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Ep 2: An Introduction to Our Cast of Characters

Updated: May 24, 2023

Together, we have 35 years of experience parenting some fiercely amazing, neurodiverse kids and we have so many stories and experiences to share with you on this show.


But before we dive deep into those stories and other important topics, we wanted to take the opportunity to let you get to know us and our families a bit better.


In today’s episode, we interview each other and talk about where we live, our difficult journeys of having kids (to say the least!), years of mounting diagnoses and what makes our kids the remarkable humans they are.


If you want to become familiar with who we all are and get the full scoop on what makes us tick, this is the episode for you. We hope you enjoy this introduction and let’s get on with the show!


In this episode, you’ll learn...

  • [01:10] An introduction to Gwen

  • [05:03] An introduction to Kristen

  • [14:24] Gwen introduces us to her children, Rylan and Reagan

  • [25:43] Kristen introduces us to her children, Graham, Jameson, and Hayden

  • [43:40] The Last Word, where you hear directly from our kids and how they see their roles in our families




If you just can't get enough of us, don’t forget to join our newsletter and check out our other projects.


Links mentioned in this episode…

Reading recommendations for today’s episode from Marvelous Me books:



(click through for more photos)




Transcript:

Gwen:

If you have an appreciation for honest and often irreverent conversations about parenting humans with neurodiversity, you have found your home. I'm Gwen.

Kristen:

I'm Kristen, and together we have 35 years experience parenting some fiercely amazing humans, which gives us an endless supply of stories of inspiring failures and heartbreaking wins.

Gwen:

Welcome to You Don't Want a Hug, Right? We've been having these conversations for years cracking ourselves up. We've always wanted to share the hilarity and the hard with other parents. So here we are.

Kristen:

Grab a cozy blanket and a beverage and go hide in a closet nearest you.

Gwen:

Okay, here we are, episode number deux.

Kristen:

So we thought we would take the opportunity to just really let you get to know our families a little bit better before we dive into a variety of topics in our next episode. So we're going to try this by interviewing each other. I'm going to ask Gwen, where you are in the world and what is the makeup of your family?

Gwen:

We are in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which Michigan is a mitten. So we are west, the west side of the state, about 30 minutes from the lake, the big lake, Lake Michigan. So we lived in Denver for 17 years and got married as, I don't know, infants, babies. Graduated from college and got married that summer, and we moved out to Colorado immediately and spent 17 years out there and then moved to Grand Rapids almost four years ago out of just a sheer necessity to be around more family and to have more support and to find schools that worked better for our kids. So we are in Grand Rapids. It is a really fun little town, very small like downtown, but not like small town small. Does that make sense?

Kristen:

Yeah.

Gwen:

Kristen's been here so she can relate to it, but when I went to college here, this is where I met my husband. We both grew up in the Chicago land area, but we did not want to live in Chicago. We had no interest in living in Chicago. Michigan is so beautiful and so full of trees and water and we missed those things being in Denver, and so we chose Grand Rapids. We have some extended family here. My brother lives here, my parents have moved here. So we have a lot of family and extended family support here and some really fun friendships that go way back to our college days.

Makeup of our family, Rylan is 16, and we adopted him when he was three weeks old. He was born in Grand Junction, Colorado, so that city has a special place in our heart and we brought him home when he was three weeks. Our daughter Reagan is 12, and we brought her home as a newborn. We were at the hospital when she was born in Wyoming, the state of Wyoming, and brought her home from birth. So we are a very complicated little bundle of quirkiness and joy. We have relationships with both of our birth families, and sometimes we forget that we are made for a TV movie.

Kristen:

There are some really good experiences and stories about how you navigate the complexities of having birth moms in the picture and all the craziness that goes along with trying to help your kids conceptualize their family life.

Gwen:

So much. We are a family of four and it sometimes feels like 14. All right, Kristen. Where are you in the world and tell us about your immediate family?

Kristen:

So I am in Littleton, Colorado, which is a southern suburb of Denver. We've been here for maybe 17 years or so. My husband Greg and I met in Boston. We both worked in the same place in a big design firm. My husband's a landscape architect and I was in marketing and going to school, getting my master's in literature. I really wanted to teach literature. That was my dream. I begrudgingly was in marketing, but writing poems on the back of message slips throughout the day and thinking I was above it all.

Gwen:

Because you're a four on the Enneagram. I'm a-

Kristen:

Yeah, because I'm a four. I like a little bit of angst and melancholy in my day. That's how I prefer to roll. So Greg and I met. We moved to San Diego and we lived there for about eight years and that's where we had our kids, which was, I mean, an insane experience for an entire other episode it feels like, but we really struggled to have a family. We did in vitro. We were just doing our last round. Didn't think we were going to be able to have kids, and we were ready to adopt. We were just like, "Just throw them on in there because it's just not happening."

Gwen:

Whatever's left, put it in, put it in.

Kristen:

Whatever's left, just throw it in there. We ended up having hit the jackpot.

Gwen:

Trips.

Kristen:

Less than a 1% chance of having triplets and here we are. We do not play the odds anymore, but we were pretty thrilled. Actually, my husband is pathologically optimistic, and as Gwen has mentioned, I am from New Jersey and we don't roll that way. That's just not how we roll.

Gwen:

That glass is real empty.

Kristen:

We prefer to take the cynical route. If something great happens, wonderful, that's a great surprise, but we want to be prepared for the pathos of every possible scenario. So Greg was absolutely thrilled and thought it was the best thing that ever happened to us. I was sure that it was going to be a disaster.

Gwen:

You might die.

Kristen:

I might die, and that he was a ridiculous human being for thinking that this was a great idea. I think our husbands are really similar in that way that they're like, "We got this." I think in a lot of ways, Gwen and I have learned how to also think, "We got this." So they've been a wonderful, I think, influence on us in that way, but we did end up having triplets. They were born at 34 weeks, so they were really big and healthy. We had two boys and a girl. So Hayden and Graham are our boys, and then Cora was our girl.

Part of our journey, as you'll hear more about in episodes to come, is that Cora as a middle schooler really began to question gender, which often happens in people with autism. She had decided that she was transgender male and now lives as a man and is called Jameson. I say that as though it were just the easiest of processes and it was brutal and very, very hard and a lot of grief and a lot of gnashing of teeth and lots of therapy and lots of letting go and really learning to love and embrace Jameson for exactly who he is.

So we were living in San Diego with these three little babies all diagnosed with autism as littles when they were two and a half, three and a half, and four. I didn't know if we were going to have a group home or if they were going to college and nobody could tell me which way we were going and I was like, "Point me in a direction. I will rock that group home. I will have the best group home ever. I just need to know where we're going," and nobody could really tell me what the outcome was going to be, which I think is one of the hardest things for families who are getting a diagnosis of autism, especially 16, 17 years ago, there wasn't a lot of literature on what those outcomes were going to be.

Gwen:

Or as many diagnosis for that matter.

Kristen:

Right. So I didn't know anybody else who had children with autism. I thought we just completely rocked having triplets and we're just so proud of ourselves and giddy over having made it through the gestation and the bringing of these three humans to the planet in one piece and then to find out that they had these challenges was just really devastating. So a lot of grief for us, a lot of trying to figure out how to approach it.

My husband is a planner and a project manager, so I think we just thought, "We're just going to project manage the shit out of this thing. It's going to be all right." In a lot of ways, that turned out to be true, and in some ways, that's not true. I think that's an experience that we all share when we're first getting those diagnoses.

Gwen:

We have to have a project planner in the family. You have to.

Kristen:

Really. It really helps.

Gwen:

If you're not a natural planner, I sure hope somebody else in the house is. Otherwise, your struggle's going to get that much more real.

Kristen:

So working in the realm that I work in with, working with a lot of families, the families that really can't adjust their parenting style, that really want more of that free flowing, attachment parenting, maybe not as organized, more organic type of parenting style really struggle because a lot of our kids thrive off of structure. I think that's one of the biggest pieces of grief and change that we have to go through as families is that the grief is around, we don't get to be the parent we thought we were going to be, not that we're grieving who our children are, but that we don't get to have the dream that we had in our minds.

Gwen:

It's easy to mistake those two.

Kristen:

It really is.

Gwen:

It's easy to convince ourselves that the grief is around who we are now raising versus altering our expectations on who we're raising and what that means for ourselves and our identity and the tools that we don't have that we know we need so much of it.

Kristen:

Yeah, absolutely. So we were trying to raise these toddlers on our own in San Diego. We didn't have family there, and we had so much early intervention teams of people in our home four days a week working with the kids, and we just felt really, really overwhelmed. So we decided to move to Denver. My husband is from here and his whole family is still here. His parents have been a pretty amazing support system and have a huge part of why our outcome ended up being as good as it did.

So I have a huge place in my heart for his family. They treat me like I'm their own. I think learning to live in the middle of the country was a huge thing for me. I've never been away from the ocean before. When I see wind arrows on the news, on the weather report, freaks me out. I don't want to know that we live next to Kansas. That's upsetting for me. They're vistas. I want trees touching over my head. I get anxious with wide open spaces. So it's taken me a long time to appreciate the beauty of the middle of the country.

Gwen:

Problematic.

Kristen:

Problematic.

Gwen:

Yeah, because when I go from here to there and walk your neighborhood, I'm like, "Where's the foliage? Where's it? Where are branches?"

Kristen:

Where's the foliage? Where's the foliage?

Gwen:

Voluptuous foliage, okay?

Kristen:

Voluptuous foliage. Next question.

Gwen:

Well, we went through the journey of having kids. Was it hard?

Kristen:

Yeah.

Gwen:

Was it kind of hard?

Kristen:

Yeah. It was real effing hard.

Gwen:

Real hard, but we have these children through different means than we ever thought possible, probable, doable, and here we are.

Kristen:

Here we are.

Gwen:

We're standing. We're standing, right?

Kristen:

With full, beautiful families. So there you have it.

Gwen:

Full beautiful families, yes. Full beautiful families.

Kristen:

Speaking of which, tell us a little bit about each of your children.

Gwen:

I'm going to start with Reagan because once I start talking about Rylan, it's really hard to stop talking about Rylan, and Reagan deserves so many props. So Reagan is my intuitive soul. She observes the world quietly most of the time until she's not quiet. She does observe the world around her in these really remarkable ways that are true and accurate. So we went to a basketball game when the kids were younger and it was a big deal because loud spaces usually didn't work, but Rylan had his big red sound blocking headphones and his chew necklace around his neck, and he and Tim were getting into it. Rylan just liked watching what was on the jumbo screen for the most part is what made that successful. I don't know that he could have told you what sport we were watching, but he knew everything that happened on the jumbo screen.

Reagan sat next to me. She was probably seven, and we left the game. She was real quiet. We left the game and in the car she's like, "So I think that the people to the left of us were in a fight because I saw him do that," and then she moved, "and then I think that towards the end she wasn't as mad because she did this and this," and I just sat there. That was the first time. Then she went and diagnosed socially everyone around us at that game.

I do the same thing and I had noticed some of the same things she had, but just assumed that that's a superpower I have and nobody else can do it because I also am likely a four on the Enneagram, but that girl diagnosed everyone around us at that game while Rylan just watched the jumbotron with his sound blocking headphones and his chew necklace.

So that just gives you a little insight into who my kids are. Reagan owns her dyslexia. She was diagnosed with dyslexia right before we moved to Michigan, and honestly, that's what just broke me and I was like, "I'm out. I'm out. We need more support. I need more help." I have learned everything there is to know about every diagnosis under the sun except this one. I was real mad and I felt really bad for myself, nevermind her. Maybe I should have had some feelings on her behalf, but at the time it was really about me and that I didn't have the energy to learn about dyslexia and how to help dyslexia and how to teach her to read.

So I threw up my hands and we moved here and it's been great. It's been great. It's been great for her. She has a lot of family and we've gotten her a lot of support, but I really haven't learned a lot about dyslexia because I literally found I didn't have the capacity to know a lot about another situation. I don't know how else to say it.

Kristen:

I think that is so true. It's so hard when we have adjusted and pivoted so many times, and then when you get thrown another diagnoses or another piece of difference in the world, how we're going to show up different in the world, it just feels exponentially harder because our brains are already so full of everything we had to learn for all the other things.

Gwen:

Yeah, and parenting her is a night and day different experience than parenting Rylan in every single possible way. It takes so much back to the organization and the structure. It takes so much of that on my behalf because my husband is not a planner, and he just rolls with things, and with our brand of children, rolling really doesn't work well or look smooth. It's like square wheels when we try to roll.

So I have given most of my time and attention to structuring and finding systems that work for both of our kids so that they can thrive in their own unique ways, and Reagan is, and I'm super proud of her. She works really hard because academia is not easy for her. A combination of ADHD and dyslexia and then adoption trauma, that's just natural with every adoption, it's a lot for that little girl. So I love her to pieces. She's hilarious. She reminds me a lot of her birth mom in a lot of different moments, and that both freaks me out and makes me happy. So there's a lot of complexities there, but that's Reagan. She's-

Kristen:

She's so funny.

Gwen:

She's so funny.

Kristen:

So funny.

Gwen:

She is the best friend that you could ever ask for. So congratulations if you're on her friend list because you hit the goldmine with her. She's loyal and empathetic, and I think part of being a part of our family, even though she doesn't like her brother or isn't very nice to him, she is nice to all other humans and she feels bad for the underdogs or the person who made the really bad choice every single time, every single time. If somebody is a mass murderer, her heart breaks for the mass murderer because he must have a really hard life inside of his body and she just recognizes that. So she's pretty remarkable.

She's not athletic. We have struggled to find organized recreational opportunities, well, for both of our children for different reasons. Hers are that she just doesn't want eyes on her. So we got her into track in cross country and that seems to be a win. So we're pretty thrilled that for the first time we went to a sporting event as a parent of an athlete. Tim and I celebrated that.

Kristen:

You'll have to tell me what that's like.

Gwen:

Yeah. Lots of cocktails that night. We were like, "You know what? We showed up as parents of an athlete today. We sure did." All right. Rylan, just where do I start with this child? You're going to learn so much about him and more about him than Reagan because his neurodiversity just is a lot.

Kristen:

It just shines.

Gwen:

It presents itself so boldly. Whereas hers hides under the rug a lot. Rylan, back in the day when they used the term Asperger's as a diagnosis, that probably best describes him in a labeling way. We don't like to say high functioning because they're all functioning high in their own unique ways, but he is twice exceptional in that. His abilities like academic abilities and his visual spatial reasoning is off the charts, which then means the areas that need some support are just really clear, really clear.

So he is intuitive about himself, not about the world, but he does have a remarkable way of describing what it feels like to be him, and that has been such a gift because we really, once we learned how to listen to him, which is the book that we published, and we'll talk about that more another time, but once we learned how to listen to him and how it feels to be him, it really took away our need to do additional therapy or try to alter things on his behalf because it was so clear that all of a sudden, "Oh, well, he knows what he needs. We just weren't listening to him tell us." So he has a really descriptive, imaginative way of describing himself and how he sees the world, and that has been one of the biggest gifts of him as far as him being my son.

He also lives in the moment he's in. He does not tap into anything that is not the exact second he's in or anything that will come. Graham is similar.

Kristen:

Graham is similar.

Gwen:

There is such power and gift in that, and it is also real hard. This morning, for example, he was just real mad about the fact that he had to turn his pants inside out before he put them in the washing machine, and that was going to be a real struggle. So I told him he needed to set a timer for 10 minutes and come back when he found his joy again. Well, 40 seconds, Kristen, 40 seconds this time, it wasn't even a minute, he came back, he goes, "Well, is the 10 minutes done? I'm joyful." He legit was. This was 15 minutes of the grumpiest manchild sitting across from me just scouring.

Then I asked him to shower during the day, and that just was the audacity of the demands that we have for him just really put him over the edge, but then 40 seconds later, he comes in and he goes, "So mom, how's your day?" and I was like, "You know what?" and I said to him this morning, "You live in the moment you're in, but Mama needs a minute to come back from the 15 minutes of real grump that you threw at me this morning," and then he walks away like, "Sheesh."

So that is Rylan. He is in the moment he's in, and nothing bothers him. We took away a trip to Brazil for him and me this past month because so many reasons. It was going to be too much. He didn't miss a beat. Well, that second he was bummed and then he moves on. So that's something really important to know about Rylan James Vogelzang.

What else? I mean, you can see why I went with Reagan first because this child is complex and just the most frustrating human I've ever known, but also the most source of growth and inspiration and love.

I think if we're talking about sources of growth, it would be important to know that like Kristen's son Hayden, Rylan also has Tourette syndrome, and that was one of the earlier diagnoses that we received before we even got the autism diagnosis. That started showing up when he was really little, but we didn't recognize it as Tourette's, and that's a future episode I think that we will do for sure to talk about Tourette's specifically. There's a lot of misconceptions out there about Tourette's. I had them myself, but he definitely has Tourette's and it's getting a little less obvious as he gets older.

A lot of kids will slowly grow out of their Tourettic activity as they go through puberty, and that's been true for Rylan in some ways, but that's definitely been a struggle and caused a lot of growth in Tim and me trying to parent Rylan. It's also been a source of growth for me watching how joyful Rylan is despite these challenges, Tourette's being one of the biggest ones that I think he would say he struggles with. I don't think he finds anything about his autism to be out of the ordinary. He doesn't see himself as out of the ordinary outside of Tourette's.

So his joy despite his tics, he did a page of the book that I published with him about, "Thank goodness I have two joys in my command center," which is his brain because the one joy steps in when he has a tic to make sure that the joy overrides the frustration of the tic. So that's been a really humbling experiencing watching how much joy that boy has despite the challenges that he has.

What else would you need to know about Rylan? He, like Jameson, definitely finds his people really quickly. In a crowd of a hundred, he will walk out in 30 minutes with that one person that is meant to be his friend. He has an uncanny knack. So for us, as long as we provide situations where there's plenty of humans to choose from, we know he will find his person. Even if it's just a person, he will find them. So that's one thing to know. Then definitely you need to know that he is very interested in Pokemon and Dungeons and Dragons and his life revolves around those two things, and that's not an exaggeration in the least.

Can you tell me about your family, please?

Kristen:

I can. I'm going to start with Graham because he is the oldest by one minute, much to the dismay of my other two children.

Gwen:

That's important.

Kristen:

It is. We always talk about them in birth order. We always do a lot of things about them with birth order, which is funny, and a bone of lighthearted contention. I would describe Graham as a Labrador puppy to Jameson and Hayden's being a cat, right? He'd roll all over you if he could. He just wants to be around.

Gwen:

Hug you. He'd hug you every minute.

Kristen:

He would hug me every minute or put a fist bump in my face from somewhere behind me. He loves being around his chosen people to help him regulate. He has always done everything on his own time. He's really very sure of what he wants to do and what he does not want to do. So he walked at two and a half. He talked at almost four, and he has a lot to say, and he has a lot in his brain. I think what's really hard for Graham is executive functioning. So planning, working memory, regulating his emotions always been hugely challenging.

Gwen:

Plus the Uber rides home from transition.

Kristen:

Thus the Uber rides home from the transition program when he is just had enough.

Gwen:

Which though, let's note how proud we are that Graham does that.

Kristen:

Let's celebrate his-

Gwen:

Appropriate choice of response.

Kristen:

Yeah. He peaces out and he apologizes and hopes everybody's okay with the decision, but he's outie. He is, I think, an anxious kid. So he worries a lot about others. He's very compassionate, very, very compassionate and kind. I think all of my kids are incredibly kind and polite. They're so polite. It was funny when they were first learning to talk and the team would be in our house, and we were going over goals of what was so important for them to learn and I wanted them to learn to say please and thank you, and the team's like, "Well, Mrs. Kaiser, in terms of the hierarchy of needs, that's not a really important ..." I was like, "Mm-mm. They will say please and thank you." Graham would be having a full-on meltdown after having bit and hit somebody and he'll say, "I need some space, please. Fanks."

Gwen:

Please. Thanks.

Kristen:

Fanks, fanks with an F.

Gwen:

Fanks.

Kristen:

So they really are incredibly polite folks.

Gwen:

I would say, I should interject that about Rylan too because Rylan and Graham share that kindness and that quick to forgive and forget, and they're both very inclusive.

Kristen:

Very inclusive.

Gwen:

Rylan does not see differences in human beings. Really, I don't think he notices the difference between me and a chicken. I think that he finds equal value in the chickens that he does with me as his mother, but there's a beauty in that.

Kristen:

There is, for sure, and Graham will have no problem telling you that he wants you to move away and that he wants space. I think Rylan and Graham are both lovingly curmudgeony. They are slightly irritated with people but kind at the same time. I think Graham is so, so funny. I don't think he means to be funny, but his commentary and his observation of the world around him, his analogies are amazing. They're just amazing. He loves Nintendo and Pokemon, and he is living for the new Zelda game that's coming out this spring. So those are the things that he would really like to talk about.

Gwen:

Can you see my eye twitching as you say?

Kristen:

Yeah.

Gwen:

We have to hear about these things so much.

Kristen:

So, so much, and he also loves to analyze Disney, Pixar, which has the best movies and why. So he's very into marketing in a weird way. He likes taglines, right? So he'll say, "Mom, you don't like Walmart, right?" "Nope, I don't like Walmart," and he'll be like, "But they have everyday low prices." I'm like, "Yeah, still don't like them. Don't like them." So yeah, he loves a good tagline like nobody's business.

Gwen:

The key is that he's not trying to be funny. He is being factual and trying to reason with you.

Kristen:

Serious as a heart attack, "But they have everyday low prices. What? Are you crazy?" So Graham has autism and ADHD and anxiety. He really struggles with isolation and loneliness. He doesn't have friends in the same way that his siblings do. That's very painful for him. He loves Jameson and Hayden as though the sun rises and sets out of their pretty little you know what.

Gwen:

But does not know how to talk to them.

Kristen:

Does not know how to talk to them. So if he happens upon one of them in the house, he might say something like, "So Hayden, do you have any financial goals right now?" or what did he say? "I don't mean to be mean or anything, but are you in a relationship right now?"

Gwen:

How do we not as peers ... It's so hard to not laugh because they don't understand why we're laughing, but how do we not laugh because it's so endearing, but peers don't see it that way. They just see it as weird.

Kristen:

Right. They just miss the mark. Graham will rely on a lot of scripts to ... You can tell that he's had a lot of therapy, and so he relies on things that he's learned in terms of trying to manage those social interactions because, really, all he wants to do is talk about his video games and about Pokemon. He knows that that's not going to be successful, so he's trying for anything he can find to make this happen. He can hold onto it for one or two turns of a conversation, and then he-

Gwen:

He's back to Pokemon and Nintendo.

Kristen:

... he just wants to get back to Pokemon. So that's Graham. Wonderful kid. Jameson, who is our middle child by one minute, who was our daughter Cora, and is now our son Jameson, is probably most like a Siamese cat. He loves to be social, super social as long as it's his idea. So it's a lot of ... Jameson also loves a lot of hugs, but has to be on his terms. He needs to be alone a lot to regroup and process things. So he is also on the autism spectrum, ADHD, and anxiety. The anxiety's pretty intense for that child. What I love the most about Jameson is his fearlessness. He puts himself out there. Whether he is shaking in his boots or not, he's got so much grit and perseverance. It's amazing to me. Incredibly creative this one. This one draws, is a musician, an incredible artist. He's really quirky and fun, and he has a way of finding his people in the world. He is pretty quirky.

Gwen:

Super quirky.

Kristen:

Super quirky.

Gwen:

In all the best ways.

Kristen:

In the best of ways, and is able to be vulnerable and find his people. Somehow, someway he finds them and he always has a good group of friends around him. I think he masked a lot of his disability as a young person. I think girls often are better at masking autism when they're young. I think when he really morphed into having gender fluidity and then becoming transgender, that masking went away. We saw so much more of the autism traits and we saw him settle into his own body and his own skin and have so much more peace that I think that's the biggest thing I've noticed, but he is studying music at CU Denver. Lives on campus about 25 minutes away. He lives on an LGBTQ floor and has a roommate who's also transgender and on the spectrum and has many friends who are neurodiverse. Again, this kid just finds his people.

So while he struggles and needs a lot of support, he just is thriving in his way. Also want to mention, Graham is in the transition program, which is special education beyond 12th grade, and he has a special education team, and then he does Arapahoe Community College classes as well. He's really struggling in transition. He does not want to be around people with disabilities. He misses his siblings in their first year of college tremendously. So that's a lot of what we're dealing with right now is just that grief around feeling left behind.

Gwen:

He has the awareness of that. Rylan wouldn't have that same awareness, but Graham has that awareness and that creates more sadness in that boy.

Kristen:

Yeah, there's a lot of sadness for Graham right now. So our third guy is Hayden, and Hayden is the baby by one minute, but he believes himself to be the Alpha triplet, and I think they all think he's the Alpha triplet.

Gwen:

Yeah, for sure.

Kristen:

He looked the most impacted by autism as a little when he was two and a half. We didn't know if he was going to talk. He did a ton of stimming. We just couldn't reach him. He felt a lot more classically autistic. He responded to a lot of intensive early intervention pretty remarkably. As he got older, we came to realize that he actually had a combination of ... He got additional diagnoses and had a combination of Tourette's and ADHD and OCD, and those things became incredibly difficult in elementary school through middle school.

He really struggled with suicidal ideation and just not feeling like he could manage the tics and manage all of the challenges he had. He really wanted friends more than anything. Hayden's an old soul. He is a deep thinker. He's the kid who once he did develop language wanted to know, "How am I going to hug God if I have no arms when I get there? Do eyelashes grow back? Why are there negative numbers?" I mean, he just was always looking off into the distance thinking deeply about things. He has a profound love of animals. If he does not do some work in his adult life with animals, I will fall down dead of shock. He just loves animals, especially birds.

Gwen:

Do you want to tell him how many birds have lived in your house?

Kristen:

Oh, many birds, many birds have lived in his closet.

Gwen:

Particularly waterfowl.

Kristen:

Guinea fowl, chickens. It was like biohazard in his room. We really, looking back, should have probably not had them living in his closet.

Gwen:

But this is what we do.

Kristen:

But this is what we do for our kids. I think if Hayden were an animal, he would most be like an owl to me. He's nocturnal. He's an old soul. He's super logical. This is a kid who, if you can't tell him why, if he doesn't buy into it, he's not doing it, which was incredibly frustrating to convince him why he would have to do homework or-

Gwen:

Go on a walk.

Kristen:

... or engage in writing something about geography unless we can include some type of animal habitat in that geography lesson.

Gwen:

Yeah. For us it's Pokemon.

Kristen:

Yeah. He plays the guitar and bass. He's in a band. That was huge for him in terms of developing self-confidence. He really struggled when he was younger to ... He didn't understand social rules. He was such a scientist and an observer. He really learned a lot about how to interact with people. He is now at Colorado State University and he's studying natural resource management and-

Gwen:

Killing it.

Kristen:

He's killing it in a lot of ways. He has got a group of friends. He's joining a great small fraternity. He skis. I wouldn't say he's a scholar, and I think he would tell you he's not a scholar because the organization piece and the planning piece is so difficult for him, but he's doing it and he's doing great.

Gwen:

Also, he's faced out of an autism diagnosis, right?

Kristen:

Yeah. So what looked a lot like autism as a youngster really morphed into these other conditions, and then as he is gotten older, and we've used medication to manage tics and OCD, he really presents pretty neurotypical in a lot of ways. He doesn't feel neurotypical and he'll tell you that. You'll hear a lot from him about the way he thinks of himself now and the way he thinks he was as a younger child. So that's the crew.

Gwen:

I should probably go back now that you're talking about the Guinea fowl interest. I would be remiss if I didn't note Rylan's interest in turtles.

Kristen:

Oh, yeah.

Gwen:

Yeah. It's a big, big part of our life. He loves animals, but namely turtles and does believe that he will be a sea turtle rescuer for a living, which may or may not happen. We're hoping that that can become more of a volunteer gig and that he can make money, but we'll see, but he is really interested in his turtles and we own a tortoise and chickens, which is something he and Hayden have had a lot of shared interest in, chickens. Hayden spent some time on a farm out there, and then Rylan started volunteering at the farm and they love their chickens. We owned chickens for quite a spell, and the sheer amount of shit became too much for me to handle. So the chickens now live on a proper farm where there's so much shit.

Kristen:

Also, anytime we would go on a walk in the woods, Rylan would have to take a chicken with him. Have you ever been on a hike with a chicken?

Gwen:

That's the only way we could get him to walk because the chicken needed a change of scenery. That was the reason. Like you talked about, there needs to be a reason. So chickens ... We lived in the woods here first, and we had acres of property behind us that we could just walk through the woods, and chickens were a regular part. We had a chicken tree where the chickens would rest and we couldn't do a walk without a chicken.

Kristen:

Without fail, he would require one of us to hold the chicken on the way back home.

Gwen:

Of course. His arms would be exhausted.

Kristen:

Exhausted.

Gwen:

Exhausted, and versus leaving him alone in the woods didn't feel like the responsible thing to do, although it did happen a few times. He made his way home when I just refused to carry the chicken because I would be pooped on every single time all the way down my body. I just couldn't handle it anymore. So when we moved, the chickens went to a proper farm and they don't live with us anymore, but now we have a tortoise.

Kristen:

Our chickens and Guinea fowl also did go to live on the farm once they were old enough to leave the bedroom closet.

Gwen:

Well, once you couldn't have seven large chickens in your son's bedroom. They are nasty, and they flutter their wings a lot.

Kristen:

Once they start fluttering, that's the time to go.

Gwen:

Oh, they have to go.

Kristen:

I love that he used to roost over them. He'd have them all on a towel in the middle of the room and he would be over top of them. I'd open the door and he'd be like, "Hi. We're just hanging out. I'm just keeping them warm." Who does these things?

Gwen:

Well, our kids do these things. Woo. All right. That's a little bit about our children. So I think at this point we can pass it over to the kids.

Kristen:

Let's hear it.

Gwen:

Give them the last word. We will see you guys next time.

Reagan:

We know our moms are amazing, but they don't know everything. We think that you deserve to hear from the real expert, their kids. Woohoo. We believe in nothing about us without us. So here it is, the last word.

Kristen:

So Hayden, I think you've always identified yourself as the alpha triplet, even though technically you're the baby by one minute. Tell me a little bit about how you see your role in our family.

Hayden:

Well, I've always been the trailblazer in a way, I feel.

Kristen:

As you've done things first?

Hayden:

Yeah. I think I've done almost everything first. I was the first to start driving. I was the first to do pretty much everything. Was I first walk or was I-

Kristen:

You were the first to walk.

Hayden:

Was I first to talk?

Kristen:

You were the first to talk.

Hayden:

So I mean-

Kristen:

So trailblazer triplet right here.

Hayden:

Yeah. Whew, buddy.

Kristen:

What do you think your siblings' roles? What do you think about Jameson and Graham? How do you see them in our family?

Hayden:

Graham is always, I mean, he's always been the older brother, but I'll never admit it, but he's really served, maybe at least in the role for me, he served as somebody that reminds people to be kind. I feel like he's somebody that shows people how a good person can be. I feel like he serves and he helps.

Kristen:

When you guys were younger, it was a lot more difficult because his challenging behavior I think was hard.

Hayden:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Kristen:

So that separated you guys a little bit.

Hayden:

Yeah. I mean, it was hard to interact sometimes. We butt heads. I feel like most siblings do, but it's just a whole another level when you have a sibling with autism especially. I mean, he's gotten so much better and he's continuing to get so much better, but sometimes it was challenging to interact with him and just from some of the challenges that autism brings, but I feel his big role is, I mean, it also humbles me too. He's just down to earth. He's kind. Probably the biggest thing I think the role he plays and the thing he's taught me is it's okay to be yourself because there's people out there who like you. No matter how autistic, no matter what you are, as long as you're a good person like he is, it's going to work out and if you try.

Kristen:

What about Jameson?

Hayden:

Jamie was my ride or die when we were little. We were a lot alike in a lot of ways. The more and more we grew up, the more and more we developed in different ways, but he was my best friend.

Kristen:

I think as Cora, you guys were inseparable, and once Jameson really started transitioning from gender, that was a really tough phase for you guys.

Hayden:

At the same time, I feel like he was embracing his autism more because I feel through all of Jamie's childhood, Jamie was masking a lot, I feel

Kristen:

Definitely masking.

Hayden:

His role, he's always been, I mean, just like me in a way.

Kristen:

He's also fearless, I feel

Hayden:

That's another thing. That's a big thing.

Kristen:

He just puts himself out there.

Hayden:

That's something that's-

Kristen:

Inspiring.

Hayden:

... very inspiring. I mean, especially being ... It's not easy not only having autism, but being a transperson with that autism, it's hard for a lot of people to understand.

Kristen:

Yeah, for sure.

Hayden:

So I think one of the roles he plays is he is a lot like Graham in a way. I mean, he's genuine. That's the thing.

Kristen:

Very true. Very, very true.

Hayden:

I mean, both of them, I feel, they show me that it's okay to be who you are.

Kristen:

What do you appreciate about our family and what do you think is hard about our family?

Hayden:

Well, I appreciate the persistence in our family because we've gone through a lot, and not only just me or my brothers, but also my parents. It's not easy raising triplets. It's not easy raising a kid with autism. How about triplets with autism? That's a whole different ballpark, but I appreciate that ... We're very close. We're a very tight knit family, and I feel like part of that is because we understand each other's struggles and that not a lot of people are able to do that.

Graham:

Well, sometimes when you're a triplet, sometimes you're stuck in the middle like if there's an argument between your brothers and you're the one in the middle. You can't really side with one because you don't want to upset the other.

Kristen:

So you feel like you have to be careful to be helpful to each sibling?

Graham:

Yeah.

Kristen:

Yeah. Tell me what your favorite thing is about Jameson.

Graham:

I like how much energy he has and how much he's willing to socialize whenever. Even in his, well, maybe when he is not mad, but whenever he feels open, he's able to be social

Kristen:

Nice. How about what's your favorite thing about Hayden?

Graham:

My favorite thing about Hayden is just how much we like to talk about certain stuff that I like, and how much of a jokester he is.

Kristen:

He is a jokester. That is so true. How do you fit in with your brothers?

Jameson:

Well, I think firstly, despite being assigned female at birth and such, I really feel like growing up, we were always the unit, the ... What's the word? Well, I'll figure it out.

Kristen:

We did do a lot of things as a group, right? So there were group rules. Everybody's eating this, everybody's watching this movie, right?

Jameson:

Yeah. I'm playing with this one. You can't be this character. Oh, God. Yeah. I really feel like I grew up ... This sounds weird, but I felt like growing up as a triplet necessarily, I really didn't feel like my own person until I became ... I think in my late teens when I became a ... and then into me being a young adult I think is when I really started to realize, "Wow, I can be independent from this and such." I felt like, obviously, me and my brothers, thick as thieves, I hate them sometimes, but who doesn't hate their siblings? All of us went through faces of trying to fit in, hated each other.

I remember a lot of it in middle school where I was questioning if I was autistic. I was like, "Can't be true. I don't want to be the, quote, quote, 'special kid' that these people are going ... that I see people laughing at, filming, making jokes about, assuming." It's like, "I don't want to grow up like that."

Kristen:

Did you watch people bully Graham and bully Hayden for his tics? Did you see them getting a lot of pushback for their challenges and you didn't want to be that?

Jameson:

Yeah. Growing up, a lot of people who knew who my brother was, a lot of people came to me complaining as if I was his parent. I think that's what solidified like, "I don't want to be this," and something I regret, honestly, for the long run is holding a little bit of resentment for that and such to my brother and et cetera because of that. I'm every day wishing I could take that back, but I mean, here now, love my brother, thick as thieves, but yeah, I feel like that people coming to me as if I'm the parent being like, "Can you fix this? Can you fix the fact that your brother cannot blank or that your brother did this?" "Dude, I am 11 years old. What do you want me to do?"

Gwen:

Okay. Reagan, what is important about your role in our family, the Vogelzangs?

Reagan:

That whenever I walk into a room, I make everyone smile. I'm the joy.

Gwen:

You're the joy. Well, I'm glad we're not lacking in confidence. Talk about some things that make it hard to be the sister of a brother who has autism.

Reagan:

Sometimes it's harder to talk to him.

Gwen:

What makes that hard?

Reagan:

He wanders off and does his own thing or isn't listening.

Gwen:

What else makes it hard to talk to him?

Reagan:

In his own world.

Gwen:

Yeah. He's in his own world.

Reagan:

Then thinking about Pokemon all the time or Minecraft.

Gwen:

So if you don't want to talk about Pokemon and Minecraft, what do you guys talk about?

Reagan:

Nothing.

Gwen:

Nothing?

Reagan:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen:

Is he interested in you or stuff that you're interested in?

Reagan:

Not really.

Gwen:

So what are things that you guys can do together that work well?

Reagan:

Eat.

Gwen:

Eat?

Reagan:

Yeah.

Gwen:

There we have it.

Reagan:

What? It's true.

Gwen:

Eat together?

Reagan:

Yeah, we can eat together.

Gwen:

All right. That's fair. Anything else?

Reagan:

No.

Gwen:

Can you swim, go swimming together? No?

Reagan:

No.

Gwen:

No. Okay. Just eat?

Reagan:

Yeah.

Gwen:

Okay.

Reagan:

And drink.

Gwen:

And drink. Okay. Great.

Okay, Rylan. What is your role in our family and what is important about you being a member of team Vogelzang?

Rylan:

I think my role is, I guess, maybe emotionally funny.

Gwen:

Okay. Tell me more about that.

Rylan:

I am funny and I guess happy all the time.

Gwen:

You are happy a lot. Why do you think that is?

Rylan:

I'm not sure.

Gwen:

Why do you think that you are very rarely in a bad mood?

Rylan:

I don't know. Maybe I just don't have a lot of things to be angry about, maybe. Yeah.

Gwen:

Thanks for joining us for this episode of You Don't Want to Hug, Right? We'd sure love it if you'd subscribe to our show in your favorite podcast app. Missing an episode would be catastrophic.

Kristen:

If you just can't get enough of us, join our newsletter and dig into all of our other projects and ways you can connect with us at youdontwantahug.com.

Gwen:

Food for thought, if you need to create a panic room out of your closet in order to find that parenting kindness, we offer our fullest support. See you next time.



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2 comentários


Membro desconhecido
30 de mai. de 2023

Another great episode. Really like the discussions with the kids at the end. Gives some of their perspectives on how they see each other and the world around them! Keep it up ladies🙂

Curtir

Membro desconhecido
25 de mai. de 2023