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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Curb shopoholic tendencies

I dither for longer than is strictly necessary. I opt for the scrubbing brush rather than the carpet cleaner because it is quieter. I take one last look at them all before I leg it upstairs to the bedroom to eliminate, or at least diminish the paint, pooh, chocolate stains. These are not the kind of stains that improve or evaporate over time. Without the noisy carpet cleaner, I can hear whatever it is, that is happening downstairs whilst I am up because the walls and floor are made of paper. The friction of the brush bristles elicts beads of sweat. Inefficiency, housemaids knee and tennis elbow delay me. I return breathless seven minutes later.

They have broken the lock on the television and are occupied watching an advertisement. I lean against the door jam making an inventory of potential breakages and damage, during their unsupervised time.

I hear a nasal demand to ‘buy whilst stocks last,’ that two small people echo with perfection. My eyes drift to the screen; a handy dandy cleaning machine, that does not require parental or adult supervision during it’s working cycle. I wait for a price but I’m distracted by the mantra circling the room, ‘buy now while stocks last, buy now while stocks last, buy now while stocks last.’ Each echo has a corresponding giggle. I am uncertain which bit is the funny bit?

It’s enough to make me seriously consider nipping out to the shops to buy it there and then. Am I an advertisers dream or a challenged cleaner? I debate whether the shoe and sock nightmare is worth the effort, when the voice of doom cuts through my calculations, “you can’t buy it, it will be too noisy, they’ll never stand for it, you’ll never be able to actually use it!” I look at my 9 year old daughter, the voice of sanity.

I grab a screwdriver and start poking the lock on the television door as junior starts up, "we go buy dah machine for dah cleaning?"
"Er, it costs too many dollars," I lie. He disappears and I hear a crash with an accompanying 'oopsie.' He reappears with something behind his back, a surprise no doubt. "Here you go!" he announces brandishing the dust-buster in my direction with a cheesy grin, "you can be using dis little noo noo instead." Great problem solving, such consideration! "Der you go, now you can go and be playing upstairs wiv it where it won't be hurting my ears."

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Air freshener fails to alleviate the stench

Strangely I have always considered senior daughter to be our family environmentalist. As we live in the States, she is there to remind us where we are going wrong. Her views are pretty mainstream as far as Europeans are concerned but extreme for our American cousins. For example, rather than use the car to go and collect the turkey for the holiday festivities, she cycled. She returned on her bike with the fowl in her back pack after a two and a half hour round trip.

I will avoid mention of her views on toilets, since I need to avoid scatological references as I am a Brit. I had not considered that there was a possibility that somebody else might climb on the band wagon, to ceremoniously beat our conscious and sub-conscious selves. It is therefore with some surprise that I engage my youngest son in conversation. I enquire why he is pinching his nostrils shut?

“Because of the badest smell!” he screams, keeping his distance. I struggle to gain a purchase on his person and park him on my lap to extract further details. He writhes and wriggles making retching noises. Loud ones.
“What is the badest smell dear?”
“It is you! You are the badest smell. You are worster than peanuts!”
My! That bad!
“You don’t think I smell very nice?”
“NO!” I didn’t really need clarification there, more a moment to gather my wits.
“What can we do about that problem?” He pauses to gaze at the ceiling awaiting inspiration.
“I know! You can be living somewhere else?”
“Where would you suggest?”
“In dah garden. You can be living in dah garden in a tent.”
“But I hate camping!”
“You won’t be ‘dah camping,’ you will be dah living dere.”
So much logic! I need to re-configure my brain.
“But I don’t want to live in a tent in the garden. I will be lonely. Won’t you be lonely without me?”
What a stupid question. Any first year lawyer knows that you should never ask a question that you cannot predict the answer to.
“You will be lonely but I will be stinky free.”
I am somewhat flummoxed, not for the first time. Spouse sticks his head around the door to clarify:
“it’s the Marmite! You didn’t clean your teeth and gargle with mouthwash before you breathed on him.”

It would appear that the health and well being of a fellow human being, is less important than a pollutant free environment. [Ref 1]

[Ref 1] ecocentrism

after ECOCENTRIC adj.
The view or belief that environmental concerns should take precedence over the needs and rights of human beings considered in isolation.

Friday, December 29, 2006

How do I love thee?

Junior is going through a negative phase. It runs along the lines of ‘Nobody loves me /I have no friends/ everybody hates me.’ Our current campaign is to turn this around, accentuate the positive and eliminate this kind of spiral thought process. The tendency of many autistic children to drift towards depression is marked in statistical analysis.

I leave spouse in charge and dash to the shower. I’m not able to hear much because of the water, but as I stand on the toweling mat to dry myself off, I can hear voices outside in the hall: ‘d’ya luf me?’ Is that what he asked? Bless his little fragile ego! His speech delay makes him sound as if he has a mouth full of marbles. He is difficult to understand unless you’re familiar with his tone and phraseology, which I am.

I can also make out his sister's voice, mumbling something or other. His phrase is repeated at ten second intervals as I pull on socks and a cardi. I don’t bother to brush my hair, just run my fingers through as I’m in a hurry. If I speed up I might just be in time to prompt her to make an appropriate verbal response, something to help repel his inner voice of doubt.

She is of such a kindly disposition towards her brothers, that I’m confident that she’ll manage it on her own. Nonetheless I’d like to witness it. I poke the corner of the towel in my ear to dislodge the water and clarify my auditory channels.
I step towards the door and swing it open. I see her sitting astride his back make making small growling noises. Her little brother’s words are suddenly clearer, easier to distinguish = ‘geroff me!’ he squalks.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Owl and the Pussycat

At a quarter to seven on a Sunday morning I am woken by a yeowling cat. I am forced to acknowledge that a day of rest is not applicable to this household. Cats! Why don't people chain up their spoilt felines at the weekend? I realize that they are my spoilt felines howling outside my door. I go to investigate and am immediately deafened by purrs. Have they no consideration for the nearly awake? I stomp downstairs tripping over eight other legs and a couple of tails thrown in for good measure. In the family room they are all awake and play with the Gamecube, oblivious to me and to starving cats. I call loudly “anyone want to earn some money for an extra chore, feeding the cats?” All three of them continue to pogo in front of the screen. I am fairly confident that I wasn’t even heard, which is important because it means I can do the deed myself without later being accused of cheating, or denying them the opportunity to earn extra cash. I have discovered that bigger children create ever more complicated negotiations for the parent to navigate when it comes to finances.

Only one of them has taken readily to the motivational force of pocket money. [translation = an allowance] It’s probably just an age thing. she’s the right age and they’re too young. The boys have to be prompted through every reluctant step but their sister has become the allowance Queen, or should that be plague? She pounces on me at inconvenient moment demanding money with menaces, “what can I do? Can I get 50 cents for picking up that piece of paper?” She has acquired previously undetected haggling skills by osmosis. She has an endless list of 'things to buy.' Her brother already has every Pokemon that exists on the planet, and I have yet to find a suitable source of eggs for junior. I need fake eggs, but plastic ones. We don't want to expand his horizons too far in case he gets hooked on the Faberge variety.

“O.k. 40 cents for picking it up? 25? Alright, say 5 cents?” I agree, because it’s still early enough to be dark, but does she give up claiming victory? Of course not. She’s relentless, energetic and young.
“O.k. how about another 50 cents for putting it in the bin?”
“What? You want 25 cents for picking it up and another 50 cents for putting in the bin?”
“Forget it.”
“o.k. just 25 cents for picking it up then?”
“What are you going to do with it when you’ve picked it up? Just carry it around all day?”
“What’s it to you? You only said ‘pick it up.’ That’s what I’ll do if that’s what it takes.” Let me die now, it’s the other two that are supposed to be literal.
Once she’s in the groove she’s all over me like a rash as I bumble around in slippers and a dressing gown trying to restore order.
“Can I fix the table for breakfast for 50 cents?” I look at the table piled with papers, books, food scraps, left over homework and a wide assortment of writing materials. I dither momentarily, weighing up the benefit of her being able to earn the extra money she needs for a preferred toy, versus the benefit of consistency of routine for her brothers in being able to sequence laying their own place setting at the table?
“What! What! What’s taking you so long?”
“Er, O.k.” I continue to splosh around at the sink in the kitchen. She’s by my side within 30 seconds, “50 cents please.”
“You’ve finished already?”
“Yup, I’m done. 50 cents please?” I look over. The table is empty. Piles of debris line the edge of the wall.
“I thought you were going to lay the table for breakfast?”
“Nope, you didn’t say that, you said ‘clear if for breakfast.’ It’s clear, I need my 50 cents.” I determine to use my words more carefully, to be less cavalier. Her feet tap in the puddle on the floor as I count out five dimes for her, “don’t make that mess any worse dear,” I plead.
“Hey I can clear that up for you for 50 cents?” I press the coins into her palm and pass her her piggy bank, slip in a high five.
"No thank you.”
“Hey why not? You just want me to stay poor! You won’t let me earn what I need.” I look at the emotional blackmailer with awe. How does she know how to do that already? This is one aspect of her upbringing that has been missing, due entirely to the existence of her brothers. I would never appeal to anyone’s conscience, the ‘do it for me,’ ‘do it to make me proud / please me,’ as that has always been a waste of breath. So where has she found this talent? Is it innate?

A recall a million failed attempts of appealling to her brothers when we first started RDI [translation = Relationship Development Intervention] which I wasn’t very good at;
“Please, just for me, just once?”
“”Once’, what it is?”
“One time.”
“Oh, I not do it one time, I do it zero times.”
“Please, just to make me happy?”
“No, your face is happy now, that is stupid.”

Or, changing face to demonstrate unhappiness:
“Please, just to make me happy?”
“No, your face is a liar.” It’s enough to turn a mother prematurely grey. No, all such appeals were set aside together with the RDI book.

I look at my daughter, the expert at personal relationships aged 8.
"You should put it towards your college fund."
"I have a college fund?" she asks with eyes like saucers. I don't like to mention that any potential college fund has already been squanders threefold on her brothers' therapy. I grab a cloth and slip to the floor “because I know that you’ll want to charge me more for obtaining a cloth first, another ten cents for disposing of the dirty cloth and object very strongly to wiping the splashes that are outside a three foot radius without additional payment.”

I stand and lob the cloth into the wash, “and besides I can do it myself is far less time than it takes to negotiate with you.” But I suspect that says more about my own shortcomings than hers.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Of course my father has a quip for such occasions which runs ‘if you can’t take a joke, then you shouldn’t have joined.’ This roughly translates to ‘if you have no sense of humour, then you should have taken this pertinent fact into account prior to the arrival of the sperm.’

Grandparents take particular delight in seeing their children struggle with the next generation. This is fair enough, as it is only right and proper that their should be a few compensations becoming a senior, now that status of 'wise being' has been eroded.

I expect it's more amusing for them, the grandparents, if their their children breed later in life. The generation who choose to have everything, career, security then children later.......

Grandparents worry that it will never happen, or if it does, that they'll already be in their graves. Their style of parenting has been thrown out along with the arc, disparaged and undermined. How they must chuckle.

Parents deal with their different children and their different characters as best they may. But more often than not, before you know it, you find that a peculiar turn of phrase has become the norm. It happens without you even noticing. It doesn't so much 'creep up on you,' rather, it wasn't there one moment, and suddenly it is, like a slight of hand.

When she asks “please can I watch some TV now?” my automatic response is, “wow that is such a great idea, wouldn’t that be fun, but first we need to………”
This is using a child's self generated motivation and subverting it for the parent's own selfish needs. I think that’s called switch and bait at home and American’s call ‘distraction.’

I suspect, although I have no corroborating evidence, that this method of child development will lead to a generation of permanently confused children. They never have the opportunity to follow through. They are always one step behind.

Alternatively, which is probably worse, you’ll end up with a more advanced and canny child. Perhaps a generation who will be one step ahead. With senility advancing apace, I can foresee that such a scenario isn’t so far fetched.

She won’t even bother to ask if she can watch television, instead she’ll leap frog over the whole issue with “hey Mom, I have a really great idea, after I’ve finished watching my television programme, I’ll be only to happy to…..” You’ll be left in the kitchen in a state of bewilderment, knowing that you’ve missed something but unable to determine exactly what it was or how it happened?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Holiday Survival

OED Online Word of the Day
survival SECOND EDITION 1989
1. a. The continuing to live after some event (spec. of the soul after death); remaining alive, living on.

I am told that goldfish, the golden orange pet kind, have short memories. One circuit of the bowl and the ‘seascape’ is all new again.
One thing about holidays if you have autistic children, is that it is no holiday for the parents. If the parents permit the days to become holidays, either for their own benefit or that of their children, you can pretty quickly find that they regress a few months.

It is during dinner of spaghetti, meat balls, Marina sauce with a sprinkling of Parmesan that I remember, that in theory Junior ‘eats’ pasta. I look at him troughing down a bowlful of Goldfish. How could I have forgotten that he mastered grains of rice and blobs of pasta some months back? How can they have already slipped out of his repetoire when they were only there a few weeks ago? Seven months to acquire two new foods and a blink of an eye to lose them again.

The following day I determine to reintroduce pasta. At lunch I present him with three pasta shapes, tiny goldfish shapes at room temperature. Spouse follows the screamer as he hurtles upstairs at full volume, “no, no, no, no new food, it is dah holidays, no new food.” I can hear spouse trying to mollify him, remind him that ‘pasta’ is not a new food but an old one, but he’ll have none of it.
We go back to first principals. [Ref 1] Firstly, he has to look at the item of food. This means that his eyes have to be open, not screwed up. The ceiling doesn’t count, nor two inches to the left of the bowl that holds the food. Once your eyes at least glance at the food, you have to describe it in detail. ‘Yucky’ is not sufficiently descriptive, even if you have a speech delay.

The new food, is presented five times a day, at three meal times and two snacks. It doesn’t have to be eaten, it just has to stay on the plate. [translation = exposure] Hurling it, with or without the plate, across the room, doesn’t count.
We move swiftly on to stage two – sniff the food. Blowing your nose in the food’s general direction doesn’t count.

Next we touch the food, with a less preferred [translation = less sensitive finger tip] finger. Elbows are banned as they generally have insufficient nerve endings to have any impact on the sensory system. It is o.k. to wipe the contaminated finger tip on as many paper napkins and serviettes as may prove necessary. Washing your entire body, is off limits. As a precautionary measure, clothes are compulsory.
Next we attempt licking. This is usually a louder stage of the treatment. Ear plugs may be worn. Wash cloths for the cleansing of the tongue, should have been prepared in advance. So far, so good. We move into the final phase. The new food must go into the mouth whilst an adult counts to five. [slowly] In an ideal world the ‘eater’ should attempt to move the food item around in the mouth, although masticating is optional. An open mouth with a protruding tongue doesn’t count. On the count of five, the spit bowl is ready for expulsion.

Fortunately this 27 minute operation only need be repeated two further times. Luckily, junior prefers his food at room temperature.
Moral – use your foods or you’ll lose them.
[ref 1] Just Take a Bite – apologies to Lori Emsberger Ph.D the writer

Monday, December 25, 2006

Standards of behaviour

One of the many rules about polite society, is not eating in public. After all, only the working classes behave in such a manner, either because they don’t know any better or because of inadequate labour laws, whereby they are not permitted lunch breaks. Everyone else, no matter how busy, should stop what they are doing and be seated to eat. It’s a simple rule but one that seems to have disappeared from modern living. Eat and be static, how difficult is that? I am given to understand that in America, there is no such thing as class, and whilst I’m inclined to agree with such an assertion, class is immaterial when it comes to good manners.

It is a particularly disgusting and vile habit, to walk around the streets stuffing food into your mouth. How can people do such a thing? Eating and drinking are one of the rare ‘activities’ that require the participant to be seated. It is any wonder that America has the highest sales of antacids and digestive relief’s. They could save themselves a stash if they’d only sit down to eat for half an hour. A half an hour to eat, half an hour to walk it off. Everyone would be cured and fitter. There again, since the average American lunch hour is more usually 20 minutes, I detect an insoluble discrepancy.

Whilst I’m on the subject, what about those reprobates who permit their children to eat food off the shelves in grocery stores before they’ve paid for it! It’s a public disgrace. Who do they think they are? Unhygienic and put quite simply, theft. Can’t they wait five minutes until they’ve paid? How about waiting a few more minutes until they get home? Are they so malnourished that they will expire during the delay? This kind of instant gratification will be the downfall of the youth of today. If my mother had ever found that I had behaved in such a manner, she’d have washed my mouth out with soap and sent to me to bed, even earlier than usual, and a good thing too. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without such guidance. But what of this lost generation?

I herd my own children around the supermarket, each holding their respective list in their hot little hands. In transit, following in their wake, I hurl in anything that I can lay my hands on, that looks vaguely edible, as I don’t want to break the flow. They toss in each of their three items as we progress through the aisles. I allow them to choose a ‘treat’ each. They all scarper in different directions, leaving me alone with my over burdened trolly. [translation = cart]

Whilst I await their return, and my stamp of approval on their choices, I examine the contents of the trolly. I try to visualize potential meals that I can prepare from the ingredients. Bananas and ?…… never mind. Pastry and ?……something will come to me soon. Tomatoes and ….yes I have lettuce to go with it. Perhaps a quiche and salad?

They gather together breathlessly in an excited heap. She had chosen ice-cream, no great surprise there. He has chosen string cheese, no doubt inspired by one of his fellow pupils at class. Junior proffers a box of squeezy yoghourts. I baulk and bark, “no squeezy yoghourts, disgusting, foul American invention.” He pulls a face, “but I need them!” he pleads.
“Why, what’s wrong with yoghourt in an ordinary little pot at half the price?”
“Because I am the fast one.”
“Who said you were the fast one?”
“I do! I did! I am.”
“O.k. So what has ‘being the fast one,’ have to do with buying very expensive squeezy yoghourts?”
“Because day are ‘portable,’ which is meaning dat you can eat dem and run at the same time.” I look at his earnest face. Duped! An advertisers dream. I contemplate. How to give him something desirable, in his case a
narrow range of edibles yet avoid
compliance myself?

I pick up a banana, and peel down the skin,
“here, try running and eating that.
Give it a test drive.
Tell me if it’s portable too?”

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Request in a letter, needs expert translator

At various opportune intervals during the day, I nab him to park him at the table. Once in position, I mention that it might be a good idea to add to his list for Father Christmas. [translation = Santa Claus]. He sighs with a mixture of weary patience and defeat, “O.k. what we are putting now!” he queries with exasperation. Autism’s rigidity seems impenetrable. [Ref 1]
I detail the five items that I have managed to extract from him thus far: [translation = auto suggestion] chocolate, Belgium only, a book, non-specific, a game, general but probably of the ‘board’ variety, something to cuddle and ‘a present.’ It is a woefully short list for any 6 year old to have produced. Generally children of this age either have a list several yards in length, or a shorter version with very specific items, make serial number and price, just so that there can be no mix ups.
“Can’t you think of anything else you’d like him to bring you for being such a good boy all year?” I weedle.

“Ah mummy, I is not a good boy anyways and I don want nuffink any roads up.” I seek out the blue eyes to see if I have timed this badly? I point to my beautifully configured numbers in the hope of encouraging him to add another. I don’t want to induce cardiac arrest in Santa when he finds a list with only five items on it.
“Can’t you think of anything that would make you feel very happy, that would make you feel a happy green?”
“Well, maybe I am wanting something.”
“Really? What?”
“I am having to want three eggs actually.”
“Great! Number 6, three eggs, that’s a great one! Can you think of another one?”
“Er, well, maybe I fink I am wanting a great gold star.” Saints preserve us, we’re on a roll! “Wonderful! That would make a superb gift. Anything else?” Is there a chance we might reach double digits?
“Hmm, let me see now, I think my last fing would be some green toofpaste so that my teef can be happy too.” Why didn’t I anticipate this? Does anyone manufacture green toothpaste? Do I have enough time to go to Walgreens? Will they let me open half a dozen tubes so that I can squeeze out a squirt and check colours? “Superb, happy teeth must be the best thing in the world, anything else?”
“ Umm, may be I need some bendy pens, I mean soft pens that won’t be hurting my hands and fingers.”
I know that his 'list' looks strange to a casual observer. I could explain each items significance but that's not really the point. The point is that he has no compunction to explain what these things are. The theory of mind, or lack thereof, tells us that he assumes that I understand, that I think as he does, therefore there is no need for him to expound. Even if I were a complete stranger he would still not explain, even if prompted, there would be no point. His perspective is that everyone knows their significance. It is easy to see why this tendency is seen as pivotal, in an autism diagnoses if not merely narcissistic.

“Fantabulous, those are the best pens on the planet! I hope he has some?” I wonder where they can be bought? “Any other offers? Anything else? You’re up to 8 now!”
“My last thing will be a sharing thingy.”
“What kind of a sharing thingy?”
“A game that my bruvver is liking very much, so that we can be taking turns together. I like the game cube game because is it yellow, er because is it nearly golden colour, which is my favourite colour, but he is liking it because it is a Pokemon game and it will be making him happy, it is called a “Topaz Pokemon Version.”

So much for the Theory of Mind.

Ref 1 = 
adamantine \ad-uh-MAN-teen\ adjective
1 : made of or having the quality of adamant 
*2 : rigidly firm : unyielding 
3 : resembling the diamond in hardness or luster

Vegetables win, even though tomatoes are a fruit

I’ve never been a very good cook, something to do with beating sauces anti clockwise, I believe, but it never made much sense to me. To this day I can’t understand how you can hold a wooden spoon backwards, but apparently I am guilty of this crime also. I’ve never been one for labels, so if my soup turned into a solid, then I’ll call it a stew. If my dessert turned itself into a liquid, I’d just give a different name. It’s remarkable how often you can call something ‘Surprise Fricasse’ and no-one is any the wiser. Never mind if it was overcooked, just chop off the burnt bits. Underdone, never mind, nuke it in the microwave, who cares if it’s a bit rubbery, you can bluff it out: “Yes, that’s right, I said ‘Goodbody Flan,’ it’s an ancient recipe to line the stomach of miners when they were down the pits, very nutritious.”
It’s very handy for desserts that refuse to set, as modern appliances such as the cuisinart [translation = magimix] mean that you can just whiz it to a liquid and you have pudding soup, it still tastes o.k. It’s all about expectations.

These days, cooking and catering is so much easier. All I have to do is shake out a cup full of Goldfish crackers for the children and a bowl of fishy bites for the cats and I’m all finished. [translation = done] I figure that this just makes them all vegetarians by default. Whilst we are making great progress in the food department, fruit and vegetables are not ‘preferred foods.’ The ‘make your own packed lunch’ campaign has been a moderate success and senior son will volunteer to make his own sandwich at other times to ensure that he can use at least 2 ounces of butter on each slice of bread. At this stage, compliance and task completion are paramount. Coronary heart disease is low on the agenda.
Thus when I hear a squeak of surprise from him, I walk over to determine the cause. “My sandwich!?” he bleats.
“Yes, that’s right. It’s a sandwich. Well done for making it on your own. You must be very hungry to have made one now?” [Translation = less than an hour before supper]
“But it is tasting, er, not quite right.” I look at the sandwich with one perfect semi circle missing because he didn’t get the wonky teeth gene.
“What’s not quite right dear.” He pulls a face and bares his teeth, arching his back as he hunts for words. “It, it, it……I dun know, but it is tasting funny.” I peak under the top slice which reveals chunks of too hard butter, dollops of peanut butter and a bright red smearing of something that isn’t jam. [translation = jelly]

I glance back to the kitchen counter, the scene of devastation following his ‘cooking’ session. I step closer as the bifocals aren’t up to the task. I trickle of oil seeps from the up turned lid; Tomato pesto sauce. I rearrange my face and return to the table where he is on his second mouthful.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Wanderer returns

Senior daughter sits at the dining room table brushing up on her newly acquired skill; Portuguese. Six months in Williamstown Maschusettes, has been more than half a year as far as I’m concerned. I hover between her, her smaller siblings and the kitchen. I don’t want to disturb her studies. I need an excuse to interrupt.

“So, what do you fancy for supper then?” I ask nonchalantly. I immediately have her undivided attention.

“Hmm,” she muses, “curry?”
“I can make it today but it will taste better tomorrow.” At the mention of supper, her little sister bounces into the kitchen, all ears, to check whether our choices
fits into her narrow menu.
“True. What have we got? Homity pie?” Senior son follows his sister like a shadow. His little brother is a reflection, hovering in case he needs to duck for cover.
“Yours for the asking dear,” I beam.
“What it is?”
“What is what dear?”
“No, not hominy,’ hominid!’”
“No, she means homonym, don’t you mum?”
“Actually neither. It’s just ‘Homity’ pie, it’s vegetarian.”
A universal scream of agony emanates at the mention of ‘vegetables.’

“Er not much progress on the food front in six months then?” adds the wanderer, as junior staggers from the room amid retching noises. The other two run off wailing, one copying the other though I’m not sure who is copying whom?
“I know! How about fish pie!” she says to me, now that we are alone. I drift off into visions of glossy b├ęchamel sauce coating the back of a wooden spoon, fluffy potatoes with crisp brown peaks, succulent flakes of tender white fish, a hint of Bayleaf and powdering of allspice. “Well?” she queries as I fail to respond. I drag myself away from rising visions of anchovies, kippers, roll mop herring and fish cakes, “could do, but I’ll have to nip out to the shops.”
“Tell you what, you whiz off and I’ll manage the little tikes.”
“O.k., you keep the two big uns and I’ll take the screamer.”
“Oh no, that’s not fair!”
“It’s o.k. I can manage one screamer in the shops, it’s when I’ve got all of them that it damages my nerve endings.”

With the plan in place I take him ‘with the lungs’ and his pair of shoes out to the garage, “no fishing, I hate the fishing, fishing is bad.”

At the supermarket, at the fish counter I stand close to my youngest son as he lies on the tiled floor flapping like a beached salmon. I give my order to the clerk. I am impressed that the chiller cabinet works effectively and that as a result, the odour of fish is virtually undetectable. I ignore the cries of “I am dying, the smell is killing my nose, oh no, my nose is falling off, agh, agh, agh.”

As he hands me my brown wrapped package, the clerk nods in the direction of the salmon, who is still rolling and flapping on the floor, “is he gonna be o.k.?”
“Oh yes, he’ll be fine, he doesn’t have to actually eat it, just stay in the same room. This is like a trial run.”
“Howdaya mean.”
“Can he stay in the same shop within a two yard radius of me whilst I buy the fish?” The checker tweaks his white brimmed hat but says nothing as we depart.

A complete success really.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Problem solving

I am generally of the opinion that my body is there to assist me in my daily occupations, but other than that, I don’t tend to give it much thought. My body automatically does things that I want it to do without me having to exert any energy to achieve my aims. This is because I have an exceptionally clever body. I tend to forget that other people’s bodies do not necessarily behave in a similar manner. Other bodies have parts that do not listen to the messages that their brain’s command, they are recalcitrant, deaf, ineffectual or ignore important information.

I engage my son in a lecture. I explain carefully that the Eucalyptus oil that I have put on his chest, must not on any account, reach his eyes. There must be no chest hand eye contact. Soap is essential to prevent this cross contamination.
‘Do you understand?’ is repeated at twenty second intervals, re-inforcing, confirming, clarifying, checking in, anything to prevent the oil in the eye meltdown. It’s automatic and formulaic but does not impede the inevitable. We used to put the drops of oil in the centre of his shoulder blades so that he couldn’t accidentally brush it with his hand.

I demonstrate that he has not been singled out for this treatment, I too have been anointed, look as the glistening smear in the hollow of my collar bone! See, me too? We can do it, both contaminated. We both benefit from the ability to breathe more easily. It is not a conspiracy, it is a good thing. He is mollified by the fact that we share the same fate, but this doesn’t prevent his finger tips from seeking out the spot. Each time I whisk him off to the bathroom where we model hand washing. The spot is a magnet to those finger tips, he can’t help himself.

I turn my attention to the other two, so that he’s without a finger guardian angel. I have no other option when school is 20 minutes away and everyone is naked.

In the family room I negotiate socks, feet and shoes, all of which are proving problematical with junior. He squalks and flaps as I prompt and persuade. At the table a scream of agony erupts from senior, followed by the thunder of naked feet pounding towards the bathroom, gallons of water and unco-operative soap. I nip round to check progress. He stands at the sink naked and soggy, huge saucer eyes of concern peer out anxiously beneath a hank of hair.
“My fingers did it again, but I got em, I washed em good, I am o.k. now,” he explains with triumph.

He returns to the table and his breakfast cereal which is still only half eaten as his progress is delayed my his unco-operative hands. He takes the initiative and sits on his hands. He stares at his cereal bowl. He casts a glance at each hand, under control under each thigh. It dawns on him that whilst the wandering hands are secure, it is also difficult to eat cereal without their assistance, ‘darn it!’ He shakes his head and releases one hand, the right one, reluctantly. The spoon makes contact with the bowl’s contents, but the bowl is traveling. Against his better instincts he allows the left hand to come out too, to help steady the bowl. Once his mouth is full and munching, the right hand is also occupied with spoon control, but the left one is left free to practice devilment. The drips of milk run down his naked chest which invite the left hand to investigate. The finger tips trace the milk drops, without permission, “ah!” he screams and scrambles off his chair to repeat the hand washing exercise, self initiated, self correcting.
He reappears from the bathroom, breathless and exasperated.
“How are you doing dear?”
“Well,” he sighs, weary from yet another 50 yard dash when the asthma is in full swing, “you know, it not my fault. I think it is the bad hand, it won’t do as I say, it won’t listen to me any more.” He stomps his foot to emphasize the point, a couple of nano seconds off.
“You know what?” I ask, wait, and count to fifteen.
“What?” horray he got there!
“I don’t think it is a bad hand.”
“Not bad?”
“No. It’s the milk, the milk drips.”
“The milk drips are bad?”
“The milk drips make the hand move, it’s not the hand’s fault, it’s the milk’s.” He doesn’t comment, which isn’t particularly surprising, as it sounds pretty odd to me too. I should really be having this conversation once I am awake, not at 7:20 in the morning.

I continue to help junior with his flying shoes, whilst senior returns to the table for the next cereal episode. After much persuasion, junior is shod and we commence the teeth cleaning torture session. I check on senior. He is seated at the dining room table, it itself a triumph of accomplishment, as he has achieved a static status. Being static whilst wielding a spoon with liquid should encourage a positive outcome.

When I return again, I find him wrapped in a blanket, several blankets in fact, forming an igloo. His head and right arm pop out of the top. There is no sign of the left arm swaddled beneath the depths. A triangle of spilled milk spreads down the front of the igloo where he chest would have been. I pick up the serviettes [translation = napkins] and stuff them back into the drawer, who needs a square foot of fabric when you get much better results with a two six foot squares of hefty material to weigh down an inhibit tresspassers?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Culture shock

My mother sent us a little gift; some playing cards for junior daughter and some handkerchieves for me. Junior daughter liked the cards but was intrigued by the hankies. She uses tissues [translation = Kleenex] although not often enough. She likes the little embroidered flowers on the corner. She’s seen handkerchieves in the Beatrix Potter books. The boys cluster round but quickly declare that they’re ‘boring,’ which is understandable since they are devoid of trains or Pokemons.

“Why is it called that?”
“Because a ‘kerchief’ is a cloth that you cover your head with but a handkerchief is a cloth that your hands can use instead.”
“You cover your hands with it?”
“No, not exactly” I didn’t explain that very well. I make a second attempt. “If it were a ‘neckerchief’ you’d wear it around your neck.” That doesn’t really help much.
“What do you do with it?” she asks.
“You blow your nose on it when you have a cold.”
“Eeoow! Gross!” [translation = a term used almost exclusively by young female Californian persons, who should know better, as they have a much wider vocabulary available to them to display displeasure in it’s many forms. I have never heard a boy use this expression in quite the same manner.]
“You can dry your tears too.”
“Oh.” Better. Perhaps I can recover some lost ground. “Then what do you do with it?”
“You tuck it in the cuff of your sleeve.”
“Eeoow! Gross!” [addendum to translation = must always be accompanied by ‘eeoow’ and appropriate body language of the squirming variety.]
“Or you can put it in your pocket if you prefer.”
“I know, I know” chimes in senior son, “Bin, trash, garbage, rubbish!”
“Actually no, you don’t throw it away, you wash it.”
“It is washed?”
“Why?” This is going to be harder than I thought.
“Because then, when it’s clean and dry, you can use it all over again.”
Nobody answers. They look at one another. I used to have a section of my underwear drawer full of crisp, white, ironed hankies. None of them have a similar drawer. I am at a loss for words [translation = stumped.] Junior daughter helps me out, by summarizing thusly;
“So,” she pauses to collect her thoughts, “you have a nice pretty handkerchief which you put snot on and then stuff it in your sleeve next to your skin?”
“But, but, but………I know!” says senior son. “It should be big and red like a…..like a……..like a blanket.”

“Wait, wait, wait……..I show you,” he plunders off without further explanation. He returns with the Tale of Benjamin Bunny which was also given to him by his maternal Grandmother. He turns to page 16 where there is a picture of Peter Rabbit wrapped in a red cotton pocket-handkerchief.
“That’s a much better idea,’ his sister comments.
“Me too,” adds the little one.

It seems we are agreed, the board of management have reached a consensus of opinion; we are now an exclusively Kleenex household.

Festive Greetings

Wishing you and yours the 'Compliments of the Season.' May your god, fairy, or talisman support you.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Seasonal problems

He sniffs and sniffs and sniffs and sniffs. It is all to no avail as his nose trickles. I watch him, my face set. He is seven years old. I don’t know which is worse, a nose that runs continuously with it’s accompanying sniff with no further ameliorative action, or the occasional ameliorative action, which consists of wiping the offending appendage off on his sleeve, from elbow to cuff, or worse still, on whatever else is near to hand, be that carpet, the sofa or my thigh.

I am well aware that my face reads disdain and disapproval but I am unable to prevent those muscles settling into that well worn groove, as I steel myself for the inevitable, dithering between intervention to prevent the crime or watching the fulfillment of the offence, dishcloth at the ready. Last time he had a cold, a few months back, we wrote out a sequence of steps to deal with runny noses. Since he is a visual learner, we used the equivalent [translation = dumbed down, of "Carol Gray's Social stories"] Most children need a little guidance in this department, but autistic child need very specific help.

If this was a preferred activity such as playing with a computer game, not much help or assistance would be required, but basic hygeine, bodily functions and self care don't really make it to their radar screen. It is important to avoid the 'but why?' scenario when dealing with these basic functions, because any rational explanation you can come up with, is also ineffective. e.g. 'because you need to be clean' -'but why?' "Isn't it uncomfortable having your face all messy like that?"
"Messy? No, it not messy, it fine!' Take it from me, you're just not going to be able to come up with a satisfactory reason as to why they should comply, at least not for my lot. We won't even touch on the 'do it for me, do it to make me happy/ proud/ pleased' as that line of reasoning is doomed before the words have even been formed.

Now he’s so much bigger, I swear that if it wasn’t for the asthma, I’d stuff a couple of tissues [translation = Kleenex] up his nostrils, like people with frequent nosebleeds do.
Sniff, sniff, sniff. I wait and seethe, but he is blissfully unaware of my presence. He looks up from his work as his back arches and shoulders rise to his ears in one supreme effort at stemming the flow, but failing. He slips of his chair muttering, ‘is not workin.” He blunders off in the direction of the bathroom. He re-emerges with a fistful of tissues [translation = Kleenex] and honks in a fairly efficient fashion, “das better,” he murmours moving back towards the table, letting the soiled wads fall to the ground. Only one stomp towards the table and he back tracks an additional stomp, “oopsie, I forgot that one.” He scoops the paper from the ground on his third attempt, bimbles back to the bathroom, clanks open the pedal bin and approximates a lob, whereby most of it ends up in situ. He saunters back past me, giving me a casual glance, “your face is broken.”

Shattered more like.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pass the buck

[translation = blame somebody else]

I hide the teapot in the cooker [translation = stove] as the cleaners are on their way on a Monday morning. Their scrupulousness is appreciated in all quarters of my household, with the exception of the teapot. The teapot is off limits, my personal dark little secret. I do not want it sparklingly clean and pristine. It makes better tea if it is stained the colour of mahogany, but this is not a message that is easy to translate in this country. [translation = my Spanish is limited to Dora's exploits and my French is rusty] Therefore, taking the line of least resistance I have resorted to deception. Of course autistic children, we are told, generally are incapable of deception, they are too literal.

On return from school with the offspring, I release the teapot from it's hidey hole and pop the kettle on the hob. [translation = tea kettle on the flames] A shadow addresses me,
“What you do?”
“Me? Oh nothing.”
“No. You do sompfink. What you do?” Is this the same child that would not utter a syllable for four, sometime five hours?
“Just getting the teapot ready for a cup of tea.”
“What that fing is called again?”
“This thing? Or that thing?”
“Bowf fings?” I have early intervention mechanism to thank for this tirade.
“This is the oven and this is the teapot.”
“Oh right, yes.” It’s not that his vocabulary is limited, it is merely that the words are mis-filed, so he’s unable to retrieve them at will. It’s like having a dictionary, which is no use to you if you can’t spell a little bit in the first place.
“Why you cook da teapot?”
“I didn’t,” I answer truthfully. He puts a tentative finger on the oven door in confirmation. [translation = no-one believes me]
“It is cold. You not cook it den?”
“That’s right.”
“Why oven den?” Why this sudden interest in teapots and cookers? Who am I to be cross examined by a seven year old about my relationship with a teapot? What business is it of his anyway? [translation = patience on low ebb]
“No reason,” I add nonchalantly.
“”No reason.’? What reason? I mean, er, why you put da teapot in the oven if you not cook it?” Really! What is wrong with the child, can’t he just let it be?
“Well, if you must know, I put it in the oven to hide it. The oven is a very good place for hiding things.”
“Good for hiding. Good for cooking. Good for two things. Dat’s good.” At last he seems satisfied although I suspect the whole exercise was merely a ruse to delay starting jobs. [translation = chores and homework]

We go through our school routine of snacks, making packed lunches and getting clothes ready for the following day. It’s so difficult to decide in which precise order to do these things in, as if you don’t have sufficient motivation in front of you, then there is no human way of dragging them forward to the goal of task completion. [translation = getting things done.]

As I settle them down to homework at the table, with the promise of stories and supper to follow, a general protest ensues. There appear to be far too many arguments against completing homework in this next 30 minute section of the day; additional nutrition required for optimal brain function, a little light television in advance, to relax the mind and let the body wind down, social interaction needed with the felines of the household to ensure bonding and minimizing dysfunctional behaviour.

I look at them all and their feeble excuses in exasperation, when senior son adds his two pennarth [transation = 2 cents] “I cant do mine cos I lef it at school today.” It’s late, we’re behind schedule [translation = our timetable] and my energy reserves are low. I decide that we can play catch up tomorrow instead, where the therapy commitments are lighter, where there are a greater number of minutes available to prompt them through it all. I make my decree and they all scamper or lumber, off to pursue other, infinitely more preferable activities.
I return to the kitchen to start preparing supper for the masses. I jiggle the steeping tea pot. Should be ready by now? I switch on the cooker and yell to warn the children of the impending noisy explosion that indicates that the pilot light is functioning. I hope that the cleaners won’t comment on the absence of the teapot after 5 years, as I wouldn’t like to hurt their feelings. Hopefully they’ll just assume that I’ve switched to coffee, converted to the American mode. Perhaps they’ll think that I’ve adopted the filthy American habit with tea instead, where you only use a tea-bag in a cup, poke it with a teaspoon and fish it out with a special pair of tweezers?

The boom of the oven that follows as it ignites, still startles me, but this is nothing to the shriek of agony that comes seconds later. Senior son erupts into the kitchen and stares in horror at the oven, eyes on stalks, palms covering his mouth, “Oh no! What you do? You are in such big trouble. I tell Mrs. Loper it was you! You are da naughty one! You cooked my homework.”

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