upset and unless redirected it sometimes landed in a pretty intense meltdown.

But other times, they’d play happily for hours. Hours!

It did not make sense and I beat myself up terribly over it. I was failing them as partners. There was no bond. I ruined this somehow.

Turns out, I couldn’t see what was actually going on.

blossom in the foreground and j in the background on the couch, j holding a long silly pink dog toyBlossom doesn’t refuse a preferred activity for giggles. There has to be something there, which I can see now. She saw that J’s energy was not in a healthy place. He was radiating something sharply negative and she was reading it and responding. I saw this behavior from her again last week, through the ER visits and episodes leading up to them. If J is in a good mental state, Blossom is relaxed. She is aware of where he is but she’ll pay attention to other stuff too: kids nearby, me, squirrels, passing leaves caught on the wind. If his mental state is poor, however, her attention will not be deterred from him.  You could stand in front of her and she’d fight her way around you to see where he is. She is saying “something is wrong, I need to keep an eye on this”.

This explains the way she greets him after school, sniffing him over a couple of times and getting her read on the afternoon ahead. This explains her behavior in our home, whether she’s playful or not playful. This all finally makes sense through the lens of hindsight and where we now stand in terms of understanding our sweet boy.

It wasn’t that a bond was failing, it’s that they have made an incredible bond that is different from the one I thought he needed. I thought he just needed a friend that helped out. It turns out he needs a mix of a keeper, a friend, and a mom to look after him and support him right now.

And here she is. We call her Blossom and in her we now trust as our extra eyes and nose.

Blossom went back to APAW for a short vacation last week starting Wednesday morning. She enjoyed staying with her poodle friends and celebrating the first birthday of her sweet puppies, all of whom are working towards their own careers now. Yesterday, I went for training class thinking I might not be taking her home with me again just yet. The moment I was with her again though I knew that was a wrong choice. I need her, too. If I am going to get through this with my sanity intact, it will be with her by my side.

She is home, now. I hope forever barring times she returns to APAW to bring more beautiful service puppies to be into the world. J is so happy she came home and so happy she’ll be visiting him regularly.

The only thing better right now would be for him to be home. Soon, though. Soon.

Sweet Baby Boy

You never think on the day you give birth to your child that scary things might await. You’re just so amazed by them, so relieved they made it safely into this world and so grateful to have them in your arms. You snuggle them, you kiss them, you count their fingers and toes and marvel at the miracle of their existence.

image is of a mom holding her dark haired newborn, smiling at his handsome faceYears wear on but the wonder never fully fades. Your child grows, changes, begins to show you who they are in every way. They take you on this incredible journey that you could never have hoped to plan. There are massive highs and desperate lows, all of which tend to fade in the light of just enjoying the presence of the little life whose hand holds onto your own.

Then things happen that no one might want to talk about. Things happen that the world prefers not to face. I wish the choice was in our hands, what we could and could not deal with, but to have that choice is not something we necessarily can be trusted with.

The day J was diagnosed as autistic, it did not hurt. It was a confirmation of something that we’d been discussing among ourselves and his providers for a little while. There was no shock, no dismay and no sorrow. This was a door opening, allowing us to see what we would need to help J be everything he is destined to be. His neurology is different and requires different supports. It is our job to raise him in understanding his neurology and how to work with it. What more could a parent wish than for their child to be confident within their own skin?

Something more is there, though. Something is in J’s wiring that might be beyond the autism. Something that the world doesn’t want to face. It doesn’t carry with it cute pictures of little children in puzzle-piece adorned clothing. It does not wear a month of rabid ‘awareness’ demands with brightly colored advertising splashed across billboards, televisions and print. It is something that is buried away thanks to generations upon generations deciding that we do not talk about mental health.

Those generations failed my parents. They failed my brother. j and blossom in the backseat of the car, j in his carseat and blossom sniffing his hand

They will not fail J.

Children as well as adults can struggle with mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), 20% of children ages 13-18 have some form of mental illness. One in FIVE. This is not even looking at younger children like J-Bear.

Why aren’t we, as a nation, talking about this?

Why are we avoiding this? Why is it met with gasps and discomfort when I mention that J is in inpatient care over needs related to this? If I told the world he had a physical illness, I would be encouraged to take him to the finest specialists and to spare no expense on his care. I mention it is likely mental illness co-morbid with autism and the silence grows deafening outside our small, amazing internet community and the small community we’ve drawn together as J has grown.

We stand a chance to raise a new generation not with shame but with the understanding that their mental illness is valid. That they deserve as much care and consideration as any other person with an illness would receive. They are not to be mocked, derided or pushed aside because it makes someone else uncomfortable. We’ve lost humanity in terms of how we deal with the mentally ill. Why the hell aren’t we fighting to get it back?

Right now, we are in the midst of Mental Health Month. Will you stand beside J-Bear and all of the rest of us who struggle and help end the stigma? Please check out NAMI’s site which I linked under Mental Health Month above.

We will get him through this. He will come home ever so soon able to enjoy his life rather than be in this constant cycle of scary impulses and overwhelming emotion. He will be able to enjoy his time with his beautiful Blossom girl and be able to have fun at school again.

I can’t wait. Let’s make this world better for him and his peers while we’re at it.

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