I have moved over to WhittereronAutism.com. Please follow the link to find me there. Hope to see you after the jump! :)

Friday, August 31, 2007

Goldilocks, don’t let the bears win

I ensure that I have a full hour to devote to the babysitter prior to our departure. This enables me to run over the rules and remind her of where everything is. I am determined that this shall be a successful relationship for all of us.

“So there’s just one last thing that I wanted to draw your attention to.”
“The boys sleep in the same room in separate beds. She’s next door in her own bed. Both the boys wear pull-ups and I’ve left them here on the side for you.”
“O.k. No problem.”
“Great, it’s just that a while back we came home to find that they were all in the same bed. The boys didn’t have pull ups on which meant we had to give everyone a bath and change the sheets, which wasn’t much fun at 11 at night, if you know what I mean?”
“How did that happen?”
“I’m really not sure, but they managed to convince the sitter that they all slept in the same bed and that they didn’t need pull-ups!”
“How strange! Did you tell the sitter that they slept in separate beds and that the boys wear pull-ups?” I look at her for a moment, uncertain how to proceed.
“You know to tell the truth, I showed her the bedrooms and the beds and the pull ups, but I can’t be certain that I made myself understood. That’s why I’m telling you now, just so that there can’t be any misunderstandings.” I smile, in what I hope is a warm and sincere manner.
“Well, you know, everyone knows that boys and girls don’t sleep in the same bed!” This was not the response I was expecting. We live in the Western world, where it is less common for children to share a bed. There are three children and three beds. Is it wise to leave an adult in charge who has no matching skills?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

There on the chair, right there!

I stumble into the kitchen early in the morning and trip on a crayon. It is the soft fall of the not truly awake enough to hurt oneself, variety. I feel around for my dislodged glasses in a state of temporary blindness and befuddlement. I should have large neon glasses to aid me, instead of the apparently invisible pair that I invested in. I notice the unusually dirty skirting boards. I look more closely. My nose is about to scrape the wood when I dart back in shock. A mouse hole! I scrabble around on the floor checking my skirting boards. There are so many! We’ve been invaded by an army of mice, an infestation no less. I grab a wooden spoon and poke tentatively at the hole. How strange? The hole isn’t a hole at all, it’s solid. I touch the hole with my finger tip. Definitely solid. I look closely at the little grey archway, a cartoon mouse hole, or rather, many, many cartoon mouse holes. I step on my glasses. Well they were wonky anyway. I arrange my glasses and go for a closer inspection. There is also a small grey toilet cartoon, mouse sized, as well as a lamp. The lamp is the clincher, I know which nocturnal child to blame. I start scrubbing my skirting boards in-between gulps of tepid coffee. Washable markers indeed! What a nerve!

Within half an hour I have eliminated half of the invaders and the kitchen stinks of bleach. My eldest son appears, he is in a dither, “hey mom something’s freakin me out, kinda.”
“What is it dear.”
“Er, come wiv me.” He leads me by the hand to his sister’s bedroom. She lies sprawled on the bed, still wearing her dressing up outfit. “It’s just dress up dear, nothing to worry about.”
“I know but it’s kinda scary, er is she a witch or something?” We look at the black curly wings protruding from her back. “I think it’s some kind of fairy outfit.”
“I know but it’s kinda freaky when it’s not Halloween.” This is no longer a two and a half speech delay for my eight year old, it’s something else entirely. We leave her to slumber and trot back downstairs. Our steps stir the little one who comes skittering down after us like a can on a string tied to a car's bumper.

In the kitchen both are horrified but for multifarious and different reasons. The artist is incensed at the destruction but unable to articulate his outrage as he pinches his nostrils. Bleach. The other one recognizes that we are under siege.
“I do not like mouses!”
“There are no mice dear, really, these are just pretend mouse holes. See! I can wash them off.” I scrub to demonstrate, but they’re hard work to remove.
“No. I don’t see. Where are the mouses?”
“Mice dear. There aren’t any.”
“Where are the mouses? They are in the houses, er, the house, er home, er here?” His little brother picks up on the rhyme, guffaws with laughter and spins off chanting “mouses, in the house es, mouses, in the house es, mouses, in the house es.” I foresee the day ahead of me.
“There aren’t any mice in here and anyway, even if a mouse came in, we have two brave cats to protect us.”
He looks at me dubiously as I continue to scrub and push my wonky glasses back up my nose.
“But we had a mouse before, one time.”
“Good remembering. Yes, you’re right we did have a mouse but that was over two years ago.” Fancy him remembering that? Fancy him telling me about it! His little brother spins back into the picture, “you must leave them, dey are dah jolly good joke dat is funny.”
“Really!” I would like to point out that at this moment he is in the minority.
“Yes! Dah mouse come in, he run at dah hole and go boink on his head, fall down.” He is delighted at his wit. I am less so.
“The mouse come in?” squeaks his brother.
“No dear. A mouse hasn’t come in, it’s a joke, his joke.” A bad joke. We are in the midst of this cycle when spouse appears to see what all the commotion is about. After a couple of repetitive cycles he’s up to speed and in the loop.
“Oh well you don’t have to worry about that. We have two cats remember?”
“Mum is already said that.” Good grief is this the same child?
“Good, so we’re all on the same page then. So really the only reason we had a mouse in the first place was because Jasper caught him and brought him inside for you as a present!”
“Jasper! My old cat?”
“Yes. Do you remember him?”
“Jasper bringed the mouse into the house!”
“But mum said that cats stop mouses coming into the houses, er house!”
“Well yes, that is true but………” He runs away screaming.

We debate how to proceed.
“I didn’t know he was afraid of mice?”
“He isn’t, or rather he wasn’t, but he certainly is now.” The volume of screaming subsides.
“I wonder if he’s always been afraid of them but never been able to tell us before?”
“Maybe?” I’m uncertain if he’s stopped screaming or is just so far away now that I can no longer hear him.
“Maybe the price of speech is more OCD?”
“What a trade off!” I think of the many years I have spent moaning about how different they are.
“I wonder if there’s a modern day equivalent of the Pied Piper of Hamlin?”
“I assume you only want to get rid of the virtual imaginary mice?”
“Well he’s always had a thing about bears.”
“And faces.”
“What percentage of his inexplicable meltdowns were caused by fear about something or other, but he wasn’t able to tell us do you suppose?” I hear another blood curling scream and the thunder of size two feet charging towards us. On arrival he leaps into my arms, wraps his legs around my waist and clutches my neck, “it’s freaking me out man! There is a huge spider in dere!” The adults exchange glances as we collectively feel the floorboards reverberate. He clutches me tighter, a stranglehold as I carry him to the front door. Outside I point across the road, “it’s just a jack hammer dear, they’re digging up their driveway.” I wonder how long it takes to dig up a drive way as I carry my quaking son back inside? “They’re, they’re gonna dig up our house too?” he gasps.
“No dear, there’s nothing to worry about.” I squeeze him tighter as the ‘no carrying under any circumstances’ campaign dies again.
“They are strangers? How can we tell if they’re bad guys?”
“Do you think they are…. burglars? Are they gonna come and steal me?” I see tears welling up in his eyes as he nibbles the edge of the band aid on his finger. I notice that I am trembling too! Probably just insufficient caffeine intake?


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thoughtful Thursday - The youth of today!

So you may have noticed that people do funny things on their blogs on "Thursdays," like "Thursday Thirteen" and such like.

Whilst I'm not a superstitious person, it's more that I can't count that high, even on a good day. So with the 'th' theme, 'thoughtful' was the best I could come up with.

Ah well, you never know, it just might catch on! I probably need a natty logo or a code, or a clue! Then there's all that link to this that or the other and don't forget to widget something or other else, or it won't work. Maybe I should ask the great High Poobah "himself?"

So, I've been thinking, briefly, about the youth of today, young people, no less, or should that be 'know less'?
Well they're a thoroughly reprehensible lot, I'll be bound.

Whilst there may be one or two exceptions to the general rule, on the whole, most of them are an absolute shower.

My opinions are confirmed by a radio broadcast on "NPR," which points to a certain population who are described as narcissistic, more so than any previous generations. It is always so gratifying to have one's personal prejudices acknowledged as being mainstream.

One of the exceptions to this general rule, apart from my own "dear daughter," is "Jade."

I visit my youthful and enthusiastic pal’s blog, because every so often, I am in need of an energy boost. Reality check. I suspect it’s mere youth but I know a good egg when I see one. As I stand in my comfortable home, that is too frightfully clean, fret about all my children, write cheques for exorbitant sums and chastise the American system of medical insurance, other youthful persons are on the real front line.

In my idleness, I am privileged to have the opportunity to blog. Others, her clients amongst many others, are not so "fortunate." Silicon Valley is the land of geeks, an international mix and hideously wealthy, by comparison to many.

When I was 20 like Jade, I was also pregnant. When I was 21, I was briefly homeless with my baby. At least it was only one period in my 46, oopsie, 47 years on the planet. It is not an experience that I would care to repeat. Although, if I did have to repeat it, I would prefer to repeat it in a socialist country rather than a capitalist one. But enough of the politics.

The statistics are overwhelming. The news items are depressing. [translation – saddening] We spend so many minutes micro managing our own particular disaster area that I for one, lack the ability and energy to support "those who most need it."

I want to propose a bill to Parliament, er…….Congress. Conscription! Every person must submit a period of time to those with special needs. I need a catchy phase and a good advertising campaign of course, but I'm much too old, crumbly and lazy to come up with my own. Maybe that's something else that "Jade" can help me out with? After all, what's the point of being old if you can't delegate a bit?

In the meantime, prior to my recruitment drive, I am happy to observe Jades' career path, as she's sure to be a rising star.

Twinkle, twinkle.

There again, now I've adjusted my thinking cap to a more jaunty angle, I think that 'Thoughtless Thursday' might be infinitely preferable! What do you think?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The power of ten

Last week

Now that their speech delays are less delayed, they will often ask questions, which is a monumental leap forward for everyone.

Their willingness to try and communicate with words, is still hard work for them. As parents, we have to make their attempts at communication successful. The theory goes, that the more success they achieve, the more willing they will be to keep going or give it another try.

Both my boys have a tendency to ask very precise questions for which they require specific and instant answers. Failure by the parent, frequently results in a meltdown in the child. If you are a child and you have a speech delay, talking, or using your words, is hard work. On the whole it is usually much easier for you to get what you want by skipping the words stage and screaming instead. You will find that if you scream a lot, your parent is likely to be much more efficient and far speedier at fulfilling your request. Works like magic every time, let me assure you.

The stumbling block for me, is whilst this progress is all fine and dandy, it’s very difficult to make their experience successful if they leave out pertinent details, or reference back. Their questions come out of the blue with no clues attached.

In an ideal world, I’d like to change things. I would prefer to confine question time to a specific period of the day, where I would be more than happy to field all enquiries. That time, would be a time of my choosing. A convenient time, preferably one where I am already awake, when my brain is fully functioning and my power pack of patience is full.

I do not live in an ideal world.

Early in the morning my son appears before me in his pyjamas that are several sizes too small.
“Is it ten?” he asks with an anxious expression.
“Is what ten dear?”
“Ten yet?” I look at him and think hard. Is he waiting for ten o’clock? What, if anything, could or should be happening at that time? I think of the tick down chart that shows them how many more days of summer holidays they have left. We check it every day so that the first day of school doesn’t come as a surprise of nightmare proportions. But that’s still 6 days away. I think of other numbers that might be relevant, that he might have mixed up? None of the daily timers have been set yet. They advise them all of the high points of the day, like snack time and electronics time. Is this a reference back to growing older and his fear of reaching double digits? Ten. It is no-one favourite number around here. I dither. Is it to do with something recent or the ancient past if not ancient history?

I don’t want to provoke a meltdown this early in the morning, as I am not mentally prepared at 5:50 a.m. A meltdown first thing in the morning is a pre-cursor to a bad day, a very long bad day. If I keep him waiting too long he’ll have a meltdown anyway. I have nothing to lose by asking a return question, as I’m already out of the limited time allowance permitted at this stage of their development.

“Ten what dear?” He holds up his hands, palms towards my face, instead of using any words.
“Ten fingers?” I ask pathetically. His head slumps to his chest in exasperation. Stand by, here it comes, I’ve blown it, he’s out of patience. He sighs wearily and then his body starts his little gallopy hopping dance, which means that his brain is processing and he’s gathering speed and words are forming a sentence which very soon, he may be able to utter…….. ”No, I mean……..is it ten days…….for my finger……to take the "stitches out?”

Well I'm glad that one of us is with it.
Boy 1, mother 0.

And in my other "life."

Blink of an eye – Tuesday supplemental

Not so long back, they started Pre-school and such like. Their exposure was staggered. 30 minutes for the first day. Internment with constant screaming. The time was gradually increased until a whole morning of three and a half hours was achieved.

Now as they start 4th, 3rd and 2nd grade, I rather think that this would be a good approach again. It seems grossly unfair that they should be expected to spend a whole day in school, 6 hours and 25 minutes. Draconian. They should be allowed to gently ease into the new school year by small increments, after weeks of idleness. It’s not that I won’t enjoy my child free hours, it’s more a question of sharing. Recently, my eldest son has been talking prodigiously, for a whole 4 days in fact. This means that for the many other days in the long summer holiday, he wasn’t. I need to rewind the summer holidays to the beginning, so I can have the benefit of all those missed talking days. Why should the school get them instead? Maybe I could rewind to when he was two and a half, a re-run? Then it was that all the lovely little baby words started to fade and fizzled out like a damp squib.

I have no evidence in support, but after 8 years, I know that the school squanders his word bank during the day and then returns my son to me, silent. I am not a good sharer. I content myself with the knowledge that the first fortnight consists of two four day weeks.

I focus on the label of the liquid multivitamins, give up and take a glug to wash down a couple of Ibrupofen.

I pick up the abandoned play things, the toilet brush, screw driver, curtain pull and magic wand. I look across at the bank of idle timers on the table that have no-one to sequence, coax and calm. I need a complete rest. Six hours and 25 minutes.

Instead I commit myself to hard labour in the garden because my cherry tomatoes have a personality disorder. They’ve invaded the Honeysuckle . I need to prune their ambitions as they dangle over the 10 foot fence. Maybe? I dither. I decide to conduct a scientifically, controlled experiment. How long does it take to turn your body into a pickled walnut? Bath or shower? I pick up the timer, the egg one. I set it for two hours and 15 minutes. I don’t want to forget that appointment at the manicurist. I turn the timer on and my brain off.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Too much to process

As often as not, one becomes so used to the status quo that progress can be a smack in the face.

For us, the issues of time and sequencing are very old friends. This is why we are a household with more timers than the average clock shop. They come in every kind of variety. During the summer holidays I have occasion to use nearly all of them. 8 hours and 55 minutes until bed time. 27 minutes until snack. 8 hours and 25 minutes until electronics. The tick tock of one, fights for attention with the tickety tockety of another one.

Once words emerged and were used with greater frequency, we began an exchange.
“How many minutes until……..?” fill in the blank.
“Look at the timer dear.”
Always the same response, for years. Now during the summer, we add an extra line: “which one?”

Yes, and on and on we go, forever, without end. Yes, they’re just like everyone else’s children, where we all repeat the same phrases, except the boys ask more frequently. I don’t choose to examine the OCD elements and try to remind myself how well their voluntary speech is coming along.

The tick down chart on the window tells them all that there are only 8 days left of their summer holidays to go, until school begins again. Every day, I make a big hoo hah about taking them to the chart, so that they can be reminded of the dwindling days of freedom and avoid shock tactics. An unexpected benefit has grown from this practice. Inevitably, when small people are herded together and forced to keep their own company, tempers can sometimes become frayed. This is especially so as the temperatures climb in August. Fights, skirmishes and scuffles break out at regular intervals.

I think the habit began at the beginning of the holidays as I intervened to break up the latest wrestling match. It was something along the lines of, “if you think we’re going to behave like this for the next nine weeks……!” delivered in an unpleasant tone of growing exasperation. Thereafter, the OCD amongst us, would race to the chart to check how many happy days there were left and how many days of war had passed. When the mid point was reached, panic ensued. Every moment must be spent extending the happiness quotient.

Meanwhile, my youngest son hurtles around the house chanting his latest phrase: “Lights, camera, action!” at fifty decibels. This phrase is followed by a brief interlude before he reaches the conclusion, some minutes later: “Cut!” at 75 decibels. This is definitely a new development, one that has my nerves all of a jangle. I’m quite content with the new phrase, it’s the surprise ending that makes my heart miss a beat. In view of the fact that he has been using this phrase for more than seven hours now, I should have adjusted to the new sequence, but I’m having a hard time recalibrating my own alert system.

Another alarming development is how he is able to hold a conversation with his Pokemon playmates and siblings, whilst in Pokemon character, and yet still manage to punctuate each exchange with his favoured phrase without pausing for breath or missing a beat. I find the whole experience quite mind bending. I try and imagine having a conversation with someone where I would interject an irrelevant phrase and tack it on the end of anything I said? I cannot imagine how this would impact my ability to keep track of the conversation, to say nothing of the effect on the person you are talking to. I am further alarmed to realize than none of the three young conversationalists are in the least bit perturbed, disturbed or annoyed by this.

I am so wrapped up in unraveling this feat that I miss the rumble.

It is hard to accurately describe what we witness and of course there is no warning, or maybe I wasn't paying attention. My six year old erupts from the carpet like a rocket, remains air born momentarily, to land seconds later in a frenzy of movement, as if someone had fitted a live bee hive on his head. His siblings roll around with guffaws of laughter at his latest explosion, immune, de-sensitized and entertained. I mine for clues but keep out of contact range. I assess whether he is winding up or down. He charges to the trampolene where he expends a considerable amount of energy for several minutes. A heart warming display of self management. He collapses in a heap, drained and closes his eyes with a sigh, “dats better,” he confirms. I debate whether to ask and risk rekindling a burning ember?

“What was it dear?”
“I fink maybe a dust was being falled on my head.” I am uncertain whether I am any the wiser? I suspect that if you are on heightened alert and over stimulated, that maybe a particle of dust might be enough to trigger an almighty reaction.

I am still contemplating the meaning of life, or at least, the underlying triggers, when the other one distracts me with the same old spiel, “er, um, how many minutes until electron…” he pauses, mid sentence as he often does, before he skips a step completely, “oh yeah!” He jumps to his feet and lollops across the room to the table, with the bank full of timers. His hands reach out and lift the correct one as he says, “look at the timer.”

Other aspects of my life are every bit as "bewildering."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The temptation to eat worms

I spend the early hours of Sunday morning making perfect pancakes for my children. I sweat, or rather, ‘glow,’ over a sweltering hot plate because I am an unappreciated martyr with an incomprehensible need to get eggs into my children. The maple syrup that they sampled in Trader Joe’s, awaits them at the table. A special and expensive treat. This is the only peaceful meal per week, that we enjoy together. Once they are happily ensconced in mid munch, I will sneak away to telephone my mother.

They all appear just after six, no doubt drawn by the tempting aroma. Instead of evoking blissful happiness, I appear to have provoked mass hysteria for some unaccountable reason. In-between the skreiks of agony, I am given to understand that their expectations have not been met. It would appear that some foolish, tired old woman promised waffles instead of pancakes today. I make a mental note that my memory bank is in need of a reboot, or maybe just a kick. Breakfast is a fiasco, or rather no-one breaks their fast. The syrup is condemned as inedible due to it’s excessively runny nature. No-one comments upon it’s taste. The garbage disposal unit takes the hit. I do not fare so well. I toss bottles of Ensure and the ever growing masses of non eating persons in my family. I remind myself that I am supposedly an adult and therefore banned from throwing a hissy fit of my own. I attempt clean up, when an additional wail demands my ever waning attention.

In the hall, my neglected daughter takes issue with the computer that is mal-functioning. She has used all the usual tricks to tempt it, but they have all failed. I repeat those same tricks that I have already taught her, just to be on the safe side. She voices the exact same complaints that we share when it comes to malfunctioning technology.
“I’m sorry dear, you’ll just have to wait until Daddy gets up and see if he has any magic left.” She pouts. I pout in sympathy. I worry that I am producing another generation of Ludites?

I stand in the kitchen and listen to the tirade. The filthiest child in the world, as opposed to his little brother, the cleanest child in the world, is berating me. “Look! I just don’t get it? I washed my hands and now there’s no towel. Where is the towel? Who took the towel?” He is incensed with my inefficiency. For the last 8 years he has had no use for a towel, apart from the occasional wipe of a snotty face, the dab of a bloody toe or the smearing of primary coloured paint. Now, suddenly, I have acquired another critic. “Don’t just look at me! My fingers are dripping! Find me a towel!” To hear my speech delayed, son speak without a stutter and in complete sentences, several seamless sentences, is too much for me to process. I "recent developments" overwhelming. I am too stunned and tired to quibble. I oblige. My fragile hold on reality, if not sanity, is severely challenged.

It’s official. I am now in a thoroughly bad temper and it’s not even 8 in the morning. I am also a bad mother. I have no energy, no patience and no humour. My milk of human kindness has evaporated, curdled. As soon as spouse’s toe touches the bottom stair, I depart and take my cheesy self elsewhere. I fight back the waves of self pity and the under tow of self loathing. Bad wife.

I shut myself in an empty room. I take it out on my mother. I dial, long distance. I decide that I have no time left for the petty trifles of the elderly, infirm and defenseless. I pout as I listen and count the list of crimes against my person, my unhappy lot. Nobody in the world knows my woes. She stops prattling for a moment, presumably so that she can draw breath. There is a brief pause, followed by “are you still there dear?”
“Yes.” The international line is fraught.
“I’m sorry dear,” she continues, “I don’t pretend to understand your busy life, and mine is so dull by comparison. I only wish I could wave a magic wand and make it all better.”
“Thanks mum. You just did!”

Bad daughter. Royal flush.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Not a misdemeanour offence

I stand at the kitchen sink washing up.

A small person inserts himself between my body and the sink, face to face, or rather his face to my tummy.

His head tilts back to reveal a huge cheesy grin. I smile back and wait. I wait a bit longer, wondering what it will be this time and whether I shall ever finish the washing up?

“Are ya done?” he asks in a voice that is several octaves too low for a six year old.
“Nearly, just a few bits and bobs to go now.” He flits away, apparently satisfied. I stack the last of plates and dither as to whether I should fold laundry or wash the dining room following breakfast?

“Are ya done yet?”
“Yes! Do you need help with something?”
“Nope.” He stands still watching me.
“Are you sure, you’ve been asking me again and again, when I’ll be finished?”
“I need ya to be done.”
“I am done, er finished.”
“No! I mean……I need you to be goned.”
“Gone? Gone where?”
Away,” he says breathily, a B actor in a horror movie.
“O.k. I’ll go away.” I walk slowly out of the kitchen in the sure and certain knowledge that he is up to no good.

I hide next door and listen intently. I imagine the many forms of mischief that he has planned. I hope none of them involve mess or danger? Maybe he wants to steal some food. Now that would be great. Perhaps some new food, or is that beyond the realms of imagination? I tip toe back towards the kitchen in case I can catch him in the act.

I catch him in the act. A shiver passes through his body as he slips into freeze frame, the cariciature of a thief, hand poised, thumb and finger pinched together to hold the egg slicer. The tableau crumbles, “don’t look, don’t look, don’t look!”
“Coz it might be blood,” he says in an ominous tone, a baritone for a boy.
“What might be blood?”
“Dah egg slice! It is a cutting fing. It is danger!”
“Oh I see!” I think? “Do you need help?”
“Um, no I am being dah danger, er…I am being dah brave.”
I consider bestowing bravery awards but decide that empowerment might be a better alternative. I dither. Maybe this is too much?
“Would you like to help me?” I suggest tentatively.
“Help me?”
“What help are you?” How very disconcerting.
“I was thinking you could slice an egg for my sandwich with the egg slicer?”

He gasps, open mouthed and probably aghast, before blasting me with “dat is dah greatest idea!” I whip a hard boiled egg out of the fridge before he has a chance to change his mind, pop it in the cradle and guide his hands into the correct position.

“Off you go then, push it down.”
“Ooo, it is dah bouncy.” Why do they love eggs, even though no-one eats them?
“Push a little harder.” After all these years of occupational therapy, he still doesn't have the strength of force to resist an egg.
“Ooo dah egg is dah strong!” What is the magical property of an egg?
“You’re doing great, just a little bit harder.”
“Ooo he such a lovely cutesy wootsy eggy poos. I am loving being dah good helper.”

He uses his most persuasive tone as he woos the egg into submission. As the wires break through and reveal their slices, his tone changes to a nasal protest, “but you sure are dah stinkiest too!”

So much progress is such a short passage of "time."

It is because of these kinds of experiences that I worry about the effects of early "childhood" as you can see from my tiny "book review."

Classic extra

If you had to sum up your child in a few sentences, how would you do it? Why would you want to anyway?

I want to. I need to clarify but not diminish.

If you met my son you’d know that there was something different about him, even before he spoke, if he spoke at all. Maybe you’d think he was a bit of a klutz. He certainly looks lethargic. He doesn’t have much to say for himself, but he’s well liked. He is a kind and sensitive child, tentative and definitely an indoor type. He sleeps like an angel nearly every night. His primary interest at the moment happens to be Pokemon. Should I mention that we love him dearly as all parents do?

We take the first tentative step after 8 years and visit the psychiatrist for another evaluation of my highly atypical autistic son. The prescription is exorbitant.

Within 45 minutes, the son we are familiar with, is invaded by an interloper. We panic, dither and fret. Who is this child? Where is our son? We have no idea who this boy is?

There is nothing to be done. We have to wait for it to wear off. We know that no permanent damage will be done and it will be out of his system within 24 hours. We have another quick panic or two before we give up and decide to get to know the visitor a little better, before he disappears again.

We sit in the garden at the table. The other two children have finished their breakfast and disappeared inside to watch telly, while we watch our other son. We ignore the other two. They may have to watch telly all day, whilst we concentrate on this one. We watch the stranger who picks at his croissant as he has no appetite at all. I find a bottle of chocolate Ensure to tempt him, but his interest in stealing those bottles and drinking the contents, has also been stolen.

My semi silent son has been replaced with someone who talks incessantly. His voice is so quiet we can hardly hear him, but he is so animated that we strain to catch every delightful syllable. Instead of 95% Pokemon treatises, he taunts us with social chit chat. The old pal that he met up with at Summer school, what he likes, what he doesn’t. Every so often, he will pause, shake his head to mutter, “this is just a crazy day,” or “what a crazy day,” or “this is such a crazy day.” Each time it’s more or less the same words, but each time there is a different emphasis, it is not scripting nor echolalia. We chat to our chatty son, baffled.

He is unable to swim because of the stitches in his finger. Two children swim whilst he sits at my side. He knows that swimming daily is a healthy form of exercise. He jumps up to announce, “if I can’t swim I’ll do my jogging instead,” and trots of to run three circuits around the pool without falling over or bumping into anything. I have never known him run anywhere voluntarily and certainly not without prompting and encouragement.

He is interrupted from his exercise by a bee. He returns to my side to sit. He sits for 45 minutes, outside the house, by my side without pummeling me for his deep proprioceptive input. Instead I watch his feet work. His legs circle at the knee. They slip the flip flops on, and then off again. He does this continuously for 45 minutes. In-between whiles his toes clench and unclench, each digit in turn like an arpeggio on the piano keys. Most days I cannot get him to put on a pair of shoes at all. Putting on a pair of sandals usually takes between 5 and 15 minutes for two shoes. I am uncertain whether to laugh or cry.

His body riles, a pit of snakes that roil and writhe. He is in a state of perpetual motion, unprecedented. His huge eyes are wide open in an expression of interest and surprise. He grinds his teeth as his face registers change like the riffle of a well shuffled deck of cards. His mouth tic is the worst it has ever been and the dribble is unmistakable. Inside the house he walks with stiff legs, around and around and around, a bear without a cage. His shoulders are high, so that he has no neck, head set at angle whilst his face is that of an expert gurner. Both arms are crooked and locked, one bent at the elbow to display a branch of twig fingers. He continues to chat. I am terrified and ecstatic.

He runs about the house with a purpose. He has several different purposes throughout the day. One purpose doesn’t encroach upon another. He manages each one separately without distractions, interference or interruptions. I have no idea what is happening in his head, I can only see what is happening to his body and guess.

When bed time arrives at 8, he is still wired. We allow his siblings to slumber. Downstairs during the night time, is a distressing time. He does not understand why he cannot sleep. We discuss the matter with him because we can, discuss, that is to say. We read books and cuddle the boy who is no longer an interloper but a fine new friend.

Eventually, just after two in the morning, he falls asleep.

Cheer up, it's a small price to pay, in "theory."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pain Threshold

Once long ago, lost in the mists of time, I visited the dentist in England.

Was it ever thus?

I went along for a particularly nasty procedure, which involved serious anesthesia. The kindly dentist assured me that he would gradually increase the dosage and within 5 – 10 minutes I would feel nothing. Once I felt nothing, he would proceed. I had nothing to worry about, not at all.

After half an hour and an ever increasing dose of pain medication, I was still lively and alert. He upped the dosage again and again and again. After an hour and a half I was dosed. I have a vague recollection that sounded like “enough to put out a cart horse!” and then nothing. To this date, I do not know if I need more anesthetic than Mrs. Average or whether I just need longer for it to take effect?

I have reason to recall this incident as I sit by the bedside of my son in the Emergency Room. Do not fear, it is only a squished finger, but you can’t be too careful. The bones are perfect. The gaping wound is a lucky escape. A finger in the hinge of a door, is likely to come off the worse in battle. During the last hour and a half, we have experienced lots of ‘owie, it hurts bad,’ but no tears. Broadly speaking his pain threshold is unusually low. He tumbles and bumbles about his life full of scratches and bruises, with seemingly no ill effects.

At the triage station we experience a meltdown. “Is he in a great deal of pain?” asks the nurse. I attempt a smile as I calm my son in a heap on the floor. I promise him faithfully that although he has missed ‘electronics time’ that whenever we manage to return home, he will be allowed to have his 30 minutes reward.
“But it will be night!” he squeaks, incredulous.
“I know, but that doesn’t matter. You can play electronics in the middle of the night, just this once.”
“But dah rule!” he gasps, mystified.
“We’ll skip the rule for tonight, just for tonight. Any time that you go to the ER will be an ‘electronics at night’ night.” He bristles with delight, let’s his head drop to my sternum and mutters, “Fank you mom, you are dah bestest, ever!” His face is alive with glee and excitement. Does he even have a blood drenched finger? He chortles and wriggles with joyful anticipation.

A Tuesday night is a relatively quiet night so we are truly fortunate to glide through the bureaucratic system. He does not seem particularly perturbed by the vast quantities of blood.

I am in my best all star cheerleader mode. I am so upbeat and jolly that I know I am the sort of person I would shoot, that is if I were not an upstanding member of the anti gun lobby. I take care to assert enough positive attitude to assure my son that we will, eventually, leave the hospital with his finger still attached to his person, his primary concern. His secondary concern is that he will be unable to play any of his electronic games with a malfunctioning finger.

I greet all pertinent members of staff and discretely point to the ‘speech delay’ part of his notes. They in turn, give me the benefit of the doubt: not a deranged hysterical mother.

I explain how it happened and my son interjects with his cartoon, hysterical voice, “she did it to me!” he bellows. He thrusts an accusatory finger at the centre of the room, where there is an empty space. The doctor looks askance, but I don’t particularly care. I continue. High jinks between siblings, an accident. “I’m gonna get her good!” he continues, in the menacing, ‘evil doer,’ cartoon character. I don’t know if the doctor is familiar with scripting, but it’s irrelevant to the current proceedings. “When I git me home, I’m gonna do her wrong!” he adds, in what seems to my untutored ear, like a perfect Texan accent. I don’t explain or excuse.

A needle of any kind, is not generally an attractive tool in a hospital. The staff are careful, they do not let him see it. Jabs, or shots, as we say in the States, alway produce a negative reaction, but it has to be done. I hold his other hand, his free hand, as the rest of his body is encased in a blue Velcro restraint, for his and the staff’s protection. It would be difficult for any child to remain still. The more still he is, the quicker the procedure will be, the sooner he will be released and all will be well.

I stroke his hair and hold his hand. I talk slowly and calmly. The local anesthetic induces a squeak of pain and surprise, his body tenses with the squalk of “oweei!” He holds it together with a quivering lip and moist eyes.

When the threaded needle pierces his flesh his eyes spout fountains of water, arcing rivulets. They fly from each one, his body rigid and arched, mouth open with screams that rip and shred the air.

“He can’t feel it. It can’t hurt him,. Sometimes they get confused between pain and sensation,” she adds catching my eye. Her stitches are swift and all is over within a minute. It is the longest minute that either of us have ever experienced. I rip off my bifocals and wipe my face, as he does not need confirmation that I have failed and betrayed him, that I should have anticipated and protected him. I am tempted to bite the physician because the correct words escape me. So base, so visceral, so instinctive.

Nothing will convince me that it was sensation rather than pain, but of course, we parents know nothing, far too emotionally involved.

Should you need a little light relief, come and visit me "here."

Just Another Ordinary day

I spend an entire day worrying needlessly about the wrong child, but that’s parents for you. On her 26th birthday my eldest daughter is still in Mozambique, with limited access to a dodgy internet cafĂ©. I check my email at regular intervals throughout the day, just in case. I think of parties and try not to think of predators, animal or human. “When we are snack time! When we are snack time! When we are snack time!” he chants. It’s a ditty and now a song. It’s not even a question, or a statement of intent. This phrase has been cycling around since before breakfast, with it’s poor grammar, cartoon voice delivery and may just qualify the most annoying phrase to date.

During our next debacle at the supermarket he relinquishes control of the cart and attaches himself to my forearm. He holds it gently in his mouth, as a dog might carry a bone. The drool slicks down his chin. He makes for an unusual sight as his legs skippety hop at high speed as we gently propel ourselves down the aisle. I betray him. “He’s pretending to be a puppy,” I say unnecessarily to the faces that look, some with humour, others without. He releases me for a second to bellow, “I not dog, I boy,” before latching straight back on. I am unnaturally pleased that he didn’t tack on the compulsory ‘stoopid,’ which would be quite justified on this particular occasion. This may not the ideal way to conduct a shopping trip, but at least he is close at hand, or rather arm, and remarkably quiet.

We return to the safety of our own home, our sanctuary, all safe and sound. I scan the emails but there is still nothing from my first born child. I wonder what other dangers she is experiencing. I hope that they are limited to mosquitoes, the West Nile free variety.

By supper time I am at my ordinary low ebb. I check the email again. I wonder if it’s yesterday, today or tomorrow for her? I make a note to check the time difference on this ordinary day. It is because it is an ordinary day, that I am not in the least prepared, when she accidentally closes the door on his finger. I fly as I watch his body jangle and jerk like a fish on a hook, and blood spurts back in his face. As I reach the door he does not scream or cry but yelps “help me! Stuck!”

We rush him to the Emergency Room.

Don't worry, he's fine. For more successful news in my other life, visit "here."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Padlock or face the consequences

In the wee small hours I turn off the telly to stagger up to bed.

At least I now have a few ideas about what to cook for supper.

A few wee small hours later, I find a small boy in a pool of light from the television. I return him, reluctantly, to his bed. Failure to lock up the telly cupboard.

The following day, or rather, later in the same day, we break with tradition to have an alternative breakfast. The croissants are warm and inviting. I pop them in the basket wrapped in the checkered cloth, a delightful gift from yesteryear. I am familiar with all the objections in advance, or so I thought.

“Dey have dah smoke!” he squalks in an adenoidal tone as his fingers pinch his nostrils shut.
“It’s just steam, because they’re warm dear.”
“I am not eating dah hot. Dah hot is bad!”
“You don’t have to eat one lovey, but they have to stay on the table, you know that rule.”

It’s all part of the exposure to new foods campaign. We maintain calm resilience, as I know that they’re all hungry first thing in the day.

“They’re called croissants. They’re French.” The other two tuck in with gusto, and offer words of encouragement.
“They’re a bit like bread,….or rather like cake, you might like em if you give em a try!”
“Dey are sweet like ………er cake…….but dey are salty too! You like dah salt!”
“I do not like dah crudite!” We are all too well aware, that vegetables are not included in his diet of 17 foods.
“I do not like the Croissants dear,” I rephrase for him.
“I do not like dah crescents.”
“Ooo yes, they are shaped like that, but they’re called croissants dear.”
“Dey are dah ‘w’?”
“Um sort of, that’s how French people pronounce it. It’s your favourite ‘qu’ sound again.”
“How you are spell?”
I oblige.
“Where it is?”
“Where is what dear?”
“Dah ‘w’?”
“Ah. Well the ‘w’ is silent, just like the ‘g’ in ‘gnat,’” I pander.
“I do not like dah croustini!”
“Croissants dear.”
“Croustini is dah ‘w’?”
“Um, no I don’t think so.”

If he could touch, smell or look at any one of these items, I think I would die of heart failure.

“He is dah croque monsieur?”
I pause, mid munch to look at my speech delayed six and a half year old; dumbstuck, me, not him. I begin to feel distinctly unhinged, more so than usual. Is this a reference to our recent sandwich making exercise with his brother, a school project? Are we entering a second language phase when we have yet to master the first? Is this just an off shoot of his current craze for all words that have a ‘qu’ or ‘cr’ sound?


This is direct result of watching the food channel unsupervised in the middle of the night. I decide that this ‘self exposure’ to new foods, is a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Puzzles, conundrums and other cross words

I re-check the label left on the recycling wheelie bin – “garbage not street.”

This cryptic message is beyond my ability to de-cypher.

I add it to the ever lengthening list.

I negotiate my way back inside the house, herding three children in front of me, to avoid stragglers, and escape artists . I am the slowest ship in the convoy, by default. I clutch the little orange missive for translation later. I bear a strong resemblance to the landing personnel at an airport. “But what?” he bleats as his skips, scurries and whirs.
“What what dear?”
“What he is be meaning?”
“What does who mean dear?”
“Dah orange?”
“Oh, I have absolutely no idea what he….er…it means.” This is one of the many penalties of hyperlexia, the ability to read above one’s chronological age.
“He is ‘street’ he is garbage?”
“Your guess is as good as mine dear.” Probably far better. I try and think about what to cook for supper? Rice and………? Yes, the empty but very clean fridge. Since it is only 8 in the morning, I foresee a very long day ahead of me.

The children have had a variety of therapies for over four years now. I have had a reprieve from these duties, ferrying, for 8 months following my jaw surgery. Now, I am unexpectedly expected to resume my duties. Darn it! Spouse has to work. This means that I must make myself presentable by wearing clothes that cunningly disguise my similarity to a stick insect.

Whilst I have managed a shower, my hair is still wet. Soggy stick insect. I dither. Should I try drying my hair with that machine thingy and risk winding junior up to fever pitch, as he is over sensitive to sound, or should I just stick my head out of the window and hope that the California sun is extra crispy today? Should I attempt make-up? Craggy soggy stick insect. I’m not at all confident that I can remember how to do it? Senile craggy soggy stick insect.

I ice the cup cakes as a displacement activity. I made them before I was awake in the wee small hours. Beware of insects bearing gifts after a long absence. “We’re not cave men, we have technology!” he chants in a never ending stream of echolalia and perseveration. Curse that Spongebob. I should have made supper in the wee small hours instead of cup cakes. Rice and……..cup cakes?

I decide to compromise and bring in the hair drier from the garage, where it generally lives, so I can use it to dry my work on the potters wheel if it becomes unstable.

I dust off the dust and nab the little one, to avoid triggering a meltdown in Mr. Clean. I explain, at length, the purpose, use and overall safety of the device. He looks at me dubiously.
“But he is noise!”
“I know, but you’re getting good at noise now you’re six and a half!”
“I am good but……I not good at noise.”
“You’re getting better!”
“Every day, in every way, you’re getting better and better!” he chants with the perfect reproduction of the echolalic. It is very disconcerting to be quoted so accurately by your children, especially when they are American and you, the mother being quoted, speak with an English accent.

I put it down next to the sink in the kitchen so that I can concentrate on him, repeat and rephrase the message. I rinse my hands from the frosting and shake them.

Barely have I had the chance to speak a word, when he spirals up into a frenzy. He hurtles around the kitchen like a spinning top, wrenching his hair from his head with tight sticky fists. I attempt to shadow him but this merely exacerbates the situation. I take a step back towards the sink. This triggers a further acceleration, but also elicits words, “no, no, no, don’t do it, we will all be killed.” He grabs both my hands in his and pauses, breathless and panting. I am taken aback by his willingness to hold wet hands, due to his severe tactile defensiveness. We stand in the kitchen in this holding position for some minutes. A holding pattern, where he resembles a rag doll with asthma. I wait. “Look!” he puffs. I look towards the counter where the hair drier lies. “Look!” he bellows, “what he is saying!” I notice the label.

A stick insect protected by a knight in ever so slightly tarnished armour. Solution? Give the guy a cup cake and skip the rice.

Thank you for spending a few micro minutes of our world.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Sequencing the autistic child

Whilst I have a tendency to exaggerate, the truth of the matter is that careful planning is often the key to success.

I decide that I will be successful.

To increase my chances of success, I know that the best thing to do is to plot a time line, a feasibility study, for a trip to the supermarket. I am an American. I have a huge positive attitude. Fortune favours the brave! Then I'll check my energy reserves to see if we have a match?

Albertson's is our nearest grocery store. I assume that we will spend the barest minimum of time within it's confines, 10 minutes maximum, to include paying and bagging at the check out.

I determine which six items are most essential, in case we need to bail early, as well as an escape route, that doesn't include carrying anyone.

Ten minutes drive there, and back again, with accompanying screams. That would be half an hour tops. I flick the corner of the on-line coupon I have been saving for an emergency. It would be so wonderful to have all of my groceries delivered to my door, but so extravagant. This is not an emergency, this is 'normal.' Anyway, it would take me far too long to fiddle about on the computer to complete the order.

I estimate the time involved prior to that particular evolution. It may take between 10 and twenty minutes to get both of the boys dressed. Since dressing is an aversive activity for them, I should also calculate the likelihood and duration of meltdowns? So that would be another 50 minutes, as a worst case scenario.

Of course we would need to visit the bathroom before leaving the house. That may take another ten minutes per child. This must include persuasion time. Maybe we should fulfill this step prior to dressing, to avoid the inevitable naked status again? So that’s another 20 minutes, assuming we are meltdown free for this activity.

What else? How many minutes will it take to prompt two small people to attach sandals to their feet? Thank goodness we’re not in sock season! It’s another one of those conundrums that might take ten minutes but could potentially descend into a 50 minute wrangle. I err on the side of caution but do not wish to be overly pessimistic. I plump to split the difference with 25 minutes. What else?

At some stage, eventually, we will need to enter the car. Always the most difficult step. It might also take me quite a while to find them and or catch them too.

Once in the car, and later once they are all in their seats, I will prompt and wait and prompt and wait…… until they all have their seat belts on. This is a skill they both learned some months back. I must not do it for them. They will learn to be independent if it kills me.

I look at my children playing pretend Pokemon and debate whether it is a worthwhile exercise to disturb this peaceful scene at all? Conservatively, this little trip may take all morning, or rather, two hours and five minutes. Not for the first time, I wonder if I could just wait in the car, delegate the responsibility for all these steps to someone else, someone more capable and with more patience? I quite fancy sitting in the car in the garage for 125 minutes on my own. I recheck the fridge to see if it has magically filled itself whilst I wasn’t paying attention?

It hasn’t. My positive attitude wavers.

I check the freezer in the hope that the two year old bag of frozen peas might have become fertile, bountiful and multiplied.

It hasn’t. My positive attitude dwindles.

I decide to be brave and make a start. Reboot.

Some time later, we arrive at the supermarket. My positive attitude has a severe dent in it. I remove my earplugs and tuck them back in their little box duct taped to the dashboard. I turn around to face them and give them careful verbal instructions as to what is expected. My eyes glance over their heads to the car parked behind us. There I see three children playing cards with the windows open. No adult appears to be present. For a few ragged moments, I contemplate going into the supermarket alone. My positive attitude experiences jealously. My green tinged gaze drops down, drawn by the rhythmical kicking of two little feet, naked feet. I scrabble around the floor to hunt for sandals. Did he throw them out whilst we were driving along or did he jettison them whilst we were still in the garage? I should go back and check. I dither. It's taken us so long to get here! Just in time I remember that we are in America. It is all too common to find signs in California that state 'shoes and shirt required.' The supermarket doesn't have one. Hooray! I push the buttons to open the doors and scramble out of the car to grab as many hands as I can gather.

We negotiate the parking lot. A car pauses in the thoroughfare as we wobble on the curbside. The angel driving the car waves us across, his biceps hang from the window and I see the tattoos flex. The angel continues to wait, stroking his beard, as we cavort across the road. One child emits sparks and the other threatens jelly legs. We reach the opposite curb and I glance back at the driver as he revs his pick-up truck, to nod my thanks and bestow sainthood upon him.

We approach the entrance and the electric doors. Strangely the doors are already half open. Standing in the half open doors, is one of the checkers. He tells us that the store is closed for the day. It will re-open at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning for the inaugural official name change to “Lucky.” My positive attitude shrivels to the size of a peanut. One child drops the ground in a heap and the other dashes off at warp speed. My daughter, the whippet, races after the hare, whilst I disentangle the heap from my ankles. I refuse to calculate the number of minutes we have wasted to get to this point in the day, nor convert them into seconds.

Moral – 125 minutes on the computer is not a waste of time if you can subsequently eat. Positive lesson learned.

And the next time you see the ballistic kid and the incompetent parent, just think, 'I am lucky," because some of us are, lucky that is to say.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Zero Sum and the division of labour

During the summer holidays our lives take on a more leisurely pace. Crumble.

Whilst there is no school to attend, I select a minimum number of goals for the day.

The primary goal would be for all members of the family to be dressed in day time clothes by 9 a.m. at the absolute latest.

Spouse appears, bleary eyed after 5 hours sleep, returning home from work at 1 in the morning as slave to a start up business. The night time hours were filled with visitations by small people at irregular intervals. I herd my children in the direction of the breakfast table to a chorus of shrieks of protest whilst spouse fiddles with the equally unco-operative printer. No-one is hungry and the bribe of ‘electronics’ time at 5:30 p.m. is still ten and a half hours away and therefore too remote. The weeping and wailing continues throughout the ten minutes attempt at something that might loosely be described as breakfast.

We attempt table clearing but they turn themselves into a moving obstacle course, bump into one another, drop bowls, clatter spoons, tumble over cereal boxes, spill milk and generally make my head spin. Which mess or child to clear up first?

Spouse nips off to take a shower with the plunger in his left hand. He reappears moment later, semi clad to remove one boy, “you’re coming with me matey, you honk!” A less than savoury aroma. Junior’s lower torso fails to function, so he scoops him up to deliver him to the shower. As soon as his tippy toes lose contact with the floor, his legs whir into bicycling motion at high speed. Watch out Tour de France. I remind myself to encourage him to use the trampolene at regular intervals, if we have any hope of surviving the day.

We attempt teeth cleaning with the remaining two. This should be easy with the reduced numbers. A toothbrush crisis produces mass hysteria, “he’s got my brush! I don’t want his stinky mouth germs!”
“But……..but…….but…” he fizzles out and hurls the toothbrush in her general direction. It is sometimes difficult for him to locate items or distinguish one person’s belongings from another’s, it wasn’t deliberate. He dissolves into a full blown meltdown of frustration, hurt feelings and possibly a dash of inadequacy.

Junior skitters back downstairs to join the mayhem and accidentally comes within striking distance of his flailing brother. More agony ensues and my daughter flees the room and the noise.

I marshal my reserves and try to clear my head. I hear the garage door open as spouse wheels out the rubbish and recycling to the curbside. I park myself on the floor between my two wailing boys to rub backs and pray for peace. mM own personal peace corps wouldn’t go amiss. Calm, if not order, returns after only a few minutes. One sits up and runs his snotty nose along the sofa whilst the other duplicates the action on the carpet. I debate whether it is possible for me to do this today, again?

I take them both to the loo, as strong emotions often supercede more basic functions. Better safe than sorry. Spouse puts all the electronic bribes on to recharge, ready for later, as he was too tired to remember the night before. I attempt to scrub the snail trails of snot, prior to solidification and then make headway on the other spills. My daughter returns from bedroom fully clothed and with a cheery smile, little ray of something or other. She clasps me around the waist, since I am on all fours in a sea of cheerios and milk. Spouse refills the coffee hob so that my emergency caffeine supply is ready. I dither about my stamina quotient for the day, which appears to be severely depleted but has to last until 9 o’clock tonight.

I debate whether it would be a worthwhile exercise to put drop clothes throughout the house as a preventative measure? [translation = dust sheets] Spouse puts the toaster away on the high shelf that’s out of my reach. This avoids the step retrieval step, for shorter people like me. I ask my son to go and choose his clothes, always a time consuming exercise. I move the little one back to the bathroom for teeth cleaning. I trip over spouse fiddling about on the computer again. Who has time for computers when the morning routine is in tatters.

I pick up three sets of pyjamas and I trip over a cat that entwines my legs due to neglect. This is the first step in the sequence of steps to achieve ‘dressed.’ Spouse scatters cat food in the general direction of his bowl so that the fur ball is enticed away from the danger area. My daughter plagues me with questions: what are we doing today? Where are we going today? I am sorely tempted to spend the day building an air raid shelter to hide in.

At 9:01 a.m. he glances at his wristwatch, “Oh heck! I’m so late!” and steps towards the door. I begin to flap. When that doesn’t work I use words, “don’t leave me!” I bleat like a star crossed lover. He turns towards his flapping wife with a blank expression, “what?”
“Look!” I flap some more and open my arms wider so that he is better able to take in the three yards of brown fabric that go to make up my dressing gown. I am not day time attire and no shower.
“But..” he checks his wrist watch again but his body is reversing towards the door simultaneously. I feel a rising sense of panic in both of us, but for entirely different reasons.
“Look at me! You can’t go yet! You’ve done nothing this morning except get ready for work, whilst I’ve been running around like a blue….oh, never mind! Go to work why don’t you!” I pout and fold my arms in defeat. I peer up at him, hoping for the pity vote but his face wears an expression of bafflement. I prompt, “what?” in an unpleasant tone.

His shoulders slump, soft open palms, “I’ve done what I can….unblocked the shower, fixed the printer, sterilized the stinky one, the trash, all the rechargables, coffee, toaster, booked the flights on line,……” he peters out, after only managing to recall a mere fraction of his tasks. The ‘what more do you want?’ remains unsaid. He wears the hangdog expression of the truly unappreciated.

My shoulders sink too as I remember to breathe. I take a few steps towards him and lower my head so that he can kiss my forehead, as substitute during mouth realignment. I resolve to refrain from referring to him as my ‘lesser half.’ I feel his stubble against my skin, “didn’t even have time to shave did you?” I wheedle.

Moral – some people notice nothing until they make contact, head on.

As I write and post, I always wonder, 'is this the one that will make you de-lurk?' So come along now, be a good egg, let's here it for the Dad's.

For an update on parents' ability to communicate effectively, go "here."

Play Therapy? You cannot be serious!

I believe that 'play therapy' is a term of art, but you can pick your own label.

At three in the afternoon I sneak away to pause and make a pot of tea. 9 hours down, six to go. The noise is deafening but they’re happy playing Pokemon. Not only are they playing pretend but they’re playing together. I do not lie. This is the culmination of many years of play therapy.

In theory, since I am more than half way through the day, with the added lure of ‘electronics’ time in two and a half hours, or 150 minutes as displayed on the visual count downer, this should be plain sailing. But all parents are familiar with the late afternoon threat of thunder. Maybe it’s because they’ve been working hard all day, or awaken so early, but whatever the reason, we parents know that we need to keep a little bit back, tucked up our sleeves, for the inevitable crisis moment.

I double check the weekly menu planner on the fridge to anticipate what level of protest is most likely? Only Wednesday, pizza, and Friday, pasta, are easy. The other five nights a week, we endure dinner, which is merely the opportunity for nutritional input. I pull a face; Asian pork on a bed of steamed rice with wilted Bok Choy. What was I thinking of? A real hard sell. I console myself with the thought that the children’s loss is the compost bin’s gain.

I have played doubles all day. This is where I play something with them that they hate, then they’re released to 'not play' for another thirty minutes, whilst I tackle domestic chores. This has worked surprisingly well, such that I have nearly caught up from the aftermath of the weekend. Thirty minutes is a very long time for an autistic child of any age, when not involved in a preferred activity. I can hardly believe that we have traveled such a long way from those tortured 2 minutes sessions, several years ago.

Even today, I still smart at the recollection.

The initial evaluation took many weeks to complete. Of the many stark facts presented in the report, one or two pin pricks were quite startling. They were startling to me because it allowed me to see myself and my children, through other people’s impartial eyes for the first time. An inaccurate approximation of their report would be, ‘the mother sat on the floor and prompted him to choose a puzzle. Minutes later she choose a preferred dinosaur puzzle and completed it for him while he stared off into the distance.’ At that time I had no clue what to do nor how to do it. I was left with the knowledge that I knew nothing and that when the second evaluation was completed on my younger son, that I would know even less.

I sip my tea and look at the mess. Toys are everywhere. This is evidence that people are playing. I do see toys lined up, but they lack the exactitude of earlier days of OCD. More importantly, I see a mixture, blocks and string, Pokemon and trampolines, Spongebob and Lego, saucepan lids and cars. Your child may be good at using a saucepan lid as a spaceship, or a Frisbee, or a hat, but for my children it has always been just a saucepan lid. Not in the category of toys nor imaginative play. As with anything you teach, sometimes it can take a very long time before you see any results.

‘But why would anyone teach a child to play Madeline? They’re kids, that’s what kids do, they play, right?’ And of course until a few years ago, I would have been on your side. Indeed, since I am a lot meaner than you, I would add, ‘what other useful purpose do they serve other than to play,’ or "isn’t that where the definition 'child’s play' comes from dimwit!" But my experience tells me that this isn’t always the case.

But I can tell that you doubt me, so an example may help.

Only a few years ago I took them all to Toys R Us, at my daughter’s request. I submitted to the pleads and begs because there were so demeaning. Although we have always had enough toys to restock Toys R Us without making a hole in our own reserves, very, very few of them were played with. Repetitive movements and lining up, do not count.

After the usual torture of getting everyone ready, into the car and driving to the accompaniment of two screaming boys, we arrived safe and sound. We negotiated the parking lot to arrive at the entrance. I then spent the next twenty minutes standing by the electric doors as my youngest son jumped in and out of the doorway and my other son lay on the floor playing with the wheel on one of the carts. Behind them was every conceivable toy under the sun, but I couldn’t dislodge either of them. I had forgotten the Goldfish cracker bribes for my Hansel and Gretel impersonation. My brave daughter made little exploratory forays, returning at regular intervals to still my beating heart. Eventually I picked the boys up under protest and navigated our way through the check out.

Her glee at her trophy, was more than compensation enough for my old leaky eyes. Indeed I have been malfunctioning ever since.

I know this is hard for many people to understand, that children must be taught to play, but sometimes, it can be done. I have the evidence before me, namely, several hours of tidying up, just in case you were worried that I might be bored or mislaid my grumpiness.

But I hope this is useful, or perhaps just hopeful, to someone?

Addendum – sprinkles on the cake [translation = over egg the pudding] I should like to mention that no-one noticed when 5:30 electronics time arrived, for the first time ever, at least not until 5:45!

Maybe some of us parents need some "play therapy" too!

Friday, August 17, 2007

The second annihilation - and walls have ears

From a few nights ago........

We continue on our wayward path.
“We will all be killed?”
“Er……no I don’t think so.”
"We be extincted like dah dinosaurs?"
"Hmm .. I think we're alright for a wee while yet."
"It dah global warming?"
"I er, what do you know about global warming?"
“Der are meteors tonight?”
“Um…..no I don’t think so.”
“We are all to be killed in dah meteor attack?”
“What’s all this about meteors?”
“Dey happen random.”
“Yes, I know that dear, but why all the business of meteors tonight?”
“I be heared it.”
“What did you hear?”
“Radio.” [translation = "ooopsie"]

Moral - it's called a broadcast for a reason. Never assume that a child is tuned out if peel the potatoes, and you tune in to the news.

At least his
skills are more
effective than
those of his "parents."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Lazy Hazy Days of Summer

When I was young, and irritating, I would pester my mother in the kitchen in the hour that she was preparing dinner.

If I persisted for long enough, and I usually did, eventually she would tell me, “oh, go have some bread and butter if you’re really hungry,” and I always was, really hungry that is to say.

The nutritional message may be different these days, but the underlying fight between delayed gratification and hunger, is a fine balance.

My youngest son now eats bread. Admittedly he will only eat one particular brand of bread, but it’s still bread. We induced him to eat bread by happenstance. Being the chocolate lover that he is, the product Nutella was a gift from on high, liquid chocolate with no bits in it. If you put a teaspoonful of Nutella on a piece of bread the size of your thumbnail, eventually, after many painful screaming months, you too may achieve bread consumption. After a further 18 months, one can slowly alter the ratio of bread to Nutella, if you’re very sneaky.

Whilst they are all out at the park, I prepare colourful, organic vegetables to make kebabs. It’s far too hot to put the oven on, so cremation is the only way to go. Barbeque. I run the sequence through my mind. Junior will obviously not eat the end result but that’s no reason why he shouldn’t help prepare a family meal. Apart from his dodgy fingers and other malfunctioning parts.

It will be a delightful family enterprise, as long as nobody stabs themselves on the skewers. To date, junior will attempt a spoon and sometimes a fork, but anything resembling a weapon is off limits and self imposed. Fortunately, since everything he consumes, could be termed finger food, there is no need for a knife at this stage.

I nip outside to light the barbeque. The bite sized pieces of chicken marinade silently in the refridgerator before they prepare to meet their fate. I remind myself that before too long we should increase the pace on his diet. 17 foods is all very well but 4 foods a year is a sorry record. There is little time during the holidays, to prepare his full panoply of foods and I suspect that my lack of reinforcement and consistency, has allowed a few of them to drop off his agenda and become ‘new’ foods again. Of course I only have myself to blame. It’s my fault that he has eaten a Nutella sandwich followed by chocolate pudding and Goldfish crackers for over a month now. Dinnertime is the least effective time to introduce new foods. Whilst he continues to grow and his appetite has increased, his diet hasn’t matched those spurts.

I reach for the Nutella and leave my renewed resolve on the shelf. Maybe tomorrow? It would be so lovely to have a peaceful dinner, outside on a balmy Californian evening. Perhaps we might have a quiet dinner, quiet enough to hear the naff little water fountain that should induce calm but cannot be heard over the din. No matter how many wind chimes I add to the pergola, we’d need a force ten gale and a 30 piece brass band to out ‘din’ them. I smoosh the finest smearing of Nutella into the air bubbles of the high fibre bread, so that he can’t lick it off and leave the bread untouched. I cut the sandwich into two perfectly even halves. I throw caution to the wind, grab another slice, slick it with Nutella and fold it over, a round and a half of sandwiches to fill the ever growing tummy.

I hear the screams before I hear the garage door open, our normal early warning system. Seconds later three children burst through the door and scatter like thieves. Two carry Jamba Juice cups, from a chain of shops that specialize in fresh fruit smoothies. The empty wrapper in the wake of my son’s departure, tells me that his compensation for the agony of ‘outside’ was a cookie. It is a rather large cookie, the size of CD. 16 ounces of pulverized fruit is likely to dull the hungriest of appetites. I dither before threading the skewers myself, an acknowlegement of zero motivation in children.

Twenty minutes later rainbow kebabs glisten with temptation. The tantalizing wafts of smoke lure spouse away from the computer and inspire him to gather the troops. Barely have our bottoms touched the chair seats, when a weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues from junior. I assume that the rainbows are not attractive to him, seeing as how they are also in close proximity to his person. I assume that barbeque smoke is torture. I assume that since he is not hungry, he would prefer to skip to the pudding. I assume that he is tired and overwhelmed after two hours in the park. I await confirmation of all my correct assumptions.

“Dat is dah bad. Dat is dah pooky. Dat is dah wah wah,” he wails. I find that his terminology does not match my current reference system. His siblings giggle with expectation. This is the nightly travesty that we continue to refer to as dinner.

I turn to spouse, “did he say pooky or pukey?” Perhaps he’s gone off Nutella?
“Don’t ask me?” Perhaps he gone off bread! No, please, I take it all back, just don’t let him have gone off bread! He can’t lose 2 foods just like that. I don’t want to go back to 15 foods, I like 17 foods, even if they are all the wrong ones!
“Pooky, pooky, pooky, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah,” he continues in a high pitched, querulous baby voice, from some dratted cartoon no doubt. The giggles of his siblings turn to guffaws of positive reinforcement, if not encouragement.
“Why is it bad dear?”
“Look it, look it, look it!” he bellows as he stands on his chair to make a passingly fair imitation of King Kong. I look at the sandwich. No foreign bodies have contaminated it as far as I’m aware. It is exactly the same sandwich he has had for weeks. That’s it, he’s bored of it, I’ve over done it by being so lazy, by seeking a little peace. No peace and we’ve lost a piece or maybe two?
“Cut, cut, cut!” he shrieks. He makes ineffective Karate chops on his sandwich.
“Don’t do that dear, you’ll squish it and then it won’t taste very nice.”
“Cut it, cut dah sandwich!” he roars.
“It doesn’t need cutting dear, it’s already folded over.”
“Agh, dah stoopid. I cannot be eating dah fold, I can only be eating dah cut.”
Spouse hands him a knife, “O.k. fuss pot, you want it cut, then you cut it yourself.” One child covers his eyes, one child covers her mouth, as we all watch spell bound at the inaugural knife juggling world record. Junior stabs the sandwich repeatedly with malice aforethought. He manages a ragged tear that dismembers the fold from the rest of the half of the sandwich. He picks up the fold with the nails of his thumb and index fingers and hurls it a good 15 feet, underarm. “Pooky!” he curses, as it lies like a dried up worm on the asphalt. His voice drops several octaves. He sinks his teeth in his transformed sandwich, to blast us with a gravelling tone, “I am the master of disguise!”

Echolalic, yet eerily apt.

But it would appear that this isn't the only branch of the family with communication "problems."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mother’s Little Helper

The new campaign got off to a faulty start, [translation = dry at night and pull up free] but since then we have regrouped with the master plan. [translation = guaranteed success]

No expense has been spared. [translation = gross extravagance] The new game for the Wii [translation = computery thing] has been bound in many inextricable layers of see through tape and been strapped to the wall above his pillow. It is stuck there in what we hope is a tantalizing manner. [translation = constant source of torture] The ladder chart accompanies it. [translation = visual tracking system] All parties present have been debriefed on the de-pull-up plan. [translation = to provide moral reinforcement] Seven consecutive dry nights and the game will be up and the prize will be his.

We note that all youthful parties present are equally anxious that he should succeed in his mission. [translation = true joint attention] The only malingerer is me. I find it ironic that he has already achieved this goal a couple of year ago, but since that time, this skill has fallen by the wayside. My conclusion, though not necessarily a correct one, is that back then, his OCD was of such gargantuan proportions, that he was unable to tolerate his derrier being damp. If this is the case, then it might be reasonable to assume that his OCD has lessened, or possibly that he is too fatigued from the struggles of the day, to be bothered with such trifles at night? Despite these doubts, we soldier onwards and hopefully upwards.

Later, on this same first night, I am awoken by what sounds like a baseball coach in my bathroom. I find my youngest son sitting on the throne, [translation = loo] with his older brother close at hand, shouting things. [translation = taking turns is a challenge at night] I take both sleepy boys back to bed and tuck them in. I return to my own bedroom and pass out again. Some 55 minutes later, I am awoken by mutterings in the bathroom. I again find both my boys closeted. I return them to their beds, tuck them in, fumble my way back in the dark to my own bed and collapse.

We repeat this exercise throughout the night. By 5 minutes past five, I give up and decide that I will be awake. I follow the voice back to the bathroom.
“What’s going on dear?” I ask the one who speaks, as I steady the prince on the throne, who appears to have passed out, floppy with closed eyes.
“You said!” he offers.
“What did I say dear?”
“You said I am dah big brother!”
“Indeed you are dear.”
“Well what dear?”
“Well……er……..I am dah big brother!”
“I know that dear, but what are you doing up in the middle of the night?”
“I am dah helper!”
“Yes, indeed you are, you’re very helpful, but wouldn’t it be a better idea to get some sleep?”
“You said!” I decide to shut up, as I’m not helping. I remember to count to 15 and include ‘ands’ to permit his word retrieval system to kick in without constant interruptions from his mother.
“You said…….dat I am dah big brother……and I am to be a helper to him!” he throws an accusatory finger at the inert body. “So I tell him…..’you can do it, I know you can…..come on….try, try, try again’……just like you say.” I lift the body, flip him over my shoulder and walk towards their bedroom, whilst his brother skips ahead of us. “I done good? I am a good reminderer?” he enquires with enthusiasm. “Er……yes……you did great, you are a very helpful big brother. How many times did you remind him dear?”
“I dun know, but lots!” I plop his little brother upon the bed and he instantly curls up like a prawn, still asleep, bare from the waist down.

“You know somethink?” sparks the awake one. [translation = voluntary reciprocal exchange]
“No, what?” No words are forthcoming. He points and the words flow with the gesture, “on his……er……..but……he has a big……red……elipse.” [translation = ‘oval’ would do!] The imprint of the toilet seat is unmistakable. I wonder how many minutes during the last 10 hours, he has been parked like a rag doll? This crowning glory provides visual evidence of a campaign trail, which already appears to be floundering. [translation = fatal flaw not accounted for]

But my list of "failures" continues to "grow."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A rose by any other name

On Sunday morning I debate whether it is feasible to clean the fridge or not? [translation = well overdue]

I glance at my spouse with his nose glued to a computer screen. I interrupt his concentration to ask his opinion. [translation = feasibility study mate] I translate for him why I need his opinion. [translation = will you look after the children so that my time is free to attend to the rot in your refridgerator]

“Sure!” he says with enthusiasm as his face turns back to the monitor. I spend far too long fighting the fridge, interspersed with chasing my children, until I am able to pronounce that the fridge is clean and the children are correspondingly dirty.

I examine the interior of my clean and empty fridge and dither. Shall I toss everything back in there and risk food poisoning, or should I sort and dispose of the more dubious items? I glance across at my spouse deep in the mire of designing a GPS system for the children. I dither. Should I disturb his endeavours and risk losing my children, or should I attend to my own mould, [translation = shower] or should I spend far too long determining the life span of limp spinach and other sundry items? I pull over the compost bin and set to it.

It occurs to me that I appear to have temporarily mislaid the raging feminist facet of my personality.

Later, I slam the fridge door with it’s nearly empty contents and skip to the big compost heap for a transfer. On my return, I dither. Should I shower or therapize someone or water the garden before it gets too hot? Maybe I could combine the first and last and skip a step completely? I wonder if my neighbours would appreciate this combination? I glance at my spouse deep in design. I interrupt his creativity to request assistance. “Is it o.k. if I nip upstairs and have a shower?” He blinks at me blankly, “sure, knock yourself out!” I translate. [translation = adult supervision of children is required] “Sure, take as long as you like.” I pout. I decide that I will not translate his missive and instead I shall take him literally. [translation = be a big fat meany and dilly dally]

I nip upstairs, three at a time and dive into the shower for my usual pit stop. Afterwards I attempt ‘drying’ with a damp towel, give up and dress with care. [translation = pull on an old sundress] I decide that if the feminist facet has eloped, then I shall expose the womanly wiles instead. [translation = serious personality disorder] I dither. Which one? Moisturizer, acne cream or wrinkle killer? I slap on a bit of each and hope for the best. I ram the bifocals back on and bounce down the stairs having completed my ablutions to the best of my ability in approximately four and a half minutes. [translation = getting very lax]

I present myself to my family. I decide to be helpful and give them a hint, “tad ah!” I spin, in my sundress, a swirl and a twirl.
“You are er…….dizzy?” asks one with a certain degree of uncertainty.
“You are dah princess?” is another tentative offer. [female attire always has this affect on them] They try again.
“You are dah flower?”
“You are dah colour…..ful?” We spiral down into a guessing game of twenty questions. [translation = or is that really ‘up’]
“Er…dah dress up?”
“No, no, no……I got it…..dah Power Ranger!”
“No, no, no…….dah hero guy!”
“Dat dog ……dah one wiv dah spots!”
“Ooo yeah, das right…….er……Lab……Lab…….Lab…..um…..Dalmation!”
I pout. [translation = I sometimes wonder why I bother!] My hands settle on my hips even though I try very hard not to adopt an attitude, as my daughter glances up at me from the sofa, “you’ve got white goopy blobs on yur face Mom!”

Note to self – check mirror before making next presentation

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