Friday, December 23, 2011

Driven to Distraction

I have finished my Christmas preparations (except for the handful of presents to be wrapped, because I would not want to be able to make such a definitive statement without a caveat) and I am feeling reflective on the eve of Christmas Eve, as I always do this time of year. Each year, there are things I would like to do differently the next year and things that I wish I could remember, like how many pounds of pecans I need to order in October from the St. John's Ladies' Aid in order to prevent the inevitable last minute trip to the grocery store to purchase more, which causes me great consternation because they are usually almost twice as expensive for pecans that are not nearly as good.

The answer to that question, by the way, is six. I always make six pounds of pecans and maybe now that I have actually typed that sentence it will be retrievable from the depths of my gray matter next fall.

I need the pecans to make my world famous Swedish Nuts, a recipe handed down from my Grandmother, who incidentally is not Swedish, but "German Nuts" do not sound nearly as appealing--once again, a sextuple batch, because if I say it enough times I might actually remember. Six batches gives me enough to exchange with neighbors (paired with the also world famous peanut clusters), to take to work and share with our family in town.

This year I had assembled the ingredients, including the recently purchased additional two pounds of grossly inferior nuts, and was getting ready to start the first double batch. I had tuned the radio to the local station playing all Christmas music, all the time. I had even put on an apron. Yes, this is serious business and you can just about hear the David story coming, can't you?

For this recipe, you essentially make a meringue, add lots of cinnamon and sugar and then bake that mixture onto the toasted pecans with a stick of butter. I told you it is a good recipe. I turned on my KitchenAid mixer to make the first of three double batches of meringue.

Upon hearing the sound of the mixer, David came running into the kitchen. He has a love/hate relationship with my mixer. He loves to watch it run, but he absolutely loathes the sound of it running especially on high. And since it is extremely difficult to whip egg whites into a meringue with the mixer on low, I ignored his repeated requests to TURN IT DOWN and suggested that perhaps he should go find his headphones.

Well, instead of muffling the sound with headphones, David decided to neutralize it in his own way, by running Michael's cordless power drill, also on high speed, next to my right ear. I suppose he had just created his own white noise.

But when that did not quite have the desired effect, he added the sound of his favorite You Tube car wash video and kept resetting the kitchen timer in one minute intervals so that he could watch it countdown from 59 to zero. 

I almost lost it. I could not really concentrate on my recipe, which fortunately for my cholesterol I only make annually, so it is not too familiar. I was getting aggravated.

And then, I remembered a seminar that I attended a few years ago. An occupational therapist was trying to put some of the challenges of autism, or any type of sensory processing disorder, in terms that the general public could understand. She asked us to imagine driving in very icy conditions. Because you have to concentrate so hard on keeping the car on the road, you tell the kids to shut up, turn down the radio, and turn off your cell phone. She asked us to imagine what it would be like if we could not turn off or tune out those distractions.

Much like trying to concentrate on a recipe with the mixer running, the radio on, a car wash video playing, the oven timer beeping every minute and a drill running.

I often say that I would like to be able to be inside David's head, just for a minute, so that I could see what he is seeing, feel what he is feeling. And, on that day, I do believe that he unintentionally gave me a glimpse.

I will try to be more patient when David seems overwhelmed. I will try to remember that I can usually turn off my distractions.

Because many times David cannot.

Author's Notes:
No, we do not routinely let David play with power tools, but the drill is out because Michael has been assembling some inexpensive office furniture. Rest assured there was no drill bit in the drill.

People who do not intimately know someone with autism may now be asking themselves, They have videos of carwashes on YouTube? Yes, and they have a great selection of elevator videos, too. David would be happy to show you a few of his favorites.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Santa Secret Code

It was about this time last year that Andrew reached that age.  He still wanted to believe in Santa, but pure practicality was winning out.  He would ask me if I really believed in Santa and I would dance around the issue, giving him an answer worthy of the Republican debates—something along the lines of Christmas magic blah, blah, blah.  It was not until a trusted teacher asked his class when they stopped believing in Santa that the jig was up.

It is not a secret that David has never been a fan of Santa.  We had our first and sure to be last failed visit to Santa a few weeks ago and I was ready to drop the Santa issue altogether, but at school this time of year the talk is ALL Santa ALL the time.

I had a meeting with David’s speech teacher and she told me that the assignment had been to write a letter to Santa.

Uh oh.

David sits at a table with two or three other kids and he often looks to these peers for direction, to be sure he is doing what he is supposed to be doing.  So far, so good.  Well, apparently David had no interest in completing the assignment so he actually copied the letter of one of his table mates.

He copied the letter, but added a David twist.  It was upside down and backwards.  Who knows what he was thinking, because he certainly won’t tell me.

Maybe, it was pure stubbornness, called “non-compliance” in autism circles.  He does not like Santa and did not feel like wasting time writing to him.

Or maybe, just maybe it was a test--a secret code for Santa.  Maybe he was thinking, okay, you may be merry and jolly with your twinkling eyes and your ho, ho, ho and all that, but let’s see how smart you really are.  The real Santa should be able to crack this code.

Let’s hope the real Santa does crack the code because I have looked at the letter, held it up to a mirror and I have no idea what it says.

Maybe it is better that I don’t know.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Christmas Slippers

The only Christmas present that David has requested is a pair of slippers.  Honestly, he didn’t really even request slippers.  I coaxed it out of him.  In recent weeks, he has been clomping around in my slippers, so I asked him if he wanted slippers for Christmas and, to my surprise, he responded with an enthusiastic “YETZ.” 

I am not sure why he seems to have taken a fancy to my slippers, which are falling apart and will hopefully soon be replaced, hint, hint.  He always comments that they are SO soft and sometimes even rubs them against his cheek—EWWW.

So, I first looked at my beloved Target store and found slippers, but they had skulls on them.  No, thank you.  I then searched several places online, but I could not find kids slippers without a heel, the kind that you slip into, and I know that David would think the other kind look too much like shoes.

He requested a color and, to my surprise, it was WHITE, not red.  But then again, my slippers are white.  I am sure THAT will be easy to find--white slippers that fit a seven year old boy.

Michael had to run to Kohl’s over the weekend and I asked him to look in the women’s department for the smallest pair of slippers that he could find.  David has big feet, and I knew that the slippers would still be too big, but then again, he is used to wearing mine so at least they would be closer to the correct size.  I also happened to mention that my slippers needed replacing because sometimes it helps to be direct.

When Michael arrived home, he was pretty pleased with himself and could not wait to spoil the surprise.  Yes, I am getting slippers for Christmas and so is David.

He had found the very same slippers that I am currently wearing—white with pastel rosettes.  And now, David and I will have matching pairs.  Michael just didn’t think David would have been happy with any other pair and he was probably right.

When you have a child facing some challenges, sometimes you are so focused on their hard work, their milestones that you do not notice changes in yourself.  But I noticed. 

The Michael I first met would not have been willing to buy his son slippers with flowers on them.  The Michael of a few years ago wouldn’t have been so quick to know what would make David happy.  The Michael of today was thrilled with his purchase.

I’ll stick with the Michael of today.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Magic

Michael had asked the age old question, "Why are there pistachios in your underwear drawer?"

What the hell were you doing in my underwear drawer?

Let me first say that this post has nothing to do with David, so if you came here to read about him you can stop now. Unless you consider that really everything has to do with David in some way and in this case, it probably stems from the fact that, to put it mildly, David sometimes makes things just a tad more difficult. Things like shopping, wrapping presents, addressing Christmas cards, decorating the tree--pretty much everything associated with Christmas is more challenging with David around. Consequently, we sometimes cut a few corners.

Michael had seen some black Friday specials on and since the stock market is actually open for three and a half hours on the day after Thanksgiving because the world economy might collapse (even more) if it were simply to close for the entire day, I was at work. And since I was at work and the Amazon offers would not still be available by the time I got home, he went ahead and ordered his own Christmas presents.

When they started to arrive, Michael unceremoniously unpacked them one by one—the cordless drill, the DVD showcasing the Rolling Stones appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, even the Swiss Army knife and put them in a pile in the living room.

Now, I must admit that I already have my Christmas present and have been using it, which is another story for another day, but it bothers me that Michael is not really going to receive anything that is a surprise. So when I was at Target, I had noticed that they had little sleeves of pistachios, perfect for a Christmas stocking. Michael loves pistachios and since I do not, we never have them in the house. Into the cart they went. And then into the laundry basket with the clean clothes that needed to be carried upstairs and while Michael was helping David get ready for bed and I was putting laundry away, I discovered them just as Michael came back into the room. It was too late to sneak them into the guest room closet with the other Christmas presents waiting for wrapping paper, so I threw them in my dresser drawer before he could see them.

Fast forward a few days, when Michael asked the infamous question, "Why are there pistachios in your underwear drawer?"

I hope that I phrased my answer more politely than the immediate response that popped into my head, but I am certain that I broke my Mother's cardinal rule that you never answer a question with another question. "Honey, whatsoever were you doing in my underwear drawer?"

To this day, I still do not know the answer to that question. He tried to convince me that he was putting laundry away, but in the almost 15 years that we have been married, I do not think that he has ever put MY clean laundry away.

He certainly was not in there looking for something, because—remember the 15 years of wedded bliss mentioned previously—all of the things in that drawer that may have been lacey, or racy, or in any way interesting to Michael have been replaced by Jockey cotton hipsters, in varying shades of neutral pastels.

Whatever the reason, Michael had discovered the pistachios and the magic of Christmas is now gone.

I need a better hiding place. 

And some new underwear.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Mitten Maneuver

In the past week, we have gone from unseasonably warm to bitterly cold.  This morning, they actually posted the local temperature on the bottom right-hand corner of the television screen as a decimal.  What is the purpose of that?  Does 1.9 degrees really sound appreciably warmer than 1 degree?

I had postponed the struggle, the ongoing saga of David and the gloves for when it got really cold.  I could no longer deny that today was that day.  I tried the usual coaxing and cajoling and finally decided I would simply wait for the bus.

David usually leaps from the door at the first sight of the bus, so that would serve as his motivation.  I was determined that I would block his way out of the door and then, surely he would put on a pair of gloves or mittens or the hybrid mitten/glove combination things or fingerless mittens or even the SpongeBob gloves because I have purchased them all in a desperate attempt to find something that David will wear—willingly.

With the bus idling at the end of the driveway, we had our negotiation.

I must admit that my heart sank as David turned to look at me, walking down the driveway toward the bus, blinking back the tears.  I felt guilty for a moment and then the thought hit me.   You won that battle.  I should be the one crying.

What was the flaw in my plan?  Who really wants to leave the house, to a waiting bus or not, when it is 1.9 degrees outside?  David was perfectly willing to turn right back around and snuggle up on the sofa watching his new favorite movie, The Polar Express.  He had called my bluff.

And so I am moving on to plan B.  As soon as I know what that is, I will be sure to tell you.  Hopefully, we will have it figured out before Easter.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Santa Sighting

When I asked David if he wanted to see Santa, I absolutely thought the implication was that Santa would, in fact, “see” David too.

Perhaps I did not phrase the question correctly which might explain why David answered in the affirmative in the first place. Consequently, I had been waiting for the right opportunity when the newsletter came from our local bank announcing that Santa would be stopping by on Saturday.

It sounded perfect. No crowds. No lines. No waiting.

We packed the whole family in the car and parked in front of the bank. As I was searching in my pocket for the camera, David started to run up the sidewalk. I didn’t really expect he would get close enough to Santa for a good photo op, but I wanted to be ready just in case.

I had to be careful of my footing because a wet snow was falling, but reached the sidewalk just in time to see David slow his step ever so slightly, glance in the window to catch a glimpse of jolly old St. Nick, and keep right on running all the way down the sidewalk to the end of the strip mall.

So, on Saturday, at the tender age of seven, David saw Santa for the very first time—through two plate glass windows. It was all over in the blink of an eye. There will be no Christmas card photo.

Maybe next year we can convince Santa to work the drive-through lane.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Flipping Frenzy

As David’s verbal communication skills have improved, he gets much less frustrated.  He has an easier time expressing his wants, making comments, even yesterday asking Andrew, “What’s wrong, An-roo?”

He still has difficulty expressing himself verbally when he is mad, though.  Actually, he manages to get the message across, words or no words.  I can always tell that he is upset; he just does not truly believe that I understand the severity of his emotions.

When he was younger, we sometimes used a “How I Feel Wheel” on which he could indicate his emotion by turning the dial.  These days, however, the wheel is long gone and David sometimes feels the need to get creative.

David was really upset with me a few days ago and as is often the case, I cannot even remember what had happened.  I often ruminate on how I wish I had handled the situation differently, or tried to be more patient.  I can almost always recall how David reacted, but many times thankfully I cannot remember what precipitated the “event” in the first place.

Rest assured, David was angry as we found ourselves in the front hall of our house.  I could see David looking around and I was trying to anticipate his next move when he moved toward the light switch.

On, off.

On, off.

On, off went the outside lights to our house.  I asked David to stop, while suppressing a smile.

David became more distressed at my reaction.  On, off, on, off, onoffonoffonoffonoff.  He was flipping the switch faster and faster, watching my response.

Now, it was almost dark and there are a lot of walkers in my neighborhood.  I hoped no one was outside our house at that moment, especially not our next door neighbors who walk their new puppy several times a day.  I can only imagine what they must have been thinking.  Did they speed up, thinking there was some sort of electrical short, just waiting to hear the loud buzz that would plunge the whole neighborhood into darkness?

Maybe they stood in the street, hand poised on their cell phone trying to decide whether or not to call 9-1-1, perhaps imagining me at the base of the stairs, yelling something along the lines of, “HELP.  I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.  Except that I have been able to reach this lone light switch to call out for help in an illuminated frenzy."Or maybe David’s rhythmic flipping of the switch was actually his distress signal and our neighbors were patiently trying to decipher his frantic message, in Morse code, of course.  Please come rescue me as I am displeased with my Mother.  I am furious with her and she just doesn’t understand, so please come quickly.  Why can’t we all just get along?

Well, no one came to the rescue—mine or David’s and we eventually figured it out for ourselves.   I do feel sorry for David, though.  It must be frustrating to be that upset with someone and have no way to really express it.

I must admit I am dreading it, but the day that David turns on his heel, storms off to his bedroom yelling over his shoulder, “Mom, I hate you” we will have made progress.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Safety Warning

I have a degree from a prominent university, which in order to avoid embarrassment--to the university, not to me--will remain unnamed.  It is not considered an “ivy league” school, but ranks right up there in the top 25 with the likes of Northwestern, Johns Hopkins and Brown.  (And no, I did not purposefully leave a hole in the list of the US News top 25 universities so in the event that someone is really curious, they can pretty easily discover the name of the school.)

Each year since graduation, I have contributed to the annual fund not because I have so much to contribute, but rather because I know that the percentage of alums contributing plays a role in the determination of the ranking.  Sometimes, I procrastinate and when I have not responded to multiple requests for a gift, they start trying to entice me with an offer.  I almost feel guilty when that happens, because I sometimes wonder if they have spent more on the gift and the shipping of the gift than I am actually able to contribute.

Once again, this year I waited too long and by the time I contributed I had also received the offer--a travel mug with the university logo on it.  To be honest, I was somewhat excited about this gift.  I could even imagine using it and I have to admit, I like being reminded that, at one point in my life, I had accomplishments of my own.  I had achievements that did not revolve around David and his developmental milestones.

The promised travel mug arrived last week.  I unpacked it from the box, removed the lid to load it into the dishwasher in anticipation of walking in to work the very next day, steaming cup of coffee in hand.  I noticed the slip of paper inside the mug and only glanced at it to be sure that the mug was dishwasher safe when I read the following admonitions:

            Hot drinks may scald the user.
            Unit is not vacuum design. Can only keep warm or cold liquid for a short period.
            CAUTION-hot liquid will increase temperature of exterior wall.

 And my personal favorite:

This product is not intended to be spill proof or leak proof and is not guaranteed against minor leakage.

Four years of college, time and energy spent securing scholarships, money my parents spent on tuition all to hone my critical thinking skills, to develop instincts which were telling me that I did not need a travel mug that, for the split second it can keep my hot beverage hot, will simultaneously scald my hand while slowly leaking out of the aforementioned mug onto my shirt, cool university logo or not.

 And, by the way, hand wash only.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Today, we finished decorating our Christmas tree. This year it was a multi-step process. David has been talking about putting up the Christmas tree since we had our first and to date only very brief snowfall of the season. Consequently, the little tree in his room went up several weeks ago.

Michael and David assembled the big tree for our family room last weekend—before Thanksgiving, even, but David has been persistent. Since David can read all of the color words, Michael had him read the instructions and look for the color coding on the metal tip of each branch, count and sort them into piles. The lights are my job, which I finished in the afternoon. David seemed pleased with our progress, so we decided not to add the ornaments right away.

Yesterday was to be the big day. I was looking forward to it because last year was the first year that David seemed to take notice of Christmas. He commented as neighbors put up Christmas lights, called my attention to decorations or displays that he liked and wanted to be a part of putting the ornaments on the tree.

Michael brought the boxes up from the basement and I opened the first one, eager to unpack my favorite ornaments. Back when we were young and frivolous, Michael and I would exchange ornaments when we put the tree up. Usually, they were purchased at a local jewelry and gift shop, the only stipulation being that they had to be dated, a chronicle of Christmases past.

I started to put ornaments on the tree, encouraging David to join me, but each ornament that I placed on a branch was quickly removed by David. The more we talked about decorating the tree or tried reasoning with David, the more agitated he became. About that time Andrew asked if he could return to the basement and Michael and I, both confused, decided that we needed regroup.

David and I had a serious conversation later in the day. He had a tree in his room and he did not need to have ornaments on that tree, I reasoned, but the big tree is Mama's and I am going to have ornaments on my tree. He reluctantly agreed and we left the tree for one more day, naked except for lights and the angel on top, which believe me David would have already removed if we had turned our backs long enough to allow him to assemble the leaning tower of ottomans and end tables that might have gotten him close to the tree top.

We came home from church this morning and made our second attempt. After a rocky start, David seemed agreeable and we started putting ornaments on the branches. I was not convinced that he wouldn't wait for us to let our guard down and then strip the tree back to the plastic bristles. Consequently, we left all of boxes marked Wedgewood and Waterford untouched and used primarily indestructible ornaments from the bottom of the box, ornaments usually reserved for the boys' trees in their rooms. The shimmer and sparkle has been replaced by crochet and rick-rack, the handcrafted with the homemade.

The tree was a compromise. Christmas is always a compromise with David. He wants nothing to do with Santa Claus, so I have no picture of David to put by Andrew's Santa pictures on the bookshelf. He does not really like presents, so I have given up the idea of needing to spend an equal amount on both boys. He enjoys the lights, listens to his favorite Christmas music and appreciates simple reminders of the season without all the fuss, so the decorations are scaled back. He likes his routine and refuses to submit to the frenzy of the season.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, which came from the Latin adventus meaning "coming." I sat in church this morning and listened to themes of waiting and preparation when it hit me. I spend a great deal of time and energy trying to pull David into my world.

But in this instance, wouldn't it be better if I stopped leading and decided simply to follow?

Friday, November 25, 2011

I am Thankful

Sometimes living life gets in the way of writing about the life that I live.

And sometimes the job for which I am paid interferes with the job that I love, but for which I receive no compensation.

I haven’t been able to find the time to write for several days, so permit me just a short Thanksgiving Day memory.

It has become a tradition for me to ask everyone at the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day to name the things for which they are thankful.  It is not a terribly imaginative tradition, I know, but it really was an accident.  I asked one year purely out of curiosity and with no intention of continuing, but now I almost always hear someone from the younger generation comment, “You’re not really going to ask us again this year?  Are you?  Are you?”

So, I asked David early in the day, knowing that in all likelihood he would not be sitting around the dinner table with us.  I asked him with a sort of smug satisfaction, envisioning the school paper hanging on the refrigerator, the paper with the writing prompt, “I am thankful for…” and David had written in his still unsteady hand, “Mom—Dad.”

I asked the question with confidence.  Confident of his answer.  “David, what are you thankful for?”

And then, his answer.  It was as immediate as it was emphatic.  “GINNIE,” which, of course, is David’s name for himself.

As is so often the case, David had surprised me again.  My response was also instantaneous.

So am I, Ginnie.  So am I.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Modeling Days Are Over

One thing most people probably don’t know about me is that I was a child model.

Those of you who have never met me may actually believe that statement.  Those who do know me, especially who have been around long enough to remember the tube sock era, may presently be wondering if I finally asked my doctor to give me some of those pills to put me in a happy place.

By way of explanation, it was an extremely short modeling career.  I was asked to model mukluks--don’t go look it up because you will see a definition including Eskimos and seal skin and these were really more like slipper socks.  It was a last minute request.  There was a catalog photo shoot and apparently the original mukluk model had—I don’t know—fallen ill or developed a last minute deadly foot fungus that left her incapable of the job.

As I recall, I was paid handsomely with the very same now slightly used though thankfully fungus free pair of mukluks.  Plus I had a good story for my friends at school.

This week, I had to exercise my atrophied modeling muscles.  We have already jumped through all the hoops to get David to wear his winter coat, because part of the fun of dealing with David is that he can sometimes make something that seems simple, like putting on a new winter coat which is alike in every way to last year’s winter coat except that it is one size larger and a slightly different shade of red, take 18 steps.

It has gotten cold enough recently, that David should really be wearing a hat and gloves to school, as well.  I decided to start with the gloves because in this case, they are the same pair as last year.  There is no subtle nuance that I had hoped I could slip past David because, to reiterate, THEY ARE THE VERY SAME PAIR HE WORE LAST WINTER.

As you can probably surmise from my excessive use of capitalization, I was frustrated when David refused to put them on.  I grabbed the entire basket of gloves, not surprisingly all in varying shades of red, gray and black and proceeded to try them on, modeling them for David.  I talked about the attributes of each pair—warm and cozy, mittens versus gloves.  I don’t suppose I did any better job in selling the gloves to David then my flat footed mukluk photo many years ago did in making the catalog order desk phone ring.  Still, I tried on every pair, hoping but not really believing that there would be a pair in there that David would find acceptable without heavenly intervention.  I believe I even said a quick prayer.

But, let me tell you that I did witness a miracle that day.

No, David did not wear the gloves.  He trotted off to the bus with his hands pulled up into the ends of his coat sleeves.  BUT, every glove or mitten had a mate, thus proving Newton’s law of winter outerwear that at one time, every right handed glove has an equal and opposite left handed glove.  Eureka.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Progress in Pictures

It is an afternoon ritual at my house—the cleaning of David's backpack. When he comes home from school, he has no interest in talking about his day, an attitude which manifests itself in part by the shedding of the backpack sometimes half way up the driveway as he walks in from the bus.

About a week ago, I spied the telltale blue envelope with the rest of the school papers—Scholastic Photography. School pictures had arrived.

I paused a moment before I flipped the envelope over to the window side.

David is a school picture veteran, though sadly, I cannot ever have one of those picture frames with mats that people use to proudly display each school picture, all nicely arranged in a circle from Kindergarten to junior year around the large oval in the middle for the senior picture. David has been in school so long, he would need four slots just to get him past Kindergarten. Oh, and Andrew lost his payment envelope his Kindergarten year which resurfaced a month after his first picture day. Consequently, his Kindergarten slot would be empty. I had failed the school picture test on my first attempt, task number 782 in the Good Mother Handbook.

David's first set of pictures came when he was three years old and enrolled in the Early Childhood Special Education program at his current school. Actually, he received two sets of pictures that first year. At that time, the misguided photographer would actually send home the portrait package for parent review and you could choose the pictures that you wanted to keep and send the remaining pictures back with the payment.

I am not sure how many attempts he made to get a good picture of David, but two sets were sent home. In the first set, he was openly weeping. In the second set, you could still see the tears in his eyes, his nose and eyes were red.

Not surprisingly, I sent both complete sets back to school unopened. I must admit that I now wish I had keep a few of the teary shots from year one. But at the time, I wanted them gone. I did not need another reminder of how things that are not difficult for other kids can be so very difficult for David.

We made some progress the next year as his eyes graduated from teary to twinkling. Obviously, David was more comfortable with the whole ordeal. He may not have much of a smile, but he isn't crying either. Plus, the photographer must have recognized the error of his ways and we had to preorder the package, forcing me to commit to at least 18 wallets, a 3x5 and a 5x7.

Here is last year's picture and please note that the David is now communicating well enough to express his preference for wearing red. I will blame the hair on the fact that I think David had P.E. before his pictures because it couldn't be true that I absolutely did not have the energy to fight with him about wetting his hair and combing it before I let him out the door.

Which brings up to present day and ladies and gentlemen, we now have a full blown smile.

This is not a good picture of David, but it is a totally typical, mediocre school picture just like everyone else's terrible school pictures, ranking just slightly above driver's license pictures. David has achieved normal, oops, typically developing mediocrity and I am thrilled. And guess what? I was so confident this year that I ordered a deluxe picture package. Consequently, if you are fortunate enough to be among my Christmas card recipients, you will soon have the pleasure of receiving your very own crappy copy of this picture from a proud Mom-mom, who will measure progress with any yardstick—photographic or otherwise.

Just remember that you are obligated to hang that photo on your refrigerator until at least March, when you can claim, probably rightfully so, that it was destroyed in a coffee brewing catastrophe or fell off the fridge and now resides with the dust bunnies under the stove.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Birthday Tale

Yesterday was David’s seventh birthday.

That was me whispering, just in case you couldn’t tell.

In the days leading up to his birthday, David wanted no birthday talk.  He does not anticipate presents.  In fact, he does not ever request new toys, which I must admit is somewhat refreshing, and he really has to be coaxed to play with anything new.  He does not like to pick out a cake because, among other reasons, he does not like cake of any kind and sees it merely as a decorative holder for the candles.  He did not count the days or hours until his birthday.

Truthfully, since language is a relatively new development for David, I am not sure he even knew when his big day was going to be.  I guess we were so busy trying to coax meaningful speech from him that we had, until recently, neglected practicing a few basic skills like address and phone number, age and birth date. 

It is a tradition in my family to call very early in the morning and sing the birthday song, but yesterday I had to screen David’s calls.  Even a whispered “Happy Birthday” after the 3:30 a.m. trip to the bathroom elicited an emphatic “NO BIRTHDAY” accompanied by David’s index finger placed over my lips with the only semi-polite warning, “PLEASE be qui-hee (quiet)."

I sent a quick e-mail to David’s teacher explaining that David was bringing treats for his classmates at school, but seemed reluctant to celebrate his birthday.  He only willingly stepped onto the bus when I assured him that the bus driver would make no mention of birthdays.

David’s birthday happened to coincide with his class celebration of Grandparent’s Day, so I had the late afternoon call from my spy—I mean mother.  David seemed to be doing really well.  He was wearing the birthday crown, had tolerated an enthusiastic rendition of the birthday song, and appeared to be having a good day.

David’s good mood continued when he arrived home.  He endured the bus driver’s birthday well wishes—sorry, David, but the crown gave you away.   He spent time showing me the booklet which included portraits drawn by his classmates and opened with David’s birthday self-portrait in which he was wearing green.  (I swear that kid stays up at night trying to invent new ways to surprise me.)

He initiated some play time with Andrew, and was still happy when the party guests arrived, my immediate family.  He gobbled down his favorite pizza—actually his only pizza—Godfather’s original crust hamburger.  He opened a present or two, endured the opening of the remaining presents and cards by present opening elves and even gave a passing glance to his big present, a Nintendo 3DS.

We had decided to give David his big, birthday/Christmas present for his birthday when there is less confusion.  We opened it and charged it in advance and Andrew had even (selflessly, I am sure) volunteered to serve as first runner-up Nintendo 3DS owner/operator in the unfortunate event that David is unable to fulfill his duties as primary Nintendo 3DS owner or just plain never really warms up to the thing.

At David’s insistence, I had to remove the game cartridges from the boxes of the two corresponding DS games that David received and rewrap them.  Evidently, they make the perfect pretend elevator doors.  I also had to quickly draw an elevator on the new Magnadoodle—at least one present was a hit. David looked pleased as we sang to him in hushed voices, followed by our best golf clap.  He blew out his candles, summarily rejected his slice of SpongeBob cake and even, for a split second, modeled his school birthday crown for us.

It was a good birthday.  It was a fun birthday for David and by the time I peeked in his room at 9:00, he was leaning against his SpongeBob pillows, hair still wet from his bath, playing WipeOut on his new DS.  Sorry, Andrew.

Happy Birthday, my sweet boy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Musings on an Elevator

What does it say about me that, on my way to the bathroom at work earlier today, I not only noticed that both sets of elevator doors stood open, but then slowed my step just slightly to see if they would close at exactly the same time?

Incidentally, they didn't, much to my relief. I would have hated for David to miss that.

By the way, rhetorical question only—I don't think I really want to know the answer.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What Can Brown Do For You?

Recently, a friend sent me the link to this column from The Boston Globe online.  It is a really heartwarming story, so take a few minutes right now to go read it.

Okay, you are pretending that you read it, but I know that most of you did not really read it, so for YOU, the Cliffs Notes version.  A UPS driver went out of his way to make a 12 year old boy from Westborough Massachusetts very happy—a 12 year old boy who wanted to be a UPS driver for Halloween last year, a 12 year old boy who wants to be a UPS driver when he grows up because he would then be able to ride elevators up and down in office buildings as a part of his job and did I mention that this 12 year old boy just happens to have autism?

I have been observing as some of my friends take time each day to list at least one thing for which they are thankful.  So in this season of thanksgiving, I am thankful for this UPS driver, who went out of his way to make Sam Kanji’s day, his week, his year.

I am thankful for a friend who remembers the anniversary of David’s diagnosis each and every year and takes time to write a personal note because the Hallmark store does not carry cards marking such occasions.  I am thankful that someone at our church today included people with autism into the daily prayers at the service that we attended.  I am thankful for the neighbor who has volunteered to get up early to drive the shift TO school, knowing that it is much easier for me to pick up from school rather than to get David out of bed before the sun rise.

I am thankful for family and friends, who support us in ways that are too numerous to mention here.  I am thankful for my husband, and for Andrew who is a wonderfully supportive brother and is maturing into a fine young man.  I am thankful for David, who, in his soon to be seven short years, has taught me about hard work and perseverance and has also helped me to find MY voice.

I am thankful for people who take just a moment of their day to do something kind for someone else.  I promise to try to be more like those people, more like UPS driver Tim Phillips, who took the slogan, “What can brown do for you?” quite seriously.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Salute to Veterans

Earlier today, David participated with his classmates in a Veteran’s Day program at a local grocery store.  According to an eye witness account, namely Granny because I was at work, he did really well.  He sat on the floor, as instructed, and waited patiently for almost 20 minutes until it was time for his class to perform.

Patiently.   He waited patiently.  At a grocery store.  Under the florescent lights.

He waited along with scores of veterans lured by a free breakfast.  He waited through the screeching--I mean soothing sounds of the elementary school strings students.  Will wonders never cease?

Anyway, David held his American flag.  He did the motions to the song, but refused to sing the words.  Maybe “refused” is not the correct term.  I think that it is difficult for David to sing a song because the words come too quickly for him.   Consequently, he will not even attempt a song if he does not like it.  Even when it is one of his favorites, he will sing along but if the words come in quick succession, David will begin to improvise.  As a result, David’s rendition of Jingle Bells may sound something like this:
            Tree, tree, tree.
            Tree, tree, tree.
            Tree, tree, tree, tree, tree.

Catchy, isn’t it?

So, in honor of my father, my father-in-law, both of my Grandfathers—all of whom served in times of war—and all veterans from any branch of the service, I say a heartfelt thank you.

And David leaves you with this musical tribute to the tune of the national anthem:
            Flag, flag, flag, flag, flag, flag...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sight Words

David has been working hard to learn his ten sight words each month. While he has done well with them, I am afraid that he relies on his brain power, simply memorizing each word and does not grasp concepts like word families, beginning sounds or rhyming words. 

Yesterday, we saw a tabby cat hiding under our bushes. I know that David can read the word "cat" and has for me on numerous occasions, but when I asked him to spell it, he answered, "T…A…C.

Later, he was looking at my laptop and ran his finger over the logo on the lid. "D…E…L…L," he said. 

Without even thinking about it, I said, "David, what does that spell?" I caught myself immediately. Why did I do that? Obviously not one of David's sight words for the month of November. Maybe he can at least get the D sound.

David thought about it for a minute, looked up at me with his broad grin and responded proudly, "ComPICKER," which of course is his word for computer.

Good guess, but I think we still have work to do.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Whatever I said yesterday—about how I finally understand that I cannot impose my traditions on David, about how I now know that I have to let go of some things without remorse—well, to put it bluntly, I lied.   Apparently, those feelings are closer to the surface that I would like to admit.

Halloween is not David’s favorite holiday.  Frankly, David does not really have a favorite holiday.  Last Halloween, I chronicled how he wore his costume for approximately seven seconds, ripping it off in the middle of the school parade.  He sent his regrets for the school party, preferring to accompany his parents home.  He did go trick or treating—to one neighbor’s house and even that was a struggle.

Well, this year was a slightly different story.  David wore the same SpongeBob Squarepants costume and kept it on for the duration of the parade.  He even stayed for the class party--not that he had a choice.  I snuck into his classroom before the older kids were finished parading, said hello so that he would know I had been there and then broke the news that he needed to stay for the party and ride the bus home.

I know that David handled the party better without me there, or at least without the temptation of a quick exit, but to see the expression on his face almost broke my heart.  He has a face that he makes when he is upset where he is trying to blink back the tears, but still put on a brave face.  It gets me every single time.

I felt better when I got home—that is until David stepped off the bus.  His backpack was appropriately heavy, but as the bus pulled away I realized that there was no SpongeBob costume folded inside, no treats, no crafts or prizes from the party games.  No frosted cupcake that David surely refused to eat and was saved in a Ziploc for later.   There must be a whole sack missing, I thought to myself.  After a quick trip back to school, I realized that David had left his sack, costume included, on the bus.

Now, David does not like trick or treating.  David does not like costumes.  David is a smart boy and I sometimes wonder what he is thinking.  Quite clever how you ditched me at the school party, Mother.   I’ll show you by leaving my costume on the bus.  So much for trick or treating. HAHAHAHAHA.

But now it was my turn to blink back tears.  Why did I care?  I had taken my pictures of David in his costume.  I knew that he did not want to trick or treat, but I was going to make him do it anyway—to visit at least visit one neighbor’s house.

Once I saw David’s reaction to Andrew’s werewolf costume, however, I was glad that trick or treating was out of the question.  In fact, when David saw the masks on the very first group of kids who rang our doorbell, he unplugged his iPad, on which he had been watching his favorite elevator videos, and loudly announced for all to hear, “I going upstairs.”  He proceeded to lock himself in my bedroom, calling down once for goldfish and a glass of milk.

After about an hour, he came back downstairs.  He expressed an interest in some of the costumes.  He started waving to the kids.  “Thanks for coming and have a nice night,” he would call after them as they walked back down the driveway.  Eventually, he even corrected his valediction to a more appropriate “Happy Halloween…and have a nice night.”

Once he spontaneously sang out, “trick or treat,” for which he was rewarded with a red Tootsie Pop.  He even ate the whole thing.  I was just thinking that he was beginning to get the hang of Halloween, when he ran to the front hall closet, grabbed the American flag and insisted on hanging it in the flagpole of the front porch rail—in the dark.  I could not convince him that the flag was not really part of Halloween, so I muttered quick apologies under my breath to Francis Scott Key, all veterans of any war and to the flag police.  Oh, and also to my older son, Andrew, a former boy scout who takes his flag etiquette very seriously and complains every time David lets the flag brush the ground.

It is not unusual for kids with autism to have pronoun confusion—to say, “You want milk” when they really mean “I want milk.” As David’s language has developed, fortunately he has never had that issue.  But the American flag on Halloween?  Has anyone ever heard of holiday confusion?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Drive-Through Dating

Andrew had a half day of school last Thursday because of report card conferences so I took him out to lunch, something I try to do several times a year.  Andrew has always enjoyed these dates, although I am no longer allowed to refer to it as a “date” in front of his friends.  He gets to choose the restaurant and we take the rare opportunity to spend some time—just the two of us.

I was thinking about it last week because it had been David’s turn for conferences and I would like to have the same tradition with him, but this type of “date” with David would not be fun for either of us.  David really does not enjoy restaurants.  He does not like the food, or the noise, or all of the other people.  He simply wants to amuse himself by opening and closing the doors—any doors—like the entry doors, the swinging doors going in and out of the kitchen or, in a pinch, even the doors on the big buffet that they use to hold extra silverware.

It has taken me a long time to realize that I cannot impose my idea of fun on David.  That fact still sometimes makes me melancholy.  I now understand, however, that I cannot be disappointed thinking that David is missing out.  He makes his own fun wherever he goes.  My grief is for the shared experiences that I wanted—places or activities that I used to like as a child that I will never enjoy with David, things that Andrew and I have done together that I wish David liked to do, too.

Well, I persevered and David and I did have our big “date.”   We started the day with breakfast in the Burger King parking lot, having driven through for Cini-Minis and hash browns--incidentally both items on the dollar menu.  When you add in the milk that David drank, I think I spent a whopping $3.52.  Talk about a cheap date.

We listened to music as we ate, and made sure that the car windows were adequately exercised.  There may have even been some unnecessary wiping of the windshield thrown in just for kicks.

Then, we made a trip to the bank, where David got to watch the pneumatic tubes travel in and out of the bank.  Our last stop was the gas station.  David watched as I pumped gas, we took a minute to inspect the car wash to make sure that it was sporting the favored blue brushes and even drove past the stop sign with numbers on the way home.

It really was a nice morning and I am already looking forward to our next date.  Having been married for 14 years, I have been out of the dating scene for quite some time.  I have heard of “speed dating,” but I think David may have just invented “drive-through dating.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Story of 73 Continues

I have never really seen more than a few minutes of the sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, because it airs when we are usually cleaning up the kitchen, finishing up homework, or hurrying boys off for baths. I am aware that one of the main characters, Sheldon, is described as a brilliant scientist, although socially awkward, extremely literal, and lacking empathy. Hmmm.

Two days after I wrote about David's affection for the number 73, my sister called me laughing. She and her husband had been watching The Big Bang Theory, and Sheldon was wearing a T-shirt with the number 73 in a circle printed on the front. They did a quick search and apparently Sheldon had worn this shirt on another episode of the show, at which time he had extolled the virtues of the number.

"What is the best number?" Sheldon asked on that episode. "By the way, there is only one correct answer. The best number is 73. You're probably wondering why. Seventy -three is the 21st prime number. It's mirror 37 is the 12th. Its mirror 21 is the product of multiplying (hang on to your hats) 7 and 3. Heh, heh, did I lie?"

"Okay, so we get it. 73 is the Chuck Norris of numbers," Sheldon's roommate Leonard, also an accomplished physicist, replied.

At this comment, Sheldon countered, "Chuck Norris wishes. In binary 73 is a palindrome, 1-0-0-1-0-0-1, which backwards is 1-0-0-1-0-0-1--exactly the same. All Chuck Norris backwards gets you is sirron kcuhc."

So, there is more to the number 73 than I had originally uncovered. And, there are people out there who know what a twin prime pair is, including not surprisingly, my brother- in-law, my new friend over at and, I am confident a college friend of mine who was a physics major (you know who you are), although she didn't say anything. So, David chose an interesting number and the same favorite number as a talented physicist, if even a fictional one.

Did you know that there is also a website, on which you can order the shirts that Sheldon has worn on the show? They even have the 73 shirts, and they are available in RED no less. I actually was considering ordering matching shirts for our whole family. Maybe, we would take our Christmas pictures in them as a nod to David, acknowledgement that there is a great deal happening in that mind of his that I still long to understand.

And then, before I could take my cart and click "proceed to checkout" I saw this repeated down the sidewalk.

953! 953? Although he has not completely abandoned 73, the number 953 appears to be David's new favorite number. Any ideas?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

There’s Always Next Year

I am not going to win the Mom of the Year award.

I know, it's shocking! Right? They always say that it was just a pleasure being nominated, but really I wanted to win. And I was feeling so good about my chances, especially when another autism Mom had complimented me after watching me coax David into the lobby for speech therapy. "You are SO patient," she told me.

I need to let you in on a little secret. I really am not a very patient person, but sometimes it is just easier. Sometimes I am being self-serving. If I spend a few minutes letting David FILL IN THE BLANK—pretend to put gas in the car, or press an imaginary elevator button and then wait until the elevator arrives at the appointed imaginary floor, my life so much easier. Plus, as I remind myself constantly, pretend play is good. Pretend play is our friend. Pretend play is—sometimes I am SOOO over pretend play.

Two weeks ago, we purchased some shelves from Costco for our garage, nice metal shelves with casters and a weight limit per shelf of 600 pounds—not that it matters. We have not been allowed to put anything on the shelves because David has been pushing them around the garage. Or out toward the street. Or up the sidewalk to the front porch. Did I mention that the shelves have wheels? And they make the perfect sweeper arm for a pretend car wash, or gas pump, or anything else David could possibly imagine.

Yesterday, in trying to have a successful "transition" from school, David and I played in the garage. Or, more accurately, I sat in the car reading a novel while David played. Then, David transformed the shower stall into an elevator, which I rode to every floor from one to ten. Then, we were back in the garage, pumping gas once again. I gave the ten minute warning. I set the timer and gave the five minute warning. I did the countdown and advised him that we needed to move the shelves from Dad's side of the garage before he arrived home, but David had other ideas.

After a brief wrestling match, it became apparent that I was not going to move the shelves when David had other ideas and I shifted my focus to getting David in the house. As I moved toward David to ever so tenderly grab his arm and provide gentle encouragement for him to proceed into the house, I tripped over the tire stop that we have positioned to tell my husband how far to pull into the garage without accidentally having the garage door scrape paint off of the rear bumper of his car. (What? I am not saying that has ever happened.)

I think I actually heard myself groan, followed by a loud SPLAT. I know it couldn't have been pretty—Mom-mom, dressed for work, rolling around on the garage floor and now in a not-so-patient mood. But then, without any regard to whether or not there were neighbors within earshot, I said it. I may have even yelled it.


And then David started to cry. And I started to cry. And since I am relatively sure that my tears were coming horizontally out of my tear ducts, I took off my glasses, which for some reason was even more upsetting to David.

And then he said it. A new question he has just begun to ask. "Why? Why? Why?"

I am not sure really what he means by that question, but it was quite appropriate. I had asked it, too, but I hadn't been thinking about David when I said it.

Why? Why does David have to work so hard to do what comes easily for most? Why does he still sometimes struggle even to call us by name? Why does he sometimes have to make things so difficult?

Why? Why does he take such joy in things that most people don't even notice? Why is he so easy to please? Why is he almost always happy? Why does he work so hard each and every day?

So, this year I have been disqualified. But there is always next year.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


This post has been brought to you by the number 73.

Vaguely reminiscent of Sesame Street, right?  Well David certainly wouldn’t know because he has never watched that program—not even once.  Apparently, it is too educational and he immensely prefers more mind numbing shows such as SpongeBob Squarepants.

So, what is the significance of the number 73, you might ask?  The answer is that I have no earthly clue.  All of my considerable googling capabilities could not unearth any great Biblical significance.  It was not a number of great import for ancient cultures, either.  It is the 21st prime number and only vaguely interesting because, with 71, it forms a twin prime pair.  (Ha, if anyone knows what that means without also having to consult a search engine, you win a prize.)

Occasionally, David becomes fascinated with a certain number.  He still insists that, when we are cooking, the oven be set at 300 degrees—a demand that developed about a year ago.  Thankfully, we have two ovens so we can usually comply with his request at least until he loses interest in peering around the corner to check the oven temperature.

For the past several weeks, David has also been fascinated with the number 73 and certain variations of that number including 730 and 370, and sometimes throws in the letter “S” either preceding or following the number.

How does this fascination manifest itself?  Well, he can often be found carrying around the foam numbers, part of a bathtub toy.  He also insists on having the car temperature set at 73 degrees, which is a little toasty for my taste, but bearable.  He even asks to check the temperature when the car is safely tucked in the garage for the night, just to make sure that I didn’t surreptitiously adjust the dial to perhaps a more comfortable 68.

I guess I should be thankful that he requests the oven temperature be set at 300 degrees and the car temperature 73, and not the other way around.  I suppose he could try to set the television volume to either number and we would really be in trouble.

As always, I just wish David could explain.  I, too, would like to be seduced by the charm of the number 73, if only I could understand.  Is it a part of the next significant mathematical principal?  Did Mama Fibonacci complain in her personal journal that young Junior was always carrying around the numbers 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5 and 8--in that order--and that she just couldn’t figure out why?  Have I, in fact, limited David by only providing him access to combinations of the numbers zero through nine without repetition?

Well, for now, I will resign myself to lifting David’s dust ruffle each morning, looking for the wayward number 7 that got lost during the night.  But just remember in about 15 years when you hear about the new breakthrough in number theory called the SpongeBob series, you heard it here, first.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

In an Instant

David had been playing with a puzzle. Actually, he had been carrying around some of the pieces of a puzzle—his version of playing with it—when he sat down beside me to see what I was doing.

I had just opened my laptop and was waiting for it to boot, so I watched as David carefully arranged his four puzzle pieces on a book that I had been reading.

"Mom-mom's compicker," he said, his word for computer. I looked again at the pieces, trying to figure out how he would imagine that those four primary colored puzzle pieces could resemble my computer.

My mind wandered back to the e-mail that I needed to send, so I turned to my computer to see if it was finished loading. Then I saw it flash across my screen.

I made eye contact with David and was about to question him, to make sure I hadn't just imagined it, but I could tell by his smile that I was right. As the window faded from my screen, he swept the puzzle pieces into his hand and was off.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Splint Cessation

I am happy to report (and thank you to all who have inquired) that it has been almost a week since David surrendered his splint.  Okay, so perhaps “surrendered” is not the correct word, as he certainly did not give it up willingly but rather to abide by the terms of the treaty that had been delicately negotiated with his mother.  (As an aside, I am beginning to believe that if a career at Target does not work out, perhaps David can fall back on diplomatic work.)

So, here is the story.  Last Saturday morning, David wanted to go to the bank and ride the elevator, which he considers a treat and he is usually willing to work for it.  I told him that we could go, but as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Financial Consumer Protection Act, he would not be allowed to wear the black splint into the bank.  (Yes, I am sure it is there in the fine print, plus why should I take the blame for something that I can so easily blame on someone else?)

Anyway, David agreed to relinquish the splint IF he could wear the striped washcloth, normally reserved for “protecting” his arm during his bath, held securely to his arm with a red hair band of mine—a widely recognized loophole of the Dodd-Frank act, David argued.  I told him that he could wear only the red hair band without the washcloth, which seemed to satisfy him.

Off we went to the bank, with the red hair band looped three times around his wrist like a young girl carries an extra scrunchie just in case she decides to pull her hair back into a pony tail.  It only looked slightly odd because David, of course, is not a girl and does not have anywhere near enough hair to pull back, with or without a scrunchie.  But, the band gave just enough pressure to remind David that it was there, eliminating the need for the splint.

Ladies and gentlemen, you have just witnessed phase one in the step down splint cessation program, which greatly decreases any withdrawal symptoms.

The fact that David tolerated the hair band and had not even asked about the splint sent me in search of something else, something a tad more socially acceptable for David to wear on his wrist.  The winning idea was submitted by Granny, and by Saturday afternoon the red hair band was replaced by a much more fashionable Wilson wristband, white with a red Wilson logo.

And there you have it, phase two--a Wilson wristband, the Nicorette of splint cessation.

David has worn the wristband all week and is happy with it.  Plus he always looks as if he has just stepped off the tennis courts.  It does not appear to hamper his writing at school and I see no reason to hurry to phase three.

Just as soon as I figure out what phase three is, I will let you know.

Does anyone know if Wilson wristbands are mentioned anywhere in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act?