The Christmas Competition

frustrationIt’s Christmas evening, and I’m sitting here with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

No one had a serious meltdown.

No one got hurt.

I didn’t give in and take up drinking as a hobby.

Our day was split up, as it always is- we spent the morning opening presents at home, and then went to Gran and Papa’s house, and opened more presents there. It’s not Jack’s first Christmas, obviously, but it’s his first truly interactive one. He finally understands the concept of unwrapping presents, and I had been looking forward to seeing his reaction to the whole experience and the new-found freedom that is represented by tearing into brightly wrapped packages.

Now, my kids’ autism means that I can usually expect some sensory or behavioural issues to pop up when they are in an environment that is hyper-stimulating. After all, there are blinking lights everywhere, little decorations piping a constant stream of carols, a television on, tons of things with different textures, and a lot of general chatter going on.

Still, I had somewhat rose-tinted expectations. You’d think this was my first rodeo, or something.

In my head, Christmas was going to go something like this:

I’d get the kids out of bed. They wait in their bedroom every morning until I open the door. It’s freakin’ awesome.

I’d sit them at their table, and hand them the usual peanut butter and jam toast, before we all gleefully tore into our presents and stockings.

I expected giggling and happy faces on both kids, lovely mealtimes, and a general sense of wellbeing and accomplishment at the end of it for us parents.

I figured that after we all happily ransacked the space under the tree, I would get them dressed in their good clothing, and we’d bundle them into the van and truck the whole damn family off to Gran and Papa’s house for more presents and dinner.

In my head, it was going to go smoothly and not morph into a game of “Us Against Them.”

For Jill, this was pretty much how it happened. Well, more or less.

For Jack… not so much.

We managed to get them out of the bedroom and fed with no incident.

Parents: 1

Kids: 0

They finished cramming their chipmunk cheeks full of peanut butter and jam toast, flung their thankfully plastic plates onto the dishwasher and then high-tailed it (with cheeks still full) over to the tree, where they gazed raptly… at the blinking lights.

Getting them to sit next to each other on the floor so they could have space to tear open their gifts was a bit like herding cats. We’d get Jill to sit down, while Jack wandered out of the living room. Then, we’d get Jack to the floor, and Jill would stand up to play with one of the ornaments. This went on for a good ten minutes. Every time we managed to talk one of them into sitting down, the other would find some reason to get up and walk off.

Parents: 1

Kids: 1

The thing that worked was a stroke of genius on my partner’s side. He set up his camera. Did I mention he’s a photographer? Jack and Jill saw the camera, and promptly sat down with a big smile and a resounding chorus of “Cheese!” (it’s sort of a reflex). The only problem was, they were facing the camera, and not the tree. It was really half a victory, but hell, I’ll just round up the number. This one’s ours, baby.

Parents: 2

Kids: 1

When I started handing out the presents, Jill did her part with flair.

Jack… not so much.

He took the first present, and gently started to tear off the wrapping paper. I think perhaps one piece of tape was actually pried off.

Then, the wailing started. I figured he was frustrated, so I bent down to show him what to do. Every time I held the present out, he started crying again. Even though I know that he knows how to rip paper, I had to “show him what to do” over and over again until the entire present was unwrapped.

Parents: 2

Kids: 2

It was a couple of colouring books, to go with some crayons that were still wrapped and under the tree.

He fixated on the colouring books, and wouldn’t unwrap any of the other presents that we put in front of him. He accumulated quite a little pile of gifts at his feet, and wouldn’t so much as take his eyes off the colouring books until I took them out of his reach…

Parents: 3

Kids: 2

… and then the crying started again.

Parents: 3

Kids: 3

Jill, for her part, eagerly tore into her gifts, and only had something to say when we went too long without giving her something else to unwrap.

I figured the waterworks would stop when we bundled the kids into the car, and headed to Gran and Papa’s house.

Nah…not so much.

When the gifts came out from under their tree, Jill gleefully went into action. She was in her element! Jack… sat with the first present on his lap, and started crying. This bit kept on, until all the presents were doled out and Jill was happily playing with her new things. It has since dawned on me that I really don’t know what makes my son “tick”; I just got frustrated with all the crying, when the kids should have been happy, and “showed Jack what to do” until all his gifts were unwrapped.

By that time, it was past noon, and I hit upon a brilliant idea: I would stuff his little chipmunk cheeks full of peanut butter and jam sandwiches. It was lunch, after all, and he couldn’t wail if his mouth was full.

Finally, I found something that made the crying stop.

Parents: 4

Kids: 3

The afternoon was blissfully quiet, more or less. Jack and Jill took turns stealing each other’s toys, and then they each took turns being pissed off because the other one stole their toys. Dinner, which was delicious, was pleasant and only marred by the occasional frustrated wail when Jack couldn’t get food in his face fast enough. A lovely dinner was topped off by an equally lovely Christmas pudding.

My kids do love their Christmas pudding. If it had been the sort to be made with alcohol, they would’ve gotten rip-roaring drunk on it.

Thank the gods for small miracles.

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A Girl, Lost in the Translation

“You’ve got to find yourself first. Everything else will follow.”
Charles De Lint, Dreams Underfoot

11010281245_d0e6a1c6d9_zWhen I was young, I had it all figured out. I was going to be a cowgirl; there was no doubt in my mind.

I had a favourite pair of rain boots that looked just like a tiny pair of white cowgirl boots. It didn’t matter that they were made of rubber and not leather- I thought they were the genuine thing.

As I grew up, my idea of what I wanted to be changed.

Sometimes, I wanted to be a writer.

Sometimes, I wanted to be an artist.

Sometimes, I wanted to own a shop.

Sometimes, I wanted to own a publishing house.

In high school, grade eleven to be exact, one of my teachers asked her class a simple but very loaded question: where do you see yourself in 5 years?

The time frame would have put me one year after college, but that didn’t matter. I knew beyond a doubt, at that point, that I would be working on getting my second book published, and that I would be married to an awesome man, with 2 kids (a boy and a girl, naturally), and a house of my own.

To say that things didn’t work out according to that plan is a massive understatement. I attended a Fine Arts program in college, and it was roughly then that my font for writing inspiration seemed to dry up. It didn’t matter, though, because I had other creative outlets.

When I graduated, my lack of self-confidence prevented me from applying to arts-related jobs that I should have been perfectly qualified for. So, instead I turned to housekeeping. Perhaps I should say, I turned back to housekeeping, since I had been doing that type of work intermittently since high school, as a way of making some extra cash.

Over the next 15 years, I tried all kinds of other jobs, but when they inevitably fell through I returned to housekeeping- my safety net. I didn’t particularly like the work, but I was good at it and could always find jobs. In that time, I also had a series of bad relationships (including a marriage) that did little but make me feel as though I was being pushed into a neat little box and kept there.

Being so busy trying to be whatever they needed me to be, I lost all sense of who I was as a person. Instead, my sense of identity became wrapped up in who I was with, and what job I was doing. If I didn’t have either, I felt lost.

Eventually, having little time to devote to it, even the font of inspiration for art dried up. A creative person who loses their outlets is like an automaton, going through life without the thing that made them a real person.

I felt hollow, so when I finally decided to let myself be alone for a while, after going through a number of damaging relationships, I filled the empty spaces in my soul with so much work that I had little time to think about myself.

I hated the way I lived.

It wasn’t until I stumbled across a housekeeping client that liked me so much as a person that she started asking me to get together with her on the weekends. We would meet at her house, and make beaded jewellery or paint her bird seed bins, or do something else creative.

It was enough to ignite the spark again, though it still took a long time for the flame to really catch. I stuck to housekeeping, still not feeling like I had a path of my own to walk. I stuck with it for a few more years, in fact, until I was settled in a place across the country, with a family I’d made with a man who wanted nothing more than for me to love myself and be whatever person I wanted to be.

I stuck with it until life kicked me in the ass, and made it virtually impossible for me to work as a housekeeper, by the simple expedient of having me accidentally drop a kettle full of boiling water on my foot. The scarring made it impossible for my foot to flex completely- something that is kind of important in some parts of housekeeping.

The idea of returning to writing had been percolating in the back of my mind, in the months leading up to that accident, but I pushed it back because it seemed risky. Although it hurt like a sonofabitch, both physically and emotionally, I took the accident as a kind of sign. I had to stop playing it safe, to have the freedom to figure out who I am.

I untied the ropes that bound me, and walked into the great blue yonder. I started walking my path, and writing my story.

The Snob

1010338_10153911115360058_1524378486_nI’m not what you would call a coffee connoisseur.

I don’t go into cafes and order a Venti Extra-Hot Sugar-Free Caramel Macchiato with Skim Milk, an Extra Shot of Espresso and Extra Whip Cream, although I did wait behind that guy in line one time. I don’t buy Kopi Luwak, or, for that matter, any other obnoxiously expensive coffee whose seeds were eaten and crapped out by small cat-like animals.

I have never been the girl who rhymes off a laundry list of coffee expectations for the poor confused and annoyed barista.

I have never been the girl who buys the most expensive coffee, as if by doing so, she has asserted her position in some sort of invisible hierarchy that only she is aware of.

I have, however, been the girl who patiently asks for a Caramel Latte, and then just as patiently listens to the old “you know it’s made with milk” reminder when she asks for extra cream in it. I have gritted my teeth, and resisted the urge to lecture the poor barista about how the word “latte” is in fact part of “caffe latte”, an Italian term which literally means “milk coffee”, and that only a complete twit wouldn’t know it was made with milk.

The fact of the matter is, I like the taste of cream in my cup better than milk.

In a sense, maybe I am not so much a coffee connoisseur as a coffee snob. I prefer what I brew at home. I don’t like most of what’s offered in cafés, unless I’m desperate for caffeine.

It’s a bitter mess, like my views on the rampant misuse of apostrophes.

Some pretty nasty potions that have had the gall to call themselves coffee have passed these lips of mine, however. I’ve choked down vile mixtures of instant coffee, powdered whitener and artificial sweetener that were, at worst, “humane” ways of torturing prisoners of war and, at best, suitable test material for sewage treatment plants.

I took one for the team; I choked them down for the good of all, so that no one would die or suffer horrible injuries that day as a result of me not being properly caffeinated.

In the morning, before I have polished off the contents of my mug, I- like Medusa- could petrify mere mortals who so much as looked at me. After one coffee, I’m almost presentable. Not necessarily literate, though- that comes after two cups.

This is why I get up and have my breakfast before even waking anyone else up- because I love my family, and want to keep them alive.

Coffee saves lives, people, at least in my house.

The Art of Embarrassing Mom

Mom-Confessions-Most-Embarrassing-Thing-My-Kid-Has-DoneOne of the more entertaining hallmarks of Autism is the tendency toward random acts of totally inappropriate behaviour. Considering that Jack is only 3 years old, you could also chalk it up to his being a rambunctious youngster. After all, kids have an unnerving ability to say or do the wrong thing at the right time… or maybe, it’s the right thing at the wrong time.

I guess it depends on how you look at it.

Jack has mastered the art of inappropriate behaviour, a task which he seems to regard as his God-given duty.

Read on…

The Moon over Miami

It’s a fun game for Jack to reach into the grocery cart from his perch at the front, and grab the nearest thing he can find. If you’re not quick on the draw, he’ll pitch that item- no matter what it is- out of the cart.

Imagine knowing this, and having no alternative but to place that carton of eggs you just grabbed into your over-stuffed cart right behind his perch, where he can easily grab them. Imagine that you are wearing a comfortable pair of yoga pants that have no belt, and an annoying tendency to ride down your butt any time you bend over.

Grabbing his hands and holding them doesn’t work, no! Jack screams bloody murder, as if by the very the act of holding his hands you are committing a great atrocity that will be the end of his world, right then and there. Life as he knows it is over. Give the boy an Oscar!

There the eggs sit, all pristine and beckoning in their too-fragile cardboard carton, practically begging for a couple of tiny hands attached to a mischievous smile to grab them. Naturally, because his entire existence is centered around getting in trouble (as if the resulting scolding is somehow life-affirming), he waited until my attention was engaged elsewhere, grabbed the egg carton, and hurled it like he was trying out as a pitcher out for the local pro baseball team.

Fortunately, nobody was in the way of that particular projectile. Not so fortunately, the eggs practically exploded as the carton hit the ground. I, in my terribly comfortable yoga pants that have never actually seen the inside of a yoga studio, stooped down to pick up the woefully inadequate (and now yoke-filled) carton, flashing almost my entire ass- minus even my underwear because they, too, went south- to everyone behind me.

Yes indeed, the moon CAN rise in the middle of the day.

I’ll be lucky if my Moon over Miami doesn’t appear on the People of Walmart website because, with my luck, there was probably someone behind me with a cell-phone camera at the ready, and an itchy trigger finger.

The Bait and Tackle

Jack and Jill both attend several different types of therapy for their Autism, all of which take place at a local horse farm. On this farm, there happens to be a small fenced-in play area, and it was here that I placed Jack one fine day while I talked to two of his therapists not a few feet away.

While the adults chatted, Jack played happily. It didn’t take long, however, for one of his therapists to gently interrupt what I was saying by pointing over to my son.

It was a good thing it was a warm summer day because, as I looked over at him, Jack stood by the fence staring at us adults, and calmly dropped his drawers, diaper and all. He stood there with a giant grin on his face, his bait and tackle waving in the breeze, as I stared back and groped for something to say.

His therapists laughed.

“Well, that proves it,” I said, eventually. “He’s definitely his father’s son.”

The Immortal Words

The family cat is kind of a psycho beast. She loves her adult humans, and tolerates the presence of the mini humans. She has been known to be all lovey-dovey one minute, and all hissing and biting the next.

Jack, since one particular incident last year, avoids her like the plague.

My partner was out of town for a week in November, and so I was left to look after the kids by myself. We were between meals with nothing to particular to do that day, so I sat on the couch typing away on my laptop while the kids played with their toys on the living room floor.

Or, so I thought.

One moment, they were both happily engaged, and in the next moment Jack had wandered over to where the cat was laying and grooming herself. He seemed to be just looking at her, but looks can be deceiving- especially where Jack is concerned.

Our cat found out that day that my son is a quick little bugger. In a flash, he lurched forward, his little tongue darting out to lick the cat’s head, from neck to ears.

I uttered words I never thought I would ever hear myself say:

“Jack, don’t lick the cat!”

Yup… life with my family is definitely interesting.