Thursday, December 16, 2010

Questions for David

Why do you insist on having the oven set at 300 degrees (or "three year-o year-o" in your language)? Do you know that no recipe known to man actually calls for anything to cook at 300?

Why does it bother you so much to have the microwave timer counting down the minutes? What type of radar do you have that tells you it is set anyway? How long will it take me to remember that I have to set the timer on the stove instead of the microwave because you cannot reach it? How many dozen cookies have I undercooked because I had no clue how long they had been cooking and was afraid of burning them?

Having just subscribed to XM satellite radio in part because I enjoy being able to see the name of the song and the artist so that I can write it down on a scrap of paper and hope not to lose it just in case some day I may have some time to add some songs to my iPod, why do you insist on having the clock on the display instead of the audio information? What difference does it make to you and how do you see it from the backseat anyway?

Do you watch the clock continuously or is it a coincidence that you often announce the time, precisely on the hour, like the family town crier, "seven year-o year-o." Okay, so maybe I just discovered my answer to the previous question.

Why, after being excited about watching your cousin play basketball in the city tournament, do you want to leave the minute the buzzer sounds? Does the sound actually hurt you?

Why did you cry this morning when I told you that you had presents to give to your teacher and the two class paraprofessionals and then cry again at school as you passed them out?

Why, after four months or walking backward to the bus every single day did you suddenly decide to walk forward?

Today wasn't exactly a trying day, but a confusing one. David and I sometimes have difficulty communicating the most basic wants and needs so I know he cannot answer these questions for me. What I do know—some days I feel like I am full of answers and other days, like today, only questions.

P.S. I sat down while waiting for Andrew's Winter Concert to begin, fully intending to finish writing my annual Christmas letter, but this post is what came spilling out. For those of you on my Christmas card list, I apologize for the delay.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tis the Season

I usually reserve this space for stories about David. After all, he is the one with autism. I also tell stories about our older son, Andrew, but usually in the role of a supporting character to the main character David. It has been more than three years since David was diagnosed (yes, I need to rewrite my profile) and I have finally learned that our life does not have to revolve around autism. So, today the story is all Andrew, the main event because he, too, makes me smile, shake my head, laugh, cry and often exhibits wisdom beyond his years.

Last Saturday, Michael was headed out the door to pick Andrew up from a sleep over and as he grabbed his keys, he asked me if he should stop on the way home to get me a mocha. He had a knowing smile on his face because he already knew the answer to that question, but I stopped cleaning long enough to answer in the affirmative.

Apparently, the line at the Starbucks was pretty long by the time they arrived and Michael momentarily considered skipping it altogether until, I am sure, he pictured my disappointed face when I learned that I would not have the benefit of a sudden surge of caffeine to help me race through the house, picking up and cleaning, addressing Christmas cards, wrapping presents and making candied pecans. The drive-through lane was already full, so Michael waited on the access road leading up to the drive through as people often do. When a spot in the lane opened, the woman in the car behind Michael drove around him and into the open spot. Of course, Michael was annoyed, but when it happened a second time, I think he was bordering on enraged. According to Andrew, Michael pulled into the lane almost bumper to bumper behind that woman. He wanted to make sure she "understood" that he, too, had been waiting to pull in, Michael later explained to me.

Andrew sometimes gets uptight and certainly sounded that way when he called me from the car. "I think Dad is going to HIT someone," he told me. "With his fist?" I asked, which would be totally uncharacteristic of my husband.

I am sure that Michael did not even hear the click, click, click, click as Andrew searched for a song on his iPod, which was plugged into the car speakers. I am sure he did not notice when Andrew found the song he had been looking for, or pay attention to the familiar notes as the piano melody began. I am not even sure how long it took him to realize that the song Andrew had chosen was "Let it Be" by the Beatles.

It doesn't really matter what holiday you are celebrating this time of year, Andrew's advice is probably sound. We all could do a better job of letting it be--not getting annoyed when the line is long, not getting so involved in the hustle and bustle, that we forget about the season itself. Now, if you will forgive me I have to go wrap some presents.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Random Thoughts

The topic for the "Special Needs Blog Hop" is "random thoughts" and it would seem so many of my thoughts are random these days that it is hard to choose. I have been thinking, however randomly, about the interesting dichotomy that autism has created in David. His great difficulty in communicating makes him extremely dependent. Although he is increasingly able to make his needs and wants known and recently has even begun to make unsolicited comments, he still is extremely reliant on us to communicate for him especially when we are out in public.

The interesting contradiction, however, is that David's difficulty in communicating, the very same issue that causes him to rely so heavily on us, has also made him exceptionally independent in other areas. Because of the late development of his language, he has become a pretty clever and enterprising young boy, a problem solver in his own right. He continually amazes me with his ability to assess a situation and often develop his own solution rather than asking for help, which would be considerably more difficult for him.

For example, David recently finished eating a piece of cinnamon toast—you know, the kind Mom used to make you with butter and cinnamon sugar melted on the toast, but made considerably more healthy, I am sure, by swapping the butter with Brummel and Brown—and I could tell he was not happy by the amount of cinnamon sugar still left on the plate when he had finished eating the toast. I watched him consider the situation for a brief moment before he raised the plate to his face and started to blow all of the sugar into a pile against the far lip of the plate, essentially a human leaf blower, making it much easier to lick the leftover cinnamon sugar. That's my boy!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Holiday Tradition

Every family creates their own holiday traditions and one of my favorites growing up was shared with my Mom and older sister. After the first of December, we would scour the television listings, occasionally even allowed to splurge and buy the holiday issue of TV Guide that listed all of the Christmas specials. What we were looking for was a classic Christmas movie like It's a Wonderful Life or Holiday Inn, but the most watched by far was White Christmas starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. We would make popcorn, get out the sleeping bags and have a slumber party. My sister and I would sleep on the floor of the family room, Mom got the couch and we would leave the Christmas tree lights on all night--except that really Mom would wake up in the middle of the night and turn them off so we didn't burn the house down, which if you know my Mom will make sense to you even though the artificial tree that we had inherited from my Grandparents was made of those green branches resembling toilet brushes that could in all likelihood have survived a nuclear disaster.

I have continued this tradition with my older son, although please don't tell his friends. The movie selection, of course, has shifted. It still must have a holiday setting, but with added testosterone more along the lines of one of the Home Alone movies or The Santa Clause. I still watch White Christmas every year, but usually late at night while everyone else is asleep and I am wrapping presents. I grew tired of the heckling that I received from my family while watching and they grew tired of hearing me sing every word to every song. Yes, I know them all.

I wonder sometimes what kind of traditions David will have with his family. Will he stay up late to watch his Christmas favorites with his kids? I am somewhat skeptical because David's all-time favorite Christmas movie is a little bit unusual. Care to take a guess? It is The Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular and no, I am not kidding. Could I make that up? Would I make that up? There has been many an unsuspecting visitor to our house who has been subjected to David's rendition of the spectacular because, much like I know every word to the songs of my favorite Christmas movie, David knows each kick and every tap of his. And he performs the steps with such earnestness that it is difficult to keep from laughing out loud. There is nothing more exciting to him than when he times it just right so that he manages to slide down the side of the sofa and plop onto the ground at exactly the same time as the collapsing soldiers in the famous parade of the wooden soldiers. The problem is that, even with his many hours of practice, David is not a Rockette. David's high kicks more closely resemble Clever Hans the counting horse tapping out numbers with his hoof than a graceful long legged Rockette. And then there have been the couple of occasions where David has gotten side tracked dancing to the Rockettes on the way to his bath and performed his own sort of male burlesque show, to put it politely. Everyone in my extended family, with a whopping three copies between us, has seen the DVD so many times we have considered petitioning the Rockettes to release an Easter Extravaganza or even a Groundhog Day Gala. Please?

Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring The Rockettes
No offense to the Rockettes, but I think this is one Christmas tradition I probably will not try to foster with David. And someday I expect his kids to thank me.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Composer

Andrew started middle school this year and was given a choice of music classes. Because he does not play an instrument, he had two choices--general/vocal music, or he could participate in chorus. He has always enjoyed singing and had also been selected to participate in a district wide select choral group for 5th to 8th grade students, so he chose chorus.

To his surprise, music class is now more than just singing as he is beginning to learn music theory. He is studying composers and the vocabulary and terminology of music and it has been interesting to see him sometimes thinking in musical terms.

Raymond Briggs' The Snowman
A few days ago, Andrew was watching David. "Hey Mom," he said, "Don't you think David is a composer?" I am not sure how I answered him. I didn't really even know what he was talking about, so I paused for a moment to go see what David was doing. He had been watching "The Snowman," a DVD based on David Briggs' book about a small boy whose snowman comes to life. The book is simply a series of illustrations and aside from a short narrative at the beginning, the DVD also has no words. But it has music--magical, fanciful music that David adores and he was dancing around the family room as the music played. I probably watched for two full minutes before I saw it. Woven into his wide, sweeping arm movements, he was using sign language. Snow. Wind. Stars. Night. He was signing as his way of singing—adding his own words to the music and it really was strikingly beautiful.

Composer. There have been many, many terms and labels attached to David, but composer is not one of them until now. Interesting how Andrew's observations about David almost always focus on one of his strengths. Composer. Add that one to the list.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Home by Another Way

We are still in the process of putting up our Christmas decorations, an activity which seems to last until I throw up my hands in exasperation and decide that enough is enough and the rest of the decorations should just go into the garage sale pile. David, however, was smitten the minute he saw the lights on our tree and actually, for the first time, participated in some of the decorating. I even allowed multiple ornaments to be hung on a single branch—oh, the horror--and have kept the rearranging to a minimum.

Packed in one of the seemingly endless boxes were some Fisher Price figurines, a feeble attempt to give little hands something festive to play with that is not fragile or a family heirloom. The set had originally been purchased for my niece (now in college) and is actually the remainder of a Christmas train, complete with the usual cast of characters—Santa, elves, reindeer, a tree and snowman, and a complete nativity set all thrown into the same box.

Interestingly, David has taken the time to separate the pieces. He has summarily rejected the Santa, his Christmas train and all of his cohorts, which is interesting because you would think he would be fascinated that the man gets to wear red from head to toe. But, since David does not really like to open presents and does not like new toys, I suppose he doesn't really see the need. Instead, he has been playing constantly with the nativity scene, plus the snowman and the fully decorated Christmas tree figurine thrown in just for kicks.

When you have such a severe communication gap with your child, it is difficult to know what they understand. At six, I would hope that David understands the difference between the commercial Christmas and the religious holiday, but I didn't really believe that he did. We are still working on yes/no questions in speech therapy and have not graduated to discussions of the secular versus the religious. His actions with the figurines made me hopeful, however. Maybe he really does "get it." Maybe he absorbs more than I give him credit for. And then I saw this

The whole cast of characters apparently left the scene of the nativity and hopped a ride on the nearest school bus. Sorry to quote James Taylor again, but we just bought tickets to his upcoming concert and I am reminded of his song "Home by Another Way" from the Never Die Young album:    
     Those magic men the Magi
     Some people call them wise
      Or Oriental, even kings
     Well anyway, those guys
     They visited with Jesus
     They sure enjoyed their stay
     Then warned in a dream of King Herod's scheme
     They went home by another way.

So, did David imagine them all lining up in an orderly fashion and walking (backward, of course because David still walks backward) to the big yellow school bus? He always chooses the same wise man to be the driver, which is itself a miracle since his hands are full of gold (or frankincense or myrrh—I cannot tell because it is still in the box). The rest of the crew is just haphazardly thrown into the bus because, as you know, seatbelts are still not required on school buses, but I am sure they can make good time. I think they can take Santa and his Christmas train any day.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Belated Thanksgiving

I have always really considered November a month to be endured, listed in my own personal ranking of months almost dead last--only above February and at that, by just the slimmest of margins especially considering that February is shorter.

If I have to justify my statement, I guess I will start with the weather. By November, fall's splendor is over and usually we have not yet seen the beauty of a wonderful winter day, filled with snow days and snowball fights, sledding and cinnamon rolls.

It also doesn't help that David was diagnosed in November, a fact which is recognized each year by my dear friend, who always remembers the occasion with a note, a phone call, or a card—always altered because, strangely enough, Hallmark does not have a section of cards to mark the anniversary of your child's diagnosis with a developmental disorder, so sometimes she has to get creative.

I am somewhat ashamed to admit my aversion to November, especially since I have just spent some time reading what others have so eloquently written about Thanksgiving. I do not mean to imply that I am not thankful, because I most certainly am.

So in the final hours of the month of giving thinks, I must add my little list. Taking for granted the usual laundry list of family and friends, health and home, in the land of autism, I am thankful for every word that David utters—every single one. Even when they come out in a jumble, like the consistently used sentence, "I get shut door me." Even when they might be annoying or embarrassing, such as this past Sunday, when the seemingly rhetorical question was repeated during the sermon a third time for emphasis, "What time is it?" and David answered, "Time to go home!"

I am thankful that when David has managed to finagle his way into our bed, I always feel his little bare foot inch his way toward me until he is touching my leg, his way of being connected to me--a comfort to him even in sleep.

I am thankful that David has adjusted so well to Kindergarten, in spite of the fact that I have a hard time finding elastic waist pants to fit his extremely tall, but very lean frame and so he has, on more than one occasion, accidentally flashed his SpongeBob underpants to everyone on the playground.

I am thankful that David has been blessed with a big brother who, even at a young age, protects him and worries about his future. Most recently, Andrew told me that if David is not able to have a job when he "grows up" that David and his wife will have to move into his house. Andrew decided that he would then quit his job to take care of David. When I asked him who would be earning the money in this scenario, he answered without hesitation and in all sincerity, "the girls."

I do have plenty to be thankful for and I am, but not the least of which is that November has finally come to an end.