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Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Current Exchange Rate

She pleads as only she can.

I squirm in response and fob her off with some nonsense or other.

“But I’ll help, really I will, I promise.”

I do not like to see my youngest daughter beg, especially for something that is easily within my power to grant.

“Maybe soon.”
“We’ll have to see.” May my soul burn in hell forever.
“But why can’t we have one this weekend?”

I do no sigh or stamp my foot or run away. I think she knows the truth of the matter but I do not want to give her cause to resent her brothers.
“Tell you what. We will have a yard sale, but not this weekend. Now I need some time to think about this but I promise you we’ll have one.” She looks at my eyes, checks my mouth and then gives me an excited hug.

Now all I have to do is work out how to follow through?

It’s not the usual planning that concerns me. We’ve lived in the States for 12 years. A Yard sale is just like a car boot sale, except you don’t sell things out of the boot of your car and you don’t have to drive the car to the car boot sale. Instead you put all the items you wish to sell in your front garden for passersby to see. Generally the ‘sale’ is on the driveway rather than in the garden itself, which is why it’s not called a garden sale, which might confuse people into thinking that you were selling plants. It’s quite easy to convert the British version to the American version.

In addition, you need a few signs on poles to direct traffic to where you are.

Sometimes Americans have a ‘block’ sale, where all the home owners in the ‘block’ have a huge sale together. It’s all very easy. Sometimes there can be quite a party atmosphere. Often the neighbours will wander over to say hello, even if they have no intention of buying anything, all very pleasant. Or it could be.

So why have I put off this venture for so long, when my house is stuffed to the gunnels? It is full of things that I would happily donate to charity, just to be rid of it all? Why do I regularly go to the Salvation Army or the Thrift store to off load this surplus, rather than have a yard sale and maybe make a little money? Obviously, we are as rich as Croesus and have no need for money to offset the therapy bills, or we’re lazy, or perhaps our socialist tendencies have run amock?

Or perhaps there’s something else going on?

The first problem, er…issue, is containment. Our house is the only one on the street that has a fence around the garden and two gates with locks. But we would have the sale on the driveway. Driveways are huge in America and we are no different. You could easily fit two rows of three cars on the driveway, and heaven knows how many diddy little European cars.

The drive is house brick coloured, with a white picket fence down one side leading up to the house. On the other side, our neighbour has the typical open plan arrangement. Tree lined at 3 foot intervals, on the side that borders our drive. The drive inevitably leads to the road. The road is Tarmaced or ‘black topped’ as we say out here. There is no sidewalk or path because we are in an unincorporated area of San Jose. Black road, reddish drive. The difference is obvious to everyone, well nearly everyone.

The emptiness of the drive is contrasted by the fast moving traffic on the road but for some reason, this difference is not noticeable to my sons. The thought of having them loose on the driveway, in a crowd of strangers, weighs heavily on my mind. This kind of mathematical problem is easy to solve: $25.83 from the yard sale proceeds balanced against the cost of loss or injury, to two little boys.

I am confident that this matter will fade given time and maturity, but of course there is another major hurdle to overcome.

A yard sale, so commonplace and ordinary, screams social skills. All those little huge things require pre-planning, modeling and practice. I don’t know how many hours it would take to plan a good yard sale with labels and the correct positioning of items, but I do know that the social skills required to pull of such a feat, requires several lifetimes.

The boys do well with visitors that they know, although ‘doing well’ often means ‘ignore,’ to all intents and purposes. Fortunately, familiar visitors are fine with this. They know that this means that the boys are at ease in their presence.

Strangers do not fare so well. Strangers get ‘the treatment.’ It’s like a faulty engine on a chilly morning. My social son runs to the door, flings it open to bang back on the wall and then breathily asks many questions, “who you are? You are my friend? You are play? Er......you wanna come in for a playdate?” or some variation on a theme. The young man trying to sell magazine subscriptions, is a little taken aback as my son skips around his body with agitated hand gestures and invades his personal space.

My other son is more cautious, nibbles his fingers and spins on tip toes. His apparent shyness, is offset by his voice that bellows statements at fifty decibels, “I am 6. My name is Leo. I am home. My mum is call me dah lovely. Dah lovely has two ‘l’s’ which is good, which makes 3 ‘L’s which is gooder still which is like dah rhyme but not really.” The guys who want to save our souls, have lost their cherubic smiles and clutch leaflets closer to their snowy, crisp shirts. I pray that words relating to salvation or everlasting hell and damnation do not pass their lips.

And yet, not so long back, when the doorbell rang it had the same effect as a fire alarm. I was unable to leave them. My only option was to carry two screaming children to the door. They behaved as if I planned to dangle them over an open well. Overall, that was a far less welcoming welcome for a visitor.

This is why some siblings of some special needs children, get a rough deal. The ordinary becomes mountainous. As she follows in their wake to the front door, she’s at ease and unflustered, “don’t mind them,” she’ll smile. She’ll hug one brother and muss the hair of the other, “they can be a bit Cuckcoo sometimes when they get excited.”

The fact that we have one laundry basket full of trains and another two, full of dinosaurs, is concrete evidence of a potential, sale of the century. Their ability to barter, bargain and banter may be weak, but their willingness weigh in, means we’ve won a little wriggle room. Does this tip the scales in our favour?

A promise is a promise, so I’ll keep you posted.

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