The Streaker

funny-cute-cat-yes-noJack is definitely his father’s son.

They both have red hair and blue eyes.

They are both ardent meat eaters.

Neither of them really listen to me, unless I am talking about bacon or boobies.

Also, they are both closet nudists.

O.k, maybe it’s more accurate to say that they are the “playing naked on the street intersection” and “streaking down the apartment building hallway” nudists.

Suffice it to say, if my son were ever going to be any kind of nudist, I’d rather it weren’t the street intersection kind. That particular childhood glory can stay in the memories of my partner, his parents, the little friend he was playing dinky cars with, and the cops who hauled him home, buck-arsed naked.

Jack seized his moment of glory at 7am one morning last week. He was sitting on the training potty in the middle of the living room (because, who doesn’t go to the bathroom in the living room?), while I was sitting on the couch, brushing Jill’s hair and getting her ready for school.

Jack apparently thinks “take your pull-up off and sit on the potty” means “take off all your clothes”. He sat there on the throne, not a stitch of clothing on him, shifting around like he wanted to be anywhere but there.

Normally, I keep him sitting on the potty, until I am finished helping his sister get ready for the day. This way, I have both of them in front of me, and I know exactly what they are doing. Plus, it’s the only way I can keep an eye on Jack.

The little bugger is fast.

That morning, I was running a bit behind. Jack was shifting around on his potty, as I mentioned, so I told him to stand up. Seeing that there was nothing in his potty, I figured if I told him what I wanted him to do, we’d still be in safe territory. I told Jack to put the potty back where it goes… right in front of the front door (don’t ask- I don’t even know why it goes there). He bent over, still buck arsed naked, and picked up the potty to trek it over to the front door.

I sat on the couch, brushing Jill’s hair.

I heard the clatter of the potty being placed, not-so-gently, down on the linoleum.

I heard the lock slide, and the door open and shut quickly.

Did I mention the little bugger is quick?

I must have shoved poor Jill forward (and out of her chair) in my effort to get out the apartment door before my son reached the lobby. Amazingly, all she said was: “Mom, don’t pull my hair!”

In a matter of maybe 10 seconds, Jack cleared the 100 feet between our door and the door leading to the lobby. That little bum is going to be a sprinter, I tell you. I swear he’s hiding rocket boosters somewhere on him.

When I caught him, he had his little hand on the knob of the door leading to lobby, and an evil little grin on his face as he looked up at me. It was a stroke of good luck that nobody else on my floor happened to poke their head out the door at the sound of my son gleefully giggling as he sprinted down the hallway in a state of blissful nudity.

My little mischief maker- it’s a good thing he’s cute.

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Fire-Breathing Dragons

Sometimes I have a few moments to myself in the morning, between getting things ready for the day and prying my children off their bed.

This morning, I scored a few such moments to myself, so I sat down on my couch, coffee in hand. Our free-standing oscillating fan was already on for the day because, even at 6:30 in the morning, our apartment retains heat better than hell itself. The ribbons that my partner tied on the front grate for our daughter’s benefit were already waving merrily in the breeze, and they will likely wave merrily every day until the heat of the season turns to cold, and it’s time to put the fan away for another year.

It will be around about the time that my daughter will have just started to accept the presence of the fan, and the fact that it’s on and moving side to side. It may even be around about that time that she starts allowing herself to get close to it- perhaps to feel the breeze coming from it, or to feel those ribbons gently slap against her face. It will come after months of patiently working with her, to get her to the point where she can at least pass by the fan without shrinking away from it.

She’s afraid of it, you see. She’s afraid of the fan the way she’s afraid of toilets that don’t flush right, seedy dandelions, cobwebs and spiders, and the way she used to be afraid of threads, feathers, and long grasses.

My partner and I, after almost 5 years of these unreasoning fears, still have absolutely no idea what goes on in her head when she comes up against these things. We can reason that these fears are related to her tactile sensitivity, or her noise sensitivity, or maybe that they just don’t behave in what she figures is a “normal” way, and that in itself upsets her inner sense of balance; the fact is, we don’t know, and it’s likely we won’t know until she is old enough to explain it.

On some days, I see our daughter as a mighty lioness- capable of tearing down barriers, and leaping over obstacles with a kind of grace and a sort of stubborn defiance. Then, she’s the child that needs no hand up, no helping-out. She leads the way, with a sense of pride and confidence that says she will defy the odds.

On other days, she is small and delicate, and it seems like the world is filled with fans, seedy dandelions, cobwebs and spiders. It seems as though, at every turn, there is something to scream and cry about- something that threatens to gobble up her spirit and crush her will. She seems to shrink on those days, clasping tightly to a loving hand for emotional support and guidance.

My partner and I, for our part, give her a gentle but steady push forward. We speak to her words of love and support, and arm her with a metaphorical sword and shield; these are, after all, her fire-breathing dragons.

My Little Lioness

lion_cubWhen you get down to it, there isn’t much in the world that can put out the fire in little Jill’s heart. She has a smile that would melt the frozen tundra, and somehow she manages to be both delicate and strong. Within her tiny frame, all 3 and a half feet of her, is the spirit of a lioness.

Jill has a love of horses.

Although she already spends her days at a farm, she would stay there all night, too, if she could. She would probably curl up in some clean corner of a stall, not far away from one of her four legged friends, if we but turned our back on her for long enough.

Last year, a few months after she started attending therapy at the farm, she made friends with a pretty little white pony, named Crystal.

Crystal has a love for her human friends that shines as bright as Jill’s smile. She is a “hog” for attention, and is just the right size for little Jill. With her therapist walking at her side one day, Jill rode Crystal around the field of tall grasses, and around the old cottage at the foot of the driveway, and around the decrepit old shed that is overgrown with ivy and other vines.

Jill’s father and I were chatting with the mom of another little boy who attended therapy there, talking animatedly about how we were going to haul the family away right after Jill’s therapy session, for a blissful weekend of camping at French Beach. Jill and her little brother Jack were excited to go, too. They were looking forward to playing with their glowsticks in a darkened tent, and getting filthy and not having to shower for a whole three days.

So, the smile that we had on our faces as we turned toward the sound belied the intensity of the bloodcurdling shriek that came from the direction of the ivy-covered shed. We looked in that direction, naturally concerned, but stayed where we were. It sounded for all the world like a typical meltdown, and we knew full well the therapist could handle it.

Call us callous, but we’re used to the meltdowns, and we know when we can let others deal with it. Before long, however, we saw the therapist walking back up the driveway with Jill in her arms, still in the middle of a full on screaming meltdown.

We had to shout to be heard over Jill. Still, we managed to ferret out the gist of what had happened- as she was riding along on Crystal, a fern wrapped itself around Jill’s arm, setting off her sensory issues. She started screaming and crying, and launched herself off the pony and onto the unsuspecting therapist, who wasn’t prepared to catch her. Although we didn’t know it then, Jill had broken her arm by landing on her therapist.

Since we had all our worldly goods stowed in the back of our van, in preparation for a weekend away, we also had some children’s Tylenol. Without really knowing why, but figuring it would take away the inevitable headache that results from your run of the mill Epic Meltdown, we laced her thoroughly with it. Also figuring it would sort itself out before long, we ended the session, carefully bundled the kids into the car, and headed to French Beach anyway.

Alas, we got there to find out our reservation hadn’t “stuck”… our spot had been given away, and so had all the others. So, as we turned back home, we had two kids melting down in the back of the van. Jack was new to the whole thing, but he knew he was missing out. As for Jill, there wasn’t much that could tear her away from the idea of camping for a whole weekend. Having to turn around when she could see the trees and the other kids playing was as close to the Apocalypse as you could get.

It wasn’t until the next day, when we realized Jill couldn’t lift her arm without screaming bloody murder, that we knew something was actually wrong. After spending half a day in the hospital to get the verdict, my partner and I were ready to throw in the towel.

“I guess we’ll have to stay home this weekend,” I said, heaving a sigh.

Jill, her arm already in a sling, issued an emphatic “no”, in her own way; to wit, crying and wailing about how she still wanted to go camping.

We did go, after all. It wasn’t to French Beach, but rather to Saltspring Island- the only place we could find a spot, but also the best place we could have ever landed. Throughout that weekend, I watched my little girl play, almost as if nothing was wrong. She couldn’t lift her arm, or put weight on it, however, which meant she couldn’t climb or help us carry things. She did get good and dirty, though. I don’t think there was a single spot on her that was still clean by the end of the weekend. She gloried in all the dirt, and did her level best to take most of it home with her by wearing it.

When we came home, all exhausted and sunburned but oddly happy in spite of all things, I fully expected our little city-bred farm girl to tell me she wanted nothing to do with horses anymore. After all, she did break her arm jumping off of one. Between the three of us, her therapist and my partner and I, we hoped we could at least talk her into attending her sessions at the farm, even if she didn’t want to be near the horses. There was even mention of letting her choose which horse or pony she wanted to ride, out of all of them.

Now, Crystal doesn’t stand very tall. On my 5’8” frame, her head might come to my shoulders. She is not the smallest on the farm by a long shot, but neither is she the biggest. The biggest horse there, in fact, is a Percheron gelding by the name of Viktor. His withers are just about level with the top of my head; he is perhaps twice as tall as Crystal, and at least three times as big, overall…

And my daughter wanted to ride him.

The very next Friday she sat astride the huge horse, looking not much bigger than a Lego figurine on his back. She sported her bright pink riding helmet, a dark blue arm sling, and a proud smile to put the sun to shame.

An Open Letter to the Lady at Tim Horton’s

being-judgemental-300x300You stood, a little to the left of the line-up, waiting for your food at the local Tim Horton’s. Well dressed, and with your hair done “just so”, you almost seemed too posh to be standing where you were. There was a scowl on your face that seemed so etched in that one would almost say it was permanent. You made no sound to anyone, but you didn’t need to: your general disdain was like a perfume whose scent you’ve become so used to that you can no longer tell how much you’ve put on.

I stood in the line with my family, 5 or 6 people back from you. We were there to treat ourselves to something nice, in an effort to shake off some of the residue of what had been a bad week. The expression on my face mirrored my partner’s: worn out, irritated and a little sad.

My daughter, thank the gods, was being on her best behaviour. She quietly eyed the display of delicious-looking cookies and donuts, knowing full well that one of them would soon be hers. This was rare for her. No, it’s not terribly rare for her to be getting a treat at one of her favourite places, but it is rare for her to be so well behaved while waiting for it.

Usually, she is one to act out the most out of the two kids.

My son, on the other hand, was determined to lie down on the dirty floor in spite of the grip I had on his hand. I must have told him to stand up, in a normal tone, about 10 times all told. He kept doing it regardless of what I said because, frankly, he can be single-minded like that. That inherent single-mindedness is not only part of being a little boy, but it’s part of being a little boy with Autism.

You wouldn’t know that he- and his sister, for that matter- was Autistic, unless you knew him well, or even just knew what some of the characteristics of Autism were.

It must have been after I had told him to stand up for the 8th time, that you turned around and looked at my son (who was still sprawled on the floor just then) with a roll of your eyes, and then shot me a dirty look. It was a look I’ve seen before, no doubt like many parents of special needs kids.

It’s the look seems to suggest I ought to discipline my child better, or maybe that I’m not a good parent.

It’s the look that asks, in silent judgement: “What’s wrong with your child?”

I ignored you then, despite wanting to tell you off for staring so rudely.

After the 10th time of wearily telling my boy to stand up and hauling him to his feet, his father chimed in, with a stern tone of voice- a command.

It was not a yell. It was not belittling or abusive. It was just a tone that brooked no argument. Our boy shot to his feet and stayed there.

That’s when your food arrived (thank god). You grabbed it off the counter, and stared at my partner and I in judgement and disdain. I didn’t say anything, but stared right back until you passed behind me.

As an Autism parent, I meet a lot of people like you- people who think that Autism is just an excuse for “bad” behaviour.

People who don’t think there’s really anything different about kids like mine, and that they should be treated- and expected to behave- like every other “normal” child out there.

People who call kids like mine retards.

People who think these kids’ “bad” behaviour is the result of bad parenting.

Your attitude, and that of many like you, is one side of a coin. On the other side are those people who believe all the clichés about Autism: that people with this disorder are always geniuses, or they have some special gift (think Rainman), or whatever.

I don’t have as hard of a time tolerating those people, no matter how irritating it can be to try to dispel the myths that have cropped up around Autism, because I know they aren’t saying them out of any disdain. It comes from a place of assumptions, but not from a place of judgement.

I can be at peace with their attitude, no matter how misguided it may be.

People like you, though, make my job as an Autism parent all the harder. As it stands, I find myself constantly having to advocate for my children’s rights and needs more than a parent of “normal” children might. Even though my kids are only 5 and 3, I have already had to stand up to quite a few ignoramuses on their behalf.

I know that my children will likely have a lifetime of dealing with bullies and people like you, simply because they don’t behave like other kids, and that truly hurts my heart.

I wish we lived in a world where people remembered that there are always two sides to a story. Things are not always the way they look on the surface.

The Almighty Schedule

20150314_201637Schedules are kind of a big thing in my household.

Like many autism parents, I’m sure, we have one of those dry-erase weekly schedules hanging up on our door. The point of it, besides detailing what activities each day had in store (including the mundane stuff, like eating), is to give the kiddos peace of mind and help them ease from one activity to another. It has the space to write either the days of the week, or the whole month on it if you are so inclined, and my super-awesome partner has printed out and laminated a bunch of little clip-art pictures to indicate different activities, such as an apple for mealtimes, or a clock for appointments.

There is even a little picture with a cartoon doctor and patient, to represent… you guessed it!… doctor appointments. Remember that, because it’ll be on the test.

Last Sunday, like every Sunday, I allowed Jill to watch me while I made the schedule for that week. She likes to “help”… and by help, I mean stand there and watch while I make the schedule, and then doodle 5 or 6 pretty little stars along the bottom of the calendar after I’m done.

Hey, it gives her a feeling of accomplishment. Who am I to judge?

Anyway, when I stuck the pictures on for all the usual daily things, I started with the other stuff. I put a little clock on Wednesday and Thursday morning, to signify that she and Jack had an appointment with their OT. Since the kids are on spring break, and since I don’t have pictures of dogs to indicate when we go to walk a friend’s dog, I wrote the name “Milo” where needed.

And then, there was the little doctor picture. Remember the doctor picture?

I put the doctor on Wednesday afternoon, and wrote a little “2pm” next to it, and thought nothing further about the whole thing.

I thought nothing further about it, that is, until Tuesday afternoon. For some god-forsaken reason, I thought I should double-check the appointment time on my Outlook calendar, where I make a note of every little appointment we ever have, anywhere.

Lo and behold, as I click on Wednesday the 11th, I find…nothing.

Crap.

I click on Tuesday the 10th, wondering if I might have missed it by accident.

Nope. Nada.

I stare blankly at my computer screen for a moment, a sudden feeling of dread coming over me. A little voice at the back of my head whispered: “Well, you fucked up.”

The kids were oblivious to my despair. They sat at their little table, colouring in a couple of activity books.
I eyed them carefully.

Then, like a desperate parent smuggling a freshly bought chocolate bar into their secret stash, I slowly put my laptop down on the couch. I quietly got up off the couch, wincing and shooting a glance at the kids every time the couch squeaked. I shuffled into the front hall, my back turned to the living room, and quickly moved the doctor picture over to Thursday.

“What you doing, Mommy?” Jill’s delicate little voice piped up, from directly behind me.

“FUCKING HELL!” I exclaimed, whirling around. “You scared the crap out of me! I’m fixing a boo-boo, honey.”

“You don’t say ‘fucking’, Mommy, you say freaking,” she informed me.

“Um. Sure,” I replied, forcing a smile. Straightening up, I tried my best to casually stroll back into the living room as if nothing happened… nothing was different.

Jill stood there in front of the wall schedule. She started crying. Jack, still sitting at the table, starting crying in sympathy.

Crap. Double crap.

Jill loves going to the doctor. She’d been looking forward to the appointment all week, even though she’s not sick and the whole point of the appointment was just to get a referral to another type of doctor. Nonetheless, the mistake was practically earth shattering as far as she was concerned.

I rushed back to my little girl, and started to comfort her, saying that I made a mistake and put the doctor picture on the wrong day. It took me 15 minutes to get her to stop crying, and when I did, she finally spoke up: “It’s in the wrong place.”

“I know, honey. I made a little mistake, putting the picture on the wrong day. We’ll go on Thursday instead.”

Jill appeared to accept that reassurance, just then, but appearances can be deceptive. In fact, in the couple of hours between that moment and dinner time, she positioned herself in front of the calendar what must have been 50 more times and stared at it. Even while she was colouring, or eating her meal later on, she repeated several times that the appointment was going to be on Thursday and not Wednesday, and that I had put the picture in the wrong time slot.

See… you just don’t mess with the schedule. Once you make it, it might as well be set in stone. It’s though you have climbed that mountain and chiseled it into those two tablets, because you might as well be Moses, with his Commandments.

The Band-Aid Challenge

i_love_band_aids_round_stickers-red53d5b717c34fd3ab536312eacf0355_v9waf_8byvr_324Jack is accident prone.

He is almost never without some kind of bruise, goose egg, or cut on him somewhere. He bumps into things for no apparent reason. He trips over air. He runs into walls, and introduces his face to the pavement more often than I would like to admit to. I chalk it up to him being a little boy- after all, aren’t little boys made of bumps and bruises?

It’s a sad fact that one of the best pictures I have of my son is of him (barely 3 years old), sporting a great big smile… and a golf ball sized, angry red patch of road rash right smack-dab in the middle of his forehead.

Jack is what you might call top-heavy. Basically, that’s a nice way of saying his head is bigger- and thus, heavier- than most. As a consequence, it’s the first thing to connect when he decides he has been out of touch with the concrete for far too long.

Two days ago, he must have figured that his face really needed to get up close and personal with the gravel driveway that leads up to his preschool. I wasn’t there when it happened, but if the thumb-print size spot of dried blood on his hat is anything to go by, the introduction didn’t go too well.

It must have been a real doozy, too, because he was acting pretty concussed between the time I picked him up- which was about 30 minutes after it happened- and the time we seated ourselves in the doctor’s office. My normally sunny little boy was in a seriously crabby mood, and could hardly stay on his feet.

Basically, he was acting like a pint-sized angry drunkard.

The gash on his noggin- because my son doesn’t do anything by halves– was about 2cm long, and needed 2 Steri-Strips to close it. I actually asked the doctor to use proper stitches, because I’m well acquainted with my kids’ almost superhuman ability to separate things that shouldn’t be separated. He insisted on the Steri-Strips, though, saying that they- coupled with a bandage and some extra adhesive- “oughta do it”.

If it weren’t for the fact that he’s been our family doctor for a few years, I would almost think he has never met my children.

Indeed Jill, alone, could probably “unwrap” a box that has been covered entirely in duct tape. It might take her 10 or 15 minutes, but she’ll do it.

When we went back to the school to pick her up at the end of the day, my partner and I made a special effort to tell Jill about Jack’s “owie”, and why she shouldn’t touch the bandage on his head.

We went on at length about it.

We told her, over and over, not to touch the bandage.

Each time, she nodded and said: “Ok”.

What I think she actually meant was: “Challenge accepted.”

The Art of Having Good Manners

rude-behavior1When I was growing up, manners were everything. If you didn’t mind your P’s and Q’s, you didn’t get what you were asking for, and it was as simple as that. More than just saying please and thank you when it was appropriate, we were expected to excuse ourselves when it was called for, and say “bless you” or at least “gesundheit” whenever someone sneezed, and what have you.

My partner came from a similar household, so we do our best to instill good manners in our children- especially when we are bombarded daily with a distinct lack of courtesy: kids who demand or take something without saying please and thank you, people who let doors shut in others’ faces, and so on. It makes me wonder what the parents were doing while those kids were busy growing up.

Now, I’m not perfect. My partner is not perfect, and neither are my kids. We all slip up now and again, but at least the effort is there. I can honestly say that, at age 5, Jill has a firm concept of what good manners are. Whether she always uses them… well… that remains to be seen.

One thing she never lets pass is the opportunity to say “bless you” when someone sneezes. I would even go as far as to say she is practically militant about it.

Although she has said “bless you” to a sneeze since we first taught her to many moons ago, a little while back she must have come to some decision to take it up a notch.

On the evening in question, my partner was lounging on the couch while working on his laptop. I was in the kitchen gathering up the dishes to put in the dishwasher. I had literally just put the kids through their bedtime ritual not moments before, so they were playing out all their leftover energy in their room. I could hear them talking and giggling and jumping on the bed.

My partner sneezed.

Out of the kids’ bedroom, there came Jill’s tiny voice: “Bless you!”

I don’t think their dad heard it. Not even a moment passed before Jill got a little more assertive.

“I SAID BLESS YOU!” she screamed.

I yelled back that Daddy said “thanks”, even though I know he hadn’t heard her at all.

After that evening, she started being almost obnoxious in her courtesy, when it came to sneezes. She let it be known that she expected a “thank you” when she gave her blessing after someone sneezed, only she didn’t really give them a chance to answer before launching her inner diva at them.

Lately, Jill has taken it up another notch.

About a week ago, we were in a similar sort of position. I had just put the kids down for the night, and was putting away some dishes while their Daddy worked on his laptop.

He happened to sneeze a few times (how dare he?).

Out of the bedroom, there came that tiny little voice again: “Bless you!”

And then, not seconds later: “I SAID BLESS YOU!”

My partner heard it this time, and said “thank you”, but I don’t think Jill caught it because it wasn’t a few more moments before I heard: “Did you say thank you?”

We both burst out laughing. If it weren’t for that fact, we would’ve answered her before she screamed: “SAY THANK YOU!”

I think her next step may be to come out of the bedroom and get right in the poor sneezer’s face. You know, before my daughter, I never would have thought simple courtesy could be aggressive.