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.