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?